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It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall

It's better to
do a few things
really well than
than to do
a lot of things
If you can't
make the necessary
commitments of
time and energy
to your
scale back
your plan.
John Sumser


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    (March 05, 2002) - No, this is not another screed about newspaper executives. That's a "B" not a "Z". Bobos are the 'bohemian bourgeoisie', the new upper class. Their lives combine what used to be irreconcilable elements of wealth and alternative lifestyles. To understand the employment market, its movers and shakers and the players, you have to understand the "Bobo" mentality and the broad cultural aspiration to become one of them.

    Bobos in Paradise (The New Upper Class and How They Got There) by David Brooks is an entertaining look into the social trends that shaped the emergence of this seemingly improbable group. In the prior generation, the establishment was the establishment and the anti-establishment was the anti-establishment. A unique combination of social movements, SAT tests, shifting tastes and success of counter-culture fads have elevated a hybrid lifestyle to the positions once owned exclusively by Ivy-league grandchildren whose names ended in III or IV.

    In the larger view, the impact of SAT testing (which was developed by Harvard to make Harvard more accessible) has been the emergence of a broad meritocracy in our culture. In a very real way, this new culture (which the so-called "Great" generation of derides as 'soft') is a broad social experiment that has marvelous results. In a meritocracy (as opposed to the older class system), entrance into and departure from the top of the heap is a function of accomplishment, experience, credentials and other relatively measurable attributes. The conversion of credentials into wealth, a distant possibility 50 years ago, is the mainstream of our slightly less class oriented universe.

    They have trouble submitting to any formal set of commandments because they value autonomy too much. But, they burst with spiritual aspirations and long for transcendence. They don't want to forsake pleasures that seem harmless just because some religious authority says so, but they do want to bring out the spiritual implications of everyday life.
    Bobos In Paradise, p. 217

    The book is funny and informative. We found some old stereotypes lying on the floor when we were done. New questions emerged. Does an upper class grown through accomplishment feel less obligation to the larger society? If these are the new rich, are older notions of career in a major jumble? Does standard thinking about so called "careers" take account of the fact that aspiration and ambition are oriented towards becoming a Bobo? Is this a one generation change or a permanent difference? Is there an irreconcilable gap between the Bobos and the Red parts of the Bush-Gore election map? and so on.

    Much of what we have accomplished so far in the Human Capital Industry involves the automation and subtle repositioning of old ways of doing things. It's primitive, in part, because the new realities of economic motivation that drive our workers to 'want more' are not clearly embedded in the solutions we offer. The next phases of development in the industry will be all about the incorporation of contemporary values regarding career, job, family life and the other trappings of a viable economic existence.

    Bobos in Paradise will make you laugh and think:

    Whatever other purposes conferences serve - and they do build solidarity among people who think about the same things, they do offer organizations a forum in which they can flatter their donors, they do give disheveled intellectuals an opportunity to go to places like Orlando Florida - the main purpose of a conference is to serve as a sort of status stock exchange. From the amounts of attention and sycophancy a conference goer attracts, she can judge where her stock price stands in relation to the rest of the market. With a brilliant presentation and some acute hobnobbing, she can send her valuation skyrocketing, thus laying the groundwork for future job offers and other opportunities.
    Bobos In Paradise, p. 167

    Get a copy of Bobos in Paradise and put it on your night stand. The 'comic sociology' will give you an opportunity to broaden your thinking about the problems we're all trying to solve.

     -John Sumser


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