Ideas & Philosophy

Kindess: Let Me Do It Now

Kindness-Let Me Do It Now

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A Dose of Good News

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I woke up this morning and, like I do every day, stumbled out of bed, shuffled into the living room, turned on the morning news, and poured myself a cup of coffee.  The opening jingle of CBS This Morning helped pull me into consciousness and I waited for Charlie Rose, Norah O’Donnell, and Gayle King to tell me what’s going on in the world.

cbs-this-morning

And of course, I was barraged with news that a nearly eradicated disease was making a comeback because idiots with no medical training decide that they know better than medical doctors and not only abstain from vaccinating their children (which, should be considered child abuse), but spread their idiocy and convince other sheeple to hop on the bandwagon.  And then you have presidential hopefuls like Rand Paul and Chris Christie making matters worse by ignoring science and turning this whole thing into some political debate about big bad government taking away your personal liberties (seriously, these guys want to be in the White House??? And have access to the nuclear launch codes???).

Then the next story was about more beheadings and violence in ISIS controlled territory.  And I thought about the Koch brothers recent announcement that they plan to spend $900 million on the 2016 presidential race, and I began pondering the definition of democracy and oligarchy and then I began spiraling into the dark abyss of misanthropy.  It took everything I had to not crawl back into bed and try to start over.

So, I decided to look up some GOOD NEWS in order to combat the urge to get “I HATE PEOPLE” tattooed on my forehead.

If you’re like me and needing some hope for humanity, here are a couple of stories that will lift your spirits!

1) Nineteen Year Old Invents Affordable Prosthetic Limbs:  

Easton LaChappelle was always interested in robotics.  When he was just 14, he built a robotic hand from Legos and a few rudimentary electrical components.  When he was 17, he earned an internship at NASA.   He once met a girl who was born without an arm and when he learned that her prosthetic arm cost $80,000, he knew that he could make a better one for a fraction of the cost.  LaChappelle recently unveiled the 3rd generation of his prosthetic arm: It’s fully robotic and can do many things a human arm can do, with a full range of motion and agile fingers….Oh, and you can control it with your mind!  God, if those old plastic stumps cost 80 grand, this robotic arm must require a second mortgage, right?  Nope; it costs $350.  That’s pretty much the cost of three college science textbooks.   And the really cool thing?  LaChappelle, who’s now 19, made the design open to the public, free of charge.  So, he won’t become a bajillionaire off his invention, but he hopes that having the plans out there for the world to use will result in someone improving his design to create an even better prosthetic.  “No one person can change the world,” LaChappelle says in the video. “It takes multiple people, so if I can develop technology in a way so other people can take what I’ve done and grow from it and do something more with it, someone could take that and keep impacting someone else’s life and eventually try and rule out a lot of the bad in the world by giving back to our own kind.”  (Read a 2013 article about LaChappelle on engineering.com here and a 2015 article on Huffington Post here.)

Hear LaChappelle talk about his invention in his own words:

Another video here: 

LaChapelle

 

President Obama shakes hands with the robotic arm that Easton LaChappelle invented. (photo courtesy of www.america.aljazeera.com)

President Obama shakes hands with the robotic arm that Easton LaChappelle invented. (photo courtesy of http://www.america.aljazeera.com)

 

2) The Humans of New York (HONY) Fundraiser for Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Bronx, NY:

If you haven’t been following this story, you should.  I absolutely love Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York photography project (really, by now, it’s more than a project – it’s more of a combination of commentary on human life, social movement, and window into the soul) – and I’m not the only fan; he has over 12 million followers on Facebook.

Back on January 19th, he posted a random picture of a boy named Vidal.  Stanton asked Vidal who influenced him the most in life.  Vidal’s answer:  “My principal, Ms. Lopez…When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

Vidal, photo from HONY, January 19, 2015 (www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork)

Vidal, photo from HONY, January 19, 2015 (www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork)

Stanton was intrigued and went to meet Ms. Lopez at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in the Bronx.  He soon fell in love with Ms. Lopez and the whole school, and I can see why.  HONY started doing a profile on the school, highlighting the teaching philosophy and the many wonderful teachers there.

