Materialism v. Innovative Consumption

Many years ago, T.M., a grad school colleague of mine introduced me to the term 'American consumer-whore-ism'. His exact words were, "This is America, man! Land of the consumer whores". As I understood he meant materialism which is a universal, but it is at its worst (or at its best) in America. And materialism is always bad, right? In almost every urban society from New York to Mumbai, it's hard to get away from consumptive activities, and the trend is towards even more conspicuous consumption. The hypocrisy of tree-huggers (myself included) is obvious -- I punch in the text to this blog on my MacBook. We consume more gadgets and technology every year. James Surowiecki's column in New Yorker offered a different perspective on consumerism: it stimulates innovation. Despite other many other faults American consumer whore-ism is somewhat responsible for innovation and the resulting increases in productivity.

From the New Yorker, May 16th Innovative Consumption by James Surowiecki

From a business perspective, the willingness of consumers to take risks means that new technologies can see profit faster here than they can elsewhere. That encourages inventors to invent, and investors to pour money into startups. (It’s no coincidence that the modern venture-capital industry got its start here.) And the speed with which successful products are taken up also allows companies to benefit from economies of scale sooner, bringing prices down and making it easier to reach even more customers. But it isn’t just a matter of speed. Venturesome consumers also provide companies with feedback that helps improve products, and often even repurpose them, in ways their inventors hadn’t imagined. In the process, the value of the innovations themselves increases. In that sense, our culture of innovation depends on consumers as much as on entrepreneurs

The thin line between consuming to spur innovation and being a consumer whore seems to be a fine one. But what is it? I need to think about this more.

Aside: The May 16th issue of the New Yorker is by far the best issue of the year. Among interesting topics it talks about Pepsi rebranding as a nutrition company, Pakistan and it's hobgoblin enemy India and its masterful manipulation of American aid, and Gladwell on XEROX's PARC. Great fiction by Michael Ondaatje. This also tells you I am little behind in my New Yorker reading.

Now I am One and Thirty

Now I am One and Thirty, so what would A.E. Housman say? Not that it's particularly relevant currently, but it was on my mind today. The old trope remains true - older and wiser. Plenty of sighs and rue.

When I was one-and-twenty...

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
'The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.
- A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
Similar dark humor on loving and leaving was the theme on Poet', my daily fix of poetry. For the record today's birthday poem on Poet'
Traveling Light

I'm only leaving you
for a handful of days,
but it feels as though
I'll be gone forever—
the way the door closes

behind me with such solidity,


our lives have minds
of their own.
- Linda Pastan
Full text of Traveling Light on

Miksang- The Good Eye within

Red on Blue
Over the weekend I was at a Miksang photo workshop in one of my favorite cities - Chicago. The workshop called for digital camera. It could be simple, but it had to be digital. So I had to break my moratorium on digital photography and leave my beloved Leica and B/W photo-love behind. Since, Miksang - meaning 'good eye' in Tibetan promised to be purest of the pure in the digital world - no cropping, no digital alteration, and you aren't even supposed to real seek the picture. I felt that this was a worth exception (similar in some high-minded exceptions I make to eat meat).

Opening your eye
From What is Miksang?
Miksang, at its most basic level, is concerned with uncovering the truth of pure perception. We see something vivid and penetrating, and in that moment we can express our perception without making anything up—nothing added, nothing missing. Totally honest about what we see—straight shooting.

Haiku with a leaf
This being Level 1 the images are simple. The teacher gave a great analogy: "it's like practising your scales". So, for the two days, I put image-making and even image-seeking behind to make picture of pure perception, at least as best as I could.

The assignments were Color, Texture, Shadow and Light, Space and Dots in Space. Having never ever tried such pictures before it was an exhilarating and very meditative experience. I can see why it can be contemplative, as every tiny object, or mundane one gets imbued with beauty.

Curves in White

After a while you can't stop noticing. The world around you is so alive and rich with color, texture, and space. We shot for only about 1.5 hours, but I was exhausted. It was also interesting to see what others had shot in the same space and there were a few, but not too many similar pictures. Everyone had their own unique sense of beauty.

Link to my Miksang-Level 1 pictures

Against Foxholes

A friend K.S. posted on her Google chat status

There are no atheists in fox holes.

I always thought that there was something inherently wrong in that statement. Glad that the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut Jr. came to the rescue. It's not so much about atheism or theism, but mainly about foxholes.

People say there are no atheists in foxholes. A lot of people think this is a good argument against atheism. Personally, I think it's a much better argument against foxholes.
— Kurt Vonnegut