Escaping the Electric Shadow

After I took a Literature & Film class focused on the idea of The Apocalypse (whatever that may mean to you), I was inspired to think about the end of the world as we know it (and consequently, the beginnings of new ones) through the lenses of different films and stories. Here's a close reading I did of a Ray Bradbury short story that fit the bill of what the end of the world might look like and that instantly grew on me - "There Will Come Soft Rains." 


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Within the modern age of technology, humans are equipped with tools that provide an infinite amount of possibilities for what one can accomplish; this enormity of possibilities not only renders the future limitless, but begs the question of how the definition of humanity will evolve, and whether or not humans will remain relevant in the face of technological advancement over time. In “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” Bradbury offers a prophetic look at the future of modern society and technology; he presents a glimpse into the extinction of mankind after a nuclear holocaust in 2026 by describing the disposition of an automated house operating autonomously in a fallen city. By using personification and figurative language to convey a post-apocalyptic portrait of an artificially intelligent house, Bradbury signals a warning about technological singularity – that as the capacity of technology to endure without human support grows, the meaning of humanity and human longevity is increasingly threatened.  

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Because Bradbury breathes human qualities into the character of the house, one is able to empathize with its humanistic traits and consider it as a living, technological creature. The house’s routine behavior is described through a third-person omniscient viewpoint, which lingers on mechanical actions occurring in different regions of the house: from the front door “[singing] quietly,” cleaning animals “sucking gently at hidden dust,” the “stove making pancakes,” to tables folding “like great butterflies,” Bradbury allows oneself to gain insight into the habitual inner workings of the house in a post-apocalyptic setting, sans human owners (1-3). Moreover, given that the house’s activity is dictated by the passage of time, a specific consequential task follows suit after each point in the house’s schedule is established; this dynamic of documenting time can be observed within instances such as “the nursery walls [glowing] at “Four-thirty” and “dinner dishes [manipulating] like magic tricks” at “Six, seven, eight o’clock” (3-4).  

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However, a turning point occurs within the house’s schedule; “At ten o’clock, it [begins] to die,” and a series of scenes regarding the house’s gradual demise ensue that encapsulates Bradbury’s overarching criticism on the dynamic between technology and mankind (5). While tracing the house’s strict schedule leading up to its downfall, Bradbury uses figurative language to personify idiosyncrasies of the house and elements of nature that ultimately threaten to destroy its existence. Because Bradbury humanizes the house’s “mechanical paranoia” towards the outside world, its architectural body “[quivering] at each sound,” the mortality of the house is especially prominent during the ten o’clock scene; a force of fire threatens to extinguish its existence: the fire “[feeds] upon Picassos and Matisses in the upper hall… baking off the oily flesh,” shatters the house’s “attic brain,” and eventually causes the structure’s “bare skeletons [to cringe] from the heat” and expose its “red veins and capillaries” to the “scalded air” (2, 5-6).

By ironically referring to fire and characteristics of the house as living creatures, Bradbury strengthens the dynamic of resistance between technology and human nature, implying that as technology has grown increasingly intelligent and human-like, humans have become excessively reliant on technology’s capabilities. With technology overwhelming and replacing organic toils of human labor, Bradbury’s decision to allocate human qualities in technological creatures demonstrates his fatalistic outlook on how advanced technology has become a crutch for society, especially in the context of nuclear warfare, that sucks the marrow of humanity out of the earth and its inhabitants.

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However, although Bradbury stresses how technology removes human involvement from the world by depicting an automated house crumbling in an environment ruined by nuclear warfare, Bradbury’s inclusion of components of nature and personification to humanize the house and the fire establishes a tension of opposites: in spite of human extinction, the essence of humanity appears to have not been fully extinguished, but rather absorbed and redistributed into technological mediums themselves. Bradbury’s consistent references to elements of nature, from comparing fading voices in the house to dying children in a “forest,” snapping mirrors to “brittle ice,” and popping wires to “hot chestnuts,” all accentuate the fact that the unnatural entity of technology shapes the scale and form of how humans associate themselves with the natural world, as well as how they can ultimately be disassociated from it (6).

...advanced technology has become a crutch for society... that sucks the marrow of humanity out of the earth and its inhabitants.

Bradbury’s choice to treat the house as a digitized projection of human characteristics falling victim to extreme consequences of technological warfare emphasizes how technological mediums’ resemblance to humans is a byproduct of society’s hyper-reliance on mechanical machines. In turn, similar to how technology is comprised of different forms of media, Bradbury’s continual personification of the technological house suggests that humans are also mediums themselves – that humans should be more than just moving shadows or a “silhouette” alongside the realm of technology (2). Based on the notion that humans are able to configure their perspective and understanding of the world through integrative technology, Bradbury’s eerie portrayal of a world void of humans due to nuclear warfare implies that humans must harvest benefits from the expansive abilities of technology, rather than abusing technological power to create impulsive destruction. Therefore, Bradbury’s the juxtaposition of nature and technology within descriptions of the house’s downfall strengthens the overarching narrative that technology’s recurring battle with mankind constantly ebbs and flows.

