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On Being

Recently, I have become to notice a difference in verbiage in how we relate to ourselves. We seem to be referring to ourselves as humans and not so much as human beings. While most may simply think of this as a grammatical trifle, it seems to hold a deeper and more disturbing meaning. The omitted word “being” is telling. We seem to be disregarding the fact that we exist in time and space, that we are not just hollow space holders. As Howard Beale in “Network” proclaims, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!” yet our words betray a slippery slope. We will trade our being for an undisturbed solitude, We will trade a panorama for a panoramic setting on our cell phone camera. We are sated watching a live event in front of us through the friendly confines of our mobile phone screen. Instead of experiencing a moment in time we step back from reality into a loop of prepackaged pre-approved pablum. Of course, it is easier to be lulled to sleep than to be roused to action, indeed many would exchange many civil liberties just to be left alone.
What to do, perhaps the next best step is not to get mad but to stop and embrace the gift of the present.

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Still in Show-Business

There is an old joke about the performer in the circus who as he gets older keeps falling farther and farther down in the billing. A friend who he hasn’t seen in years sees him cleaning up the elephant dung and asks, “what happened, you were a big star! when the old performer replies, “ Yes but I’m still in show-business!” This punchline came to mind when I read in the BBC that professors at medical schools are finding that their surgery students are losing the dexterity to stitch patients. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says young people have so little experience of craft skills that they struggle with anything practical. It seems that the simple skills that used to be common to us all, cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument are no longer common in today’s young people. While we may be learning skills to help us swipe through screens of pixels, we may no longer be getting the training to live in the real world.
Post-apocalyptic television shows, like the Walking Dead and  and movies such as World War Z create a fantasy where we test our survival skills by pitting us against zombies, over the top creatures or even other people in a world removed from the modern conveniences. Yet perhaps we don’t really need the zombies to bring us to our knees, we seem to be doing that for ourselves by losing even the most simple skills we need for survival. While its pretty to think we can navigate a world gone mad, many of us can not across town without a strong internet connection. So while we may not be able to stitch up a wound, at least we can do our Cyber Monday shopping in record time.

walking dead, Laurence Olivier,The Entertainer,BBC

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More Light! More Light!

The church choir that I am section leader for has been invited to Carnegie Hall to sing a concert featuring a new choral work by Dan Forrest, LUX: The Dawn From On High (Lux being Latin for Light). While I won’t be going to Carnegie, for many reasons, having sung there before among them, I have loved learning the music with my choir. The crux of the piece talks about the importance of light, light as a blessing and a spiritual end result from a life- an abundance of light as a heavenly reward. The text of the piece from religious texts and comments on the end of one’s life being surrounded by light. It makes me think of  a pre-electric age the importance of light and the power of the darkness. Restoration theaters had candle wick trimmers whose job it was to keep the candles burning throughout the performance. In New England, on the 19th of May 1780, is known as New England’s Dark Day where candles were needed from noon to midnight, so heavy was the cloud cover. Perhaps we still harbor that childhood fear of the dark and bathe ourselves in light to protect ourselves from the unknown. Is that the reason for the preponderance of light in the religious texts describing heavenly bliss? What would be better in the afterlife than the things that we lack in this life? With that thought in mind, it makes me wonder what would be the valued thing would be that would greet us in a contemporary afterlife. What would be our final blissful reward in heaven? In short, what would be the final reward to a culture that has reveled in abundance and immediacy in everything?

light, Lux,

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Trading One Devil for Another

He said he was going through some papers in his mother’s house and found it, a postcard I had sent him years before when I still lived in New York. It was the Empire State Building and a brief greeting scribbled on the back- how I was working (or not) and sending good thoughts to a friend in Italy. He scanned it and sent the image to me saying- “Remember when people used to actually sent messages with pen and paper?” As I looked at the image, the sepia-toned memory was quickly replaced by the buzz of my phone announcing another post on Instagram and it made me wonder, what really has changed. While we used to send letters we now send emails and postcards have become Facebook or Instagram posts. We seem to be exchanging one devil for another constantly shedding the shell of the old for the perceived new. As Virginia Heffernan writes in her brilliant “Magic and Loss” we seem to be heralding back to a Victorian age where children are to be seen and not heard. indeed, she suggests that now we produce children only to produce images to spawn more likes and shares, their images frozen in electronic amber. People now scale construction sites and buildings to post images from these heights, now known as rooftopping possibly giving up their lives for a like. Yet if we lose our life in this pursuit our digital legacy will live on.   Our digital artifacts will outlive us and one day might be museum pieces, like stereoscope or view-master slides holding us all captive in an electronic eternity.

Virginia Heffernan,Magic and Loss,Victorian Age,Stereoscope,View-master, New York,Empire State Building Empire State Building,postcard,Facebook,Instagram,Italy,Devil,Likes, Shares, rooftopping, daredevils,electronic eternity,Technology,Social media, grave yard, perception perception, pass away,media, lost, information society, information, digital assets, connections, Electronic RIP, digital graveyard digital

A Rooftopper risking life for like.

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Or not to be…

Some time ago there was an article in the BBC about the legal status of robots which we commented on in this space. One aspect of the article which we did not go into was the idea that robots could come with kill switches, that is the ability to shut down the robot if necessary. It seems a curious question when the idea of doctor-assisted suicide is still unresolved that we should consider giving an artificial intelligence a greater right than those of us who created it. We fear to lose control of the creatures we create when we seem not to be able to control ourselves.

 

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Down the I hole

Some current work is involving some data base correction and a fair amount of internet research. While I do enjoy research in and finding out information I have been shocked to see the internet holes (or I holes if you prefer) that people put themselves into. People and more so businesses seem to be neglecting  the creation of an online identity becoming internet ghosts.  While at first I was surprised to see that some contacts didn’t have profiles on LinkedIn- I was shocked to see that even more frequently the representative firms did not have profiles. In addition to this, it is not uncommon to find contacts with no e mail address or even websites for their firm or services. Have the voluntarily taken their business out of the public eye or are they blissfully unaware of the movement of information from print to digital. As we have discussed earlier, if you don’t exist on the web could it be said that you exist at all but it seems that while most of us would a terrifying business situation it seems there are people who still find the ignorance bliss, hiding in the attic while opportunity knocks at the door.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQzAAAAJGRlMjgzNWNmLWY3ZmItNGJiOC1hNDA3LWNkM2YzOGY5NDRlNg

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“A society is judged by what it mourns”

Gorilla Coffee is one of those places etched in my memory of Brooklyn, great coffee and a great place to hang out with people. I was getting the former to do the latter when I noticed the tattoos on my Barista (this makes me wonder if Barista is gender specific Is there a Baristo and a Barista? But I digress). In the crook of each elbow there was a bird pierced by an arrow. This unusual tattoo was mirrored on the other arm and I had to ask the meaning. “ They commemorate sailors lost at sea” was the reply. Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t think there are all that many sailor lost at sea these days, but, alas, there holding my coffee I was proved wrong.
Of course people get tattoos to mark life’s passages, entrances and exits yet we don’t seem to carry this physical reverence to the digital world. In the electronic world there is nothing more to mark a passing than pushing the delete button and emptying ones recycle bin on the desktop. An e mail love letter, a Facebook friend or an electronic diary can be deleted with the push of a button. Do we think so little of our digital memories that we see them as worthless and make no notice of their passing? Have we no sense of morning in our digital world? Bertol Brecht once said, “A society is judged by what it mourns”. If that is the case we must hold our digital reality in such low esteem that like smoke rings they can be wiped away with just a wipe of our hand with no thought to their passing or existence?

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