TIME society

World-Famous Violinist Joshua Bell Performs in Union Station

Joshua Bell performs in Union Station in Washington, D.C. on September 30, 2014.
Joshua Bell performs in Union Station in Washington, D.C. on September 30, 2014. Tessa Berenson

In 2007, Bell posed as a street performer in the Metro, and nobody noticed him. Today, he made sure everyone did.

At first glance, Joshua Bell’s violin performance in Union Station in Washington, D.C. Tuesday afternoon bears no resemblance to his famous subway performance seven years ago.

In 2007, as part of a social experiment for a Washington Post magazine article by Gene Weingarten, the renowned violinist posed as a street performer in the Metro to see if hurried commuters could recognize beauty in their midst. He wore a baseball cap, stood by the escalators in the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in D.C., and opened his violin case for tips. (The case, by the way, that normally houses his multi-million dollar Stradivari violin.) To make a long story short: almost no one noticed him.

Today, Bell is once again playing in a train station, but this time he’s made sure people will notice. His publicist Jane Covner said that it was supposed to feel “impromptu,” but there’s nothing spontaneous about this. The performance was publicized; there’s a designated area for press marked off with red velvet ropes, and there are chairs and microphones set up where Bell performs. People begin arriving over an hour before he’s due to play, and by 12:30, there are hundreds of spectators packed into the main hall of Union Station, sitting on the hard floor, trying to squeeze close to the front along the edges of the room, and some even climbing on construction scaffolding to see over the mass of people.

Compare this to the scene in the train station seven years ago, when in his piece about the stunt, Gene Weingarten lamented, “There was never a crowd, not even for a second.”

Today Bell is playing with nine students from the National YoungArts Foundation to promote an upcoming HBO special entitled “Joshua Bell: A YoungArts MasterClass” and his new Bach album out today. So while 2007 was, according to Weingarten, an experiment in “context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste,” today was all about Bell. His documentary, his album, his performance, his celebrity.

Weingarten took the stage first, appraised the hundreds, possibly thousands of people waiting patiently for Bell—some of whom had traveled from well outside the city to come see him play — and said, “This is a lot better than the first time. A lot better, trust me.”

Better, that is, because people were actually paying attention. This performance is “a do-over for the people in Washington,” Covner said. “Not a do-over for [Bell].” And some of those Washingtonians agreed. Weingarten asked for a show of hands how many people in the audience were some of the “morons” that passed by Bell in 2007; four hands went up. “We accept your apology,” Weingarten deadpanned.

Finally, Bell and his accompanists take the stage. They begin with the first movement of the Bach violin concerto. After the 2007 performance, Weingarten wrote, “There are six moments… that Bell finds particularly painful to relive: ‘The awkward times,’ he calls them. It’s what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn’t noticed him playing don’t notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgment.”

Today, after first movement, the station echoes with booming applause, whoops and cheers. Bell beams as he says, “This is more like it!”

Then, looking out at the impressive crowd, he says, “The only thing I regret is we don’t have an open violin case for tips this time.” (Last time, he made a total of $32.17.)

But how can this performance really be seen as a redo of the last one? Yes, it’s in a train station (albeit a much finer one than L’Enfant Plaza), but the 2007 performance was about whether true artistry could be appreciated without fanfare in ordinary spaces. And while Union Station may not be a grand concert hall, today people came knowing they were going to experience something beautiful, which itself defeats the entire question Weingarten initially posed: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

So today’s performance was not a redo; it was a reimagining. Bell didn’t like the answer he found last time, so today he created a different one. He wanted to prove that art could transcend, if only you give people a little nudge.

“I think the whole idea is that if you give people a chance to listen to music and let them concentrate, then it means something,” Bell told TIME afterwards. “And this shows even in a train station that people can be totally focused.”

Finally, almost a decade later, Bell got the answer he was looking for when he first donned his baseball cap and descended into the Metro.

“I thought of it as closure,” he says. “It was a perfect end.”

Then he laughs: “I don’t see myself ever doing this again.”

TIME society

‘Smart Cities’ Should Mean ‘Sharing Cities’

Medellin, Colombia
Medellín, Colombia Christian Heeb—Getty Images

When mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid

These days every city claims to be a “smart” city, or is becoming one, with heavy investments in modern information and computing technology to attract businesses and make the city competitive.

But when mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid, threatening to exacerbate inequality and undermine the social cooperation essential to successful cities. After researching leading cities around the world, we’ve concluded that truly smart cities will be those that deploy modern technology in building a new urban commons to support communal sharing.

In India, Dholera is one of 24 new smart cities planned in order to accommodate the country’s rapidly expanding population. The planned city has cleared most approvals, but is stalled with the coastal zone regulatory commission, probably because of the predicted engineering challenges and expenses of a site on salt flats with a high risk of flooding. Moreover, villagers and small-scale subsistence farmers, who inhabit the proposed site and fear eviction from their land and livelihoods, have been staging peaceful protests with support from a grassroots land rights movement.

