Epic Narratives

We should start trying to bring epic narratives back.  They seem to have gone to the way-side because of all of the issues inherent in them. Yes, there are a lot of problems that came with our old epic historical narratives but just tearing them apart does very little. Instead, I think we need to try to re-write them for U.S. society. 

By epic narratives, I mean the huge historical narratives, there is a small book trying to do that now called “The Jungle Grows Back” in which it builds a historical narrative for U.S. international relations; how it is important, how it is changed and how that affects the world.   One Russian geopolitical writer is doing the same thing.  I would argue that we need one for society as a whole, some sort of narrative everyone can believe in can lead to poverty being considered “the moral equivalent of war” as so many people would like it to be. 

That sort of narrative would be able to re-bind the U.S., I suspect that sort of narrative is what some Trump supporters were looking for and there is not an equivalent elsewhere besides a narrative of “we are not Trump!” or some other equivalent. The problem is one cannot build a narrative through absence, narratives have to be positive creations.

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Technology, Population and the Mind/Body Problem

Those with computer and technology access are the mind and those without are body.  Technology continues to grow while ignoring the body and cutting down action in favor of continued technological growth whenever possible.

That basically sums up an issue that seems to sort-of exist. Everyone wants to focus on technology and how it is the greatest thing ever; how communication technology has advanced so far and improved so many people’s lives and can fix so many things. The problem is digital only can go so far.

Technology cannot truly solve real problems I think but, our focus on it, is simply a continuation of our Mind/Body problem. By mind/body problem I generally mean the idea of the split between the human mind and it’s body and a sense that those two can be clearly delineated and treated as two things. Computers and digital technology (and the focus on it) can be seen as a continuation of this problem not a solution to it.

Computers (screens overall) are entirely mind, people get sucked into them and do not even necessarily feel the physical feeling of sitting in the chair, typing on the keyboard, or whatever it is they are doing just being so mentally entranced by the computer and it’s screen. This is not inherently a bad thing at all times but, if one is to simply sit all day and never focus on how their body feels or any physical sensation, I assume it would be an issue. Luckily we, as humans, cannot fully escape our physical existence.

That physical existence means being analog at least minimally, we have yet to figure out how to get nutrition out of bits, nor have we figured out how to move items we want or need via computers. Just take a look at amazon sales and shipping services for proof of that. The problem is, most of the time, it seems that this fact is forgotten when discussing how technology will solve all problems.

For one example, a basic “solution” to U.S. rural development seems to be becoming high-speed internet access. While it is truly mind-boggling that the U.S. does not have 100% high-speed internet coverage at this point, that solution ignores some of the more important and larger issues in the rural U.S. people in rural areas do not necessarily need high speed internet. What is needed is access to healthy food, the ability to physically move to get to work, physical work to do. High-speed internet will make it possible for rural Americans to potentially get in on the call-center business but who considers that a serious growth opportunity? Also, how is an American start-up in something like that going to possibly compete with places like India in that sort of sector?

The logistics of geography is one of the primary issues of rural Americans not necessarily access to technology but most people are so enamored with that same technology they do not seem to quite understand that there may be other, slightly more important, issues to sustaining life.

Just thinking, maybe we need to quit thinking about technology and digital literacy so much and consider physical literacy, analog logistics and people actually living to solve some problems.

Internet Weakening Responsibility

Is the internet responsible for lack of responsibility?  It allows companies to force consumers to do more of the grunt work/paperwork and then come to them for services instead of simply coming to the company.

What if that has changed out society works, unintentionally?  What if, on some level, with companies trying to push responsibility down to customers, their lower-level employees and “others” (contractors, other companies, etc.), individuals have picked up that sort of idea and start performing similar actions in their own lives.  It is far fetched but, instead of simply blaming people for focusing on their screens instead of off of them, what if it is a larger sort of pattern that is being seen with those practices?

Maybe it is not the screen time in-and-of-itself (only that as a problem anyway) but, the technology allowing companies to push responsibility down the ladder and then out of their own buildings onto individuals.  The individuals then, seeing this, have to spend more time doing some of this basic grunt work that companies have shunted and attempt to slough off their own responsibilities and work in a similar way.

Internet Surveys

Why are voluntary, internet-based, surveys considered legitimate data? Especially when they are short surveys on top of that. It seems like the quality of data is not questioned in these situations so long as the population is statistically significant and “representative.”

I propose that internet surveys cannot actually be assumed to be representative regardless of the number of participants especially when it is a voluntary survey people are supposed to do on their own time.

The easy problem to point at is: what about those individuals without internet access for whatever reason, or limited access? That group is immediately barred from participation. How can a survey be representative if, by it’s very nature, it limits who has access?

Next, what about those individuals who happen to have more than one job meaning limited free time to do things such as fill out opinion surveys? Did you ever notice how the people who have two jobs to make ends meet also tend to have jobs that are not computer and office based? Think about that, sure there are people who do side hustles etc. But, those individuals who have to work at some sort of plant or factory then roll into a job at Wal-Mart to somehow get benefits and pay, that group doesn’t necessarily have the free time at home or at work to do things like filling out online surveys. (Or check their emails which companies like to give their employees anyway.)

Finally, for now, how about all those not noteworthy moments that individuals have which doesn’t inspire enough emotion to get someone to fill out the survey? Those moments aren’t necessarily bad or good but neutral or slightly positive, those data points are probably hardly ever recorded when it is these boring moments built up over time which truly make a difference.

New Citizenship

What if citizenship was not based on geographic birth but on who pays AND participates?

