Musings of the Great Eric

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Why Japan Didn’t Invent the iPod

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The answer is actually pretty interesting.

Or perhaps I should properly call it a theory – but it’s a powerful one. It also explains why video game consoles came from Japan but the PC games industry is dominated by American firms, and why the Japanese mobile market is so much more advanced than the American one.

What I find real interesting about it is that it’s basically a modern application of Jared Diamond’s thesis in Guns, Germs, and Steel – the technological development of a society is limited and shaped by physical constraints. In this case, the physical constraint is the alphabet.

So the reason Steve Jobs (or Bill Gates, or the entirety of silicon valley for that matter) are Americans has nothing to do with some nationalistic statement about the superiority of one culture over another. While they deserve credit as individuals, their ascent was made possible in part because the English alphabet was easily encodable on 8-bit computers. Their Japanese equivalents, whoever they might have been, faced an insurmountable constraint during these formative years of the PC revolution.

The author of the link deserves a lot of credit, because despite being familiar with this thesis, it still never would have occurred to me to look at the alphabet as the reason Japan and America took such divergent technological tracks. It really makes me wonder what other fundamental aspects of our world and culture are hindering us (or propelling us along) that we just never give any thought to.


Written by Eric

May 5, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Harold and Kumar and Racism

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I’m not sure what the wisdom of mining Harold and Kumar for social commentary is, its creators have offered up one of the most prescient insights into our culture that I’ve seen recently:

Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Schlossberg, who grew up in Randolph, N.J., have known each other since high school, where the idea of Harold and Kumar took root. “We always had a very multicultural group of friends,” Mr. Hurwitz said. “One thing that struck us was that no matter our ethnic background, we were very much alike. But whenever we saw Asian or Indian characters on screen, they were nothing like our friends, so we thought we would write characters like them.” (Mr. Cho’s character is based on an actual Harold Lee. Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Schlossberg are Jewish, as are Harold and Kumar’s best buddies.)

The signal achievement of both Harold and Kumar films is that they make race incidental without taking racism lightly; they presuppose an enlightened audience. “When we start to write, we’re under the assumption that everyone knows racism is bad,” Mr. Schlossberg said. “If you don’t know that, you’re a moron. Harold and Kumar’s attitude toward racism is more frustration at having to deal with idiocy than moral outrage. We try to create a world where racism is stupid.”

This has been my experience exactly, among my generation and especially amongst those younger than me (I’m 25).

I’ve observed mixed groups throw around words like Nigger, Jew, and Gay both as insults and terms of affection, in front of and sometimes directed at people to whom those terms would apply – and without anyone taking offense or intending it. In context, the behavior is so normal that I hardly even notice it except when I step back and take a broader view.

At the same time, I cannot imagine ever using those words in a group of older people, regardless of the context or group make up. They still live in a different world.

I think what’s going on with that kind of language is exactly what’s stated in the quoted bit. The terms aren’t being used as a way to reinforce stereotypes, but rather in a way that makes fun of the stereotypes themselves – because the stereotypes are, quite simply, stupid.

Written by Eric

April 27, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Culture, Society

The Republicans are screwed, according to Pew

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A couple of days ago Pew Research Center published a study on trends in core political attitudes, showing a substantial shift towards traditional Democrat and liberal positions since 1994. The immediate implication is that the political future looks pretty good for Democrats in 2008 and beyond.

According to the study, the attitude towards the role of government has been shifting since 1994, when the Republicans took over, and social conservatism has seen an accelerated decline. It begs the question of why though, and that’s what I’m curious about. The sentiment against the Republican party is understandable enough, but why have core political values been shifting like this?

Try as I might I can’t think of a good explanation for it (and I’ve had this half finished post open all weekend trying to think of one). So I’m basically throwing it out to any readers or passers-by of this blog. Any theories you’d care to leave in the comments would be much appreciated.

Written by Eric

March 26, 2007 at 9:03 am

Posted in Culture, Politics

Criminalizing Being a Teenager

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This pisses me off:

A growing number of shopping malls are turning away teenagers during evening hours unless they’re accompanied by adults.

Restrictions at some malls apply every night, others on Fridays and Saturdays. Hours and ages vary. The rules are meant to reduce fighting and ensure that adults and families don’t avoid malls where rowdy teenagers take over stores, corridors and food courts.

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., was the first U.S. mall to create an “escort policy” in 1996, says the International Council of Shopping Centers. The idea has caught on: 39 malls now have limits on teenagers. Fifteen implemented such policies in the past two years and dozens more are considering them.

I hate this default assumption that all teenagers are criminals; it bothered me when I was a teenager and my attitude hasn’t changed since. It’s the last acceptable and perfectly legal form of discrimination. Some teenagers cause trouble, so rather than punish the behavior we punish someone for being a certain age; that’s the very definition of discrimination and contrary to the ideals of a supposedly free society.

Further, while this might solve the problem for the malls – it does nothing to solve the root problem and in fact exacerbates it. The root problem is that there’s just nothing to do in the suburbs but go to the mall. These monuments to consumerism are unfortunately the new public squares; and without any real recreational options for teenagers, it’s no surprise that they become mallrats. It’s a signal that there’s something profoundly wrong with our society.

More than that – what’s left that a teenager can legally do with their spare time? They can’t go very far, since they lack transportation. They don’t have a lot of cash. In my experience, police will harass any group of teenagers hanging out in a public place, irrespective of whether they’re doing anything criminal. It seems that society just wishes they’d stay in their parents’ basements until they turn 18, at which point they’ll go outside for the first time.

When we treat all teenagers like criminals, irrespective of their own personal behavior, what are we teaching them? Is it any surprise that so many become socially maladjusted?

Written by Eric

March 15, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Culture, Society

One in three boys heavy porn users

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From Science Blog:

A total of 429 students aged 13 and 14 from 17 urban and rural schools across Alberta, Canada, were surveyed anonymously about if, how and how often they accessed sexually explicit media content on digital or satellite television, video and DVD and the Internet. Ninety per cent of males and 70 per cent of females reported accessing sexually explicit media content at least once. More than one-third of the boys reported viewing pornographic DVDs or videos “too many times to count”, compared to eight per cent of the girls surveyed.

A majority of the students, 74 per cent, reported viewing pornography on the Internet. Forty-one per cent saw it on video or DVD and 57 per cent reported seeing it on a specialty TV channel. Nine per cent of the tens reported they accessed pornography because someone over 18 had rented it; six per cent had rented it themselves and 20 per cent viewed it at a friend’s house.

Well, duh.

Written by Eric

February 26, 2007 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Culture

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