The New Nationalism: Why?

(Disclaimer: Since writing this blog a few days ago, I have heard the theory I am about to express just mentioned on the latest Sam Harris podcast with guest Yuval Noah Harari, just as I am now sure it have been espoused through other sources as well. Not sure this adds credibility to it or not…though it was original when I though of it!)

Curiousity. I love it. I am all about it. In particular when it comes to human behavior and the choices we make and why.

More specifically, I am very curious in regards to cause and effect relationships. Like one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, does on a weekly basis, I like to posit theories on why something is the case. For example, since 1990 violent crime rates have dropped significantly and, outside of certain particularly violent pockets, continue to do so.

Why?

What correlating factors have transpired in society that explain, at least in part, why this phenomena is occurring? The above Freakonomics podcasters have drawn a correlation between the legalization of abortion in 1973 with the drop in violent crime rates. The logic behind this thinking is that those who are more likely to perform violent crimes -unwanted children- would be entering prime violent crime age in 1990 and, well, simply did not exist to do the evil deed.

Agree or not, it is reasonable theory. At least someone is attempting to make sense of social events.

Regardless of your personal thoughts on this rather controversial cause and effect argument between abortion and crime rates, it is imperative for a culture to be asking such critical questions and attempt to find hidden and unintended correlations between various social manifestations.

If we are not continually asking the question “why?” a trend is taking place, we will forever be enslaved to the consequences of that which goes unexamined.

So today I look at our world and see a wave of nationalism sweeping over the majority of countries.

What is nationalism? I understand the word to mean a type of patriotism run wild and amok. It is the presence of strong ethnocentrism that is much more than having a sense of pride in one’s nation – it such pride accompanied with xenophobia, hatred expressed toward particular outgroups, and the suppression of such groups. It is the protection of national identity at nearly all costs…blood and war included.

The point of this blog entry is not to inform on where, or if,  this is taking place (for a good read on this check this Economist article…after which you will no longer have any doubt of its global existence) rather it is to ask the question as to why it is taking place.

Why, in 2017, are countries resorting back to isolationist type policies, fearing immigration and feeling compelled, perhaps more than ever, to protect itself at all costs including the coveting of its own sense of ethnic and racial identities? Why is pure patriotism morphing into dangerous nationalism? It is so much more than Trump’s victory, a victory that promised walls and protection, or even Brexit, which was fueled over the issue of immigration. We see this happening everywhere, including France, Austria, Hungary, India and, of course, totalitarian nationalism in North Korea, just to name a few.

I am far from an expert on global politics though I am a person who is very curious. Why this? Why now? Why nearly everywhere?

As is the answer for most social phenomena, it is hardly as clear cut as a single determining source. Such complex activity is typically the result of a confluence of complicated factors, probably best answered by political scientists. Yet, hell, someone very close to me even suggested it may be the alignment of the planets -as the last time we saw such a wave, in the 1930’s, the planets were aligned in a similar fashion.

I must confess that this astrological theory is somewhat outside my intellectual comfort zone. But who knows?

As one who is paid to observe human behavior and the communication process, I would like to throw my (more grounded?) communication-based theory into the ring and propose something a bit more down to earth.

I would begin my inquiry by examining what all of these countries have in common and, as a communication guy and quasi-Neal Postman disciple, I must look to the idea of our technological mediums as the answer to the question of what common denominator might be shared around the globe.

It is indisputable our world is becoming an increasingly global village as a result of our technological advances largely due to social media. As our world continues to move in this direction of global oneness, it does what each of us do when faced with drastic change in our life: We fight back and attempt to preserve what is, or, in some cases, what was…in spite of the oncoming inevitable new technological world and the threat of potential global unification it may usher in.

Where there is a big push there is a pull; an action, a reaction; a thesis, an antithesis.

Could the macro movement towards isolationism, protectionism and anti-immigration be the micro equivalent of the resisting child screaming with their hands over their ears when her parents tell her the unwelcomed news that they are perhaps moving, or worse, divorcing?

Perhaps we are experiencing a natural human push back against the effect mediums are having upon the globe –effects that include the breaking down of communication walls, a more global economy and the impending consequence of eroding needs for a strong nationalistic identity, including less need for demarcating lines in the sand distinguishing “us” from “them.”

And those who push back to this new world reply with, “Not on my watch.”

An overreaction is typically driven by the feel of a threat with fear at its core, while typically operating at a subconscious level. As technological media imperialism makes its way through the globe and brings all humanity in contact with each other, such an overreaction to build walls and preserve strong nationalistic identities seems a natural reaction to the “threat” of globalism, fueled by technology.

Could it be that the current wave of nationalism is an unintended consequence of Google, Facebook, Couchsurfing, Twitter or, hell, even Craigslist among nearly countless other social media sites? Individuals can now connect with each other, bypassing mainstream media (some might contend the indoctrination of mainstream media) to form their own identities, free from ethnic or nationalistic overtones.

