@om recently wrote a piece on the challenge of simply sitting still: being offline, absorbing the environment one is within. The luxury of no interruptions and thinking of nothing other than the moment, if one so wishes.
We are so accustomed to the ‘always-on’ environment we have begun to see it as an enabler rather than an intrusion. How did we cope when the world of the Internet was constrained within our desktop PCs? Did we feel compromised?
No, of course not.
Never before have we had something that is so wholly pervasive in our lives, so we have no empirical reference-point to understand the implications to our mental state in the longer-term.
Then again, maybe we have, which I will come to in a moment…
Apps have become our constant companions. Why read a book, or phone somebody - or simply sit in silence for a while - when we can skim from one virtual environment to another in just a few seconds? Does this enhance our lives or simply serve as a distraction? We reach for an app like we once reached for a cigarette.
The voice in our head is now the voice of thousands of people, all vying for our attention; whether or not this is sustainable I do not know but I’m pretty sure it’s not the apogee of civilisation. Maybe we are just at an intersection of how we are evolving in how we best utilise such technology.
The only parallel I can think of in terms of personal/social ubiquity is the cigarette. Now of course a somewhat frowned-upon habit, it wasn’t long ago that the cigarette was depicted as the great social-enabler; something to sooth our souls, to prompt conversation, to make one appear cool by partaking. Like the smartphone, the packet of 20 was packaged in a manner that meant they could always be by your side - ‘you were never alone’, as one of the brands back then (Strand, as I recall) promised you…
Remember how not that long ago every bar/restaurant was a haze of people smoking, sharing cigarettes: for many they were a vital social tool. Is that the stage we are now at with smart-phones?
If we had needed to go and sit at a desk to consume a cigarette I guess the habit would not have become quite so popular, before its demise. Ironically, the surge in our mobile online desire - an addictive need, for many - has pretty much run parallel to the decline in smoking.
If only we understood when an analogy was just that - and not a metaphor - we might better understand some basic principles in life.
For example: a few weeks ago we undertook an allotment - it was 3 plots of mud, stones, weeds - hopeless. Still, we decided to invest the effort of replenishing the soil, buying some seeds, etc, and under the expert guidance of my wife’s mother we have, in the space of just 3 months, transformed this humble (very) small patch of land into being the provider of a smorgasbord of vegetables and fruit. I have plenty of pictures on my Instagram account if you’re interested in seeing this process unfold.
Sure, it took some (quite a bit, actually!) physical effort, but it was an equitable investment - we put in the effort and it responded, rewarded us, accordingly.
Just imagine if life/business were as transparent, as honest? Because we have seen so many people become so detached from the rewards they expect from the effort they invest, society continues to become dangerously unbalanced: as a result, there is no natural harmony in society and whilst this imbalance continues to compound, so the sense of injustice - and the frustrations/dangers - will continue to accrue.
If only more people could see nature as analogous to life/business - and not just for use in metaphors - more of us may begin to enjoy reaping, what we have sown…
Yesterday, we attended the funeral of a very close friend’s father. Such occasions tend to either be overwhelmingly sad or, whilst inevitably tinged with sadness, a chance to celebrate the life of the departed.
This occasion very much fell into the latter camp, thankfully.
The last funeral we attended was a very different atmosphere: also a sudden death, but in this case it was our nephew who, at 17 years of age, collapsed, whilst playing basketball, and died immediately; we later found out he had an hitherto unknown heart condition. Hundreds of his school friends attended the subsequent church service, and witnessing them trying to come to terms with the death of a peer was as heartbreaking as the grief we felt for our nephew, his father, his brothers, his grandparents.
The key differentiator in these two funerals was the ages of those departed, and so the subsequent nature of each respective eulogy. Our friend’s father was in his 80s and, whilst having suffered from the cruelty of dementia over recent years, there was a lifetime of anecdotes and memories to share: to amuse, to inspire, to reflect upon.
Dying at a young age denies the living such a wealth of rich and varied memories to seek solace in: a favourite film, watched time and time again (to the annoyance of others); a favourite song (that must be listened to at volume ‘11’); moments of fear, love, happiness, wonder, fun, places and people. Work, family. All are to be cherished, for these make us what we are and when we pass away these are our legacy.
In our nephew’s case, we all recall him grimacing/laughing at us (badly) singing Beatles songs, one evening on a camping holiday together, the summer before his death. Inevitably, we also recall that night at the hospital, and the sight of our tall, good-looking nephew rendered as a cadaver. Sadly, bad memories cannot be redacted, but they are best suppressed.
Our friend’s mother recalled being impressed by the fact her suitor (and husband-to-be for the next 47 years) had 2 - two! - cars; quite something in the 1950s and austere Post-War Yorkshire, England.
She soon found out neither car worked, but fell in love with him all the same…
We can’t all build bridges, create hugely successful companies, write sublime songs, or leave a legacy in such a tangible way, but we can all strive to leave memories for others by living our lives with an appreciation of its transient nature.
Today, my wife attends the graduation of her students: many new memories will be created today. Their lives are entering a new phase. The elder sibling of our departed nephew celebrates his 18th birthday this weekend - an age his brother never reached - and in a few weeks time he too will leave home to start his new life at University. So many memories await; as yet unknown.
So, embrace the little things each day, for they are all but memories in the making, and these are our legacy to others. They define us. Ultimately, it’s all we have.
Even in death, new memories can be created: a fellow from a neighbouring village passed-away a few days ago, after a long illness. We didn’t attend the funeral, as we were just casual friends, but asked how it went when we next saw one of his close friends. It seems ‘Woody’ (the nickname of the chap who had died) had the last laugh: 10mins after his cremation, just as everyone was settling into the pub for traditional post-funeral drinks, everyone’s cellphone simultaneously received a text-alert.
