That Weekly when everything was pretty good, or at least not so bad
Oh, you poor Weekly reader. Every seven days or so you're bombarded with tales of technology-induced horrors. The last Weekly closed with an item about half of all U.S. citizens living below the real poverty level. The Weekly before that wound up by describing our democracy as a "Dumpster fire" and pondering what kind of government would rise from its ashes.
Time for a break. This Weekly, we'll keep it light -- with the possible exception of a Linkapalooza item or two. I guess I just can't help myself.
Something to celebrate: You're not who you used to be
Here's a reason to strive for septuagenarianism. Quartz's Olivia Goodhill writes in a February 19, 2017, article that you're not the same person at the age of 77 that you were at 14. The longest personality study that anyone knows about found that after 63 years of living, "your personality is... transformed beyond recognition."
According to Goodhill, 174 of the 635 particpants still alive 63 years after the original study agreed to repeat the survey and rate themselves on the same six personality traits used in the first survey. The researchers expected to find stability in personality, but the responses to the second go-round indicated that after so many years, "there is hardly any relationship at all" between the two personality assessments.
Goodhill points out that recent neuroscience research gives credence to the Buddhist notion that our sense of "self" is "nothing more than an illusion." Heck, my personality has been an illusion for a long, long time.
Set your mind to 'growth'
I've always said, there are two kinds of people: Those who believe there are two kinds of people, and those who don't believe there are two kinds of people.
Now there's a new two kinds of people: People who have a "fixed" mindset, and people who have a "growth" mindset. The "fixed" folk believe you're either good at something, or you're not, so you better not take chances because failure would show you're incompetent. You're either born to play the sousaphone, or you're not.
The "growth" group think that who you are can be improved and changed through effort and experience. This allows you to develop new skills. These people "embrace failure," as Anna Powers writes in an October 23, 2017, article on Forbes. Failure is nothing but an "opportunity for meaningful growth and skill development."
If failure could grow and develop your bank account, I'd be a billionaire.
Is a kinder, gentler Facebook newsfeed coming?
If you're still using Facebook, why?
Seriously, if you're still using Facebook, you may soon notice a pleasant change in the updates you see in your timeline. Then again, you could drop Facebook and start enjoying life again. But I digress.
No, seriously, no kidding this time. Facebook is testing a change that displays updates in your newsfeed only from friends and family, moving material from the companies, organizations, and other third parties you follow to a separate "Explore Feed." Recode's Kurt Wagner writes in an October 23, 2017, post that publishers are sweating bullets about the change, which would force them to pay Facebook to reach people.
I care freak-all about publishers. They sold out to the online-ad monster a long time ago. The result of the change for Facebook users is a cleaner newsfeed, even if they choose to follow businesses and publishers. Wagner quotes a statement from Facebook that the change is in effect only in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. Also, the company has "no current plans to roll this out globally." However, experts cited by Wagner believe the banishment of media and businesses from newsfeed could go system-wide in a matter of months.
A publisher in Slovakia reports on Medium that the change resulted in a two-thirds drop in "organic reach," the greatest such decline in the publisher's history. Wagner writes that Facebook has become the difference between success and failure for all media, but particularly for news distributors.
For now, let's focus on the streamlined Facebook newsfeed -- and perhaps one more nail in the coffin of Russian manipulation of our political process.
Two fewer apps on your phone can give your mood a big boost
For Mark Suster, it started with a vow to keep his phone out of the bedroom. As he writes in an October 23, 2017, post on Both Sides of the Table, Suster found the change resulted in "a huge improvement in my life and productivity." But that was just the start. What really turned Suster's life around was his decision to delete the Facebook and Twitter apps from his phone.
Suster admits that he doesn't post much to Twitter or Facebook, and he still uses both services on his other devices. But not having access from his phone has brightened his mood. Suster states that the posts to his feeds were making him "angry for no reason" because there was nothing he could do about the terrible news that never stops streaming.
The updates that Suster used to get from his Facebook feed he now finds on Axios, which he writes is "a much better aggregator for what I want to know (politics, news, tech) than Facebook is." One positive result of the change is that Suster spends much less time checking his phone each day.
Most importantly, Suster now comes to the news rather than the news coming to him. He decides when he's ready to learn about the latest political foibles and follies. (Note that turning off all notifications was one of the 10 rules for happy smart phone use in last week's Weekly.)
Schadenfreude, anyone? Somebody has targeted computers in Russia and Eastern European countries with data-encrypting malware, as Dan Goodin reports in an October 24, 2017, article on Ars Technica. Dubbed "Bad Rabbit," the malware uses a fake Adobe Flash installer to infect Windows PCs. The outbreak has affected news agencies, train stations, airports, and government agencies, among other establishments.
Bad Rabbit poses as ransomware, but some security experts speculate that its true goal is to "wipe out data in an act of sabotage," according to Goodin. There's no word on who is behind the malware, though Goodin suggests backing up your sensitve data onto a password-protected hard drive. I recommend you never install Flash. Problem solved.
I wish I was there in the Capitol building when a man, posing as a news reporter, shouted "Trump is treason!" and threw Russian flags in the direction of the President (ptui!) as he and Senator Mitch McConnell walked by. As reported in an October 24, 2017, post on Common Dreams, the man identified himself as Ryan Clayton and said he represented a group called Americans Take Action.
In a video of the event, Clayton is heard shouting, "This president has conspired with agents of the Russian government.... We should be talking about treason, not taxes." And just in case you were wondering what Clayton was shouting about, here's the latest update of Trumpocracy: Tracking the Creeping Authoritarianism of the 45th President, compiled by Mother Jones' Mark Follman.
In this topsy-turvy world, advocating for centrism makes you unusual. When you look around, it seems like governments -- and entire countries -- are breaking up left and right. Another U.S. civil war is considered a distinct possibility by some people. To John Feffer, it all comes down to "demagogues and divisiveness." Feffer writes in an October 24, 2017, article on Common Dreams that we may be witnessing a "fourth great shattering," when states break apart and reform -- or not.
The first shattering occurred in the early 19th century, when the concept of "nation" took hold and led to the collapse of empires: Habsburgs, Romonovs, and Ottoman sultans in particular. The second happened in the mid-20th century as former colonies all over the world gained independence. The third was at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, which affected not only Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but also the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.
Feffman posits that the fourth shattering could affect Europe, the U.S., and East Asia. He writes that "the polarizing impact of economic and technological globalization" has caused "the politics of the middle" to either disappear or drift to the right. Feffman isn't convinced such a fourth shattering is inevitable:
"For all of its institutional violence and bureaucratic flaws, the state is still the best bet we have for protecting the environment, stretching out a safety net for all, and providing equitable education opportunities to everyone, not to mention its ability to band together with other states to tackle global problems like climate change and pandemics."
Best unintended-irony retweet of the week from @Alexandraerin: "This is the best tweet since the Flat Earth Society announced it has members all over the globe." In retweeting @TaraMcCarthy4444: "I'm so proud that we are creating an international alliance of nationalists! Together we will beat globalism."
Allow me to close this almost, kinda/sorta upbeat Weekly with a quote from the most misquoted human in history, Winston S. Churchill:
"I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else."
See you next Weekly... with a big smile on my face!