In the meantime, this.
Simultaneously, my bio and and ego are getting a community overhaul with the XR Studio crowd.
I have some goals in mind. I’ll list them tomorrow. For today I’m flossing one t
John Steinbeck is up there among my very favorite authors, and is certainly my favorite among the non-genre literary writers. My question was: why? What is it about Steinbeck that I love just so much?
I love nearly all his books, but East of Eden has the distinction of being my second favorite novel (after Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed of course). Unlike Liza Hamilton’s bible, the eye tracks in my copy of East of Eden are uneven. I’ve been toting around the same dog eared and pencil annotated Classics Edition since high school. The first few dozen pages are especially worn. When I was traveling most intensely for work, about five years ago, I would carry it with me as a cure for homesickness. Steinbeck’s ode to those dry hills, and the wet years when people forget the dry years, remains my perfect reminder of California. Continue reading
I. A Victory Celebrated
I’m celebrating a victory for public transit. Yes, of course I’m consumed by rage about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement (maybe). But I’ve been acting locally to promote public transit in one way or another since I was 16, in the face of NIMBY assholes. Victory on local actions is what gives us the wherewithal to keep pressure on the global struggle.
So the Feds finally approved funds for the grand Caltrain electrification project after many months of struggle. Continue reading
We ask: is the vaguely California-Buddhist (but mostly utilitarian) “caring” of Silicon Valley corporations a good thing? We answer, very academically: maybe, sometimes, someday. But today, it mostly stands in agonizing juxtaposition with horrendous inequality. If some by long-shot thoughtful stars align…yes someday it could be some definition of good. We are trying to force some alignment from our humble positions. Join us?
If you think that seems interesting, this article is worth a read.
Here’s the abstract:
The struggle for labor rights is often one of asserting embodied care. Workers negotiate for rest and safe physical conditions. In the United States, further embodied care is translated into health care and family leave benefits. In Silicon Valley, while labor still struggles in the service and manufacturing sectors, professional high-tech work constitutes another set of challenges and expectations. Startup culture draws on the university-student lifestyle—where institutionalized care includes a broad palette of wellness care, cafeterias, and structured recreation. So it is not surprising that yoga, massage, food, and managed fun made their way into high-tech workplaces of the late twentieth century. Increasingly, however, that corporate care is a requirement, not a perquisite, of progressive companies recruiting elite workers.
Effective care requires personal awareness and corporate surveillance in order to be effective. Corporate responsibility in Silicon Valley workplaces embraces discourses in which worker productivity and care intertwine. This care is not evenly distributed or available to all workers, but still points to an emerging set of corporate care practices. Knowledge workers are expected to work more intensively, and employers sustain them by providing care. That logic of care shaped the social experience of both care providers, such as chefs and concierges, and workers, who learn to be the subjects of such care. Based on two decades of fieldwork in companies from Apple to Yahoo, this article outlines the uneven evolution of Silicon Valley’s corporate care.
And here’s an excerpt, which I think is within the limits of what I’m allowed to post here. Specifically, the prologue, which I wrote based on field notes from one of the more surreal experiences of my entire life.
A deep bell sounds at the hands of a brown-robed monk as hundreds of people bow their heads over trays carefully balanced on their laps. It is the fall of 2013 and the corporate dining room of an iconic Silicon Valley company is transformed as rows of workers, vendors, and guests sit in silent contemplation. Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned mindfulness teacher, leads the room in a guided meditation over the vegan lunch of subtly spiced Southeast Asian vegetables and rice. We are participants attending a workshop designed to cultivate a wonder of food in the larger ecosystem and an awareness of the act of eating.
The teacher asks us to savor each bite. He asks us to contemplate how dietary choices like these can heal a climate-disturbed planet. He asks us to consider the life of these plants, and all the human hands—farmers, cooks, and workers—who made it possible for us to eat the plants in that moment. Thousands more watch this performance through cameras placed around the room, possibly eating on their own, in homes and offices around the world. The organizers, chefs, and workers convinced that technology and compassion could do more together than apart, invited the monks to give their peers a transformative experience and to enlist allies.
