The Post-Digital Lifestyle

Transmitted on Sep 23 2008 to technology

I recently came upon the term “post-digital”, here described by its (presumed) creator, John Maeda.

I am often asked what my term “post digital” signifies. It is a term that I created as a way to acknowledge a distinction between those that are passed [sic] their fascination with computers, and are now driven by the ideas instead of the technology. It is not an expression of Luddite-ism nor is it a loaded term like that icky “post modernism” business. If we are to consider the book by Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, as an affirmation that the computer has arrived, then the “post digital” generation refers to the growing few that have already been digital, and are now more interested in Being Human. Buying a good computer is easy. Being a good person is something that cannot be merely bought… even on the great god of eBay.

This idea is really interesting for a few reasons: for one, it’s important to realize that technological “breakthroughs” don’t necessarily signify real progress. The only progress we can measure is what happens in our own heads, the awareness we have of ourselves and our world, the new thinking that comes with these new technologies. If we don’t acquire a fundamentally new (or fundamentally more complete) reality as a result of our technologies, we are actively losing ground.

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“Shapeshifting” Architecture from Dubai

Transmitted on Jun 26 2008 to design & architecture

CNN reports on a phenomenal “shape-shifting” building going up in Dubai known as the Dynamic Tower. The building has independent movement across each of its floors via the use of wind turbines: it can be “moved” constantly throughout the day, and appear essentially unique in every moment. The sheer scale of the project should not be underestimated. Its architect, New York-based architect David Fisher, says that

It’s not a piece of architecture somebody designed today and that’s it. It remains forever. It’s designed by life, shaped by time.

The building boasts a number of innovations, including being entirely prefabricated (which will construct in six days what typically takes nearly six weeks), as well as generating enough wind power to sustain similar-sized buildings (well, maybe not…).
Alternate View/Configuration
There is some (predictable) skepticism, since the architect has never built a skyscraper before, but he claims that a solid team is in place to help work out all the kinks. Either way it’s truly stunning, both conceptually and visually.

A rendering of a future Dynamic Tower going up in Moscow
I am becoming increasingly certain that an arriving movement in art will involve “radical dynamism”, or the alteration of work as it is being displayed, in a way that is not at all performance art. This has certainly been seen before (on some levels) in the form of mobiles and moving sculptures (both of which are, in many ways, still performance art) but I’ve become very interested in the concept of work that has both inalterable (permanent) change as well as unique (non-cylical) motion, perhaps derived in some way from the technological deluge of the Web and our daily lives (ie. in response to memes). This building certainly hits on the latter, but short of the wear and tear of everyday use it does not (yet) accomplish the former. Still, it may help usher in the “dynamic era”… and I would love to see any examples of this kind of work, if they exist.

Dubai ’shape-shifting skyscraper’ unveiled – CNN.com

UK Television Media Bans Product Placement

Transmitted on Jun 14 2008 to media & communication

The British government has elected to ban product placement in their television media, cementing a decision to let the content of the program (or programme) serve as the “selling point”. The UK media minister writes that “product placement would undermine the [integrity] that British TV enjoys internationally” and that its use can “contaminate” programs. No one wants to feel like their shows are written by an ad agency. I’m sure there are mountains of evidence showing that product placement works, though I can’t imagine it having much effect (I’ll always remember an old episode of Alias where product placement was almost laughable–”There! He’s in the Ford F-150!”)…

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Of Scale & Civilization

Transmitted on Apr 09 2008 to earth & nature

Much has been made of our universe’s seeming repetition of form, of nature’s unerring patterns splayed out in galaxies and electron orbits; wherever we look, we find clues written in the same language. Infinite and infintesimal seem not such polar opposites when one encounters the glow of nebulae within a cell, the roots of trees echoed in your iris. What does it mean, that these designs scale so endlessly?

On a warm summer night in upstate New York, the crackling lights of fireflies floated like lanterns in the darkness; I remember being astonished by the amount of activity they generated, the constancy of their flashing, their sheer ludicrous numbers. Several were flickering overhead, but as they began to flash and group in more geometric patterns I realized that they weren’t fireflies at all– they were a plane.

