Monday, September 17, 2007

Bobos and Technology

This Fall, I am enrolled in two graduate courses. BOTH courses list the same book on required reading: Bobos in Paradise. I've already plowed through a hundred pages and I'm impressed. It examines how our cultural values were shaped by the WASP elite in the 1950s and how that shifted radically in the 1960s with the egalitarian, bohemian hippies. Today's generation is left trying to justify their own affluence in the context of "countercultural capitalism." Here's a blurb from Amazon's describing the book. Do you recognize yourself?

"You've seen them: They sip double-tall, nonfat lattes, chat on cell phones, and listen to NPR while driving their immaculate SUVs to Pottery Barn to shop for $48 titanium spatulas. They tread down specialty cheese aisles in top-of-the-line hiking boots and think nothing of laying down $5 for an olive-wheatgrass muffin. They're the bourgeois bohemians--"Bobos"--an unlikely blend of mainstream culture and 1960s-era counterculture that, according to David Brooks, represents both America's present and future: "These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern social life." Amusing stereotypes aside, they're an "elite based on brainpower" and merit rather than pedigree or lineage: "Dumb good-looking people with great parents have been displaced by smart, ambitious, educated, and antiestablishment people with scuffed shoes."

I have to admit, I recognize myself in those $5 wheatgrass muffin-purchasers. I value the environment, yet I drive over 60 miles per day to work...even if it is a gas-sipping Honda. I feel like my educational credentials matter a whole lot more than my who my descendants are. However, that culture of consumption is one that I loathe, and when I recognize that impulse in myself I loathe that too. Technology falls into that category. When I was in Japan on the Fulbright Memorial Fund program (notice how I casually threw that in), I took note of how seamlessly technology was integrated into things like the subway systems and vending machines, but at the same time, things like stereo systems and automobile buttons were extraordinarily simple compared to the "gadgetry" we see here.

The message I have learned (remembered, actually) is that the technology software we use, hardware we hold and web 2.0 tools we use to connect ourselves to the world should be purpose driven...not consumption-driven. It's not the 1980s anymore, dude.


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