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Alone time

A few months ago, researchers at Duke and the University of Arizona released a study called "Social Isolation in America," which looked at trends in "discussion networks" and introduced the widely cited statistic that nearly a quarter of Americans have no one they cite as a confidant, up from 10 percent in 1985. The conclusion one might draw from this is that America has become more anomic and lonely (as Robert Putnam argues in Bowling Alone) and that communications technology is having the effect of discouraging close contacts. The entertainment industry, for example, has moved toward an instant gratification model in the experiences it manufactures ("me media"), and these serve to engender impatience with other people's interests, destroying the reciprocity required to make friendship function. It becomes more compelling to groom a MySpace page and quantify our marketing potential in a numeric friend count then to put in the time to forge a friendship that goes beyond, say, having both listed Angels & Airwaves as a favorite band. And timeshifting to consume entertainment when we want, and using Internet searches to try to consume precisely what we want, may seem to be such useful tools that we want to apply them to our friends, and timeshift them through various "presence management tools" (like not answering a cell phone) to more convenient times and only deal with them when we feel like it. We may want having friends to be more like watching Friends.

Though the researchers suggest that people may not see communication by such means as the Internet and cell phones and so on as "discussion" (the medating technology may then be undermining the personal connection that might otherwise come from communication, making what one takes away from commmunicating to be not that another person was reached but that a neat new gizmo was used), ultimately Internet technology, in their opinion, generates weak ties and erodes strong ones.

While these technologies allow a network to spread out across geographic space and might even enhance contacts outside the home (e.g., arranging a meeting at a restaurant or bar), they seem, however, to lower the probability of having face-to-face visits with family, neighbors, or friends in one’s home Boase et al., Gershuny, Erbring, Nie, Hillygus, and Erbring, Wellman et al. note that Internet usage may even interfere with communication in the home, creating a post-familial family where family members spend time interacting with multiple computers in the home, rather than with each other. They suggest that computer technology may foster a wider, less-localized array of weak ties, rather than the strong, tightly interconnected confidant ties that we have measured here.

My pet theory has been that convenience has been trumpeted as such an overriding social good that the inconveniences of friendship make them seem not worth the bother. Intimacy is inconvenient; most people will only tolerate it from a spouse. The study puts it this way: "The general image is one of an already densely connected, close, homogeneous set of ties slowly closing in on itself, becoming smaller, more tightly interconnected, more focused on the very strong bonds of the nuclear family (spouses, partners, and parents). The education level at which one is more connected through core discussion ties to the larger community than to family members has shifted up into the graduate degrees, a level of education attained by only a tiny minority of the population." A graph further reveals "there is a very sharp increase in the probability of social isolation for all levels of education, but the greatest change occurs in the middle range of education." Here's a grand generalization: This would seem to conform to the segment of society most likely to adopt technology and integrate it imperfectly into their lives, letting it create a kind of path dependence regarding accelerated experience and the need for more convenience to keep up with the conveniences already provided. These obviate the need for patient, slow-building, long-lasting friendship.

Lisa Selin Davis, in this Salon article about the study presents a rather sad array of characters who are post-friendship. "Some people seemed almost proud to say they could call no one a friend, proud of the fortitude that loneliness requires. My dad once told me that friends are people you can do nothing with, but these days, people seem to prefer doing nothing by themselves." We meet the guy who has replaced friends with his therapist, a guy who moved upstate and replaced all his friends with books, the 20-year-old girl who goes out alone and gets a thrill rejecting every person's attempt to get to know her better, and the guy whose wife spends all day on the Foo Fighters message board online.

I like my alone time as much as anyone, but seeing it illustrated in others makes it sound sort of pathetic. Alone time resists reportage; if asked how I spent it, I don't really have an answer -- the whole point of it is to be busy doing things that don't need to be told or dramatized, things too mundane to be shared. Or rather, being alone makes these things fall below the scope of narrative; alone time allows one to escape, for a little while, the compulsion to make everything into a story. Of course, some people can't tolerate being alone, and these are among the scariest people you can encounter. But it is also an illusion to think that loneliness equates to self-sufficiency instead of self-deprivation. Inevitably one stagnates without the pressure and pleasure that comes from pleasing others, or at least engaging them. I wonder if that pressure exists in the same way for friendships mediated over the Internet. Often, when I find myself reaching out to people online, whether by e-mail or by blogging or by commenting or whatever, I experience less a sense of connection than a subtly modulated loneliness, a sense of safe containment that enables me to talk without the fear of being listened to.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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