20 Comments
Feb 1Liked by Brian Klaas

Thank you for inviting me to be part of your onion! I am glad to have your voice, written and aural through podcasts, in my sphère as well. You make me more thoughtful and (hopefully) intelligent and I am thankful for that.

As a parent of teens the hardest part is steering them through an online life which is rich but not damaging, and an offline life which is exciting but not dangerous.

I often say that I'm glad the Internet was almost not invented when I was getting my degree, as I probably wouldn't have ended up where I am today. But it also allows me to still be connected with people I went to infant school with, despite now living thousands of miles away. And we cannot insulate our children as online life permeates everything now. Not sure what lessons to take away from that tbh.

Expand full comment

Thanks Brian--always thought-provoking--as someone who also struggles to minimize/manage screen time, I can just imagine how difficult this might be for teenagers (at least most that I see are buried in their phones and simultaneously isolated in their headphones). I'm intrigued by your comment that "the more we turn our self-validation over to global communities, the emptier our local lives can feel". Here in my small Midwestern town the newspaper is gone and it's difficult to know the local and small geographic space that used to be accessible by picking up a paper. Simple things like who has died now require searching multiple funeral home websites--and what's happening locally, whether it's a sporting event or the local town play, means looking online at a variety of sources. Local churches no longer advise parishioners of who in the congregation is hospitalized (HIPAA for churches?) and might need thoughts and prayers and maybe a hot dish. I'm curious about what you think of this and how others are combating that phenomenon?

Expand full comment
Feb 1Liked by Brian Klaas

Thanks. There is much here to think about. I keep trying to understand what is going on in today’s world, but it’s complicated, changed greatly from the one I grew up in. I remember my great grandfather. His Father was a soldier in the Civil War. My grandparents were born in the 1890’s. They used a horse & buggy to get around until the automobile was invented. They lived to see a man walk on the moon. When my Mother was born, women were not allowed to vote. Much progress has been made, but there is still a ways to go. This Information age presents new challenges for the young ones growing up now. I can’t say I envy them but there are many marvelous new things/

Expand full comment
Feb 1Liked by Brian Klaas

When belonging and social recognition plummet in our immediate surroundings

a key aspect of the issue, Brian. What do the Masons, the Peace Corps, church, a bridge club, the Girl Guides, the Knights of Columbus, mosque, bowling, and hide and seek have in common?

Well, they are all largely in decline. They were enduring 'places' where we interacted, in physical space; with fellow humans both above and below ourselves in social status, finances, intellect, looks, skills--we told stories, socialized, did good works on behalf of our communities, built belief systems, learned to work together, communicate, reason, discuss, have fun....and accept each other. And these were places where we could observe ourselves accepting each other.

Now we look for acceptance with Likes. Formerly, we had:

Interaction>Communication> Learning> Appreciation> Respect> Value= Cohesion=Society

Expand full comment
Feb 1·edited Feb 2Liked by Brian Klaas

Glad to be part of this particular community!! And I'll be starting Fluke today.

This is probably an off-the-wall take on the ideas in your post. I am wondering about the popularity of "gender fluidity" amongst teenagers, particularly girls. I'm not talking actual gender dysphoria, which I think is a matter of how an individual's synapses work in relation to their body and seems to me to be just as biological as the parts I call "those covered by bathing suits." I am talking about the more general popularity that you don't HAVE to be a "girl" (or"boy" but my experience is on the female side). Is this the way some teens deal with the pressures of Instagram or Tik Tok? "I don't have to be depressed comparing myself to an influencer because I'm not LIKE the influencer, but more fluid."

We live in an area where this is a real "thing" and popular, as I have seen as my grandchildren grow. Mileage may vary in Alabama.

Back in my day, the 50s, it was called resisting gender stereotypes and restrictions. For example, the idea that you had to wear skirts even in the snow, or that it was "wrong" to like playing with trains (or in my case, reading science fiction). It was a lonely fight, with a certain amount of shameful secrecy. I used to always buy my SF books with a copy of Photoplay, so I could get the book to the drugstore counter without anyone seeing what I was REALLY buying. Photoplay got looked at out of a "sunk cost" notion, but soon discarded. I still have some of those SF books.

Even as "women's lib" made cross-playing more acceptable, there were still pressures to conform. But today mere cross-play is not a big deal, and the pressures are still there. But the whole idea of gender fluidity is another way to reduce those pressures--those folks don't represent ME. I may not want to be male, but I don't have to be "female" either.

Are there any studies of teen anxiety caused/correlated with social media that carve out those who embrace gender fluidity (again, not dysphoria) to see whether they are better adjusted, at least those who live in areas where such fluidity isn't considered Instant Sin?

Expand full comment
Feb 1Liked by Brian Klaas

Again thank you for a relevant and well written piece, Brian. Also, I have enjoyed Fluke and the audiobook of same, whilst finding some hope in its fascinating interwoven narratives of connection, causation and contingency. The New Statesman piece is a deservedly flattering one and I suspect your essay in The Guardian will garner you more readers. All the best, John.

Expand full comment
Feb 2Liked by Brian Klaas

Brian, I am happy to be a part of the onion of your social circle, albeit we have never met. But the beauty of social media and the online world is we get to know and interact with so many people we otherwise would not have run across. As a kindred intellectual spirit and somebody who lived in the Twin Cities for about 7 years it is always a pleasure to read your work and interact through this medium. Please keep doing what you do as it is a service to all of us and hope that all who read your work pass it on to others directly and indirectly.

Expand full comment

I’ve often thought of some version of what you’re discussing—ever since in the late 1940s a child was trapped in a cave-in of some sort. As they tried to rescue her, I, an 8yo in Hermosa Beach, CA, worried about her. But that tragedy was miles away from me and my family. In earlier times I would not have experienced her agony day after day. Newspapers and the earliest television in that area pushed it into my world.

This may be tangential to what your article is about, but it’s what I thought I was going to read.

Expand full comment

I'm very worried in my daughter's behalf as her older daughter, now 9, approaches the social-media age. My granddaughter is fashion- and appearance-conscious, these days in a kind of cute, non-obsessive way, but I worry how she'll react to the onslaught of TikTok and Instagram posts. It's a struggle and a challenge for parents of kids, especially girls, today.

Because the flip side, as your essay notes, is that social media are good for connecting. I've been on the Internet (with a capital I) for a very long time--got my first AOL account in '93, I think. I remember with great fondness the connections I made (and still have!) through email servers, and even today Facebook is a pleasure for me--I have friends all over, with interesting lives.

Expand full comment

Coincidentally this morning, the Your Local Epidemiologist newsletter indicated that among the peer reviewed set that the jury is still out on assigning harm to social media. As you can imagine, the variables are immense and resistant to a certainty of conclusion. I look at Haidt’s chart and wonder if temperament is a significant contributor to any effect. That is, individuals who enjoy more solitary pursuits being less affected than individuals more aware of status. I see the former devoting an hour or two whereas the latter being the five hour junky.

Expand full comment

Always so interesting, thank you!

Maybe when the MAGA nationalists scream globalist at people like us, they are really just trying to say this same thing, but also blaming it on us at the same time. 🤔

Expand full comment