Sunday, May 8, 2011

an iPhone for Your Thoughts

I have gone over now to the dark side. I'm working and I've been issued an iPhone, a thing I never would have bought myself. I'm distressed at how much techo-lust remains in me.

I find that it does Chinese in ways that Microsoft's stuff automagically drops out in their striving to rob everyone else's feature set, and skipping effort on the stuff which stays on most peoples' shelves. Or is that what Apple does, with their sweating of all the details of look and feel and I'm just suckered in with all the rest. What do they not want me to be able to do?

I feel a touch of sadness now to be retiring my old Windows smartphone, but I just can't imagine that I'll be using it anymore. Though its "push" email was a tad more alacritous than the iPhone's. I could customize in ways the iPhone won't allow. But I'm afraid it's the Apps. The pinch to zoom and the slick way the parts all integrate.

I suppose I should be worried about the tracking, but, well you know I just learned this fascinating little tidbit I've been puzzling about since I moved to California and have to navigate these massive Mighty Niagara (nostalgic nod to canoeing in Buffalo) traffic flows. Doesn't everybody wonder? You know, how does Google maps get "realtime" traffic information?

I feel embarrassed. I'd been imagining hoards of recruits who call in their observations, and maybe money changing hands to pay for some company which has a service to monitor roadways with cameras or traffic detectors (it's true, there are such things! Which travel to your TomTom over FM channels or some such malarkey). Maybe the government makes a little money off its police reports?

But no, it turns out that this is a really cool form of crowd sourcing, where all these drivers with their location-aware phones are sending up their movements to the mother-processor, and rest assured, we're all anonomized in the cloud because, as usual, they only care about us in aggregate.

So now while I'm fighting off my urge to get an Android in my hands so's I can see how Google's anti-style stacks up against my iPhone, I ponder this: why does it feel so dangerous to question the morality of offing Osama Bin-laden without so much as a nod to a military tribunal? Is it just simply that safe now for our Commander in Chief to read our minds?

In a court of law, would there be mitigating circumstances for the radicalization of a man who'd once thought he was our friend? If he ordered the killings, then surely he must die, but what about specialist Manning now rotting in his cell for aiding and abetting the enemy? Shall we just not bother to hold our leaders accountable to the higher standards of law, since they know what we would want anyhow?

What really worries me though, is that everything has been turned into a kind of digital on-off to where you're either Republican in your thinking or Democrat and these trends tend to polarize us even internally. What happened to leadership whose job it was to raise the level of discourse to where each side could see the reasoning of the other? Isn't that what Obama promised in and by and during his campaign?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not terribly bothered that Obama's been dispatched, but I am bothered that the reason for his dispatch is about the same as the so-called birthers' reason for hating Obama. They just do. But now isn't Obama guilty of extra-judicial killing? What's the statute of distance between a man and his exalted position and the actions committed in his name or by his order? Policemen aren't allowed to shoot someone even though they might have directly witnessed a capital offence. What should we allow secretly to be done in our collective Name?

How do we feel assured that the narrative about the events as they occurred wasn't being tweaked according to our reaction, and facts trickled out or altered according to the traffic flows. There sure are a lot of stories about our enhanced investigative and other special ops techniques. We crow, we crow!

Oh yeah, and I heard this (on NPR, of course, or no, maybe it's in that podcast I refer to above): there is this new virtual french-kissing device that someone's rolled out for fun. You put a virtual tongue in your mouth and then while you're face-timing with someone you'd like to kiss and they have the same device in theirs you can feel each others' wiggles in your respective mouths. Ew!

I know the guy who has a patent on that. I'd better alert him, as though intellectual property could actually belong to someone anymore (I'm of mixed mind!). Meanwhile, you know where this is going, right? While we're all distracted by making virtual love to some Candy-2000 model hot body, the government will already know what we think we want, and then they'll give it to us without our even asking. Click to sign-off, and hey, you can't complain.

Like the other day when I got my free credit report DOT COM and then I stupidly signed up to get my free score because I could cancel at any time. But it took holding for over an hour before someone finally  answered and the scumbags still have my credit card information. Which was a pristine new number since I'd had to cancel the old one for apparent fraud.

Oh yes, I am so thrilled now with my new iPhone!!!

What a world!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

That Last One!

That one was sitting there for weeks and weeks, while I got into the swing of working again. I'm almost there. Look, ma, I'm writing again! Wheeee!

I went to the LA Times Book Fair at USC yesterday, and stood in line, standby, to hear Patti Smith and David Eggers talk about the writing process. I was flanked by professionals. That was cool. Although I was distressed that Patti Smith seems stuck in the specialness of being an artist, and the ridiculous notion that artists strive to realize things which come to them clear in their minds. And then they do the work to realize those visions.

