seeking each other
December 31, 2010, 2:55 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Facebook has a map widget you can stick pins into to show every place you’ve ever been.  ‘I love to travel,’ has to be in the top three claims on dating sites.  Location based applications will be the next social virus for whoever gets it right, and so far foursquare are in the lead.  Clearly, people care that other people know they’ve been to the right places, at home and around the world.  In social media, travel is part what I want, and part what I want other people to know that I want.  The ratio of one to the other is uniquely yours.

In real travel, there is what I think I travel for, and what I really travel for.  In the essay Sons of the Beach excerpted below, backpackers value independence, frugality and acceptance of locals; but they are really looking for themselves in other like-minded travelers that they meet over there.

The excerpt:

Contemporary sociological and anthropological tourist-behavior studies underscore how these backpacker protagonists are influenced less by their exotic surroundings than the social dynamics of home. In a 2002 study of independent travel communities for the journal Ethnography and Social Anthropology, tourist scholar Christina Anderskov identifies independence, frugality, and acceptance of the locals as central tenets of backpacker culture. But as novels like The Beach illustrate, these values are largely a self-directed rhetoric within the insular confines of indie-travel social circles. As Anderskov acknowledges, backpackers seek each other out, and the travel communities themselves—not the host cultures—ultimately become the focus of travel. Instead of looking for nuances and complexities within the host culture, independent travelers frequently cling to signs of subcultural authenticity in each other.

Sons of The Beach, Rolf Potts and Kristin Van Tassel,


discipline, control, contribution

Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, 1990

Here is a fascinating documentary on the shift from Foucault’s disciplinary society to Deleuze’s control society.  Disciplinary society is made up of bounded institutions through which we all pass in our lives:  family, school, hospital, prison, factory.  The control society, dominated by the corporation, is like an all encompassing gas which pits us against each other, in a shifting, never certain obligation to aims of the new global market.

What follows control? Watch the film.

From the documentary:

The factory constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass, and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each dividing each within.

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in the countryside and down the hole
December 19, 2010, 8:01 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

In architecture school in the mid 90s, a hip faculty faction spoke of virtual space, by which they meant the burgeoning world we were just falling into, through the computer screen looking glass, out into new places of media, commerce, friends, fantasy.  Most of us clung to old world sticks and bricks, finding how paper models and renderings and drawings could support our earnest visions of social and urban enhancement and change.

About 10 years ago, a colleague who hailed from Ireland related going back to the old country for a visit.  He said the difference between the 80s and 90s was stark because of cable, not internet:  evenings once spent on rotations between friends houses for drinks and banter were finished as people kept their doors shut to watch their favorite shows.

In this essay, Lewis Lapham, in proper critical form, shows us how the virtual world has been sold us as a viable substitute for real civic space.  For him, the virtual world is a logical end game in the American pursuit of space and distance from one another.  He describes how American power and cultural elites have always occupied exurban environments, and even distrusted the ‘foreign’ elements that come to the country through urban ports of call.  And how our developing virtual world is the logical next step.

The big screen Steve Jobs Apple roll out show is the unchallenged sign of the times, brilliantly seared into the collective consciousness.  Is it the only thing we do and think about any more – our shiny phones, our social networks, thumbs up, thumbs down, streaming and faster downloads?  No doubt, incredibly seductive.  And clearly we think about other things.  But we don’t like thinking about the things we did back in architecture school:  making our cities better, improving infrastructure, education, medicine etc.  So we naturally turn back to the bright shiny objects and the virtual world.  Into the rabbit hole.  Curiouser and curiouser!


What suburban opinion deplores as abomination (traffic, crime, noise, confiscatory taxes, extortionate rents), the urban disposition regards as the price of escape from the tyranny of the small-town majority, as the cost of the blank canvas (i.e., the gifts of loneliness and privacy) on which to discover the portrait of oneself.


