Is the world and humanity making ‘progress’?
From my very shallow understanding of post-modernism I understand it represents a rejection of the idea of progress associated with modernism/the enlightenment. It’s a position which probably makes sense, but that I think is pretty profoundly dispiriting. If society/humans/the world isn’t tracking towards some objectively better state, what’s the point?
Continue reading “progress”
It seems to me that the digitisation of information over the last few decades throws up all sorts of interesting questions about the storing and accessibility of information into the future. The emergence of web 2.0 and participatory websites has meant an explosion of information on the internet – anyone with an internet connection can publish their views easily on the web.
I think the interesting question is, assuming this stuff is worth keeping, is it going to last? Continue reading “history in the digital age”
I don’t believe in god, but I sometimes like to think of some all-knowing omniscient thing in the sky that knows the answer to all the questions everyone has ever asked.
In a sense, the idea of ‘progress’ is the act of moving towards the knowledge this thing has. Every time a scientist thought up some new scientific theory this thing would look at it and shake its head patiently. But it would never get involved.
Every time someone sat a test, this thing would know all the answers. Every decision that anyone makes, this thing would know the inevitable outcomes. Every time people got married it would know whether they were going to get divorced.
It would see everything in the past and everything in the future. It might be watching us all slowly tracking towards our own self destruction, or towards a future where we’re all happy and all our problems have been solved. It would see unrequited love and impossible love and happy love. It would see each little happiness and triumph, and each moment of anguish, amid a huge sea of human experience. But it wouldn’t be cynical, or angry, or ashamed; it would be eternally patient and understanding.
I guess I just like to think that something, somewhere, is keeping the score on the rough and tumble of everyday existence.
Edited October 2013
I was reading this interesting article called ‘The Gospel of Consumption‘ by Jeffrey Kaplan and it raised a number of interesting points. In developed countries over the twentieth century, productivity and real wages have grown a huge amount. People’s work creates more value per hour, and hence they are usually paid more. Kaplan writes that in the United States, 2005 per capita household income was twelve times what it had been in 1929. If we were to go back to the standard of living that people in 1948 enjoyed, we would only have to work 2.7 hours per day.
The article raises the interesting question of whether we wouldn’t all be better off if we didn’t work so hard and enjoyed more leisure time. Instead of chasing after the next generation of TV or a fancier car or a new cellphone one could relax and read a book or spend some time with your family or something. Kaplan talks about an interesting and hugely popular pilot scheme that Kellogg (the cereal guy) ran in his factories where all his workers shifted to six hour days (30 hour weeks). It meant less pay for workers, but substituted the “mental income” of more leisure time instead. There was also the added bonus of more employment to go around. The workers loved it – it meant more time to spend with their family or gardening or playing ping pong.
Imagine if as a society we decided to work less – we would certainly have to endure a drop in income, but would we be any less happy? I know for a lot of people who are struggling in poverty cutting back on hours is impractical, but for the majority of rich westerners it’s an interesting question.
Most of us equate happiness with the number of material possessions we have – we’ve got into this cycle of consumerism where we can never have enough. After a certain point, we just need to recognise that we’ve got enough material stuff, work less hours, enjoy more leisure time and ultimately be happier.
Image credit: mark sebastian (Creative Commons BY-SA)
So I was reading this almost certainly bogus article on how the BP gulf disaster may have disturbed this giant methane bubble under the sea bed and it will burst out and the apocalypse will be upon us.
It got me thinking (in an entirely unoriginal manner) about the end of civilisation. Think of all the people trying to phone each other and say “I love you! I’m sorry I’ve been such a douche and forgive me etc etc” a la disaster movies. All the people with crushes/silently in love would be trying to get the message through before everyone dies in a giant fireball. All the angst and all the scientific discoveries and all the wonders of the world and all that ‘progress’ would just disappear. The human experiment would come to an end, eventually the Earth would recover and some new crappy creature would emerge out of the slime. Is it inevitable that each new creature screws itself over with it’s inventions or in the pursuit of it’s short-term self interest? It’s not looking too good for humans I have to say – our fossil-fueled spaceship is heading towards the reset button of climate change at an alarming speed.
I’ve come to the conclusion that people spend too much time listening to mp3 players.
Sure, it’s fun and nice to listen to your favourite band while you walk to school or work, but I think it has disconnected us from the environment we are in – which is a shame. Most of the time one takes for granted the myriad sounds that make up the urban environment, we don’t pay attention to the countless noises around us and therefore we screen them out. People talking, the sound of the wind rustling through trees, the low rumble of a truck approaching, these everyday sounds we hear are worth listening to in themselves. To listen to loud music blocks it all out and creates an oblivious individual insulated from the world around them, unable to hear a car bearing down on them or the tweet of a bird. Conversation is impossible, the individual is only concerned with themselves.
