Runs In Transit

Category: Culture

The Philosophy of Drake

You can never have it all. But you can always keep trying. And you can always be honest. And somehow that truth will prevail.

Drake is the voice of millennials. Ever since his first EP we were told it’s okay to open up. It’s okay to be misunderstood. And being in tune with those emotions garners the most respect.

Vulnerability is power. Braggadocio is smoke and mirrors. The Lil Wayne of ’07 lives a prehistoric existence.

Swing the pendulum and aggression is tripe. Cunning, manipulation, and coyness win. Drake is Machiavellian; in the modern age, this is crucial. The technology that links us creates confusion, and wars are now fought using strings and levers. Violence is petty. Turning your followers against you is the modern death.

Drake is a teacher we must interpret. What can we learn from him?

Happiness might be impossible. And that’s okay, but chasing it is a worthwhile purpose.

It’s okay to reflect on the past to the extent that it nurtures the present. Cutting ties can be necessary and mending them is not unacceptable.

Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who work hard and do not give up. Pacing yourself is necessary.

Hedonism does not mean losing yourself. Awareness in all moments is critical to growth. Stopping to understand is an important part of the process.

Our generation can’t rely on the ethics of our parents. We need guidance from figures that normalize our disconnect with reality. Drake has struck this chord. He’s influenced listeners who will own a world more complicated than the one before it. Like it or not he’s here to stay, and like it or not, his influence transcends music. It’s too late to reject Drake.

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Coming to terms with writing. Bleh!

They say you can only write about what you know. I’d agree with that. Unfortunately, I don’t know much. They also say to write to give yourself discipline. So should I spout out random ideas until I become Kafka? Or do I need to go out, live life, and then come back with some interesting thoughts?

Writing is funny. It’s like that one thing everyone wants to get into, but is only willing to give up money but not time for. Why do I want to do things like read and write but end up watching Youtube videos of Starcraft instead? I have one theory – I’m stupid.

Us millennials. We love bookstores, but only buy books and leave them out on our desk. The idea of reading and writing is great, but spending time doing them is another thing. That’s why blogging challenges are popular.

But the benefits of writing might only accrue later on. People over 70 read 60+ minutes a day. My age group reads less than 10 minutes. Grandpa must be on to something right? Maybe writing lets you express your thoughts better.

Another theory. We spend our days texting, writing emails, reading random articles, and when we come home our brains are worded out. God, my mind’s all over the place right now. Writing can be my anchor, if I let it.

But as I spout out random thoughts, I wonder if I’m really progressing at anything. For all I know, it’s a waste of time and I’m loitering my evening away. Is it possible that technology has given us enough options that writing can be counter-productive?

It’s hard to say. Writing is romantic, and that won’t change. History has been bound by writing, from cave walls to Gutenberg. Societies have flourished and perished by the pen. Books are in constant danger and that makes them all the more appealing.

But I don’t want to do something just because it’s romantic. That’s another euphemism for posing. I want to do something because it’s useful and makes me happy. So does it do that… that’s the real question. Short answer-sometimes.

Okay, I think I know what to do – read more, gain experience, and write a bit, if not to give myself discipline, to record my thoughts like a journal. At the very least it’s nice to travel to different places every once in a while through words.

Okay, Starcraft is fun. My attention can be short. Let’s read over 10 minutes a day, keep writing consistently, and see where it gets me. No expectations. 26102.jpg

Oatmeal and Power

Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, and Hank Paulson regularly eat oatmeal for breakfast. They are perhaps some of the most power people in the world and could afford to eat anything, but are content with one of the cheapest food items in existence.

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg, Obama, and Bill Gates famously wear the same clothes every day. It is always a simple, non-flashy outfit, including gray t-shirts, sweaters, and blue suits. Is there a correlation between simplicity and power? It might seem so, but this correlation is probably spurious. The kind of people who live simple lives might just be those who are more likely obtain the most powerful positions. Why is this?

If you know what you want in life, your perception of the quality of things doesn’t change with wealth. Oatmeal is nutritious, cheap, and easy to make. If you don’t care of the opinion of others, you will eat it at any level of wealth. Those who are easily influenced by social perceptions are the ones who flaunt their wealth with luxurious foods and material possessions.

