Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Information Addict

I walked behind her, the city swirling in the human ejecta that had arrived predictably from the office buildings as the workday drew to a close. She brushed awkwardly against the tide of pedestrian traffic, distracted,  her honey brown hair swinging. The leather satchel hung heavily from her shoulder, making the task at hand that much more difficult. Her secondary goals were to catch the train, to cross the busy streets, but her primary focus right now, in the bustle of the busiest city street was her smartphone. She held it out like a compass, engaged in a pressing conversation. I saw the blurs of blue and green as she dodged the passers by - the telling hues of the Android SMS app.  I stared at her golden hoop earring, mesmerized, as it swayed all of its own accord with the rhythm of the street. 

It seemed almost comical, to watch somebody furiously engaged in texting, in this peculiar form of social interaction, in the middle of a million people.  I began to wonder, what is it that makes us so obsessed? And then I realised. She was suffering from the same malady that I do - and that you probably do too. She was a junkie. She was addicted to something, something powerful, intoxicating, something that we all crave with incredible reckless abandon. She was an information addict.

The world that we live in now is steeped in information. Spectacular images are everywhere, whizzing by us on buses, flickering at us from neon signs. Motivating quotations and inspiring sayings are co-opted into advertisements. We can take a photo or a video of anything we see and share it with billions of strangers. I can take any place in the city, and find out fifty different opinions of it. There are millions and millions  of social media status updates posted each day, ranging across the whole range of humanity, from the pornographic, through the thoughtful, banal, the humorous and the bizarre. All of this informaiton is available to us, and our computers at any time. The whole body of human knowledge is, more or less, accessible from the pocket of the average pair of blue jeans. And those jeans are periodically buzzing.

I arrived at my hotel, and sat down in the lobby. With a quick Google search for the date and venue, I quickly  found the three events that had taken place at the hotel that day. From there, I could find the hashtags used for those events, and there, right before me, streamed a whole series of updates from the attendees - a Building Industry Management course, a meeting of the Australian Press Club, and a business lunch from the CEO of Google Australia, talking about the importance of moving business models from the traditional to the online. All of these conversations, like information ghosts, relics of the events that I had not attended that day - I could conjure them out of the air. I could read the ideas, the disagreements, the inside jokes. Meet the people, read their profiles, their histories.  I looked around at the real life people sitting in the lobby, many of them just as I was, alone and engaged with their smartphones. Having meaningful interactions, with people far, far away from the silver and gold gleaming metal hotel reception.

Outside of hunger for food and lust for reproduction, the thing that we all crave the most, is knowledge. And operational knowledge comes from one thing - analysing information. Just like the sweetness of sugar, the heady sense of dopamine that we get from consuming information is a precursor - it's a sign that something good is coming. Consuming information pleases our brains, it gives us a reassuring sense of insight, it tells us that we could possibly gain something from this interaction. It gives us something to look forward to. Just like the sweetness on the tongue is an indication of impending calories, useful calories, the consumption of information is the first step to actually knowing something. And knowing something can be remarkably powerful - it could, after all lead to reproduction or acquisition of food or other resources. It's all about the knowing of things, this is what we want. And this is why we are all engaged, so recklessly, often at our own peril, in consumption of the endless banquet of information that we have before us.

Just like processed food, and the glut of readily available calories have caused so many of us to become obese, and unhealthy (In fact, there are more people on the planet today suffering from the consequences of too much food, rather than too little), isn't it possible that this massive oversupply of readily available information is going to cause us unhappiness? Is consuming all this information actually harmless?

Look at the growth in conspiracy theory. It goes directly to the dopamine center of the brain, by fuelling the ego of the conspiracy theorist. Because they alone, know something that nobody else knows, that the Rothschilds are controlling the weather, or that lizard people live inside the hollow Earth controlling all the illuminati. It's like a kind of tasty, promising fast food consumption, and one that doesn't' swell the waistline, but the head. Wake up sheeple!

I have spent my entire life, like lots of us, working with information. Trying to find ways to manage it appropriately, to connect people with meaningful information, to help people to get a handle on this information volume problem, and I am slowly coming around to the realization that excess information consumption is most definitely problematic.

Some of the issues include our inability to process the"right" kinds of information - a kind of signal to noise problem. But other issues arise from the fact that our models that we have evolved for processing this information are largely cracking under the pressure. Our society has not evolved mechanisms to cope with this massive influx of information. Our governance systems and leadership models are failing us, not because we don't know things, but because we do.  Twitter watching, Poll obsessed politicians drive at optimizing policies for the niche case of voters likely to turn an election, rather than providing any kind of meaningful guidance. Internet special interest groups are soliciting for email lists much faster than they are for policies.

