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World For Sale (or Lease)
do you want to gothat is, what do you want to buytoday? By Harry
THE AGE OF ACCESS: The New
Culture of Hypercapitalism
Where All of Life is a Paid-for Experience
By Jeremy Rifkin W67
New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.
312 pp., $24.95
Provocateur par excellance Jeremy Rifkin
sets himself a daunting task in The Age of Access: The New Culture
of Hypercapitalism Where All of Life Is a Paid-for Experience. In
it he tries to come up with a unified theory of exactly how and why
techno-capitalism is moving away from physical commodities and traditional
markets and toward digital networks where the only thing being bought
and sold is experience itself. The copious footnotes and extensive bibliography
underscore the fact that Rifkin is foremost a fantastic aggregator of
statistics and opinions that bolster his compelling premise.
of the last and loudest voices of the New Left, Rifkins stock-in-trade
as an economist and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends is
to spot significant emerging social, economic and cultural
developments. In The Age of Access he follows the trajectory
of hypercapitalisms progress to the point at which, he argues, it could
well endwith the atomization of human society and culture and the fracturing
of our own individual identities.
Each of Rifkins
books forces us to question the inevitable march of global capitalism.
His oeuvre comprises one long list of controversial, distinctly dystopian,
anti-capitalist polemicsfrom his two most recent books, The Biotech
Century and The End of Work, back to Who Should Play God?
and Own Your Own Job. These books dissect the whys and wherefores
of power relations in a world where capitalism stands triumphant.
of Work in particular asks a number of questions that bear directly
on his thesis in The Age of Access. Whats going to happen when
robots can put a car together from hood ornament to digital dashboard?
When harvesting wheat, as well as planting it, is completely automated?
When voice-recognition programs make keyboards obsoletealong with the
(human) word processors whose jobs are attached to them? The Age
of Access asserts that well simply have more time to practice our
starring role as consumers in the New Economy.
this idea by exploring how we are daily becoming more connected, more
networked, than ever, while simultaneously being parsed into our constituent
desires so that we can most efficiently digest a global monoculture
whose sole purpose is to create and then satisfy the isolated consumers
insatiable appetite for mediated experience.
argues that our notion of property is changing radically. No longer
are people tied to the idea of owning a car or a houseinstead, individuals
(especially the affluent) are content to lease luxury cars and live
in gated communities where their rights as homeowners are superseded
by the collective. This same population enjoys access to the electronic
networks necessary for connecting individuals to corporations and therefore
have available an array of virtual experiences in which identity is
as fluid and changeable as the roiling oceanwhich these same people
will pay to experience firsthand (witness the growing adventure-travel
and eco-travel industries) or work to recreate as a virtual experience
for others to buy.
points outs, the metamorphosis from industrial production to cultural
capitalism is part and parcel of a shift from the work ethic to the
play ethic. Transnational media companies with communications networks
that span the globe are mining local cultural resources in every part
of the world and repackaging them as cultural commodities and entertainments,
Rifkin writes. The top fifth of the worlds population now spends almost
of its income accessing cultural experiences as on buying manufactured
goods and basic services.
value (LTV) of a consumer is now the primary measure of the man (and
woman) from the corporate perspective. Marketing has taken over from
production and production has been turned over to robots, computers
and the neural nets and artificial-intelligence software that will increasingly
run the show. Rifkin predicts that by 2050 as little as five percent
of the population will be needed to manage and operate the traditional
left for people to do with all of this leisure time except consume cultural
experiences and evolve human consciousness to another stage? Protean
humansthe generation that has grown up with the Web and high-octane
electronic games (a $6 billion interactive industry that Rifkin strangely
omits from his sprawling critique), satellite television, theme restaurants
and whole theme-cities, cell phones, handheld computers, the Human Genome
Project and Dolly the cloned sheep, not to mention the dot-com boom
(and bust)will propel us inexorably, Rifkin says, to the ultimate stage
of cultural capitalism. Certainly the culture industry is already employing
these dot-com-ers in increasing numbers, and the future belongs to them.
Unfortunately, it is the realm of these techno-prodigies that Rifkin
sees through a glass darkly, or perhaps not at all:
of psychologists and sociologists are beginning to worry that the generation
that is growing up in simulated worlds and becoming comfortable with
the idea of buying access to cultural commodities and lived experiences
might not have sufficient emotional experience to empathize. Their concerns
are compounded by what they observe as the increasing fragmentation
of personal consciousnessmultiple personasamong members of the dot-com
A generation that is unable to feel for one another is
incapable of creating the social trust that is so essential to maintain
The old radical
always casts a jaundiced, wary eye on the new. The huge protests that
have taken place over the course of the past year or so, first in London,
then Seattle, and most recently in Washington, D.C. were in fact driven
to a great extent by dot-com-ers who have harnessed the Internet to
organize, not only themselves, but also various activist constituencies,
most notably good old industrial trade unions. Are these protean people
so incapable of empathy that they are unworthy to take the mantle of
social responsibility from self-satisfied and often arrogant boomer
activists? Ultimately, Rifkins Luddite streak prevents him from being
able to fully imagine a radically different ontology, one that is being
created and recreated millions of times every day by people eager to
express their own individuality and to experience that of others. Still,
protean, Luddite and consumer alike should heed Rifkins analysis, if
only to note what were buying and what kind of price were paying for
access to each other and ourselves now and in the future. Caveat emptor,
the show must go on.
