Can Technology Stop the Duane Reade-ization of New York?

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Four years ago, Eric Kinariwala woke up with a throbbing headache from a sinus infection. So he did what most New Yorkers do. He called his doctor, got a prescription for a Z-Pak, and walked to the Duane Reade near his apartment on the Lower East Side.

When he got there, the elevator to the basement pharmacy was broken, and 40 people were in line ahead of him, he said. After waiting for an hour, the pharmacist told him they were out of stock. His phone had died, so he couldn’t ask his doctor to send the prescription elsewhere. “It was so miserable,” said Mr. Kinariwala, 36, who left the drugstore that day without antibiotics. “I’m a pinball in the middle of this thing.”

Shortly after this experience, Mr. Kinariwala, who has a background in finance, introduced Capsule, an app-based service that delivers same-day medicine throughout all five boroughs. Since it started in 2016, Capsule has grown to 260 employees, most of whom work at the company’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.

The company works with 31 pharmacists who verify prescriptions and field customer phone calls, which range from concerns about a lost birth control pill to frequent urination. Though Capsule is designed to be mobile-first, it has a storefront pharmacy in Chelsea, which stocks 5,100 different medications and uses technology to track inventory. They receive deliveries from wholesale suppliers several times a day.

Drugstore chains have been considered an aesthetic scourge on the city for decades. In a 1999 Times article about Duane Reade’s takeover of the city, New Yorkers called the pharmacy’s expansion a “plague” and “insane.” Duane Reade currently has 126 stores in Manhattan alone, including locations owned by Walgreens, which purchased Duane Reade in 2010 and has started to spread its own tentacles. Walgreens currently has 88 locations across the city, including its Rite-Aid-owned stores. CVS has 150.

But if delivery services like Capsule continue to expand, Mr. Kinariwala said that chain pharmacies in New York might succumb to technology in a similar way that Barnes & Noble and Borders were pushed aside by Amazon or the taxi industry has been challenged by Uber and Lyft.

“I think you’ll see,” Mr. Kinariwala said, “in every industry, people that don’t serve the consumer don’t deserve to exist. New York is all about faster, better, stronger.”

Linda V. Green, a professor of health care management at the Columbia Business School, is skeptical of that claim. “I think it’s not obvious that a stand-alone pharmacy prescription service is going to make big inroads, particularly in a metropolitan area where you have a Duane Reade on every other street corner,” she said. “The idea of delivering prescriptions is actually old. It’s not clear to me what problem they’re solving here.”

Capsule is not the first pharmacy to offer delivery and app services. C.O. Bigelow, a family-owned pharmacy in the West Village that dates to 1838, has a delivery driver, a messenger and an app. Unsurprisingly, Ian Ginsberg, the owner, isn’t impressed by Capsule. “They’re not doing anything we haven’t done for 100 years,” he said. “All they’ve done is taken the human element out of it. They’re trying to scale as fast as possible.”

Deliveries, he suggested, can also be dangerous. “Patients don’t have a face-to-face opportunity with the pharmacist so there could be subpar education regarding the medication,” said Arash Dabestani, the senior director of pharmacy at N.Y.U. Langone Health.

Walgreens declined to comment but noted that they also deliver same-day in the city for a fee. And it takes two weeks for the first package from PillPack, a national pharmacy and subsidiary of Amazon, to arrive. “PillPack is a mail order pharmacy. It’s a totally different thing,” Mr. Kinariwala said. “I think of the competition as people who continue to tolerate a bad pharmacy experience.” PillPack did not respond to a request for comment.

Even though several independent pharmacies in New York offer deliveries, they might not have the means to do so outside of their own neighborhoods. C.O. Bigelow charges $13 to deliver beyond its surrounding area, which is from the Battery to Chelsea. Another pharmacy, Apotheco, with two locations in Midtown, delivers within a 50-mile radius, but patients outside Manhattan have to call early in the morning to secure a same-day arrival.

“I would say everyone has been quite slow in delivering,” said Mr. Dabestani, of N.Y.U. He does not think delivery is an appropriate option for those on serious medications who need to be counseled in person. “The model should be patient-specific,” he said.

