What Direction, Humanity?

_web Staring at chaosWhat if we’re all parts of one organism we call humanity? Like cells, but not. We’ve even managed to grow a nervous system which you’re using to read this now. Everyone wants to be the brain, and we like to speculate about things like collective intelligence when more often than not we see collective stupidity. There’s a reason that the intestines weigh more than the brain.

So, what’s the plan? As an organism, what are we doing? Aside form warring with other parts of ourselves and evolving structures, what, exactly, are we up to? At this point we just erode a planet, but to what end? We don’t have a plan.

As individuals we’re very busy, racing to and fro, but the almost all of what we produce is not what other species are too interested in. This is why the dolphins have not evolved feet; they do not want to see our great cities. Some primates stay in the trees and fling poo at us as we pass by. Some species just say, “screw it!” and go extinct, even as elephants wander around trying to reclaim territory from invaders who are just trying to sustain themselves.

Self-interest. We’re all pretty busy with self-interest, like all the other creatures on the planet. It’s a survival trait, it’s nothing to be ashamed of – we’ve come from a long line of self-interested people who somehow managed to procreate. Certainly, we help each other, but do we really? Does that farmer in India in that village really need to be having it out for some subsistence farming while facing our elephants?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be productive members of society, but it also seems like we are just racing against each other all the time and as a species we don’t really have a direction. We have the people who have the most of what we’re told we should produce doing some pretty odd things that don’t really benefit us, like a car as space junk in the solar system. What other species does that?

“We’re going to expend all this energy to fling a car into space!” doesn’t seem like something myself or anyone else agreed to. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have approved had I been asked, but it’s not likely.

Allegedly the intent is to get people interested in space travel, though I’m not sure what the selling point of space travel to the old lady who just got home from Walmart with sore feet, which she has basic health insurance to help her with as long as she makes her co-pay. It’s a reality. Does that car, that costs more than she may make in 3 years, inspire her in Space travel, or does she wish she could live freely without her feet being sore all the damned time? Her grandson might be inspired, but he’s busy dodging gluten while stationary and staring at a flat screen.

“Grandma, they sent an electric car into space!”
That’s nice dear.”

Grandpa, who died of a heart attack on the way to the ground as he fell off that roofing project, would have been more practical had he been paying attention, “Well, that electric car spinning it’s wheels in space has no purpose!”, and promptly got back to making those, “Get off my lawn!” signs. He sold those as a side project so he could afford the co-pays on health insurance. Sadly, he could not invest in the future NFT disaster before he died otherwise he would have been noteworthy to his grandson for 15 seconds, between swipes.

Personally, I like the space exploration thing, but I’m writing here that it’s not the top priority for everyone. It’s not even my top priority, honestly. Hear me out.

Genetics has proven we’ve got loads of ancestors who loved two main things: Sex and Travel. Someone way back when whispered, “Go forth and prosper!”, and let me tell you we took that very seriously – so seriously that we’ve pretty much run out of spots on the planet. In fact, some people might even consider that this happened a while ago. There’s a clip of Sam Kinison cracking a joke about people who need food are living in a desert, which, on it’s face, is funny and should have people asking why people are living in those areas. Maybe they could move somewhere else, but now we have lines on the planet that restrict travel.

So what we have is a survival trait of being nomadic becoming a liability. The “stay put” gene, if there is one, is becoming dominant. As a society, we’re becoming conditioned to stay in certain places rather than wander – and that makes the idea that by the time those people in the desert can wander space they just might want to stay put since the idea of nomadism was finally extinct. After all, they’re in a desert without Netflix. You know there will be kids born.

What we’re deciding, really, is who gets to go exploring. The grandchildren of that farmer in India isn’t going to get a Willy Wonka ticket to get on that spaceship.

I don’t know where we’re going as a species, but I’m pretty sure where we’re not going.
I’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled life of productivity to whatever end.


Human Decency MediaWe are born into a world of narratives, each one of us, and depending on accidents of geography, we are fed different narratives. We are born into whatever government we have, we are molded into what is expected of us, and we are even told who we must like or hate. These are things societies do, passed down from generation to generation, as a method of keeping things cohesive to an extent. That cohesiveness comes at the cost of adhesiveness between groups.

