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Reading Slate Can Kill!

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The heavily circulated story of a baby who died while her parents played a computer game has inspired a remarkable feat of fearmongering from Slate columnist William Saletan. You can read the whole thing, or you can just skip to the crescendo:

Not now, honey. I'm reading a fascinating article by William Saletan.

Maybe this is just a weird story about a sick couple on the other side of the planet. But look in the mirror. Every time you answer your cell phone in traffic, squander your work day on YouTube, text a colleague during dinner, or turn on the TV to escape your kids, you're leaving this world. You're neglecting the people around you, sometimes at the risk of killing them.

Before you turn from this blog in horror and double-check that you've been remembering to feed your children, here's Bryan Alexander unpacking Saletan's rhetoric:

It's fascinating how the author shifts from observing one type of interaction (person to software) to a second (person to person, mediated by software) without realizing it.

This unacknowledged slide is related to the old expression "stop talking on the phone"—one doesn't really talk on the phone, but talks to someone else through the phone. To the caller, which is more important, the other person or the handset?

Saletan's revivified argument also turns a blind eye to all pre-digital distractions, be they pre-Web radio…books, or just daydreaming. It's a classic move for those expressing fear of new technologies, especially in the US. Question: are any of those other technologies or media or practices not "virtual"? Are they ok now in their absorption, validated by being non-cyberspatial?

For Saletan, the "real horror" of the story is that the "balance of power between the worlds is shifting. Here and there, virtual reality is gaining the upper hand." I don't accept the "balance of power" metaphor, but if I did, I'd say virtual reality came out on top around the time our ancestors invented art and language.

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  1. This is ironic considering Saletan is the Lawnmower Man.

  2. Saleton wrote an article last year arguing that it was unfair that people lived longer. That life should be distributed more equally. And therefore it is no big deal if we stop providing health care to older people.

    The man is unbelievably stupid and sick. I can’t believe anyone reads him.

    1. He sounds like an amusing read, John.

      1. I can’t find a link to it. But it was appalling. Saleton is one of the worst creatures in journalsim.

    2. Maybe he thought he was clever enough to make a Jonathan Swift reference. Or maybe he’s just evil.

  3. Didn’t we roundly abuse Saletan for some other typed excrescence on Hit’n’Run a few days ago? It seems to me we did, but i don’t feel like looking for actual evidence.

    1. Yep. I think it was a Sug link.

      And no hat tip? TANJ.

      1. They secretly hate me.

      2. DON’T ENCOURAGE THE NUTRAJERK.

        1. This is the impotent rage of an Italian on St. Patrick’s Day. Quite sad, really.

          1. Epi wishes he were Italian, that little Albanian prick.

            1. I thought he was Assyrian.

            2. “Today is St. Patrick’s Day, when everybody is a little bit Irish…except the gays and the Italians!”

              1. Speaking of green puke, I went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Albany, held last Saturday afternoon. Chuck Schumer was walking along with a bullhorn yelling “Let’s here it for the Irish everybody.” It took all my strength not to rush into the street and beat him with his own bullhorn.

                1. Is Albany where Albanians are from?

          2. Impotent rage? It’s called nausea. I hate this day. I see more green puke than I can handle.

            1. It’s referred to as amateur night at my local
              I’ve suggested that we start a new tradition where everyone gets to hand out one free punch in the face to someone who deserves it today

            2. People often speak of “impotent rage.” Yet you never hear about “potent rage.” Why is that?

    2. I can’t believe I missed that earlier thread. I hate when people accuse me of coporophilia behind my back.

  4. The real horror is the idea that people never behave as Saletan thinks they should. And this is deeply hurtful to his bloated, self-obsessed ego.

