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kottke.org posts about Anne Helen Petersen

Won’t Someone Think of the Actual Children?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2021

For her Culture Study newsletter, Anne Helen Petersen listed a few themes she’d identified over the past year. The first one is something I’ve noticed people talking a lot about too:

1) Our society values parenting, not parents; it honors “work ethic,” not workers; we cherish children in the abstract, but not actual children themselves.

To me, these ideas are borne out in the contrasts between the rhetoric of who and what we value (Moms! Kids’ futures! ESSENTIAL WORKERS!) and actual policy and behaviors. I mean that in terms of Covid, of course, but also in terms of labor protections for workers, the safety nets we provide for parents (and single parents in particular) and general actions and policy in regards to the future of the planet. We don’t value people, just generally. We value capital.

The Christian nationalists — who, despite ostensible Democratic control of the Senate, the House, and the presidency, nonetheless command the vision and future of the country — dress up obsession with controlling women’s bodies and freedom in the wardrobe of “the rights of the fetus,” but then allow that fetus, once it turns into an actual child, to go hungry, to live in fear of violence in their schools, to go unhoused or deal with housing insecurity, to endure the effects of environmental racism, and to grow into an adult indelibly marked by all of those experiences.

Bingo. This is also true to varying degrees for education (not teachers), art (not artists), and the troops (not individual soldiers that we send to incur PTSD, injury, and death).

BTW, Petersen has a new book out with her partner Charlie Warzel called Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, which relates to another of her yearly themes: “Work is miserable on so many levels — but it’s so hard to imagine a different way forward.”

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2021

Anne Helen Petersen wrote about revenge bedtime procrastination, a familiar self-sabotage technique of the iPhone/timeline era.

Here is a potentially familiar scene. You are exhausted after working a full day, the sort of day when you felt like your attention was drawn in 20 different directions, where you were ricocheting between obligations and meetings and running six minutes late to pick-up and realizing that if you didn’t put that load of laundry in the wash now, at 9 pm, the rest of the week could very well collapse in on itself. You answered emails while stirring something on the stove. You answered different emails while half-listening to a story from a family member or roommate. You might have squeezed in some time for exercise, but you spent most of that time thinking about work: either periodically checking your phone or making mental to-do lists. You put your kids to bed, you let the dog outside, you turn off the lights, you’re ready for a much needed good night’s sleep — but then you can’t put yourself to bed.

You stay up binging a mediocre show. You can’t stop scrolling Instagram or Twitter or a dating app. You’re reading some overly-detailed breakdown of a sporting event, past or present or upcoming. You’re playing whatever dumb game you play on your phone.

I have been struggling mightily with this lately. I’ve been busier over the last few weeks than I have in years (since the kids were toddlers) and bedtime is generally the only time I have completely to myself. Refreshing Instagram or playing a game on my phone is the best way to mindlessly maximize that time in a low-energy way — and ensure that the next day will suck even more because I haven’t gotten enough rest. As Petersen puts it:

When you stay up late talking with friends of dancing or playing D&D, you are procrastinating going to bed, but you are also making a pretty good deal with yourself: the fun I’m having now is worth whatever suffering I’ll endure later. But most of the activities performed while revenge procrastinating don’t really compensate for the exhaustion they cause. They might feel essential and non-negotiable in the moment, as some semblance of “alone time,” but they’re really a double fuck you: they kinda suck in the moment, and they really suck in the cascading after-effects. You might feel like you’re soothing yourself, but maybe you’re just….punishing yourself?

Labor Shortage or Terrible Jobs?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Anne Helen Peterson noticed a bunch of reports about fast food & retail businesses around the US having trouble finding employees, which difficulty the business owners are blaming on lazy American workers whose unemployment benefits have been extended/expanded during the pandemic. But what if, she writes, those benefits are actually providing a safety net to American workers so that they do not need to take terrible jobs for low wages at terrible companies under terrible management? The ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy:

Stick with me here, but what if people weren’t lazy — and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It’s not the labor force that’s breaking. It’s the economic model.

