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robertogreco : immortality   8

On the importance of being idle: Writer Anna Della Subin on the unsung values of doing nothing, procrastination as its own form of productivity, and the mythological power of sleep. [The Creative Independent]
"The real epiphanies of figuring out what I’m trying to say don’t happen when I chain myself to my desk. I let myself into the labyrinth, to get lost in the footnotes of arcane books from the 19th century, or just out on a walk. I need a sense of timelessness to do my best work."
annadellsubin  howwewrite  writing  thinking  howwethink  idleness  procrastination  2019  derive  meandering  walking  solviturambulando  laziness  insomnia  sleep  time  timelessness  howwework  immortality 
february 2019 by robertogreco
“Today’s world has no equivalent” – BLDGBLOG
"Ted Nield’s book Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet—previously discussed back in 2012—is an exercise in what has long been referred to here as landscape futures.

In Nield’s case, this means literally imagining what the surface of the Earth might look like after hundreds of millions of years’ worth of tectonic transformations have deformed it beyond all recognition. Supercontinent could thus be read alongside Jan Zalasiewiez’s The Earth After Us as a useful guide for thinking about radical landscape change on a truly inhuman timescale.

Nield writes, for example, that, “even if some civilization of 200 million years ago had completely covered [the Earth] in cities and then wiped itself out in some gigantic global nuclear holocaust, nothing—not even the faintest trace of some unnatural radioisotope—would now remain on the surface.” Some of us might think that writing books, for example, is a way to achieve immortality—or winning an Oscar or becoming a national leader—yet covering the entire planet with roads and buildings is still not enough to guarantee a place in any sort of collective future memory. Everything will be erased.

The book goes from a speculative, but apparently realistic, scenario in which subduction zones might open in the Caribbean—thus dragging North America back toward a seemingly inexorable collision with Eurasia—to the future implications of past tectonic activity. Supercontinents have come and gone, Nield reminds us, and the cycle of these mega-islands is “the grandest of all the patterns in nature.” “750 million years before Pangaea formed,” he writes, “yet another [supercontinent] broke up; and before that another, and so on and on, back into the almost indecipherable past.”

At one point, Nield asks, “what of older supercontinents? What of the supercontinent that broke up to give us Pangaea? And the one before that? Compared with Pangaea, those lost worlds seem truly lost. As with all geological evidence, the older it is, the less of it survives, the more mangled it has become and the harder it is to interpret.”
It is all but impossible to picture them—to see oneself standing on them—as you can with Pangaea. They have their magical names, which lend them reality of a sort despite the fact that, for some, even their very existence remains controversial. About Rodinia, Pannotia, Columbia, Atlantica, Nena, Arctica or distant Ur, the mists of time gather ever more thickly.


The amazing thing is that this cycle will continue: long after North America is expected to reunite with Eurasia, which itself will have collided with North Africa, there will be yet another splintering, following more rifts, more bays and inland seas, in ever-more complicated rearrangements of the Earth’s surface, breeding mountain ranges and exotic island chains. And so on and so on, for billions of years. Bizarre new animals will evolve and bacteria will continue to inter-speciate—and humans will long since have disappeared from the world, unable to experience or see any of these future transformations.

While describing some of the potential ecosystems and landscapes that might result from these tectonic shifts, Nield writes that “our knowledge of what is normal behavior for the Earth is extremely limited.”

Indeed, he suggests, the present is not a key to the past: geologists have found “that there were things in the deepest places of Earth history for the unlocking of whose secrets the present no longer provided the key.” These are known as “no-analog” landscapes.

That is, what we’re experiencing right now on Earth potentially bears little or no resemblance to the planet’s deep past or far future. The Earth itself has been, and will be again, unearthly.

In any case, I mention all this because of a quick description found roughly two-fifths of the way through Nield’s book where he discusses lost ecosystems—landscapes that once existed here but that no longer have the conditions to survive.

