Noam Chomsky Explains the Best Way for Ordinary People to Make Change in the World, Even When It Seems Daunting

The threat of widespread violence and unrest descends upon the country, thanks again to a collection of actors viciously opposed to civil rights, and in many cases, to the very existence of people who are different from them. They have been given aid and comfort by very powerful enablers. Veteran activists swing into action. Young people on college campuses turn out by the hundreds week after week. But for many ordinary people with jobs, kids, mortgages, etc. the cost of participating in constant protests and civil actions may seem too great to bear. Yet, given many awful examples in recent history, the cost of inaction may be also.

What can be done? Not all of us are Rosa Parks or Howard Zinn or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Thich Nat Hanh or Cesar Chavez or Dolores Huerta, after all. Few of us are revolutionaries and few may wish to be. Not everyone is brave enough or talented enough or knowledgeable enough or committed enough or, whatever.

The problem with this kind of thinking is a problem with so much thinking about politics. We look to leaders—men and women we think of as superior beings—to do everything for us. This can mean delegating all the work of democracy to sometimes very flawed individuals. It can also mean we fundamentally misunderstand how democratic movements work.

In the video above, Noam Chomsky addresses the question of what ordinary people can do in the face of seemingly insurmountable injustice. (The clip comes from the 1992 documentary Manufacturing Consent.) “The way things change,” he says, “is because lots of people are working all the time, and they’re working in their communities or their workplace or wherever they happen to be, and they’re building up the basis for popular movements.”

In the history books, there’s a couple of leaders, you know, George Washington or Martin Luther King, or whatever, and I don’t want to say that those people are unimportant. Martin Luther King was certainly important, but he was not the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King can appear in the history books ‘cause lots of people whose names you will never know, and whose names are all forgotten and who may have been killed and so on were working down in the South.

King himself often said as much. For example, in the Preface of his Stride Toward Freedom he wrote—referring to the 50,000 mostly ordinary, anonymous people who made the Montgomery Bus Boycott happen—“While the nature of this account causes me to make frequent use of the pronoun 'I,' in every important part of the story it should be ‘we.' This is not a drama with only one actor.”

As for public intellectuals like himself engaged in political struggle, Chomsky says, “people like me can appear, and we can appear to be prominent… only because somebody else is doing the work.” He defines his own work as “helping people develop courses of intellectual self-defense” against propaganda and misinformation. For King, the issue came down to love in action. Responding in a 1963 interview above to a critical question about his methods, he counters the suggestion that nonviolence means sitting on the sidelines.

I think of love as something strong and that organizes itself into powerful, direct action…. We are not engaged in a struggle that means we sit down and do nothing. There’s a great deal of difference between nonresistance to evil and nonviolent resistance. Nonresistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency, whereas nonviolent resistance means that you do resist in a very strong and determined manner.

Both Chomsky, King, and every other voice for justice and human rights would agree that individuals need to act instead of relying on movement leaders. Whatever actions one can take—whether it’s engaging in informed debate with family, friends, or coworkers, writing letters, making donations to activists and organizations, documenting injustice, or taking to the streets in protest or acts of civil disobedience—makes a difference. These are the small individual actions that, when practiced diligently by thousands, make every powerful social movement possible.

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Read Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story: The Influential 1957 Civil Rights Comic Book

‘Tired of Giving In’: The Arrest Report, Mug Shot and Fingerprints of Rosa Parks (December 1, 1955)

Howard Zinn’s “What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me About the American Empire”: An Illustrated Video Narrated by Viggo Mortensen

Henry David Thoreau on When Civil Disobedience and Resistance Are Justified (1849)

Saul Alinsky’s 13 Tried-and-True Rules for Creating Meaningful Social Change

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Last Surviving Witness of the Lincoln Assassination Appears on the TV Game Show “I’ve Got a Secret” (1956)

Let's rewind the videotape to 1956, to Samuel James Seymour's appearance on the CBS television show, "I've Got a Secret." At 96 years of age, Seymour was the last surviving person present at Ford's Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth (April 14, 1865).

