Search Results for "marketing"

Google Unveils a Digital Marketing & E-Commerce Certificate: 7 Courses Will Help Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

During the pandemic, Google launched a series of Career Certificates that will “prepare learners for an entry-level role in under six months.” Their first certificates focused on Project Management, Data Analytics, User Experience (UX) Design, IT Support and IT Automation. Now comes their latest–a certificate dedicated to Digital Marketing & E-commerce.

Offered on the Coursera platform, the Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate consists of seven courses, all collectively designed to help students “develop digital marketing and e-commerce strategies; attract and engage customers through digital marketing channels like search and email; measure marketing analytics and share insights; build e-commerce stores, analyze e-commerce performance, and build customer loyalty.” The courses include:

In total, this program “includes over 190 hours of instruction and practice-based assessments, which simulate real-world digital marketing and e-commerce scenarios that are critical for success in the workplace.” Along the way, students will learn how to use tools and platforms like Canva, Constant Contact, Google Ads, Google Analytics, Hootsuite, HubSpot, Mailchimp, Shopify, and Twitter. You can start a 7-day free trial and explore the courses. If you continue beyond that, Google/Coursera will charge $39 USD per month. That translates to about $235 after 6 months.

If you don’t want to pay, you can audit each course for free, without ultimately receiving the certificate.

Explore the Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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When Movies Came on Vinyl: The Early-80s Engineering Marvel and Marketing Disaster That Was RCA’s SelectaVision

Anyone over 30 remembers a time when it was impossible to imagine home video without physical media. But anyone over 50 remembers a time when it was difficult to choose which kind of media to bet on. Just as the “computer zoo” of the early 1980s forced home-computing enthusiasts to choose between Apple, IBM, Commodore, Texas Instruments, and a host of other brands, each with its own technological specifications, the market for home-video hardware presented several different alternatives. You’ve heard of Sony’s Betamax, for example, which has been a punchline ever since it lost out to JVC’s VHS. But that was just the realm of video tape; have you ever watched a movie on a vinyl record?

Four decades ago, it was difficult for most consumers to imagine home video at all. “Get records that let you have John Travolta dancing on your floor, Gene Hackman driving though your living room, the Godfather staying at your house,” booms the narrator of the television commercial above.

How, you ask? By purchasing a SelectaVision player and compatible video discs, which allow you to “see the entertainment you really want, when you want, uninterrupted.” In our age of streaming-on-demand this sounds like a laughably pedestrian claim, but at the time it represented the culmination of seventeen years and $600 million of intensive research and development at the Radio Company of America, better known as RCA.

Radio, and even more so its successor television, made RCA an enormous (and enormously profitable) conglomerate in the first half of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, it commanded the resources to work seriously on such projects as a vinyl record that could contain not just music, but full motion pictures in color and stereo. This turned out to be even harder than it sounded: after numerous delays, RCA could only bring SelectaVision to market in the spring of 1981, four years after the internal target. By that time, after the company had been commissioning content for the better part of a decade (D. A. Pennebaker shot David Bowie’s final Ziggy Stardust concert in 1973 on commission from RCA, who’d intended to make a SelectaVision disc out of it), the format faced competition from not just VHS and Betamax but the cutting-edge LaserDisc as well.

Nevertheless, the SelectaVision’s ultra-densely encoded vinyl video discs — officially known as capacitance electronic discs, or CEDs — were, in their way, marvels of engineering. You can take a deep dive into exactly what makes the system so impressive, which involves not just a breakdown of its components but a complete retelling of the history of RCA, though the five-part Technology Connections miniseries at the top of the post. True completists can also watch RCA’s video tour of its SelectaVision production facilities, as well as its live dealer-introduction broadcast hosted by Tom Brokaw and featuring a Broadway-style musical number. SelectaVision was also rolled out in the United Kingdom in 1983, thus qualifying for a hands-on examination by British retro-tech Youtuber Techmoan.

SelectaVision lasted just three years. Its failure was perhaps overdetermined, and not just by the bad timing resulting from its troubled development. In the early 1980s, the idea of buying pre-recorded video media lacked the immediate appeal of “time-shifting” television, which had become possible only with video tape. Nor did RCA, whose marketing centered on the possibility of building a permanent home-video library in the manner of one’s music library, foresee the possibility of rental. And though CEDs were ultimately made functional, they remained cumbersome, able to hold just one hour of video per side and notoriously subject to jitters even on the first play. Yet as RCA’s ad campaigns emphasized, there really was a “magic” in being able to watch the movies you wanted at home, whenever you wanted to. In that sense, at least, we now live in a magical world indeed.