During the 1980s the synonym for America’s wealth and power moved south to Washington, DC, which, like Los Angeles, possesses both the character and sensibility of an expensive suburb. As was true of their Puritan forbears in the New England wilderness, the nation’s ruling and explaining classes regard the urban temperament as the port of entry for all things foreign and obnoxious. Over the last thirty years the government bureaucracies have come to employ more people than lived in seventeenth-century England, planting the bulk of their intelligence operations in the Virginia countryside with the fruit trees and the birds; our larger corporations retreat to pastoral compounds bearing a postmodern resemblance to the manors in medieval France; artists and writers of note drift away to villages in Connecticut. The projectors of the urban future meanwhile define the Internet as the civilizing agent that replaces the need for the New York Stock Exchange and the Broadway theater, and the great, good American place, under the protection of the Department of Homeland Security and safe behind a gated perimeter, comes to be imagined, as was John Winthrop’s City on a Hill, as a refuge from the storm and wonder of the world rather than as the progenitor of its energy and the locus of its desire.

-Lewis Lapham, City Light, Lapham’s Quarterly

fire and driving
December 15, 2010, 6:21 pm
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In religion there is the start in the garden and the end in the city, and we have somehow found ourselves in neither place, driving.  There is a core motivation, fear, we must understand to navigate the city and garden; we have misappropriated our knowledge of it which has driven us out of these ancient places into the suburban landscape.

In this review of Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs, S. Brent Plate gives us a keen definition of two kinds of fear:  one that trembles before something awesome and challenges us to change our lives for the better, and another that quakes before other petty people and their perceived power and causes us to retract and entrench and protect.  This is the classic description of the fear of God and of man; Augustine’s seminal work to disentangle the heavenly kingdom from the Roman and other kingdoms of this earth.

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thicker on the ground
December 15, 2010, 5:03 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

You can use a strict linear process to first establish ideas and employ them to rigorously design something, or you can skip the ideation phase and use accretion and reaction to make something.  The final products will be noticeably different because the ideas and processes are different.

That’s the first idea.  The second is that if the things you are making are major world languages, the speakers of the different tongues will be different.  An ouroboros:  the culture, its people, make the language; and the language makes the people.

The bilingual Luc Sante claims that French is efficient, elegant, delimited, a purring engine.  And English is a ramble of accrued elements no doubt taken over time from different cultures.

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inside and outside
December 13, 2010, 5:50 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

I moved from a medium sized city to a very large city and then, when income decreased, back to the smaller more affordable place.  The smaller of the two, both American cities, doesn’t feel like a city at all, mostly for its psychology.  The people I have met there seem stuck; they give – too generously – credence to impossibility and are suspicious at best, and more likely downright antagonistic, toward what could be possible.  The big city was different.  Although many of the people I met and worked with there were merely aggressive and ambitious and entitled, many others, including strangers, wore a sense of engagement and risk and curiosity.  These are the essential qualities of a real city.  Cities use difference and possibility to incubate change.  They are the centers of this important work.

We all know the story of how American cities were abandoned during the post war period: eviscerated, evacuated centers.  We see the fallout:  it has everything to do with our current condition of overextension, debt, isolation.  And with this draining – the baby with the bathwater –  went the traditional functions ascribed to the city:  the center of trade, social and intellectual life.

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as it always is
December 13, 2010, 5:36 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Here is a lovely description of life in three stages.  It begins in childhood wonder and love of all things new surrounding us and filling our young lives; grows into the bittersweet adolescent confrontation with desire – eventually craving – for more; and finally wakes into an adult epiphany, that though we feel we are missing out on a better life, real life is already there with us in the people we share our lives with and the places we inhabit now.  It’s our lives.  It’s mine in truth, the joy, the craving, the desire to return to a sense of wonder by fully participating in what matters around me today in this place.  Isn’t it also Promethius’, his descent and ascent?

For author Janice Galloway, art, particularly the paintings of Pieter Breugel, brought her through the anxiety of wanting more back to the wonder of everyday life.  Here is an excerpt from her essay:

As a child, I knew what I loved. Pictures and growing things, words and animals – any or all of these and I was in seventh heaven. Animals delighted in their openness and purpose: curious, non-judgmental and never prey to self-pity, they simply were. Coloured pencils to draw with, flowers, trees and folk tales, yielded delight for much the same reason. All could be played with. I had no desire for exotica, for everything was exotic by default; new, fresh-peeled and incontrovertibly present. That intense pleasure in my own back yard remained till I reached puberty, when – as happens with so many of us – a notion of more insinuated its way into a craving and would not insinuate back out. I had no idea what kind of more I wanted, or even what it looked like, but I lusted after it anyway, sure it was out there somewhere, waiting for me to find and pluck it, straight from the tree. And by somewhere, I meant somewhere else. The local was, or so I thought, seen-it-all territory: like mangoes, more might be found only further, much further, afield.

