Archive for May, 2011

The Utility of Gossip

May 20, 2011 Leave a comment

An interesting story on NPR discusses an evolutionary bias in the human brain that favors gossip. It’s an interesting story but I would argue further that such a bias is more suggestive of a human awareness of deceit and the related need to seek truth and reality. Each individual is keenly aware of the multiple roles that humans must present to the world: at times we are a professional version of ourselves while at other times we are social, laid-back or simply indifferent to our lives. In many cases these varied roles contradict each other and may in fact mock the alternative roles.

Gossip is composed of the secret details that compose the gaps between these different roles. All humans seek truth and reality and gossip possesses powerful contents connecting our varied roles. Who is the true human being? When we interact with someone it is often this question at work. Can we actually know the answer to this question? Is it possible to crack the thick mask that human beings wear? I argue that it is not. I feel it is impossible to know the individual at the core level. Even in those who we know intimately there is a deeper level at which that individual holds details too personal to share. In short, we will never know an individual in full. The human being is too complex an animal and our need for certainty and the truth is merely a desire arising from our awareness of these complexities.

Host Roles

May 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Certain forms of entertainment feature the distinct role of “host”, a figure who acts as the point of access for an audience. All hosts introduce a program and provide the initial point of access; though, this is where the common features end. Some hosts move beyond the simple introduction and act as an advocate for the audience by pushing guests to properly express his or her message.

Melvyn Bragg, of the BBC’s In Our Time is a host who performs this role of “audience advocate” most effectively. By pressing his guests for clarity and depth, he acts less as a host and more as an educator-in-chief whose sole focus is maximizing the value of the audience’s time. Bragg’s pressure on guests is palpable when listening to the program and its often evident that the studio is tense from a certain, unspoken expectation.

Bragg’s work is a contrast to other media hosts who perform a far less active role in relation to the audience. Some hosts simply field questions while others barely exist in the conversation. Often the purpose of the appearance is the defining factor. Figures aiming to promote a new book or movie are not interested in providing a thorough education- if anything they are looking to withhold the best tidbits of the work as a means to tease interest and spark sales. Furthermore many celebrities are not interested in being challenged and are using the appearance and the host as a moment to stoke public awareness.

The unique role of host in media is something worth deeper consideration. More to come? Maybe.

The Noblest of Functions

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Technology provides us with many benefits. If one was to consider each provision and rank them according to benefit, the role of security would certainly be the highest. Technology does many things; it entertains and distracts, it makes life easier and more efficient, but it also can make us safer and protect us from the hazards of daily life. When tech does this it becomes something more than a supplement to life; it becomes a viable tool for daily life.

“Safety Technology” comes in two major forms differentiated on the basis of human interaction. A cell phone fits into one category of safety technology that requires the human being to carry the device. These tools are in a state of waiting and need only human input to perform their function. The role of these devices is utility on demand- a function stemming only from a moment when the user reaches out to utilize the device. Use here is intentional and clearly defined.

The other category of tech includes devices that function without human intention. Included here are safety belts and security systems. These tools function without human input and, as is the case with the security system, are designed to perform without the awareness of a user. The security system is designed to work in secret and to function beyond the level of awareness of some users. The safety belt is similar in that its role is one of automatic response despite human desire.

Technology has many roles but its most important is the role of protector. Some are critical of technology’s heavy exposure to daily human life. While some caution is warranted, technology that makes users safer and secure is a worthy and noble calling for all devices. In our tech we trust and when functioning to make us safe we should recognize the great value therein.

Invested Interests

May 9, 2011 Leave a comment

All failures are a shock to the system. When an individual makes a decision and acts on the basis of this reasoning it is with a confidence that the invested thought has established a basis for confidence. “Because I took the extra time, I should be safe,” is the basic thought pattern here.  Our movement forward, the transition from thinking to action occurs more smoothly as confidence inspires extra pace and a disposal of doubt and suspicion. What then when we find failure? How do we react when our decisions made in confidence find an opposite result? How do we reckon with failure that stems from ultimate confidence? Often these situations are the most troubling shocks to the individual.

Humans are cautious animals. Whether by instinct, experience or just plain intelligence, our actions come after a certain amount of consideration. Gifted with the ability to consider repercussions, the wise individual will pause before acting and consider the results of a future action. Herein lies a fascinating game of time shift: pause in the present to consider how the past can inform the future. Every expectation about the future stems from our experience in the past. Cause and effect rules many of our decisions and our present sensibilities act as arbiters for these two domains.

When we pause we utilize our reasoning skills to make predictions. Maybe we draw on our experiences, our instincts or on the collected knowledge we have sponged up in life. Wise words from family members, friends or maybe artists will echo in our brains as we work through the process of consideration. Plodding forward with our thinking we move towards a level of confidence, a state in which our present state of mind feels comfortable that the future is within our control. From a state of chaos we seek out a sense of predictability and move forward.

When failure happens we see a great reckoning on confusion. Culled into our brains we find a state of serious doubt: we question our ability to reason, the trough of experience from which we have drawn and perhaps even the ability for us to reason in the future. Failures that come from real thinking are harsh and require significant coping skills to remedy.

Osama Bin Laden: The Brand

May 3, 2011 1 comment

The death of Osama bin Laden is less the killing of an individual and more the loss of a brand.  After 9/11, bin Laden the man became a secondary entity; with the “War on Terrorism”, bin Laden became a symbol of hatred and goal of revenge that moved him beyond the human domain and into this arena of abstraction.

After 9/11 his power stemmed less from his active planning and action and more a function of symbol and totem. The bin Laden brand was a powerful one with a global resonance. As with all brands and symbols, though, the clones stemmed from inspiration distort the perception of the inspirational symbol. Harold Bloom’s theory of “Anxiety of Influence” rings true here as the figures that Osama Bin Laden inspired had to do more than their inspiration and, when linked to bin Laden lead to a reassessment of the brand. Bin Laden’s mirrors expanded and gradually distorted the original image by using decapitation and numerous events that killed more innocent figures than “targets”.

By 2010 the power of Bin Laden’s brand was lost. New forms of revolution that used social media and idealism replaced the bin Laden brand of violence and high religion. While Bin Laden’s death is a major victory for the American military and the political machine, its significance will remain only a nostalgic one unless lives are saved. In this arena there are no victories beyond the everyday lives of the populations surrounding these actions. Everything else is mere theater or politics.

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