Harry Goldstein is editor/analyst of Inside
R&D, a weekly newsletter that tracks technological developments
worldwide. He has written about science and technology for Fox News,
CBS Healthwatch, Utne Reader and the Gazette.
A selection of recent
books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University
community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the
authors and publishers.
CITY OF SISTERLY AND BROTHERLY LOVES:
Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972
By Marc Stein Gr94.
The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 457 pp., $35.00.
Taking an in-depth look at Philadelphia from the
1940s to the 1970s, the author finds a city of vibrant lesbian and gay
households, neighborhoods, commercial establishments, public cultures
and political groups. In doing so, he shatters the myth that lesbian
and gay history began with the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York and
challenges the notion that only New York and San Francisco featured
major lesbian and gay communities in the pre-Stonewall era. Stein, formerly
editor of Gay Community News in Boston, is now assistant professor
of history at York University in Toronto.
ACROSS THE OPEN FIELD:
Essays Drawn from English Landscapes
By Laurie Olin, Faculty.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
2000. 352 pp., $42.50
Twenty-eight years ago I went to England for
a three-month visit and rest. What I found changed my life. So begins
this memoir by one of Americas best-known landscape architects, Laurie
Olin. Raised in a frontier town in Alaska, trained in Seattle and New
York, Olin found himself dissatisfied with his job as an urban architect
and accepted an invitation to England to take a respite from work. What
he found, in abundance, was the serendipity of a human environment built
over time to respond to the lands own character and to the people who
lived and worked there. For Olin, the English countryside was a palimpsest
of the most eloquent and moving sort, yet whose manifestation was of
ordinary buildings meant to shelter their inhabitants and further their
work. This book is as much a plea for saving the modern American landscape
as it is a passionate exploration of what makes the English landscape
so characteristically English. Olin is the Practice Professor of Landscape
Architecture and Regional Planning.
SCENES OF INSTRUCTION: A Memoir
By Michael Awkward Gr86, Faculty.
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000. 208 pp.,
Structured around the commencement ceremonies
that marked his graduation from various schools, this memoir presents
Awkwards coming-of-age as a bookish black male in the projects of 1970s
Philadelphia. His relationships with his family and peers, their struggles
with poverty and addiction, and his eventual move from underfunded urban
schools to a prestigious private school all become parts of a memorable
script. With a recurring focus on how his mothers tragic weaknesses
and her compelling strengths affected his development, Awkward, a professor
of English, intersperses the chronologically arranged autobiographical
sections with ruminations on his own interests in literary and cultural
criticism. By connecting his personal experiences with larger political,
cultural and professional questions, Awkward uses his life as a palette
on which to blend equations of race and reading, urbanity and mutilation,
alcoholism, pain, gender, learning, sex and love.
A DOGS GUIDE TO LIFE: The Bala Diaries
By Marc Handelman C85.
New York: Horodias, 2000. 142
This is the personal diary of Bala, an insightful
Doberman from Manhattan who sniffs for clues to lifes great mysteries,
such as how not to get left behind, the sexual politics of the local
dog run and the allure of chicken wings. He also offers a dogs eye
view of his yuppie Mom and Dad and their obsessionsincluding himself,
money and religionwhile teaching the reader a thing or two about love
and relationships. Handelman is a fiction writer, playwright and newsletter
THE WAGES OF SIN: Sex and Disease, Past and
By Dr. Peter Lewis Allen WG00.
The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 202
Near the end of the century, a new and terrifying
disease arrives suddenly on the continent. Infecting people through
sex, it storms from country to country, defying all drugs and medical
knowledge. The deadly epidemic provokes widespread fear and recrimination;
authorities call it the just rewards of unbridled lust. The time was
the 1490s; the place, Europe; the disease, syphilis. Throughout history,
Western society has often viewed sicknessespecially diseases tied to
sexas a punishment for sin. This book shows how societys views of
particular afflictions often heightened the suffering of the sick and
substituted condemnation for care. Allen moves from the medieval diseases
of lovesickness and leprosy through syphilis and bubonic plague, to
AIDS in the 20th century, to round out his study of the intersection
of private morality and public health. He is an associate with the management-consulting
firm McKinsey & Company and a former public policy associate at
New Yorks Gay Mens Health Crisis.
