Internet as Conscience

Internet as Conscience

photo of man with binoculars

Thanks, ºNit Soto, for licensing your CCFlickr photo (binoculars) for remix.

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking. —H.L. Mencken

For this invention [writing] will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise. (Egyptian King Thamus to Theuth, as told by Socrates. Plato’s Phaedrus, section 275a-b)

Sounds familiar, right?

Strip out the cast of characters, replace the word writing with Internet and you have the premise of several best-selling books and well-regarded articles. You also have the complaint and worry we share as parents, educators, politicians, thinkers, and doers.


The Internet is not making us stupid. Smart is not making us dumb.

Nicholas Carr, Evgeny Morozov, and others disagree. They are the Socrates of our age. This comparison works for me in a couple ways. First, I may not agree completely with Carr and Morozov, but value their dialectic approach to this latest era of change. Second, Socrates was no dummy, but he was as skeptical of the written word as Carr is of the Internet. (To be fair, Morozov usually ends with a more balanced, if cynical, view.)

I don’t believe we are becoming more stupid than we were already. I don’t think filter bubbles and self-selection bias are more troubling now than before. I have evolving views on digital dualism, augmented reality, and the singularity. But…in a fit of Pollyanna, I have hopes the Internet and increased connectedness are making us more aware, or maybe even kinder, or at least more tolerant.

So far, I have to doubt my own thesis as much as I doubt Carr’s and Morozov’s. For each step forward (the kindness of a stranger caught on YouTube or clean water for millions via viral campaign), there are as many steps back—or steps sideways, perhaps.

King Thamus chided Theuth for his elixir of reminding, warning his pupils would be, “for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.” Morozov says it more eloquently in his Twitter bio: “There are idiots. Look around.” That, if nothing else, is true.

Mencken’s view on the conscience becomes even more relevant now. We’ve moved beyond somebody may be looking to somebody is probably looking…and filming. Cases in point:

Dateline: March 2013, Oregon

University of Oregon adjunct law professor James L. Olmsted was arrested following a confrontation that turned physical. The professor was being an ass—and that was before he crossed any legal lines. It was caught on video (of course…duh).

Dateline: February 2013, Bangkok

DKNY used Humans of New York photos in a window display, even after HoNY’s Brandon Stanton had turned down their licensing request. He heard about it from a fan. “Every time one of my photos get picked up, I get notified about it.”

Dateline: January 2013, St. Louis

Pastor Alois Bell wrote a snarky message on an Applebee’s receipt. “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” A photo of the receipt went viral. Religious debate ensued; people were fired; and, I’m guessing one Pastor Alois Bell wanted to crawl in a hole.

Dateline: Pick a Year, Washington D.C.

Politician __________ did something stupid and left a digital footprint of it. Insert Anthony Weiner—pun not intended (well, maybe)—or John Ensign or….

So, just as I don’t blame the Internet for making us stupid, I admit I can’t expect it to be our conscience. Sadly, Morozov is right. There are idiots. I guess my question now is are there more or fewer than the pre-Internet days?


Food52 | Teddie’s Apple Cake

Food52 | Teddie’s Apple Cake

Food52 Teddie's apple cake with vanilla ice cream

Weekend goodness….

Dana Nguyen, of, has been enabling my Food52 crush this month. I was a casual lurker for most of last year. Now I’m saving recipes, commenting, and testing my own recipes to share.

I thought Tad’s Roasted Potatoes was going to be my favorite save of the month. I made it two weekends in a row and have decided to put it into rotation with PW’s Crash Hot Potatoes as my go-to for family dinners.

And then I made Teddie’s Apple Cake. I’m done.

I played with the mix, using half white sugar and half brown, half white flour and half whole wheat, and cranberries instead of raisins. It’s the best cake I’ve ever made….and maybe even the best cake I’ve ever eaten. My amateur photography doesn’t do justice to the chunky apple goodness.

Be well. Eat well.

Smashed Blueberry Sauce

Smashed Blueberry Sauce

Smashed Blueberry Sauce (over ice cream)

I have a freezer full of fruit and a few extra hours of downtime, thanks to holiday break. Time to tinker….

I want blueberry jam, but don’t have any pectin in the pantry. (I could buy some, but it’s something like seven degrees outside right now…and oh yeah, it’s midnight in a small town and the grocery store is closed anyway.) I’m improvising….

This turned out pretty well. It’s delicious, actually, so I’m capturing the recipe for next winter when it’s midnight and cold and I have an insane urge to make jam.


2 pounds blueberries (remove as many stems as possible)

1 lemon (zest the outside; juice the inside)

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


1) Put the blueberries in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until they bubble or boil.

2) Add sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. 

3) Use immersion blender or potato masher to smash the berry and juice mixture. Simmer for ten minutes.

4) Remove from heat. Add vanilla and stir.

5) Cool. Scoop into jars and refrigerate. (Reserve some of the warm sauce for a bowl of ice cream right away. You can thank me later.)