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The Museum of Failure: A New Swedish Museum Showcases Harley-Davidson Perfume, Colgate Beef Lasagne, Google Glass & Other Failed Products

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Take 193 Free Tech and Business Courses Online at Udacity: Product Design, Programming, A.I., Marketing & More

Each of us now commands more technological power than did any human being alive in previous eras. Or rather, we potentially command it: what we can do with the technology at our fingertips — and how much money we can make with it — depends on how well we understand it. Luckily, the development of learning methods has more or less kept pace with the development of everything else we now do with computers. Take the online-education platform Udacity, which offers “nanodegree” programs in areas like programming, data science, and cybersecurity. While the nanodegrees themselves come with fees, Udacity doesn’t charge for the constituent courses: in other words, you can earn what you need to know for free.

Above you’ll find the introduction to Udacity’s Product Design course by Google (also creator of the Coursera professional-certificate programs previously featured here on Open Culture). “Designed to help you materialize your game-changing idea and transform it into a product that you can build a business around,” the course “blends theory and practice to teach you product validation, UI/UX practices, Google’s Design Sprint and the process for setting and tracking actionable metrics.”

This is a highly practical learning experience at the intersection of technology and business, as are many other of Udacity’s 193 free courses, like App MarketingApp Monetization, How to Build a Startup, and Get Your Startup Started.

If you have no particular interest in founding and running the next Google, Udacity also hosts plenty of courses that focus entirely on the workings of different branches of technology, from programming and artificial intelligence to 2D game development and 3D graphics. (In addition to the broad introductions, there are also relatively advanced courses of a much more specific focus: Developing Android Apps with Kotlin, say, or Deploying a Hadoop Cluster.) And if you’d simply like to get your foot in the door with a job in tech, consider such offerings as Refresh Your Résumé, Strengthen Your LinkedIn Network & Brand, and a variety of interview-preparation courses for jobs in data sciencemachine learning, product management, virtual-reality development, and other subfields. And however cutting-edge their work, who couldn’t another spin through good old Intro to Psychology?

Find a list of 193 Free Udacity courses here. For the next week Nanodegrees are 75% off (use code JULY75). Find more free courses in our list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Udacity. If readers enroll in certain Udacity courses and programs that charge a fee, it helps support Open Culture.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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An Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing: A Free Online Course from the University of Copenhagen




Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy, a neuropsychologist at the University of Copenhagen, presents An Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing, a course that explores the following set of questions:

How do we make decisions as consumers? What do we pay attention to, and how do our initial responses predict our final choices? To what extent are these processes unconscious and cannot be reflected in overt reports? This course will provide you with an introduction to some of the most basic methods in the emerging fields of consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing. You will learn about the methods employed and what they mean. You will learn about the basic brain mechanisms in consumer choice, and how to stay updated on these topics. The course will give an overview of the current and future uses of neuroscience in business.

You can take Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing will be added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection: 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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For a list of online certificate programs, visit 200 Online Certificate & Microcredential Programs from Leading Universities & Companies, which features programs from our partners Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn and edX.

And if you’re interested in Online Mini-Masters and Master’s Degrees programs from universities, see our collection: Online Degrees & Mini Degrees: Explore Masters, Mini Masters, Bachelors & Mini Bachelors from Top Universities.

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480 Filmmakers Reveal the 100 Greatest Movies in the World

Nobody knows more about cinema than critics. But in an entirely different way, nobody knows more about cinema than directors. That, perhaps, is one of the reasons that Sight and Sound magazine has, for the past thirty years, conducted two separate once-in-a-decade polls to determine the greatest films of all time. Last week we featured the results of Sight and Sound‘s latest critics poll here on Open Culture, but the outcome of the directors’ vote — whose electorate of 480 “spans experimental, arthouse, mainstream and genre filmmakers from around the world” — merits its own consideration.

As all the cinephile world knows by now, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles came out on top of Sight and Sound‘s critics poll this year. That temporally expansive masterwork of potatoes, veal cutlets, prostitution, and murder didn’t place quite so highly in the directors poll. It ranks at number four, below Ozu Yasujirō’s Tokyo Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and — at number one — Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which, for those who make movies, evidently remains the “ultimate trip” that its late-sixties marketing campaign promised.

