One of my team is challenging me to read more stuff directly tangential to my work. I suppose that's fair but I think 90% of business writing is marketing and 70% of marketing is happy talk. Still, I would have never watched Seinfeld back in the 90s had my staff not talked about every episode at work. Sometimes just knowing what a soup Nazi is goes a long way. And so I have made the concession to read Thomas L. Friedman's 'The World is Flat' even though I generally don't like Friedman and that book is so 2005. But anyway, here goes.
I bought the Audible last week and started to listen to it this evening on the road from Dayton to West Chester. I even hate the voice of the guy they have reading it. So I switched to the other Audible I bought: The Last Lecture.
I've heard that Pausch died within the past few weeks and people have been lauding. He was on my list and so I've stepped things up a bit now listening to his four hours ahead of Friedman's nine. By this weekend I should be done with both. Especially if I have another travel day like today (and I finish the latest Banks). I'm digging his last lecture, but...
Pausch reminds me of the me I might have been if I had gone straight through school. In many ways we were raised similarly and had some of the same simple but honest values of people I call Second Worlders. (Wow, I haven't talked about the Second World in a long time). I have a lot of respect for 2W and I feel that it's my duty to guarantee its integrity... well let me go on about that for a moment.
First of all, I have an oversized ego, and some of it is natural, some of it is nurtured and some of it is inevitable. The inevitable stuff comes from reading history, becoming jaded and understanding that injunction of Hillel's. But deep down I am reserved and private and really like connecting with people in their work and lives. I have a great deal of respect for people who do their work expertly and cheerfully, and I noted that the other day of the woman who prepared my sandwich at Quizno's - her economy of motion, swift precision and expert timing in her task. I noted the same kinds of things in more people oriented work, especially with the dozens of travel and security related hands I pass through on a weekly basis. My point is that even though Pausch's work is very corny from one perspective, it is exactly the right kind of corn. There is, from my West Coast upbringing a goodly amount of HBO snark reaction to any popular Tuesdays with Morrie kind of non-fiction. And on the surface, I can be violently dismissive of those who don't address the kinds of questions of life beyond the fun storytelling of the Marley & Me sort. That's what it's like to grow up a black nationalist with the dangerous assumptions inherent in such a radical political life - you dismiss the childhood dreams of middle class suburban kids as naive fairytales in a corrupt system. Just breathe deeply at Nulan's joint or P6 for a few to see what I mean. Brains from the hood, man we caustic. But I have grown reasons to support all of the mediocrities and even the semiotic swamps of ordinary ambition. And so I am respectful of the light disciplines of geekery, cookery, shrubbery. Whatever. I want to hear Pausch out, like Seinfeld.
I'd much rather hear that than Friedman. Why? Because Friedman is a megatrender. I don't know how to describe the intelligencia of pseudo-liberty except that I hear it in his pretenses to New World trends. I need a Niall Ferguson to remind everybody that human history is ugly and vicious in the main and that the geekery manages to keep heads in low profile - the same heads which trumpeting world flatness too loudly would get flattened. Empowerment isn't a verb, it's a state of being tricked. When I hear Freidman explain how flattening (although I'm barely through 30 minutes of intro) makes us all somethingier, it's like he's congratulating a swimmer inside one of the locks of the Panama Canal for treading water and raising his own elevation. We're all swimming in this tide, but we're not the moon. I think Friedman, at best, will describe globalism's effect on the ordinary worker, but I think his and his readers conceits are that they're talking about anything other than the ordinary worker. And quite frankly I'd rather hear the story of the ordinary worker, like Pausch whose humanity becomes transcendent because even through his mediocre geekery, he has become wise and overcome death. I expect no such transcendence in Friedman. 20 years from now, we'll be teaching Pausch's lessons, and Friedman will be as useless as John Naisbitt.
Meanwhile, I'm almost done with 'The Use of Weapons' and I'm thinking that perhaps this is Banks' finest work. A full review and cycle back on my state of change by this weekend.
One more thing. I'm thinking about the effect of gospel music on the shaping of black political thought vis a vis Pausch's corny thesis of realizing childhood dreams. Didn't you dream of having a very long funeral procession with at least four motorcycles and ten Cadillacs? Oh no I know it was not just me...