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“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 4 comments

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

Of Reactions to Reactions

November 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Can Newtown explain Ferguson? In reflecting on the physical world, Sir Isaac Newton wrote that “to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction”. Born in 1642 and yet connected to the here-and-now. In Ferguson, Missouri protestors took to the streets in reaction to a grand jury’s decision to not charge Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. Reaction begot action begot action and reaction. Vicious cycle? Yes: for those who own the buildings and the businesses. From victimization came more victims and from suffering came more suffering.

Speaking in Chicago on the day after the protests, President Obama said: “I’ve never seen a civil rights law or a health care bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burned, it happened because people vote. It happened because people mobilized. It happened because people organized.”

The reactions characterized by Newton can be observed in every aspect of our world. From nature see the microcosm and our human turmoil in miniature. Reactions spindle forward as variables adjust. Are we little more than thunderstorms? Can no progress come from what we wrought?

And yet herein lies the critical value: progress. From what progress do our reactions serve? Perhaps this is the key question to ask: “What progress comes from our protest?” Are we building a better world by reacting as we do? One is cautioned to consider this, to ponder one’s emotion and consider a reaction. Destroying in reaction to destruction is a farce.

A Paradox of Resources

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss observes a paradox of resources:

It is possible to have too much of a good thing, in excess most endeavors and possessions take on the characteristics of their opposite. Thus, pacifists become militants, freedom fighters become tyrants, blessings become curses, help becomes hindrance, more becomes less. Too much, too many, and too often of what you want becomes what you don’t want. This is true of possessions and even time.

Disregarding its excess of commas, the statement is a powerful idea. To have too much is, it seems, a dangerous condition. Are we vulnerable with too much stuff? Can freedom or happiness somehow transform from treasures to cherish to hazards to avoid? For Ferriss, this is just the message and in reading his quotation note both warning and suggestion: find balance in your life.

In considering this paradox one can develop an extensive list where the idea rings true. All emotions fit the bill and one need only watch thirty minutes of television to see the desperate search for emotional control on display. Too much fat and too much gray; the calamities are endless. One wonders if with each repair appears another hole to patch.

Likewise with our objects which acquired with desire become objects meshed with leash. We link ourselves with cell phones and stress ourselves with an abstract sense of “connection”. One is “up on things” when each headline has been considered and each message sliced with reply. The “Inbox Zero” concept is some desperate need for clarity. Can we clear the air from all this stuff? Does our data run the day?

One wonders how our data is existence. We are measured in all contexts be it place or time or context. Imagine a dinner party where from market to dessert we are spilling forth our data. From the market where our discount card’s bar code connects our purchase with our demographics to the dinner where some wayward guest posts photos to Facebook. The internet knows where we are…and were…and often where we’re going.

Our Cake of Twenty-Three Percent

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

As of 2013, Ohio’s population was thirteen-million people. Of those, 7.75 million are said to be registered to vote. This is 59.6% of the population. Only 3.1 million people cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term election. This is roughly 40% of those registered and a mere 23% of all citizens in the state. While lack of registration of election day means its impossible to vote, one does have significant swaths of time to register to vote. So-called “motor-voter” laws encourage voter registration by including the ability to register to vote at DMV offices.

One wonders why one wouldn’t vote. Yes, some argue that a single vote has no difference (reducing down to being a 1 in 10 million chance of being decisive), but statistics are unrelated factors here. Instead, I view voting as an act of participation. To be a citizen in a democracy is to be a member of a social machine of sorts, a human construct designed to have human representation as its gears and parts. We vote for representatives who form symbolic collectives of our community who then go on to represent our views in government. The idea is that these representatives will enact, detract or propose legislation that reflects our collective belief. This, of course, is Civics 101 and stupid, simple logic.

But what are we to make of a system where 23% of the population participate. Imagine society as a car. How would a car that is 23% complete function? How might a child respond to a birthday cake that is 23% whole? Unfortunately this is just the cake we’ve baked. Worse yet, while the solution remains in grasp (people can register and vote), the likelihood that they will remain highly doubtful. We live in a world where people will camp outside stores to buy the latest model of expensive electronic toys and yet find no reason to bubble in the teeny tiny dots of a ballot. What purpose does it have? some ask. One wonders where the hesitancy comes in? Is it useless? Well, so what. What other daily chores do we complete that have no functional utility? To vote is to participate and build the machinery of state. At the very least, vote simply to have the right to complain. See those who complain without voting as the baker’s complaining about how bad their 23% completed cake is. What would we say to them? Finish your work, do your job. Low voting rates are tragic. One wonders how such lack of concern for a civic action stems from a country where people died for such a right. Though I know that no one reads this, please, if so inspired take the second to register:

Devices: Self Control

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

In a September 15 article in Pacific Standard, David Destino writes on the powers of accountability and how a sense of being grateful leads to greater self control. Have a nasty habit? Crave the candy bar(s)? Destino says the best defense is thinking about the many positive features of your life.

