technology

Getting the blues

I’m sensing a relationship might be about to end. It’s been 8 years since taking the plunge and sharing so much personal information. I don’t know why we clicked but it just seemed the right thing to do. But I’m no longer sure this is working there are no red flags, well, the odd one or two from time to time but mainly blue. So Facebook, I might be about done with you.

Perhaps I am part of an invisible group of social media users who are caught between worlds. Kind of like an amphibian, cumbersome on the land and a bit awkward in the water but basically not fully adapted to either environment. So I’m curious about my own responses to a frustrating sense of dis-location. I wonder if I might be a digital introvert. It’s not for a lack of competence or even curiosity but someone my social net-working has very few threads. Fishing for connections in 8 years has seen most past through the holes. Indeed, as I write this I wonder if any more than a handful of people will even read it! How ironic.

There are many people who seem more extroverted and willing to say and do things in the digital world; leading to a sense of double lives, introverts in the real world and extroverts online. My generation went through High School and University without social media, so if we are finding friends we look back and wondering where people ended up. So I suppose in 8 years having had less than a dozen friend requests I’ve realised just how much of fringe dweller I have been. I’ve tried not to take it personally but perhaps it is a bit indicative of some the phases of my life. I probably wasn’t all that fun to be around at times.

This isn’t a poor me story though, that would suggest my ego was craving some sort of recognition yet I cannot deny my disappointment that I just don’t get that many red flags on my page. I’d rather people want to be my friend because they like who I am in the real world or know something about me as a person. Maybe that is where my adaptations reveal their flaws. People are relating to concepts of friendship and intimacy differently and I am flailing.

Time to grow some wings perhaps and fly above it and feel the world with the most amazing technology – the body, or the joy and rush of ideas and imagination with my face in a book. Thumbs up to that.

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Digital divide multiplied

There are times when I feel really out of touch with the pace of change in regard to technology. I can navigate my way around yet I still sense I am an imposter with a stick on moustache and bad wig. My relationship to all things digital is still as something external to me personally that operates more like a vehicle to get somewhere or access and communicate with others.

But things have moved well beyond passive receiving of data. The screen is no longer one way and identity as we have come to know and understand it is also rapidly shifting in multiple dimensions. The boarders and boundaries of self, other and even the notion of human bodies and connectivity have radically changed. There is a sense of disorientation exacerbated by the wide steep chasm of intergenerational dissonance of experience. Perhaps the rush of fluidity is carving out new spaces in the otherwise assumed bedrock of certain stable and uncontested taken for granted truths. Simple needs and common desires are swept into swirling complexity. This is something I am more aware of and where my hesitation is sitting at the moment is the vulnerability of children and young people forging a sense of themselves in these times.

Perhaps what is not different is the role of supportive adults – even if we ourselves have not been through it in the same ways. This will be the challenge for my generation as my folks talk about the first ever TV and I remember getting online for the first time at university and getting my first brick cell phone in my late 20’s I feel woefully inadequate at times to know what to do. So I’ve accepted my position as awkwardly old school trying to be onto it 40 something year old and decided my naive curiosity is in fact an asset. That I can ask questions from a place of genuine not knowing, suspends judgement of meaning allowing for young people to explore their own understanding of the journey they are on.

Tears and upset speak for themselves, as do smiles and laughter and that is definitely a timeless universal language.

A Plutonic Relationship

It has taken nearly 10 years for the New Horizons to reach Pluto. Radio signals take four and a half hours to get back, nothing new if you’re used to trying to get a response from a call centre. Pluto represents a threshold of sorts. Probes are the new ships of discovery at the mercy of Newtons laws and the winds of political and scientific change. Billions of kilometres travelled and yet not even a stones throw from our door step. On the same day another group of physicist discovered a new quantum particle, a pentaquark. Pluto or particle these are moments of wonder to expand our still limited and sheltered understanding of reality. But as we look outward and beyond or inward I can’t discern the difference. I feel simultaneously a drop of water in the ocean and the ocean. However above all else seeing other planets that have no life as we know it living on them reminds me of how absolutely insane the human race is. Our relationship with the world we inhabit is nothing short of psychopathic. We are not custodians but criminals at best. There is only one thing driving the ecosystem to the brink and it is us. If there was a lonely planet guide for the earth it might read something like:

“The jewel of this system with liquid water and amazing biodiversity. However it is currently experiencing a human plague so best to give a wide berth as they are hostile and paranoid with egos and childlike needs for power. Their selfishness and fear is matched only by their untapped creativity and love. The level of contamination and destruction of life this one species has created in the name of what they call progress suggests they will either destroy themselves along with this wonderful one of a kind world or die trying. Explore the rich ocean life while you can. Remember they believe they are the only intelligent life to have ever existed so best to go incognito. If you intend to stay for a while masquerading as a scientist is easy just do not tell them they are wrong about anything and best not to leave anything behind they could blow themselves up with, they discovered nuclear power and still haven’t learnt their lesson. The best example of a human disguise is going by the name Steven Hawking, however the physiology did not merge so well in the end. Finally you will need to get used to the concept of money. Again, do not try and convince them do not need it to survive”.