We have evolved a brain that is wired for ideas. It's wired to listen to them, to turn them over, to look for patterns, and to combine them with other ideas. And like all natural systems, these systems are prone to corruption. Just like a raven will adapt to the garbage bin, and shift his diet from bugs to fries, the human pattern matching algorithm will just as happily follow an endless stream of amusing photographs on a tumblr site. We've all done it. It's fun.

But is it healthy?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Brush Strokes

What she meant was never clear. As she stumbled, in suspended animation, her long hair falling despondently ahead of her into the chasm that opened before her, the garbled sentiment seemed heartfelt and intensely personal. Hoping she'd be the one to plant herself on in. The draining, collapsing of a worldview and creative consciousness as she dropped, inch by tentative inch, a perfectly transcendental descent.

After the fall, the world completely transfixed itself around change. Every day, the change was present, like a stalker, constant, enforcing it's nebulousness - it's constant, incessant presence. Always. Nothing was the same. She was never the person she could have been. The kind of person that she was always poised to become. Those memories lingered, not with the breadth of potential that they held in precognizant times, but with the bitter residual momentum of difference. His dreams held her aloft, strained to push against her 'real' self, not the calculated, difficult and ingratiatingly rational person that had emerged.

His brush filled the canvas with the same broad, bold, flourishes of acrid desert colors. The dangerousness of the elements, brought through the loneliness of change, sprang from the canvas, his whole self forcing against him, while she lay idly in the background, the orderly collection of reconciled dockets and spreadsheets, the stapler fixing with formulated guard. He stabbed the brush in forceful moments, in time with the meticulous sound of the stapling.

He would remember how the real person, the wife-that-was would dance. And slovenly collapse on his arm at the end of the evening, sweaty and sated with lustful desire, fuelled by lines of coke, and a fierce compulsion to create, and build, and fuck and shine. He could still see her, trying to afix the disco ball to the stairwell wall, stunned by the sparkles cascading from out in the open hallway. Precariously balanced on the railing, still wearing a shapely black evening dress hitched up to her waist. Alternating between a serious effort, and collapsing into fits of giggles. He walked up the stairs and scooped her up as if she were nothing, her mock protests fading as he carried them up to the second floor, becoming more and more the focus of her scattered attention...

The morning opened, as they all did these days, with the stark violation of his forcefully created reality. It was real. Not a dream. She was gone. He rolled over to the place in the bed where he insisted she was. Nothing.

The shade of awning kept the morning light from intriguing into her early morning ritual. One bowl of cereal, with precisely 27 raisins. The CD player playing The Police's Synchronicity as each raisin was counted and individually placed into the bowl. The milk was in a precisely measured white jug, placed at a calculated angle from the bowl. One, two, three.

Each moment of her existence was now a measure, a careful, momentary rational continuance of the previous reasonable process. The things that brought her pleasure had changed. Pleasure itself had changed. Change. These thoughts came not from her, for the very notion of contemplating order was no longer part of the world. These thoughts He had to think for her-that-was. He had to feel the frustration for her. And he did. For them all - for the three of them.

He wanted to make something sweet. Blood and soil, a maple tree. Make something good. He was changing. Changed. He staggered past canvases, hers long since dry, and his still wet, their works co-habitual places staring at each other, eying each other with a conjoined creativity that no longer existed in the dimension of time. He paused at a sculpture carved from her hand, a soapstone monument to the curves that first brought his eyes to light on her.

Chided, still woozy and struck from the shock, and the surprise that it still hurt, he felt a brief moment of self-indulgent, wicked delight at their misfortune. A pang of ringing satisfaction at his own personal torment. The reality, the starkness, was precisely the thing that drove him, and him alone. Nobody else could know.

He knocked on the kitchen door, as he did every morning.

"Who is it?" Her voice was lilting, but emotionless.

"It's me." The ritual.

"Very well, you may enter"

He shuffled into the kitchen, shuddered, and stretched carefully. She regarded him as a barely tolerable intrusion into the structured morning.

She sat, dressed serenely, brown bread and sensible shoes. He loved her, both of her, The she-she-was, and the she-she-shall-become. He made coffee, carefully engaged, head down.

Raisins plopping into the bowl.

Sting sings "Wrapped around your finger"

Monday, April 30, 2012

Blessed are the ListMakers

This is a post from my morning pages completed at http://750words.com. These early posts are frequently disconnected, semi-cohesive train-of-thought ramblings, and they very seldom see the light of day. I recently re-read this entry from September last year and it resonated a bit with me - perhaps because it is a product of my sleep-fogged brain. If you're interested in writing, sign up and get started writing your own 750 words a day. It's kind of fun! 

