June 13, 2011

thought-provoking pieces


interesting reads

by Jonathan Franzen

I loved this essay by author Jonathan Franzen published in the New York Times op-ed page. It is adapted from a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College on May 21, 2011. It's beautifully written and he hits the mark on so many points. Are we so overloaded with exhortations to "like" this and that by the techno-consumerist world that we're too afraid to love anymore?
"We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking."

Have the words "like" and "love" become interchangeable? It's so easy to "like" things. I think it'd be harder to post a "dislike", you'd be expressing a stronger opinion because you're actually going against what may be a trend. I'm still waiting for "dislike" buttons on social media platforms. Maybe that would generate a better conversation. I won't even get into love, I'm too much of a coward.

A few weeks ago I watched A Frayed Tradition, the video attached below, about the problems faced by artisan lacemakers in Lefkara, Cyprus, essentially competition from machine and mass-produced imported replicas. Fabric designer Anna Maria Horner wrote a post about the same video that day and then followed up with a new post a few days ago in which she talks about mass production vs slow work and creating things that "take more time than its worth in dollars".

I think this is an issue that most of us face, whether or not we're in business. Do you buy artisan, handmade things that often cost several times the price of something mass-produced? Do you make stuff even if it may actually be cheaper to buy a mass-produced similar thing? I do, because I love to make things and I like giving personalized gifts made with love.

I feel for the Lefkara lacemakers, who're losing business to cheap, lower quality imports, but we can't really run away from globalization and mass production. Artisanal, albeit more expensive, products have the same chance to be marketed to a wider audience thanks to technology and globalization. Their unique selling points remain: that they are of higher quality and (non-monetary) value, they are painstakingly made with love, they make thoughtful and beautiful gifts, especially for special someones and special occasions, they can be passed down for generations. I don't think globalization means the death of crafts and intangible cultural assets. The questions is how these crafts, craftmakers, artists can or should adapt to a changing environment and benefit from it.

I buy loads of mass-produced things and souvenirs, often ignoring the higher priced originals. I don't think that's necessarily bad. Some originals I may never have bought anyway even if there were no cheaper replicas around; and more importantly, cheap replicas often introduce me to things, crafts, designs etc I never knew about because they are more widely distributed. That can't be a bad thing.

Lacemaking in Lefkara, Cyprus from Etsy on Vimeo

synopsis: Women in the village of Lefkara, Cyprus, have been embroidering lace since the 15th century. Now this regional handicraft, recently nominated to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Element collection, is dying out -- replaced by machine-made replicas imported from abroad to meet the demand of tourists.

The Time magazine article quotes a recent US study which concluded that many young people, instead of feeling stressed by their student loan and credit card debts, feel empowered. The higher their debt, the more self-esteem and feeling of being in control of their lives 18 to 27-year-olds feel, according to a study led by Ohio State University Professor Rachel Dwyer.

Time raises 2 concerns with the conclusion, which it deems "shocking, appalling, and mostly just terrifying":
1. The negatives resulting from a culture that emphasises self-esteem.
2. Has borrowing (and owing money) to buy stuff become so normal that it's seen as part of growing up?

Personally, I would feel stressed if I had a lot of debt. I hate the idea that I'll be paying a housing loan until I retire and can't retire earlier if I wish because I need the money. I think today we live in a culture of "I want, therefore I need", hence the result of the study. And I doubt it's limited to young people in the US.

The study did find that the oldest of those studied – people aged 28 to 34 – begin to show signs of stress about the money they owe. What a difference a decade makes. I would hardly think people in this age group are "old" but maybe it's true we get wiser as we get older. Or is it that we get more grounded in reality as we get older?

from Marc and Angel Hack Life

:: 20 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Every Sunday
:: 20 ways to Make Today Unforgettable

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