parallel economy and purpose

We do not quite grasp yet the ways infotech and biotech will shape humanity by the middle of this century, and we are already struggling to find a political model for the world of today. Those two observations taken together, project a somehow alarming view of our immediate future. It sounds like we are walking over a narrow railway bridge and we already see the train coming round the hill towards us.

The most shocking foresight confront us with a near future where most of humankind will be of no use to society. Where all we will need will be procured by thinking machines. And at best only few of us will be needed to get that wave started and moving. A world with an almost full unemployment is something no known culture, religion or political system is able to envision and to cope with.

If liberalism, nationalism, Islam or some novel creed wishes to shape the world of the year 2050, it will need not only to make sense of artificial intelligence, Big Data algorithms and bioengineering–it will also need to incorporate them into a new meaningful narrative.

“21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, Yuval Noah Harari

A world with almost full unemployment will also face the need to redefine currency; exchange will lose meaning if no one can be of use to society. If all everyone needs is provided for by a horde of autonomous machines, we will have nothing of value in our hands to exchange for those goods. Some higher authority will decide at some point what we get and what we do not get. 

So here we are, the last generation of a worldview that endured many millennia, saw many wars, reached unparalleled prosperity, and finally, was left in stupor looking at a future for what no explanation was available. No wonder we stick our heads under the ground—in diversion. In this state of bliss, let me adventure a model of economy for the end of the century.

Human centric professions and jobs will likely be needed, at least until we can develop affection with machines and we can be fooled to believe they correspond us. But apart of those, it is difficult to think of what professions may be required thirty years form now. Our needs satisfied, yet not clear how are we meant to pay for them, but restless like an early retirement nightmare that starts at the end of our education, if we need such thing any more.

Yet we will, once more, adapt and survive. We will start creating with our hands again. Craftsmanship will be reborn. And all that what we will do with our hands, rescuing wisdom of old, recreating old technologies and old methods long forgotten, will become value, will become currency. And our work will once more become our source of pride and will produce us pleasure. We will exchange once more goods. Goods in a parallel economy with an inherent value equivalent to the time and the energy we will put in our creations, but most importantly yet, the passion and love that we will put in them too.

down the horse shoe

Like often happens, humanity met the internet in the shape of a horseshoe. Those who first used it were the top good fellows in universities and military and the top bad guys in criminal rings. It went down to the point the most of us started using it in the nineties and at some point well into this century it reached the bottom where crocks and idiots got into it.

materialized dreams

Sometimes we wake up with a fleeing memory of our dreams. Dreams are also our most longed for feats. We dream at night and we daydream too; Both are necessary for good psychological reasons.

There are though other and more obscure dreams that haunt us both at day and night. Those dreams come often with a panoply of ghosts that we have become acquainted with at some point of time in our lives. Since then, they follow us, sometimes close by, and sometimes at a distance. They aren’t fleeing, nor pleasant, but persistent and inquisitive; Opportunists that prey on us when we are most in need of reassurance.

Those dreams take often embodiment in objects we greed. Not as much as a mockery, but as a cynical gest. They materialize in those cars some of us dream of and few of us own. Owning is indeed a funny way to see this; for it is not obvious who is here taking possession of who.

And car makers excel in anticipating shapes and symbols that may appeal to those hidden dreams. Shapes and symbols impressed in ever larger gnawing front grills, malevolent squinting headlamps, sharp shoulders that show an incredible impossibly powerful muscular tension. All in all as if they would be going to devour us at any moment, like demons on judgement day.

Shapes that convey subtle and not so subtle messages of violence, aggression, supremacy, domination, fear, anger. Those ghosts that isolate us and make us monsters. Monsters on wheels.

ephemeral tolerance

We live times of loud voices and bold stances. Times where the narcissist and the idiot find fertile ground to make themselves comfortable and every body around uncomfortable. These are times where those who see less and comprehend still less, strive with simplistic attitudes and weltanschauung.

Wars and catastrophic events bring in their aftermath the best of humankind together to mend those horrors. As soon as peace and order are reestablished, generations spawn that take goodness for granted and fall in a vicious circle of complacency. The sense of community slowly erodes. Fences are built. Mistrust falls over the people like thin dust in expanding waves. We begin to close into ourselves in reaction to this environment. We fall to the vices of becoming “we” against “them”. Dialogue will dry out to give way to words thrown as arrows, avoided or parried.