These narratives always start off with good intentions, and are carried on with the best of intentions, be it whether the intentions are for others or ourselves, or likely some mix in between. What does it matter to anyone that someone they never met has committed suicide? We believe we should care. We are told we should care. Society demands us to care. We care, in an odd sort of way, but we know nothing of the person and rather than get to know who they were, we find reasons for what they did not as much for them – it’s much too late for them – but because we worry that someone we do know will.

When a mass shooter kills a bunch of kids, we necessarily understand that the children are the future. We empathize with the parents, but unless we see that it could happen to children we know, we don’t worry about them. We might shrug it off. Just as when a missile kills a lot of civilians on another part of the planet, who was raised on different narratives we think are inferior because they are not our own, we can shrug off easily that and go about complaining about the line in the coffee shop.

It’s only when we see ourselves in other people that we pay attention. When we see people like us or near enough to who we see ourselves as – not necessarily who we are – we can empathize, because we recognize them not as human, but as someone like us.

Being ‘human’, unfortunately, is demonstrably not enough as we cast our gaze across the planet in a moment, even this one, and should we dare peer back through that gaze, we will see the pattern dancing in time. All because of the misfortune of the incompatibility of systems of thought that were designed implicitly to form an identity, and where there is identity, there is an isolationism to secure that identity even if that identity is to not be isolationist.

Tomorrow, children all over the world will be born who will likely will never meet, born into systems of conflict that they had no say in. Systems that may oppress others within the system, a very human trait, such that others may benefit – which is where some begin preaching another narrative of communism, or socialism, and where junior college students intellectually masturbate – those systems end up the same way, but without some form of recourse. Some of us were told democracy was best, but no two democracies are done the same, and what constitutes ‘freedom’ is largely dictated by a government detached from the people who allegedly get it… if they work hard, we tell them, things will get better, a lie told since the agricultural revolution – perhaps even before. It keeps society together so that some can scrape the cream off the boiling milk of humanity. Every system does this, it’s a matter of how.

It’s a matter of what humans do. We’ll deny it and claim that it’s not that way, and sit our children in front of flat screens filled with narratives that preach how fair the world is when it most certainly is not, even letting some of them think that the world owes them some strange birthright to impose their will on others as they please with no recourse.

We are such odd creatures, creating worlds of fictions for generations that confine the generations to those fictions. We have knee jerk reactions when other fictions are brought forward. A different religion? Not believing in religion or supreme beings? Off with their heads!

They disagree with us? Cancel them. They say something we disagree with? “Clearly, not one of my people!”.

And with all of that it is easy to dissemble harsh realities of circumstance that are outside of our own narratives because, we tell ourselves quietly, if they were only like us, it would not have happened to them.

How unfortunate about flooding in that part of the world, but no, climate change is not real, let me hop in my SUV to have coffee with a friend. How terrible that those people over there are getting killed, if only they had the good sense to be like us, it would not have happened! Oh my, a global pandemic! We’ll isolate our society and see who does best, locking down borders not because we don’t want to spread from our magic lines on the map, but because we fear the spread within our magic lines, our borders of our society, marked by people who have long since died.

But every now and then, something creeps in on us in an increasingly flattened world through communication. Every now and then we feel a sense of connectedness across a distance that would have taken a lifetime to travel not so long ago, because there are commonalities in our narratives, our fictions. There are things we can agree on. There are things we see in others as mirrors of ourselves, little lights across the world that blink even for a moment, making us begin to question the narratives we were born into.

This is happening across the world right now, increasingly, but we usually only see the disagreement and even the violence because the majority of us stick together, blinded by our surroundings to what lays beyond, that which we were told is not good.

Societies, as we call them, are often big enough where they have different societies in them with different experiences. The kid from South Boston may have more in common with the kid in Zimbabwe than either will with the people not 50 miles away, within their own societies. The children of the wealth gravitate to each other for the same reason, because they see themselves in each other. Maybe the trouble is not culture or religion or the artificial construct of race – all of them are artificial, really, but race is a fiction built on fictions and built into fictions, enough so where people still talk about it because people still act on it.

Meanwhile, at the individual level, everything we see and do and learn impacts who we are, and we see similarities in other people across the spectrum. Society might say they can’t be friends, or even fall in love, but that bond can defy the bonds of society, the social contracts our baby feet were inked and pressed upon without our assent.

