Guestblogger Marina Gorbis is executive director at Institute for the Future.
Yesterday I posted
an essay on Socialstructing--creating organizations around social connections rather than against them. I believe these types of organizational forms are growing and diffusing rapidly throughout the economy. However, I do not see them as panaceas from all our ills since they have a potential to bring with them new kinds of inequalities, exclusions, and Ponzi schemes. So this post looks at potential unintended consequences of socialstructing.
One of the best things about speaking Russian (possibly the only thing), is that it gives you an ability to access Russian literature in the original. Over the years I've tried many different translations of Russian writers and was disappointed every time. Nothing compares to the original. Maybe it is impossible to do justice to these texts because many Russian words are so deeply rooted in a uniquely Russian context and life circumstances. What I love about writers such as Gogol and Chekhov is that in portraying life in 19th century Russia they managed to capture universal themes of human inner struggles, desires, and life ironies. They created prototypes of characters and circumstances that are as real today as they were 150 years ago. People just work through those circumstances with a whole new suite of tools and technologies.
That leads me to one of my favorite pieces of Russian literature -- Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, a novel first published in 1842. The story revolves around the exploits of Chichikov, a personality populating the lower rungs of the Russian society. Driven by a desire to enhance his social standing, Chichikov develops an ingenious scheme. He goes around Russian villages buying up records of dead serfs. It's a brilliant idea that capitalized on a unique and grotesque feature of the feudal Russian society -- ownership by landlords of the people who lived and worked on their land.
The number of "souls" one owned was a measure of one's economic and social status. Landowners in fact paid taxes based on how many serfs or "souls" they owned. The government kept count of owned "souls" and this count was based on government census numbers. Unfortunately, the census took place only infrequently and many landowners ended up paying taxes on their dead serfs. Grasping an opportune moment between the two censuses, Chichikov bought records of these dead souls from landowners eager to lighten their own tax burdens. Papers certifying Chichikov's ownership of 400 "souls" rapidly elevated Chichikov's status: landed gentry opened their homes to him, tried to give away their daughters in marriage, and celebrated him at town functions. And all it took was a record of ownership of hundreds of "souls."
So every time I see another article or an ad about how to acquire more followers on twitter, friends on Facebook, or otherwise collect more "souls" for money, fame, or reputation, I start thinking about Chichikov. He did come to an ignominous end, finally fleeing town. Makes me wonder.Dead Souls
Anthropologist Emma Tarlo just published a new book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair, investigating the weird culture and business surrounding hair, from Jewish wig parlors to its use in Hindu temples to hair loss clinics. In an excerpt at Smithsonian, Tarlo tells of the hair trade, tracing the path from the growers to the […]
In this Scientific American video, Rubik’s Cube master Ian Scheffler, author of the new book Cracking the Cube, explains some of the math behind “speedcubing.” Scheduler’s book sounds fascinating even though the only way I could get my Rubik’s Cube solved is to hand it to my 10-year-old son’s friend Luc who was the first […]
Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali is the much-anticipated story of one of the more esoteric, fascinating casualties of the flower power generation. As told by Ugly Things magazine creator Mike Stax, the book tracks the odyssey of Craig Smith, a musician who evolved from clean-cut […]
Loot Crate is a totally different kind of subscription service that mails subscribers monthly boxes filled with curated geek, pop culture, and gamer paraphernalia. Its cult following awaits a box every month filled with everything from bobble heads to T-shirts to special edition collectibles. But nothing gets Loot Crate fans as excited as the limited […]
The ARMOR-X Mini Flexible Phone Tripod is a smartphone tripod that is designed with flexible legs to rest on virtually any type of surface. Other tripods have proved useless unless I conveniently have a flat surface in front of me, which is why this particular tripod was appealing enough to try out. The ARMOR-X is compact and easy […]
You don’t need to get an advanced degree and take out massive loans to become a coder. This bundle of 10 courses was designed to teach anyone to code at home for less than it costs to go out for dinner. I was particularly impressed with this new 2017 bundle because it includes courses on […]