“In mere Time, all things follow one another, and in mere Space all things are side by side; it is accordingly only by the combination of Time and Space that the representation of coexistence arises.” Schopenhauer, 1813
There's a misconception that the practice of meditation involves clearing your mind of thoughts. There are amazing resources to learn all about it, but in short: the aim is to remain aware of thoughts as they come and go like clouds and not grab on to one and get lost in a train of thought.
Perhaps that's not the best definition, but I think it explains how I've been this week. I used to meditate once a week at this place in Manhattan for about a year straight, and for whatever reason I lost the habit. Last Tuesday I returned and I'm already excited for next Tuesday's sitting.
I'm definitely feeling more aware of so many thoughts passing by, but I'm very out of practice in letting them go. I feel some mental arms flailing around as I want to keep each one and nurture it into some nice, grand thought.
I heard something interested on a podcast recently about letting go of identifying with your thoughts. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, think of the House of Black & White where Arya is training to become "a girl" and lose her identity.
A girl may think a thing, but Arya does not. If you have a blog, podcast, or just love to talk a lot, you might notice how the further you elaborate a thought, the more you're trying to inject your identity into the idea as though it is your own. At least that's the case for me.
Of course, a specific thought at a specific time can only happen inside your head, so in that regard you are the owner of the thought. The idea however is likely to be shared by thousands. There's a point where I disagree with the above however: I think sharing ideas is the most important thing humans can do. We developed the ability to communicate and that's probably our best attribute.
So, on a personal note, I hope to put things here in a spirit of sharing, not identifying or owning, or to be an expert or visionary, but for the sake of the same ideas that reside in so many others to light up and become connected; which is how great philosophies can be born. Also, fully knowing that all of this can happen without me entirely, but for my entertainment at least, I'd like to learn and to listen.
I've been reading Kenya Hara, and John Maeda lately. I also started getting into Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts, which hasn't expanded much of what I learned from his first book, but has definitely rekindled my interested in thinking of this aesthetic applied to digital interfaces.
Just yesterday I saw this beautiful phone interface designed by Kenya Hara, for an elderly population, but something that I would love to use!
Now I have this crazy desire to make such an operating system in English, and include the sensibilities of Wabi-Sabi that I'm always talking about. I have no idea where to start in such an ambitious project and would probably need a whole design studio to be honest, but I think it's going to be a fun concept to explore for myself.
For a guy that starts out a blog post about not identifying with thoughts, and letting them pass by, I'm really anxious to create more things. What can I say, humans are complicated.
I've had this idea for quite a while now, but I've set a deadline to complete a first episode by the end of January. The recording and editing will be done by then, and depending on the technicalities of publishing it, you may not see it until February.
In short, I'm trying this new style where I record a Voice Mail for a person, send it to that other person and wait for a response. With a few responses, or a few people, I hope to have something interesting that can be stitched together into a short episode.
This is inspired by old-timey hand written correspondence, but we'll see how it really plays out. Recorded conversation is most interesting because it can have unexpected turns, and people can quickly adjust their stance on something and arrive at a natural conclusion. I'm afraid this won't be as interesting to listen to, but I have a hunch that I could be different enough to still be interesting.
I bought a box of SF pulps when I was in my late teens from one of my father’s friends, who kept them in the garage. English editions of Astounding Science Fiction, for the most part. Stories written by authors whose names I barely recognized, despite being a science-fiction reader from about as soon as I could read.
I paid more than I could afford for them.
I suspect that one story paid for all of them, though.
It’s a thought experiment. Until recently I’d forgotten the opening of the story (aliens decide to Mess With Us) but remembered what happened after that.
We’re in a department store. And someone drops off two matter duplicators. They have pans. You put something in pan one, press a button, and its exact duplicate appears in pan two.
We spend a day in the department store as they sell everything they have as cheaply as possible, duplicating things with the matter duplicator, making what they can on each sale, and using checks and credit cards, not cash (you can now perfectly duplicate cash—which obviously is no longer legal tender). Toward the end they stop and take stock of the new world waiting for them, and realize that all the rules have changed, but craftsmen and engineers are more necessary than ever.
They realize that companies won’t be manufacturing millions of identical things, but will need to make hundreds, perhaps thousands, of slightly different things. That their stores will be showrooms for things, and stockrooms will be history. That there will now be fundamental changes in 1950s-style retailing—including, to use a phrase that turned up well after 1958, a long tail.
Being Astounding Science Fiction, the story contains the moral of 95 percent of Astounding Science Fiction stories, which could perhaps be reduced to: people are smart. We’ll cope.