Meaning, instead of gaining citizenship simply from where you are born, how about defining a citizen as any person, on the planet, who pays taxes to a country and then proceeds to actually participate in the government in whatever means possible (a minimum of actually voting).

I suspect that this would drastically change how different countries are “populated” insofar as, this would lead to potentially more people from outside of physical borders becoming citizens of other countries.  Which, at the beginning, would certainly feel chaotic.

But, I think that having these minimums required for full citizenship would actually promote a more engaged citizenry insofar as, without citizenship those people would not be able to access other benefits of citizenship.  There would of course have to be a way to make sure those people who are not citizens are not trampled upon and, most likely, this would never work.   It is a nice idea to think about though, a fully engaged and active citizenry taking it’s responsibilities as seriously as it does it’s rights.

More Physical Life

I have been substitute teaching for a physical education class in a grade school the last couple of days. It has been an amazing learning experience of how physically incapacitated children are in the United States.

This is a very small subset technically but, with what else I’ve read I can only assume that this must be somewhat usual across p.e. classes now: these grade and middle school students cannot even bend over to touch their toes!

Part of my notes had the students doing some push-ups and for the classes we had to stop to have a quick lesson in proper technique, I then asked them to just do a bodyweight squat and none of them could do it with their feet flat on the ground or their knees not caving in. In fact, some students didn’t quite comprehend that a squat requires bending their knees at all.

Now, this is not to ridicule these students, this is to point out a fundamental flaw in how we view physicality now. As humans, we are not even getting our children how to move in remotely proper ways, instead they all claim aches, pains and tightness like they are 80 year olds and think that I am super human because I can get my butt below my knees.

This has already been covered by many I am sure but, we definitely need to reevaluate our relationship with physical activity, if only for the health and wellness of the next generation. I am sure, especially in the case of boys, physical exploration would help with all sorts of mental health problems (ADD/ADHD, I’m looking at you) and physical health.

Another example of needing simply more physical lifestyles comes from a recent safety training that I had to sit through.  The training was on “heat illnesses”: heat-strokes, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, etc.  I have to admit that heat-strokes are a serious issue just like hypothermia but, “heat cramps” and exhaustion are not. Those are simply signs of discomfort, something that people desperately fear but physical work makes constant.  In this training, acclimatization is brought up for heat saying that an individual needs at least 2 hours per day of heat exposure for 5 days in order to be “acclimatized” to a hot environment.  Did those safety people check how weather patterns work?  Sure, going from winter in Antarctica to mid-day in the Sahara would be a violent shift that could be problematic but a) who actually does that? and b) the less extreme differences happen with the weather, our bodies are built to be able to handle that sort of stress.

What if, we actually had physical work to do again?  How would that solve our health problems, fix our movement, and solve a bunch of other random illnesses and issues that seem to suddenly exist now?

Active and Passive Media

How about splitting media types up by their activity. Activity being the sense of “mental activity.” Mental activity is of course incredibly complicated and probably well beyond my expertise (or lack thereof) but, I will do it anyway because I can.

What I mean by mental activity is some sort of mental effort having to be put forth in the sense that the media doesn’t simply “invade” the senses. This is more of a spectrum, not hard divisions but, I suspect media types lend themselves more towards one end of the spectrum or the other.

The easiest pair for me to point at is TV and reading on physical pages. I will be using these as the Pinnacle/extreme ends of the spectrum. TV I consider one of the main examples of passive media whereas reading a physical page is the most active.

I consider TV passive because of the fact that essentially, one immobilizes themself and then just receives the data (images and audio primarily).  One does not have to engage with that data, just receive it.  Of course, one has the option to engage with the material and analyze it but it is not required; not to mention, let us be honest, a majority of the media taken in on TV does not require analysis of that sort.

Reading, specifically, from a  physical page, is one of the more active mediums because, although one immobilizes themselves again (like all media that isn’t purely audio), they actually have to hold onto the material and move it around to an extent and mentally take in the text.  One cannot “read” something without at least deciding to do the reading.  I have yet to figure out how to “turn on” a physical book and just let it run, if there is a skill there that I failed to learn that others know it makes this point moot. (Or, if someone can multi-task while actually reading because I certainly cannot.)

Entirely useless aside, skip to stay on track:

A strange parallel to this comes from all that research on sitting and how it is dangerous.  Although it is probably overblown to an extent, some of the movement systems I am interested in talk about sitting/squatting often.  The sitting they refer to is just sitting on the floor and squatting as a resting position.  Both of those are actually much more “active” than sitting in a chair.  Sitting upright on the floor or squatting down, although a resting position, requires muscle engagement to maintain balance or not simply flop down into a laying position.  Sitting in a normal chair, although not a requirement, lends itself to “passive” sitting, just laying back and letting the chair do all of the work of keeping oneself upright.  It is certainly work well for me right now as I type this. Active sitting vs passive sitting, a new way to get healthier?

Anyway, active/passive media.  TV would be at the passive end, photos would be slightly more center, audio further towards active and then reading would be the most “active.”  Generally.  This spectrum is of course not set in stone and one can be active while watching TV and fairly passive in reading a relatively simple/easy book.

This separation is not particularly interesting in and of itself but, what if this difference leads to a different sort of mind-set?  By this I mean, something like the idea of “you are what you eat” and habits, if someone watches a lot of TV and habitually tends towards the passive sort of viewing, what sort of habit does this cultivate?   It would seem that it cultivates a passive type of habit which then could bleed into the rest of their life and lead to becoming a more passive person overall.  I sometimes wonder if that passivity is becoming more pronounced as more people spend more time watching TV passively and sitting passively.