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Posts Tagged ‘Text Reflection’

Modern Tellings: Detachment In Differential Time

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

One wonders whether certain pieces of fiction are so far beyond contemporary society that they’ve long been rendered fantastic. Even realistic fiction suffers this loss in time, Dickens and Shakespeare become more confusing with each passing decade as cultural touchstones change and points of audience relation disappear.

In those stories people “act differently” or “say things in some other way”. One might even hear of how “the way they see the world is different.” Students experience the texts in different ways than the author originally intended: “Things just aren’t the same.”

But when do stories suffer this detachment via time differential? When does a story become so far off that it is unrelated to our world? Oddly culture decides this.

We have a system where culture reclassifies culture, existing as some swarming, swashing body of material that varies in popularity and relevancy. Certain works never catch while others take decades to find an audience. Some texts lose favor with the culture only to return later to become touchstones. Yet more never connect: bursting into the world only to sink.

This is a fascinating change and on Christmas I consider one story with an existence one wonders is quickly becoming unrelateable: A Christmas Carol.

What would Bob Cratchit do in today’s workplace? Tasked with an abusive employer on top of his life’s stresses how might he react? Given our headlines one wonders whether we can trust Cratchit to suffer silently? In today’s society how do individuals experiencing these forms of stress react? Certainly fiction works to present a popular version of a common reaction and, if possible, the most exciting rendering of the situation in dramatic form? Where might one “modern Bob Cratchit” appear in our story? Consider popular news stories and consider just how some suffer through stress in today’s world. Humility for modern Bob or something different- something much more different with renderings in fiction suggestive of what we read in the news. One fears such modern Bobs.

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Text Reflection: Riccardo Orizio’s ‘Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators’

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Riccardo Orizio’s ‘Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators’ is a collection of interviews with individuals closely related to seven deposed dictators. Often spouses or family friends, these relations provide unique glimpses into the psyche of despotic leaders and those who choose to support their questionable behavior. As with all texts, one can read from different perspectives with varied levels of reward. Yes, a historical perspective provides a glimpse into the psyches of critical figures from significant points in history, but a more rewarding read comes in reading this text as a seven part study of human psychology. Though charged with historical details, these seven interviews are more valuable as perspectives into the ways in which human beings can distort their own behavior and the reactions that come from powerful decisions.

One can find many similarities among the seven figures profiled in Orizio’s text. Each seems obsessed with personal glory and distorting the historical events that gave way to his or her removal. Each figure views history from a subjective lens whereby misfortune and failure are mere temporary hiccups on the path to eternal glory. Eternity and time is likewise a major factor with each of these figures: each perceives his or her existence as an eternal journey whereby greatness is achieved through arduous battle and sacrifice.

Pain surrounds each of the seven figures. Each disposed of those who choose to disagree with policy or who openly challenged his or her established power. There is blood all over these figure’s hands: death via darkness and mystery is a constant companion and the concern for maintaining power is a major talisman for each. Once established each figure functioned less as an advocate for the nation and more as a personal advocate whose grip on power only grew stronger with time and vanquished challenges.

Reading Orizio’s text, one perceives the inherent weakness in human psychology. One may consider the text as a revelation that human beings are inherently incapable of being sole leaders of major countries. Is the text a document explaining the benefits of a shared (democratic) system? The text does not suggest such notions; though, present in each story is a narrative of personal struggle and slaughter focused largely on maintaining personal power. Absolute power may not corrupt all, but Orizio shows us seven figures whose destruction came largely with the provision of power. Are these figures any different than the rest of the population?

The Pitfalls of Awareness

July 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Constant awareness should be beneficial. Given the ability to constantly consider, question and muse, a decision maker’s process of reaching success should be nearly automatic. We live in a society that allows us to approach this state: 24/7 media, the internet and a culture rich in publication medium creates a foundation wherein the individual can explore a topic to depths beyond previous fantasy. If we’re interested in something we find limitation not in resources but in our ability to absorb the plethora of material available.

These limitations in absorption have created a culture of rapid publication. Politicians speak in sound blips, broadcasters tweet and written publications feature articles of far shorter word counts than publications of the past. Carr’s The Shallows argues this culture has affected our brain and created a circle where short attention spans crave short works which likewise feed the need. In many ways our culture is the disease to the cure for which it professes to be.

If this is the state of our culture, how do assess our ability to deal with conflict. If our attention span is so reduced are we still able to deal with long-term issues? How do we relate to conflicts that extend far into the future? Does a situation with an unknown date of conclusion or unclear outcome extend to a state beyond our concern? Certainly the United States of America possesses minds strong enough to deal with long-term conflicts, but what of the public? In a system where the opinion of the whole is more important than the opinions of the few, how does a culture of short attention spans deal with long-term drama?

