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Future

Real-Life Dangers Of Our Digital Distraction Age

An idle moment waiting for the train resolved with phones
An idle moment waiting for the train resolved with phones

-Analysis-

PARIS — How could something like this happen? Some of us have spent the past week trying to find out the facts (and comprehend the enormity) of Sunday night's Academy Awards mega-gaffe, when La La Land was incorrectly announced as Best Picture.

It turns out that the blame rests with the old school audit and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper, assigned with handling the voting and distribution of the so-very 20th-century paper envelope awards process. Their suit (tuxedo) backstage, a certain Brian Cullinan, was done in by digital distraction: At the moment when he should have been focused on handing the right card (with Moonlight written on it!) to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, Cullinan was busy tweeting photographs of Emma Stone, who'd just won Best Actress. Perhaps men in tuxedos should avoid live-tweeting.

It is just one more blinking sign of the times. The four-hour-long crash of Amazon- hosted websites on Tuesday, which affected millions of users, can also be traced back to a moment of diverted attention. An Amazon technician's typo reportedly was responsible for shutting down an entire sector of Amazon's cloud services. Another blunder not likely to be forgotten anytime soon: A wandering mind and a slip of the fingers can also make for quite a disturbance for the Internet itself, not just old TV award shows.

Still, there's no going back, and some are taking notice. One Dutch town, worried that the real danger at a common crosswalk is the internet, has decided to install red and green "traffic lights' on the ground for those looking down at the smartphones.

But the week's ultimate confirmation that we live in a attention-challenged era was the $33 billion entry onto the stock market of the image and messaging app Snapchat. Besides offering must-have features like face swapping for your photos and dog filters for your videos, the technology giant is also careful to provide users with its own warnings about the dangers of distraction. Snapchat can detect how fast you are moving while using the app, and it will warn you: "Don't snap and drive." Good advice for all — or at least for those still reading.

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Ideas

A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

Colombia's reformist president has promised to tackle endemic violence, economic exclusion, pollution and corruption in the country. So what's new with a politician's promises?

Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

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