Striking A Balance

This weekend I was in Seattle with a dear friend and we were discussing our life situations and that basically, neither one of us is entirely content with our respective situations.  There were various aspects that we discussed but one that we touched one that I am interested in is a balance of “input” vs. “output” as we phrased it.

I will skip the details of how we got to the discussion but, want to expand upon it some.  By input we were generally referencing the fact that, in our current situations, we read, a lot.  I personally have about 5 different books going right now and my friend probably has something similar.  We both take in a lot of information constantly in an effort to escape probably and to simply be learning in ways we do not get to do regularly during the week.  We end up with a problem though.

Namely, that problem is that we get lost in simply receiving information.  We get stuck in our own heads.  That ends up making us feel worse, possibly simply accepting the situation we are in without trying to affect change in it.

Then there are the “outputs” which, in essence, are creative activities which help us to end up with something at the end.  Mine is writing specifically, my friend is interested in writing more but does not do it as much.  Other things would be such as some other endeavors I want to pursue but have not yet along with goals for more physical pursuits of fitness etc. that we are both pursuing.

Another example would be the fact that both of us spent probably an hour in a book store trying to solve some of those puzzles that one can get as brain teasers the towers of Hanoi ring puzzle type.  Although these puzzles do end up leading to a “solution” I would argue that they are very poor outputs since they are not “creative” in the sense of being something original created by the person performing the puzzle.

One thing that both of us have fallen into though is being out of balance in these inputs and outputs.  We have a lot of input, insofar as we are constantly trying to find things to learn and be stimulated in somewhat fulfilling ways.  But, we do not have much in the form of friend networks or creative pursuits to have the outputs side.  As such, we end up not having a balance of learning and creating which leaves us feeling less empowered to make changes that we need to do for having more fulfilling lives.

Expanding on this idea: think about all of the entertainment we have now in the form of internet and TV specifically; what if part of our general discomfort comes from being out of balance in a similar way.  We end up watching a lot of TV, a lot of videos, reading a lot of articles but not everyone creates things after that.  What would happen if more individuals ended up creating more to balance out all of the things they are receiving from external sources?  Would it lead to more empowerment to engage with various parts of life?

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Reading Questions

I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, one of the more important political/economic treatises since World War II I think.  (It is certainly up there if not that high.)  In the book, Mr. Hayek is arguing against socialism of the era in the form of an entirely or mostly planned economy which he saw coming to power in England and already holding power in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia.

Essentially, planned economies take away individual liberty according to his argument.  I am not here to analyze that part though. Instead, what if we are going towards a planned economy regardless of our politics through something that Hayek may not have foreseen?  The new thing is technology and this advent of big data and wearable technology etc.  We are slowly gaining the ability to get data on practically every moment of our days.  I do not think that Hayek foresaw such an occurrence while writing and I wonder what he would have to say.

In short: are we building ourselves into a planned society without even intending it?

Regardless of what we do economically/politically, technology is becoming wearable, mobile and ubiquitous.  Ubiquitous technology generally tends towards ubiquitous data as can be seen with our “Big Data” issue coming up and as the smart city movement gains momentum towards measuring everything.

The problem with all of this is it is data from measurable things only, technology cannot make value judgments it can only take in what it is told to take in and focus on that information in whatever measurable way it is told.  There are severe limitations in that.  This ability to change values was one of the strengths of money, an individual could use their money in ways that aligned with their individual values (thanks, Hayek!),  instead of being limited to what was deemed “worthy” money could be used in multiple different ways by different individuals because the money earned did not already have a value judgment built into it and was not limited in measuring like data is when it is being gathered. Technology and data, instead can only focus on view things and generally that information is used to increase “efficiency.”  So, the information gathered, especially in reference to time, can generally be used to increase productivity but it becomes harder to use it in other ways.

So, in essence, technology measures productivity and nothing else.