Without a sense of scale, fireflies and airplanes become the same symbol, the same candles in an unending night: are we really so different from them? Are our lights, or theirs, anything more than signals thrown against the unknowable?

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Farewell, Clarke

Transmitted on Mar 18 2008 to technology

Arthur C. Clarke, one of the pioneering minds of science fiction and a significant scientist and inventor, passed away at the age of 90 today. Many of his words have served me in my deepest inspirations over the years, and his startlingly prescient novels somehow become more relevant with time. From 2001 to Childhood’s End to (my favorite) The Light of Other Days (coauthored with Stephen Baxter), Clarke’s stories entangled Eastern thought with a Science both powerful and savagely human; his characters, flawed and often unaware of the significance of their actions, confronted awe-inspiring and immeasurable ethical, spiritual, and moral challenges with ingenuity, maturity, and of course, incredible new technologies that, more often than not, caused more problems than they solved. Ultimately mankind, at least in Clarke’s mind, would always rise to the occasion… even if it meant growing up a little.

Rest in peace, Arthur. We owe our future to you.

“Part of our role is to wake up the world.”

Transmitted on Mar 11 2008 to culture & civilization

Two hundred leaders from seventy-one North American indigenous tribes convened on Monday to discuss rising concerns over global warming, environmental destruction, and the role of humanity as planetary shepherds. Hoping to help lead the way towards a more sustainable future, the tribesmen met at dawn beneath the Mayan city of Palenque, Mexico.

“I sometimes talk to scientists,” said a leader of Alaska’s Tlingit peoples, “and they compartmentalize things, put things in boxes and disconnect them, and doing so promotes disharmony and imbalance.”

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A Life Lived Richly

Transmitted on Mar 02 2008 to living fully

The great and terrible secret of our culture–indeed, of the world–is that our financial and social rewards are directly proportional to the percentage of our lives that we “hand over”. Long before we are able to conceive of the future, we are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Long before we are able to understand why or how we’ll get there, we are asked, “where do you want to go to college?”. And at some seemingly-random point, we are asked “what are you going to do?”

What am I going to do? I’m going to be alive; to dream and explore and experience as much as possible. Is that not good enough? Is that not a life lived richly?

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“Macbook Air”– And What It (Maybe) Means

Transmitted on Jan 14 2008 to technology

I really must be a nerd, somehow, or one who’s really just affected by design in some (possibly-twisted) way, but…

Macbook Air (Wired Render)
Macbook Air (Wired Render)
(Images from Wired Blog: this is a mockup (not a photo) of an envisioned ultra-thin Apple laptop featuring wireless charging, a multi-touch input system, and an always-on, ubiquitous wireless connection that replaces the need for ethernet ports.)

I don’t know how else to express it, but this look–even though I know it probably isn’t quite the real thing– is so beautiful, so absolutely essential to our time, that I hesitate in saying that this might in fact change our entire sense of what technology is. Not now, oh no… not with Leopard’s bugs and a window-based interface and the clumsy hacked-together kludge of the Web at this particular moment. Not even, maybe, for ten or fifteen years. But this is the first object that may well be designed for who we really are as people. We are explorers. We were out there hunting and gathering and using our hands–that is, until we recently decided to take that little industrialized break and coop ourselves up in our homes. We spend a lot of our time feeling like we aren’t really doing enough, and that worry leaks out in our aggressive spending, our internal dramas, our petty goals. We stopped being in touch with what it really felt like to be alive. We built great tools, and gradually our tools became our focus; somewhere along the line, we lost track of the absurdity of this compromise.

The real promise of the Web has always been its omniscience. It has nothing to do with information, or information overload– it has to do with ubiquity and transparency. It has to do with offloading the sum of human consciousness and leaving it floating out there, a sea of awareness permeating us like a second soul. Think different, people. This has nothing to do with specs. Nothing to do with current technology–or the lack of an optical drive. This is about coming a step closer to organic technology.

Like the iPhone, which was the result of a realization that people like to control THINGS, not the abstract representations of them, this Macbook Air heralds a different kind of future. One in which our primary untethered-ness is finally understood; one in which our need to just live life is finally brought back into focus. Computers are a long long way from being truly intuitive, but this design evokes something incredible, something thrilling in me. We are leaving behind the wires, the force, the efforts of communicating with a stupid machine. We are free, and so is it. We are endlessly capable, and so (battery life willing) is it.