Those included strange forests that, because of the inclination of the Earth’s axis, grew in almost permanent darkness at the south pole. “These forests of the polar night,” Nield explains, describing an ancient landscape in the present tense, “withstand two seasons: one of feeble light and one of unremitting dark. Today’s world has no equivalent of this eerie ecosystem. Their growth rings show that each summer these trees grow frenetically. Those nearer the coast are lashed by megamonsoon rains roaring in from [the lost continent] of Tethys, the thick cloud further weakening the feeble sunshine raking the latitudes at the bottom of the world.”

There is something so incredibly haunting in this image, of thick forests growing at the bottom of the world in a state of “unremitting” darkness, often lit only by the frozen light of stars, swaying now and again with hurricane-force winds that have blown in from an island-continent that, today, no longer exists.

Whatever “novel climates” and unimaginable geographies lie ahead for the Earth, it will be a shame not to see them."
blgblog  geoffmanaugh  naturalhistory  earth  tednield  immortality  humans  pangaea  ecosystems  change  forests  darkness  adaptation  geography  time  climate  climates  landscapes 
august 2016 by robertogreco
Remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy of Tech
"I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

The feeling of competence, control and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.

But as anyone who's worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

Today we are embarked on a great project to make computers a part of everyday life. As Marc Andreessen memorably frames it, "software is eating the world". And those of us writing the software expect to be greeted as liberators.

Our intentions are simple and clear. First we will instrument, then we will analyze, then we will optimize. And you will thank us.

But the real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.

The connected world we're building may resemble a computer system, but really it's just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Approaching the world as a software problem is a category error that has led us into some terrible habits of mind.

BAD MENTAL HABITS

First, programmers are trained to seek maximal and global solutions. Why solve a specific problem in one place when you can fix the general problem for everybody, and for all time? We don't think of this as hubris, but as a laudable economy of effort. And the startup funding culture of big risk, big reward encourages this grandiose mode of thinking. There is powerful social pressure to avoid incremental change, particularly any change that would require working with people outside tech and treating them as intellectual equals.

Second, treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. The old adage has it that if you are given ten minutes to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five sharpening your axe. We are used to the idea of bootstrapping ourselves into a position of maximum leverage before tackling a problem.

In the real world, this has led to a pathology where the tech sector maximizes its own comfort. You don't have to go far to see this. Hop on BART after the conference and take a look at Oakland, or take a stroll through downtown San Francisco and try to persuade yourself you're in the heart of a boom that has lasted for forty years. You'll see a residential theme park for tech workers, surrounded by areas of poverty and misery that have seen no benefit and ample harm from our presence. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we're hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people.

Third, treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don't accept that this should make us accountable. We're programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help.

Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It's a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don't lie.

Of course, people obsessed with control have to eventually confront the fact of their own extinction. The response of the tech world to death has been enthusiastic. We are going to fix it. Google Ventures, for example, is seriously funding research into immortality. Their head VC will call you a "deathist" for pointing out that this is delusional.

Such fantasies of control come with a dark side. Witness the current anxieties about an artificial superintelligence, or Elon Musk's apparently sincere belief that we're living in a simulation. For a computer programmer, that's the ultimate loss of control. Instead of writing the software, you are the software.

We obsess over these fake problems while creating some real ones.

In our attempt to feed the world to software, techies have built the greatest surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. Unlike earlier efforts, this one is fully mechanized and in a large sense autonomous. Its power is latent, lying in the vast amounts of permanently stored personal data about entire populations.

We started out collecting this information by accident, as part of our project to automate everything, but soon realized that it had economic value. We could use it to make the process self-funding. And so mechanized surveillance has become the economic basis of the modern tech industry.

SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

Surveillance capitalism has some of the features of a zero-sum game. The actual value of the data collected is not clear, but it is definitely an advantage to collect more than your rivals do. Because human beings develop an immune response to new forms of tracking and manipulation, the only way to stay successful is to keep finding novel ways to peer into people's private lives. And because much of the surveillance economy is funded by speculators, there is an incentive to try flashy things that will capture the speculators' imagination, and attract their money.

This creates a ratcheting effect where the behavior of ever more people is tracked ever more closely, and the collected information retained, in the hopes that further dollars can be squeezed out of it.

