On One Hand

January 28, 2010

Obama’s First State of the Union Address: A Great Start for 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:13 am
Tags: , , ,

If you are viewing this entry from Facebook, click “view original post” at bottom of the page to see the poll as it is included on livejournal.

It’s late and I won’t say much about the State of the Union right now, but my first impression is that I’m pretty pleased with President Obama’s performance, and eager to see how it will play out in the polls over the next few weeks. The president sounded conciliatory but tough – a good balance for the public to see, but the president will have to be willing to play hardball with recalcitrant Democrats behind closed doors if he wants to get anything done in 2010. He’ll have to completely ignore Republicans and move on without them, which is, ironically, the best way to get them to turn around and cooperate when they see they have suddenly become irrelevant. A good resource for specific themes in this address is Tom Shaller on fivethirtyeight.com.

I think my favorite lines in the whole address were President Obama’s chastisement of Congress – he spoke of the Senate in particular, and he did not spare Democrats his frustration, which is good when the American public is similarly frustrated with Democrats. He repeatedly pointed out that the House already passed items on his agenda, but the Senate – where Democratic majorities are stronger – has failed to move on practically anything, which is partially due to Republican obstructionism and more to do with Democrats being hesitant and ineffective.

But President Obama directly addressed Republicans, too, by mentioning that if they are going to use their meager 40 seats in the Senate as some kind of mandate, then they are part of the government too and need to take ownership of the country. By this point Republicans had already heckled the president – condescendingly and, in my opinon, in a way that was not fitting of the event – and needed to be told off. He could have been harsher in those cases, but I think he shamed them in a smooth way, and in any case maybe their rudeness will embolden President Obama into being less concilliatory himself.

I’ll be interested to see how the snickering and pouty faces Republicans made through most of the speech play in the media over the next few news cycles – they were so out-of-it that they didn’t even stand and clap when President Obama first mentioned cutting the capital gains tax for small businesses, which has been a Republican issue for ages.

Even moreso, I’ll be interested to see just how many points President Obama upticks in the polls after this – I expect it to be more than a couple but less than a complete game-changer (I expect to see him around 53 – he’ll get back the people who voted for him). I’m very pleased to see him taking ownership of the way the last year has gone and pleased to see exactly how he expresses his view of his mistakes and others’. Here’s to hoping the next few weeks are full of action and that a forceful White House can light a fire under congress to do something meaningful in 2010.

January 25, 2010

Protected: Stuff Gay People Like: Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:46 pm

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January 24, 2010

Protected: A thought…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:41 pm

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January 21, 2010

Young People Stayed Home in Massachusetts on Tuedsay

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:46 pm

Yesterday I made the claim that the electorate that sent Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusets must have looked very different from the electorate that sent Barack Obama to the White House in 2008; the collection of voters that went to the polls was much older and more conservative than what Massachusetts normally looks like.

Today a study proves that was true, and the numbers are comforting and depressing at the same time. only 15 percent of people age 18-29 voted in yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts. Those voters favored the Democrat by 3 to 1. Meanwhile, 57 percent of voters over 30 showed up – which resulted in exceptionally high turnout for a special election – and those voters were considerably more conservative than their 20-something peers. The older, more conservative selection of voters ultimately sent a liberal Republican to the Senate in Massachusetts.

To compare, about half of all young people voted in 2008, and favored Barack Obama 5 to 1. It is often true that the most liberal voters become no-shows first, which is why the U.S. government is always at least a little more conservative than the average viewpoint of ordinary Americans.

The numbers should be comforting to liberals who can clearly see there is not some basic shift in the country away from Barack Obama, but are also disturbing when they reveal that young people are just as lazy and apathetic as they’ve always been; Barack Obama did not inspire them to become permanently involved. He made voting “cool” that year, and whether or not he can repeat that will likely depend on how the White House plays it cards from here until the midterms, and from then until the 2012 elections.

President Obama needs to throw some token of support to young people and progressives to shore up his favor with them and ensure they re-elect him and send him a stream of downticket Democrats to help him pass an agenda. Passing the healthcare bill (just to get it off the table) would be a start – albeit that is Congres’s, not the president’s job – and a jobs bill would be vital, but repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and putting a little focus on higher education would make a big difference too.