The problem is, as humans, sometimes the lack of productivity is the most productive thing to do.  Meditation as a contemporary example, the day of rest as a biblical one, sleep as a fact of life one. Also, productivity, as we all know is NOT necessarily quality.  Producing millions of cheap plastic chairs may be producing “more” in a measurable way but it is not the same as a craftsman finding wood, carving it and putting it together into a rocking chair on their own.  Money helps us show that difference through the different price tags I believe.  But, our data, as compared to time, would still probably find it more “efficient” to produce the plastic chairs instead and that would lead to a higher profit margin.  I would argue that, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, these sorts of value judgments are going to end up happening without us necessarily realizing it.  Meaning we could end up with a planned society based on efficiency without ever actually intending it.  Especially as we slowly let our human ability to decide value languish thanks to those decisions being made outside of ourselves.

I simply wonder, what does Hayek have to say in response to this?

The Difference Between the Internet and a Walk

Earlier this week I brought up that apps are not necessarily the solution to every problem in our society.  I then went ahead and gave a description of two general types of society and which one apps and internet things are a part of, but I failed to go into a better explanation of why, so here is the beginning of that:

Let us look back at the idea of a vertical society, part of a vertical society is limiting the journey from point A to point B.  Cars, metro and if it was ever physically possible I guarantee it would be taken up–teleportation.  All of these things make it so that a person can go from one place (their home) to another place (their workplace on usual work days) with minimal time, effort and dealing with others.  Yes, one has to interact with others while driving or elbowing your way into the bus in the morning, but it is not the same as walking through a marketplace or walking through a park.  How often do you stop and enjoy the moment in any of these forms of transportation?  You listen to music or read a book probably on the bus, while driving you listen to the radio or focus on just not getting into a wreck, plus, mostly, you have a specific goal in mind and attempt to get to that goal in the shortest way possible.  The internet is just like this, only, you actually can teleport!

Think about it, one cannot go for a walk through the internet, there is no “public” space which one can explore and see what there is to see, you have to either be looking for something or know the actual end goal that you have.  You can end up in random places through say stumbleupon or something like that, but that is not randomly “strolling” through the internet.  That is a violent jumping all over to specific places, akin to being able to go from your room to the art museum, to the library, to the grocery store, to the police station and on and on without having to actually take a step.  This is how the internet and how I think computers work in general.

Computers are like this in a more complicated way and it becomes easier to approach computers through a different image, that of a conversation.  When you are having a great conversation with a friend of yours, stories are told, facts are shared among who knows what and you and your interlocutor randomly talk, no specific goal, just talk about whatever comes to mind and where ever you end up.  Computers, how I understand them, cannot handle this though, they cannot just go anywhere for no reason, there has to be a specific goal.  Solve this mathematical problem, execute this command, share this data and so on, a conversation between computers would be amazingly boring.  I imagine it would be like two people just sharing their current health status without anything else:

“I have a heart-rate currently of 60 beats per minute, my blood pressure is 120/80, current body temperature is 98.6 degrees Farenheit….” and the other responds with their information and then walk away and continue onto something else, preferably whatever their original end goal was.

Anyway, it appears that apps and computers and the internet is limited by this, the thing that I think we can begin to point at and say “this is part of being a human.”  It is as simple as taking a walk.  I use this in comparison to the teleportation through a city.  In going for a walk, you, as an individual have infinite possibilities every single moment on that walk.  You can continue to walk forward, you can turn left, right, make a 180 degree turn, a 90 degree turn, a 78.675 degree turn, you could literally stop and sit down, you can stop the enjoy the sun on your skin.  Transportation in a vertical society attempts to avoid this, there is no end goal in any of these things, they are simply being present in the moment (to use meditation language).  While going for a random walk through your neighborhood you have all of these options and more, you can also randomly see a friend of yours, a neighbor, an enemy, a person you’ve never seen before but decide at that moment you want to get to know better, you could see someone in need of help and give them that help, or not.  On this walk you also have the option of deciding you have somewhere to go, to a friend’s house, to the park, to get some groceries and you can immediately act upon that decision.  None of this is possible on computers or the internet.  Yes, you can change your mind but outside of canceling, you can only make the change after you have hit the end goal that you started off with.  It would be like if you decided to go to the library but half way there decided to stop at a cafe but you physically could get to that cafe until you have been to the library, or reset back at your starting point.  This is essentially what has to happen in apps and computers.  This is also the essential limitation of apps and computers and why they cannot be considered the best solution to every problem.

