A blog is dead
When it goes unread,
I say it just
Day by day.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. In between thoughts of becoming a father (only a few weeks away...!) and supporting my newly forming family (is my income stable enough? are we spending too much?), I'm also thinking about health and longevity (am I taking care of my health? are we eating healthy? is our environment healthy for raising a baby?).
On what seems like the opposite end of the spectrum, I find myself thinking about the emerging and constantly evolving world of digital publishing, WordPress, the Internet, and social media.
How can I design things better? What technical skills or programming languages should I acquire next? How can I use my writing and knowledge to share what I'm doing with the world in a way that makes the world a better place?
How these two tracks of thought can even live side-by-side, inside the same brain, I don't know. It almost seems wrong to be thinking about one when the other feels astronomically more important.
But there must be more to life than just survival and living good, more to life than just... happiness, right?
I've never been content with contentedness.
Every now and then I'll recall a moment on Cocoa Beach, in Florida, sometime in early 2012. It was during one of my many twice-daily walks.
I've lived in Florida several times over the past few years, usually for a few months at a time. Whenever I lived there I would have a routine of walking on the beach in the morning and then driving to Starbucks to spend the day working on my laptop. In the evening, I'd take another solo hour-plus walk before sundown, sometimes walking until the stars came out and the darkness made it too difficult to see in front of my face.
These twice-daily walks helped me learn how important regular walking and fresh air is for my health and spiritual wellbeing; the activity seems to cleanse my soul in ways that I cannot describe.
One sunny day on the beach I stopped walking, looked out at the flat ocean, took in a deep breath of fresh ocean air, and felt an absolute sense of calmness flood my body, a sense of contentment so strong that even to this day recalling the memory floods my body with a sliver of that peace.
I had the freedom to go anywhere in the world and yet I felt content right where I was.
But it wasn't enough. That refresher was great, but it wasn't enough. Something inside me wanted to do something, to grow, to move, and to continue evolving. (I wrote a bit about this last year in Travel Notes: Thoughts on Florida1.)
This desire to do something, to grow and evolve--to question--, seems fundamental to who I am.
For example, when I'm tweaking my website and thinking about web design and user interaction--which I've been doing a lot lately--I always find myself thrown into deep thoughts about the future of the web, the future of human connectivity, the future of communication and knowledge-transfer, and the future of... well, the future of everything.
For the first few years of publishing to raamdev.com, I had a message that said "Under Construction". One day I realized that my entire life is constantly "under construction" and as a result so would my 'personal' website. It's been more than 12 years since I began publishing to raamdev.com and it's still "under construction", just like me. The only difference is that I'm not constantly announcing it.
I feel a sense of responsibility to re-think the status quo, to question everything, whether that be the status quo of how we educate and raise our children or the status quo of how digital authors should publish their work and connect with their audience.
The driving force behind this re-thinking of the status quo stems, I believe, from a recognition that our world is changing. It stems from a deeply felt understanding that we're at the cusp of a new era.
The thread that seems to weave through everything my life, whether it's thinking about how I'm going to home school my daughter or thinking about the design of a commenting form on a website, is simplicity. I'm constantly asking myself, "how can this be made more simple? what things that are assumed can be taken away? how can we reduce this to its essence?"
As a digital writer and publisher, I want to publish thoughts and essays online and communicate with my audience through the comments on those thoughts and essays.
But what if I want to spend the day away from my computer, playing with my daughter, for example?
I don't want to be looking around for a WiFi connection or waiting for my website to load and then logging into the WordPress dashboard to publish essays or reply to comments. That's archaic.
Before writing and publishing went digital, writers could simply look up from their notebook and then look back down. That was it. That's all there was to the physical act of switching modes.
Sure, they didn't publish things regularly like we can and do today, but when publishing today really just involves pressing a button on a web page, why does the entire task have to be more complicated than looking up or down from a notebook?
Why can't digital writing, publishing, and communication with readers be as simple as, let's say, sending an email from my phone (which is generally always connected to the Internet and always on me, like an old-fashioned notebook)?
Yes, I could just pick up an old-fashioned notebook and use that, but why should I have to create more work for myself transcribing those paper entries into digital entries? Besides, my handwriting skills are nonexistent so a paper notebook isn't an option.
