Contemplations – Now
His competitiveness and self-centeredness cut him off from any thought of shared life. He wanted to have more because he thought having more would make him able to live more, and he was lonely because he never thought of the sources, the places, where he was going to get what he wanted to have, or of what his having it might cost others. It was a loneliness that sometimes even he felt; you could see it. A self-praiser has got to accept a big loneliness in order to accept a little credit.
– Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow. Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2000.
Using technology versus being used by it
I've enjoyed technology and the internet over the years, and have profited from it, having worked for several technology-related companies. In the late 90s, as I began to understand and appreciate some aspects of the internet's potential, I launched this website, wanting to participate in this blossoming communication medium, as well as to learn hands on the nuts and bolts of creating a website. Motivated by a desire to create something beautiful in a fashion similar to my woodworking, I've found this to be an invigoratingly enjoyable endeavor over the years.
Yet more recently this technology that now permeates our lives has lost much of the luster it once held for me. This results from factors that have been gaining momentum for several years and reached a tipping point last year. Events early this year are only emphasizing this tipped over, screwed up state.
- I'm dismayed that what began as a medium for sharing information and supporting users¹ has been predominantly transformed into a ruthless commercial environment where customers have little value beyond being a resource to be exploited and sold.
- I despise the devious culture of tracking that has emerged (ultrasonic beacons and canvas fingerprinting are just two recent examples). I want to be able to choose when to share my data with another party and what data to share, not have it snatched from me by some sleight of hand, so I find myself increasingly shifting into a more defensive posture, doing my best to throw up barriers that make this theft at least a little bit more difficult.
- I'm disgusted by the overall shoddy state of security quality of the hardware and software being released. Nearly every week we hear about some major data breach due to bugs (or the carelessness of not patching those bugs in a timely fashion), apps that are found to include malicious components and have been allowed to be downloaded millions of times, or huge gaping flaws with the technology products being used by hundreds of millions of us. It appears that the rush to release products and capture market share far outweighs any sense of responsibility to protect that captured market share (you know … real people). I'm also increasingly upset with how much time we must invest in patching over and over again these products we paid for in attempt to at least achieve some partial degree of security.
- I'm appalled with how carelessly our personal data is being handled. I think it is an ultimate form of disrespect towards their customers that so many companies reaping such huge financial benefits from exploiting this data invest so little in protecting it, especially given the huge harm that results from its theft. I also find it unbelievable—yet at the same time all too believable—how trivial the penalties are for what I consider to be criminal negligence.
- I can't stand the way companies are purposefully designing products and apps using tactics like intermittent reinforcement to try to manipulate us into spending more time using their products and surrendering more of our personal data to them. As this has caused me to grow ever more leery, I have stopped using many products and apps, and have avoided adopting many new ones. On my devices, I silence or turn off nearly all notifications, view assistants like a medieval plague, and avoid social media platforms except occasionally when I reluctantly use them to visit technical groups.
Because of all of this, using technology and the internet has morphed from an experience I initially found enjoyable to one I now approach with an attitude that is tinged with suspicion and mistrust. Increasingly, I'm focused on how to best reduce my use of, disengage from, or even altogether turn off the technology surrounding us. This isn't easy, but I think it's necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
A small example of this shift is portrayed in the images at the top of this post. I've designed the home screens of my devices to emphasize peaceful scenes and de-emphasize apps and their noisy notifications. I also enable monochrome or grayscale mode most of the time. Doing so tamps down the attempts by devices, apps, and websites to capture my attention through flashy colors, significantly calming the experience of using technology. While I love the luscious colors of the Gaillardia flower that currently graces the home screen of my phone, overall, the benefit I derive from the tranquility of monochrome outweighs the delight of seeing it in color. Better yet, just as I did when I first took that photo, I can turn off my devices altogether and go out to view the real world in living color.
 When Time Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web project on August 20, 1991, he wrote: "This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access. We are currently using WWW for user support at CERN. We would be very interested in comments from anyone trying WWW, and especially those making other data available, as part of a truly world-wide web."
I love trees. I appreciate even the most ordinary trees, and at times I'm absolutely awestruck by some of the trees I come across. One of my favorite activities is walking in a forest. If I'm stuck driving around in an urban environment, when I need to stop I always search for a tree to park next to.
So I was delighted when I came across this site about monumental trees as I was wandering around this morning. I think I'll park here now and then!
The Galaxy Next Door – Andromeda
What a way to begin the new year!
Came across this photo as I was sleepily browsing around this morning, and instantly felt the day brighten.
"The Galaxy Next Door" is a composite of photos taken by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), an orbiting space telescope observing galaxies in ultraviolet light across 10 billion years of cosmic history.
As a bonus, here's a photo from a few years ago of Centaurus A's supermassive black hole expelling flumes of debris at about half the speed of light. Sometimes I read the daily news and feel overwhelmed by the chaos of our human affairs … and then I see an image like this and realize just how trivial we are!