Category Archives: technology

In Substitution of Wisdom

I recently heard about a man studying The History of Ideas. I’m not sure I’d ever heard of this field of study before, and it struck me as both novel and obvious; of course the nature of ideation ..nope, not a word.. anyway, it seems obvious that the manner in which humans form abstract thoughts and all the associated whats and whys are worth cataloging as a matter of human history. Maybe. Honestly, sometimes it feels good to just throw away the old stuff, but based on my experience with humankind, I’m unconvinced we’re at a level where we can risk discarding knowledge; we still need to get a handle on what we have so far and to find better ways to help people understand that.

When I went back to college to add a second major to my degree (did not finish), I remember seeing on my instructor’s office door some excerpt from some book. I always remember it as either “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” because whichever was the case, I hadn’t read either book at the time and wouldn’t have been able to distinguish between the two based on writing style. Knowing what I know now, I want to say it was Kundera, but in any case, the excerpt entailed the narrator lamenting the pages and pages of knowledge and expression and pedagogy piling up; he observed that words will be written and go unread. Well, I can’t remember any of the phrasing, but the idea really stuck with me.

As a youngun, I was taken by the world of artistic [and otherwise] expression, and I always saw myself seeking to offer some contribution of my own. Growing up with the emergence of the consumer Internet [and significant, continued dispossession of the American working classes], however, Kundera’s (or Eggers’?) description of the world with the essays piling up seems tame compared to the media culture in which we currently exist circa 2014. In fact, just as I type that, I look down and see a CD of music that features the music of the father of a chiropractor who gave me the disc. As it’s on CD and as I do not own a CD player, I’ve never actually listened to it, but this is how empowered expression is as a result of the culture that has been fostered by the Internet and, more specifically, digital media. And so, now an adult–and having lived through a variety of life experiences in order to get here, the allure and intrigue of self-expression and artistic creation have worn out, and where I once saw clever independent producers, I now see hucksters. Sadly, many of my musical role models are still touring, doubtlessly selling tickets to the same audience as twenty years ago; maybe we’d have a little room to breathe in the marketplace of ideas if some of these has-beens could find it in their hearts to take five.

But before I cross fully into Haterville, let me posit that it’s not The Offspring and Wyclef Jean who are responsible for all of today’s ills. No, I believe this malaise I feel is specifically related to the disenfranchisement of the middle classes I alluded to in a previous paragraph. Here’s the deal: the difference between this blog post and a blog post that makes a blog writer thousands of dollars has nothing to do with the quality of the content in any socially useful terms. The economy of ideas has been sold to privileged young people in privileged western societies as some nebulous panacea that will account for peoples’ and society’s needs so long as they’re articulated in a way that can offer investors and public fund managers a problem to solve, typically by providing financial support to people who have little or nothing to do with the problem in question. If you want to do something in America today, you present your company/product/self as the solution to a problem. In these terms, everyone can agree to synergy.

On the other hand, if you want to do something that is not identifiable as a problem–or if you want to solve a problem that doesn’t have an adequately-monied audience/market–good luck, pal. This game of life is about getting paid and getting ahead. Ahead of what is unclear but always forward, forward and towards some kind of ersatz consensus that was handed down from above and presented as a shared group goal. You can forget about political reform, too; authoritarianism and greed are both siblings and cousins. Plus, responsibility takes effort, and effort is harder than no effort.

And that’s how I know I’m not contributing anything except more pages to the unread pages of history–because this easy and takes very little effort. Indeed, I ate two tacos while writing this; leisure at its finest.

Knowledge is Power

Someone sent me a cartoon which joked about pre-Internet life, implying that questions remained unresolved prior to Google. Reading this reminded me that when I was in junior high back in the early 90s, I would go to the public library after school and write research reports on subjects that interested me. I wrote outlines and then fleshed them out, just like I had learned how to do in my speech elective class in 7th grade. It was a fun memory because I’ve spent a lot of my life learning in this same way. The pursuit of knowledge is its own fulfilling end, right?

But a couple hours later, I remembered a prior research project, before I knew how to write research reports. When I was in 4th grade during the 1989-1990 school year, I really wanted a dog, but my parents were wary of the idea. My folks had gotten a 1989 World Book encyclopedia, and I used it as my first source for learning more about dogs. I don’t know if my parents explicitly told me to research dogs if I wanted one or if I just thought it’d be useful for building arguments in favor of getting a pet dog, but I started researching without even thinking. Actually, I remember now that before the World Book, we had a dictionary in which I would go look up “for ee jin” words in the back reference section.. Anyway, back to 1989, I had checked out books from the public and school libraries, purchased a book about dogs from the book store at the mall, and talked to other dog owners about their experiences with different sorts of dogs. Two days after Christmas, my mom drove my brother and me to Houston to pick up my black lab, Tuggs.

So by the time I was doing random research reports in 7th grade, I may have been just enjoying the exercise of inquiry, but I had learned, even subconsciously or unconsciously, that information had an essential role in getting what I wanted out of life. Unfortunately, I probably had a better grasp on this concept as a 10-year old than I did as a 20-year old, but I got back on track, more or less. Now, I reckon the key difference is that as a fourth-grader, my interests and desires were not as nuanced or complex and paradoxical, but that’s probably stepping on another post’s turf.

either a depressing prediction or a forgone conclusion

Very few people, including some very software developers, are fluent in what Cory Doctorow [possibly first] described as “general purpose computing.” Many people seem to imagine a future time when “the kids know more than the adults,” but broadly speaking, this is fantastic thinking. Sure, the prodigies of tomorrow will certainly benefit from advanced tech knowledge freely available today, but the average person and even so-called ‘power users’ know so little about and are so removed from basic technologies underlying the Internet and their internetworked computing devices that it seems possible Corporate_management_strategies.png if not likely that people who are currently between 25 and 45 have more sophisticated broad knowledge of internet-related technologies than their children and grandchildren will.

Over the years, I’ve discussed ideas in this vein among professional associates, but I figured that was just confirmation bias and incestuous amplification. Over the past few years, however, a number of people have been arrested on and convicted of very serious criminal charges because they used some pretty basic software tools. It seems that rather than adapting to and representing an increasingly connected citizenry, the government and big business have been using dubious legal justifications to classify behavior that would be comparable to graffiti or trespassing offline as something more akin to organized crime or worse. The consequence of this, beyond the years and lives wasted in the justice system and the tax dollars spent financing it all, is that people are dissuaded from getting too close to more basic technologies because that whole concept seems criminal and dangerous. So we get more specialization; more folks learning how to use the GUI tools to administer small aspects of the system, getting caught up in the minutiae of proprietary software because they work in a silo where pedantry warrants respect.

But hopefully I’m wrong.