“New York is a great market for Capsule because it is such a dense city,” said Paul Hudson, the chief investment officer at Glade Brook Capital, which has invested in the company, along with Thrive Capital, the venture capital firm founded by Josh Kushner, Jared Kushner’s brother. “There’s a lot of dual-income households,” Mr. Hudson added, “and the pharmacy experience in New York really hasn’t been modernized as far as infrastructure and tech in a long time.”

Dr. Seth Finkelstein, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Manhattan who has become frustrated with traditional pharmacies, has been suggesting Capsule to his patients. “Every time a patient calls me telling me a prescription can’t be filled, or I have to call insurance for preauthorization, that’s my time or my staff’s time, and that’s money and time diverted to taking care of other people,” he said. “The pharmacy should be taking care of this.”

Capsule’s “insurance specialists,” who help doctors with preauthorizations, are better at dealing with insurance companies than the pharmacists at chain stores, Dr. Finkelstein said. (Although he added that the process is not perfect; sometimes confused Capsule specialists call his office for guidance.)

Merlin Chowkwanyun, a professor at Columbia, was drawn to the service after losing his cool waiting in a CVS line for 30 minutes.

He found, however, that the deliveries often arrived late. And one time, Capsule dropped off the wrong generic brand of a migraine medication he had requested.

For some people, it’s still much easier to run into one of the hundreds of chain drugstores across the city than to wait two hours or more for a delivery. “If I wake up with a sty in my eye, I can walk two blocks and pick up a prescription,” said Ms. Green, the health care management professor. “This is all about convenience, and there’s already a lot of other ways in which these things have become convenient.”

But in the age of Seamless and Amazon Prime Now, Mr. Kinariwala seems up to the challenge. He said that he wants to see Capsule become the “flip of Duane Reade” within five years. “It’s everywhere and everyone knows about it and uses it,” he said. “But everyone loves it.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/05/nyregion/capsule-pharmacy-delivery-app-.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Can a Playroom Makeover Make My Kids Over?

Our playroom was crammed with blinking and buzzing toys, neatly stored puzzles and games, shelves full of picture books, well-used baby dolls, dress-up costumes and artwork hanging on the walls. It seemed like paradise for our three young children.

Until Simone Davies turned it upside down.

Ms. Davies, a Montessori teacher in the Netherlands and author of “The Montessori Toddler,” spends her days teaching parents and children how to apply Montessori principles at home. Just as Marie Kondo is helping people declutter and organize, Ms. Davies helps parents turn homes into places that are more functional for the family, instill autonomy in the smallest members of the household and create a greater sense of peace — all in the Montessori spirit.

She came to my New Jersey house a few weeks ago with the intention of showing me how to create a room that engaged my children rather than one that catered to my notions of what makes a good play space. I was skeptical: What could possibly be done that would make a noticeable improvement in our lives?

Developed in the late 1800s by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, the Montessori method used educational approaches to help children with emotional and mental disabilities. Today, it has become a widely accepted instructional system that aims to give any child more ownership of their learning.

“In traditional education, the teacher stands in the front and leads the class,” said Ms. Davies. “In a child-led approach, we let them learn through play and their interests.”

The goal in applying these principles at home? More autonomous and engaged children; less time spent helping children figure out what to do to fill their time.

At home, “we support our children to make discoveries for themselves, we give them freedom and limits, and we enable success by setting up our homes so they can take part in our daily lives,” Ms. Davies writes.

It was this latter part of the promise that most appealed to me: My kids would play without needing my intervention? It sounded great in theory. My husband and I have three kids, ages 7, 4 and 1, and we both commute to work for demanding jobs, with an au pair and grandparents in the mix. I had a place for everything but with so many different people in charge of the children, I often found it frustrating when things weren’t where they were “supposed to be.” But if the kids could handle the responsibilities of keeping a tidy playroom, maybe that frustration could be alleviated.

But as Ms. Davies started pulling every toy out of my obsessively organized toy closet, a low-level panic set in.

“What are your children’s favorite toys?” Ms. Davies asked.

“Their iPad and Kindle,” I said, only pretending to be joking.