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Furthermore, Bradbury’s implementation of verbal repetition and patterns of choppy syntax to describe the house’s deteriorating state not only submerges oneself into a sensory experience of panic, but begins to reveal the artificiality of the artificially intelligent house. For instance, when viewing the text of the house’s repetitive cries, “Help, help! Fire! Run, run!”, jumping through visual hurdles of clipped sentence structures engenders a sensation of being left breathless, almost as if one were in the midst of the suffocating fire himself (6). Likewise, Bradbury’s continuation of incorporating a visual pattern of choppy, repetitive phrases to describe how the house’s voices wail, “Fire, fire, run, run” and eventually begin to fade, “…alone, alone” shows the technological limitations of the house’s responsiveness through recycling limited word choices of “help,” “fire,” and “run” (5-6).

Moreover, Bradbury’s inclusion of jumpy syntax to emphasize the physical destruction of the house evokes the effect of an onomatopoeia; his use of verbal repetition and clipped sentence structures mirror the percussive-sounding verbs utilized to describe sharp noises occurring within the falling house, such as “heat [snapping]” mirrors like “brittle winter ice” and “wires [popping]” their sheathings like “hot chestnuts,” which emphasizes the urgency the house feels as it “[tries] to save itself” (5-6). Ultimately, this effect produces an immersive sense of frantic desperation surrounding the house’s downfall and sheds light on the notion that advanced technology, albeit capable of mirroring human-like autonomy, lacks the pillars of conscientious behavior and intuitive thinking that are innate to humanity. 

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In addition, Bradbury’s juxtaposition of technology alongside elements of nature to describe the house’s journey towards death underscores the overarching implication that technological mediums are constantly at war with mankind. Bradbury’s thematic warning about technological singularity is fully embodied by the haunting imagery of the “entire west face of the house,” that of which depicts a family’s “images burned in wood in one titanic instant” (2). This imagery is implicative of the Hiroshima Shadow during World War II, a phenomenon notorious for capturing a subject’s “images,” or final moments of life, in a “titanic instant” before being burned alive in a nuclear fire.

Although Bradbury’s illustration of the remnants of human silhouettes on a charred wall is symbolic of the apocalyptic destruction that can be born from abusing nuclear weaponry, it also serves as a warning about destructive technology to society; because the conclusion of Bradbury’s piece lingers on the imagery of the only remaining wall left of the house continuing to function and speak with its electric voice, Bradbury suggests  that if humans continue to invest in technology for digressive purposes, such as mindless destruction, human rationality and conscientiousness will become obsolete. Thus, with technological machines, such as Bradbury’s depicted house, exuding artificial impressions of human-like qualities and problem-solving processes, the depletion of human self-sufficiency strengthens the possibility of individuals becoming merely shadows of human beings.

....the depletion of human self-sufficiency strengthens the possibility of individuals becoming merely shadows of human beings.

Overall, by using literary elements in “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” to sculpt the character of a technologically advanced house as it copes with the effects of post-nuclear warfare, Bradbury enables oneself to gain a vivid glimpse at his perspective on the evolution of modern technology, its detrimental effects on the future of mankind, and the consequential decay of humanity. Although Bradbury depicts technology as an inevitable force of power and destruction, the house’s ultimate digression into ashes of nothingness, save one wall, shows that the fate of humankind is able to diverge from a fatalistic outcome – that technology will always be running ahead of society, evolving at an unbeatably fast rate – and be rejuvenated by humane aspects of the physical world. Thus, Bradbury’s portrayal of an automated, post-apocalyptic house that thrives off the residue of humanity, but is ultimately swept away by fire, not only acts as a warning for one to keep up with the future of technology, but also serves as a note of caution to avoid being left standing in the shadow of technology itself.

Shawshank Redemption: I Hope

“The Shawshank Redemption” is a movie about time, patience, redemption, and most of all, hope. The backbone of the story rests on the wrongful imprisonment of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins): a former investment banker who’s been framed for a crime - the murder of his wife - that he didn’t commit. The story of Shawshank follows Andy as he becomes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman), a lifer, just like him - “ a man who knows how to get things,” whether it be cigarettes, candy, or even a rock pick for an amateur geologist; and a man who’s been inside the walls of Shawshank Prison for a very long time.

But the heart of the story resides in Red’s narrative, and it even bleeds into beautifully orchestrated subplots of supporting prisoner characters, like Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) - a man who couldn’t make it on the “outside.” In fact, the moment Andy and Red’s paths intersect, Red takes the wheel of the story and fulfills the role of narrator, driving us through the psychological terrain of fighting battles with institutionalization and moving from imprisonment to freedom.

The two things I love most about “The Shawshank Redemption,” are, simply put - the beginning and the end.

The beginning is a hauntingly beautiful vignette of the event that serves as a basis for the dramatic premise of the story. It intertwines moments from two parallel narratives: 1) Andy sitting outside of a country club in at night in his car - drunk, and fiddling with a revolver in his lap, and 2) Andy standing on the witness stand at his trial for the murder of his wife and her lover. The conceptualization of constructing two separate blocks of narrative into a single block and glancing back at the footage of murder through flashbacks enriches the trial scene, which is the event that essentially derails Andy’s life and sets him on his path to Shawshank.

Moreover, our mere introduction to the Shawshank penitentiary is given to us through an astounding lens. It’s as if we’re a bird flying over the towering walls of Shawshank - the camera soars and pans around hundreds of inmates crossing the prison grounds, and ominous swells in orchestral strings push us to watch closely during our flight around Shawshank from the outside looking in.

