2 Million Minutes
January 30, 2008
Robert A. Compton, Adam Raney, and Chad Heeter, producers
Global warming. The war in Iraq. America's diminishing competitive edge. It's hard to say which of these front-page topics incites the most hyperbole among our cultural commentators. But the new documentary 2 Million Minutes tacks some serious points onto the "diminishing competitive edge" column. The film follows six students--two each from the U.S., China, and India--through their daily routines. Neil, from Indiana, works twenty hours a week in a fast food joint and has earned a full-ride scholarship to Purdue without (by his own admission) working very hard in school. He plans to design video games for a living. Brittany plans to go pre-med at Indiana University and watches Grey's Anatomy while studying with her girlfriends. Meanwhile, Apoorva and Rohit, from India, and Xiaoyuan and Ruizhang, from China, spend most of their waking minutes studying and most of their on-camera time telling us about it. The contrast between the American and Asian students is compelling. But it's also manipulative. For one, it ignores far deeper contrasts between the U.S. and Asia, namely the stark social divides (yes, much wider than ours) that will doubtless impede their supposed ascension to the global throne. (See here and here.) The film also ignores economic logic by assuming that trade and innovation are zero-sum games (i.e., what India gains, the U.S. loses). Finally, there's the possibility (glossed over in the documentary) that China's 600,000 engineers won't successfully compete with our 60,000 if their creative urges are stifled by a regimented, test-taking culture. (See here.) Not that we should be complacent. But, like global warming and Iraq, the question of American economic competitiveness is far too complex to be attacked with such an uninformed, one-dimensional analysis. You can find out more about the documentary here.