I'm a fan of David Pogue's tech reviews in the NYT, but his recent review of David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World has me wondering whether I care much for his book reviews. For example, Pogue writes:
Kirkpatrick's writing is low-key but also workmanlike, and punctuated by jarring grammatical constructions ("Everybody carried their stuff themselves"; "every Thefacebook user had their own public bulletin board"). Ouch.
Two examples, and both involve singular they? Not much variety there, which indicates to me that there's probably not much variety in the constructions Pogue finds jarring in the book. So why even mention this? It's clear that Pogue has plenty of other justifiable reasons to dislike the book; this comment about grammar seems entirely unnecessary — and, as has been discussed here on Language Log so many times that it's not worth trying to compile a list of links (but see the Wikipedia page on the subject), singular they is just not that big of a deal.
It's not just the point about grammar that made me wonder about Pogue's book reviews:
It's odd, though, that a book this carefully considered completely misses another possible Facebook effect: in an age in which one click establishes a new "friend," young people may be losing the skills to build real friendships and negotiate real social encounters.
Yes, they may be losing those skills. Or, they may also be getting better at developing those skills. Who knows?