[AUDIO] “The real value of education is being well adjusted and that understanding that Freedom is ‘that you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.’” David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement Speech: “This is Water.”
“In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. However, the resulting speech didn’t become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death. It is, without a doubt, some of the best life advice we’ve ever come across, and perhaps the most simple and elegant explanation of the real value of education.
We made this video, built around an abridged version of the original audio recording, with the hopes that the core message of the speech could reach a wider audience who might not have otherwise been interested. However, we encourage everyone to seek out the full speech (because, in this case, the book is definitely better than the movie).”
May 15, 2013 | Categories: AUDIO, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Books, Education, Human Nature, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] Ze Frank’s ‘Invocation for Beginnings’ – FUCK IT, LET’S DO IT – “Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”
“Don’t call it a comb-back; I’ll have hair for years.
I’m scared. I’m scared that my abilities are gone.
I’m scared that I’m going to fuck this up.
And I’m scared of you.
I don’t want to start, but I will.
This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.
Let me realize that my past failures at follow-through are no indication of my future performance.
They’re just healthy little fires that are going to warm up my ass.
If my FILDI (fuck it let’s do it) is strong, let me keep him in a velvet box until I really, really need him.
If my FILDI is weak let me feed him oranges and not let him gorge himself on ego and arrogance.
Let me not hit up my Facebook like it’s a crack pipe Keep the browser closed.
If I catch myself wearing a too-too (too fat, too late, too old) let me shake it off like a donkey would shake off something it doesn’t like.
And when I get that feeling in my stomach — you know the feeling when all of a sudden you get a ball of energy and it shoots down into your legs and up into your arms and tells you to get up and stand up and go to the refrigerator and get a cheese sandwich — that’s my cheese monster talking.
And my cheese monster will never be satisfied by cheddar, only the cheese of accomplishment.
Let me think about the people who I care about the most, and how when they fail or disappoint me… I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them.
Let me extend that generosity to myself.
Let me find and use metaphors to help me understand the world around me and give me the strength to get rid of them when it’s apparent they no longer work.
Let me thank the parts of me that I don’t understand or are outside of my rational control like my creativity and my courage.
And let me remember that my courage is a wild dog. It won’t just come when I call it, I have to chase it down and hold on as tight as I can.
Let me not be so vain to think that I’m the sole author of my victories and a victim of my defeats.
Let me remember that the unintended meaning that people project onto what I do is neither my fault or something I can take credit for.
Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes but he’s a little bit of an asshole and no one invites him to their pool parties.
Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic, but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for.
And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.
(There are few people who won’t be disarmed by a genuine smile A big impact on a few can be worth more than a small impact)
Let me not think of my work only as a stepping stone to something else, and if it is, let me become fascinated with the shape of the stone.
Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far and put it to bed.
What I am about to do will not be that, but it will be something.
There is no need to sharpen my pencils anymore. My pencils are sharp enough.
Even the dull ones will make a mark. Warts and all.
Let’s start this shit up. And god let me enjoy this.
Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”
-Ze Frank is an American online performance artist, composer, humorist and public speaker based inLos Angeles, California. He is currently the EVP of Video at BuzzFeed.
May 3, 2013 | Categories: Humour, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Education, Human Nature, Memetics, mythology, Parenting, Relationships, Satire, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
Click to the right to hear the 1964 short story by Thomas M. Disch.
“Descending” by Thomas M. Disch: An Appreciation by John Schoffstall
is purely economic. He is the economic man gone awry, and he meets his doom in the temple at which he has worshiped, a department store.The prose is flawless. Often it is simple and transparent, but sometimes it rises to elegance: “He whitened the sepulchre of his unwashed torso with a fresh, starched shirt and chose his somberest tie from the rack.” This sort of bold wordplay is typical of Disch, and one of the things that makes his prose, as well as his storytelling, so enjoyable. The storytelling is relentless. First strangeness, then menace, then fear, then horror, no let-up, no relief, no requiem, no cavalry at the end. Disch tramps all over the motherhood statement. The emotion of ‘hope’, as a response to crisis, is frequently lauded in popular media; Disch shoots it dead. At the end we find the protagonist, near death, still lying to himself that he might have escaped.One of the reasons for this story’s impact is that Disch always takes his protagonist seriously, and always respects him. This does not mean he likes him or admires him. Disch makes it clear the protagonist is an awful failure, who has made bad, self-indulgent life choices. But Disch never makes fun of him for it. Fate is cruel to the protagonist, but the author never is. This reduces the distance between the reader and the protagonist. We are not led to sneer at him, but to sympathize with him, and perhaps see aspects of ourselves in him, disturbing as that may be to us. “Descending” can be taken as a morality tale, a series of Hogarth paintings of the Spendthrift’s Progress, in which the true horror is that with little effort we may imagine ourselves in the Spendthrift’s place.“Descending,” published in 1964, was among Disch’s first professionally published stories. For the product of a writer in his early years, it is astonishing in the excellence of its prose and structure. Its unrelieved bleakness is typical of Disch’s early work. His later stories and novels would find at least a few rays of light in the world, but in the clarity and cleverness of this story’s prose, its lack of sentimentality, its clear-sighted, unblinking look into character, “Descending” is a fine specimen of Disch’s work, and points the way towards the future of his writing.
by Thomas M. Disch
Catsup, mustard, pickle, relish, mayonnaise, two kinds of salad dressing,
bacon grease, and a lemon. Oh yes, two trays of ice cubes. In the cupboard it
wasn’t much better: jars and boxes of spices, flour, sugar, salt—and a box of
An empty box of raisins. (more…)
March 31, 2013 | Categories: Economics, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Authors, Books, Death, Human Nature, Literature, Satire, Social Conventions | Leave A Comment »
“many (consumer) products thrive because they are associated with agreeable personalities and activities. Since the 1930s diamond engagement rings have been the premier symbol of romantically honorable intentions and likely spousal agreeableness. Early twentieth-century women faced a problem: prosecution of men for financial damages following breach of promise was declining. It was becoming all too common to be seduced by a psychopath promising marriage and then abandoned after he availed himself of one’s virginity during the engagement. Into this reliable-signaling gap jumped De Beers with the diamond ring, heavily promoted with the slogan “A diamond is forever.” Diamond marketers recommended that women ask men to spend two months’ salary (or about a year’s disposable income) on a ring, as a sign of the seriousness of their committment. Ever since, engagement rings have dominated the demand for diamonds larger than one carat.”
-Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior; by Geoffrey Miller
March 30, 2013 | Categories: Economics, History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Religion, Science, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Books, darwinism, Education, Evolution, Feminism, Gender, Human Nature, Marriage, Memetics, misogyny, mythology, Patriarchy, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization, The Female | Leave A Comment »
from the best photoblog in Toronto:
March 30, 2013 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Society, Toronto, Urbanism | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Canadian History, Design, Environment, Human Nature, Photoblog, Photography, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
“Sometimes in April is a 2005 historical drama television film about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, written and directed by the Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. The ensemble cast includes Idris Elba, Oris Erhuero, Carole Karemera, and Debra Winger.
The story centers on two brothers: Honoré Butera, working for the tribalist Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, and Augustin Muganza, a captain in the Rwandan army (who was married to a Tutsi woman, Jeanne, and had three children with her: Anne-Marie, Yves-André, and Marcus), who bear witness to the killing of close to 800,000 people in 100 days while becoming divided by politics and losing some of their own family. The film depicts the attitudes and circumstances leading up to the outbreak of brutal violence, the intertwining stories of people struggling to survive the genocide, and the aftermath as the people try to find justice and reconciliation.”
March 27, 2013 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Politics, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Crime, Death, Human Nature, Justice, mythology, Social Justice, Torture, Tribalism, War | Leave A Comment »
Notwithstanding my anti-theism, I respect a culture which allows the leeway for challenging and debating the big-invisible-master-dude-in-the-sky.
