News and Notes: October 24, 2013

Interesting reads from the interwebs…

Musings on culture and technology

  • An addendum to my last post on sports and identity: I had never heard of David Cain before, but this essay on contemporary lifestyles is excellent. Cain argues that the 40 hour workweek is unnecessary in today’s world, but that this form of scheduling continues to be deliberately utilized so that we use what little free time we have to gratify ourselves and spend money. “Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.” In a strange way, I think this may partially account for our collective attachment to sports. This is not to say that sports are trivial or a waste of time. Rather, it seems to me that sports are a meaningful way to keep ourselves occupied with something entertaining and exciting when we’re not working. This is an intriguing article and I’ll be sure to read more of David Cain in the future.
  • Speaking of loneliness and boredom: Here’s a thoughtful essay on a recent rant from the comedian Louis CK on smartphones. L.M. Sacasas argues that Louis CK has a good point in arguing that smartphones are often used to mask boredom, loneliness, sadness, and a myriad of other emotions. When there’s downtime (waiting in line at the coffee shop or at a restaurant, waiting at a stoplight, a commercial on TV, etc.), our first impulse is to go to the phone screen. I’ve certainly been guilty of doing this. Louis CK suggests that these behaviors in children have serious consequences: “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.” Sacasas, however, points out that smashing our smartphones is not the solution. I am reminded of the movie Happy Gilmore, in which a large man is wearing an orange shirt that says “Guns don’t kill people: I kill people.” Sacasas argues for the same sort of understanding when it comes to smartphones. We have to think critically about the ways technology shapes and changes our emotions. Digital technology is here to stay, so there’s no need to be a Luddite. Smartphones don’t make people sad; the way some people use them makes them sad.
  • An interview with Douglas Rushkoff on “Present Shock” and the loss of narrative storytelling.

Public History: Remembering, Forgetting, and Shutdowns

  • Forgetting: In St. Louis, the Bernard F. Dickman bridge (popularly called the Poplar Street Bridge) was renamed the William L. Clay, Sr. Bridge. Bill McClellan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shares a few thoughts on the short memory of St. Louis and what it means when a city renames its public streets.
  • Shutdowns: Cathy Bell writes during the Government Shutdown and argues that National Parks don’t run themselves (and that much of the protesting going on against the parks was really a faux civil disobedience movement). The Washington Post asks why the national parks closed in the first place, while University of North Carolina professor Anne Whisnant calls for a “Mission 16” movement in the National Park Service that was similar to the “Mission 66” movement fifty years ago.

Open Access

  • I sometimes write about open access here at Exploring the Past. Here’s an excellent 8 minute video that outlines what the open access movement represents and why many of us are so passionate about it:

And Finally…

  • The creators of Digital Sandbox–three fellow IUPUI public history students and myself–recently submitted a poster for the National Council on Public History’s annual conference in Monterey, California, in March 2014. We found out yesterday that our poster was accepted for the conference and that all of us will most likely be there to present our poster at the conference’s poster session on Thursday, March 20. I was already going to be at the conference thanks to my current employment with NCPH, but I am glad that my cohorts will now have the opportunity to attend as well. It’s going to be a great conference and I look forward to my first trip to the western United States.