Friday, October 1, 2010

Give Me A Break or I'll Crack Up. Now I Know Why.

I've been reading "The Singularity Is Near" by Ray Kurzweil (published in 2005) ... ... "singularity" being that point in human history where human and non-human intelligence merge.

As Kurzweil sees it, we are in the beginning of Epoch 5, within six epochs of human history. This is the Epoch where everything accelerates exponentially. For example, as Kurzweil sees it, "We won't experience one hundred years of technological advance in the 21st century; we will witness on the order of twenty thousand years of progress."

Kurzweil's book talks about the "canonical milestones," clusters of 28 significant events in human history identified by physicist and complexity theorist Theodore Modis. He notes that two of these milestones -- order and complexity -- are growing exponentially.

I'm not sure where the "order" comes in. Everything seems chaotic to me, so I need to keep reading.  But  I totally understand the reality of what I've been sensing and feeling for the past 8 or 9 months: Namely, human beings are having a difficult time dealing with this acceleration of complexity milestone. In short, the pressure to "keep up" with ever faster and more complicated change is making human beings crazy.

Oh ... in researching the book, I just learned that The Singularity Is Near has been made into a movie currently traveling the indy circuits. Put me first in line for that one! This is amazing and life-altering stuff. Mind-bending, yes.. but worth ever twist and turn.

So, if that's the problem, what's the solution? My first guess is that we need to simplify and downsize (physical clutter can't help with this overwhelmed psyche, despite the assbackwards approach that a lot of people seem to be adopting via hoarding). On  the other hand, we need to make technology our partner here (I mean, that's the idea, right).

I'm thinking, I'm thinking ...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Holy Hoarders, Batman. Reality TV IS Reality.

Big numbers on the reality TV show, “Hoarders,” over Labor Day.  A&E publicized its third season like crazy, with images of possums in the kitchen and counter tops covered in inhuman filth.

The publicity campaign worked, as millions tuned in for an all-day marathon peek at piles of … well, anything you can imagine (and lots you don’t want to). Yesterday – the day after the show aired -- “Hoarders” was a popular topic on Twitter.

What’s wrong with this picture? Quite simply, it’s getting awfully real. “Hoarders” and every other examination of mental illness cast as human aberration is vastly more disturbing – and frighteningly more common -- than it is entertaining.

For example, now that “Hoarders” has come out of the closet onto TV, media reports of the mental illness are growing. In Schaumburg, IL,  a 79 year-old woman was found dead amid rubbish. Her 54 year-old daughter – whom social workers didn’t know existed -- lived there, too.

Why doesn’t somebody “do” something? Schaumburg officials say various laws make intervention nearly impossible unless the person cooperates. Hoarding expert Christiana Bratiotis of Boston University, says “The front door can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle, literally and figuratively … A true hoarder would never ever, ever let you in."

I started checking around and it turns out that everybody I asked knows two or three people who hoard. If you get into people-who-know-other-people-who-hoard, you’re swelling into double digits. A&E says 3 million Americans are hoarders. If you look at the number of American households, we’re talking 2.5 percent of our neighbors, easy.

While all hoarders pile up  junk, the stuff of the illness apparently varies. Paper, other people’s discards, knickknacks, clothing, and even food are the downfall of many. Meanwhile, “animal hoarding”  is exploding, say experts.

In his review of the Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, journalist Aditya Chakrabortty observes that “The Godfather” and other popular stories about the Mafia have influenced the way Mafioso view themselves. No longer mere “gangsters,” these guys now believe they are “legitimate businessmen” whose practices of violence and intimidation can be practiced and perfected.

If “godfather syndrome” holds true for folks with too much “stuff,” we can expect mirroring to produce new levels of, and tweaks to, hoarding. After a marathon viewing of A&E compulsion, for example, maybe our own 750 bags from Target piled in the bedroom, or those boxes of mail dated back to 1998, won’t seem so bizarre.

Since, a lot of us are already detached from the broken lives and mental problems other people are suffering, maybe it’s not a giant leap to our own personal indifference about the possums, cockroaches, and dead cats, Maybe familiarity will breed more indifference than contempt.

