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The Times tech columnist ‘unplugged’ from the internet, except he didn’t (cjr.org)
241 points by sqdbps on Mar 11, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments



FWIW, his last 3,200 tweets (as pulled from the API) and a graph of his daily tweeting rate: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1nFHsiPWvYwUmopXWbx6T...

After the second week in January, he definitely tweeted far less than he usually does. But it's still far from being "unplugged". It's not just whether or not his original column claimed to have completely cut off Twitter, but how it omitted any mention of the relevant fact that he continued to tweet during this time. You can tweet without getting your news from Twitter. OTOH, you can read a lot of Twitter without tweeting very much, and it's clear he was reading and tweeting about the kind of bullshit that he claims newspapers don't get to printing.

To me, it's comical/sad how Manjoo couldn't simply quit Twitter for a few weeks after coming up with the idea to make this a big feature. It's as if social media is a basic life necessity for him and he could only do the equivalent of fasting.


Were any of the tweets automated?


You can open the "tweets" tab in GP's linked doc. None of them look particularly automated.


Perhaps, but certainly not all of them.

(There are instances where he was responding to or retweeting tweets from the same day.)


My first thought was well. It's quite likely that the times as a full time social media manager that makes sure none of their columnists feeds ever goes too quiet. That probably takes the form of either a robot automatically posting snippets under the names of journalists in the right departments or an intern/entry level position handling 40 accounts at once.

It may be that he really did go offline, and forgot that if you take his twitter account at face value it looks like he lied.


Your hypothesis is contradicted by the article:

> Manjoo objects to that characterization. “I think it’s clear that I meant I ‘unplugged’ from Twitter as a source of news, not that I didn’t tweet at all,” he wrote.


I felt bad about upvoting this, because the writer is so nasty about it. His style of writing feels like long-form Twitter trolling. But I upvoted it because the information in it is important. It shows how addictive Twitter is. It also shows how plugged in you can be and still feel yourself to be unplugged.

Farhad ends up seeming like an alcoholic talking about how he's on the wagon, and then you look down and there's a bottle in his hand. The important point though is not that he's some sort of hypocrite, but that it could be any of us.


>Farhad ends up seeming like an alcoholic talking about how he's on the wagon, and then you look down and there's a bottle in his hand.

I know that feeling! I am social media clean for two months now. All that browsing random news items and commenting on people's posts, it had to stop, it was eating away at my soul. I have no idea why people feel this urge to share their most intimate details of their lives with anonymous people on the internet. It's a disease worse than alcoholism.

Phew, glad to get this of my chest, my completely socially unconnected fellow HNers.


Is news.yc 0% social media in your mind?


That was self directed sarcasm (unless my sarcasm detector is broken)


Doh! On re-reading, I think you're right, but it zoomed right over my head...


Something interesting here about the inability for people to detect sarcasm in social media posts...


Yeah this piece was definitely more ad hominem than it needed to be. Ironically, Manjoo confessing to not being able to completely cut off Twitter would've made for a more compelling story, even if it meant a less sexy and concise headline and summary. But that would bolster the overall theme that situations/stories are just too complicated to be summed up in Tweet-optimized headlines.


"Ad hominem" means "to the person". The way we use it on message boards, referring to the "ad hominem fallacy", we mean "an argument improperly addressed to the person who made it, rather than to the argument itself". That's clearly not what's happened here; the argument is intrinsically about Farhad Manjoo. Articles criticizing the actions of people aren't intrinsically fallacious.

There's a good blog post somewhere about this phenomenon, which it dubs "the ad hominem fallacy fallacy".


That’s a fair point. What I had meant to say was that Manjoo’s history of questionable articles (which, to be fair, are just a few selections from a very long and generally liked career) did not seem directly relevant to whether he is being misleading now, other than to imply that he is generally a poor pundit/writer. But you’re right that the argument refers to his work as evidence and not to Manjoo himself.


