Wild Green Yonder
Sunday, March 31, 2002
 
Fly Swapper
This is one of those discoveries that could change everything, or may just be a sign that everything has already changed:
"A bit of fly DNA might be about to turn the trickle of genetically modified animals into a flood. Biotech company Tosk of San Francisco says it can add genes to mammalian cells with unprecedented efficiency with the help of fruit fly DNA that can jump in and out of chromosomes.

"The company's claims are being greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and scepticism by other biologists, who warn its results have yet to be independently confirmed. "But if it works the way they claim, it's revolutionary," says Tom Rosenquist of Stony Brook University in New York.

"Introducing genes into mammals is laborious and expensive at present, so the technique is only used for research and to create animals that yield high-value medical products. But if making GM mammals becomes cheap and easy, companies could soon be modifying everything from the farm animals that produce our food to our pets. Tosk's method could even be used to correct genetic faults in people.


(thanks, Jamais!)
 
In Austin, staying with Bruce and Nancy Sterling. Wonderful hosts.

I went out to hit the clubs last night, ended up listening to a band in zombie outfits do lounge covers of punk songs, amongst other mayhem.

Going to check out Max's Pot tomorrow (on Davidya and Paul's recommendations -- thanks!).
More soon.
Thursday, March 28, 2002
 
The Vortexes of Sedona
[note: this post was written on Monday, and for reasons too confusing to get into here, is just now being posted]

It's too nice to write. Sitting on a weathered wooden chair, in front of what has to be one of the most wonderfully-situated trailers in the country: high up a canyon in Sedona, overlooking red rock cliffs. Bamboo and peach trees. Languid sunshine, the smell of juniper. A hawk updrafting in long, slow, lazy circles.

My hostess, Arianna Lewis, is a friend from Seattle, a dancer, artist and yoga teacher who's down here to get away from the art scene, and the craziness, poverty, drugs and parties that go with it. She's got a good life here: we've hiked, drank tea, played music and looked at art and last night ate a spinach salad with a soft, smoky Mexican cheese and incredibly ripe red peppers. And the whole time we've talked and talked.

What she most wants to do, she tells me, is get some friends together, buy some land and "make life an art project." She has schemes, Arianna does, and they're fun ones: an adobe house out in the desert, with antique bottles laid into the walls for tiny windows and a little nook with a car door to the outside, so you can roll down the window and watch the day roll by. The problem is, as so often, love – her girlfriend lives in Phoenix, and there's the aftermath of a bad marriage to deal with, and a baby involved, and she's just not sure how it will all work out.

I hope it does work out, the whole dream. It's so American, so beautiful. Those of us who feel somewhat cut off from the mainstream, who at least occasionally long for a different, freer, newer life often forget that this impulse is deeply-rooted in the American soil. People have been countercultural freaks and artists, freethinkers and communards since the first Europeans started wading ashore and starving to death at Roanoke. There is nothing more American than a city on a hill, though our histories often omit the fact.

Indeed, the utopian commune is one of the most pedigreed of our tools for social change. The Shakers did it, and the free-love anarchists of Puget Sound; the Lost Generation did it, and the Latter-Day Saints. It's an American pastime older than baseball.

And the best utopias are always built by the young on a foundation of cloud, meant to last an age and often not lasting a decade: thrown into the air, they drop like stones in a swimming pool, but before the final clunk is heard on the bottom below, little waves have gone out everywhere. People, especially stern-faced business-Puritan pundits, often point to their transitory nature as proof these utopias were stupid idea in the first place. But they miss the entire point. Of course utopias have a short half life: they're throwing off too much energy not to. But a good utopia is not about itself. It's a critique, an artwork, a laboratory, a raised barricade: the threat of a good example.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald writes of Gatsby, "If personality is an unbroken series of gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life… an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person…" he is of course describing America. At our best, we believe, as de Tocqueville said, in the "Indefinite Perfectibility of Man." We believe, here, or used to at least, in the power of a dream to spread.

All this is very much on my mind because only a week ago I was at a meeting of the Land Group. The Land Group started in the early 70s, when the idea of reinhabitation – of purposeful reclamation of country life – was in full swing. We bought a big chunk of land in Southern Humboldt County, on California's Lost Coast, with the idea of creating a new way of living. It's a magnificent place, and some of my fondest memories of childhood revolve around it.

