Junger’s Tribe had me reading quickly and holding my breath, hopeful that maybe he had discovered some fundamental truth that we have been missing. I’ve backed off from that a bit after giving his premise some thought, I’m of the mind that perhaps the answers he offers are too idealistic for where we are now. Not that he actually offers answers…
- As a well-known war correspondent (and producer of the film Restrepo, which if you haven’t seen it you should), Junger has spent a lot of time traveling to war zones. In this book, he makes an argument based on these experiences, one that comes perilously close to a grand global theory and that also does a bit of idealizing of pre-modern cultures.
- That said, the arguments he makes are powerful ones, and they feel intuitively like they address big issues. He speaks especially coherently about young people and their integration into adulthood, describing how difficult that is in modern society.
- His big argument is that one of the main glues to any society is a sense of shared purpose. He feels that modern society does not allow us to feel this, and he has a lot of evidence.
- Finally, before this becomes too much of a book report, he talks about the ways in which we as a culture send incredibly awkward mixed messages, vilifying someone like Bob Bergdahl while letting the financiers who created the disaster of 2007-8 not only go unpunished but also reward themselves handsomely.
- There are many pieces to this that I want to believe, and I think I’ll keep working it around in my head, but I am leery of any grand narrative that relies too much on what feels like not-very-complicated looks at our evolutionary history.
Caddyshack has reappeared in my life a couple of times recently. It was released the year I graduated high school and left for college, and it played on the midnight movies a lot, so I saw it (a lot). I’ll not swear that I saw it in any clear-minded state, but oh my word I laughed a bunch, every time, so the fact that it has reappeared makes me happy, and makes me wonder…
I haven’t watched it in its entirety for several years, but when I saw it was on an option on a recent flight I didn’t hesitate. I giggled quietly and hysterically to myself for the next two hours, and since then I have sat down and watched it again. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I laughed at all the same places, most of which are here.
However, what makes me want to write about the film is what it satires. There are recent films (and series) that poke fun at the rich (the first two seasons of Arrested Development are genius, I think), but they seemingly can’t end without the rich people being either proven to be evil in some fundamental way or finding a way to redeem themselves. The idea that they have taken advantage of structural, systemic advantages in a skewed, unequal system seems impossible for contemporary Hollywood to comprehend, and the resulting cultural work that is done seems predictable – it justifies the rich and their place in our culture.
I’m not arguing somehow that the 80s films were better in a more socially conscious way – saying that Caddyshack is some sort of hyper-intentional shredding of the way that the rich function in our culture is a hard argument to make, and there are definitely indie films that satirize the uber-wealthy in funny and useful ways. Coming hard on the heels of the hyper-earnestness of the Sixties, films like Caddyshack got shredded by the left for reducing the debate about wealth accumulation to ridiculous levels and thus invalidating the entire discussion. There’s something to be said for that argument, of course. Continue Reading
Well, the first (that I’ve read anyway) of the Gen Z books is out. Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace are college faculty/administrators who have conducted surveys of their own and analyzed the Pew research data to come up with a first stab at generational characteristics of the generation born in the range of 1998-2015 (or so).
- I admire Seemiller and Grace for their data analysis, and for sticking their necks out a bit to make some attempts at characterization. Much like Strauss and Howe, they will get some stuff wrong, but these sorts of baseline studies are very useful.
- That said, there are lots of flaws in here, especially with the ways that the authors simply quote GenZers and take them at their words. As more studies come out that approach will look dated and naive, I’m guessing.
- The one generational feature they I identify that I’m really curious about is the fact that this generation (much like the Millennials before them) seems to really like their parents. I’m not sure that I trust the group that came up with this number (their website is here), but supposedly 88 percent of them are extremely close with their parents.
- That attitude seems to match what I see anecdotally, and I wonder about it. Admittedly, according to that same company my generation (the Xers) were pretty much polar opposite (29 percent of us described ourselves as close to our parents), but I still thought that an important part of becoming an adult is pushing away. That action seems nearly impossible if you are “extremely close.”
