“We pointed the most powerful telescope ever built by human beings at absolutely nothing, just because we were curious, and discovered that we occupy a very tiny place in the heavens.”
Just because we were curious….
You’ll often hear people say that the size and complexity of the world and the universe around us makes our individual lives seem petty and unimportant by comparison. Yet I’ve always believed that the opposite is true….
If I said that the fact that you are one of the 6.7 billion people alive today, sharing in the legacy of the many more billions who have come before you, on a single planet among hundreds of billions of galaxies full of planets — is something that makes your life more significant, not less … would you understand what I mean by that?
I had hoped to resume writing here more regularly by now, but “fate” intervened in the form of a sudden drop in the water pressure at my house. So instead of writing (and instead of keeping up with my classes), I’ve spent countless dusty hours exploring my crawlspace and learning more about pipes and plumbing than I ever wanted to know. After a few days of finding no geysers under the house, I called in the Professionals. As it turns out, an old pipe under my front yard — one that should have been bypassed years ago when the plumbing system was rebuilt — is leaking, each week leeching as much water into the ground as I typically use in a year.
Repairs are forthcoming in the form of a Big Dig in my front yard, and my bank account will shrink (or my debts will grow) by $5,700 in the process. Not exactly something I was expecting to be doing as summer moves in, but it is what it is and it has to be dealt with. I’ll just have to develop a fondness for my new copper pipes, or maybe think of them as a form of art — which, in a way, they are. I may chronicle the experience in photographs and post them here, so if you’re into things like that … stay tuned!
The title of this article describes how I feel, and you may find the article a lot more interesting than my plumbing problems:
There are children standing here, Arms outstretched into the sky, Tears drying on their face. He has been here. Brothers lie in shallow graves. Fathers lost without a trace. A nation blind to their disgrace, Since he’s been here. And I see no bravery, No bravery In your eyes anymore. Only sadness…. Houses burnt beyond repair. The smell of death is in the air. A woman weeping in despair says, He has been here. Tracer lighting up the sky. It’s another families’ turn to die. A child afraid to even cry out says, He has been here. And I see no bravery, No bravery In your eyes anymore. Only sadness…. There are children standing here, Arms outstretched into the sky, But no one asks the question why, He has been here. Old men kneel to accept their fate. Wives and daughters cut and raped. A generation drenched in hate. Yes, he has been here. And I see no bravery, No bravery In your eyes anymore. Only sadness….
It seems to have taken forever. Let’s hold back on our cheering for now, though, as only time will tell if what happens next is any better….
… the death of Tim Russert, one of the few political analysts and observers who publicly demonstrated authentic passion for his work and for the American political system, and from whom we could all learn something about the arts of communication, rhetoric, and conversational negotiation.
… and from Senator Joseph Lieberman, an observation about Russert that, to me, is one of the highest compliments one human being can pay another:
I nearly burned myself out late last year with too much work, which was thankfully balanced out with a holiday vacation to another state where I spent a fair amount of time doing absolutely nothing.
The possibility that we’re collectively losing our ability to do nothing — to detach ourselves from all forms of work and recharge by reveling in the moment, whatever type of moment recharges us — is one of the topics Heather Menzies discusses in her book No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life. I started this book a couple of weeks ago, and I’m about half way through it, having decided to read it slowly and take notes on the ideas Menzies presents. Over the past year or so, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that the technology we’re becoming so immersed in begs us to ask some questions about how it’s affecting each of us and our lives — yet we barely ask those questions, or, perhaps, we don’t yet know how to ask them. We’re so linked in, always on, wired up and plugged up that even when we do try to detach, as Menzies notes, we’re seldom successful; or worse, we are successful but riddled with guilt over that success. That we might detach enough to reflect on technology’s effects is very nearly inconceivable.