But times change, and people grow older. Now there's an understanding that the loose and easy way it's been run all these 30-odd years needs to make way for something more structured, something with more institutional longevity. The best form for doing that, it now seems, is something known as a "mutual benefit corporation," the most common example of which is a country club, combined with a land preservation tool known as a "conservation easement," which will prevent the Land from ever being logged, mined or developed. (Interestingly, the question of how to "decommission" a commune is apparently a hot legal topic these days.)

So we sat in the living room of a house in Berkeley, and talked it through (I'm reminded of the joke that "consensus" is Latin for "very long meeting"). I'd like to paint the scene, and I'd like to make it funny, but it wasn't really, except in the sweetest sort of way. It was just some people, who'd had a great vision, and lived it as close as they could, and were now confronting their mortality and doing something unselfish by protecting the land in perpetuity – even though it meant turning the revolution into a corporation, the commune into a country club. As they might say here in Sedona, the Hippy Dreamtime is over. Some other Dreaming is begun.

It was one member's birthday. At the meeting's end, everyone gathered around to sing "When I'm 64." I felt a strangeness come over me. I felt again that odd realization that my parents and their peers are, well, old, which means I must be an adult. I don't feel like one. Adult has always in my mind carried the implication that one knew what one was about, that you were a person with answers, and I am full of nothing but questions.


Wednesday, March 27, 2002
 
Humans who make robots who make art...
Douglas Rapetto, at Columbia, sent me an invite to attend his artbots show in NYC in May. Don'tknow if I'll be there when the show opens, don't know that it has anything to do with the book, but I do know that the robots I fear don't battle eachother in some poorly-lit ring: they make beautiful music and sing in an alien tongue.

While I'm at it, check out the work of the insanely brilliant Amy Youngs, who is one of my favorite icons of the emerging biotechnological cultural movement. Check out these wild designs for new hermit crab shells.

 
The Tyranny of Maps
For about a year I shared offices with the crew at CommEnSpace, a non-profit that works with environmental and community groups to craft useful, innovative maps using GIS software, remote sensing equipment and sattelite positioning systems. It's very cool work.

You can't be around mapmakers for that long and not start to think hard about the maps you use. In the last few weeks of travel, I have been mostly confined to a detailed, but woefully insufficient, Rand-McNalley road atlas, supplemented by the odd web-generated map. The consequences of a bad map have never been more apparent to me (one gets lost). And the completely impersonal, over-generalized nature of the road atlas has started to get to me. I don't need to know where the Phoenix stadium is, but a readable shading representing the extent of suburban development would have been truly useful.

If maps are one of the most important mental tools we have for comprehending, defining and changing places -- and I strongly believe they are -- then it seems to me that not just good maps, but individualizable, transparent, democratic maps are something we should all have access to. Commenspace does great work for community groups. The Green Map System is another excellent approach (and thanks to Wendy Brawer for drawing my attention to it).

But I suspect existing technologies and current insight to be capable of far, far more. Whose way out on the edge of the map-makers' world? I'd like to find out.
 
So the sloths have been great. I'll post on Arcosanti (the first successful sloth) as soon as I can get my back-posts up,
 
In Tucson. Hot, hazy and slothful. Having all sorts of problems with my dial-up service, so postings have been a bit delayed, and I haven't yet had a chance to attend to creating a comments function.
Monday, March 25, 2002
 
Managed to make it to Sedona, after a series of comic mishaps.

Thanks for the sloths, y'all, and keep 'em coming. I'll be posting a full update on the travels, some "Best of Sloths" links, and building a comment function for this page, hopefully tonight. For now, I need to get rolling so I can make my appointment with Arcosanti.

More soon!
Friday, March 22, 2002
 
The results are final: by a margin of 5 - 3, it's Vegas. Save me a seat at the slots.
 
Over in the Boing Boing discussion area, Lindsey posted this comment on the sloth hunt:
"If it's really collaborative, why not allow other people a place to add stuff to the "blog" instead of just saying that you'll take tips from them? They're not your collaborators in this case, they're just your sources."

