Tag Archives: Technology

Turn by Turn Directions

Imagine for a moment, that from the moment of your birth, there was a singular destination to which you were bound, and that the journey to that destination would occupy all the time and energy of your life.

Imagine further, that taking a wrong turn on that journey could have eternally dire and inescapable consequences.

That would suck.

Now imagine, once more, that as is often the case for us in this modern world of wonders, there were an App for that.

Sweet!

Life Directions

In this scenario, the algorithm behind the app is programmed in such a way that it not only knows where you are now and what direction you are heading, it knows about every obstacle and side street you will ever encounter.  It knows about all the other drivers, where they are heading, and when you will interact with them.  It knows about the traffic and weather conditions you will experience today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your life.

All of which would be profoundly handy, if the app could be expected to relay even a fraction of this information to you.

But that’s not how it works.

There’s no glowing blue dot on a map that moves when you move, and no artificially soothing voice badgering you to turn left in 300 feet.

The information is there, but by design it doesn’t display.

And there are no ‘In App’ purchases that will make it do so.

Seems a bit less convenient now, doesn’t it?

It gets worse.

The reason the algorithm knows about all the traffic holdups and twisting side streets to nowhere, is because it put them there.  What’s more, rather than directing you along the most direct and speedy route to your destination, the algorithm is designed to offer up vague guidelines and suggestions while purposely directing you through bad neighborhoods and into bumper to bumper traffic jams, all as a way to test your willingness to continue using the app.

You might think that the other drivers could provide some assistance, but you’d be wrong.  Most of them are too busy arguing about which version of the app you should be using and on which platform.  The dedicated UserGroups are typically more interested in increasing their own numbers, and less so with actual troubleshooting.

But the one thing they will all tell you, fervently, is that you’ve got to TRUST the APP.  If you don’t trust the app, you will never arrive at your destination.  At least, not the one you were hoping for.

And who’s fault would that be?

The other users will let you know, and with absolute certainty, that if you take a wrong turn along the way, or maybe you get sideswiped by a bus, you only have yourself to blame.  Obviously you couldn’t have been using the app correctly.

If, on the other hand, you navigate your way through some bad situation unscathed, that’s just the app doing its thing, and not something you should be taking any credit for.

Probably, you should think about making a contribution to the developer.

****

Occasionally, I feel the need to construct these little “What If’s” when trying to understand how Monotheists see the world.

Sometimes they are helpful.

Sometimes they are just entertaining.

Sometimes they scare the crap out of me.

All I can say about this one, is save yourself the trouble and don’t download the app.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized

Live the Moment • Tell the Story

10% of all the photos ever taken were shot in 2011.

Over the past few months I have noticed this statement, in a few variations, appearing all over the web.  Most recently, it’s been used by Western Digital as an advertisement for media backup solutions, but as near as I can tell, it originated in the September 2012 issue of Fortune magazine.

I’ve been unable to lay my hands on that issue to see if the person making the claim had numbers to back it up, but it feels true.

Ten percent of all the photos ever taken, throughout history, eclipsed in a single year.

I think it safe to say that, by the end of the decade, we’ll have captured more images than in the entire history of photography.

It’s an amazing thought.

It’s also a little horrifying.

“Why horrifying?” you might ask.

Is it because of the sheer volume of poorly composed dreck that is flooding the web?  Am I really so repulsed by the thought of a million million women making the duck-face at themselves in harshly lit bathroom mirrors, or the myriad badly filtered images of uneaten plates of food, or the seemingly endless parade of bare feet, knobby toes firmly planted in the indistinguishable sand of beaches both exotic and mundane?

No.

Okay, yes – a little (I mean really girls, the duck-face thing is in no way attractive).

What I’m really talking about here is a shift in the way we experience the world and how we relate those experiences to others.

What I am noticing, more and more, is that we are not living in the moment so much as we are interposing a camera-phone between ourselves and the moment with the hope of either capturing it for later, or disseminating it to others, instantly, via social media.

Yeah, that’s neat.  Now stop it.

I mean it.  Just stop.

Yes, I see the blurred and jerky video you took while at the concert.

Now put it away and tell me the story.

Tell me how you felt the music move you and how you moved with the music.  Tell me about that moment when it seemed like you made eye-contact with the lead singer and for a moment it was like he was singing to you.  Tell me about the energy that boiled around you from all the other people who were grooving and dancing and sharing in the power of the moment with you.