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zombie ideas
December 13, 2010, 5:07 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: ,

A to do list for today.  First write down all the ideas that don’t work, then publicly confront them.  Simple.  Easy peasy. Anyway, someone took the time to make the list below, so the hard part’s already done.  Some are:  that markets decide, that wealth trickles down, that private is always better than public.  Those are the living dead still marauding and loitering around .  Now for step two, to confront.  I suppose it makes sense to come up with some replacement ideas too.  Of course, the big tent idea is to manage risk – the risk of zombie ideas taking over our lives.

Despite the financial crisis, we have yet to have a real national conversation about the ideas that got us into the mess in the first place. Those ideas–Thatcherism/Reaganism/the Washington Consensus/market liberalism–still walk about amongst us, deprived of life but able to exert supernatural force on politics. They include the Great Moderation–the myth of unparalleled macroeconomic stability since 1985; the Efficient Markets Hypothesis–the myth that markets determine fair investment prices; the Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium–the myth that macroeconomics should be derived not from economic aggregates but from microeconomic models; trickle-down economics–the myth that what helps the rich will ultimately help the poor; and privatization–the myth that anything government does can be done better by private companies. The great failure of the last two years is that none of these zombie ideas has been confronted head-on by our political class. Risk and uncertainty must be rethought for the twenty-first century: “A social democratic response to the crisis must begin by reasserting the crucial role of the state in risk management.”

Zombie Economics: How dead ideas still walk among us, John Quiggin, LSE

rich inner lives

I was sitting with three camping friends at a fire, good buzz on, upstate New York, talking about the state of India now that 60 years has passed since her independence from the British.  They were saying it was good; I was saying it wasn’t.  They are Indian born and raised now over here, I’m an Indian born and raised North American.  It turns out we were quoting different indicators, they the GDP and the number of new millionaires, me the persistence of poverty.  They’re both good indicators, but should probably be put together to make a bigger and better picture.  They won’t be.  Anyway, good buzz quickly turned bad.

Sometime during the melee – it got quite fierce – my status was called into question:  how would you know, you’re a white guy.  I said I’m third culture, which was probably too eggheaded, and one friend snarled, how pretentious.  Yup, too eggheaded.  But it’s just a definition that helps people to understand themselves and their lives.

Third culture simply means someone grew up between worlds – like say India and Canada – and takes on a lot of identifiable character qualities based on this increasingly common, rich and complicated way of living.  For instance, you feel like you belong to both worlds; and you feel alien from both worlds.  You feel judgmental of  people who grew up ‘rooted’ and without a cross cultural experience of living; and you crave rootedness. There are lots of other qualities common to the Third Culture.

I still haven’t forgiven my elementary school friend with whom I camp every summer for calling me pretentious.  I think she’s wrong.  Apparently, this experience has identifiable results which are increasingly common in the globalizing world as more and more people grow up between places.  Dismissing the nature of their upbringings seems wrong headed to me.  They may have something of use to say as the rest of the world gets increasingly nationalistic and tribal.

The following day – after the fight, and everyone sheepishly beginning their morning ablutions and routines and breakfastings – I was drawn away on a walk by a European spouse, perhaps to make the camp site more friendly and bearable.  He’d been filled in by his wife, my classmate.  His bottom line was that poor people like it that way, which he shared with me at the start of our walk, and we were both happy to drop the topic.

Here is a good article on what it means to be third culture, by Chris Lenton in Janera.  The observations are piercing if you have lived third culture but have had trouble understanding the implication for your life.

From the article:

“They are the most interesting people because their rich inner lives belie their often bland… and sometimes wary, presentation of themselves to others.” TCKs are also, studies now show, bright, and courted by employers.


On the flipside, argues Professor Useem, these same qualities may lead to what psychologists call a “prolonged adolescence.” Over 90% of the people surveyed report being out of step with people of their age group. TCKs change jobs frequently and marry and have children far later than the average North American. They continue to move around a lot. They have trouble identifying what they want to do with their lives and most attest to having changed their course of study numerous times.

Third Culture Club, By Chris Lenton in Janera