Here's my response:
"Lindsey: what do you have in mind? I'm open to ideas.

"It's still my trip, and I'm ultimately the one who has to stand by the book which results, so I totally reserve the right to play an editorial function. That said, I'm game to try different approaches to the idea of networked, collaborative travel-writing. And, please remember, I'm just starting out here, and there's time to try different things.

"So, what kind of ideas would you suggest?"

The question's an honest one. Suggestions?
 
Hung out last night with my friends John Balzar and Liisa Penrose. They're great people. Balzar carves beautiful wooden spoons. Liisa works for Habitat-for-Humanity. That kind of great.

We sat on their patio -- grass mats overhead, and luscious flowers, a tropical print table cloth, all very Tiki -- drank beer and smoked cigarettes. John was trying to describe how their Orange County neighborhood had given him "a sense of community like none I've ever known." After decades of moving from place to place and travelling around the world he had found, finally, a home. He told this story: Their neighbor, who's lived here for decades, wanted to get some ice cream for his wife. It was a hot day, as he later told Liisa and John, and so when he went to the store, he dug around in the bottom of the freezer, down in the permafrost layer, looking for coldest, hardest carton he could find. He needed a deep-frozen one, because he knew he'd inevitably run into friends and neighbors on the way home and end up chatting for a few minutes, and he didn't want the ice cream to get melty before he got it home to his wife. Which struck me as a pretty damn good definition of community.

We had a great time, though John and I did get into a bit of a fight around copyright. Balzar's of the opinion that we need to do whatever it takes to make sure that creativity remains rewarded, even if that means outlawing non-industry-compliant computers. I argued First Ammendment. He counter with End of the World as We Know It, that current technology could mean a complete melt-down for the entertainment industry, and that "having new movies is more important than inconveniencing a few guerrilla filmmakers...."

I was shocked. I guess it could be a generational thing, but I rarely meet anyone who thinks that laws like Sen Fritz Hollings' Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (or as Cory calls it, the Anti-Mammal Dinosaur Protection Act) are even workable, much less a good idea. And here was a guy I respect, a smart guy, a freethinker, a columnist, voicing a readiness to make computers which can actually share information illegal. We got into it, got a bit heated, and then agreed to disagree.

But make no mistake my friends, the counter-revolution is in full swing. There's an old saying that the rich will never let you vote away their fortunes. Anyone who thinks that the entertainment industry is going to let us file-swap away their multinational empires without one hell of a fight is huffing gas. They may be on the wrong side of history, but they're willing, and perhaps powerful enough, to completely destroy technological innovation and trample human rights in their attempt to stem the tide. And many otherwise quite reasonable, smart people agree with them.
 
Had a wonderful meeting yesterday with Frank Escher, who's running The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. They're trying to figure out ways of making the invisible visible: the natural hydrology of LA, it's water supply system (which stretches out hundreds of miles, draining desert lakes, tapping distant rivers, operating giant aquaducts), flood control system and remaining green space. Nice fella, and full of great quotes. "People in LA know the city as a system of freeways. Mental maps here consist of on-ramps and expressways."

He and his partner also recently restored the the chemosphere, Frank Lautner's famous pod-on-a-hill, one of the most famous buildings in Southern California, for the German publishing magnate Taschen.
 
When Bad Things Happen to Really Horrible People
The cardinal sin in Los Angeles is not driving fast enough, but I didn't realize it applied to surface streets.

The day before yesterday, cruising down Santa Monica Blvd., going about five over the limit, I was followed for four blocks by a guy driving a giant old car, who proceeded tailgate me, honk continuously and occaisionally veer erratically into the (also crowded) lanes next to us, presumably in an effort to pass.

Finally, I pulled up at a red light. He jumped out of his car, ran up to my window and danced around in a little road-rage hissy-fit. "Where do you people learn to drive?" he screamed in a nasally voice. "How do you get driver's licences?" As he was a scrawny little hipster -- I had eight inches and seventy pounds on him, easy -- not apparently armed, and wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I was unable to feel threatened by him, but he did succeed in annoying the shit out of me. I was just at the point of getting out of the car when the light turned green.

