Updates and Random Philosophy on Living

Haven’t had a great deal to report the last few days.  We’ve had lots of snow and it’s been quite cold.  Too cold and snowy to go anywhere unless necessary.  So I’ve been staying home, catching up on my reading, and taking long naps in the afternoon.  I’ve been sleeping a little more during the days, but mostly to pass the long drawn out cold days.  I still go to bed around 10pm and am usually awake for good by 5 or 6am.  My apartment is feeling quite like a regular home now rather than just the monk’s chamber I let it become the last couple years.  It helps that I put a few pieces of art done by an old friend and have a regular cleaning person come in once a week and help me keep on top of things.  Still have a few unresolved maintenance issues, but those will be knocked down before too long.  Rome wasn’t built in one day and I won’t be pulling out of my depression and anxiety induced exile and isolation all at once either.  It is coming along though.

One of my fellow tenants had a birthday party the other day.  About ten of us went to her party.  It felt good to be socializing again when people weren’t being irritable and rude to each other.  It just seems that most people I meet in person anymore are more short tempered and on edge than usual lately.  I was talking with an old friend of mine who lives here and he’s noticed the same thing.  So I’m not the only one noticing the subtle and not so subtle changes.  One of the reasons I don’t socialize much in person anymore is precisely because so many people I meet are in irritable and short tempered moods.  The fact that almost no one I know in person shares my interests in science, history, philosophy, and literature makes things even tougher.

It is true that social media and my smart phone are the bulk of my socializing now.  I know most people will think this is sad but I actually love social media and communications tech.  They have given me access to people with similar interests and concerns that I wouldn’t have had in high school.  My teenage years, other than a handful of confidants I could tell even my darkest secrets to, were quite lonely.  As an adult now near age 40, I have more social interaction than at any point in my life besides my college years.  And it is exactly because of social media, internet, and communication tech.  I know many people condemn what social media can be used for and think we would be better off without it.  I call their bluff on that.  I call the bluff on all nostalgics who are fearful of change and want to go back to the past.

I know many people, especially in my USA, are nostalgic about the past when only one income could support a family in a house in the suburbs.  Yet you don’t hear the same people decry the lack of opportunities for women, high taxes on rich people and large businesses, lack of variety in entertainment and fashion, Jim Crow laws, Cold War paranoias, cost of even long distance phone calls. I ran up long distance bills over $100 two months in a row as recently as 1999 because my two best confidants lived in other towns.  My parents were not amused by that.  Yet, here it is in 2019 and I talk to far more out of town people, and even out of country people, then I could have ever imagined even my wildest Star Trek optimist fantasy.  And twenty years isn’t that long.  It’s just enough time to get a newborn baby to adulthood.  The world has changed that much.

Social media, like all other tech changes, is a tool that can be used to go great good or great harm.  Nuclear energy provides a significant source of power to civilization with relatively quite few facilities.  Yet the same tech can be used in weapons that can end all life on our planet.  Mass media can spread the ideas of personal freedom, self responsibility, civic duty, and show our similarities to billions of people quite easily.  It also empowered some truly sick and depraved monstrous people just in the last one hundred years.  Religion can give people hope, a connection to something beyond ourselves and our surroundings, and a sense of taking care of others in even the darkest times humanity ever faced.  It can also justify some truly evil actions.  Even farming led to humanity going from only a relatively few people who managed to survive the ice ages in isolated bands to being the masses we are now making plots to travel off world and settle other planets.  It has also led to the extinction of many other species, the decline of biodiversity, war, easily transferable diseases, and a loss of connection of most people to the natural world.  And yet, I wouldn’t give up any of these advances among any others.  Even the same chemicals that make the fertilizer for our food crops can be used as deadly poisons and weapons of mass terror and destruction.

Changes are a constant of human existence.  Changes even in nature are constant too.  With human existence, change will continue to come.  In fact, they will come even faster and be more disruptive than at any point in history in the lifetimes of all but the oldest people in our civilizations.  These changes can be delayed but they will come whether we are as individuals or nations are preparing or not.  We no longer live in a world where only one nation or race has the monopoly on knowledge and progress, as if we ever did.  The old ways of doing things, the ancient appeals to religious, gender, racial, national, socioeconomic, ageist differences and discriminations are losing the effectiveness they had in the past.  Even homeless people in our largest cities and farmers in the poorest countries in the world have smart phones and access to the collective knowledge gathered through the trials, bloodshed, tears, and revolutions of history.  This is a level of computing power that not even the U.S. Department of Defense had as recently as 1980, the year I was born.

Yes, information tech has greatly advanced just in my lifetime.  Some will scoff and say, this hasn’t translated into any other aspect of life.  I can’t afford my rent even on two jobs but I’m supposed to be happy with having access to Google and Facebook.  Give it time.  Other aspects of our lives will catch up eventually.  It is tragic that many people go homeless in my country while thousands of houses and apartments sit vacant and idle waiting for someone to call such places a home just because of the prices.  Individual workers are more productive now than ever yet wages have barely budged in my country in terms of inflation since at least the 1970s.  My critics will say even with communication tech advancing as well as the social progress we’ve made, our standard of living has actually gone down.

For many this is true, at least in USA.  Our standard of living hasn’t caught up with our efficiency, tech, medical, and social advances.  At least not yet.  We are still in the process of a great change, one that is even more chaotic and impacting than the Industrial Revolution was two hundred years ago.  In short, we have science fiction like technology, industrial era education, renaissance era governing, legal, and business institutions, Bronze Age spirituality, and Stone Age bodies and psychology.  Of course there are going to be conflicts.  We will work these out, it just won’t happen nearly as fast as many people want.  Changes like we are going through took centuries during the start of farming, generations during the renaissance and industrial ages, and now on the scope of only years.  No wonder people are stressed.  We are not experiencing the death of our species or our civilization no matter how much some people fear or even want.  We are in transition.  And I welcome this transition and it’s highs and lows.  Stay tuned.  Things are only going to get more interesting and chaotic, yet full of opportunities too.

Optimism for The Future in the Face of Constant Pessimism

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I haven’t posted regularly on my facebook or twitter accounts since September.  I just got tired of all the fighting and negativity.  But the thing that bothers me the most about social media is how much of what I try to communicate gets lost in just text.  Most times I don’t wish to come across as snarky or combative, but that’s how so many people interpret what I write.  Maybe facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. wouldn’t be so negative if people had to post video and audio rather than just text.  Put a voice and face to the comments and let the world know they aren’t talking to a machine or subhuman entity.

I gave up on using social media for anything than shamelessly promoting my blog three months ago when I came to the painful conclusion that most people were never going to share my optimism or joyful outlook.  And the weird thing is I am more optimistic than ever even though I almost never convince anyone of reasons to be optimistic.  I am definitely not an optimist by nature or upbringing.  I almost never heard anything positive about the world or the future from my parents, teachers, bosses, or elders while growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.  For quite sometime I was wondering why if most people were so pessimist about the future, then why were they having kids.  I could never figure those kinds of contradictions out.  I know very few people even in December 2017 who don’t have kids because they are worried about the kind of future these kids would have.  Most people that don’t have kids that I know can’t biologically have kids.

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Like I said, I am not an optimist by nature.  I had to make myself into one.  And I did it with little help from mass media, popular culture, or my elders.  Most of what I learned about what was going right in modern civilization I had to actively seek out through secondary sources and rigorous research.  I learned more science, technology, psychology, history, philosophy, literature, and economics on my own with an internet connection and five years of daily youtube viewing than I ever thought possible after spending eighteen years in traditional education.  Then again, it should be noted that is simply impossible for any kind of formal education system to teach everything a person needs to know for living just within the system itself.  With life expectancies going into the eighties in some countries (and even the sixties in some of the poorer developing nations), it is simply impossible to be able to say “You know what you need to know for the next fifty to sixty years once you’re turned out into the world at age eighteen.”  No, the best thing an education system can do in this day and age of long life span and ever changing tech and social norms is to foster the never stop learning attitudes and mentalities.

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In the mid to late 2000s when I was struggling to adapt to my mental illness and working low wage remedial jobs I could have done as a high school dropout, I was quite angry about my time in formal education.  For several years I was convinced that doing well in high school and college was wasted effort if all I was going to do with my life was push a mop in a courthouse or sell carpet for a billion dollar company.  After a few more years of maturity and seasoning, I found out to my pleasant surprise that my years of working hard in school and loving learning weren’t misspent.  The biggest thing my years in formal education did was awaken in me a love for learning and a desire to continue doing so.

Sadly, many people don’t have a love for learning.  Tragically most of those people are going to get left behind in the waves of science, technology, geopolitical, and social changes that have only recently begun to gain momentum.  The old ideas of graduating high school at age eighteen, getting a union membership, getting a job in a factory, getting married at age twenty two to someone from your hometown or college, etc. aren’t feasible anymore.  And sadly, many people can’t or won’t adapt.  But we’ve had changes in the past eras.  I imagine many people didn’t adapt during the Renaissance or Industrial revolutions and got painfully displaced.  Same things are happening now as we move to a more connected, digitalized, fast paced, and informed world.  National borders don’t mean as much now as they did even when I was a child back in the 1980s.

