Sure, PowerPoint presentations have displaced chalkboards; enrollments in massive open online courses often exceed 100,000 (though the number of engaged students tends to be much smaller); and “flipped classrooms” replace homework with watching taped lectures, while class time is spent discussing homework exercises. But, given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?
One can understand why change is slow to take root at the primary and secondary school level, where the social and political obstacles are massive. But colleges and universities have far more capacity to experiment; indeed, in many ways, that is their raison d’être.
I had assumed that Terayama’s spectacles were the madly exaggerated, surreal fantasies of a poet’s feverish mind. But what astonished me about Tokyo, on visiting it for the first time, in the fall of 1975, was how much it resembled a Tenjo Sajiki theatre set. There was something theatrical, even hallucinatory, about the cityscape itself, where nothing was understated: products, places, entertainment, and fashion screamed for attention. In Tokyo, it seemed, very little was out of sight.
I never thought that I could be Japanese, nor did I wish to be. But I was open to change. This meant, in the early stages of my life in Japan, almost total immersion. In the first few weeks, I walked around in a daze, a lone foreigner bobbing along in crowds, taking everything in. I walked and walked, often losing my way in the maze of streets in Shinjuku or Shibuya. Much of the advertising was in the same intense hues as the azure skies of early autumn. And I realized now that the colors in old Japanese woodcuts were not stylized at all, but an accurate depiction of Japanese light.
Change, then, isn’t just a constant — it’s a source of hope. Horn’s all-encompassing vision embraces the potential of technological advancement, the bugbear of How to Stop Time, and while Haig’s novel fetishizes the past, Eternal Life is resolutely forward-looking — it even features a crucial plot point that involves a cryptocurrency mining rig. At the end of the book, Rachel finds herself holding a newborn in one hand and a smartphone — that symbol of our age — in the other, awash in an unusual sense of peace and possibility. And she awaits a man who “had run out to pick up a few necessities, a strange thing that young men now seemed to routinely do for their wives and children, along with dozens of other tasks she had never seen any man do, like vacuuming a rug or emptying a dishwasher.” And that, if nothing else, is hopeful indication indeed that things can change for the better.