>history of questionable articles [...] did not seem directly relevant to whether he is being misleading now

I believe the point being made was that his use of social media could have been the cause of this. The implication was that the perceived decline in quality of the output and the ever-increasing use of social media were correlated:

>Manjoo’s latest column seems to be of a piece with these earlier works. After trying, and failing, to get him to own up to the fact that his assertion that he had “unplugged” from social media was not true, I asked him whether perhaps his use of social media was messing with his own self-perception. He didn’t respond to that question.

We can argue about the validity of such assumptions, but, nevertheless, the author of the article was trying to build a case here.


Agreed. That seemed gratuitous.


The phrase is also commonly used in the sense of an "ad hominem attack", meaning an attack directly on a person's character or actions, rather than their work or ideas. It doesn't always refer to the fallacy.


This doesn't have anything to do with social media "addiction". It just shows plainly how bad the NYT has gotten when even the simplest most trivially checkable assertions of its reporters turn out to be slimy and weaselly. How can you trust anything they write when things that you can verify turn out to be "true" only with the most absurd definitions of "true"?

The NYT 20+ years ago wouldn't have let this happen and would have taken action. The NYT of today isn't the same.


I read both the Times and the WSJ for years now, and can say the opinion and lifestyle pieces on both have chronically suffered from a lack of “journalistic integrity”... because they’re intended to be biased from the get go.

IMO, this has been a pretty consistent feature of lifestyle/opinion pieces across the history of newspapers. It just used to be buried away in its proper section. Unfortunately, these types of fluff/garbage pieces can “trend” and blend in with proper journalism making you feel like they’re to be held to some standard of journalism or science.

Unfortunately, people have a lot of difficulty distinguishing between the two, which is probably why people consider things like conservative talk radio and the Huffington Post and this lifestyle piece rigorous journalism.


There’s a difference between being biased (= expressing your personal non-objective opinion) and lying.


I was just addressing OPs statement about paper quality as it has existed across "rigorous" papers (conservative and liberal) for decades. Op-ed has always been a steaming pile thats thankfully not reflective of the actual news published.

As to your point, I agree completely--this guy just needs to be fired, and the NYT should post a correction. He was a trusted writer who made false claims about his own behavior.

Should the NYT have surveilled Manjoo's "experiment" for a fluff piece? Should it monitor their writers to make sure they actually went and tried that new cupcake place on 5th avenue?

Maybe. But I feel like the issue here is that this staff member blatantly lied to both the paper and the public, which feels akin to a doctor violating his hippocratic oath.

As for the rest of op-ed, I honestly feel like cherry-picking facts and figures to form a one-sided opinion is tantamount to a lie--perhaps an even more sinister one. And just like we don't have op-eds on Wikipedia, we should be damn sure to isolate them from what we call "news."


Same playbook as the Enquirer. Entertainment > Credibility. Credibility isn't what sells to the NYT target market.


I don't understand this. Addiction, sure, it exists, and for those affected, maybe unplugging is impossible.

But how can you claim to be "unplugged" if you're not?? This is ridiculous. Words have meaning, or they should have, esp. for a journalist.

FM either is lying, or is delusional. He should be called out for it.


How does a druggie claim to be "clean" if they are not??


They lie.


Nasty writing was deserved.


Yes, especially when "nasty" just means "pointing out that the guy was blatantly lying".


When you're making a snarky retweet it should occur to you you're still using the internet. If you only planned to hop online to output headlines, that is what you do (hop on, hop off). Clickbait is getting a backlash.


I don’t think you should feel bad about it. The New York Times should be held to a high standard.


Look at it more cynically.

It is not unfair to say this article was penned by someone who is just a pen for hire, who can write on any topic and churn the words out to get paid. In this mode there is nothing written from direct personal experience, everything is just copied from the internets and news wires, not really felt. It is not really writing, it is arranging words in a presentable way to be paid. Any soul to it is feigned.

But how does this type of journalism come about?

It does so all the time, every day, when there is something new to write about.

Imagine you work in the media and that there is a lot of public interest in a topic and that there is a market for content. It could be anything, e.g. the dreaded blockchain, some new bird flu etc.

There are broadcasters with a public service remit that means having original programming or current affairs programming is expected to fill a quota. Therefore, much to your surprise, there is a market for 'original journalism' to fill that gap, with real money on offer to those that can provide the content.