In London too, smart-city thinking is socially dumb. Here the problem is epitomized by Tech City in the Shoreditch district. Intended as a hub for tech innovation, it has turned into an annex of the London financial complex, dominated by Google, Cisco, McKinsey, and Intel. The artists, designers, and startups that began the process of regeneration in Shoreditch have been displaced by “commercial gentrification.” Just up the road in Tottenham, the rebranding of warehouses as ‘artistic quarters’ has displaced low-rent communities in favor of bankers and financial speculation.

Demographic, economic and cultural forces are bringing humanity together in large (and growing) urban regions, particularly in the global South. The physical nature of urban space demands—and in some ways, facilitates—sharing: of resources, infrastructures, goods, services, experiences and capabilities. Today, population density and highly networked physical space are converging with new digital technologies to drive sharing in cities—particularly in novel forms online.

Unfortunately, “sharing” is often too narrowly conceived as being primarily about economic transactions. The poster-children of the sharing economy are being co-opted by the interests of venture capital and its insatiable demands for rapid growth and high-value exit-strategies. Taskrabbit, started to make it easier for neighbors to help each other out with errands and chores, is becoming a glorified temping agency leaving its participants in the same precarious boat as those on zero-hours contracts. Uber, in theory a ride-sharing company helping cut congestion, is turning into a luxury taxi company serving the global footloose elite. Lending Club is losing sight of its social purpose in providing peer-to-peer loans for those otherwise excluded, or at risk of predatory money-sharks; instead it seems to be focusing on venture loans for entrepreneurs. Airbnb, the couch-surfing website designed to personalise travel, overlooks the growing use of its platform by landlords buying up property for the purpose, and thus enabling gentrification.

In all too many cities, economic divisions are being widened and social capital destroyed due to the notion that only a competitive, wired city can survive in the cut-throat global market. This is just one of the harmful outcomes of the political ideology of neo-liberalism, the market fundamentalism that has gripped Western politics for the last three decades. The problem is not just a failure of participation — as citizens remain excluded from decision-making — but of imagination, as politicians refuse to intervene in markets except at the behest of corporate capital.

Yet there is a better way of using modern technologies to create more just, inclusive and environmentally efficient economies and societies. Humans are natural sharers. Traditional, old-fashioned face-to-face sharing still happens in communities everywhere, but it has largely broken down in modern cities in the face of commercialization of the public realm, and of rapid, destabilizing economic and technological change. All this has dissolved trust, as we spend more time working and hide from our neighbors behind our security locks and alarm systems.

Even so, new opportunities for collaboration and sharing are arising at the intersection of urban space and cyberspace. Kiva City is providing interest free loans to local social businesses. Freecycle is diverting thousands of tons of functional but unwanted things from landfill. Repair cafes, which bring together people with repair skills and those in need of help, are springing up in hundreds of cities. Garden sharing schemes like Landshare are doing the same for gardeners. Shared public Bus Rapid Transit systems are transforming cities like Medellín in Colombia by providing previously marginalized communities with access to jobs and facilities. Such communally inspired sharing is transforming norms and cultures.

New opportunities for sharing create new opportunities to enhance trust and rebuild social capital. But commercial sharing is also creating new spaces in which commercial interests can force workers into casual contracts, privatize public services and drive up land values and rents through gentrification. In these ways the emerging sharing economy can deepen both social and spatial inequalities and deliver injustice. City leaders need to support and emphasize communal models of sharing that build solidarity and spread trust. Sharing systems designed around equity and justice will naturally shift cultural values and norms towards trust and collaboration. This can deliver a further dividend, as increased trust increases social investment in public goods and the public realm.

Sharing establishes a precondition and motivation for collective political debate. The same measures that enable sharing online, also—if civil liberties are properly protected—enable collective politics online and create venues for healthy debate. In recent years, the intersections of cyberspace and urban space have spawned shared protest movements and efforts at political transformation in countries as diverse as Iceland, Tunisia, Spain, Egypt and the U.S. The Occupy movement and its precursors—such as Spain’s Indignadas—are only harbingers of the coming age of shared politics.

‘Sharing the whole city’ should become the guiding purpose of the future city. This offers a radically different vision compared with a global race to the bottom to attract footloose investment capital. It redefines what ‘smart cities’ of the future might really mean—harnessing smart technology to an agenda of sharing and solidarity, rather than the dumb approaches of competition, enclosure and division.

Julian Agyeman is a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He tweets at @julianagyeman. Duncan McLaren is a freelance researcher and consultant, with long experience in the environmental non-profit sector. He tweets at @mclaren_erc. Their book, Sharing Cities, will be published by MIT Press in fall 2015.

This article was originally written for Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

The Right Way to Ask Boomers to Retire

Millenials Baby Boomers retirement
Jacob Wackerhausen—Getty Images

How ‘polite’ Millennials can convince a generation of workaholics to give up their jobs

Millennials (born 1982-2003) have a problem when it comes to their path to promotions and career advancement. Unless more members of the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964) start stepping down soon, younger generations will find themselves blocked in their careers by people who haven’t shown any inclination to leave, especially after the Great Recession devastated many Boomers’ retirement portfolios.

