Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


Farewell to a city leader, plus more about Facebook

Cape Girardeau lost a distinguished leader last week: Loretta Schneider, the first woman elected to the Cape Girardeau City Council. She was 81. Schneider served three different stints on the council, originally being elected in 1981; her last term ended April 2016.

I knew Loretta for having strong, clear opinions — and not one to simply “go along to get along.” She didn’t hesitate to press her own ideas, even when they conflicted with others. Subsequent dialog was always better because of it.

Former city council member and current county commissioner Charlie Herbst wrote on www.semissourian.com: “I served on the council for 5 years with Ms. Loretta. Her tenacity, due diligence, and care for the citizens of Cape Girardeau is unmatched by anyone. She was a trailblazer and one of a kind. She will be missed.”

Also on www.semissourian.com, former mayor Jay Knudtson wrote: “Proud to have served with Loretta Schneider on City Council. Ms. Loretta was a diligent representative of ALL the citizens of Cape Girardeau and truly represented the citizens with class and professionalism. She asked the hard questions and held everyone accountable — especially me! Leadership like Ms. Loretta’s will be missed.”

Sometimes, there is a pressure in government to elevate harmony over robust, serious discussions. But history has proven the public wins when principled argument is part of the process. The world could use more people like Schneider: strong, independent, and unafraid to do what she thought right, openly and without guile. Of course, Loretta was much more than a public official. I offer condolences to her friends and family.

My column last week about Facebook and Google struck a chord with many readers. Meanwhile, the topic grows hotter.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Christopher Mims: “Zuckerberg’s Dilemma: When Facebook’s Success is Bad for Society”. The article reports on research documenting how Facebook and other social-media sites have “a negative impact on mental health” and poses the question: “When scientists started linking cigarettes to cancer, the tobacco industry silenced them — only acknowledging the extent of the truth decades later, under legal duress. Imagine if, instead, they had given these researchers license to publish papers, or even taken the information to heart and crippled their own moneymaking machines for the good of their addicted users. No one has accused Facebook of causing cancer, but Mark Zuckerberg now stands at a similar crossroads.”

Meanwhile, the WSJ broke a story about a leading activist investor group and a pension fund that are saying smartphone manufacturer Apple needs to respond to a “growing public-heath crisis of youth phone addiction.”

The story by David Benoit reports on a letter sent over the weekend by Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urging Apple to develop new software tools that could help parents control and limit phone use more easily.

“There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility,” wrote the shareholders.

Benoit also reported: “Some have raised concerns about increased rates in teen depression and suicide and worry that phones are replacing old-fashioned human interaction. It is part of a broader re-evaluation of the effects on society of technology companies such as Google and Amazon.com Inc. and social media companies like Facebook Inc. and Snapchat owner Snap Inc., which are facing questions about their reach into everyday life.”

Since last week, in my normal reading habits, I’ve stumbled across a half-dozen critical stories about social media’s impact on society. But one that was emailed to me, by former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, was one of the most chilling. It is a column from the New York Post, published Aug. 7, 2017, which recounts the story “Behind the suicide of a teen track star.”

Here is a section of it.

“[Social media caused depression] is a problem that extends far beyond student athletes. In her new book, ‘IGen,’ ... psychologist Jean Twenge notes that kids born between 1995 and 2012 are ‘more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011.’

“After looking at data from large-scale surveys about teen attitudes and behaviors — including one that has asked the same 1,000 questions every year since 1975 — Twenge writes, ‘It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.’

“She notes, ‘If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop and do something — anything — that does not involve a screen.’

“We often think that such advice applies only to kids who seem to be uninvolved in school or sports, kids who have few friends and just seem to be spending too much time on video games or in chat rooms. But the truth is that no matter where you are in the social stratosphere, social media has a significant effect on your life.”

A quick update from another previous column: I took my second flight on United Express from Cape Girardeau to Chicago last Wednesday. There were 14 passengers on the way up, which is nearly triple the same mid-week flight a month ago, and 15 on the way back. All was good, though we were a bit delayed on the way out due to extreme weather in Chicago.

Finally, next week we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here is one of my favorite MLK quotes: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Have a good week; hopefully, I’ll see you at one of the many MLK celebrations around town.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and a member of its editorial board.