Is the Promise of Technology Broken?

We create cars with the promise of ubiquitous and unlimited travel. Then we tax gas, add license fees, mandate expensive insurance, set speed limits and otherwise make owning a car as much a punishment as a privilege.

We create computers with the promise of ubiquitous and instantaneous access to information, media, and communication. Then we tax the actual data transmission, inhibit download and upload speeds, force consumers to pay for network expansions rather than compete for consumers, and pretend there are dichotomies between computers you carry in your pocket and computers you set on a desk.

We create debit cards and electronic banking with the promise of ubiquitous access to our hard-earned money in a cashless world with unlimited shopping options. Then we tax access to our money, add fees for fake convenience, and subscribe to an absurdly convoluted system of credit punishment.

The best I can hope is that one day a future generation (maybe the children of your children’s children) will be so over-taxed, over-burdened, and over-tired of being punished for enjoying the fruits of their labor that they are forced to live by candlelight, walk everywhere, and read text on an archaic medium nostalgically referred to as “books”.

Only then, will there be hope that enough of them will trip across stories like “Atlas Shrugged”, “Animal Farm”, and “Starship Troopers”. Maybe then, forced to read and communicate with each other face-to-face in conversation… maybe then, they will be fed up enough to say “NO!” and create a better world rather than accept the one they have is the best they can “afford”.

Maybe when the promise of technology and innovation is once again a promise instead of a broken, limp excuse to take more… maybe then the world will be full of unlimited potential instead of filled with nothing but potential.

Just my two cents. Please don’t tax that.

 

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A New Hope

Today’s Lesson: It’s better than it looks. Really.

*****

Scrolling through my social media feed, you would think the world is coming to an end tomorrow–war, blight, social injustice, environmental ruin, non-renewable energy depletion, terrorism, conspiracies, corruption, inequality, and educational bankruptcy.

Why bother living? Why not just follow lemmings off a cliff (quickly, before the cliff erodes away)?

It is easy to be bullied into the media frenzy and the melodrama of friends, media, family, and peers, but there is no reason to panic. We are in perhaps the most optimistic and hopeful time ever. The world is not falling apart. It is coming together like never before.

No one knows how everything will play out in the future (and I suppose that can be scary) but consider this:

  • We are close to solving War. Up until the last half-century, war was horrendous. Both soldiers and civilians were killed in brutal ways, without precision or empathy. War is still horrible (and unfortunately still exists), but we live in the most peaceful time in human history. War is more humanitarian than ever. Much of it is fought with technology, aid is offered during and after conflicts, and casualties are limited as much as possible. There is not the pervasive and permeating fear of a Red State taking over like there was in the eighties, or the fear of a nuclear World War Three (which was a common thread into the nineties). Despite terrorism and religious zealousy, we are closer than ever to solving the problem of war, with peace accords, trade, and social movements.
  • We are close to solving hunger. With biochemistry, genetic modification, and 3-D printing, we might soon be able to create food at will, anywhere, anytime. Star Trek much? (note: I know the title of the post is from Star Wars–it seemed more appropriate…don’t nerd rage me, please.)
  • We are close to solving aging. The human genome has been mapped. As science brings us closer to understanding how human DNA works and technology provides novel ways to “back-up” the human brain, we may, within a generation, launch life expectancy to at least 200 years. As cloning technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, life expectancy could launch to 800 years or more. Imagine a body that can perform as well at age 500 as it could at age 25! If you accidentally walked in front of a bus on your 600th birthday, your consciousness could be downloaded from the last time it was backed up a few minutes earlier, and placed into a new body. You could pick up where you left off!
  • We are close to solving the burden of transportation. Driving is an amazing tool but as population increases and more cars congest the roads, driving is a burden for many of us. It is dangerous, troublesome, and inefficient. That will change soon with driverless cars. You can meditate or nap on your way to work, never worry about drunk drivers, and spend your driving time writing that novel you always wanted to write.
  • We are close to solving interplanetary travel. Private space flight is on the edge of being real and accessible to the masses. Citizen excitement for space flight will fuel a new space race, opening up funding for the most important goal humanity has (if you ask me): colonizing another planet and doubling our chance for long-term survival. Even if one planet is destroyed by nuclear war or a random asteroid, the other planet will carry on the human race, proliferating and finding new life to partner with as we journey further into the cosmos.
  • We are close to solving resources. Solar power is real today and every year there are huge advances in the ways and methods with which we can escape or enhance the infrastructure of oil. Battery technology continues improving and nanotechnology is showing promise to help us do more with less power. Not to mention exotic new materials like nano-carbon and resistive memory chips.

