Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Year of the Rainbow

I'm working to make 2015 a happier, more positive year.  This is a good place to start.





Via Ted.com

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Meditations on Otherness...and Bronies

Last week on The Rumpus, Melissa Carroll (who, from the perspective of her story, is likely not far in age from me) recalled the simpler times of the 1980’s when the lives of girls were ruled by tiny plastic ponies. Pink and pretty and for girls.  She writes how her own lack of connecting to these rainbow dictators introduced her to her own differentness, and to the not-so-subtle differences between girls and boys that the toys came to represent.

I connected instantly to the picture she painted. I remember feeling different from the other girls in the presence of ponies, unable to understand the appeal, more drawn to the muscled action figures and adventure stories of my brothers and his friends. I wasn’t interested in the pastel equine cotton candy fantasy they promised.


Carroll’s piece opens up with this familiar narrative of girltoys vs boytoys and how othering that can be for some kids who are, for whatever reason, not into what they are “supposed” to be into. In playing with those toys, two different outlooks assemble. The girls with their big-eyed ponies learn to collaborate and compromise to meet their challenges.  The boys seem to learn to take any character from any story, physically slam one into the other endlessly shouting and growling until one “guy kills the other guy.”

The story also highlights the resurgence of the Pony empire. That’s right – MLP is back with a TV show and all the possible merchandising you can dream of. My own niece and nephew play with Ponies in the BatCave, like Batman, Robin and Rarity (a legit Pony name) all live in the same world; as if their worlds are not divided into boytoys and girltoys, into warmaking and peacemaking, into darkness and light.

The heart of the piece is about the new market for Ponies. Enter the Brony.

The Brony is the adult man who is into My Little Pony – but not for the creepy reasons you’d assume. In a study from last year referenced by Carroll, Bronies have embraced Pony power for a few key reasons: “to become a part of the Brony community, to escape the realities of real life, and to learn about the importance of strong friendships.”

The summary of the Brony culture is this: the world we live in is full of sadness and violence, so why not embrace positivity. Lucky for the internet, these men don’t have to be alone. Brony culture is growing and growing fast with conferences, online forums and their own set of identifying merchandise.

25 years after the ponies made me feel different, feel alone, their colorful manes are bringing together individuals who are bound together by their difference. They are othered by their refusal to see glittery pink positive dream sequences to be a girls only domain. By their choice to reject the masculinity, solitude and stoicism that young man are taught to embrace. The rise of the Brony culture allows these men to be different without having to be alone. Carroll’s article stuck out to me in a sea of words that describe war, death and tragedy around the world. I think these Ponies (and Bronies) are on the right track.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Neo’s Choice

When Neo chose the Red Pill, he acknowledged that the life he knew was meaningless.  He chose to venture into the potential nightmare of living outside the matrix, rather than continue in the world that he knew, a world that, to be fair, wasn’t that great anyway.  The dingy, depressing environment created by the Wachowskis for The Matrix fell short on sunshine and hope, which perhaps contributed to our protagonist’s choice. Why not take the chance? What could be worse than living in a (pretty crappy) world that isn’t real?

The world may very well be divided by Red Pill and Blue Pill people. Those who would jump at the chance to rid themselves of a meaningless world if given it, and those who wouldn’t humor the offer it; those who are happy to be happy even if happy isn’t real. There has always been a question of whether or not this world is real.

Philosophers, scientists, writers and filmmakers have discussed it for centuries, though maybe not in terms as reduced as a choice between red and blue.

Albert Camus, the 20th century philosopher and writer, described this choice in the allegory of Sisyphus. The difference being that Sisyphus isn’t given the option of choosing the red pill. Or even that of the blue pill. He isn’t permitted to escape the Matrix, or forget – he is bound to live inside the Matrix aware of its absurdity. The takeaway from Camus’ story is a cheery one – When you realize that life is meaningless you have three choices. 

