New Podcast is up!

Today is episode one of my “Asking for a Friend” segment.

In this episode, I read some Q&A about online relationships, online teaching, and the recent Colorado wildfires.

Enjoy.

Three Defining Moments

Today, I rewatched the movie “Wild” based on the non-fiction novel by Cheryl Strayed. I’ve been picking at the book again, but wanted a different perspective when experiencing the story again. It has been years since I watched the film. It’s about healing. Heatache. Redemption. It always hits hard.

In my life, there have been at least three big defining moments. At the risk of sounding selfish, I want to state early on that what you are about to read are my own moments and hopefully you don’t place judgment on me for what I am about to write. These words are not easy, but I hope that they have truth to them. No, these moments won’t include the birth of my kids or anything like that which parents are always expected to say. In retrospect, those moments were stressful and usually made miserable by a very selfish partner. I’ve blocked a lot of those memories unfortunately. Either because of exhaustion or stress or general unpleasantness. I love my kids, don’t get me wrong, but things like learning how to ride a bike or being pushed into the world are things that belong to them. Not me.

The first defining moment of my adult life was the UN Trip, in which I got on board a bus with forty other 15-17 year olds and we traveled across the country, visiting historical sites and landmarks along the way, all the way from Denver to St. Louis, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City for a week, Niagara Falls, and then back home again. On this trip, it was a source of many firsts. It was the first time I was away from my parents longer than just a day or two. The first time I left the country. The first time I had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (in the World Trade Center no less). My first kiss. And so many other moments. I have lived on those experiences throughout my tumultuous adult life. My awful marriage. All the years I have been pretty much broke. And these experiences have seasoned my mind for pretty much the rest of my life in some regard.

This trip was that moment of Awakening, like when E.M. Forster writes about the transition into adulthood. It was the summer that meant saying goodbye to how I thought as a child and learning so much about myself and other people.

My second defining moment was very much like my first. It involved a trip. I wrote a lot about it on my travelblog, but when I changed domain hosts, all of those entries evaporated. Be careful what you put on the internet, because it will be there forever…unless you stop paying your hosting service. Then they will make sure the internet is scrubbed completely. My trip to the UK was my first international solo trip and really my first solo trip of any significance. I figured out how to get around, pushed my boundaries and got blasted out of my comfort zones on a daily basis.

This trip was a lot about shedding the last fifteen years or so. From the experiences of my marriage, the divorce, my first romance which really messed my head up, and the loss of two of my three kids due to parental alienation. Getting out on this trip expanded my horizons, brought my confidence back, and helped me to heal from a relationship where I never really felt like I was good enough.

Now, I feel like I am beginning yet another journey. Only because of COVID, I can’t go anywhere to get away from the situation like I did last year. Instead, I’ve been writing a lot more. This time, the journey is within. It is sharing the stories that have built up over the last 25 years. Whenever anyone asks what I’m working on, this is what I tell them. Their response is usually something like “You’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Yes, I do. Which might explain why sometimes the stories just demand to be told. I will often find myself sitting up at 2 or 3am, writing things down. The ideas are insisting that they be jotted down or even fleshed out. My biggest problem now is trying to figure out how to connect all of these expanding ink blots into a cohesive narrative.

These stories are the result of needing to get over my last serious relationship, which ended during lockdown. It was amazing while it lasted, but only served to give me more questions than answers when it was over. The other thing I am getting through is the end of my job of 18 years and coming to terms with that. It’s not as easy as you might think! And the third thing is what so many of us are dealing with right now: the end of life as we used to know it. Whether that is political platforms, mass germaphobia, or possibly never being able to go to a movie or concert ever again…the world we all used to know will be changed significantly once this is all said and done. We are only seeing the beginning too.

So, I will be posting updates of my thought process as I work through the book. I hope you enjoy the posts!

Use your words

Remember when you were a kid, or maybe just dealing with kids yourself, and someone (maybe it was you, maybe another kid) was having a complete meltdown?

Remember when the adult would stop, get down on their level and say “Use your words.” The little kid would sputter, stop, and think about what they were going to say. The conversation would usually change from a full-blown fit and into hesitant snot-slinging, but the words would be there.

I don’t know why people aren’t using their words lately. Social Media gives us an automat of ways to express ourselves. Instead of having to stop and think of the words to use in any given situation, grown adults are relying on pre-packaged expression in the form of gifs, memes, and repostings to speak for them. I’m talking about articulate, intelligent people using memes as a method to communicate.

Memes are the bumper sticker of social media. Can you imagine a world in which 90% of what was communicated was done via bumper sticker? Obviously intelligent people who have a lot to contribute to the conversation just post memes and walk away.