"Let it go," I thought to myself, and put the car into gear. Scrawny Annoying Hipster ran back to his battleship. In my rearview mirror I saw him run up to the driver's side door, yank on the handle: nothing. Car horns began to ring from traffic stuck behind him. He ran around to the other door. No dice. As I lost sight of him, he was running 'round and 'round the car, while the honking mounted.

I couldn't help it: I channeled Nelson Muntz.
Thursday, March 21, 2002
 
Early polls show a lean towards Las Vegas, by a margin of 5 - 2. Polls close tomorrow morning.
 
Busy, busy. Yesterday, amidst other activities, visited the outrageously cool Center for Land Use Interpretation. Check out their database of cool land use projects. Also tried to stop by the Museum of Jurrasic Technology, but it was closed.
Wednesday, March 20, 2002
 
Democratic Travel-Planning
Okay, here's the issue before us: do I spend the weekend in LA, or do I go to Vegas early and spend it there?

You can vote by mailing steffen@wildgreenyonder.net, or use the sloth link at left.

I'm also open to other suggestions and invitations.

Polls close Friday morning at 11:00 a.m. PacTime. Results posted then.
 
Palm Trees of Venice
I can't get the Doors' song Peace Frog out of my head, particularly the line "Bloody red sun of fantastic L.A."

I met an Armenian guy last night who insists that L.A. only has the world's second best climate, and that the best is the Georgian Balck Sea coast. Still, it's easy to see why the orange groves and truck farms of this City of Angels got turned into one of the largest cities in the world in less than a century. The weather here isn't just good, it's hedonistic. It's a debauched sunshine. It's a slutty breeze.


Spent all day yesterday cruising the city and doing interviews (an artist, a journalist, a designer) and getting my bearings, then sitting stupefied on the Venice Beach sand until it was time to head back to my absurdly accomodating hotel (I had to have an argument with the valet in order to convince him that I did not want the staff to change a bulb in my headlight) to meet my bud Mark for drinks. There followed a barcrawl down the Sunset Strip.


Rehydrating this morning and waiting to hear if I'll be getting an audience with Just Shoot Me actress Wendy Malick, who is very into local environmental issues, apparently. This is the first sloth I've chased down, really. Later today I'll be meeting poet and activist Lewis McAdams for a walk down the sad, sad LA River, then off to the Getty and a party.

More soon.
Tuesday, March 19, 2002
 
Reasons why beachfront property is not a good investment...
A gigantichunk of Antarctic ice has broken off and fallen into the sea:

The shelf designated as Larsen B, 650 feet thick and with a surface area of 1,250 square miles, has collapsed into small icebergs and fragments, the British Antarctic Survey said. Before breaking apart, the ice shelf was about the size of Rhode Island.
(from BoingBoing)
 
Made it to LA, after getting hung up in a two-hour traffic jam on the outskirts of Stockton. Woke this morning to a world of bright sunshine and potted palms.

More soon.
Monday, March 18, 2002
 
The Wild Sloth Chase
When the future arrived, we weren't paying attention.

Most journalists are like me: easily distracted by loud and shiny things. And few things in our recent history have been as bright and well-hyped as the e-commerce bubble. Now that it’s over, it's easier to see that the real heroes weren't building online bookstore or virtual pet food empires, they were engaged in a different sort of creation.

For all its talk about building the world of tomorrow, the "Internet Boom" was a decidedly late-Twentieth Century affair, mostly involving salesmen describing how they were going to replace craptacular brick-n'-mortar businesses with cyber-analogs, folks whose most inspired idea for the Net was to make it just like TV. Meanwhile, a whole 'nother group of people were actually building something new: think Napster, think Slashdot, think blogs. People who said, Screw TV over the Net. TV sucks. Let's make the thing that eats TV.

If TV sucks, global climate change, suburban sprawl, the whole model of how we design and build the places we live (and the systems that power them), truly blow. I want to find the people who are inventing the thing that's going to eat that model. A movement is brewing around "hacking place," and I want to write about it. Of course, since it's still emerging, no one quite knows what it looks like -- but I'm going to spend the next half-year traveling the country hunting it.

