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The Week in Ideas 10/7

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  October 7, 2013 09:00 AM

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Why you can’t stop checking your phone: Leon Neyfakh on why it’s so hard to get people to stop texting and driving. Researchers are finding that curbing texting while driving is harder than getting people to avoid drinking and driving. The reason? We relate to our smartphones on a deeply habitual level, so getting people to put their phones away will likely require finding ways to instill new, anti-texting habits (which is a lot more complicated than just passing an anti-texting law).

How ‘impermanence’ can help us all get along: Maria Konnikova on what we can do to minimize the deep, human tendency to dislike people who are different from us. From infancy on, across just about every category of identity, people tend to prefer the company of people like themselves. But psychologists are finding that if we think about our own qualities as impermanent—I fall in this category today but might easily fall into a different one tomorrow—we have an easier time being tolerant of different kinds of people.

MacArthur ‘genius’ Robin Fleming on using archaeology to rewrite history: Ruth Graham interviews Robin Fleming, professor at Boston College and recent MacArthur “genius” award winner, who uses archaeological artifacts to write social histories of everyday life in distant historical periods.

In Syria, code language defies surveillance: Joshua Friedman on how over the last four decades, Syrians have developed their own closely held codes in order to talk about taboo subjects without detection by the Assad regime. Examples include the phrase, “at his aunt’s house” to describe a person who’s in jail, and “His handwriting is beautiful” to suggest that a person is an informer.

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how making eye contact may not actually make you a better public speaker; how people donate to disaster relief efforts in proportion to the number of fatalities; how living in a society with high inequality increases depression among women; and more.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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