She got to work. There was sorting to be done. (We found all the missing puzzle pieces!) The primary colors of our easel were painted over in a neutral gray to let the children’s artwork stand out. We removed large, distracting or noisy toys from the playroom floor in favor of more subdued wooden ones. We used furniture and toys we had, keeping the makeover budget modest.

And the great reveal: a playroom that was unquestionably tidier, calmer and more inviting.

Here are some of the changes that had the biggest impact.

The Reading Corner

My older children used to pull books from a crowded bookshelf, and frequently left them all over the house.

Ms. Davies marked off a corner with an old, soft quilt on the floor, cozied up with unused throw pillows and a few favorite soft toys. Much to my surprise, she then removed all the books from the bookshelf, grouped them in the closet for each child and put out just a few in baskets. The bookshelf became a display space for small plants (which I had bought for $9 each), photos of my kids and a few of their favorite mementos.

Without the array of books on the shelves, the corner felt calmer. “Kids feel more relaxed in a neutral room,” Ms. Davies said. So far, my daughters love their new Montessori-esque responsibility of watering the plants once a week. (We’ll see how long it lasts.)

Trays, Baskets and Bins

“We childproof to put things out of reach of the child, so we should put the things we want them to play with in reach,” Ms. Davies said. She uses shallow bins and trays to display items rather than to hide them away.

In addition to the book baskets, we now have two canvas bins (previously used in the closet for storage) on the floor for a few of my baby’s toys. One contains four soft balls, the other a few cars of varying sizes and types.

“Only put out as much as you are willing to clean up,” Ms. Davies said. (“Can I leave them empty?” I asked.)

On the shelves, small plastic trays ($3 each) featured different activities geared to the older kids: one for blocks, one with scissors, paper and stickers for crafts, and one filled with tiny plastic butterflies with toy binoculars.

“Trays make it clear to your child what belongs together,” Ms. Davies said.

When my older children got home from school on the day of the makeover, one went immediately to the craft tray and started snipping away, while the other set up a “butterfly yoga” scene with the nature-based tray.

Less Is More

Perhaps my favorite lesson: Kids play more when there’s less to play with.

Instead of taking out all 300 pieces of the magnetic building toy I had kept in a giant sack, Ms. Davies placed about 20 pieces of varying shapes on a tray, and put the rest back into the closet. Instead of a tub of crayons being left on the table, a dozen were placed in a cup holder hung on the wall ($17 for four magnetic strips, $9 per magnetic cup).

While rotating the toys on display does take some effort, it makes the playroom more interesting for the kids. Another benefit: because they aren’t playing with 100 tiny pieces of anything any more, there is much less to clean up at any one time, and the older kids can and do handle it themselves.

“Kids don’t need as much as we think they do,” Ms. Davies said. “They get more creative when there’s less.”

Ms. Davies prefers simple, wooden or plainer-looking toys that have one clear purpose — roll cars down a track, place coins in a slot, push a button for music — over brightly colored, blinking, noisy toys I won’t miss. We’ll be happily giving those away soon.

Spaces With a Purpose

My 1-year-old immediately fell in love with the little nook that was set aside for him, containing one simple toddler toy per shelf, within reach of his little arms. (Ms. Davies had lowered art to be at kid level; it had to be moved back up because of those little arms — and grabby hands.) The 4-year-old loved that I was suddenly leaving out scissors and glue for her to use at will since the tray they were in contained any mess and made it clear what she was allowed to cut and make sticky.

I was a little skeptical about the Montessori approach at first but in practice I can see a certain logic to it, and may even add Montessori-based concepts to other areas. Ms. Davis suggested a chart listing the morning routine with words and images to help the children get ready with less help. A small dust pan and broom in the kitchen would allow the children to clean up after mealtimes. Will they use it? Like the rest of this experiment, it can’t hurt to try.

In the end, I’ve taken away a few pretty big lessons from the experience. My kids can handle more than I think they can, if I set them up for success. They don’t need nearly as many toys, books and games as the commercials, grandparents and their whining would have you believe. And, I’m pretty sure no makeover, no matter how big, will completely redirect the pull from screens. At least now, when it’s time to put the tablet down, there’s an activity set up and waiting for their growing minds.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/well/family/montessori-home-playroom-makeover.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Despite Prison and Torture, Shahidul Alam Refuses to Stay Quiet

Q: Does the spotlight that you are in right now affect your own photography?