According to Ms. Lopez:   “This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

Ms. Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy (photo posted Jan. 23, 2015 - www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork

Ms. Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy (photo posted Jan. 23, 2015 – http://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork

Feeling the compassion of the teachers and administration at the school, Stanton asked what they would do for the school if money wasn’t an option.  At a meeting, Ms. Lopez and the school’s Director of Programs Ms. Achu came up with an idea of how the HONY community could help the school (on the HONY Facebook page, Stanton points out that it was Ms. Achu’s idea, and he and Ms Lopez whole-heartedly agreed):  They wanted to take the scholars on a trip, to show them that there was a world beyond their neighborhood.  And not just a trip to anywhere, but to Harvard University to show the scholars that anything was possible for them.

So, at noon on January 22, Stanton launched an online fundraiser, hoping to raise $100,000 for the field trip.  Within 3 hours, they had raised $185,000.  Within 24 hours, $365,000 worth of donations had piled in.  Within 4 days, HONY and Mott Hall Bridges Academy supporters had raised $700,000.  Two days later, the total had jumped to $1 million.  As of today, the total raised has reached $1.2 million!

And the cool thing?  If you scroll through the donations, you’ll see that it’s from people donating anywhere from $2 to $50 – with the average seeming to be somewhere around $15.  After scrolling through for several pages, the highest donation I saw as for one hundred dollars.  So, this is the result of many, many people validating the importance of the work that these educators and world-changers at Mott Hall Bridges Academy are doing.

HONY and the school officials have already announced that $700,000 is enough money to make the Harvard field trip a permanent part of the school for its students.  All money raised in excess of $700,000 will go into a scholarship fund for MHBA graduates.  The fund will be called the Vidal Scholarship, and the first recipient will be Vidal himself.

This story has rightly gotten a lot of press in the past 10 days.  Here, you can find articles on CBS, CNN, and the Huffington Post as just a sample.  And here’s a video of Brandon Stanton, Vidal, and Ms Lopez on the Ellen DeGeneres Show yesterday.  (Target decided to make a surprise donation to the academy and to schools in the surrounding neighborhood, too!)

If you’d like to donate to the fundraiser, you can do so here.  The last day is tomorrow, February 5, 2015. 

 

Hopefully, those stories filled you with a little more compassion and idealism.
It’s easy to get disheartened and overwhelmed with negativity, so let’s take these stories as motivation to get out and make the world a better place,
one small act of kindness at a time.

Categories: Humor, Ideas & Philosophy, Politics/Current Events, Science/Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

History Is Personal

We Read to Know We're Not Alone

History is Personal:  
A Queer Southern Boy & the Power of Books

As someone who has spent the vast majority of his life inside a classroom, I know firsthand the liberating power of knowledge.  When you learn, the realms of reality expand, new possibilities arise, and doubts are swept away like dust in the wind even as new doubts blow in to take their place.  Learning to think critically, to analyze and draw one’s own conclusions is a profound process of liberation, a process of casting off the chains of ignorance.  The act of learning itself – whether from life’s experiences, the pages of a book, or from a teacher’s lessons – is empowerment, and if knowledge is power, then ignorance cannot be bliss.   For me, history has always been more than an interest in past events; it has been a source of legitimacy, granting me the courage to explore the many facets of myself and boldly accept my identity with the knowledge that there have been countless others like me in the past.

As I grew up in southwest Georgia, I didn’t quite understand what it was that made me feel different from those around me.  Let me rephrase that – I knew what it was that made me feel different, but, for the longest time, I didn’t understand the implications of that difference.  As I got older, I knew that I was inexplicably attracted to other guys even though I never considered myself gay.  In fact, I didn’t know what “gay” was.  Plus, I never felt different enough to need a whole new identity or label for myself.  I just knew that I could never really participate when my friends were checking out girls.  I also wondered if my friends struggled with the same fleeting thoughts and desires as I did, if their gazes skipped over the chicks in bikinis on magazine covers and lingered instead on the muscled men that graced the front of fitness journals.  I honestly thought that they must be dealing with the same issues, but just like I never mentioned it, they were keeping it a secret, too.

Even as I got older and my puberty-fueled fantasies became exclusively male-oriented, I never thought of myself as gay.  I didn’t know that gay existed as an option for me to “be.”  That’s because the knowledge wasn’t available to me, not yet.  I knew that there were men out there who had sex with other men, but I didn’t know that they constituted some thing known as “gay.”  In fact, the only things I knew about such actions between men came in the form of slurs, jokes, and – most powerfully for me at the time – from the pulpit of my Southern Baptist church.  What I learned in those pews was that homosexuality was a sin…and if it was a sin, then it had to be a choice, and an erroneous one at that!  Homosexuality, as I understood it, was just acts – something that some people did sometimes. I didn’t yet know that it was something that could be used to define – and segregate – a whole group of people as something fundamentally different.