One: Commit Suicide. The knowledge hurts too much, nothing has meaning, so end it all. (Though he is astute enough to recognize that death itself is meaningless, so the problem is not solved!)

Two: Commit a sort of philosophical suicide, meaning to pretend that you didn’t figure out that life is meaningless. Lie to yourself, maintain the charade, and maybe achieve “happiness.”

Three: Live the rest of your life (or eternity, in the case of Sisyphus) recognizing the meaninglessness of life, but keep living it. Live honestly and bravely, and maybe find real happiness in the task.

The Gods cursing you to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, or Morpheus telling you that your reality is a simulation may feel like hypotheticals, however some scientists think these thought pieces Camus’ and the Wachowskis have given us may not be that far off.

A recent New York Times article penned by Edward Frenkel asks if the universe in which we live might actually be a simulation.

Another thought experiment? Apparently not. 

In “Is the Universe a Simulation?” Frenkel highlights the immutable truths of mathematics (how scientists around the globe and across the decades reach the same mathematical conclusions, for example) as one of the tenets some scientists are using to support this hypothesis.  We did not create mathematics. Somehow mathematics already exists in our world, waiting to be discovered. How is this possible? How is math the same across cultures and generations? How is math already here?  

One creepy and awesome theory goes like this: the computer programmer of the future has built a simulation (our world).  When we “discover” mathematic formulas, really we are just uncovering bits and pieces of planted code in the simulation. 

Ammiright?

 You may not take kindly to the idea of living inside a real “Matrix,” or consider the concept far-fetched, but some scientists say that the probability is actually quite good. Frenkel paraphrases Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom on the subject:

“Bostrom has argued that we are more likely to be in such a simulation than not. If such simulations are possible in theory, he reason, then eventually humans will create them – Presumably many of them. If this is so, in time there will be many more simulated worlds than nonsimulated ones. Statistically speaking, therefore, we are more likely to be living in a simulated world than in the real one.”

For me, the reality of this world doesn’t matter. Would a simulated universe make my coffee less soothing, my friends less caring, my partner’s eyes less blue? I know what I know, and in that case, “real” is indefinable. Even in meaninglessness, we can all choose to find happiness. In Camus’ words:

“Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”




Friday, February 7, 2014

Measuring Achievement in the Midst of Winter

Chicago's winter can be harsh. This year seems to be challenging even the most hard-core of Chicago's winter-lovers. The snow this season has accumulated in beautiful puffy piles that swiftly transform into inches-deep obstacles of grayish slush, hungrily waiting to swallow your boots whole. Some days, the sun has shone brightly, attempting to mask temperature dips so severe that schools and businesses closed to encourage us to stay safely indoors.

The winter anecdotally brings on the blues in a lot of people, and this mega-winter seems to be bringing on the mega-blues. For me, the winter is only partly the sources of the blues.  Its mostly that the winter came post-marathon.

In my absence from the blog I haven't shared much about the marathon. Here it is, in short:

My friends are awesome (those that ran with me, and those that supported me along the course).
The weather was undeniably perfect.
My girlfriend probably ran her own marathon chasing me around the city.
My sister, niece and nephew cheered me on with adorableness and big signs.
26.2 miles is long.
26.2 miles is boring.
After 26.2 miles you are pretty tired.
The next day you feel sore.
You may also feel sad.

After years and years of running, and meeting every goal - from that first mile, to those 26.2 in October - finishing the marathon sort of felt like the end of the climb. There is no higher to go. Of course I'm aware that there is, including faster times and longer races, but for a weekend racer, training for the marathon was a massive time commitment that won't easily be achieved again.

After the marathon, I had some trouble getting motivated. The holidays hit, things got busy with work, and getting back on the treadmill for 2 or 3 miles seemed sort of pointless without an end goal.  

Running the marathon was supposed to feel awesome - was supposed to feel like a life accomplishment, but really it just reminded me that sometimes the best hobbies or goals are the ones that remain unachieved. The ones that change and evolve and are measured in progress and growth. 

