Old Letters

Old Letters

I sorted through my collection of old letters and cards. Not to dwell on the past, but to follow the dictum of Socrates to examine one’s life. I tried to order them chronologically, first in a stack, but as that proved unwieldy I layed them out on the floor by year. The oldest was from the year 2000, so there is no record of my correspondences from the 1900s. Once the sorting was done, a pattern clearly emerged. There is not much from the early 2000s, then there is a big gap in the mid-2000s, when I was isolated and having mental health issues. Then around 2008 things pick up, as I stitched my social life back together and recovered from severe depression. The 2010s stack is nice and big.

Now it’s possible I simply lost older letters. Or maybe in my despondent period I was throwing them away. But the pattern jives with this thing I have where ever since the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession my life has just been getting better and better. Not even Trumpty-Dumpty has slowed it down.

So thanks to all the friends and coworkers who have sent me invites and holiday greetings over the years. It’s nice to be able to look back at all the memories and milestones. It’s fun to see my employment history reflected in the names signed on holiday greeting cards. Oh – and one thing, people – when you are sending those holiday cards, please make sure the year is written on them so that we OCD people can put them in the right order later. šŸ™‚

On my third page

On my third page

Last week there was a retirement party at work, for a man in his sixties who had been with the company for about a decade. There was some nattering from other employees conveying wonder that someone would actually have the opportunity to retire. It felt like an expression of the anxiety of younger workers about their future. My generation in particular is notoriously pessimistic about its retirement prospects.

I have some notebook papers on which I have been tracking my computer career since it began when I was a college student. I write down where I worked, when, and what skills I developed. Each paper covers about 14 years, and I am now a quarter of the way through the third page. When I reach the end of the page, I will be in my sixties.

One career, easily compressed onto college-ruled notebook paper. Will I need a fourth page?

Millennials as Consensus-builders on Social Media

Millennials as Consensus-builders on Social Media

Looking at the GenerationsI recently posted a list of patterns to look for among the living generations in the current social era, based on Strauss & Howe generational theory. I wanted to take a closer look at some of the items on that list in a series of posts, and I’ll start with one under that most talked about of generations – the Millennials.

The item in particular is the second one in the Crisis era box – “look for the Millennial generation to enforce, among peers, a code of good conduct.” You can see this happening in that ubiquitous phenomenon that is defining the times – social media.

The rise of social media is part of the story of the maturation of the Internet, which first came into the public eye at a time when computer networks were the province of a small minority of socially outcast nerds. As adoption grew through the “you’ve got mail” era and into the dawn of today’s tech giants like Amazon and Google, going online became more and more mainstream.

Then, just around the start of the Crisis in 2008, came a new kind of computer that made being online essentially effortless – the smartphone. With it came an explosion of participation on Internet sites designed to promote social networking and interaction. Now, ten years later, what we call social media platforms dominate as a source of information and news.

The term “media” refers to an era’s primary means of mass communication. Adding the qualifier “social” suggests that a socializing role has been added to that of communicating, and perhaps that control of mass communication has been transferred from media elites (who are now mistrusted) to society at large.

The socializing role is evident in the familiar features of promoting posts (“liking” and “sharing”). Popular opinions rise to the top of feeds and are seen by the most viewers. Unpopular opinions are quashed. The consensus is reinforced through the use of signal-boosting hashtags like #metoo.

Another form of enforcement involves calling out bad behavior. A post demonstrates a transgression of social mores, which may, unfortunately for the transgressor, be taken out of context. Then a blast of comments shames the person. In extreme cases, the person may be identified in real life – called “doxxing” – which can be ruinous.

Perhaps the exemplary case in point is the store owner who posts an anti-gay sign, and then finds his or her business boycotted after a picture of the sign goes viral on social media. But how far might the phenomenon go? Blogger John Robb speculates about “weaponized social networks” and imagines their full potenital.

As for the people being in charge of mass communication now, the “democratization of the media” if you will – that has proven fraught with challenges. Social networks are vulnerable to infiltration, and social engineering has swayed elections. Social media sharing makes the dissemination of false information much too easy, and so the term “fake news” has come into the zeitgeist.

There is also the question of whose consensus is being enforced, as there are competing “red-state” and “blue-state” networks, each attempting to persuade us with their values-promoting memes. What values prevail will be evident in time. And though all of the living generations are participating in this social evolution, ultimately it will be the rising Millennial generation that defines what conduct is considered correct.