January 20, 2010

Take a Breath, Folks: Brown’s Victory is Not Disaster for Democrats

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:42 pm
Tags: ,

There is a lot of sensationalism in the media right now, especially among progressives. That is because a Republican, Scott Brown, just won the remainder of Ted Kennedy’s senate term in sparkling-blue Massachusetts in a special election yesterday. The narrative is reading: Democrats Failing, America Tilts to the Right; electorate punishes Democrats for liberal agenda.

Take a deep breath. America isn’t going down the tubes. We are not embarking upon a resurgence of Republicanism. Does anyone believe, even for a second, that Massachusetts voters are actually tilting conservative? Trust me, folks: if you haven’t suddenly tipped to the Right, neither has Massachusetts.

Something else is going on.

Obama’s rise to power was as much about demographic changes in the United States as it was a repudiation of Bush. Black, Asian and Latino Americans are becoming populous enough in many states that Democrats can lose by huge margins among white people but still win the election – minority groups are reluctant to vote for a party that is all about protecting privilege, which they don’t have, and the Republican party is, indeed, all about privilege. The young people turning 18 right now are more liberal than their still-voting grandparents by huge margins; if only people under 25 could vote, gay marriage and legalized marijuana would already be a reality. That has been an incredible benefit to Obama and the reason why he won in so many states in 2008.

But young people don’t vote in special elections – and the special election for Kennedy’s seat was no exception – so what you run with on January 19, 2010, a special election, looks more like the electorate of 1992.

Most liberals say they “would consider voting for a Republican,” even if it’s only a half truth, but for those who were being straightforward, Scott Brown happened to be one of the ones they would consider it for. In Massachusetts, 22 percent of Democrats chose Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley. Brown is more liberal that most Republicans nationwide and is now the single most liberal Republican in the Senate – he would not win a GOP primary for president unless he tacks far to the Right after arriving in the Senate, which would incidentally kill him in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Massachusetts voters are, quite reasonably, put off by the Democrats’ line: “we can’t do anything with our meager 20-seat majority” so are saying, shit guys, quit being babies and put up with 59 seats.

If Obama weren’t the president or if the Democrats only had a 50 or 55 seats in the Senate, Massachusetts voters would not have sent a Republican. But most people do like the idea of “balance” in government and aren’t buying the line that Democrats are totally crippled by the Republican minority – remember, Republicans got a war and a horribly disastrous tax cut under the Bush administration, with much smaller majorities.

Some angry liberals who wanted a more progressive healthcare bill voted for Brown out of spite of the Democrats. Brown is also really, really good-looking, once modeled nude for Cosmo (which makes him seem tempered in socially-liberal Massachusetts), and yes, that has an effect on voters. He is not a “radicalized” Southern-style Republican, he matches the culture of Massachusetts, and even then, he would not have won had Coakley not really messed up and arrogantly assumed the election was over at the primary.

Saying this election spells doomsday for Democrats is like saying “the roads are too icy for ANYONE to drive” after a passed-out-drunk driver driving a car with no brakes plowed through a broken stoplight and hit a fence in March.

This narrative is even good: the media like to view everything through the lens of massive trends, and will begin looking favorably on a party or coalition after it has hit some sort of painful, rhetorical “rock bottom.” I’m glad that Democrats’ “rock bottom” is happening during a 1-race special election rather than a midterm or presidential election year.

This doesn’t dictate what will happen in November 2010. President Obama is going to give his State of the Union Address in two weeks and re-set the agenda in light of this (painful) learning experience. For the next 10 months we are only going to be seeing Democrats bring up issues that at least 55% of Americans approve of, and they’re going to move through them more quickly so they can actually show some progress – something progressives and hard-up middle-class Americans can mutually celebrate.

If Democrats don’t do that, they absolutely deserve to be voted out of office for incompetence – but I have more optimism than that.

Take a Deep Breath, Folks: Brown’s Victory Does Not Spell Disaster for Democrats

Filed under: elections — ononehand @ 8:00 am
Tags:

There is a lot of sensationalism in the media right now, especially among progressives. That is because a Republican, Scott Brown, just won the remainder of Ted Kennedy’s senate term in sparkling-blue Massachusetts in a special election yesterday. The narrative is reading: Democrats Failing, America Tilts to the Right; electorate punishes Democrats for liberal agenda.