When Apple does its best work, they create products that are so perfect in their approach that they literally cannot be reimagined.

Looking at this machine, I can honestly say that it is this level of perfection. Not necessarily in specs, in its minutae or in daily use; I mean as an idea, as a created object, as a trendsetter. The iPod wasn’t perfect either when it first debuted, but it was obvious why it was needed. It removed everything but the experience of choosing what to listen to and hearing it. It removed the technology and became an extension of one’s life.

The Macbook Air, with inductive-based charging and ubiquitous networking, if such things ever came together (and if they came together tomorrow? oh my god) is another of these ideas. Something so radically ahead on a fundamental level that we don’t even know how amazing it will become.

For Apple to come back to the “tiny laptop” game, they realized they needed something new, something revolutionary to justify the absence. We’ve been expecting decent upgrades from them, but we forget that this is a brand-new Apple, one so visionary as to often arrive at solutions before anyone understands the depth of the problem; a company that innovates even when no one understands what it is they can see. When they made a music player, they made the iPod, for god’s sake. When they made a phone, it wasn’t a phone– it was a new way to communicate with technology.

Well, they’re back, and they removed such a huge part of the “computer” from the equation–the charging cables, ethernet, tethered disks (Time Machine backup to AirPort MUST be coming…) the extra weight, and maybe even the need for wi-fi tethering–that it is now the digital equivalent of a notebook. It is ever-present, yet completely unobtrusive. It is as ready as you are. Long ago I envisioned (as many have– it’s not at all an original concept) a device I called “the Reader”–a notebook-type wireless communication system. This device simply existed to tap into the framework of human awareness in as unobtrusive a manner as possible. Gesture-based, context-sensitive, intelligent and uncomplicated, it would express a nearly infinite potential without ever feeling overwhelming.

Many of these ideas may make their way more readily into an Apple tablet, but I can see that their design language is definitely on to something. It’s the teardrop shape. The colors (neutrals yet superbly beautiful). The organic, weightless feeling of it. It’s the sense that this is no longer a foreign object. It’s the first step towards something altogether new–a true fusion. And it’s weightless the way we are weightless, ultimately free of any connection to anything but the earth we’re born on and the identity we give ourselves.

I know it’s all hyperbolic, and perhaps I’m simply overthinking, but if the device Apple releases tomorrow is anything like this image, it’s a bigger deal than anyone but a few people at Apple realize.

Just think about it.

(And I really don’t comment on technology much, as you know, but I feel that this is truly significant)

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Letting the Universe Live Through You

Transmitted on Jul 28 2007 to consciousness & Source

I have fallen in love, once again, with the open road.

Humanity and nature entwine so deeply in the making of a road: each side, initially struck by the shock of Change, gradually comes to understand and preserve their new boundaries, learning to live together, becoming conscious and not merely outraged at Other. The road becomes, like the trees or the mountains around it, another mark of time, another indicator of an era, another geologic record to be someday excavated by an unknowable future. It becomes the Zen mind, seeking nothing, attached to nothing, yet profoundly aware of each moment brought before it. Cars of a hundred styles and colors flash across its surface; seasons advance, conquer, retreat along its twists and turns. And yet it remains utterly present, indifferent but not uncaring to the world that rises and falls around it.

So, too, do the massive trees I find dancing lazily in the heat. All of them have stood rooted to a single piece of earth for longer than I have lived; most have witnessed more, perhaps, than this road, stretching like hanging hands across a world that has no doubt completely transformed before them…

It is striking for me to imagine that one of these trees is likely my age exactly: that for twenty years, as I have seen and talked and written and walked, this tree (wherever it may be) has remained perfectly in place, its entire journey upwards, its life utterly devoted to a single, unreachable sliver of the sky. The same sun has shone on each of us for those same twenty years; the same energy ultimately pulsates within us. I find myself wondering if perhaps I could have become a tree instead, had I merely learned to drink sunlight; had I merely stayed still long enough. In that kind of life there would be no time, no place, for judgment or reflection--in that life one is a witness, ascending towards the infinite, an inch at a time.

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