We become, day by day, a more fragile version of ourselves. More fearful. We see more threats. We become immersed in a slow but penetrating process of destruction of the “I, social” in spite of the “I, lone wolf”. Every time one abusive driver is on the road doing his shenanigans, everyone nearby raises a notch in their pool of discomfort. Every time a neighbor abuses shared space, everyone else looses a portion of their tolerance and willingness to cohabiting. Every time… small aggressions that stack and split us apart, not only apart from the aggressors but also apart from everybody around us; we are bathed in the dust of mistrust. One particle at a time.

our society is dying at the push of a buttton

Back in the first years of Apple, a paradigm change started a revolution. The term User Experience was coined. And with it all the complexity of a computer would be made invisible to the user in a turn of events that would give raise to the User Centered Design.

The User had only to bother pushing a button and a number of agents would take action to handle a complex amount of transactions between hardware and software to provide a response. In a sort of way, that was the end of computer programming for everyone. Nobody needed to bother doing that anymore.

But we are no longer just using computers. We are using computers to use the world. The obscured and complex code and engineering now engages with people, resources, civics, communities and ecosystems.

Kevin Slavin

The success of this model—at the time confined to a personal computer—has in the last few years spilled out of it and in our society. The User has only to push a button and a number of people, together with hardware and software, are magically set in motion. Very likely not in a way we would consider as honorable, would be know of it.

A cook, a bicyclist, a warehouse worker, a cab driver, a courier, a growing list of people are becoming a piece of living hardware connected to a button in our smartphone. A list that one day may include us all, in a huge “Amazon Mechanical Turk” that may turn our society into a dystopian nightmare.

demystifying the crisis of truth before we set the world in fire

If one word is traveling the world today, it is fake-news. A wrap-word that can take many meanings. A word that can express rebellion, doom, frustration, confusion, hopelessness, protest, disagreement.

Discussions will soon lead us to the word truth. And to the premise that there is not such thing as truth or fact, that all is relative to the observer. Further looking for a place where to settle a standpoint in a world that all of a sudden has no ground, we will try to set foot with scientists: they know the truth and facts after all! But then again, history proves they don’t always.

Soon we reach a point where by lack of foothold we cannot help but start to give into those transgressive words about the lack of truth and facts. And here is the point when we fall down the rabbit hole of our days. Here is were populists want to have us: lost, and vulnerable to an attack straight into the deepest convictions of our culture and society.

We fail to identify and comprehend what truth and facts are. And through this breach in our integrity, our hopes and ingenuity get lost. We stop being humans to become fearful crippled creatures under the lash of an overlord. Shadows of what we were born to, of what we can reach.

We fail to see that we are all navigating the world in search of more knowledge. That scientists, do not hold THE truth or THE facts but design models and hypothesis based on limited facts. Models and hypothesis that may later on, in light of new facts, be proven too simple to reflect reality. We fail to see that the world is complex and interrelated. And that we know yet too little to arrogantly demand A TRUTH. We need to return to our natural inborn curiosity and keep trying to understand reality.

We have become intoxicated by the vapors of science and technology, to believe that there is a response already available for all things. That politicians or states know it but hide it from us, and that Google and YouTube can tell us the truth. The liberating truth. And through this act of rebellion, we join the lines of brainless wraths, dancing mindlessly at the tune of the craziest (opportunist) of the time.

the purchase of a ladder

it was a rush purchase, lacking the lust of ritual, Saturday morning, after unsuccessfully having tried for one hour to drill a damn hole through steel reinforced concrete in the ceiling above my dinner table, standing atop a stool and a chair, my back hurting. It was an aluminum ladder wrapped in transparent plastic and with a user’s handbook larger than my computer’s. The right working height: 2,65 m taking in consideration my height as detailed in the appendix table of the users’ handbook.

Coming from Spain and at a time when you could affordably find somebody who would hang a ceiling lamp in your house, to Germany where I wonder if you can actually find someone who would come to your place to drill a hole, not to mention how much that would cost me, I still sometimes can feel the sting of customs.

It was in the end of the nineties when I bought a small apartment in Barcelona that had one wall too much and employed a “carpenter” who came every day from the other side of the city in the tube (tools and all), worked the whole day as I was in the office, and even managed to carry away the debris of the wall back to his place, or who knows where. In the tube.

Back then, I never entertained the idea of buying a ladder, nor I would know what use could I find for such bulky contraption.

I was obviously unprepared to the hardships of Germany, and even worse equipped to withstand the critical eye of my dear German wife in what relates to house improvement abilities and capabilities. Generations of skilled men in her family modelled a DNA signature, incompatible with the sight of me atop a stool, stretched arms, sweating and panting like a Spanish bull would have been chasing me around the block, unsuccessfully trying to drill through that tough, well-built, DIN, ISO and all, steel reinforced concrete ceiling.

