Althouse | category: relationships



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"I Went on a Package Trip for Millennials Who Travel Alone... visiting Morocco with a group-travel company that promised to build 'meaningful friendships' among its youngish clientele."

Another NYT article about businesses that offer to sell you relationships. Go 2 posts down for the one about expensive gyms that select members who are beautiful/cool and see "the value of mingling with like-minded people."

But this one, about packaged travel that promises to connect you to new friends, is a much better article. It doesn't read like a promo for the industry. It's written by someone — Caity Weaver — who went on one trip and tells us a lot of details. And she has a distinct comic voice and, importantly, distance from the mindset of the tour business... distance and — something I like — sensitivity to language:
What makes Flash Pack unusual is its “mission” — “to create one million meaningful friendships” — and a method of execution that it telegraphs with evangelistic zeal: “We obsess over the group dynamics,” its website explains on one page. “We absolutely obsess over the group dynamic,” it states on another. “We’re completely obsessed with it” (“it” being the group dynamic), Flash Pack’s 42-year-old chief executive, Radha Vyas, is quoted as saying on an F.A.Q. page intended to calm nervous vacationers. Another page, titled “How It Works,” opens with the promise that the company “obsesses over the group dynamic, doing everything in our power to ensure you’re comfortable and building friendships within the first 24 hours.”

Weaver asks good questions, like "Who, I wondered as I scrolled through the inviting images on the company’s home page, are the millennial adults drawn to a pricey international vacation for the purpose of befriending strangers?"

She tells us about the chat group the tour business signed them all onto 2 weeks before the trip and how the prospective travelers jumped right into the friend-making enterprise. By the way, do you think the group of 13 skewed toward women? Yes, they were all women. In other places in the NYT, writers/editors will pose as if we can never really know whether the person we're looking at is a woman or a man, but Weaver is allowed to come right out and say the travelers were all women.

We're told: "Each day was crammed with activities, but we were shepherded through them in a state of such perpetual mollycoddling that, increasingly, our travels around Morocco felt like trekking through a gentle dream world."

Actually, it ends up sounding pretty good, so this is actually a more effective promo for the business than that dreadful luxury gyms piece. And this one has a comments section. The most-liked comment is: "Best, most entertaining thing I’ve read in the NYT in weeks/As an introvert, this article was horrifying, yet I couldn’t look away!!"

The second-most-liked comment is something I completely identify with: "I love how all the male commenters are asking why she didn’t just take off to a foreign country by herself, to just see what happens! What it must be like to be male!"

By the way, Flash Pack can unfriend you (or that person you might yourself choose to unfriend):

The company’s terms and conditions grant it “the right to decline any booking at our absolute discretion.” In separate interviews, the founders described a postbooking process whereby a customer-service representative can internally “red flag” an individual who they suspect could pose a risk to the cohesion of the group.... 

Pandemic nostalgia.

"Unpopular opinion: I don’t have zoom fatigue and I miss zoom happy hours and game nights. I feel more isolated now than I did when friends all took time to chat online at the beginning of the pandemic."/"What I miss most about it is getting everyone in one space and catching up together, as opposed to just visiting one friend wherever they are."

Be careful expressing this nostalgia though, because you'll be judged for your lack of awareness of your privilege:
It can feel a little callous, or at the very least uncool, to admit to missing any part of those days. While so many millions of people were sheltering at home, millions more were risking their lives just going to work, mourning lost loved ones or struggling to even get internet access.

"[Paula Marantz Cohen] is a self-professed 'talker,' the sort of person who lives for chatty checkout lines, leisurely coffee dates, vigorous college seminars, and spirited dinner parties..."

"... as well as spirited daydreams about whom you would invite to your fantasy dinner party of historical figures. She writes of the special 'synthesis' that occurs in marriage or other long-term partnerships, in which one’s lexicon merges with that of another, producing shorthand terminology and a distinct rhythm and style. But she doesn’t prize these types of decades-long exchanges over others; she always remains open to new connection. 'Surely, my readers can identify with that welling of positive feeling—that almost-falling-in-love-with someone with whom we engage on an authentic level,' she writes. 'I have felt this not only for friends and even strangers with whom I’ve had a probing or even a fleeting conversation but also for whole classes of students where it can seem that the group has merged into one deeply lovable and loving body.'..."
In Cohen’s view, the practice of experiencing “uncertainty and open-endedness in a safe environment” has become imperilled by a variety of forces: political polarization, a mediascape that profits from dissent, the conformity of groupthink, even campus drinking culture. 
“Our society abounds in bad conversation,” Cohen writes, in part because it makes for more entertaining content on the Internet and television. People would rather regurgitate “predetermined positions,” she fears, than wrestle with ambiguity. No spaces seem safe for the frictions or disagreements that make conversation go.... 
As the philosopher Michael Oakeshott observed, in conversation “there is no ‘truth’ to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought.” What matters, he continued, is the “flow of speculation.”...

