Why the kids aren’t growing up

Do less for your kids. Give them rules and discipline and love. Don’t be their friend. Be their parent. Let them be bored, let them screw up. Teach them no, please, thank you and table manners. An industry of psychologists and gentle parenting help on the margins but likely cause more damage than help.

That’s from conservative author Abigail Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up.

The book starts off with a big, wide criticism of therapy and mental wellness, of which I was skeptical. But as Shrier turned to its impact on parenting styles, my interest grew — especially as a parent of young children myself. In the end, I found it to be a welcome contribution to Jonathan Haidt’s high-profile Anxious Generation.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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Temple University is a mess. Let’s fix it.

This was originally a social media rant published here.

Temple University is a mess. Let’s fix it.

I’m an alumnus of Temple, and a resident of Philadelphia, but even if you aren’t either of those things, what the school represents can matter to you if you care about the future of cities, and economic mobility and, sure, higher education too.

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Atomic Habits

Almost half of our actions on any given day are done out of habit. So forget about setting goals, and instead focus on the systems that are most likely to lead to those goals.

That’s from the popular 2018 productivity book from James Clear called “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.”

Clear’s book is full of tie backs to his newsletter and online courses, for which he has been criticized. Careerist as he comes across, the book is helpful, if only that central premise: “Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway” of behavior, he coffers.

As he writes: “You do not rise the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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Coded by Kids named me a ‘Champion for Change’

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Coded by Kids, leaders of the youth engagement nonprofit honored others. I was flattered to be among them.

I remember hearing about Sylvester Mobley spending time at a South Philly rec center to offer basic computer and coding classes to young kids there. Soon after Technical.ly profiled his work, and I later joined their first board of directors, where I also met his wife and partner Danae Mobley. I’ve worked closely with both, especially Danae of late in her role leading 1Philadelphia.

Since I’ve known them both for so long, and challenged and collaborated them too, it meant a lot for Danae to say nice words and call me a “champion for change” at an event last night filled with other stakeholders and partners. Thanks friends.

Ban smartphones from schools

Parents and schools should treat social media like they do cigarettes — unhealthy addictions that are distracting from learning and development.

That’s the big argument in “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” a new popular book by psychologist Jonathan Haidt that has gotten widespread media attention.

“Social media use does not just correlate with mental illness,” he writes: “It causes it.”

Haidt has written several books on living healthier and happier, and he has researched social media use for years. But it’s this book at this time that met the moment: I’ve seen him interviewed by countless national media and at conferences. His advice marks one set of strategies for how parents and wider society can respond to the mounting evidence that algorithmic feeds of addictive content is especially challenging for children to overcome.

Below I share a few points I’m taking into my own parenting.

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Power and Progress

Technology has a way of dazzling us into the deterministic fallacy: assuming path dependence for the ways a technology develops and its impact on society. But we have agency.

The so-called “productivity bandwagon” that we assume follows a new technology (where Schumpeter’s creative destruction will generate more jobs than are destroyed) is not inevitable. Widespread gains require that a technology creates more demand for workers (by creating new tasks and industries), and that demand induces higher wages. Neither are certainties, and take societal negotiation between labor and capital.

That’s from a 2023 book co-authored by economists Simon Johnson and Daron Acemoglu called “Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity.”

The book is big and thorough, with a sprawling historical comparisons over a millennia. Yet, I was disappointed by how few concrete examples the authors gave for what precisely they want to be done differently — especially in a book that is more than 500 pages. For example, on page 353, they write “digital technologies, which are almost by their nature highly general purpose, could’ve been used to further machine usefulness – for example, by creating new worker tasks or new platforms that multiplied human capabilities.” But that “for example” is not actually an example, but rather a reassertion of the general outcomes they seek (“new worker tasks or new platforms.”) Instead, I wanted an example of what exactly could have been done differently to ensure new worker tasks or platforms.