What is it with the ability to know anything at all, with the ideas that we float along in our heads, the half structured, the impending and the unknown tangible fleeting moments that scuttle around in our minds as we weave our ways through the day. Carrying in our minds this impending activity - one that, while started can never really be finished - that there's no urgency, only a vague kind of responsibility, a light and unfettered dusting of supposed-to, once that has gone, and it is so easily resplendent in the galaxy that we live in, so shy to coyly place the idea into another compartment, to weave through the distractions with years of deft, practiced skill, and to shine through the many different ways that the smoke haze delicately shovels itself around the notions in my brain, throughout the swollen strings and colorful moments of distraction. There are impending notices, messages, retrieved from the far away places, the recesses, the bell that rings with it's grey doldrums, diffusing the game into a societal discharge of scattered children, that run like marbles from a glass jar, speckled and chaotic, to the line where we all stand, waiting for the queue to form the next line to get out of the place that we are all in.

Should we ever allow the caterwauling piercings to puncture and probe their way into those comfortable places, then the guilt would set upon us like a jackal, like an old enemy, with a harsh momentary lapse of sensibility, that would sting with resolve and the methods of past, abandoned shuttles of collective responsibility and the right thing. We would feel apprehended by ourselves, because in truth, that is precisely what we would be. There is too much pain to be found in the process of sitting down and completing a task - it is too hard, too much like something else we might do, there are other responsibilities, more important other responses, that make up a list.

A long and weaving list of things that need to be done. It's horrendous, how this list seems to be a solution to the problems. Take the load off, unburden those responsibilities, and add them into a list. Then take the list, and abandon it, ignore it, let it to its job of removing the bodies stress, and sense of pending completion by capturing those sentiments down into a level of ink and paper, or bits lined up in a solid state hard drive in a very particular way. Breathe out. Let it go. Leave all those pressing tasks down there, and leave it all behind. Shed your pressures and stress, make a list. And then walk away, secure in the knowledge that you can't possibly forget to complete those things - they are on a list, after all.

And you walk away as the candle burns down, and the list is left there, abandoned - that thought, that half-formed proposal, or half-hearted promise, suddenly coalesced into a task and written down. So, all sorted out then.

Except that it was a moment, when there is too much to do, when the pressure of satisfactory builds up to a point where it is a skyscraper of bleak unmoving unhappiness, were you simply have to let it go. You have to mark all those tasks as complete, knowing full well that the tasks are not, and will never be complete. You have to get them away from your visibility, and into a kind of task purgatory, where things aren't done or not done - not completed or pending, or waiting on another. They're just there - marked as complete, but not done in any way, just - there. A record of a moment when you were organized, when you had full intent that you would be able to complete the activitiy, just a hopeless, disorganizes representation of the kind of person that you really are, but that your subjective ego won't let you see. And you see it, in those red, overdue tasks. When you know, in the heart of your hearts, that you will not be doing those things. And you never really had any intention of doing them in the first place, and as a result, while it makes you feel vaguely sad, it doesn't make you feel sad enough to be motivated.

Every day is a test - from the east to the west. It's easy to forget that this is who we are.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


I awake in the quiet of the morning, reclining on my bed, made by the finest mattress-makers in all the land, filled with natural fibres and customised support structures, designed to ensure that I awake from each night's sleep revitalised and refreshed. I rise into the sunshine amid the sounds of the parrots frolicking in the garden, and don fine robes, crafted far off in the orient. I dress for comfort and warmth, and that which I seek I find instantly in my wardrobe, filled with many, many such clothes for all occasions.

As I descend the staircase, I feel that perhaps I should like a warm, invigorating beverage to ease the chill on this winter morning.

"As you wish, my Liege" - A beautiful white clean china cup, with intricate floral designs, and an ingenious machine that heats water almost instantly sparks into life with a gentle boiling hush. While I wait the idle minute or so, I gaze out at the tropical landscape, quietly encompassing the view, a dense majesty so rich and vivid, and yet, one that this King often fails to appreciate. I reach into a nearby drawer, and produce a clean shiny, silver teaspoon. In a jar nearby I have a compound, composed by the most brilliant food scientists, that, when mixed with water, reconstitutes the finest Arabica coffee from Equatorial Guinea - the aromas and deep robust hues appear like magic, as the boiling water is poured into the cup.