Bruce Chatwin starts his book, In Patagonia, by describing the piece of dark and hairy dried-out giant sloth hide that sat in his grandmother's cabinet, and how dreams of finding a giant sloth drew him to South America. In Patagonia is not about giant sloths. But the giant sloth pulls him along -- sloth-sightings and rumors of sloths drive the book. And in searching for the giant sloth, he finds Patagonia.

Here's what I'm asking: send me your giant sloths. Tell me what in your city (or any city you know well) has the stink of the new on it. What art, what architecture, which community groups, what design innovations fill you with hope, awe you, give you shivers? I have some great leads, enough to convince a publisher to pay me to take this trip, at least. But I need your help.

In a sense, this book may well be the world's first network-supported travelogue. It's an experiment -- and you get play. Use the Giant Sloth link to the left. Send me your lead. You can do it anonymously or not. Anyone whose story is actually used in the book will get an author’s copy, handsomely personalized, directly out of my little stash. And, of course, you can follow my progress on this crappy little blog.

The sloth is afoot!

Sunday, March 17, 2002
 
Tom Friedman on the Huddled Masses
I don't much care for Tom Friedman's writing. I find him to lack the sort of skepticism becoming a journalist on a whole host of issues, ranging from the supposed liberating effects of trade on Chinese despots to the odds of American pop culture helping lift the starving half of the world from its morass. But this piece on Bush II's announcement of a new policy towards development aid reads thoughtful, well-written and more-or-less on the money.

"Since Sept. 11, the Bush team has focused on making the world safer, but has shown little interest in making it more healthy, less poor and more environmentally sound. As a result, there has been little chance that it was going to end up safer for Americans.

"Therefore, President Bush's speech on Thursday announcing a $5 billion increase in foreign aid for poor countries is important — not only as a substantive breakthrough for this administration, but also, one hopes, as a psychological one. Since Sept. 11, President Bush has often noted that the world has fundamentally changed. Yet, time after time, he has exploited the shock of Sept. 11 to argue why his same old, pre-Sept. 11 policies were still the only way to proceed — only more so. Because of Sept. 11, he has argued, we need even deeper tax cuts for the wealthy, even more money for a pie-in-the-sky missile defense that would have been no use on Sept. 11, an even bigger defense budget and even more drilling for oil in wilderness areas....

"Mr. Bush has repeatedly told the world: If you're not with us, you're against us. He needs to remember this: The rest of the world is saying the same thing to us. "


 
Only in California
Met a woman last night who was placing her cat in a retirement home.
 
More on Japan
Yesterday turned into Japanorama: after getting back from the city, Jamais, Janice and I went to Sushi Sho (which was, quite simply, the best sushi I've ever had), then came back and watched Iron Chef and a Godzilla movie. So Japan is on my mind.

Sometimes, life is just time passing, and sometimes it’s the world transformed. The years spent in Japan working as a reporter changed everything for me.

I wrote mostly about environmental issues. I went to big conferences on the trade in endangered species, and wetlands, and the fate of Siberia’s forests; I flew to Rio to write about the “Earth Summit”; I broke some news about Japan’s Fast Breeder Reactor program that stirred up a minor controversy. I spent much time on very fast trains, in office towers and underground conference complexes, and in the company of journalists and diplomats and other peoples without a country. Surrounded by the proto-RoadWarrior accoutrements, I thought of it at the time as “Land where things Beep.” But I also lived in old capital of Nara for most of this time, within walking distance of rice paddies, forested temple hillsides and keyhole-shaped ancient burial mounds.

This produced some cognitive friction. And since thinking about the questions, Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? and What do we want? occupied way too much of my time even back then, I began to think hard about what Japan had to teach me.

One thing I realized was that trying to apply an American environmental framework to Japan was silly. Japan doesn't have anything that even vaguely resembles our conception of wilderness and hasn't since the 1600s. Indeed, the Japanese environment is one of the most heavily engineered in the world. And while the idea of nature and worship of the natural are also quite strong there, nature is not an environmental category in Japanese thinking, it's a spiritual one. The artificial beaches, robotic cats, "growing" plastic plants and computerized pets that the Japanese so love freak most Americans right the fuck out because such things offend our sense of the natural, because to us nature is very definitely a place – heck, you can drive there on the weekends.

