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I often think, “these are strange times.”  As if I know what other times were like and as if they would be any less strange than now.   The thought is completely baseless.  Nonetheless, most days I drift off with a parallax feeling – something is somehow amiss.

Socrates Death

Socrates Death

Three days ago a healthy fever kept me prisoner in bed.  I turned on the TV to distract my burning brain.   For several hours I fell in and out of hysterical sleep as the MSNBC and CNN shows droned on. Finally my hand managed to dump me into the local news.   I managed to catch snippets and sound bytes on various political actions in Arkansas and Indiana and the emergence of movement on Iran Nuclear deals and the various drought issues in California.   Of course that little bit of content was sandwiched between erectile dysfunction ads, more news show promotions, political ads, and a bunch of other nonsense that was so nonsensical it didn’t register at all.

My fever provided an interesting kaleidoscope to consume all this “media.”   I barely recall the specific words, but I vividly recall lots of reddish pink faces, stunted vocal inflections, disjointed rejoinders all trying attempting to rile me out of my feverish funk and to take action – against anything.   I awoke the next morning remembering an angry opera where all the singers sing over each other and nothing makes sense but there’s a frenzy and certainly the frenzy means something because well it’s a frenzy.

This experience and any resulting thoughts aren’t really that enlightening or difficult to analyze.   We live in a cacophony of cacophonies.   We create them for each other, we consume them, we sell them to each other, we seek them out.   Media exists only as a cacophony.   Without the cacophony so many institutions and systems collapse.    Our identities and sense of almost being folds in on itself.   Without mass frenzy who needs a search engine?   Or curation tools? Or talking heads? Or journalists?   Or critics? Or pundits? Or experts? Or “likes”? Or vacations? Or spas? Or meditation centers? Or insurance? Or assurance? Or reputation management? Or pr? ….

The silence would obliterate an industrial turned digital world.  Our senses are now ill suited for the silence or slowness of a world without this recursive self generating cacophony.   The very senses so essential to our survival in what was likely a very competitive environment thousands and thousands of years ago reached what seems to me some bizarre threshold of sensation.  These every more acute senses and brains and bodies needed more than what the fabricated industrial world could deliver.  We needed media to put us back on edge.  Always keep us on the edge.  Something is out there to get me.

This is not the only way to fulfill and engage the senses and the brain and the body.  But by gosh is it the most efficient.   Thinking and engagement are costly efforts that cut into the means of production.   Philosophizing is hard to monetize.  Art shifts perspectives away from commoditization.   Walking is slow.   The mass of humankind should not engage in these activities for they lead to more of these activities.   No, listen to the cacophony and like a slot machine keep pushing the buttons (the handle is too slow), let the whistle sounds and cherry sights keep us in attention without engagement – next time, next time! The human capacity for repetitive motion and thought is nearly boundless if injected with just enough stimulation (throw in a little variation to throw the probability center off).

But it isn’t as Huxley thought it would be – habituation through pleasure – it’s more effective for production to a have a slightly disembodied sense of dread.   Pure pleasure would not keep the right chemicals flowing like dread and fear does.   Our fear of death is stronger than our desire for pleasure.

I contest that the pursuit of truth and knowledge is more powerful and sustaining than fleeing death or enjoying pleasure – but it is a hard practiced reward.  It takes a good deal of effort to get to a point where it sustains and grows.    It requires an upfront investment of the mind, body, and senses.   It forces one to give up the relentless pursuit of capital.

The human creature seeks the real – it can be trained and sustained on the near-real though.   It can hang on the edge of the real for as long as you can keep the cells alive.   But deep down the entirety of a given human seeks the real – the real world, the full view of a tree, the scent of the crisp night, the touch of another human, the lick of a dog, the view without glasses….   Without the real, we will take convincing substitutes and become sufficiently addicted until the senses have weakened and are no longer able to seek the real.