We can now, more than ever, associate with our own personal identity group first and foremost, perhaps LGBT or Buddhist, for example, while the need for a strong national identity wanes as a thing of the past.

What we see today is a major push back against this new world of potential new identities.

I am not naïve enough to believe that far more complicated and compelling political theories that may have far greater explanatory power do not exist; I am certain they do. However, perhaps this unintended consequence of internet access plays some role, however minor or major, and should not be ignored in the discussion. I hardly doubt I am the only one who has made this connection.

Perhaps it is an inevitable -and temporary- consequence on the road towards a global village, or, at the very least, a more global village.

So I am a curious guy who likes to find correlations between seemingly unrelated phenomena.

Hell, it might even be the alignment of the planets.

And if you have a better theory, or would like to add to it, I look forward to your response.

Snapchat

One of my objectives in life is to NEVER be one of those old farts that casually criticizes the younger generations for their overall lifestyle and choices…be it music, clothing, trends -all of it- as in, “The damn kids today know nothing about respect and hard work,” or something along the lines of, “They call that shit today music? Really? In my day music was music.”

Ugh. I really never want to be that guy…and it is so easy to be.

In order not to fall victim to this “old fart” mentality, it requires that we make proactive choices to seek, experience and understand where the younger generations are coming from and why. If we do not mind becoming old judgmental codgers, we can just sit back and do nothing -as it will happen all on its own- that is just how our brains function. However, as a college educator, it is particularly imperative for me to constantly explore opportunities to engage with youth culture and seek to understand it…perhaps now more than ever in the age of technology.

As a result of this lifestyle choice, both my Sirius and conventional radio preset buttons include both contemporary rap, hip-hop and pop in addition to my “70’s at 7” and class rock choices. It is not all unusual to for me to listen to Van Halen’s “Eruption” one minute and Drake’s “Hotline Bling” the next. I even mix in a little classical and chill music on occasion.

However, perhaps the biggest eye-opening choice I have recently made was securing the app Snapchat, where participants can send videos and pictures to their “friends” that last about 7 seconds and then disappear into the internet ether. If I understand correctly (my youngest son Stevie is my source for this information), Snapchat was at first very much used for “sexting” and carried the nickname, “Dickchat.”

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Not so much anymore. I have now had Snapchat for about 2 months and have a yet to see, fortunately, a penis nor, unfortunately, a titty or two. What I do see are short snippets of people’s everyday life, including everything from, say, a video of them in the car lip syncing to a song, pictures of their cute kittens, or, perhaps, just everyday boring life stuff like eating or shopping –usually posted in a humorous and lighthearted manner with entertaining and creative captions, not to mention special effects.

I must admit that at first I was very put off by Snapchat. Why? In short, it appeared to be a social media that was incapable of mediating any relevant content. It was all superficial, silly, time wasting, entertainment…it actually even depressed me at first thinking, “This is what today’s generation spends its time doing?” Yet, as one committed to my anti-old codger philosophy, I not only chose to keep it but try to engage with it on a regular basis.

Now, a month or so later, I actually have a lot of fun using it.  It does not take a lot of time or energy to engage with it…you can actually snap several times a day and it probably does not take more than a minute or two of the day, at least for me.

I have come to realize that every generation has its specific form of entertainment. When I was 19 I used to go to my favorite arcade, Pinball Plus, and spend hours playing video games. If people want to spend their recreational time sending pics of, well, really nothing, what is the harm? When I was that age I was electronically trying to maneuver out of the way of falling barrels chucked by a large gorilla called Donkey Kong. In comparison, Snapchat is for Mensa members.

Why was I so judgmental of it at first? Because I, like most humans, have a very difficult time with change and adapting to trends that are not truly understood. At times we have to force ourselves to engage in things that are well outside our comfort zone and previous “normal” experiences –it’s called growth and expansion while our brains crave it.

I am a huge fan of recreation and entertainment. I believe escaping from the monotony of our everyday lives is a good thing. I tend to get critical of entertainment (ala Neal Postman) when areas of culture that demand serious conversations, devolve into entertainment…be it the news, education, religion, or, thank you Donald Trump, politics.

But bullshit entertainment? I love it…we need it.

I hardly think anyone is mistaking Snapchat for serious cultural conversation. It is banal, silly entertainment that is mildly amusing and there is nothing wrong with that and, in fact, there may be something very right about it. Our college Dean, Rick, just recently sent me a study from the University of Michigan that suggests Snapchatting actually makes one happy.

I also believe the vast popularity of Snapchat among youth does point to some deeper, underlying cultural trends that are quite revealing. What does the appeal of vapid content -content that is there one second and is permanently gone the next- say about the hugely transient and quickly evolving nature of our collective cultural experiences due to technology? What does the appeal of sharing flippant experiences of our everyday life say about our need to connect with others -even in our most mundane moments?  What does it say about human nature that we like to peek into the details of others’ lives? The human being needs to be relevant, seen, heard, and valued with the larger community –a basic human need that has never changed. Perhaps Snapchat is a simple, lighthearted way to partially fill this gap in our lives.