Knowing this all – because we can’t un-know it – why do we ask children what they want to be when they grow up as a ‘career day’ rather than ask how they think they can improve the world? Because the world, in most of our minds, is only as big as the society we live in, and that society needs doctors, lawyers, and ditch-diggers and dish-washers.

Left to our own devices, we might just jump in puddles all day, some seem to think. What a crazy thought. Our societies need people to serve them coffee without incident, present a smile that must look real at theme parks, serve umbrellas with drinks and otherwise pamper us because where would we be without that? We might have a human experience, and those are uncomfortable because that’s not our narrative, some think. To have a conversation beyond, “I’d like a caramel iced latte!” might lead us to break down a part of the system that works for others.

Trapped in the straitjackets of society, we slam into each other on the internet, unable to do anything but bump, bite and kick…

Until we take the straitjackets off and begin interacting differently.

Image at top made with Inspirobot.me.


In a rush they shove us into containers,
Anything they have that will hold us,
They like or hate what fits,
They hate or disregard what doesn’t.

If there is space around us in that shape,
They say it is our fault for not filling.
We are… deficient. Wanting.
Their expectation magically
Becomes our… abnormality.

Some fill the hollow and pass on the containers
Some do not and pretend, and pass on the containers.

And some of us rattle in the containers,
insistent, and
break them.

Beyond Boxes.

flickr svklimkin publicdomain aug 8 2017Every now and then, I come across someone from India who has something crappy to say about the Indian diaspora. It makes little sense to me since my roots are only partly East Indian, and I don’t identify as Indian (or anything other than ‘Other’). In my youth, I was constantly asked about this in Trinidad and Tobago because to my father’s side of the family, I was not seen as Indian, and in Trinidad and Tobago at the time – and even now – they would ask me if I was white or Indian.

It wasn’t til I was 16 or so that I figured out I could be both and neither. I got to pick what I took from different cultures, much to the chagrin of those around me, and built my own identity as most third culture kids do. Had I been in the US, I have no doubts I would have been mistaken for some version of Latino – it happens to this day, and in Trinidad and Tobago these days, I often get mistaken for a Venezuelan.

The trouble isn’t that I don’t know who I am. I do know who I am. The trouble is that I don’t fit neatly into a slot with fuzzy borders of racism.

A few days ago, I was on Twitter, doing my thing when I encountered an Indian who, when he could not refute my comments, went ad hominem, brought up the indentured past of my father’s side of the family. I chuckled. The root problem with looking down on the East Indians who left India as indentured laborers is that there were two choices for the Indentured Laborers: Stay in India, where they believed they had no future (thus they left), or go somewhere else and maybe get some land somewhere and have a future. The British boot remained the same. Such was the British Empire. And, while telling me that I should go and ‘lick the boots of my white masters’, I laughed outright because we were tweeting at each other in…

Guess which language?

You’re right. English.

So Indians looking down on the Indian diaspora for leaving and speaking English vary by only one thing: They stayed in India. That’s it. Now, to be fair, there are tidal pools of culture that formed in the Caribbean and South America, where subcultures formed, but at the very beginning, the chief complaint of people who come after those of Indian descent in such ways is that… they left. And with such winning personalities trolling the diaspora, I can understand why they left.


India is not made up of those people alone. I know this because I know people from India, and while we may not agree on some things, we’re respectful and even, in some cases, fairly close friends.

facebook FossbytesYesterday, I came across a post by Fossbytes on Facebook that seemed poorly timed given the issues in Ukraine, featuring imaginative (and, I might add, impractical, at least for now) ways to conduct war by a Russian inventor, so I said as much in the comments – it was poorly timed. I don’t know the Russian inventor, I don’t know his politics, and I don’t know that he supports the invasion of Ukraine so I saw no need to jump the gun, per se. So I just said it was poorly timed given the current conflict, and of course I got trolled – I knew that going in. 

Now, here’s the thing. I’m also a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) advocate and have been since the late 1990s. For a while, I was involved with LinuxGazette.com, I spoke at conferences in the Caribbean and Latin America and got to meet some of the more famous people involved in FOSS advocacy at the time. I wasn’t unknown, I was in that nice little comfortable zone of being known without being famous.