  5. The punchline is down in the comments when Saletan tells one of the responders “Dude! Relax.”

    1. The punchline is that Saletan is responding to comments in cyberspace instead of feeding his starving, crying child.

  6. Noice Tetsuo II: Body Hammer image Jesse!

    Trailer harr:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..re=related

    And the original Tetsuo: The Iron Man trailer hurr:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uROMTzJsfOI

  7. Maybe I should bring Saletan in to work for me…

  8. A guy running on the beach listening to his iPod just got run over and killed by an airplane.

    1. I posted this yesterday, assholes. I demand credit.

      1. Go talk to Chris Dodd.

  9. This reminds me of the Mississippi Delta preachers in the early part of the 20th century condemning picking up a guitar as devilry. Practicing might lead to singing the blues, which inevitably led to drinking, stealing other folk’s women, and moving on.

    I wonder what Saletan’s views on practicing music are?

    1. From the article, we could infer that digital music was bad, but non-digital was ok. mp3 players, iTunes, Amazon downloads lead to starved babies. Acoustic guitar, barbershop quartets, playing piano with sheet music make us more human.

      …unless music remains free of all evil, for Saletan. It’s missing from this catalog of vile things: “Every time you answer your cell phone in traffic, squander your work day on YouTube, text a colleague during dinner, or turn on the TV to escape your kids, you’re leaving this world.”

  10. A guy running on the beach listening to his iPod just got run over and killed by an airplane.

    Is this a Zen koan?

    1. Nope. Just the bad luck equivalent of winning the Powerball.

  11. …I’d say virtual reality came out on top around the time our ancestors invented art and language.

    Jesse’s point there is well taken?except that spoken language (as opposed to writing) appears to be not an invention but an instinct. I cite cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker as my source, who, in my arrogant opinion, deserves to rival Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard as a philosophical prime mover within the libertarian movement.

    1. While I don’t think the science is settled here, I wrote that sentence fully aware that the ancestors in question might turn out to be members of another species.

    2. who, in my arrogant opinion…

      My arrogant opinion is that while I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a prime mover within the libertarian movement, Pinker is someone whose ideas are worth digesting thoroughly.

      1. If there’s one thing in particular from Pinker that pertains urgently to the American political scene, I’d say it’s chapter 15 of The Blank Slate, “The Sanctimonious Animal.” Essentially, the human moral sense is a sophisticated but flawed neural gadget that can let proper moral reasoning degenerate into petty moralizing. You can read that chapter here courtesy of Google Books.

  12. Eaten by wolves, run over by an airplane, the harsh reality exists.

    iPods KILL!!

  13. Jacob Sullum posted a similar story almost a year ago about some couple who were so busy with their D&D MMO they let their kid(s?) starve.

    His headline was something like “I don’t think they’re lawful good.”

  14. Every time you answer your cell phone in traffic, squander your work day on YouTube, text a colleague during dinner, or turn on the TV to escape your kids, you’re leaving this world. You’re neglecting the people around you, sometimes at the risk of killing them.

    Is leaving the world by reading words in a book equally dangerous, or does danger only enter into the equation via electronic distractions?

    1. That’s a great question, Jennifer, and one worth posing to anyone fomenting cyber-fear.

      On the one hand, these folks often romanticize and naturalize pre-digital versions of the same thing. Check the rosy depictions of classrooms, for example, which appeared during panics about online teaching in the 1990s; classes all became warm, splendid, intimate (but in a good way) sites of fine learning.

      On the other, such critics usually forget about criticisms of predigital tech, from Socrates’ concern over writing (Phaedrus) to many anxieties about the very dangerous French Encyclopedie. We’ve been down this way before, but there must be some percentage in pretending like one is breaking new ground.

    2. Jennifer, STFU and get off cyberspace and feed your crying kid!

      The irony of this thread is that by definition, anyone commenting here is either opposed to Salatin’s notions or irony-impaired.

      1. Of course, Saletan published his screed on-line.

        So who’s irony-impaired?

      2. If Jennifer had kids, she wouldn’t be a libertarian. Duh.

        1. Throwback reference FTW!

  15. I can’t figure out which site I read less, Slate or Salon.

    Oh yeah, I don’t read either of them at all.

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