In The New York Times Magazine: Merit badges

Posted by Rob Walker on June 12, 2010
Posted Under: Consumed,The Designed Life

The appeal of the (sort of) grown-up, geeky merit badge

Much about the function of the merit badge actually fits pretty neatly with the spirit of the time. The nagging sense of needing to acquire new skills, all the time, is palpable. That anxiety dovetails with a self-improvement ethos that fills whole sections of bookstores, cross-matched with the various ways technology prods us to tabulate parodic amounts of personal-behavior data. If we rack up badges for our online “achievements,” we may as well do the same for our offline victories, too. And if we use a form associated with preadulthood, it makes sense, since all of the above comes with a chaser of nostalgia and widespread reluctance to completely put away childish things.

Churlish? To the contrary, I can’t think of a more sweetly upbeat response to a turbulent culture than an actual grown-up sporting a merit badge.

Read the column in the June 13, 2010, New York Times Magazine, or here.

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