Archive for the ‘information age’ Category

The Tweaking of the Technos

September 2, 2017

‘T’was about two hundred year ago that the world tilted toward changing at an exponential pace.

The advent of the steam engine had a lot to do with this. Imagine, for instance, what native American tribes, living primitively, must have thought about the first locomotive when they saw a big huffn’puff thing speeding toward them along the steel track.

It was a terrible sight to behold– belching steam and screaming along across the landscape like it owned the place.

Locomotv

And in terms of world history, that wasn’t so very long ago. We humans have definitely picked up the pace of our progress.

We’ve come a long way since those groundbreaking days of the steam locomotives. Back in those early techno times our big deal was extraction. By means of steam-powered locomotion we extracted vast amounts of resources from vast landscapes for a vastly long time and then we transported those extracted elements vast distances, to industrializing cities where they were converted into vast products that were sold and distributed to vast markets of people whose consuming habits were fastly becoming vast.

All this vastness was enabled because our new powering technologies made everything happen on vastly larger scales, and in vastly faster timetables.

Eventually, the trains went the way of the buffalo when our cars and trucks began to roll off mass-production assembly lines and then all across the globe. Before you knew it, everybody and their brother were driving around via internal combustion vehicles of one type or another, spewing carbon emissions and additives and whatnot all around the globe.

Because so many people had jumped onto the industrio-techno bandwagon we found ourselves with vast labor markets which consisted of vast numbers of people cranking out all these vast inventories of consumer goods and services.

That whole industrial revolution thing wrought the humanic world into being a carbon-belching machine. After a century or two it has become an emissions-emitting perpetual motion device. But nowadays our whole vastly spinning automaton of techno progress is being re-evaluated. For the sake of equality-based prosperity, those vast labor markets are being tweaked by office-loads of technocrats who want to do what is best for mankind. But in a world of expending (used to be expanding) resources, it becomes more and more problematical to keep everybody busy in production.

By ‘n by, for management purposes more and more folks have become involved in producing information, so we can be smart about stuff. Information  used to be stored in libraries, but now is stored in digitized files. Our terminology has morphed. As we used to shovel dirt and ore and coal and whatnot we now move vast loads of information. For simplicity sake we now call it info. Furthermore, as our  exponential changes are happening at a vastly stepped-up pace we have  spun into calling it “data.”

We notice that, while the world economy used to run on vast extractions of elements, it now runs on vast iterations of data. And if you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Houston I’ll sell ya.

But I digress.

In our 21st-century techno-world we have generated vast hordes of data-analyzers, experts, number-crunchers and technocrats, whose mission is to  keep everything cruising along on an even keel.

Their informed consensus is that we need  a steady state, which eventually morphs into a steady State. Old style capitalism is dead, y’all.

The most potent example of this trend is the Fed.

A century ago, we had banks that were fervently financing the great industrial expansion. Now all the banks have become mere bit-players; the real mover and shaker is the Federal Reserve, the financier of last resort, as they are moving vast file-loads of reserve fiat currencies around the world the way JP and John D used to move their earth-shaking  investments.

Now the Fed keeps it all humming along on an even keel, not too fast not too slow. No more boom or bust, no more depressions, but rather one long macro-recession/expansion whereby we perpetually power the world economy at a predictably stable theoretical 2% expansion rate so as to assure that the main characters have assets to pass around  like peace pipes and, along with that, generally everybody has a job to do so we  don’t have too many folks fall into non-productive dependency on the system.

Good luck with that, y’all.

Therefore,  let us henceforth have everybody producing something, but not anything that will aggravate the emissions hockey-stick curve. Let’s keep the proles fat n’ happy—or, excuse me—fit n’ happy, if possible without deepening the carbon footprint, lest we fall into deep sh_t.

A good way to do that is convert everybody to being producers of data instead of them being producers of carbon-spewing autos and such.

In olden days we had vast factories where workers cranked out trains and trucks and autos and washing machines and TVs and then microwaves and computers and now data and data and data and more data.

So now the world runs on data, don’t you know. And if you believe that I’ve got some swamp land in Houston I’ll sell you.