The lifestyles of the powerful represent a conscious choice to focus on important things. Choosing to wear a t-shirt every day isn’t a fashion statement, it’s a choice to avoid choosing. When small decisions are mapped out for you, that is a small but significant portion of cognition you can use on big ideas. Obama doesn’t have the luxury of using his mental energy on clothes.

What can we take from the peculiar habits of the powerful? First, we can disconnect the idea that the rich and powerful have nicer things. Those who do are the most visible, but conservatism with money is equally present at high incomes. Secondly, we can try to be the type of person who would make similar decisions. We may never be in a position to create technological trends or save the world from crises, but we make decisions that allow us to focus on what matters in our own lives. We can eliminate clutter, organize our surroundings, and live a simple life in order to focus on friends, family, and our passions.

Eating oatmeal and wearing gray shirts won’t make you powerful (I wish it would). However, modeling the kind of person who does is a good way to gain some clarity.Steel-Cut-Oatmeal.jpg

The Uncomfortableness of Sitting in a Cafe

I don’t like going to places in public. To be fair, I don’t like going to places that sell things. The incentives are screwy. Take a cafe for example. You might go to a cafe for the coffee and the atmosphere. But you can’t just sit and enjoy the atmosphere, at least not without being repugnant to the owner. A cafe is a business, and your occupation of space costs them money. To be a good patron, a rule of thumb is to buy something every hour, but this may not even reflect your true costs. When a cafe is busy, the value of a seat can be well over $20 an hour. Enjoying a cafe with this in mind is impossible for some, and the only ones who can must be ignorant to some degree (think people who work all day in a cafe. On a side, it’s got to be one of the most distracting places to work).  Occupying a seat creates externalities for everyone around them. For those who dislike feeling like a burden, places like libraries and parks are much more enjoyable places to relax, but there never seems to be enough of them.

A private solution is to charge per time spent at a cafe. Now, point of purchase technology allows your phone and cards to pay passively. Think a location sensor that monitors how long you spend in a location, or a timer that clocks you in. When you leave, the payment occurs and reflects your exact usage. This would remove the need to be conscious of buying items and charge customers appropriately, allowing people who value the cafe more to be able to utilize it during busy hours. From the business’s perspective, there is no need to ask loitering patrons to ever leave, which has got to be the most uncomfortable thing to do, and profits may increase as capacity is utilized efficiently with prices adjusting due to demand. For consumers, the prices of drinks and food may decrease because these items don’t reflect the cost of overhead, finding a cafe is easier, and grabbing a coffee to go becomes much cheaper.

I would love to see this and other pay-what-you-use methods in real life, ranging from traffic congestion to trash usage. Socially, these might be be viewed as unacceptable, but I think it’s too early to call them unfeasible until they’re applied on a large scale. If the benefits of people paying for the externalities they cause are significant and noticeable, then we may all find it an improvement to live in a world where our activities are paid for directly. PariCafe_428x269_to_468x312.jpg

The Boy Who Lost His Name

The boy stood in line near the entrance of the classroom, gripping his mother’s hand. There was a girl in front of him crying and two boys behind him playing tag.

“Thank you for being so quiet,” his mother told him.

The boy stared ahead. He didn’t have anything better to do.

“Now don’t forget what we talked about last night,” his mother repeated.

The boy nodded.

They reached the front of the line and a teacher greeted the mother and shook her hands. The teacher squatted down to the boy’s eye level and enthusiastically asked, “hello, what’s your name?”

Attentively, the boy looked at the teacher, then back at his mother, who nodded her head approvingly.

“Ryan,” the boy said to the teacher.

The teacher smiled. “That’s a great name. I have a brother named Ryan.”

The teacher rose up, spoke with the mother for a few minutes, and jotted something in her notebook.

“Ryan, your mother has to go. Why don’t you say goodbye and I’ll show you to your seat?”

The boy let go of his mother’s hand and gave her a kiss. “Remember what you’re called,” she whispered.

The boy followed the teacher into the classroom and sat down in his seat. “Ryan,” he thought.

Breakfast with Father

I sit down with my father and with toast, coffee, and orange juice, we enjoy our eggs. He never liked American food, and I’m sure he wished the eggs were fried, but it was still nice to sit across from him. We never ate together, and the few times we did were in complete silence. We never had much to talk about. Plus the language barrier didn’t help.

Yet, while we ate our eggs in silence, something felt different. Growing up, my father only ever talked to me about the things he found important: education, work, family. It was how he was raised. But as we sat on the patio under the awning of my home, I realized something – for the first time, these things weren’t goals anymore.

