Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where Do Americans Come From?

I grew up in America, in south Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. I was taught American history, Texas history and the history of the South, mainly by Dominican nuns, though I think the text books were the same texts used in all Texas schools.

I remember thinking at an early age that being an American was an accident of birth. And, growing up in the 40's and 50's, I took American military and economic power for granted. I took American culture for granted. I think I was out of highschool before I began to deviate. The effect of what I read.

I can't think of a person who jogged me, moved me away from the mainstream or in any way enlightened me. Just books.

Now, I'm writing about an intellect and spirit that develops in a world of limitless information but few people -- almost in a vacuum -- and I'm challenged to answer simple questions like how will she decide what's right and wrong? Will she think of herself as an American? How will she decide what to do with her life? How will she interpret the history of the human race? Will she simply accept the information and instructions she's given like some inanimate machine? How and what do people learn who are locked away in basements when they're growing up? What would a person be like who lived their first 20 years in the New York Public Library, able to read, but never meeting another soul?

What, I wonder, in all that reading, would be the most significant thing he or she read? What, to her, would be the most significant event in human history? The worst thing that ever happened? The best? What would her universe coalesce around?

30 comments:

Antepilani said...

I understand your premise. I make a correlation between being in the library and being in the basement. The metaphorical basement our kids live in today exists in cyberspace.

I've never considered the American cultural implications of your question. I think the internet has bridged those physical boundaries and allowed people to explore spaces previously regarded as conceptual. You can now see the great wall of China on your screen.

The internet has opened doors but it has limited some things as well. Social interaction is reduced to email and texting as a matter of convenience. Face to face social interaction seems to be in the decline.

Imagination and creativity could be seen as in the decline as well since you don't have to fill in the blanks in your mind as to what the great wall looks like, you now have a picture of it or a video.

The written word has taken a backseat because the instant gratification required to keep the average student engaged in the video-cyber age must be in real time. It simply takes too long to read something.

What is American culture, what is it to be American? I would take that a step further because African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans seem to have definitive cultures that White America emulates. Personally, I've never been bothered by this dilemma. I've always taken the chameleon approach to society. I'm as comfortable at a Public Enemy concert as I am at a Clint Black concert or a quinceanera.

I don't know why that is but probably has to do with my personality.

What is it to be a White American? Obviously my Euro decent is what I would draw from if I was starved for cultural heritage. I don't feel any more or any less without a cultural identity.

I certainly don't identify with KKK rallies, Monster trucks, or country music. Soccer has been my venue to the international community. If I was to offer a suggestion on your basic question, it would be to limit internet interaction, limit cell phones and texting, take family trips abroad, and get involved with multicultural activities at the school. I know your daughter reads so that isn't an issue.

First thing I remember teaching my son is how to give and receive a proper handshake...for what it's worth

Billy Glad said...

Speaking of hands, will this Marine ever shoot the finger again? I'm pulling for him. Personally, I'd stay in physical therapy until I could.

Tom Manoff said...

Nothing like the easy questions.

There was a Twilight Zone about a guy who was the last person in the world at the New York Public Library.

Also, the artificial beings who retain and pass on culture in the movie the Time Machine.

Billy Glad said...

Her universe would coalesce around one episode of the Twilight Zone and the movie The Time Machine? You're a genius, man.

But what would be the most interesting movie in the world for her universe to coalesce around?

In the context of an intelligent being, enthralled to evil men.

Decidere said...

The question is what will spur her to enlighten herself, motivate herself? An image crossing the Hindukush, a beggar lady on the local campus, a car wreck where they carry away bodies... Morrison came across such a scene when he was young, felt an Indian's soul pass into his body. Deluded? Doesn't much matter, he carried the flame. To be or mediocrity, that is the question.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Billy, you and the Dominican nuns? Man, your knuckles must be in really bad shape.

Antepilani, you mention many things in your comment that I’ve thought about too. This is particular:
“Imagination and creativity could be seen as in the decline as well since you don't have to fill in the blanks in your mind as to what the great wall looks like, you now have a picture of it or a video.”

The book Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot by Richard Restak, MD speaks about this in connection with the computer revolution.

He quotes literary critic Sven Birkerts, who says “the shift from book to screen may eventually impact us as significantly as the shift from Newtonian to Eisentein physics.”

Restak says that “reading and writing on a computer have a lot to do with watching television. Both television and computers incorporate a mosaic of images, backlit screens and instantaneous speed. And that all three of those attributes somehow contribute to the right hemisphere and emotional involvement as opposed to rational left brain.”