Can you do that?  Can you tell me that story if you were standing there holding a phone up between you and the band, watching the thing happening right in front of you, all around you, on a tiny little screen?  Tell me, while you were filtering the experience through bits of metal and plastic, were you really even there at all?

We’ve stopped telling each other stories.  We’re out of practice.

We used to do it all the time.

We lived by the stories we shared.

They defined us, our experiences, our culture and our history.

The pictures were always there for us: crude drawings on cave walls that held within them the secrets of creation, waiting only for the right storyteller to release them.

Later, we began writing things down, and that was better because the stories could be preserved longer, even if they did lose a little of their life and spontaneity in the telling.

Still, the pictures were there, and later the photographs, to lend support to the tale told.

When did we turn the world on its head?

When did the story become the thing that was there to support the photograph?

When life presents you with the extraordinary, try living within that moment instead of just documenting it.  Your memory is worth a thousand pictures!

When life presents you with the extraordinary, try living within that moment instead of just documenting it. Your memory is worth a thousand pictures!

“I saw this amazing thing this morning, here, let me show you.”

No.

Stop.

Put the phone away and tell me about the amazing thing you saw.

Tell me about it because I want to know how it looked to you, how it sounded, felt, smelled or tasted.  Tell me about it because if it was so amazing, I want to know that you experienced it and were not just there to take a picture of it.  Tell me about it because, if you can do that, if you can tell a story about the thing you experienced, it means that you thought about it, that you used your mental faculties to string the events into a narrative which means something to you and is something that, in the telling, may mean something to me.  Tell me about it, so that you will tell the story again better the next time, and the next, and the experience will live on, instead of becoming just another neglected pic in your cluttered camera roll.

The best way to share joy is to have experienced it.

The best way to share joy is to have experienced it.

Live the moment.

Tell the story.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Photography

Blinding Me With SCIENCE

The scientific method teaches us that the proper method of inquiry is to develop a hypothesis which we then test through repeated experiments.  We revise and we test, revise and test, until at last, we come to a conclusion.

What many people do not seem to realize is that the scientific method is only one of many possible forms of inquiry.  There are other ways to think, and to experience the universe.  These methods may not always be as orderly as science, but they have a way of taking us to interesting places and unexpected conclusions.

For example…,

Just lately, I have noticed a strange trend among my some of my friends and co-workers to shout the word “Science” at, what seems to me, only the slightest provocation.

I work in a technology field, dealing with a public who often lack a clear understanding of the principals behind the operation of their personal electronic devices.  More than once, I have heard a fellow employee punctuate his or her recollection of a customer interaction with an enthusiastic “Science!”  —  as if he or she had just demonstrated to the 15th century Catholic Church that the Earth was in orbit around the Sun.

And then there is social media, where (as just the most recent example) a friend’s Facebook update about watching the Perseid meteor shower garnered a reply of “Hell yeah, SCIENCE”.

Hell Yeah Science

Maybe I’m confused (or just too particular about meanings of the words I choose) but some people appear to be very confused about what the term ‘science’ actually means.

Science is not a thing, it is a process, a methodology, a filter for observing the world around us.

Science does not make meteors fall from the heavens and burn up in the atmosphere and unless you are using equipment to gauge the trajectory or composition of those falling bodies, you are not conducting science.

A falling meteor is reacting to the forces of inertia, gravitation and friction – not science.

A cellular phone operates through the transmission and reception of a particular frequency of electro-magnetic waves.  Those waves may have been discovered by scientists, but dialing a phone is no more an act of science than lighting a fire is an act of sorcery – for surely the first ancients to control fire and put it to use were considered great wizards or holy men by their brethren.

Now where was I?  Ah yes, SCIENCE!

As I have begun to notice the growing misuse of that word, the cheesy old Thomas Dolby song has become firmly wedged in my brain.

‘She Blinded Me With Science’

Check out the video!

Unable to successfully dislodge it from my weary mind, I gave in and started looking up facts about the song.  I quickly discovered that the old fellow in the video, the one who can be heard shouting “Science” throughout, is (rather was) a famous British scientist by the name of Magnus Pyke.

