Sunday, October 8, 2017

Response to: Nicholas Carr's "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds"

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Funny how Nicholas Carr's  "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds" in the October 6, 2017 1 issue of the Wall Street Journal echoes Socrates who believed that writing would also weaken our intellect. Let me offer an alternative. Off-loading some functions to our pocket computers frees the mind to pursue other things. I have posted about the notion of the Human/Computer Centaur before. Chess masters have discovered that human/computer teams win more games than either humans or computers by themselves. Here is a link to a PARC blog "Half-Human, Half-Computer? Meet the Modern Centaur"about modern centaur hybrids.

Just as Socrates couldn't foresee the benefits that would accrue from a culture that could write things down, share thoughts across generations, etc, I don't think Carr can see where we're going, for better and for worse. He is looking through a rear-view mirror.

Classic Greeks lost a vast capacity to memorize when they adopted writing, but they gained the capacity to analyze, to separate themselves from and critique the material of their culture and they gained the ability to speak to generations beyond an individual's death. The memory exercises we all were given in grade school are merely the cultural residue of a previous human state of existence where memorization was the ONLY way to preserve a culture's heritage. We think they made us smarter for the same reason we extravagantly reward our modern bards for singing love songs to us. Cultural residues are from a time when memorization and singing were paramount. There are always winners and losers when there's a technological paradigm shift.

I'm not saying we'll be better off in the "computer with a cellphone app future", but we can't really see right now, except through a rear-view mirror, whether we'll be worse off. Bottom line, it's going to happen and what we need right now are defenses against the trolls, bots and fake-news-propagating social media that exploit the weaknesses of a transitional population.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Note About American Racism: We Are All Racists

My former wife is native Venezuelan and I met her while we were both in graduate school in New York City in the 70's. We would watch American TV and I would have to explain the culturally-based humor of American comedy shows like Saturday Night Live.

One other thing puzzled her. We'd watch Harry Belafonte perform and she'd ask "Is he Black?" We'd watch Lena Horne perform and she'd ask "Is she Black?" In her native Venezuela, Belafonte and Horne were not considered to be Black. They were just like everybody else. Her confusion made me realize how indoctrinated I was by my culture's imaginary racial distinctions.

I noticed a "difference" because I have been taught to notice a difference. We all have been taught to notice a difference. We are all racists. Some of us are just aware of how contrived and ridiculous that indoctrination has been and how we must strive to overcome it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why Are We Fascinated By Super Hero Movies?

Why the recent global fascination with the super hero genre? Is it just the advances in CGI allows realistic portrayals of unrealistic abilities? I don't think so. I think as a culture we are contemplating the notion of having powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (and women).

Marshall McLuhan wrote that all our tools are extensions of our natural abilities. The hammer extends the fist. The knife or sword extends our fingernails. Telescopes extend our vision. PA systems extend our voices. His seminal work is even titled "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man."
Paraphrasing John Culkin, McLuhan wrote in UM: “we become what we behold... we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

Super heroes represent the OPPOSITE of that cultural process of extension. With notable exceptions, super heroes internalize our tools. Superman doesn't need a tool belt because his abilities include super strength, x-ray & heat vision, etc. He doesn't need armor because his skin in invulnerable. He doesn't need a airplane because he can fly on his own. And so forth. (Yes, I know Batman doesn't have any super powers. His ability is the ultimate extension of normal humans. All his Bat gear makes him a super hero. As Joker/Jack Nicholson said in the 1989 Batman movie, "Where does he get all those great toys?")

What does that have to do with us? For the first time in human history our tools now allows us to extend our mental abilities, not just our physical abilities or our senses. Not only do computers relieve us of mental tasks ("computer" was the term first applied to human calculators), they allow us to offload those tasks, including memorizing, calculating and everything else they can or will someday do. How many reading this know by heart all their family member's phone numbers and how many rely on speed dialing?

