I like Chicago. No, that isn’t right. I love Chicago. Not only was it a place that I grew up but also a place that made me the person that I am today. For me it is the Billy Goat Tavern, The Burghoff, Rocky’s Fish House and many other haunts that no longer exit in the way that I knew them. Every so often I think about moving back to the Windy City and what it would be like to be back there. However, my thoughts are rooted in the city that I grew up in and not in the city that exists now. Unfortunately I am able to access this phantom city any time in my memory, no matter how far the reality may have moved on. This seems like the situation that many people are now finding with the internet, as search engines and algorithms that bring us the information that will reinforce our world view and keep us in that rut, unchallenged by different points of view and in some cases in a haze of fake news. We seem to find ourselves in funnels of yes men of information that no longer challenge our belief but instead reinforce them. Will we demand that this new media challenge us or will we take the blue pill and drift off on a missile of misinformation?
In an interview, musician Jeff Mills mentioned what he had been reading, which turned out to be Stephen Kerns, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. One of the brilliant things this book discusses, and there are many, is his detailing how the railroads forced the standardization of time. Before railroads came along, each city had its own version to time, a standard time of their own making yet as the need to predict the arrival and departure of goods and passengers. The idea of a standard time then came into play much to the relief of commerce and rail passengers. As our relationship with technology seems more and more singular, it poses the question if our technology will begin to allow us to move back to our own personal idea of time and our own personal time zone. As a standardization of time also allowed time clocks and timed work days to manage the industrial revolution, now our need seems to allow people to work on their own schedule. We no longer work in a 9-5 life but in flex time and on schedules that we create ourselves. Why does it seem so odd to think that we may find a time when we all have our own personal time. One could live in an understanding of time of their own making. Our devices could translate the time from person to person in the way we deal with time zones today allowing you to truly live in a time zone of ones own making.
A course in graduate school on Shakespeare and Opera introduced me to the idea of the fool, namely the one who everyone thinks has no knowledge but because of this can tell the King just how foolish they really are. No one expects wisdom from him so that he has the freedom to speak the wisdom that others fear. In thinking of the idea of the wise fool, I was reminded of a topic we have visited here before, the difference between knowing and understanding, the difference between knowledge and wisdom. With all the knowledge available at the touch of our fingertips, indeed, Google seems like a greyhound waiting to fetch whatever bit of information we need, we still seem to be a loss as to what to do with it all. We seem to need the wise fool to step up and remind us of what we don’t know. Because we can lock a rocket onto a location 4000 miles away and send it off with the push of a button, should we? Because I can say whatever comes to mind at any time and send it out into the universe forever, is that the right thing to do? In short, shouldn’t we take a moment to listen to the inner fool to remind us of what we don’t know and knowing that, think about what we should or shouldn’t do? Or else we may become like a sightless king, needing only to see better.
If our age could have a patron saint, I would like to nominate Captain Renault, Claude Rains character in Casablanca. In his famous scene, Claude Rains, playing the role of Captain Louis Renault, jokingly suggested that gambling in the local Rick’s Café nightclub astonished him. In truth, Renault is fully in the know, corrupt and on the take. This seems to be the role that the media and many politicians seem to want to play during this presidency. While the idea that a twenty-four-hour media would not create a twenty-four-hour news cycle may still be news to some, it seems as though we can’t imagine that a reality star in the presidency would use the media as a reality star would- a tool to promote themselves and their brand. With the creation of a 24-hour news media, why should we be shocked when someone tweets at 5 in the morning? We have created a media wave yet ridicule people who surf it. (Please understand- I am speaking of the use of the media- not the content) I am reminded of the film “Frost/Nixon” Where David Frost, on hearing Nixon resigned was angered not by the act but that he had done it in the morning in the East coast while the major media on the west coast was still asleep and could not cover the event live. How could he pull off the greatest media stunt of his time while much of the country was not awake to see it? Frost knew the power of media and knew how to use it to his own advantage. Now we have the children of the media using these tools in their own playground. If the brand is what we value, why not use all the tools to increase its worth, I mean, you go to the zoo- expect to see the monkeys.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what year it was, but one new years day I woke about 2 in the afternoon realizing that someone had been using my head as a gong and had knitted tiny booties for each of my teeth. The only reason that I woke up is that somewhere someone had turned on some music to greet the new year, playing the Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds”. Those unfamiliar with the song should know the refrain goes, “Don’t worry about a thing because every little thing is going to be alright” While that was small solace to me at that moment, it seemed to sink into my memory and become a touchstone for the entire year, an island of hope which I often returned to. Listening to the news in the past few days reminded me of that song summoning me from a stupor and giving me hope. These days it seems like newscasters seem to be falling over themselves to tell us how the world is coming to an end. Not that there are not serious things going on in the world, it seems that each new media brings with it a new form of creative destruction. While the printing press brought the newly printed bible to the masses, it also created the Reformation; television brought the world into our homes allowing us to see racial segregation, carpet bombing and a Viet Cong officer during the Tet Offensive as well as Bernstein s Omnibus and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those of us who remember our philosophy classes in college and Hegel may remember the dialectic, how each thing creates its opposite or what Taoist philosophers call Self-Manifestation through Contraries. While this process can be destructive, perhaps the only way to face this disruptive innovation is to think of the hopeful words of Bob Marley or these days a better choice may be the coping suggestion here from Bette Middler. Perhaps if we don’t face the music and dance, at least we can laugh.
Please take a moment to listen….
Having been one of those people who wonder why there are 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day, I found a lot of answers in Daniel Boorstin’s, The Discoverers. The question to me has been why not find a Base 10 or denary system based on a decimal system with integer divided by 10’s; a sort of metric system for time. It seems that there are other people have had the same idea. The other day I was surprised to see that Facebook had invented an new measure of time called the flick. Basically, it allows one to divide units of time that break down into round numbers, for example, 1/24th of a second, for instance, is 29,400,000 flicks. 1/120th is 5,880,000 flicks. 1/44,100th is 16,000 flicks. While this is a great boost to those who work with fractions of seconds in film and computing I find it brilliant that we are still able to look at our world with fresh eyes and see things in a new way. Time is a human construct as is much of our life and what we have created we have the ability to re-create and re-define. We need only remember that we have the power. We can see wonderful new realities only if we look for them.
While largely about training horses, Allan Hamilton’s “Lead with your Heart” had some startling ideas about how we relate to new technology and the internet. It seems that in Hamilton’s mind, horse’s behavior is related to the fact that, in the wild, they are essentially prey. While a horse could easily trample us, it has over thousands of years seen itself as an animal of prey. Our approach to the horse must be as one who is non-threatening, moving in slowly and respecting the space of the animal, learning how to gently show our dominance of the animal with the respect it deserves. The thought that our behavior is, in a way, determined if we are predators or prey seems to have affected how we see ourselves on the internet and in social media. We frequently speak of internet predators that prey on children or the unsuspecting, uninitiated and yet, even knowing this, we seem unable to be aware and change our behavior. Each day brings more news of cyber-attack to businesses, but instead of taking action, many hide the problem and try to cover up the issue. In the wild, humans have the rare place of being both prey and predator. We can be killed and eaten as much as we can fight for survival. Somehow in the electronic frontier, we have dropped this ability to fight back, to realize that we are not babes in the woods but noble animals who deserve to be approached with respect.