We were sick of the pasta mornings, middays, and evenings—
as we passed by it called to us,
it’s mouth beckoning “climb in”,
so we could taste each other.
Pigeons and doves who had been standing guard scatter walked away,
as it pursed its lips, and smiled wide,
revealing its treasures.
We dove inside,
and stuffed our pockets with new flavors,
our faces gaunt and smiling.
We threw some to the birds,
inviting them back to their post.
And while they neck-walked to us,
the giving mouth closed.
Simi Valley, California, 2010
We use the same tools and social networks, fitting into the same templates, designed by companies to maximize page views and profits (with some notable exceptions like Craigslist).”
PROJECTORS AIMED AT STADIUM SIZED BALLOONS THAT FLOATED IN THE SKY. ON THEM A MOVIE DEPICTED SOCIAL INTERACTION AS THEY WERE BEFORE THE INTERNET. A DISEMBODIED VOICE ECHOED THROUGH CITIES AND EXPLAINED HOW PEOPLE USED TO SHARE WITH ONE ANOTHER.
“Most online experiences are made, like fast food, to be cheap, easy, and addictive: appealing to our hunger for connection but rarely serving up nourishment. Shrink-wrapped junk food experiences are handed to us for free by social media companies, and we swallow them up eagerly, like kids given buckets of candy with ads on all the wrappers.
These experiences are sensitive neither to individual humans nor to the human collective, but only to page views and growth (in a corporate, not personal sense).”
AT FIRST PEOPLE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO IN THE PHYSICAL PRESENCE OF EACH OTHER. ONLINE THERE WAS A RATIONAL TO CONVERSATION– A SCRIPTED COMMUNICATION THAT MOST FELT AT EASE PRACTICING. BUT KEEPING ANOTHER’S GAZE , AND SAYING THINGS WITH MEANING, THAT WAS DIFFICULT.
“It is fitting that these companies call their customers “users”.
As we fill in the same boxes, answer the same questions, and express ourselves in the same generic ways, we might think this convergence of identity is a good thing, leading to some kind of global unity or mass empathy. But true empathy comes not from forcing people all to be the same, but from helping people to appreciate their differences.
Our online tools do a great job at breadth (hundreds of friends, thousands of tweets), but a bad job at depth. We live increasingly superficial lives, reducing our relationships to caricatures and our personalities to billboards, as we speed along at 1,000 miles an hour.”
THEY SOON REALIZED THAT THEY HAD FORGOTTEN THAT THEY WERE, IN FACT, QUITE DIFFERENT. THIS WAS COMPLEX TO COMPREHEND, FOR ONLINE– THEY ALL SEEMED THE SAME.
“We trade self-reflection for busyness, gorging ourselves on it and drowning in it, without recognizing the violence of that busyness, which we perpetrate against ourselves and at our peril.
For the last 100 years—from letters, to phones, to faxes, to emails, to chats, to texts, to tweets—communication has been getting shorter and faster, but we are approaching a terminal velocity.”
AND THE REALIZATIONS ABOUT EACH OTHER AND THEMSELVES WENT ON FOR A GOOD LONG TIME. PEOPLE NEWLY REACQUAINTED WITH CONCEPTS LIKE CANDOR, TACTILITY, AND LAUGHTER EXPLORED THE DEPTHS OF ONE ANOTHER. FOR A BRIEF MOMENT THEY BECAME VULNERABLE.
“I doubt there is a shorter means of communication than the tweet, unless we start to make monosyllabic grunts at each other or communicate silently, brain to brain. Brief gestures of communication can be beautiful, but can also be shallow. So what will happen next? Will we stop at the tweet, or will we bounce back in the other direction, suddenly craving more depth? I’d bet on the latter.
But even if we start to crave more depth, we cannot run away to a more primitive time.
The momentum of technological growth is too strong for us to prevent it from defining our future. Like it or not, our future world will largely be digital.”
MOST WERE STUNNED TO FIND THEY HAD THE CAPACITY TO SHARE A DEEP AND MEANINGFUL CONNECTION. FOR MONTHS THEREAFTER MILLIONS TRIED, AND FAILED, TO DESCRIBE THE EXPERIENCE IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS.
“Instead of fleeing to the forest, we must find the humanity in the machine and learn to love it. If we decide the humanity does not yet exist there in the ways we expect, then we must create it.” –Jonathan Harris
Doug Cloney died yesterday. His things were gathered up, piled into milk crates, and put out to the curb. You’d think that would be the end of it. You’d think a nobody like Doug Cloney, a schizophrenic living in a group home, surviving off of social security and welfare, prone to violent outbursts, medicated into remission—you’d think that his passing would be hardly noticed.