Red’s narrating voice helps ease us into the waters of Shawshank - we see a bus of new prisoners ride in, including Andy, and we watch as the fresh inmate fish disembark from the bus into the sea of prisoners. In fact, Red speaks for all of the prisoners - he allows us to understand the pace and feeling of the passage of time, and he allows us to see Andy the way he sees him. We are convinced to maintain integrity in the idea that Andy will survive his years in prison - not by being violent or kissing butt, but rather by formidably being sure of himself. Andy even influences Red to rise from hopelessness inside the institutionalized walls of Shawshank and to believe in the freedom of hope.

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Shawshank’s story inhabits universal feelings that saturate the human experience - survival, good and evil, individual versus the system, hope. It paints time and the characters wading in it with patient strokes. From its writing to its cinematography, every visual movement or narrative voice feels like punctuation; every element inside the film develops a character, shapes a behavior, or articulates a moment.

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As articulated by Tim Robbins in an Off Camera interview - Shawshank is in a class of its own because of the story it's telling, and because of the way it resolves the way it’s resolved. Shawshank’s ending feels as whole and complete as it does when one envelopes a beautiful letter before sending it off to its recipient. From Andy’s escape, Red making it on the “outside,” and reuniting with Andy at “a place that’s warm with no memory” - the ending is as beautiful as a dream.

Oftentimes, a lot of happy endings are tacked onto films; with Shawshank, it feels that after a long journey of torment and gradual redemption, a happy ending is well-deserved - it is earned. The ending is hopeful, life-affirming, and it feels like a breath of content because of the struggles of many characters on screen to get there. Shawshank’s close encapsulates the human capacity to survive - intellectually, spiritually, and physically.

The ideas is that hope can keep us alive. The reason why the film resonates deeply with people is because it’s a message we don’t often hear in a genuine way on the big screen. It’s not about immediate satisfaction, but about our happiness in the long run.

Whether you’re trapped in your own life in a place you deeply dislike - whether it be within a career, relationship, or so on - Shawshank metaphorically talks to all of those people. It says that there’s a place like Andy and Red’s island - a moment for all of us - that’s achievable. It says that we have to have patience and maintain a clear idea of who we are and what we want. And eventually - hopefully - we’ll achieve what we want, so long as we remember to take our time, redeem ourselves when we fall, and most importantly - hope.

I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

How Tech Giants Think: A Cultural Analysis of Microsoft & IBM

Thanks to my Organizational Communication class this semester, I've learned a lot about the complexity and importance of organizational culture. 

For one of our final projects, we were tasked with writing a cultural analysis of an organization. Our teacher asked us to interview two people from within one single company and apply class concepts to feedback we received about  its organizational culture.   

However, I decided to create my own topic. Instead of interviewing two people from one single company, I thought it would be even more interesting to interview two people, each whom work at a different company, but within a similar industry.

I was lucky enough to have Mary and Josh allow me to interview them about their career experiences working at tech companies. Per their valuable stories and insight, I've learned a lot more about what they do for a living, why they do it, and that people and organizational culture are just as important as technology.


Introduction

Microsoft and IBM are two tech giants that dominate and innovate within the business intelligence market. With a growing world of data and an increasingly competitive market space for cloud businesses, one of the most exciting parts of the modern digital era is observing how tech companies have raced to remain innovative and relevant. While Microsoft and IBM bear differences in perspectives on the tech industry, articulating their organizational cultures will further our understanding of their business productivity over time.

I have explored the effects of Microsoft and IBM’s organizational cultures on their business productivity by collecting insight from two professionals: Mary, a Global Program Manager at Microsoft, and Joe, an Offering Evangelist at IBM. With 20-30 years of experiences in the tech realm, Mary and Josh have shared their respective insight about their Microsoft and IBM experiences. Per Microsoft and IBM’s current and past business performances, along with Mary and Josh's feedback, I will: 1) identify and analyze cultural elements that have led to increased or decreased productivity over time, and 2) project how these elements will influence the companies’ ability to adapt to the future of the tech industry.

Through Their Lens  

Microsoft is a multinational, technology company that develops and implements integrated software and hardware solutions worldwide. With around 120,000 employees in over 100 countries, Microsoft has proved its resilience in responding to changing technologies, market demands, and business opportunities over time; recently, it has shifted towards investing more in cloud productivity services (Ullman).

Elaborating on experiences that led her to Microsoft’s door, Mary outlined a personal narrative that pushed her to pursue work within customer support and privacy programs. As a child of immigrant parents, she noticed they were mistreated on a daily basis, often met with impatience or rudeness. As she grew older, she saw her role to be her parents’ advocate and speak on their behalf. “I took on this ‘justice girl’ complex - my goal: help the underdogs - those who are underrepresented.”

From working in customer support, to managing and developing privacy, online safety, and regulatory compliance policy programs for worldwide services, Mary’s innate values of diversity and supporting the underrepresented have only strengthened over time.