While the flavours of the pure drink are intense, lively and bold, I am not satisfied. Indeed, I should like this beverage to be sweeter. In another jar, just nearby, I have the distilled granules of a compound grown in the northern lands, the sugar cane. This grass is grown to a height of around 12 feet, before workers harvest and slash it, and then each individual strand of cane is crushed, woven and pressed, until a thick molasses is formed. This brown molasses is then refined through a boiling process, seven times, until a pure white crystal is produced, after extensive drying. It is this substance, this white powder fit for a king, that I choose to sweeten my beverage with. I add two spoons of the powder into the cup and stir. The clinking of my spoon is the only sound in the still morning.

And now, while sweet, this drink still does not please me sufficiently well. For it to be fit for me to drink this winter morning, it requires further modification. What I wish, is for a maternal cow who has given birth to a calf to be taken from the pastures and to have milk suckled from her teat. This milk should then be boiled and cooled. Then, when it has been boiled and cooled once more, it shall be carried on the roads of the land, hundreds of miles, until it is brought to me. This is perhaps an odd request, but it is what I desire.

Fortunately, being a King, precisely this liquid, white and cold, is stored right beside me, in a complex cupboard, designed by the finest engineers so that the temperature inside it is maintained at that of a freezing winter morning.

I pour this white milk into my cup. It swirls brilliantly, thermal currents producing a spectacular display of diffusion whorls. I stir them away impatiently with my spoon.

Bearing my Royal mug, I adjourn to the front deck, to sit in the winter sunshine, as it warms the land. As I sit, regally on the deck, high above the other houses and the ocean below, I am reminded of those fresh moments of my youth, those times when the winter sunshine seemed the only comfort that I received.

Still moments, where alone, and far from home, when that warming ray of sun on the back of my neck was like magic in the cold mornings, my cheeks still flushed from the cold, my clothes ragged and unkempt. Full of promise and discovery, a stranger to change, I would find those quiet moments in the morning, and I would feel amazed that I could be there, amazed that the world had a mechanism that I could maybe one day comprehend and be part of.

The sweep of nostalgia covers me with a rich tapestry of memories and moments, and the fleeting, desperate longing comes with it - for that time, when I was not a king, and was merely a rough and tumble young knave. I let it pass as I finish my coffee.

The Royal iPhone rings.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Man who lived in the Sea

At the edge of the world, where the sand meets up against the crystal cylinders of the rolling blue windswept ocean lived a simple and humble man, who had forsaken the land and his family. He stayed, for the most part, drifting around in the water, floating with the waves, riding the swollen anticipation that stemmed from the storms far out to sea on a hand made board. Fed up with the complications of the land, of the stupid human machinations of society, of people, and responsibility, he had awoken one morning with the seed of an idea.

And over time, although that seed was poised to blossom into a crazy proposition, he nurtured it, referred to it in quiet moments standing at the bus stop. He held it close to him, and it was never far from his thoughts.

This is how to grow oneself an idea - one holds it in the top of mind, and when pressured or sad, one recalls it. Soon, the idea will start to bud. Far from being fully-formed, an idea in the process of unfolding doesn't need to be held in the mind - it will reappear spontaneously as it grows, or when its host would benefit from its presence. Soon, the idea will begin to fully bloom, and if it is carefully regarded, and welcomed by its owner, it will take root, and the host will be driven to share it, to act on it, and to publish it far and wide to others. This is where an idea begins its powerful transformation into being, and this is how the world is made.

The seed of the idea that was planted into the humble man was to live in the sea. To forgo the suit, and the tie, and the meetings. Always meetings. To throw off his responsibilities with callous disregard, and to move from the land to the water, with a view never to return. There were problems with this zygotic notion, he would agree with himself, nodding. For instance, there were bound to be some people who would feel upset by his departure from the walking people. There was likely a great deal of busywork that would remain uncompleted, task items unchecked, questions asked. There were other things, more physical things, that would hinder his ability to live in his new aqueous abode.

And yet, despite it all, his idea began to grow, like a sand flower, clung to the yellow dunes, with dogged persistence, in such a fashion that made one suspect that there was a powerful subterranean reservoir that provided the flower with nutrients in this harsh sandy windswept world. And there was - it was love.

The humble man was in love with the sea. She danced for him, and whispered with crashing waves, the sounds of freedom into his ears. He could hear her call from far away, and was drawn to her, to stand with his feet buried in her sandy shores, and to gaze longingly at the swollen, bursting hollow lines of the waves. Sometimes the wind would blow from over the shore, and her delicate lines would be clearly accentuated, with trails of blown water streaming from the tops of her peaks, and he loved her. He wanted her most of all, more than the land-things. His desire grew. More and more flowers appeared on the bud of his idea, and soon, she was the only thing in his mind.