It’s time for Millennials to have that tough talk about retirement with Boomers. But using logic or making appeals to intergenerational fairness aren’t likely to be successful strategies. And suggesting that it’s time for Boomers to shuffle off the stage might seem selfish or cold-hearted to most members of the remarkably well-mannered Millennial generation. Nor is any suggestion that Boomers retire likely to meet with a positive response from that generation of workaholics. Instead, the talk needs to be couched in the language of Boomers and attuned to their fundamental values.

We have written three books on the Millennial generation in which we used the theory of generational cycles, first proposed in 1991 by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, to make our own predictions about America’s political future. Along the way, we studied volumes of research data, and created some of our own, on each of the current generations of Americans and the dynamics of their interactions with each other.

Boomers are an “Idealist generation” to use Strauss’ and Howe’s name for a generational archetype that is focused on deeply held ideological beliefs. Previous American Idealist generations—the Transcendental generation (born 1792-1821) and the Missionary generation (born 1860-1882)—had one key characteristic that is clearly evident in Boomer behavior today. All Idealist generations are driven by strong beliefs about what is right and wrong and what is good and evil. Members of this type of generation resist compromise and are determined to impose their beliefs on the rest of society—even if it means tearing down existing institutions.

By contrast, Millennials are a “civic generation” in Strauss’ and Howe’s categorization. Their historical predecessors were the GI generation that came of age during the Great Depression and World War II and the Republican generation that won the American Revolution and developed the constitutional order by which America has been governed since 1787. All of these civic generations can be characterized as “pragmatic idealists.” Today’s version, Millennials, is interested in working together to make the world better. It is this desire to find mutually agreeable solutions to problems that makes having the “talk” with their Boomer colleagues so hard for Millennials.

But there is a way to turn the discussion into the type of “win-win” outcome that Millennials favor. The key is to appeal to the very ideals that have driven Boomers’ lives ever since they first burst upon the nation’s consciousness in the 1960s. Since then, no matter on which side of the Cultural Revolution they have fought, Boomers have devoted themselves to their work. They are the source of the term “workaholic” and take pride in what they accomplish at work each day. They define their very self-worth by their work, leading them to start conversations with new acquaintances by asking, “So what do you do?” To suggest to Boomers that it might be time for them to retire is almost the equivalent of asking them to die—clearly not the way to start a productive conversation.

Instead, Millennials should begin the conversation by asking Boomers about their ideals and values. Get them to talk about what motivated them when they were young to make the life and career choices they did. Most Boomers love to talk about their youth. They think of it as the best time in their lives. So starting the conversation in this way is likely to make the opening of the “talk” both pleasant and productive.

The next step would be to pivot from the past into the future by asking Boomers what they believe they have yet to accomplish. This should be followed by a suggestion that now might be the time for the Boomer to take up the work that remains undone on their ideological bucket list before it is too late and they lose their ability to make a difference. Assure them that there are other people, maybe from Generation X, if not the even younger Millennial generation, that can pick up the work in which Boomers are now engaged and see it through to completion.

But, crucially, Millennials should also make it clear that no one but Boomers have the wisdom and experience, coupled with the ideals, to take on the challenges they have been too busy to tackle. At that point, moving out of their jobs—and on to their unfinished business—will become something Boomers think they should do, rather than something that is being forced upon them.

The history of previous Idealist generations underlines the importance of having these conversations sooner rather than later. Strauss and Howe, in their book Generations, summarize the very different outcomes that resulted from the choices made by members of Idealist generations at this crucial point in their lives: “Where the angry spiritualism of Transcendental youth (born 1792-1821) culminated in the apocalypse of the Civil War, the Missionaries (born 1860-1882) demonstrated how a youthful generation of muckrakers, evangelicals, and bomb-throwers could mature into revered and principled elders—wise old men and women capable of leading the young through grave peril to a better world beyond.” Members of this generation, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Douglas MacArthur, and George C. Marshall successfully mobilized the civic-minded GI generation to undertake and complete the task of remaking the world according to our democratic ideals.

By analogy, suggesting that it’s time for the current generation of Idealists, Boomers, to lead this increasingly dangerous world to a better place by putting aside their current work and taking on their last and most important challenge is the best way for Millennials to convince Boomers it’s time to move on. The current state of affairs makes it clear that it is way past time for Millennials to start this difficult conversation. Our advice to Millennials: Don’t wait another minute to have the “talk” with a Boomer you know.

Mike Hais and Morley Winograd of Mike & Morley, LLC are business partners whose combined careers include entertainment and media market research (Frank N. Magid Associates), a stint in the White House (Clinton-Gore second term), technology and communications (AT&T), and academia (USC’s Marshall School of Business and the University of Detroit). Based in Los Angeles, Mike & Morley speak, write and consult on the role of Millennials in remaking America. They are the co-authors of Millennial Makeover (2008), Millennial Momentum (2011), and Millennial Majority (2013).