Hopefully this helps make something a little bit clearer.  If not, I hope it makes something more confusing and makes you stop and think some more.

There’s An App for That

So I just finished participating in an amazing leadership conference.  The name and other info I will not be sharing but, at the end of this conference the ten groups of students made pitches to three somewhat powerful people and these pitches were of ideas that would make our city better.  All of the ideas though were apps/websites or some combination thereof, which I find somewhat problematic.

Besides access problems, which people think can be solved by access to library computers and other public places with computers, the problem with apps, especially those to create a sense of community or connection, is that they do not actually work against the problem they are trying to solve.

What I mean is, we now live in what I will be calling a vertical society.  By a vertical society I mean a society in which public spaces are small and generally places to be avoided and as much as possible is cut off from public spaces as possible.  Think of all of the doors one has to pass through every single day, I know there are security and weather concerns too, but in a metaphorical sense, think of all of those doors.  Each one is open only to you and those who meet the same or similar requirements as you do.  I do not know for sure but say a library, is someone who is homeless allowed to actually step in without being herded out by security?  I am pretty sure this holds true for the university doors I step through every day.  The homeless individual does not meet the requirements of looking like a student or VIP and then gets shuffled out probably, back into the limited public space there is.  In short, in vertical cultures there is a clear line between private and public life and the various types of public life one can have.  Apps and websites do not actually fix this.  Instead, they operate within the confines of this type of society.

Apps and websites allows one to stay within their private life until they decide to go into a public place and meet with specific others to do something, in another policed, more private public space.  To put an image to it, one person lives on the 8th floor of an apartment building and is on their computer and gets in contact with a group of people who also live on various floors in various apartment buildings.  This group decides to get together to chat, so they go downstairs onto the street, the purely public space, meet at some pre-determined point and then proceed to a restaurant, cafe, bar, club, another apartment etc.  All of these are “public” yes but not purely public like the street is where one can bump into every single possible type of individual there is.  The only equivalent in a city might be a public park but that probably depends on the specific laws within the city.  Apps and websites are useful in this sort of situation in getting people to meet with each other and possibly form communities, but these non-spontaneous sorts of meetings are limited in various forms.

The first and probably most important is, it means one can avoid meeting people with different views from themselves.  Access to the internet has made everything customizable, including who you talk to, the main exception to that is family probably since you can avoid talking to you co-workers to an extent.  This customization though can cause problems I think, it allows for the extreme viewpoints who just screech at each other across the room instead of people being able to hold discussions.  This also weakens the sense of a need for public spaces which then allows stricter laws to be put into place thus weakening our rights of public assembly and putting marginalized groups into even harder situations.   I do not think apps and websites can actually fully solve this sort of a problem.  Instead, to deal with this will take a conscious decision by each individual and our society as a whole, to become a more horizontal society.

By horizontal society I do mean the opposite of a vertical society.  A horizontal society would have much less clearly defined private and public lives, have much larger and broader public spaces.  Life would be focused on the public life and lived mostly there, it would be like Ancient Greece I guess with the Agora.  Everyone and anyone can stroll around and end up there without being pushed out.  Things would happen spontaneously too, meetings, speeches, etc.  No, everyone would not sit in a circle and sing peace songs, but it be much harder for an individual to entirely customize their experience of their surroundings and friends.  You could actually end up speaking to someone you consider an enemy or opponent, in person, you would have to find some way to deal with the fact that they are another human standing in front of you.  It suddenly becomes a lot harder to act in some ways towards that opponent when you are forced to accept that they are a living, breathing human who also has a life I expect.

Apps and websites are great, do not get me wrong, I am not saying we need to step backwards technologically, I think we just need to be aware that technology is not the solution to everything, especially not human community.

Social Media and Rights to Association and Assembly

Is social media online actually one of the best ways to work towards weakening the right to association and/or assembly? Okay, okay, stop laughing, seriously.  It seems like maybe it can be.