Today, she continues to elaborate on being an advocate for others through her current role: implementing Microsoft’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) through consulting with sales, marketing, and engineering teams. Whether it be speaking on behalf of her parents or a Microsoft user, Mary has dedicated her work to protecting and lending a voice to others - “...to empower people around the world to do more of what is meaningful to them - whatever that may be - personal and/or business-related.” Based on Schein’s Model, Mary’s narrative about being an advocate for others is a cultural indicator of Microsoft’s espoused values of diversity, innovation, and making the customer come first. Having been awarded for building the fully comprehensive privacy program at Microsoft, it is evident that her ethical values align with Microsoft’s online privacy initiatives, resulting in recognition of her contribution to the company’s productivity.

IBM, short for International Business Machines, is the biggest computer company in the world. Over the past century, with 370,000 employees operating in 170 countries, IBM has provided integrated solutions that leverage information technology and knowledge of business processes – one in particular being Watson, an evolving business Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform. In light of IBM’s multifaceted technology services, it is no surprise that Josh’s interdisciplinary background - a blend of business, engineering, and design - led him to pursue a career at IBM. Although he was originally more interested in product design and engineering than he was in computers, Josh stuck with IBM; he found the company’s multifaceted work to be rewarding and desired to take part in its global impact – a “force for positive change for the world.” Over the past 30 years, Josh has worn many hats in many different places. From China, to Germany, to Silicon Valley, to Florida, he has honed his talents in technical support, systems engineering, sales, and product management all over the world – a testament to IBM actualizing his dream of driving positive global change through his career.

Josh's background not only indicates the breadth and depth of IBM’s interdisciplinary services, but also serves as an artifact of IBM’s espoused values of innovating on a global scale. Thus, the cultural consistency between IBM’s espoused values and artifacts increased Josh’s job satisfaction and commitment; his motivation to invest in diverse work and expand IBM’s global reach has contributed to its productivity through bringing products to market worldwide.

Consistency & Change

Microsoft and IBM have constantly had to change to remain relevant and competitive in the market. The remerging questions have always been - “How?” and “When?” In order to summarize their respective companies’ evolving work cultures, Mary and Josh provided vignettes of challenging work dynamics: Mary reflected on the 23 managers she has had in her 18-year career, and Josh discussed the challenge of navigating IBM’s vast resources.

Mary says the best managers “took the time to get to know me, asked me questions, pushed me to do things that may be uncomfortable, but…[expanded] my skill set.” In contrast, her worst managers “didn’t know how to lead… [were] too self-absorbed with their own career...” or were “unwilling to protect the team.” Apart from being rewarded for building the first fully comprehensive privacy program, Mary also recalls seeing others who “left ‘dead bodies’ along the way to get where they are” receive rewards as well. In other words, Mary’s best managers enacted team management, eliciting a high concern for both people and production, whereas her worst managers employed authority-compliance management, expressing low concern for both people and production. Moreover, instances where employees received undeserved recognition seem to be by-products of overly product-focused leadership, a dynamic that has cost Microsoft’s productivity in the tech industry.

For example, Mary’s recollection of how two managers have dealt with change differently reveals that management styles not only permeate throughout work culture, but also affect organizational productivity. Former CEO Steve Ballmer “led with an old school style,” maintaining a “product-focused...arrogant” outlook that assumed “if we build it, they will come.” In this case, by resisting change and prioritizing his own interests over organizational needs, Ballmer’s Theory X management style left Microsoft behind in the mobile phone and tablet industry.

On the other hand, with current CEO Nadella abandoning a “Windows or nothing” philosophy and finding new ways to compete in markets, Microsoft’s shift in management style has deeply impacted its presence within the cloud platform and productivity ecosystems through its: increased implementation of MS Office on iOS, Android, and Chromebook devices; and growth of the Azure cloud platform (Ullman). Having monetized relationships with competitors by creating “collaborative connections, both internally and externally,” Nadella has demonstrated negative entropy - maintaining openness with other organizations in Microsoft’s environment by creating strategic partnerships. Furthermore, Nadella’s story of being an immigrant rising to the top has made Mary feel proud to be a part of Microsoft - “a progressive company, with staying power and willingness to adapt and change for the greater good.” Thus, this shift in management style from Ballmer to Nadella is an artifact showcasing Microsoft’s espoused values of diversity and innovation, heightening Mona’s feelings of job satisfaction, commitment, and increased productivity.

 Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, at the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in May 2017.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, at the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in May 2017.

Josh describes IBM’s culture as “high-performance,” where “excellence is the standard.” With CEO Ginni Rometty repackaging century-old expertise through modern AI platforms (i.e. Watson), IBM’s persistence to keep incubating new products has allowed it to lead transformation in cloud-based services. With IBM’s immense size, the effect of “cost cutting and relentless drive for more efficiency and productivity” has pushed employees to wear multiple hats. As a current Offering Evangelist (Sales Enablement), Josh carries various responsibilities through developing marketing, sales, and technical collateral to “enable and educate IBMers and IBM Business Partners” on new products every 3-6 months. However, in spite of shouldering a daunting workload, John appreciates IBM’s mix of experimental and structured processes, such as: “Grand Challenges” to develop innovative practices; and an annual exhibition of Business Conduct Guidelines – a “mandatory certification process to assure the IBM ethical values, business ethics,” and proper business behavior is conducted.

Therefore, although IBM copes with its vastness through bureaucratic rules to achieve consistency in work performance, Josh’s views underline that IBM’s formalized rules upholding “…fairness, healthy internal debate…[and] respect for the individual” enable it to maintain innovative productivity. In a similar vein, Mary’s development of privacy policies and programs shows that Microsoft employs scientific management to implement procedural specificity, improve work performance and efficiency, and boost productivity.

