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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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internet, social media, Technology, Uncategorized

Paul is Dead

There was always that one guy in High School (at least when I was in high school) who would go to the mat to try to make you believe that Paul Mc Cartney was dead. True to form, the urban legend states that in 1967 Paul McCartney had been killed in a traffic accident while driving along the M1 motorway. While there was no real proof, only rumors, and hazy evidence, the rumor persisted and still has its followers today. The insecurity of the past, the idea that we can’t be sure of what really happened can take many forms, from a false memory, where a person recalls something that did not happen or differently from the way it happened but the idea is taken to a whole new level around 2014 when a concept “The Mandella Effect” began to take hold. It seems that some people remembered Nelson Mandela’s tragic death in a South African prison, prior to late 2009. (In this reality, Mandela died in 2013.) The idea being that someone had gone back to tamper with the past and re-set our experience of it. While we have often spoken of cyber truth in this blog, this idea seems to take the idea into a much larger and more terrifying realm. While a computer could easily erase our bank records we like to think that we have some memory of what happened and that other people could confirm our story. However, the more terrifying reality is that we could find ourselves in a George Bailey like fate, alive and remembering a world in which he never existed. As we continue to hear more tales of data being stolen, do we not see that the true goal may not be just our data but the very fact that we ever existed?

Paul Mc Cartney, the Beatles

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Safe!

Perhaps it was unique to my neighborhood, but growing up as we played tag or any other number of games, the place that you tried to get without being tagged was called “ghoul”. Now I am aware that many others may have called it home or safe or maybe even goal but in my neighborhood ghoul meant safety. The sounds of friends saying good night as the summer street lights came on rang in my ears when I saw of Quora having almost 100 million of its accounts hacked only days after Marriott reported that hackers had been penetrating their Starwood network for years, and had compromised the data of 500 million people. It seems that in the cyber universe or cyberverse, nowhere is safe anymore. Indeed, when these instances occur, it seems the those affected are to blame, Quara’s programmers are now forcing affected users to reset their passwords, and it advises them to change these passwords if they’re used on any other websites, as if the blame were on the people for putting their information there in the first place and then not protecting it with passwords that were incorruptible.

While the argument may seem far-fetched, the buck doesn’t stop here. Sexual assault victims are being turned into perpetrators, (how dare they accuse a person of such behavior) school shootings are blamed on the schools;  they are not well enough armed or trained in weaponry to defend themselves against the now obvious threat, as if there were protections in place in the past that have been left by the wayside, a childish illusion we have outgrown in this new adult age. Things like going home when the street lights came on in summer, playing outside with friends, or having a safe place which you might call home.

cybersecurity, hackers

Are we safe at home, or anywhere else?

 

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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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internet, social media, Technology

All. Together, Now.

While an art auction may not be anything that has major social ramifications, a recent auction at Christie’s in New York did catch our attention. While we like an auction as the next person, this one did have a picture painted by AI . Th piece, titled “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” was created by a Paris-based collective called Obvious Art created an algorithm that can create painted images. They are interested in exploring the boundaries of creativity, computers and AI and pushing the boundaries of what a machine can create. An idea that will be revisited here, the thing that came to mind was the increasing question of what it is to be human and if that is an answer that we really need. We used to try hold humanness out of reach of animals, like a treat from a dog made to jump at an ever higher raised treat, only to find no matter how high we set the bar, animals could rise to and above it. At first, we were the tool making creatures but soon we found gorillas had the same ability. We had a complex social structure only to find that many other animals did too. No matter how we seemed to try to set ourselves above and apart our specialness seemed to be co-opted by lower life forms. Now as we try to maintain our place in the center of our egocentric model (with apologies to Ptolemy) we find it harder and harder to find our ground in the center of the world. As AI and computers advance the Turing test, a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human seems to be nothing more than a roadside attraction we have passed whizzing by to a future which we seem unwilling to consider.
While AI advances make us less unique in the larger sense perhaps it should make us more aware of the things that make us unique as individuals. An algorithm can create a piece of art but only Picasso could create a Guernica, only Joyce, Ulysses, and these things could not exist until these consciousness beings created them just as Portrait of Edmond Belamy could not be created until Obvious Art programmed the computer to create it. Perhaps our uniqueness ought to be the measured by to our communal ability to create and discover, be we carbon or silicon-based than our need to divide and segregate.

“We were making the future…and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making”

H.G.Wells from “When the Sleeper Wakes” (1899)

 

The Portrait of Edmond de Belamy

Obvious Art, AI, The Portrait of Edmond Belamy

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internet, social media, Technology, Uncategorized

Media is Plural, Truth is Singular

In my misspent youth, I remember conversations with my philosophy class in college, discussing how to describe what our life was and how we would describe it.  One of the descriptions was “a dance of remembering and forgetting”, a constant finding and embracing of truth or inspiration and then forgetting it or letting it slip from our attention.  That phrase has come back to me as we now take our cultural memory to the altar of silicon and revisit what our past means.  Not even so much what happened, since the invention of the moving picture and indeed the still photograph we cannot debate so much what happened but what it means. We can’t debate who was at the Conference of Yalta but we can debate what it meant and its impact was.  It seems that for a brief shining moment we could all agree what “is is” and what was, was.  But now, in our immediate now, our immediate news cycle and our interactive relationship with reality, it seems that everything is up for interpretation and revision. Let’s look at something as mundane as The first ladies jacket, at first we were told, it was not a message and later the rebuttal, that it really was a message. It seems that now that everything we do is being caught on video or in some way recorded one would think that fact would be Fact.  One could not dispute the recording or video of a statement it is a documentation of a past event that we can all agree happened.  We now have as many venues as re-imaginations of truth available to us. Perhaps in this maelstrom of media, we can take a moment to remember that while media is plural, that truth is singular.

For those who doubt the power of the repeated lie

Trump,

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internet, Technology, Uncategorized

A Talent to Amuse

There are trends that are interesting and then there are trends that are disturbing. The latter seemed true when we saw that Netflix now seems to dominate 15 percent of the internet-while YouTube follows with another 11 percent and Amazon coming in with 3 percent. It seems that we are in a race for distraction and video content being the latest thing that no one can be without. Disney buys Fox not for the distribution but for the content as our voracious eyes must constantly be fed with new images. With Ford Motor stock being degraded to just above junk bond status and Sears filing for bankruptcy it seems that we are no longer a nation that makes or buys things but only one that prefers to watch others do things. While Napoleon had once called Britan a nation of shopkeepers, we have become voyeurs who only find value in what Noel Coward called “a talent to amuse” Hi ho, if that were all…

The title comes from a song by Noel Coward, the lyrics and a link to a performance are below.

I believe in doing what I can
In crying when I must
In laughing when I choose
Hey ho, if love were all
I should be lonely.
I believe the more you love a man,
The more you give your trust,
The more you’re bound to lose.
Although when shadows fall
I think if only
Somebody splendid really needed me
Someone affectionate and dear
Cares would be ended if I knew that he
Wanted to have me near.
But I believe that since my life began
The most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse.
Hey ho, if love were all.

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