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First He Came for Cancel Culture. Now He Wants to Cancel Smartphones

BusinessFirst He Came for Cancel Culture. Now He Wants to Cancel Smartphones

Mr. Haidt’s writings promise these power players something elusive: a scholarly, social scientific explanation of the crises they’re facing, combined with a Silicon Valley founder’s level of confidence about how to fix them. (Mr. Haidt often sounds like what might happen if the doomsayer Cassandra swallowed Dale Carnegie: alarmed by the catastrophes humans have cooked up, but stubbornly chipper about our capacity to undo them.)

Toby Shannan, the former chief operating officer of the e-commerce business Shopify, has called on Mr. Haidt for advice on facing ideological battles in the workplace. He said Mr. Haidt got him through a bumpy period in the lead-up to Donald J. Trump’s election in 2016, when some of his employees were fuming about Shopify hosting online swag shops for right-wing groups like Breitbart News. With Mr. Haidt’s counsel, Shopify determined that users could sell merchandise with political commentary, but none with explicit calls to harm.

“He was sort of the philosopher on dial,” Mr. Shannan said.

It was his work on “The Coddling of the American Mind,” diagnosing what became known as cancel culture, that shot Mr. Haidt to the center of a debate that for years preoccupied opinion writers, blue check accounts on Twitter and everybody’s dad. He rode a wave of concern about the rising generation, and became a voice for people who didn’t want to align with right-wing anti-cancel culture warriors, but also felt alienated by the other side. For his readers, Mr. Haidt gave credence to the left’s irritation with the left — and, inevitably, the right’s irritation with the left, too.

Mr. Haidt has been interviewed by the podcast heavyweights — Ezra Klein, Kara Swisher, Sam Harris, Dax Shepard, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Tim Ferris. On Bari Weiss’s podcast, he related the current world’s chaos and confusion to what humanity experienced after the Tower of Babel’s destruction: “We may never again be able to understand each other.”

Priscilla Chan, the co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, enjoyed “The Coddling of the American Mind,” so she reached out to Mr. Haidt, he recalled, and they had dinner with her husband, Mark Zuckerberg. Mr. Haidt also spent a day giving talks at Meta about social media’s effects on mental health and democracy. Patrick Collison, chief executive of the payments processing start-up Stripe, is also a friend, Mr. Haidt said, and has praised “Coddling.” Bill Gates vouched for “Coddling.” Barack Obama, too, appears to be a reader of Mr. Haidt. He gave a speech in 2015 that mentioned the coddling of college students, and seemed to echo the themes of an Atlantic cover story that Mr. Haidt had written, with a co-author, as a precursor to the book.

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