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The Clutter Culture - Feature - UCLA Magazine Online

The Clutter Culture - Feature - UCLA Magazine Online
By Jack Feuer Published Jul 1, 2012 8:00 AM "For more than 40,000 years," write the authors, "intellectually modern humans have peopled the planet, but never before has any society accumulated so many personal possessions." Get stuff. Walk into any dual-income, middle-class home in the U.S. and you will come face to face with an awesome array of stuff—toys, trinkets, family photos, furniture, games, DVDs, TVs, digital devices of all kinds, souvenirs, flags, food and more. George Carlin famously observed that "a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it." We are a clutter culture. A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance (Trailer) UCLA anthropologists venture into the stuffed-to-capacity homes of dual income, middle-class American families. Click here to watch full episodes. Video by UCTV Prime Now, however, a new book titled Life at Home in the 21st Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors takes the exploration of contemporary material culture inside American homes for the first time. Related:  Irony, Postmodernism, and Our Current Age

The Joke’s on You | Steve Almond Steve Almond [from The Baffler No. 20, 2012] Among the hacks who staff our factories of conventional wisdom, evidence abounds that we are living in a golden age of political comedy. The New York Times nominates Jon Stewart, beloved host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, as the “most trusted man in America.” His protégé, Stephen Colbert, enjoys the sort of slavish media coverage reserved for philanthropic rock stars. Bill Maher does double duty as HBO’s resident provocateur and a regular on the cable news circuit. But their sanctification is not evidence of a world gone mad so much as an audience gone to lard morally, ignorant of the comic impulse’s more radical virtues. Our lazy embrace of Stewart and Colbert is a testament to our own impoverished comic standards. Fans will find this assessment offensive. We have come to accept coy mockery as genuine subversion and snarky mimesis as originality. What’s notable about these episodes, though, is how uncharacteristic they are. You got that?

A Timothy Leary for the Viral Video Age - Ross Andersen - Technology Meet Jason Silva, the fast-talking, media-savvy "performance philosopher" who wants you to love the ecstatic future of your mind. I want to introduce you to Jason Silva, but first I want you to watch this short video that he made. It will only take two minutes, and watching it will give you a good idea if it's worth your time to read the extensive interview that follows: If you ever wondered what would happen if a young Timothy Leary was wormholed into 2012, complete with a film degree and a Vimeo account, you have your answer: Jason Silva. If Silva, who was born in Venezuela, seems to have natural screen presence, it's because he's no stranger to media; he worked for six years as a host at Current TV before leaving the network last year to become a part-time filmmaker and full-time walking, talking TEDTalk. Like Leary, Silva is an unabashed optimist; he sees humankind as a species on the brink of technology-enabled transcendence. Silva: Definitely. Right. You can even go beyond that.

What is it we're longing for? Psychological study Pinterest, Tumblr and the Trouble With ‘Curation’ A few years later, I reluctantly lent my collection of magazines to a (now former) friend. He had just bought a house that he had no idea what to do with. I, on the other hand, had nothing but ideas. O.K., they weren’t strictly mine, in the sense that these ideas were acquired, arranged, styled, photographed, published and distributed by entities bearing no relation to me whatsoever. Of course, I didn’t realize any of this until my friend returned my magazines to me with dozens of pages torn out, having either forgotten or ignored my admittedly ridiculous request that he make photocopies instead. The whole embarrassing situation could have been avoided if Pinterest existed then. This kind of visual catch-bin blog has become disconcertingly common, for reasons that a cultural theorist like Walter Benjamin would perhaps be hard pressed to explain. I’m not a big Pinterest user (more of a lurker, really), but the over-the-top monetary valuation doesn’t entirely surprise me.

The 'Busy' Trap Anxiety: We worry. A gallery of contributors count the ways. If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do. Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Brecht Vandenbroucke Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. I am not busy. Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. (Anxiety welcomes submissions at

Why Are Easy Decisions So Hard? | Wired Science One of the problems with writing a book on decision-making is that people assume I’m not terrible at making decisions. As a result, they act surprised when it takes me 10 minutes to pick a sandwich or when I confess that I still get mild panic attacks when choosing floss at the drugstore. They believe that, just because I wrote about the prefrontal cortex, I’m somehow better able to wield mine. But that’s not necessarily the case: there’s an indefatigable gap between theory and life. While it’s true that I’m no longer quite so indecisive — I don’t spend 30 minutes debating breakfast cereals in the supermarket anymore — I still suffer from the occasional bout of “paralysis-by-analysis.” In essence, my basic decision-making flaw is that I tend to treat easy consumer decisions (toothpaste, floss, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.) as if they were really difficult. Why do I do this? To demonstrate their point, Sela and Berger conducted a number of clever experiments.

Refined dining Shaped in an age of scarcity, our appetite for sugar, fat and salt now torments us. But there is hope ©Magnum/ Martin Parr Martin Parr's 'GB. England. The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship with Food, by John S Allen, Harvard University Press, RRP£19.95/RRP$25.95, 266 pages Taste Matters: Why We Like The Foods We Do, by John Prescott, Reaktion Books, RRP£20/RRP$30, 224 pages Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good, by Barb Stuckey, Free Press, RRP$26, 416 pages When my two-year-old daughter is invited to a children’s birthday party, I see the gustatory plight of the western world unfold in miniature. At most such parties there is a conspicuous abundance of food: pies and buns, crisps and sweets, chocolate and cheese. Then the cake arrives, slathered with icing. From the moment they are born, child­ren are primed to like sweet stuffs because this predisposes them to suckle – breast milk is high in the sugar lactose.

In Praise of Leisure - The Chronicle Review By Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren." Given when it was written, it is not surprising that Keynes's futuristic essay was ignored. He asked something hardly discussed today: What is wealth for? We in the West are once more in the midst of a Great Contraction, the worst since the Great Depression. The first defect is moral. Second, the crisis has exposed capitalism's palpable economic problems. So let us imagine that everyone has enough to lead a good life. Let's begin by pondering the reasons for the failure of Keynes's prophecy. It was not ever thus.

Please Don't Learn to Code The whole "everyone should learn programming" meme has gotten so out of control that the mayor of New York City actually vowed to learn to code in 2012. A noble gesture to garner the NYC tech community vote, for sure, but if the mayor of New York City actually needs to sling JavaScript code to do his job, something is deeply, horribly, terribly wrong with politics in the state of New York. Even if Mr. Fortunately, the odds of this technological flight of fancy happening – even in jest – are zero, and for good reason: the mayor of New York City will hopefully spend his time doing the job taxpayers paid him to do instead. To those who argue programming is an essential skill we should be teaching our children, right up there with reading, writing, and arithmetic: can you explain to me how Michael Bloomberg would be better at his day to day job of leading the largest city in the USA if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder? Look, I love programming.

Fear of cannibalism drives us to look at this 'monstrous' image. And that's OK | Jonathan Jones George Orwell, in his essay Decline of the English Murder, pictured a typical British 20th-century Sunday. On a snoozy afternoon, with the kids out of the house, you put on your glasses to read the News of the World. You are digesting a heavy lunch, the fire is lit, everything is cosy. "In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Almost everything about Orwell's image of the typical newspaper reader has changed. This week the website of the News of the World's sister paper the Sun published this photograph of the corpse of Rudy Eugene taken shortly after police shot him dead in Miami on 26 May. These are the facts, but as the release of this picture and its appearance on news sites around the world – in Britain the Mail also used it – reveals, public fascination with the case goes far beyond the usual. This happened too in the case of Muammar Gaddafi, whose bloodstained corpse became world news. It is not wrong either to show, or behold, these images.