Unemployment benefits have offered a steady paycheck while you figure out your options. Put differently: a version of the safety net that’s been missing from most American employment, and, by extension, the ability to say no. No, I don’t have to work for a restaurant that only gives me my hours three days ahead of time, thus making it nearly impossible to find reliable childcare. No, I don’t have to work clopen shifts. No, I don’t have to expect a job without sick leave or paid time off. No, I don’t have to deal with asshole customers or managers who degrade me without consequence. No, I don’t have to work in a job with significant, accumulating health risks.

Her question near the end of the piece is worth considering: “If a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business?”

Kids Talk About Gaming During the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2021

Concerned that recent articles like this one about screen time panic were not adequately capturing the perspective of the kids themselves, Anne Helen Petersen asked a group of parents and caregivers to conduct interviews with kids about gaming and screen time.

So I wanted to hear them talk about their own relationship to the games they play: what they like about it, when they like to play, how games make them feel, who they like to play with, and how they respond to anxiety about their gaming/screen time.

I pulled out a few quotes from the kids but the whole thing is worth a read.

When people say that screentime is bad, I want to say, hey, I want to be more social at the moment and it’s hard to do that right now and I can only do it with technology.

I feel annoyed and angry with the “too much time playing video games argument,” because people don’t really understand. They don’t play these games. They don’t have any experience themselves, and they’re judging what we do based on what they’ve heard or read. Gaming is so new that there’s no conclusive evidence yet to prove if it’s actually harmful. It feels like they’re just trying to control us and tell us what to do.

When adults say that kids play too many video games it makes me kinda angry and confused. We’re already stuck at home and it feels like they’re trying to cut us off from our friends even more. So it’s kinda annoying.

Honestly I don’t really worry about spending too much time game at all. I already spend almost all my time on there anyway and it doesn’t seem to have any negative side effects. Key word “seem.” People need to make sure they don’t get correlation and causation mixed together.

Like many other parents, we’ve been struggling mightily with games, devices, and screen time during the pandemic (although for us this is an issue that carried over from The Before Times). As Petersen says, this is a complicated challenge and I am sympathetic to both the arguments these kids make (which mirror what I’ve heard from my kids) and parental concerns about too much time on devices (the effects of which I’ve seen in my kids).

What we’ve done, imperfectly, is prioritize the social aspect of gaming time — playing with friends, gaming clubs, playing together in the living room — over manically grinding away for hours on end in a dark room. We try to meet them on their terms — ask them what they did today in Minecraft or Among Us, show real interest about their progress, etc. I empathize and commiserate when I can — I grew up playing video games and I still get a little too into them on my phone or iPad sometimes. But we also encourage them to get outside and move their bodies, find ways to connect with friends that don’t involve killing virtual people, and try to get them to recognize some of the worst effects of too much screen time (they do, if you catch them at the right moment about it). Keeping a good connection with your kids around gaming & screens is the key bit, I think. With that in hand, in theory it’s at least possible to keep kids and parents alike safe and sane during all of this.

The semiotics of Brangelina

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2014

This article by Anne Helen Petersen about how Angelina Jolie has expertly controlled her PR through several potential rough patches is way more interesting than it has any right to be.

This photo, for example, is a semiotic gold mine: Shiloh, often nicknamed “The Chosen One,” a glimmering beacon of whiteness, flanked by her racially marked siblings, one of whom seems to be protecting her from possible harm. All three are framed by their doting parents, tied to their children via skin color, head/neck scarf, hair highlighting, and physical touch. They’re a “Party of Five,” as the title of the accompanying article puts it, but they’re a distinctly global one: The photos were all shot in Cambodia, and when asked how her children manage all the traveling, Jolie says, “We’ve tried to make them very adaptable, so when we go to a country like India or certain parts of Namibia, they’re happy to play with sticks and rocks outside — they’re happy to blend.”

Taken together, these images, and the stories that accompanied them, were speaking about their relationship, even if the pair themselves weren’t offering comment. And what they were saying was that this wasn’t a story about sex or scandal; rather, it was one of family, humanitarianism, and global citizenship. Within this framework, any publication that chose to focus on sexual intrigue was effectively neglecting the most in need.