I decided that they may not get my message and went to the Fossbytes.com website, checked the Fossbytes.com about page and… Indian. Which got me thinking something about the very first interaction with India I had since the Ukrainian Invasion started. We’ll get to that. 

I got an email address, and sent them a friendly email about it. They haven’t responded, of course, but I did my part and decided to check up on that first interaction. 

When things were just starting up in Ukraine, like many people who saw a former colony of the USSR trying to be reclaimed by it’s former colonizer, a sovereign nation being invaded, I was trying to find ways to help out and I noted the wounded, the dead, the Ukrainians leaving Ukraine en masse and I remembered something from after the South East Asian tsunami back when I was writing for WorldChanging.com but was busy with the Alert Retrieval Cache.

In the wake of that tsunami, Indians in the affected areas wrote a brilliant piece of software for finding people after a disaster and I thought, “Well, what is a war but another form of disaster?”

 So I emailed the Sahana Foundation on March 28th about using it in assisting with refugees, etc, because it is a brilliant piece of software, or was the last time I saw it in action. To date, 10 days short of 2 months, no response.

So that’s 3 interactions, or 1 interaction and 2 attempted interactions with Indian entities regarding things related to Ukraine.

Now, I know China and India are having issues along their border, I know India and Pakistan have issues along their border (Gandhi is shaking his head somewhere, he said creating Pakistan was a mistake) , and I know India imports oil and weapons from Russia (the latter will be a neat trick with global sanctions on Russia).

I also know I have good friends of India proper.

And I know that the first interaction mentioned was that of a troll who might not be Indian, but sure seemed like it, and let’s face it, being the 2nd most populous country in the world (currently 17.7% of the global population), it’s almost unavoidable to come across someone I disagree with in India.

Fossbytes comment DahirAnd I also understand that publishers like Fossbytes.com just churn content, though they did make it a point to hail out the Russian inventor in the contents and that seemed pretty much like they knew what they were doing and pushing a bit on something they knew would be controversial. The comments in that thread certainly have their stats jumping, I’m sure, and hey, as long as the stats are jumping, publishers don’t care as long as they get the views.

There’s lots of wiggle room here. I start with assuming the best and let people lead me to their worst. This is no different.

Sahana Foundation, however, was a disappointment because their system could have been useful if they chose to. Maybe they don’t check their email. Maybe they don’t care about Ukraine. Maybe the people who check email are superglued to a toilet somewhere. I don’t know.

I do know generally speaking that when you send an email requesting information, you get a response back. Sahana – epic fail. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have shown themselves resourceful beyond measure and have developed their own stuff on the ground, which means… when this is all over… Sahana will likely be outdated instead of evolved. Software Life Cycle.

In all of these interactions, with the backdrop of India’s lack of condemnation of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, I have to wonder how much Indian media has to do with this. I have to wonder how much the Russian echo chambers are resonating within the walls of India’s media that was browbeat by the Indian government during Covid and simply didn’t publish things that challenged the government (per a few friends in India). Or stopping exporting wheat when the globe has a wheat issue, understandable to an extent given India accounts for 17.7% of the global population and the current heat wave in India. 

Now, here’s the thing. I wrote a lot about India here, but this isn’t an Indian issue. It’s a global issue. The Ukrainian issue is a global issue. But these 3 interactions with Indian entities gave me pause.

And then I remembered the Indians serving in the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine, and it all balanced out.

It’s easy to classify people by color, race, culture, region, religion, gender, and whether they think the boiled egg should be opened from the small or large end. It’s arguably an evolutionary thing that frees our minds to, as Douglas Adams would write, advance twig technology. Yet we need to evolve beyond these things because humanity is interconnected across the globe.

We should have had a pandemic teach us that, but instead we seem to have decided to go with isolationism. So you find the voices of coherence out there, regardless of who society thinks they are, and when you’re going in the same direction you travel together. The destinations may differ, but the same direction is the same direction.

So the next time you’re thinking of grouping people together in a lazy way because they are working against you or not with you, take a breath. Just go find the ones who are going your way.



Within The Chrysalis

Vancouver Public Library - Central BranchMany of us are practicing social distancing at this time. We get updates from those in authority once or twice a day, and the rest of the information is largely derivative of that – from actual analysis, which is rare, to rampant speculation. We sit, surrounded by the walls of a home many of us have not had the opportunity to become intimate with. Our mini-vacations at home have become a long stay.

