Pico Iyer is an author and essayist, who divides his time between Japan and the US. We caught up with him in 2015 in San Francisco and spoke to him on a wide variety of topics ranging from how he defines his writing to his love for film, sports, American pop culture, the peristence of the “American Dream,” to Bollywood. We were also curious to find out how he prepares and researches his topics. How does he deal with data obesity and “mass distraction.”
Transformation is a subject that fascinates and absorbs Iyer and that is reflected in most of his writings. How has the world changed since Iyer started traveling in the 1980s during the Cold War period. Iyer traveled to places that were not open to most of us .We are more clueless now than we were 25 years ago points out Iyer. “Now, anybody … can use their smart phone,” assumes they know everything. “The illusion of knowledge” and “the illusion of familiarity” makes us think we know more about countries than ever before he adds. But, actually we know very little about them he says.
On American culture Iyer offers a fascinating perspective. “Each country from the world draws from the same pool of American pop cultural images but converts it to its own context, its own history and therefore its own language and makes it something radically different…Now, we are 200 countries separated by a similar pop culture language. All the world is going to MacDonald, drinking Starbucks and watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie but in each country they mean something radically different.”
He has an interesting point of view on how the American Dream endures in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. ” The American Dream, which many Americans say has gone past its expiration date is alive and well in the hearts and minds of people around the world,” says Iyer. “By believing in the American Dream they come here and make it real, And that is what we see in a place like Silicon Valley. People from Taiwan, and Korea and India believe America is a land of possibility and that you can do anything you can dream and they come here and they have done that…They are not just remaking America but they are constantly reviving that sense of possibilities in America. Even if China becomes the strongest economy in the world, I don’t think there will be a Chinese Dream.”
LISTEN TO PICO IYER ON WRITING, FILMS, AMERICAN POP CULTURE AND THE PERSISTENCE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM:
Iyer has written a clutch of books like Video Night in Kathmandu to The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. His new book is The Art of Stillness : Adventures in Going Nowhere.
Iyer grew up in California and the UK. His parents taught at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Watch Video Interview with Pico Iyer