 

There are so many promising things on the horizon, I could go on for many more paragraphs but you have the idea. There will always be people who are fearful of change or insist everything is “gloom and doom”… but you do not have to be one of them.

The world has never been cooler than it is now. Some of the scenarios I mentioned will work. Some might never come to fruition. Some will happen sooner than others. Most will probably look different from we imagine. Today, though, is great because today… they all can happen. The groundwork has been laid and they all have the potential of existing, along with so much more.

The next time you are scrolling through FaceBook or Twitter and clicking every HuffPo piece of disaster-porn click-bait, think about this:

Choose the world you wish to live in: “Woe is me…” or “Whoa–that’s me!”

As always, choose wisely.

 

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You Don’t Know Me (And Neither Do I)

Today’s Lesson: It’s tough to see I to I.

*****

“…And that is why I am who I am.” Our friend finished sharing some very moving and important details about his childhood. It was the kind of story people write books about, that later become screenplays, and eventually turn into inspiring and uplifting academy award-winning movies.

I do not know many people who do not have amazing life stories that could become movies. In fact, just think about how often you hear the phrase, “My life could be a great movie…”. Everyone’s life could be a great movie, and I believe all those movies would be great. We all have struggles, challenges, trials and tribulation to overcome (often as children) because there is no manual for life. We each have to figure it out the hard way.

When we hear a close friend’s intimately protected back story, we are often surprised. Sometimes that friend is no longer who we thought they were, in the light of new details. It is like we don’t even know them.

Here is the real kicker, though. We don’t know ourselves, either.

When I look back at my life, I remember (and this is being very generous) maybe one-fourth of my own history–you know, the history that I lived.

I do not remember most of yesterday. I remember waking up, going to work, coming home, and going out to dinner but I do not remember every word of every conversation or every visual input that affected my attitude, or each billboard that subtly coerced me into trusting a brand name, or even every detail of my friend’s story. I remember the highlights but, as they say, the devil can be in the details. It is the minutiae and messy morass between the big plot turns that build character, that make me who I am.

In essence, I am missing most of who I am. Sometimes an old friend will share a story about me that I do not remember. I can not scroll back through my entire history. Truly, I only know the highlights–bits and pieces of stories I have heard and told over and over.

In other words, we are, at best, only the Cliffs Notes version of ourselves.

We should not fret, therefore, when we think we know someone because we remember a few major dots in their life but have forgotten most of the lines that connected them.

In the end, isn’t it better to be surprised once in a while… even when we surprise ourselves?

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Remember When We Met Tomorrow?

Today’s Lesson: The future is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

*****

You have known your spouse, best friend, or sibling for a long time. You know them better than they sometimes know themselves. Except you do not know them at all.

A funny thing happens when we learn someone’s habits and thoughts over time. We begin anticipating their thoughts and habits. We think we know what they are going to say next. We know how they will decide. We know what they will order when out for dinner. We know what movies they will like. We think we even know what people they will like.

Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we miss the mark. Our accuracy is not important. When it comes to the most intimate and important people in our lives, what matters is we have stopped dealing with them in the present. Instead, we are always anticipating their future selves. We are having conversations with the people in front of us, but from the future, because we think we know what they are going to say. We choose not to ask certain questions or broach topics we know will anger them, for example. Or we correct them before they make a mistake (“Don’t forget to…”).

We assume past performance indicates future probability.  

As you might have guessed (based on my past performance), I am about to assert this is not an effective approach. Congrats–you got it right this time.

The problem is, our present is always changing. “Now” is already gone. “Now” used to be now but now it is Now, and now “Now” is gone again. Yet it is always now.

Because “now” is always changing, this means the past is always changing, too. The people we think we know so well today are only echoes of the people we knew before. We relate to our friends and family as if they are never-changing yet they surprise us, at times, with what we think are out-of-character decisions or pleasant surprises. Shocking revelation: they are never out of character! They are just different people than when we first met them.

The other problem with dealing with future echoes of present people is we limit them as people in the present. We take away possibilities for their future, like putting up detour signs on roads they could have traveled. We decide their future for them when we finish their sentences. We dictate their life and who they should be when we “know” their reaction to our past self. We even start conversations with, “Promise you won’t get mad”… how can anyone know if they will be mad 5 seconds from now?

I am terribly guilty of all of this. I am a chronic interrupter, for example. I finish sentences, thoughts, or words for people all the time and I know it is a terrible habit. I might interrupt because I think I know where people are headed in a conversation, or I believe my time is more precious to me than theirs is to them so I try to usher their brains along and move us to the next topic faster. Maybe I am merely impatient. I know the general idea of what is being said and the remaining context, to me, is drawn-out filler around what I already knew or decided. I am not sure why I interrupt but I am sure it is not always received well.

