ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Appropriate Technology

Since becoming involved with the Pittsburgh chapter of Engineers Without Borders, I’ve become intrigued by the notion of appropriate technology. EWB is kind of like Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), except members carry a slide rule (well, handheld calculator) instead of a stethoscope.

I’m not an engineer (nor do I play on on TV). I am interested in novice-expert learning, problem-solving, storytelling and how we share what we know. I have written before on the right tool for the job, and techniques and technology that fit particular needs within constraints of time, money and resources. This includes older technologies that can be re-purposed for modern needs. For example, Crankies , aka moving panoramas, offer a form of visual storytelling dating to before the 19th Century that does not require PowerPoint or electricity. (Carbide lamp, anybody?)

Image courtesy of The Crankie Factory. Pittsburgh’s first Crankie Fest is slated for 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Wilkins School Community Center in Swissvale.

Although it is 365 miles (587 kilometers) from the ocean, Pittsburgh is not entirely landlocked. Whatever is tossed into our region’s three rivers flows to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, included the plastic bags and other trash that end up in the oceans. Now an idea originally developed by a 16-year old Dutch kid named Boyan Slat may help provide a low-tech answer to removing it.

We’ve certainly been sold the notion that technology can meet our every need, from medications to self-driving cars. But there’s usually a tradeoff, as Sherry Turkle and others have recently written.

In assessing the appropriateness of any technology, we would do best to keep in mind the question Neil Postman asked: What problem does this technology solve? What problem(s) does it create?1 — CDL

1Please see a 1998 posting and appreciation of Neil Postman and his questions at Yale Engineering.

 

 

 

 

Cost-Benefit

I have mentioned David Noble’s book The Religion of Technology1 previously. Recent films like The Martian celebrate human ingenuity and our ability to prevail as individuals and as a species.

On the other hand, if we need any more ways to put our brains on hold and excuse ourselves from the burden of thinking and interacting with others, Google, Facebook and other companies are pouring enormous amounts of money and talent into helping us do just that. IBM is working to debut Sherlock (modeled after a fictitious high-functioning sociopath2 and cocaine addict). Google will try to anticipate your destination, even if you have no clue. Mark Zuckerberg announced that he charged his minions in 2016 with developing an AI-based personal digital assistant to help him navigate the complex rules of human interaction. As the December 31 NYT article about a wearable device called MyMe put it —

‘One of the most interesting potential applications will be MyMe’s ability to generate a “word cloud” from a conversation without actually recording the conversation itself. The idea is that you would be able to later gather insights to your interactions with people in a less invasive and more useful manner.’3

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, India is struggling to distribute functional toilets to its population, and in Equador, Fundacion in Terris has developed dry composting toilets. To give them credit, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the latter. Engineers without Borders (EWB), which I have just recently been introduced to in Pittsburgh, is building water systems in Ecuador.

EWB Pittsburgh Curingue Water Treatment

EWB Pittsburgh Members Discuss Water Supply Project with Residents in Curingue, Ecuador

 

Which of these are more important? We are all confronted in our lives and work with opportunities and constraints on our time, money, and attention. Every one of us has talent and ability to contribute.”4 Where do you want to put yours? Or, to paraphrase Bill, where do we want to go today? — CDL

1David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology, the Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention.

2Though this label has been convincingly disputed.

3An example of emotional deskilling, not to mention the notion that our uniquely human selves are commodities that can simply be reduced to an algorithm.

4Which unfortunately can be wasted in vain pursuits or taken for granted by individuals and institutions who don’t value them.

Alternate Career Paths from Chaucer’s Era

The New Year wouldn’t be complete without advice on furthering our career prospects and getting ahead professionally. 

You’ve heard people say their job stinks. The Discovery Channel has a series titled Dirty JobsOur friends at Atlas Obscura highlight a novel way to win friends and influence people, ca. 1100 AD. Apparently the pay and benefits were good. (It would be one way to clear a room and end a meeting on time.) Imagine going to parties or showing up at career day and being asked, ‘Did you go to school for that?’  –DA

Excerpt from Joyce’s ‘The Dead’

The Dead, James Joyce’s famous story, takes place between New Year’s Eve and the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). It was probably written in 1904. Included as part of Dubliners, it is one of my favorite short stories. I often read it around the holidays.