But I digress.

How ‘bout I give you an example of what it means to be living in a blahblah new world where our collective assets are studiously maintained by  tweaking  technocrats.

Check out this data from an analysis of labor/welfare incentives in Europe, posted  last week by Daniel Seikel.

https://www.socialeurope.eu/activation-work-poverty  

“If it were true that employment is the best route out of poverty, including in-work poverty, then, logically, the share of working poor should at least not increase if there is significant employment growth. The combination of employment growth and increasing in-work poverty suggests that activation policies might shift poor jobless persons/households to poor working persons/households. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the effects of different labour market policies on in-work poverty. In particular, what impact do the different elements of activation policy – conditionality, re-commodification and active labour market policies – have?

In theory, two effects are possible. First, active labour market policies can improve the qualification of job-seekers and enable them to get better paid jobs. This can lift formerly poor households above the poverty threshold (disposable household income below 60 percent of national median income). Second, the demanding elements of activation – strict conditionality and a high degree of re-commodification – can force unemployed individuals to accept job-offers even if the pay-levels are low. In this case, the income of the successfully activated might be too low to lift the household above the poverty threshold – poor unemployed would become working-poor.

That’s true, Daniel, I suppose. I’ll take your word for it. But whatever happens, however all this turns out, I can see we’ve come a long way from

Locomotv

to

TweakTek

In the olden days, the command was:

Move that barge; tote that bale!

The new program is:

Tote that phone; send that file!

This is progress, and this is what progressives have called for. It’s no wonder the outcome is Twitter, in which all the complexity of former times is dumbed down to 140 bits or pieces per event.

Good luck with that, y’all!

Glass Chimera 

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“The Press”

January 24, 2017

Our world was forever changed when, about 577 years ago, Johann Gutenberg devised an effective way to reproduce printed documents. His invention enabled the printer man to apply controlled mechanical pressure to an inked image in a manner that facilitated efficient multiple printings.

When the printer man repeatedy applied “the press” (more about this later) to those blank pages, the world was changed forever.

Gutenberg’s innovation enabled printers to print multiple editions of documents and books. Our Library of Congress recently displayed  a centuries-old Bible that was printed by means of the Gutenberg innovation.

BiblMainz

The printing industry progressed rapidly. It wasn’t very long before books and other documents were being churned out all over the world in great numbers.

Books have changed the world.

Our fascination with the stories, literature and information we find in books has revolutionized the way we live. In the late 1800s, the American artist John Frederick Peto painted this image of a pile of books. His picture, recently displayed in our National Gallery of Art, captures the fascination that I find within those printed pages.

BooksPntg

The spread of printing throughout the globe induced an information revolution that has affected the way we think about, and do, just about everything. As people became more and more literate, news of the times we live in became a larger and larger factor in the ways people think about the world. People in the modern world use news and contemporary information  to inform their decisions, and modify their strategies for living life successfully.

TimesLon'37

News became such an obsessive element in our modern life that large institutions were built for the purpose of informing people about what’s happening in our world.

ChiTrib2

Those massive news-spouting institutions now find themselves being cornered into a different role.  The big picture of 21st-century information dispersal is being turned on its ear by an unruly multiplicity of online mini-sources. This development is along the lines of what George Orwell called the “brave new world.”

Actually, it’s the wild, wild West out there. What we have now is like a million Okies hightailing it across the internet prairie, every one of us hell-bound to claim our little stake of the cyber-dirt that’s now being divvied up for the media of the masses.

Or “dictatorship of the proletariat”, if that’s what rings your chimes.

It used to be that “The Press” was all those journalists and editors who gathered and published the news on a daily basis.

But not any more. Our meaning of “the press” is now something else entirely, and I’m not sure how to define or describe it.

But I do surmise that our new understanding of “the press” has something to with that collective pressure applied by reporters on public spokespersons.

Here’s an example. Sean Spicer, the new White House Press Secretary, argues with The Press about how many people showed up for the inauguration.

PressCon

That’s The Press now, and this disconnect between “us” and “them” is the new “news.”