These are strange times.   They are strange because we seem to notice less and less than what the historical documents of the past suggest we were noticing previously.  Though we were ignorant then, as we are now, we seemed to appreciate that ignorance in some enlightened circles.  Instead of hiding from it, some went to their death because of their pursuit.   Now even the enlightened often seek the near-real or the unreal – the media, the virtual reality, the video games, the re-tweets, the parody news, the cable news, the ads as content, the representation vs the actual, the press statements vs a conversation, a political party vs a candidate with a feet on the ground.   That Edward Snowden didn’t cause mass uproar is only one of the main signs of this parallax situation.

We can no longer see the real.  I’m not even sure I can or ever could.

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This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.

Who?

So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…

Unfortunately.

Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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In “Tent City, Tent Tent City” we learn of the movement in Austin to create a roaming Tent City to inspire awareness and legislative change around ideas of homelessness.  The tent city uprising piggy backed a little on the occupy Austin movement due to the fact that the laws used to restrict occupy Austin activities were the same laws preventing homeless people from squatting in public places.

I wasn’t fully aware of this reality because I was so caught up in the basic ideas being reported about occupy.  I was more focused on the 1% vs. 99% message.  Which in reflection isn’t even close to the more fundamental problem of property ownership.

What is property?  What in the world are these empty parks and buildings and old alleys?  All these public spaces and abandoned privately owned spaces?  These are opportunities for the “owners” of these spaces to extract revenue.  And the essay makes a powerful point in that the revenue increases the more people are kept on the move.  The key to property value isn’t in having people inhabit it!  It’s actually about the potential to inhabit!  Creating desire to inhabit is what we call development!  As long as people inhabit a space one can’t be improving it and selling it to others.

Ultimately the tent city movement fizzled for a variety of reasons. The participants made, in my opinion, a wise choice in disbanding the movement once a point a been made and the media started to get weird.

This issue of laws against homelessness – you can’t occupy public spaces in some cities (see this great report for overviews) – and that of property as something are far too big to be tackled in one movement.  Property ownership is the basis of civilization.  Our entire world is drawn into nations, states, cities, zones, personal real estate.  Ours is a history of conquest over those who occupy property we want to claim as our own.  This history will not be easily overthrown.

Though I do believe as we move into a more predominantly digital existence the idea of property ownership will erode.  I don’t see a short term end to property ownership because even the digital requires physical resources.  The difference though between the past and the digital future is that it is much more difficult to lay claim to digital property because it is so easily reproduced and modified and shared and expanded.  The idea of protecting intellectual property is already cracking for mostly practical reasons – it’s not physically possible to do so, even my offensive measures.   Beyond the digital I wonder how comfortable younger generations are getting with “renting” or “sharing” property.   (stats on rent/own in housing and some rent/own survey here)

The essay closes with a thought that perhaps it’s best to “keep on the move” as a means of experimentation towards a better world order.   It’s hard to argue with the idea of experimenting with ways of living that don’t include property ownership is probably a worthwhile exercise.   The way we do things currently – increasing income gaps, more punitive laws against homelessness, climate change – seems hardly sustainable for ANY way of living for lots of people.

Impasses Questions at the end of the essay responses follow.

Question 1: “How does the noting of profit involving bodies being set in motion intertwine with the idea that camps in order to survive, must be on the move?  Is this tactic playing into the profit-based motion or is it a form of subversion, a way out? Would standing ground and defending a camp be a resistant tactic, and in what capacity, to what degree?”

It’s all about the type of motion that’s inspired.  The intent to own a home or own a different home is what drives property valuation.   Simply being on the move from camp to camp doesn’t necessarily do that.  Though if we were in a fight for camps in more opportune places for survival the camps would be competing for space and thus there would be an opportunity to profit off of offering campers better places to camp.   The fact is this isn’t a new problem in the world.  It’s always been a competition for resources.  What’s changed is that people abide by various laws and/or give into various trade offs for survival.  One of those trade offs is going with the flow in society vs. subverting it.   Camping in places where it’s legally not ok to camp is subversive.  It is resistant and could be useful.  I believe the Occupy movement made a good case for taking over spaces that people in power frequent can stir a discussion that might just lead to change.