2015 has been a particularly hard year. I offer the following impromptu reading from the opening page this New Year’s Eve as a way perhaps of seeking comfort and reassurance (or penance) for my own uncertainty.

In 1916 the Irish experienced a national uncertainty, with roots dating to Cromwell’s occupation. 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter UprisingThe Dead, with its ghosts and melancholy, foreshadows this bloody event and the controversy over Irish independence. In Joyce’s story Molly Ivors calls Gabriel a ‘West Briton’ and asks why he doesn’t go cycling in Galway (where his wife, Greta, is from) instead of traveling to Europe:

“And why do you go to France and Belgium,” said Miss Ivors, “instead of visiting your own land?”

“Well,” said Gabriel, “it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages and partly for a change.”

“And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with—Irish?” asked Miss Ivors.

John Huston directed a film adaptation written by Tony Huston and co-staring Anjelica in 1987.

— CDL

New Feature: Blog Audio Excerpts & Podcasts

I once attended a business meeting in which we were invited for our opinions on email. You know the type:  the ones in which everyone looks down at the table and waits for someone else to talk. I spoke up  to say there were too many of them and I thought they usually didn’t communicate anything much new. Afterward someone who heard me commented that I liked to hear myself talk. My manager at the time promptly passed the comment on to me. (Thanks, Buddy.)

The feedback got under my skin. Did I talk too much (that is, obliviously)? We’d been asked for our opinions. Years later, guess what? We still send and receive too many e-mails, and most of them are redundant. We send e-mails, tweets and texts when we should be talking. As far as hearing myself talk:  I embrace it. I’m an advocate of sharing what we have to say through stories and live conversation. Studs Terkel did it for forty-five years starting in the 1930s. This year’s Nobel prize for literature just went to Svetlana Alexievich for her work recording everyday stories of the Soviet and post-Soviet peoples. I added a link to my Linkedin profile update to an article in the Financial Times. Very cool stuff.

Advanced Labor and Cultural Studies will offer selected blog entries as audio recordings and podcasts. If you or anyone you know is blind or vision-impaired, or just wants to listen to what’s posted here, please point ’em this way. Here’s the first one from December 24th on Doctor Who. Let me know how it works for you — CDL

The Gospel According to Doctor Who

I’ve spent the days leading up to Christmas this year watching the The Doctor Who Takeover on BBC America. The Whos down in Whoville may like Christmas a lot, but when it comes to saving people in a world filled with merriment and mayhem, the Doctor they are not. The most recent incarnation features the grizzled Peter Capaldi (I’m Scottish! That means I get to complain!) saving people from themselves in between doing some serious ass-kicking involving villains and monsters.

The Doctor arrives as an alien in a strange land, into a world broken and under assault. Our rational, comfortable truths and assumptions no longer hold in a world mystifying sometimes even to those of us who live there. In the Whoniverse humans’ attempts to prevail are revealed as at the same time comically insufficient and profoundly heroic. Into this world, among all other worlds (which he visits occasionally), the Doctor emerges. He steps out of the Tardis after each regeneration born anew, marveling at his own existence.1

Legs! I’ve still got legs! Good. Arms. Hands. Oo! Fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears. Yes. Eyes two. Nose. I’ve had worse. Chin. Blimey. Hair. I’m a girl. No no. I’m not a girl. And still not ginger.

The Doctor’s persona has evolved along with the show’s original black and white production from the original somewhat bewildered William Hartnell of the antediluvian 1960s through the googly-eyed Tom Baker, who played the character from 1974 – 1981. Before cable, before the dish, before the DVD, local advertisers sponsored a variety of regionally-produced television. The period witnessed a lot of idiosyncratic and just plain weird shows. I made the Doctor’s acquaintance around 1970 when the British-produced episodes aired on our local educational television station. The production values were low, the sets cardboard, the action stagey and stories elementary2. A doddering, white-haired, sharp-eyed and -tongued figure (and later a dark-haired curly-haired smiling figure with a scarf) encountered a variety of robots, time-space vortexes and alien beings, including Daleks and Cybermen.

