You don’t get depth from blog posts. Even the most thought-out, well articulated, brilliant blog-post of all time. You don’t get depth from a Wikipedia entry (even if the trail seems to lead all the way to the bottom of something deep). Even if the internet-source is something depth-ful, you lose the depth almost by default when you view the content on a computer screen: when it’s so easy to make something on the computer disappear, this should be a sign of the ease-of-forgetfulness will as easily analogize over to your mind.

Where do you get depth? From books: textbooks, novels, short stories, popular science books, notebooks (yes, even your own!), basically anything paper you can hold in your hand. I don’t mean to be Ludditic here, but there is something to be said for the modularity and discrete-ness (literally discrete units of information) of a book. A computer screen can hold anything at any time: Maxwell’s equations, a sonnet, a neat YouTube video (‘I’m old Greg!!!’), or the rambling of a fool (this being a case in point). A book only has that freedom until the ink hits the page: from there on out, it’s up to you to choose which module you’d like at any time. The book lends itself to single-tasking.

Of course, all of these ‘problems’ thus far with the computer and the internet are a function of this human, not of the technology. But unfortunately, or fortunately, the easier thing to change is the technology, not this human. This human is pretty stubborn, set in its ways, and much less easy to adapt. That’s just the name of the game.


Preface. This entry, and a few of the subsequent entries, will be in 2nd person. That is, me talking to myself. This happens to be how I think through things typically (I rarely use the 1st person, and even more rarely use the 3rd person). So, I’m not talking about YOU, I’m talking about ME. But it’s just easier for me to just transcribe my thoughts rather than transpose them into the 1st person. Forgive me. That being said, I do feel that this phenomena goes well beyond just me. In fact, I seem to see it popping up over and over again in my generation, at least through observations of the constant complaints of ‘boredom’ that show up on Facebook feeds, AIM away messages, etc. This, as well as the phenomena that even as our nation becomes more wealthy, our populations become less happy, interests me. So, here I examine myself, and hopefully in the process, exam the collective mind of my generation.

The problem: complete acquiescence to the modern information economy.

What does that mean? Back, long long ago (in, like, 9th grade), the internet was a relatively sparse place, so you basically only ever went to Macworld and IMGgames. You didn’t ever check your e-mail. The web was neat, but it wasn’t interesting enough to be all consuming.

What was all-consuming, then? You had to spend all those hours doing something. IIRC (if I recall correctly), those hours were spent mostly reading or playing games or talking on AIM. (All three activities I will argue are far more valuable than how you spend your time now).

Flash forward six years. What is all-consuming now? That’s easy: the internet. The internet in all its myriad forms: e-mail, Facebook, blogs, fake AIM, Wikipedia, etc. As you can see, the internet has REALLY grown up a great deal in the past six years. But you’ve ‘grown up’ along with it. By grown up, I largely mean had a symbiotic (perhaps parasitic?) relationship with the internet all this time.

And what does that mean? Well, if the internet has become all-consuming, it must have consumed the original trio of activities (reading, gaming, and IMing). Put another way, if you’re doing the ‘internet’ you’re not doing anything else.

But ‘expand’ on that. What does ‘doing’ the internet 24/7 really mean? How does it effect you and how do those effects carry on into your life at large?

Well, using the internet can be defined in several ways: hit-or-miss, piecemeal, sugary, non-filling, flashy, instantly gratifying, and of course addictive. Though it’s never so much that you go through withdrawal when you’re away from the internet (really and truly away, as in nowhere near your computer-away). You can do just fine when left to your own devices. But put you in a room with a computer (especially ‘your’ computer [or are you its human?]), and you immediately feel drawn to it. As I said, you’ve developed a symbiotic attachment to this tiny machine: you give it attention and it pushes the pleasure buttons in your brain. Not such a bad deal.

Or so it seems. What do you miss out on as a result of constantly using the computer as the ‘go-to guy’ when the initial pangs of boredom first hit? You lose depth. You probably also lose span. You lose repetition, exposure, and contemplation. You lose self-control, volition, and the chance to exercise your will. Largely, you lose all the things that make humans human and not non-human animals.

To be continued. This post easily ‘expands’ into several other more or less self-contained posts, all subtitled ‘LIA,’ so rather than write one giant post, I’ll write several shorter serial posts (and by several, I mean at least two more).

July 17, 2008

No, you’re the one who’s missing the point. The key point, uncomfortable for you thought it will be, is that no one started out in that brain — no one at all. It was just as uninhabited as a swinging rope or a whirlpool. But unlike those physical systems, it could perceive and evolve in sophistication, and so, as weeks, months, and years passed, there gradually came to be someone in there. But that personal identity didn’t suddenly appear full-blown; rather, it slowly coalesced and came into focus, like a cloud in the sky or condensation on a window pane.

– Doug Hofstadter, from I am a Strange Loop

July 15, 2008

Some philosophers see our inner lights, our “I”‘s, our humanity, our souls, as emanating from the nature of the substrate itself — that is, from the organic chemistry of carbon. I find that a most peculiar tree on which to hang the bauble of consciousness. Basically, this is a mystical refrain that explains nothing. Why should the chemistry of carbon have some magical property entirely unlike than that of any other substance? And what is that magical property? And how does it make us into conscious beings? Why is it that only brains are conscious, and not kneecaps or kidneys, if all it takes is organic chemistry? Why aren’t our carbon-based cousins the mosquitoes just as conscious as we are? Why aren’t cows just as conscious as we are? Doesn’t organization or pattern play any role here? Surely it does. And if it does, why couldn’t it play the whole role?