Just like industrialized manufacturing changed the relationship between labor and capital, surveillance capitalism is changing the relationship between private citizens and the entities doing the tracking. Our old ideas about individual privacy and consent no longer hold in a world where personal data is harvested on an industrial scale.

Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing.

Companies that perform surveillance are attempting the same mental trick. They assert that we freely share our data in return for valuable services. But opting out of surveillance capitalism is like opting out of electricity, or cooked foods—you are free to do it in theory. In practice, it will upend your life.

Many of you had to obtain a US visa to attend this conference. The customs service announced yesterday it wants to start asking people for their social media profiles. Imagine trying to attend your next conference without a LinkedIn profile, and explaining to the American authorities why you are so suspiciously off the grid.

The reality is, opting out of surveillance capitalism means opting out of much of modern life.

We're used to talking about the private and public sector in the real economy, but in the surveillance economy this boundary doesn't exist. Much of the day-to-day work of surveillance is done by telecommunications firms, which have a close relationship with government. The techniques and software of surveillance are freely shared between practitioners on both sides. All of the major players in the surveillance economy cooperate with their own country's intelligence agencies, and are spied on (very effectively) by all the others.

As a technologist, this state of affairs gives me the feeling of living in a forest that is filling up with dry, dead wood. The very personal, very potent information we're gathering about people never goes away, only accumulates. I don't want to see the fire come, but at the same time, I can't figure out a way to persuade other people of the great danger.

So I try to spin scenarios.

THE INEVITABLE LIST OF SCARY SCENARIOS

One of the candidates running for President this year has promised to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, as well as block Muslims from entering the country altogether. Try to imagine this policy enacted using the tools of modern technology. The FBI would subpoena Facebook for information on every user born abroad. Email and phone conversations would be monitored to check for the use of Arabic or Spanish, and sentiment analysis applied to see if the participants sounded "nervous". Social networks, phone metadata, and cell phone tracking would lead police to nests of hiding immigrants.

We could do a really good job deporting people if we put our minds to it.

Or consider the other candidate running for President, the one we consider the sane alternative, who has been a longtime promoter of a system of extrajudicial murder that uses blanket surveillance of cell phone traffic, email, and social media to create lists of people to be tracked and killed with autonomous aircraft. … [more]
culture  ethics  privacy  surveillance  technology  technosolutionism  maciegceglowski  2016  computing  coding  programming  problemsolving  systemsthinking  systems  software  control  power  elonmusk  marcandreessen  siliconvalley  sanfrancisco  oakland  responsibility  machinelearning  googlevntures  vc  capitalism  speculation  consent  labor  economics  poland  dystopia  government  politics  policy  immortality 
june 2016 by robertogreco
We Are All Living Among the Dead
"My father loved high-end stereo equipment. After he died, I kept seeing one of his old radio tuners from the 1980s in my mind. For my whole life, I'd been listening to his broadcasts — but now, when I moved the knob to tune the station frequency, there was nothing. The signal had ended. But I kept trying to tune it anyway, wanting to hear him apologize, or say he loved me, or list the ingredients in what he was cooking for dinner. There is only static, though. Static forever.

I think our fantasies of zombies and ghosts are ways of explaining this feeling, this sense that the dead are still out there broadcasting and walking around. Just because someone has died doesn't mean they don't continue to shape our lives.

Will was an electronics geek and environmentalist, who combined these passions to create a large intentional community in California called Regen Co-op. Many Co-op members worked with Will at the small business he ran, which helps people transition to solar energy and electric cars. Here is a classic moment with Will, doing a how-to about creating a car charging station in Sausalito, CA: [video]

It's thanks to Will that I have an unholy number of solar panels on my roof and a strange assortment of LEDs in pretty much every light socket in my house. At his funeral, which was packed with colleagues and friends and activist co-conspirators, I heard many people talk about how Will would live on — not just in their hearts, but in their electrical wiring and energy systems. Will changed our infrastructure. He is dead, but he is still here, in the power I send back to the grid on sunny days.