Only five years old at the time, Mr. Seymour traveled with his father to Washington D.C. on a business trip, where they attended a performance of Our American Cousin. The youngster caught a quick glimpse of the president, the play began, and the rest is, well, history.

A quick footnote: Samuel Seymour died two months after his TV appearance. His longevity had something to do, I imagine, with declining those Winstons over the years.

Find courses on the Civil War in our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Note: This post originally appeared on our site in August, 2011.

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Legendary Animator Chuck Jones Creates an Oscar-Winning Animation About the Virtues of Universal Health Care (1949)

While our country looks like it might be coming apart at the seams, it’s good to revisit, every once in a while, moments when it did work. And that’s not so that we can feel nostalgic about a lost time, but so that we can remind ourselves how, given the right conditions, things could work well once again.

One example from history (and recently rediscovered by a number of blogs during the AHCA debacle in Congress) is this government propaganda film from 1949—the Harry S. Truman era—that promotes the idea of cradle-to-grave health care, and all for three cents a week. This money went to school nurses, nutritionists, family doctors, and neighborhood health departments.

Directed by Chuck Jones, better known for animating Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and the Road Runner, "So Much for So Little" follows our main character from infancy—where doctors help immunize babies against whooping cough, diphtheria, rheumatic fever, and smallpox—through school to dating, marriage, becoming parents, and settling into a nice, healthy retirement. Along the way, the government has made sure that health care is nothing to worry about.

The film won an Academy Award in 1950 for Documentary Short Subject—not best sci-fi, despite how radical this all sounds.

So what happened? John Maher at the blog Dot and Line puts it this way:

Partisanship and capitalism and racist zoning policies shattered its idealistic dream that Americans might actually pay communally for their health as well as that of their neighbors and fellow citizens.

Three cents per American per week wouldn’t cut it now in terms of universal health coverage. But according to Maher, quoting a 2009 Kingsepp study on the original Affordable Care Act, taxpayers would have to pay $3.61 a week.

So folks, don’t get despondent, get idealistic. The Greatest Generation came back from WWII with a grand idealism. Maybe this current generation just needs to fight and defeat Nazis all over again…

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The Color Palettes of Your Favorite Films: The Royal Tenenbaums, Reservoir Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner & More

We tend to think of film as roughly divided into the "black and white" and "color" eras, the latter ushered in by such lavish Technicolor productions as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. But we also know it's not as simple as that: those pictures came out in Hollywood's "golden year" of 1939, but some filmmakers had already been experimenting with color, and the golden age of black-and-white film would continue through the 1960s. Movies today still occasionally dare to venture into the never-entirely-shuttered realm of the monochrome, but on the whole, color reigns supreme.

Even though most movies now use color, few use it to its fullest advantage. Color gives viewers something more to look at, of course, but it can also give a movie its visual identity. Think of the films you've seen that you can call back most vividly to mind, almost as if you had a projector inside your head, and most of them will probably have a distinctive color palette.

The most memorable cinematic images, in other words, will have been composed not just with any color they happened to need, but with a very specific set of colors, deliberately assembled by the filmmakers for its particular expressiveness.

For a few years now, the Twitter account Cinema Palettes has drawn out and isolated those colors, ten per film, for all to see. "Though based on a momentary still, each spectrum of shades seems to encapsulate its movie's overall mood," writes My Modern Met's Leah Pellegrini, pointing to "the somber, otherworldly blues of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the dreamlike pinks and purples of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the cloyingly pretty pastels of Edward Scissorhands, and the earthly, organic greens and browns of Atonement."

It will surprise nobody to see the work of Wes Anderson, famed for the care he gives not just to color but every visual element of his film, appear more than once on the feed. Here we see Cinema Palettes' selections from The Royal Tenenbaums, as well as from Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The project reveals an aspect of filmmaking that few of us may think consciously about, but nevertheless reflects the nature of cinema itself: the best films select not just the right colors but the right aspects of reality itself to present, to intensify, to diminish, and to leave out entirely.

