Trigger Warnings

May 20, 2014

Everyone has been sharing this New York Times article about college professors and other educators providing students with warnings before the students delve into material that might be offensive or trigger unsettling memories. 

Listen, I’m a Hippie. I have a peace sign tattooed on my foot. I believe people should express themselves. I believe people should be whoever they are. I believe in justice and love and equality. But these people – these people calling for “trigger warnings” (a fully made-up term, not an actual thing) are too crunchy for me.

Life doesn’t come with a warning. If material is inappropriate for a certain age group, or people of a certain maturity level, then sure, warn them. (For example, you wouldn’t show a seven year old Pulp Fiction without some sort of warning, right?) But to warn people because a novel, one with agreed-upon literally and cultural merit, might stir up something painful? Please.

This sounds like the ethos of lawnmower parents, who are equally absurd. Sometimes in life, you have to deal with hardship. You have to deal with painful memories. You have to be made uncomfortable. It tests your mettle and, hopefully, you come out stronger. 

Moreover, one of the very reasons to continue to read and discuss in educational settings possibly upsetting material is to struggle with it; is to understand where we’ve been, where we are and how far we have to go. If you are distressed by what you’re reading, make that part of the discussion. You can always use the “my friend” trick if you don’t want to bring your personal life into the classroom, but grappling with these things is what makes us better people. Instead of coddling university students, why not help them get treatment for these traumatic events? They don’t need a warning – they need medical attention. (And if they actually don’t, then they’re just being dramatic.)

We should never shy away from intellectual debate. Shame on those sacrificing a robust education for many for the sake of a few people’s comfort. 



Quitting Email?

May 1, 2014

I just read Charlie Warzel’s Buzz Feed article, What I Learned After Quitting Email for a Week. Warzel is right, it’s a behavioral problem, not a technological problem. However, Warzel misses some of the point. 

He bemoans the fact that he typically is chained to his phone at night because of the emails coming in. Um, dude? Turn off the push notifications. Problem solved. 

My attitude toward technology is almost anathema to that of an early adopter. I didn’t get an iPod until around 2007, when my Discman broke on the eve of a trip to Israel, with its 13-hour flight. Furthermore, and perhaps more shocking to some, I acquired a smart phone only two months ago. That’s right, a 30 year old living in NYC had, until two months ago, a “dumb” phone, one that made calls (if AT&T didn’t suck that day) and sent text messages. That’s it. (I don’t like to text, but the phone came with the technology.) I saw no need for a smart phone. I figured that I’d gotten along just fine without one and I could continue to do so. 

But more than that, I didn’t want to run the risk of becoming like Warzel, tethered to my phone and unable to leave technology alone long enough to actually experience something as it’s happening. When people would say to me, “But if you had a smart phone and you were at a show, you could tweet about how great it is.” Excuse me? Tweet while at a show? No way! A modicum of etiquette, if you please.

More to the point, though, if I’m having such a good time doing something that I want to tell people about it, I don’t want to take myself out of the moment so that I can tweet about it. I want to stay in that moment for as long as possible, soak up all the wonder and beauty and joy of that moment. Later, when the moment has passed and I’m idle, is when I can tell people about it. And so I was worried that if I had a smart phone, I would not be able to stay in the now here this.

So when I gave in to peer pressure (truly, I’m ashamed) and I got my iPhone and I set up Twitter and Facebook and Gmail and everything else, I tapped “Don’t Allow” for all push notifications. There is absolutely nothing in a push notification that I need to know right now. As Warzel discovered in his week without email, the people who must speak to you will, and the information you must know will become known. I know that if there is an emergency, my family will call me. No one sends emergency information in an email or a tweet or via Instagram…or even via text, for that matter. (Right? People don’t send emergency messages via text, right?) Ditto for equally important but good news. When my sister-in-law was pregnant with my niece, do you think she and my brother told me via email? Of course not! We met for dinner and they told me in person. 

I don’t think you need to quit email for a week (or any length of time, for that matter) in order to realize what a time suck is can be. It’s just a matter of changing your behavior – and perhaps a few push settings.