Since 2005 and the reboot, the series featured younger charismatic versions of the Doctor, including ones played by former soccer star Matt Smith and David Tenant, along with a shadowy version played by thespian John Hurt (of The Elephant Man and V for Vendetta).3

The Doctor comes bearing a sword along with a fez, bow tie, sonic screwdriver and, most recently, an electric guitar, like a Gallifreyan member of the Rolling Stones. The clever bon mots, idiosyncratic fashion, antic disposition and timey-wimey whimsy belie the harsh world he and the characters inhabit. Friendships are betrayed. Lovers are separated. People die. The show depicts the Doctor as an advocate for threatened or downtrodden species throughout the universe. But humankind holds a special place in his two hearts.

The Doctor’s ambivalent nature underlies many episodes. ‘Am I a good man or a bad man?’ Capaldi’s Doctor asks in his debut with his companion Clara. Can good alone prevail over weeping angels, Davros and the Daleks and Cybermen – not to mention the Doctor’s nemesis The Master, and more recent incarnation The Mistress? The companions and other people around the doctor, like Christ’s Disciples, are usually ordinary people, unaware of their own power and significance. With the Doctor they achieve ordinary greatness4. .

The Doctor, like the Dude, abides5. Recent writing for the show has mainly been in the incomparable hands of Steven Moffat, OBE along with stints by others such as Neil Gaiman (author of American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel series). The characters and plots have evolved far beyond the black and white original. Millions of fans worldwide frequent Doctor Who web sites and visit The Doctor Who ExperienceTM. . in Cardiff, Wales, where the show is filmed. Something must be working. That something, I think, is the ability of producer Russel T. Davies, along with Moffat and the whole ensemble to mine the myths that still underlie human experience and our search for meaning in the 21st Century. The Doctor is a trickster, a warrior and a sinner – and apparently a coy lover who snogged the Reverend Mother at the Church of the Papal Mainframe and got hitched to Marilyn Monroe – while chasing his paramour River Song through time and space in a cosmic version of An Affair to Remember.

‘I’m the Doctor, and I save people’ he declares, recalling his own purpose at crucial moments. He holds human beings accountable, but also cares about us deeply as individuals and as a species. This year, of all years, the winter darkness gathers, growing stronger each passing day, threatening hope. We wait for reassurance. Will the light prove stronger? As Doctor Who himself asks, ‘Who are you going to call?’6 It’s a story that has all the elements of birth, death and resurrection – and a savior who seems more human, more flawed and more accessible than we are used to. And that is one that we all need.– CDL

1As with Merlin in the Crystal Cave and Gandalf the Gray’s transformation into Gandalf the White in The Lord of the Rings.

2Compared to the glories of American color with laugh tracks and slick commercials.

3Who started off the franchise by slaughtering the members of his home planet Gallifrey to save the universe.

4The latter in the Cohen brother’s The Big Lebowski

5Donna and Wilfred, for example.

6Referring to Santa Claus, actually.  But you get the idea.

It’s a Wonderful Lonely Life

The search for community and love with our fellow human beings (at least the ones who are not trying to kill us) is a hallmark1 of the season. This accounts for the popularity of films such as It’s A Wonderful Life. Nevertheless, the effort to pathologize normal human emotion and behavior marches on. On December 1st the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a 3-million dollar CMU study funded by the NIH on ways to help older adults feel less lonely. In the same issue it reported a federal suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for improper incarceration of mentally-ill prisoners; including the use of solitary confinement. There is some connection here — or perhaps disconnection.

It is part of life to lose friends and loved ones through death, time and alienation. But apparently the way to address the problem in this age of connected isolation2 is no longer to have people who know and accept us to talk to us, pat us on the back, share a cup of coffee, kiss us on the cheek, or more (if we are romantically inclined). It’s to learn to meditate the loneliness away. Quoting David Creswell, the expert overseeing the CMU study, the Post Gazette states:

… the number of lonely older adults may be increasing, putting their overall health at greater risk, but the way to help them isn’t necessarily to connect them to more people.

The Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of psychology, funded with a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health announced Monday, hopes that training people in better relaxation and coping techniques will reduce their perception of being lonely.

Each of us is wired with a different need and capacity for being alone. The solitude of Thoreau and Muir and eastern religious mystics is not for everyone. Indeed, in this hyperconnected age of crowdsourcing, solitude itself has become suspect. Therefore, it’s enlightening to know that a problem that philosophers like Buddha and artists from Nietzsche and Kafka to Van Gogh have struggled with for thousands of years is simply one of perception. 