One of my personal challenges this year has been to listen to people until they are done speaking. It takes a great deal of effort for me because I have found people often pause to collect more thoughts rather than to invite my turn at speaking. I suspect much of my life has been only hearing and responding to half of conversations. Imagine that! Going through your life only able to speak half sentences because no one lets you finish a thought!

Maybe that is why I became a writer–so I can complete a full thought out without being interrupted by people like me!

I know no one is supposed to say this, but I do not mind telling you it is excruciating for an impatient person to listen to others muddle all the way through their thoughts, but I recommend trying it. I have found (and I think you will, too, because I know you are working on being more patient) that dealing with people in the present instead of dealing with their future echoes opens doors I never knew were there.

Listen without an agenda or worrying what to say in return (because otherwise you are planning the future). See where a conversation takes you. It might lead to a future you never saw coming.

 

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What Would You Do With An Extra Day?

Today’s Lesson: What makes you think, if you had more time, you would use it any differently?

*****

Having an extra day off over Memorial Day weekend was nice, but when the weekend was over, I still found myself thinking I could use another day off to catch up!

I do not know if it is a sign of being over-stressed, over-worked, or of people having bad time management skills but it seems no matter how much time “off” we have, we could always use more. Maybe it is because we really do not have “off” time. We cram it with chores, tasks, and events we know we would not otherwise be able to do or we are so exhausted we waste the time doing nothing of value.

I am beginning to think the problem is not with the amount of time we have to ourselves. The problem is what we do with it and why. If we worked two days each week and had five days off, I bet we would still complain about not having enough time to do everything.

We think life would be different if we had unlimited time but in a sense, we already have unlimited time. Since we never know when or how we might die, we live as if we will live forever. Maybe we should choose an arbitrary future date when we want to have the five most important things in our lives accomplished. Whether we make it to that day is not the point. Living as if we know we only have until that day might change everything.

 

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Is Money Really The Root of All Evil?

"The Root of All Evil" by artist Dan Tague.
“The Root of All Evil” by artist Dan Tague.

Today’s Lesson: People, not money, are the root of all evil. We are the root of all good as well. Each decision you make each day contributes to your being part of one or the other. So before you decide to pay for something (metaphorically or literally), decide which side you are on.

*****

“Money is the root of all evil.”

If a man tells you this, run away for he understands neither evil nor money, or chooses to be willfully ignorant of both. Whichever it is, his intention is not to contribute to your Life.

Money is not the root of any evil. Money does not corrupt. Money has no inherent morality, desire, ethical premise, or secret agenda. At its core, money is paper (or digital code) with a mutually agreed upon value. It only exists as an agreement between the values of two people. If the value is not mutually agreed on, then money has no value to either side of a transaction.

Those who disavow the use of money are likely the same people clamoring for promotions in their careers and overspending their financial and moral credit. They scrabble for every dollar while cautioning you of the evil money poses in their world.

The truth is money does not care about evil. Money does not care about you or the people who claim money is the root of evil. What money does is allow the freedom for a man to show, in concrete terms, his own benevolence or malice.

Money brings out whatever was there already. Money provides Man with the means to take action on his own moral standing and trade his brute strength with a bludgeon for mental prowess and calculated risk. Money transforms bloody battles over property with clubs, stones, teeth, and claws to respectful, peaceful exchanges between two factions. It is an exchange of respect instead of fists.

I think money is one of the top ten greatest inventions in human history–an agreement among people that frees us from a crude system of barter. Without money, what would you trade for your smartphone or video game console–wool socks you knitted yourself? If you were lucky enough to have raised sheep? And if the guy with the smartphone did not already have sheep, or socks?

Only with the power and agreed upon value of money, created by and dependent on the will and honor of men, have we been able to rise from a feudal past to a glimmering future where nearly every person who wants to can own a car, a place to call home, and a way to communicate with the world.

If someone tries to sell you the idea that earning value by trading your time and effort to seek your own enjoyment in life is evil, then you can only respond properly by giving that person directions to where he can find the supporters of his notion:

“Go to hell.”

_______________________________________________________________

((If you want to read the best speech ever given about money and what inspired me to write this post, read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Or, for the short version, click here to read the speech given by my favorite fictional character of all time, Francisco D’Anconia.))

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It’s a Small and Large World After All

The world is growing bigger and smaller at the same time.

