Mr. Bojangles

A Brazilian friend of mine told me that there is a saying there: “As long as there are people clapping the madman will dance”.

As simple as that is, it merits considering that even as we clap, we dance, and as we dance, we clap, as do the people around us, as do the people we agree with, as do the people we disagree with.

Mr. Bojangles suddenly gained new meaning to me.


For no good reason, I’ve been thinking about generations.

People have a tendency to communicate about generations a lot, which includes a lot of generalizations that rarely fit individuals I know. In the broad strokes, there is commonality among the ‘nurture’ aspect of generations, yet that commonality isn’t consistent at the individual level.

In essence, it’s a great way to express things that one doesn’t actually know too much about – something Millenials have been learning the hard way some time, something Generation X (my generation) learned long ago, and something that Generation Z will find out in time.

My generation was largely a disappointment to the previous generation – the Baby Boomers. And conversely, we found the Baby Boomers a bit disappointing ourselves because their judgements came from the world that they grew up in as opposed to the one that they created.

Like all generations, my generation wanted to change the world for what we thought was better – and we did some pretty amazing things given the tools we had pre-Internet.

The very idea that large numbers of people could coordinate around the world to bring their discontent with South African apartheid probably boggles the mind of post-Internet generations – but we didn’t do that alone by any stretch, despite what we may think. The truths related to this involved traditional big media, which was run by Baby Boomers. Was it giving the market what it wanted? Yes. Was it right? Yes. Was it something a few generations agreed on? Yes. Did Generation X take the credit for it? You bet we did, but we didn’t deserve as much as we thought.

Just as previous generations won’t deserve as much credit as they will think. It’s the way of it.

In this way, human society is a lot like rows of shark’s teeth: As they get worn out, broken, or lost, new teeth that have been waiting come to the front. We do not fear the teeth in the mouth of a shark, really – we fear the reputation of those that went before.

This all seems pretty important to think about and isn’t discussed much when we start talking about Millenials and Generation Z, and whatever comes next. We tend to write and speak of these generations as if they are isolated and lack the context of previous generations.

For better and worse, generations have the context of previous generations – and that needs to be mentioned just a little bit more.

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.

Toilet Seat Exchanges?

Well, I feel better...Pictures hint at stories sometimes – such as this one.

Who on Earth would think that they could somehow return a toilet seat, or underwear, or other things that would share space with the waste areas of the human body?

And consider – it happens enough where people actually put signs up related to it.

Clearly, as much as we have dealt with literacy, we as a society are failing somehow.

Society Systems

Don't Panic.

This is about technology and society – which is really about society these days. Bear with me.

The universe we know is full of systems, we as a society increasingly understand them. There are rules to them – real rules – that we’ve begun exploring through science. That’s all very exciting, but society isn’t good at listening to scientists. What we are good at is making our own systems, and we expect them to be followed as if there is some natural order to things.

man wondering if he could pee between the pillars

Born here?
That’s how we define you.

Look a certain way? That’s how we define you.

Believe in some form of deity, or not?
That’s how we define you.

And so on, and so on.

We end up shadowy figures of the biases of others. In an increasingly digital world, where our data is analyzed, our shadows become more blurry yet that blur also defines us as it fits certain fuzzy categories we don’t know about.

This all worked out really well when everyone was born in the same place, looked a certain way and believed in some form of deity, among many other things. Anyone not like was from somewhere else, and was not to be trusted. The concept of immigration was a matter seen as invasion, more or less. Some people still think this way. That’s not the topic at hand. And no, it’s not about branding the systems as bad, either.

They are what they are.
The question is whether they should be what they are now.
That’s what people are largely upset about right now.
It’s largely what they will be upset about in the future.

second babel tower

These systems were seen as necessary at the time. I wasn’t there at the time, and it’s highly unlikely you were there at the time.

We learn about what was wrong with the systems and we have opinions, largely because how we view the world changes.

We disagree with many of the systems now – some more than others. Largely, though, we are victims of what our forebears thought was possible.

Change comes from tossing at least a part of this framework of possibility aside in a haphazard sort of way, plodding toward what we believe is progress – what we hope is progress – but we don’t really know. We like to think we know because it makes us feel grounded, like we somehow matter. Maybe we do. Is it so horrible if we didn’t? Human nature says, “Yes”.

The world is accelerating now in profound ways. Networks pump information, if we drill down into them we find the rhythms to be of a very human nature. When people wake up. When people get off work. It’s all a framework of our own creation.

It’s a framework built so that we can break out of the old frameworks – not purposefully, but it ended up that way. The truth is that no one really had an idea. There were some hopes.

There were also a few who thought it all a novelty. There still are.

Subtly, across generations, we have come a long way – and technology is now driving us to go further. At a societal level, people aspire to be driven by technology.

Who drives the technology?