Four months later, presenters from that same corporation, while reporting on that experience and the larger effort around mindfulness at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, were interrupted by an onstage protest. Local San Francisco activists waved signs reading, “Wisdom Means Stop Displacement” and “Wisdom Means Stop Surveillance.” The company’s efforts to care for its own workers and the planet, though literally fashioned on “noble intentions” drawn from Buddhist and secular compassionate practice, are mired in an inescapable context of a system that produces economic inequality and unequal access to physical resources. Diverse stakeholders contest the values around information flows and privacy. The ubiquitous computing that fuels the Silicon Valley economy also produces a panopticon of available information, which changes the lives of its workers and the communities in which they live. Those care practices also require a degree of self-disclosure and behavioral observation to be effective. If an employer wants its workers to be at “peak performance,” it needs to know how to promote that productivity year after year, and how to help its workers attain it for themselves.
Good omens I think
And fun conversations wait
For this lucky girl
A day spent in flight
A night spent deep in study
The hotel, muggy
Whispers and worries
Ladies stalk in high heels through
Air conditioned halls
Look! The Milky Way.
Careful, don’t turn your ankle.
A drink with new friends.
A future story
Like the ones we want to read
Someone must write it
I cannot overstate how much I loved this movie. While my ‘Arrival’ review sits in my drafts box struggling with profound revelations and weird grammar, this one was running through my head as the credits rolled.
Like nearly one in five adults in the U.S. Logan is providing unpaid care. Like 40% of those caregivers, he’s a guy struggling with the clash of macho culture with the drive to relieve the suffering of someone he loves. Like two-thirds of caregivers today, he’s working to support a household. And like 17% of caregivers today, his health is poor and getting worse. These are all 2015 numbers from the NAC/AARP report on Caregiving in the United States. The prevalence and impact of caregiving, and the number of folks like Professor X struggling with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, are all projected to rise steeply between now and the movie’s setting in 2029.
It has enough gore to earn its hard R rating. But there are moments of such truth and tenderness I cried, a lot. This is a movie for the coming decade.
You see, I am not the kind of futurist who thinks that indefinite life extension is desirable, let alone a good idea for society. I think that death is necessary, and that fear of death is natural. Grief is a compound emotion, the elements of which vary for each moment it’s experienced and each person who experiences it.
This may not be on your radar of urgent environmental issues in the current political climate. But our long-term future cannot be driven only by urgency. We have to act out of aspiration too. In the short term (0-20 years) that means fighting ridiculous vandals who cut down trees; prioritizing keeping trees alive during our long California drought (or your local climate calamity); and supporting local ordinances that protect old trees and forests. It means valuing their natural and economic benefits. In the long term (50-200 years) it means re-imagining human habitats such that trees can thrive alongside, above, below, and within them. I want my arcologies and mega-structures and futuristic dwellings on earth and in orbit to learn from and incorporate trees. Tall trees!
You may now drop the needle on this post’s eponymous sound track, “Tall Trees” by Crowded House.
Let’s start by looking at some actual tall trees for inspiration… Continue reading
But this was a really fun experience. I had one friend, one family member, and one colleague playing along. That helped. Here’s my favorite:
I’ve set the whole collection to public in this FB album. I enjoyed playing by the rules, starting and (with two exceptions due to travel) finishing each drawing on its assigned day. While early on my husband was critical of the idea (“real writers and artists practice every day, not one month a year”) he was quickly converted to the wisdom of giving working stiffs like me an opportunity to rediscover talents I had let lapse.
For me, Inktober revealed surprisingly large pockets of my day that were available to creativity. I had lost them to TV, video games, staring at the ceiling, and occasionally exercise. I’ve only finished four ink drawings in the month since then, but that’s still 4/month more that previously. I’m not waiting until next year to make art that I enjoy making.
It prompted me to explore nature photography, to look at abstract concepts more concretely, and to see what is actually there. In other words, it helped me “see with ever more perfect eyes in a world in which there is always more to perceive.”
What can you actually do personally with environmental big data as a private scientist? As a curious person?
Gary Wolf asked in his breakout co-hosted by Carlos Ouguin, of all of these kinds of big data that are available or will be available about our world, what’s meaningful for people like us (quantified selves)? How is the quantified world useful to the quantified self?
This is a post about the first QS Conference Continue reading
A teenager in yellow jeans shifted a little into a shadow of a dance step, furtively mimicking the handful of more exuberant men and women twirling and gesturing gracefully in the center of the clearing. A man in a suit sits on a bench, flipping through the music on his karaoke machine, filling the area between three large trees with a few bars at a time of music both grand and pop. The dancers are unconcerned, continuing their movements and tailoring them every minute or two to the new music.
