Since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, gun reform debates have been happening all across the country, but researcher Adam Pah says one thing missing from the debate are the essential data points that he says can and should be informing future policy decisions.
Spring 2018’s Biggest Books
Springtime is almost here, and with it come an onslaught on books. We talk to three authors about some of the biggest books of the year.
Culture Crash: Adapting a Book into a Movie: Annihilation
The new sci-fi adventure movie, Annihilation, is based on a book but the adaptation is looser than what we typically expect. How director Alex Garland created something new.
Even after 50 years, The Graduate is a film that has managed to maintain a significant place in American culture for many generations. While its consistent popularity over time could be due to a number of factors, Beverly Gray, author of Seduced By Mrs. Robinson talks with us about some of these elements that she truly felt has made the film so important.
When talking about the impact of this film, Gray believes that it benefits from a few different components. First, many Baby Boomers, herself included, felt that the film addressed some of their own confusion with the world, as kids entering adulthood looking to do something different with their lives than their parents. Not only is this a feeling that the Baby Boomer generation experienced, it is also an universal one that generations growing up today can relate to as well. Other factors that Gray uses to explain this movies impact is the time in which it came about, but also the revolutionary choices made in respect to film. To hear more about these different elements, listen to Gray further discuss these ideas and check out her book Seduced By Mrs. Robinson.
Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.
One of the biggest trends over the last few years in our culture is our gravitation toward podcasts. They help us get through long commutes, they entertain us, inform us, and ever since season one of Serial, they have been obsessing us.
One podcast that is built for the obsessive fans among us is the Ringer podcast called Binge Mode.
It began last year with a quest: to recap and analyze every episode of Game of Thrones before the HBO fantasy show’s seventh season. Hosts Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin are hardcore fans who have pored over every word of the books and every moment of the show multiple times. They guided listeners through all 60 previously aired episodes and then the entirety of season seven as it aired. For their work, they were lauded, even being named Time Magazines best podcast of 2017.
This year, they were faced with a conundrum: Game of Thrones won’t be airing until 2019, so how would they fill the time?
They decided to launch Bing Mode weekly, a more traditional format where they interrogate different subjects every week. One episode focused on coming of age stories and the film Coco and then a few weeks later, they were discussing what it means to be a hero or a villian within Star Wars.
But the secret to Binge Mode’s success is that they don’t just recap and discuss. They truly inform the audience with their deep-dives. They don’t just recount the story of Coco, the discuss the themes of family bonds, feeling like an outsider, and growing jaded by the cruelties of the world within the context of the Pixar family, comparing the film extensively to other Pixar movies like Up, Wall-E, and Inside Out.
Listening to Binge Mode feels less like listening to a pop culture podcast and more like going to a college-level course on storytelling.
In a world of hot takes and broad strokes, Binge Mode uses pop culture as a launching point for larger discussions relevant to the themes and ideas that serve as motivation for much of the art we all appreciate so much in the first place.
Binge Mode is available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.
Have you ever lied on a survey or a social media post? Stephens-Davidowitz says that almost all of us do. He researched the data of big websites like Google and Facebook to discover that what people say or post about themselves often seems contradictory to what their internet searches reveal about their interests or beliefs.
Ever since the introduction of Google, Big Data has been a large part of our lives. Every time you’ve ever searched something on the internet, you’ve added to the Big Data about you. Although you may not realize it, data experts are analyzing your online behavior to learn more about you, your lifestyle and your spending habits – and it’s all based off of what you search. In his new book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Stephens-Davidowitz dives into some deep truths about ourselves and our data we might not want to hear.
From the Foreword to Everybody Lies by Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of our Nature:
Blending the informed analysis of The Signal and the Noise with the instructive iconoclasm of Think Like a Freak, a fascinating, illuminating, and witty look at what the vast amounts of information now instantly available to us reveals about ourselves and our world—provided we ask the right questions.
By the end of an average day in the early twenty-first century, human beings searching the internet will amass eight trillion gigabytes of data. This staggering amount of information—unprecedented in history—can tell us a great deal about who we are—the fears, desires, and behaviors that drive us, and the conscious and unconscious decisions we make. From the profound to the mundane, we can gain astonishing knowledge about the human psyche that less than twenty years ago, seemed unfathomable.
Everybody Lies offers fascinating, surprising, and sometimes laugh-out-loud insights into everything from economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender and more, all drawn from the world of big data. What percentage of white voters didn’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black? Does where you go to school affect how successful you are in life? Do parents secretly favor boy children over girls? Do violent films affect the crime rate? Can you beat the stock market? How regularly do we lie about our sex lives and who’s more self-conscious about sex, men or women?
Investigating these questions and a host of others, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers revelations that can help us understand ourselves and our lives better. Drawing on studies and experiments on how we really live and think, he demonstrates in fascinating and often funny ways the extent to which all the world is indeed a lab. With conclusions ranging from strange-but-true to thought-provoking to disturbing, he explores the power of this digital truth serum and its deeper potential—revealing biases deeply embedded within us, information we can use to change our culture, and the questions we’re afraid to ask that might be essential to our health—both emotional and physical. All of us are touched by big data everyday, and its influence is multiplying. Everybody Lies challenges us to think differently about how we see it and the world.