Take a deep breath. America isn’t going down the tubes. We are not embarking upon a resurgence of Republicanism. Does anyone believe, even for a second, that Massachusetts voters are actually tilting conservative? Trust me, folks: if you haven’t suddenly tipped to the Right, neither has Massachusetts.

Something else is going on.

Obama’s rise to power was as much about demographic changes in the United States as it was a repudiation of Bush. Black, Asian and Latino Americans are becoming populous enough in many states that Democrats can lose by huge margins among white people but still win the election – minority groups are reluctant to vote for a party that is all about protecting privilege, which they don’t have, and the Republican party is, indeed, all about privilege. The young people turning 18 right now are more liberal than their still-voting grandparents by huge margins; if only people under 25 could vote, gay marriage and legalized marijuana would already be a reality. That has been an incredible benefit to Obama and the reason why he won in so many states in 2008.

But young people don’t vote in special elections – and the special election for Kennedy’s seat was no exception – so what you run with on January 19, 2010, a special election, looks more like the electorate of 1992.

Most liberals say they “would consider voting for a Republican,” even if it’s only a half truth, but for those who were being straightforward, Scott Brown happened to be one of the ones they would consider it for. In Massachusetts, 22 percent of Democrats chose Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley. Brown is more liberal that most Republicans nationwide and is now the single most liberal Republican in the Senate – he would not win a GOP primary for president unless he tacks far to the Right after arriving in the Senate, which would incidentally kill him in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Massachusetts voters are, quite reasonably, put off by the Democrats’ line: “we can’t do anything with our meager 20-seat majority” so are saying, shit guys, quit being babies and put up with 59 seats.

If Obama weren’t the president or if the Democrats only had a 50 or 55 seats in the Senate, Massachusetts voters would not have sent a Republican. But most people do like the idea of “balance” in government and aren’t buying the line that Democrats are totally crippled by the Republican minority – remember, Republicans got an unpopular war and a fiscally disastrous tax cut under the Bush administration, with much smaller majorities.

Some angry liberals who wanted a more progressive healthcare bill voted for Brown out of spite of the Democrats. Brown is also really, really good-looking, once modeled nude for Cosmo (which makes him seem tempered in socially-liberal Massachusetts), and yes, that has an effect on voters. He is not a “radicalized” Southern-style Republican, he matches the culture of Massachusetts, and even then, he would not have won had Coakley not really messed up and arrogantly assumed the election was over at the primary.

Saying this election spells doomsday for Democrats is like saying “the roads are too icy for ANYONE to drive” after a passed-out-drunk driver driving a car with no brakes plowed through a broken stoplight and hit a fence in March.

This narrative is even good: the media like to view everything through the lens of massive trends, and will begin looking favorably on a party or coalition after it has hit some sort of painful, rhetorical “rock bottom.” I’m glad that Democrats’ “rock bottom” is happening during a 1-race special election rather than a midterm or presidential election year.

This doesn’t dictate what will happen in November 2010. President Obama is going to give his State of the Union Address in two weeks and re-set the agenda in light of this (painful) learning experience. For the next 10 months we are only going to be seeing Democrats bring up issues that at least 55% of Americans approve of, and they’re going to move through them more quickly so they can actually show some progress – something progressives and hard-up middle-class Americans can mutually celebrate.

If Democrats don’t do that, they absolutely deserve to be voted out of office for incompetence – but I have more optimism than that.

January 15, 2010

How Harry Reid could Keep his Senate Seat

Filed under: elections — ononehand @ 4:48 pm
Tags:

It’s not looking good for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is up for re-election in November despite polls that show him trailing major potential Republican candidates.

