at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

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Wiener Eistraum, Rathaus

Wiener Eistraum – Nearby City, Overlooked Fun

It’s one of those typical “not at home” things:

The place where, or near where, you live is a place you may feel comfortable-enough in, or not at all happy with, but typically a place you don’t quite know as well as you may feel.
(Yet another example, also, of a feeling of truth that isn’t reality?)

You are not a tourist there, so you don’t feel the excitement of it; you have to go there, so you go the places you have to go and do what you need to do. And that’s that.

Case in point from my life: the Wiener Eistraum, late winter’s ice-skating rink in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) just closed its 20-year-anniversary run last weekend, and it was only last week that I finally visited it.

For the first time ever.

Wiener Eistraum, Rathaus

I’ve not been able to go out running since then because the rented (wrong size) shoes took quite a bit of skin off my ankles, but it was worth it.

Not just was it the first time I finally went there, I went there with my wife.

She’s already rather bored from life being unexciting, and at the same time jaded with Vienna as the city where she has been going to university for a few years now – “Vienna just got announced the most livable city, again? So what?”

I have been in or at least near Vienna for way longer (feels like “between time”) and I am slow to jump into “fun” activities, anyways.

Seeing how temperatures have been rising, I rather notice all the energy that has to go into the cooling for the ice-skating rink and would much rather see the lake we have nearby freeze over again. That hasn’t really happened, and we certainly didn’t have everything required to go ice-skating there when it did, since my childhood years…

Good thing, then, that we decided to jump at the chance of having fun at the “Eistraum,” when we did, before it’s closed again.

Wiener Eistraum from above

First time ice-skating in a long time for me, first time ever for my wife.

So, I’m not going to show you what she looked like, she’d hate me for that – but she went from constantly holding on to the railing to moving along by herself within a pretty short time.

Good example, then, not just of the nearby opportunities we should probably make a habit of jumping at rather than under-appreciating because they are close by, but also of the things we can learn when we do so.

Look around, and I’m sure you will also find things to do and places to go, and with them activities to try out and skills to acquire and new things to learn, that you never got to just because they’d be close-by and seemingly always there, anyways.

Vienna Panorama

Run under Orion

The ONE Thing You Must Do Before You Die

You will often hear that you should “buy experiences, not things.

This anti-materialistic piece of life advice has solid foundations in psychological research; even less-than-stellar experiences can (and probably will) eventually turn up as interesting memories and good stories to tell, while even the greatest of purchases will likely turn out less than satisfying in the long term.

Unfortunately, though, the misunderstanding taking “buy experiences, not things” rather too literally is all around.

When that gets started in its consumerist, touristy attitude, it focuses on the buying, we get to the shopping lists of “100 things to do” and “1000 places to see“, often “before you die” and sometimes, even worse in its tourist-consumerist nature, “before they disappear.

Experiences are meant to make a person and a life more interesting, but these lists – even while purporting to be for that – often do just the opposite.

Ted Trautman, in The Atlantic, discussed the rise of the “bucket-list books” very nicely, but I think that Henry Wismayer on Medium put it best:

“Look, I’m not saying that certain types of travel are without value. Get away, get some sun, write a journal, prostrate yourself before the altar of benumbing technology and record every step of your journey on social media if it makes you feel better about yourself. Just realize: if your travelling is a box-ticking exercise; if you predicate even one iota of self-worth on how many countries you’ve visited; if you think in bucket-lists inspired by clickbait ‘10 best’ listicles appealing to the lowest common denominator, from one deluded c*nt to another, travelling isn’t making you interesting. It’s just confirming your position as one of the crowd.”

Trying desperately to live life in a more special way and looking for other places and other people to make it so, you just distract yourself from actually, truly, living your life where you are.

There is truly only one thing that you must do before you die: you must live.

Run under Orion

One possibility for experiencing the well-known in new ways that I keep coming back to: Running at night.

Sure, you will have been alive before you die, anyways. That doesn’t mean anything much by itself; and ultimately, a life doesn’t mean much, anyways.