If that seems laughably impossible, please consider whether, in 2010, it seems “predictable” that four wealthy women from New Jersey will put on fancy cocktail dresses, then go on national TV to yell and spit at their neighbors? Ho-hum, right? But how did we get immune to that?

And how long before we also get accustomed to seeing three-year olds with lipstick, fake teeth, and tiaras? Driven to desperation, will it become commonplace to try to “treat” a loved one’s mental illness in an hour by staging our own “interventions”?

Possibly, like the hoarders – and without any huge external Wall Street collapse or terrorist intervention -- society will rot from the inside out and we’ll all think it’s “normal.”

More possibly, reality TV – a joke we thought was on other people – mirrors more than we want to see.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

We’ve Earned The Right To Be Civil

I went to high school in Alexandria, VA, when the schools ... well, everything, really, was segregated. Not far by miles from where I lived there was a “Negro” neighborhood. Nauck has a proud heritage in the Black community, I’ve since learned. I never ventured there back in 1958. I remember being very curious as to how these people I never saw might be different. The rule seemed to be that I didn’t “belong” there, that my presence would have been an intrusion. I remember feeling some sense of melancholy about that, but I followed the rules.

I live much closer to that neighborhood now and sometimes walk through it. It’s still mostly Black folks and, at times, I still feel like I’m intruding, though much has changed … nearby hi-rise buildings, new contemporary-styled low-income housing, and a few three-story brick townhomes. Housing as old as I am – and older -- still sits there, too. In 2010, Nauck looks a lot like a lot of neighborhoods.

On my walk his morning, Nauck hammered me with the passage of time. Much of what appears there today looks slightly “old-fashioned.” I suspect it’s because the population is growing older. Today, the residents are apt to be my age, are apt to have grown up simultaneously with, if not near, me in segregated Virginia. Separated as I was back then, aging has made me contemporary with many of the Nauck residents. Television means we have now spent most of our lives together, in the same larger society.

On my walk, I passed an older gentlemen as he was opening up his T.V. repair shop. I’m quite sure he and I must have been high school students at the same time. I said “Good morning,” and he spoke back, friendly. I said, “It’s cool this morning.” He said, “Oh yes. MUCH cooler than yesterday.”

There was an old-time civility about this man. I suppose some younger generations would describe his soft, agreeable way negatively, but they’re wrong. The man who runs the T.V. repair is a gentlemen. I wonder if he also shakes his head at the cyclists zooming by, or chuckles at the decked-out joggers running with iPods. I wonder if he feels the same sense of loss I do. His neighborhood has changed completely. Not as many people sit on the front porch, mostly nobody says “Good morning” unless you say it first. It’s a different time.

Collectively, we may have earned civil rights (though I’m not too sure about that, frankly). I think we’ve also learned to think we have the right to be UNcivil. I wonder if my cohort feels it too. The next time I see him, I’m going to talk to that man. I’m going to stop and say, “Do you remember when….”

I hope we’ve both earned that.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Ask Gen Y?

In the 1980s and early 90s -- on the way to the 21st Century – psychologists routinely urged parents to tell their kids two things: a) you’re special b) you can do anything you want to do. During the same period, economic times were good, and middle-class children had plenty of everything: toys, lessons, entertainment, “experiences,” media time, and opportunities to build “self-esteem.” (Note: Today, a Google search on “building self-esteem” pulls up 1,360,000 links. An Amazon search reveals 344 book entries for the search term “Your Kid’s Self Esteem.”

This drive to make the Gen Y children “feel good about” themselves became a national imperative, more important than American staples like discipline, good grades, and “try-fail-try again” standards. I well remember the principal of my daughter’s grade school standing in the door at opening bell, handing out “stickers” to boys who had their shirts tucked in, or to girls who said “good morning.”

Meanwhile – despite bestowing many material indulgences -- their double-income parents left many middle-class Gen Yers to their own devices. These children were the first generation plopped into day care and left as latch key kids. In their formative years, the only people these children had to listen to were on television, and the only people they had to talk to were each other.

Meanwhile, the geniuses of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer crowd were busy inventing the Internet. While clueless themselves, Gen Y parents delightedly discovered their progeny could master computers with ease. More praise was heaped upon Gen Y for its “brilliant” ability and Gen Y parents gloated about their three-year olds' clicking, mousing, and surfing talent.