Democrats in general have seen a precipitous drop in favorability in Nevada since the 2008 elections. The tourism-based economy and rapid population growth Nevada experienced over the last decade set the state to be hit especially hard by a national economic downturn, and unemployment is considerably higher than the national average. That isn’t really the Democrats’ fault and certainly isn’t Harry Reid’s fault, but voters almost always punish the incumbent party for economic woes – and Barack Obama, who got 55 percent of the vote in Nevada, is down to a 44-percent approval rating, an 11-point drop. (Meanwhile Obama’s national approval ratings are only 3 points lower than his 2008 share of the vote; he won with 52 percent and is currently averaging 48-49 percent approval nationwide.)

The numbers Reid faces don’t automatically spell disaster for Democratic incumbents, as Reid won re-election in Nevada in 2004 with 61 percent of the vote even as President Bush beat John Kerry there by 2.5 percent. But Reid has since gotten himself a lower-than-average favorability rating as a Democrat. People on the left consider him to be a timid majority leader, and recent revelations of his pre-2008 gaffes about Barack Obama and race don’t help. Beyond that, there are always voters who wish their state’s representative would focus on their state rather than on national issues as a majority leader.

One way Reid could win some favor in his state is by offering to resign his Senate leadership to do just that – focus on Nevada. His announcement would say “Nevada has served a crucial role in national policy by having one of its senators serve as majority leader, but six years is sacrifice enough and now it’s time for Harry Reid to focus on Nevada again.”

A simple internal poll could test this message by asking Nevadans “if Harry Reid were to resign his senate chairmanship to focus exclusively on serving Nevada as senator, would you see this as a favorable or unfavorable move?” and as a follow-up question to determine how many likely voters would vote to keep Reid in office if he did resign the chairmanship. If the numbers are good, or even just okay, Reid should do it.

Senate majority leader is a powerful position in the senate and might be tough to give up, but Reid is backed into a corner. He can’t be Senate Majority Leader if he’s no longer in the Senate anyway. Ask Tom Dashle, the Democratic senate majority leader from South Dakota who lost his seat to a Republican in 2004, if its harder to lose his status as a senator entirely or just resign the chairmanship.

Either way, it would be considerably less humiliating for Democrats if Harry Reid were no longer senate majority leader and then lost the seat.

Beyond that, Reid should announce that Republicans promise to obstruct Democratic efforts to pass important jobs bills that are yet to move through the Senate, and it is vital to the interests of all working and unemployed Nevadans to keep the seat Democratic. Reid should promise that he will not run again if Nevadans show that they would not re-elect him and another Democrat would do better. Of course it is almost certain that Reid would not make this kind of statement until the point at which he actually decides not to continue in the Senate – which probably won’t happen anyway.

Hanging on to Senate seats will be of particular interest for Democrats in 2010 as the GOP’s obstructionist agenda promises to capitalize on any chance to oppose Barack Obama’s policies. Keeping Nevada in Democratic hands will be important this year, and the tremendous surge in voter registration Democrats enjoyed in Nevada before the 2008 elections would make losing their majority leader’s seat an especially bitter pill to swallow.

How Harry Reid Could Keep his Senate Seat

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 4:41 pm
Tags: ,

Cross posted to On One Hand

It’s not looking good for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is up for re-election in November despite polls that show him trailing major potential Republican candidates.

Democrats in general have seen a precipitous drop in favorability in Nevada since the 2008 elections. The tourism-based economy and rapid population growth Nevada experienced over the last decade set the state to be hit especially hard by a national economic downturn, and unemployment is currently considerably higher than the national average. That isn’t really the Democrats’ fault and certainly isn’t Harry Reid’s fault, but voters almost always punish the incumbent party for economic woes – and President Obama, who got 55 percent of the vote in Nevada, is down to a 44-percent approval rating, an 11-point drop. (Meanwhile Obama’s national approval ratings are only 3 points lower than his 2008 share of the vote; he won with 52 percent and is currently averaging 48-49 percent approval.)

The numbers Reid faces don’t automatically spell disaster for Democratic incumbents, as Reid won re-election in Nevada in 2004 with 61 percent of the vote even as President Bush beat John Kerry there by 2.5 percent. But Reid has since gotten himself a lower-than-average favorability rating as a Democrat. People on the left consider him to be a timid majority leader, and recent revelations of his pre-2008 gaffes about Barack Obama and race don’t help. Beyond that, there are always voters who wish their state’s representative would focus on their state rather than on national issues as a majority leader.