It allows for a more distinctive life philosophy than many other more submissive forms of cultural control.
The God of Independent Minds
Is religion the enemy of reason? A look at the questioning, disobedient heroes of the Old Testament
By YORAM HAZONY
Today’s debates over the place of religion in modern life often showcase the claim that belief in God stifles reason and science. As Richard Dawkins writes in his best-seller “The God Delusion,” religious belief “discourages questioning by its very nature.” In “The End of Faith,” his own New Atheist manifesto, Sam Harris writes that religion represents “a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.”
The argument that religion suppresses rational inquiry is often based on the idea that “reason” and “revelation” are opposites. On this view, shared by atheist crusaders and some believers as well, the whole point of the Bible is to provide divine knowledge for guiding our lives, so we don’t need questioning and independence of mind.
This dichotomy between reason and revelation has a great deal of history behind it, but I have never accepted it. In fact, as an Orthodox Jew, I often find the whole discussion quite frustrating. I will let Christians speak for their own sacred texts, but in the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”) and the classical rabbinical sources that are the basis for my religion, one of the abiding themes is precisely the ever-urgent need for human beings, if they are to find what is true and just, to maintain their capacity for independent thought and action.
Almost every major hero and heroine of the Hebrew Bible is depicted as independent-minded, disobedient, even contentious. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph’s brothers, Moses and Aaron, Gideon and Samuel, prophets such as Elijah and Elisha, and exilic biblical figures such as Daniel, Mordechai and Esther—all are portrayed as confronting authority and breaking the laws and commands of kings. And for this they are praised. (more…)
RAISING INSECTS IS 20 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT THAN BEEF
March 21, 2013 | Categories: Economics, Knowledge Creation, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Education, Environmentalism, Health, Memetics, Nature, Parenting, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] [BOOK] [AUDIO] MATING MIND – GEOFFREY MILLER: The book that made more sense of the world around me than any other I had ever read
A MIND MADE FOR MATING! by @JasonSilva
Edited by CITIZEN
Music by SECESSION
Footage by Shutterstock, Imaginaty Foundation, and..
Inspired by Geoffrey Miller and his book “THE MATING MIND”
The Human Brain is essentially a sexual Ornament, a “courtship device”, so that it’s extraordinary capacities for art, language, poetry, are but human versions of the peacock feather, used to capture and manage the attention of potential mates. And with the advent of culture, we still employ these extraordinary capacities, these “technologies of rhetoric” to ‘capture the attention’ of others, except no longer to spread our genes but to spread our MEMES, a new replicator, born from the primordial soup human culture.. one that leaps and spreads… All of this is still perfectly natural, we’ve just swapped sperm for the currency of digital information– but as Dawkins said, biological life has been an information technology all along: “If you want to understand life, do not think of throbbing gels or oozing liquids, think about information technology”
“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life.’ It is information, words, instructions,” – Richard Dawkins
“The human mind’s most impressive abilities are like the peacock’s tail: they are courtship tools, evolved to attract and entertain sexual partners.”
What Makes Ideas Travel: (Is there a signature for virality written into certain MEMES?)
“Men write more books. Men give more lectures. Men ask more questions after lectures. Men post more e-mail to Internet discussion groups. To say this is due to patriarchy is to beg the question of the behavior’s origin. If men control society, why don’t they just shut up and enjoy their supposed prerogatives? The answer is obvious when you consider sexual competition: men can’t be quiet because that would give other men a chance to show off verbally. Men often bully women into silence, but this is usually to make room for their own verbal display. If men were dominating public language just to maintain patriarchy, that would qualify as a puzzling example of evolutionary altruism–a costly, risky individual act that helps all of one’s sexual competitors (other males) as much as oneself. The ocean of male language that confronts modern women in bookstores, television, newspapers, classrooms, parliaments, and businesses does not necessarily come from a male conspiracy to deny women their voice. It may come from an evolutionary history of sexual selection in which the male motivation to talk was vital to their reproduction.”
― Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature
ABC’S ‘ALL IN THE MIND’ AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S ZONE RADIO SHOWS’ SPECIAL: HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLES DARWIN
- First broadcast: Saturday 14 February 2009 1:00PM
The human animal is a complex beast—we mate, fight, emote, and socialise in curious ways. Charles Darwin’s theories continue to provoke controversy over how and why we behave the way we do. Join leading evolutionary scientists and philosophers in this one-hour special, as presenters Alan Saunders and Natasha Mitchell consider how Darwin radically influenced the life of the mind.
Martin DalyProfessor of Psychology
Department of Philosophy
University of Sydneyhttp://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/philos/staff/profiles/sgaukroger.shtml
Colin GrovesProfessor of Biological Anthropology
Australian National University
Delton HedgesPhd candidate
School of Philosophy
University of Tasmaniahttp://fcms.its.utas.edu.au/arts/philosophy/index.asp
Michael RuseLucyle T. Werkmeister Professor
Director of History & Philisophy of Science Program
Florida State Universityhttp://www.fsu.edu/~philo/new%20site/staff/ruse.htm
Jonathan MarksProfessor of Anthropology
Uuniversity of North Carolina
Geoffrey MillerAssociate Professor
University of New Mexicohttp://www.unm.edu/~psych/faculty/lg_gmiller.html
March 19, 2013 | Categories: Economics, History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Atheism, Authors, Books, darwinism, Death, Design, Evolution, Feminism, Gender, Human Nature, Memetics, natural selection, Nature, The Female | Leave A Comment »
Created by Jason Silva in collaboration with CITIZEN. Follow Jason on twitter @JASONSILVA
This video is a non-commercial work created to inspire, made for educational purposes, inspired by the ideas of Douglas Hofstadter explored in the magnificent book GODEL, ESCHER, BACH: An Eternal Golden Braid. Learn more:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gödel,_Escher,_Bach
It offers my interpretation of Strange Loops of Self Reference, recursion, and the emergence of consciousness and self-awareness:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_loops
“To Hofstadter, the human mind is a bright, shimmering, self-sustaining miracle of philosophical bootstrappery” – Lev Grossman, Read more: time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1599720,00.html#ixzz2MyMGywag
March 19, 2013 | Categories: Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Religion, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, Authors, Books, Evolution, Human Nature, mythology, Nature | Leave A Comment »
January 4, 2013 | Categories: History, Interview, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Politics, Quotes, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Education, Feminism, Gender, Marriage, Memetics, misogyny, Parenting, Patriarchy, Social Conventions, Social Justice, socialization, The Female | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] JIM AL-KHALILI – How scientific discovery was furthered by the Arabic Speaking Empire of Christians, Jews and Muslims while Europe was in the Dark
We learn at school that Isaac Newton is the father of modern optics, that Copernicus heralded the birth of astronomy, and that it is Snell’s law of refraction. But what is the debt these men owe to the physicists and astronomers of the medieval Islamic Empire?
Men such as ibn al-Haytham, the greatest physicist in the two thousand year span between Archimedes and Newton, and whose Book of Optics was just as influential as Newton’s seven centuries later; or Avicenna and Biruni the Persian polymaths who argued over such topics as why ice floats and whether parallel universes exist; or Ibn Sahl who came up with the correct law of refraction many centuries before Snell; or the astronomers al-Tusi and ibn al-Shatir, without whom Copernicus would not have been able to formulate his heliocentric model of the solar system.
In this lecture I will describe these characters and their forgotten contribution to physics and astronomy.
November 27, 2012 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Science, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Education, Linguistics, Memetics, Music, mythology, Nature, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] Jim AI.Khalili – ORDER AND DISORDER BBC HORIZON – The Story of Energy & Information and the Advancement of Man
Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates one of the most important concepts in the world today – information. He discovers how we harnessed the power of symbols, everything from the first alphabet to the electric telegraph through to the modern digital age. But on this journey he learns that information is not just about human communication, it is woven very profoundly into the fabric of reality.