I wonder if the purchase of  a ladder would be something to celebrate. Something you would do when you come of age and you move away from home. The beginning of a long friendship.

My lamp is finally hanging. Somehow in the right spot.

i can have it but i cannot enjoy it

the last warmth feels trough my cupping hands as with closed eyes I inhale the last scent of coffee. The buzz of the coffeeshop in the background envelopes me. My mind is empty for a few seconds trying to capture all this sensorial wealth.

How many people are right now finishing a cup of coffee in the world? and how many people are taking the time to appreciate this moment? And by extension to appreciate the sheer size of cultural, technological, and economical advances that enable us the feats of growing the beans, bringing them over here, inventing and manufacturing the coffee machine and firing the porcelain cups.

Indeed, everything we do, carries a large legacy and thinking of it is overwhelming if not mind-blowing. And it all is brought to us in such an easy way. So affordable. So ubiquitous. We almost forget the value of those things we encounter everyday. We are too much hyped with our hopes, frustrations and anxieties, with our projects and aspirations that we rush through the day oblivious to a myriad things that happen all around us.

Ultimately we swallow the espresso coffee whilst eyeing the watch and with our thoughts in the meeting we will start in five minutes. All that sensorial exuberance would never reach our awareness. How many things can our wealthy lifestyle afford us that we fail to even notice? as we busy ourselves through life. Blind, deaf, numb.

it cannot get worse

so why not voting to the party of Beppe Grillo in the next Italian elections? hypothesises the patron of my dearest luncheon place.

As regrettable as it is that some politicians would abuse the trust we place on them and fall to corruption, there are many others who do a good job. A democracy is not given, like oxygen in the air. A democracy needs a great deal of keeping. And yes, it can get worse. It can get way worse. Italy, with all its political corruption and problems, is a democracy in the EU. Many countries would give all they have to be in Italy’s place in the global politics.

We citizens with our rights and duties, have to now and then spare a thought on the delicate and yet strong balance of institutions that make up the political statu quo of our democracies. It is but for the ingenuity and effort of thousands of people and the legacy of other thousands that we have functioning countries to live in. That we are entitled to the rule of law. That we have roads and railroads, streets and street lighting, police and firefighters, hospitals and medical doctors, electricity, water and heating in our houses.

We have a great responsibility to care for what have been given to our generation, after centuries of fight and sacrifice, for each and every right we enjoy nowadays. Hence, yes, it can go way worse. It never was, and it is not today neither the time for complacency nor for voting questionable demagogues. We have already one too many of those in the world.

“Beppe Grillo, leader of the populist Five Star Movement in Italy, prides himself on his ridicule of the parliamentary system. Yet while his anti-establishment rhetoric sounds appealing, at heart it’s actually anti-democratic. And very similar to that of an infamous Italian from the past.”

Der Spiegel (March 15th, 2013)

becoming invisible

In former times, the worst possible punishment a society could impose on an individual was being sentenced to invisibility. Ayla was thus sentenced by her clan in Jean Marie Auel’s “The clan of the cave bear“. Without the support of the cavemen society, life would normally meet an end for a social being as the Neanderthal were. Our strength lays in social interaction and thus our survival. It is hence no wonder that social isolation afflict us in a special irreflexive way today.

One widespread mode of social isolation is what elderly experience as they pass the age when they are regarded as “customers”. In a capitalist economical system—as well as the communist implementation that history records (E. Fromm), an individual may be regarded as a customer as long as this individual will actively engage in economical activities by exchanging money for services and goods. As long as each of us is seen as a potential customer we do enjoy social awareness and we feel part of the whole. But as soon as we come to fit into the type of individual that is no more seen as a potential customer, society will loose interest on us, up to the point when we will feel socially isolated. It is often for this reason that people reaching their retirement age will feel anxiety and look for workarounds to still feel useful and part of the society.

It is unfortunate and a sign of our shortcomings as a society, that we let our elderly live their life in anxiety. Those people who built the world we are now living on. That created the basement of what things we are today ourselves building. We should be reminded that this fate is waiting for all of us “customers” too, unless we start doing something about it now.

There is an untapped potential in our elderly, waiting for us to channel it. Our mobile and modern lifestyle rendered them away from the traditional family environment, but our technology can bring them back where they always belonged for a very needed role that our children today, as much as ever, long and need in order to grow as whole persons.