And then I went to college.  By that point, I had realized that no matter how hard I tried or diligently I prayed, these urges and attractions I had weren’t going away; they were something permanent.  As early as my first year on campus, I became aware of people who openly identified as “gay” – that’s what they called it when a guy was attracted to other guys.  I heard people say they were born that way.  And they were fine with it.  I instantly recognized that within me – I knew at that moment that I must be “gay,” too.  It was the only explanation for why I had a crush on that guy in class, and why I couldn’t help it.  But the idea of telling anyone that I was gay terrified me.  In fact, it terrified me to even tell myself.

I vividly remember one evening in my university library:  I was taking a break from writing a paper by perusing the shelves.  As I was meandering along, the title etched into the spine of one book stopped me dead in my tracks:  Growing Up Gay in the South I remember my heart starting to pound as I looked around to make sure no one else was nearby.  I contemplated pulling it from the shelf, but how would I explain it if someone saw me reading such a book?  But, I did slide the book from its resting place and read it all there in the library that night.  The entire book was full of stories about people like me and I was exhilarated as I flew through the pages.

That night I had stumbled into the “HQ” section of our university’s library, which is the Library of Congress Classification System’s call number for the section on “family, marriage, women, and sex” (I find it odd that books on family, marriage equality, sexuality, pornography, and rape are all located on the same shelves, but that’s a topic for another day.)  I went back to that section often and read as much as I could, but was still too afraid to discuss anything I was reading – or even to check out the books – for fear of word somehow getting back to my hometown about my “dabbling” in gayness.

I eventually came out to family and friends, but I would have never had the courage if it hadn’t been for those books because they showed me that I wasn’t alone. And then when I entered grad school, I found out that there historians who only studied sexuality and gender!  They wrote dissertations, articles, and whole books not just on life stories of gays and lesbians – but on what it meant to be “gay” or “straight.”  I found books about how the ancient Greeks understood love between men, how the Native Americans accepted that there was a third gender in between men and women, and how science – and the search for a “gay gene” – wasn’t the only factor in defining gender or sexual identities.

With each book that I finished, I felt more empowered, more confident because I felt less alone.  I was blown away by the intricate, not-so-sub-cultures that George Chauncey deftly uncovered in his classic Gay New York.  Scholars like Jonathan Ned Katz and David Halperin taught me that words have power.  Above all others, Susan Stryker revealed to me the important difference between “sex” and “gender” and that our gender and sexual identities are fluid and malleable.  When I read Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, I cheered on as working class lesbians in mid-twentieth century Buffalo, New York defied the odds and established their own bars and community by asserting power over their own lives.  I cried when I read some of the poignant life stories that Patrick Johnson eloquently captured in Sweet Tea.  And when I closed Allan Berube’s Coming Out Under Fire after devouring it in a single sitting, I sat back in wonder as I realized that “gay history” is not on the margins of “real history,” like a quaint interest piece; it is absolutely fundamental to understanding the rest of history as we know it.

I no longer really identify as “gay” because I don’t feel connected to today’s gay culture.  But, of course, I’m not straight either.  I’m in love with a man, but I don’t accept all of the other baggage that comes with being “gay.”  So, I think of myself as queer, something different with no need of a further definition.  It’s more fluid, less confining, and I like that.  Moreover, the study of history has taught me that it’s okay to throw off labels and come up with my own identity – or collect many identities.  People have done it for millennia.  That’s why, for me, history has never been just a hobby, never just a profession.  It’s a path of reflection, a way to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, of what it means to simply be.  You can’t put a price tag on such a journey.

C.S. Lewis once said that, “We read to know that we’re not alone.”  I believe that the truth of his words echoes throughout the ages.

 

 

Categories: History, Ideas & Philosophy, Politics/Current Events, Sexuality & Gender | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hmmmm….


Fear of Time Running Out

 

 

X Trapped in Facebook

 

 

SLAVE TO TECHNOLOGY:

X Slave to Technology

HAVE WE REACHED “NEWSPEAK”? 