Your life will be somehow like those of all others, for you are a human being, and the (ancient) Roman playwright Terence’s words “homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” – I am a human being; I consider nothing that is human alien to me – still ring true. Childhood and adolescence, partnerships and heartbreak, pleasures and sorrow, they are all somewhat alike.

No, even if all lives are going to be somewhat alike, and even if it looks like only a truly extraordinary life, of a person who will be remembered through the ages, really makes for anything much, it is still just ordinary living that you will probably experience – and that you can make extra-ordinary for yourself, good for yourself and others, without much of what we keep considering oh-so-extraordinary.

 

Your life will also be uniquely and distinctly yours, after all. The more so, the more you actually live it on your own terms rather than guided by the same lists of things that must be done and places that must be seen as everyone else.

You can create a positive influence on your patch of soil, in your community, and probably with much more of a positive effect than any highfalutin rich person wanting to change the world (and have you ever noticed how that is typically change for all the others, not much of a change in how they themselves live?).

All the distraction of the lists of special places and things comes to a head when you consider this:
What you really need to learn in order to grow is what you don’t even know that you don’t know.

Sure, there is probably, hopefully, a lot you want to learn and a lot you (think you) know but don’t quite know as deeply as you think you do.
Lots to do even there, with things you know and want to know.
There are, probably, places you want to go, are fascinated by, and could learn about by experiencing them, at least.
So, go.

Just don’t forget that you’re probably overlooking a lot that can be learned – and created – right where you are, in places you would overlook because not everyone is talking about them, but that might talk to you and teach you something that will deeply matter to you.

Neither forget that the deepest growth is not in the comfort of adding a few details here and there, having been to a place and now thinking you know it because you have seen it, expanding a little on something you are already somewhat good at. Learning and growth happen a lot when you are shown where your limits lie, and when you move beyond them.

Following a list of places one must have seen is nothing if not superficial; it just takes a glance, maybe moves on after a few snapshots, leaves a checkmark next to another “must-do,” but it isn’t a life deeply lived.

There is no surprise, no learning, no growth.
Just the “been there, seen that, done that” that gives a quick shot of excitement but isn’t much more.

To really learn, to really live, you must live more deeply, go where you wouldn’t normally go and where no guidebook tells you to, stay in a place and make the grass greener where you are.

Make yourself at home.

The deeper the feeling...

Feeling the Truth

We are said to be in a world that has been disenchanted by science, where the feeling of magic and mystery has been swept aside by the cold hard search for scientific truth – but too many of the “truths” we keep finding in and for our lives are things that just click with and feel right for us, personally.

Human psychology is a miraculous thing. We can learn so much, from the largest scales of the cosmos down to our own deep-seated biases. Working collectively, we can come to a much better understanding of so many things. The cosmos is becoming self-aware in us, as Carl Sagan put it.

And at the same time, we so easily continue to fall prey to our biases and predilections. Even in the collective endeavor based on critical observation and re-testing that we call science, social pressures lead to blind spots; paradigms can make plain facts invisible.

In everyday life, it’s all the stronger an issue how quick we are to evaluate something we see based on our own prior experiences, (limited) knowledge, and (selective) understanding of things, and how steadfastly we hold to this evaluation in our desire to be correct and consistent.

We just need a glimpse of a person, and we judged them. We hear a sub-second “Hello” and believe we know the speaker’s personality.

An opinion or interpretation, once made, is bolstered by facts and further observations that support it – and a subconsciously very selective awareness of only those facts and views, not the ones that would make us question our assessment. And so we read the news, to be entertained, not for the hard news we all say we’d prefer.

“… that feeling is a truth, but what it believes isn’t true at all…” *

There is one good piece of news in that: You could say that it is a way in which we are very much of this world, in it, at home in it. We observe what we would, we interpret it as we happen to do, all because of the ways we have been and are woven into its structures, having evolved as a social species, having grown up in a certain culture, society, and context, and being influenced by certain communities, ideas, and conditions.