So there you have it from by FAR the oldest person on Snapchat. Hit me up people…my screen name is jimmyu…snap with me ya’ll.

And, regardless of your age (old codger philosophy knows no age) dare to take a step away from an old fart mentality -it can actually be kinda fun.

 

 

Working Hard Or Hardly Working? Crowd Funding And Other Ethical Milieus

I am very fortunate to currently enjoy a “seasonal” profession, meaning my schedule goes something like this:  Bust-ass-for 4 1/2-months, retreat for 1, bust-ass-for-another 4 1/2-months, retreat for 2 months–not a bad gig schedule wise.  The retreat periods give me time to do things I normally cannot get to during my “bust- ass” periods.
Therefore, this week I was able to accomplish a task I have not completed in quite some time -go through various stacks of messy paperwork on my desk.  As I perused through a plethora of old statements, papers, bills, etc., I was surprised to find a bank statement from 2011 from my credit union with a balance of $13,000—from an unknown account I did not know about, or at the very least did not remember. I immediately called the credit union and they explained I opened this retirement account in 1993 with proceeds earned from my college job of soils and geological testing.
Surprise, surprise. Nice. A little karma and a poor memory can be a good thing.
And how did I earn that money? The story goes something like this: I would get up at 5am, drive to construction sites all over Southern California, place my nose in the dirt and my ass in the air while I checked the maximum density of the soil, all the while being careful not to get plowed over by tractors, for 8-12 hours a day, while attending graduate school at night, all the while rushing home, smelling like sweat and dirt, to play with my small children. It is safe to suggest I definitely earned that money.
Perhaps it’s just me but I can be old fashioned that way. How do I make money? I believe in making money the Smith Barney way, “I uuurn it.” (google that one children).
Both Rene’ and I share a very dedicated and stringent work ethic. I would dare say Rene’s work ethic trumps my own as I have never met a person who works as hard, diligently and with such excellence as she does. She does not have a lazy bone in her body.
Therefore, for those of us who do have a hard work ethic and pay our taxes (I started working when I was 18 and have never gone a day without a job since), you can imagine our attitudes toward those who do not share this work ethic and are constantly looking for freebies and handouts—not big fans. This understanding sets the backdrop, mental context and reveals my narrow mindedness for my blog topic of choice for this week: Crowd funding.
For those who are not aware of the relatively new phenomena of crowd funding, or crowd sourcing, it is a means to generate revenue through internet websites such as fundanything.com and indiegogo.com, based off the donations of viewers.  One can crowd source for just about anything, from helping fulfill the dreams of a sick child with cancer to funding films and various projects. A quick look at fundanything.com currently advertises requests of funds for a sick dog’s surgery, a legal defense against litigious patent trolls, and funding for a new cure for crying babies (you can’t make this stuff up).
When I first heard of such sites, my conservative work ethic suggested that something was awry. If you want money—for anything—go out and earn it, I silently thought.  I felt this was the internet’s version of electronic homeless panhandling. Yet, alas, as one who loves to bathe in the tub of cognitive dissonance and consider all sides, all the while quite aware of my mindset that thinks in analogical terms, I thought further about this very digital activity. In addition, and to add an emotional cog in the wheels of my now dissonant point of view, my son—whom I love dearly—now has a current campaign on indiegogo.com in attempts to fund a trip to Nepal to undergo research and complete a short documentary on Singing Bowls.
I have so many questions. And perhaps some of you have some answers.
Good idea? Bad idea? Ethical? Unethical? Does it promote a lazy mentality while supporting the idea of handouts and an entitled, “me first” mentality? Or does it allow the global community to come together and assist each other in meaningful and helpful ways while making our world a better place? Both?
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Of course no one is forcing anyone to give what one does not want to give as everything is, obviously, voluntary.  Yet what are the ethical implications of simply asking the question and requesting the funds? For example, I can ask you if I can borrow a $100 and you are free to say yes or no—no harm done—or is there? The act of me making the request has ethical and relational implications. I have placed you in an awkward position, potentially making you feel guilty, and forcing your hand to make a difficult decision since just asking the question changes the nature of the relationship itself. Then again, no one is forcing one to react this way either.
Such tension.
So my opinion on crowd sourcing? Like anything in life, one must take the good with the bad. Will it reinforce a lazier and entitled mentality? Potentially yes and it will for some. I heard of an acquaintance requesting funds for Yoga training. Really? Perhaps some of you may want to fund my LA Fitness gym membership and protein shakes. After all, your donation will make the world a more aesthetically pleasing place. However, will it also promote a means by which to communally support and help each other for the better? Yes, and it does. Donating to children with cancer and funding research for valuable cures can only benefit the planet.
Perhaps the new electronic work ethic is working very hard and creatively at asking people for money. Fundraising of all varieties has always been hard work and is a skill to master to be sure. However, the fact that all can now fund raise so quickly and easily through the internet while being available to all, may result in the first generation of people who view crowd sourcing as an honorable and noble profession. And why not? Just because I have a hard time wrapping my analogue mind around it does not necessarily make it a bad idea.
In the meantime, I personally will keep searching for long lost bank accounts that I have forgotten existed and were established the old fashioned way, “I uurned it.“
And if you disagree with my point of view? Help fund a boy with a camera on his forehead on a trip to Nepal for research. This hypocrite did. Sometimes my love trumps my logic.
 