Think of him as an earlier, British version of ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’.  Dr. Pyke was featured in several television programs throughout the 1970’s, becoming a minor media personality.

The interesting thing about his appearance in the Thomas Dolby song is that he came to deeply regret it.  For years after it’s release, people would run up to him in public and shout the word “Science” – an unwelcome annoyance, to be sure.

Continuing further down the rabbit hole, I also discovered that, while Dr. Pyke spent years trying to popularize scientific thought and principals, he was also quite dubious about the application of those principals in modern society.  In particular, he noted that the creature comforts offered through technology and the applied sciences tend to lure society away from individual freedom and that increased efficiency and productivity have a dehumanizing effect upon the population.

“The main body of the citizenry, the ‘workers’, are kept segregated from the drones … the children, the old and the idle … it has the effect of setting economic effort apart and dividing the day and the week into “work” and “everything else”.  This way of thinking has so deranged our minds that we have come to accept that only when we are actually carrying out paid industrial work are we serving our purpose on earth.  To minds so deformed, the things that ‘retired’ people do are not considered to be of value. They are empty, merely something to do.”

— Dr. Magnus Pyke

Dr. Pyke went so far as to suggest that certain pre-industrial societies were better suited to integrating scientific thinking into a more holistic worldview than what we have seen in the industrialized west.  This is a view I have long shared.

Interesting, is it not, the things we can discover when our search for knowledge is guided by intuition and insight rather than rigorous testing and modeling?

And actually, it sound to me as if the scientific community might not be that far behind.

“…And the trouble with a hypothesis is it’s your own best idea about how something works. And, you know, we all like our ideas so we get invested in them in little ways and then we get invested in them in big ways and pretty soon I think you wind up with a bias in the way you look at the data.  I think we have an over-emphasis now on the idea of fact and data and science … we work hard to get data. We work had to get facts, but we all know they’re the most unreliable thing about the whole operation.”

— Stuart Firestein, PhD 

The truth is, when you get past all the ‘wannabe science nerds’ that seem to be popping up in droves every time someone airs a rerun of ‘Big Bang Theory’ and talk to the people who are doing the actual science, it becomes clear that the public perception of what science ‘is’ is painfully skewed.

Science is not in the business of proving (or ‘disproving’ anything).  Science seeks only to investigate.  It is a yard stick that we set against a universe that defies measurement.  It can tell us many useful things about the world around us, but not everything, not ever.

Mobius Measure

Science!

One of my co-workers recently mentioned that his sister was suffering from headaches.  When he suggested to her that she see a doctor, she replied that she had made an appointment with a chiropractor.  He then complained to me that he, “would prefer she do something a little more “science-y”.

The good Dr. Magnus may have spun just a little faster in his grave.

Ah yes, let’s not look for the cause of the ailment.  Far better to just treat the symptom, and to place your trust in someone who is likely being paid by a multinational pharmaceutical company to prescribe their latest concoction.  Which science, I wanted to ask, was he looking for, Biology, Chemistry, or Economics?

“She blinded me with science!”

They raise science up, the monotheists and the atheists alike, as if she were their goddess.  I see the monotheists appealing to her daily, to rationalize their beliefs, to give them some grounding in truth.  The atheists appeal to her to sweep away anything that is not based on hard, cold fact.

Urania StatueIn Greek mythology, Urania, a daughter of Zeus, is the muse of Astronomy and Mathematics (the disciplines that would eventually become what we think of today as Science).  I wonder if she hears their many prayers and if she is puzzled by them.

I have sent many a prayer to her myself over the years, though I did not always know her name.

As a child, I worshipped her as I watched episode after episode of ‘Cosmos’ and ‘NOVA’, while reading ‘National Geographic’ and ‘Popular Science’ and when I spent my nights charting the movements of Jupiter’s moons through my telescope.  I worship her still, if a little less fervently than in my youth.  The difference, I suppose, is that over the years I have discovered that Urania is just one of the Muses, a single slice of the way in which we humans experience the ultimate mystery of our existence.

The truth, I believe, is that our understanding of the universe can never be complete, unless we embrace all the Muses, equally.

The world around us is more than mere data can define.

“It’s poetry in motion,
When she turned her eyes to me,
As deep as any ocean,
As sweet as any harmony,
Mmm – but she blinded me with science,
She blinded me with science,
And failed me in geometry.”

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Science