November 27, 2012 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Religion, Science, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, darwinism, Design, Documentary Film, Education, Environment, Evolution, Memetics, natural selection, Nature | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] ALAIN DE BOTTON – THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS: Lecture at Toronto’s Design Exchange, Wednesday October 11, 2006
“One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we’re surrounded by.
And yet a concern for architecture and design is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. The Architecture of Happiness starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be - and argues that it is architecture’s task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.
Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, the book has at its centre the large and naïve question: ‘What is a beautiful building?’ It amounts to a tour through the philosophy and psychology of architecture, which aims to change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves.” - Alain de Botton
October 12, 2012 | Categories: History, Humour, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Religion, Science, Society, The Law, Toronto, Urbanism, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Atheism, Authors, Books, Design, Education, Environment, Feminism, Gender, Human Nature, Justice, Linguistics, Literature, Marriage, Memetics, misogyny, Music, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Parenting, Patriarchy, Relationships, Satire, Social Conventions, Social Justice, socialization, The Female, Torture, Tribalism, Urban Planning, War | Leave A Comment »
[AUDIO] “I wish there was more gory pictures to show. We need to stare at our inhumanity so we can learn from it. We need to stare at the violence and look at the pictures and ask ourselves why have we become animals, or even worse than animals–we kill our own kind. We are not even killing them to eat them, we are killing them for pleasure or for politics. I want to make you so ANGRY, so UPSET and hope that you can learn from that.” — self-taught Kenyan photographer Boniface Mwangi who has won prestigious awards with his work is convinced that art and culture can confront us with the roots of injustice and help start a better day.
Africa in Progress - Radio show: Are gory pictures enough to heal a nation?
Guest: Boniface Mwangi (Kenya)
Presenter: Sam Mpherwane (South Africa)
Duration: 30 mins plus music by Young, Gifted and Black (Kenya)
Aired originally: 10 September 2012
Is Africa in denial when it comes to tribalism? Our guest in this edition thinks so. He says tribalism is the big elephant in the room everybody sees but nobody wants to talk about.
He’s determined to take this big elephant out of the room before it’s too late again. This young self-taught photographer has already done so by confronting Kenyans with what he describes as the “gory” images he took of the Kenya post-election violence that swept their country in 2007.
Boniface Mwangi who has won prestigious awards with his work is convinced that art and culture can confront us with the roots of injustice and help start a better day.
September 15, 2012 | Categories: AUDIO, Interview, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Politics, Quotes, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Current Affairs, Death, Education, Human Nature, Justice, Social Justice, Torture, Tribalism, War | Leave A Comment »
[AUDIO] Cultural anthropologists assess the information/communication revolution thus far, in 2012; And how it is altering our behaviour and the way in which we relate to one another
Transcript from the radio program ‘Future Tense’ on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
First Broadcast:Sunday 9 September 2012
Antony Funnell: Hello, this is Future Tense, I’m Antony Funnell, and welcome as always.
Today on the show we’ll hear from two prominent internet scholars, Ethan Zuckerman and Genevieve Bell.
Both were in Australia recently to deliver the inaugural James Tizard Memorial Lecture at the Science Exchange in Adelaide. The lecture was entitled ‘Many Internets, Many Lives’.
James Tizard died last year. He was the CEO of SABRENet, a collaboration between the South Australian state government, the Australian federal government and South Australia’s universities. SABRENet is a high speed broadband network connecting a variety of teaching institutions and research institutes.
Let’s hear first from Genevieve Bell. Regular listeners will know that we’ve had Dr Bell on the program before. She’s an Australian-born cultural anthropologist who now lives in the United States and heads the Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research Lab.
I’ve said this before, but what we like about Dr Bell’s work is that she’s interested in discovering how people are actually using and engaging with technology, not how she or her corporation think they should be.
Here’s Genevieve Bell:
Genevieve Bell: For me there is something wonderful about realising that even as we talk today about the fact that the internet is a global technology and it is a technology of huge potential, it’s still not everywhere and it’s still not everywhere in places we think of as already being hyper connected.
So thinking here about what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in fact to deceive ourselves because the technology is also tied up with people. It’s tied up with the rhythms of our lives, it’s tied up with buildings, it’s tied up with structures and the fact that people take Sundays off. And what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in some ways to imagine a world that is not populated by people.
And so what it means for me to think about the present of technology is to think about a technology that is always going to be uneven. Not that it won’t be present but that it will be a layering effect. In some places it’s going to be 3G on a cellphone, in some places it might be an iPad and a tablet, in some places it will be a cybercafe you will visit, and in other places it will be a really pretty boring Nokia feature phone where you connect to the internet and the internet is textbased and, by the way, it only works when you’re in town. So imagining that what it means to talk about the internet is never to talk about a system where everything is going to be evenly distributed but will always be unevenly distributed is for me as a researcher actually what makes it an interesting world, and it’s something I know Ethan will talk a lot more about momentarily.
It’s also the case I now spend my time in many strategic conversations in American industry, and everyone has been talking about the fact that the PC is dead, I’ve heard this phrase, that now we’re in the post-PC era, the PC is dead. I realise this is a bit like saying we’re in a post-paper period or the end of cash. It turns out that the PC is remarkably stubborn. People may not think it’s sexy anymore but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Much like some of the things we have called dead well ahead of time, like paper and cash, it turns out they persist in important ways. The tooth fairy doesn’t take credit cards, it’s really hard to leave post-it notes digitally because no one can see them, it turns out there are things that paper and cash and, one will argue, PCs are always going to do.
So as we think about the future and the present, I often think as a scholar we need to be careful about the stories we tell and about how real they really are, and about the kind of catchphrases that move across the boundaries between policy and marketing, to imagine what the realities really are. And as we think about what it means to imagine a world of connected people, again, it’s not all going to be…in a post-PC world there are still going to be these kind of huge infrastructures that are incredibly important, and all the other ways we know that people are going to connect to technology are part of both the present and the future of the internet and of broadband and of all the legacy of things that are interesting.
It also means that there is an increasing conversation going on both in Australia and I would say on the global stage about what we’re doing with all this technology. I spend a lot of time in people’s homes around the world and I hear a persistent and lingering anxiety about what it means for people to be constantly connected, and whether it’s an anxiety manifested in ‘my child has turned six, should I get them a mobile phone’, ‘I want to take the iPad away but then they scream in the back of the car’, ‘I’m really worried my child knows how to use the iPad and I don’t and she’s two’, ‘what will it mean for our language that everyone is now speaking in text messaging and emoticons’. We manifest this incredible anxiety about what the technology will bring forward.
We talk about what it means for people to be connected, to be hyper connected, we worry about what the nature of that connectivity is, what people are connecting to, and to whom and under what circumstances. In some ways those are remarkably persistent anxieties. We were worried about the same things when the telephone came along and when electricity came along and when television came along and when radio came along, and even when electricity came along.
And it turns out I think there is something about the moral anxiety that accompanies technology. And any technology that threatens to do three things always invokes that anxiety. If it threatens to rearrange our relationships to time, our relationships to space and our relationships to other people. And as soon as a technology has that potential we immediately imagine nothing good will come of it. And it is usually followed by phrases like ‘it will be the end of our society’, ‘it will be the death of our culture’, ‘have you seen what the young people are doing’. It’s never good.
What’s fascinating to me is the persistence of this anxiety and the fact that you can read the accounts of electricity and rock ‘n’ roll and the internet and hear exactly the same anxiety running through all of them. Because what they are is technologies that rearrange social relationships, and they rearranged our relationships to each other and to the places we were from. And of those are powerful forces and they are always accompanied by fear. So for me, playing through those anxieties is always an incredibly important part of the puzzle of both the present and the promised future.