You Bet Your Bottom Bitcoin: Crypto Currency And Other Ideas That Hurt The Analogue Mind

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Perhaps “can’t” is a bit strong, yet it takes truly getting old to truly understand how truly true this statement generally is…at least for most of us truly old dogs.
As we age our brains tend to become less malleable and open to new ideas and thought forms. We can compare our brains to well-traveled dirt roads. Overtime they begin to form ruts and it is very difficult to operate a vehicle without falling into the well-worn tracks. A healthy brain is one that can navigate new parts of the road outside these ruts and forge new paths.
However, imagine using those same ruts for 51 years and then attempting to navigate new parts of the same road. From a brain science perspective, it is very easy to understand why we can get set in our ways and dogmatic about our understanding of certain ideas and how we look at the world.
Our brains get stuck in those damn ruts.
It explains why some of your grandparents still have a phone landline in their home, no cell, and steer clear of the internet.
Fortunately, one my greatest fears in life is boredom. I thrive on new experiences and ideas while challenging the mental ruts I often find myself. I look for news ways to forge new mental paths.
When I was recently introduced to a new idea developed in the past few years, I found my brain having grand difficulty extricating itself from its deep mental ruts.
I would like to either introduce you to the concept of “bitcoins” or the more general term, “crypto currency” (there are also dogecoin, litecoin, and peercoin) or -for you digital natives in the know- exhibit for you my extreme, though eager to learn, ignorance of it.   If you are unfamiliar with this digital currency concept, it is a new form of electronic currency that was created in 2009 by an unknown person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Transactions between crypto currency buyers and sellers are made with no middle men – meaning, no banks. There are no transaction fees and no need to give your real name. One simply carries a digital “wallet” and collects them through various digital transactions. One can buy and sell things, anything actually, between parties who accept them.
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I was truly having a very difficult time getting my 51 year, old dog digital immigrant mind around this new dog digital native idea. Therefore I began asking a lot of questions and doing some research. I needed to challenge the ruts and not dismiss this concept as something fringe or kooky simply to avoid my brain having to deal with a new concept outside my comfortable and well-worn tracks and valleys.
My first question: How much value does a bitcoin possess?  Answer: However much we, collectively, want to give it.
Huh? Come on brain…out of the rut, out of rut, out of the rut.
Join the crypto-currency-confused-as-hell club. As a slow learner who needs to figure how something works from the ground up, my analogue brain actually hurt trying to figure this entirely digital schema out.  How could we base value on something that really does not exist?
This seemed a rather odd notion until I realized this is exactly what we do with all our currency at present. A dollar is only worth what we as a society deem it to be worth -as we have not had a gold standard in about 60 years (meaning the dollar used to be tied to the amount of gold in the federal reserve). Because we have a well-established understanding of what a dollar is worth today we can collectively agree on its value, at least for the moment.
In the same way words are only a medium for the meanings we have in our head, a dollar only represents worth, it is not worth.
If I buy a loaf of bread for a dollar, that dollar is worth a loaf of bread. A year from now that dollar might only be worth half a loaf of bread. Having large collections of dollars provides us with absolutely nothing except the paper it is printed on. The importance of the dollar is what it represents such as food, clothing, cars, vacations, etc…whatever we buy with them as we cannot eat the dollar bill, wear the dollar bill or drive the dollar to work.
So it is with bitcoin…the value changes from moment to moment pending on the collective worth we give to it.  And rather than worth being represented buy a piece of paper, it is a digital representation -and if that digital representation is safe and secure? I am bitcoin ready and ready to navigate new tracks on the mental road. Today we have collectively decided one bitcoin is worth approximately $436 US dollars.
As I think more critically about our contemporary currency exchange and system, I am awakened to the fact it is just as strange, arbitrary, and mysterious as crypto currency, it is just that crypto currency lies just outside of my well established ruts.  Just as I do not understand some current economic systems such as the federal reserve, inflation, various monetary indexes, etc. and I do not stay up at night wondering, there is no need to understand the all the inner machinations of crypto currency either. I just need to make sure it is somewhat safe and viable. After all, you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks thoroughly but at the very least they can comprehend the basics.
Rather than scoff at a new and innovative system, this old dog wants to imagine the possibilities. Sure I may not currently understand how to mine algorithms, the elaborate mathematical equations associated with mining, or the complex formulas that make this a viable idea, and perhaps I never will…but that is not going to stop me from at least trying as I carve out new patterns in my brain and grasp these concepts.
“Digital” may always be my second language, though we all can become good enough to be able to converse in it.
You bet your bottom bitcoin.
Now correct me you digital natives.
 