You’d think the widespread adoption of social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter over the Internet would help. But, as Olivia Laing writes in The Future of Loneliness in the Guardian:

 … the contact this produces is not the same thing as intimacy. Curating a perfected self might win followers or Facebook friends, but it will not necessarily cure loneliness, since the cure for loneliness is not being looked at, but being seen and accepted as a whole person – ugly, unhappy and awkward, as well as radiant and selfie-ready

It can be difficult enough to endure or learn to accept loneliness if we are mentally whole and emotionally intact (a relative proposition). How much worse if we are imprisoned and isolated with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder. Yet in the absence of community resources and adequate policy, the mentally ill are generally shunned by society3. Mentally prisoners who have completed their sentence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania often remain in jail. Some have been placed in solitary confinement.  

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania announced the suit Monday on behalf of Stephen Kline, 25, a onetime Allegheny County resident who now is an inmate at Mifflin County Jail; Gabriel Gamble, 30, a patient at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County; and Matthew Christy, 26, a patient at Warren State Hospital in Warren County… 

The suit claims the state does not have enough beds in community-care programs for all of those needing autism and mental health services — more than 1,000 are waiting — and that people in jails and state hospitals face special obstacles to community care.

In 2013, the Disability Rights Network sued the Department of Corrections, alleging that the state misused solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners. The state took corrective action..

Literature and popular culture abound with references to the plight of loneliness: 

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Alan Sillitoe
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert o’ Sullivan
Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison

Have we forgotten Robin Williams and his death only last year? As his character The World’s Greatest Dad states:

“I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

We conveniently overlook the fact that gathering to celebrate the season of light and fellowship around the winter solstice originated in the need to to prepare for the long dark night together. Our hopes and fears is not just a phrase from a Christmas song. Can you identify the following excerpt from another holiday favorite?

When you’re alone, alone in the world…when you’re alone in the world.
Blown away leaves get blown in the world…swirled away leaves get swirled.
Listening to your heels as you walk, making a lonely clack.
You don’t know how it feels when you talk and nobody’s voice talks back
.4

I challenge you to read or listen to this without feeling a tear coming on.

All Is Forgiven

In It’s A Wonderful Life George Bailey’s penury, loneliness and imminent arrest bring him to the brink of suicide. At the end of the film when hope is restored (along with the missing eight thousand dollars), George’s brother, Harry, toasts him as ‘the richest man in town’. Harry does not toast George’s mastery of meditation and relaxation techniques to cope with loneliness. He toasts the fact that George’s friends and neighbors gathered around him in his time of need. They didn’t update their Facebook page, send tweets and begin Kickstarter campaigns. They showed up. — DA

1With a small h.

3Often due to policies designed to protect their rights. Listen to the enlightening WESA 12/10 interview with PA Congressman Tim Murphy , himself trained as a mental health professional.

4Click the link to read and hear this song with lyrics by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill (who went on to write music for Funny Girl).

Fellow Travelers and Other Strangers

You’d think experiencing hardship and prejudice due to your ethnic identity or nationality would make you more tolerant or sympathetic to a group of people in your midst encountering these. Especially if the differences between you are slight — so that the world sees you as sharing more similarities than differences.

The Irish have had more than their share of hardship and tragedy — from invasion by Cromwell in the 18th Century to rebellion and the more recent Troubles. As Yeats wrote:

Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.1

Ironically, now the Irish themselves – some of them, anyway — lack sympathy with a group among them who call themselves the Travelers.

The Travelers are not Gypsies, or Roma. They are a distinct group that has existed for hundreds of years throughout Ireland and Great Britain. (One group made its way to South Carolina.) They have strong family connections, and have made their their living traditionally as itinerant tinkers, traveling from town to town repairing small items. Sometimes by stealing. They are a small group, ethnically distinct by one definition; maybe not so much by another. They use their own language, Cant, which at times their hosts proposed to outlaw, as was tried with Welsh and Gaelic. Given their small numbers, the Travelers seem not worthy of much attention by international groups and individuals (government officials, reporters, ‘advocates’). One thing’s clear: no one in Ireland seems to want them in their backyard.

