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Weekend Reads: Social Media Woes, Designing Emoji, Star Trek, Viral Videos & more

Also: The wonders of outer space, childrens stories, missile warnings and UI design, understanding the Bible’s story.
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Facebook has announced changes to make their newsfeed more personal and less prone to misinformation, but will they be successful? “In many ways, Facebook’s planned changes to News Feed are a retreat from the online public square the company helped create. They’re a tacit admission that the company’s great news experiment — which made it one of the most successful publishers in the world — failed.”

Speaking of Facebook, the social network has proven disastrous for democracy in Cambodia. “When Facebook first came to Cambodia, many hoped it would help to usher in a new period of free speech, amplifying voices that countered the narrative of the government-friendly traditional press. Instead, the opposite has happened. Prime Minister Hun Sen is now using the platform to promote his message while jailing his critics, and his staff is doing its best to exploit Facebook’s own rules to shut down criticism — all through a direct relationship with the company’s staff.”


Mike Monteiro left Twitter but he’s still considering its effects on society. “Whether it was a US president declaring war on a foreign nation, or an actor not wearing the proper shade of a designated color to an awards ceremony. On Twitter those problems become exactly the same size. They receive the same amount of outrage. They’re presented identically. They’re just as big as one another. Twitter works like a giant depressed brain. It can’t tell right from wrong, and it can’t tell big from small. It needs help.”

Designing Apple’s emoji icons changed Angela Guzman’s life. “This is the story of how an intern and her mentor designed Apple’s original emoji set and together changed the way people communicate around the world. It was also a project that led them to become lifelong friends, a key ingredient in the success of these tiny icons.”

Outer Space

For Gregory Wolfe, outer space is much more than outer space. “It is no exaggeration to say that those moments in the planetarium came as close to an experience of true worship as any I had known. The plain, white interiors of the Christian Science church my father took us to were no match for the liturgy of the stars. A couple of years later, after we had moved out to Long Island, I got my chance to lie on my back in the grass, gazing up. Here was an image of infinity. It seemed to beckon to me, and it evoked such a longing that I thought my heart would explode.”

What are the odds that humans might be the only technologically advanced species in the universe? “When you take into account that there may be 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, up to three potentially habitable worlds in many of these star systems, and some two trillion galaxies in the entire Universe, it seems like intelligent life is an inevitability. But our intuition can often lead us astray; what we feel is no substitute for science. ”

Deep Space Nine

Darryl Armstrong reviews the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. “While the series started with an episode-of-the-week format, it would morph into one of the first serialized television dramas, changing the format of the medium to what we now expect in television programs and the age of binge-watching.”

Matt de la Peña argues that children’s stories shouldn’t shy way from darkness and sadness. “In the book world, we often talk about the power of racial inclusion… but many other facets of diversity remain in the shadows. For instance, an uncomfortable number of children out there right now are crouched beneath a metaphorical piano. There’s a power to seeing this largely unspoken part of our interior lives represented, too. And for those who’ve yet to experience that kind of sadness, I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one.”

North Korea Missile

Among other things, the false missile alert in Hawaii is proof that user interface design matters. “Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: Test missile alert’ and Missile alert.’ He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.” Looking at this screenshot of the menu, it’s a wonder more false alarms haven’t been sent.

The U.S. designed a crazy weapon known as “The Flying Crowbar” during the early days of the Cold War. “Now, I’m not saying the scientists who came up with Project Pluto were mad scientists, but there was a pretty high degree of mad science going on in this thing. In some ways, it was the perfect embodiment of Cold War era thinking taken to its utmost extreme. Project Pluto… would have been an incredibly potent weapon. Potent, and also cruel, terrifying, and ultimately uncontrollable.”

Movie Theatre
(Jake HillsPublic Domain)

In 2017, movie theater attendance hit its lowest amount since 1993. Some possible factors include the rise in ticket prices, a disappointing summer movie season, and a lot of unnecessary sequels. But I think a bigger aspect is that, with the rise of on-demand streaming services like Netflix and improvements in home theater technology, going to the movie theater just isn’t a compelling experience anymore, especially since you’ll inevitably sit through countless ads and/or be annoyed by folks who won’t put their smartphones away.

You’ve seen it: a guy sitting at a desk gets increasingly pissed off at his computer and begins smashing it with his keyboard. But do you know the story behind it? “Beyond its impressive resilience, it’s also unexpectedly significant as the prime mover of viral videos. In one clip, you can find everything that’s now standard in the genre, like a Lumière brothers film for the internet age: the surveillance footage aesthetic, the sub-30-second runtime, the angry freakout in a typically staid setting, the unhinged destruction of property.”

(NYC WandererCC BY-SA 2.0)

To better understand the Bible’s teaching, you need to understand the Bible’s story. “Moral principles are important, as are doctrinal axioms, but they are rooted and grounded in the storyline of the Scripture. If we were to boil the Bible down to a perfectly accurate summary of doctrines or directives, we would not be improving upon the Bible. We would not be drilling past extraneous stuff. We would be losing something essential: the story.”

Rachael Denhollander gave a powerful interview about the Church, sexual abuse, and her case against Larry Nassar. “There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.”

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