 

 

Maybe Everyone DOES Wants to be Naked and Famous

I think our world is turning into one giant metaphorical and not-so-metaphorical, nudist camp. I was reminded of this once again when I saw the taped footage of actor Paul Walker’s recent fiery crash in a Santa Clarita parking lot, albeit obscured by a fence. There is not much we can hide these days -not even the hour of our death. Simply, we are naked to the world.

Naked technologyCurrently I am engaged in a reading discussion group analyzing the book The Shallows: What the Internet is doing our Brains by Nicholas Carr (next semester the selected book is One Nation Under Sex…though more on that in another blog). The book explains the various ways that technology rewires and changes the landscape of our brains and how this alters the way we process information and, as result, changes one’s self and culture.

I could go on and on about technology, namely mobile devices, and how they are changing the way we think, act, believe, and behave. Yet a new thought occurred to me the other day while conversing with a bright student regarding this topic when it hit me: The internet is making all of us metaphorically -and perhaps even literally- naked, stripped of our protective public clothing; displaying to the world some of our most secretive and hidden moments. And we seem to be doing it willingly with a smile on our face.

As we surrender any sense of privacy in our lives to the welcomed invasion of technology, we are wiping away the facades we have created to effectively manage the impressions we want to present to the world. Indeed I can work to control technology in such a way that I can limit that flow of revealing information, yet it is eventually a losing battle. A simple google search can yield all the information about a person you could ever want to know….and a lot of things we would prefer not to know. Or see.

With cameras on every street corner and in every hand, when anyone with a moderate or high profile attempts to conceal any behaviors it is a losing battle to be sure. Whether it is Brittany’s crotch or Anthony’s wiener, there is no such thing as a flawed or embarrassing moment gone unnoticed or a moment of lack of good judgment gone undetected. In a world of technology, we are its naked and vulnerable inhabitants. How are we to respond to such vulnerability in a culture of everyone knows all?

Society effectively has two choices. The first choice is to reduce the amount of poor choices we make in our life that could possibly get exploited and do our best to keep our legs clenched tight when getting out of a Ferrari with a short skirt. I have no trouble complying with the latter though have fallen victim many times to the former.

The second choice is a much more likely and palatable choice. We must become more accepting of flawed human beings making flawed choices –that is if you believe a man sending a picture of his penis to a potential lover to be “flawed” -some might call it just poor strategy –or good strategy, depending on the penis I suppose. I long for a day when society does not bat an eye when a prominent figure sends out a picture of his junk, likely in a drunken foray, because they realize they could be the next victim in this tell all, see all world. As my grandma once told me, “Let he who is without a picture of his naked penis cast the first stone.” Or maybe it was “don’t go into the neighbor’s yard.” I forget. It was a long time ago.

Am I suggesting that sending out lurid pictures is good idea or is a complete non-issue in sizing up one’s character? No and no. Probably rarely a good idea and may be a relevant issue in determining one’s character pending context of the photo. The issue is not about a revealing photo, rather the issue is lack of discretion and sound judgment by a political leader who is need of such attributes.

Hence we believe sending nude pics is the bastion of the perverted, exhibitionist few, think again. Recently in my Interpersonal Communication class the subject of “sexting” came up. Our textbook states: “One survey revealed that 10 percent of young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 have texted or emailed a nude or partially nude image of themselves to someone else, and 15 percent have received such pictures…of someone they know. Perhaps even more disturbing, 8 percent reported that they had received a nude or partially nude image of someone they knew from a third party.”

After some further discussion, our entire class concluded that those numbers are WAY off- in fact, not even close to the truth (the studies were 5 years old…a lifetime in a technological world). Their estimate was somewhere closer to 75 percent having sexted in one way, shape or form. And they should know…they are the age group in which sexting essentially originated. I guess we are living in both a figuratively naked -everyone can see our business- and literally naked technological world -we are willingly allowing people to see our naughty parts.

Perhaps the dramatic increase in our willingness to share our physical nakedness is only symptomatic of a society losing its desire for any privacy, at any level, whatsoever. We are all becoming metaphorically naked and vulnerable and seem quite comfortable with it. I know I am. Should I be?

I have very little to hide in my life (notice I did not say nothing?) which seems a good place to be in our naked world. I am not sure Paul Walker’s family is pleased his death has been captured on image, albeit an obscured one. Yet, for better or for worse, we can all rest assured that nothing anymore is sacred or private…and I am still trying to decide if I like this nudist camp we have created or not.