The roundup of individual ballots at World of Reel reveals that 2001‘s supporters include a wide range of auteurs — Olivier Assayas, Bi Gan, Don Hertzfeldt, Gaspar Noé, Joanna Hogg, Edgar Wright, Martin Scorsese — not all of whose own work shows clear evidence of having been influenced by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s at once lavish and stark vision of mankind’s destiny in the realms beyond Earth. But 2001‘s real achievement was less to tell its particular story, no matter how mind-blowing, than to expand the possibilities of cinema itself: to execute, as examined in the video essay above, a kind of cinematic hypnotism.

Of course, Kubrick is hugely admired by viewers and makers of movies alike. Barry Lyndon appears on both top-100 lists, though it seems as if critics favor The Shining more than filmmakers. The latter group cast more votes for Kubrick’s Cold-War comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Also among the dozens of titles only in the filmmakers’ top 100 include Abbas Kiarostami‘s Where Is the Friend’s House? and Taste of Cherry, Kurosawa Akira’s Throne of Blood and Ikiru, Sergei Parajanov‘s The Color of Pomegranates, and even Steven Spielberg’s Jaws — which, no less than 2001, surely appeals to any filmmaker’s innate sense of spectacle.

See the directors top 100 films here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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When the World Got Introduced to the Amazing Compact Disc (CD) in 1982

The first compact discs and players came out in October of 1982. That means the format is now 40 years old, which in turn means that most avid music-listeners have never known a world without it. In fact, all of today’s teenagers — that most musically avid demographic — were born after the CD’s commercial peak in 2002, and to them, no physical medium could be more passé. Vinyl records have been enjoying a long twenty-first-century resurgence as a premium product, and even cassette tapes exude a retro appeal. But how many understand just what a technological marvel the CD was when it made its debut, with (what we remember as) its promise of “perfect sound forever”?

“You could argue that the CD, with its vast data capacity, relatively robust nature, and with the further developments it spurred along, changed how the world did virtually all media.” So says Alec Watson, host of the Youtube channel Technology Connections, previously featured here on Open Culture for his five-part series on RCA’s SelectaVision video disc system.

But he’s also made a six-part miniseries on the considerably more successful compact disc, whose development “solved the central problem of digital sound: needing a for-the-time-absurdly massive amount of raw data.” Back then, computer hard drives had a capacity of about ten megabytes, whereas a single disc could hold up to 700 megabytes.

Figuring out how to encode that much information onto a thin 120-millimeter disc required serious resources and engineering prowess (available thanks to the involvement of two electronics giants, Sony and Philips), but it constituted only one of the technological elements needed for the CD to become a viable format. Watson covers them all in this miniseries, beginning with the invention of digital sound itself (including the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem on which it depends). He also explains such physical processes as how a CD player’s laser reads the “pits” and “lands” on a disc’s surface, producing a stream of numbers subsequently converted back into an audio signal for our listening pleasure.

The CD has also changed our relationship to that pleasure. “If CDs marked a new era, it is perhaps as much in the way they suggest specific ways of interacting with recorded music as in questions of fidelity,” writes The Quietus’ Daryl Worthington. “The fact CDs can be programmed, and tracks easily skipped, is perhaps their most significant feature when it comes to their legacy. They loosened up the album as a fixed document.” Paradoxically, “they’re also the format par excellence for the album as a comprehensive, self-contained unit to be played from start to finish.” Even if you can’t remember when last you put one on, fourteen million of them were sold last year, as against five million vinyl LPs and 200,000 cassettes. At 40, the CD may no longer feel like a miraculous technology, but we can hardly count it out just yet.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Jim Henson’s Commercials for Wilkins Coffee: 15 Twisted Minutes of Muppet Coffee Ads (1957-1961)

Drink our coffee. Or else. That’s the message of these curiously sadistic TV commercials produced by Jim Henson between 1957 and 1961.

Henson made 179 ten-second spots for Wilkins Coffee, a regional company with distribution in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. market, according to the Muppets Wiki: “The local stations only had ten seconds for station identification, so the Muppet commercials had to be lightning-fast–essentially, eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product.”

Within those eight seconds, a coffee enthusiast named Wilkins (who bears a resemblance to Kermit the frog) manages to shoot, stab, bludgeon or otherwise do grave bodily harm to a coffee holdout named Wontkins. Henson provided the voices of both characters.

Up until that time, TV advertisers typically made a direct sales pitch. “We took a different approach,” said Henson in Christopher Finch’s Of Muppets and Men: The Making of the Muppet Show. “We tried to sell things by making people laugh.”