This was just the beginning. This is what I came here, to Purple Bamboo Park, to see. This was my first day “off” in a week of interviews and facility tours across Beijing, two to three each day. Today I spent walking—over 8 miles all told—visiting places that people we interviewed mentioned as significant to their well-being. Time and again we heard that the “health dances in the park” were where someone got out to, socialized and exercised. So here I was, in this enormous park that is only the seventh largest in Beijing, looking for dance.
I had been wandering around for hours, watching joggers wind through the bamboo groves, parents and children and elders using the public cardio and self-massage equipment. I was actually on my way out, ready to give up, when I stumbled on this scene in a clearing, surrounded by benches and coat racks, with a few dancers and their audience.
A discordant blare broke the mad rhythm of the indecisive karaoke box.
There was another speaker on wheels in the clearing, louder, indicating they were ready to provide the music now. The style was older—chanting choirs and a vaguely military rhythm. The handful of pioneers dancing to the light of the setting sun became more synchronized in their movements. As they danced, a cluster of a dozen people approached the new music master with friendly greetings, then fanned out to join the dancing. (Adding more videos when I get around to editing them. I took a lot of video. Video is slow.)
As twilight set in I was now swaying on the edges of a sizable group of thirty or so people, arrayed roughly in a grid, stepping and swaying and gesturing in unison. Sometimes they would rearrange, and the men and women would trade-off in some pre-determined pattern. Another few dozen people were on the outskirts like me, swaying and stretching and bouncing in a more partial mode of participation. The ages now ranged from 16 to 60.
I noticed I could hear other music now. I skirted the group and wound my way to the next clear spot—a wide plaza by one of the park gates. There fifty or so women with bright red pom-poms and fans did their own choreographed thing. As I watched them someone set up another karaoke machine on the bench on the other side of the widening path from me, and before I knew it there were 3-4 couples doing competition-level ballroom dancing in suits and dresses, with a fast-gathering circle of fans. Just beyond them in the gathering gloom, over the heads of men clustered around dimly lit games of mahjong, was yet another dance area in a wooded courtyard, filled with several dozen couples swaying.
A gregarious autodidact approached me, eager to practice his English. He was in his mid fifties, all smiles over a gray Mao jacket. I asked him if this was a typical turnout for a Tuesday night in the park. He asserted that this was typical every night it didn’t rain—even in the winter people dance in coats. “The everyday people, you see, the workers, not the cadres, they can’t afford to go to fancy cinemas, things like that. This is real entertainment. And it’s free! Free for everyone. Every night.” (It’s amazing how just a few years variation in age between the cohorts in their 40s, 50s, and 60s makes all the difference in whether someone speaks the language of the cultural revolution with caution, irony, sincerity, or nostalgia. After a while the conversation turned to wages, housing, family, and the comparative necessities of a good life in the US and China.)
When I lived in China as a child, I dimly remember the early mornings in the park filled with people practicing tai chi in large groups; marching and dancing with my pre-school classmates in our yellow Transformers jumpsuits. And I’ve read Judith Farquar’s extensive and nuanced analyses of the park as a site of civic life, biopolitics, and embodied nationalism. But dim memories and scholarly imagining didn’t quite prepare me for the scale, the rigor, the total experience of hundreds of people gathering nightly to dance in public.
And in the back of my head, some distance away from my observe-describe [and participate just a little] ethnographer’s brain, I kept wondering,
“WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS BACK HOME?”
People dance a little at street fairs, at concerts, they pay to dance in clubs, in gyms. There are flash mobs and performance artists and the self-consciously alternative Burning Man frequenters. But why can’t teenagers and elders dance in any park, any time?
What would it take to get anybody to dance together as if nobody was looking, for free, in public, any night of the week?
Seriously. Any ideas?
Sometimes it just does take five months to get around to your New Years resolutions. I resolved back in January to write a post about my intent to write more. Ha! Truth is I’ve been in a survival mode over the last several months, desperately clinging to some semblance of work-life balance and chasing inspiration across one (or more) too many projects. But I am emboldened by the last few weeks, which were dominated by the beautiful words DONE and NO. I’ve traveled halfway around the world and back, gone from about 12 outstanding tasks to 5, and said “no” successfully no less than four times, which is some kind of record for me.