Included in the article is the now infamous “marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. As part of the test, a group of children were told that by delaying gratification they would be rewarded by a doubling of the treat. A child who loved candy bars would be presented with a single bar, told he could eat it now or wait a bit and receive another, and then left alone in the room. Mischel and his coleagues watched from a distance and observed the techniques used to deny the temptation to indulge. The children used a variety of techniques: some sang songs, looked away or found some other stimulation to distract themselves from the treat. Mischel went further and continued to gather data on his participants and found that those who were capable of delaying instant gratification then went on to lead more successful adult lives: they had less debt, more stable families and a slew of other features that suggested the long term power of self control. From Mischel’s work came a sense of the importance of cultivating self control in people. Is it possible to teach self control?

Destino notes the popular belief that because self-control is so important the process of cultivating techniques to assist in self control are important to teach children. He notes movements like Alcohol Anonymous which focus less on the personal factors that lead individuals to dangerous behaviors and more on techniques to avoid the dangerous item of desire. If the item can be avoided then perhaps the individual can resist the temptation. But what can be said of the success of techniques? Are there less alcoholics in society? Is obesity now a problem we read only of in textbooks?

Far from it.

Instead we live in a world rattled by addictive temptations. From food to technology it seems our every human feature has some item designed to stimulate our pleasure. We exist in a world of plethora filled with countless ways to find just what we want.

Destino offers a second way to defend ourselves from temptation. Choose instead the path of gratitude. Consider what you have to be thankful for and focus on cultivating these benefits. He notes of programs that force an individual to do a good deed if some undesireable action occurs. Termed “pre-commitment” some common actions are an automatic donation to a charity if an expensive item is purchased. Would less people buy the latest IPhone if in purchasing it a equally priced donation was sent to a charity? Might the dreaded candy bar consumed require an hour of service at a soup kitchen? While such actions can seem cruel they do create a greater sense or accountability. We might think we know what’s best for us but faced with the myriad of temptations we are weaklings in the struggle. Studies now show that our self control is like a muscle: use it frequently and it gets sore. Destino writes of a study where subjects were more likely to commit an undesirable act after fighting the temptation for a plate of chocolate chip cookies. We get worn out, it seems, and need something outside of our brains to keep us on the course.

 

Outrageous Acts of Outrage

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

In Totem and Taboo, Freud writes on the role of outrage and its response. He writes of a “violation of taboo”, an action where a social rule is broken. What follows these violation is the issue, existing in a world where immediate punishment does not follow, there is no lightning bolt from the clouds, we must take upon ourselves as a society to enact punishment. The reasoning for this, Freud writes, is to “deprive the envied transgressor of his enterprise”. He describes the pleasure that stems from these violations as “fruits” whose infectious nature make them behaviors which if left unpunished will, placed into contemporary terms, go viral and increase in our behavior. If no-one pays for gas, if everyone steals the candy bar, will everyone do the same?

A certain level of paranoia permeates this perspective. Freud links these actions with “the savages”, a group without specific historical placement and one whose actions closely mimic those of “the neurotic”. Here again Freud uses an entity to represent the collected mass. These specific cases representative of the populace at large are the basis of science (experiments of a few derive conclusions from which larger actions can be taken).

Back to outrage though and this recent news story of a t-shirt company printing a college logo with blood stains. The college, Kent State, was the scene of “the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970 (Wikipedia). Though never explicitly communicated by the shirt, the blood stains suggest the shootings and aim to convey to the viewer the historical event. We see the blood and see the Kent State logo and remember the event on May 4, 1970.

In response to the shirt, Kent State issued a press release expressing their “offense” and “great outrage”. Using collective pronouns like “our” and “we”, the press release expresses the opinion of the University at large, seeming to include some unknown quantity of individuals associated with the university. And yet on what basis does this outrage extend to those involved? The authors of the release do not write on their experience with the event. It remains unknown how those directly affected by the events of May 4, 1970 feel.

Perhaps they are offended and perhaps anyone who has ever attended or even heard of the Kent State shootings is included in the press release. Are we to specify who is allowed to feel outrage at the t-shirt? Of course we’re not, but in this immediate response one wonders how far the extension of outrage goes. What is the purpose of Kent State’s response? Is it outrage or a collection of needs? Might Freud’s observation that the need to punish also extends to a need to control future insults? Would another company violate the norm and print similarly themed shirts if Kent State didn’t respond with this release?

All of this remains a mere observation of a series of events. One cannot fully comprehend the intentions of all involved. Why was the t-shirt made? “There’s no such thing as bad press” is often cited and is perhaps linked to Oscar Wilde who wrote ” the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Was the t-shirt’s aim to  upset one to garner more attention? One will never know the reasons but inherent in these actions are the raw, exposed emotions that lurk beneath the surface. Contained within our tragedies and lurking in our memory is a raw fuel. Companies might choose to engage with this fuel and ignite it with an action, but in doing so the reaction will be unpredictable and intense. Do they want this reaction? For what purpose was the fuel engaged? Offend to sell a t-shirt?