A second thing that tweaked my head completely was the realization that, just as many Americans simultaneously believe in evolution and the literal story of biblical creation, a fair number of Japanese feel both that they are a part of the human race, who left a fairly clear prehistoric trail getting to their island AND that they were created there by the gods, that the Emperor is divine, and so on. And since much Japanese historical scholarship chose/ was forced to tread lightly around the issue of Japanese pre- and early history (people still get cut up in Japan for criticizing the Imperial household), and since that thinking resonates down into their understanding of the present day (e.g., a number of polls in the 1980s which showed that a majority of Japanese believed that they could not digest American rice), Japanese "history" is something a bit different from what we think of as history.

A third thing I came to understand is that Westerners in general, but Americans in particular, think about history in a way which is, by and large, the perspective of those for whom historical change has been non-threatening. That's simply not the case in Japan (or much of the rest of the world, for that matter). History has been deeply fucking traumatizing for the Japanese.

I think the writer William Gibson put it extremely well: "They have had one strange ride, the Japanese, and we tend to forget that.

"In 1854, with Commodore Perry's second landing, gunboat diplomacy ended 200 years of self-imposed isolation, a deliberate stretching out of the feudal dreamtime. The Japanese knew that America, not to be denied, had come knocking with the future in its hip pocket. This was the quintessential cargo-cult moment for Japan: the arrival of alien tech. Imagine the Roswell Incident as a trade mission, a successful one...

"They must all have gone briefly but thoroughly mad, then pulled it together somehow and plunged on. The Industrial Revolution came whole, in kit form: steamships, railroads, telegraphy, factories, Western medicine, the division of labor - not to mention a mechanized military and the political will to use it.
Then those Americans returned to whack Asia's first industrial society with the light of a thousand suns - twice, and very hard - and thus the War ended.

"At which point the aliens arrived in force, this time with briefcases and plans, bent on a cultural retrofit from the scorched earth up. Certain central aspects of the feudal-industrial core were left intact, while other areas of the nation's political and business culture were heavily grafted with American tissue, resulting in hybrid forms ...."

Okay, so really, I just love this sort of hyperbole.

But the larger point sticks -- most of us Americans don't really view the past as a life-or-death struggle for the existence of our nation; and none of us have seen our country turned into finely-pounded ash; and most of us can't conceive of family members starving to death. Nor have we seen our entire way of life pulled up by the roots. The Japanese have been through a social singularity, within living memory. These things fundamentally change the way you see your surroundings.

It bears thinking about. Though we’re at swim in it, and so it is often invisible to us, we’re facing our own singularity here. Things are not as they once were. The center stopped holding a while ago.

Where are we going? What do we want?

Saturday, March 16, 2002
 
Invasion of the Kogals
Wild night last night, out to bars and clubs in the Mission District with a photographer of my acquaintance. This afternoon, cruising around the city, I was stunned by how much Japanese fashion I was seeing on the streets. Not only were there mini-tribes of actual Japanese girls running around with the dyed hair and wild make-up, but I saw Japanese fashion elements -- from those big puff-boots to anime gear to a weird nurse's outfit with fishnets and a big plastic stethascope, very City of Broken Dolls/ kurashu -- everywhere.

Having spent a few years working as a journalist in Japan, I'm well aware of how essentially, how truly dynamically warped Japanese pop culture can be. But beyond the occaisional Fukasaku Kinji film, Hello Kitty vibrator ad, and Shonen Knife song on KCMU, I hadn't seen much sign of it drifting across the Pacific. I haven't been paying attention, aparently.

And then no sooner do I get home than I find a bOINGbOING link to this New Yorker story on the accelerated mutations in Kogal fashion in Harajuku. Japan's been a very odd place for a long time, as Lafcadio Hearn could've told you a century ago, but it seems to be getting weirder at an accellerating rate. Something big, nonlinear and culturally radioactive is moving beneath the waters over there, and the waves are starting to lap up on our shores. I think it's almost time for me to pay Japan another visit.
 
