Friday, November 21, 2014

Mike Nichols and Digital Natives.

I’ve seen a fair amount of Advertising want ads of late seeking, for various positions, “digital natives.” I am staggered by the wrong-headedness of that classification.

For one, it seems obvious, there is inherent age-discrimination implied. Digital natives would be by definition people born after a certain date, after the rise of the Internet. This is not only wrong, but it’s also stupid.

My main qualm with those seeking digital natives, however, occurred to me when I read Mike Nichols’ obituary.

Nichols, like many great “American” artists, was not born in America. He wasn’t even born Mike Nichols—his given name was Americanized from Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky.
In fact, Peschkowsky was a double-immigrant, having first fled Russia, then Germany, for our teeming shores. Yet somehow, though he wasn’t an “American native,” he produced archetypical “American” work. You don’t have to love his movies, his plays, or his comedy, to credit him with being a keen observer of American life—perhaps America’s keenest observer over the last 60 years or so.

Outsiders seeing what insiders can’t is not new in the world of art or commerce. Homer saw the Greek world better than the Greeks. Though he was blind.

Hollywood was built by outsiders, usually Jews from Central Europe, who in short order went from shtetl to Keystone Kop, or a flophouse in London to “Modern Times.” Billy Wilder was writing Oscar-winning screenplays just a year or two after arriving in America knowing virtually no English.

Outsiderness, not nativeness, often leads to insight. You see things from a different point of view, perhaps more sardonically and more analytically, both. Distance creates vision.

It’s why we talk to therapists. And why, often, our friends can give us better advice than we can give ourselves.

Surely, there are things Digital natives see that I never will. But, likewise, there are things they take for granted that I think are spectacular and stunning.

Perspective, most often, is gained by distancing yourself from what you’re viewing. Being too close sometimes results in blindness or myopia. And perspective is what prospective employers should be looking for.

Not just sight.


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