- If true, this look at their parents as mentors and friends rather than authoritarians to revolt against will have interesting implications for our social structures.
- This book is pretty rosy, so we know that the backlash will come. In that sense I admire Seemiller and Grace for starting out positive, a position that’s not always easy to take.
- I’m trying to get over my desire to rant every time I hear someone describe “kids these days” (of any generation as being technological). That’s such an easy, ridiculous label, one that ignores how much people know about what goes on under the hood, but I have to accept, I think, that it’s a label that people will use unthinkingly. To their credit, Seemiller and Grace don’t use it like that…
- Finally, I’m not sure how you write a book about this generation and never mention Snapchat.
At Romics there was an entire exhibition hall devoted to e-Sports. A League of Legends tournament had a big screen for all of us who wanted to watch, a FIFA scrum had broken out, and there was some kind of interactive, crowd-based game that my poor Italian wouldn’t let me get the gist of. Several game developers were there promoting their leagues, even if they didn’t have a tournament going on. There were clearly a lot of folks heavily engaged in a lot of gamer action.
I’ve written a bit about this before, but eSports is some interesting stuff, and to see it prevalent in Rome was pretty cool and also pretty interesting from a global marketing perspective.
It’s also a fascinating sport from the perspective of someone in my industry – eSports sells itself as at least as useful from a career development as traditional athletics, if not more so. I’ve heard a couple of folks talk about eSports in a very career prep sort of way, and that administrators and industry reps (I’m looking at you Twitch) talk about how much being an eSports player will enhance a student’s resume and give them experiences that will help them build useful skillsets.
As always, we will see…and of course I have questions…
- Will these sports force the NCAA to rethink its model? eSports are by definition connected intimately with corporate sponsors…
- Will this generation of students overcome (or more importantly, simply ignore) the scorn of boomers and gen xers?
- Will we try to think about emotional consequences, or will we just keep banging ahead, blindly, hoping that things work out for the best?
A couple of observations:
- 2018 will be interesting in a lot of ways, but I’m particularly focusing on the local-interests vs. national political scene race. We’ve already seen some folks here who are running as either pro- or anti-Trump, even in local races. So far in the primaries those who focused on local and state issues have won their primaries. The general election may prove differently, of course.
- Perhaps the adage that the most ideological wins the primary but loses the general election will be reversed this year.
- In my mind this dichotomy also will show the influence of social media. After all the cautionary tales that have emerged since the 2016 election I think that we will see if those who run nationally (who, I think, will go for big, splashy, chaos-driven social media presences) will defeat those whose social media presences are bland and corporate (and are probably focused locally).
- I also wonder if this is the year that the drown government in a bathtub folks rethink their approach. With the shortages faced by firefighters and teachers (and other public servants), will those who favor eliminating nearly the entire government question their own effectiveness?
- Perhaps their approach was more intentional than I think – by constantly questioning the effectiveness of government in all it does they have set the stage so that I think the public doesn’t believe government is capable of doing a damned thing. That approach might work for regulations that a group doesn’t like, but in other areas it seems to damage institutions that we all rely on, especially schools.
- It’s all fun and games until machine shops can’t find young people who can learn new machines and basic algorithms. The libertarians might want to rethink the importance of public education at that point.
This will be quick, because Ready Player One is a particularly Spielsbergian piece of fluff that (SPOILER ALERT, BUT NOT IF YOU READ THE BOOK) ends with the good guys winning and all of us ready to forsake the machines and only live in OASIS part-time. YAY (and END SPOILERS)
- The tweaks on the book were interesting – they use The Shining to stand in for a whole bunch of 80s trivia. The book tended to drown in that, so I was okay with those decisions.
- The visuals were amazing, especially with the ways in which the OASIS is portrayed. They even carry the story a bunch, as is best evidenced by the ode to GTA that is the first part of the movie.
- The nods to various pieces of software felt great until they weren’t – it’s weird to see anachronistic product placement that probably works (I’m thinking Minecraft).
- As seems to happen with these films, the reasons why we now live in dystopias are simple and we own them. In this case, we simply stopped living outside of OASIS (I guess because it’s so good), for entirely predictable reasons.