There are certain tasks that are basic and fundamental to digital writers and publishers, but the tools and the processes don't yet exist to allow them to really live offline, the way pre-digital writers could.
Is it possible right now? Absolutely. But the processes we follow are largely dictated by the capabilities of the tools we use. Those tools are largely incomplete, designed with the online-world in mind instead of the offline world.
I'm going to start changing that by building tools and sharing systems that make sense for people who don't want to always be tied to a computer but still want to remain connected in a way that lets them communicate and share with the world.
I'm in a unique position to help bridge this gap because I understand how the technology works deeply enough to create new systems and build (or enhance, as is the case with open-source software like WordPress) tools to augment our offline life in a way that makes sense.
[I realize that there's an iPhone WordPress app that allows me to publish and reply to comments from my phone, but the app and the workflow has many flaws. Besides, I already use email for writing and communication; why should I need anything else?]
The status quo has never been more broken than it is today and that's a direct result of the fact that technology is changing our world faster than ever before. Part of what I feel responsible for is reflecting on those changes, challenging the status quo, and coming up with alternative solutions that make sense given the opportunities that technology makes possible.
Home schooling, for example, was far more difficult for parents just 30 years ago. If parents weren't already school teachers, they had limited resources and know-how to school their kids with. Their options were limited to the local library or paying for pre-designed courses that included all the books for schooling their kids at home (which is what my parents did).
Parents were lucky if they could even afford to home school their kids. If they didn't already have money set aside, or if one of the parents wasn't making enough income for the whole family, then finding the time to home school was nearly impossible, or at the very least extremely challenging: it meant that one or both of the parents spent the majority of their time working.
But today parents living in a modern society have almost unlimited access and opportunity by way of the Internet. They can learn new skills and put those skills to use by working online from home, or by building a business that allows them to work for themselves (as my parents did, except they did it without the Internet, the old-fashioned work-your-ass-off kind of way).
We now have amazing things like Google, Wikipedia, and KhanAcademy2. We have access to an international marketplace (eBay) from our bedroom. Every modern house has access to more knowledge than all humans of the past thousand years combined.
It's a home schooling dream-come-true. As a parent, you can sit in your house, make money at home, and you have access to everything. If your kid asks you a question and you don't know the answer, you can look it up on your phone and tell them. If you don't know Algebra, you can learn it yourself, for free, from home, and then help your kid learn.
The world is a different place today than it was yesterday, and it will be an even more different place tomorrow. The status quo today represents not just yesterday's old world, but that of hundreds of years of stagnation.
Conscious change is paramount to our evolution. If it's happiness that we seek, conscious evolution is the only way we'll attain happiness in a sustainable way.
"I am in New Zealand... of all the places in the world, I am in New Zealand."
As I sat in the New Zealand International Airport lounge waiting for the departures screen to tell me which gate my flight to Australia was leaving from (in the area where the gate number for my flight should appear, it simply says "Relax"), I look around and feel the need to keep reminding myself that I'm actually here, in New Zealand, that place on the map that, until now, was really just a place on the map.
As my trip to Australia approached, I was asked several times what I was feeling. All I could say was that it didn't feel real.
It's hard for me to comprehend how my physical body is going to move from one spot on the planet to an entirely different spot, across huge oceans and continents, in the matter of hours. Yes, I simply "fly across", but that doesn't feel simple to me. I'm in absolute awe with how that's even possible. I understand the science, but it feels like reality hasn't caught up with the science.
I look outside the airplane window and marvel at the wings, these giant metal structures that move and expand like a bird when landing, but manufactured by human beings, with materials and chemicals formulated by human beings, parts and pieces engineered, assembled, tested, and finally flown by human beings.
An entire buildings worth of people, with multiple floors, carrying 100 tons of fuel and, on this particular trip, transporting 10 tons of asparagus from Los Angeles to New Zealand, some 6,200 miles through the air, like a giant, mechanical, human-made bird. And here I am in the air with all this stuff and all these people, 40,000 feet above the Earth, traveling at nearly 600mph, through an atmosphere that would certainly kill me a −57F.