And, unlike previous bouts of emerging-from-under-the-rock syndrome, I feel like the words are more uncorked by my relative productivity than spent. I hope I can turn this into a new norm. Knocking on wood.
It’s a caddis fly larva.
According to Mr. Gordon Ramel at Earthlife.net,
The Trichoptera have been known to fishermen since they advent of fly-fishing and to the entomological for a longer time. Mouffet the author of the first English book on entomology (the ‘Theatrum Insectorum’) writes in 1658 of the great variety of ‘cados worms’ to be found in rivers and streams. The name possibly arises from the ancient name for a travelling cloth salesmen who pinned samples of their wares to their coat, they were known as ‘cadice men’ and it is possible the name ‘Caddis fly’ is a reference to the cases many Caddis-fly larvae build from bits of debris. The Latin name ‘Trichoptera’ comes from the Greek ‘Trichos’ = a hair and ‘Pteron’ = a wing, meaning hairy winged which is a good description of the adult or imago forms.
There are about 7 000 named species world-wide of which over 400 occur in Europe and about 190 in Britain. Fossil Caddis flies have been found as far back as the Cretaceous.
There are dozens of those species in California, but my best guess based on fish and wildlife maps is Diplectrona californica. This nerd’s curiosity is sated.
Sure, we talk about people all the time. Sometimes in “artifacts from the future,” there’s a hand holding some gadget. Some of us talk about embodiment as something important: embodied learning, embedded selves, etc. But that is different from looking at actual people. I’m not saying that people-centric futures don’t exist, but they’re more scarce than I would like.
Some time ago I embarked on a quest to figure out how to do human-centered futures work. This was before I started delving into anticipatory anthropology as an established whacky little sub-discipline stemming back to Bob Textor and Margaret Mead, thoughts on which will comprise a future post. In various ways, I’ve been trying to answer: how do you put people into futures thinking? This is the first post of a series in which I will take a stab at some answers.
For one, you involve everyday people—either as research informants, participants, and/or co-creators. The popular euphemism among some of my colleagues is “bottom-up futures,” ethnographic futures that take their insight and foresight from the details of people’s everyday lives in the present. This doesn’t mean that I, as a futurist, just regurgitate the future visions that people share with me. That’s interesting—I elicit them, especially if I’m using formal ethnographic futures research (EFR) techniques. That part’s like a backwards oral history.
But I also ask myself two primary questions: what will this person bring with them into the future, and what might they find when they get there? Continue reading
I just got a note in my email. My aunt is busy with her own appointment, and nobody had yet volunteered to pick my uncle up from the VA hospital tomorrow, after he recovers from surgery. Hey, it’s a Friday. I can take off a little early to pick him up, and get him to my cousin’s place over the hill. I respond to the email, volunteering. In a grocery store across town, my aunt’s phone chimes in her purse. On the tray attached to my uncle’s hospital bed, a digital picture frame brightens, and my little bobble head avatar floats forward and let’s him know he can expect me when it’s time for him to check out.
I could live with this future. A couple years ago, the same arrangement would have taken at least a dozen stressed-out calls between my aunt and my mom, my mom and me, me and my five cousins, me and my aunt, and finally me at the VA with my mom, trying to find my uncle’s room in the biggest dead-cell zone in the valley. At the end of the day, while everyone’s relieved when the surgery goes well, everyone has a headache.
This streamlined future of ambient, collaborative caregiving isn’t quite here yet, but today at IFTF we heard a fantastic talk from one of our neighbors, Emota.net. They’re bringing this future to life. They’ve coined their discipline “emotional networking, which complements existing telehealth solutions to address not just clinical health, but emotional and social aspects of elder care.” They’re building a platform that can operate across numerous devices, and facilitate the convergence of multiple communications media to bring different generations together.
The purpose is to distribute caregiving practices among a support network of family, friends and care professionals, while giving this network a tangible presence in a person’s everyday environment. It takes “ambient co-presence” to a functional extreme, creating a gentle convergence of email, updating services, and virtual worlds. Image that you’re hanging out on your grandma’s kitchen table, tossing her hearts and flowers on a break while she reads your status updates (if she’s so inclined). And she bobs around in an app on your desktop, or phone, or tablet. If she needs help, you’ll get a notice, or if she’s really sick, her nurse will get a notice. Otherwise, you’re just there: framed on the table with her other family, friends, caregivers.