A closer look at the Crisis era

A closer look at the Crisis era

Years ago I had another blog, Generation Watch, dedicated to looking at current events and news stories through the filter of Strauss-Howe generational theory. I was an avid reader of their work (still am, though their work is now mostly confined to Neil Howe’s column at forbes.com), and as part of the Generation Watch site I had a list of submission guidelines that included hints about what to look for in news stories about each generation – it was all taken right out of the book The Fourth Turning. At the time I was writing (early to mid-2000s) I, along with many other Strauss & Howe aficianados, was trying to determine if and when we were going to transition from the Third Turning in the social cycle (the Unraveling) into the Fourth Turning (the Crisis). Well, the “official” word is that the Crisis began in 2008, so now that we are a decade in, I think I will reexamine the markers that I published so many years ago, in some new posts. Meanwhile, you can read them at the old site here:

http://home.earthlink.net/~generationwatch/gw_submission.html

Two animated films for your watch list

Two animated films for your watch list

The latest Pixar offering, Coco, is a wonderful film which has instantly become one of our family’s favorites. It is technically brilliant, demonstrating how far computer animation has come in the more than 20 years since Pixar’s beginnings. The visual detail, the lighting and the color are superb, and it is all easy to take in despite being so complex, unlike much of the CGI that accompanies live action movies these days. The story is excellent as well, and I can’t write much at all about it without spoiling it, except to note that it is fancifully set in Mexico, and while it has action-adventure elements it is really a family drama.

Coco actually has some things in common with another recent animated feature,Ā Kubo and the Two Strings, which uses stop-motion instead of CGI, giving it an older and artsier look. Kubo is also more of an adventure movie, a mythological tale whose narrative is not quite as engaging as Coco’s, though it is not without its own twists. But again – no spoilers!

Each of these films appropriates a facet of world culture to tell a high-stakes story that reminds us to cherish our loved ones. If you’re looking for a satisfying family movie night, you can’t go wrong with either one.

Scrambled Easter Eggs: A Review of Ready Player One

Scrambled Easter Eggs: A Review of Ready Player One

Why would the youth of 2045 be obsessed with the pop culture of the late 1900s? This was my thought as I sat in the theater and watched the movie Ready Player One.Ā As the cultural references kept piling on, my partner commented, “this movie is made for us.” We are both Gen-Xers, born in the 1960s, and the movie’s plot was an endless series of shoutouts to the iconic movies, TV shows and video games of our youth.

My partner’s son, who was born in the early 2000s, was watching with us, and ironically, he knew more of the references than we did. He would call them “Easter eggs,” coming from the term for messages or images that are often hidden in video games. In fact, Easter eggs in this sense are a major plot point in the movie, which is mostly set in a massive multiplayer virtual reality game. As the characters hunt online for the Easter eggs that are the MacGuffins of the story, we the audience enjoy recognizing the pop culture references thatĀ parade by in the form of avatars and items and scenery.

The people of 2045 apparently live online to escape the hellish dystopia the world has become, following some droughts and riots. Civilization has weathered events like these many times before, but we’ll have to assume they were really bad this time. We don’t get to see much of what this bleak future looks like outside of the VR, except for one vertically sprawling slum in Columbus, Ohio, where the residents live in stacked shipping containers supported by bare metal scaffolding. The visual design of this set is striking, which just underscores that fact that we are consuming visual art, and that the “real world” setting depicted is just as contrived as the “virtual world.”

The people in “the stacks” are mostly obsessed with putting on their VR gear and hanging out online, trying to rack up experience and in-game resources. Despite presumably beingĀ poor, they can all afford the gear, much as people of all classes today own smartphones. It’s not clear what is happening in the outside world, in the boring realm of politics, economics, and international relations. All that matters to anyone living in the stacks is this game world, as if humanity has abandoned all thought of civic renewal to focus on entertainment. Which actually fits theĀ zeitgeistĀ of the early 21st century quite well.

Really, this movie is an homage to the era of entertainment culture that has been presided over by its director, the hugely influential Steven Spielberg. His generation has dominated the cultural space, and let the political space go to ruin. The people of 2045 worship his generation’s cultural legacy because, in the Spielbergian vision, that legacy is the culminating achievement of our time. The movie audiences of 2018 may well agree.