How is any of this possible? And why do I feel like I'm the only one absolutely dumbfounded by it all?
A few hours ago I was in California and a few hours before that I was in New Hampshire. Now I'm in New Zealand, on my way to Australia! I can only imagine what Magellan or Christopher Columbus would've given to have this freedom, and how disheartened by the future they would feel if they had the opportunity to observe how easily people today take such fantastic things for granted.
This isn't the future. This is the future and the past combined. This is now.
Are you online or offline? Are you connected or disconnected? Are they your online friends or offline friends? Which persona do they know you by?
I believe the online/offline duality is an unnecessary, even dangerous, concept to live by.
Relating to the world, and to each other, in terms of real and virtual, to our presence as online and offline, and to our state of being as connected and disconnected, simply removes us from the real reality: we are here.
We are all here. When I communicate with you online, I'm still connecting with you.
When I go about my day, I don't differentiate between being 'online' and 'offline'; I'm just me, here, living in the now. I may use different tools at different times for communication, but I'm still one person, communicating in one reality, in one universe, with one group of human beings.
Sometimes I connect with people in different physical places and sometimes with the people right in front of me. But they're both in this world; one isn't less real than the other.
The Internet is a medium for communication. When we see someone standing several hundred feet away, do we consider them less real than if they were standing in front of us?
When we pick up the telephone and call someone close to us, do we feel alienated from that person, as if they're not quite real?
The medium for communication can change, but that doesn't change reality. There is no duality.
In The Next 50 Years: Why I’m Optimistic Because Everything Will Be Terrible, science fiction writer John Shirley talks about where we are now and where we're headed.
It's worth remembering that he is a science fiction writer, so there's a lot he talks about in this article that I feel is a bit "out there" (or at least several hundred years off), but the highlighted points below stood out as particularly thought-provoking.
I believe in the power of human good and in natures ability to find natural ways of correcting imbalances, but I also feel that our growing mastery over the elements and our growing usage of technology is tampering with those natural checks and balances; we're putting more responsibility in our hands without actually accepting the responsibility.
Addiction to social media, videogames, cell phones and the internet is now a recognized phenomena and that has implications for our relationship to future tech. Because its addictive capacity will only increase as its experiential quality improves.
It's strange—most of our technology is about extending our reach... but paradoxically, we're in danger of a relationship to technology that actually cuts us off from one another. Cartoonists already caricature families who sit together talking to everyone but each other on their plethora of devices...
The real singularity will be simply an unprecedented cybernetic intelligence explosion to many orders of magnitude, combined with astronomically improved interactivity—but the Kurzweilian singularity that allows us to interface with machines until, in his words, "there will be no distinction between human and machine" , will not come about sustainably because the psychological and social consequences would be so dire.
People who are quadroplegic have noted that they feel less emotion than they did, when they could still feel their entire bodies. The projection of the self into electronics reduces our relationship to the body, the seat of our emotions, and for several reasons that might lead to an increase in psychopathology.
And empathy may be a precious commodity in the future. Most people unconsciously cut off their empathy when they're feeling endangered — when the population increases to 8 and 9 and 10 billion, we may instinctively become, as a race, proportionately less empathetic — unless, with self-observation and cognitive therapy, we actively struggle against that kind of degeneracy.
Mastery of technology must include acknowledgement of its dark side. Mastery of technology means accepting of limitations. Limitations have value, eg limiting electricity to what will work for a particular power line means electrical flow isn't wasted. Water is good; a flood usually isn't. Technology too needs limits.
An invention which pollutes is only partly invented. And a lot of the time we rush into technology so quickly we don't realize it's going to pollute... It was recently discovered that every time a garment made from synthetic fabric goes through the wash, it lets go of thousands of tiny plastic fibers which end up fouling coastal environments throughout the globe. No one expected that. No one thought that form of manufacture through.
It's time for a new philosophy of technology—one that acknowledges its dark side and thinks pro actively about the consequences of new technology so that technology can be tweaked and negative consequences prepared for. Technology needs to evolve a conscience.