This article originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

I Wrote an Article About Marriage, and All Anyone Noticed Is That I’m Fat

Galit Breen Wedding
Courtesy of Galit Breen

When I wrote my article, I included wedding photos that I had never shared online before, because of the way my body looked in them

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

My husband and I celebrated our 12th anniversary this June. We’ve had a good run despite my over-thinking and his over-scheduling, so I did what we writers do: I wrote a neat and tidy article titled “12 Secrets Happily Married Women Know.”

I was feeling especially comfortable in my skin at the time. I’ve been running and lifting and eating (mostly) well, and I’m healthy. The warmth of summer — the rays that hit me in slices throughout the day, the constant comfort of my family around me, the looseness that comes with a lack of a schedule — all wore me down, softened my edges, sent me out of my comfort zone and for one teeny tiny moment, I set aside my deeply ingrained defense mechanisms.

I had met a friend for lunch the week before. She faced me across fresh shrimp and cold beer and we talked about our children and our writing, the threads that hold us together. “I never see candid photos of you,” she mused. The hair on my arms, my shoulders, and the back of my neck stood on end. “I’m not judging,” she added, “But I noticed that you like to have control over that.”

She was absolutely right in the non-annoying way that only heart-deep friends can be.

I do like to have control over photos that are taken — and shown — of me. I’m a selfie re-taker, a Facebook un-tagger, a strategic chin-hand-child placer, and I’m (almost) always the person behind the camera, rather than the one in front of it. When you’re fat, and you don’t want to be, you memorize these tricks of the trade.

So yes, my friend was right. I am normally so very careful about the photos I share, not necessarily for privacy, but definitely for vanity.

But this summer, I was softened. And when I wrote my article, I included wedding photos that I had never shared online before.

I used to hide them because of the way parts of my body looked in them. My chin (double), my waist (wide), my arms (thick). But I included them because, without my armor, I could see what had always been there — my husband and I look so happy in them. Joyful, really, and truly in love. And that’s what my article was about, so I embedded the photos, sent my article into my editor, and really and truly didn’t think about them again.

In the body image wars that women, that I, have with ourselves — this was a win.

When my article got some traction, I decided to take a peek at the comments it was getting. This is a cardinal rule never-ever meant to be broken. But I was curious and I (quite naively) thought, Bring it. I could take whatever commenters could possibly dish about my thoughts on marriage. And this is still true. What I couldn’t take, however, is what commenters — people, human beings — said about my body.

Here are a few screen shots I captured that day, or one of the days after that I went back and looked again (and again).

I peered at comments like these through splayed fingers, counted how many “Likes” these got as opposed to how many readers told these people to stop being like “that” — whatever “that” might be. Cruel, unnecessary, fat-focused. Behind the safety of my screen, I was keeping score — for my article or against my body. Because these are the two camps that the commenters joined.

I couldn’t stop looking. “Cut it out,” my husband said, shaking his head, desperate to help. But what could he possibly do or say to soften this, or to soften me again?

I kept going back to check on it — like a tended fire that I needed to know if it would be smothered or fanned.

On good days, I started dialogue about internet comments, misogyny, and body image. On better days I began writing this article. But on hard days, which was most of them, I cried.

I cried for the words flashing through my mind — Fat. Ugly. Heifer. — and I cried for the way that I averted my eyes whenever I passed a mirror. I cried trying to figure out what my husband thought reading, seeing, feeling those words and how they would make him read, see, and feel about me. I cried for my daughters seeing those words said about their mom or ever hearing them, or even worse thinking them, about themselves.

And I cried for the desire that I had to show photos of myself today — Look! I’m “better” now! Not perfect, but not as fat as that! My self worth suddenly became entrenched in those words. I was tethered. I was also perpetuating the exact same thing those commenters were — fat is bad, body commenting is normal, and valid. I cried a lot about that.

Our society’s incessant focus on women’s bodies and the way we deem it necessary and appropriate to comment on them is, at best, misguided, and at worst, damaging.

There are very few times that I think it’s okay to comment on a woman’s body — in a complimentary or in a negative way. As a mother and as a woman, I think we all need to stop that conversation, to consider it taboo.

People say that the way we’re spoken to becomes our self-talk. In my experience this is very true. And as much as we’re loved, it’s incredibly difficult to undo this.

I can’t tell you how body talk makes every woman feel, but I can tell you that staying away from body compliments and body bashing, body noticing and body commentary leaves room for the kinds of words that we want the women — and the girls — in our lives to hear, to repeat, to have written to them by the typewriters in their own minds. And that, can’t hurt.

Galit Breen is a Minnesota writer. She has had essays published in several magazines and anthologies, co-directs the Listen to Your Mother Show in the Twin Cities, and writes for allParenting, Everyday Family, Mamalode Magazine, and The Huffington Post blogs.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

America Is More of a Club Than a Family

American Flag and Neighborhood
Ryan Lane—Getty Images

Claude S. Fischer is professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character, and a regular columnist for the Boston Review

We're used to choosing to join together for a goal—or not—whenever we want to

Over the course of the last 15 years or so, there’s been an explosion in the number of charter schools around the country. According to the latest figures (from 2012), some 2.1 million students are enrolled in schools run by private groups awarded public money. The schools bear optimistic names like “YES Prep North Central” (in Houston) and “Animo Leadership High” (in Inglewood, California). Beyond the specific concerns about education, the charter school movement is powered by a particularly American world-view, one rooted in the ethos of the dissident Protestant churches that were the foundation of early American culture: Citizens opting out of a hierarchical system to pursue personal goals by joining together in a local, voluntary society.