A: I’m still in danger. The case still hangs so I still potentially face 14 years in prison. More significantly, on an everyday level, the way I operate is very different. I go around on my bicycle, I stop in the street, I talk to people. I work in a very organic manner. Now it’s no longer safe for me to do that because when I was being attacked on the 4th of August, I was just one person taking pictures.

Now the spotlight means that I am visible and they know that I am a threat to the government. So there are lots of people out there who would want to get Brownie points. Getting rid of a bad guy would give them credit with the government. So I can’t take that risk, so I’m not cycling, I don’t walk on my own, I’m never on my own, I drive to places, I have other people with me. And that all just impinges on the way I work and what I can do.

Q: Journalists in the United States benefit from a certain level of protection where we don’t necessarily have to think about a lot of these things when we’re working in the States. Does your role shift when you’re here, and should we be thinking about our role differently?

A: You say you’re in a position of better protection. I think you suffer from a level of complacency. If I were in this place, I would really worry a lot more. The average American — it might not be true for some of you — but when I talk to people in the street, I’m amazed by how ignorant they generally are.

People in Bangladesh are far more politically savvy. Honestly, over here, the issues are far more about houses and mortgages and careers and all this sort of thing and not about the bigger issues. There are not that many people who engage with the world as such, not many people know the rest of the world. The problem here really is we are in a zone of comfort to such an extent that we’re insulated from that position, and that to me is a bigger fear.

If I were here, I would need to work a lot harder to ensure that I was still at the edge, because stepping back is so much easier. And no one worries about it, you’re applauded for doing well in your career, you’re applauded for having that mortgage, you’re applauded for building a house or whatever else. The fact that you’ve not done what you were meant to do, that as journalist your position is to be there on the line.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/lens/shahidul-alam-prison-photo.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Review: Essential History in ‘Reconstruction’ on PBS

How’s this for a state of emergency: An entire region of the country takes up armed resistance against the federal government, brazenly murdering and raping its African-American citizens in a decades-long campaign of terror that subverts and then rewrites the law.

More dire, certainly, than an invasion of criminal migrants at the border. And it actually happened.

The shockingly violent, depressingly predictable backlash in the American South to the end of slavery, and to the attempt to make freed slaves equal members of society, is the central concern of “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,” a four-hour PBS series written and narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (It shows in two-hour installments, on Tuesday and on April 16.)

Among the many lacunae in Americans’ knowledge of their own history, our hazy notions of Reconstruction and its overthrow — essential to an understanding of so much in our own times, from the civil rights movement to today’s mirror-like rise of white nationalism — may be the most damaging. Many people, if they have any sense of the era at all, came by it through “Gone With the Wind” or, even more grievously, “The Birth of a Nation.”

So Gates’s series is a great service, especially in its first two hours, which cover the years from the end of the Civil War, with the initial enthusiasm and promise of Reconstruction, to the contested election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, which essentially ended the federal government’s efforts to enforce Reconstruction in the South.

The project mostly hews to the standard PBS history format, with a large cast of scholars and writers — more than 40 — talking over antique photographs and documents, with the occasional impressionistic recreation of events and snippets of gospel and ragtime. But it also incorporates contemporary images of violence and protest, and it is distinguished by Gates’s onscreen presence, talking to the camera while strolling through the story’s locales and interviewing inheritors of the struggle.

Without hitting us over the head, the series continually brings out connections and correspondences between then and now. One of the first great fruits of Reconstruction is the establishment, in the 14th Amendment, of birthright citizenship, now under attack. “Convict leasing” institutionalizes the unwarranted jailing of African-American men and women to provide labor for plantations that no longer have slaves. Techniques like poll taxes and literacy tests are quickly invented to suppress the black vote.

“Fake news” campaigns alleging the rape of white women are used to incite and justify the indiscriminate killing and lynching of black men. Minstrelsy and blackface powerfully reinforce notions of white supremacy. Overwhelming efforts in the South to rewrite history and take slavery out of the Civil War narrative lead to the proliferation of Confederate monuments (and thus, more than a century later, to pitched battles and murder in Charlottesville, Va.).