FROM THE BOARDROOM TO THE BATHROOM:
Ramblings on Life by a 24-year-old Male
By Jason Brenner C97.
Lincoln, Neb.: Writers Showcase, 2000. 153
This humor book about the twentysomething male
discusses the crucial parts of a young mans life, including sex, beer
and gambling, while leaving room for the secondary considerations
of relationships, career and family. From discussing the lump on his
left testicle, to talking about his high-school reunion, to describing
the proper way to use a corporate mens room, Brenner reveals what goes
through the mind of a typical 24-year-old guy. He works for a marketing
company in Connecticut. Excerpts are available on (www.jasonbrenner.com).
HEX SIGNS: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols
and Their Meanings
By Don Yoder Hon71, Faculty, and Thomas E. Graves
Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2000. 96 pp.,
This full-color book examines the hex signs various
forms, geographical spread, European origins, evolution in Pennsylvania,
and current use in tourism, advertising and regional arts. The authors
explore the meanings of the symbols by examining the evidence of popular
writers, scholars and contemporary hex-sign painters. Yoder is professor
emeritus of folklore and folklife and religious studies. He cofounded
the Pennsylvania Folklife Society and edited its journal, Pennsylvania
Folklife. Graves has written articles on hex signs, gravestones
and coal culture.
DEATHS A BEACH
By Beth Sherman C81.
New York: Avon Books, 2000. 242 pp., $5.99.
When a brutal Noreaster rips through a small seaside
town, ghostwriter-turned-detective Anne Hardaway discovers a 24-year-old
skeleton under her storm-damaged basement floor. The local authorities
are stumped. But Hardaway is on the case, digging deep into her past
to unmask a killer who is still on the loose. Sherman is a journalist
who summers in Ocean Grove, N.J.
issue's reviews | Reviews
in Brief | July/August Contents | Gazette
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Arts and Crafts to
George E. Thomas Gr75, Faculty. Introduction by Robert Venturi
Princeton Architectural Press, 2000. 376 pp.,
scholars of modern design
have forgotten the impact of Will Price (1861-1916), whose mature
work fired the imagination of his peers and shaped the Art Deco
architecture of the next generation. This bookand a new exhibit
at Penns Arthur Ross Galleryshould return the turn-of-the-century
modern architect and Penn studio critic to his rightful place
in American history.
L. Price began his architectural training in the Philadelphia
office of Frank Furness, where, a few years before, Louis Sullivan
had been exposed to the idea of an American architecture as contemporary
as the American democracy. In the 1880s, Furnesss free style
was under attack by historicists. Price adopted the new taste,
but as the 20th century dawned he heard the clarion call of the
future. By 1901 he had founded two experiments in communal living
(at Rose Valley and Arden in Pennsylvania), and the following
year he formed a partnership to work across the nation with Martin
Hawley McLanahan (1865-1929). In those years, construction
standards for reinforced concrete were being established at Penns
Towne School. Over the next 15 years, Price and McLanahan built
concrete structures from Atlantic City to Chicago and from Philadelphia
quickly grasped the link between modern design and modern life,
which he summarized in 1904: This is America, and art is the
utterance of the living not the dead. By 1905 he had
devised a system of design that distilled the facts of construction
and function into an aesthetic unity. His mature work was best
represented by the Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City, whose tapering
stepped forms made it the signature building of its era. Price
and McLanahan designed many of the train stations of the Pennsylvania
Railroad between Pittsburgh and Chicago, as well as an important
cluster of houses in Indianapolis for the automobile promoters
who founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and later developed
much of modern Miami. Those promoters commissioned Prices firm
to design Miamis Aquarium, Flamingo Hotel and Star Island, introducing
the modern style for which that resort became famous.
than a decade after Price died in 1916 at the age of 54, he was
remembered by Paul Cret as one who shaped the present tendencies
of American architecture. In 1930, another veteran of Furnesss
office, George Howe, while completing the design for Philadelphias
landmark PSFS skyscraper, wrote that Wright, Sullivan and Price
were among the first to grasp the architectural possibilities
of the new life and the new means of construction. Their names
were known in Europe, while they still remained comparatively
obscure among their fellow countrymen. Price has been so completely
forgotten that scholars of modern design would be forgiven for
not knowing which Price Howe meant. With this book and exhibition,
now they will.
Architecture of William L. Price: From Arts and Crafts to Modern
Design is on display at the Arthur Ross Gallery through Aug.
6, and at the National Building Museum in Washington, from Dec.
1 to April 29, 2001. (Guest curator, George E. Thomas; exhibit
design, David Slovic G66.)