It is also the case that I think the world is very different than it was when SABRENet was first imagined back in 2002. Starting in 2000 and really by 2002 about 70% of the world’s population that was online was in America. By today less than 15% of the world’s internet users are in America. The fastest growing languages online are Bengali and Arabic and Hindi and Spanish and Chinese. The biggest sites of internet production are happening in places far from here, about things that aren’t necessarily in the languages we read.
It is also the case that when SABRENet was first getting going, the most obvious way to connect to the internet was through a desktop or a laptop. Now there are a myriad of devices that connect us to the internet and the internet is different on each one of those. Whether it is as a delivery pipe on the Kindle or as a back-end in a smart electrical meter, whether it is what the internet looks like on your phone or a tablet or a computer or arguably in your car or in smart signage, the internet has become many things.
The technology industry, however, stubbornly clings to the notion there will be one device. It’s like the Tolkien fantasy; one device to rule them all. And if we can just find that one device, it will be great. And every time a new device turns up they go, ‘This is it, everyone is going to abandon everything else.’ And in my lab I sit there going, ‘Really? Have you unpacked anybody’s handbag recently?’ It turns out we didn’t abandon it, we just stuffed it in our bags along with everything else.
And the reality is when you unpack the handbags and backpacks and cars and houses of many places on this world, you find lots of technology, all of them being used to connect to the internet, all of them for different reasons and different experiences. And imagining that there’s one right away anymore gets really pretty complicated. And for most people there are lots of different choices people make about whether it’s a touch-based interface they like or something that doesn’t need certain kinds of virus protection, or if it’s a phone because you don’t have to share it with your parents. There are lots of different ways that we are connecting. And what that means for regulation, among other things, is incredibly complicated. This is no longer a single beast anymore, it is many.
And of course last but by no means least for me is the fact that we’re now talking about new models of engagement. About eight months ago a piece of video turned up on YouTube. This is a little 47-second video, really of great happiness as far as I’m concerned because what it is is a Furby, which is the large digital toy in the background. You may remember these are from the 1990s, they were hateful. They squeak a lot, they rolled their eyes, they fluttered their eyelashes and wiggled their ears and attempted to engage in some form of communication, most of it atonal.
In the foreground of this image is an Apple iPhone with Siri, a personal digital assistant, running on top of it. In this 47-second clip someone starts the Furby up and the Furby goes [squeaks], and Siri says, ‘Would you like me to call Shell Oil?’ And the Furby says [squeaks] and Siri says, I don’t think I understand.’ And the Furby goes [squeaks] and it says, ‘Would you like me to call Graham?’ And this goes on for 47 seconds of bliss and happiness of miscommunication.
Clearly the person who put this together thought this was quite funny and indeed it is, but for me it said something really interesting, which was here we were at this moment where something had really happened powerfully. When I saw this…and as an anthropologist I couldn’t help but see this as a genealogy of things that talk. So there’s the Furby as the first generation of talking digital stuff, and there’s the Siri, the most recent generation of talking digital stuff. And I’m sure the person who put it there was basically trying to say these were equally unhelpful talking digital things.
What I realised, however, was the really powerful thing about this was that what it was was that the Furby was making noise, and the Siri, it wasn’t that it was talking, it was that it was listening. And the listening is the really interesting thing, because however imperfect it is, what it promises is the prospect that you might be listened to by an object, not that it is talking at you but listening. And the listening is the promise of something quite different than we’ve had in our relationships with technology in the past. And I think the listening is the promise of a shift here from a moment where we’ve interacted with technology to a moment where we will have relationships with technology.
Whenever I say that to my American engineering colleagues, they immediately say to me, ‘When the machines are smart enough to have a relationship with us, they’ll kill us.’ Persistently. I’m like, ‘Really?’ They’re like, ‘Yes. The Terminator.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a movie. How?’ ‘Space Odyssey.’ I’m like, ‘Also a movie based on science fiction.’ They’re like, ‘Blade Runner.’ I’m like, ‘Based on a short story, also fiction.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what will happen.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes.’
So I go to my colleagues in Japan and I’m like, ‘So, you have robots.’ They’re like, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘Do you think they are going to kill you?’ They’re like, ‘Why would we think the robots were going to kill us?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, because they do in America.’ They’re like, ‘That’s just a movie.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, good.’
So my Japanese colleagues and I got into a conversation about what would it mean to imagine that objects might take care of you, and they looked at me and said, ‘But they already are. We have robots in our nursing homes, we have robots in our schools. We can fully imagine a world in which there is a relationship between people and technology. The future that you’re talking about is already here.’
And for me what I’m fascinated by is what comes next. And I’m fascinated by thinking about the world that James built, the broadband that he built and the promise that he was making about what comes next. And for me this notion that we are moving from a world of technology that we have to do all the work for, we have to plug in, we have to update them, we have to give them passwords and networks, and it’s just a lot of palaver looking at these machines. And imagine when they can start to look after themselves and start to look after us (and not kill us), is this promise of a remarkably different way of thinking about what we might be with technology as we move forward.
For me it’s about how we empower everyone, where that empowerment is going to look like different things for different people. In some places it’s about citizenship, in other places it’s going to be about consumption and consumerism, for some people it’s going to be about creativity, for other people it’s going to be about political resistance. But whatever it is going to take, it’s about how we build a system and sustain a system that makes those things possible. And for me that is not just about the technology, it’s about how we capacity-build in our citizens, it’s how we create the possibilities and the prospects and also the imagination to think about how it might be different. Thank you.
Antony Funnell: Dr Genevieve Bell, the head of the Interaction and Experience Research Lab at Intel Corporation. And out of interest, Dr Bell is a native of South Australia even though she now resides in the United States.
Now, as I indicated earlier, the inaugural James Tizard lecture was a double act; Genevieve Bell and Ethan Zuckerman. Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the centre for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. He’s also a former researcher at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard and the co-founder of the website Global Voices.
Zuckerman has long focussed on our perceptions of the internet, exploring the reality between our idea of the digital world and our actual day to day usage of the web and social media.
Here’s Ethan Zuckerman:
Ethan Zuckerman: There was a lot of illusion very early on in the internet. When we go back into this past, when we go into, say, the late ’80s, the early 1990s, there’s this sort of naive belief that once we had networks then some fundamental changes to society would come about. The first change was that information would just be incredibly pervasive, we’d have access to whatever we wanted to know anywhere in the world at any moment in time. That suddenly, because everyone could be on these networks and it didn’t matter where you were, where you are coming from, what your background was, you could participate in the conversation, that we would have this incredible wealth of deliberation, and that we would be connected to everybody on the planet, that eventually we’d hit the point where you could reach out and have a conversation with any other person out there.
We’ve now hit a point where it’s very reasonable to look at these questions and ask ourselves; how are we doing? And I would argue on the first score we’re actually not doing badly. I think if you look at the combination of crowd sourced things, like Wikipedia, and you look at commercial solutions like Google, which in a very strange way is actually a crowd source thing, Google helps you find things, but what it’s actually helping you find is something that someone else has already written.
So in that sense of the internet putting out enormous amounts of human knowledge and making it accessible, we are growing up with a generation of people who never have that moment of saying, ‘Gee, I really wish I could know this.’ And if it’s a simple fact that we don’t have at hand, we always have it at hand. And that experience of that cocktail party conversation or the conversation over the beers of how big is this, how large is this, we’re never going to have it again. So as far as simple fact, we’re there. As far as complicated knowledge, still getting tricky, but I would say on this score we’ve done fairly well.
The liberation side of this we’ve done dismally. It turns out that being more connected to one another, more people having voices probably makes it worse rather than making it better. It may actually make it harder to come to consensus. You’re trying to listen to everybody, everyone wants a turn to speak, all sorts of dynamics, who’s ever loudest, who’s ever the most passionate ends up having more power. That turns out to be a deeply human problem, not a technological problem.