The series’s second two hours — which cover subjects like the Jim Crow system, the Ku Klux Klan, W.E.B. DuBois, the creation of the N.A.A.C.P. and the ascendance of black popular culture — are engrossing but less urgent. To cover so much ground, they settle into a more anecdotal, great-person approach. (For a more detailed look at some of the stories in this period, seek out the invaluable documentaries of Stanley Nelson, like “The Black Press” and “Tell Them We Are Rising: Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” both streaming online.)

It’s conceivable that “Reconstruction” could be criticized for being one-sided — for not finding someone to defend the romantic view of Confederate history, or to make the contemporary case that white Americans are economically and culturally victimized. It would be a baseless criticism from the point of view of scholarship or principle. One thought, though: The series’s accounts of violence against African-Americans tend to have an abstract feeling, and some direct insight into the racist mind-set could help to communicate its full force.

“Reconstruction” chooses to tell its story soberly and quietly. From the beginning, it silently establishes a predominant visual motif: photographic portraits of African-Americans, singly and in groups small and large, in fields, yards and forest clearings, on church lawns, school steps and front porches. Their subjects look directly into the camera, proudly and, to the modern eye, accusingly. The succession of images insists on their dignity and humanity at a time when these qualities were brutally denied, a point made explicitly late in the series in a segment on the importance of photography in the African-American community.

Their descendants continue to make that same case: Half of the 40-plus historians Gates has assembled are black. Calmly dissecting white America’s unceasing claim that they aren’t intelligent or civilized enough for full citizenship, those scholars are the irrefutable answer, still in plain sight after 400 years.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/arts/television/review-reconstruction-pbs.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Three Movie Subscription Services, and When They’re Worth It

Additionally, for most theater chains — including the big ones like AMC, Regal and Cinemark — you can’t reserve seats or order online. Instead, you have to be physically at the theater in order to buy a ticket, and you can only buy them on the day you plan to watch the movie. This makes it much harder to plan a movie night ahead of time.

Who It’s For

Right off the bat, you have to be a bit of a risk taker to use MoviePass. Its plan sounds remarkably similar to the plan that nearly shut it down in the first place, but there’s no telling when the company will change its plans, or if it will even still be in business a year from now. And paying for the annual plan via bank transfer is especially risky, as it makes it harder to dispute charges and you have to trust MoviePass to secure your banking info properly.

If you can get over those many hurdles, MoviePass is ideal for users who want to have their choice of theater, and who will see at least two to three movies per month. The average ticket price in the US in 2018 was $9.14, which is less than even the cheapest version of the MoviePass plan. Depending on your region, MoviePass can be up to $20 for just 2D showings. You’ll rarely break even on just one movie per month, but two would be a start. If you can hit your limit of all three movies, that would be even better. For the cheapest version, you’ll need to see two movies per month, and the most expensive option would need three or more. Of course, the more you watch, the more likely you are to hit that invisible wall that could start to limit your selection.

AMC stubs A-List

By comparison, AMC’s theater subscription plan is much more generous, but slightly more expensive than MoviePass. There’s only one plan, which costs between $19.95 to $23.95 depending on where you live. According to AMC, pricing is $19.95 in 35 states, and only markets where ticket prices are higher than average cost more.

With the A-List plan, you get the following benefits:

  • You can watch up to three movies per week. There are no restrictions on which specific movies you can watch, though A-List can’t be used on special shows like Fathom Events.

  • You can choose 2D, 3D, IMAX or Dolby showings for any of your movies. There’s no upcharge for “premium” showings.

  • You can order ahead and even reserve seats at theaters with assigned seating. There’s no time limit on how far ahead you can order a ticket, though there are limitations on how many reservations you can have at once.

  • Since A-List is part of the Stubs program, you also get discounts and $5 rewards for every $50 spent. The cost of A-List counts toward that reward, which means a $20 per month subscription comes out closer to $18 per month.

AMC could hypothetically offer up to 156 showings per year. While MoviePass claims you can watch a movie a day, it also offers vague threats to limit users who use it “excessively.” It’s also roughly the same price as MoviePass’s monthly plan, but that includes 3D and IMAX showings. Unfortunately, AMC doesn’t offer a lower price tier if you only care about 2D movies.