Your company needs all the work that it can get so you pitch for that documentary on 'blockchain and internet cat pictures', saying that it will only cost $50000 and be done by next Tuesday. Your programme gets commissioned and now you have the problem of filling 45 minutes of screen time with a lot of informative stuff you know nothing about. But this is not a problem.

Your researchers, that were paid to research bird flu yesterday, are now having to research the dreaded blockchain and how this is helping cats get paid for their pictures online. Of course you fire any researchers that fail the task, therefore it is impossible for your researchers to fail. They could research how the moon landings were faked for one show on a sci-fi channel one week and then be researching the return to the moon for another channel the next week, adjusting their conclusions regarding whether the moon is made of cheese accordingly.

Sausage meat style the programme is put together and the world gets to learn about blockchain or hamsters or whatever it is, the broadcaster get their ratings, the regulatory body see that they have done a 'serious' programme and not some soap re-run and everyone is happy.

The people we expected to see talking about blockchain/hamsters/bird-flu are in the video, the experts and the sceptics, the graphics are as you would imagine them to be plus there will be the presenter explaining facts thanks to a globe-trotting tour of warehouses in China and Iceland, via the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The normal advertisers will run their normal adverts and everyone will get paid.

This 'sausage factory' style content creation is everywhere. The danger to it is that you really can create a narrative out of thin air. If the facts were known to a story then there would be no need to commission others in the media game to do 'journalism'.

Any story can be told for a price, if the government decided tomorrow to get into research into 'polywater' then over the next few days the media would suddenly be experts on it. Even though there could be no such thing it would happen and new experts, able to be cited by the media, would be borne into existence, to become household names as experts in their fields.

Given this cynical take on how it all works in the media, the error made was to think that not a single reader would check facts, i.e. whether they had been on Twitter or not. To a journalist that does not really expect fact checking to ever happen this is a fair assumption.


I read your entire post.

Why did you mention Ecuadorian Embassy in London?

I don't get the thought process.


[flagged]


We all know the feeling but please don't rant like this here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


So the takeaway is that he got paid to plug paper-news and created a narrative to support that plug without actually doing any of the “this is how I started feeling better”-dieting. He still was on social, he still followed the news and commented on it. So why lie about avoiding it and feeling better? Because that was an essential part of his paper-news plug that he had to do. Why was he forced to do it? Because he already took the money. If he had actual journalistic integrity he would have written a piece about how hard it can be to actually unplug detailing his own failed attempt.


> If he had actual journalistic integrity he would have written a piece about how hard it can be to actually unplug detailing his own failed attempt.

This would be a really interesting piece. He could talk about the pressures, both generic and journalism-specific, that make it difficult to let your Twitter feed go dormant. And he could talk about any other challenges/failures that he experienced, and why.


Is there any indication that he was “being paid to plug paper-news” or is this just your conspiracy theory?

Because if it’s the latter, it’s a decidedly lame conspiracy. And considering the financial pressures, I’m not even sure if the New York Times could afford to bribe someone writing for the New York Times.


I'm not suggesting it's true, but it does fit the narrative of his (and his employer's!) incentives. People usually act in line with their immediately obvious incentives.

Not a smoking gun, but to me it's definitely an indication.


How is it "lame"? It's common knowledge that media is a significant influencer of those who consume it (pretty much everyone), so it follows that writing an article suggesting that X may be superior to Y (because Y is bad) would influence many into thinking similarly if they hadn't been thinking that already, or further reinforce that feeling if they had.

All it had to take was for anyone at the NY Times to bring up in a meeting "hey, we'd like to try to get our paper subs up a bit, someone write an article about unplugging from the net (something tons of people talk about but never actually do) about how newspapers are actually better".

Worst case scenario it doesn't work out, it was a nice experiment and at least you brought in a lot of clicks and got to bring up fake news and Russian Twitter bots in another story, right?

Media is always biased and always has an agenda one way or another, I'm not sure why in this case it would have to be any different.


The NYT is a stickler for traditions. Chief among them is a clear separation of their business operations and the newsroom. I’m almost sure the best way to get one of their writers to do A is to have a manager walk through the newsroom and ask everybody not to do A.