My daughter chased the family cat across the yard, and I think I caught a smile on my father’s face. He took a bite of his scrambled eggs and looked at me. He had the eyes of a child.

One-Child? No Problem

This week, China announced it is ending the controversial One-Child policy and replacing it with a Two-Child policy. Almost four decades since its inception in 1979, it’s been long overdue. Apart from being a social travesty, China’s fertility rate is now 1.66 which is lower than even that of the US’s. A growing population is necessary to sustain economic growth, and this change is likely too late to save a slowing Chinese economy. What’s more interesting are the social effects of this policy change.

I am a product of China’s One-Child Policy. When my parents had me in 1993, they were ecstatic I was a boy, their one chance at passing down the family name and their ticket to a prosperous retirement. It’s crazy to think they had only one shot to do it right. Their future was immaculately placed in the life of one baby along with all their hopes and ambitions. And this was probably how they planned it to be-have one child and invest everything into raising it.

The consequences of this situation are not trivial. Having less children increases the resources that child gets. In the US, we’re used to viewing children as a consumption good that brings us happiness. Naturally, we want their lives to be of high quality and having children for the sake of quantity is an afterthought. In China, the culture has always been to have a lot of children who would one day support you. This has changed markedly in the last few decades due to rapid economic development, but also partly because of this policy.

The One-Child policy made China society more educated. My parents invested a lot of money into making sure I got a great education, along with experiences, material goods, and emotional support. It costs 414,000 RMB ($67,410) to raise a child to 18 years old in China, which is 43% of the average household income in China. It’s not certain they could have raised two children at the same time without sacrificing the quality of one or both children’s lives.

In some ways, I have the One-Child policy to thank for the life I lived. On the other hand, I could have had a sibling who would have added great value to my life. Seven years later, my family moved to the US and had my sister. They certainly wanted more than one child and were ecstatic at having a boy and a girl. What would have our family been like without the policy? I can ponder, but the fact is that 400 million children were not born as a result of this policy, and it’s very possible one of them could have been my brother or sister.

It’s not worth delving into the what-ifs of life, but it is interesting to look at the now. What shape will Chinese society take following this change? How long will it be before China starts encouraging having more children? Will Chinese culture shift westward? Time will tell, but one things for sure, whatever social changes take hold in China will have a drastic impact on the world, and we should watch closely.

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Rock on kid. The future is still bright.

Does School Hurt Creativity?

For the past week I’ve been trying to think of something to write about, lest my $18 a year subscription to WordPress is wasted. I wondered why I had so much trouble, and then I realized it might be school. It makes perfect sense-because I’m taught material every day and forced to read, study, and do problem sets, my cognitive power is severely limited when it comes to other pursuits, namely creative endeavors. Modern education forces you into narrow fields of thinking through memorization and regurgitation. At the end of the day, your brain is left in anemic state where all you want to do is sleep. The next morning, you wake up and start again.

A TED talk by Ken Robinson popped in my head. It’s basic idea is that we are born artists, but the institution of schooling prepares us to work by giving us strict rules, telling us to follow orders, and hammering the idea that academic skills like math and reading are the most important things in life. When we say someone is “smart”, we are always referring to their academic intelligence, proven by grades. But intelligence is so much more than that. Everyone is intelligent in their own way, and often equally important forms of such as social intelligence, visual intelligence, and musical intelligence are discarded. The world is not a strict path from point A to point B. We need people of all skills and experiences to support the human existence. Preparing students for industrial success is not enough.

What should be done is tough to speak on, but I believe we will need a new conception of education to fully utilize our capabilities, and I know creativity is one capability that has suffered. When I was a child, I brimmed with ideas and had ways of expressing them. I painted, acted, and daydreamed every day. Upon entering school, my creativity was reserved for pursuits in a few art classes. After college, I tried to pursue creative activities, but it was rare and never a part of my education. Traveling was one of the few sources of inspiration and allowed me to write vivid thoughts and ideas that I could not grasp normally. As I return to the familiar structure of school, my creativity also returns to its normative state, one that is constantly restricted and stripped of its qualities.

