One Sunday morning in July of last year, a message from an anonymous account appeared on “Bernie or Vest,” a Discord chat server for fans of Senator Bernie Sanders.
It contained an image of Shahid Buttar, the San Francisco activist challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 2020 congressional runoff, and offered explicit instructions for how to elevate the hashtag #PelosiMustGo to the nationwide Trending list on Twitter.
“Shahid Says…,” read the large print, “Draft some tweets with #PelosiMustGo—don’t forget to capitalize #EachWord. Don’t use more than two hashtags—otherwise you’ll be marked as spam.” The call to action urged people to start posting at noon Pacific time, attach their favorite graphics, and like and retweet other Buttar supporters’ contributions.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.
If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.
Editor’s Note: I happen to love ebooks, public service announcement…
In the media reporter Brian Stelter’s book Hoax, he shares an anecdote that neatly sums up so much about Fox News and its influence on how its viewers communicate.
A staffer who described a restaurant chain’s decision to offer a vegan burger as an improvement to the menu said they were castigated and corrected: The new option was actually proof of the “war on meat,” a network superior said. Thus, the story was quickly reframed in the channel’s familiar vernacular.
My colleague Megan Garber argued last year that Fox had become a language, one in which a new reality had been manufactured. This dangerous linguistic manipulation extends well beyond TV news.
In fact, language is exactly what cults—and cult-like brands—use to lure in new members, the scholar Amanda Montell writes in her book Cultish.
Attend any class offered by a popular fitness brand like Peloton, CrossFit, or SoulCycle, and the enticing power of their insider-y mantras becomes apparent. On the HBO docuseries The Vow, which is about the cult NXIVM, viewers see how a strange new way of speaking drew people in.
“You’ll want to read this,” my wife said, handing me the Sunday Boston Globe.
The cover story that week in late September 2020 was about a 62-year-old woman who had colon cancer that had metastasized. She died in a local hospital; her husband was also in poor health and could not take care of her at home. After she died, he moved into an area facility.
Reading of someone so close to my own age succumbing to a highly preventable disease was a bit unsettling. The dateline, however, was the reason my wife had given me the paper.
The story was from my hometown in Massachusetts, and the facility where the husband now lived was down the street from my childhood home. When I was a boy, we joked, far too easily, about “putting” people there when they got old. In later years, the joking ended when my father had to stay there briefly as his health began to fail. My brother then passed through its doors on his way to the final stop in a VA hospital.
The couple in the story had struggled for survival in the neighborhood where I grew up, and one of them, as the Globe put it, had experienced “the kind of death all too typical for people who work hard jobs for modest pay,” dying “too young … and too hard.”
Central to these criticisms is a nostalgia for an idealized past that always makes the present seem terrible. Some of this is manipulation by political charlatans. But sincere concerns come from some political and economic elites, especially those who are products of a class transition and advancement through education and relocation. They are concerned about the anger of the “forgotten places” where they grew up.
Not long ago, a New York City data analyst who had been laid off shortly after the pandemic hit told me she had filed for unemployment-insurance payments and then spent the next six months calling, emailing, and using social media to try to figure out why the state’s Labor Department would not send her the money she was owed.
A mother in Philadelphia living below the poverty line told me about her struggle to maintain government aid. Disabled herself and caring for a disabled daughter, she had not gotten all of her stimulus checks and, because she does not regularly file taxes or use a computer, needed help from a legal-aid group to make sure she would get the newly expanded child-tax-credit payments.