We even feel deeply about it all, what we see and what we make of it.

This is, truly, not the worst of things…

“Living successfully in a world of systems requires more of us than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity — our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.” – Donella Meadows, “Thinking in Systems: A Primer”

It does, however, tend to become problematic because we want to be correct and consistent. And thus, rather than break with an initial, subconscious, split-second, impression or interpretation, we make up a story that “proves” the correctness of what we thought at first. Counter-evidence may not even get seen, and if it comes into conscious awareness, it often leads to all the stronger a disbelief in it (it “backfires“).

The deeper the feeling...

“The deeper the feeling…” by Betsy Weber, flickr
*That* is the truth of that feeling of truth – there is none.

If it were only single people believing what isn’t true about things of little consequence, it wouldn’t be the big problem.

In fact, insofar as there are perspectives and issues we find interesting and feel are just right for us, and we thus get the motivation to engage with them, it is a good thing. You hopefully have some things which you feel deeply about, that seem to strike a chord in you and make you passionate to learn more about them – even though you wouldn’t be able to explain this fascination rationally.

This is just the case where it’s only about you, though. Sure, you may want to share that fascination with others, and you may be a bit disappointed when someone you care about doesn’t share in that passion, but it’s not the end of the world.

When we interact and need to get to a consensus, but can only feel our truth, however, it is a problem. People have killed each other over such things, not least when it comes to religious beliefs. Now, we are threatening to wreck our futures because we cannot and do not want to see how we are a part of this world and need to live like it.

It has, unfortunately, come to the point where the nicely-feeling truth wins over fact – and it does not help that modern liberalism, good as it can be in many a case, wants to allow everyone’s “truth”, even in things which are just facts.

We even ask if someone “believes” in science, in climate change, as if that were a matter of how you feel about it, when it is not a matter of belief and feeling. The CO2 levels have been rising and the climate has been changing.

This, then, is the question to ask when a statement or observation feels true: Does it feel true because it is right or just because it somehow fits in with my beliefs and observations, makes me feel good, and thus comes to appear true to me?

The same with what feels untrue: Does it feel untrue because I have a resistance to it, wanting it to be false so that I am right? Or is it really false?

However something feels, however good intuition can be for us at times, we need to get at home in our humanness: We need to understand that we will instinctively and subconsciously react to and judge people and things within split-seconds, thanks to our necessary animal heritage – and we can and need to also pause and think consciously so we don’t remain at the instinctive-animal level but make good on our humanity.

Be Yourself search screenshot

Social Media, Junk Food of the Mind

Like junk food piggybacks on our innate liking for salt, sugar and fat, so social media abuse our desire for social sharing and validation… and so, both are feeding problematic tendencies, even as there is use and pleasure in them.

I woke up just 5 hours after going to bed, barely resisted the temptation to check if there’d been any notifications on the phone (which “only” runs twitter and gmail) in the meantime, went to prepare my usual morning matcha – and a downpour sat in. A weekend of storms had passed, the weekdays had had nice weather, so what was that? It sounded as though it was going to be a truly heavy rain… and then it stopped, mere seconds after it had started.

First thought: How do I share this odd occurrence on facebook? Do I have any chances of illustrating it with a photo?

Second thought, thanks only to the notion of slow sharing and the desire to not be overwhelmed by the habit: What the hell?!? Sure, it was something unusual, but why on earth would anyone need to hear about it?

That’s just how it goes, though.

Be Yourself search screenshot

Screenshot of just the first few results of a Google image search for “Be yourself”…

When we experience something, we are likely to not just want to keep it to ourselves but to desire to share it with others. Even if you are an introvert, you are more than likely interested in hearing at least a little something about some other people (and getting a little validation yourself).

We are bombarded by messages exhorting us to do our own thing and not care what others think, but those messages themselves are of any interest only because we always do care what others think. And what they do. And whether they – at least, some “they” whom we make out to be relevant to us – approve or disapprove of our doing.