The campaign for Wilkins Coffee was a hit. “In terms of popularity of commercials in the Washington area,” said Henson in a 1982 interview with Judy Harris, “we were the number one, the most popular commercial.” Henson’s ad agency began marketing the idea to other regional coffee companies around the country. Henson re-shot the same spots with different brand names. “I bought my contract from that agency,” said Henson, “and then I was producing them–the same things around the country. And so we had up to about a dozen or so clients going at the same time. At the point, I was making a lot of money.”

If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can watch many of the Wilkins Coffee commercials above. And a word of advice: If someone ever asks you if you drink Wilkins Coffee, just say yes.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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10,000 Vintage Recipe Books Are Now Digitized in The Internet Archive’s Cookbook & Home Economics Collection

“Early cookbooks were fit for kings,” writes Henry Notaker at The Atlantic. “The oldest published recipe collections” in the 15th and 16th centuries in Western Europe “emanated from the palaces of monarchs, princes, and grand señores.” Cookbooks were more than recipe collections—they were guides to court etiquette and sumptuous records of luxurious living. In ancient Rome, cookbooks functioned similarly, as the extravagant fourth century Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome demonstrates.

Written by Apicius, “Europe’s oldest [cookbook] and Rome’s only one in existence today”—as its first English translator described it—offers “a better way of knowing old Rome and antique private life.” It also offers keen insight into the development of heavily flavored dishes before the age of refrigeration. Apicus recommends that “cooks who needed to prepare birds with a ‘goatish smell’ should bathe them in a mixture of pepper, lovage, thyme, dry mint, sage, dates, honey, vinegar, broth, oil and mustard,” Melanie Radzicki McManus notes at How Stuff Works.

Early cookbooks communicated in “a folksy, imprecise manner until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s,” when standard (or metric) measurement became de rigueur. The first cookbook by an American, Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, placed British fine dining and lavish “Queen’s Cake” next to “johnny cake, federal pan cake, buckwheat cake, and Indian slapjack,” Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald write at Smithsonian, all recipes symbolizing “the plain, but well-run and bountiful American home.” With this book, “a dialogue on how to balance the sumptuous with the simple in American life had begun.”

Cookbooks are windows into history—markers of class and caste, documents of daily life, and snapshots of regional and cultural identity at particular moments in time. In 1950, the first cookbook written by a fictional lifestyle celebrity, Betty Crocker, debuted. It became “a national best-seller,” McManus writes. “It even sold more copies that year than the Bible.” The image of the perfect Stepford housewife may have been bigger than Jesus in the 50s, but Crocker’s career was decades in the making. She debuted in 1921, the year of publication for another, more humble recipe book: the Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church Ladies’ Aid Society of Chicago’s Pilgrim Cook Book.

As Ayun Halliday noted in an earlier post, this charming collection features recipes for “Blitz Torte, Cough Syrup, and Sauerkraut Candy,” and it’s only one of thousands of such examples at the Internet Archive’s Cookbook and Home Economics Collection, drawn from digitized special collections at UCLA, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library. When we last checked in, the collection featured 3,000 cookbooks. It has grown since 2016 to a library of 10,600 vintage examples of homespun Americana, fine dining, and mass marketing.

Laugh at gag-inducing recipes of old; cringe at the pious advice given to women ostensibly anxious to please their husbands; and marvel at how various international and regional cuisines have been represented to unsuspecting American home cooks. (It’s hard to say whether the cover or the contents of a Chinese Cook Book in Plain English from 1917 seem more offensive.) Cookbooks of recipes from the American South are popular, as are covers featuring stereotypical “mammy” characters. A more respectful international example, 1952’s Luchow’s German Cookbook gives us “the story and the favorite dishes of America’s most famous German restaurant.”

There are guides to mushrooms and “commoner fungi, with special emphasis on the edible varieties”; collections of “things mother used to make” and, most practically, a cookbook for leftovers. And there is every other sort of cookbook and home ec. manual you could imagine. The archive is stuffed with helpful hints, rare ingredients, unexpected regional cookeries, and millions of minute details about the habits of these books’ first hungry readers.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2020.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Download The Harvard Classics as Free eBooks: A “Portable University” Created in 1909

Every revolutionary age produces its own kind of nostalgia. Faced with the enormous social and economic upheavals at the nineteenth century’s end, learned Victorians like Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and Matthew Arnold looked to High Church models and played the bishops of Western culture, with a monkish devotion to preserving and transmitting old texts and traditions and turning back to simpler ways of life. It was in 1909, the nadir of this milieu, before the advent of modernism and world war, that The Harvard Classics took shape. Compiled by Harvard’s president Charles W. Eliot and called at first Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, the compendium of literature, philosophy, and the sciences, writes Adam Kirsch in Harvard Magazine, served as a “monument from a more humane and confident time” (or so its upper classes believed), and a “time capsule…. In 50 volumes.”