Explore more films and colors at Cinema Palettes.

via My Modern Met and h/t Natalie W-S

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Prince Gets an Official Purple Pantone Color

Image by Ann Althouse, via Flickr Commons

It was bound to happen...

The Pantone Color Institute has announced that they've created "a standardized custom color to represent and honor international icon, Prince." Called "Love Symbol #2", the color (below) draws inspiration from Prince's Yamaha purple piano. Somewhere, Marie Schrader is jealous.

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Ralph Steadman’s Surrealist Illustrations of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1995)

As a novelist, George Orwell did not traffic in subtleties, but then neither did the authors of Medieval morality plays. The allegorical Animal Farm performs a similar, if secular, function, giving us unambiguous villainy and clear didactic intent. Orwell noted in his essay “Why I Write” that he meant the book to “fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.“ Originally published with the subtitle A Fairy Story, the novel caricatures Stalinism and the Russian Revolution, and Orwell left no mystery as to his intent when he commented in the preface to a 1947 Ukrainian edition that he meant the book to “end on a loud note of discord” meant to signify what he saw as the instability of the Tehran Conference.

Leaden statements like these aside, Orwell swore he “did not wish to comment on the work,” writing, “if it does not speak for itself, it is a failure.” The book does indeed speak, in two especially particular ways: its vividly grotesque characterizations of the humans and animals on the farm and its indelible collection of propagandistic slogans.

These are the features best captured by gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman, famous for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson and Pink Floyd. Published in 1995—with the Fairy Story subtitle restored—the Steadman-illustrated 50th anniversary edition realizes another previous variation on the book’s title: Animal Farm: A Contemporary Satire.

These images draw out the exaggerated absurdities of the novel as only an artist with Steadman’s twisted, surrealist sense of visual humor could. They are profoundly effective, though there’s no telling what Orwell would have thought of them. Steadman’s caricatures universalize the book’s drama, providing the kind of stock characters we find in folklore, “fairy stories,” and religious allegory. But Orwell wrote that he wished us not to mistake his express political intent: “It was of the utmost importance to me that people in Western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was…. I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement.”

Steadman, to his great credit, felt no need to literalize Orwell's stated intentions in his illustrations, but rather took the book's bizarre world on its own terms. You can read more quotes from Orwell’s earnest, intended preface for the book, restored in the Steadman edition, at Brain Pickings, where you’ll also find a good number of the illustrations as well. Copies of the out-of-print book can be purchased on Amazon and Abe's books.

Steadman not only applied his skill as a caricaturist to Orwell’s fictional farm denizens, we should note, but also to the author himself. He made several sketches of Orwell, such as that below of the writer with a cage of rats around his neck. You can see several more of Steadman’s drawings of Orwell at The Guardian.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear 9 Hours of Hans Zimmer Soundtracks: Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight & Much More

No name has become more synonymous with the very concept of "movie music" than that of Hans Zimmer. Beginning in the 1980s by composing for such cult filmmakers of distinctive vision as Jerzy Skolimowski, Nico Mastorakis, and Nicolas Roeg, Zimmer soon rose to Hollywood heights, creating the scores for big hits like Rain ManThe Lion KingAs Good as It Gets, Gladiator, and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. In recent years, he has entered into an ongoing collaboration with the director Christopher Nolan, himself an indie favorite turned blockbuster king, scoring his Batman movies as well as InceptionInterstellar, and Nolan's new World War II picture Dunkirk, whose unusual sonic intensity the Vox video above explains.

"My weakness is that I didn’t go to music school, and that my formal education is two weeks of piano lessons," Zimmer told Indiewire a couple years ago, after the release of Interstellar. "My strength is that I know how to listen," and "the way Chris Nolan and I work is we listen to each other."