Menzies was spurred to the idea of writing this book as she looked at her own life, and saw how for her — like many of her contemporaries — the connections among people that technology seemed to promise were actually creating disconnections instead. It is, I think, one of those crucial questions about technology that social scientists and historians together would do well to explore, particularly as our distance from the experience of every day reality seems to increase with the growing use of technology: to what extent are we withdrawing from human interaction as technology becomes embedded in our lives, and what is the significance of that withdrawal? My understanding is that Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community also takes on this subject, perhaps with even more to say about the relationship between technology and human interaction. Bowling Alone is the next book on my reading list.
Instead of slowing down and gaining more time from new, faster technologies, the family crams more activities into everyday life. Having time on your hands becomes an important signal [about] which kind of everyday life the individual has. The traffic jam for the car driver becomes a time thief that does not comply with the signal of freedom the car driver wishes to send….
I remember that when I read "having time on your hands" how it sounded like a completely foreign concept: it jolted me to realize that I had to stop for a second and think about what it even meant. I was equally jolted by Menzies’ discussion of dreamless sleep, how researchers are finding that more and more people are sleeping not just less but differently than they used to, reporting that they never remember enough of their dreams to know if they’re even having any, their brains never "idling" enough to enter the state where dreams take place. I’ll come back to that later; it’s one of the most interesting parts of Menzies’ book so far — personally interesting, I think, because I can’t remember the last time I had a dream or recall having a dream, and I’ve even wondered now and then why that’s been happening. Dreams, it seems, are something of an organizing activity for the mind, something that helps commit our waking or mental experiences to different segments of our memory for use later; and while I always thought that dreams served a purpose like that, until reading what Menzies has to say about them, it never occurred to me that it was significant that I could no longer remember any.
Daily Blog Tips has become one of my favorite sites for reading blogging tips and advice. Their writers don’t just make suggestions; instead, they place their suggestions in a more substantial context to help their readers understand why a particular tip or bit of advice is important.
I’m going to devote several more posts to the BusinessWeek article, so stay tuned. For now, let me just say that the idea that companies must pursue innovation has become so endemic to how corporations describe themselves and their culture, that — even though it’s true that they should pursue innovation — the idea of actually pursuing any has become an almost meaningless adventure in corporate-speak. That in itself would make Best Buy’s attempt to transform the workplace significant, even if in the end it was a failure. What they have sought to do is drastically alter the nature of work entirely, stripping away much of its typical hierarchical and authoritarian structure and establishing an individualistic orientation that focuses not on the demands of authority and bureaucracy, but on accomplishments and results instead. That what they’re doing mirrors changes that have been occurring in the broader society and culture probably goes without saying; but that corporations — the very source of the technological innovations that give Best Buy a good chance at success — may be one of the last cultural elements to loosen their structural grip on people’s lives seems terribly ironic to me.
… it sounds an awful lot like a gun going off! Trust me! Don’t try this at home:
Apparently this is what happens when you sit down to write a quick blog post after setting some eggs to boiling, the blog post takes longer than you thought, and you forget about the eggs … they wait about forty minutes then remind you to PAY ATTENTION! Or set a timer next time….
Anna: I am paranoid about loosing data after working in IT for years and also having several of my own hard drives crash – and they were only a few months old. I backup to both a USB hard drive as well as online using AmazonS3. People who...
Dawn LaPlante Recore: Hi Dale. Was searching Saranac alumni, and quite indirectly, I ended up at your blog. It’s fascinating. Good for you! Although it was a sad time when I saw you in September, it was never-the-less, good to see you. By...
Ron Coryer: Dale, I was sorry to hear of your father’s passing. I would like to express my condolences to you and you family. As I read your post on your website, I couldn’t help thinking back to the time I lost my dad and I had the...
Gary Coryer: Dale, So sorry to hear of the loss of your Dad. He was always nice to us as kids. Next time I am in Cadyville I will drop in to see your mom and express my condolences. Hope she is doing okay. I will send a note to my brother Ron with...
A u d e e: A deepest condolence to you Dale. Losing a parent is never easy. May Your Father rest in peace.
A u d e e: Hi Dale, It’s been a while since my last visit . I’m sorry to hear about plumbing problems at your house. I’m pretty sure that it is a quite distraction when you hope to be able to spend times on other interesting...