We are a social species, after all.

Social ostracism used to mean a sure death; left to one’s own devices, one just couldn’t procure food, protect oneself from predators, simply function as a living and breathing human being.

Sure, we also need our alone time for reflection, some more so than others, but we aren’t ever total individuals for whom group contexts don’t play a role. In all the individualism of many a modern, especially Western, society, there is an even stronger drive towards conformity than in many a more traditional and collectivist society (where the conformity would be the only and ‘natural’ thing to do).

Try even just dressing yourself differently from the rest of the people in your high school or the rest of the employees in your company or profession! It’s such a difficult thing to do, someone who manages to pull it off successfully, and obviously doesn’t completely fall outside the profile of the type of person he/she represents, is interpreted as having to be of high social standing. (As recently shown by the study The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity – paywalled there, but a good write-up is freely available e.g. here.

In come social media. Possibilities of keeping up with what’s happening in our friends’ and family’s lives (Hi, Dad!), opportunities to create an audience for our ideas, non-places to be social without actually having to interact with actual people with all their idiosyncrasies.

Of course, there are good sides.

Social and cultural backgrounds play less of a role; you may have friends on Facebook, let alone followers on Twitter, who are of a different race or religion or culture or sexual orientation or… you name it, and it might not matter. You may not even be aware of it.

Interesting articles and fascinating insights may be shared, insightful conversations may be had.

Then again, there tends to be a self-selection to groups which share similar interests and opinions, and there is a tendency to utilize the networks for either the most inane of statements (Helloooo, photoquote “memes” and food pics..) or for radical and otherwise extraordinary positions held at least as much for the likes and shares they bring as for the value they are seen to hold. And to some extent, the value is seen as residing in the shares and likes and retweets, anyways.

Social media use shapes a habit.

It’s so easy to share, such a nice reward to pull the lever… uhm, open the page or app and just quickly check what’s been going on with one’s “friends,” it becomes second nature to do so. There are ways of doing it better, sharing more slowly and thoughtfully, maybe even of utilizing the tendency to want to present oneself and one’s life as interesting in order to actually work on making it so – but those practices require a thoughtfully reflective use of the technology. A technology which is, at heart (what a phrase…), designed to reward the exact opposite.

More likely, it goes the opposite way, bad habits are developed, and one’s own life just seems empty in comparison…

The challenge, then, will be for us to not let us be shaped by the technology, without wanting to and in ways we don’t want to be, but to shape our use of the technology so that it is good for us, instead. That only works by being highly reflective and controlled about it, or setting up systems to avoid ‘overfeeding’, though…

Cross-Reading 1: Taking the Empty Hearse to Better Thinking

The resumption of the BBC series Sherlock was the perfect reason to discuss thinking. Or thinking about thinking, as it were.

BBC Sherlock Season 3 The Empty HearseIn my parallel reading, I’ve recently, fittingly, perused Nicholas Carr‘s “The Shallows“, Clive Thompson’s “Smarter Than You Think“, and – most fitting of all – Maria Konnikova‘s “Mastermind. How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

The cross-reading of books, related and unrelated, complementary or contradictory as they can be – just like the reality of this world and our lives in it – opens ideas, and I want to start presenting such. This is, therefore, not going to be so much of a review of books as it is thoughts they gave rise to, in reading them concurrently.

The Shallows and, to a lesser extent, Mastermind, are both fundamentally based on the somewhat recent scientific realization that we don’t just develop the connections in our brains, and thus our thinking and knowledge, when we are children. There are some things which can only be learned during critical periods in child development (native accent language speaking being the primary example), but in general, our minds are plastic. We can always develop new neural pathways and thus create new memories and even learn new ways of thinking. In fact, we always and constantly do.

There is a great difference in focus between these two books, though:

Carr is looking at the influence that our use of technological tools has.

We like to think that we are who we are, and we are in control. Even if there should be stereotypes and the like, they are still within us, part of who we are, and we can realize their existence and learn, if so inclined. But it’s us in control.