Unlike many productions where "the composer is this nearly uncontrollable element that comes into the film" and to whom the director must defer, Zimmer starts working on Nolan's movies from the beginning, a process he describes as a conversation: "While he was writing, while he was shooting, I was writing, and the music was happening sort of in a — to use an Interstellar term — parallel universe, really." With no need for the dreaded "temp score," the drama of Zimmer's music and Nolan's stories develop together.

You can hear the results of Zimmer's process in this nine-hour playlist, which includes Zimmer's work for Nolan's films up to Dunkirk--its sound based in part on the ticking of a watch Nolan had given him--and others besides. (The playlist also includes Zimmer's soundtracks for Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Black Hawk Down, Sherlock Holmes, Gladiator, and The Thin Red Line.) If it leaves you with the desire to learn a bit more about how this instinctive master of movie music does it, have a look at the trailer above for "Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring," his $90 course from the online educational platform Masterclass. The very first piece of wisdom he offers reflects the fact that his instinct for back-and-forth collaboration extends well beyond his partnership with Nolan to his view on the craft itself: "In music, you're basically having a conversation" — with your artistic collaborators, with your fellow musicians, with anyone to whom you can listen.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

F.D.R. Proposes a Second Bill of Rights: A Decent Job, Education & Health Care Will Keep Us Free from Despotism (1944)

It’s difficult to appraise the complicated legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His New Deal policies are credited for lifting millions out of destitution, and they created opportunities for struggling artists and writers, many of whom went on to become some of the country’s most celebrated. But Roosevelt also compromised with racist southern senators like Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, and underwrote housing segregation, job and pay discrimination, and exclusions in his economic recovery aimed most squarely at African-Americans. He is lauded as a wartime leader in the fight against Nazism. But he built concentration camps on U.S. soil when he interned over 100,000 Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. His commitment to isolationism before the war and his “moral failure—or indifference” to the plight of European Jews, thousands of whom were denied entry to the U.S., has come under justifiable scrutiny from historians.

Both blame and praise are well warranted, and not his alone to bear. Yet, for all his serious lapses and wartime crimes, FDR consistently had an astute and idealistic economic vision for the country. In his 1944 State of the Union address, he denounced war profiteers and “selfish and partisan interests,” saying, “if ever there was a time to subordinate individual or group selfishness to the national good, that time is now.”

He went on to enumerate a series of proposals “to maintain a fair and stable economy at home” while the war still raged abroad. These include taxing “all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate” and enacting regulations on food prices. The speech is most extraordinary, however, for the turn it takes at the end, when the president proposes and clearly articulates a “second Bill of Rights,” arguing that the first one had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

Roosevelt did not take the value of equality for granted or merely invoke it as a slogan. Though its role in his early policies was sorely lacking, he showed in 1941 that he could be moved on civil rights issues when, in response to a march on Washington planned by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and other activists, he desegregated federal hiring and the military. In his 1944 speech, Roosevelt strongly suggests that economic inequality is a precursor to Fascism, and he offers a progressive political theory as a hedge against Soviet Communism.

“We have come to a clear realization,” he says, “of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident.” In the footage at the top of the post, you can see Roosevelt himself read his new Bill of Rights. Read the transcript yourself just below:

We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; 

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Roosevelt died in office before the war ended. His successor tried to carry forward his economic and civil rights initiatives with the "Fair Deal," but congress blocked nearly all of Truman's proposed legislation. We might imagine an alternate history in which Roosevelt lived and found a way through force of will to enact his “second Bill of Rights," honoring his promise to every “station, race” and “creed.” Yet in any case, his fourth term was nearly at an end, and he would hardly have been elected to a fifth.

But FDR's progressive vision has endured. Many seeking to chart a course for the country that tacks away from political extremism and toward economic justice draw directly from Roosevelt’s vision of freedom and security. His new bill of rights is striking for its political boldness. Its proposals may have had their clearest articulation three years earlier in the famous “Four Freedoms” speech. In it he says, “the basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Guaranteeing jobs, if not income, for all and a "constantly rising standard of living" may be impossible in the face of automation and environmental degradation. Yet, most of Roosevelt's principles may not only be realizable, but perhaps, as he argued, essential to preventing the rise of oppressive, authoritarian states.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New BBC Dramatization of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children Now Streaming Free for a Limited Time

FYI: The BBC is now streaming a dramatization of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children. This free stream will only last for a limited time (the next 29 days). So dive in.

