Tag Archives: culture

Run Deep Not Shallow

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My friend Serdar tweeted thusly:

“speculation: nostalgia for 8/16-bit gaming / computing is nostalgia for an era of dedicated devices and focused time, an era when you could sit down to write or play sth and not have 200 tabs assault you sidelong”

As I retrogame, I had to think this statement over. I came away with the conclusion Serdar wasn’t right in the whole, because there are many reasons. But he was right in the small as, on review, I saw this in myself and others.

Echoing memories of a simpler time.

This reminded me of an exercise I had done to evaluate my life and career. Often replaying my choices, I took a walk for an hour and worked backward through my life, looking at my major life choices. I had many deep insights during my stroll, but at times I remembered life before internet-driven complications.

How much of my time today was really mine?

I finally found a way to express this when I discussed social media with a communication professional. They noted the research required to go into a good strategy these days and how easy it was to be distracted. I summed up their conversation as “what are the deep patterns?” that mattered to what they had to say.

We are distracted by so much that professionals have to keep developing counter-distraction approaches.

Thus we come full circle to what stuck in my head due to Serdar’s Tweet. So much of today’s mega media always-online culture of constant chatter was a distraction from “deep patterns” of life. Like powerful currents running beneath a body of water, those are important, not the sparkly ever-changing reflections on the surface.

The deep patterns, the powerful currents we need to navigate, steer, and control, are easy to miss in an age of 200 tabs and constant scandal-chat. It often feels like there’s more of everything, but what matters is a shrinking percentage of the whole vying for our attention.

How many times have you wanted to scream but does any of this matter?  Admit it, it’s a non-zero number.

For me, I’m glad I have experience and interest in meditation, philosophy, and psychology. Some Taoist abdominal breathing or pithy Buddhist quotes help bring me enough awareness of the distractions I face. But sometimes, it’d be nice to just not have 200 tabs, ten text messages, and email piling up.

It’d be nice to just focus on a good game.

Steven Savage

The Difficulty of Difficult Media

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

(Thanks to Serdar, who inspired me with this column.)

I often hear the word “Difficult” used to describe media with praise. The “difficult” film that supposedly makes you a film buff if you understand it. “Difficult” is apparently a good thing, and I see no reason to believe this.

If a book or movie is “difficult” to understand, is that a testimony to its depth? There’s no reason to assume that it’s any good – maybe it’s incoherent or bad. Perhaps the creator didn’t know how to communicate. A difficult movie isn’t necessarily a mental obstacle course that strengthens you, but just a pointless labyrinth.

Yes, some media is “difficult,” and yes, it takes intellectual fortitude to understand it. I evaluate such media on a case-by-case basis because “difficult” even when properly used doesn’t communicate depth. A clever mystery isn’t the same as a symbolism-packed journey.

I think people love to praise “difficult” media because it says I am smart enough to understand this and you’re not. Claiming something is “difficult” for too many is a way to praise themselves. It’s a way to use a single word to claim one’s intellectual superiority that you “got” it.

I’m always wary of simplistic descriptions such as “difficult.” They quickly become shorthand whose meaning is lost or ignore important distinctions. One word can get in the way of the real experience of a piece of media or a person.

Steven Savage

A Firm Foundation of The Unknown

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Serdar’s recent blog post on the importance of skepticism and “not being sure” struck a chord in me. We need skepticism, yet we don’t leverage it and work against it – until our lack of skepticism creates a disaster. As he notes

“There ought to be room for the development of a whole sub-discipline of public relations that uses what we know about behavior on a mass scale to constructively leverage doubt. We have thus far used fear and greed and delusion, but we’re not stupid; we can use compassion and generosity and insight if we choose to.”

Later, he wonders if this can be explored in fiction. I have, to an extent, and had an insight I wanted to share.

My Avenoth novels take place in a techno-fantasy world that survived a devastating war. In turn, this setting was based on an unused science fiction novel I had in mind, looking at how we might survive and prosper after our many challenges. I learned a lot in theorizing the latter and creating the former, even if the themes aren’t always apparent.

(Perhaps making them more subtle means they affect people more . . .)

In the current Avenoth setting, the population is well-educated, aware of the past – and taught to be skeptical. Society is a complex dance of unions, churches, professional organizations, neighborhoods, governments, grounding people in oft-harsh reality. It is a society deliberately remade to ensure it can survive – and skepticism is part of it.

Contemplating that society taught me several things about the hope for a society where skepticism is valued:

  • Society that values strong ties, truth, and skepticism is easy to visualize. We know we want it – it seems we don’t want to work on it.
  • Society has to confront and deal with unsurety to have functional skepticism. Too many people sell the drug of certainty to those who want it.
  • A society that wants functional skepticism has to ask for it deliberately. It must be valued.
  • Many people know how much bullshit they believe. They don’t want to admit it.
  • A skeptical society must be skeptical of the past. Too often want the past to bless us with approval, meaning we see it with distorted vision.

Ironically, the Avenoth series, which started as a kind of fantasy/sf deconstruction, took me in this direction. It was educational, even if it wasn’t the exact point of the stories when I started.

I’d like to think that humanity can learn without a massive disaster. I fear it may be too late considering COVID-19, climate change, and economic problems. What we can’t avoid, may we learn from.

At least writing this series, I can see how it’s possible to learn. That is one of the virtues of fiction, but I do wish I could find more, as Serdar does.

Steven Savage