His suggests that it might be the reason for many of those rapid fire indiscreet e-mails that get sent during the day. I read this during a particularly difficult period at my job and believe me, I was often glad I took it to heart.

He also says “television has fostered a shift in our brains’ operation from linear logical, language-based communication to an emphasis on images.”

Marshall McLuhan says “we have lost the taste and capacity for long sequences of words and chains of reasoning.”

In short, “computers are making it more difficult to distinguish raw data and information from knowledge.”

Billy Glad said...

He suggests that it might be the reason for many of those rapid fire indiscreet e-mails that get sent during the day. I read this during a particularly difficult period at my job and believe me, I was often glad I took it to heart.

Girl, I've often been told to STFU before, but never with so much style and tact.

Antepilani said...

Send her down to me for a summer and "we'll straighten you out you little prick..."

She's a little young to worry about all that. Send her outside to play in the yard and everything will be fine.

Pick one of these for a kid:

The Last Unicorn
Watership Down
ET
Iron Giant

For me:

Road Warrior (midnight showing at the UT student union)

Tom Manoff said...

She was talking to Live Wire.

Tom Manoff said...

If it were really one movie, I'd have to go with Forbidden Planet. I can't think of anything else.

Frankenstein?

Tom Manoff said...

She might like "Somewhere in Time " (is that the name) in which Jack the Ripper takes the Time Machine and Wells follows him. It blends light and dark styles of acting.

Maybe she views 10 movies at the same time and edits them together as she watches. That would be a fun list.

Decidere said...

The best thing I read as a kid was The Bound Man. Not sure how it slipped into my education, but there it was. Joey: Diary of a Hitman was also a cultural mainstay.

Antepilani said...

Great title for that book, thanks Bronx...I totally get that just from the title.

We have 3 computers in our home.

My desktop, which is used for internet, gaming, email, some movies and music. (mostly porn ;) J/K

My wife's laptop, which is big time and a total waste of hardware since all she does is facebook and myspace--well, it's a waste to the two gamers here who see the dual core and 4gb ram and drool.

And my son's desktop in his room. It is a hand me down from my Aunt. It is a POS. He has taken it apart twice, which is no great feat but he has successfully put it back together. The mind blowing deal with it is that he installed Linux by himself as the OS and is now writing code for it...he's 11

I had a commodore 64 and an Atari 400 as a kid. It came with Basic. I thought I was hotshit when I made a simple loop program.

I don't think kids today are hardwired as some profess, the technology is better today and makes things easier. I imagine if I had the same computers as my son has now I could have done the same thing.

The human brain's capacity is limitless in my opinion based on what I am seeing with him.

I had to play with Lego's and it was more physical than conceptual--like the computer.

I know Sebastian, we're not computers...we're physical

I had a debate with a creationist belief based friend of mine. I put forth the idea from watching my son play xbox that some day we would adapt our hands in some way to reach those far away buttons only contortionists dream of hitting. He said it just can't happen. I was at a loss until I saw this special on polydactyly. There was a boy recently born with 6 perfect fingers and toes on each limb. The mutant gene is there and only thousands of years could make that the dominant trait. The body, just like the mind will improvise, adapt, and overcome. The parents of this child were so excited of the possibilities: pianist, guitarist, anything that required extra dexterity.

Look at the hands of master guitarists, they look freakish. They can stretch fret to fret much further than someone who's never picked up an instrument.

I wonder what the brain of someone looks like who does higher math. Does it have extra folds?

I also read about a prominent surgeon who warms up his mind and his hands by playing xbox before he operates. We've all heard the theories about listening to Mozart while studying. Someday we will put it all together; just like Julian...

Decidere said...

Finally revealed, the Girl is an Eisensteinian Physicist, now trying to discover the sub-atomic particle Potemkin as part of her Universal Screen Theory. Ever since they discover Quirks and Strings, I feel like Eisenstein on a studio sandlot, playing with a bucket and oblivious to the vast fake ocean spreading out before me.

I think it was the Green Berets where Hollywood had the perfect ending, the Vietnamese sun setting spectacularly in the East over the Pacific Ocean. We hardly know the thousandth we can do with modern movie physics and effects. If Jesus was alive today, he'd be a second-rate B-line walk-on, doing more oil change commercials than anything.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Antepilani, I've stopped counting, but I think we have 3 laptops and at least 3 desk. One or two others that work, just not in constant use. And we're a family of two!

My mother lives in a one bedroom apt. in the Bronx and has 3 tvs! One in her bedroom, one in the living room and one little one in the kitchen, which extends from the living room. Cracks me up!