When my friends who were musicians first started complaining sadly about people stealing their music on Napster, back in the 1990s, I told them about the story of the duplicator machines. (I could not remember the name of the story or the author. It was not until I agreed to write this foreword that I asked a friend, via email, and found myself, a Google later, re-reading it for the first time in decades.)
It seemed to me that copying music was not stealing. It was something else. It was the duplicator machine story: you were pressing a button and an object appeared in the pan. Which meant, I suspected, that music-as-object (CD, vinyl, cassette tape) was going to lose value, and that other things—mostly things that could not be reproduced, things like live shows and personal contact—would increase in value.
I remembered what Charles Dickens did, a hundred and fifty years before, when copyright laws meant that his copyrights were worth nothing in the U.S.: he was widely read, but he was not making any money from it. So he took the piracy as advertising, and toured the U.S. in theaters, reading from his books. He made money, and he saw America.
So I started doing Evenings with Neil Gaiman as fund-raisers for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and learning how to do that—how to make an evening interesting for an audience, with just me and a stage and things I’d written, partly because it seemed to me that one day it might not be as easy to make money from selling stories in the traditional way, but that business might still continue more or less as usual, during the alterations, if there were other things I could do.
And so as the nature of music-selling changed utterly and fundamentally, I just stood and watched and nodded. Now the nature of book publishing is changing, and the only people who claim to know what the landscape of publishing will look like a decade from now are either fools or deluding themselves. Some people think the sky is falling, and I do not entirely blame them.
I never worried that the world was ending, because as a teen I’d read a thought experiment in an SF pulp published two years before I was born. It stretched my head.
I know that the view is going to be very different in the future, that authors are going to get their money from different places. I am certain that not all authors can be Charles Dickens, and that many of us became authors in order to avoid getting up on stages in the first place, and that it’s not a solution for everybody or even for most of us.
Fortunately, Cory Doctorow has written this book. It’s filled with wisdom and with thought experiments and with things that will mess with your mind. Once, while we were arguing, Cory came up with an analogy that explained the world we were heading into in terms of mammals and dandelions, and I’ve never seen anything quite the same way since.
Mammals, he said, and I paraphrase here and do not put it as well as Cory did, invest a great deal of time and energy in their young, in the pregnancy, in raising them. Dandelions just let their seeds go to the wind, and do not mourn the seeds that do not make it. Until now, creating intellectual content for payment has been a mammalian idea. Now it’s time for creators to accept that we are becoming dandelions.
The world is not ending. Not if, as Astounding Science Fiction used to suggest, humans are bright enough to think our way out of the problems we think ourselves into.
I suspect that the next generation to come along will puzzle over our agonies, much as I puzzled over the death of the Victorian music halls as a child, and much as I felt sorry for the performers who had needed only thirteen minutes of material in their whole life, and who did their thirteen minutes in town after town until the day that television came along and killed it all.
In the meanwhile, it’s business as usual, during alterations.
I believe that political discourse should always exist – if not for myself, at least for the population at large. Personally, I think politics is quite pointless. We are powerless to actually change anything. At best, we can put our email address on an online petition. I’m not sure how far that really goes.
In common life, we use politics as a basis to argue with each other; and it goes no deeper than that. Politics is a common topic that people within borders can talk about, and it’s very easy to have an opinion. Clearly mine are very liberal, but that’s probably just because of the media I’m exposed to and where/how I was raised. The same goes for you.
I think “free speech” is too often a political term. It shouldn’t be. We only hear about free speech when it’s referring to the suppression of protest or differing opinions. Sometimes it’s used as an argument to defend hateful speech. In any case, free speech is discussed and fought for only when threatened.
That’s like talking about lights only in the context of darkness. If we did that, lightbulbs would trigger an underlying emotion of danger. Lightbulbs are meant to combat darkness, and the danger that darkness can foster.
If we talked about light in that way, yes we might make some excellent progress toward having well-lit streets and making people feel safer at night. What’s not being discussed? Laser shows! Holograms. Movies. Neon signs. Light shows. Fireworks. Those cool bedside lamps that simulate the sun and wake you up ever-so-scientifically.
What if that’s what we’re doing to the idea of free speech?
Yes, free speech means that people should be allowed to communicate even the most dissident opinions. [Insert my political bias: Honestly, if you’re a body of power and you’re afraid of dissident opinions, then clearly your model of operation isn’t that sturdy.] Free speech should also be encouraged for no particular motive other than to hear people’s thoughts!