*****

Our world is both growing and shrinking. It seems like a paradox but think about it. As population increases and more infrastructure is built, we take up more space in our own lives, cover more territory around the globe, and consume more of our finite goods and fuel. The cost to travel the country by gasoline-powered cars is much higher than it used to be. There is less open land and renewable resources now than there was just 100 years ago.

The world is clearly getting smaller (and more expensive!).

At the same time, the world is becoming ever more connected. With the advent of the internet and all that it brings (email, social media, video calling, online purchasing, global collaboration, etc.), we have greater access to the rest of the world than we have in all of history. We have 3-D maps of the earth and we can fly anywhere on the planet for less than $5,000–a feat that was unimaginable just two or three generations ago. We can reach out, research, and explore further now than we have been able to in all of history.

The world is clearly growing larger (and cheaper!).

It is a crazy, fascinating, and strange time to live. Technology, and both the optimism and fear paired with it, is reshaping our planet and our place on it, making the impossible seem plausible and living with paradoxes and parallelisms feel downright ordinary.

Today’s Lesson: The world is just damn weird.

 

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10 Moving Decisions I Hope Are Smart

Life is best when you court adventure and learning together.

*****

Moving from Grand Rapids to Tampa is a big change, but because Nicole and I value living an experimental life, we are also taking advantage of the experience to try a few crazy things. I am not sure if it will all work out for the best, but we will definitely learn from our little experiments and be able to apply the lessons to other areas of our lives.

A couple of the decisions listed we already know worked out well (or did not work out well) but I included them because we had no idea if they would when we tried them. So, here are 10 decisions we made before moving across the country that we hope turn out to be smart decisions.

1.  Get a local address. This was definitely risky. We sent Nicole down there with six months of savings. She found a roommate who was willing to rent half an apartment on a month-to-month basis. Although all signs pointed to her being a good roommate, we did not know until Nicole actually arrived there. However, within two weeks of job searching with a local address, Nicole landed a great job.

2. Leave (almost) everything behind. Because we try to live simply, we do not own a lot of furniture, trinkets, or items full of sentimental value. Nonetheless, when we did the math on the cost to move all of our stuff, it was nearly the same or more than it would be to buy everything again. So we fit what we could in her car and mine and nearly everything else is being given away or tossed out.

3.  Buy all new stuff. Most of our furniture was nice looking but relatively cheap, Ikea-style stuff. The cost of replacing most of it is the less than the cost to take it all. The best part, though, is we do not need to replace all of it.

4.  Replace only what you miss. Of course, we do not have to buy one-for-one replacements for every item we leave behind. We might end up actually saving considerable money by only replacing what it turns out we really need or miss.

5.  You mail instead of U-Haul. What I can not fit in my car, I am shipping to us via UPS, FedEx, or postal mail. I am taking the heaviest stuff in my car and the light stuff will probably arrive a day or two after I do (about 10 boxes of varying sizes total). Even if the shipping costs $500 ($50 per box and most will cost less than that) it will still be a significant savings over moving everything (which ranged from $3,000 to $4,500)!

6. Taking my cat. Rainee, my one-eyed furry friend who I have taken care of for roughly 14 years now, hates cars. I mean, like, REALLY hates cars. She is terrified to leave our apartment and usually releases all of her bodily fluids and solids on me when I attempt to take her to the vet (she is even worse if I put her in a carrier). I am choosing to take her with me, not sedated, in the car. I could ship her, but she would not have the comfort of my presence, which is at least some comfort to her. I could give her away but we have been companions for too long and she is my responsibility (plus, she is really cute… sometimes). So we are just going to tough it out and I have no doubt it will build character for both of us.

7.  Donation over profit. We are giving nearly everything we own away, not selling it. I am ambivalent toward most charities so this is not an altruistic decision for me. I am happy, though, to offer something that was of value to me, to someone else in hopes they will find value in it, too. The other reason is simply because I hope it will expedite the move. I do not want to spend days watching eBay bidding or waiting for people to show up and browse my life’s belongings.

8.  Renting a luxury apartment. In our new home city, we are choosing to pay double the rent we are paying in Grand Rapids. This means, of course, less going out and being a little more budget conscious but (and I know this sounds cheesy) our favorite place is with each other, curled up in bed or enjoying a nice walk. It makes more sense to have more luxury at home and less outside of it.

9.  Upgrading everything new. As I mentioned, we do not have to replace everything we leave behind. That means we will need fewer things so we might be willing to spend a little more for better, fewer things. The idea, for us, is to have more space and fewer things, but the things we will have will be stuff we really want, not just stuff to fill the space for now.