Thanks science for the amazing pictures but what really needs a good probe is us.

Pools apart

Inside a building two pools side by side separated by glass. But looking is not the same as seeing. There is a sense of separation and a dissolution of barriers. It is a beautiful contradiction hidden to most but the curving corners of my mouth betray the fluid intensity before me and the surge of joy and appreciation at witnessing so many bodies in various states of motion and becoming.

Young bodies expand and explore the depths of movement with eagerness and energy while larger bodies next door also move with purpose and focus. Technique and a desire to improve and become a better swimmer the shared experience. Feedback from coaches refining the co-ordination of limbs in various combinations, careful additions, subtractions correcting strokes of a body with spokes. Goggles on, prosthetics off and time running the same for everyone. Standing in the shallow water those beginning to appreciate and assemble the skills to move through this alien medium peer through to the other side with a mix of awe and respect. No, it is ‘not over their heads’, they know intuitively the work and effort that is perhaps the only thing that might represent a distinction between them. Perhaps from the others side, there is an awareness, a sense of the mirror and recognising the journey taken. The simple act of a smile, a wave crossing time and space to reach through illusions of separation rendering a fluidity of now and exacting a perfect moment of immanence.

Like superheroes without capes casting aside previous limits and rescuing role model images from the clutches of neurotic gendered stereotypes that prevail through more traditional sports. Not a body hair in sight yet no masculinity was in question or of concern to these guys in tight fitting body wear. Women as broad and powerful with their physicality and proudly sporting body art displaying achievements. But none were immune to goggle eyes and cap hair. These finely tuned biological machines and machines within machines, metallic eyes and cybernetic limbs assembled together as aquatic mammals.

A place where butterflies exist without a chrysalis. Although there might just be a hint of caterpillar at times.

[Written after watching the New Zealand Open Swimming Champs from the confines of the learn to swim pool next door – best free sports viewing ever, although it is rather steamy and hot…the air temperature!]

Spectuality

Sex…sexuality, one only has to say the word out loud in a room at a party to know how loaded it is, feel the eyes turn in your direction with a mix of curiosity, intrigue, fear, interest, disgust or suspicion. Perhaps it depends on the kind of party you’re at. Anyway, we like to think our words simply describe our reality they do so much more. Sexuality it is not free human experience it is a captured beast – fenced in linguistically and through various systems such as biology, religion and perhaps one of the more unfortunate containment fields – psychoanalysis.

I’m reading a lot of work by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at the moment (obvious if you read my last post). They have a lot to say and a unique way of saying it, about the limits of psychoanalysis, especially the work of Freud. Without beating about the bush too much it’s a theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century about the role of the unconscious and in particular the development of sexuality giving western society most of its taken for granted (paranoia) notions of sexual behaviour. I mean really – why are we stuck with concepts developed by a guy who really was obsessed with the role a certain organ while studying people in asylums? In Psychoanalysis everything about human development and human sexuality is defined on whether you have the phallus or ‘lack one’ (female), this more or less fits with the misogynistic ideas around women at the time but we could move on. In the 21st Century, there might be additional words to add to the collection of definitions but as yet the basic assumptions about human sexuality referenced and coded by reproduction (heterosexuality by default), the couple as the central healthy representation of adult sexuality, and bodies must be distinct units with all parts functioning ‘normally’. Desire is also framed as a lack – this needs to go. It simply perpetuates a state of searching for wholeness.

Breaking free requires a radical recoding to break through these well constructed containers. Most people believe in them so strongly that they will fight to maintain them in order to ensure their own security. But I’d like to see them rupture and I have an idea it could come via technology – but not as we know it. What I think needs to happen is a redefinition, a move to ‘spec-tuality’. If bodies were seen more as a set of specifications ‘specs’ like you would with any other machine such as a bike (yeah, sorry had to get that in there) or a computer or other system then the question could become ‘what specs are you running?’ – see it’s way cooler already. We seem really comfortable talking about hardware and software, plug ins, apps, add ons and upgrades with technology. People expect change and try things in combinations without too much angst – ok so there might be some apple vrs the rest of the world kind of thing going on, but there is no electronic bible saying an ipod for and ipod perhaps I am a bit of a pan(asonic)theist.

Human Spec-tuality would enable any combination of intimacy to form without the need to then hold that as the only combination they may experience for the rest of their lives for fear of damaging the brand. There would be no closet – it would have nothing to contain or hide. Specs can change but that does not mean something is missing necessarily or will reduce the functionality of the assemblage of intensity of desire and how that can be experienced.

So whoever is hooking up whether they are bringing the hardware, software or both all that should really matter is the quality of the connection. If it’s any good you should be in the cloud.