– from I am a Strange Loop by Doug Hofstadter

On Being an Adult

July 13, 2008

Last weekend, during my sister’s visit, I had an ‘aha!’ moment. While we were attempting to find our way to a nice place to view the Fourth of July fireworks, we hit a road block: we had no idea where we were going. That’s usually not a good place to be when you have a time limit (luckily, we had a good few hours to figure out the location of the fireworks).

While we wandered around, it hit me: this was it. This was the moment I realized I was an adult. There’s no one to turn to for answers. It was just the two of us, slightly disoriented, trying to figure out where to go. We’d turn to the other, looking confused and feeling exasperated, and we didn’t have the answers.

There were moments like this all throughout the weekend. Which leads me to think this wasn’t so much about realizing that I’m an adult as much as realizing that my sister is an adult (which you would have thought I’d figured out a few years ago, but I’m a slow-study). She took charge of things, made decisions, and generally moved things forward the entire time. In my world, that’s something that parents do. Maybe it’s because this was my first ‘vacation’ sans parents, but that kind of hit me hard.

And all of this got me to thinking: which world is better, the world of child or the world of adult? Both have their perks: as a kid, all the messy stuff gets swept aside, and you only see the nice, ribboned final decisions. You just have to follow along, trusting that the adults know what they’re doing. But as an adult, you lose this certainty, instead gaining the privilege of getting to make those same decisions that before fell on the adults.

I guess the biggest shock for me is how different the two sides feel. When adults make the decisions, as a kid, it seems like the process takes no effort. We don’t see inside their minds, we can’t see them weighing the options, considering and worrying and fretting. As an ‘adult’ (I’m still a little slow to apply that label to myself… I don’t feel grown up), we have to do all that decision making on our own. Suddenly, all the internal processes that were previously hidden come to the fore. The illusion is lost. Life is hard. And decisions take effort.

Luckily, to wrap the introductory story up, my sister and I called our mom to ask for directions to the place we needed to get to. It turns out that even as adults, we can still fall back on our parents.


Jesus Saves!!!

July 13, 2008

Aw man… this makes me feel sick, and I don’t know why. [It’s a pity, too, because the song’s real purty].

I mean, you could just as easily replace ‘Jesus’ with any other charismatic figure (Mao, Hitler, that guy from the Branch Davidian, L. Ron Hubbard, etc.) and have the same effect. JESUS doesn’t save [particularly]. Authority figures that take away the need for thinking save.

I guess… I guess it makes me feel so uncomfortable because I can totally sympathize with these people. But I just could never DO what they do. I can’t take the leap of faith because I see that it leads to a bottomless pit. Yeah, it would be great to have a set of rules handed down from on high and an imaginary friend that never leaves your side, but that just isn’t going to happen. And pretending otherwise is a waste of time. But even if it makes people happy?

Hm, I’ll just have to live with my existential angst. They can have their bliss. Seems like a fair trade.

And just to lighten things up, here’s one of my favorite quotes from the YouTube comments:

WOW, over 6 million hits! Hello all my fellow Christians, can’t wait til we in one accord will worship Jesus on that day. So mockers, Christianity is false and a joke huh? LOOK at the success, EVERYTHING GOD touches is Truth and will not fail. love ya’ll. never give up on him no matter how hard life gets, he’ll get us through anything as this skit shows, he is the way, the truth, and the life.

Yes, yes he will. When he smites all the non-believers and sends them into the eternal hell fire for their sins!

Now if THAT isn’t a loving god, I don’t know what is!

July 10, 2008

Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.

– Ayn Rand, from Philosophy: Who Needs It?

July 8, 2008

While we live our own lives under a microscope and we are present all the time when we do things, other people are not there with us. That’s a problem for intuiting other people’s thoughts because we tend to evaluate ourselves in much finer detail. We look at ourselves from the street view, whereas other people are looking at us from space.

– Dr. Nicholas Epley, Solving the (Real) Other Minds Problem

July 8, 2008

God reached his hand down from the sky
He flooded the land then he set it on fire
He said, “Fear me again. Know I’m your father.
Remember that no one can breathe underwater”

So bend your knees and bow your heads
Save your babies, here’s your future
Yeah, here’s your future

God reached his hand down from the sky
God asked Noah if he wanted to die
He said “No sir
Oh, no, sir”

God said “Here’s your future
It’s gonna rain”

So we’re packing our things
We’re building a boat
We’re gonna create the new master race
Cause we’re so pure
Oh, Lord, we’re so pure

So here’s your future

God told his son, “It’s time to come home
I promise you won’t have to die all alone
I need you to pay for the sins I create”
His son said, “I will, but Dad . . . I’m afraid”

Yeah, so here’s your future
Here’s your future
Yeah, here’s your future
So here’s your future
So here’s your future
So here’s your future

Here’s Your Future by The Thermals

July 7, 2008

Entrepreneurs bet their lives on unproven visions. If it were legal to do so, more entrepreneurs would bet their lives on delivering education and health care that changed habits and improved quality of life and, most importantly, health insurance that monetized the value of those improved habits. Some of those, using unproven technologies, would become wealthy and provide new and better ways of living to millions of people. We should have education and health care chains that are far more powerful than Apple and Whole Foods Market, bringing new and better ways of living to millions. Ultimately, once these markets in happiness and well-being have been legalized, we will see all of the capital and talent that we now see flowing into technology and finance flowing into education and health care. And great educators and holistic health care practitioners will become highly paid, highly respected members of our society. In this sense we need more capitalism, not less, in order to create an ever-improving quality of life for everyone in our society.

– Michael Strong from The FLOW Newsletter July 2008

An interesting idea, if nothing else.