This situation is a bit different because it’s not a reporter but a columnist. Columnists don’t even work at a newspaper’s office- this one is in San Francisco, a continent away from New York. They also don’t attend meetings. There’s nothing to discuss about their job. They simply send in a text file once a week and get a paycheck back.


> The NYT is a stickler for traditions

You mean like fact checking? They didn’t even glance at the twitter account of the man writing about how he ditched twitter. NYT isn’t what it was anymore.


The profiles of Neonazis, weekly complaining about college kids protesting hate speech, the "Cletus Safaris". Yeah NYT isn't what it was anymore.

Have you heard about The Most Ignorant Man in America. NYT got it covered.

They literally had to show up at the Whitehouse and sit on the couch and they would have won their awards.


> I’m not even sure if the New York Times could afford to bribe someone writing for the New York Times.

It’s not a bribe when you employer gives you a bonus to write specific content they demand.

You could suspect that he was just under pressure from his management, however in that case I would doubt he would fold to the pressure as being able to write an article titled “I got fired from the New York Times for failing to ditch twitter and plugging their paper” would be a journalistic gold pot. And a great lawsuit.


I can imagine someone posting to twitter while being 'unplugged' (i.e. not reading social media, email or Web pages &c) by the use of a teletype or typewriter of some kind or an sms gateway. Messages in a bottle sort of thing.

But re-tweeting currently popular pages is something of a giveaway.

I personally found Mr Miller's take on this interesting.

https://www.theverge.com/2013/5/1/4279674/im-still-here-back...


Interesting article. I've been offline for a long time too. There are 2 components to this problem: One is the inherent "disconnected-ness" of reality without the internet (which is both good and bad, depending on the occasion) and the other is that you're going against the flow.

Sure, it was harder to meet new people and communicate 20 years ago, but there was the intent, the understanding and the social norms required for it. People were more talkative. You could drop by somebody's house like it's no big deal. You could call people to chat and catch up. Other people were looking to communicate offline too. Now that just doesn't happen. Unless you manage to find a core/community of people willing to stay offline, disconnecting from the internet just disconnects you from society to a large extent.

What would be ideal, is to "disconnect" from the bad influences of the internet. Had a better, non-addictive, non-brainwashing version of facebook/twitter existed, more people would like to connect and stay connected, feel better about it, and better, more meaningful relationships would form.


That’s not true, people are more social now than before. Including in real life.


Sure, if you consider staring down at your phone in public a social activity.


Money quote: "A Times spokesperson said the paper doesn’t view his assertion as a falsehood, and won’t be issuing a correction."

Really? Completely given up, have they?


This is frustrating. NYTimes is supposed to be the paper of record. But you have to do simple fact checking on puff pieces like this one.

Comments like this mean that editors likely knew Manjoo wasn’t offline, but allowed the piece because somehow they thought that 15 tweets/day was offline.

So they are either liars who misled, or even more worrisome, aren’t able to discern reality enough that saying “I unplugged from Twitter” is compatible with daily tweeting.

It would have been so easy to add some editorial note on what the author meant by unplugging so users weren’t misled.

It is frustrating because as a consumer, I would like an objective source of news. Not to pick the best worldview I like and let them filter reality for me.

It’s also annoying because the fake news people will constantly point out these frequent inaccuracies in even reputable papers.


I'm not sure anyone here is reading the actual articles, or even the titles.

This story has the headline, "The Times tech columnist ‘unplugged’ from the internet. Except he didn’t".

But that's not what Manjoo claimed at all. He never said he was offline. The title of the Times article is "For Two Months, I Got My News From Print Newspapers. Here’s What I Learned." The story isn't about being disconnected from the internet, it is about getting the news the next day, in print, instead of from nytimes.com, news alerts, twitter posts, etc.

It's not a question of whether he tweeted, it is a question of where he got his news.


You and Manjoo are presenting a straw man. No one is accusing him of lying about being disconnected from the Internet. The criticism is that he explicitly used the word “unplugged” in relation to Twitter. Furthermore, there’s a paragraph in which he describes what he didn’t give up — which included podcasts and email newsletters. It takes an act of willful obfuscation to not have added something about him checking Twitter throughout the day. It doesn’t help his case that he tweeted news-related Twitter things, such as telling people to read some thread about Sean Hannity.