There has been a lot of talk about ‘Tech’ and its ability (tendency, in fact) to disrupt being an unequivocally good thing: examples such as Uber and Airbnb are heralded as championing better-deals/service for the consumer, whilst disrupting legacy cartels.
When any service becomes available as an online commodity it becomes a product. Hitherto, our online transactions have been largely limited to tangible products - even a purely digital product, such as an iTunes song or eBook, is still nothing more than a product; disrupting little more than the media it exists within for consumption. So, when the music industry and book publishers finally adapted to this new digital world, the stasis was restored. This was not disruptive, it was simply a new business process they had to embrace.
However, now that consumers are being offered visceral services such as accommodation and taxis via an online service, disruption is not simply a period of adaption/transition, it becomes a hostile act against the incumbents in the analogue world. Apps become meta-brokers and the brokers with the biggest reach become the new monopoly. The implications are far-reaching and not necessarily positive: we are spun the story that such changes are empowering the consumer but in fact all it is doing is centralising the control of the service and transaction; it is, ironically, the opposite of the portrayed peer-to-peer relationship.
Such Apps are in danger of adding little value and functioning as nothing more than an API between the service-broker and the customer/merchant in the analogue world. Digital is a great option for media, but we have already seen that there is a renaissance in tangible content - real books, vinyl records, etc. We are visceral beings, we need more than digital content in our lives. Would you choose to exist on a diet of vitamin pills rather than have a burger or steak? When too much of our lives becomes digital, life becomes vicarious.
Tech has become an epithet that is appropriated by organisations that are nothing of the sort. The term ‘Tech’ is thought to immediately lend gravitas to any service; do you really think a bit of software that acts as a brokerage for bedrooms or taxis is technology? Being categorised as a technology company also, of course, means VC funding is a lot more likely and your valuation will be multiplied many times. This is pretty disingenuous.
I suggest we re-appraise what technology is - and what it means to us - and see the differences between what is genuinely making our lives better (for all, not just a few) and what is simply a bit of software that acts as a broker. The analogue world is where we live, where we die; where we derive our pain and pleasure: we need to better understand the role of technology in our future world and set expectations that demand more of those who claim to be a tech company, accordingly.
I’ve been gifted a Hudl (a very basic, but impressive, Android Tablet), so plan to resume blogging.
Since my MacBook Air broke (and being unable to afford the cost of repairing it) I’ve relied upon my iPhone as being my primary/sole IT device; ironically, this coincided with my career taking a rather radical change in direction and my spirit becoming fairly low, compounded by my being permanently exhausted from my new work. I have blogged about this in past blog entries, leading up to my purdah of late.
Ergo, my silence here for the past few months.
In the meantime, I’ve relied upon Twitter as a conduit to express my thoughts (@carl_rahn), but, inevitably, 140 characters is something of a constraint for many topics.
This sophomore year of blogging will see me take a somewhat different approach to my previous musings: with less emphasis on offering a plethora of hyperlinks, and with content of a less (hopefully!) cathartic nature; I will aim to try and tackle news/subjects that stimulate thought and discussion.
Well, that’s the plan…
As Medium - my preferred online writing/publishing environment - does not yet offer mobile support, I shall initially blog here and cross-post to my Medium account when I have access to a suitable device.
After just over one year of posting (on average) a blog entry each week (hitherto, via Tumblr), I have decided it is time to reassess the content and purpose of my blogging. Considering my life in IT and media/business, I was relatively late to blogging, being somewhat cynical of its purpose and relevance; but, since joining Medium, this has confirmed my original suspicions: I believe it’s time to try and write more of substance. Content that is original — not just blog about the same recurring topics.
Of course, therein lies the challenge: so many people blog about topics such as Facebook, Twitter, entrepreneurs/startups, economics, et al, because it’s so bloody easy. That’s not good. The corollary being that finding a different angle is not easy. That’s good.
Over the period of the past one year I have covered pretty much every topic that intrigues, enthuses or enrages me: politics, economics, social media, information technology, startups, venture capital, pop music, philosophy, anthropology, baking, nature, art, etc…
That’s enough, for now. It’s often been little more than cathartic; sometimes it’s been enlightening (for myself at least) by virtue of the research required for a given topic. It’s pretty much always been draining and often left me with a feeling of ‘OK, now what?’
I would spend hours finding suitable hyperlinks and quotations for most of my blog entries; at times I suspect this often compromised the objective of the writing. So, it’s time to reassess.
Blogging is often little more than a pyrrhic victory over a blank web page. Why do you think embedded-media is so popular within blogs? As with tabloid newspapers it pads-out the copy and painfully strives to give some substance to something which is by its nature pretty transient and vacuous.
However, at this juncture, I see little added-value in blogging further about topics already extensively covered by myself and many (many) others; especially when many of the views are the same, albeit with a slightly different lexicon. Life’s too short for repetition.
I was some 90 minutes into writing this week’s blog, as inspired by Grayson Perry and his wonderful 2013 Reith Lectures. However, Tumblr chose to not save my text when I attempted to save/create my first-draft post. Tumblr claimed (somewhat quaintly) that it could not connect to the internet, although all my other windows were connected, fine. Sigh.
So, this is the last time I shall do my primary writing via Tumblr; I shall simply cross-post to here from Medium, which appears to default to auto-saving one’s work. Ergo, this week’s blog is a very brief one. Normal service will be resumed next week.
One quote cited by Grayson Perry during this lecture really resonated, and the implications of what we could learn from the art world and should try to apply to life/business: