I hadn't realized that I died before until I thought about it this morning.
It was a metaphorical death and rebirth. The evidence was around me at a table last night.
I was with my beer drinking buddies, Brains on Beers. I asked a question about what they thought Obama will say at his fifth State of the Union address, the first since winning re-election, the first of his second term. I was thinking about it because of Thomas Friedman and his column regarding a one-two punch.
The responses around the table were lackluster and cynical. The beer group is dismayed by America's political partisan paralysis. Well, so am I.
That was one of the things T. Friedman mentioned in his column, citing Benjamin Friedmand out of Harvard in a quote from an Annie Lowry column:
- On Sunday, The Times’s Annie Lowrey wrote a piece quoting Friedman who wondered aloud whether we’re not now entering a reverse cycle, “in which our absence of growth is delivering political paralysis, and the political paralysis preserves the absence of growth.”
It's an ugly cycle. I've suspected we've been in it but it's nice to see an academician studying these things wondering the same thing.
But I liked one thing that Friedman suggested, that Obama come out with a goal of something like wiring every home in America with Internet connections with gig speed capabilities in his State of the Union address.
My beer group was unanimously against that. The professed socialist was the spokesman for the group. The socialist surprised me perhaps most. "Why?" he cried. "The average household doesn't need it. What are people going to do with a gigabyte connection? If they want it, let them pay for it."
I was astonished, dismayed and agitated. I had expected a more open mind from this group. His next part amazed me more. "How will we pay for it?" the socialist asked.
He amazed me not because he was a socialist but because he was a retired physicist who had achieved his Phd through full scholarships. Scholarships, to me, are about helping others by glimpsing their potential and giving them the tools, knowledge and education to help find their potential. It's about a leap of faith.
But here he was, continuing, "All the average household will do with more bandwidth and speed is download more movies and play more games."
That shocked me but what shocked me more was his next comments. "We should not have sent people to the moon. That was pure political show. We could have done so much more with that money."
For him, the socialist who advanced through others' help, it was all about the money.
I could not get him to see the great potential of having every household wired, certainly not with those speeds, and not being paid for by the government. He kept returning to that, if someone wants the speed and connection, let them pay for it.
He seemed oblivious to how much of America is not wired, how he was encouraging the inequality gap, oblivous to how many of us work from home, and how much more other countries are wired.
He could not see where we are in relationship to the world and could not see the potential.
He could not see that those who don't have access to the Internet and web are being left out of many conversations and ineractions, and that we're not opening ourselves up to the potential that can be realized.
That's when, thinking about it later, I realized that I'd died and had been reborn once before in my life.
Once upon a time, when personal desktop computers entered the markets, I saw all sorts of applications beyond games, word processing and spreadsheets. I was in the Air Force then. The military didn't agree with my ideas. In fact, the Defense Department disagreed for a number of years.
Back story: I was stationed in the Pacific in the 80s when the first TRS 80s and other CPM based machines came out. I was convinced we were seeing the future's bleeding edge. As the military didn't know anything about them, they were reluctant to embrace them.
My unit then was a flying operation. All flight following was done on telephones and radios. Information came in and was recorded on pieces of papers. Each mission had a file folder and all the pertinent pieces of paper stapled inside it. To keep the chain of command notified about what was going on, pieces of paper were filled out. Computer fields defined the information transcribed on those pieces of paper. We filled it out in pencil, gave it to the communications center, who typed it onto a punch tape, and then ran it through a reader. The reader sent electrconic messages into mainframe computers, which processed it in batch files. Meanwhile, the messages came out in hard form in other communication centers as codes which were then delivered to other command posts and flight operation centers.
It was a time consuming, unwieldy process, fraught with errors. Everywhere people did the same routines with the information, reading it, analyzing it, adding it to folders, updating large boards with grease pencils, and calling other people.
I could immediately see how desktop computers could change this flow of information, along with the work to keep it up to date, and the work to analyze what was going on with all the information. I was pretty much alone in that thinking. The military's official position was that desktop computers didn't have a place in the military.
They changed that decision within six years. Meanwhile, I'd returned to America on assignment, bought my first desktop computer, and began learning how to use it.
This, then, is where I died.
Things were fast changing in the computer world back then. One of my beliefs dealt with computing speed, RAM, computing capabilities and hard drive capacity. Why would we ever need computers that with more than 25 megahertz, have more than two CPUs, and more than a 5 megabyte hard drive?
I quickly learned how wrong I was. That's when my actual death and rebirth took place. Suddenly I could again see how more of these things could open up avenues we had only imagined. It fired my imagination anew.
This time I wasn't alone. Many others, with a lot more imagination and intelligence, took off with the ideas. Soon computer capabilities enhanced our living and technology everywhere, culminating most recently in medical and transportation advances, consumer devices and social practices like twitter and smart phones.
This is where I must die again.
It's been pointed out that the average smart phone has a lot more computing capability than NASA had in the mid 60s. I've not been a fan of twitter, text messaging, and smart phones. What's the point, I wonder, watching television commercials showing people playing games, taking photographs, calling in shopping lists, looking up maps.
I sounded like my friends last night.
Somehow, in the course of growing older, I'd become part of that vanguard that can't imagine all the things that might be done, and even more, it's important to keep an open mind because you can't always see the potential that can bloom, opening your eyes to new visions of possibilities. Talking to my friends last night about the potential of wiring everyone made me realized how stilted and prejudiced I'd become.
It's an odd mix for me. In my science fiction writing, computers and technology are often enablers, with technological advances actively improving our lives and our ability to understand, communicated and cope. To me, technology extends human growth and capabilities.
Going back to my socialist physicist friend, he talked about the quite intangible tangible of how would we pay for it. I was very surprised by his notions of dollars and sense and his willingness to reduce the space program to financial costs.
My own sense of the space program is that the challenges fired our imaginations and challenged us to think in new directions to solve old problems because space offered a different operating environment. Beyond that, we learned more, and verified what we thought we knew and verified that we didn't know what we thought we knew.
To me, that's about searching for truth.
If we shut ourselves away, limit ourselves with dollars and cents, and only act upon what we might see, then there is the potential we're going to miss many things.
I don't want to live like that.
So I must kill that cynic in me, the same person that I heard speaking around my table, and give birth, once again, to another me.
I've reduced the entire discussion and thoughts to a few paragraphs. A lot of it is about paradigms and conceptions. Its complexity is much greater and extends into other realms of thinking and dreaming.
Started writing this at 5 AM. First it was phantom writing, speaking in my head.
One of those things about my state of mind and the state of the world that I had to write to help me think through and get it out of my system.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com