A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History
I read A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel DeLanda earlier this year. I’d worried that it might not hold up 20 years after its initial publication. The idea of applying systems theory to social science is no longer novel, and I’ve read DeLanda’s markets and antimarkets essays, so I wondered whether it was worth reading or if I’d be better served plodding through Fernand Braudel’s _Civilization and Capitalism_ (one of DeLanda’s primary sources).
I’ve been thinking about Ethan Zuckerman’s paper on the roots of the crisis in trust in journalism. Zuckerman connects the bottoming out of trust in the media with the loss in faith in institutions in general, including the government, labor unions, schools, and big business. It asks more questions than it answers, which is fine. Figuring out the right questions is the first step. But he only hints at one of the biggest questions of all, which is: what happens if we can’t restore faith in the instituions that our civilization is built upon?
How to Be a Mindful Cyborg
This is the talk I prepared for the Sunday Assembly in Portland, Oregon last February. The actual talk diverged quite a bit from this, but since it wasn’t recorded, this is the closest approximation to what went down that exists.
I’m supposed to talk to you about coping with 21st century technology without losing your mind. But you may notice that I’m all nervous and fidgety. That’s not just stage freight. It’s the way I am. I’m not some serene zen master. I’m not here because I’m a master of calm usage of technology. I’m here because I started experimenting with this stuff because I desperately strategies for coping with tech myself.
These days I’m feel pretty worn down by being online all the time. I’ve been on the Internet since 1995, when I was 13 years old. I got my first smartphone in 2002, the day I turned 21 years old. So it’s not that I haven’t grown up with these technologies. I’m basically a digital native. I’m just really tired.
I’m a tech journalist. I work online. I don’t really have the option to stop using the Internet, or give up my smartphone, or to stop using social media, because they’re not only part of what I report on, but part of how I do my job. Giving up having a cell phone or the Internet is, for many of us, a choice between being employed or being unemployed. Giving up social media is a choice between staying in touch with friends and family and barely ever hearing from them at all. For a lot of us, unplugging isn’t really an option, so we have to learn to live with this stuff.
So that was part of why I co-founded the podcast Mindful Cyborgs, though I don’t host it anymore, perhaps I can share some of what I’ve learned. But I’m not a guru. I don’t have anything to sell you. My goal is not to fix your life, but to talk about the ways I try to manage my own, in hopes that some of my experiences will be useful to you. I’m just here to give you things to contemplate.
So with that in mind, let’s dig in. I’m sure many of you are wondering what a “mindful cyborg” is since I’ve promised to talk about how to be one. But first I want to clarify what I’m NOT talking about.
I’m not talking about John Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness based stress relief work. I’m not talking about UCLA’s school of mindfulness. I’m not talking about cognitive behavior therapy or any branch of Buddhism. I kind of wish we’d called the podcast something different, because the word “mindful” is such a loaded term. In fact, I’m not sure I’m talking about “mindfulNESS” at all. I might just be talking about being mindful, without the “ness” part. The Oxford dictionary defines mindful as, simply, “Conscious or aware of something.” This is the sense in which I use the word. Not merely being aware of your breath, or whatever, but of being aware of many different things.
Again, I’m not great at this. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a tendency to zone out and day dream. I get distracted easily. I fidget. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but there are times I want to focus, things I want to be more aware of, and things I want to ignore.
As for the cyborg part, I’m obviously not talking about brain implants or robotic arms. I’m using the term in the sense that Donna Haraway used it in the Cyborg Manifesto, to talk about beings who have a symbiotic relationship with technology. In this sense, we’re all cyborgs, and we always have been. So we’re all already mindful cyborgs, because we’re all cyborgs and none of us completely mindless. So what we want is to become MORE mindful cyborgs.
Archaic Systems Revival
Blackmoor: First Dungeon Crawl Rules to the Game of Dungeon
Post-Apocalypse Scenario: Pyre Party
I just finished running an mini-campaign inspired by the Fyre Festival fiasco. The gimmick is expired by this point, but it was fun and some of these threats might be salvageable for other island-based AW scenarios. The Gist: It was supposed to be luxurious. Glamorous. Sexy. A week of partying with supermodels on the beaches Isla de Pira. Live shows by brokeNCYDE, Kid Rock, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
D20 Places in a Gentrified Neighborhood and What They Used to Be
d20 places in a gentrified or gentrifying neighborhood. Roll or pick: Trendy restaurant* Condos Parking lot full of food trucks Urban winery Coffee shop Boutique* “Natural” grocery store Quantum crystal healing clinic Marijuana dispensary Bike shop Parkour gym Climbing gym Electric car show room Vape lounge Upscale pet grooming salon Yoga studio Crossfit gym
Destiny City is the most populous city in the Pacific Northwestern United States. With a population of 1,199,450, it’s the 9th largest city in the United States and the third largest on the west coast. Destiny City started as a small logging settlement and grew rapidly after many Chinese people settled there after the anti-Chinese riots of 1885 and quickly grew into a flourishing port city. It has long been a hub for experimental technology companies, playing host to the early days of the aerospace industry in the early 20th century and attracting the founders of many pharmaceutical and information technology startups in more recent decades.
Drug dealers smuggle contraband into prisons with drones. You can pay back alley body-modders to install microchips in your hands with cryptographic currency. Powerful corporations track your every move, while vast government surveillance systems scan your emails. Militaries wage cyberwarfare across the globe. Cult leaders have the ear of world leaders. A washed up game show host is now the President of the United States. This isn’t some dystopian cyberpunk future.
My desk phone rang. It’s never good when my desk phone rings. Clients call my cell. Managers send email. If my desk phone rings, it’s because I missed an important email somewhere in the hundreds of messages polluting my inbox. This time it was David Meyers, a principal architect at the firm I worked for. “Can you come to my office when you have a chance?” he asked. Which meant right this second, because he and I both knew I would never not be busy.
Why Criticism Matters
Back in 2014 I wrote a longish blog post about race and sexual violence in the works of Alan Moore. Naturally, people hurled the old critic-silencing questions: “Do you think you can do better than Alan Moore?” and “Why don’t you spend your time making your own art instead of criticizing others?” Well, for one thing I can’t really claim credit for the criticism of Moore’s work. All I did was aggregate and summarize the criticism I could find, which I did to help put Moore’s comments in an interview in context.