Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

On NextFest

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!


On Where I’m Going

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.