“The American romance with making actual things is going through a resurgence. In recent years, a nationwide movement of do-it-yourself aficionados has embraced the self-made object. Within this group is a quixotic band of soldering, laser-cutting, software-programming types who, defying all economic logic, contend that they can reverse America’s manufacturing slump. America will make things again, they say, because Americans will make things — not just in factories but also in their own homes, and not because it’s artisinal or faddish, but because it’s easier, better for the environment, and more fun.”
“The digitizing, globalizing world is changing the working of culture. As some see it, cities and nations and continents are losing their common culture, their shared reference points, their zeitgeist: People can no longer count on those around them knowing or cherishing any of the same music or art or films. Others argue that a common culture is not dying so much as changing form: that it is less and less attached to particular terrain and ever more linked to dispersed.”
“In the study, published last month in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan — all psychologists at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver — condemn their field’s quest for human universals.
Psychologists claim to speak of human nature, the study argues, but they have mostly been telling us about a group of WEIRD outliers, as the study calls them — Westernized, educated people from industrialized, rich democracies.
According to the study, 68 percent of research subjects in a sample of hundreds of studies in leading psychology journals came from the United States, and 96 percent from Western industrialized nations. Of the American subjects, 67 percent were undergraduates studying psychology — making a randomly selected American undergraduate 4,000 times likelier to be a subject than a random non-Westerner.”
“Call it, perhaps, the great showdown over the nature of human motivation.
One camp regards our species as Homo Incentivus. It conceives of us as shrewd responders to carrots and sticks, hooked on a diet of incentives and external rewards. This camp bristles at the thought that we do things just because we love them or believe they are right. [...]
Which idea reflects our cultural moment? Are we cool, rational optimizers or suckers for the balm of purpose?
In a recent book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink, who wrote speeches for Al Gore when he was the U.S. vice president, attacks the incentive-based vision of humans. On his telling, Motivation 1.0 came naturally: It was biological survival, the escaping from lions and tigers. Then we developed Motivation 2.0, which is the use of incentives — external penalties and rewards. But in our attempt to induce useful behavior, we may actually have drained the intrinsic pleasure from it, Mr. Pink contends.”
“A stunning idea has entered respectable American discourse of late: that China is not just an economic rival but also a political competitor, with a political system that, despite its own flaws, reveals grave flaws in American democracy and might be inspiring to wavering nations. [...]
The question the reappraisers seem to be asking is whether their belief in bottom-up, spontaneously ordering, self-regulating societies blinded them to other truths (as their enthusiasm for China risks blinding them to the cruelty and violence of autocracy). They are asking: Can openness go too far? Can public opinion be measured too frequently? Can free speech sow disorder? Is the crowd really smarter than the experts? Can transparency hamper governance?
Or, to put it in the terms of an influential 1997 essay, is the bazaar always better than the cathedral?”
“Forgotten in the American tumult is a global flowering of innovation on the simple cellphone. From Brazil to India to South Korea and even Afghanistan, people are seeking work via text message; borrowing and lending money and receiving salaries on cellphones; employing their phones variously as flashlights, televisions and radios. [...]
Not for the first time, the United States and much of the world are moving in different ways. American innovators, building for an ever-expanding bandwidth network, are heading toward fancier, costlier, more network-hungry and status-giving devices; meanwhile, their counterparts in developing nations are innovating to find ever more uses for cheap, basic cellphones.”
“The cellphone appeals deeply to the Indian psychology, to the spreading desire for personal space and voice, not in defiance of the family and tribe but in the chaotic midst of it.
Imagine what it was like, back in the Pre-cellular Age, to be young in a traditional household. People are everywhere. Doors are open. Judgments fly. Bedrooms are shared. Phones are centrally located.
The cellphone serves, then, as a technology of individuation. On the cellphone, you are your own person. No one answers your calls or reads your messages. Your number is just yours.”
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