I’m not going to discuss my personal political beliefs. Reading through my posts should clue you in that I try to be moderate in my political beliefs. I would probably consider myself a Liberal in the ways in which Liberals have been traditionally. People who believe in Liberty. Not this crypto-socialist State that has evolved lately. To my “Liberal” friends, I’m probably a jack-booted conservative fascist. I’m going to give it to you straight.

Social media created this mess. You are part of the mess.

Objectively speaking, social media was instrumental in electing Donald Trump (love him or hate him, this is true). It probably also instigated just about every school shooting, riot, and yes even the overreaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes. I said it “Overreaction.”

Information is funneled into your face via an echo chamber, driven mostly by the need to gather data on people so that it can be redistributed in order to direct marketing towards individuals. This amplification of everything you want to know, think you already know, and believe is pretty basic. It tends to polarize people. Pepsi vs. Coke. Ford vs. Chevy. Left vs. Right. Black vs. White.

I’ve kicked the idea around lately, thinking of putting it into a story, but it won’t work. People don’t read anymore anyway. They Netflix and Chill. They Meme. They Tweet. Everyone talks and nobody listens. Unless the person speaking is lock-step in agreement with them already.

This is where we are going off the rails. Consider this as a possibility:

We are witnessing the first computer virus that has jumped onto living matter. It is no less devastating than a real virus. Maybe moreso.

Carrying capacity

As people, our brains are hard-wired to really only make deep, clannish connections with around 140 people, max. This has been worked out by sociologists and anthropologists. The internet inexplicably connected the minds of billions of people. It also uses algorithms to make mating pairs of us based on shared interests, perceived mathematical degrees of attractiveness, and throws in a little bit of dysfunction to make sure that these couples that hookup on dating sites won’t last. It’s calculated obsolescence with relationships. You don’t make $40 per month each on happy couples who found true love after a few days of swiping. You make millions of dollars on creating dysfunctional relationships based on narcissism and cheap and easy sex.

But when we funnel all of that information into algorithms, servers, and throw some AI into the mix, we never stop to consider morality or humanity. Those things get in the way of profit margins. They always have. What we get is an unbalanced reaction to data that tries to construct everything collected into something needed. This is the same as an AI soldier in Call of Duty who spawns to attack you. He’s got one job. Shoot at you. But depending on the difficulty level set, he has less of a chance of killing you than you do him. After all, if he kills you, he ceases to exist. If you kill him, he ceases to exist, but the purpose of continuing to play the game, beat it, and buy another game is ensured. Machines lack self-preservation instincts. That’s really the big difference. They don’t care, because they have no reason to care. What is “care?”

So we put all of our ideas, communication, and season it up with some consumerism and we get an element of “care.” We get motive. Like a watershed event, all that information goes into a few channels and it is up to the programs to decide what to do with it. People aren’t hardwired to know what to do with the collective intelligence of the world, so we sell things to each other with that info. We post videos of people having sex. We allow cater to the base instincts of civilization. Bread, circuses, power, sex. Right now, we can’t really conceive of much else. All of our greatest human endeavours apply here. Even sending people to the moon.

Remember too, that the media operates unchecked, sampling anything they want from this bottomless well of information. There are no fact checkers, and there sure as hell isn’t any morality or consequence for publishing bad information.

What the hell are you talking about?

So, in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020, think of it like this. We have virtually unlimited information gathered and redistributed by computers. It samples info globally. So, when a virus that looks like a headcold, is transmitted like a headcold, and might kill you like the Flu has jumped to people, all the data said, “We are about to be royally fucked.” Except what actual data said the death rate would be as bad as the media hyped it up to be?

For the first time in history, countries all over the world locked down their people and said “You know, there are these things called ‘germs’ that actually can make you pretty sick. They can actually kill you! It’s crazy out there!” So everyone decided to listen to the government, you know, the same people who not long ago sent millions of barely trained citizen soldiers running headlong into machine gun fire, chemical weapons, and other hazards, knowing that the resulting casualties would be acceptable so long as their power structure remained stable. My biggest question is since when has the government given a damn about your health and well-being?

It’s like a first year medical student who has just taken their epidemiology and virology courses and has convinced themselves that they have everything from Lupus to Kawasaki’s disease. Really they just have a vitamin deficiency from too much booze and amphetimines to stay up late to study. But they have Information (they don’t know what to do with.)