Human beings, like all organisms, are born, they mature, reproduce, care for their offspring, and die. Unlike all organisms, humans can externalize the little neural thunderstorms that happen all the time: ideas. We form concepts from observing patterns. We make decisions. We learn. We teach.
My meandering point:
Communication is what makes us human.
Typically we do a very good job of doing this. We have a hard time not doing this. Communication always happens in our homes, our closest circles. As I just wrote in the post prior to this one, I think we need to expand this outward. We’re in a lazy habit (I’m guilty too) of simply consuming things.
We confuse the internet with our TVs and Radio. (Yes, radio is dead, but the model is not.)
I’m glad that the internet can facilitate high-quality entertainment that we’re used to getting on the TV, but we don’t need to fall in line with that type of experience only.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I want to bring back the era of "your shitty blog." Who cares if no one reads it? The act of writing helps you communicate better in other domains as well! Blogs, chat rooms (hey Slack!), and rambling tweets.
Do it more.
When you see something that you really feel like hitting the RT/Share/Reblog button on, take a pause. Go ahead and share it if it encapsulates something really well that you want people to know about, but also, follow that up with a tweet or post of your own.
Why did you hit the share button?
What does it make you feel?
That's where you can inject a bit of yourself into the internet. Don't just do it in a comment field.
Your thoughts deserve to live on their own.
I'm so torn between the inherent nature of sharing that is the Internet, and what I feel is my radical notion that people should be publishing more than sharing. Okay maybe not more than, but there should be a balance! Sharing has consumed and silenced our own little differences. As an extreme paraphrasing of Mill's "On Liberty:" the more ideas we have to consider, the better our conclusion.
So, speak! Yes you, holding a mouse, keyboard, stylus, touchscreen... interface.
People write academic treatises about the interface as a mere barrier between you and an experience. Yes, it is a barrier. It's also your sword and shield!
That finger you're using for a share button on Facebook, a retweet icon, reblog, heart, like, thumbs up... That same finger (and some of its friends) can put your voice into the world.
You're going to be wrong.
You're going to be right.
Your stature and credentials don't matter. Adding another voice always improves the chorus when it comes to global discourse.
So speak. Sing. And don't forget to listen.
An observation and its moment are equally unique. Language is a time capsule for observations.
I’ve felt very awake in my awareness of new observations. Most preciously, I heard feedback about who I am at work. My advisor shared with me a collection of peer observations.
I am always ready to defend my idea of myself. Seeing how rare it is to have considered observations about myself from those I respect, I forced my guard down. I listened.
Later the same week, I happened upon a composer. I heard an inspiration and felt again nostalgia of the unknown. Ryuichi Sakamoto somehow introduces me to the past and carries a limp trail of the future with each phrase.
Each musical sentence is brief. I can imagine each bit standing alone in conclusion. Yet each turn is a natural extension. Most valuable to me: the space between is where my mind wanders.
Putting my observation into language is slowing down the experience. Music and reading and watching are all conversations. The spaces in the moment you craft is where the exchange between the observer and the moment happens. The music, book, video, pastoral view will not respond to me. But the following moment will be different after the space between allows me to wander.
His solo piano feels like Eric Satie, which in a direct way, inspires me to play piano again. The nostalgia is for being in Japan, and the many parts of my life when I watched a touching movie or show from Japan. These descriptions are failing my visceral mash of memory.
Finally picking up a book has added another feature of inspiration to my week. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a self-evident title. I don’t expect to be enthralled with an academic book. I’m absorbed in it, and I no longer believe it’s “academic.” It’s a fascinating treatise on cutting the fat. Say what you say, while respecting the reader.
I’m certain that all of the above reads awkwardly. I’m doing things differently.
I’m trying short sentences. I’m trying to say everything. I think the idea of a short sentence is not to force it to a certain length,
but to remove every bit until you can remove no more.
Like a beginner, I see myself mimicking the author's style. I'll soon find room for his advice and my voice in the same sentence.
What you don’t know about writing is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to grasp.
Try to discern the shape of what you don’t know and why you don’t know it,
Whenever you get a glimpse of your ignorance.
Don’t fear it or be embarrassed by it.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
Verlyn Klinkenborg (more excerpts)
I’ll leave you here. It feels good to be inspired again.
It’s amazing to have three inspirations at once!
Having a thought explosion right now. Instead of shying away from it (as I wrote about before), I’m going to ramble on and see where it leads.
In no particular order
I really want my friend Mike to move to New York. After some thought, I realize that it’s ironic for me to hope that he takes on an “adventurous” move, when my selfish motivations are rooted in nostalgia for the place I have left. A genius friend once told me “people are places.” So when I say place, I think I really mean the group of people and things we did together. A geographic place is just a location.