As I pull my hat down over my ears and stomp through inches of slush attacking my boots, I start to collect ideas of what's next. To look for a goal that can grow with me. A goal that I can't leave behind like a finish line. In the meantime, I might as well go to the gym - I think better on a run, anyway. 



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eliot the Cat Gets an iPhone 5S

Now that I know that he can access the finger-print security pad, I see no reason to withhold any longer.

Eliot has always been a technophile. Here he harnesses
the sun's light to fuel future activity.




Check out the TechCrunch article about the new iPhone 5S's super loosy goosy touch pad here.

(Isn't it cute how the iPhone user gives the cat a little good job paw rub at the end?)

Monday, September 16, 2013

More on Gen-Y

This is Lucy.
www.waitbutwhy.com

In my previous post about the Y Generation, I separated out "Millennials" as group a little bit younger than myself (born in the 90s, perhaps). This humorous article extrapolates on why Gen Y is a sad generation. Broken down, it seems that our ambitions and undeserved superiority make "regular" life feel inadequate. Is it true? You decide.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Disconnection of Constant Connection

My generation moved from low-tech (or tech free) to high tech seamlessly. When I say "my generation" I recognize that there may be some debate about who falls into this group. I readily accept that Gen X ended in the 70's. The generation that came after (some say 77-94) is often called the Millenials. Although I was born in 1982, the idea of being group in with "Millenials" terrifies me.  Us early 80's babies have almost nothing in common with the early 90's babies. So, I suppose that makes me Gen Y, if that is such a thing.

Part of this differentiation comes from our experience with technology.  As an 80s baby, I remember when we first got the new and tiny internet, I got my first cell phone in college and avidly used Friendster and MySpace in my 20s before Facebook was ever born.

My generation grew up without these technologies, but were young enough to accept them as they were introduced. We took to cell phones, tablets and social networking slightly faster than our older siblings, but had a memory of walkmans, fax machines and typewriters that our younger siblings did not.

I was in middle school when I got hooked on AOL Instant Messenger, the precursor to a lot of the social media that I eventually got hooked on. As social websites evolved, I stuck with it.  I loved connecting with friends who had moved away, promoting my writing ventures, and using the hive-mind those applications collect to make decisions for me (What movie should I see tonight?), but recently I started to pull back. Perhaps it's the memory of what once was that has been causing me trouble.

When I close my eyes, I remember debates about movie characters that were not solved instantaneously with Wikipedia. I remember writing and receiving long emails and even paper letters full of details of friend's lives, rather than skimming their About Me sections, and receiving phone calls of good news rather than reading about a Relationship Status change on my cell phone while I wait for the train. I remember waiting to hear a song on the radio - and excitedly blasting it in the car - instead of just downloading everything I want whenever I want.

The happiness and energy that I used to feel being connected to so many people and their lives all the time has faded. The more I read about my friends and acquaintances online, the more distant I feel. My phone rarely rings. My emails are all deals and promotions. Friend post funny stories on my wall, instead of telling me in person. Happy hour plans are made electronically.

I think the recognition that this sort of constant communication leaves all of us out of touch is something Millenials might not be able to feel. They have always had everything at their fingertips. They have never gone 5 years without seeing the faces of their friends.  The memory of what once was makes this reality a little harder to accept. I think this is the feeling our parents (and their parents) have always tried to communicate to us with all of their "back in my day" stories.

The good thing is that getting back to the connections and communications that I remember isn't that hard. When I have a funny story to tell you, I'll call. When you see something online that reminds you of me, send it in an email. Cut out a magazine article and mail it. Let's ask each other how we are doing rather then gleaning each other's moods from our newsfeeds.

I'm a Gen Yer. That means that technology is a part of my life (a part that I love) - but that also means that I came of age during a simpler time. A time when people connected in person, and we shared our good news with our family and closest friends before we told everyone we've ever met with the click of a mouse.

Maybe by disconnecting a little we can all feel more connected.


This post from buzzfeed actually addresses this gap a little bit.