December 31, 2013

Parenting. And Memories.

How different would our parenting and conversations with our kids be, if we remembered - truly remembered - what it was like when we were their age: how we felt, what we spent our time doing and thinking about, what impacted us.

Is our forgetting a good thing? An evolutionary thing that allows us to grow and change?  Is it so that parent and child go through the necessary boundary setting and struggles generation after generation?

Or is it an imperfection?

On Humanity and Artificial Intelligence

I've been thinking a lot about robots and artificial intelligence - and also the way that big data can one day be applied to predict, optimize and reduce uncertainty - and our humanity in past weeks.

Last week, I read a Slate article entitled "I, Frankenstein," about the animal-like creations of the robotics company recently acquired by Google and how viscerally disturbing it was to see their extraordinarily human-like movements.

I'm also reading The Power of Myth.  There is a passage about a central mythology, that pops up as a theme in Star Wars but also in Goethe and Faust and many others that: 

"[T]echnology is not going to save us ['trust your feeeeelings Luke']. 
Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. 
We have to rely on our intuition."

But the fear, when we see these life-like robots and when we reduce feelings/tendencies/thinking to programmable algorithms, is what if this passage is wrong? Or what if this mythology is changing? What if they are our true being. . . ?

We're going to be implanting computers and chips and wearing technology soon - in ways more integrated with our body than ever before.

As the reality of our science begins to approximate what a short while ago was science-fiction - from Star Trek, I Robot, Terminator - it brings up dystopian anxieties and fears.  And questions.

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile.”

Detective Spooner: Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you are just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a... canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
Sonny: Can *you*?

In some ways this is a natural evolution.  A hallmark of our species - and a main contributor to our dominant position on this planet - has been our ability to harness and command technologies.

But is it changing what it is to be human?

And what is it to be human?

Whoa. I think I just hurt my brain.

December 30, 2013

The Good Men Project: Lead Like a Super Hero

My latest article at The Good Men Project, gleaning leadership advice from Super Heroes (and Super Villains)!

Seems I have a thing for super heroes.

December 29, 2013

We Are What We Post

We write. We post. We share. We comment.


To think. To participate. To support. To remember. To smile together. To laugh. To interact. To discover. To forge connections. To share ideas. And ideals. To collect little tidbits of truth in our search for meaning. To take someone’s thought, and twist it a bit, layer something new on top of it, and cross-apply it to another thing. To synthesize. To build bonds. To create something from the nothing.

*          *          *

We live in an unprecedented era of communication. The Internet and social media have given each of us the ability not only to consume massive swaths of information but also to actively and interactively participate in the dialogue ourselves. We have all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips– history, music, science, movies, literature, the best drinking spots in Playa del Carmen. And we can share the moments of our own lives and peer through a window into those of our friends far and wide – in pictures, in videos, in thoughts and ideas – all with the click of a button.

My Twitter feed embodies this. At any time of day or night, you can scroll through this ever-changing up-to-the-millisecond list of thousands upon thousands of people’s thoughts, blog posts, articles, and videos. Consume to your hearts content. Share other people’s thoughts. Add your own voice. Spread ideas. Connect with people you know. Or don’t know.

But the promise of the Internet to raise us all up, to be the great unifier, flattener, democratizer, and educator has fallen short. In retrospect, the reason for this is simple:

The Internet is a network of us.

It is limited by us; by who we are.

*          *          *

And just who are we?

Well, its not all that pretty, my friends.

For starters, we are the people whose top most searched items in 2013 included “twerking,” “Miley Cyrus,” and the Kardashians.  So while all of civilization’s knowledge is there to be had, we’re generally not looking for it.

We often emphasize our differences rather than our commonalities. The proliferation of news channels and Internet sources has not led to a more open world, but a narrower one. We self-select the news and feeds that most align with our point of view. On Facebook, on Twitter, on the cable news shows we watch. With no need to provide a balanced point of view and with ratings fueled by the opposite, Fox News and CNBC each cater to their own. The result is a world that is more politically polarized than ever.

As a corollary, we also are engaging in less dialogue than ever. A recent Atlantic Monthly Magazine article, entitled Saving the Lost Art of Conversation, lamented that all this technology has created much talking – we are all talking at each other – but what we are losing is the art of conversation, of true dialogue: “We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem . . . is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.”

And we can be mean and nasty and spiteful. Every time I walk through Penn Station at rush hour, I become more and more convinced that people intend to, choose to, and in fact enjoy dropping that shoulder into a passerby in the crowded station. It’s a purposeful taking out of some aggression and angst.

And this mean streak is even more pronounced online. We have a tendency to be snippy and snarky. There is an odd thrill and energy from expressing aggressive outrage in clever little bit sized bits. I’m guilty of it myself.  You probably are too. That feeling you get after concocting a clever bit of snarkyness is undeniably satisfying. And the scratch-the-itch feeling grows as the Likes and ReTweets accumulate.