X Newspeak

 

HERE’S A LITTLE BIT OF GENDER DECONSTRUCTION FROM A 7 YEAR OLD:
(there’s a typed version of it below her handwritten letter)

X shame on lego

 

AND TO END WITH: 

X God approves

X Defense Box Tops

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Things to Think About

Jung Quote

Monsters inside us - the joker

Epicurus

Dante - Hottest Place in Hell

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Keeping the Darkness at Bay

Keeping the Darkness at Bay

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How the Maya of Today Are Marking December 21

Below is an article from National Geographic.  The original article can be found here.
DSC_0888-590x391

In the modern, future-focused Maya culture, there’s not a single “doomsday prepper” in sight as contemporary Maya celebrate December 21, 2012 – the arrival of a new calendar, bringing with it a New Age and a New World.

Merida, Mexico, 12/12/12:

As Mary and I checked into the Fiesta Americana Hotel and started to unpack for the JPAC (Commission Environmental Cooperation) meeting in Merida, we were drawn to our window by amplified voices coming from someplace outside. On the grand avenue below we could see a large, high-tech stage being fitted with lighting and sound equipment. Pickup trucks marked ‘Policia’ lined the boulevard and traffic was redirected as barricades were placed and giant digital screens set up on corners.

We high-tailed it down to the activity on the street to discover that huge, framed black and white photographs of Maya ruins as they appeared a century ago and as they appear today were dividing the wide walkways in front of the ornate mansions and thriving businesses along this lovely paseo.

Fireworks technicians buzzed about, clearly preparing for an extraordinary and illuminating display. Large shiny white moving vans packing brand new super-telescopes were unloaded by hordes of university students in black t-shirts emblazoned with OBSERVANDO EL UNIVERSO MAYA. Waiting to support the jumbo telescopic star viewers, tripods by the dozens filled the street for an entire block, ready to give the masses an astonishing look at the mysterious beauty, which visibly surrounds our planet at night.

Young girls in crisp white linen dresses with bright embroidery wore colorful flowers in their braided buns as they perfected their hair and make up around other stages appearing along the esplanade. A 3-story Christmas tree towered above the happenings on the street while hundreds of children in white shirts and bright red Santa hats waited patiently below it to be organized by choreographers for their performance in this mysterious extravaganza. Elderly women made beautiful baskets on the spot.

As we soon discovered, the event we were watching unfold was a once in a lifetime – actually a once in a hundred lifetimes – event… This was the 21 December 2012 Celebration, the week-long event that will officially mark a new start for the planet as the Maya calendar approaches the end of its 13th Baktun and the start of its 14th next week. (A baktun equals 394.26 tropical years.)

But! As it turns out, the Mayas of today are making no gloomy preparations for a Day of the Dead to end all Days of the Dead. No, this is a celebration of great hope, a welcoming festival for a bright and beautiful tomorrow, the passing of one era and the grand entrance of the next.

The Mayas know this to be and they bask in its promise.

Then why have countless other cultures around the globe so readily subscribed to the ‘end of the World’ theory? Is it simply human nature to look for the negative over the positive, even in the absence of hard proof? Have religious zealots used this opportunity to strike fear into the hearts of men (and women, and dogs and cats, for that matter), because that’s not really working for me. Clearly the Mayas want no part of that concept either. They laugh at it!

So what does a new beginning mean for the World? Well I, for one, am hopeful. I see potential for unparalleled change and enlightenment. I see access to more information than we could ever put our hands on before and with that access I believe will come amazing opportunities for the betterment of man and planet. I am convinced that future generations will be better stewards for life and environment and that ethical choices will prevail as younger generations start entering and taking over boardrooms.

What Mary and I witnessed on the streets of Merida seemed to be a look into the future of mankind, and from the spirit we saw there in the modern day Mayas, it’s so bright ya gotta wear shades!

The new Maya calendar begins with it a grand opportunity for the transformation of man’s consciousness.

One Maya message relays that we are making a choice regarding how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility.

This is a time that the International Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers view as a re-awakening of the feminine. Grandmother Flordemayo stated:

“A transfer of the staff of power from the masculine to the feminine is occurring now.” So we end a 26,000-year chunk of history to begin the next 26,000 years with the nurturing spirit of a feminine power overseeing us; a power that will graciously guide us to work with nature rather than against it.