One way Reid could win some favor in his state is by offering to resign his Senate leadership to do just that – focus on Nevada. His announcement would say “Nevada has served a crucial role in national policy by having one of its senators serve as majority leader, but six years is sacrifice enough and now it’s time for Harry Reid to focus on Nevada again.”

A simple internal poll could test this message by asking Nevadans “if Harry Reid were to resign his senate chairmanship to focus exclusively on serving Nevada as senator, would you see this as a favorable or unfavorable move?” and as a follow-up question to determine how many likely voters would vote to keep Reid in office if he did resign the chairmanship. If the numbers are good, or even just okay, Reid should do it.

Senate majority leader is a powerful position in the senate and might be tough to give up, but Reid is backed into a corner. He can’t be Senate Majority Leader if he’s no longer in the Senate anyway. Ask Tom Dashle, the Democratic senate majority leader from South Dakota who lost his seat to a Republican in 2004, if its harder to lose his status as a senator entirely or just resign the chairmanship.

Either way, it would be considerably less humiliating for Democrats if Harry Reid were no longer senate majority leader and then lost the seat.

Beyond that, Reid should announce that Republicans promise to obstruct Democratic efforts to pass important jobs bills that are yet to move through the Senate, and it is vital to the interests of all working and unemployed Nevadans to keep the seat Democratic. Reid should promise that he will not run again if Nevadans show that they would not re-elect him and another Democrat would do better. Of course it is almost certain that Reid would not make this kind of statement until the point at which he actually decides not to continue in the Senate – which probably won’t happen anyway.

Hanging on to Senate seats will be of particular interest for Democrats in 2010 as the GOP’s obstructionist agenda promises to capitalize on any chance to oppose Barack Obama’s policies. Keeping Nevada in Democratic hands will be important this year, and the tremendous surge in voter registration Democrats enjoyed in Nevada before the 2008 elections would make losing their majority leader’s seat an especially bitter pill to swallow.

January 11, 2010

Confession: I Have a Farm on Farmville

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:34 pm
Tags:

Cross-posted to On One Hand.

I used to reflexively put all my friends’ application items on “hide” when they showed up on my Facebook news feed. That included annoying, meaningless notifications like “Christina could use some help fertilizing her crops!” or “Dan found a baby calf on his FarmVille, will you give it a home?”

When I saw a friend obsessively tending to her FarmVille Farm, I asked what it was about, and she was happy to explain. Farmville looks kind of like SimCity – a game I loved as a kid – except that instead of zoning for homes you plant crops, and come back to harvest them when they are grown, which brings in money you can put into buying equipment or more crops. In the communication era there is an added social element that traditional computer games from my youth didn’t have, and that is in peer networks; in Farmville you can send gifts to other users or add them as “neighbors” in the game so they come fertilize your crops, which scores you both points. You can decorate your farm to make it look nice for when visitors see it on their own computers, and there are even certain items on Farmville that you can only get with the help of others, which help you advance or bring in cash.

The game looked amusing enough, so I said why not and signed myself up – it’s free, and I figured you can put in as much or as little time as you want to. But there’s a problem with that kind of test-the-waters approach – FarmVille is addictive. It’s designed to give you early rewards, along with increasing responsibility. They start you off with a surge of excitement as you harvest fast-growing crops (strawberries mature in four hours) and advance through the early levels quickly. But as soon you plant something, you give yourself the requirement of coming back soon or face the risk of having unharvested crops linger too long and “wither” to brown twigs, turning moneymakers to money sinks.

A quick google search will indicate how many people are hooked on this game – there are dozens of blogs devoted to Farmville tips and strategy, and communities both for and against the rapidly-growing phoenomenon. At the time of me writing this on January 11, 2010, there are about 75 million people using Farmville across the world (and growing exponentially as each user brings in two or three friends). To put that in perspective, if each of those users spent an hour a day on the game (which would not be far-fetched and many people put much more time into it), the application would be accumulating as many hours of attention as the entire economy of a small country or a medium-sized American state. Picture every working-aged person in Ohio waking up at dawn to harvest the digital pumpkins, working intensely till dusk to plant daffodils, which will be ready in 2 days.