In the Spielbergian weltanschauung, civic virtue amounts to willingness to join the scrappy underdogs in a fight against the uniformed forces of oppression, represented in Ready Player One by a greedy corporate conglomerate. “Welcome to the rebellion” is actually a line in this movie. It’s likeĀ Star WarsĀ all over again. Again.

I write this review without any knowledge of the book on which the film is based, so apologies to the book’s author for missing his original intent, which may have been much different. He may have written a profoundly original and thought-provoking story. You’ll never know from watching this film. Watching this film, you will get an amusingĀ mĆ©lange of your favorite pop culture nostalgia, packaged in a plot that has become a routine of PG-rated action adventure movies. And, of course, you will have fun.

Closed!

Closed!

The final steps of my transplantation to Pennsylvania are being taken.

Week 6 – close on the house in North Carolina.

The transplantation process is almost entirely complete. I just need the driver’s license, vehicle registration and voter registration bit. And to get a library card. šŸ™‚

This home was my castle for nearly ten years, the only real estate property I have ever owned. But it is a relief to be unburdened of it, since it wasn’t so useful hundreds of miles away. My relief was palpable to the notary who stamped the closing papers as I rushed to get them signed and overnighted yesterday.

Thanks, house, for taking care of me through my forties. I hope the new owner finds as much joy in you as I did.

Five Week Move Complete

Five Week Move Complete

Piles of boxes fill my apartment as I contemplate my astounding five week move from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Here’s how to do it:

Week 1 – Phone interview from NC.

Week 2 – Drive up to PA. Look at apartment. Have on-site job interview. Get job offer. Drive back to NC.

Week 3 – Apply for apartment remotely. Get approved. Arrange for movers. Arrange to sell house to neighbors. Frantically pack.

Week 4 – Movers pick up possessions. Drive to PA. Unload car into apartment. Frustrated by movers not arriving. Snowstorm: job start is delayed. Continue arranging to sell NC house. Movers finally arrive at last minute.

Week 5 – Start job. Sign contract to sell house.

 

All of this was much facilitated by the ease of communication and process workflow that comes with the Internet era, and that the neighbors had their eye on my house. It also helped that so much of my house was packed already because of the Wrath of the Water Spirits. And, of course, that my BFF was waiting in PA to help with stocking the apartment with groceries and then with unpacking.

As the boxes have been opened and items sorted through, I wonder how I accumulated so much junk over the years. Why was I attached to it all enough to pay movers to transport it, instead of giving it away or selling it in NC? Probably because I was rushing and not planning or processing as wisely as I could have. A lesson for the next move. This old stuff has less value now; it feels like it belongs to a dead past. I want to pick at it like a scab, peel it away like dragon scales off of Eustace Scrubb as I emerge into my new life.

Reddit Thread of the Week: Governmental Fight Club

Reddit Thread of the Week: Governmental Fight Club

I have heard it said that the Boomer generation has produced the worst political leadership in American history. Now, when the Boomers came of age in the 1960s, they were aggressive and confrontational, as is well known. 50 years later, they are the elder leaders of our society, but their collective personality traits remain the same – in generational studies we call this “thinking along the generational diagonal.” So the same scrappy, individualistic style they brought to their campus protests in the 1960s, they now bring to high political office. Just think of what the 2016 Presidential election was like for an example. Now we get a daily dose of Boomer scrappiness in the form of Presidential tweets. Younger generations look on, aghast and amused, as you can observe in the reddit thread linked below.

Donald Trump would beat Joe Biden in a fight and make him cry from iamverybadass

 

Today’s Workout Album – Bright: The Album

Today’s Workout Album – Bright: The Album

I find that the soundtrack to the Netflix original film Bright makes an excellent workout album, with its driving beats and heavy hip-hop influence. I also makes me feel firmly planted in the zeitgeist, since it is not even a year old, and is replete with Millennial themes of building community and repairing the broken.

The film itself didn’t impress critics, instead sort of representing everything that Netflix, or streaming in general, is doing to ruin the film industry. Maybe it is just too weird to mash up the fantasy and buddy cop genres – A Game of Thrones meets End of Watch. It is undoubtedly a formulaic action movie, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was certainly better than The Cloverfield Paradox.

Here is one song from the album (Millennial whoop at 1:36).