What does the massive collection preserve? For one thing, writes Kirsch, it’s “a record of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought best in their own heritage.” Eliot’s intentions for his work differed somewhat from those of his English peers. Rather than simply curating for posterity “the best that has been thought and said” (in the words of Matthew Arnold), Eliot meant his anthology as a “portable university”—a pragmatic set of tools, to be sure, and also, of course, a product. He suggested that the full set of texts might be divided into a set of six courses on such conservative themes as “The History of Civilization” and “Religion and Philosophy,” and yet, writes Kirsch, “in a more profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is ‘Progress.’” “Eliot’s [1910] introduction expresses complete faith in the ‘intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization.’”

In its expert synergy of moral uplift and marketing, The Harvard Classics (find links to download them as free ebooks below) belong as much to Mark Twain’s bourgeois gilded age as to the pseudo-aristocratic age of Victoria—two sides of the same ocean, one might say.

The idea for the collection didn’t initially come from Eliot, but from two editors at the publisher P.F. Collier, who intended “a commercial enterprise from the beginning” after reading a speech Eliot gave to a group of workers in which he “declared that a five-foot shelf of books could provide”

a good substitute for a liberal education in youth to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.

Collier asked Eliot to “pick the titles” and they would publish them as a series. The books appealed to the upwardly mobile and those hungry for knowledge and an education denied them, but the cost would still have been prohibitive to many. Over a hundred years, and several cultural-evolutionary steps later, and anyone with an internet connection can read all of the 51-volume set online. In a previous post, we summarized the number of ways to get your hands on Charles W. Eliot’s anthology:

You can still buy an old set off of Amazon for $750. But, just as easily, you can head to the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg, which have centralized links to every text included in The Harvard Classics (Wealth of Nations, Origin of Species, Plutarch’s Lives, the list goes on below). Please note that the previous two links won’t give you access to the actual annotated Harvard Classics texts edited by Eliot himself. But if you want just that, you can always click here and get digital scans of the true Harvard Classics.

In addition to these options, Bartleby has digital texts of the entire collection of what they call “the most comprehensive and well-researched anthology of all time.” But wait, there’s more! Much more, in fact, since Eliot and his assistant William A. Neilson compiled an additional twenty volumes called the “Shelf of Fiction.” Read those twenty volumes—at fifteen minutes a day—starting with Henry Fielding and ending with Norwegian novelist Alexander Kielland at Bartleby.

What may strike modern readers of Eliot’s collection are precisely the “blind spots in Victorian notions of culture and progress” that it represents. For example, those three harbingers of doom for Victorian certitude—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—are nowhere to be seen. Omissions like this are quite telling, but, as Kirsch writes, we might not look at Eliot’s achievement as a relic of a naively optimistic age, but rather as “an inspiring testimony to his faith in the possibility of democratic education without the loss of high standards.” This was, and still remains, a noble ideal, if one that—like the utopian dreams of the Victorians—can sometimes seem frustratingly unattainable (or culturally imperialist). But the widespread availability of free online humanities certainly brings us closer than Eliot’s time could ever come.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophy on Finding Meaning in Old Age

Image via Wikimedia Commons

In the legend of the Buddha, prince Siddhartha encounters the poor souls outside his palace walls and sees, for the first time, the human condition: debilitating illness, aging, death. He is shocked. As Simone de Beauvoir paraphrases in The Coming of Age, her groundbreaking study of the depredations of growing old, Siddhartha wonders, “What is the use of pleasures and delights, since I myself am the future dwelling-place of old age?” 

Rather than deny his knowledge of suffering, the Buddha followed its logic to the end. “In this,” de Beauvoir writes ironically, “he differed from the rest of mankind… being born to save humanity.” We are mostly out to save ourselves – or our stubborn ideas of who we should be. The more wealth and power we have, the easier it may be to fight the transformations of age…. Until we cannot, since “growing, ripening, aging, dying – the passing of time is predestined.”

When she began to write about her own aging, de Beauvoir was besieged, she says, by “great numbers of people, particularly old people [who] told me, kindly or angrily but always at great length and again and again, that old age simply did not exist!” The hundreds and thousands of dollars spent to fight nature’s effect on our appearance only serves to “prolong,” she writes, our “dying youth.”