But stacked milk cartons, full of an assortment of collected goodies—it’s hard to just pass that by, and to the darling girls who lived a few houses down— well curiosity called.
As they rifled through Doug’s keepsakes they memorialized his life, this was the unabridged obituary of Doug. A photo of the Manhattan skyline with a screaming newspaper clipping taped to it—“UNION WORKERS DEMANDING MORE MONEY!” he had written on the article: “Cheapos, you just want to get in on the action.” Stacks of pictures, articles, and drawings of his favorite people: the pope, princess Diana, and Brittney spears.
As the girls explored a box fell to the ground and newspaper clippings fluttered into the street—each article had taped to it the bold date from the front page of the newspaper. Doug had taped the labels from his prescription bottles on the headlines of clippings that seemed threatening, “DEATH OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES”– Novo-Olanzapine “BRITTNEY LOSES IT” — Lorazapan.
He wrote poems:
The monkey fashioned for himself a stylish stool
Led a procession of several scores of mules,
Saying, “In this land that is speckled with trees
With the great eagle I soar free.
There is one watering hole, one sky.
The day is done; the top banana is I”.
Books for children and adults, a ceramic lumberjack, plastic dinosaurs—these were Doug’s things, the things that were dear to him.
As the girls filled their arms with copies of “Curious George” (soon to become a gift for a nephew), the ceramic lumberjack (that now rests on the mantle), and a nice shelf (currently holding coffee cups in the kitchen)—they noticed that Doug didn’t have any letters from anyone else. In all of these things—nobody had written him anything worth keeping, or simply, nobody thought him worth writing to.
“Look at this,” one of the girls announced. She palmed a small envelope that was taped to the underside of the ceramic lumberjack with the words “To Doug” written on the outside. The card was embossed with silver balloons on the front. The words inside, written quickly in a light blue gel pen, read: “Happy Birthday Doug. Love, Heather”
It seemed appropriate.
As you may know ahumanright.org has been kicking a lot of butt lately. We just went to Washington to meet with the Bertelsmann Foundation, and now we’re in San Francisco working with the original Palomar 5 team and our NASA liaisons.
I have been invited to speak on behalf of ahumanright.org at the National Society for Space’s annual Space Development Conference in Chicago. This is a tremendous opportunity as all the movers and shakers of the space world will be there. You want to build a satellite system to give the world internet access, these people can help! Unfortunately, there is no budget to get to the conference. The NSS has been kind enough to give us a free ticket and a speaking slot, we just need to fill in the rest. Chip in a few bucks to help me get to the conference and I will deliver a kick butt presentation that will propel the project into reality! (as well as network the heck out of that place) Costs covered include airfare and lodging. You’re amazing!
I sit stationed at the front desk, writing e-mails and handling my business. Outside they wander from city sidewalk to mailbox. They lean against windows, spit, sputter, and laugh. They aren’t afraid to make eye contact—because most aren’t willing to meet their gaze. They are the forgotten, the ugly, the sleepless.
They set up camps in doorways, one is dozing off right now—he apologized as I opened the front door, “Sir you can stay, but I don’t want to wake you up when I leave.” As the glass door whined shut he muttered, “I haven’t slept a whole night in two years, another night won’t matter.”
He left room, he sleeps sideways tonight.
Underneath a blue sleeping bag his body rises and falls. Whisps of bright gray hair peek out from a red cap, his battered foam mat curls up around him—holding him tight.
The theatre across the streets empties quickly and soon the night is filled with those who can afford the luxury of tickets. While the revelers fill the streets, his body rises and falls with the same cadence, he is indifferent to the noise.
Two young men, they sneak up to the sleeping man, and I watched in horror as they kicked him in the legs as hard as they could. They roar with laughter and run like cowards. The old man struggles up yelling and shaking; spitting and cursing.
Ripping through the haze of sleep, he screams: “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT YOU MOTHER FUCKERS?” On the curb he stands drooping as they laugh at him from across the street. They don’t know why they did it, they don’t have a clue. And how could they, how many of you have slept on a sidewalk?
I run to the kitchen and grab an orange, I lean out the front door, and I hand it to him as he settles back into bed. “Have it for breakfast, whenever you wake up” I say.
And with sad eyes he looks at me while cradling the fruit in his cracked hands, “I haven’t slept a whole night in two years.”