And then one day, the dense herbaceous entanglement of the idea could not contain itself within him any longer. He pressed the button on the bus marked "Stop" and pressed his way through the commuters, without saying "Excuse Me", and he kicked off his shoes as he walked through the automatic door. He walked through the tourist lines, through the market of people setting up their goods, removing his tie. He threw his jacket into the open parkland where children were playing with a football. He shed his suit pants, and pausing only to grab his board from the racks, slipped away into her open arms, as his idea burst forth into being.

And that is where you can find him to this day, floating with his one true love, nestled among the hollows of her waves, floating joyously among the white foam. Sometimes there are difficult moments, turbulent times where she will not talk, and only scream, trying to storm away from him, and all he can do his cling to his board and wait for her to calm down, and other times she is still and sad, and he must paddle hard to stay with her, to work with slight, delicate waves.

And together they are their own kinds of happy - one with the immense fullness of the natural world, and one with delight and accomplishment at the power of change.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Introducing Musichord

I've always fancied myself as a writer for Rolling Stone. Living a wild reckless, rock n' roll lifestyle, touring around with no fixed address, being all edgy and drug addled and fuck-you establishment... Being one of those guys who can't speak, interviewing people who can't talk for the benefit of those who can't read...

...Overall, It seems I have (fortunately) chosen a somewhat different path, but part of that reckless dream lives on in my new blog, Musichord.

Along with an old friend, Charles, I'll be posting my thoughts on new music I like.

Yeah, as a couple of aging hipsters, it's tempting to hate everything that the kids come out with these days. But it turns out there's a lot to like out there. And if you're looking for something new to listen to, or just for that voyeuristic pleasure that comes from skipping through somebody else's iPod, you can head over to our new website - You can also get us on Facebook, and Twitter, too.

Rock on. :)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

So this is the New Year...

We spent New Years in time honored family tradition, on the beach under a glorious clear sky, with the Western Outer Orion Arm of the Milky Way luminous and scattered above the warm summer waves.

This year, I've decided to focus on production rather than on consumption. If that sounds a bit odd, well, perhaps it is.

It seems to me that in this coming decade, the massive increase in information availability, brought to me through the internet - through Facebook, and Twitter, and mainly through a never ending supply of smart, insightful and amusing humans to provide me with content, results in me feeling obligated to consume it all.

That I should read each heartfelt status update, and follow each interesting link. I should upvote salient points of view, demote and chastise those less pleasant.

I should "Like" things I read,

(Except when the tone of the status update indicates that "liking" would be inappropriate:

"Bob was abused as a child - 12 people like this")

I should be abreast of the latest memes and Internet jokes, be able to identify a RickRoll or a Bachelor Frog at twenty paces. I should re-tweet this to my followers. I should leave a pingback on relevant posts. I should only "mark as read" when I have actually 'read'. I should not unsubscribe, or uninstall. I should poke those who poke me. I should help my neighbor in Farmville. I should add to favorites. I should rate this content 5 stars. I wont have the guts to set this as my status message for the day. I should leave a review. I should ignore this purchase for the purposes of recommendations. I should re-join today at heavily discounted rates. Chris is new, so I should suggest people who Chris knows...


Given some time to reflect, in all seriousness, all this stuff requires me to take in an inordinate amount of information. My default position in the information economy has become to spend far too much time trying to passively consume it all.

As much as I love the people and the intentions behind it, this year I'm going to stop consuming.

Instead, I'll focus more on my family , my work , my blog, and the endeavours that I've already undertaken, that are, truth be told, suffering through my information consumption addiction. Focus more on what I can produce, than what I can consume.

So, my gift to you for the coming year, is this:

Go ahead and ignore me.

Don't read my status updates, or my tweets. Don't feel you have to reply to my silly email, or leave comments on my ramblings.

I won't mind. It doesn't sound like much, I know, but maybe I can give you back a single instant of time to produce something worthwhile - a moment with your kids, or some creative pursuit- leaving the office a minute earlier, not missing the train, checking an item off the task-list.

In the end, it's our contributions that define us. Our actions, not the amount of background research we did.

This year, I want to do more, and I think the way to achieve it will be to focus on the doing, rather than the related information and discussion.

Happy New Year!

(if you like this post, please tell ten friends about it, via seven different social networks, set this as your status, print it out and stick it to your car. Bill Gates is counting them, and 1 dollar from every post will go to cure starving elephants from child abuse.)