Obsessions with cosmetics and cosmetic surgery come from an ageism imposed from without by what scholar Kathleen Woodward calls “the youthful structure of the look” — a harsh gaze that turns the old into “The Other.” The aged are subject to a “stigmatizing social judgment, made worse by our internalization of it.” Ram Dass summarized the condition in 2019 by saying we live in “a very cruel culture” — an “aging society… with a youth mythology.”

The contradictions can be stark. Many of Ram Dass’ generation have become valuable fodder in marketing and politics for their reliability as voters or consumers, a major shift since 1972. But, for all the focus on baby boomers as a hated or a useful demographic, they are largely invisible outside of a certain wealthy class. Old age in the West is no less fraught with economic and social precarity than when de Beauvoir wrote. 

De Beauvoir movingly describes conditions that were briefly evident in the media during the worst of the pandemic – the isolation, fear, and marginalization that older people face, especially those without means. “The presence of money cannot always alleviate” the pains of aging, wrote Elizabeth Hardwick in her 1972 review of de Beauvoir’s book in translation. “Its absence is a certain catastrophe.”

The problem, de Beauvoir pointed out, is that old age is almost synonymous with poverty. The elderly are deemed unproductive, unprofitable, a burden on the state and family. She quotes a Cambridge anthropologist, Dr. Leach, who stated at a conference, “in effect, ‘In a changing world, where machines have a very short run of life, men must not be used too long. Everyone over fifty-five should be scrapped.’” 

The sentiment, expressed in 1968, sounds not unlike a phrase bandied around by business analysts thanks to Erik Brynjolkfsson’s call for human beings to “race with the machines.” It is, eventually, a race everyone loses. And the push for profitability over human flourishing comes back to haunt us all. 

We carry this ostracism so far that we even reach the point of turning it against ourselves: for in the old person that we must become, we refuse to recognize ourselves.” 

De Beauvoir’s response to the widespread cultural denial of aging was to write the first full-length philosophical study of aging in existence, “to break the conspiracy of silence,” she proclaimed. First published as La vieillesse in 1970, the book dared tread where no scholar or thinker had, as Woodward writes in a 2016 re-appraisal: 

The Coming of Age is the inaugural and inimitable study of the scandalous treatment of aging and the elderly in today’s capitalist societies…. There was no established method or model for the study of aging. Beauvoir had to invent a way to pursue this enormous subject. What did she do? …. She surveyed and synthesized what she had found in multiple domains, including biology, anthropology, philosophy, and the historical and cultural record, drawing it all together to argue with no holds barred that the elderly are not only marginalized in contemporary capitalist societies, they are dehumanized.

The book is just as relevant in its major points, argues professor of philosophy Tove Pettersen, despite some sweeping generalizations that may not hold up now or didn’t then. But the exclusions suffered by aging women in capitalist societies are still especially cruel, as the philosopher argued. Women are still stigmatized for their desires after menopause and ceaselessly judged on their appearance at all times.

De Beauvoir’s study has been compared to the exhaustive work of Michel Foucault, who excavated such human conditions as madness, sexuality, and punishment. And like his studies, it can feel claustrophobic. Is there any way out of being Othered, pushed aside, and ignored by the next generation as we age? “Beauvoir claims that the oppressed are not always just passive victims,” says Pettersen, “and that not all oppression is total.” 

We may be conditioned to see aging people as no longer useful or desirable, and to see ourselves that way as we age. But to wholly accept the logic of this judgment is to allow old age to become a “parody” of youth, writes de Beauvoir, as we chase after the past in misguided efforts to reclaim lost social status. We must resist the backward look that a youth-obsessed culture encourages by allowing ourselves to become something else, with a focus turned outward toward a future we won’t see.

As an old Zen master once pointed out, the leaves don’t go back on the tree. The leaves in fall and the tree in winter, however, are things of beauty and promise:

There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning — devotion to individuals, to groups or to causes, social, political, intellectual or creative work… In old age we should wish still to have passions strong enough to prevent us turning in on ourselves. One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.

Borrow de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age from the Internet Archive and read it online for free. Or purchase a copy of your own.

via The Marginalian

Related Content:

Ram Dass (RIP) Offers Wisdom on Confronting Aging and Dying

Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Interests Gradually Wider and More Impersonal”

Life Lessons From 100-Year-Olds: Timeless Advice in a Short Film

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

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