In the meantime, think twice before you send your next sext…your political future may be in jeopardy.

I’m Too Sexy For My Blog…and other misleading blog titles

riddler_3Riddle me this Batman: What do peanut allergies, a poor sense of direction, poor penmanship, social anxiety and accidentally falling over the rim of the Grand Canyon have in common?

Much more than you think…though allow me some explanation.

Human beings like to invent new stuff to make life easier on themselves. I am not talking the “stuff” of late night infomercials like self-cleaning mops or an ab exercise gadget; rather the kind of stuff we have invented throughout human history that make our lives more manageable and, in many case, enjoyable. Don’t think SeenOnTVthe “As Seen on TV!” stuff like the “Ped-Egg” -think more general inventions like the wheel, language, penicillin or the map.

Our inventions, or new technologies, can be divided up into four general types (I thank Nicholas Carr, in part, for this) with many inventions blurring the distinction of each category with some crossover.  The first type of invention involves increasing and extending the human’s physical strength –the plow, the darning needle, the car, the gun, fighter jets- as all of these serve to do far more good (or damage) than a human alone could do.  These inventions assist us in gaining physical dominance over our environment and better control over what happens around us.

The second type of invention involves extending the human’s five senses -for example, the microscope, the amplifier, binoculars, or hearing aids. I suppose these could be called the “superhuman” category as each allows us to perform tasks that our natural five senses alone could never perform at the assisted level.

The third category concerns itself with serving our personal needs and desires, like the invention of the knife and fork, birth control, Viagra (not that I would know anything about that) or genetically modified foods. Of course the automobile, for example, was invented to help us serve our personal needs as well, yet its more dominant characteristic is a quantum leap in travel technology…helping us to gain more control over the restraints of our physical lives. 

evolutionary-declineLastly, the fourth set of technologies include extending our intellectual abilities –from the rudimentary abacus, to the clock, the printing press, the typewriter and the computer just to name a few of millions.  These inventions are used for the purpose of extending our cognitive mental abilities, to better perform tasks, measure theories and ideas, and memorize important data.  In contemporary society, perhaps our cell phone is the single most quantum leap in intellectual inventions in the history of mankind.

New ideas and technologies are typically soundly rejected at first notice (excluding aforementioned Image: Viagra pillsViagra, of course).  The five-step acceptance process of new inventions goes something like this: Initial rejection (“If man was meant to fly God would have given us wings!”); reluctant use (“I will do it just this once because I have no other choice.”); regular begrudging use (“Sure I will use it but I sure don’t like it…it still makes me uncomfortable”); dependency (“I now cannot imagine a world without airplanes!”); to, finally, invisibility in which the technology is now so woven into the basic tapestry of the culture it becomes so normal as to be invisible.

I saw this in my lifetime with the cell phone. From the, “I will never use it” motto to the, “only in emergencies” phase to the, “just when I drive” fairytale -and then leapfrog to the, “where the hell is my damn cell phone? A part of me is lost!” contemporary milieu. It is now invisibly a part of us.

It is this fifth and final stage that worries me. When a technology becomes invisible we tend to stop evaluating its consequences on a culture.

In 2013 we are living in the future. This is it. (Check out this book my son just showed me this morning). We are soaking in it. Through technologies our lives have become so inoculated against present shockso much harm, against so much pain, against so much danger while things have transitioned to be considerably easier for us than at any time in human history…and we are experiencing its consequences.

We have conquered the fear of germs with anti-bacterial technology everywhere…and today we suffer allergies for everything we once never thought possible. The GPS makes us a collective society that cannot navigate its way out of a paper bag without its use. The constant permeation of computer generated everything makes handwriting and penmanship a thing of the past (we actually had classes in penmanship growing up kids!). Our “social” networking is usually performed, ironically, alone and our social phobia’s are growing among the young.

Though perhaps nothing is more telling of where we are at as a society is the story that rests at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I enjoy reading different non-fiction (I cannot read fiction for some reason) and several years ago I read an excellent book covering every known death in the Grand Canyon. It was an incredibly well 51WT288GZFL._SL500_AA300_documented book, aptly entitled, “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” written by two medical doctors. It is not an exploitative book at all, rather it asks the questions who and why? What can we learn from these deaths?

I found this particular passage very insightful and applicable to this blog:

But for American society in general it can be argued that, in our generations-long quest for security, we have domesticated ourselves. We train and hire specialists to do everything for us so that we do not have to take the risks of doing it ourselves. We hire police…contractors…farmers…programmers…Ralph Nader to make our cars and skies safe…we have airbags and parachutes and orthopaedic surgeons and seat belts and life vests and helmets to protect us when something goes wrong…We are no longer wild Homo sapiens. Instead, psychologically, many of us are sheep, or if you prefer, Homo sapien domesticus…many of us now make the habitual and unquestioned assumption that somebody else is supposed to be watching out for our best interests for us. We blindly follow the rest of the flock and assume that the sheepherder, wherever he is, is keeping his eye peeled for the wolves.”

