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Month: June 2016

Technology Dependency

Preface

The isolation tank/flotation tank is a powerful tool, but it isn’t one that is required for any sort of psychonautical exploration. It just helps you get there with a greater sense of ease. Through this essay, I plan to show how isolating myself reduced my technology dependency and move towards a much more symbiotic relationship with all the tools I have. Feel free to explore with whatever makes you comfortable.

Technology and Infinite Sadness

Louis CK said it best: “Everything’s amazing, and nobodies happy.”

And his point isn’t wrong. Despite having everything that is amazing and makes our lives beyond anything imaginable in the past few decades, we are producing the most depressed generation. There’s a myriad of reasons why Millennials have it pretty bad. We could look at the generations that came before them and consumed at unrestrained rates that left us with very little to even work with, and then, they expect us to take jobs, they would never take. All while doing this, we are saddled with debt that they said we had to take in order to take jobs we either don’t want or have no concept of.

Despite all that, I think the issues we face as a society can be rooted in our reliance on technology. Go back 20 years ago when Internet was rudimentary. We didn’t use it much, if we even had access to it, and it was used as a tool of suspect. Now, try to do your day job without Internet. Try to go to school without it.

Bottling the Genie

This is the nature of technology, whether it was fire, the wheel, Internet, or Smart phones. These objects represent singularities in technology where, once they are known and used, they cannot be unknown. Once they are leveraged, you can’t go back on that knowledge.

I am not a nostalgic person. I think anyone who finds fondness in a lack of broad communication, digital books, and a gaggle of other things that makes our days go well are rather silly; that stuff is important to increase our standing as a society.

Where I start to become suspicious of technology is when we have gaps without it. Take a vacation where Internet isn’t available. The first day may be annoying and frustrating. Depending on the trip, be it the woods or a beach, you adapt pretty fast. By the third or fourth day, you don’t really miss it. By the time you go back to your old life, it feels… a little weird.

This is the experience I had in an isolation tank. For those who haven’t, or can’t, here’s a pretty good video that explains the tank.

After the first 20 minutes or so of unwinding, I was able to completely relax and let my thoughts take over. It was odd as I would slowly relax more and more and lose my sense of the self and my connection with the world.

Refusing to Let Go

At first, I wondered if people whom I was speaking with, had messaged me or called me. This is utterly silly; it’s only a 90-minute session! As I come out of it, insanely well rested and relaxed, I found myself disinterested in using my phone. I popped on a Psychedelic Salon podcast, particularly one on TechnoShamanism as it were, and Michael Garfield, a speaker on the topic, mentioned “we traded [the] Amazon [rainforest] for Amazon[.com].” In my relaxed and detached state, this hit me quite hard.

In that one instance, I found the path that technology allowed us to distract and detach ourselves from the immediate world. In doing this, in trying to show ourselves having experiences rather than having experiences, we are training ourselves to not address issues directly. Instead, we look at it with a detached scope, which allows us to take the position of “what is happening to make me like this,” rather than “what am I doing wrong in my thought process to approach situations with this lens?”

And, unfortunately for us, I don’t think it is totally our fault. We really had no idea what was unleashed on us.

Considering Prometheus

Prometheus was punished by the gods because he gave man fire, which he stole from Mount Olympus.

His act wasn’t one of simple benevolence; he was giving humanity a tool far more powerful than anything they could fully understand. This is why the gods punished him. As gods, they understood the full scope of his deed: fire enabled humans to discover the dark and explore. It enabled us to cook and expand our diets, and it ultimately enabled us to kill.

While Prometheus may have meant well, by introducing this technology without any limitations, he has started the descent of humanity to become reliant on technology.

And maybe that’s the meaning of this parable. That we are unable, as a finite, limited species, to fully understand the ramifications of our actions.

This is where IBM, DAARPA, Apple, Ford, Edward Jenner, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, among many others have found themselves. They have given us power and technology that we still don’t fully understand what it does to us.

When Power is Unfettered

Technology, at its core, is awesome. It enables us to do things we couldn’t do previously. We can travel the entire world in under a day. We can experience any triumph or cataclysm, live. We can experience every book, movie, or song on a single device that fits in our hands.

This is the best time to live from that front.

However, as Huxley feared in Brave New World and Bradbury cautioned in Fahrenheit 451 we are losing traction as culture takes over our lives. No longer are we living in the moment; we are capturing the moment for others to experience later. We sacrifice our experiences so others can know we experienced something. We have lost discourse and critical thought in favor of meme culture for shareability so others can pat us on the back with our wittiness.

