On this week's Weekend Reads, are we all going to have to chip in and pay for each other's maternity leave?
Plus the case for saying "y'all," why we're terrible at typing on our phones without help, how smartphones can be smarter about helping people, why you should really pay attention to other people, and what to do about racist computers.
Crowdfunding is becoming more and more popular, and not just for passion projects and Kickstarter potato salads. People are turning to online platforms like GoFundMe for things like paying off student loan debt and getting ready for babies. Could this problem be solved with something like mandatory paid maternity leave that most other industrialized countries have? Yeah, probably, but hey, at least we have GoFundMe! It could be the way of the future, though: there are crowdfunding sites available for specific goals like funding higher education and companies like Lemonade are touting peer-to-peer insurance options. Maybe we’ll all just have to band together and provide our own, voluntary safety nets and hope others pay it forward? Seems risky, but it just might be crazy enough to work.
Having moved from North Carolina to New York City, I expected a few changes: colder weather, more subways, fewer college basketball fans. One thing I didn’t really consider was the difference in language and the utter lack of "y’all." It’s a perfectly good word and it seems like it’s finally getting the national respect it deserves. Thanks, The Atlantic. It’s pointed out that y’all works as a second-person plural pronoun – the same that other languages all over the world have – and is a lot less stupid than saying "you guys." So let’s break the stigma that it’s only something that rednecks say, y’all. Next on the list for grammatical validation: ain’t (which I also view as a necessary piece of the English language, but that’s a rant for another time).
Smartphones have changed the way we communicate. I think most people have accepted that. Whether it’s having every chat program available at your fingertips – texts, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twitter, etc – or the fact that you can send gifs to anybody from anywhere, you just don’t talk to people the same way you used to. A big part of that change is autocorrect. Between that and autocomplete, you barely have to pay attention to what you’re typing. You don’t really think about it when you’re using your phone, but it’s noticeable when it’s not there. Like, I’m writing this on a computer, and I have to spell out every single word? Correctly? (Side note: I misspelled a word in each of these last three sentences as I was writing them. Don’t judge.) This Wired article is a fun little adventure into the world of actually having to type correctly on your mobile device, and how we’d all just give up if we had to do it every day.
How’s this for a segue: typing on our phones is easier with autocorrect, but talking to them is even easier. And with the likes of Siri and Cortana trying to convince us that our phones are little more than faceless incubators for eventual A.I. overlords, sometimes we can forget that (for now) they’re just machines. So when people turn to them for help involving abuse, suicide, or other serious topics and get responses like "Let me google that for you," it’s a little surprising. Manufacturers have implemented some improvements – like offering up the suicide prevention hotline contact information in some instances – but that’s not always the case. There are arguments to be made about whether or not giving search engine results is a proper resource for people, but it does sort of highlight just how important our phones have become to us.
Everyone knows that babies are super cute, except when they’re first born, in which case they’re vaguely alien-looking. But you quickly become attached. And you might think that other people are also less-than-attractive at first glance, which is apparently a totally normal human perception. It turns out that the more attentive you are to faces, the more attractive they appear to you. It’s an important lesson that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover unless you look at it a lot, that first impressions aren’t really that important if you can make several subsequent impressions, and that it’s totally fine to stare at people in public. Even if it weirds them out, you’ll probably end up complimenting them when it’s all over, so they’ll forgive you.
A lot of people are still kind of racist and/or sexist and/or otherwise hateful, but we expect machines to be cold and calculating, without any biases. That’s what makes stories around technology negatively targeting race and sex so interesting. Whether it’s when Google’s image search was matching images of African-Americans to those of animals or how content is suggested on Netflix or what ads you get served (women get shown more ads for lower-paying jobs than men do), there are questions around what’s causing it and what we should do about it. Is it just algorithms being algorithms, following the mostly-racist tendencies of the people using them? Is it the fact that tech companies are mostly made up of white guys? Who knows. I have to imagine it’s the fault of humans, though – even though modern computing systems probably really hate, like, Zunes or whatever, I think they’re probably cool with people and aren’t intentionally trying to offend anyone. We do a pretty good job of that without their help.