The people who make the frameworks that people use.

What drives them? Are they trying to make the world a better place?
Who are they trying to make the world a better place for?

Who stymies the technology? The people who make the frameworks that people have used and have begun to feel trapped by.

And all the while, everyone is coloring in lines that someone else drew because society doesn’t like change to happen too fast.

And so, slowly, we build new systems in this evolving mechanism we call society.

We are society.

Recoloring Society

Snowy Mountains
‘Snowy Mountain’, by Wasfi Ekab, 1992.

People do amazing things with simple items. Take crayons, for example.

The image at top was done with what we consider children’s tools. We send them off to color between the lines in the hope that they’ll be quiet. Maybe hoping that their hand-eye coordination improves as they grow older so that they can stay within the lines – and society likes things that stay in lines. That follows something someone else drew. Whose vision is limited to what is possible within those lines.

Crayon ProgressionIt keeps things safe. Predictable. Unambiguous.

Yet we celebrate those who can do things without lines that we can identify with – we like art we can identify with. With lines. With a framework. A framework we can identify.

Stray too far, and it makes people uncomfortable. Few people like uncomfortable.

People want order. Nice lines of what can be expected.

Everything in it’s place.

Everything explained, even if by a theory incomplete.

The trouble is that we just get the same things when we do the same things. There might be some variance, but it’s the accepted range of things.

Shots from Hottie's Coffee ShopThe only real moves forward humans have made have been when people color outside the lines.

When the crayons are outside of the box, the framework.

When they’re disorganized.

Mixed up.

When the canvas is clear of lines we thought we needed.

A mess of crayons and a blank page is how we let children play.

When did we lose that?

Or do we still have it?

Beyond The Puddle

PuddleWe humans collectively have a worldview of that of the sentient puddle that Douglas Adams describes. It’s a powerful metaphor for so many things.

There’s some discussion here and there as to whether we’re still in the Holocene epoch – a time where everything is supposed to be in the right balance to sustain the world we know.

There are some that suggest we’re no longer in the Holocene epoch, and that we’re in the Anthropocene epoch, a period where we humans have affected the world on many levels.

This is all about ‘climate change’. The main argument about climate change seems to revolve around whether we humans have been naughty or not during our stay on the planet.

The planet we call Earth is fine, barring a supernova of our sun or something we can’t predict. The Earth doesn’t really care too much whether we’re here or not. It’s happily spinning around the Sun, which in turn spins around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, which in turn doesn’t seem to orbit anything we have found… yet.

That’s the point, really. We’re pretty good at knowing what we do know, but as a society we’re awful at knowing what we don’t know. We’re so bad at this that we have specialized groups of people that try to figure out what questions to ask so that we can know more. We call them scientists, and we trot them out when their opinions and our opinions agree.

We accept Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on faith now, largely, but when it fell out of his head it was questioned. Of course, it didn’t affect the planet as much as the things surrounding the present discussions. To do that would require people to learn a new name.

Dr Clair Cameron Patterson
A rendition of Dr. Clair Cameron Patterson from the television series Cosmos. Originally aired on April 20th, 2014

Dr. Clair Cameron Patterson. This geochemist did something that most people don’t even think about. We used to have leaded gas, done to keep internal combustion engines from ‘knocking’.

Dr. Patterson started by trying to determine the age of the Earth, and being a scientist he noted enough discrepancies in his data that he began a campaign to remove lead from gasoline in 1965. In 1986, lead was no longer available in gasoline – and it took over 20 years from the beginning of his campaign to accomplish that. As a result, the lead in the blood of the average American is said to have dropped 80% by the 1990s.

In other words, by measuring one thing he found other things – he found the questions to ask and answer that ultimately affected the entire world and how livable it is.

That’s really the core of the climate change ‘debate’. About how livable the Earth is. And since the Holocene, our metaphorical puddle, is at least being discussed as ‘over’, we don’t need to think so much about the intentionality of things. We don’t need to debate how fast we can positively impact the environment. That’s too long and detailed for most people, and the choices for people are between convenience or not instead of whether we’re assuring that generations to come will have a livable planet.

We all know that the climate is changing simply by going outside. We can’t comprehend ‘global warming’ when our personal experience is that it’s colder outside, or ‘global cooling’ when it’s warming outside.

We can comprehend that our environment is becoming less livable.

Like it or not, the planet we call home is changing – maybe some of it is natural, maybe not, but that’s immaterial. If we want our species – we are a single species – to have a future on this planet, we need to accept that how we have existed during the Holocene Epoch prior to us finding questions and answering them… we need to accept that how we have lived is not the way we should live, and that we need to pay more attention.

All the rest is politics, and by definition, there is no agreement in politics. Self-interest for ourselves lasts only as long as we do, perhaps further in some cases.

Being interested in our species, on the other hand, is where we should start.