Science Book a Day Interviews FS Michaels

fs-michaelsSpecial thanks to FS Michaels for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything

I’m the author of Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything (Red Clover, 2011) – winner of the 2011 NCTE George Orwell Award for outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse, and one of The Atlantic’s top 11 philosophy/psychology books of 2011. I write about big ideas, culture, creativity, and the interaction of complex systems. – From Flora’s Tumblr

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#1 – What was the impetus for Monoculture?

It was completely curiosity driven, actually, and it ended up taking over a lot of my life. I was trying to figure out why we talked about things a certain way – why the best movie was the one that grossed the most at the box office, why the best career choice was the one that would make you the most money, why your day was supposed to be better if you were really productive and got a lot done in the least amount of time possible. I started to wonder if all of these things were part of a larger pattern, and I was struggling to identify what made up the pattern, give it a name, and then talk about in an articulate way. That’s how I ended up with the book. It sounds sort of tidy in retrospect, but it took about nine years of research into what I came to call the economic story to sort out how that story has changed our entire lives, from our relationships and organizations to our health, education and communities.

#2 – How do people react when you draw their attention to how the economy re-frames our lives?

I get both ends of the spectrum. Some people are really excited that someone has put into words something they’ve been experiencing and have been uncomfortable about but haven’t been able to pinpoint. These are the people who say they’ve been waiting for this book all their lives – they see the economic story all around them, wherever they are, and I’ve heard from people around the world. Others are really excited that someone could be so wrong about so many things.

#3 – Have their been other monocultures in the past?

Sure. If you think of a monoculture as a general cultural tendency that happens over a period of time, you can see that we had a scientific monoculture in the seventeenth century with the rise of math, machines, and scientific thinking, and a religious monoculture before that in sixteenth century Europe. Those are just two examples of ideas and ways of thinking and living that end up grabbing our imaginations and subtly or not-so-subtly directing our lives for a century or two.

#4 – Coming in at around 200 pages, I imagine there was the chance to delve into other facets of the monoculture story. Was it a conscious choice to keep the book to this length?

Yes, it was deliberate. I ended up leaving out whole fields that fit into the monoculture pattern (like law) and shortening my coverage of other fields. I was trying to walk a fine line between informing readers and letting them know how pervasive the economic story is, versus overwhelming and discouraging them because the story is already so entrenched and widespread. I thought keeping it short and making the language clear and inviting would encourage more people to pick it up. I guess the simplicity worked because the book won the George Orwell Award for honesty and clarity in public language, which was gratifying. But you’re right – there’s a lot to discuss. I still miss the chapters that I had to cut because I think it’s incredibly interesting that this story really is everywhere.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books that you can tell us about?

I’m working on my next book, which is about creativity and conformity. I’m looking at how we struggle to be creative in terms of our own lives when we live in a monoculture that rewards us for conforming to the dominant story. And I’m exploring what creative skills and tools we can develop and use to tell the stories we want to tell instead. I’m hoping the book will be out in 2015 – though I have two kids under the age of 3 too, so my deadlines have gotten a lot more flexible. We have to get to the park first.

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