All over, the tone of posts and comments and interactions often tends towards one of snarkyness more so than civilized discourse. Discourse is boring. It requires a deeper look and an attention span than runs contrary to the way that we are interacting online.

Even worse, anonymous Internet message-boards and the comment spaces after articles brim with vitriolic speech. There is a virtual piling on in response to behaviors or thoughts or politics with which one disagrees. Twitter can be a launching pad for broadcasting hateful small-minded attacks, which sometimes cascade into what feels like the digital equivalent of an angry lynch mob. (“The immediacy and fast pace of the Internet can be magical. But when someone makes a comment that the masses disagree with, a mob with 140-character pitchforks can develop in seconds and the Internet can become terrifyingly bellicose.”)  Case in point, the “Justine Sacco Twitter Incident” and the “reporting” of it by the Internet “news” outlets.

*          *          *
Are we so base, so ugly, so mean, and so cruel? Or is it the medium itself; some network effect where giving everyone a voice and the ability to quickly spread messages sends us racing to the bottom?

Can we blame the medium? When the Internet is merely a network made up of all of us, it seems tough to do. But today’s technologies do provide a platform for publication and dissemination of ideas that can accelerate and magnify our behaviors, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

The Internet as a prism for focusing mob tendencies and rapidly spreading their virulence is a scary thing. The Internet as a snark amplifier – elevating the art of the clever takedown over dialogue – is a sad thing.

It’s a glimpse of the monster. And it is us.
It should take us aback and give us pause.

December 25, 2013

Blue on Blue

I just wanted to share this picture from the southern-most point of Isla Mujeres, which is also the eastern-most point in Mexico, where the sun rises each day.

A gorgeous day:

December 21, 2013

Good Men Project: Pick Up Basketball Article

This is my latest article for the Sports Section of The Good Men Project.  It discusses a bit about pick-up basketball games and why we play.  Enjoy!

December 17, 2013

Good Men Project: Little League Baseball Article

Recently, I was offered a Sports Editor position at the Good Men Project, an online magazine that hopes to offer "a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century" by "explor[ing] the world of men and manhood in a way that no media company ever has, tackling the issues and questions that are most relevant to men's lives."

I love the site's point of view, and I'm thrilled and honored to have this opportunity to write more and to contribute to the best "conversation that no one else is having."

This is my first article in their Sports Section: The Dog Days of Little League.

December 14, 2013

Games People Play - The Team Selfie Photo Scavenger Hunt - A New Game, I Think

This is a competitive team-selfie-photo- scavenger hunt. 

·        There is no need to leave the house.  So don’t.  Unless you want to freeze.

·        There is no prize.  Only glory.  And the winning team gets to post its pictures on Instagram and tag it as #winning #instacool #instascavengerhunt. 

·        Maybe we’ll give you some M&Ms.  But probably not. 

·        Hopefully, its fun.  That’s kind of the point.  #duh

The Five Rules

1.     The idea is that each team will use one camera or smartphone to take pictures of the following things within the amount of time we give you. 

2.     Every member of your team MUST be in every picture.

3.     Ties will broken depending on the goofiness and fun level of your pictures, as decided solely by me.  You want your pictures to ROCK.

4.     No cheating by listening in or following other teams around.

5.     No complaining about other teams cheating or pretty much anything.  We don’t want to hear it.

You Are Searching For The Following: 
1. A baby picture.
2. A piece of Impressionist art.
3. Something that comes from Japan.
4. Some piece of soccer gear.
5. A spicy food or sauce.
6. A dessert (not snacks like chocolate or chips)
7. Something that reminds you of or is about SCIENCE
8. A wonderful children’s storybook.
9. Exercise equipment or gear.
10. A stuffed animal, but not a bear or dog.
11. A real animal.
12. A musical instrument
13. The most terrifying thing you can find.

December 12, 2013

The Great Big Sub-Urban (Online) Dictionary 1.0

"Historigorical" - A blend of historical fact and allegory.

Herbert: Do you believe the Bible is real or made up?
Fred: Hmmm.  In truth, I think the Bible is historigorical.

"Democrapitalism" - Political and economic system based on democracy-tinged capitalism.

Barack: The banks got more money, with no oversight and no strings attached.  Too big to fail, I guess.
Stewart: It's the democrapitalisic way.

"High Prick-Through-Rate" - A description of an online post or article that is intentionally inflammatory or controversial for the express purpose of generating page views.

Cindy: Man, that article pissed me off.  So polarizing.  Misleading offensive title.  No supporting evidence. And the point of view smacks of generating controversy for the sake of controversy.
Biff: I agree.  High Prick-Through-Rate though.