While you potentially get more movies, there’s one peculiar limitation. You can only have three active “reservations” at a time. While you’re allowed to watch three movies per week, you need to have at least one reservation slot open in order to buy a ticket. If you pre-buy tickets for three movies next month, you can’t order an A-List ticket this week unless you cancel one of those reservations. This usually only affects very heavy movie goers, but it can be an inconvenient hurdle if you like to plan ahead.

Who It’s For

A-List is for AMC lovers, first and foremost. If you prefer Regal or Cinemark (or don’t live near an AMC theater), then you’re out. On the other hand, if you can handle the chain lock-in, then A-List can be worth it for as little as one movie a month. IMAX, 3D, and Dolby showings are included — and those tickets can get expensive. In some rare cases, a single premium showing can pay for A-List in a month.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/smarter-living/moviepass-amc-sinemia-movie-subscription.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Animal Videos Are How We Escape the Internet (While on the Internet)

What keeps me coming back to animal videos, I think, is not just entertainment but something deeper. A great animal video forces us to grapple with what psychologists call “theory of mind” — our ability, learned as children, to imagine our way into the perspectives of others. The videos require us to put ourselves, at least for a moment, into an alien consciousness. Why does this creature want what it wants? What does it know and not know? How is its wanting like our own wanting?

In the case of the peekaboo parrot, these questions run particularly deep. A bird does not have our capacity to laugh, at least as we understand laughter, and yet this bird is doing something indisputably funny: pranking a vicious predator, over and over, from inches away. Does the cat understand how funny this is? Does the parrot? How big is the gulf between their two different minds — and then between their minds and ours? Even as we laugh at the video, we have to perform this kind of back-of-the-envelope cognitive mapping. It creates a woozy, uncanny, existentialist feeling. We are simultaneously ourselves and not ourselves.

Which brings us back to the festering horrorscape of the internet. Animal videos feel like a delightful relief because they force us, in their small way, to exercise our theory-of-mind muscles. These creatures are enough like us to identify with, but not so much like us that they are threatening. Online people, of course, are a different story altogether. Social media sites notoriously flatten social interaction. Human beings typing things onto distant screens easily become inhuman. We can go for days at a time feeling mostly anger; we survey the landscape like soldiers in bunkers, looking out of our gun slits.

Theoretically, the online world is the richest gallery of human psychology ever assembled. Tapping on your phone for a few minutes should be the rough equivalent of listening in on 300 million therapy sessions. Every GIF, retweet and Reddit thread is the product of long chains (years, decades, generations) of psychodrama.

And yet, in the moment-to-moment reality of online life, theory of mind fritzes out. I find it easier to identify with a parrot playing peekaboo or with a ferret stuck in a toilet-paper tube than I do with the loudest voices on Twitter. The internet, the great connector, ends up atrophying our most basic connective skill: that imaginative leap into another mind, the attempt to understand what it knows and believes, why it moves the way it moves.

Not that this has ever been easy. It takes heroic investments of time and emotional intelligence and sincerity and mental effort. At the risk of sounding like the world’s tweediest professor, I would like to point out that your local library contains millions of pages designed to help with exactly this problem. We’re not going to snap our fingers and make one another more humane. But the commercial internet does seem aggressively engineered to prevent us from getting any closer. We are online constantly, looking for each other, and yet we are so rarely there to be seen. And so instead we watch the animals. Peekaboo.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/magazine/animal-videos-are-how-we-escape-the-internet-while-on-the-internet.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Digital Addiction Getting You Down? Try an Analog Cure

“I could never have thought about doing that before,” she told me proudly.

Another volunteer, Melissa, revamped her social life, setting up dinners with friends and scheduling regular face-to-face time with her brother — who, to Melissa’s frustration, had a hard time looking up from his phone during their meetings. Yet another volunteer, Caleb, began journaling and listening to vinyl records from beginning to end. He told me the experience of listening to music is completely transformed when you lose the ability to tap “next” when you get antsy with the current song. An N.Y.U. student who wanted to stay informed during his declutter arranged to get a newspaper delivered to his dorm room, while a father named Tarald invested his reclaimed attention into remaining undistracted while with his children. He told me it felt “surreal” to be the only parent at the playground not looking down at an electronic device.

