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.

Zombies!!! – The Undead Technologies Among Us

Is a zombie technology eating the brains out of your organization or, worse yet, your personal life?  You know what I’m talking about.  The applications and devices that stumble around on rotting, obsolete limbs.  They’ve long overstayed their usefulness, unaware they’re dead but not gone. They feed with an insatiable lust on our time and attention and in the process turn us into … well… them.

In the world of work, there are thousands of COBOL programs muttering through our halls waiting to lunge out at us, diverting us from productivity to the sustenance of their undead existence.  More recently that new app or new mobile device policy shows up at the door all spiffy in new clothes and fresh faced, only to decay into a dirty, threadbare, unintelligible monster pulling us into a dark corner never to emerge again.

Our Own Personal Zombies

In the good old days, most of our personal encounters with zombie technology came through the intermediary of some bureaucrat.  We might get battered about a bit as they struggled to fit the reality of us into some truculent program created in search of some long gone efficiency.  The stink of rotting purpose might linger as we grumbled about the wait at the DMV but pretty quickly we were back in the light and sunshine.

That was before the internet and mobile technology.   Allof the sudden we’re forced to deal directly with the grisly automatons of the brainless websites, the morons of texting and driving, the ever so friendly but clueless voice response systems.  If we’re lucky, all they want is our currency and trade. Worst case, some malevolent shaman is sending them shambling off to do us real harm.

The crux of the matter is that even the best technology can’t compensate for bad process, but really good process might improve bad technology.  We’ve all seen the poorly architected, fragile technology succeed wildly through wily marketing, whole cottage industries of support, and the occasional intervention of blind luck.  “Would you like Windows with that?”  And we’ve seen really sweet, well thought out technology wither on the vine from the lack of sustaining integration and deployment with the mass market or just our departmental business process.

And don’t let the “P” word lull you into thinking that zombie technology only roams the halls at work.  All I ask, gentle reader, is that you substitute the word “habit” for “process” and then we can talk.

Zombies – Shiny and New – Get Them While They’re Hot!

The problem is that almost no technology shows up looking undead. COBOL was as an huge innovation in its day as Facebook and the iPad seem to us now.  The zombie emerges slowly over time as our needs, wants, and understanding mature and evolve, but the technology doesn’t.  The zombie technology is frozen in time at the moment some Digital conjurer baked the passing Analog stream into a set of fleet, but rigid bits and bytes.  No matter how dazzling and innovative when new, it can’t easily regenerate a new incarnation to address some unforeseen situation.  Any incarnation of technology moving from the ethereal Digital world to the rough and tumble Analog stream slowly acquires that ragged, falling apart look from repeated impacts of new, unaccounted-for reality.  “Would you like Facebook or iPad with that?”

The funny thing (if you like that kind of humor) is that there is a completely human predecessor for this Digital behavior.  It’s called ideology.  On the upside, you get some visionary true believer like Frank Lloyd Wright that creates uplifting architecture that just isn’t so great for actually living in long term.  “Would you like Steve Jobs with that?”  On the down side you get nut jobs like Osama Bin Laden or that guy who drags his family around to the funerals of our soldiers with some bizarre message about divine retribution in the face of honor and sorrow.  Somewhere in between, you get folks like our current round of politicians that have lots of ideas, but can’t seem to do basic math.

In every case, Digital or Analog, someone with a kind of tunnel vision cooks up a set of rules away from the messy facts and complexities of life as it is lived.  Armed with that convenient, second order picture of reality, they come charging out into the real world, hacking away at anything that doesn’t fit their particular version of a rosy picture.  God forbid you have brains, ‘cuz they’re hungry.

Being the Anti-Zombie
What’s a poor human to do as the moaning zombie mob closes in?  Despite iRobot, The Matrix I, II and III, and all the Terminator movies, Digital and the other various stripes of fundamentalism aren’t all that flexible, and that’s our out.  We don’t win by being better zombies than the zombies themselves.  We win, at work and at home, by constantly evolving our selves to account for new realities.  We win by leading with empathy and a healthy suspicion that we don’t know as much as we think we do.  That’s the baseball bat to the zombie cranium.