Only world government — not an autocratic one, but a world governance committed to human rights, the rights of women (which are integral to population control), and environmental justice — can deal with the kinds of international crises that will arise in an environmentally stricken and overpopulated world. World government will not mean anyone gives up their culture, except the bits that reject human rights; it will not be a great gray conformity; there will still be at least as much national sovereignty, for most issues, as states in Europe have in the EU — and remember that the EU, a fuzzy foreshadowing of world government, is in a very early stage. It's having problems, and that was inevitable as it's still evolving. But it does have the right idea. Toward the end of the 21st century the world will move toward a framework of consensus, on some basic rules regarding population growth, the environment, and access to technology. Empowering third world people with education and technology will give them a step toward the resources and coping ability they'll need to survive.
I believe we'll achieve a collective progressive consciousness as a result of the revelatory shocks we'll endure in the next fifty years. We'll learn... we'll come to understand that we can't treat Spaceship Earth as a party cruise ship.
The topic of discussion on NPR this morning was E-Memory and Human Nature. They were discussing how the future prevalence of large-scale computing power and massive storage (resulting in the storing of our memories, events in our lives, etc) will change human nature and what it means to be human.
One of the guests, and most of the callers, were worried about offloading our memories and processing power to a machine. They feared it would turn us into organisms with a powerful brain but with nothing to do; they feared the repercussions would make us less human.
What I think they're missing is that humans are inherently creative and curious. If we have more free space in our heads and more free time on our hands, we're not going to waste it away with pointless activities (at least not for very long); we'll gravitate towards being more creative and exploring areas of life that would otherwise have not been within reach.
The acceptance of mundane tasks and jobs as a part of our daily lives slows the progress of human civilization. While there are many socially, physically, and even culturally harmful effects of technology today, I think they can be directly attributed to the fact that this stuff is so damn new to us.
Humankind has never seen technology of today's complexity, at least not in recorded history. We have no idea how to cope with the changes technology is bringing about and so, like a baby learning to walk, we're bound to make mistakes and do things that make technology appear like the bad guy (and in many cases it is the bad guy; we just haven't figured out how to use it properly yet).
Finding a balance and living in harmony with technology is what I believe we'll eventually realize we must do. However, I don't think that we've even begun to realize that we much search for that, let alone begun the search at all.
I am fully convinced that the iPhone, along with the developer tools Apple is providing, will lead the way for a new generation of mobile devices over the next few decades.
I don't usually make such bold statements, especially given how fast technology changes and how quickly fads come and go, but the iPhone was different. It seemed like less of a phone and more of an enjoyable computing device; a toy for children, a toy and a smartphone for adults, and a beautiful piece of technology (as in looks) that people love to show off.
In Jeff Atwood's latest blog post, he made similar statements that describe the revolutionary level at which the iPhone is changing the way we define mobile computing (talking about the latest iPhone 3GS):
A landmark, genre-defining product, no longer a mere smartphone but an honest to God fully capable, no-compromises computer in the palm of your hand.
We will look back on this as the time when "software" stopped being something that geeks buy (or worse, bootleg), and started being something that everyone buys, every day.
Jeff's post gives a great overview of what's amazing about the iPhone. He says to check back in fifteen to twenty years to see if he was right about his prediction on the historical impact the iPhone will have on computing. It looks like I'm one year ahead of you, Jeff. 😉
I just finished reading Clay Shirky's post, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. It's a bit long, but well worth the read. He gives excellent insight into what's happening with the newspapers today and how technology will change journalism forever. He explains how what we're going through now is the same thing we went through 500 years ago!
On the radio this morning someone was explaining how several current technologies very closely resemble older technologies or ideas: Twitter is comparable to the telegram (they're short), Facebook comparable to the first day of school (your interests, social networking, etc), and e-mail comparable to the Pony Express (postal service at extremely high speed). Most innovation is simply the reinvention of things that already exist and truly new ideas or inventions are few and far between.
AppleInsider has an article taking a look at the battery technology used by the new 17" MacBook Pro announced at Macworld today. Apple claims the new battery technology gives the MBP up to 8 hours of battery life -- pretty impressive considering it's the largest laptop Apple sells. Check out the battery video on Apple's website to see exactly how the new battery technology differs (including clips of the manufacturing process). I'm really happy to see that someone is making a real effort to push laptop battery standards. It's one of the areas in technology that really needs improvement.
