Category Archives: Sweeping Generalizations

A Preemptively Curmudgeonly Prediction

Given the number of young people today who rarely look up from their electronic devices when in the presence of other people, and the lack of parental figures saying “hey, turn that off,” it would not be at all surprising if in the near future, this type of scene were no longer considered rude. Digital/electronic communication would gain primacy and precedence over face-to-face interactions. Tending to one’s far-off acquaintances via a mobile device would be prioritized over tending to one’s here-and-now relationships. Indeed, would the very meaning of “here and now” change, or merely be transferred over to those relationships that exist in the ether? Will anyone look at one another in the future? Will that be rude? Existence will be acknowledged primarily through electronic/digital/whatever-they-think-of-next media.

In the interest of forestalling evil cultural change and saving the hug as we know it, we must either institute some serious programs to teach kids-these-days some goddamn manners, or somehow stop them from gaining power and taking over society as they are destined to do like every generation before them. Hell in a hand-basket, I say! Who’s got an immortality pill?

Hey, you damn kids! Look at me when I yell at you to get off my lawn!”

 

1 Comment

Filed under Sweeping Generalizations, Technology

Freeway Soundwalls as Markers of Affluence

Riding the Metro Goldline along the 210 and 110 freeways of LA, through the many communities it borders and cuts through, it struck me that rich neighborhoods get soundwalls. Poorer neighborhoods get traffic noises. To illustrate this (obvious) point, contrast the route the metro takes through South Pasadena (soundwall! slowing to a crawl!) with that it takes through Highland Park (chain-link fence if you’re lucky!). It is the richer neighborhoods that have the resources to devote to noise complaints. To getting their petitions recognized. These resources can be withheld from the city, the state, by those wealthy citizens if their demands are not met.

To be sure, communities who are not affluent can get soundwalls built, too, given the drive to get organized and a sympathetic power structure. Money is not the only resource–time is another valuable one when it comes to making voices heard. And sense of community ownership, civic pride, etc. But I’d venture that the vast majority of soundwalls are lobbied for by those communities with the financial resources to have leverage against the powers-that-be. Give us that soundwall, or we’re not underwriting anything. You can forget our endorsements during election season. You can kiss our donations goodbye. We want our acoustic insulation, and you’re going to give it to us. We have property values to think about.*

So the noises get shifted to the monetarily voiceless. The disenfranchised without the time or money to devote to standing up for the sanctity of their neighborhoods. And they get even more run down, comparatively, as a result. The gap widens with rows of cinderblock…or lack thereof. The acoustic insulations mirrors the social stratification, the physical isolation of certain classes of citizens from others. From Others.

Who speaks for the poor? And who has the right to?

—–

*Maybe it has something to do with the ratio of renters to owners.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary, Power, Sweeping Generalizations

On the Superiority of German Playgrounds: A Photo-Essay with a Dubious Argument and One-sided Evidence

During recent travels in Northern Europe (please excuse the pretentiousness) I was taken by the variety and creativity of German playground equipment. It struck me how hideous (okay, so that’s a subjective aesthetic evaluation) and clone-like the playgrounds in the U.S. tend to be. Cookie-cutter jungle-gyms, swing sets, and slides. Not much that feeds the imagination. They are getting better, but they still have a ways to go if the goal is a magical land of outdoor play-time. Feast your eyes on these German examples and see if you don’t agree that we could learn something about incorporating whimsy and general awesomeness into our parks designed for children.

First, a relatively simple one:

This mundane park in a suburb of Bremerhaven consists of two sandboxes, a slide, a swing-set, and a spring-loaded, rocking, red animal-thing. I can attest to the fun-factor of this playground, as I used it extensively during my toddler years. The equipment has been there since before I arrived on the scene in ’86, so there’s also a sturdy factor involved in the manufacturing of German playground equipment.

Next, we journey to Berlin, a grown-up playground of beautiful graffiti, imposing communist architecture, historical monuments and museums for atrocities, a nightlife catering to the unemployed masses, and somewhat surprisingly child-friendly areas. As I wandered back toward the hostel one afternoon, I came across a hippie paradise for children and their parents. Allow me to demonstrate:

This is a collaborative community project of a park geared toward the non-adult population. It went on for days and had a waffle stand (the deliciousness of which I can vouch for), a community center, an area for smaller children with hills and artsy places to climb, and postings for classes and happenings. When I visited it was still being worked on and I imagine it was an ongoing process of creativity. A man was busy shoving fence posts into the dirt as a passing boy watched, and you could hear all sorts of banging and sawing going on in the back. It was a creative mecca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also had a bunny zoo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a water section. In another area, there was a fire pit going and some dangerously steep slides for teenagers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just look at this amazing community center entrance!