Bridget O'Donnel and her starving children, 1849, Illustrated London News

Bridget O’Donnel and her starving children, 1849, Illustrated London News

In October the New York Times reported a fire that killed ten people in a Travelers’ encampment in Carrickmines, Ireland, near Dublin. The dead included five children and a pregnant woman. The town – with a name redolent of Irish labor and suffering – contains a fragment of an ancient castle built to protect the invading English from marauding Irish tribes. (It was subsequently used as a piggery.) Encampment, summons up associations ancient and more recent — from Celtic nomads, to the Irish monks setting sail to the Shetland Islands and Scandinavia and (possibly to America) in curraghs, to Famine ships carrying human cargo, and now Syrian refugees fleeing to Hungary and Germany.

Following the destruction of the fire in Carrickmines and shock of their fellow Travelers’ deaths, the survivors sought a new location to settle. Those in the surrounding community who at first expressed sympathy refused to extend that sympathy to allowing Travelers a place to live. Local residents in Dublin  blocked access to a temporary location being prepared for them.

No doubt the situation is complex. How do you create a inclusive community with those who stubbornly refuse to assimilate – who are in fact perceived as a threat? But this has always been the case. In America the dance of assimilation bred as much intolerance as tolerance as each group of immigrants made its way. The Irish showed little sympathy to Italian and Slovak immigrants. Neither group sympathized much with African Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality. 19th-century illustrations by Thomas Nast depicted Irish immigrants as violent, apelike savages.

Political cartoons during the Red Scare of the 1920s characterized Eastern European and other immigrants as bomb-wielding radicals and Bolshies. In the 1950s McCarthy-era rhetoric charged ‘fellow travelers’ as consorting with communists bent on the destruction of American democracy – which some were. It’s a short leap to the terrorists of today.

My own family, illiterate coal miners who ranged between Edinburgh and Belfast, arrived in the U.S. before the First World War. They traveled to Indiana to mine coal and then to Pittsburgh, where my grandmother was born in 1909. She was the first in her family to attend college and became an elementary school teacher – a vocation my own daughter follows.

The Irish have always been travelers, great fighters, and great laborers, willing to take the dirty, dangerous work that others would not, and live in dirty, dangerous places. I have seen their handiwork and witnessed their graves on my own travels cycling and canoeing the Erie and C&O Canals.

In 1844 I arrived upon the fateful shore.
I left the land that was no more
To work upon the railway2

Erie Canal Graves

Cemetery at Adams Basin on the Erie Canal (Photo by the Author)

The truth is we are all travelers, making our way existentially and physically through the world, seeking a home. It’s clear from recent events that some pursue their journey less benignly than others.

Articles in the Irish Times have highlighted entrenched attitudes about the Travelers: among these that they are antisocial criminals, that they are uneducated. Money allocated to create settlements for Travelers remains unspent to opposition from their fellow Irish. One resident near Dublin said, “They just don’t live the same way we do….That’s not a slant on them. It’s just a fact.” “We just don’t want them here,” and, “No one in the country would accept this.”

These 21st-Century words echo those heard and published during the 19th Century. The Great Famine of the 1840s and ’50s, The Great Hunger – An Gorta Mor — killed thousands and sent millions fleeing to American, Canada, New Zealand and other countries. In Great Britain the general attitude was good riddance to their strange ways and tragic lives – contributed to by Britain’s own poor laws and policies of discrimination dating from Cromwell’s day.

inbusinessAs Cecil Woodham-Smith writes in The Great Hunger:

The wretched, ragged crowds provoked irritation, heightened by the traditional English antipathy toward the native Irish. … “No attempt was made to explain the catastrophe to the people; on the contrary, government officials and relief committee members treated the destitute with impatience and contempt.”

No doubt my ancestors and their acquaintances were among those discriminated against. In America they were met with political cartoons and rhetoric emphasizing their antisocial behavior, their ignorance, profligacy, religion, language, criminality and otherness.

Now we witness refugees fleeing Syria and the Travelers in Ireland seeking a home. Questions of Illustrated London Newsimmigration policy arise once again in the long-winded rhetoric surrounding the windup to the U.S. Presidential election, fanned by the horrific scenes perpetrated on Friday November 13th in Paris.