The positive effect of returning to these analog activities is so pronounced that I’ve come to think of this strategy like a magic pill of sorts for curing the low-grade anxiety and existential aimlessness that define our culture of constant connection. This effect seemed particularly powerful for young people who have never known life without an accompanying screen. Like sleep and exercise, this analog cure seems to have few downsides, and its benefits compound.

Administering this cure, however, isn’t an easy process.

Something that helps is recognizing the extent to which the digital stream has commandeered your attention. The articles that rank highly in your feeds were selected by algorithms that have studied your behavior and know with statistical certainty which headlines will keep you staring at your screen. Likes, photo tags, comments, favorites, retweets and other social approval indicators are engineered to make it nearly impossible to resist compulsively checking apps.

My advice to gain the upper hand in this struggle is to demobilize the digital stream. Remove from your phone any app that monetizes your time and attention, like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You don’t have to quit these services; you can still access them from a browser. But you’ve removed their ability to follow you throughout your day, persuasively manipulating your attention toward their own ends.

It’s also important to prepare yourself for the difficulty of reintroducing high-quality analog pursuits into your life. It’s easy to swap tweets with your digital tribe, but organizing an activity in your real-world community might require annoying logistics and force you to confront uncomfortable moments and social complexities.

But as Sherry Turkle poignantly asks, “Who said that you never have to have a moment of friction with difficult people or difficult moments, when did that become the good life?” Prepare yourself for this friction. It’s worth pushing through.

Early in his 1905 guide, Mr. Bennett labels our time “the most precious of possessions.” This is an observation worth remembering when great fortunes are being made by diverting this precious possession toward screens, where it can be alchemized into quarterly revenue numbers.

You can fight back. If you take whatever scraps of leisure your situation affords and commit them toward quality analog activity and away from dehumanizing digital consumption, you’ll take a strong stride away from simply existing and closer to actually living.

Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, is the author of six books, including, most recently, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/smarter-living/digital-addiction-getting-you-down-try-an-analog-cure.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

‘Women Talking,’ by Miriam Toews, Is a Mennonite #MeToo Novel

WOMEN TALKING
By Miriam Toews

Between 2005 and 2009 in an isolated Mennonite colony in Bolivia, women and girls (as young as 3) regularly woke up groggy and bruised, their sheets smeared with blood and semen. Some members of the conservative patriarchal community blamed demons; others attributed these reports to “wild female imagination.” In reality, nine men in the close-knit community had been breaking into houses every few nights, spraying the sleeping inhabitants with a drug designed to anesthetize cattle and raping them while they lay unconscious.

This real-life horror story inspired Miriam Toews’s scorching sixth novel, “Women Talking,” set in the fictional Mennonite colony of Molotschna, where nearly every girl and woman has been raped. But don’t expect a crime novel full of detail about the assaults, and don’t expect an excavation of the survivors’ emotional experience. Toews skips over the rapes and the apprehension of the rapists, cutting straight to existential questions facing the women in the aftermath. “Women Talking” is a wry, freewheeling novel of ideas that touches on the nature of evil, questions of free will, collective responsibility, cultural determinism and, above all, forgiveness. As Agata Friesen, an unflappable matriarch, puts it: “Let’s talk about our sadness after we have nailed down our plan.”

They don’t have a lot of time. The men of Molotschna have traveled to town to bail the rapists out of jail. Should the women still be there when the men return? In a mouse-infested hayloft, sitting on overturned milk buckets, the women drink instant coffee, joke, smoke, weep, endure bouts of morning sickness (one of the women was impregnated by an “unwelcome visitor,” as the colony’s male elders call the rapists) and debate what a better future might look like.

