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Immoral Mission Creep

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

First expressed in 1953, “mission creep” is the “expansion of a mission beyond its initial goals, even after its initial success”. Though often used to refer to military campaigns, it also provides an agile perspective to assess all social movements. Sensing success and popular acceptance, a group proceeds onward with another set of goals. In business the endless “pushing forward” is the name of the game: new products are the life line of a company and successful companies are known for multiple types of products.

Unlike businesses, where a concrete “product” is created, groups dedicated to the promotion of abstract concepts also suffer mission creep. Advocates can never solve a problem: there will always be persistent crumbs of the initial target problem. For a group determined to eliminate discrimination success can only breed new missions: “We are successful, so let’s move this campaign forward.”

Unfortunately the attributes of these movements is not always associated with goals that benefit society. For every group determined to eliminate discrimination another stands determined to continue or expand the status quo abuse. Progress is an endless battle, a constant give and take between perspectives of the greater good. For the individuals working to achieve a goal there remains only constant, infinite levels of challenge.

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Diet, Dearth and Future

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

For those in search of “purity”, the contents of one’s diet are often prime for scrutiny. Beyond components of our careful, cooked creations come powerful revelations on our character. In diet is our character.

For many, a diet is a text wherein one’s feeding is a gateway to the soul. Who is a person? Consider what he eats.

Religion and medical terminology permeate our food labels with terms like “prescribe” and “heal” suggesting deeper, hidden powers. Does  consumption of a brownie mean a crime against the heavens? Our labels might suggest we have as words like “sinful”, “treat”  and “guilty” fill the labels on our food. “Indulge” we read because our item is “guilt free”.

The items that we feed ourselves are symbols for our soul and history is rife with heightened dietary focus. In The Nazi War on Cancer, Robert Proctor writes on Nazi dietary guidelines. Included in his text are dietary notes from Hitler’s second-in-command Heinrich Himmler.  Reading of Himmler’s fear of “artificial food”, we read statements that seem snipped from contemporary diet concerns. Terms like “natural” and “cleanliness” permeate the text. Himmler writes of a concern for a “natural” diet free from “bad foods” like “refined flour, sugar, and white bread.” Just like so many in contemporary society the backwards move to a “natural” diet of the past was essential to existence.

Himmler writes of “food companies” who “prescribe” the German diet and mask an unassuming public. He bemoans the consumption of “refined flour, sugar, and white bread” as invisible hazards to the public. Casting these statements in connections between eater and food, Himmler demonstrates the profound connection that can be drawn from food to personal character. For Himmler and many contemporary diet experts, one’s character was revealed inside the pantry. Himmler sees a danger in our sugar bowl and lurking death in flower. For the German eater a careful consideration of food was essential for national success. Indeed he writes of patriotic duties to eat well. Procter comments that this “private life made public” was powerfully enacted in dietary policy. The public was urged to give up meat, drink alcohol and coffee in moderation and eat only until satiated for the better of their country. From the holy to the hazardous, food has long been the means to improved society. In items that we eat and the diet we subscribe our character is symbolized. In ingredients are character and in meals our greatest mirror.

“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 1 comment

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.

The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 1 comment

Technology can be categorized into two distinct categories: “cognitive” and “non-cognitive”. In the “cognitive” camp I place items like Facebook and Twitter, which prompt the user to interact with its features. A user of these sites is asked to share their thoughts. One is capable of sharing every thought, desire and idea on the site and it works to encourage the user to do so. The user must choose the level of interaction and one could very easily (and many often do) over-share or over-interact with the site. One could very easily destroy a reputation by publishing every thought on Facebook. To fully interact with the site means to respond to its prompting to share fully. Every half-thought idea, emotional impulse and desire becomes fodder for its prompting and if shared material for public consumption.

In the other category, which I call “non-cognitive”, I group items like cars, cooking equipment and material we often see as tools. These items do not prompt us for their use. The microwave does not display a text encouraging you to use it and the car doesn’t honk to encourage you to travel. Among these devices is an in-built limitation that leaves the user to determine interaction. Though one can very easily do damage to a reputation with these tools (for example a car driven dangerously) the level of hazard is lower than the items in the “cognitive” tools category because the user is less influenced by the actual technology.

My suggestion is that the “cognitive” tools are dangerous because their development outpaces our psychological ability to understand the correct way to use them. One must learn to use Facebook correctly. This learning includes an increased awareness of the material suitable for public consumption and the boundaries therein. One should not share secrets or security information like passwords, bank codes, etc.. on these mediums. We learn just what to share.

Such learning though is not automatic and many do not develop these skills or choose not to use them. Commenters make rash and vile commentaries on the internet but in public maintain a calm, cool demeanor. Would these commenters act the same if viewing the video in a public theater? The user chooses the level of interaction. Wisdom comes in learning how to use the technology and gaining the skills for correct use. Many will not gain this info or will choose to disregard these skills.

This disregard for proper use is common with all technology. An ancient technology like alcohol or sugar continues to be misused despite centuries of use and consideration. One can incorrectly drive and destroy a home with the technology of fire. This challenge of learning proper use is common to all technologies. The distinction remains; however, with the “cognitive” versus “non-cognitive” technology: prompted by “cognitive” technology we are forced to develop skills in spite of its asking. This technology form doesn’t want us to filter our interactions. Perhaps the evidence of our struggles with this form are in the constant slew of comment boards and “over-sharing” where a user misuses the technology. Cognitive technology is dangerous because it battles our development of skills.

Camera Call

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

In light of recent news, the issue of police authority has given rise to a national question: Can we regulate our police force? Given authority to “serve and protect” the laws and citizens of the country the quandary comes in our inability to determine the acceptable application of this authority. How much force is one allowed to use when facing a lethal threat? We often view such questions with a “tit-for-tat” simplification, concluding that an officer engaged in a life or death battle is justified in lethal force? Yet herein lies our problem: what is “life or death” and how do we determine that once an incident has ended such actions were justified?

The means by which we determine negligence in public officials is faulted. As we see in FIFA, the NFL, and other large organizations the task of investigating comes internally. FIFA investigates FIFA and the NFL considers NFL actions? Should we be surprised when accusers are dismissed and negligence not found?

The challenge comes in finding the means to conduct these investigations. Given that many of these cases involve the death of the other participant in the incident is essential that evidence in the moment be gathered. On-body cameras for officers is the first step to working towards a better system of investigation. Gather video of the incident and require it be used to consider the case. Included with the benefits of this evidence is the additional accountability that comes with awareness of the cameras? Will the cameras eliminate bad behavior or will in hinder officers from doing their jobs? Of course these questions will arise, but for the benefits of the victims whose stories remain untold it is essential that some technology be used to collect their stories. “All men are created equal” and their stories must be told if we are “innocent until proven guilty”

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.

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