But how can we bear to live among the dead? I think this is also a question posed by ghost stories, which are usually full of pain and horror. How do we cope with all the missing people, the fantasies we have of them, when there's work to be done and people still living all around us? I wish the answer were as simple as burning the ghost's bones with a pinch of salt, after hanging out with the Winchester brothers on Supernatural. If only it were as easy to dispatch my sadness as it is to shoot a zombie straight through the eyes.

Sure, there are comforting rituals and the slow erosion of pain with the passage of time. That's not enough. I think the only thing to be done is to admit that the dead live with you forever, and to find some way to make room for them — while still leaving plenty of space for the people who have survived with you. I carry my dad's wallet with me every day, with his old teacher's union card in it. And right now, I am sitting under an LED light that Will installed. These are just small material things, but they represent a lot more than that.

They are my promises to the dead that I will survive, and I will take them with me into the future. I will make their jokes for them; I will cook the recipes they taught me; I will fight to save the Earth alongside their ghosts. This is about keeping up the good fight for all of humanity, but it's also about the little struggles just to stay hopeful after a sad year. So I will take their memories out to see Guardians of the Galaxy, and I'll invite all you survivors to come along too. Those of us who remember the dead are all the dead have left; and that is why we honor them by sticking together, by staying alive together, so that every haunting becomes a possible future.

Hey you, out there — please stay alive with me. There are no zombies to fight. We only have each other."
death  memory  memories  time  immortality  ghosts  2014  annaleenewitz  mourning 
october 2014 by robertogreco
On Being Let Down: iPhone 6 and the Politics of Disappointment — Medium
"And what we see now is, I believe, the opening of another sigh of great disappointment. Religion, drugs, space travel and digital culture: all of it has let us down. All of it left us disappointed.

***

It runs deep.

Capitalism promised great leisure and riches. We have been let down.

Politics promised great change. We have been let down.

Look at the fall-out from the Scottish referendum on independence. Look at the young men going to fight with IS. Look at political apathy and the overriding sense of cynicism. We are living in an age of almost universal disappointment.

In the 1580s Montaigne wrote that ‘to philosophise is to learn how to die.’ He could perhaps have written that it was to learn to deal with disappointment. Death, at its core, presents itself as the fundamental disappointment: after all that, is this it? Dust, rising for such a short while, only to return to dust?

The key question of our time is then this: how can we move beyond disappointment? In Montaigne’s terms, is there life after this death? Once we have faced up to the inevitability of our fall back into the earth, how do we then live? It’s to this question of resurrection — this ‘rising again’ — that Getting High turns as it concludes. The book is something of a memoir too in that this journey through religious, hedonistic, technological and political disappointment — and beyond — is a very personal one.

I don’t want to say too much more here — I’ll save your disappointment for when you read the final version — but suffice to say I believe that there is hope. But before that hope there what I believe we must do is get beyond denial. To accept not just that the iPhone 6 is disappointing, but that every other one will be too, and that all of these devices, all of our contrivances, all of our gadgets, all of our grand schemes and plans, all of it is going to let us down, just as certainly as we will be let down on straps into a hole in the ground some day, just as certainly as we will watch others being let down too.

The Apple is rotten; the promise of omniscience and immortality has turned out to be false. So then, how shall we live?"

[Also posted here: http://www.kesterbrewin.com/2014/09/26/on-being-let-down-iphone-6-and-the-politics-of-disappointment/ ]
kesterbrewin  2014  disappointment  capitalism  latecapitalism  meaning  meaningmaking  consumerism  materialism  hope  montaigne  philosopy  change  politics  religion  purpose  emptiness  iphone  iphone6  death  mortality  omniscience  immortality  micheldemontaigne 
october 2014 by robertogreco
An Emphatic Umph: Death and the Afterlife
"The other day, I was spending time with a friend and every time I chuckled, she'd say, That's your brother! That's his laugh! Think about what an insane thing that is to say. I wasn't quite sure I knew what she meant at that juncture but I do know the experience of being possessed by my brother. Usually, I feel it when I'm holding forth. Oh, lord, when I was teaching, I'd be mid-lecture when all I could hear, all I could feel, was my brother spouting — sprouting — up through my mouth, a kind of Ouija board.