Lastly, as Uncle Walter might have said:

And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, January 24, 2017.

Glass half-Full

How Future comes Present

January 11, 2017

InfoMcL

I was born and raised as a child in the 1950’s. During that unique period of history, the USA was growing in many ways. Our military infrastructure, which had been necessarily pumped up during the big war in the early 1940’s, was morphing into an expansive peacetime economy. While we had needed tanks, guns, airplanes, aircraft carriers, etc in 1943, by 1953 our nascent prosperity demanded automobiles, interstate highways, refrigerators, washing machines and all the features of what was fast becoming modern life in America.

In the midst of all that economic expansion and life-changing technology, television entered the picture in a big way.

My g-generation was the first to grow up with TV, and this made a big difference in the way we thought and felt about everything. Now no one really knew what to expect of us baby boomers, because there never had been before, in the history of the world, a generation of kids who grew up with that lit-up screen projecting the world into everybody’s living room.

So the old folks, most notably Lyndon Johnson, were taken by surprise when, in the 1960’s, half the kids had no interest in carrying on with the capitalistic crusades of previous generations. We had not lived through that earlier time–the 1940’s–in which the USA’s “greatest generation” had shed blood and sweated blood and shed tears for the purpose of defeating national socialism and fascism in the world.

Furthermore, we grew up with a TV in the living room, and that changed everything.

Now our children–the X-er’s, the millenials, etc–are manifesting a similar sea-change, as they are growing up, and have grown up, in the age of the internet. So it seems to me that my generation, the boomers, are now carrying the burden of watching a bunch of kids come along who have a totally different worldview. While we were natives of the TV age, they are natives of the Online age.

Now the question in my mind is, how will they be different from us?

During the past year or so, I have been studying the historical time in which I grew up, while at the same living in the present, and seeking to understand the times in which our three children (now in their thirties)  have grown up.

My research led me to consider the work of Marshall McLuhan.

If you don’t know who he is, but you are wondering, google it.

For the sake of simplicity in this presentation, I will say that he accurately figured out, early on, a few things about the effects of TV and radio on my generation. He was prescient, which means he could see where things were headed, where history was taking us, into a wide world of information exploration. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

On May 8, 1966, while being interviewed by Robert Fulford on Canadian Broadcasting, Marshall McLuhan described future communication* in this way:

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems, and say you’re working on a history of Egyptian arithmetic. You know a bit of Sanskrit, you’re qualified in German, and you’re a good mathematician, and they say it will be right over. And they at once xerox, with the help of computers from the libraries of the world, all the latest material just for you personally, not as something to be put on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic information conditions. Products are increasingly becoming services.”

*quoted from page 101 of : Understanding Me, lectures and interviews, Marshall McLuhan; ed. Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines, with foreword by Tom Wolfe

The above quote was spoken presciently by Marshall McLuhan in 1966.

Now, in 2017, here is my revision of his statement, according to how his prediction has actually played out:

Instead of opening the Encyclopedia, you will use your electronic device to key in a word or phrase for your search. You may refine the search including a keyword about, for instance,  the history of rocket science. The online services know that: you have an interest in physics, you’ve got a BA level of information usage, and you can lean on your device for any calculations necessary. In the blinking of an eye, the search results pops up on your screen. You choose, let’s say, the Wikipedia link for starters, because you know the site’s sources are populated by researchers and their databases all over the world. Then you get to pick and choose which linked info you want to include in your own work. This is where we have evolved to under “electronic information conditions.” Information has become both a product and a service.

If you compare McLuhan’s prediction with my interpretation of how this has played out in the real world of 2017, the textual exercise could be instructive about how history actually develops, as compared to how we think it might unfold: close, perhaps, but not exact.

And here’s something to ponder.  About nineteen and a half centuries ago, Paul of Tarsus wrote:

“For now, we see through a glass, darkly.”

Which to me means: we can formulate educated guesses about what the future holds, but the picture is not clear to us. So, what else is new?  It’s up to you to find out. My experience says this could take a lifetime of learning.

King of Soul