This ideological impulse – which I and others call “voluntarism” – is a cultural trait that helps explain why the United States remains different from comparable wealthy, western nations. Broadly speaking, voluntarism is not another term for American individualism, although it entails individualism. Voluntarism is the way Americans reconcile individualism and community. And we can feel the weight of American voluntarism in our approaches to public issues, not only in charter schools, but in debates about issues like Obamacare and gay marriage as well.

Other western nations, by contrast, consider health care a civil right of citizens and a moral obligation of government. American tradition, however, treats health care as an individual’s personal responsibility, or at least as a personal responsibility exercised through voluntary association, as in workplace health insurance. When the debate around gay marriage shifted from a discussion of God, gender, sex, and propriety to a debate over individual rights, tolerance, and the personal freedom of Americans to choose their partners, the struggle for marriage equality became easier.

American voluntarism makes it hard for social-democratic reformers to persuade their fellow citizens to accept the types of ambitious state-run initiatives common in most western democracies, such as universal healthcare, free pre-schools and guaranteed labor rights. Conversely, the spirit of American voluntarism makes it harder for non-Americans to understand our public policies, which are often caricatured as being nakedly Darwinian.

That American society was notably different — exceptional was the term — from other western societies was a staple for much of twentieth-century social science. Researchers have offered up lists of hows and whys, trying to distill the difference. I joined the enterprise when I started researching my 2010 book, Made in America, and the evidence spoke to the centrality of voluntarism in understanding American culture and its so-called exceptionalism.

Observers have for generations described Americans as deeply individualistic. But, as I argued in Made in America, individualism is too simple a description. Certainly, deeply instilled in American culture is the assumption that we are each a “sovereign” individual–the belief that each person is, deep down, a unique character, distinct and separate from everyone else, that ultimately each person determines his or his own fate, and that individuals ought to be self-reliant.

From the perspective of world history, this notion of the sovereign individual is odd. Most cultures most times treated individuals as organic parts of their family, lineage, and tribe. That is why, for example, collective punishment – you took our goat, so my family will take your cousin’s sheep – is widely accepted around the globe, even today, after centuries of westernization. An example I like to use in teaching is marriage: In most places, in most times, marriage has been in principle primarily about connecting families and lineages. Parents sensibly married off youths to appropriate partners. My students, many of them only a generation or two from that Old World, instead take it for granted that marriage is about two young, not fully-mature individuals freely choosing one another based on their individual emotions – a weird notion, indeed. Individual sovereignty is a broadly western assumption, and Americans are the most western of westerners.

Individualism, however, is a severely incomplete description of the American character, ignoring America’s strong communal dimension. Just as Alexis de Toqueville and other observers wrote in the 19th century of Americans’ individualism, they also described intensive community activity – neighborly assistance like barn raising; joint endeavors like militias and tending of commons; and clubs from sewing circles to lecture societies. In contrast to churches that were outposts of a central ecclesiastical authority such as Roman Catholicism and the established Protestant denominations (for examples, the Church of England and the Lutheran Church of Norway), the dominant American form was a grass-roots Protestant church. This was a voluntary association of individuals who found others with common religious yearnings, pooled their resources, and hired a minister.

The many secular versions of this communalism in America – Rotary clubs, blood drives, online Kickstarter-type philanthropy projects, walks against diseases, beach clean-up weekends, you name it – belie the caricature of Americans as selfish individualists. Critically, such associations are ones individuals have voluntarily chosen; they are not tribes, castes, clans, manors, or ethnicities into which people are born and in which they die. Nor are these distinctively American types of associations sponsored or organized by the state.

American voluntarism is the merging of our individualistic and communal strains, the world-view that individuals forge their distinct fates with like-minded people in groups that they have individually, freely chosen to join and are individually free to leave. People attain their personal ends through community, but through voluntary community. And thus they are both sovereign individuals and community citizens.

My favorite expression of this view is a statement from 1905 by Alma A. Rogers, a local writer in Portland, Oregon, who celebrated simultaneously women’s individuation and women’s community activity: “Woman has at last made the fateful discovery that she is an individual, not an adjunct. Therefore, she thrills to the pulse of organization; and lo! The woman’s club is born.” Another revealing expression is the 1960s-era slogan, “America: Love it or Leave It.” It captured the idea that people are not forced to be American, but as long as they choose to be, they are expected to be committed to the voluntary association that is America. The key to the American community, in other words, are the acts of opting in and every day choosing to stay in. That is why collective action through the state is anathema to so many Americans – it seems to usurp individual agency and responsibility, alone or in community.

