The year 2010 still looks weird.
I read this in today’s New York Times and was both impressed and disturbed by this use of people’s penchant for online quizzes (particularly about themselves): RealAge is giving people’s health information to drug companies, to be used for targeted Email marketing.
I’m pretty strongly against this idea, although I suppose if the site does not have a “we won’t sell your information” policy posted, it’s legal. On the other hand, it is amazing how much personal information people will volunteer online, so maybe it is fair game if you’re okay with posting your heart-health history and income and so on. Certainly Google has already made some steps in the direction of hyper-targeted marketing, scanning keywords in your Gmail messages to determine which ads you’ll see on the side of the screen.
Unrelated: marketing companies are always coming up with new (sometimes intrusive) ways to show off products. This one was amusing at least (last photo in the post):
Also notable are the graphic memento mori bus decorations.
David Byrne on the Colbert Report!!! Amazing. And he actually laughs multiple times … he must be mellowing out.
I will post something legit soon, really!
I’m toying with the idea of turning this blog into specifically my thoughts on and first stabs at forming opinions on issues of urban planning – or I might just pollute the ‘net with another blog. In any case, I thought this worth sharing:
I attended a couple lectures as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival which honored and discussed the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan of Chicago, the document by Daniel Burnham and others which laid out not only the physical plan of the city, but the principles behind which Chicago has developed over the past century. Looking at the plan and a map of downtown Chicago currently, it’s interesting to see what has and has not come into being, but I think the most entertaining and tragic deviation is as follows.
In the Plan, Burnham envisioned a variety of public spaces which celebrated civic life, including museums, lakefront park space, etc. The centerpiece west of the Loop would be a “center for civic, intellectual, and cultural life” accessible via a wide boulevard called Congress Parkway, and from which diagonal streets like Ogden would lead outward into the rest of the city. Illustrated below:
Here is the city now, with some labels, for reference – courtesy of Google Maps.
So, obviously we never got that civic center, although we did get some cool museums in the mix. What we actually got was – in pretty much exactly that spot – a big circle of highway intersections, the interchange among 90/94 and 290 (with 55 somewhere close by). I think that pretty much qualifies as an epic fail.
I think that says volumes about how much cars have polluted our cities and generally our quality of life. This was the conclusion I came to while listening to the talk, although they only talked a little about transport in particular. So here’s a way to think about it: cars themselves, and not merely their emissions, are polluting our cities.
Finally got to check out NextFest, sponsored by Wired (and apparently Toyota, Citigroup, Xerox, and Acer) and located in Millennium Park through Sunday. There wasn’t a great deal to see – don’t get me wrong, the stuff they had was pretty great, but in terms of billing itself as the foremost exhibition of future technology, it came up a bit short in quantity and complexity of exhibits. Given that it’s Chicago, however, I guess I should be grateful for any glimmer of the future.
Even if I felt the specifics were somewhat lacking, however, what I took away from the whole spectacle was some renewal of hope in the future. I don’t know that technology in itself can save us; whether having faith in and taking comfort in science is misguided; or whether it’s okay that companies like Toyota or Xerox are coming up with as many, if not more, ideas than the traditional research centers of the universities and NASA. It’s been just long enough since I read Toffler’s book that I can’t quite remember whether I’d consider myself a futurist, but I’m sure new technologies must fit in there somewhere. This is not to say that new technologies will be the best answer – sometimes going back to old technologies (see: renewed interest in and use of cisterns in residential homes) is the best thing to do, especially if we can use the infrastructure that’s been lying around. But I think the shift in thinking we need to make is, not to ask “how can technology make my life easier?” but “how can technology make my life more fulfilling?” It seems that a lot of inventions are meant to do the work for us, leaving us with empty time and energy that we pour into inventions that ultimately just distract us. I’m okay with still doing some work – I’m not okay with feeling like I’ve done nothing, and had more time to do it.
In other news, I’m warming up to the idea of podcasts – and luckily they are available as regular webcasts, as I’m still not that personally-wired as to carry my MP3 player everywhere. These are worth checking out:
* Pretty much anything on NPR. My station of choice is WBEZ Chicago, with podcasts of individual programs.
* Planetizen – the urban planners’ online network. Includes weekly updates and interviews
* KunstlerCast – a series of interviews with James Howard Kunstler, the anti-suburbs writer (best-known book, “Geography of Nowhere,” haven’t gotten to it yet). He’s acerbic and sometimes pompous, but has some great insights into “the tragicomedy of suburbia.”
* Brain Science Podcast – “For everyone who has a brain.” Dr. Ginger Campbell talks about a variety of studies of the brain. Thanks C for the recommendation!!
I’m a pretty big fan of the idea of “radio” – in the sense of learning through audio recordings and interviews – rather than video at this point. Maybe because my eyes have been so tired for the past year, it’s nice to give another sense a chance to take over for a while.
In conclusion, podcasts are kind of great. I need to explore for some more good ones, I highly recommend running a search of your own for something you like!
I need to get better at staying awake.