Staying Relevant

With companies as large as Microsoft and IBM, it is difficult to find unique experiences that holistically reflect each company’s culture and strategic imperatives. However, from the broad perspective of Peter & Waterman’s “Excellent Cultures” model, a cultural element that has enabled Microsoft and IBM to innovate productively is: autonomy and entrepreneurship. At Microsoft, Mary mentioned how she decided to take the initiative and step down from a project role that did not suit her for the greater benefit of the organization’s needs. At IBM, Josh described how one must be able to mine and find the right things within the company’s “vast treasure trove of people, resources, technology, and possibilities” in order to succeed. Both companies encourage employees to take risks and develop new ideas; however, it is clear that in order to succeed, one must drive one’s own success.

Due to IBM’s large size, it manifests productivity through allocating employees with multifaceted responsibilities and a crushing workload. Based on Mary’s variety of team-oriented experiences, it seems that many internal cultures persist at Microsoft within small groups that are tasked with narrow scopes. Although IBM and Microsoft both struggle with streamlining their process-driven nature, IBMers wearing many hats and Microsoft’s role specialization successfully demonstrates requisite variety - that is, these tech companies are able to maintain productivity and create solutions at a competitive scale of complexity due to their internal, complex processes.

Mary and Josh voice similar outlooks on what differentiates Microsoft and IBM from the crowd: their longevity, massive global imprint, ability to take risks, and constant pursuit to help customers succeed and make the world a better place. On the topic of leveraging digital platforms for businesses, IBM’s current CEO Rometty states that this is the “era of man plus machine.” (Think 2018 Chairman’s Address: Putting Smart to Work). Considering the fact that we are moving into a new technological era of exponential learning, I asked Mary and Josh what they would do as CEO for a day.

 Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, speaking at Think 2018 technology conference.

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, speaking at Think 2018 technology conference.

Josh’s biggest hope for IBM, in terms of culture, is to internalize Rometty’s directives about IBM - to act upon embedding digital intelligence in daily processes in order to empower people, society, and businesses (Think 2018 Chairman’s Address: Putting Smart to Work). Mary proposed two solutions: a “Mind Swap” program to deepen empathy with others and “truly change the culture to become inclusive and embrace diversity”; and “Job Swap,” where employees swap roles with their customers and learn about potential issues that accompany Microsoft’s products, services, and solutions from a customer’s standpoint.

Josh’s desire to see IBM’s espoused values of continued technological innovation come to fruition indicates that productivity at IBM tends to see outcomes in the long-term; he comments that if one’s idea of productivity means being “in the driver’s seat from the very beginning,” he would best be served by working in start-up atmospheres, like Silicon Valley. In turn, Mary’s personal CEO agenda addresses emergent and development processes within Microsoft’s culture, revealing that creating more transparency between both internal and external processes could help reinforce consistency in Microsoft’s internal culture and ultimately drive overall productivity.

Conclusion

Whether it be Microsoft or IBM, it is apparent that people and organizational culture are almost just as important as code and technology. Likewise, Microsoft and IBM each house cultures that are more than qualified to break through the clutter of massive disruption in today’s business world in different ways. On one hand, IBM’s byzantine complexity can prevent project outcomes from coming to immediate fruition, resulting in employee perceptions of decreased productivity; on the other hand, complex role specialization at Microsoft, in combination with Nadella’s newfound emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, has led to increased productivity and strategic partnerships in the cloud space. Moreover, whereas over-the-top bureaucratic personalities and product-focused management at Microsoft has previously left them behind during the onset of mobile devices and tablets, IBM’s bureaucratic elements have arguably enabled it to consistently adhere to ethical values and behaviors, strengthening employee satisfaction, commitment, and product innovation. In both cases, as big tech companies that operate on a global scale, Microsoft and IBM leverage a balance of both structured and freeform elements to solidify products, continuously think with a customer-first mentality, and create a cultural climate for productivity. Thus, although varying organizational cultures and business strategies persist at Microsoft and IBM, their individual voices will continue to shape the cloud marketplace together in the years to come.


References

IBM Cloud Video. 20 March 2018. “Think 2018 Chairman’s Address: Putting Smart to Work.” Retrieved from https://www.ibm.com/events/think/watch/playlist/249819/replay/113734399/

Ullman, Daryl. “Why is Microsoft so successful?” Computerworld, Retrieved from Accessed 24 https://www.computerworld.com/article/3247650/microsoft-windows/why-is-microsoft-so-successful.html. Accessed 24 April 2018.

La La Land: Love Letter to Broken Dreams

Damien Chazelle's La La Land: observes the geography of a musical in the present tense; marries lyrical cinematography and song; modulates an era reminiscent of Astaire & Rogers into the key of Gosling & Stone; makes my heart full.


Why Watch?