Over the years, of course, Americans often compromised this voluntarism for practical reasons. Social Security is a paternalistic government mandate that people accepted during a great crisis, although it was cloaked in the language of “insurance” rather than welfare. But for the most part, such policies remain tough sells. Many observers on the left hoped that the Great Recession would trigger social-democratic breakthroughs. But Obamacare is, in historical perspective, a small step in that direction, a complex and limited extension of government subsidies for private health insurance rather than a full-on establishment of a universal entitlement. Some research suggests that Americans have actually moved against government initiatives in the wake of the financial crisis.

Americans will continue to argue about the proper boundary between our individual spheres and the sphere of our government. But, even in these disagreements, there is a common mind-set, shared by right and left, that Americans should get to choose the nature of their participation in the nation. Thirty years ago this month, New York Governor Mario Cuomo delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention that tried to replace or moderate that voluntaristic motif with another kind of imagery,

the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another’s pain, sharing one another’s blessings . . . . We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another . . . .

It was a rhetorically powerful moment, but a losing political strategy. Today, perhaps more than ever, Americans don’t tend to think of the nation as a “family” to which we are “bound,” but rather as a club which we have joined.

Claude S. Fischer originally wrote this piece for What It Means to Be American, a project of the Smithsonian Institution and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

30 Is the New 50: Old Age Is Killing My Dating Life

183958962
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

My career successes, my triumphs as a human being, are trumped by the fact my looks—and my ovaries—have a shelf life

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

“You know,” he says. “It’s tough for people our age.”

It’s 1 a.m. on a Monday, and I am currently on the phone having an argument with a guy I’d been on only four dates with, three of them good. One of them—the last—was less good, given he had gone MIA for the better part of three weeks and I had a sneaking suspicion he had a girlfriend.

We hadn’t slept together, but the kisses had been the type of kisses you walk away from with shaky knees and blind hope. There was something there, and we both knew it, which is why we were attempting to hash things out over the phone at some ungodly hour. Because at our age, we’re adults, and things matter more. The mistakes leave marks.

Alex is 38. I’m 30. Technically, there are no “people our age.” But I’m starting to feel that a 30-year-old woman might as well be a 40-year-old man, though infinitely less desirable, culturally speaking.

At 40, a man is well into hitting his stride, something the guy I’m arguing with is all too aware of, as evidenced when he professes on multiple occasions, “I’m an amazing guy.” “We’re killing it. KILLING IT,” he tells me, while explaining that he’s been caught up in his rapidly expanding architecture firm.

Alex sees his stock rising. For a man, age brings success, wisdom and the Hollywood-approved wrinkles of Robert Redford. And, while I too find that my career is on the up, it doesn’t matter, because time, for a woman, is hardly as kind as it is to a man. My career successes, my triumphs as a human being, are trumped by the fact that my looks—and my ovaries—have a shelf life. Biology and Sociology 101.

Interestingly enough, Alex and I, with nearly a decade between us, are two people on the same page in terms of what we are looking for in a relationship. In New York, men approaching their 40s begin to feel the weight of time more acutely, something women are confronted with the moment they start their first period. While boys are still sitting in the school parking lot burping up Cokes and Doritos, young girls are in some ways exposed to the long, faint shadow of their mortality, a life defined by precise timing and narrow windows—girlhood and fertility immediately presented to you as finite and limited. Everything has its end.

Men, on the other hand, start to engage with their bodies only decades later, when something goes wrong. A slow-healing broken arm, a herniated disc, high blood pressure: These are the wake-up calls, when aging men begin to wrestle with the thought of impending death, or at least not wanting to be an old dad. Overnight, their biological clocks start ticking. They want kids. They want a partner. Their timer has gone off. DING DING DING.

After decades after messing around, they’re ready to settle down. Which is precisely where Alex was at about a year ago with his ex-fiancée, who—kudos to Alex—was four years his senior and under the crushing pressure of having kids right away, lest the opportunity pass them by altogether—or, more precisely, pass her by. Alex couldn’t handle the idea of having kids right away and broke it off, because he had the luxury his fiancée did not: namely, time. And the ability to eventually, when he was ready, find someone 15 years younger to have children with.

Which brings us to the point when he finally—after nearly an hour on the phone explaining that he’s been so hot and cold because he’s too busy with work, because he’s very into expanding his business, because he’s shy—admits he’s been seeing some 20-something girl named Anouk for the past few months.

This, by the way, follows this part of the conversation by about 20 minutes:

Alex: Well, what do you want?

Me: I want to love someone and I want them to love me.

Alex: You? You think you’re lovable? You think someone can fall in love with you? You’re so guarded. How can anyone fall in love with someone so guarded?

Alex, of course, self-professed amazing person that he is, is not very well versed in Newton’s Third Law and its role in relationship physics. I was guarded because he did things that made me sense he had a girlfriend. Which he did. But that’s not his fault. Because Alex the Architect is amazing!

As though any amount of talking is going to make this better, Alex continues to tell me about Anouk, who doesn’t mind his going on dates with other women because he “doesn’t love her,” and who he is dating precisely because she’s not looking for anything at all.

It’s this logic that has most of my 30-something guy friends dating girls fresh out of college. Girls who, in my experience, are less impressive, less striving, less volatile, less successful, less intimidating, less questioning, less pressing, less complex, less damaged, less opinionated, less powerful, less womanly. They are less, and, to a guy not ready for anything—like most of the guys I have dated in New York—less is more.