Sure it’s a chaotic time for many people, especially for people and institutions that aren’t adapting to the new realities.  Politicians in my home nation are talking about building walls to keep out illegal immigrants and refugees and bringing back traditional manufacturing jobs to this country.  To which I reply “planes can fly over walls” and “3D printing”.  Sadly, many people want to deny such changes are already here and will resist to the point of being left so far behind they’ll never catch up.  I see it every day just in my own community and circles of friends and family.  I decided that I was going to adapt and welcome the changes regardless of what my friends, family, and neighbors were going to do.  Some cool things are happening and I don’t want to get left behind or wallow in fear and anxiety for the rest of my life.  I deal with fear and anxiety enough in my own mental illness.  I won’t allow external forces to add to these.

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Work, Education, Future Tech, Minimalism, and Mental Illness

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Even though mental illness has cost me any potential career, wealth, or family, I am still quite happy overall most of the time.  I would say that age 37 I’m far happier and content now than I was 10 years ago.  I have come to the acceptance that I don’t need a career to validate my life and existence.  That is something most people in modern civilization never come to realize.  I still get the questions of ‘what do I do for a living’ all the time when I’m out in public.  Anymore I just tell people I do online computer stuff from home, which isn’t a lie.  I just don’t get paid for it.  For years I lied to people about what kind of job I had.  And I felt guilty about it because the very question seemed to imply that I had to validate my existence by what I did for several hours a day.  What does it matter what I do all day as long as I’m not breaking the law or hurting other people?  I know some exceptionally brilliant people who more or less dropped out of modern society because they saw the whole idea of a 40 hour work week and family and house in the suburbs as self defeating and pointless.  I mean I don’t need to have a job paying me six figures when, as a minimalist, I can live comfortably off less than 20 grand a year.  Besides, with soon to be eight billion plus people living on our small planet, we’re going to have to learn how to do more with less anyway.

What does it matter what a person does for a living in many cases anyway?  There are studies out there and can be viewed online that state that as many as 50 percent of current jobs could be assigned to machines and done better within the next 20 years.  When this happens, and it will happen despite political interventions and social upheavals, we as humans will have to find new ways to define ourselves outside of paid employment.

And I can’t figure out why people are so scared senseless of having their jobs assigned to machines.  Practically everyone I know hates their jobs.  I have heard that old “Oh God It’s Monday” and “Thank God It’s Friday” nonsense since I was five years old.  Seems to me that griping and moaning about how much your job sucks is as American as baseball.  If I were a business owner, I think I’d install machines just so I have to deal with as few bad attitudes as possible.  Most jobs are in the service sector anymore that don’t pay as well as the old unionized factory jobs.  And most people that work in these sectors are treated poorly by bosses, customers, and even fellow employees.  I will never voluntarily work in customer service ever again.  I have enough problems of my own to be working maximum hours for little to no benefits while taking abuse from customers and bosses.  The way normal people treat customer service employees is really heartless and uncivilized.  I don’t understand why anyone would put themselves through that except for the need for money.  And I don’t need the money, so I won’t put myself through it.

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Seems to me that we are running out of low skill jobs while many high skill jobs like doctors, engineers, teachers, trades jobs, technicians, etc. are going unfilled.  Our schools, for whatever reasons, simply aren’t producing the quantities of people that are needed to keep our high tech civilizations functioning and advancing.  That concerns me.  We know my country doesn’t do a good job teaching science or math in our grade and secondary schools.  We have known this for over 40 years now.  And nobody seems interested in updating the American school systems for the high tech realities of modern times.  Our civilization cannot afford another 40 years of poor science and math education.  Why aren’t we making the changes?

Yes, our schools served us well in the industrial revolution.  But they are a poor design for the information revolutions we have been in for at least the last 30 years. Then again, with as fast as things are advancing, much of what an 18 year college freshman learns will be pointless and obsolete by the time he/she graduates from college four to five years later.  So we may have to teach kids to learn how to learn rather than give them certain facts and expect them to spit them out on a test only to be forgotten a week later.   I would love to see some kid write on her high school tests, “Why should I clutter my mind with facts I can look up on Google?” That kind of testing seemed pointless to me as a teenager and it seems even more pointless now in 2017.  Fortunately for older people like me there are mediums like youtube, khan academy, free online course through places like MIT, etc. that are keeping us more informed than we would have been in previous generations.  Used to be that a person could rote learn facts and then spend the next 30 years working on a farm or in a factory simply because the science and tech didn’t advance very fast.  Of course many people didn’t live past age 50 either, so retirement and the diseases of old age like heart disease and cancer weren’t very big problems.  Those days are as dead and gone as the draft horse and wagon.