The Obfuscation of Experience

By allowing technology to dominate the experience instead of proliferating or enhancing the experience, we have lost the reason for experience. For example, augmented reality is a very fascinating tool. It allows you to expand content without harming the story or meaning, and providing fuller context. In a pure sense, this is using technology to expand culture and art and experience. For example, the Kindle reader allows you to define every single word as you go. Previously, you’d have to read a tougher book with a dictionary or Google. This would break the experience. With having a dictionary (and even Wikipedia) on a single touch, you can understand and appreciate more without breaking your immersion. This also enables you to engage in tougher texts without fear of missing the meanings of the content.

The alternative to this is Snapchat and Instagram. Go to any concert, and you’ll see people filming individual songs and posting it to the different platforms. However, they are concerned with framing, stability, and ensuring the audio is good. They are losing the meaning of the concert venue: to celebrate the artist who created something. They are sharing it with the world for people who may never go to a concert in real life, and they are experiencing this real life event through the small, LED screen.

The reason is they want to keep their social currency in the black, and the only way to do that is to share experiences and let people appreciate the life they pretend to lead.

In this case, technology is using them to proliferate. Just like how a virus does.

Technology as a Virus

Artificial Intelligence aside, technology is stupid. It can only do a finite amount of things, and it must be designed. Just like a virus. A virus is a simple organism that isn’t considered to be a living thing. It simply proliferates itself through other mechanisms. An infection of a virus will use the host body to reproduce and spread.

Humanity is the host body in this case, and technology, through our perceived love and desire of it, rides these rails with ferocity. Moore’s Law states states “that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.” In essence, technology is growing exponentially, and this can be observed in consumer culture.

A Look Back

A decade ago, the iPhone wasn’t out. It was officially announced in January 2007, and it hit the stores in June 2007 (Today is the 9th anniversary). During its announcement, it was met with positive reactions though a lot of hesitance(http://www.charleshudson.net/initial-reaction-to-the-iphone-mildly-skeptical-but-impressed). I recall a lot of people just saw no value, and they often joked that it couldn’t make calls.

Here we are in 2016, text messaging, usually via social networks, are more prevalent than phone calls, and our devices are more powerful that computers were a few years ago. I recall buying a laptop with blazing fast 4GB of ram, and now, there’s a phone with 6GB.

This is just in the consumer electronics space too. In the government sector, we are light years ahead of this capability.

We Reproduce for Technology

This line of thinking reminds of when Kevin Kelly stated that “Humans are the reproductive organs of technology.” This phrase is so perfectly apt that it actually makes really good visual sense.

We push the boundaries of technology to keep growing, and according to Moore’s Law, we will keep growing exponentially. What this means is eventually, just by rate of growth, technology could reach sentience, or at the very least, keep us bound to it.

Right now, I challenge everyone to smash all their electronic devices without a second’s thought.

You cannot because your life is spread out through all of them. My writings are saved on hard drives and cloud storages. My games are on a computer. I don’t actually know a single phone number, other than the ones I learned before the advent of smart devices that never changed.

In a very real sense, we need technology to survive and be productive. But do we need technology to survive?

I fear the answer may be yes.

Symbiosis

Since the 90s, cell phones went from a thing no one really needed to something we cannot survive without.

Try navigating to a new place. In fact, try to find the address of that place. Your first bet will be to use Google to find the business, then switch over to Maps. Or to straight up ask Siri, if you are young enough.

This isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Humans are creatures of adaptation and evolution. We have have adapted to mutations throughout our existence. Technology, though synthetic, could be the next thing we adapt to our beings.

Technology as Boon

As technology increases, and our reliance on it does too, we could see a world where medical needs are filled by technology. My first novel actually addresses this really ham-fisted and directly by saying such technology would be leveraged to cure all illnesses, injury, hunger, thirst, and all other needs. The cool thing is this isn’t totally made up science fiction, but it’s something that is coming.

So, does my society have a parasitic relationship with technology or is it more symbiotic relationship where technology advances with humanity?

Technology is a Tool-a dumb, immensely useful tool

Therein lies the crux of all of this discourse: technology, whether as a construct itself or a virus replicating through humanity, isn’t good or bad; it is simply a tool. However, if we become a slave to this tool without rational thought or consideration, then we lose the point of technology itself: to enable us to be more productive.

Take the Kindle device. My Kindle has over 100 books on it. I can without question read every day for the rest of my life using just that device and the easy/free to get books, thanks to Amazon, the library, and other sites. As a tool to encourage children in poorer areas to read, the Kindle cannot be touched. As a device, it doesn’t offer a lot either; you simply read on it.

Convertible tablets function the same way. You achieve a great deal of productivity in a manner that was only dreamt up in science fiction. However, with the power of these devices, distractions are prevalent and powerful. Facebook and other social networks load in a full web view, allowing mobility to mix with maximum exposure. And that’s where I believe we’ll see a demarcation. Devices that get TOO powerful will enable us to do too much, and they will end up wiping out rival technology.