A 30-year-old woman is an undertaking, and it’s the real reason Alex has been putting me on the back burner for the past two months, telling me that I’m amazing and that he’s interested and then disappearing to hang out with a 23-year-old instead. Age ain’t nothing but a number, until it’s a number someone else doesn’t want to deal with.

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor (and former model) living in a yet-to-be-ruined part of Brooklyn. You can find her work on V Magazine, CR, The Style Con, Lady Clever, Harry’s, and, of course, on xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Keep Your Shoes on for This All-Wood Airport Checkpoint

New York-based artist Roxy Paine used a combination of 3-D modeling and hand-carving to create this unique art installation

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

We’ve all been there: the rushing, the queues, the “shoes, belt, laptop” drone, the beeping, the swabs and the hands in strange places. But it’s unlikely that very many of us will ever actually stop to look around and take in any details of an airport security checkpoint.

Using a blend of 3D modelling and hand-carving, artist Roxy Paine has created an installation depicting a checkpoint frozen in time. From the rubber flaps on the x-ray machine to the shoes in the box, the whole thing is made from wood and illuminated by recognizable fluorescent lighting. Using forced perspective and clever foreshortening, Paine has managed to fit an 80-ft room into an 18-ft space and still make it seem life-size.

The room-sized diorama, carved from soft-hued maple, portrays a mundane space in a new light, freezing a room that we normally rush through without seeing so that we can observe minute details at our leisure.

(via Design Boom)

TIME society

Millennials Have Big Faith in Big Business, Study Says

A new study suggests that young workers are looking to big businesses to address the world’s problems

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Daniel Roberts

Millennials are lazy, cynical, entitled, and distrusting of institutions, including large corporations, right? Maybe not.

There are plenty of widely held beliefs about the characteristics that define the Millennial generation (typically demarcated as those born between 1980 and 2000). In stories published last year: the New York Times mentions that Millennials “have developed a reputation for a certain materialism”; the Wall Street Journalrefers to “that entitlement complex that some older critics allege is a Millennial trait”; and aJezebel essay lists some of the accusations of Millennials: “kinda whoring it out… total bummers to mentor… make Boomers feel bad… are picky… can’t cut the cord.”

But Lauren Rikleen, author of a new book about Millennials in the workplace, You Raised Us, Now Work with Us, says “most of the negative characteristics are myths. They’re not real.” (For a candid chat with Rikleen about her book and findings, see How corporate America should adapt to millennials.)

A new study released this week suggests that Millennials have big expectations for big businesses. The study, commissioned by MSL Group, part of French communications giant Publicis Groupe, surveyed 8,000 people born between 1984 and 1996, in 17 different countries, including the United States, Canada, Singapore, India, China, Brazil, and others. The study found that Millennials—a generation typically attributed with aversion to, and distrust of, major institutions—in fact, look to the corporate world to help solve global problems.

“The biggest ‘aha’ for us in the whole study,” says MSL Group’s Scott Beaudoin, “was that although trust in business is still low, Millennials see business as the only solution for a better future. They’ve given up on government. They see big companies as our only hope.”

According to the study, 78% of Millennials recommend a company to their peers based on the company’s involvement with society. Eighty-three percent expect businesses to do more than they are already doing to help the world, but 82% do believe they are capable of it—that businesses can make the greatest impact in addressing societal issues. And they want to work with businesses to aid those efforts. Fifty-one percent said they want to get personally involved in making the world a better place, and 69% want businesses to make it easier for them to get involved.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME society

This Hamster Wheel Treadmill Desk Is the Ideal Way to Make Your Coworkers Hate You

Or, you know, to make you feel like a rodent marching slowly toward your own death

Ah, standing desks. Great way to avoid the many negative effects of sitting all day, and great way to increase your coworkers’ disdain for you. But now, you can take that a few steps further with this wooden hamster wheel desk. Forget standing while you work — now you can walk while you work.

The Hamster Wheel Standing Desk is the brainchild of artist Robb Godshaw and developer Will Doenlen. The video above shows a brief glimpse into how they constructed it using four sheets of plywood, two skateboard wheels, two pipes and 240 wood screws.

Here’s a look at how the final product works:

Admittedly, it looks pretty cool — but also a tad depressing, bringing up the kind of themes we remembered from Office Space. You know, about office workers being nothing more than mindless little worker bees (or worker hamsters?) frittering away their meaningless lives. But if you ignore that idea, and don’t mind some disdainful glances from your coworkers, this could be the perfect desk for you.

TIME society

We Need Memorials to Keep From Repeating Dark Chapters of the Past

New York Commemorates 13th Anniversary Of September 11th Attacks
A flower is left at the 9/11 Memorial September 11, 2014 in New York City. This year marks the 13th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on Flight 93. Eric Thayer—Getty Images

Claire Greenstein is a Ph.D. student in comparative politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Clearly, it’s difficult to construct a memorial that pleases everyone

Remembering can be controversial. For the past 13 years, Americans have gathered at Ground Zero in New York on 9/11. Nothing too scandalous there. But that act became tendentious when we built a memorial—and then, this year, a museum—to recall the tragedy.