- Thus the solution – we have log out on Tuesdays and Saturdays – will fix what ails us.
- I know Cline has a writing credit, but I can’t believe he’s completely okay with this. The evil corporation in the book is pretty evil, and the crazy inventive genius who manages to set up the ultimate game but still almost gives everything away to the evil corporation comes across as much crazier than he appears here, in which he essentially knew how things were going to end all along, in an EFF-for-the-win way.
I finished this series two nights ago but haven’t blogged about it yet. I loved the first two episodes, got bogged down in the middle of the series, and then finished it when I had the realization that perhaps my expectations were a bit skewed by what I thought it was about. Some observations below…
- The world this series is set in is one in which people can live literally forever via the combination of cloned bodies and a disk that is set in their spine and that instantly downloads their entire experience into the cloud.
- As one might guess this arrangement causes problems. It also, however, raises some interesting questions, ones that folks like Ray Kurzweil and the Futurists might have skipped over. For instance, what does it mean to capture our experience? Where does that reside? Does whatever the ‘it’ is have to go through the brainstem? How does muscle memory work then? And how do white blood cells function (for instance)? Where is the lymph in all of this?
- The series focuses on class structure. Those who can afford to relentlessly recreate themselves, amassing vast amounts of wealth. The rest of us get poorly-suited “sleeves” (new bodies) if we get anything at all.
- The rich also live on mansions in the clouds, literally untouchable without an intense effort that requires a lot of specialization and hacking. The rest of us live on an earth that looks to have perhaps sort of stabilized into a world of unrelenting concrete, buildings, rain, and food grown in vats and on top of buildings.
- As I began the series I was excited by how fully it seemed to realize what I think of as William Gibson’s cyberpunk vision. Gibson’s world is full of death and destruction and the sort of cynicism about space opera scifi as well as the future that fit well with my life as a computer programmer in the early and mid 80s.
- Programming was becoming increasingly dumb, and ways to fight that dumbing down were not apparent – the DFHs had soured me on the ability to protest effectively, and I wasn’t sure my fellow nerds could agree not to eat sugary, food-industry-derived confections from their childhood for dinner let alone band together enough to fight the machine.
- As the series started to feature long expository speeches that filled in the background of the world of Altered Carbon my cyberpunk cynicism twitched – I didn’t want to have Envoys putting up an ideologically-pure resistance that attempted to embrace humanity – I wanted cynical detectives and high body counts.
- Interestingly the series offers both of those, but it goes beyond them. The main questions it asks are ones that I think the ancient Greeks asked, and that feel more relevant now with advances in technology, about what happens when mere humans have what are essentially godlike powers of life and death.
- It reminded me of one character in Neuromancer (Dixie Flatline) who, while completing a mission in which his simulation has been woken because Case needs his hacking expertise, tells Case that after this run is done to be sure to unplug him. Endless life in a construct might not be that great.
- It also had a hotel run by an AI named Poe that was pretty amazing. I will say no more…
- It also turns upside down the hard-boiled detective plot that Gibson used. The detectives don’t negotiate the dregs for us middle-class folks afraid to venture into the city; instead, they investigate for the rich, who are already comfortable walking into the dregs because they know they can’t die. The rich folk in question here like the monkey parts of our brains, doling out violence and sex in particularly nasty ways. These are certainly not beautiful utopic creatures of pure light.
- And Kovacs, as detective, essentially investigates for those of us who want to rebel. That’s sort of a refreshing change.
- The fact that it ended (SPOILER ALERT) with the detective simply making the case, and the police arresting the rich folks (all of them) is not the way these are supposed to end in a postmodern world. (END SPOILER ALERT) Instead, cynically, it probably should end like The Wire, with half-assed convictions and the deaths of anyone trying to do the right thing.
- The fact that it doesn’t feels right somehow, upon reflection.
- I will need to come back to this because this post is getting way too long, but the questions this series asks about identity are fascinating. It also questions how we think about ideas like emotional literacy and shame, and again I will have to come back to these. I look forward to it.