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Unfortunately many people of my generation and the previous generations made the mistake of ending their education once their school years were over.  This we could afford when science and tech weren’t advancing really fast and people weren’t regularly living into their 80s and 90s.  But as fast as things are advancing now, it’s hurting us that our citizens and elected leaders aren’t able to keep up with the advances.  I doubt most people in my government even understand that robotics, computer programs, and AI are getting good enough that many jobs will be disappearing within the next decade or two.  My politicians are talking about bringing back old style manufacturing jobs.  As good as automation is, that’s not happening.  The U.S. is already the number two manufacturer in the world, behind only China.  Even China is automating much of it’s manufacturing now.  And when 3D printers get really good and easy to use, that’s going to end even more manufacturing jobs and retail jobs.  When I get a good 3D printer someday, I will never set foot in a Wal Mart or mall ever again.  As it already is, I do most of my shopping online.  I even get delivery pizza and deli online anymore.

I don’t even have to go back to school to learn new things, thanks to online learning.  For all I know, our grandkids’ generation may be able to have all their education online without having to set foot in a classroom.  I’ve already learned as much online through five years of rigorous study on youtube and khan academy as I ever did in my years of formal education.  And I absolutely love it.  Maybe one of the reasons I’m not scared of the avalanche of changes our civilization is and will be facing in the next couple generations is because I have had to reinvent myself several times because of mental illness.  We as a civilization will have to reinvent ourselves to avoid destroying ourselves.  Maybe my schizophrenia inadvertently sling shot me ahead of most of the crowd.  We are heading towards some really cool things in the future, but whether or not we as a species make a successful transition is not certain mainly because we are stumbling around without much of a plan to manage the transition.

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The Joys of Owning Less “Stuff”

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Bought a couple new computer games a few days ago.  So I have been spending my time trying to figure those out.  I bought those games as online downloads.  So I don’t need actual CDs for the games anymore.  With as fast as new Windows programs come out anymore, I’ve been burned a few times when my old games wouldn’t run on my newer programs.  I’ve decided I’m just going to subscribe to online gaming forums and just buy my games as downloads and let the forums do the dirty work.  Seems to me that eventually I may not have to own much of anything besides some furniture, some clothes, a couple computers, a smart phone, etc.  I am definitely looking forward to when driverless cars go mainstream and I don’t even need to own a car anymore.  Seems to me that by the time I get to be in my late 60s (my parents age) I just won’t have to own much of anything if everything keeps getting digitized.  I can dream, can’t I?

I’m still trying to simplify my life.  I have pretty well adapted to minimalism.  But sometimes I still hold onto books even though 80 percent of what I read anymore is online articles and audiobooks.  Even these I’ll probably give away if I end up moving. Ideally I’d like to get down to where I could throw everything I own into my car and be on the move within an afternoon if need be.  As far as a bed or shelves are concerned, I can pick up different ones for cheap at Wal Mart or Salvation Army.  I have never been nostalgic about furniture or most of my possessions.

I really don’t mind not owning much.  I could never be a hoarder.  And from what I’ve seen, more and more people my age and younger are becoming like this all the time.  I imagine some people are worried about the Millennial generations being chronic renters and that it might be bad for the economy.  But, who wants to sign a 30 year mortgage on a house when a job could be outsourced or automated at a moment’s notice?  My brother owns a cool house in a good neighborhood, but he’d be in trouble if he got laid off from his company and had to sell his house, take his four kids out of school, and drag the entire family across country to find a similar job.  Even my friends and relatives that have kids have fewer kids than their parents and grandparents had.  My generation may not be putting down physical community roots as much as previous generations.  But humans have traditionally been a nomadic species, going wherever there was better hunting or farmland.  I don’t expect this to change.  But thanks to the boom in communications tech, it is so much easier to stay in touch even if you are on the other side of the planet.

It’s amazing just in my own life how much “stuff” I don’t have to own now compared to fifteen years ago.  I used to own over one hundred music CDs, dozens of DVDs, several shelves of books, etc.  Now I have access to a much larger stash of music for 10 dollars a month through Spotify.  I have a larger book collection now even though over 90 percent of my books are now e files that I got for free.  I have access to pretty much every movie I could ever want through Netflix, amazon, youtube, etc.  I don’t need an address book as long as I have a Facebook account.  I buy most of my clothing online anymore.  Even though it costs a little more this way, I can find exactly what I want as long as I’m willing to look.  I’m no longer at the mercy of Wal Mart, K Mart, JC Penney, etc.  I literally haven’t been to Wal Mart since last fall because I can shop from home on my computer anymore.  And I love it.  About the only things I don’t buy online now are groceries, gas for my car, and my prescription medications.  Even with my medications, the only time I actually deal with a human is when I go to physically pick my stuff up.  Who knows what the next fifteen years will bring?  I can hardly wait to find out.