It seems clear that rather than the end of the world we face a transition from an old World into a new; a World that we can create and cultivate in choosing to do the right things by our people and by our planet.

Strolling away from the 13 Baktun festivities, we soon found ourselves at the Plaza de la Indepencia in the heart of Old Merida, an area adorned with magnificent architecture, including dozens of cathedrals and centuries-old government buildings. Like many Central American cities, the colonial history of Merida reminds us that the concept of freedom should never be taken lightly. In the view of the modern Mayas, they know where they have come from and they know where they want to go. This is an opportunity to avoid the wrong methods and to achieve prosperity through healthier and wiser means.

Wedding parties lined up in front of cathedrals in Old Town Merida as a few blocks away fireworks filled the night sky in celebration of the new Maya calendar.

During this week of celebration, we were able to visit a remote area of Mexico and see flamingos wintering at the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. The village of Celestun, an indigenous subsistence fishing community, is now promoting Eco-tourism to provide for a sustainable future. Its location on the Gulf of Mexico is stunning and the people of this small community are preparing for pending prosperity – not pending doom.

In the most of simple terms, this time is solstice. December 21, 2012, marks the end of the 13th Baktun, and it marks the beginning of the 14th Baktun. The significance of 21 December, 2012, this calendar’s end, and this particular 13/14 Baktun transition, is that it marks the end of a 26,000 year galactic cycle, and begins the calendar of the next 26,000 years galactic cycle. By the very detailed prophecies of the Mayas, this means leaving the calendar of Night and beginning the calendar of Day.

After finding ourselves at the very epicenter of the Maya within just a few days of the ‘current’ Maya calendar’s end, this is what we learned: In another 395 years or so, the 15th Baktun will arrive, and then the 16th, and so on. There will be more Maya calendars and more celebrations clearing the path for change. One happy side note for me is that the last 26,000 years were considered by the Mayas to be the Night. The next 26,000 years they tell us will be the Day. And this, as I see it, is not the dawn of the dead – it’s the dawn of a new day! So let’s join the Mayas in creating a new age of positive, responsible and wise human advancement. We’re in! Are you?

Peace~

Jon

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FYI

I’m just feeling in the mood to share some things that I think are inspiring, or at least nice to think about. 

 

 

 

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Our Media, Ourselves: Are We Headed for a Matrix?

by , NPR, February 20, 2012.  Link to original article (to listen to the story) here.

Design Within Reach? The cool sterility of 2001: A Space Odyssey is just one example of how pop culture expresses an anxiety that's seemingly about technology, but may be as old as time.

 

When Hollywood imagines the future, from Logan’s Run to Avatar, it tends to picture living spaces as sterile and characterless, without any cultural clues to the person who lives there. No record library, no DVDs, no Hemingway on bookshelves … often no bookshelves.

And here we are, catching up to that vision of the future. Sales of physical books dropped 30 percent last year, while e-book sales more than doubled. Sales of DVDs fell during that same period, while online streaming rose. And in 2011, for the first time, digital music downloads overtook sales of CDs. It’s as if we’re deciding en masse that when it comes to the arts and entertainment, we can do without the actual object that is the object of our affection. Who needs real-world clutter in an age when everything streams?

In short: “Welcome,” as Morpheus put it in The Matrix, “to the desert of the real.”

In that film, as you’ll recall, people interact in a reassuringly cluttered but virtual reality. Actual reality is barren. No stuff at all. Nothing physical to establish that one person is different from another. It’s a horror story in which humanity has abandoned all of what makes us human.

This fear of losing ourselves as we lose our stuff — is it just a product of our experiences with technology? Well, if you look at science fiction from the past few decades, you’d certainly think so. In the 1950s, the newness of television inspired Fahrenheit 451, where TV substitutes factoids for information and books are outlawed. A decade later, early spaceflight prompted the sterile domain ruled over by the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The gene-pool experiments of the ’90s prompted Gattaca, where genetic purity is mirrored by a brutal architectural purity.

But the computer age didn’t invent that fear. British author E.M. Forster had these same thoughts more than a century ago. In 1909, right after writing A Room with a View, he penned a story about a cave without a view — a sci-fi story called “The Machine Stops,” written almost pre-technology, in an age of gaslight and pianos in the parlor. Here’s a bit of the story’s beginning (read on-air by Jennifer Mendenhall):

Imagine if you can a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no musical instruments, and yet this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk — that is all the furniture. And in the armchair sits a woman, Vashti, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

Remarkably prescient, no? Considering that light bulbs weren’t yet common in houses, and the first radio stations wouldn’t be founded for more than a decade.