I just think it’s a shame people spend don’t spend more time just listening, rather than filling every free second with artificial noise.
My mother frequently nags me to stop playing on the computer and read a book. I got thinking, something about the internet makes it so much more attractive to me, as a form of entertainment, than reading a book. On the computer I can catch up with friends, read news, listen to music, play games etc, and in comparison a book just doesn’t have that much appeal most of the time. Then I got thinking about the long-term ramifications of the choices I am making now, as well as the consequences of the choices that young people like me are making.
Most of the things I do on the internet are very inconsequential. When I look at my Tumblr dashboard, for instance, what I see is often a whole series of nice looking photos and ‘deep’ quotes offering some interesting perspective on life/love. Every day I religiously catch up on Twitter with all the tweets I missed. As I was lying in bed I started to think about what all the time I devote to this stuff really amounts to. Sure, it’s fun, but I don’t really achieve anything trawling through all this stuff. I might look at an image for five seconds then move on without it having any lasting impression.
I guess it comes down to a matter of priorities. If I just want to have fun then maybe the internet is the place to do it. But if my goal is to have fun and further my horrendously incomplete knowledge of the world, then perhaps I should be reading more. I think books have a much greater potential to leave a lasting imprint on you, for the memory of that novel or non-fiction text to stick with you. Perhaps sitting down and reading a good book will also help to extend my horrifically short attention span as well. When I’m browsing the web I’m constantly flicking between this tab and that tab and sometimes I just can’t be bothered reading long articles. I think that this form of entertainment is just training myself to process information in artificial little snippets and making it difficult for me to sit down and read a textbook when I need to for university.
Even though I’ve come to this conclusion that reading is ultimately a more productive activity, I’ve been finding it hard to shift away from spending so much time trawling the web. I think I’m almost addicted to the internet, I have this strange desire to keep up with everything, even though I always seem increasing the amount of information that I follow. I can’t help but think I’m not alone in my struggle to curtail my computer use as well, it’s probably a widespread phenomena. Are we breeding a whole generation of young people with short attention spans who pick the internet instead of reading? Ultimately though, I think it’s in my best interests to train myself to enjoy reading again and stop spending so much time on this infernal computer and the instant gratification it provides.
I was struck recently when listening to music over at The Sixty One how if you add levels and experience (reputation in this case) to anything it instantly makes it infinitely more addictive. I think there is something about the of gaining and moving up levels, a sign that you are doing well, that at some deep level reinforces the action and compels us to do it more. I think that anything that incorporates levels of achievement has an amazing power to manipulate the actions of the people that interact with it, even if that ‘level’ means absolutely nothing.
The night before last I was sitting down at my computer browsing the Internet and tweetdeck and my stream was filled up with posts from @patlaw about #awaresg. If you haven’t heard about it, a Christian fundamentalist group hijacked a women’s rights group in Singapore called ‘AWARE‘ by flooding the AGM with new members and purged the organisation of it’s old members. The night I was reading @patlaw’s tweets she was at a meeting where a couple of thousand people had turned up to pass a vote of no confidence and get rid of the new executive who weren’t acting in AWARE’s best interests. It was fascinating reading her tweets and witnessing in New Zealand what was happening in Singapore instantaneously. It almost felt like I was in the room with all those people. Then I discovered Twitterfall, a service like live search except that you don’t have to refresh the page. You just simply enter in a search term and the tweets come rolling in. I was able to read what everyone on twitter was saying about AWARE by entering in a search term for #awaresg. People were hungry, worried about their cars being ticketed, angry that the new exec had spent $90,000 in the few days they had been in power, and most of all people were fed up with waiting for the votes of no confidence to be counted.
#awaresg at that time was a trending topic, so there were a lot people twittering about it, and it struck me that Twitter is an amazing and revolutionary tool for communicating in real time about events unfolding. The very fact that I was able to read all these tweets as they were written, and almost felt like I was in the room myself was an amazing thing. Those people in room taking the time to Twitter were sharing the event with people around the world instantly. This was citizen journalism, ordinary people sharing their experiences of an event in a way so much more relevant and powerful than if it had arrived at my computer through the traditional channels of media. I’m not saying Twitter is a replacement for traditional media, a well researched piece of journalism is invaluable, but rather a complementary tool which can offer more up to date information and from the perspective of people that are in the midst of it all. Eventually the vote of no confidence passed and hundreds of tweets erupted in an exclamation of victory. I went to bed, amazed and excited that I could feel so connected with an event so far away.