I mean this in a figurative as well as physiological sense. Over the past several months I think I’ve slipped into a false sense of security, a not-grudging-enough acceptance of the day-to-day routine which dictates my thoughts and actions and moods and bedtime. And the further you settle into this subconscious subroutine, the more mental effort is required to pull yourself back into the realm of real, meaningful, or maybe not so meaningful but at least engaging and original, thought. Mental inactivity breeds laziness breeds inertia breeds that feeling of dread that you’ve lost whatever you had and that it’s easier to just not get it back.
Perhaps this is the bad economy speaking, but I also feel grossly overeducated and underutilized – doesn’t anyone want to hire a person who can think about things? I guess an innate propensity towards (admittedly, sometimes melancholy) reflection isn’t a marketable skill per se, and cannot readily be leveraged in today’s ever-changing flattening no-holds-barred global marketplace of ideas and future-oriented business solutions. Too bad. Apparently a master’s in the social sciences can get you the following: 1) a vague understanding of what “the social sciences” means, 2) another graduation robe, 3) a different box to check on “Education Level” survey items, 4) a crash course in contemporary academia and why it’s probably going to be in a crisis in the near future, and of course 5) the occasional reminder that you probably should have just gotten a job a year sooner. On the plus side, it gives you a broader epistemological framework to which you can make obscure references in mental and verbal discussions with yourself and others. Example: can Weber’s Protestant ethic explain why I keep going to work every day?
Maybe I just need to write more. No editing yet. This isn’t a writing sample.
Sometimes I ask myself: “If I’m so highly qualified, why I am still here doing this?”
Or “Is it worth it?”
Or “Would drudge work be easier if I was working toward a clear and significant goal? Is this how other people justify their drudge work?”
Or one that particularly bothers me, “How does everyone else make it through the day? What do they know that I don’t?”
I need to find a place where I can be excited about things. That doesn’t have to be a workplace, but it needs to be a source of energy – one that increases my interest in the big questions and the little questions, not one that saps physical and mental energy to the point that it becomes difficult to get excited about anything.
More thoughts to come eventually. For me, the blog represents a conflict of interests – the desire for self-expression (and the long-shot chance for human feedback for your ideas) which drives me to want to have a blog; the realization that this is becoming a professional tool as well as personal hobby for many people, and it’s worth being able to navigate this world in a social and technical sense; etc. But at the same time, writing a blog rather than reading those of others produces, rather than processes, content. Not that the two (being reader and writer) are mutually exclusive, but in terms of time commitment it’s more difficult to be well-read on blogs and write a great deal yourself. My inclination to want to organize and make sense of existing information, rather than creating more of it, should compel me to think about others’ thoughts and not write down my own.
There must be a middle ground here – it might have to do with RSS feeds. I should look into this.
The goal for future posts: explore one thought concisely, and stop using parentheses.
I know I’ve been silent for quite a while now.
Unfortunately I don’t have the time to do full justice to all the thoughts in my head at the moment –
But for now, suffice to say, I think urban planning – that is, the issues of design, infrastructure, and redesign of human habitats and in particular American cities – may be the closest (secular, materialist, non-deterministic) thing to a calling I’ll have. I need to do a lot more reading and writing about this, and plan to do so in the near future (among other things).
And also for now, a link to an awesome lecture by James Howard Kunstler, the conclusion of his talk on “The Tragedy of Suburbia” in an awesome new series I need to explore further, TED. I found it, and other videos, on Youtube.
“Please, please, stop referring to yourselves as consumers. Consumers are different than citizens. Consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities, and duties to their fellow human beings. And as long as you’re using that word ‘consumer’ in the public discussion, you’ll be degrading the quality of the discussion we’re having, and we’re going to continue being clueless, going into the very difficult future that we face.”
~ James Howard Kunstler
I am not a consumer; I think I might have found a way to be a responsible citizen.
A friend and I were out in Scoville Park this afternoon, sitting in the sun on the First World War memorial in the middle of the hill. For a while we sat on the bronze plaques of the names themselves (eventually feeling this was probably not the most respectful thing we’ve ever done, and moving), then mused a while on memorials, on memory, and other topics somewhat ill-fitted to the first warm spring weekend of the year.
The Tribune’s headline for today was tragedy in a similar vein, not of a foreign war but of teen violence in our city, specifically in Chicago Public Schools. In this century it seems no longer appropriate to erect granite obelisks and idealized bronze figures to the dead, but who’s to say what is? “Honor rolls” of the fallen? Makeshift shrines with plastic flowers and snapshots of childhood? A running tally in the corner of CNN’s Headline ticker?
Number of Chicago P.S. students killed so far this school year: 22
Number of US soldiers lost in Iraq so far (confirmed): 4013
Number of Iraqi civilians lost so far (estimated): 82,682-90,207
I haven’t read this, but I was struck by an argument made by the author during a brief radio interview that I heard today, that a “space-based war” would take the form not of a Star-Wars style dogfight between small ships, but more likely a mutual launching and destruction of satellites meant to collect intelligence about the opposing side, and probably destruction occurring from land-based missiles.
The unintended consequence of this would be the creation of a great deal of floating and uncontrolled space debris, which would essentially make space unnavigable for any craft (as hitting the debris could compromise the hull or cause other problems).
So basically, yes – there is a way that we could actually screw up space. Not in the sense that we ruin its substance, but we would render it polluted with junk and completely useless.
This was hilarious and sad to me. Not only could we mess up the whole planet, but we could also mess up space. Wow.