This all sounded awfully familiar.
To eat a meal like this is to live like it’s worth never dying.
*quotation corrected, found the napkin on which I scribbled it.
And how. Diana recalled her father describing such exquisite meals thus, as we chomped our way through five courses over four and a half hours at Restaurant De Kas. They tried to give us a sixth, another round of delightful perenappelstroop-filled muffins, I think because my incessant picture-taking and absurdly detailed question-asking had given them the impression that I was some kind of Canadian food critic. Ha! No, kids, all of 20 people read my blog (and I love every one of you). But seriously, if you’re in Amsterdam and in the neighborhood of Frankendael Park and have a couple hundred euros to drop on the best meal you’ll have all year, go to Restaurant De Kas.
We arrived just at sunset, to discover that the storks on that huge chimney-thing in the park were in fact read, huge birds. We were still buzzing with appreciation of color, composition and emotion that are the requisite take-aways of the Van Gogh Museum.
We were also still giddy with freedom, leftover from our epic escape from Corporate Netherlands, ironically located in the bucolic Dutch countryside. But basically these culminated into bliss: sitting in a gigantic greenhouse lit by Chihuli-like jellyfish lamps and fireplaces was exactly where the cosmos meant us to be at that place and time. There’s a profound contentment that comes with that knowledge. It’s a taste that permeated the olives and crusty, not-to-be-triffled-with bread and the first few glasses of wine.
It’s almost impossible to worry about anything here in the lounge at the Heathrow Airport. Which is very good, since yesterday (the very long yesterday before the very short today) I was literally making myself sick with worry. I’m not even exactly sure what I was so worried about. Was it the presentation I’m giving Tuesday in a meeting room in at twelfth century castle? No, I think I’ve got that down. Was it the client? Okay I won’t go there. I don’t know. This place encourages me not to remember. It says, rest, and sometimes work, and generally pay attention to the more pleasant aspects of the insanity that is global business travel. Half my Sunday may be pawned until Thursday, but life is good.
“We have ever more perfect eyes in a world in which there is always more to see. See or die.”
—Teilhard de Chardin
At least, that was how I encountered it in an epigraph of a book I was reading.That’s actually a condensed, slight misquotation. The full line in context is much less pithy (according to my favorite modern translation):
“Seeing. One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing — if not ultimately, at least essentially. To be more is to be more united — and this sums up and is the very conclusion of the work to follow. But unity grows, and we will affirm this again, only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision. That is probably why the history of the living world can be reduced to the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes at the heart of a cosmos where it is always possible to discern more. Are not the perfection of an animal and the supremacy of the thinking being measured by the penetration and power of synthesis of their glance? To try to see more and to see better is not, therefore, just a fantasy, curiosity, or a luxury. See or perish. This is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.”
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber, p. 3
Yeah, I then tracked down the book and read it, in two translations. Occasionally I can go on a philosophy kick, it’s allowed. And that book is a trip, I recommend it. Some sections are knock-you-on-your-ass profound, while others let me understand why when I Googled the quotation I stumbled on a psychadelic hippy poster.
In this passage I get caught up in the encouragement, the humility, and the imperative. First, I take “seeing” as a shorthand for perception more generally. Perfection of perception here is I think both a scientific and a theological concept (Tielhard was both a Jesuit philosopher and a paleontologist). It’s accuracy, detail, scope, understanding, appreciation, and finally synthesis. But I take a page here from Thoreau’s distinction, “do not observe, behold”: perception includes awe and gratitude. In a scientific sense, perfection is accuracy and understanding; in a theological sense, perfection is a measure of closeness to God. This is a continuously ongoing process, elaborating “ever more perfect eyes.“ Our abilities improve and Teilhard asserts that this improvement is limitless. We will never reach that state of perfection but we will always, if we do not ignore or deny what we see, get closer to it. But, “there is always more to discern.” No model is perfect, no perspective truly whole. If we could achieve that we would not be “as gods,” we would be gods. And finally it’s not just for scholars and wankers and blathering in cafes, but a vital imperative. Blindness, denial, ignorance, unwillingness to improve are lethal luxuries.
As a species our only chance of survival is to perceive more, to think better, and to act on what we learn. And as individual people, that’s also our best shot.