It’s a column, which has lower standards than their “real” reporting. If you read any news by the NYT you must have come across corrections often enough to know that they tend to correct even the most inconsequential errors.

I would suspect that they ruled “unplugged” as a fundamentally subjective term and stopped deliberating right there and then.


I agree with everything except that "even" in the second sentence. It would be more correct without it.

Bigger the error, the more difficult it gets (for anyone including media) to admit it.


I thought this was a bit illuminating:

> During the first two weeks of February, he tweeted, on average, more than 15 times a day. He refrained completely from tweeting on only five days—all on weekends. That’s far from obsessive, but it’s even farther from “unplugged.” It is, in fact the opposite of “unplugged.”

More than 15 tweets per day is far from obsessive? I'm not much of a Twitter user, but that does seem like a lot.


15 doesn't seem all that high - a few things you want to say, a few responses to people's replies, then maybe a back-and-forth conversation with someone adds up pretty quickly.

I think time spent might be a better measure though - e.g. I can fire off 5 tweets in a couple of minutes, then never think about Twitter from the rest of the day, or I can spend an hour crafting a single tweet, reading replies and other feeds, and repeatedly check for new responses. I'd say the latter is much more akin to obsessive behaviour, but has a much lower tweets/day average.


Well, it's not Twitter, but my brother often reaches the limit of 250 sms/day of his cell plan, so 15 doesn't sound much.

I don't think you can measure it in absolute numbers, though; as far as I know, "obsessive behavior" is defined by factors such as the negative effects on the rest of your life.


> it's not Twitter

And that's the problem with this comparison. SMS are not used like tweets, they're used like IM messages. So 250 SMS per day should be compared to e.g. 250 Telegram messages per day, not to 250 tweets per day.


Yes, that is the problem, that's why I wrote that :) Still, there's back-and-forth in Twitter too. Plus the character limit, which is 14x higher in Telegram (though smaller in SMSs).


Yeah 15 per day does seem obsessive. I wouldn't be surprised to find I've tweeted less than 15 times this year so far


That's because it's taken out of context: the fifteen tweets could well be responses to other tweets, maybe even in a conversational back-and-forth thread.

I can easily imagine reddit users or even HN users making those kinds of daily contributions.


For journalists, it’s arguably part of the job. Both as personal PR, as well as cultivating sources and being well-informed. A lot of actual news does happen on Twitter these days.


Worth pointing out that Manjoo was largely silent over the weekend in response to the OP article -- which definitely did not help his case, but we can chalk up to him maybe wanting to not get worked up over the weekend. He has this afternoon made a few tweets in his defense:

https://twitter.com/fmanjoo/status/972888102900350976

I've found his explanation to be unsatisfactory, since his standard seems to be (paraphrased) "Well I didn't lie", as if leaving out context and facts is a lesser problem -- there's a reason why courts ask you to swear to tell not just "the truth" but "the whole truth".


Reading through this article, I was somewhat jarred by this sentence:

"It seems likely that Manjoo isn’t lying, and that he really believes he had unplugged, and really believes that his weak-sauce explanations don’t belie the point of his column."

Up until that point, the article has been professional, well spoken, and precise. I know it's a small thing, but the inclusion of the term "weak-sauce" instantly dealt a blow to the image of maturity I had constructed of the author. The paragraph itself would be no less compelling (perhaps even more-so) had the term simply been omitted without replacement.

I spent the rest of the article wondering if this was thoughtful journalism or some college kid's essay.


I think what’s far more important about that sentence is something commendable: they’re showing good faith in giving the author the benefit of the doubt.

Your objection to the specific phrase is, I believe, an attachment to a somewhat superficial definition of “professionalism”. It reminds me of the US President’s caricature of the term “presidential”, where he seems to believe that “being presidential” would require him to speak in a fake British accent and never make a joke. His predecessor already appeared on comedy shows and threw footballs through the Oval Office, without ever (seriously) being considered “unpresidential”. Because the term is far more about content than style.