The third problem is the one that I am obsessed with, which is the question of who we are connected to and really who we’re not connected to. Even in a digital age we are much more connected to the people that we know, the people in our local communities, the people in our home countries than we are connected to people elsewhere, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. If you think about what happens when you join Facebook, the first thing it says is who do you go to school with, who have you worked with, who do you already know? Let me help you connect to those people that you already know. The internet becomes that the way to stay in touch with people that you know from the real world.
This is a crazy change in about 20 years. When I found myself getting online, the internet was never going to connect me to the people of the small college that I was at because none of them were on the internet. It was to connect me to the crazy people who were only online, who cared about these things that I cared about and that I had the chance to reach out to and encounter. But we’ve completely changed that assumption over the course of about 20 years, and now we assume that what this technology is really good for is connecting us to the people that we know and that we’re closest to and most familiar with.
There has always been the role of technologies in telling us about the rest of the world. Historically we get our knowledge about the rest of the world through curated media. So whether that is through newspaper, whether that’s through television broadcast, someone goes out and says here’s what’s out there and what is important in the world. And historically this has been a really difficult, expensive, dangerous thing to do. It has required physically putting people out there with cameras and shooting film and shipping it back and developing it and putting it on the airwaves, and all of that has changed.
And what’s funny about it is that despite the fact that reporting on the rest of the world has gotten so cheap and so easy that you can do it from a mobile phone, you can hold it up and be live to the internet immediately, we actually get much less international news in our media. And this is a trend that we’re seeing in a number of different countries. We’re seeing it in the UK where the four major newspapers have actually decreased the amount of international coverage that they’ve had, 45% over the last four years. In the US the amount of a newscast that’s international has gone from about 40% to about 12% over the last 30 years.
The internet makes it better a little bit. I can go and I can read Ghanaian newspapers and say, well, that’s great, if you’re not going to tell me about Ghana, at least I can go there directly. But I’m a rounding error. And if you actually look at what media people look at, even in a digital age, the vast majority is local. We might go online, we might look at the Times of India, we might look at the New York Times, we might look at the BBC. You don’t, and I have the numbers. You guys are actually better than the US and the UK. The US and the UK are about 95% domestic, it’s about 84% domestic in Australia, but it’s predominantly looking to the local.
So again, we have more and more connectivity, but we also have more and more interest in what is in our backyard. So fortunately now we start having search, we have the ability to pick exactly what we want, go out, find exactly whatever information you want to know. If you come out of this and you’re fascinated by Ghana, you want to know more, you can go out and do it. But then the responsibility is on you. How do you decide what you want to know about the rest of the world? You can go to the salad bar and put whatever you want on your salad, but it is your responsibility to choose, and that’s what search is. Search essentially says you know what you want to know, you know what you need to know about the rest of the world, go out and get it. And you get to select it, and you’ll be more free and you’ll be more happy because you have the choice. But you also now have the responsibility.
So when you see the rise of things like Facebook, it really has to do with many of us essentially saying I’m not sure this is working. I don’t necessarily want that responsibility all the time. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to know. And so what we do instead is that we ask our friends, hey, what do you know? Maybe if I knew what you knew I would discover something novel, I would discover something really interesting. And so we go on to these social networks and we say what is new, what’s fun, what can you tell me about the world. And we get some interesting information but we get some limits to that information. And the reason there are limits to that information is that the people that we’re finding on these networks tend to be a lot like us. They tend to be from the same country as us, they tend to speak the same language that we do, they tend to have the same religion, they tend to have the same ethnicity. We end up falling victim to what sociologists call homophily, which is basically a fancy way of saying that birds of a feather flock together.
So we’ve gone from this world where much of our information is coming through curators, through someone who is basically saying here is what you might need to know about the world. We’ve gone into search where we basically say you know best, go figure out what you want to know about the world. And now we’re going through this phase of social where we basically say, well, maybe my friends will help me figure out what’s going on in the rest of the world. And the problem is that none of these necessarily prepare us to live in a world that’s as connected as the one that we actually live in.
This matters. And the reason that I care about this is that at least three-fold. One is that it is potentially dangerous to live in a world where we are deeply connected and we don’t know what all those connections are. You suddenly find yourself worrying about things like avian flu, you find yourself asking questions about what do people eat in Singapore because it turns out that people in Singapore get on aeroplanes and suddenly you have the possibility of a disease that might have been incredibly localised and could have been really devastating for one particular population suddenly becomes a global crisis. If you don’t have a way of looking at pandemic, if you don’t have a way of looking at international terror networks, if you don’t have a way of looking at very complicated financial flows from a multinational perspective, very, very bad things can end up happening.
You also have the possibility that if what we’re mostly getting is information from people who are like us, that we end up getting highly polarised. There’s a pair of books that are very helpful. One is put together by a constitutional law scholar in the US named Cass Sunstein. He put forward this book that basically offers a theory called the echo chamber. He says that if you’re only getting information from people who agree with you, you tend to become more polarised in your views. And this is a phenomenon called confirmation bias. If everyone over and over and over says, well, this point of view is the right one, eventually it becomes very hard for you to think about the fact that there might be another point of view. You put people who are politically to one side of the spectrum together with other people in a room and they actually all gravitate further to the right or further to the left. When we hang out with people who think the way we do, we get more like them. And there’s an argument that in societies that are getting more politically polarised, this is part of what’s going on.
My friend Eli Pariser went ahead and wrote a book that argues that this is getting even worse because the technologies are making it easier to do it. So it’s not just that we can choose to hang out with people on the left, it’s not even just that Google News can suddenly say ‘let me only give you news from the left’, it’s that even if you go out and try to look for people who have another point of view, Facebook is going to fight you, and it’s mostly going to give you information from the people that you pay attention to and that you care the most about and you’re going to get even more polarised from it.
These guys are both right but they are missing the point in some ways. This isn’t just about left/right, the filter bubble is three-dimensional. We have bubbles in terms of where we are from, what we think, whether we are identifying as Australians or identifying as Americans, we end up getting trapped in that identity, and it’s very, very hard for us to see the perspective of someone who is from a different country, who speaks a different language, who views the world in a very, very different way. So we end up getting polarised in terms of how we see ourselves as a nation rather than how other people are seeing themselves as citizens of the world.
The third reason that I think we ought to care about this is that historically connecting to other cultures, other points of view has been one of the most amazing sources of inspiration. Before Picasso was Picasso he spent an enormous amount of time hanging out in African art museums in Paris. And if you read about his time there, he really didn’t like them, he actually writes about how scary and how smelly and how foreign they were and how he didn’t want to encounter them, but something ended up speaking to him and he became an incredible collector of masks, mostly from Benin.
And shortly after he starts collecting these masks, his style changes radically and you start seeing these faces in Picasso that have these flat surfaces. And it’s very clear where it’s coming from. It’s referred to as his African period, is basically where Cubism starts emerging. It turns out that creativity is basically an import/export business. Creativity has a lot to do with finding ideas in a different part of the world and bringing them into a different context. And so if we’re heading towards a world where we are not able to go out and find those other ideas, not because we can’t but because we don’t remember to, we have this incredible possibility of missed potential.
Antony Funnell: Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Centre for Civic Media at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And you can find the full James Tizard Memorial Lecture on the Future Tense website.
Future Tense, new ideas, new approaches, new technologies, exploring the edge of change.
- Ethan Zuckerman
- Director of MIT’s Centre for Civic Media and co-founder of Global Voices.
- Dr Genevieve Bell
- Intel Fellow, Intel Labs Director, Interaction and Experience Research
September 10, 2012 | Categories: AUDIO, Economics, History, Interview, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Current Affairs, Design, Education, Environment, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, Parenting, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
[FILM] “It’s an essential parable of human gullibility. How much can people be talked into and how readily will they defer to an authority figure of sufficient craft and cunning? “Compliance” gives chilling answers.”