I remember when I was sixteen and people treated the Internet as a geeky thing that socially-awkward people were drawn to. “You actually have a website up there?” someone would ask with a wrinkled nose, talking about my Friendster account or, later on, my profile on an early version of Myspace. “How creepy. You talk to people? Are they, like, stalkers or something?” Now, virtually everyone under the age of 40 along with a hefty dose of those over 40 have Facebook accounts. Maybe Farmville is the next Facebook, if the 70 million users (and growing!) are any indication: this stuff can catch on fast.

Now I’m checking my Facebook friends’ news feeds for brown or golden chicken eggs somebody found in a chicken coop that, if clicked, will give my farm new chickens or occasionally other treats like a fig tree or water trough.

A friend told me I was being ridiculous. “That isn’t even real,” she told me, and asked me how a pursuit that can only serve to be cyclical (harvest crops to earn money to plant crops) is worthwhile.

Well, I said, isn’t that cycle a lot like the way the real world works? FarmVille like capitalism, intrinsically connected to the idea of perpetual growth. Think about it: all you really need to survive as a human being is 2,000 calories a day, a roof over your head and maybe, you could argue, medicine. Things like television, computers, brand name clothing and updated styles in furniture are all vanity and excess. Things we grow so used to that we consider them “necessities” and couldn’t imagine living without them. Plop a guy from 40,000 BCE into our society and he’ll be thinking how about I set up a leather tent in your back yard, work an hour a day to pay for canned beans and rice and have 23 hours of free time to do whatever the hell I want? That’s the life! Most people aren’t the caveman, though; most of them work hard for extra pay and buy nice things all for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses, which is all I’m doing on my farm – harvesting crops, buying expansions and keeping up. I don’t want my friends reaching level 15 before I do!

I have only been on FarmVille for three days. I am generally motivated by novelty, but novelty by definition doesn’t last. I’m sure that as time goes by the excitement will wane and harvesting virtual crops will settle into the same smooth daily predictability of checking my inbox or brushing my teeth. I’ll let the artichokes sit ripe for a few hours till I have time to get them, maybe losing one or two to withering every now and then but generally keeping things regular and comfortable.

In the meantime, my first crop of yellow bell peppers is ninety-five percent grown and I am absolutely thrilled. A few of my friends fertilized them for me, so we’ll have bulging, sparkling yellow produce in no time. I could leave them alone to look pretty on my farm, but instead I’ll harvest them the second they finish, to plant new seeds – time is money! We value hard work here on FarmVille!

In the beginning, and I suppose even now, I’m a little embarrassed to be caught up in this. I’ll click “ignore” when the game prompts me to post eggs on my wall for friends to collect from me – instead I email them directly to someone who sent eggs to me first. I don’t want people to see lots of FarmVille notifications on my public wall and realize that I’m obsessed with a computer game.

But outsiders oughtn’t be so quick to judge, really. If you haven’t gotten on FarmVille yet, open an acre and see if you can play for a half an hour without getting as hooked as you were as a kid when you brought home your first baby pet.

Seriously, I dare you.

Confession: I Have a Farm on Farmville

Filed under: culture,sociology — ononehand @ 12:30 pm
Tags: ,

I used to reflexively put all my friends’ application items on “hide” when they showed up on my Facebook news feed. That included annoying, meaningless notifications like “Christina could use some help fertilizing her crops!” or “Dan found a baby calf on his FarmVille, will you give it a home?”

When I saw a friend obsessively tending to her FarmVille Farm, I asked what it was about, and she was happy to explain. Farmville looks kind of like SimCity – a game I loved as a kid – except that instead of zoning for homes you plant crops, and come back to harvest them when they are grown, which brings in money you can put into buying equipment or more crops. In the communication era there is an added social element that traditional computer games from my youth didn’t have, and that is in peer networks; in Farmville you can send gifts to other users or add them as “neighbors” in the game so they come fertilize your crops, which scores you both points. You can decorate your farm to make it look nice for when visitors see it on their own computers, and there are even certain items on Farmville that you can only get with the help of others, which help you advance or bring in cash.