But Eggers, you know, quietly put the lie to that and talked gently about his teaching process, and I think he was a lot more honest about how the medium pushes back and so does the reader, even if it's you the writer that's standing in for the reader, and he seemed to think that anyone can write, which pretty much dethrones the Artist as some kind of special person.

Patti Smith was talking about how artists are burdened by having to be commenting all the time in their head, as though writing stories about what they are living through, as though that's not actually the human condition and doesn't distinguish her from anyone on the planet. It doesn't, but I haven't read her stuff, and it got a big award, so I'll have to grant that she's as good as all that, and I'm glad to have heard her, but even more glad to have heard Eggers, because I think we're all really congratulating ourselves still for recognizing cool when we see it, and he seems to have moved beyond that.

I like this Chinese semi-dissident writer I read about in the LA Times this morning, who criticizes Ai Weiwei for maybe mis-taking that New York state of mind where everything has to be edgy all the time to be legitimate, as though just being shocking were being free.

And I'm certain that I love and support Ai, even though I don't know his work either. But I do think he's too much into the idea that information just wants to be free, which is what Ariana Huffungton thought so that she could make millions off the backs of bloggers who just wanted the exposure her site would give them.

Here's how free I think information is. When we think information is free, we cheapen it to the point that it's meaningless, just like when we think that we need to be credited for inventing things which were in the air, but we got there first, we make of ourselves a fool against eternity. Information is what you do with it, and so HuffPo descends, sometimes, into the realm of the National Enquirer when it used to be all that, and sometimes random lonely bloggers without an audience have things to say. But I self-aggrandize, and so . . .

For instance, I think when we email we are doing something like what I've been doing talking to people whose English is about as good as my Chinese. I simplify. Not just my vocabulary, but my tone and pacing, and if I'm writing an email to someone I don't know, I take out all the nuance such as I would use to a compadre who knows me well.

If I write to a friend, I could write freely, writing to someone who knows me well, and fill my writing with what I consider style and feel pretty good about how much I managed to pack into a phrase, though even then most times people won't bother to read it closely.

Still I'd rather my writing over-reached, than was always forced to strive for the lowest common denominator so that it will certainly be understood or at least not misread to the detriment of all. And while I'm writing this pidgin style I find that I no longer can tell how I might change it. I can't find the style I would have used if I weren't cramping it so much.

Like, you know, when I'm writing to someone with whom I speak Chinese, but neither of us is as good as native in the other person's native tongue, then my own writing descends into a kind of reduced form, and I can't even come up with natural phrases and so everything looks Chinglish, even my own writing. I think that's about the state of the world of language right now. The opposite of Babel is not perfect harmony. It's the loss of any communication with anyone at all because we're all saying the same thing all the time.

Well, as always, that's worth about two cents.

Stunned Silence

I watch the cat, asleep, the tip of her tail moving like a creepy worm, as though it were a different animal altogether. You won't be reading much here. I'm back to work. I am overwhelmed by too much to read and to digest. I have to dive in to the deep waters of Chinese again. There isn't much time. I'm tired. I can't think through the haze of pain from repetitive stress, or stress, or a pinched nerve, wages of age.

I remember the first time someone showed me his cell phone, and I couldn't believe it. I hadn't realized that it might make sense to distribute the towers such that this radio would always be within reach of one. I hadn't yet worked for the power utility which already had such a system to hand off signals among antennas so that linemen could always be in touch.

I watched an HD movie last night, streaming over the Internet, because I had nothing left in me to do a single thing more. Work is exhausting. It robs me of my mind in just the way that there is no presence among the endless swells of well-crafted writing, mediated by enough capacity to stream high-def video, and probably 3D if I were to care about that. There is no sense in trying to make sense. There's too much.

I care about what David Foster Wallace writes, even if he wasn't around to put it together this tax day. I care about what John Stuart has to show me, and us, and them, about what people are saying in the world around and about me that is so mind-numbingly stupid that all that is required is a context and it speaks for itself.

It's charming, or it would be, how many people hold on so earnestly to opinions and even certainty which make about as much sense as to read the Bible for literal Truth. But they do. And David Wallace didn't care to keep us company, walking off the stage because no one cared anyhow, and the show was what was to each side of each of them and not where the spotlight shone.

Left, right, center, people hold onto beliefs and opinions and certainties like dictators holding onto power in the face of awakening masses of humanity. Which won't be managed until enough of them shut up already about stuff they believe in which makes no sense. Like that regulation of our predations hurts us in the end. That rich people didn't get lucky and shouldn't be taxed for it. That we have to be bankrupt and it isn't our arrangements for modulations of emotions through financial transactions, like how much would you pay for that experience?

And I am a cellphone now, a robot, my power is all distributed and I am just a receiver, and can transmit only as far as the nearest repeater. Sometimes I wish I did have a tail which would wag itself while I sleep. It could signal that I still live.