About The Film
When a police officer tells you to do something, you do it. Right?
Inspired by true events, COMPLIANCE tells the chilling story of just how far one might go to obey a figure of authority. On a particularly busy day at a suburban Ohio fast food joint, high-strung manager Sandra (Ann Dowd (Garden State) receives a phone call from a police officer saying that an employee, a pretty young blonde named Becky (newcomer Dreama Walker) has stolen money from a customer. Convinced she’s only doing what’s right, Sandra commences the investigation, following step-by-step instructions from the officer at the other end of the line, no matter how invasive they become. As we watch, we ask ourselves two questions: “Why don’t they just say no?” and the more troubling, “Am I certain I wouldn’t do the same?”
The second feature from director Craig Zobel (the man behind the 2007 Sundance hit Great World of Sound), COMPLIANCE recounts this riveting nightmare in which the line between legality and reason is hauntingly blurred. The cast delivers startlingly authentic performances that make the appalling events unfolding onscreen all the more difficult to watch – but impossible to turn away from. Delving into the complex psychology of this real-life story, COMPLIANCE proves that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
Why isn’t it easy to “just say no….”
Ever Meek, Ever Malleable
August 25, 2012
By FRANK BRUNI
I INSTANTLY bought the strip-search. The nude jumping jacks, too.
But the spanking? (more…)
September 3, 2012 | Categories: Knowledge Creation, Philosophy, Politics, Society, The Law | Tags: Anthropology, Film, Human Nature, Social Conventions, socialization, Tribalism, War | Leave A Comment »
Time & Sustainability – An appraisal of Douglas Coupland’s novel ‘Player One’ from an Urban Planning Perspective
Time & Sustainability
“…what makes human beings different from everything else on the planet—or possibly in the universe, for that matter—is that they have the ability to experience the passage of time and they have the free will to make the most of that time…” (Player One – Douglas Coupland, 2010)
The concept of time may be said to be intrinsically linked to the notion of sustainability. The 1983 World Commission on Environment and Development, convened by the United Nations, now colloquially referred to as the Bruntland Commission, in publishing their 1987 report, Our Common Future, included a now oft-cited definition of Sustainability:
“…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Our Common Future – United Nations, 1987)
To define the nebulous entity, ‘time’, really is however, not possible in a few lines of the English language. Indeed art, at times, has a greater capacity to convey that which is difficult to know or explain. Douglas Coupland, writing in 2010, weaves a dramatic, apocalyptic tale referencing concepts of sustainability and the future of mankind in a fictional piece entitled Player One. An over-arching theme of this story is the concept of time—how it is perceived as a reality, how it is understood with regard to the way life is lived as well as its affect upon decisions made in future tense.
Coupland is well known to create and define new manners of conceptualizing socio-historical reality and does so with great flair within this story. Player One’s title refers to identities portrayed in cyberspace, while unable to process many subjective human apprehensions. He labels these as Binary Subjective Qualities. Those who experience life with neural pathologies, as with his character Rachel, or those who exhibit Autistic Spectral attributes, for example, may be said to lack the ability to apprehend these subjectivities—much as when one negotiates the world as a cyber-avatar.
Ann Dale, writing in Sustainable Development in the 21st Century, articulates a concept which Coupland’s seudo-character Player One conjures, in describing the whole of humanity as a Holon—with a new sense of meaning being created from perceiving human interconnectedness in a very different way (Coupland, 2010). The concept of Holonism entails leaving behind subjective sensitivities to apprehend systems as a whole. In Dale’s reference this implies the connectedness of humanity as a unitary system juxtaposed with the eco-system which supports it (Dale, 2001). Cybernetically speaking, this is reinforced when our subjective personalities are diminished online, while simultaneously objective human connectedness is greatly enhanced.
Urban Planning necessarily entails an appreciation of the progression of time; with the concept of sustainability soliciting a consideration for the future. At the level of analysis of Urban Planning, sustainable initiatives are concerned with, amongst other issues: “air quality, water quality and conservation, energy consumption, solid waste production, and levels of recycling, green buildings, open space, brownfield development and equity initiatives.” (Saha & Paterson, 2008) To these may be added the preservation of both the natural as well as human environment. The consequences of our relationship with time deems proceeding indefinitely without consideration for the future liable to eventually create in Coupland-speak the sadness of Chronocanine Envy—the realization that life can not merely be lived in present tense—as with the life of a canine. Quoting Kierkegaard, Coupland states, “Life must be lived forward.” (Coupland, 2010)
Many issues facing Urban Planning Professionals today derive from past planning endeavours which lacked long-term perspectives for what in their time, were considered solutions. The Suburbs are a widely recognized example of this—ostensibly solving problems of inner-city crowding and disease transmission, but resulting with issues of social isolation, and community disconnect, not to mention traffic, pollution and many forms of waste; loss too, of the dynamism found in earlier more concentrated urban settlements and, in many instances, the built form around which it occurred. Contemporary Planning attempts a more holistic approach, promoting the three Es: Environment, Economy and Equity (or social imperatives). Saha & Paterson’s work speaks to the necessity for questioning and altering lifestyles.
The furthering of economic security, ecological sensitivity and social justice in the name of the future is said to require a shifting of paradigms (Greek for patterns) occupationally; recreationally; as well as existentially. (Saha & Paterson, 2008)
Only through such multi-pronged strategies, it is claimed, will current planning decisions have enduring positive influences on contemporary cities, towns and natural environments, both for the inhabitants of today as well as beyond contemporaneous lifetimes.
The Story of a Lifetime
“Our curse as humans is that we are trapped in time; our curse is that we are forced to interpret life as a sequence of events—a story—and when we can’t figure out what our particular story is, we feel lost somehow.” (Coupland, 2010; p5)
An interesting element of time that the characters in Coupland’s story ponder is that of the narrative of life. Mentioned in multiple circumstances, by distinct characters is what in Coupland-speak, three concepts allude to: Narrative Drive, Denarration and Sequential Dysphasia. The first of these terms describes the ascribing to life, a storyline, plot, or narrative thread. Denarration is said to be the loss of such a Narrative due to Sequential Dysphasia.
By definition, the question of a narrative to life implies the observance of a sequence of events, and apprehension of a purpose within this progression. Narrative structure is composed of a beginning, middle and end. This vision of timescape exists within the context of Sustainable Planning as well. Douglas Farr, in Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature (2008), notes the transience of North American existence and life progression. In contemporary built-form, such as within urban sprawl with imposed socio-economic and inter-generational segregation, neighbourhoods are unable to support the ‘aging in place’ of community residents, through the provision of “housing suited to every phase of life,” (Farr, 2008) thereby precluding vibrant, enduring social connectivity and strong relationships from flourishing both between individuals, as well as between places and people. In the vibrant neighbourhoods mentioned in Jane Jacobs’ popularly cited works, the most significant elements are the relationships between all the residents of a bustling diverse neighbourhood, composed of the youth and the aged, immigrant and native, financially modest and well-to-do. This rich tapestry is what created the socio-spatial narrative for Jacobs’ cherished Manhattan of the 1950s. (Jacobs, 1961)
Sustainability with regard to neighbourhoods is enriched from the planning for, and adapting to, the natural progression of life (and successive lives), so that a sense of togetherness and connectedness may be preserved without the disruption of necessary population upheavals on regular intervals from shifts of individuals and demographics. Planners, by challenging norms of corporate branding and market segmentation which have dominated city-building over the last several decades, can exert some influence on encouraging development which accounts for life progression and provide thereby, within the same geography, for the needs of a diversity of individuals in the narratives of neighbourhoods, and future generations. Historically, a failure of this has been witnessed in the socio-spatial fragmentation of traditional neighbourhood structures over the past several decades. (GHRS, 2009:p41)
An interesting observation Douglas Coupland makes in Player One is that humans have the ability to commodify time and opportunity. In coining the term Crystallographic Money Theory, he postulates that money is a ‘condensate’ or ‘crystalized’ combination of time and free will. The logic behind this contrivance carries over to sustainability once more, as it has been argued that the concept of sustainability signifies the striving to proffer future generations as many options as possible (Crabbe, 2006)—‘options’, it may be argued, are composed of free will and time. In the calculus of the three Es an attempt is being made to account for the current costs of future deprivation.
Dale states in no uncertain terms that unsustainable patterns of the recent past have persisted due to the transference of costs to the future, to other geographies or “to the buffer/sink capacity of the surrounding ecosphere.” (Dale, 2001) Having endured for over two generations, these unsustainable patterns have altered the landscape not only literally, but also figuratively with regard to systems of finance, land-use regulation, and the provision of, and infrastructure for, transportation. (Farr, 2008) Such composite elements entrench a sense of inevitability to the North American urban lifestyle. Long term strategic planning and policy initiatives are called for to cement the reorganization of priorities required to address sustainability concerns. This however would imply the raising of awareness of those who elect the officials and pay the taxes.
Awareness of Time
The introductory quotation of this paper makes reference to Time-Will Uniqueness, or in Coupland-speak, the belief that Free Will and Time Awareness is that which fundamentally separates humans from other earthlings. This cognizance is also that which allows humans to plan for the future, avoid untoward happenstances, and recognize patterns such as the weather and business cycles and work around them. Sustainable Planning evokes the idea of ‘Backcasting’ rather than Forecasting for the future—the former indicating working backwards from an ideal circumstance, rather than attempting to predict a future end result, as with the more common, latter, notion. (Dale, 2001)
The greatest gift or the greatest curse for humanity is being able to perceive the direction in which it is headed. Coupland as explanation for his term Proscenial Universe Theory, quotes Joyce Carol Oates as stating that Time is indeed “the element in which we exist. We are either borne along by it or drowned in it.” (Coupland, 2010). A Procenium is the small area on a theatre stage between the orchestra and the curtain. Coupland explicitly states at one point in Player One that “Fate is for Losers, and Destiny for Winners” (Coupland, 2010). This would suggest that those who remain passive with regard to the progression of time, must deal with their consequential fate; while those who embrace life actively, can appreciate their destiny. The metaphor here, for sustainable planning could not be more cogent. As the effects on the environment from human activity become more and more apparent and accepted, there are those who may choose merely to observe, while failing to alter their actions and behaviours. It is incumbent however, upon the vast majority of humanity to take action, to participate in altering the fate not only of the species, but of the entire biosphere, so as to appreciate a greater, sustained, destiny. As Farr pointedly exclaims, the “time for half measures has passed.” (Farr, 2008). Piecemeal efforts at urban planning sustainability may be argued to lack the coherency and the strategic force necessary for significant, real change to occur.
An unfortunate reality of humanity is that most do not perceive time beyond their lifetimes either historically or with regard to the future. As a very self-absorbed species, the present seems the most important as it is the time-frame being personally experienced. Coupland-speak refers to this as Centennial Blindness, and it may even lead to many not being able to contemplate further than the day after tomorrow, let alone further than a decade. This lends itself to justify the significance of the planning profession in furthering socio-political awareness of the issues facing the world today, and potential solutions in our lives at a municipal level.
When to Act
“Jesus, Rick, only losers make decisions when times are bad.” (Coupland, 2010) states a character in Player One. Coupland-speak refers to this as Castastrohasic Shifts—the dramatic, life-altering changes one attempts in the middle of a crisis—changes which are perhaps made in haste, without full consideration of the situation. Dale observes how humanity is hard-wired to react quickly to threats, emergencies, scarcities—to the immediate and personal, yet ignore the white-noise of the apparently routine. This she laments is what makes raising awareness about the gradual negative shifts in our biophysical environment so difficult. The world is not facing an acute natural disaster from human activity but rather a slow abiotic decline.
Anthropocene, Coupland explains to us, represents the time period, or distinct ‘geological epoch’ which is defined by the human footprint on the planet Earth—there was a time before and after the advent of Man, and this is unfortunately ecologically observable. Player One reminds us however that the Anthropocene has in fact been quite short—especially in relation to other earthlings, current and past—with every human alive today having only 19 previous generations coming before. This knowledge should give us pause to the thought of how many future generations are to come. This destiny truly is available to be won.
“Humans have to endure everything in life in agonizing endless clock time—every single second of it. Not only that, but we have to remember enduring our entire lives. And then there is the cosmic punchline that our lives are, in fact, miniscule compared to geological time or the time frames of the galaxies and stars.” (Coupland, 2010)
Coupland draws a parallel between current generations of humans not having consideration for their progeny, and the tragic fate of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. “Alzheimer’s makes your parents forget you”, a character laments.
Alzheimer’s may be a “punishment sent to (humanity)” for refusing to change its ways, states another. Coupland’s use of the theme of time and humanity’s gift of awareness of it, reminds us that we must pay heed, or suffer the consequences. Current populations are the creators of their legacy and if they fail to consider them in the present, they all may as well be parents suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Coupland, D. (2010). Player One: What is to Become of Us? House of Anansi Press Inc. Toronto.
Crabbe, J. (2006). Challenges for sustainability in cultures where regard for the future may not be present. Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. Fall 2006. Volume. 2. Issue 2.
Dale, A. (2001). At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. UBC Press. Vancouver.
Farr, D. (2008). Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with nature. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Global Report on Human Settlements. (2009). Planning Sustainable Cities. UN HABITAT. United Nations Human Settlement Programme. Earthscan: London.
Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. New York.
Our Common Future (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Co-operation: Environment. United Nations.
Saha, D. & Paterson, R.G. (2008). Local government efforts to promote the “Three Es” of Sustainable Development. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 28, pp. 21-37
 “Binary Subjective Qualities: Subjective human qualities that most of us take for granted but which remain elusive for some people with brain anomalies. These include humour, empathy, irony, musicality, and a sense of beauty. Subjective sensitivity is often regulated by specific nodes in the right side of the brain that fine-tune and contextualize the information we take in.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Chronocanine Envy – “Sadness experienced when one realizes that, unlike one’s dog, one can not live only in the present tense. As Kierkegaard said, “Life must be lived forward.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Narrative Drive – “The belief that life without a story is a life not worth living—quite common, and ironically accompanied by the fact that most people can not ascribe a story to their lives.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Denarration – “The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Sequential Dysphasia – “Dysfunctional mental states do stem from malfunctions in the brain’s sequencing capacity. One commonly known short-term sequencing dysfunction is dyslexia. People unable to sequence over a slightly longer term might be “no good with directions.” The ultimate sequencing dysfunction is the inability to look at one’s life as a meaningful sequence or story.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Crystallographic Money Theory – “The hypothesis that money is a crystallization or condensation of time and free will, the two characteristics that separate humans from other species.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Time-Will Uniqueness – “The belief that awareness of time and the possession of free will are the only two characteristics that separate humans from all other creatures.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Proscenial Universe Theory – “The notion that time simply provides a medium—an arena—within which emotions are able to plays themselves out.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Centennial Blindness – “The inability of most people to understand future time frames longer than about a hundred years. Many people have its cousin, Decimal Blindness-the inability to think beyond a ten-year time span—and some people have the higher speed version, Crastinal Blindness—the inability to think past tomorrow.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Castastrohasic Shifts – “Enormous, life-changing decisions that are delayed until a crisis has been reached. In most cases this is the worst time to be making such decisions.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Anthropocene – “A term recognizing that human intrusion on the planet’s surface and into the atmosphere has been so extreme as to qualify our time on earth as a specific geological epoch. Along with vast increases in anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, which have drastically raised the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, our human footprint now covers more than 83 percent of the earth’s surface, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.”