See also Hunter S Thompson or Tom Wolfe for examples of respected journalists dispensing with unnessary decorum.


You're not wrong. I do, however, strongly believe that his use of the phrase did not do him any favors.


I don’t think it’s very useful to discount the article based on the author’s particular diction (or whatever you call internet slang).

I think it’s more useful to discuss the content of the article. Otherwise you can spend all your time picking apart accents and what not that don’t really matter.

I understood what the author meant when they said “weak sauce.” I don’t want to confuse the discussion by throwing shade “sure he’s right that Manjoo lied or misrepresented, but did you see what he was wearing?” And then devolve into fashion commentary.


Agreed. It's like seeing "for the win" or, nowadays, "lit." Takes a juvenile turn without paying for itself in expressiveness. Same reason cussing is unprofessional.


That's just, like, your opinion, man. I have only ever worked in places where people have sworn like the proverbial sailor, but where those same people have treated their work incredibly seriously, and their colleagues with respect and empathy.

Professionalism is about so much more than wearing the right tie and avoiding particular words.


Can a modern tech journalist even unplug from the Internet if they wanted to? I was under the impression that most journalists have a (contractual) daily "tweet quota" that they have to meet.


Plenty of NYT journalists who don't use Twitter, particularly the ones in leadership roles. There is a social media policy but not any type of contractual quota: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/reader-center/social-medi...

- Dean Baquet (editor in chief) has just 2 tweets: https://twitter.com/deanbaquet

- James Bennet (editorial page editor) https://twitter.com/JBennet

- A.G. Sulzberger (publisher, but worked as a bureau reporter for a few years) https://twitter.com/agsnyt

2014 article about whether it mattered if NYT people knew how to use twitter: https://gigaom.com/2014/09/29/does-it-matter-that-some-new-y...


I would assume that quota could be lifted if they set about writing an article like that.


Unfortunate to see this kind of trivial doublespeak -- "What does unplugged mean, really?" -- from the purported paper of record.


Virtue signaling is what the kids are calling it these days I believe.


I generally hate these kids and that term of theirs, because it’s extremely lazy to use s/o’s admittedly virtuous words as an argument against them.

But in this case My problem starts even earlier, b/c I just have no earthly idea how this has anything to do with “virtue signaling”.


It’s funny, there must be an old man internet club that I need to join. I was thrown by the use of virtue signaling. There have been many exchanges that I’ve observed in confusion not know what it meant other than one group of assholes were using it as an insult and another group of assholes were calling the name callers asshole. This article didn’t help me, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/02/people-who-...

But interestingly OP’s post finally let me understand that it’s someone saying they are doing something virtuous (eg, unplug from internet) while not doing it (still tweeting).

So I guess it’s a kind of hypocrisy.

I still don’t understand why someone takes offense. If someone accused me of virtue signaling, wouldn’t the best response be to present evidence of virtue (eg, corrected logs showing no usage) rather than attacking the accuser?


> But interestingly OP’s post finally let me understand that it’s someone saying they are doing something virtuous (eg, unplug from internet) while not doing it (still tweeting).

But that's not only what it is.

Originally, it meant any visible expression of virtue that's done with the goal of signaling that to others (and thus increase social standing).

Nowadays, it's mostly used to criticize others actions as empty (e.g. someone posting empty feel-good messages about an issue, but not doing anything to actually help affected people), from both sides: criticizing people you agree with for not actually doing anything to help the cause they claim to support, or for denigrating people's efforts as being done purely to improve their standing, not because they actually care about it.

If someone accuses you of virtue signaling, they accuse you of only wanting to look good, not actually supporting something you publicly represent.

It kind of seems fair to claim that the author espousing the benefits of unplugging while not actually doing it is virtue signaling. The problem is, it can be applied even if they did that: Oh you actually didn't tweet for a month? Well, you only did that so you could claim moral superiority over everyone else because it's fashionable to argue against social media. And surely you were looking at Twitter all the time and just didn't want to break appearances. That's the insidious part about how it's sometimes used nowadays: even if you did do something "good", it's devalued because it's implied you didn't mean it, and why it causes offense.