I will call this right the right to association for short terms, but association and assembly are both involved in my concept.

Social media can certainly have its good aspects, not saying it is inherently evil, but something to consider.

So how would this work? First off, social media makes it so people can “associate” without ever actually getting together, it fundamentally seems to break up the usual concept of “coming together” or “associating.”  Which some people would say is wonderful: a person on one side of the world can virtually support another person they have never met on the opposite side, that certainly has some positive things to it, or so it seems.  But, there is still a fundamental importance to show up, to physically exist and represent yourself in situations.  There are limitations on how far online social media can go.  Limitations on how effective it is for getting people up and moving, reference that Kony 2012 video.  I cannot speak for everywhere but I do know that in my university this video hit like a storm and everyone watched it and the days immediately following everyone was planning on going out whatever night it was and painting the entire city in Kony 2012 stuff.  That day came around, nothing.  Absolutely nothing that I could find anyway. There are limitations to what some electric signals can and will do, supposedly the pen is mightier than the sword, but the sword cuts much deeper and faster.

So that is a short description on how “associating” becomes easier with social media but it thus weakens it.  This weakening can then continue in other ways.

A short reason for weakening the right to association is that social media relies a a very weak link: the internet mostly.  All it takes is a lack of electricity/signal and suddenly social media is gone. The instantaneous, constant connection is lost right then and there.  Those more secret or organic coming together to associate suddenly becomes much slower if not also harder.  Also, this means that those people across the globe will not as easily get information and thus will not be able to “like” or “share” your post to support you and associate with you.

The next few reasons: 1) social media and the internet can be controlled and what you see or read can be limited in various ways, even if the internet is currently un-legislated.  This lack of legislation can also lead to issues in that, 2) situations can arise where some forms of association are found out in some way and then stopped before they begin. There are even more problems that come to mind!

One last sprint of reasons: 3) people not physically showing up for something makes it infinitely easier to ignore the problems that are being discussed, 4) social media allows for incredibly stupid issues to come up as talking points and 5) if physical people are not going to go out to support a protest of some sort to protect rights to association more and more laws can be made to make it harder and harder to properly, physically associate.

1) Control of what is seen or read and limitations I think is fairly easy to understand so I will not go into it.

2) Hacking.

3) Again, the pen may be mightier than the sword, but a sharp tack on a seat makes a person stand up much faster.  Just saying, actual physical things are much more likely to get a reaction it seems.

4) that petition to deport Justin Bieber in the news.  I assume anyone who reads this knows why I consider this stupid.  It is also a waste of time and resources thus weakening responses and information on actual, important things.  Yes it is a right, but if a right is watered-down too much I think legal arguments could be made to weaken them and people will not necessarily fight against them since they are too busy worrying about the aforementioned petition.

5) This one is probably most important.  Along with rights to association, in my mind, comes civil disobedience.  These are two things that can work together to promote positive changes in a country that claims to be democratic.  Rights to association, in some ways require space.  Some forms of association require space in certain places, such as certain buildings.  Other forms though require the ability to associate outside of a certain place, specifically in a “public” space.  These are the more politically inclined groups that need or want to protest and publicly show support or disagreement for something politically or in a social context.

Say some group is organizing to show their disagreement with some random law in an unnamed government.  This group will need people to show up to get their demonstration to mean anything.  If everyone is just on social media though and supports the page in some virtual way yet no one actually is moved to show up the protest itself will just fall flat.  Again, people like to claim the pen is mightier, but a huge crowd of people is much more effective at creating action than any piece of paper.  Then, if less people are showing up to events such as this and just supporting programs through the internet, more laws can be made which make it harder for groups to come together and be heard.  These groups have to apply to be able to get together in a public place and then the law designates where they can get together, for how long and where to go, which has its own problems as has already happened.

Social media, as a force that makes it so that individuals can support things without actually physically showing up to show their support or performing actual actions in support of a cause or group can thus let laws strengthen and define association in more and more specific ways.  Which then can lead to a certain form of weakening this right to association.

Next I take issue with online shopping for similar reasons.