By working with the tools that enable us to do what we want in a manner that is conducive to the truest self, we are able to face ourselves without much distractions.

Conclusions and Moving Forward

I am not the first nor the last to write about the concept of cultural ensnarement. The beautiful thing about “truth” is that it is universal, and anyone can rediscover it with their own interpretation.

I encourage everyone to approach topics with new lenses. When something makes you innately comfortable, question that, and try to find a new perspective. I am a technophile and a tech advocate, but by taking a step back, I have a better understanding of how technology has hampered me from exploring my mind and surroundings in honest ways.

I don’t say all this to dissuade the use of technology. I believe this is the error of cultural creation. We can create our own podcasts, TV networks, book platforms, and other things that strongly interest us, and we should. Terence McKenna said it best, as I often quote, “We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.”

And while that’s important, I think consuming art and experiences is important to humanity, but the crux of it all is to actually experience it in real time. Share ideas with your friends and family that interest you. Stop allowing the architects of culture to have a free monologue with you. Make everything a dialog. Find something that’ll inspire you to create. Several of my writing projects started simply because I was so excited by something else, I had to channel it into a creative outlet.

Once you own your experience and boot out everything that tries to live rent free in your head, then you are ready to take control of what is really yours:

Yourself

Further Consumption

  1. Psychedelic Salon: Episode 508 – Technoshamanism – https://psychedelicsalon.com/podcast-508-techno-shamanism/
  2. /r/Psychonaut – http://www.reddit.com/r/psychonaut
  3. Branded – https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Branded_2010?id=vGZ8F_t7XxY
  4. Dreamviews – http://www.dreamviews.com

Sources

  • https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/392909-humans-are-the-reproductive-organs-of-technology
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Jenner
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus#Myths_and_legends
  • http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/
  • https://www.google.com/search?q=moore%27s+law&oq=moore%27s+law&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1329j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Graveyard of Empires

Graveyard of Empires by Lincoln Cole

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As an indie writer, it would be really selfish of me to not check out my peers’ work. I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review.

To preface, indie ranges across many concepts. One thing that is just not easy is editing. I’ll address this super briefly because my book is as guilty of it. This book has a lot of editing issues. Missing commas, misspelled names (Jayson as Jason), misused words, etc. are pretty common. Those don’t bother me too much because I understand the cost to get an editor, and the likelihood of a return on that value is very small. For some readers, this needs to be noted because there are some rough sentences every now and then. The most glaring instance of this is actually in the epilogue, where Jayson, a character that appears in a few chapters is mysteriously renamed Jason. Also, in the final chapter, a few dialogue tags are off, so the wrong character says thing. Minor but jarring.

Other issues do exist. Some plots are very half-baked, either in terms of plotting or characterization or details. So, you’ll read a lot of action without much anchoring to the world. I think it’s the nature of the genre of space opera that requires many story lines to come up and connect. As such, the action is very fast, the characters are very shallow, and the dialogue is very terse.

My final issue is the jumping around. First person is used randomly, to indicate thoughts, with no typography changes. It’d be nice to see italics or something like that. Also, I think rather than having each chapter for a story line, the story lines should be lumped together and resolved separately, like a collection of novellas. If there is any cross over, that’s fine, but don’t make it so jarring in jumps. Jayson’s story line, for example, is only about 3 or 4 chapters, but they are meaty ones with a lot of space between. The result? You lose details between the breaks. Same with Darius’ story line. Had all these been collated, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, I think it would have read a lot easier.

The biggest issue that knocked my score down was the ending. While I understand this is setting up for a series, as a writer of a series, I know that no matter what, each episode must be self-contained experiences. In the end of this book… not much happens overall: the civil war is still, mostly a cold war, a pawn of the empire has been used, and soldiers are starting to be positioned for the maximum gain, but none of that feels really worthy of telling. I think this is where a short story anthology approach would have been more worth while. Giving vignettes instead of a novel of ideas would have let ideas breathe and try their own thing.

All that negativity aside, the world built here is fun and exciting. Lincoln does an excellent job giving life to planets, space stations, and characters. His characters are, when fully baked, very fun and unique. Abdullah and Vivian in particular are really solid, real feeling characters. Maven, not so much, appearing like a shade of Darth Vader rather than some sort of homage. The action is fascinating, especially when students are brought to the academy, and I think Lincoln could do a full-fledged battle scene with a lot of deftness.

For a story with so many story lines that are developing separately, I think Lincoln has a great grasp of trying to say something of value. Too often writers get stuck with the neat story or something like that, forgetting that a story should be the transmission of a message.

