Elsewhere USA is a good book

A few months ago i read the book Elsewhere USA at danah boyd’s suggestion.  It didn’t disappoint.  While it wasn’t as good as last year’s Generation Me (which i couldn’t stop blogging about), it did have some good insights.

The point of the book is the strange paradox that is occuring in America.  People used to work and struggle so their kids wouldn’t have to.  Leiseure was something you attained at a certain income level.  Today however, this isn’t the case.  For the first time in history, the more we are paid, the more hours we work.  The rewards for working are so great they make the “opportunity cost” of not working all the more great.  The result is that there is no longer a leisure-class of elites. The rich are working harder than ever.  Now, leisure is something for the poor.  There is now a crazy measure of the income elasticity of leisure and this fundamentally changes how many of us (including me) live.   As it says in the book, elsewhere-usa-book

Obviously, this change has affected not just when we work, but also how we play, how we love, how we raise our children – how we live

Some interesting parts in the book are:

  1. There’s now a fear amoung the successful that their success isn’t geniune and an axiety that a person’s personal house of economic card is about to collapse. One interesting stat behind this is that while drinking has declined, adult use of other mind-altering substances such as Valium or marajuana has risen to the point where mature adults consume more than teenagers for the first time since these trends were tracked
  2. More and more, household income rising and falling has less to do with economic times but more about relationships.  About a quarter of American children experience two or more mother’s partners by the time they are fifteen. Over 8 percent experience three or more
  3. Similar to the African areas of Mali and Malawi, America also practices a form of polygamy.  Post coming on this soon….
  4. Religion and The Corporate man have been at odds.  A further description below:

In medieval Cathoic Europe, poverty was a virtue and to profit off one’s fellow man was considered evil.  The Protestant Reformation changed all that which led to one-on-one relationships to go and also spiritual insecurity.  This led to working harder and acculating lots of money. Success as salvation was a new incentive structure.  However, the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the trade unionism eclipsed the Protestant Work Ethic in the mid 1900’s.  There was a truce found between expansive corporate America and organzied labor such that a communitarian eithos could reign supreme.

The rift remained though as Protestants valued thrift over consumption, work over leisure, and meritocracy over social connections.  But large organizations like IBM and GM put a premium on teamwork, compromise and being a “company man.”

Today these have been resolved through the redefinition of: leisure is work and work is leisure. Consumption is investment (home equity loan is savings).  Social connectoins don’t indicate nepotism but rather social capital and entrepreneurial skill.  Loyalty is replaced by value (you show your value by calculated displays of disloyalty – displaying offers from competitors).


While it doesn’t offer many solutions, the book is thought provoking and a good read.  I recommend you pick it up.

Daemon is a good Techno-Thriller

Cover of "Daemon"
Cover of Daemon

I just read a really good book called Daemon by Daniel Suarez (his first novel) about what someone could do if they had amazing control of the internet, a lot of free time and lots of money

Matthew Sobol, the best game designer in the world, has died. With his death, a stunning series of events begins to take place, starting with the deaths of a few programmers, and extending to the endangering of the entire world. Very few people can hope to stop his plan.

The story is incredibly fast.  There are no slow parts.  There is lots of plot, lots of detail and many characters.  It’s similar to a Michael Crichton novel except better. More accurate stories, more realistic, more detailed, more interesting characters.

The book is a cross between The Stand and The Matrix, two of the epics of our time. Like The Matrix, technology plays a central role in this story, and like the former, it about what happens to the people who are trying to cope with the world changing all around them.

This is not a masterful piece of literature. It’s book candy and really tasty.

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World Peace? We're Closer than we think

During my trip to Maui, i brought along the book “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria. It’s a good read (not done yet). One part i really liked at the begging was when he was talking about how war and organized violence have declined substantially over the past 60 years – and dramatically over the last two decades. This was news to me. He writes:
The general magnitude of global warfare has decreased by over 60% [since the mid-1980’s], falling by the end of 2004 to its lowest level since the late 1950’s. Violence increased steadily throughout the Cold War – increasing sixfold between the 1950’s and early 1990’s – but the trend peaked just before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the extent of warfare among and within states lessened by nearly half in the first decade after the Cold War.
To that Harvard’s professor Steven Pinker argues, “That today we are probably living int he most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”
This seems so contrary to what i feel everyday due to the constant news of terrorism, bombings, airline accidents, etc. Zakaria addresses this saying:
One reason for the mismatch between reality and our sense of it might be that, over these same decades, we have experienced a revolution in information technology that now brings us news from around the world instantly, vividly, and continuiously…. Every weather disturbance is “the story of the century”. Every bomb that explodes is BREAKING NEWS. It is difficult to put this all in context because the information revolution is so new. We didn’t get daily footage on the ~2 million who died in the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970’s or the million who perished in teh sands of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1908’s
But now the deaths of ten, because they are seen up close, make the world seem more and more dangerous. When, in fact, the opposite is true.

Quotes from Feast of Love

For no reason at all i picked up the book Feast of Love today. It’s a great book, one of my favorites. Here are two quotes from it. The first is an interesting story about Kierkegaard. The second just nails the sadness and self-reflection of Charles Baxter, the main character and narrator.

feastKierkegaard, the Danish philosopher fell in love with an attractive girl, Regine Olsen, and then he had concluded that they would be incompatible, that the love was mistaken, that he himself was so complex and she was simple, and he contrived to break the engagement so as to give the appearance that it was the young lady’s fault, not his.

He succeeded in breaking the engagement, in never marrying her. Cowardice was probably involved here. Kierkegaard wished to believe that the fault lay with the nature of love itself, the problem of love, its fate in his life. From the personal he extrapolated to the general. A philosopher’s trick. Regine married another man and moved away from Copenhagen to the West Indies, but Kierkegaard, the knight of faith, carried a burning torch for her, in the form of his philosophy, the rest of his days. This is madness of a complex lifelong variety. He spent his career writing philosophy that would, among other things, justify his actions toward Regine Olsen. He died of a warped spine.

For some reason it give me great pleasure to read of someone who, out of bitterness of letting his love get away, spent an entire career postulating that love & God can’t be spoken of and are thus dying. Just think what the religion and philosophy worlds might have been had he just gone through with the marriage. Oh, but then again, he literally did not have any backbone.

Now, here’s the 2nd…

What’s agitating about solitude is the inner voice telling you that you should be mated to somebody, that solitude is a mistake. The inner voice doesn’t care about who you find. It just keeps pestering you, tormenting you – if you happen to be me – with homecoming queens first, then girls next door, and finally anybody who might be pleased to see you now and then at the dinner table and in bed on occasion. You look up from reading the newspaper and realize that no one loves you, and no one burns for you. The workings of nature are mysterious, but they do account for a certain amount of despair among single persons, the irrelevance you sometimes feel.

Just so you know, he (Charles) does end up with someone at the end.  So, the world is just and it does end well (for him at least).