  • Original & modern - observes classic Hollywood and MGM musical filmmaking in the present tense
  • Film score - defines the story through a continuous, timeless melody; masterfully milks moments of happiness and melancholy; makes oneself melt into the characters
  • Artistic direction - organic camera movement; usage of color via cinematography, lighting, costume, and set design
  • Pacing - editing, transitions, and rhythm of scene sequences mirror musicality and visual lyricism shown on screen through musical numbers 
  • Gosling & Stone - their pre-existing chemistry makes it easy to want us to want them to come together; their relational dynamic gives the love story gravitas
  • Story - although simple in its make-up, the storyline is relatable, making one ponder which path of life is the 'right' one to travel by in light of one's personal passions

La La Land centers around Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), who are drawn together by their common desire to pursue their passions. As their careers become paramount with success, they are faced with crossroad decisions that cause their companionship to fray, and the dreams they worked to harvest in each other threaten to tear them apart.

More than anything, La La Land is about how song is a universal device that heightens emotion, elevates feelings and premonitions, and lifts the wings of a story. Having appeared in previous films together, Stone and Gosling's on-screen chemistry is a given. This theatrical luxury makes it easy for the viewer to believe them, even in a musical dimension. In this case, musical substance triumphs over vocal technique; Stone and Gosling each house a naturalistic voice, much like that of Gene Kelly, and embody the notion that a major function of musicals is to intensify colors that are naturally innate to human expression. The naturalism and simplicity in their characters makes them relatable in both current and timeless contexts. 

Picture Birdman meets Singin' in the Rain. Per Damien and Linus Sandgren, the film's cinematography and camerawork organically capture moments through shots that are vibrant with color and exude MGM era techniques, visually exercising the length and fluidity of single takes. For instance, take the opening musical number: the pattern of movement involves the camera soaring upward, revealing a glimpse of the magnitude of the highway, swooping below to capture more intimate moments, weaving in between cars, and then rising towards the sky again. There is an ebb and flow to the motion of the camera; it lives and breathes like an organism. 

Thus, the beginning and the ending of the film house a daydream aesthetic: the opening number is bright with "Another Day of Sun," and the ending sequence is driven by bittersweet retrospection upon Sebastian and Mia's relationship. The meat of the film experiences shifts in tone; Damien moves from MGM vibes to a celebration of French musicals directed by Jacques Demy in the 1960s: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). Essentially, through the integration of varying stylistic influences, the atypical musical structure of La La Land allows its story to crescendo with sweet sadness; it revolves around the possibility of two people drifting apart as they come together, all while embedding contemporary contexts with timeless themes of forbidden romance, hope, and broken dreams. 

Alongside musical sections, every other scene is rich with detail - a result of conscious decision making. The nuances of color in costume and lighting, the seamless choreographic movement, the rhythmic pacing - in every scene sequence, there is an embedded musicality behind the camera that mirrors the visual lyricism on screen. This lyrical dynamic can especially be pinpointed in the final sequence of the film, which is similar to the structure of the ballet finale in An American in Paris (1951); the last fifteen minutes of the film rejoice with colorful sets, costume, dancing, and artistic editing and cinematography to depict a world that Damien refers to as a sort of alternate universe of Sebastian and Mia's relationship. In the conclusion of the film, audiences are able to see through a bittersweet lens how their relationship would have evolved void of downfalls. 

In a behind-the-scenes segment, Damien mentions that he, along with musical composer, Justin Hurtwitz, and the rest of the team, developed ideas early on for this film by turning a blind eye to all possible obstacles; this means they held no consideration for factors like financial burdens, time restrictions, casting difficulties, or the potential effects of bleak modernity. Inspired by classic Hollywood and the dynamic of old-fashioned musical-making, creating the early stages of La La Land in a vacuum ensured they were able to conceive the ideal version of the film and flesh out its characteristics with exciting, reckless abandon. Throughout the film, Damien and Justin's inspiration of classic Hollywood can be seen through La La Land's cinematographic tributes to musicals such as An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and West Side Story (1961). 

Moreover, the original musical score itself had its own cinematic character. Whereas nowadays mainstream films tend to be ridden with beds of sound, the definitive, overarching melody that Justin composed, Mia & Sebastian's Theme, acts as a musical engine that continually drives audiences to slip into emotional vulnerability; it gives the story moments of reprieve, causing Mia and Sebastian to repeatedly linger on their could-have-been's. 

Aside from the development of instrumental melodies, the fact that lyricists, Benj Pasek And Justin Paul, were tasked with writing words to pre-existing musical conditions is a tremendous feat within itself. According to the lyricists themselves, being confined to pre-defined musical spaces was considerably like "playing the hardest crossword" or "filling in the hardest Sudoku." The ability to pair words with melodies that tell a story, illuminate a character, and follow a certain narrative, all within set musical parameters, underscores the importance of both music and lyrics in elevating the plot. Thus, a dynamic of talking until one sings and walking until one dances was clearly present; because the melodies were beautiful yet linguistically simple in nature, moments where characters broke out into song or dance felt like an extension of a feeling or an emotional gesture.

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As a lover of classic movies, musicals, and artists, La La Land encompasses all the characteristics that I had hitherto presumed would only come to cinematic fruition in my dreams. Damien's ambitious vision to take inspiration from bygone musical eras and create an original musical in a modern space in time, without building a museum piece, demonstrates the timeless power of storytelling intertwined with music.

Thus, La La Land is about the past informing the present. It is about the interdependence of motion, emotion, and musicality. It is about film creators breathing every scene and being able to communicate through frames, colors, dance, and song. It is about finding ways to locate humanity and universal dissonance in different artistic mediums. It is about finding one's own lingering anthem or melody that inspires one to aspire to greatness.

