Then, in 2012, Chris walked through the door. Chris wasn’t just a savior; he was a face of the zeitgeist. At Harvard, he had roomed with Mark Zuckerberg, and he had gone on to become one of the co-founders of Facebook. Chris gave our fusty old magazine a Millennial imprimatur, a bigger budget, and an insider’s knowledge of social media. We felt as if we carried the hopes of journalism, which was yearning for a dignified solution to all that ailed it. The effort was so grand as to be intoxicating. We blithely dismissed anyone who warned of how our little experiment might collapse onto itself—how instead of providing a model of a technologist rescuing journalism, we could become an object lesson in the dangers of journalism’s ever greater reliance on Silicon Valley.
For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for one’s own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.
The acquisition of new technology is often a nonevent. Who remembers when they got their first email account, or Netflix subscription? You don't recognize these things as significant until much later. But I know exactly when I stepped into the world of GPS navigation: September 2006. Because that's when I got married. Our honeymoon plans called for a two-week road trip and I knew that without navigational assistance I might be divorced before the fortnight was over. So I spent $500 on a TomTom, my first GPS. I haven't asked for directions since. With the unblinking eyes of medium-Earth-orbit satellites constantly guiding the way, I've nearly forgotten the stress of driving in a strange place. Miss an exit? No big deal. Spy an intriguing side road? Drive down it. GPS has plenty of obvious upsides, but the drawbacks are more nuanced. Insidious, even. Chief among them is an atrophying sense of direction, an inability to get anywhere without a digital Sherpa. I recently got lost on my way home from the airport. I took a toll road that was new a few years ago, one that I've driven perhaps 20 times, always via GPS. I decided to see if I could navigate it without Waze on my iPhone, and within two miles I saw signs for the parking lot I had just left. I was going in the wrong direction. It's not that my instincts were wrong. It's that I no longer had any instincts.
Waiting in line is a scourge of modernity. According to David Andrews’s book, Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?, it wasn’t common until the Industrial Revolution synchronized workers’ schedules, causing lines that gobbled up lunch hours and evenings. Given that Americans are estimated to collectively waste tens of billions of hours a year in lines, it’s no wonder that some people try to cut, and others bitterly resent them. Yet jumping the queue without inviting violence is possible. Below, some pointers, courtesy of social science.
Something that is rigid cannot be deformed or bent without destroying its essential nature. Like Platonic solids, rigid objects are typically rare, and sometimes theoretical objects can be so rigid they don’t exist — mathematical unicorns.
In common usage, rigidity connotes inflexibility, usually negatively. Diamonds, however, owe their strength to the rigidity of their molecular structure. Controlled rigidity — that is, flexing only along certain directions — allows suspension bridges to survive high winds.
Dr. Ratner and Dr. Mirzakhani were experts in this more subtle form of rigidity. They worked to characterize shapes preserved by motions of space.
Jenny Zhang’s characters and scenic precision stand out in her debut collection of short stories, Sour Heart: Stories, a book that illuminates the lives of six young Chinese immigrant girls wrestling with what defines their history, family, womanhood, friendships, and themselves.