Recently a group of computer scientists investigated which was the better chess player, the humans or the computers. Their surprising result was neither. Chess players who partnered with computers did better than computers or human alone. Their term for this human/machine hybrid was "centaur":

"In 2005, an advanced chess tournament took place that allowed any combination of humans and computers. Steven Cramton and Zackary Stephen, who only held amateur status in Elo (named after physics professor Arpad Elo) chess rankings, took their regular desktop computers and squeezed them for their purposes. They won that tournament against chess masters with superior chess ratings and even superior hardware and software. Both players had leveraged their expertise to align computing power to win chess games. They created a superior team comprising humans and machines. In essence, a new form of chess intelligence had emerged. Kasparov concluded, 'Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer was overwhelming.'"-- From computer to centaur- Cognitive tools turn the rules upside down 

We all carry smart phones now. They aren't really "phones", they are pocket computers that happen to have a cell phone app. We off-load all sorts of information to our smart phones/pocket computers and come to depend on them to make calls, keep us up-to-date on appointments, purchase products and entertain us, among many other possibilities. Classical Batman with all the toys his billions could buy would have killed to have access to the capabilities of the little iPhone we all own. Smart phones/pocket computers give us powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal humans.

It is my hunch that we are all becoming human/computer hybrids, i.e.. centaurs. We are all become "super" in the sense of enhanced abilities afforded by our centaur status. Hence, we contemplate this transformation through the stories we tell ourselves about the gods and superheroes of previous cultural paradigms.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why We Progressives Are Against #TraitorTrump's Proposed Space Program

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When I was young and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied "First man on the moon." Then Neil Armstrong beat me to it and I never got over it. Now I'm too old for space travel and I feel if I can't go into space then no one can. I'm that petty. So you see, it's not about my being petty about #TraitorTrump's proposed space program at all. It's about my being petty about Neil Armstrong and my unfulfilled childhood dreams. I think there's something noble about that!

 Actually, what really happened to me when I was young is I knew that pilots were always the ones chosen to be astronauts and so I vowed to be a pilot. However, my nurse, being hard of hearing, misunderstood her instructions and instead of apprenticing me to be a pilot, she apprenticed me to a band of pirates. I never got over that either and THAT'S why I'm against #TraitorTrump's space program. I'm just that petty a pirate. (I won't even go into the being born in a leap year thing, which space travel time dilation would have corrected!)

 OK, OK. To be completely honest, we Progressives are against #TraitorTrump's "space program" because we don't believe him. Why would he support this one sciency thing while his administration is disparaging and tearing apart EVERY other sciency thing the government does? We Progressives believe he has neither the intention nor the capacity to conceive, fund and legislate an actual long-term space program whose potential benefits others have commented on. We believe it's just a PR stunt while he tears down our representative democracy to make himself look more the forward thinking visionary he isn't and less the ignorant, narcissistic, narrow-minded tyrant wannabe he actually is.

 THAT'S why we Progressives are against #TraitorTrump's "space program."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

About Bill Maher's Comment:

Before we condemn Bill Maher we should consider the fact that we are ALL racists. He is a racist. You are a racist. I am a racist.

That I am an unconscious racist was brought home to me when I began dating my former wife, a Venezuelan native and visiting graduate student. We'd watch TV and she had a hard time understanding the distinctions we Americans make concerning color. Harry Belafonte appeared on a show and she asked "Is he black?" Lena Horne appeared on a show. Same question. In Venezuela Harry Belafonte wasn't considered to be black. Lena Horne wasn't considered to be black. My Venezuelan girlfriend had a totally different mindset concerning race. Only someone deeply black, as in African black, is considered "black" in Venezuela. Others with lighter skin or whiter skin are considered to be the same. Remember, in the final analysis we're using the amount of melanin in a person's skin to make value judgments about that person. These are culturally transmitted learned judgments,

Our discernment concerning race are a totally learned aspect of American culture. We see differences because we are taught to see differences. As long as we can look at two individuals and decide based on appearance alone that one is "black" and one is not, we are racist. This also applies to distinctions for Asians, Latin Americans, etc. As long as we continue to distinguish a fellow human being as "other" we are all racist. That we have institutionalized that distinction, and we all, in ways big and small, contribute to that institutionalizing, is our national shame.