It is rare to see fantasy and reality intersect, much less coincide, but Damien himself has defied rarity, giving his dream musical homage to the ones who dream - a hopeful melody that can be heard if one stops and listens closely enough. 

 

Permanently Online, Permanently Connected

In April 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Dr. Peter Vorderer, a German professor of media and Communication studies from the University of Mannheim. The thesis of his talk centered around the idea of "Living & Communicating in a PO/PC World," focusing on the social implications that arise from media psychology and entertainment. Vorderer's passion for exploring new media, media effects, and communication theory is infectious - here are some interesting points I gathered from his presentation. 


Trends of Media Use

Having studied patterns of using media for various purposes, such as entertainment, Vorderer presented general trends of media use that have arisen over time: 1) media use is less exclusive, 2) media content is often used "on demand," 3) young(er) users expect possibility for interactive media use, 4) young(er) users also like to use several media sources simultaneously, and 5) mass communication and interpersonal communication merge and take place almost anywhere, anytime.

Layers of Social Life

Being Permanently Online, Permanently Connected (PO/PC) is a hybrid phenomenon composed of two layers: social settings where people communicate with others who are physically present, and interactions where people communicate through technology with others who are virtually present (which in itself is also two-fold - engaging in interpersonal communication versus mass communication via virtual means).

The core of this phenomenon can be observed within social settings that involve eating with one another. In these social environments, individuals tend to straddle the physical social sphere that is before them and the digital social sphere. Interaction amongst a group of people is consistently disrupted by various members alternating turns checking into online social networks; even if members are not physically on their mobile devices, a common scene consists of individuals habitually placing their phones on the table, in their laps, or cradling them in their non-dominant hands while eating. One can even pinpoint this phenomenon when simply people-watching on the street - passerby figures texting/emailing/calling while walking, scrolling through social media newsfeeds while waiting in line, merely holding their phone at their side...

Simply put, the social dynamic of constantly sifting through hybrid layers of communicating with others present whilst interacting with others whom are not present strongly demonstrates our desire/need to not be disconnected. Picture this: whenever one is eating out with a friend or significant other, when he/she goes to use the bathroom, one instinctively checks one's phone; likewise, when the respective friend or relational partner goes to use the bathroom, he/she brings his/her phone along to check into the digital social space. Like the ocean tide, today's social dynamic consists of a constant ebb and flow of shifting between mediated environments. 

The Fear of Missing Out

Regarding causes and effects of PO/PC, one of the most fundamental reasons why PO/PC is growing is due to the human need for social relatedness (the fear of missing out). This concept is not new; rather, it is important to acknowledge that the technological dynamic of constant connectedness and having instantaneous access to information through online media is feeding and satisfying this human need for social belonging.

Ubiquity of Communication

The overall manifestation of PO/PC has created an extensive saturation of everyday life with media content and online communication. Communication never ends - individuals share a ubiquitous feeling of wanting to exhibit constant availability and connectedness with online peers. Thus, everybody keeps in touch with everybody else and everything else. Social media is now a part of the environment and is affecting individuals behaviorally and psychologically. Further research questions about PO/PC that Vorderer poses concerns how adopting specific types of media literacy can affect forms of motivation or fear in individuals, information processing, dynamics of social interactions, individual development, and socialization. 

Online time is progressively growing into a norm/default, rendering offline spaces as increasingly unusual. As inhabitants of a world that is permanently online and permanently connected, we have to make a more salient effort to be alive - to navigate both reception and communication with equivalent skill, and to use digital social spaces to leverage our time, enrich our relationships, and make worthwhile the brevity of human life. 

Get Out: Beneath the Surface

*     SPOILERS   *

Inspired by a class assignment from Creativity and American Culture, here is a compilation of cultural themes I was able to pinpoint in a recent American cultural artifact, Get Out.


Jordan Peele makes his directing debut with Get Out, a film that is tailored for America's current political and social climate. It is a calculated riff on dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a social drama. Above all, it makes known the horror beneath the smile of 21st century liberalism.

Through its morbid, satirical lens, Get Out is a commentary on a nuanced species of societal racism. The premise centers around the main character, Chris, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage; the couple's relationship has prospered to the point where Rose deems it appropriate to invite Chris to a weekend getaway with her parents at their estate. Initially, her family's hyper-politeness and over-accommodating behavior strikes Chris as strange attempts to cope with their daughter's interracial relationship. However, as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to face unfathomable, dangerous truths.

Acceptability Politics

Micro-aggressions experienced by people of the “wrong color” are amplified throughout the film, especially when the Armitage family hosts an annual gathering of what seems to mostly consist of aging white guests (one Asian guest is present - perhaps this is a nod to the notion that anti-blackness sentiments stem from other minority groups as well).

Due to the white community's unanimous acceptance and manipulation of blackness in their social culture, the off-kilter essence of the gathering can be traced back to Orientalist themes. Traditionally, forms of Orientalism have been driven by a Western desire to culturally colonize and celebrate aspects of Eastern societies to reinforce the West's own moral conception of itself; in the world Chris is exposed to at the Armitage estate, the same pattern of cultural colonization is true between the white community and “black” culture.  

