On the radio recently some guy said he didn’t want his new kid to have electronic toys, so he looked up his old favorite, Legos, on the web. He was horrified to see websites for obsessive adult male hobbyists, who devoted decades and huge sums to develop lego masterpieces. He worried his kid might grow up like that.
In the circles that I move in -- which are full of interesting people -- we refer to people that you're calling "sophisticates" as "mundanes."
I don't see why being able to converse about the local sports teams, or the corporate-packaged pap on the radio, or the latest overrated, badly-written novel ("literary" or popular) or movies (blockbuster or Oscar-bound), while waiting to pick up the kids from soccer and go back to your McMansion-wannabe, should be considered "sophisticated."
Thanks, but no. I'll keep my obsessions and my obsessive friends, if you don't mind.
I get your point, but for me it isn't a matter of needing to be able to "converse on the latest fashions" in different areas, I simply find many of these things interesting, and I don't find any one area to be so interesting that I want to neglect others. I may be a bit deeper than most in knowledge in, say, the Romantic poets or psychedelic music, but not to the exclusion of current novels or jazz. It's all interesting.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the article, but I think people who are trying to extol the virtues of "well-roundedness" are missing the point. The author isn't complaining about the desire of certain people to have a wide range of interests. The author is complaining about them all having the exact same set of opinions that they all got from the exact same place (it used to be "The New Yorker" now it's whatever blog is trendy this week I guess).
They've all read the same few books because someone told them to. They've all watched the same few movies or TV shows because their friends do, and none of them are actually that interested in the stuff that they do. Reading "Freedom" or really any other novel should be something you do because you enjoy reading alot of books, not because you've been assigned it as GroupThink Social Networking homework.
"It's Stuff White People Like" all over again.
I'm sympathetic to a lot of this post, but unless you were a fellow Lego enthusiast, wouldn't you have to be fairly sophisticated to talk to one, then turn to the antique fan collector, or the Mars authority or any of the other "awkward obsessions" you come in contact with, and talk to him, too?
I think you miss the point of the criticism towards adult lego builders. you say these folks who go deep are at risk of contributing something to the world. Obsessive hobbyists don't do that. This world will not be one bit better when a kit car builder, or lego maniac, or model train builder dies and leaves his basement or garage. The hobby will have sucked up a lot of time and money from one particular person, and that's about it.
Now, if that obsessive builder spends all his time building a sustainable shelter designed to be dropped in to a disaster zone? That's awesome. That's what I want my kid to be like.
But too many hobbyists are consumed by trying to recapture the halcyon days of playing with a particular toy in the childhood or teens, and they are completely stunted, often to the detriment of their loved ones. (Dad's too busy building his lego castle to play legos with you, son.)
I would rather have someone in my life with wide-ranging, sophisticated knowledge and tastes, because they help me connect with the world. These hobbyists are a cul-de-sac.
The only comment that really feels right to me is from Mark. Why would you be so worried about your child's interests?
The world is a vast place filled with interesting things. There's nothing wrong with sampling. A conversation between people who each know a bit about a topic can be interesting as you all muddle along together trying to make sense of things. Discoveries might not be novel, but they're novel to your group. A conversation where one person is an authority on a subject doesn't stay a conversation for long; it just becomes a lecture.
I have a middle manager incapable of making small talk. It's awful. Congratulatory lunches and events are strained. He has one interest to talk about and the rest of us know little about it and really don't care to know more. The dilettantes of the group work hard to find some common ground other than work to discuss. Again, I agree with Mark. Thank goodness for the 'sophisticates' who function to move small talk along and reduce the awkwardness.
The people you pejoratively describe as "sophisticates" seem to me to fulfill an extremely useful social function. People who are shallow but broad function as a sort of social glue, allowing specialists to communicate and function in the same society.
Maybe instead of indulging in the illusion that we can program our kids, we should let them figure out on their own what they'd like to do.
The problem with an extremely specialized hobby, no matter how obscure, is that there is already 100 (or 10,000) people already far, far more advanced than you exploring that hobby already. Its extraordinarily unlikely to find virgin territory and therefore people who are extremely specialized are really just copying other people and trying differentiate themselves who they themselves are extremely similar. Much more similar than well-rounded people for instance.
Also, people with specialized hobbies tend to be people who go overboard on more than one topic. Susan Orlean's 'Orchid Thief' for example.
Employee-facing managers is a good term.I see middle managers as being of 3 basic populations:(1) employee facing managers(2) bidirectional middle manager facing managers(3) executive-facing managersIt sounds like Sweden uses middle managers more efficiently than the United States and France from skimming Prof. Kling's blog post.
Bruce Sterling said it succinctly:
Don't become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull.Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a pufferfish. If you want to woo the muse of the odd, don't read Shakespeare. Read Webster's revenge plays. Don't read Homer and Aristotle. Read Herodotus where he's off talking about Egyptian women having public sex with goats.If you want to read about myth don't read Joseph Campbell, read about convulsive religion, read about voodoo and the Millerites and the Munster Anabaptists. There are hundreds of years of extremities, there are vast legacies of mutants. There have always been geeks. There will always be geeks. Become the apotheosis of geek.
Academics are sometimes foisted with managerial roles when they'd rather just do basic research (this is John McWhorter's explanation for why he walked away from a tenured position at Berkeley). Nick Rowe writes about being an associate dean and why soviet central planning is better than a Hobbessian state of nature here. Mike Munger has written a few times about being an effective department head in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Samuel Bowles believes that the function of middle management is "guard labor".
I discussed a study here which found large gains from western-style middle management, which contrasts with Greg Clark's report (also focusing on India) that low-level labor quality rather than management makes the difference. I believe it was Robert Kaplan who analogized employee-facing management to non-commissioned officers, the backbone of the military. I could be wrong though, so here's OrgTheory on the underrated function of middle managers.
I've noticed this kind of "Dilbert populism" is widespread, including among technically oriented people who might otherwise think themselves above populism. Arnold Kling's "suits vs geeks" is a particularly clear example.
Dear Mr Hanson,
It seems very sophisticated to me to dedicate your blog to such a variety of subjects.
I also think that Harry Potter is not just popular but mundane. In contrast (though I think there are many other works to contrast positively with Harry Potter) I think the Wizard of Oz novels were not just popular but densely creative.
Hmm, I don't know Robin. You seem to me a very sophisticated person. You seem to know a lot about everything. But I guess you are not really sophisticated because whereas for each topic both would know something about, true sophisticates know little, but you know a substantial amount.
So it seems to me you are saying, "Leave true sophistication to me folks. You don't seem to have the sheer intellectual power to carry it through. Just stick to being good at a few things. That way, your inferiority won't manifest itself in its dilution among many topics."
Your point is of course, valid. That there could be higher marginal returns from having focus. But perhaps this applies to yourself as well.
lol titcr. Not even raw brainpower so much as total self absorption veering on asperger's.