August 29, 2012 | Categories: Knowledge Creation, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Science, Society, Urbanism, virginal commentary | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Authors, Books, Environment, Environmentalism, Human Nature, Nature, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] Slavoj Zizek – “This is why, as I always repeat, with all my sympathy for Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s result was . . . I call it a Bartleby lesson. Bartleby, of course, Herman Melville’sBartleby, you know, who always answered his favorite “I would prefer not to” . . . The message of Occupy Wall Street is, I would prefer not to play the existing game. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system and the existing forms of institutionalized democracy are not strong enough to deal with problems. Beyond this, they don’t have an answer and neither do I. For me, Occupy Wall Street is just a signal. It’s like clearing the table. Time to start thinking.”
August 28, 2012 | Categories: Economics, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Justice, Leftism, Social Justice | Leave A Comment »
“Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.” – TED Talks
August 17, 2012 | Categories: Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Religion, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, Child Abuse, darwinism, Death, Education, Environment, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Parenting, Patriarchy, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
ROBERT FISK: “Then there’s that neighbouring country which owes us so much gratitude: Iraq. Last week, it suffered in one day 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilian and wounding another 235. The same day, Syria’s bloodbath consumed about the same number of innocents. But Iraq was “down the page” from Syria, buried “below the fold”, as we journalists say; because, of course, we gave freedom to Iraq, Jeffersonian democracy, etc, etc, didn’t we? So this slaughter to the east of Syria didn’t have quite the same impact, did it? Nothing we did in 2003 led to Iraq’s suffering today. Right?”
Robert Fisk: Syrian war of lies and hypocrisy
The West’s real target here is not Assad’s brutal regime but his ally, Iran, and its nuclear weapons
Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I’m not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I’m referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern as well as western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.
While Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite/Shia-Baathist dictatorship, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan’s dark ages.
Indeed, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 11 September, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia – after which, of course, we bombed Afghanistan. The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria. And we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?
Then we have the Shia Hezbollah party/militia in Lebanon, right hand of Shia Iran and supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They have presented themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But faced with the slow collapse of their ruthless ally in Syria, they have lost their tongue. Not a word have they uttered – nor their princely Sayed Hassan Nasrallah – about the rape and mass murder of Syrian civilians by Bashar’s soldiers and “Shabiha” militia.
Then we have the heroes of America – La Clinton, the Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, and Obama himself. Clinton issues a “stern warning” to Assad. Panetta – the same man who repeated to the last US forces in Iraq that old lie about Saddam’s connection to 9/11 – announces that things are “spiralling out of control” in Syria. They have been doing that for at least six months. Has he just realised? And then Obama told us last week that “given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching”. Now, was it not a County Cork newspaper called the Skibbereen Eagle, fearful of Russia’s designs on China, which declared that it was “keeping an eye … on the Tsar of Russia”? Now it is Obama’s turn to emphasise how little clout he has in the mighty conflicts of the world. How Bashar must be shaking in his boots.
But what US administration would really want to see Bashar’s atrocious archives of torture opened to our gaze? Why, only a few years ago, the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar’s torturers to tear their fingernails out for information, imprisoned at the US government’s request in the very hell-hole which Syrian rebels blew to bits last week. Western embassies dutifully supplied the prisoners’ tormentors with questions for the victims. Bashar, you see, was our baby.
Then there’s that neighbouring country which owes us so much gratitude: Iraq. Last week, it suffered in one day 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilian and wounding another 235. The same day, Syria’s bloodbath consumed about the same number of innocents. But Iraq was “down the page” from Syria, buried “below the fold”, as we journalists say; because, of course, we gave freedom to Iraq, Jeffersonian democracy, etc, etc, didn’t we? So this slaughter to the east of Syria didn’t have quite the same impact, did it? Nothing we did in 2003 led to Iraq’s suffering today. Right?
And talking of journalism, who in BBC World News decided that even the preparations for the Olympics should take precedence all last week over Syrian outrages? British newspapers and the BBC in Britain will naturally lead with the Olympics as a local story. But in a lamentable decision, the BBC – broadcasting “world” news to the world – also decided that the passage of the Olympic flame was more important than dying Syrian children, even when it has its own courageous reporter sending his despatches directly from Aleppo.
Then, of course, there’s us, our dear liberal selves who are so quick to fill the streets of London in protest at the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. Rightly so, of course. When our political leaders are happy to condemn Arabs for their savagery but too timid to utter a word of the mildest criticism when the Israeli army commits crimes against humanity – or watches its allies do it in Lebanon – ordinary people have to remind the world that they are not as timid as the politicians. But when the scorecard of death in Syria reaches 15,000 or 19,000 – perhaps 14 times as many fatalities as in Israel’s savage 2008-2009 onslaught on Gaza – scarcely a single protester, save for Syrian expatriates abroad, walks the streets to condemn these crimes against humanity. Israel’s crimes have not been on this scale since 1948. Rightly or wrongly, the message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.
And all the while, we forget the “big” truth. That this is an attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship not because of our love for Syrians or our hatred of our former friend Bashar al-Assad, or because of our outrage at Russia, whose place in the pantheon of hypocrites is clear when we watch its reaction to all the little Stalingrads across Syria. No, this is all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies. Quelle horreur!
July 29, 2012 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Politics, Religion, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Current Affairs, Death, Human Nature, Justice, Relationships, Social Justice, Torture, Tribalism, War | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] JIM JEFFRIES – MY NEW FAVOURITE COMEDIAN – He may be the fresh-faced Aussie George Carlin heir
July 21, 2012 | Categories: History, Humour, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Religion, Science, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Atheism, Comedy, darwinism, Death, Education, Evolution, Human Nature, Male Comedian, Memetics, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Satire, Social Conventions, socialization, Stand Up Comedy | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] Boris Johnson’s “The Dream of Rome” – How the Roman Empire achieved political and cultural unity in Europe, and how it compares to the failure of the European Union
Boris Johnson tries to discover how the ancient Romans managed to run a united empire, and why the European Union seems to find the same task so difficult.
Boris Johnson looks at the issues facing European Union through the history of Roman imperial governance. It spawned a successful television series tie-in.‘MP, columnist, editor, television pundit and wit…his metaphors glitter; his similes soar…Johnson is never dull’
A Western Stemmed spear point found at the Paisley Caves in Oregon. Archeologists from the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the University of Copenhagen found spearheads at the caves dating from 12,960 to 13,230 years ago, and human DNA going back even further. (Cheng Lily Li)
Spearheads, DNA found in Oregon’s Paisley Caves suggest continent colonized by multiple cultures
BELOW WRITTEN BY Kazi Stastna
July 12, 2012
Spearheads and DNA found at the Paisley Caves in Oregon suggest that a separate group of people using different hunting tools arrived in North America several hundred years prior to the Clovis, long thought to be the first to migrate to North America from Asia.
Archeologists at the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the University of Copenhagen used radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis to examine fossilized excrement, obsidian projectile points and the stratified sediment inside a series of caves located in the Summer Lake basin in south-central Oregon.
The caves are part of a unique archeological site that is part of the Great Basin watershed and thanks to its arid climate has been able to preserve some of the oldest human remains in the Western Hemisphere.
The researchers concluded that the human DNA they found in the Paisley Caves excrement was as old as 14,000 years, and the spear points dated from about 13,230 to 12,960 years ago and did not resemble the spearheads used by the Clovis people, who are believed to have settled in North America between 13,400 and 12,800 years ago.
The find suggests North America was colonized by multiple cultures, some of whom arrived possibly earlier than the Clovis.
“Our investigations constitute the final blow to the Clovis First theory,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics, which did the DNA analysis, in a news release. “Culturally, biologically and chronologically, the theory is no longer viable.
“The dissimilar stone artifacts, as well as the DNA-profiling of the human excrement, show that humans were present before Clovis and that another culture in North America was at least as old as the Clovis culture itself.” (more…)