Spawned in the glow of television and LED, Gen Y also viewed a lot of advertisements, becoming consumers extraordinaire. Fads of every sort caught their attention (remember Cabbage Patch dolls?). The spongeful brains of Gen Y had no trouble keeping up with rapidly changing images. Parents gazed on in wonder and adoration at their “special kids,” who seemed to know so much they’d never dreamed of or heard about. The accolades of parents, coaches, and teachers did indeed infuse these youngsters with a healthy dose of confidence in their Gen Y view of the world – which, naturally and easily evolved to an irrational belief in the wisdom of their own opinions and experiences. After all, nobody “older” seemed to know a damn thing.

The workplace today is full of Gen Y Twenty Somethings -- or, as a colleague likes to call them, “The Twenty Nothings.” Many of these young adults are hard working and committed (achievement was, after all, a big part of the message). They do, however, display a disconcerting reliance on their own Generation as being the “only ones” who truly “get it.”

What does Gen Y “get”? Pretty much everything they want, hopefully, since they are, after all, “special.” But more significantly, their adoring parents so long delivered the “you’re so clever” message that Gen Y often truly believes Gen X and Baby Boomers have been left far behind the learning curve. Some are more polite than others in talking about “people who are older.” But here’s the challenge: The next time you’re in the Twenty Something crowd, try to count the number of times they allude to their cohort’s “special” ability to perceive societal trends, grasp “the market,” and lock onto “what’s really happening.” To Gen Y, experience counts for nothing and “wisdom” – which absent, over-extended parents and teachers had no time to share -- is a non-issue. No wonder. They learned years ago that “what is” changes faster than a YouTube upload, and fame lasts a lot less than 15 minutes.

The point is: Why Ask Gen Y? Having paid no attention to any generation save their own, Gen Y has a unique non-ability to put any issue into historical context. On the other hand, Gen Y should have an improved ability to put issues into a global context -- and perhaps they do (they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, after all). Sadly, though, many appear to have led insular lives, mainly talking to one another, and relying for life wisdom on t.v. shows like Friends. [A brief sidebar: Friends concisely and accurately represents the attitudes of, and speaks for, this generation. Gen Yers were obsessed with, and profoundly affected by, the show’s notion of “friends” as “all there is.” This insipid show is, no doubt, responsible for at least a portion of Gen Y’s social arrogance. In Friends, parents and authority figures are stupid, neurotic, and lots less smart than the gang of relationship-confused, career-indifferent, self-indulgent, exclusive and exclusionary group of six boys and girls playing at life. But I digress …].

As they've turned out, this “special” generation seems ready to act on their self-aggrandized beliefs. It’s not their fault, of course (we told them they were special and could do anything). But – if you’re an employer or manager -- do beware of the Gen Y notion of their own special insight.

Every generation eventually graduates from the School of Hard Knocks – and, no doubt – the current economic mess is going to be a fast wake up call for Gen Y. In the meantime, do love this charming and charmed, enthusiastic, capable, “special” generation as much as you want ... but don’t believe everything they tell you.

p.s. Generation X kids – the Baby Busters -- had things a lot tougher. They reportedly weren’t happy with their self-centered, fickle, impractical parents who launched social revolutions like a 50% divorce rate, widespread drug use, the Women’s Movement and the Sexual Revolution. This disengaged, cynical generation has a reputation for shrugging and walking away. Curiously, in the workplace, a lot of Gen Ys are “managed” by Gen Xers, which could -- by default -- leave Gen Y more or less in charge. Expect chaos.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Trashing, Bashing, and Slashing: The Horrors of Social Media

1. Divorce attorneys haunt Facebook and Twitter for dirty little secrets and spouse trashing.

2. Bash Tweets and hate blogs make some artists fear success.

3. Tire slashing in the UK, job slashing at the university of Iowa, and price slashing at Franklin Covey typify some of the less violent slash tweets in a 24-hour period.

Meanwhile, as our brain’s fear circuitry overpowers its ability to reason, social media expresses a jillion worrisome thoughts and spreads fear psychosis.

No wonder we’re all dying to climb into an Xbox and play Natal.