[ Read our profile of Miriam Toews. ]

The narrator is the local schoolteacher, August Epp, who grew up Mennonite and speaks Plautdietsch, but also lived for many years outside the community. The women recruit him to take minutes at their meetings because they can’t read or write; they trust him because he is, as one woman says, “an effeminate man who is unable to properly till a field or eviscerate a hog.” In other words, harmless. Like his introspective fourth-century namesake, August was once paralyzed by guilt over stealing some pears, and he’s prone to extravagant bouts of self-loathing. When August broods on his own sorrows, the novel sags. When he transcribes what these angry women say to one another, it crackles.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/books/review/women-talking-miriam-toews.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

As Office Tenants Expect More Tech, Even the Windows Get Smart

The windows were supplied by View, a company in Milpitas, Calif., that makes “dynamic glass.” When the sun shines, a coating between the double panes of glass will darken, like self-tinting glasses. This reduces glare (which can cause eye strain, headaches and drowsiness) and heat gain (which may require turning up the air-conditioning, thus increasing energy use), while maintaining natural light.

As smart as the windows are, they will eventually become even more functional, said Rao Mulpuri, the chief executive of View, which in November announced a $1.1 billion investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund. He said windows would eventually be used like computer screens, displaying content and used for videoconferencing.

Some expect smart technology to expand beyond windows. Andrea Chegut, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Real Estate Innovation Lab, predicts that interior office walls will one day be “turned into data centers, capitalizing on fiber-optic connectivity.”

Already, wall-hung video screens for sharing content, once seen only in boardrooms, have been proliferating. These types of audiovisual systems account for the largest cost increase in office design in recent years, according to the real estate services company CBRE. Five years ago, audiovisual costs averaged $5 per square foot; now, it’s common for developers to spend $10 to $20 per square foot on the systems.

At the gleaming new headquarters of the electronic trading platform MarketAxess, in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards and designed by the architecture firm Spacesmith, screens glow in practically every meeting space on the firm’s three floors, including the small “huddle” rooms where employees can duck in for quick one-on-one meetings.

In other ways, however, technology is intentionally concealed at MarketAxess — or it is moved off site. In the boardroom, there is no messy tangle of wires erupting from the table’s smooth marble surface; drawers under the tabletop provide electrical outlets and data ports. The room has two jumbo wall screens, but all the equipment powering them is tucked away in a walk-in closet down the hall. The office’s main data center is in New Jersey.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/business/office-technology-smart-windows.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Dealing With Aggression in Children

And those problems persist as the children grow, he said. “Although aggression is normative, some kids do it a lot more than others,” Dr. Lorber said. “The kids who are really high frequency — it’s happening every day, multiple behaviors are happening every day — those are probably the kids who have passed some threshold where that would warrant special additional attention like referrals to parenting intervention services.” They should also be evaluated to make sure that nothing else is going on, from a physical problem causing pain and irritability to an impairment in hearing or speech causing frustration.

Dr. Anderson said that aggressive behavior in children at the extreme can be one symptom of a behavior disorder. The important questions in separating out normal (if unpleasant) behavior from a disorder include the frequency, intensity and duration of the behavior, and whether it is making trouble for the child, getting him kicked out of preschool, or leaving her friendless on the playground.

But while parents may think about this as a dichotomy, he said — does the child have a disorder or not — in fact, clinicians who work with behavior problems believe that there are strategies that every parent could use.

“Our instincts as human beings are often wrong,” Dr. Anderson said.

“We tend to be negative behavior detectors.” When two siblings are playing quietly together, he said, “most parents are thinking, don’t jinx it, or let me go do something on my to-do list.” But when there is conflict, parents respond with anger and threats and punishment.

Those ways of responding to the negative behaviors, he said, are unlikely to work — with small children, with adolescents or with adults. “We don’t tell partners to yell at partners as part of couples therapy; we don’t tell bosses to yell at employees for better productivity.”

Parents should set up clear expectations before a problem develops, he said, thinking about how to manage getting ready for school the next morning, for example, if today did not go well. And they should offer specific positive feedback for positive behaviors, rather than worrying that they will “jinx” those good behaviors.

If a child is having significant behavior problems, parents should be ready to ignore minor misbehavior, he said, such as verbal disrespect or whining. So pick your battles, and don’t give in to the idea that a big punishment is the way to go. “With aggression, lots of parents have a ‘go big or go home’ approach: My child picked a fight, so no play dates, no TV,” privileges rescinded indefinitely, Dr. Anderson said. “The reality is that big punishments do not translate to better behavior.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/well/family/dealing-with-aggression-in-children.html?partner=rss&emc=rss