I don’t often watch late night television, which may be why I was caught unawares. Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue began hilariously enough, when abruptly he pivoted to a series of inexplicably weak jokes centered on a forthcoming football game. It slowly dawned on me that I was watching a commercial for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” albeit one baked right into the opening monologue and delivered by Fallon himself.
The realization that something you thought to be “real” is actually an advertisement is an increasingly common, if unsettling, sensation. Mara Einstein calls it “content confusion,” and if her book, “Black Ops Advertising,” is right, we’re in for even more such trickery, indeed a possible future where nearly everything becomes hidden commercial propaganda of one form or another. She forecasts the potential of a “world where there is no real content: Everything we experience is some form of sales pitch.”
We keep score so that we can play; we don’t play in order to have scores to keep. What should you be doing with as much of your time as you can manage? Hack the funhouse. Play in the gardens, hide in the hedgerows, climb onto the roof. Think for yourself. Take play seriously. Don’t confuse someone else’s game, however good, for the world.
When a friend quizzes Egan on how she spends her days as a counselor to the dying and their families, Egan explains that she sits at bedsides, tries to be a peaceful presence, listens, sometimes speaks, or sings, or holds a hand, all with as much courage and kindness as she can muster. “I imagine a giant bubble of love encompassing the patient and me,” Egan says. [...]
“On Living” is part memoir, part spiritual reflection and part narration of tales told to Egan by her patients. Her transitions between other people’s stories and her own personal and professional observations can be disconcerting, but she is such good company that you will forgive her.
Around 1900, a century before Tesla’s Model S, there were more than 30,000 electric cars registered in the United States. In London, passengers were being ferried around by a small fleet of electric taxis, nicknamed Hummingbirds for the distinctive whir of their engines. So begins “Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas,” the British journalist Steven Poole’s attack on what he calls a “Silicon Valley ideology”: the notion that every great innovation of today is a “flash of inspiration,” an invention of “something from nothing.” In an anecdote-rich tour through the centuries, Poole traces “new” ideas in mental health back to the Stoics; dates the invention of the e-cigarette to 1965; and tells us that the leech is now an F.D.A.-approved “medical device,” used for, among other things, preventing blood from pooling after reconstructive plastic surgery. We live in “an age of rediscovery,” Poole writes. “Old is the new new.”