We tour our prisons from the inside, these systems that are not working as we expected as nations, these walls that are uncomfortably close for many as individuals.

In our solitude, or being stuck with the people we only were for a fraction of the day, some of us try to escape into the speculation and analysis rather than face what’s at home. It scares us at such a subconscious level that we don’t even know we’re doing it. We fill our time with things that aren’t necessarily good for us.

We think little of who we want to be, or who we should be.


There are others with more pressing problems, like the poor in India who are walking home. In the attempts of states to quell the virus, borders have become locked down. People staying inside takes away from the lower rungs of the economy, the people you see on the street.

A few days ago I watched as someone tried to clean the windshield of a Range Rover at a light despite the lady driver not wanting it. He had her pegged, thinking that if he started she would feel obligated to give him something, but what he failed to realize is that the virus is larger than that feeling of obligation she may have had. He’s hustling to make a living, she’s hustling to get home virus-free.
Heavy Duty Silver Duct Tape - 5 Roll Multi Pack Industrial Lot – 30 Yards x 2 inch Wide – Large Bulk Value Pack of Grey Original Extra Strength, No Residue, All Weather. Tear by HandWe have people who, unprotected socioeconomically, are at greatest risk for contracting Covid-19. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Chief of Police rattled his saber when on the first of the month people were not practicing social distancing at banks and groceries, even threatening to close them down – but the systems in Trinidad and Tobago lag, pensioners need to cash cheques because the electronic system fails them. Sure, maybe it’s available, but that they don’t use it is a failure – a design problem. No one seems to think that the businesses bear responsibility here. Of course they do. At the cost of a roll of duct tape, they could have social distancing easily visible.

Some businesses do this. In an odd way, the lines of tape meant to separate us are the very thing that will allow us to re-connect beyond this virus.

TriageWe are shocked at triage throughout the world, where the limits of resources are stretched beyond capacity. Doctors in some places have made choices, in other places they will have to make choices. In the U.S., the silent triage of health insurance that has been happening has had a virus demonstrate the flaws in the system, particularly when the measures to slow the virus have taken jobs away.

Many are alone, unpaid in a global economy that requires it’s pound of flesh to simply stay alive. There will be more.

Those of us who are at home read all of this, staring at statistics that are implicitly flawed for a variety of reasons, as if staring at the clock will allow the pot to boil faster. The majority of us will get this virus, and how our body reacts will determine which stack of numbers we belong to – and the vast majority of us will be in the stack that will be mourning the loss of loved ones and friends afterwards. That’s the reality and, as realities go, it’s not very different from normal life except for one thing:


So to give them their best chance, to give ourselves our best chance, we stay within our chrysalis as individuals, as states, and eventually may realize the wringing of hands has no positive effect – in fact, it can simply spread anxiety – and we watch, for it is important for us to witness this and see how we need to change things – and we wait.


“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
-Haruki Murakami


Eventually we will make our way out of our chrysalis as individuals and as states, and after that as a species.

The Negotiation

MeaningAs a child, my mother would tell me to clean my room, something I often felt was a punishment or a way to get me out of her hair which was at least partly right given what I have learned as an adult. And so I would go and do things, largely unproductive, and then say I had cleaned my room.

She never thought I had. And after a while she seemed to realize she and I had very different ideas of what a clean room was and told me that before I told her that the room was clean I should stand at the doorway, pretend I was her, and see if the room was clean. This was a great idea, but poorly implemented in retrospect, as she never quite told me what she was looking for in a clean room. Suffice to say my room was never clean in her eyes, and in mine it was almost always clean.

Everyone has some sort of story like that, where in communicating we might say the same words with very different meanings, and this negotiation is something we end up doing every day.

Yesterday, someone wrote that gravity was ‘the way that objects were attracted to each other’, which doesn’t stand as much rigor as he was trying to demonstrate. There are other reasons that objects are attracted to each other, such as ionic and covalent bonding, and gravity by itself isn’t an answer as much as a question. Sure, scientists have learned a lot about gravity, but the notion of gravity itself as we accept it and how scientists deal with it is different. Gravity is an explanation, and more accurately, it’s an evolving explanation, as everything is.