My brother lives in Manila, in the Philippines. But he also lives right here — in me, as me, with me, at least a little. My sister is dead and she, too, lives right here — in me, as me, with me. Death, the Philippines, across town, it doesn't matte: our possession of and by other people transcends time and space, transcends body and ego. This can, of course, be to our dismay. I have familial forces working in me that I'd like to dispel. In fact, in order not to be a total asshole of a father — the key word here being total — I have to wrestle, stifle, and muffle the paternal voices that live in me, that live as me, that haunt me all the time.

We live with ghosts. This is not some supernatural thing, some mystical claim. Events are not discrete. When something happens, it doesn't just begin then end. It continues to happen more or less. This is called, amongst other things, memory. Memory is not a card catalog of snapshots. Memory is the presence of the past, here and now. It's my tying my shoe, craving rice noodles for dinner, knowing the way to my son's school. It's also the smell of my childhood house; it's falling into a pile of dog shit at the ever sad PS 165 playground and then my five year old ass being asked to strip for a bath by the Jamaican nanny I could never understand; it's the wide, radiant, true smile of my sister as well as her confused, sad, skinny face days before she died; it's the daily screaming of my parents that still echoes in my skull. It's everything that's ever happened to me and is still happening to me, right here, right now.

We are events, each of us. We continue just as the things that happen to us continue. Sure, they seem done and gone but they — but we — persist in various ways, as echoes and sentiments, as shadows and gestures, as scars and dreams."
danielcoffeen  douglain  death  2014  kierkegaard  ghosts  afterlife  religion  buddhism  meaning  meaningmaking  living  consciousness  williamsburroughs  nietzsche  foucault  jacquesderrida  paulricoeur  pauldeman  marclafia  memory  softarchitecture  lisarobertson  mortality  aubreydegrey  immortality  events  experience  time  memories  writing  transcendence  deleuze  plato  michelfoucault 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Ibraaz Talks: Trevor Paglen on Aesthetics | Ibraaz
"Ibraaz Talks is a series of specially curated conversations with artists, curators and writers. Participants are invited to respond to a particular issue or keyword that addresses formal and conceptual issues affecting both their personal practices and contemporary visual culture. Initiated at Art Dubai in 2013, this latest series was staged at SALT Beyoğlu during the opening days of the 13th Istanbul Biennial. In this talk, artist Trevor Paglen and Ibraaz Senior Editor Omar Kholeif ask the question: why aesthetics? The discussion considers the notion of aesthetics in the context of a practice that often deals with ideas of anti-aesthetics. The talk takes into account a project Paglen presented during the Istanbul Biennial with Protocinema titled Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 3) (2013) – a 4-metre tall model for an orbital spacecraft, which considers how such a functional object might operate in a non-functional context."
ibraaztalks  trevorpaglen  2013  aesthetics  objects  function  art  anti-aesthetics  via:javierarbona  economics  politics  taste  relationships  class  inequality  time  mortality  space  satellites  immortality  elitism 
october 2013 by robertogreco
The New Atlantis » Slacking as Self-Discovery
"Such wistful desire to evade responsibility exposes childishness of adults now preaching the good news of emerging adulthood. They have decided that taking responsibility for other people — spouses, children, employees & subordinates, neighbors, friends, eventually even parents — & relying on them in turn is the heaviest burden that can befall a person. But what if this is instead the means to happiness? Advocates of emerging adulthood share in common with children a proclivity to see the future as nearly infinite & themselves as, for all practical purposes, immortal. In their view of themselves & their world, it is never too late & there is never any rush. But a few-year increase in the average life expectancy has bought us much less time than they think & has done nothing to mitigate our potential to make irreversible errors & experience gnawing regret. The indefinite extension of childhood doesn’t even approximate the immortality required to free us from these miseries…"

[via: http://ayjay.tumblr.com/post/3012478205/such-wistful-desire-to-evade-responsibility ]
slackers  responsibility  childhood  self-discovery  parenting  happiness  life  adulthood  immortality  mortality 
january 2011 by robertogreco

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