Here's how the BBC briefly describes the production:

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India, an ambitious new dramatization of Salman Rushdie's dazzling novel of love, history and magic. Saleem Sinai is born on the stroke of midnight on 15th August 1947, at the exact moment that India and Pakistan become separate, independent nations. From that moment on, his fate is mysteriously handcuffed to the history of his country. The story starts with Saleem's grandfather, Aadam, in Kashmir in 1915. Dramatised by Ayeesha Menon. Starring Nikesh Patel, Abhin Galeya and Meera Syal.

You can find the seven individual episodes here. Each is about an hour long. Find more free literary delights in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

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The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

A familiar ding comes from your pocket, you look up from what you’re doing and reach for the smartphone. Before you can think, "it can wait," you’ve disappeared into the screen like little Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist. Taken by a ghostly presence with designs upon your soul—your time, emotional well-being, creativity—Facebook. Someone has requested my friendship! You like my video? I like you! Why, I’ve got an opinion about that, and that, and that, and that…. All the little performative gestures, imprinted in the fingers and the thumbs.

Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, WhatsApp, VKontact, Sina Weibo…. Just maybe, social media addiction is a global epidemic, a collection of mentally, and politically, toxic behaviors. As Suren Ramasubbu reports, “social media engagement has been found to trigger three key networks in the brain” that make us think intensely about our self-image and public perception, create new neural pathways, and release dopamine and oxytocin, which keep us coming back for more thumbs-ups, little hearts, and gold stars (good job!).

While the nature of addiction is a controversial topic, it will arouse little disagreement to say that we live—as Georgetown University Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport writes in the subtitle of his book Deep Work—in a “distracted world.” Newport’s prescription will go down less easily. Quit, drop out, tune out, opt out, get out of the Matrix, Newport argues, more or less, in his book and his TEDx talk above. He acknowledges the oddity of being a “millennial computer scientist book author, standing on a TED stage” who never had a social media account and urges others to give up theirs.

Any one of his overlapping demographics is likely to have a significant web presence. Put all of them together and we expect Newport to be pitching a startup network to an audience of venture capitalists. Even the story about why he first abstained could have made him a minor character in The Social Network. But feelings of professional jealousy soon turned to wariness and alarm. “This seems dangerous,” he says, then lets us know—because we surely wondered—that he’s okay. “I still have friends. I still know what’s going on in the world.” Whether you’re convinced he’s happier than the rest of us poor saps is up to you.

As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods.”

Newport names another objection to quitting—the necessity of social media as an essential business tool—then pivots to his book and his commitment to what he calls “deep work.” What is this? You can read the book to find out, or get a Cliff’s Notes version in Brian Johnson’s video above. Johnson begins by contrasting deep work with “shallow work,” where we spend most of our time, “constantly responding to the latest and loudest email and push notification for social media, or text messages or phone ringing, whatever.”

While we may get little endorphin boosts from all of this heavily mediated social activity, we pay a high price in stress, anxiety, and lost time in our personal, professional, and creative lives. The research on overwork and distraction supports Newport's conclusions. The real rewards come from deep work, he argues, that which we do when we have total focus and emotional investment in a project. Without getting too specific, such work, Newport says, is not only personally fulfilling, but valuable “in a 21st century economy” for its rarity.

Social media, on the other hand, he claims, contributes little to our work lives. And as you (or maybe it’s me) scan the open social media tabs in your overloaded browser, and tune in to the cluttered state of your mind, you might find yourself agreeing with his heretical proposition. You might even share his talk on social media. Or decide to follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Related Content:

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New Animation Explains Sherry Turkle’s Theories on Why Social Media Makes Us Lonely

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness





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