The game looked amusing enough, so I said why not and signed myself up – it’s free, and I figured you can put in as much or as little time as you want to. But there’s a problem with that kind of test-the-waters approach – FarmVille is addictive. It’s designed to give you early rewards, along with increasing responsibility. They start you off with a surge of excitement as you harvest fast-growing crops (strawberries mature in four hours) and advance through the early levels quickly. But as soon you plant something, you give yourself the requirement of coming back soon or face the risk of having unharvested crops linger too long and “wither” to brown twigs, turning moneymakers to money sinks.

A quick google search will indicate how many people are hooked on this game – there are dozens of blogs devoted to Farmville tips and strategy, and communities both for and against the rapidly-growing phoenomenon. At the time of me writing this on January 11, 2010, there are about 75 million people using Farmville across the world (and growing exponentially as each user brings in two or three friends). To put that in perspective, if each of those users spent an hour a day on the game (which would not be far-fetched and many people put much more time into it), the application would be accumulating as many hours of attention as the entire economy of a small country or a medium-sized American state. Picture every working-aged person in Ohio waking up at dawn to harvest the digital pumpkins and plant daffodils, which will be ready in 2 days.

I remember when I was sixteen and people treated the Internet as a geeky thing that socially-awkward people were drawn to. “You actually have a website up there?” someone would ask with a wrinkled nose, talking about my Friendster account or, later on, my profile on an early version of Myspace. “How creepy. You talk to people? Are they, like, stalkers or something?” Now, virtually everyone under the age of 40 along with a hefty dose of those over 40 have Facebook accounts. Maybe Farmville is the next Facebook, if the 70 million users (and growing!) are any indication: this stuff can catch on fast.

Now I’m checking my Facebook friends’ news feeds for brown or golden chicken eggs somebody found in a chicken coop that, if clicked, will give my farm new chickens or occasionally other treats like a fig tree or water trough.

A friend told me I was being ridiculous. “That isn’t even real,” she told me, and asked me how a pursuit that can only serve to be cyclical (harvest crops to earn money to plant crops) is worthwhile.

Well, I said, isn’t that cycle a lot like the way the real world works? FarmVille is like capitalism, intrinsically connected to the idea of perpetual growth. Think about it: all you really need to survive as a human being is 2,000 calories a day, a roof over your head and maybe, you could argue, medicine. Things like television, computers, brand name clothing and updated styles in furniture are all vanity and excess. Things we grow so used to that we consider them “necessities” and couldn’t imagine living without them. Plop a guy from 40,000 BCE into our society and he’ll be thinking how about I set up a leather tent in your back yard, work an hour a day to pay for canned beans and rice and have 23 hours of free time to do whatever the hell I want? That’s the life! Most people aren’t the caveman, though; most of them work hard for extra pay and buy nice things all for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses, which is all I’m doing on my farm – harvesting crops, buying expansions and keeping up. I don’t want my friends reaching level 15 before I do!

I have only been on FarmVille for three days. I am generally motivated by novelty, but novelty by definition doesn’t last. I’m sure that as time goes by the excitement will wane and harvesting virtual crops will settle into the same smooth daily predictability of checking my inbox or brushing my teeth. I’ll let the artichokes sit ripe for a few hours till I have time to get them, maybe losing one or two to withering every now and then but generally keeping things regular and comfortable.

In the meantime, my first crop of yellow bell peppers is ninety-five percent grown and I am absolutely thrilled. A few of my friends fertilized them for me, so we’ll have bulging, sparkling yellow produce in no time. I could leave them alone to look pretty on my farm, but instead I’ll harvest them the second they finish, to plant new seeds – time is money! We value hard work here on FarmVille!

In the beginning, and I suppose even now, I’m a little embarrassed to be caught up in this. I’ll click “ignore” when the game prompts me to post eggs on my wall for friends to collect from me – instead I email them directly to someone who sent eggs to me first. I don’t want people to see lots of FarmVille notifications on my public wall and realize that I’m obsessed with a computer game.

But outsiders oughtn’t be so quick to judge, really. If you haven’t gotten on FarmVille yet, open an acre and see if you can play for a half an hour without getting as hooked as you were as a kid when you brought home your first baby pet.

Seriously, I dare you.

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