As you can see from the striped tape, it was still under construction…or maybe they were trying to encourage the grass to grow.

 

Last, we journey to Bergadorf, a suburb of Hamburg, to what I affectionately and nostalgically refer to as “Dawn’s Park.”

Okay, big deal. This is just a train. It doesn’t event go anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAM! Blue elephant slide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a wiggily crocodile!

 

 

 

In conclusion, German playgrounds are superior to their U.S. counterparts because they are all like this. Seriously awesome in unique ways. So catch up, America. Don’t make me take my hypothetical offspring elsewhere for their formative years…you may never get them and their future taxes back.

3 Comments

Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Sweeping Generalizations

We Cannot Prepare for the Future: The Inescapable Exclusion of Segments of the Population from Society on the Basis of Age*

Can we, the youth, imagine a time when we won’t know what’s going on? Because it’s going to happen.

Culture changes, usually. This is natural. In Western societies, these changes are intertwined with technological “development.” As different technologies and ways of doing things are adopted by society at large, the old are often left behind. Technology kills parts of culture, altering them to nearly unrecognizable states of being. As new technologies are taken up, not everyone can keep up. Those set in their ways are left in the dark, relegated to less participatory modes of existing in society. This happens especially to the older generations. Perhaps it is because they are not as involved in the development of these new technologies, these new modes of societal interaction. Perhaps they have hit maximum capacity when it comes to learning new things, to keeping up with all these changes by reading about them. After all, when you aren’t immersed in these changes, you start to lose the background necessary to comprehend all that comes after. The young inherit the earth, and infuse the society at large with their culture. Hegemonic change disenfranchises the older generations.

This will happen to us, too. Sure, we can keep pace with new technology now, but we won’t always be able to. There comes a time, for most of us, when we decide it’s enough: we have all we need; we can exist in a current mode. And we stop adopting the latest things. When this happens in one’s life cycle varies, but it isn’t a problem at first. Who cares if we don’t understand every little thing our kids or nieces and nephews are talking about? We’re functioning just fine as adults in the world, thanks. We have all we need.

But as we age, we become less able to care for ourselves. We rely on others, younger people who have kept abreast of cultural changes; who know the newest technologies. And their knowledge of the world suddenly overcomes our own: we are no longer in charge of ourselves. We do not know quite how to operate in this brave new world taken over by the young with their new-fangled gadgets and ways of communicating. This loss of control, of knowledge, of feeling like you can exist competently, invades even the smallest, most mundane aspects of culture.

A few years ago, a 90-year-old friend of mine complained that she could no longer do the crossword puzzles in the newspaper because there were so many words she did not know. Words like “iPod.” Trying to explain these words to her and what they represented in the culture just caused her to wave her hand at me, as if to suggest that keeping up was a lost cause. (She could still watch Jeopardy, though, turned up to ear-splitting level.)

At any rate, as members of the current youth generation, the ones employed in sectors that develop and/or use new technologies we feel on top of things. We don’t understand or use every single little gadget that comes out, nor do we understand every nuance of society shifts, but we still feel generally confident about making our way through the world. This confidence allows us to harbor the fantasy that all the changes we are living through are becoming the new status quo–and will remain hegemonic. But at this rate of change–or any rate of change, really, this cannot be the case. There is no way to prepare for how out of touch we will become as we age.

Just look at how things such as the car changed society. Entire infrastructures, ways of procuring food, distances considered manageable, all changed. Changes in media technologies are also a good example. Radio and television changed the way we learned about the world, and how wide a radius of the world we knew about. It changed the ways in which we interacted with people: family, friends, strangers on shows, even. And who on earth was prepared for what the internet has done? Talk about altering the fabric of society with a “simple” medium of communication.

We simply cannot conceive of what’s coming and the changes new ideas and technologies will trigger. The flip-side of this–or at least, a related consequence, is the loss of cultural knowledge. Those of use alive in Western societies today would not know how to operate in a world without natural gas, or telephones, or national voting systems, or any number of things. We do not as a society know how to grow food for our families, wear knickerbockers, or make candles.

Societal and technological changes are constant and mutually constitutive: there is no escape. Not from the loss of culture, from the generational disenfranchisement, from the often sudden incongruity of life experiences. We cannot prepare for how lost we will feel in the midst of future changes. Everything will be different: some things slightly, some things radically. But at least we can count on our grandkids or grand-nieces and grand-nephews rolling their eyes at our ignorant, old-fashioned ways.

 

*I’d like to extend thanks and partial credit to a friend of mine for originally introducing me to this phenomenon in 2006. Without her, it would not have occupied my thoughts and driven me to write this post.

4 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Sweeping Generalizations