A multi-touch color screen touchpad using the same touchscreen as the iPhone? It could replace the OS X dock and provide a whole new method of interacting with your computer! Fingerprint security device, electronic signature pad, an electronic sketch pad for better photo editing accuracy... the possibilities are endless!
It looks like all those Sci-Fi books that talk about life on Mars are becoming more realistic. If there is one thing that never ceases to inspire awe, it's life on Mars and the idea of standing on another planet exploring places where no other humans have stood (at least not in currently known history).
That feeling of awe is what I experienced when I saw this news headline this morning: Water found on Mars, Nasa scientist confirm.
Sure, there still isn't one hundred percent scientific proof that water has been found on Mars, but the scientists feel sure enough to confirm it. They saw a white substance, which was present a few inches underneath the surface, "melt" away over the course of a few days. That confirmed the substance wasn't salt or CO2 ice (CO2 ice would take hours, not days, to melt and salt wouldn't melt at all). Of course there's a chance that the substance isn't water either, but something unknown to scientists. I hope not.
Finding water on Mars would swing the door wide open to future human trips to the planet and would make setting up a base on the planet a whole lot easier. One of the biggest problems with human space travel is the need to transport our water supply, something that is both heavy and very costly. Having a base on Mars with access to water would not only allow astronauts to explore Mars, but also use it as a refill station for other exploration.
I just hope that near-future space exploration is not hindered by other events on this planet. We seriously need to fix our energy problems (by fixing our political problems) and stop turning our only home into a dumpster. Recycle!
Mexico is like the wild-west of the United States. There are gambling rules, but you're allowed to gamble with "credits". There are no privacy rules; if you use your phone to play an SMS game, your phone number and information is collected and sold to the highest bidder (but spamming is not allowed). The government encourages businesses to figure out ways of tracking people using technology (again, no privacy laws). Individuals, not businesses, own buses and they must individually get permits from the local towns where they want to run a route. Gas is subsidized by the government, so there is no gas competition. A lot of people live day to day buying food for one or two days because they don't have enough money to buy food for the week.
I just finished watching the WWDC 2008 Keynote Address and I am fully convinced that the iPhone, along with the developer tools Apple is providing, will lead the way for a new generation of mobile devices over the next few decades. The applications they demonstrated, particularly in the medical and social networking fields, just blew me away.
If you have some time, watch it and tell me what you think.
What happens when the virtual world becomes more important, more interesting, and more popular than the real world? How many people do you know who would rather own the domain name google.com or myspace.com than own the entire Empire State Building or the entire state of New York? Will the value and popularity of real things decrease as more and more of the world becomes aware of the Internet's potential?
Worse yet, will we as a society forget what it means to be human? Will we slowly evolve into this creature that yearns for a connection to the net because our brains have adapted to rely on the instant availability of a vast source of information? If technology continues to evolve new ways to interface with that source of information (Wiimote, iPhone, RFID, GPS, Google), what will come next? How will the people of 2208 interface with the Internet?
Has anyone else noticed a sudden surge in the use of auto GPS receivers? It seems as if 1 out of every 10 cars I pass on the highway has a GPS receiver! They are easy to spot, especially at night when they look like a big glowing boxes mounted on the dashboard.
I don't like the idea of using GPS receivers to find my way around well defined routes. I think GPS receivers are more of a crutch than a useful tool for the average person. If you know how to read a map and follow signs, you shouldn't need a GPS receiver. For delivery drivers and anyone else who frequently travels to new places, I can understand the time saving ability of a GPS receiver, but for all you other drivers, learn to read a map!
If you're hiking a mountain or camping in unfamiliar or unmarked wilderness, I can see how having a GPS receiver could save your life. But trekking into such a situation without also knowing how to use a compass to find your way around is even more stupid than going unprepared all together.
Don't rely on electronics to do something you're capable of learning how to do. There is no electronic fix for human stupidity.
I came across a great article about why people really don't switch to Linux. The author reflects a couple of the points I made a few weeks ago about how people will continue using what they know best. We will continue using what we know best simply because most of us are inherently lazy. We would sooner put up with something that works OK, than learn something new that will work better.