Today I want to challenge myself to break free of the restrictive nature of education. I seek to be inspired and create something every day. Because although schooling helps us obtain a comfortable material life, to constrain your mind while doing so is a terrible thing. To be healthy mentally in the present is a worthy long-term goal. I’ll keep writing this blog and practice both the medium as well as the act of getting ideas out. If this sounds interesting, write a poem, I dare you. 4085284777_ea1dc120ae

The West is the Best: The Cultural Cost of Globalization

Going to Europe from the US is an almost nonexistent distinction. Besides seeing people drink outside, bathrooms that cost money, and different symbols for currency, there is no culture shock. The West is the West, and its culture has been the dominating influence of the world for decades. If you want to experience a different culture, you have to get a lot further than Eastern Europe, which looks a lot more like Western Europe every day.

The trend is clear. As globalization, capitalism, and industrialization spread and allow us to have more goods, live longer lives, and spend more leisure time, all measures of a higher standard of living, we undoubtedly have to sacrifice the things that distinguish us from each other. As English becomes the universal language of the internet and business, lesser used languages are sacrificed. Customs, traditions, and our senses of identity, slowly die as we pave way for a uniform world.

The effects of homogenization are undeniable. They can be seen in the people holding iPhones, wearing H&M clothes, and going to the gym. Even if these things make us happier, are they goals worth obtaining? At what point do we have a collective responsibility to slow economic growth in order to preserve the past. Should we spend time and energy learning languages that help us understand past cultures, or is that the responsibility of historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists alone?

It’s possible that no one has the correct answer, but these are questions that we should ask and discuss every day, because at some point, it might be too late.

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The Future of Podcasts

Podcasts have historically been exclusive to niche markets, but I think that’s going to change, and quickly. Here’s why:

1. You can do whatever you want while listening. I’ve gone on walks, shoveled snow, and played video games, all while listening to podcasts. Basically, all activities where you don’t need to hear, which is almost everything, is a great activity to listen to podcasts. In an age where leisure time is competitive, it is natural to cram as much as possible into our daily lives. What better way to do that then multi-task? Podcasts are educational, entertaining, and can supplement any activity. The people who listen to podcasts know and relish this, and it’s only a matter of time before the masses realize it too.

2. It’s a proven formula. There was a time when radio was the number one form of communications. Today, the radio plays a smaller role in mass media, but people are still accustomed to the habit of listening to the radio while driving. Listening to the radio is ingrained into our culture, but podcasts are not. Unequivocally, they are the same thing. Podcasts are simply radio shows without the music, and the success of the latter has been significant. Shows like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh are immensely popular, and there is no question podcasts can reach the same level of popularity. What is needed is for podcasts to transcend their stereotype and become the radio of everything else but the car.

3. They are gaining traction. This year, the Serial podcast by Sara Koenig has made podcast history by reaching 5 million listeners, an unprecedented number. It did so by introducing a form of audio story-telling where the host learns information at the same pace as the listener, creating an interactive medium that grips audiences. Millions of Americans were hooked because they wanted to solve the mystery presented in the story, feeling as though they were part of it. The next season of Serial is set to repeat its success, creating more podcast fans and bringing other podcasts into the spotlight.

4. They’re educational. Podcasts, more so than radio shows, tend to focus on education rather than entertainment. This is because podcasts, by nature, are not one-and-done experiences like radio but rather works that are meant to be enjoyed regardless of time. Take This American Life, which still gets downloads on episodes from the 90’s. The reason this is important is because the world is shifting towards mass information where the ability to curate it is crucial. Podcasts tell a small story from a bigger picture, and as people desire an understanding of a deeper topic, podcasts become a useful tool. This, combined with fact that people are becoming more educated and desire learning outside of work and school, take MOOC’s and online classes, make podcasts a very attractive supplement to education.

5. They’re accessible. Not only are they free, which is valuable in and of itself, but they are easy to make and access. Anyone can make a podcast-all you need is a recorder, which our phones and laptops all have. What this means is that anyone can make a podcast, and while it may not be popular, it is a great outlet for curators and content producers. This increases competition and ensures a large pool of quality podcasts to choose from. Not only that, they are easy to access. With apps and websites dedicated to navigating the pool of podcasts, people are able to find what they want and get it consistently.

For these reasons and more, I am bullish on podcasts. If you are a content-seeker, get on it. If you are a content-creator, utilize it. If you are an investor, invest in them. The medium is going to blow up, I guarantee it.

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Looking for a place to begin? I recommend This American Life to get started, and if you like finance, business, and economics, Planet Money and Freakonomics.