Nevertheless, I am struck by the minute degrees separation that alienate rather than bind us as human beings. In the 1840s The Illustrated London News published accounts uncharacteristically sympathetic to the Irish. One article quoted an eyewitness to their suffering who declared Everything has been tried but a little sympathy and kindness. But how do you maintain sympathy for someone you’re afraid, rightly or wrongly, is trying to kill you? — CDL

Keeping the D(issent) in Digital

How many of our numbered days do we spend filling out online forms, updating our Linked-in Profile and Facebook page, dutifully presenting our online presence and maintaining our omnipresent brand? We measure out our lives in tweets and Keurig cups, following rules dictated by others supposedly to make our lives happier and more productive. 

How much human time and energy is spent remembering and changing passwords, securing our data, fearing for our privacy? This algorithm becomes the rhythm of our lives, a dithyramb of distraction. The technology designed to liberate us risks becoming our prison. We are our own willing jailers, watched over by those who claim it is their right and responsibility in a dangerous world. But who watches the watchers?

In Europe, which has experienced totalitarianism, fascism, communism (and others which may slip my mind), they have learned to be properly skeptical of the uses information is put to by the state – however ostensibly well-intentioned. But in the U.S. government and corporations claim to act in the best interests of constituents and consumers while mining our digital browser droppings against our wishes and without our consent. Perhaps it’s time to accept the roles of citizen and consumer are now interchangeable. We accept a certain conformity, a certain go-along to get along in the interest of of having our cake and eating it. There’s a tradeoff between convenience and liability:  instant shopping, news from everywhere and nowhere, having our identity follow us across devices and locations, convenient phonecalls so that we are never out of reach of being reached out to.

A phrase from the old days of IBM punchcards declared ‘Do not fold,spindle or mutilate’. A recent Slate essay proposes bringing dissent into the digital age. The author suggests people assert their agency by subversively throwing a spanner of civil disobedience into the virtual paradise of the web through such techniques as:

  • Obfuscation (through frequenting random sites)
  • Misinforming
  • Misdirecting
  • Creating False Identities

Good luck to them. This behavior adds a new spin to the notion of creative destruction that economists blithely use to describe the process of continual obsolescence that superannuates products, people and skills. Whether you might be subject to penalties or arrest for this sort of thing is an interesting question.  The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us.

Other words to inspire you include:

  • Dangerous
  • Deviant
  • Desperate
  • Defiant
  • Daring
  • Dogged

 

America has given the world a noble line of dissenters from Thomas Paine and Thoreau to Joseph Heller’s Yossarian in Catch-22. Our willingness to give up our birthright  for a mess of pottage (to cite both Thoreau’s Life without Principle and the Bible) is ironic to say the least. How easily we click the pressbar to reveal our purchasing habits, sexual proclivities, income and location to persons and institutions whose trustworthiness is unknown, in order to receive the simulacrum of individual attention: daily reminders of what we might like to buy, pontifications matching our presumed political affiliations, amusing tweets and cat videos. This tailoring of content to our personal brand is seductive and insidious. It reassures us that our every quirk, opinion, and desire is okay — and more to the point worth something. Thus the commodification of the self is nearly complete.

This automated individuation has a homogenizing effect — lulling us into conformity. Despite our celebration of Thoreau, backhanded respect for Paine and admiration for Heller’s Rabelaisian character, the dirty little secret of democracy (and perhaps all human nature) is we want to go with the crowd. Inside every non-conformist is a man (or woman) in a gray-flannel suit trying to get out. It’s exhausting (if it’s even possible) to get up every day to create and sustain your own unique brand. It’s scary as hell to chart your own course through the dark forest of capitalism with creatures red in tooth and claw.    

Immersed in our connected isolation, we become less like Thoreau than T.S. Eliot’s  J. Alfred Prufrock. (Don’t forget that Eliot was American). Rather than celebrating our own individual expression and possibility as human beings, we become afraid to wear our trousers rolled — unless trouser rolling is trending.

get-attachment-1.aspxHere’s my manifesto for today:  Step away from the social network. Take a break from attending breathlessly to crowdsourced opinion polls, received wisdom and tweets calling each to each in the virtual echo chamber. Dare to eat a peach grown in the garden of your own autonomy. – D.A.

David Abramoff Ph.D. is Director Emeritus of Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies

Karmic Reading 2

I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as the first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all. — Alexis De Tocqueville

I don’t know how to get anything done anymore. But they still pay me for not doing it.  – Recent coworker comment forwarded by a colleague

Coincidentally:  Rethinking Work, Barry Schwartz, August 28th  New York Times

— DA

 

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