Looking in the Digital Mirror

Intense Mirror

When’s the last time you looked in a mirror? When’s the last time you looked at yourself in your digital mirror? I know Facebook didn’t invent the idea of the curated self and that the Internet doesn’t know everything (including, most obviously, the basics of civil discourse). All that granted, our digital selves are becoming a larger part of who we are and it’s a part of ourselves that is as awkward and full of often un-focused energy as a stereotypical teenager. One could hope we’ll get through this awkward Digital adolescence and emerge to be more productive, well-adjusted, and… well, what? Digital Adults? What exactly would that look like? Continue reading



An anniversary slipped quietly by last fall. It happens all the time, this unremarked slipping away of the now into history and then beyond to oblivion. That’s the human story, our sorrow and our relentless glory. This was a Digital anniversary or at least an anniversary of something mostly Digital, though as I try to categorize it, I find these odd Analog feelings welling up. Pride, wonder, gratitude, nostalgia all come marching in around the details, the discrete facts of the anniversary. Perhaps this is the nature of anniversaries, a blending of the Digital and the Analog, the discrete and clearly distinguishable mixed up and wrapped in intangibles of emotion and surmise, the mere data of event purified in a crucible of context and experience to pure meaning.

This particular moment in time was the release of a software suite, WiscWorld 1.0, to the University of Wisconsin – Madison students. Continue reading

In Our Image

If you’ve followed this little rant for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed that I pretty regularly position Digital as something “other” from our natural world of continuous experience. One of the main indicators of that “otherness” is Digital’s DNA which breaks continuous experience into discrete segments, bit and bytes in the case of the boxes. Like any good modern, that makes me paranoid that something is getting lost on the editing room floor in between the bits and bytes as engineers decide what matters and what doesn’t.
OOOOPS!!!!  Turns out there is more similarity between that Digital editing and my conception of continuous Analog experience than meets the eye. It would seem in creating our Digital spawn, we recreated or maybe just amplified, our own tendencies to edit, and edit heavily.

The King is Dead? Long live…..?

It would seem that selecting the royal purple robes that will set us humans apart from the beasts and various automatons of modern life is an increasingly limited game. Remember the good old days when what separated Humans from everything else was that we made tools?  Oops, all kinds of animals make tools. Well, then, language, yeah that’s the ticket. Language is a uniquely human attribute that raises us up from the organic rabble. Hmmmm.  No.  Not only do many species have nuanced communications, but with some patience, some can even master a limited range of our vocabulary and syntax. More than we can say about ourselves for theirs. Continue reading

MyEverything, Digital Razorwire, and the End of Civilization

Quick now, dear Reader, on a scale from 1 to 10, low to high, how civilized are you?
No need to agonize, just a first reaction is fine. Our privacy policy here at the Analog Underground will keep all responses confidential by not even collecting them. So, from 1 to 10, how civilized are you? Got it?

O.k. Next question. Same scale, 1 to 10, low to high, how civilized are we? Scope doesn’t really matter. If you want to answer for your work place, your city, your country, or the whole world, it’s your choice. Got it?

Are the two numbers the same? They weren’t for me, but how can they be different? Civilization is a joint venture to which we all contribute and in which we all participate.
Continue reading

Proximity Lost

Reach out and touch. No, not the ATT thing. Really reach out and physically touch something! Without moving from the chair, or the couch (or God forbid, the driver’s seat) reach out and touch something. Physically touch anything that’s within reach. Done it?  Good. Now stretch a bit. Find something or someone (if that’s appropriate) at the furthest extent of your wingspan. Go ahead. Reach out and touch. There. You’ve defined the full circle of your physical proximity.

Two hundred years ago, that physical circle of proximity, was, most of the time, a reasonable map of our proximity of attention as well. Oh yeah, you might have a treasured memento from the old country that pulled your thoughts there as you cradled the object in your hand. Or some guy on a horse might come rushing in with the latest news, but even then there was a pretty clear crossing of a boundary between here and there.
These days?  Not so much. It’s been a slow change. First telegraph, then telephone, then radio and T.V., computers, cell phones, and the Internet all came marching in across the decades and here we are. But where is here?

Continue reading

The Internet Epidemic: Mental Obesity

Admit it, dear reader, you and I have both put on a few unnecessary pounds in the mental department since we made the acquaintance of the Internet. Those empty Internet calories went straight past our eyes and right onto our brains.

“Oh, I’ll just have one more. [click]” “Ooooh, this looks tasty. [click]” “Here, have more, there’s plenty! [click][click][click]” “Does this Internet make my brain look fat?”

It all started so innocently, so seriously. Back in the 80’s, remember when e-mail was a work thing? At Digital Equipment we had an application called Notes (yes, they were called applications then, Virginia). Reminds me now of Facebook, but with a little dignity and a lot longer attention span. How’d we get from there to Google+ which is essentially Lean Cuisine for social networking, an answer to the mental and emotional binge and purge that is the open Internet today?

How long has it been since you’ve heard that 90% of the traffic on the Internet is porn? It’s been a while, I’d guess. I’m thinking that’s because our approach to information sharing has made virtually 100% of the traffic some kind of porn. Food porn. Weather chasing porn. legal porn. politics porn. Whatever pops into somebody’s mind somewhere porn. Hey! Hey! Psssst buddy. Yeah, you, commear. Ya wanna see some really cute baby animals? The real thing! No Photoshop, I promise.

How’d we get here? How did things escalate so quickly from conversation to cocktail party to a full-blown, dignity-be-damned, mid-life crisis, you-just-don’t-understand-us, torrid affair with information half our age?

It is seductive. That little factoid that brings a wry smile to our friends’ faces (or rather an emoticon response). The political link that evokes a flood of comments in return. I feel so ALIVE!!! Wait. Wait. I can stop any time I want to. I can. Breathe. Breathe. Deep breath. Cleansing in. Cleansing out.

I’ve got this image stuck in my head of the guy that gets lifted out of bed by a crane and ends up being buried in a piano box. I find myself wanting intellectual and emotional calorie counts on Internet sites and apps. Do you the think the FCC could come up with the equivalent of Food and Drug’s nutrition labels? Would we trust them if they did? Would we pay any attention?

In my own private Tea Party moment, I’m beginning to believe the answer isn’t found outside ourselves, in better government, more regulation or smarter apps, but rather, somewhere inside each one of us, among all of us.

Hindus have a story they tell about Lord Brahma (and yes, oh crap, I found this on the Internet). It seems that a long time ago, all humans were Gods, but they were behaving so badly with their God-like powers that Lord Brahma decided to take away their divinity. He was unsure where to hide it so that the humans wouldn’t find it and begin to misbehave again. He thought to bury it deep in the earth, but felt that humans would just dig it up. Perhaps, the bottom of the ocean? No, crazed for power and adventure, they’d just swim down and retrieve it. The highest mountain? Same result. Then he had a revelation. He would hide the humans’ divinity deep within each of them, the very last place they would think to look.

And so began our journey. Perhaps that is the energy behind the frenzy that is the Internet. Atheist, agnostic, or religious, there are few of us who do not think some how of the future and our mark on it. Call it soul, call it spirit, call it meaning, we do not want to be thought trivial. And so we throw our pebbles at the ocean, hoping to build an island out there to replace the lost world within.

And, miracle of miracles, occasionally, seemingly randomly, some bit of land appears, some eco-system that acquires… life and some persistence, even on the Internet. It doesn’t, after all, have to be all serious brow knitting reflection. Laughter feeds the eternal in ways meditation can not. The eternal, the enduring is everywhere available, even on the Internet if we’re paying attention.

But over indulgence at any point along the spectrum from giggles to grief ain’t good for you, Roy. It is a tad ironic that the self governed infrastructure of the Internet leads to a completely ungoverned world of content that urges us to indulge every whim and impulse.

As Lord Brahma could tell us, the answer isn’t out there to be somehow acquired by the perfect experience.  It’s not in the cloud, or the next killer app, or better parental controls (who controls the parents?). It’s in you and in me and the choices we make everyday on, and off, the Internet.