Except that, as Carr argues, we think with our tools and thus find them changing us, inadvertently. Different language systems use and therefore strengthen different neural pathways, and so do such tools as maps and clocks shape different perceptions of the world and time, and change the very ways we think. The development of writing and reading, and the switch from oral to literal cultures, changed not just the ways we store and transmit information ‘outside,’ it changed the ways we think.

Now, we are seeing the internet having become our dominant tool for information, and its properties are again changing the very neural pathways that constitute how we think.

Where an oral culture requires rhyme in order to remember and sees a direct interaction between the teller and the listener, the literary culture requires readers who ignore their outside environments and follow the line of the story or argument.

Where the book – rather like a video game?!? – provides and needs an immersive experience in which only the stimuli pertinent to the story matter, what we see online tends to be a jumble of stimuli. There are not only different media to tell one story or make one argument (or even several), but there are also all the links to further stories, advertisements, and all manner of other items of potential interest but extraneous to the actual text we are ostensibly looking at. Thus, the technology rewards quick skimming and a hunter-gatherer-like awareness of the ‘prey’ (minus the patience to await it, plus a certain franticness in its pursuit). Thus, we train ourselves to jump from item to item and see that lack of attention as normal, if not come to consider it necessary.

Training is the very theme of Maria Konnikova’s “Mastermind. How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” as well. However, it’s the opposite, active and (self-) conscious training of our unruly monkey minds to become scientifically thinking minds.

Where internet browsing trains our minds, unwittingly, to be fast and unfocused, and we have a tendency to think simply and efficiently by jumping to conclusions (in more professional terms: using mental heuristics), anyways, Konnikova’s argument is that we can also learn to observe more, both in our surroundings and of our mental machinations. Thereby, we can train ourselves to think better, more scientifically, less driven by our desire to just be consistent and not be wrong and to therefore jump to conclusions immediately after seeing a selection of inputs.

Konnikova very much strengthens Carr’s argument about thinking requiring a foundation in knowledge, and not knowledge of where to find information, but “the essential groundwork,” “the elemental knowledge at [one’s] disposal,… built up over the years.” Without an understanding of how something is and works, there is no foundation with which to work, and thus none of the proverbial “shoulders of giants” on which to stand and look farther.

Clive Thompson has  a point, which he makes all through “Smarter Than You Think” (the perfect complement to cross-read with Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”), when he argues that new ways of knowing and thinking (can) also arise out of the combination of new technological tools and our own minds, and not for the worse.

A chimera-like combination of software, good at ‘seeing’ trends in big data and useful in its visualization as it is, communications technology (not least, for several human minds to collaborate in thinking through a problem, but also for retrieving quick exact points of data), and human minds, good at creatively cross-thinking, opens new possibilities and doesn’t just change (let alone close) old ones.

However, all three authors seem to be in agreement that learning (and) better thinking doesn’t just magically arise out of the questionable knowledge (what’s questionable being to what extent that should even be considered knowledge) of how to google for an answer, but through an active engagement with the technology of thought. Not just the one that is the book or the online (hyper)text, but also our own techniques of thinking.

Just jumping heedlessly and passively into the world we’re getting created for us, and for the purposes of driving a consumerist-industrial system, drives not knowledge and creativity, let alone skill and wisdom, but passive and distracted consumption and thinking. We are seeing problems with that (and I found myself thinking of those and the ease with which they can be fallen into all through the examples of good combinations “Smarter Than You Think” presents. Sorry, Clive.).

It is all the worse a problem as we have a tendency to only see selectively and think quickly, jumping to conclusions based on initial impressions and near-instantaneous judgments, anyways – the “System Watson” discussed all through “Mastermind” (and, as it were, Daniel Kahneman’s “Fast system or System 1” of our “Thinking, Fast and Slow“).

We have also, however, hardly begun to scratch the surface of skillful learning and learning skills that a more actively decisive use of technologies and techniques of thinking (and doing) could give us.