10.  Living closer to work. We chose our new city strategically. We know the traffic in Tampa is ten times worse than traffic in Grand Rapids. We deliberated quite a bit over whether it would be better to live closer to the things we love to do (like the beach), or closer to where we go the most (like work), or closer to where we shop the most (wherever we can find a great vegan selection). In the end, we leaned toward being closer to Nicole’s work (because she landed a job first) but still within 20-30 minutes of everything else we think we will love.

 

So there you have it. If you are considering moving, maybe that list will help you. If not, I think there is still value in some of those decisions. I’ll let you know in future posts what panned out and what ended up being a bad idea.

 

Today’s Lesson: You can’t know the future but you can certainly plan for having one. Might as well set it up to be a great one!

 

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What Will The 23rd Century Look Like?

In the future, we will have… pretty much what we have now.

***

Whenever the subject of technology and the future comes up, inevitably someone quips, “It won’t be long till we have implants in our brain…”

The original series of Star Trek took place in the 23rd century. Think about that.  50 years ago when the first episode of Star Trek aired, the future we imagined would happen 300 years from then included unbelievable things like doors that opened before you reached them and lights that automatically turned on when you entered a room.

No one even imagined a pocket-sized device that provided access to entire libraries of information, was able to record and transmit data through the air, including music and video, as well as served as an all-purpose communication device, entertainment center, and health monitor. That was too far-fetched even for the 23rd century!

What always catches my attention, though, is the portrayal of cyborgs. Part-men and part-robot mechanical monstrosities half covered in blinking lights and cold steel. I understand the Hollywood appeal, but two things bother me about futuristic cyborgs: all their tech is on the outside and they look like… well, like cyborgs, I guess.

The funny thing is, just like the automatic doors and lights at nearly every big box store, cyborgs are not part of the distant future. They are here now and they look just like us.

I went to the dentist today and had a plastic, tooth-colored mold placed over an exposed nerve that was causing a lot of sensitivity. Essentially, I have a partially fake tooth but you would never know it. Some people have plastic valves in their veins, metal hips, stints near their brains (there actually are already brain implants!), and even artificial joints and limbs.

It is funny that we imagine a future of part-human, part-machine people covered in cold steel with a laser eye. We won’t need that. We have laser-eye surgery now that provides better than perfect vision.

 

Today’s lesson: Don’t worry too much about what the future will look like. Most of it is already here and the stuff that isn’t… you could never imagine anyway.

 

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Time to Die, Part 5 (of 5)

What will happen when we, as a species, conquer Death and Time?

 

In the future (within the next five hundred years), I think we will have mostly solved the problem of dying and maybe the problem of time travel (as most of us think of it).

Can you wrap your mind around a future like that? I have tried to write fiction many times but I am never happy with the result. Nonetheless, I have ideas I think would make interesting concepts. Perhaps a better fiction writer will read this and take a stab at creating a story around some of these ideas (just let me know if you do and give me partial credit, would you?).

Imagine what day-to-day life might look like in five hundred years:

 

  • To be a successful politician, you will not run for office. Instead, you will travel back in time and become a significant historical figure. Then, when you return to the future (present), you will be judged on your results and accomplishments from, say, five hundred years ago.

 

  • Wars will not be fought by armies. Instead, they will be fought by militant forces that travel back in time to stop insurrections or corrupt dictators before they come to power. They will not go back in time to kill someone before they are born. Rather, they will become a significant mentor in the person’s life and lead them a different direction.

 

  • Technology will be created to protect certain moments in our time line to keep from destroying reality altogether. For example, there will have to be a way to ensure time travel remains discovered, along with a way to preserve certain moments of the past, like the invention of space travel, to ensure human survival.

 

  • Time travel will be a great tourist market. Want to visit your Grandfather’s grandmother’s grandfather? No problem. Want to see a real dinosaur? We got you covered. Just sign this insurance form…

 

  • History’s greatest leaders and musicians will be available to keep the world on track. Aristotle will attend a Jimi Hendrix concert. Ayn Rand and Stephen Hawking will meet and fall in love. Albert Einstein and George Washington will lead a peace accord with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Gandhi.

 

  • Because we can live for thousands, maybe millions, of years, and because Time will no longer be relative, and because we will be capable of navigating the universe, many of us will opt out for a while. Some people will grow tired of living and they will choose to sleep for a few thousand years sometimes, to wake up and experience a new reality.

 

  • Time management software will take on a whole new meaning.

 

I don’t know how crazy the future will be but I know the possibilities are limitless. What would your future self, living in a universe without boundaries on success, learning, creativity, or possibility come back and tell your present self? Today’s lesson is simple: you are the potential of limitless potential! Live up to your potential now, before it’s too late… you know, in case it ever is too late.

 

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