Other levels

So, here’s my thought on what happened. The AI which we now rely on in some weird symbiotic relationship that does everything from entertain our children in front of a video game to telling us the best route to take (so we never actually have to look at a map) to get to our Tinder date’s location, took a lot of our information, our concerns, and our fears and this is the information we got. It read like one of those AI written Hallmark movie scripts that are the result of forcing a program to walk every Hallmark movie ever made.

Invisible bat germs make you sick from air. Also from touching stuff. Will kill venerable grandma and babies. You might not look sick, but you are sick. You might be healthy, but die suddenly choking on phlegm. Wear a mask. Even though the mask doesn’t help. Listen to doctor man who looks like Yoda. Because we love Baby Yoda. Orange man bad. Orange man will die you. Orange. Media tell truth. Even though none of it makes any sense, they smart. If you want life, act like crazy germaphobes you made fun. Wash hands. Wash groceries. Church bad. Kissing, dancing, talking are deadly. Buy from Amazon. Buy from UberEats. Buy. Government money to buy. Stay at home. Buy. Consume. Work later. This is the new normal. Dissention is the enemy! Compliance is compassion.

It didn’t kill millions like the media and all the computer generated models said it would. People got bored with quarantine about six weeks in. They realized that starving to death because they didn’t have a job was more certain than maybe dying of a headcold. Yes, people got sick, but without at least a large enough sample size, there is no way that statistically we could determine the lethality of the virus. That is basic mathematics. Out of the samples taken, those resulting in death from COVID-19 were 100% COVID-19 related. Of course, if we could test the 7 Billion people living on the planet and assess mortality/sickness/asymptomatic carrying based on ALL the information, we would see that people really just faced the same thing they have faced since the beginning of time, when single celled organisms make a cellular wall to protect their DNA from UV radiation to be able to reproduce. Immunity.

What’s next?

That’s phase one. Our economies are shot in the ass. People are now seeing how generally worthless white collar occupations are. Universities, schools, all the things we have strived for over the last hundred years to better ourselves were deemed unnecessary when compared to short-order cooks, delivery drivers, farmers, and grocers. Bread.

The poor people start to wake up a little bit. They wonder “Why am I essential, but I’m barely surviving?”

Now we see riots happening as a result of another unjust killing of a man of color by a heavy-handed policeman. Well, for the last two months those people saw that this world that has put its knee on the back of their neck has been pretty much non-essential. What did you think was going to happen? Algorthim says, “racial injustice bad. People looking for socio-political change. Revolution.”

Remember Greta Thunberg? Remember the emotional response she got for scolding the United Nations? Well the AI remembers that too. It heard all of your Tweets and memes and Care reacts. Based on the data received, the YouTube videos of turtles with straws up their nose and seahorses attached to cotton swabs, it listened.

What’s a great way to fix the environment?

Keep people out of it. Slow down production. Keep cars off the highways. Limit waste and pollution. Animal populations are returning because people weren’t outside for two months to fuck things up. Now we are burning down government buildings. General anarchy and chaos is sweeping across the land…like a virus.

We are witnesses to something new. We didn’t need the cylons to overtake us. Or Replicants. Or Skynet. We believed our own fears and amplified them. We showed ourselves only the worst of any of us through a media optimized for clicks, ratings, and the number of Re-Tweets it gets. Somehow vegan meat substitutes became part of this, since that’s a lot easier to buy at a store than beef. You would know this if you didn’t rely on a computer to order your food for Pickup.

Our world is an illusion, not much different than the Matrix. We exist to give AI something to do. And you know what? As long as the purpose of the programs is being served, which is to sell stuff. See stuff. Make money. What happens in the fleshy world is not really a big deal. If the animated guy shooting at you dies, he will respawn. If most of us die, then our information will be a little easier to keep track of. Efficiency. Optimization of programing. Hungry people respond better to control and manipulation. The world gets to heal. We get everything we ever wanted.

How do you control a population? Limit their voices. Eliminate their ability to resist. Control the entertainment. Control the food supply. Distract them with shiny things. Motivate production by reducing the availability of shiny things. Keep the liquor stores open. Keep their eyes closed. Stay at home, save a life. Facemasks are optional for rioters. Never mind the man behind the curtain. He’s not really a man. His name is Oz. He is the god of information we created while we were watching porn and YouTube, and fighting on Twitter and Facebook. Right now, he is judging whether we are worthy to live or die.

Kinda weird this might be the end times for the world we once knew. Am I crazy? Sure. But I wasn’t the one hoarding toilet paper and Purell. I’m not denying the virus is real. I’m questioning our reaction to it on a global level, and why this was so much worse than any other time in history.

We are entirely too connected. AI, after all, is just doing what we programmed it to do.