Even in just practicing thinking, where Konnikova suggests that practice and/as habit could turn the thinking of “System 2” into the effortless thinking we just do when we look and think, we haven’t got far yet. Especially with the continuing rise of big data and automation, often said to threaten taking away most jobs, there is actually an ever-rising need for more human and better thinking, though…

We’ll return to this potential for learning (to learn and think – or actually, to see and know? – better), with other cross-readings, at least one of them involving “Mastermind” again…

Books mentioned:



Old Globe, Vatican Museum

The Stay-at-Home Traveler

There I was, watching a documentary about Tibet, dreaming of snow-capped mountains and fascinating traditions… as I looked out at snowy mountains and wondered about the views and traditions at home that we forget.

Read More

First Youtube video

The Inspirational Idiot…

You’re not an online superstar influencer, not a recognized thought leader, just an average guy – so, why are you even talking?

“Public” has become the new currency of the attention economy, it seems.
For success, it’s necessary and sometimes even sufficient to be well-known. Be known, and your word counts. Be known, and your supporters will rally around you all the more when your detractors attack. Be known, and the influence you wield in social media serves as proof that you must be worth that same influence.

First Youtube video

Social media:
You want to present something, you present it.
First reactions I ever got:
1, “lol..he looks like an old fashion Vampire….!”
2, “…presented by Gaylord Focker”

Self-validation, even for the less-known person, comes from likes and shares, and what succeeds there is that which draws attention, makes people click “like” before they’ve even read anything more, entices us to click on through link-bait headlines. The easy, extraordinary, attitude-affirming, giving a sugary boost to pampered selves. It’s the rise of the online influencer.

And thus, even as privacy concerns mount, there are all those who look for influence, “klout,” and attention. Sensible curators of the deluge of information, insipid thought leaders, inspiring role models, peddlers of solutions both sensible and snake-oil.

Whether it’s intellectual(ist) endeavor or lifestyle design, personal development or athletic achievement, it’s the pinnacles of publicity that seem to have become the only real models. The influence and the influencing reinforce each other. If you’re not the fastest, the richest, the most-widely adored, what are you even thinking, trying to teach anyone anything? If you were good, you’d already be known.

But don’t forget to also have production values that are of the greatest and presentations that are perfect, for anything less than a TED talk (with the cachet and the cues to be wowed and applaud, now!) will not do. It’s social media, where everyone can share their ideas – and the trolls are fed.

Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions. -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Or so, spending too much time online can make things look. It inspires some, but it also inspires ire and a search for the faults. It makes it even more difficult than it always has been to just be average and aspire to better. But of course, we all are somewhere around average, on average, and we all start small and somewhat stupid.

The Minimal Helmsman (cp. here) ;)

The Minimal Helmsman
(cp. here) ;)

Maybe it’s just because I, too, am an exceedingly small fish in a worldwide ocean of ideas and people shouting for attention, but it seems to me that we are overlooking a need for fewer superstar geniuses and more inspiring idiots and everyday adventurers (like ourselves).

The average people who are just so-called friends interacted with online and showing something of how they are living ordinary lives extraordinarily – with all the usual problems of making a living, of being in relationships that are going more or less smoothly, of having dreams as well as doubts and fears, but also of learning more, of keeping up fitness, of having issues which are close to their hearts and which they want to influence for the better – it is them who seem rather more inspiring to me than all the usual “influencers” and “thought leaders” thrice removed.

The superstar people are so attention-catching, of course a person will be influenced by it, maybe get caught up in it… but it’s even easier with them than anyone else to just chalk their success up to luck and lucky genetics, hard work under different circumstances, different conditions and characters. Things to maybe learn from, likely just pack it in because one will never be like that.

It bears repeating: The superstars and attention-getters aren’t the mythical gods and goddesses without any problems we make them out to be. They, too, have started out small and stupid and they, too, have their faults and face their own demons and challenges.