Unboxing an Unboxing Trend

September 3, 2014 Leave a comment

The packaging is opened, its corners peeled and pulled and yanked from deep inside the cardboard box? The newest model cell phone. Unboxing videos are increasingly popular on Youtube. A recent article in The Dublin Review suggests marks the count at “hundreds of thousands”, though these starts are from 2006. Undoubtedly the trend of unboxing will increase as more and more consumers decide the sensations usually reserved for Christmas morning are better made for public and broadcasted for the world.

“Vicarious consumption” is a means by which the non-consumer plays the part of the consumer. When an income doesn’t allow for grand indulgences, or a spouse denies one’s joys, what is shopper self to do? Shop the windows? Load the bucket list of Amazon hopefuls?

“Unboxing videos” are the spiciest indulgence for the shopper-yet-denied.  Indulgences by proxy are common joys indulged. Glimpsing the unboxing video on Youtube we witness our fantasies yet closer. If we cannot make the purchase we can watch someone else enjoying what we want. We’ll be there soon, we hope, or maybe its the watching that’s the pleasure. Is there any greater feeling than the opening of the package? Every dream and expectation remains in possibility. The device has yet to fail and every need we see answered by the item (both realistic and fantastic) have yet to be dissolved. The gift is in the getting.

No Photos, Please

August 17, 2014 Leave a comment

The cameras are everywhere. From pockets to street corners, to concerts and games, the world is full of image and video capturing devices. One can venture into the eyes of these devices without willingly participating. Walk the dog on the trail, take a friend to a concert and one might just be photographed.

Given that one might not desire such “captures” to take place, modern technology should include an option to protect the identity of those involved. If one does not want to be captured, he or she should have the right to be blurred or distorted in some form that renders the captured image free of identifying marks.

As Native Americans were suspicious of the photograph, contemporary citizens might find similar concerns with technology of today. For whatever reason one feels uncomfortable it is to the benefit of all involved that technology work to embrace the rights of privacy and establish means to remove the unintended subjects of photography.

Proof Positive

August 17, 2014 Leave a comment

First, some foundation…

Citizens grant authority to the state to regulate and control populations. These forces work to ensure that the citizens within that society adhere to the established rules and behaviors of expectations. These “rules”, also known as laws, are constructed by the society and subscribed to by those who enter into it. One who disagrees with these laws has an ability within the system to express his or her ideas and work towards a change, removal or creation of different legislation. This is the model of society we have developed through time and the one in which we function on a daily basis.

But what about a crisis?

On August 9, 2014 an unarmed eighteen-year-old was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Without discussing the details (all of which are readily prevalent on this domain known as internet), the event set off a series of protests.

My aim here is not to consider the justification for the reaction by either side. Reacting to a tragedy with violence and actions that destabilize a community cannot be condoned regardless of outrage or perceived abuse of power. Sadly both sides, the police forces and those aligned with the victim’s perspective feel an abuse of power has occurred and are responding with an increased use of force.

My question here is with whom does the burden of proof reside? Given that the event has occurred, it is my opinion that the burden of proof exists with the state. The power invested in the state to enforce laws, and in this situation deploy lethal force, demands a justification after the fact. As citizens we must see evidence that justifies the officer’s actions. For the benefit of all involved, the state must provide evidence that explains the situation. There is no justification for rioting or reacting in any way that further destabilizes the community.

Additionally to this point, a community that perceives any potential need for lethal force (aka every community) must establish a set of tools to gather evidence in case proof to justify action is needed. In other words the forces of the state must recognize the incredible power of force granted to them by the citizenry. Entrusted to protect the laws, they are given immense amount of power. Such power expands beyond the use of force and also includes the responsibility to justify action and display to the citizens that each and every action is justified.

Symbol Drain

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Just as Nixon drained the symbolic power of the two-finger peace salute, figures who embrace the symbols crafted to criticize them quickly drain symbolic power. Symbols are, by definition, an object that represents something else. They are stand-ins for bigger ideas. The peace salute, the red ribbon or the complicated matrix of patriotic emblems all work to represent a larger idea or cause. Groups utilize symbols to simplify a message and create a stamp from which to mark their work. Need to make a statement quickly or refute some absurd state? The symbol is the best bet.

And while symbols hold great meaning, their power is easily drained and erased by imitation. Embraced by one who misrepresents the cause creates a static of understanding. Dilute the message and the message is defeated. For groups who seek to eliminate their opposition the keenest tactic is to not parody the other sides imagery but instead embrace it and redefine it for their own.

Herein lies the danger of the symbol’s simplicity. While powerful and direct, the symbol’s power comes only from its lack of complicated detail. By removing detail and nuance the audience does not fully receive the ideas behind the idea. It is far easier to simply stick the decal on the car or wave the random banner. Strength in numbers, yes, but once a symbol becomes common fare its power is depleted. View the countless decals of the numbers 13.1 and one begins to be less impressed by one’s bragging of athletic prowess. One must be careful when using symbols: powerful when limited but easily depleted, our symbols are less our greatest bullets and more a sharpened jab to the brain. We may strike with solid fervor but with every continued strike the punch becomes better known and the opposition’s ability to counterattack or even disregard becomes all the more easy.

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