In some ways, that sheepherder is our technologies that coddle and protect us. Though, in the long run, do they?

You have been riddled Batman. All are, in part, the result of living presently in the future.

Welcome to the future your mother warned you about.

 

The Land with two Brains

As I was perusing through my last few blogs, I noticed that the last 5 or so were categorized under “personal.”  I definitely like blogging about different subject matters and my life and relationships are certainly part of that, yet it is about time to get back to something a bit more academic and exercise that other half of the brain –the half that is not quite so touchy feely and does not care much for singing bowls or drum circles.

This upcoming Friday, Crafton Hills College will be hosting the Southern California Speech Educators Forum. As the Director of this forum, I, among other duties, will be discussing with Speech Geeks like myself, issues in the field of teaching Communication Studies in the college context.

Thus, I come to you, my blog readers, and to the educators this Friday with an issue that is so vastly important, pervasive and transformative in our culture right now that most of us are utterly blind to it as that which encompasses becomes our norm and thus becomes invisible.

So, if you are not into technology and the brain, go to the “personal” tab above and read all about my emotional and psychological shortcomings as I whine like a little bitch. For today, I am an academic; whiny-bitchthough still a little bitch to be sure. I have blogged about this before though then the focus was comparing digital natives (my kids) with digital immigrants (me); I believe this distinction is not so great as I once believed.

We are all currently in the process of getting our brains completely rewired through technologies not thought possible just a couple of decades ago.  The hyperlink world is creating hyperlink brains.  Our brains are turning more “status update” than detailed diary, more snapchat than manifesto, more Wikipedia and less encyclopedia.

Gary Small UCLA professor of psychiatry tells us that “…the current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains (the daily use of computers, smartphones, search engines and other such tools) stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains and weakening old ones.

technology-addictI am not a brain scientist and at the risk of monumental oversimplification, I have read enough literature to know that those parts of the brain we do not use shrink and get adopted by other parts of the brain we are using. For example, if one were suddenly struck with blindness the part of the brain responsible for vision would lend a hand to the auditory function of the brain. If we lose one of our senses, our brain becomes more acute in the other unaffected senses as a form of brain compensation.

In a famous study of London taxicab drivers detailed brain autopsies as well as brain scans reveal that the part of the brain responsible for memorizing streets and having a sense of direction, the posterior hippocampus, was significantly larger than the general population and, depending on how many years on the job, the more experienced drivers had a larger posterior hippocampus. Interestingly, neural-plasticitythe anterior hippocampus was smaller –meaning the part of the brain overused was yoked- though it was at the expense of another unused part.

Kind of like my bulky biceps grow at the expense of my little tiny schoolboy calves. Yeah, just like that.

Nicholas Carr suggests “with the exception of alphabet and number systems, the Internet may well be the single most powerful mind altering technology that has ever come into general use, At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book.”

So, what does this mean? It means all of our brains are changing in some very humungous ways that researchers are still trying to figure out. This is an extremely important period of history in our biological neural evolution.

We are certainly seeing a lot of evidence that our collective brains are becoming much more acute in the area of multi-tasking and much less acute in focusing while finishing what we start.  We are losing many abilities related to memory as we no longer need to memorize numbers, addresses, or, for that matter, nearly all information as we simply pull it up on Google.focus-and-concentration

The GPS is completely retarding our collective senses of direction; yet, ask me to find 10 addresses and I can provide them all in under 30 seconds.

I am neither a technological dystopian (our brains and the world are going to hell) nor utopian (technology will save us) and I am quite open to nearly all googleglasspossibilities.  I do believe “Google Glasses” (you must check that link out people, seriously, check it right now and come back) and the concept of singularity -where biological brain and technology become as one- are very real possibilities and, most likely, probabilities.

So blog readers, how do we Speech educators teach effectively to multi-tasking, hyperlinked, multi-tabbed brains?

So blog readers AND Speech educators, do we realize this is taking place? Do we want it to take place? Are we losing control of our own brains?

I don’t have any answers though I know for certain we need to be asking the questions.  If not, we lemmings may just follow that technological pied piper over the cliff. Or not.

Just stuff worth thinking about….told you I would still whine like a little bitch. Sorry Jesus.