I catch myself constantly trying to optimize my life. I recognize this is a cultural tendency (mostly American), but it’s hard to get my head out of it! Optimal=best, and optimizing is making better, right? I wrote before about feeling distracted, and noticing that my habits often have to do with escaping or occluding my own thoughts. I resolved to measure how often I do this mostly out of curiosity, but also in a hope to stop doing it as much. There’s nothing wrong with improving something, especially yourself, but now I’m wondering what’s behind that desire to improve? My background of Eastern Philosophy is poking at me from another direction, reminding me to “just be.” The core of Buddhist philosophy and some other eastern thinking is basically: we’re covering up the world around us with each thought, and we will continue to encounter unhappiness as long as we form expectations of how a thing (or yourself) should really be; to escape this, the best strategy is to calm yourself before acting or judging, and attempt to see a thing as it really is. I hinted at this in my rambling about emotions and taking a note of “I’m feeling emotion X” without claiming it as good or bad, just acknowledging the thought or feeling has value in itself. To cut this part short, maybe I shouldn’t stress so much optimizing myself or my life and spend a little more time observing it. You can see amazing things if you begin to learn how to observe.
Tangent example on the above:
With the help from some outside observations, I have a conflicting behavioral pattern where I tend to become very quiet and withdrawn in the face of conflict or difficulty expressing myself. Very recently at work for example, there are multiple people on my project that tend to talk over each other and as a group we re-visit the same topics ad nauseam. I only just realized today that it’s for this exact reason that I’ve felt very withdrawn from our meetings; physically I’ll sit or stand further away, and vocally I’m participating a lot less than I normally would. This is not a judgement against any of the individuals I’m working with – important to note – but merely an observation on my typical behavior within the right conditions. Now, I said that I’ve only realized this (many days into the project), so I am usually oblivious to this kind of self-awareness, but I feel so good knowing that about myself and hope to be better on top of recognizing some pre-conditioned behaviors while they arise. Lots of practice to be done there.
Another piece on my mind: dwelling and collecting.
That’s pretty vague, yes, but I think it’s the most basic way to break apart a couple of things I’m trying to resolve with myself.
Where and how do I want to live? Right now I can’t see myself leaving New York City any time soon because that’s also connected to my livelihood - mainly work - but I also have a lot of personal connections for once in my life. I had some close friends throughout college, of course, but college by its very nature is temporary, so I consider that location to be a phase in life, and keep my dearest friendships alive no matter where we end up. Then after college I moved to Barcelona where I found it very hard to build up a social circle (too long to get into now). New York is really the second place I’ve decided to “settle” as an adult, and the first that has been a success.
There are a few other cities, and even rural locations that I can imagine myself in, which I plan to revisit within a few years. For now, I’m also wondering about a more focused dilemma. How do I want to live? I like the apartment that my girlfriend and I have currently, but renting isn’t permanent. I wonder if I want something permanent. When I think about owning a house (or apartment), the actual reason is to have the freedom to install the appliances that I want, do some custom things with technology, and all these kinds of things I can’t really invest into a place if I have to return it in original condition at some point. So, I want more control, more liberty, more ownership. On the other hand, I’ve observed my personality to be quite nomadic, and as I just mentioned, I can picture myself in other cities or even a cute cabin on a mountain with a view (as long as there’s internet)! Buying property feels terribly permanent.
Tangent: Why am I so bad with committing to something? If you had to ask me to summarize my main belief about life it would be: Nothing is permanent. There are some aspects of life that I see expanding indefinitely into my future (my relationship with my girlfriend for example), but there are so many that will always have question marks hanging above them (job, dwelling, possessions, etc.). I don’t know how to resolve that.
This is a much more brief issue, but I think it ties in to the question of where and how I want to live. Most of why I want more ownership or control of where I live is the freedom to choose what I “collect.” Meaning: what kind of light fixtures do I want; what kind of intelligent wireless locks, thermostats, and other smart things I might want? A lot of what’s driving my thinking behind Dwelling relates to all the Things I want in my life. Taking a step back on that… do I really need these things? Why do I feel like I need them? Quick answer: they are cool. Longer answer: discussion about materialism vs crafting your own space and making a home more of a sanctuary than a dwelling.
I haven’t listened to this podcast in a year (fixing that), but it was the best dose of mental health/exercise during a long commute. If you’re interested in a more distilled approach to some Buddhist philosophy (and you like podcasts) this is a great place to start: AudioDharma.