At the heart of the Armitage family and the white guests, there is an underlying appropriation of black culture, benign racism, and double-edged sets of ideas, standards, and expectations. One of the first signs in the film that sets the estate’s insidious tone is the fact that Rose's wealthy family has "help" - two African American individuals who seem like the modern equivalent of slaves; however, their mannerisms are socially bizarre and indicative of psychological or mental dissonance.

Moreover, when Chris spots Logan at the gathering, the only other African American guest present besides himself, he approaches Logan out of relief, expecting to connect with him on a level of cultural familiarity. However, he immediately notices that Logan is totally neutered of his blackness. From his dress, to his idiosyncrasies and speech mannerisms, Logan, for lack of a better phrase, seems like an old, white man in a young, black man's body.

The growing confusion that Chris experiences while observing Logan's inherent "whiteness," and the fact that he is shown to be together with an older, white woman, plays on internalized fears that African Americans experience when trying to assimilate into a society of white supremacy. With any minority group that tries to assimilate into an ecosystem of cultural norms that are foreign to them, there is a ubiquitous fear of having to abandon pieces of their identity to fit in with other cultures, such as predominantly white communities. The realization that the Logan lacks the familial energy that is seemingly intrinsic to the African American experience furthers Chris’ paranoia about the intentions of Rose's family and the African American individuals living at the estate.

Chris' paranoia state reaches its summit when he tries to take a discrete picture of Logan to send to his friend, but accidentally causes the camera flash to go off; this flash of light triggers a mysterious, psychological breakdown in Logan, who seems to recover his consciousness and lunges at Chris, screaming the film's title, "Get out!" Thus, whereas the cliché feelings in stereotypical horror movies deal with physical isolation - whether it concerns screaming for help in an abandoned setting and not being able to be heard, or being trapped in a hotel barricaded with snow – instead, Get Out satirically plays on the fear of social isolation. 

Physiological Perfectionism & Co-option 

The enigmatic behavior that occurs at the Armitage family gathering is also rooted in the concepts of physiological perfectionism and co-option. The white individuals at the Armitage estate are essentially co-opting genetic advantages or elements of black culture that are housed by African Americans to use for their own benefit and longevity. Throughout the gathering, guests are interrogating and inspecting Chris (i.e. making strange comments on his musculature, or blatantly asking for his opinion on the African American experience, as if to find out if "becoming" black would be worth it from an economic vantage point).

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A scene where all the event goers are gathered for a Bingo game is haunting, as the procession of the game begins to expose sinister elements of the plot. Rose's father can be seen facilitating the process of guests placing “bids” on an individual, who we later find out is none other than Chris himself; thus, it is no surprise that this Bingo-like game resembles a 19th century slave auction. It becomes evident that the white guests are bidding on characteristics from African American culture to engineer into their own physicalities to extend and enhance their life span. Thus, their preoccupation with their physical wellbeing and bodily perfection drives them to co-opt advantageous elements of African American genetic assets. 

Transhumanism

Ultimately, the crux of the film revolves around embedding transhumanism into the incentives of the Armitage family's actions; therefore, the family shares the goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and producing technological devices that greatly enhance intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities amongst the white community. Chris eventually learns that the Armitage family is a cult-like group called, The Order of The Coagula, who is seeking the secret to expanding the capacity of human life through brain-transplantation, a process that involves hypnotism and surgical processes. 

This transplantation only adheres if the original consciousness of the host, or “patient,” remains intact. This means that the consciousness of a white individual takes over that of a black individual, leaving the black individual to only exist inside his body as a regressive version of being alive (the film labels this as a hypnosis-induced state called, the Sunken Place); the African American “help” and Logan are examples of individuals who have fallen victim to this process.

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Essentially, the Armitage family, along with the rest of the white community, thrives off transhumanistic motives; they gather to reap (co-opt) benefits from African American culture for their own enhanced, elongation of life (physiological well-being and bodily perfection). Although the specific type of racism that simmers amongst the white community at the estate seems to be disguised as functional admiration or envy, Chris is continually treated like an outsider and must navigate the complexity of nuanced racism without succumbing to the Sunken Place. 

Palmdale: Moments in Time

For many years, Po Po and Gong Gong's house in Palmdale, California has served as a haven for memories; it was a significant part of my childhood, allowing me to experience the unwavering compassion of a close knit family in what considerably felt like a second home. Over the past 20 years, I, along with the rest of my relatives and cousins, have been able to grow up in its arms of warmth, constancy, and familial tradition. 

In light of the Palmdale house having recently been sold, I have been thinking a lot about all the memories that have been shared amongst the Liu family there, especially with Gong Gong. As a tribute to the many memories that have been created in Palmdale over the years, I would like to share some of my personal photos of summers and Christmases spent in California with Liu family members from 2011-2016. 

This is just a glimpse into my perspective on what life was like growing up in the Palmdale house. As you look through the photos, it is not hard to tell that many things have stayed constant within the Liu family amidst years of change: love, togetherness, strength, and food...

As time goes by, I look forward to adding to this photo collection of Palmdale memories and continuing to discover new stories about my family history. I aim to carry forward the values of strength and the importance of family that Po Po and Gong Gong have instilled in me and the rest of the family, and I hope these photos bring you as much happiness and strength as they do me. 


Moments in Time


 

Christmas (2011)


 

Summer & Christmas (2012)


 

Christmas (2013)


 

Summer (2014)


 

Christmas (2016)