In that way, I found so big a book disappointing, and felt it could have been half as long. I appreciated their overall point, though, of idealizing “machine usefulness” in four ways: machines should improve worker productivity; create new tasks; distribute accurate information (like the web) and give better access and markets. Just don’t look to this book for the path to get there.

As they write: “How technology is used is always intertwined with the vision and interests of those who hold power.” Below I share my notes from the book for future reference.

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I was honored with the 2024 IBIT “Innovators Award”

I proudly accepted Wednesday the “Innovators Award” from the Temple University Fox School of Business’s Institute for Business and Information Technology. The award is “given annually to a person or persons for innovation in applying IT to create business opportunity.”

The award was timed with the launch of the 14th annual Philly Tech Week, which I founded, and the 15th anniversary of Technical.ly, a local news org that has adapted in this strange economic period for community journalism. The transfer of Generocity.org last year was also a relevant example of my work.I was proud that my references for the award were my friends journalist-turned-college-dean David Boardman and entrepreneur Bob Moore. I formerly emceed these very awards, which are led by the thoughtful and analytical Munir Y. Mandviwalla and Laurel Miller. Knowing what they put into these awards made it all the more special. I was certainly in good company: My fellow award-winner was Jeff Hamilton, who was the CIO of Pfizer while the company rolled out its covid-19 vaccine.

Below, I share my remarks from the award event.

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A Journey Through Country Music’s Black Past, Present and Future: Alice Randall

American country music has black origins, but that’s been badly erased. So Black artists are often viewed as exceptions rather than representative of a long unbroken chain.

That’s from the new book from pioneering songwriter Alice Randall titled “My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music’s Black Past, Present, and Future.”

This book has a soundtrack of black artists covering Randall’s tracks, and I found it from a Marketplace interview. Randall’s writing is captivating and soulful. She honors and respects country music, and country culture even though she’s had a complicated career turning, as she writes, “wound into sound.”

As a lifetime country music fan, she deepened my understanding of the genre — and Black culture and American identity. She complicates how we should view these relationships.

Of one, she artfully writes: “The South is the abusive mother of black culture but the mother nonetheless.”

Below I share my notes from the book for future reference.

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Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall

An entrepreneur friend who fell deep into crypto mania said he hadn’t thought of it before.

The inevitability of crypto dominance that he predicted would be led by how traditional fiat currencies would fall out of favor. The thing about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, I told him, was that no military backed them. Tanks favor the status quo.

Now, as the founder of a tech-business publication, I always knew I needed a handle on blockchain, crypto and its myriad interwoven technologies, now increasingly labeled web3 and decentralization. So I still hold a small stash of bitcoin and ethereum, and I do hold an NFT, but I’ve always been prepared for them all to be priced at zero. That did help me better understand the world.

But that friend of mine had a hard fall. His stake in cryptocurrencies has so far fared better, but his portfolio of NFTs are essentially worthless today. It will always be a cautionary tale. And I bet the story isn’t done. Yet, the high-profile fall of the crypto exchange FTX and its boyish, one-time-billionare founder Samuel Bankman Fried was enough to spin an array of books – including one by a former coworker of mine. More recently, I read another account from journalist Zeke Faux, in his 2023 book “Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall.”

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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How to use brain science to tell be stories: Story Genius

Your novel is only half the story. The other half already happened.

That’s from the 2016 book from literary agent and story consultant Lisa Cron called “Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere).”

I love ‘writing about writing,’ and this book is one of the most commonly cited works among writer groups. Because of that, lots of writers have opinions on the book. For my money, it did just what it aims to do, and I appreciated Lisa’s approach. I’ll recommend it just like it was recommended to me.

This book includes a bigger concept that I found insightful: The reason stories attract so much attention is humans evolved to seek self-awareness and understanding from them. “The purpose of story — of every story — is to help us interpret, and anticipate, the actions of ourselves and others,” Cron wrote. “We don’t turn to story to escape reality. We turn to story to navigate reality.”

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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