Question 2: “How do we move from homeless camps being a method of survival to a method of offensive resistance? Are the participants looking to just find a more comfortable way to live or a new way of living?”

I don’t know if there’s any relevant response to this.   The later part strikes me as nonsensical.   In either  case it’s a new way of living.   And in the former, EVERYTHING WE DO IS A METHOD OF SURVIVAL.  all of it, even resistance to existing power structures.

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If you haven’t read Cory Doctorow’s Makers you should.

A couple years after reading it I’m reminded of it daily.   The march of technology, culture, business, education towards a future in which large organizations simply can’t withstand the tide of individual creators creating on a small scale and networking upwards.

creative destruction, as it were, little tiny piece by piece.   all on the backs and hands of people who probably wont make a fortune on these creations.  They will get by enough.

I don’t know if it turns out that everyone gets what they need and this is the new economy capable of supporting 300+ million people.  It is the new culture.  and maybe we’ll do with less. or we’re have a larger and larger income gap.

artisans, craftmakers, app developers, youtube stars, self employed…

then again, we need infrastructure.  roads, info networks, cellular towers.  can a world of makers fully exist on top of a large commercial infrastructure?  the network is the thing and the network is still owned by huge, controlled, controlling organizations.  The pipes and search engines and the social networks, owned by perhaps 10-15 organizations.

Perhaps the rise of 3d printing will make it so that eventually makers can print the necessary network at a scale that removes the requirement of these big infrastructures.

Not sure.

hard to sort out.

i’m too busy making.

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After a TechCrunch article writer by Sarah Lacy posted August 22, 2011

A few months ago Sarah Lacy, a TechCrunch.com writerwas giving a talk in her hometown of Memphis, TN, and someone asked what the city could do to ignite more entrepreneurship among inner city kids. Her immediate answer was to teach coding– even basic app building skills– along with English and Math in every public school. She was surprised that her brother– an engineer who worked for many years in Silicon Valley before relocating to the Midwest– didn’t necessarily agree.

The thing is that while this is a first level issue of who gets the jobs needed in coding – foreign or domestic coders, it occurred to me that we are in the 30th year or so of serious code writing and it has had some unanticipated consequences.  The changes in the world that have been brought about by the Internet and technology have changed what is done by people.  Now, more and more what is done is done by software applied to different technologies.  The world of TechCrunch and other quasi-geek clusters are alive and well due to the prevalence of algorithms.  They are the workers in a mired of different ways today.

They paint the cars, cut the steel, do the book binding, print the content, answer the phone and a zillion other things that we all used to do.  In a cumulative way the jobs that were are now being done by technology just like was the case when ol’ Ned Lud (see emphatic published accounts for the most favorite spelling…) brought to mythical status between 1779 and 1812 that changes in British textile practices were coming to a screeching halt.

No, I am not being Luddite here.  I am simply pointing out that, when all the talking heads whine and moan about this political union or that political union not producing jobs for the reconstitution of the economy, they should take note; the jobs in the past that went away aren’t coming back.   Many of them aren’t coming back due to being  long overdue to be absorbed before the downturn and no one – or not many, took notice.

Instead of asking for someone else to provide jobs, it is time to create jobs based on that uncomfortable situation that we find ourselves in every 70-90 years.  Change has overtaken the status quo.  Now we need to create jobs that machines can’t do – yet.  That is, jobs involving organizing communities, infrastructure, law, education and human-care… for children, for families in transition, for elders and for soldiers who are brought back and deposited on the steps of America.  They were taught how to do what was necessary to what they had to do to survive.  Nowhere is the training they get any better for that purpose.  Now however, they have done that under duress, for double tours, etc. etc. etc.  To be spit out by those that trained them as worn out and disposable civilians with defects without the slightest bit of care on how to survive reestablish domestic values, is despicable.  Software and algorithms can’t pull that off.  We can if we stop waiting for someone else to do something we favor or don’t find dogmatically repugnant.

HP’s decision to go big and purchase the U.K.’s Autonomy Corp., and probably other players doesn’t seem so ridiculous under a ‘software good – hardware sad’ scenario, does it.

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