This version has a consistency somewhere between a jam and a syrup. I’m going to use it for toast, smoothies, pancakes, and yogurt this week.

If You Don’t Create, Bernadette, You Will Become a Menace to Society

If You Don’t Create, Bernadette, You Will Become a Menace to Society

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Call me Bernadette.

I reread Where’d You Go, Bernadette this past week. The first time I read it, in early fall, I focused on Bee, the Seattle and Microsoft humor, and the twists and turns of the plot. This latest reading pulled my attention to Bernadette alone. For various reasons, Bernadette had stopped creating. She stopped working; she stopped tinkering; she stopped making. She didn’t architect or engineer; she didn’t nest; she didn’t write; she didn’t knit; she didn’t cook. She didn’t solve problems. She withered. I was thinking it was a cautionary tale and then…

…I listened to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s new album at least a dozen times during the same week. (I could go on and on about my enchantment with the song writing.) Ten Thousand Hours is a well-chosen hook.

The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, The greats were great cause they’d paint a lot.

Do. Make. Tinker. Write. Design. Cook. Solve. Invent. Paint. Knit. Sing. Play. Create.

Call me Bernadette, in Antarctica.

A Rollercoaster Week with NPR News

A Rollercoaster Week with NPR News

two boys walking into snowy woods

Monday Morning

A communion of grief….

I drove my sons to school after a weekend away from news coverage of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After a Friday filled with tears (mine) and heartbreak (ours), we spent the weekend outside. We hiked in the snow, sledded down hillsides, and cut our Christmas tree. It didn’t ease the grief or the strange sense of survivors-guilt-from-afar, but did provide fresh air and quiet.

As we pulled to a stop in the drop-off lane, I kissed my boys and told them to have a good day. They mumbled their cool-teenager, monosyllabic replies and I was feeling grateful for normal Monday mornings. I drove away from the school, stopped for coffee, and turned on the radio as I began the trip to my office in the next town. I turned on the radio just in time to hear David Greene mention Noah Pozner, one of the students killed in Friday’s shooting. I turned on the radio just in time to hear him mention how many times the young boy was shot. I turned on the radio just in time to be snapped back to the reality of loss and communion of grief for the Sandy Hook children and their families.

My emotional response was so strong and swift, I jerked my car off the highway to catch my breath — or slow my breaths, as it were. I railed at the radio, “Damn you, NPR! Too much.”

Like every other person I know, I was having a hard time processing the grief. And that was before hearing just how violent the attack was. I pointed my finger and shook my fist. If I wasn’t in the car, I would have stamped my foot, too. And then I cried.

Tuesday Morning

A rather broad range of bollocks….

I scanned my RSS feeds as I made breakfast. Michael Wolff, a writer at The Guardian, took NPR’s Andy Carvin to task for tweeting “a rather broad range of bollocks” throughout Friday’s attack. Wolff’s criticism was harsh and weirdly personal.

In the confusion of a breaking crisis, whether it be a revolution overseas or a tragedy at home, I give Carvin a wide berth on fact checking and drama. I didn’t watch television on Friday, but relied on the New York Times Lede Blog and Twitter. It was far less annoying and self-dramatizing (Wolff) than the cable news networks on their best days.

Wednesday Morning

The funerals….

We were on the way to school when I turned on the radio just in time to hear this.

Ooph. When Noah’s mother started talking…. Before she had finished her first sentence, I knew I had turned on the radio at the most painful moment again. And I cried. Again. My boys went silent and still. Hearing this boy’s mother’s grief left them shaken. I dropped them at school with kisses and “I love yous” and felt again the tug of survivor’s guilt and deep, deep sympathy for the Pozner family.

That same morning, Frank Deford delivered his sports angle on the growing call for gun law revisions. His call for gun owners to be good sports was light and reasonable, just as I expected. It offset, and yet underscored, the grief of the related stories.

I’ve looked forward to Deford’s Wednesday morning rambles for decades. On this day, he shared a view I’ve heard from my hunter friends and family this week. It’s a view I hold, myself. “For those who have the potential to reduce the gun carnage in the United States of America are precisely the people who own guns and who are good sports.”

We are those people.

Thursday Morning

It was all done….

Volunteer firefighter Chip Carpenter: “It’s just the helplessness of [being] unable to do anything.”

Ugh. Yes. Nearby and thousands of miles of away, the helplessness lingers. My heart aches for the moms and dads, sisters and brothers, grandparents and friends, teachers and first responders. May you find peace in the coming years.

Damn you, NPR.


Thank you, NPR. Tell their stories.



lit candles in glass jars
In the Hour, a Creative Commons Flickr photo by Thomas Hawk.

I don’t yet know what to do with all the feelings of the week, so I’m listing the names of the victims. May the websites and articles that honor their lives outnumber those that mention the killer.

My heart is heavy with grief for the children, the adults, and the families separated by such devastating violence.

Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, Allison Wyatt, Rachel Davino, Dawn Hochsprung, Nancy Lanza, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto

Sandy Hook Elementary School
Newtown, Connecticut