Graveyard of Empires is a really fun read overall. The beginning is slow, but once you meet the real cast of characters it starts to speed up a lot. For its value, I’d recommend it as a good weekend read.

3/5 – Graveyard of Empires is a fun space opera that has a lot of clever ideas. I think the approach was a bit too much of a wide net to deliver perfectly, but what is there is pretty solid overall. At $4, you’ll get more than your entertainment’s worth.

Graveyard

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Ghost Story

 

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

13-ghost-story

This book review may be a bit of a softball. Amazon lists the book at 608 pages, which is just over the requirement for my Pop Sugar Reading Challenge for 2016. This worked out super well because I left Changes, book 12 of The Dresden Files, craving the next part.

Here we go; there will be spoilers.

Book 13 in The Dresden Files proves something I assumed since the very beginning – Jim Butcher HATES Harry Dresden. Like a lot. Like he fucking kills him at the end of Book 12 a lot.

Book 12, once again named Changes, is filled with a lot of twists. It opens with Harry learning he has a daughter. His ex/half-vampire was hiding his eight-year-old daughter from him. She’s kidnapped by other vampires as a revenge plot. Harry, through story stuff, takes a deal that utterly screws him in with the ever-present Sidhe. Those are big changes.

But the book ends with Harry getting sniped and dying.

Ghost Story picks up right after all that. Dresden is dead, and he is now a shade of his former self without magic to help him out. Knowing what we know of Dresden, he thinks he needs magic a lot, though this book seems to work hard to show he is more than that.

Other than some well-bread crumbed Deus Ex Machina, the book is a solid romp in a magicless world of ghosts. Because he’s a ghost, we get to see more of Dresden’s past under his psychotic tutor, and because he’s been dead for a few months, we get to see a world that has to deal without a Harry Dresden.

This book seems like a long asked question: Was Harry special or were all his enemies just really weak? In his flashback battle with He Who Walks Behind as well as his ability to resurrect, we learn very quickly that Dresden is a special mold with a lot of innate power. In his absence, several new players have entered Chicago with the sole goal of destroying as much as possible and seizing as much power as they can.

We see one instance of this in microcosm when Dresden finds a gang of teenagers, crippled under the power of a cult leader. The homeless leader isn’t that powerful overall, but when someone has ANY power and abuses it, he can make the weak, especially children, tools of his machinations.

Dresden, with his mortal friends, beat the cult leader, and together, they begin to learn of the greater plots at play here. Throughout the developing story, Harry, normally a headstrong charging bull, is a shown to mature significantly. Because he cannot help his friends with anything but his brain, a tool shown often as more powerful than any of his magic, we see a far more clever and visceral approach to problems.

The end though, we get a painful revelation: Harry, paralyzed in Changes, makes a deal with Queen Mab of the Sidhe Court to become her Winter Knight. She heals him to fight the Red Court. However, before he does that, Harry hires a hitman to kill him, knowing that Mab would use his daughter to control him.  This self-assassination is orchestrated with the aid of his protégé, Molly. After he dies (and she removes all memory of the plot), Molly spirals into self-guilt.

This is where Jim Butcher’s plotting and characterization shine. Harry has been on a long trek towards oblivion. Starting around Book 4, Harry began playing with powers far greater than he understood in the name of defending people he cared about. While honorable, he was quite literally burning himself out. Whether it was the use of the Shade of a Fallen Angel or the gift of soulfire, which was burning away his own life, Dresden did it without much thought. He had to save the people he cared about first, and he’d fix himself afterwards.

Dying was the only thing left for Dresden to do, especially after becoming Mab’s servant. His entire persona is defined by his desire to help others even at his own expense. In this book, Dresden manifests himself, using his own waning power to do so at great personal risk, just so he can save the people he said he would.

Herein lies my love of Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files: In 13 books, the character has changed drastically. The most important thing though is his change towards something organic. As he pushes himself to kill these insurmountable enemies, learning new things along the way, he does it in ways that make sense and don’t feel like we are being cheated as readers.

The closest we came to that in this book was in the final chapter where Harry agrees to finally die and move on. However, he is quickly resurrected. It turns out Queen Mab and Demonsreach, a entity introduced in Book 10, Simple Favor, have combined their needs to resurrect Harry, needing him to let go of his spirit so they could summon it.

The book ends with Harry totally at Mab’s mercy, which is going to create a heavy, compelling ride.

If you are curious about reading this book that means you’ve read the last 12. That’s a lot of time to give up now, and if you are still reading, you know what you like. This book pushes the Dresden story even further, and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to the work of Jim Butcher, he made this book review nothing too complicated.

5/5 – The mark of a good series is when each book adds more to the overall story while satisfying long term readers. This book does that in spades.

GhostStory

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