 

Post an Ugly Picture of Yourself on Facebook, or Twitter, or Even This Blog

photoRecently the below facebook status update was passed on to me through Rene’. It reminded of my blog entry a couple of months ago (5 Helpful Hints to Give Off the Right Impression Online; or, Post an Ugly Picture of Yourself on Facebook) and decided to revisit this idea after reading these wonderfully articulated thoughts:

On the rare occasion that I actually check my FB, tonight I decided to challenge my boredom and instead of posting something new to update you on in my life virtually, exactly the way that I want you to see and interpret it (you all know its true), I decided to go through every part of my timeline, down to the *CRINGE* untagged/hidden things that make me wish social media never existed, and what I found was far more significant than a #TBT from high school or a cute selfie you hope gets 50 likes. See, what I found are the posts I used to hate the most, (the candid/just rolled out of bed/TRULY didnt put on make up/too fat in that picture/clearly need a hamburger that month/i look like snooki/wait, am i snooki/did i really paint my face half green and gold/if i really looked like that performing my career is over, etc) were the ones I found the most breathtakingly beautiful. I found that if you choose to ‘view your profile’, view your life, in the same perspective that you try to manipulate others to, not only can it be just as glorified and special, but that it already is. And manipulating yourself instead to see the truth of that is the first step to creating it. Time, growing up, and change is so imperfectly beautiful. Not living in the moment means that it will pass with no memory to imprint, or to share, and my ‘timeline’ don’t got room for that Challenge yourself. #TGIF

Amen sister and pass the kudos plate because I’m dropping some love in it. Well said.

C’mon everyone. What are we waiting for? My contribution is above. Let’s get real and show each other some ugly love.

The Prison Cell….Phone

I used to hate the cell phones in my classroom, to the point that one day I was so frustrated with one student who compulsively could not control himself I had to politely tell him to, and I quote, “Put your FUCKING cell away!!!” Wait, it was worse than that, “!!!!!”

The class sat scared and silent. I scared me; though did not remain silent.

In the UK, it is called a mobile, in Latin America “cellular,” in Japan “keitai” (portable), in China “shou-ji” (hand machine), in Bangladesh “muthophone” (phone in the palm of SONY DSCyour hand), in Sweden “nalle” (teddy bear), in Israel “Pelephone” (wonder phone) and in Germany a “handy.”

I just call it the “self-phone.”  What was originally a device designed to connect us instantaneously and globally has, in many ways, alienated us personally as it turns us inward.

Is the self-phone creating one of the most anti-social generations in history?

What began as an Alexander Graham Bell invention to instill convenience into the communication of our daily lives, has, essentially, BECOME our daily lives. It is now like an additional human appendage that we cannot leave home without. Like so many other areas in our lives, it is just another example of the proverbial tail wagging the dog.tail wags dog

Sort of reminds me of those that hastily pursue money for a living; after a while money is no longer money –you know, the green stuff you need to buy things to live- life becomes a game of acquisition. If life is the dog and money is the tail we wag, for many money has become the dog as it wags its tail and we flail uncontrollably and in deference to it.

mechanical_clock_3d_11Philosopher Lewis Mumford made an analytical observation of another technology, the clock.  Yes, that ticking thing on the wall. What was originally invented in order to better serve humanity, now has humanity serving it. The clock made us into time keepers and then time savers and, now, time servers. The tails keeps on a waggin that dog of ours.

Take sports. What was introduced to better accommodate the game, television, has only evolved in better accommodating itself.  Professional basketball now has television timeouts and interviews with coaches DURING THE GAME. It is hardly now a game; it is a talk show with big athletic people moving around between commercials.

The game of football was invented so people could either participate in an athletic event or observe. When the first professional football game was televised October 22, 1939 it was to benefit the sport Walz_Skip_250-175and get it publicized, yet it was still all about the game.  According to the Pro Football hall of Fame there were none of the visual aids -monitors, screens or spotters – used today, and there were just two iconoscope cameras. One was located in the box seats on the 40-yard line and the other was in the stadium’s mezzanine section.  The game was unimpeded as the camera captured the event.

Now the tail wags the dog. Having recently attended a professional football game I felt like I was at a soundstage in the backlot of Universal Studios as it was all about the TV viewers. I cannot tell you how many minutes the players had to just stand on the field and wait until the commercials were over.  I was now watching not a sport, but a television show. The head referee is now primarily the director. I could have sworn I heard him yell, “CUT!” at one point.

To put it bluntly, in many ways, technological advances cause us to turn things ass backwards.  The tail wags the dog and the medium has become the message.

assbackwards

Back to the self-phone.  It is as if we now disregard those who are in our immediate proximity and prefer to dialogue with those outside of our immediate proximity, in cyber space. We are choosing the virtual conversations over the real and present ones. What then is our reality -our physical being or our virtual being?

mobile phone booth

If I hear another self-phone conversation between the person immediately next to me and their virtual preference I will have heard another one too many.  The formal term for this occurrence is a “halfalogue” and research has shown this is the most disruptive and annoying of all potential communication disturbances -as we can only hear half a conversation and, as a result, our brains go crazy trying to instinctively create the other half.

Though, hey, I guess we evolve and adapt. I suppose one day the social norm will be a crowded people on cell phonesroom with no individuals speaking to each other physically as we engage in our individual cyber universes. Our brains will adapt to hearing a continual barrage of one way conversations.

Though until that point, in public, could you all please put your FUCKING self-phones away? Thanks.