There are good reasons for imagining sterile environments in stories about the future. Space travel requires eliminating things that might float around in zero gravity; clean lines feel “modern” because they contrast with the accumulated mess of everyday existence. But isn’t accumulated mess what defines us as individuals? Forster thought so, and figured we’d grow isolated without it — so, almost a century before computer geeks got around to it, he imagined Skype and the iPad:

“The round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her. ‘Kuno, what is it, dearest boy?’ ‘I want to see you not through the Machine,’ said Kuno. ‘I want to speak to you not through the Machine. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I want you to pay me a visit, so that we can meet face-to-face.’ “

Have a little … face time? The folks at Apple would recognize that. Imagine Forster’s horror if he could see people on a modern city street, avoiding eye contact and bobbing to the beat in their headphones. These days, we think technology is the culprit, but Forster was writing decades before TV started creating couch potatoes, almost a century before parents could complain about computer games turning kids into zombies. And still, his character Vashti doesn’t want to leave her little hexagonal cave. Why would she?

“Kuno’s image in the blue plate faded. For a moment Vashti felt lonely. Then the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. Buttons to call for food, for music, the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. Seated in her armchair, she spoke … while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well … and saw her, fairly well. The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned.”

Abandoned for chat rooms? Online dating? We’re almost there, right? Everything virtual until you’re actually in the apartment of a new acquaintance. At which point, what do you do? Scan the bookshelves and glance through the DVDs, looking for clues. Faulkner? Tom Clancy? There by the stereo, is that Sinatra or Sid Vicious?

A friend told me the other day that she had no CDs in her house anymore. All her music was on her iPod. She still has books, but she’s not buying as many as she used to. From the kid stuff in her entertainment center you’d guess she’s a Disney stockholder. But as her family outgrows those videos, so will her living room.

And her kids’ll be growing up in a world without hard copies of a lot of what members of their mother’s generation use to “define” living spaces and to tell people who they are. It’s fashionable to worry about whether these days, the media in people’s lives are supplanting the people in people’s lives, and about what’s getting lost as the world goes digital — all those cool album covers we had as kids, the stacks of paperback sci-fi novels, the toy soldiers. Won’t the next generation be isolated without them — cut off like Vashti, staring at screens all day?

“The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.”

The title of Forster’s story, remember is The Machine Stops; it’s about overreliance on devices. But as in most dystopias, technology and the sleek sterile chill of modernity are stand-ins for the real culprit. Our anxiety is primordial — given voice in literature and art since whenever it was that people first gathered together. In caves maybe.

Once you’ve felt the comfort of society, you worry about losing it. So to remind yourself of how you’re connected, you gather things around. And you cling to them, not so you won’t lose them, or lose what makes you you, but so you won’t lose the connections they represent. The fear is of emptiness — but of emptiness inside us, not of empty rooms.

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TED Talks

Here’s a link to a website that I love :  TED Talks.  It’s a simply awesome collection of speeches, talks, and conversations that last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes – perfect for our culture whose attention span has diminished since the onslaught of Twitter, Facebook statuses and 2-minute sound bites.

The topics of the talks run the gamut – from technology, to religion, to business, to adventure and compassion.  You click on the topic and TED.com will bring up all videos related to that theme.  And then you sit back and absorb some wisdom from some of the planet’s most brilliant, creative (and perhaps idealistic, but then again, what’s wrong with being idealistic) minds.  I’m hoping I can find one or two that fit into my class this semester and I can share them with my students.

The website began with offering just the twenty minute clips, but now they have TED Conventions, TED Conversations, and even TED grants and fellowships.  TED.com also offers iTunes Podcasts for free:  Here.

From the About TED webpage:

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.”

 

Here are a couple of TED Talks that I found interesting this morning while drinking my tea:

Lakshmi Pratury on Letter Writing: 

For any of you out there who still cling to the idea that Islam is only a religion of violence, please educate yourself. Also, these 16 and a half minutes may shed some light on just how central a role Jesus plays in Islam. As Imam Rauf implies, it’s time to let go of our egos and practice Compassion…

 

Categories: Ideas & Philosophy, Politics/Current Events, Religion, Science/Technology | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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