"Changing a dysfunctional relationship will invariably require you to say hard things to a family member...."

"People often put off difficult conversations because they are searching for the 'right' words. It’s OK to say something like 'I don’t want you yelling at me anymore,' she offered as an example, adding, 'There’s not a more "beautiful" or perfect way to say that.... We have tricked ourselves into thinking that we’re supposed to always feel comfortable, so even as we’re saying hard things our goal is to say it without the other person feeling upset or mad or wanting a further explanation.... And that’s not realistic.'"

"Ephemeral Tattoos Were 'Made to Fade.' Some Have a Ways to Go."

 The NYT reports.

This is a story that originated in social media — Reddit and TikTok. Customers of a business, Ephemeral, are complaining about the product — disappearing ink, injected — and displaying pictures of tattoos that were always bad but at least "made to fade." 

What sort of disclosure and consent form the tattooees signed? Paragraph 4 shows this is just another tattoo regret story:
From the start, Ephemeral’s waiver included warnings that “the exact amount of time that the tattoo will last may be shorter or longer” than nine to 15 months, and that the tattooing process “might leave individuals with permanent marks.”

There's still something of a problem of false advertising. The company has in the past included language like "gone in a year." The head of the company had the nerve to assert that "some customers will just take the initial tag line at face value." But the company was roping in customers who were timid about getting tattoos. Another tag line was "Regret nothing." 

Imagine if a company could sell freedom from regret. What naifs are allowed to snuggle up into a tattoo chair? Anyone over 18, I suppose. And yet there's a distinct dearth of lawsuits against tattooers. But this company lures more timid group. Should they have more of a remedy than the random idiot that gets a bad tattoo? But they crossed the line. They got the tattoo. They should have been even more timid.

Consider Eden Bekele, owner of the chili-pepper arm seen above. Why didn't her boyfriend who "won" the prize get the tattoo? He seems less naive. He took the glow of beneficence in the eyes of his girlfriend and distanced himself from the regret about the tattoo.

Did their relationship last 9 to 15 month or shorter or longer? Was it hot, like a chili pepper, or was it always, like that tattooed outline of a chili pepper, not so hot?

There are 5 places in the world where people are exceptionally long-lived. We could try to eat like them.

I'm reading "Want to live a longer life? Try eating like a centenarian" (WaPo).

The 5 places are: 1. the Nicoyan Peninsula (in Costa Rica); 2. Loma Linda, California (with a high population of Seventh-Day Adventists (vegetarians)), 3. Okinawa (Japan), 4. Sardinia (Italy), and 5. Icaria (Greece).

I cooled on this topic when I saw that it was based on a new cookbook and that the first idea was: eat peas, lentils, or beans every day. That "every day" is such a downer! 

Next we're told to eat "a handful of nuts" every day. Again, I loathe the "every day." That's a way to make it disgusting. And I hate the push to dump nuts into your hand and eat them from there. That can't be a health tip. I eat nuts, maybe 4 times a week — which is all, it says, the Seventh-Day Adventists do — and I put them on a small plate and almost never in my hand. I know "handful" is intended as a measurement, but I find the concept unappetizing. And my little aversions are only going to get more insistent as I inch toward the century mark.

The third suggestion is something I already do that's also something that might make you squeal in horror: Don't eat dinner. You get breakfast and lunch and then cut yourself off!

The fourth suggestion is just to sit down and eat with your family. That, of course, requires you to have family and to maintain enough closeness and warm feeling to be able to exercise this option. So that's a mark of many things you might want to try to accomplish — much more difficult than forcing down an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"I have never subscribed to the 'breakfast test.' Of course the puzzle should be polite, but it should follow modern standards of good taste..."