Many of us have heard the heroic tales of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13, the missions to send men to the moon, but what about the other missions? When Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders fearlessly took off in December of 1968 and safely orbited the moon, they paved the way for the future space exploration to come. Author Jeffrey Kluger recently wrote Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon about this mission and its impact on history and science.
In August 1968 NASA made a bold decision: In just 16 weeks, the United States would launch humankind’s first flight to the moon. Only the year before, three astronauts had burned to death in their spacecraft, and since then the Apollo program had suffered one setback after another. Meanwhile, the Russians were winning the space race, the Cold War was getting hotter by the month, and President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade seemed sure to be broken. But when Borman, Lovell, and Anders were summoned to a secret meeting and told of the dangerous mission, they instantly signed on.
The race to prepare an untested rocket for an unprecedented journey paves the way for the hair-raising trip to the moon. Then, on Christmas Day, a nation that has suffered a horrendous year of assassinations and war is heartened by an inspiring message from the trio of astronauts in lunar orbit. And when the mission is over – after the first view of the far side of the moon, the first Earth-rise, and the first reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere following a flight to deep space – the impossible dream of walking on the moon suddenly seems within reach.
Most of us remember a time in our early education when we practiced handwriting and cursive. Classes were spent tracing letters and perfecting slanted writing. Today, many adults possess useful handwriting skills, but they may be the last generation to do so. Children are only receiving longhand writing training from kindergarten through second grade, or ages 5-7. We talk with Jan Olsen, occupational therapist and President of Handwriting Without Tears, as she recalls the Whole Language movement of the 1970s which pushed for a greater consideration of content within writing, rather than quality of handwriting. Overtime, this has led to the reduction of time allocated to handwriting instruction in schools. Olsen argues that since the focus on language has switched, teachers are no longer being trained on the best handwriting practices. She says, “That’s the dirty little secret in education. [Teachers] don’t want to teach handwriting because they don’t know how.” Olsen also mentions the importance of continued practice, stating that our proficiency in writing is traced back to when we stopped practicing it. So, for example, an adult who only practiced handwriting through the age of eight has the handwriting proficiency of an eight-year-old. Olsen stresses the necessity of cursive writing, saying “There are still many times when being able to write in cursive, or to read in cursive, is an important life skill socially, educationally, vocationally.”
Margaret Shepherd, calligrapher, artist, and author of Learn World Calligraphy, believes that cursive is not only important for communicating thoughts and ideas, but also personality. She points out how signatures are very personal and unique, and suggests that the way we write and sign documents plays a large factor in whether or not other people will perceive them as important. Shepherd explains how professionals used to be trained in handwriting, and shares that the rarity of handwritten notes and messages today makes them all the more precious and useful when conducting business. She also speculates that just as technology and keyboarding have replaced long hand writing, in the future some other medium of communication will surpass typing. Shepherd hypothesizes that longhand writing on tablets will be used soon, as such instruments exist in our world already.
With a new baby comes new territory, including feeding, burping, changing and cuddling. Typically when a family welcomes their new child, the mother will take an extended -or permanent- leave from work and serve as the primary caretaker. However, in our modern society of two-income households and highly competitive workplaces, fathers are beginning to stay home as often as mothers. Yet businesses have not seemed to adapt as quickly as domestic customs have, and only 14% of U.S. companies offer paid paternity leave. Josh Levs, journalist, father of 3, and author of All In: How our work-first culture fails dads, families, and businesses – and how we can fix it together, provides his opinion and expertise on the subject. He comments, “Once the baby is out of the womb, men are just as capable as women are of doing the things that are needed to take care of a child. It’s really important to make sure that families have choices.” As a new father, Levs recognized how his employer’s policy did not allow him to take paternity leave, and he shares how he worked to reform this policy to allow all employees the chance to have paid leave.
Under United States federal law, all employees have the right to unpaid leave. However, families who require the financial security that two incomes provide must find a way to continue receiving their salary. Levs suggests a solution for this called the The Family Act, which would provide paid leave through the government instead of through companies. All employees would pay 20 cents of every $100 they make into a large fund, and then would be eligible to receive money from this fund should they need to take a leave from work. Based on the success of current programs in New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island, this would pay employees up to ⅔ of their salary while on leave, for up to 12 weeks, and would take the strain off of small businesses. Businesses and corporations also have the option to pay their own employees themselves, and will reap the benefits of keeping on their top employees. Levs concludes with a description of why he believes that paternity leave is an issue worth discussing. He says, “In this country we need policies that will allow families to make choices about whether the mom will go back to work or the guy will go back to work… Employees should be able to take time off to care for a loved one, and get paid for all or part of it.”