Class reunions are age-old pageants for social comparison and preserving the status quo. But what is their social function in 2020?

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Photo: Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez/Unsplash

I am not American, but the idea of high school reunions has always fascinated me. In popular culture, the class reunion is more often than not depicted as an American tradition. Having grown up watching American film and television, I came to understand high school reunions as the quintessential product of an individualistic, status-seeking society like the USA, and as possessing a mysterious, norm-preserving function I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

There’s surprisingly little academic research to be found on the social function of the high school reunion. Commentary available in the public domain is decidedly skeptical of the tradition, which is often seen as obsolete in the social media age. After all, if we wanted a temporary insight into our former classmates’ lives, to check in on their supposed progress as they navigate adulthood, a visit to their social pages would usually suffice. …


When information becomes abundant, attention becomes a scarce resource” — Herbet A. Simon, economist, psychologist and Nobel Laureate.

Scrolling is a relatively new behavior in the compendium of human doing. Humans have evolved through our ability to perform a series of singular actions unrivalled by any other species: throwing, clubbing (the Neolithic kind), endurance running, walking upright, wielding tools, manipulating objects and using speech. Scrolling — the behavior you see on commuter trains and subways, in airport lounges and doctors’ waiting rooms, in the lulls between conversations— is perhaps the the trademark action of modern humans in the Information Age.

Architecturally, scrolling is a natural response to the verticalization of smartphone screen design, an offshoot of the increasing seamlessness of our digital experiences. It is a way of showing somebody chunks of content without interrupting their navigation flow or requiring them to click on a killjoy Next button. …


The thumb. Small, mobile and often taken for granted, the pollical digit is arguably our most important anatomical tool for interacting with the world around us. The thumb is autonomous and structurally unique from its close neighbors, the largely uniform fingers. It enabled our ancestors to manipulate fine objects, grasp tools and wield weapons in ways no other animal ever had. A standout feature in primitive humans, the opposable thumb is our evolutionary advantage. Now, thanks to modern conveniences that relieve our hands of manual work, today’s thumbs are most prolifically used to command limitless reels of bite-sized electronic media.

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Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Our scrolling behaviour, along with split-screen and multi-tab browsing and compulsive notification checking, is just one part of a late capitalist panorama of media binging, mass-produced escapism, instant gratification, shrinking attention spans and the proliferation of short-form, easily consumed media requiring low cognitive effort (affectionately termed snackable content in the marketing world). …


I’ve been zoning out a lot lately.

I don’t really know where I go to.

I just, sort of, leave myself.

The weird thing is, I can see myself checking out. I can see the feeling of it. When I do it, I’m keenly aware of myself. I have visited this liminal space more often in the past year, this place where awareness and numbness collide.

I’ve been attuned to this tendency for a while now. I used to do it as a child. When things or people became too overwhelming, too boring, too exhausting, I’d simply remove myself. …


Career limbo offers some surprising benefits.

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Photo: Jude Beck/Unsplash

Ever been stuck in career limbo?

Ever taken a job that you thought was ‘beneath’ you?

Ever cringed when hearing that tired anecdote about the recession-battered millennial-aged PhD working at Starbucks for the zillionth time?

For a busy, Type-A personality like mine, floating in career limbo can be a disheartening situation. I’d much rather things hadn’t turned out this way. Yet, here I am. The universe, ever the opportunist, cunningly used 2020 to cleanse me of my perfectionistic, impatient, workaholic tendencies. Many of us attach a great deal of personal value to our work. …


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Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko from Pexels

The pandemic has had some pretty strange effects on material culture, consumer behavior, and our relationship with stuff. From coronavirus-themed novelties and the material comforts of lockdown to the pandemic artifacts that are now stock-standard props in our daily lives, we’re rapidly defining a new, pandemic-era visual canon that pivots between the practical, the profound, and the smarmy.

Actress Jennifer Aniston recently came under fire for posting a photo of a laser-cut wooden ornament engraved with the cursive inscription, ‘Our First Pandemic 2020’. Twitter critics labelled the post insensitive and out of touch. …


When this year’s Norway spruce made its way to the Rockefeller Center in New York City to be hoisted and decorated for the annual switch-on, it drew scrutiny not only for its bedraggled appearance, but for its symbolism.

The Rockefeller Center’s tree-lighting ceremony, a New York City tradition since 1933, attracts thousands of spectators in ordinary circumstances. This year — a year of hot flaming garbage, a year that launched a thousand memes and declared the ‘worst ever’ by Time — the tree herself, prior to being festooned in her customary trimmings, was the subject of sympathy and ridicule alike. Initial pictures of the honorary evergreen being hoisted into position by a crew of high-vis-jacket-clad workers attracted a few commiserating comments on Twitter comparing the tree (looking worse for wear after a 300km journey lying horizonal in a truck) to someone who’d cut their own hair, a forlorn figure as scraggly and weather-beaten as the rest of us are looking/feeling as 2020 finally wraps. …


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Photo by Nanxi Wei on Unsplash

The Allium family of plants contains some of the culinary arts’ most prized ingredients. Its most recognizable member is the onion, and in many ways, the whole clan is onionesque: they all have vertical grass-like shoots that stem from a subterranean bulb. Most have layers. Many are lachrymators in varying degrees of intensity — they irritate your eyes mercilessly, making you shed emotionless tears as you stand at the chopping board.

Yet, individually, these bulbous, lacrimal-gland stimulating, highly flavorsome plants are far from identical. Each has a set of unique properties, health benefits, and flavor profiles. Used correctly, each constituent of the Allium clan can elevate your gastronomic creation in ways no other vegetable can. …


In 1838, scarcely a year into Queen Victoria’s reign, writer William Howitt predicted that a ‘leisure revolution’ would soon be underway in Britain. It came far sooner than he thought.

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Edouard Manet’s ‘Luncheon on the Grass’ | WikiMedia Commons

After decades of hard toil building infrastructure and servicing a manufacturing boom that resulted in an industrialized Britain, the people were ready for some downtime. The Industrial Revolution had improved the general standard of living across society and the Victorians were about to reap the benefits. …


Houseplants. They bring theater to the late capitalist living space, providing quiet company to the marginally lonely and those afflicted with the muted discontent of modern life. They are both symbols of, and antidotes to, existential ennui. The silent mascots of the comfortably numb. The vestiges of distant wildernesses never seen.

They come with impressive names like Philodendron, Anthurium and Colocasia, instantly converting the itinerant, yet ecologically-concerned millennial into an amateur botanist who can throw out big words like Spathiphyllum, Alocasia, Aglaonema, or Amorphophallus without having read Systema Naturae cover to cover. And because the Latinized versions get tiresome after the first round of recitation, the plants also carry affectionate colloquial monikers: Delicious Monster, Peace Lily, Chinese Evergreen, Elephant Ear, Devil’s Tongue. …

About

Aimee Dyamond

writing person | occupational therapist | never seen a ghost. I write about food, weird histories, human behavior, and our lives under late capitalism

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