It’s easy to find fault with this type of tangible remembrance. How, you may ask, can a single artistic representation possibly encompass searing brutality, grief, horror, and loss? Is it morally appropriate for perpetrator governments or their successors to build these monuments? Is it ethical to construct sites that attract gawking tourists? These uncomfortable questions have prompted many to argue that remembrance days, educational programs, and empty spaces specifically designated for commemoration are better than physical memorials. But that argument ignores an important benefit of the memorial: No matter how they look, they have a permanence that an empty space or an educational program does not. And that permanence sends a powerful message – that the memory of the tragedy won’t be ephemeral.

That fact doesn’t make it any easier to design a memorial that’s universally pleasing. New York’s 9/11 Memorial and Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe show how hard it can be to construct an appropriate, effective memorial. The first challenge they illustrate: How to navigate the trade-off between information and aesthetics. Too many plaques, for instance, overwhelm the aesthetic impact of a place, but too little information leaves observers to wonder what’s being commemorated. This is the case with the Holocaust memorial. It consists of a field of massive gray steles designed to communicate sorrow, accompanied by an underground information center. But the information center is difficult to find, and the memorial’s title doesn’t mention who persecuted the Jews or even which Jews were murdered, reducing this information to the assumption that “everybody knows.”

The need to balance form with education is made harder by the fact that visitors have different degrees of knowledge, cultural backgrounds, and mother tongues. Architecture may communicate the past better than a plaque can, but successful memorials must still incorporate both design and data. The 9/11 Memorial sought to solve this problem by building a museum next to the memorial, but this only caused a clash: A few months ago, an interfaith council objected to one of the museum’s films, saying that the short movie, designed to educate visitors about Al Qaeda, doesn’t clearly differentiate between radical jihadists and ordinary Muslims.

This still leaves maybe the biggest dilemma in headlines: How should memorials engage visitors? The Holocaust and 9/11 memorials, again, demonstrate this difficulty. Critics argue that the Holocaust memorial, with its rectilinear stele arrangement, has ineffective artistic engagement, partly because of how hard it is to find the accompanying information center, and partly because many of the steles are now beginning to crumble. There’s also the issue of how the memorial is used as a park in which children (and adults, too) play hide-and-seek and sit on smaller steles. In other words, it’s not entirely clear whether the memorial is supposed to be a site of fun or solemnity.

Similarly, the 9/11 Memorial is still often criticized for being “given over to multimedia flash”: With its bagpipe music, gift shop, and jam-packed displays, the memorial is more likely to leave visitors confused than moved. Moreover, there’s been the even more recent snafu over selfies—should visitors be taking smiling photos of themselves at a solemn memorial? Some visitors, whether at the Holocaust memorial or 9/11 Memorial, argue that selfies are a form of tribute; they put people into a larger context. But for others, this tragedy tourism is disrespectful.

These concerns are real and valid. But we can’t let them obscure the reality that constructing a memorial is still a positive and significant step toward remembrance. For instance, Berlin’s Memorial for the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered in National Socialism wasn’t finished until 2012, though it’s for a tragedy that occurred in the 1940s. This delay was due in large part to the fact that although the Roma Genocide, or Porajmos, killed nearly one quarter of Europe’s entire Roma community, many people hadn’t heard of the Porajmos. It wasn’t until 1982 that the German government acknowledged that Roma and Sinti were persecuted for racial reasons. Before then policy held that they had been killed for asocial behavior. By constructing a permanent Porajmos memorial (within view of the Reichstag, no less), the government is stating that it accepts past guilt and will offer future support to the Roma. So memorials, regardless of their flaws, are critical in sustaining attention paid to past tragedies. (And seeing as how Roma still face government-sanctioned prejudice in some of the very places where their relatives were killed, and how European Jews are facing a refueled anti-Semitism in what has been called the “worst times since the Nazi era,” memorials are key for making sure we don’t forget.) Their power, in other words, is in their permanence.

Clearly, it’s difficult to construct a memorial that pleases everyone: governments, communities being honored, and outside observers, while simultaneously balancing artistry with information. Memorials shouldn’t be prioritized above victims’ needs, nor should they be created without first consulting the victims themselves. “Failed” monuments abound. Examples such as Marcel Breuer’s aborted Roosevelt Memorial from the 1960s, Yemen’s Sana’a suicide bombing memorial from 2012, and Hungary’s arguably revisionist World War II memorial from this year shine a light on how difficult it is to combine the ingredients needed to create a memorial that’s accurate, easily interpreted, and respectful.

With artistic, historical, and educational integrity, however, memorials are powerful reminders that the darker chapters of the past mustn’t be repeated. They’re living lessons that promote non-recurrence of long-ago conflicts, as well as of recent tragedies.

Claire Greenstein is a Ph.D. student in comparative politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her prior research has focused mainly on Europe, and her research interests include transitional justice and memory politics. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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