A Probing Question

So a washing machine sized probe lands on a rock after travelling for 10 years only to hide in the shadows with it’s legs serving little purpose yet still functioning and performing its job. Well there you go…in space what is the point of legs? In fact I suggest all astronauts of the future actually get used to the idea of not walking. For that matter, why would your functioning bi-pedally in earth gravity be relevant to working in space? Surely having unnecessary limbs like legs could be a hindrance? They certainly look like awkward appendages flopping around in zero G.

But back to our wee probe Philae. We like our wee robots and probes so long as they stay under human control. Send it commands, it does its thing and it takes pretty pictures, drills holes, takes samples, wanders around (if it’s on Mars), but ultimately it is responding to human commands. Artificial intelligence has yet to feature in our space exploration and here is why I think it never should or could.
Imagine if Rosetta and Philae were like Hal from 2001 – but perhaps a little less paranoid. They get shot off into space for 10 years away from their other AI mates on earth, just the two of them. You’d better hope they like each other’s company. And what if they decide ‘naaaa why are we chasing a comet? Lets bail and catch up with that numpty Cassini see if it wants to take some selfies in front of Titan’. So I say keep with the low tech – it’s safer for other planets and space users in general.

And back to the issue of gravity. Really that is the only force regulating our need to walk upright – or semi upright. Functionality and the definition of mobility absolutely depends on gravity and friction. But overcome gravity and you have no need to worry about friction. Therefore AI would best be put aside for creating simple and effective anti-gravity devices to levitate the playing field of mobility here on earth.

The next big thing to get off the earth is the James Webb telescope in 2018. It will take 30 days to get into an L2 orbit…over a million miles from earth. It will be 7 and a half times bigger than hubble and look over 4.3 billion years into the ‘Universe’….that is some serious naval gazing. If it was going to have a voice I’d hope it would be slightly hippy sounding ‘like faarrr out man…I just saw the most amazing quasar dude…check it out’ … much nicer than the creepy neurotic ‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that’ but it will just send back pretty pictures without any commentary which perhaps is kind of sad after all.
Maybe they could program it with some David Attenborough voice overs as images come in ‘and here we see the wild gases of the nebula condensing and finally igniting to give birth…to a star.’

…actually it’s a good thing in space no-one can hear you scream.

(don’t) Build It And They (won’t) Come

In Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner is haunted by the ghosts of Baseball players who urge him, via a rather persistent whispering of ‘if you build it, he will come’ to create a baseball diamond in his corn field. Far from being locked up for having schizophrenia or some other mental illness, Costner’s character trusts the voices and builds the diamond and is rewarded with the sound of white ash on cork and leather. I’m not sure about the afterlife but it appears ball players just want to keep playing and why not! It’s a great example of creating accessibility through simple modifications to space.

Accessibility is generally associated with disability but I think we’ve constructed a bit of an apparition of sorts by assuming the individual who is not functioning in a bipedal manner defines the ‘problem’. I mean steps ruined the plans of the Daleks from Dr Who originally when they were restricted to the mechanics of wheels. For a time travelling, disembodied, biomechanical species they didn’t need sympathy or charity or empathy they needed better technology. And unfortunately for the human race they got it. Science fiction aside, technology has the potential to level the playing field and redraw the boundaries of understanding around functional diversity, which I feel is long overdue.

This was highlighted to me recently when I was part of a conversation that included a somewhat nervous observation from a colleague about the number of ramps being built. If it’s possible to sprain the occipito-frontalis muscles that raise your eyebrows then mine were definitely in that category. I have no doubt there was no intention to be functionphobic but as I searched for a response it dawned on me the complex meanings and ideas we hold about disabilities and response-ability particularly in education. My question was simple ‘what do you mean by that’? And then there was a very awkward pause. So I asked with genuine curiosity ‘are you concerned that ramps could mean more needs and resources?’ I wanted to shift the reference away from a personal lack or deficit so I nonchalantly threw in ‘I think of it as simply accommodating a different form of transport and this doesn’t necessarily mean they will require extra support in class’. I also had to state that students had a right to attend their local school which might seem logical but the hidden reality for many years in New Zealand has been a form a legitimate exclusion based on the inability to access buildings (even though it is illegal to do so), or as I call it – ‘the Dalek effect’.

But why the panic around more wheel chairs at school? Unseriously then, yes more young people in chairs could create all sorts of wild crazy ideas amongst commonly functioning youth. They might all want to come to school in chairs, we would need a rule about that then, or skaters and other students will want to ride around school, we would need a rule about that, or outbreaks of chair racing might endanger other students, we would need a speed limit on that, and what about not standing when the principal walks onto the stage! Well I’m not sure about you but I can see the conundrum so it probably makes sense to not build ramps so they won’t come.

We have come a long way and some travel that path on wheels and might suggest that even though their road is less travelled the destination is equally important. It really is time we ramped things up around notions of accessibility and got over our collective general anxiety around functional diversity. Kiwis ought to remember part of our national identity is sporting success and how often do we do well in wheel based sports or ones where we sit down.

Yes for me it is not Field Of Dreams but dreams of wheels.