Meaning changes. Meaning is constantly being negotiated between people, between peoples, and even within ourselves. At some point, we as individuals decide when we’ll just call something by a name, and collectively, society does the same based on how popularly lazy we are about it – after all, if we got muddled down in being pedantic about everything, nothing would get done – but underneath it all, we have to understand, everything is being negotiated.


And everything we agree upon will eventually change.


Seas of Humanity

_JMB6699LoIf I had been born a few hundred years ago, I would likely have been on a ship staring out into the horizon, my body rolling to the waves, heading to places not on known maps if only to get away from all that traps us.

Some people are comfortable in what society dictated before we were born, where it is all well defined by those who came before, a world which worked for those that defined it and their descendants. So much of our world works that way, and as humanity grows older the clay of systems becomes brick, hardened, inflexible, immobile.

A child born today will find in adulthood that they pay taxes that were agreed upon by others long ago, that they may worship in a religion that while they may be faithful is an accident of geography, that they have more or less opportunity due to a socioeconomic status that they had nothing to do with. Even our bodies conspire against us in this way, subject to genetics that some deny even as they breed animals. Few, if any, break out of these shells, and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to break out of them.

In fact, simply traveling without permission from authorities we didn’t create across borders we didn’t draw to see things in other places is illegal, something I myself was born into, but which I have watched become more and more harsh. The nomadic roots of our human past find themselves in shrinking containers and, when the container cracks under the pressure, someone dutifully comes along and mends the cracks with gold to make the container that much more attractive to those outside, but less bearable for those within.

We live lives where we dig coal, and for those few of us fortunate, we dig coal in ways that we enjoy, and at points when we look up from our task and dare to look to the horizon, someone or something cracks the whip to keep our noses down. And so we go, nose to the coal grindstone of ‘life’, in the hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will draw nearer as someone long ago promised.

A lifetime of slaving at something or the other, or many things, to be rewarded later when we are old. The 50 year old in the convertible corvette, what’s left of his hair blowing in the wind, the tired and empty joke of decades ago.

Nature reclaimsI’ve been left in this life rediscovering elder things, repurposing that which came before, exploring the abandoned as if it were new only because it was new to me, sharing it with others who found it new for themselves. Photographing things, writing about things, and watching parts of a past we romanticize only because it is abandoned, maybe because inside we feel abandoned by the gilded cages we live in – some more gilded than others.

I do not know. I do feel.

There is little rationality we find in such feelings in systems that tell us even how to feel – if we’re a bit too different, if you rebel just a bit too much against the system, we are either criminal or someone with some form of mental or emotional disorder, rarely both, and based on… things we find we are unable to control a few steps beyond the facade.

Any port in a stormWith all of this mind, I close my eyes at time and escape into the view of a bay with my gear packed, thinking of a world where I can sail away from what is established and able to push into the unknown, where the laws of nature outweigh the rules of the land, where it is unsafe and where one’s worth is gauged not by artificial structures but instead whether or not you are a good person in a storm.

And I open my eyes and find myself sailing through the artificial structures of society, dancing on the waves of what people have been taught to think and believe and how to think and believe, and realize I am sailing across the most dangerous waters we could create on maps that shift even as we cross latitudes and longitudes, having lost members of the steadfast crew as we moved to the horizon of humanity, and I find some comfort in that.

Our Modern Intimacy

Modern intimacy. #tech #people #intimacyI’m guilty of going somewhere and interrogating my phone – who isn’t in this day and age? – yet it seems you see people going out together only to stop and get coffee somewhere so that they can sit closely, a faux intimacy, checking up on things and not interacting at all.

Worse, they may be using the infrastructure to share information with each other – bouncing off of servers, perhaps even internationally, so that they can share information.

Have we forgotten how to make eye contact, to talk?

And these are typically the same people who do not respond to messages in a timely manner. It makes one think they are studying articles on how not to communicate.

Yet I myself am guilty at times, when things have run their course and the person with me no longer holds interest for me. This is why I’m usually alone – people generally bore me quickly – but when I’m present, I am completely present.

