Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

25 Sep 2007, 21:01 p.m.

Notes From Classes

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

One of my classes has me reading The World Is Flat by Thomas "Airmiles" Friedman. I can skim it quickly because Friedman isn't talking to me, he's talking to the average American (specifically a non-techie whose parents were born in the US). Were I taking notes, they would read:

Chapter 1: Crap I already know
Chapter 2: Crap I already know
Chapter 3: Crap I already know

The professor has us reading it for the anecdotes, especially so he can brag/give details about the ones where he was involved. I skim fast enough to get them, but wince at the errors, e.g., p. 95, "BitTorrent is a website..." Leonard noticed one:

"Wow, CollabNet was founded in 2004?!" [p. 112]
"Did you know that for 4 years you worked for a nonexistent company?"
"It felt like it."

Cheap shots give the best ROI! Anyway.

In the storytelling workshop I took this last weekend, Mike Daisey (the teacher) made an interesting point. We tell stories to ourselves and each other all the time, to make sense of things. And when we use stories to work through our issues, to process numinous or terrible memories, certain tactics help. We explain, we repeat, we lick our wounds, we figure out what symbolizes what, we explicitly create morals and lessons. But irreducible mystery, lessons left ambiguous and unsaid, make for better art. The way you tell an artistic story requires that you leave undone things you'd do when telling a therapeutic story.

I can see this. But this means that there are certain tendencies in the artist -- as Elisa DeCarlo put it, you have to keep your guard down internally and externally -- that don't bode well for my concept of mental health. The artist has to stay intimate with disturbing thoughts, and avoid explaining away their power.

Flea and Leonard (in "Mud") are only two of the artists who have lamented that it's hard to create art while content. And this reminds me of other hypotheses floating around my brain, like a similar hypothesis about the cognitive habits that make good programmers and bad friends/coworkers/citizens, or the old chestnut about the incompatibility between ambition and contentment.

So: if you have a choice, what do you choose? And if you don't have a choice in how you've been built, then how do you adjust and learn to live in your own skin?


26 Sep 2007, 8:59 a.m.

I think I got about two chapters into that book before I decided it wasn't worth it and donated it to the library. Is there any non-crap in the later chapters? :)

Sumana Harihareswara
05 Oct 2007, 22:55 p.m.

Surprisingly, yes, the later chapters have more nuanced stuff about the current victims of globalization, and how to protect ourselves by helping them.