I don't know. I think I'm going to take myself off the computer for a couple of days a week. Ever since I started with Annals, I've been obsessed and now I'm starting to see screen shots of the blog when I close my eyes. I woke up this morning to the lovely strains of tinnitus in my right ear. So, I'm thinking I should back off a little.

But I'm with you about the endless and yet unexplored possibilities of the brain.

Now gaming, that's one level we haven't gone to here. I've been reluctant. My husband wants an Xbox. Loves the simulated flying stuff. But I suppose it's just a matter of time.

That son of yours sounds amazing!
My money's on him!

Deci, Dieci, you slay me!
But would you believe that my screen saver at the moment is a beautiful image of a quark?

Ta, ta, I'm off to work on my latest theory. I've combined the Charm and Strange Quarks to produce a new hybrid I'm calling DesiQuark!
How you like?

Billy Glad said...

Tinnitus, girl? What if somebody has to sing for you today? I can hear your students now. OMG it drives me crazy when she has that tinnitus!

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Haha, yeah, it would be like hearing them doing a duet with themselves and not necessarily in the right key.

I'm thinking the tinnitus may be just wax in my ears. At least I hope so. But I don't know, lately I've really been thinking, when do we ever hear complete silence any more? There's always something ON that produces some kind of pitch. I long for total silence. Don't know if it's even possible. But I'm getting tired of hearing the buzz of electronics in the air.

Billy Glad said...

Ouch! That sounds like a bad one. Fluid behind the drum or something. I'm losing my hearing, and it's really hard for me to face. People have to repeat things all the time. I had ear problems when I was a kid, took some bad hits from loud muzzle blast and rock music over the years, allergies, messed up eustachion tubes, chronically retracted drums, and on and on, so I'm not surprised. But I'm resisting even considering a hearing aid, even a tiny one.

To make matters worse, because of my age, I get flyers for hearing aids in the mail all the time, the way I used to get Readers Clearinghouse offers. How do they know how old I am?

Which reminds me that when we moved to Seattle in 1987 and settled in on Queen Anne Hill above the Center, we were shocked to find out you couldn't get spicy KFC there. I called the national number and said what's up? They said we have QA classified as a retirement community.

They've had their hands in our pockets a long time.

Decidere said...

Hmm, Charmed I'm sure, if it Quarks like a duck and Warks like a duck, just might be a duck, using induckshun.

quinn the eskimo said...

Be careful with the proportions you're mixing, GFTB. Too much Strange & you could end up with a Desi-Boson. The physicists claim they're rare, but can be identified by their Orange Cloud trace.

Decidere said...

And their happy little smile. Click your nuclear isotropes together and hum, "We'll Meet Again".

GirlfromtheBronx said...

I'm am so pissed. I lost my entire comment.
I broke out of " no more computer today" prison because I was having withdrawal issues. And this is what I get.
*&^%$#
%&(*(&^% $#@ *&^&^ *&^%# $% 6 #@$##$%
@#@!#%@#!@#!!!!!!

Guess the universe is trying to tell me something.
Too tired to reconstruct.....

Billy Glad said...

blogger seems to like to do that. Next time your comment disappears like that, right click on the comments box where it was and pick undo. Sometimes that will bring it back. Sometimes.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

No, I think it was my fault completely. I missed that window of undo-portunity and clicked too many times.

I was commiserating about the hearing thing and cleverly recounting how I got blasted by those fucking earphones that go way deep down into your ears while I was burning CDs for my class, and envisioning a time down the road when we'd both be wearing a matching set of aids. There's an idea. Designer hearing aids. People will wear them whether they need them or not. They'll be so freaking cool.

quinn the eskimo said...

Window of Undo-portunity. Or even undo-portunity.

I googled it. Nothing. So here we go. Chance to test-drive the whole "coin a word/phrase" thingie. It's harder to say than snap, but still, a dandy word. Not 100% sure how it can be used, but heckuva potential.

I can think of a couple of things I said around here lately where I missed my undo-portunities.

Good one, GFTB. ;-)

Decidere said...

Not to be confused with undies-fortuity. Really, don't confuse the two, as many people are prone to do.

Tom Manoff said...

When it's going this snappy, best to step out of the way and let the quips zip by.

Decidere said...

Yeah, the pygmies got their blowdarts out tonight, don't they? Better clear the forest.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Quinn, I'm going to leave it you to spread around "undo-portunity." I'd think in your line of work, it would be a hit. It's yours, free of charge.

And yeah, it's back to the drawing board for me. You were right about the proportions, Quinn. I lost the smile. Guess I shouldn't have added the cottage cheese to the formula.

Decidere said...

Ooooh, even better than a smile - a radiant smirk.