The Lost B Sides Of Our Lives

VINYLVinyl. Some audiophiles still say that it’s the best way to listen to music as they don their rubber gloves, pull their records out of the cardboard holders (plastic removed to avoid warping of the vinyl), carefully placing the record on the turntable, adjusting the speed for a 45 (single) or a 78 (album) post WW II, and 33 RPM later on for albums.

Today, the MP3 reigns supreme – a compressed version of the music where the frequencies are kept only to that which the average human ear hears. Yet there was a time before this, a time before the 8-track tapes and later cassettes and the then ubiquitous Walkman cassette players, before compact discs (CDs) (Hat tip to Valdis Krebs on his correction through LinkedIn).

In the house I grew up in, a Sansui amplifier and tuner was the core of the sound system – 2 Technics turntables, a reel-to-reel system, and a dual Technics cassette deck with Dolby recording and playback ability. When alone, the wooden floors vibrated as only speakers made in the 1970s would make them. Every Friday, Patrick and I would look over the Billboard Top 100 to watch the trends, and I would go off and buy some 45s at the local record store.

I learned early on that what I liked wasn’t always popular. With music slower to come by than it is today, I’d end up flipping the record over to hear the other single that came with the record. A great example of this was the B side of ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears: The Big Chair. A mixing dream, really.

I’d end up exploring the work of artists other than what was popular. Sometimes it was crap, something that the recording company chose out of their discography that didn’t even make it onto an album, and sometimes not.

We don’t do that anymore. I’m not even sure that many people did it in the first place, daring to spend the time to see if they liked the song, but I do know that at least some hit songs came from B-sides. You can read about some here, and some others here where you can listen to themThink songs like, “You can’t always get what you want” (Rolling Stones) and “Revolution” (The Beatles).

In an odd sort of way, we were allowed to explore the music of artists through their detritus on the B-sides of albums – the stuff that publishers ‘threw away’, not wanting to give a free hit single away with another. And yet, some of their greatest mistakes are treasures – some popular, some not, the listener deciding what was good or not simply by flipping a record over and checking.

Fast forward to today.

The Internet brought us the ability to get music like never before. I’d like to think most of us legally buy music, I’m certain at least some of us download without paying some service or publishing company. Artists in some cases have bypassed the middlemen in this, allowing us to purchase directly from them through websites. Some even make their music available for free here and there.

But the services, just like yesteryear, are about maximizing profit. There are no more B-sides; we are bombarded with things that are algorithmically decided for us as we stream music. Just as on social networks our digital shadow – what we do online – is used to decide what we see, so it is with our music. Alternative – how can something be alternative when it becomes mainstream? – is even decided for us. We are less consumers now, maybe, than we were before the Internet in that there is no conversation (hat tip to the Cluetrain Manifesto), decisions about what we get are decided not even by other human beings but by statistical and heuristic analysis of our data. We are, in the eyes of algorithms, what we were, and not what we can be – never-mind what we should be.

Generations have passed having never flipped over a vinyl record, having never read something not decided for them…. we are become the algorithms of our algorithms, the ‘tools of our tools’ as Thoreau might write today.

Unless we find the B-sides of our lives.


I was considering the words of Secretary Mattis to the troops: “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.

As a veteran, I get that. I served with people who didn’t like me, and I didn’t like some of them, but we had a common purpose. A vision. If we all pulled together, we accomplished things – united we were powerful, a force to be reckoned with. We knew we needed each other no matter what religion or culture, no matter what shade of our skin, and no matter gender (and the latter has become more pronounced since I got out). We strengthened weak links in the chain.

You can say many things about scorned women, but a team with a common purpose is exponentially worse. Of course, this is in the interests of one nation, so it is often at odds with similar groups of people around the world, particularly when the politicians do what they’re good at – division. It’s how they get elected, after all, so armed with their hammers all they see are nails.

Humanity lacks a vision that is beyond itself. Sure, you can tell me about religion (it’s not like people seem to need an invitation), but realistically that too is a bit narcissism  – as if we humans matter enough when, in the broad scheme of things, we don’t contribute much other than consuming energy.

How are children not sexually transmitted diseases? How is a growing population that does nothing but grow and destroy what it lives in anything but a cancer?

Seems like we need a vision beyond that to truly survive. Otherwise we’re just rats in a cage looking to escape or eat each other.

Some say that this is already happening.