(E.g. I can take your post https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16564343 and from a position that agrees with you accuse you of virtue signaling since you only post it here on HN and aren't doing anything to fix it, e.g. writing an angry letter to the editor, so all it did was show others that you don't agree. Or I can accuse you of virtue signaling from a position disagreeing, since it's obvious that HN would like this argument and you are just saying it to get more Karma and social respect from the stupid masses here, not because you actually care about something so preposterous. The term is pretty much poisoned, especially by the latter use, which is almost impossible to defend against.)


Your example with my link was really helpful. I think it’s hard to rule in or out without some objective measure. I could show if I wrote a letter to the editor (which I didn’t) but it would be hard or impossible for me to verify.

Plus the behavior change would be hard for you to measure since I basically just spend more time vetting articles from NYTimes. Theoretically, it would reduce my likelihood to share news from that source, but I rarely share items anyway.

So the term isn’t very useful to me other than just filtering out people who use it. But I would be interested in discounting priority of people who do actually virtue signal since their content is less likely to be useful to me.


Well, in this case I'd say they can hand out advice by claiming they did the "virtuous" task of unplugging while not actually having unplugged.

Be like me claiming I'm helping Mother Earth by recycling when all I do set aluminum cans besides the dumpster instead of inside it to make it a little easier for the homeless folks to get at them.


No, that’s something slightly different—it’s doing something for the purpose of expressing your virtue. This is just splitting hairs.


I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.


> It seems likely that Manjoo isn’t lying, and that he really believes he had unplugged, and really believes that his weak-sauce explanations don’t belie the point of his column.

Quick speculation-- he made print news the main source of his news-reading time and remained plugged in. Then he intentionally misrepresented that process as "unplugging" to make the process sound less boring, and in the process did in fact lie.

For many reasons the modern world prefers buffoonery to mendacity. So in his response he made the unverifiable claim that his redefinition of "unplugged" was made in good faith and doubled down on buffoonery.

Is there a more likely theory?


I think it’s important that this information be out there. At the same time I echo some of the other commenters’ sentiments about the tone of the piece. What’s the point after the initial first few paragraphs? The whole bit after the actual newsworthy part (that he was actually using Twitter for news consumption) regarding his CV framed in a suspicious tone doesn’t end in any meaningful conclusion. Just seems like an attempt at a takedown piece.

FWIW, I found the original article in the NYT to be an interesting and thought-provoking read, regardless of whether or not the author was taking sips under the table of what he was arguing against. Where that falls on the spectrum of unethical journalism I’m not sure. Feels pretty tame as compared to some of the other things we see in today’s media climate, but that’s just one opinion.


“FWIW, I found the original article in the NYT to be an interesting and thought-provoking read, regardless of whether or not the author was taking sips under the table of what he was arguing against.”

I think this is the danger. I agree with the theme, so I ignore the data. The piece makes claims based on author’s direct evidence. That evidence is wrong. We have to have a strict policy of relying on data even if emotionally we support the hypothesis.

Also the fact that news has to have a high standard for objectivity. The standard has to be high for banal stuff like this do we believe the important articles where it matters.


Interesting and good points. I guess personally I’m more comfortable agreeing with the theme and ignoring the data for pieces like this, primarily because it’s more like a blog post than a serious news piece (the NYT might take issue with my characterization). I hold it to the same standard as conversation with peers about matters of personal choice and lifestyle. There may be fallacies and contradictions, but strict correctness isn’t as important to me in those settings, and hence not in a blog-post-like piece like this in the NYT. But, again, I see this as a matter of opinion because I don’t see Manjoo as having violated journalistic ethics here.


I admit a skeptical bias against Manjoo ever since his raving review of the Apple Watch, which made it clear he is unusually unable to handle his iPhone and social media/notification noise: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/09/technology/personaltech/a...

His recent column under discussion has the same kind of outlier perspective. I'm younger than him (he says he's nearly 40) but even though I too rely on social media (Twitter and HN) for much of my daily news diet, it still wasn't so long ago when I can remember getting my news in "slow" formats like print. I'm not saying it's easy to quit the digital newslife today, but I can't imagine how short his memory is for him to experience such a blissful epiphany. There are plenty of modern folks today (especially in the NY tech/media scene) who experience the quiet info ecosystem on a daily basis, judging by the huge success of Kindle ebook readers.