So I found out that I didn't get the Creative Capital grant I'd applied for. Not suprising, as there were hundreds of applicants for a handful of grants, but a sign of a lapse in judgement on their parts nonetheless.

Still, I'm a fan. Much of what Creative Capital is about parallels the work we were doing at the Fuse Foundation: attempting to provide means for extraordinarily-talented people to put forward innovative work. It's a needed, useful thing to do in the world, and there aren't enough organizations with real financial clout doing it.
Friday, March 15, 2002
 
It's been two years since I spent a real significant chunk of time in the Bay Area. The change is palpable: from ever-expanding bubble to three-day-old balloon. And it's not just the news items (like Microsoft cutting the locational bonus of its San Fran workers), or even the stock prices. It's a cultural hangover. You can feel it when you walk down the streets of the city, you hear it in the conversations of strangers, you can see it in the number of "for rent" signs. The boom that changed everything here is over and gone, and whatever's next has yet to show up.
 
Okay, now everyone wants to hop aboard the post-humanism train.

Post-humanism is the idea that medical and genetic technologies are advancing at such speed that we may soon find ourselves so changed that our connection to our own humanity is transformed. There are multiple ways this might happen. The most common, and to my mind most realistic, scenario is that lifespan extension will fairly soon have everyone (at least everyone in the developed world with good health insurance and healthful lifestyles) living to at least close to the theoretic human maximum lifespan (somewhere around 140 years). And, as Bruce Sterling says, when you live a very long time, it changes everything: your career trajectory, your family relationships, how you think about money and politics, and most of all, your sense of time.

I increasingly find the meme "post-human," unsatisfactory, because it implies a radical discontinuity where I suspect the change, if it occurs, will happen much more gradually, subject to very human political debates and in stages which are difficult to classify in morally absolute terms. Still, that's the term of art these days.

But whatever the term, changes like these demand thinkers with some actual foresight. Bruce Sterling (read, in particular, his Holy Fire), Jamais Cascio, and a host of others show how little a clue Francis Fukuyama actually has. It wasn't the end of history in 1990, and it's not the end of the world, now.
 
Jamais and Janice, my good friends and Bay Area hosts, run their own 802.11 wireless system. I'd never used one before, but I think I might already be hooked. It's insanely great to sit out on the back patio and still have a lightening-fast connection. Now I see what Cory Doctorow keeps raving about. It's the connectivity equivilant of going commando.

I want one of these, too.
 
On a completely different note, you may have heard that Belgian artist Wim DeIvoye has created, well, a poop machine. Insert your own clever comment on art's role in society here. (thanks, Jennifer)
 
Bruce Sterling is one of my favorite writers, and his Information Wants to Be Worthless is priceless. If you, like me, suspect that collaboration, smart design, transparency and networked information-sharing are neccessary components for building a future we'll want to live in, this rant about why the Net proved toxic to business will cheer you right up.

Also, the Viridian Design page ("creating irresistable demand for a global climate upgrade"), which is the official home of Bruce's Viridian Movement, is a wealth of weird and beautiful ideas. Some of my own work, like my anticipatory journalism (as I like to call my weird journalism-SF hybrid pieces) on the Ecosystem Game can be found scattered about there.
 
These cool Icosa Pods combine a state-of-emergency aesthetic with environmental sensitivity. I want one. (from bOINGbOING)
 
"We travel in hopes of a shipwreck" -- Philip Wohlstetter


Here I am, in the Bay Area, ready to start in earnest. The camels are packed: I bought a car (a beat-up old Mazda Protege, which, while it has proven to barely sip at the gas tank over hundred-mile drives, has also started to produce an assortment of odd sputters, clicks and beeps, and may have to be treated as disposable) and a laptop (the very ThinkPad I'm typing this on), threw the camping gear and an assortment of books in the trunk, and was given a great little customized road atlas by Robert and Robbyn. What more could I need?


Well, warmer clothes, for one thing. Since I was travelling South in the early Spring I made the mistaken assumption that it would get warmer, and so ended up shivering the whole night through at our cabin in Humboldt on the way down when a freak snowstorm blew in and the thermometer inside read 24 degrees at 3:30 in the morning. There's a big woolly sweater in my future, I think.

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