Lana Swartz, a colleague at MIT, has an interesting response to the Things That Don’t Go Together game. (see the post for Wednesday). I was suggesting that Dave Eggers and Alan Alda were distant points on our culture map. Lana disagreed.
I don’t know, Grant…
My guess is that is goes a little something like this:
Eggers/McSweeneys is very NPR
NPR is very West Wing/Alda
Not too far a walk!
I like the idea of forge a path between points on the map, in this case between Dave Eggers and Alan Alda. The point is to show that for all their disparity, these people occupy contiguous space.
How about this?
1) Alan Alda to Robert Altman
(Mash is the connection. Altman directed the movie version, Alda acted in the TV version)
2) Robert Altman to Hal Hartley (a more alternative American director than Altman)
3) Hal Hartley to Jim Jarmusch
4) Jim Jarmusch to Douglas Coupland
5) Douglas Coupland to, say, Bill Buford (editor of Granta, author of Heat)
6) Bill Buford to [blank, help please]
7) [blank] to Dave Eggers
Ok, it’s not perfect. Some of these links are not just a "stretch" but a leap.
This game tests our knowledge of contemporary culture and it gives advantage to the generalist. We need more generalists. (See the work of Eric Nehrlich, below, on this point).
Rules of the game:
a) People named in links don’t have to have a connection. This is not a "6 degrees of separation" exercise. They need only be proximate, i.e., within shouting distance of one another in cultural space. (And in any case, we are not looking only for people, but also for institutions, events, movements and trends.)
b) There is a sufficiency rule. We must have at least 6 links.
c) There is a parsimony rule. We mustn’t have more than 10 links. (This is to discourage showing off and other trivial pursuits.)
d) There is a distribution rule. Points have to be fairly spaced. No bunching up where we know things and passing over where we don’t.
e) We are allowed to leave blanks. We are allowed to be hazy. This is to give us a chance to admit the limits of our knowledge and seek help from others.
f) We want to open our maps to the contribution of others. Collaboration is encouraged, and indeed the only way to build good maps.
This would make a dandy website. Where we go show off our maps, post challenges, share knowledge, and otherwise refine the art of culture mapping.
We would hope to attract a variety of people the better to divide the labor.
a) Those, say, who are good at identifying far flung points. These tend to come up when you are thinking about other things. Mr. Rogers and a Senate subcommittee, say. The website would allow us to register these antimonies for others to "map."
b) Those specialists who are really good at tough links. Leora Kornfeld comes to mind with her encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. Conspiring with the formidable Nardwar, the Human Serviette, she would be invisible. (Leora will have things to say about my Alda-Eggers map, I’m sure.)
c) speed players who’s work is cheap, fast and out of control.
d) the deep thinkers who can be relied upon to dwell in encyclopedic space for long periods in their efforts to find the link juste.
The long term effect of this sort of thing could be interesting. One of these days we could bundle together all the good maps to create a cartography, a longitude and latitude of our culture now.
Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist, here.
The "Things That Don’t Go Together" Game, Installment 2. This blog sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. February 18, 2008. here.