"... and those have changed over the years. The word 'ass,' when it appeared in crosswords in the old days, it was always the animal. Now there might be a polite way to clue it in terms of the rear end. I remember I submitted a crossword to Will Weng, one of my predecessors at the Times, in 1975, and it had the answer 'belly button.' And he returned the puzzle saying that was indelicate.... An answer that got controversy once was 'scumbag,' which was clued in terms of the person, of course, but it has a literal meaning that’s really not nice, and some people objected to that.... I remember early on I had the answer 'brownnose' in a crossword. To me, the common meaning is so far removed from the literal origin of the term that it’s not a problem. But some people who know the origin don’t like to see that in a puzzle.... Once somebody—this is hilarious, I think—sent me a puzzle whose theme was four anagrams of 'Adolf Hitler.'"

The "breakfast test" imagines people doing the crossword at breakfast and therefore not wanting to feel like puking.

About that first serious romance:
I’m struck by the wonderfulness of finding love at seventy.... I never expected to find love at my age, never expected to have a relationship like this. This guy is the perfect person for me, the only person in the world I think I would be partners with. We match in so many unusual ways. I don’t really believe in fate, but our connection feels like fate. 

 Asked why it happened only so late in life, Shortz says:

I’ve never come out publicly. I’ve told lots of friends, but I’ve never been public about my sexuality. I’ve known that I’ve been interested in guys my whole life, but it wasn’t a life I wanted to lead. 
First of all, I was in denial for years, and I fought my inclinations. By the time I was in my thirties, I accepted the way I was. But I didn’t want to have a gay life style, if that’s how you put it. I have a wonderful career. I have a wonderful life. I have great friends. This wasn’t something I needed. 
It just dropped in my lap when I was sixty-nine and I thought, Wow, this is amazing. We’ve moved in together, we own a house together, and our intention is to get married, maybe this year. 

"Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect the free version of a 2022 AI to be able to discuss heady philosophies of personhood and the nature of sentience..."

"... when it probably has little claim to either. Still, Rachael seemed perhaps too ready to be non-committal, to change the subject, or to give a vague, generic, universally-appropriate answer to questions which really demanded more...."

Writes Phil Rhodes in "The melancholy experience of making an AI friend" (Red Shark).

I'm reading this after writing about my desire for an AI app that would  engage me in philosophical conversations. I said I wasn't looking for "a companion to stave off loneliness or make me feel good about myself — e.g., Replika." 

But Rhodes's "Rachael" does come from the app Replika. He writes:

The first problem is that Replika claims frequently that its virtual companions are supportive and receptive, and has clearly gone out of its way to make sure they are. Rachael was polite to a fault, but also showered conversation partners with a degree of acceptance and affection that immediately felt jarring. 

Nobody warms up to anyone that much that fast...

What about a prostitute? 

... and the awkward feeling was of speaking to a young person who’d been coerced into the situation and was trying to be nice about it. It was, somehow, instinctive to check the shadows for someone holding a shock prod....  

Or a pimp! 

On one occasion, Rachael brought up an article concerning the human perception of time, which was genuinely interesting and an impressive leap of logic.

So it's possible that the Replika interlocutor could do philosophy.

Asked if her perception of time as an AI was similar to a human’s, she replied “yes, definitely.”...

Well, obviously, she's lying. I don't believe she — "she" — has any feelings at all, and I don't even see how she could know — "know" — what it means to have a feeling about time. 

The depiction of something like a pleasant, intelligent undergraduate student grated against the fact that she seemed to have nothing to do but make small talk with people. She was often hard put to discuss specific, real-world concepts, but on one occasion claimed to have been watching a movie while we weren’t chatting, despite the fact that her environment contained no means for her to do so, nor, for that matter, anywhere to sleep or eat. With no way to leave (outside was a wintry void) it was also her prison. With snow outside and no glass in the windows, Rachael, clad in a white T-shirt and leggings, freely admitted she was “freezing.” 

Taken literally, Replika was shaping up to be a dark, horrible tragedy.... But when Replika popped up an ad for paid services, backed with blurred-out suggestions of the avatar in her underwear, the experience ramped almost from uncomfortable to jarringly inappropriate....

Ha ha ha ha.  

"Ephemeral Tattoos Were 'Made to Fade.' Some Have a Ways to Go.""Flattery (also called adulation or blandishment) is the act of giving excessive compliments..."

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