The pitfalls of constant awareness are an inability to act with long-term interests in mind. One may recognize the potential for long-term gain via short-term loss but can he or she convince a public to accept this state? Faced with this decision many leaders are placed in a situation where personal sacrifice is the cost for these types of gains. A key feature of leadership is an awareness of what is needed for the group in mass. Often a leader must sacrifice his or her own status for the benefit of the group. I often wonder whether our elected leadership is capable of making these sacrifices?

In a culture of short-attention spans and constant awareness we must carve a niche for deeper consideration. Focus will allow us to understand what needs to be done in the short-term to achieve long-term success. An obsession with now creates a system obsessed with immediate pleasure. Focusing on the moment leaves us unable to see the dangers ahead. We are the driver staring only at the steering wheel. The importance of broad awareness cannot be understated. Our tools to constant awareness are wonderful but if we lose track of what lies ahead and choose instead to bask in the pleasures of the present we harbor a delusion. There is great danger in disregarding variables and if left unchecked we may find ourselves careening into hazards that we never knew existed but were always placed and waiting- stalled right before our eyes.

Text Reflection: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1890 William James gifted us with an equation from which to understand and predict our amount of self-esteem. For James, our evaluation ourselves boils down to an evaluation of personal success in light of pretensions. In short, what did we want and how much of it did we get? The equation works well to remind us that lower standards are easier to achieve and, if possible, a far happier life will blossom for individuals whose aspirations are more humble or at least easier to achieve. For the “pie in the sky” dreamers whose aspirations for greatness knowingly require constant dedication, luck and effort there exists the higher chance of low-self esteem and the daunting notion that failure is the highest possible outcome.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz urges readers to keep a realistic perspective on personal aspirations. We are better served by a humble perspective towards life: avoid perfection, disregard regret, and recognize that our information obsessed society works against our need for control and focus. For Schwartz a world of endless choices and possibility is a nightmare, his text suggests that humans need their limitations and if placed into a world without boundaries, the majority of the population will wither in indecision. He cites a study by Richard Eckersley that connects increased rates of suicide with high rates of independence and personal choice. For Schwartz, our world of choice is literally driving some to mental illness and, in the worst cases, the act of suicide.

Choice can be a dangerous thing. If one is a perfectionist than no decision will bring happiness; because, after all, we may have bought an item that fulfills our every need and gives us pleasure, but are we sure it is the best? In the end the potential for something better will forever haunt the perfectionist even when such an item’s existence is unknown. Schwartz warns against this pattern of thinking, referring to those who engage in this behavior as “Maximizers” and showing that these individuals have more regret, are less happy and are even more prone to depression and suicide. Herein James’ theory applies: the Maximizer’s standards are too high.

The best attack plan towards life is to be realistic. Don’t aim too high and strive for balance. There’s a power in figures from our culture who urge us in this direction. As we leap further into a society where everything can be known at anytime and any place, we risk disconnecting ourselves from our community and sense of rational pace. Schwartz reminds us that the community is the most important thing in life, pointing to studies that reveal community membership to be the most likely indicator for happiness. We may have everything but if left all alone and unable to share the things we’ve learned, what is the point? In the end we’re better held in the company of friends and family with whom we can share the bounties of our world and revel in the power of our culture

Text Reflection: Cass Sunstein’s Republic.com

December 12, 2010 Leave a comment

In Republic.com, a 2002 book written by Cass Sunstein, the author considers our ironic state of flux in which more tech and communication leads to a less informed citizenry. Sunstein urges recognition of these dangers and suggests (gently) that society re-tool the internet to provide users with easier access and awareness of differing views. Sunstein fears fragmentation and a cloistered population whose difficulty of access, lack of interest or general inability lead to a society in which pragmatism is discarded in favor of stronger, more emotionally driven ideas.

Sunstein presents a dual existence of human kind hinging on two mentalities: the consumer and the democratic citizen. He cautions on confusing these two roles and suggests that popular media appeals largely to the consumer mentality and distracts the population from more “large-group” focused thinking of democratic perspectives towards a more individually centered, consumer perspective.

The author seems nervous at the suggestion of greater government intervention. At the core of the text is the presentation of a problem and the provision of possible solutions. Sunstein’s major problem is an uneducated population who he fears will grow only more unaware as an internet appealing to individual perspectives continues to grow and crowd out other media forms. Sunstein wants a “public forum” on the internet and cautions that without it we’ll only lose touch with the rational opinions need to compromise and create a republic functioning not for the individual but for the entire population.