I'm not writing this to excuse Bill Maher. As a public figure with a national platform, it is incumbent on him to be especially aware of our institutionalized racism and the impact his words have in the time of #TraitorTrump. Because his unconscious racism can sometimes slip out on a national stage doesn't mean the rest of us get a pass.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trump Advisor Tom Barrack Puts Lipstick on the Pig on MTP Sunday

Just watched Trump inaugural manager Tom Barrack on Meet the Press. Barrack is a slick character, good at twisting the truth to put lipstick on a pig. I think the Trump he described exists only in his mind. "President Trump's inauguration was equally brilliant (compared to Obama's)"

I especially liked when he tried to characterize what was going on in Obama's mind as he listened to Trickster Trump's inaugural diatribe:

"I was sitting on the platform and I was looking at President Obama and President Trump. You could see compassion in President Obama's eyes saying 'Wow! I really feel for you with the weight of the responsibility you're going to take.' And yesterday I could see in President Trump the glibness is gone. He feels the weight. He's there. He's going to do it. We all just need to give him a break. A hundred day peace treaty on all sides, his side, the media's side and it'll be on"

Great imagination and useful for spin and propaganda purposes. In some ways, with his easy manner and reasonable seeming demeanor, Barrack is more dangerous than Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer or the Trickster himself.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"I Tweet, Therefore I Am" Launched Monday, January 16, 2017 on Amazon!

Please enjoy at a special introductory price and then post your review here on Amazon! 

Never has there been a more timely book or a more timely acknowledgement of there being a more timely moment to read this timely book.

Our Twitstery So Far:

Police Detective Arkaby thought he had resolved the strange murder of millionaire industrialist and bleeding edge bio-scientist Willum Mortimus Granger, whose completely severed body he discovered at the beginning tweet of "Executive Severance", Book 1 of my Twitstery Twilogy. Arkaby is a by-the-book procedural investigator so full of himself he tweets every particular of his investigation, even though he is not, and never has been himself a billionaire Presidential candidate. Though he solves Granger’s murder, Arkaby’s habit of tweeting his every move nearly costs him his life at the hands an adversary who secretly follows his Twitter account.

Imagine now suspended Detective Arkaby's surprise when, in "The Golden Parachute", Book 2 of the Twitstery Twilogy, he receives a ghostly visit from someone who appears to be the previously deceased Willum Granger and who offers him big bucks to find his missing daughter, Regi Granger, but only if he continues tweeting. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still skeptical Detective Arkaby reluctantly travels to the Caribbean where he not only locates Regi, but also stumbles across the now reconnected body of Willum Granger in a Caribbean medical school autopsy lab. Arkaby describes Regi as "a cool drink of water he'd like to swallow in one gulp," but that may just be the Caribbean heat talking.

In "I Tweet, Therefore I Am, Book 3 of the Twitstery Twilogy, Arkaby and Regi return with her father's body to the States where a new murder mystery awaits them. Strange things are happening at Willum Granger's medical hospital and cloning laboratory, Body Parts R Us, where someone liquidates his brother, Farley Granger, in a gruesome and humiliating manner. It is up to Arkaby and Regi to solve this second murder and uncover the secret of his original mystery visitor. One problem: Arkaby is the chief suspect in Farley Granger's murder!

I Tweet, Therefore I Am was preceded by national best selling Twitter novel Executive Severance, (NeoPoiesis Press, 2011) which won The Mary Shelley Award for Outstanding Fiction and by The Golden Parachute, (Kindle eBook, 2016).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Machinegenation? Humans Marrying Robots? Experts Say It's Really Coming

    I deal extensively with some of the implications of the Singularity in "I Tweet, Therefore I Am" (available January 16, pre-order now!) but I admit I didn't think of man-machine matrimony, or "machinegenation" as I like to call it.…/human-robot-love-marriage-relationshi…/

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sign the Petition Demanding a Reboot of The West Wing!

Why settle for a fake real president when we can have a real fake president? Reboot the West Wing! … #neverTrump

Understanding Social Media Through The Emancipation of Authorship

Social media can best be understood according to the notion of "the emancipation of authorship" proposed by Andrey Miroshnevchenko. All the hiccups, antagonisms and politically incorrect postering, including that of our Trickster President to be, represent the birth pangs of a whole society suddenly provided with the means to publish their thoughts, images, culinary choices and dating experiences etc. to a mass audience, but no formal training on how best to do so. We are all making it up as we go along, and as James Joyce wrote "His consumers, are they not his producers?" (FW, Viking Press, p. 497)

It's not just the sheer number of new authors, it's the rate of change that is upsetting our media, political and religious norms and institutions. When a five year old can get millions of views and make millions of dollars on YouTube reviewing his toys, you know we have entered a new era.

This first chart from Miroshnevchenko's "Human as Media" shows the sudden explosion of authorship we are experiencing as a culture

and is further documented by the second chart from Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow's Seed article "A Writing Revolution"