Here's an example of what I just can't relate to with Manjoo:

> Now I was left with the simple, disconnected and ritualistic experience of reading the news, mostly free from the cognitive load of wondering whether the thing I was reading was possibly a blatant lie.

I follow just half of the number of Twitter accounts Manjoo does, and I bet I get in as many if not more Twitter discussions/fights than he does. But when I see people tweeting around links to the NYT or WaPo, I don't have such epistemological skepticism about their reporting that I think their web stories might possibly be a "blatant lie". This doesn't mean I automatically accept their work as truth, only that if these news sources required constant skepticism because they might be total bullshit, I wouldn't be following these news sources in the first place.

This reminds me of Manjoo's Apple Watch review because it seemed then like he couldn't imagine how to turn off or reduce notifications before the Watch came along.


I do believe he thinks he was being truthful and objective, however, fact is he was not unplugged. He is like the addict in denial already posited here to a point that it really makes me wonder about my own assessment of how 'little' I am online. Another crazy thought is how this really feeds into the 'fake news' meme. A Times journalist basically not relaying the truth about a thing he himself is in control of, and not another party. How can you expect objective reporting, if he cannot even be honest about himself or his own actions? He should have wrote the 'I failed at it' story with some deep thoughts on why for him, and for all who seem to be attached to the wire. Good side: he was outed by the CJR practicing good journalism.


I don't really give a damn about the issue, but I want to thank the author for showing me the word "avuncular".


The article doesn't render with JS disabled, but does render in Firefox's reader mode.


Honestly, reader was what made me want to switch to Firefox. When the performance between FF and Chrome was about equal I jumped ship and I've been loving it.

No more using some crazy bookmarklet to remove silly CSS just so I can RTFA.


I had to close the pop-over, re-open the link, and refresh just to read more than the headline of the article. This is just with uBlock installed. Seriously, WTF is up with web pages these days?


It's all about user engagement... In that a lot of websites don't want users to apparently engage with content


This article is coming from a place of old thinking when it comes to addiction recovery. On top of that, it strikes me as trying to shame Manjoo, which would be a harmful thing to attempt to do toward anyone, but especially toward an addict. The author seems to apply black-and-white thinking in the form of abstinence-only recovery. Also, everyone's point of sufficient disconnection will be different based on the person, as well as what kind of effects they wish to see. Rigid thinking is another sign of addiction, so is OP's author demonstrating their own need for growth through their rigid definition of "disconnection"? To better understand these points, here's a little bit about why I have these views:

I'm a recovering information addict of a little over 2 years and doing so requires changing our definitions of what classic recovery looks like.

Abstinence models (ie. "completely unplugging," which is not what Manjoo did) for recovery are unrealistic and can contribute to shame components of addiction. As well, the common characterizations of lapses/relapses can inhibit growth/learning.

It's not possible to completely disconnect from information and, therefore, it's possible to see great benefits from any dramatic behavioral change around an info source (or multiple ones). OP's author seems to be applying some form of black and white thinking and assumes they know how much disconnection is necessary for Manjoo to see differences. That's not possible, so the underlying premise of OP isn't wrong, but it's moot. The true question is did Manjoo see a shift in their reality/experience. That's the question we need more data to answer and it may only be self-reported qualitative data. That's ok.

The chart in these spreadsheets confirms their behavior shifted dramatically and I know that can lead to effects.

In my case, completely disconnecting wasn't enough. I had to stop looking things up in books before withdrawal symptoms showed up in the form of vivid dreams that woke me up 1-3 times per night. That withdrawal period lasted 9 months and I wasn't completely disconnected throughout the period, but I mostly was. I have device usage data front then and intend to publish it as part of a larger work on addiction recovery, in general.

It took me 9 months to dissect and reprogram my behavior to the point that my mind didn't have to live out in dreams what I was removing. I absolutely believe a sharp, sustained decrease in Twitter usage is enough to spot basic ways in which excessive behavior negatively impacts life.


Good article.




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