Social comparison with them, if you don’t happen to be the kind of person who has to aim the highest and won’t be undaunted by the difference in (seeming) accomplishment, is a recipe for just giving up. Some of them may say, and gain their success by saying, that you, too, can do just what they did, but their very success makes it more difficult for anyone else, for anyone but them would just be a copy-cat also-ran.

Yet, if you want to live better, grow stronger, learn more, then do aim to become your better self.

Don’t aim for anyone else who’s out of reach, for they are not you, though. Just start, acknowledge the strength that lies in weaknesses, the obvious it makes the faults that need work, and get going. This way, you’ll also discover the things you’re good at. And hopefully, you’ll discover that the measure of the good that is public, and especially online, attention is at least as much of a distraction as it is real. What’s more important is that you actually live *your* life, to the best of your abilities. And better.

I’ll be right alongside you ;)

Techno-Frustration

The Need for a Resisting World

Frustration infuriates, but when everything just works as desired, where’s the growth?

Techno-Frustration

Photo by Arden, Flickr

One of nowadays’ biggest insults, the source of so many “First World Problems” – and at the same time, a thing that holds us back from living realistically and better – is the incapacity to accept inconvenience. Things not going according to plan, not functioning as advertised, not delivering on their promises… Of course, we know that it will not all be as shiny and trouble-free as the commercials suggest, but we still tend to feel almost personally insulted, and react like spoiled children, when something offers resistance.

At the same time, we easily become aware of just how much our own bodies and minds – we ourselves – are not nearly as controlled by our conscious minds as we’d like. We know we should be eating less and exercising more, and still can’t resist having too much food around. We want to learn and be active, but still end up telling ourselves we’ll do that tomorrow while plonking down in front of the TV.
Probably, that’s one of the reasons why some people nowadays let themselves go so much, and why others are looking for a posthuman future in which the weak flesh is augmented or even replaced by technology: As long as you don’t ask for something outside its bounds, your iPad will give you just what you want – and if not, you can kvetch and blame the programmers rather than yourself.

Go out into the world, though, and its resistance to individual desire starts. “I wanted to go out and exercise, but, sheesh, now it’s raining.”

Modern times’ electronic gadgets are especially good at that. You just want to quickly turn on the computer, download a book to read on the way, enter some data – and the same device that is supposed to make it all more efficient, fast, and convenient is wont to hang, helpfully try to autocorrect the data to something you did not and do not want to enter, start syncing or updating in some unwanted process that makes it all take longer (or stop) doing what you wanted it to do.

First World Problems they may be, but it’s our current reality. And when those gadgets work as they should, their effect is only the more insidious: We can contact all our friends at the push of a button, but forget even our own telephone numbers. GPS gives a sense of knowing exactly where we need to go, but we are not the ones who know and, all too often, not even watching where we’re going.

In spite of all the downsides, even with the spate of “first world problems,” the techno-ideology remains that we are becoming all-powerful. Mark Lynas, changed from eco-warrior to “science” zealot, talks of us as “The God Species“… but we are the sorcerer’s apprentice, at best. We tend to not even understand a fundamental aspect of our being in this world, the need for a resisting world to work in and with, that Nicholas Carr describes so well in The Atlantic:

“One of the most remarkable things about us is also one of the easiest to overlook: each time we collide with the real, we deepen our understanding of the world and become more fully a part of it. While we’re wrestling with a difficult task, we may be motivated by an anticipation of the ends of our labor, but it’s the work itself—the means—that makes us who we are.”

We are looking for a good life, but getting sidetracked into convenience. The better life is hidden right in front of our eyes, in the struggle and challenge that is not comfortable and easy, but life in all its diversity.

Shall we get up and explore?

Physical Beings, Virtual Books

You read, and by virtue of the words, you become someone else. It’s all in the head, but does the physicality of it still matter?

The rise of printing was nothing short of revolutionary; information that used to be kept in libraries and copied by hand became widely available. With the influence of leaflets and pamphlets on religious and political campaigning, it has been described as a first social media revolution… and maybe the kind of practice we now see online is much older still.

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