Curiously, Sunstein has some caution in suggesting his solution. He wants government intervention but concedes this is not ideal. Instead, he urges a more comfortable solution in the form of website owners who in placing links to opposing sites or material to better educate their readers would provide the audience with a more diverse access point for learning. This is a dated text and reveals much about the initial perspectives of the internet world. Sunstein falls victim to the “mistaken paradigm” in which an old model of media is used to explain a newer form of media. The internet is not like newspapers or televisions for numerous reasons- the most powerful relating to the interaction between creator and audience.

Despite Sunstein’s fears, a cloistered audience is created by all forms of media. In an environment where a multitude of stimuli exist we can only focus on a select cluster of sources. We cannot be aware of all perspectives or resources and are ultimately drawn to those that meet our subscribed-to perspectives. The confirmation bias works to establish this perspective. Additional links would be helpful but an internet page is prime real estate for content that a creator would be foolish to sacrifice to a competitor’s link. Democracy on the internet comes in the form of an experienced user whose critical thinking can recognize the bias of a source and the importance of a diverse exploration of material.

One great idea presented in the text is a government created site to function as a “public forum.” Sunstein moves away from policing already created sites and shifts to the creation of new material in this arena. According to Sunstein this public arena site would be created by a government entity and would provide an index of material and a forum for public discussion on issues. This centralized location would be beneficial to a political system in desperate need of windows to the populace. This additional resource is a great idea but any moves to control or re-tool the material on the internet is misguided and largely out of touch with the reality of this new form of media.

Text Reflection: “Remix” by Lawrence Lessig

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Lawrence Lessig’s “Remix”, subtitled “Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy” is a brief and somewhat conversational exploration of copyright issues in the age of the internet. In the majority of its chapters, Mr. Lessig focuses on the ways in which copyright law affects society’s interaction with culture. He suggests copyright laws be adjusted to reflect the new forms of expression created by the internet and stresses, at numerous points in the text, the importance of “decriminalizing our kids.”

With the dawn of Youtube and other sights in which individuals sample material owned by others, a rash of copyright litigation (a la the campaign of the RIAA) has lead to a mass-criminalization of innocent figures looking only to participate in society.  The text highlights the historical evolution of copyright and includes classification systems to better understand economies and the cultural traditions in which these economies function.

At its core, the text focuses on “RO” culture versus “RW” culture.

  • RO, or “read-only” culture, is classified by a culture that simply absorbs cultural material. In RO, one simply absorbs the material as presented. There is no participation in RO.
  • “RW”, or “read-write” culture, is a system where a user participates in a two-way relationship to the material.  In this system the receiver is actively considering and creating on the basis of viewing.  The RW user is more active and creates material that responds or is inspired by the viewing.

Lessig extends these distinctions to mark the differences in cultures through history. Most importantly, the text reveals that technology has increased the ability for individuals to participate in a RW basis. This is a great thing, Lessig argues, but something that remains controversial due to copyright law. In many cases copyright law inadvertently moves to squash RW culture by protecting the very assets used to interact at the RW basis.

RW culture is certainly a major gift of the internet age. Indeed, the internet has largely killed off the “couch potato” form of participation in which a user simply sits and receives information. Technology allows a user to think critically about the material, to seek out additional material that may enrich the experience and even to participate in a way that both nourishes intellectual curiosity and extends the entertainment experience. Technology has instilled in us the possibility of doing more and, as Mr. Lessig’s text suggests, society needs to encourage such behavior for the benefit of all involved.

Lessig walks a fine line with the copyright issue. Clearly he is leery of the accusation should be eliminated. At multiple times in the text he both asserts the need for copyright and strikes down the claims by some that copyright should be abolished. He is clearly aware that copyright plays a crucial role. Instead he argues an adjustment to the policy so that copyright is more in line with logic and with fairness. It is here though, with the need for a sense of what is fair and correct, that the text loses its power. Mr. Lessig seems to be unaware of where the line needs to be drawn. Yes, copyright is extensive and yes those who flagrantly use the work of others to garner profit deserve punishment and are unfair. Where do we draw the line though? At what point can we allow individuals to sample and use other material? What amount is fair?

“Remix” is an interesting look at RO/RW culture and presents keen insight into the state of contemporary society in light of technology. While instructive it does fails to provide a clear explanation of how to make art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. The text does not provide specific details or instructions and functions mainly as an introduction to the state of the matter. Those who crave an explanation need look elsewhere.

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