Live together or die alone

This article in the BBC’s online magazine rather intrigued me; basically, are we heading for a dislocated society in which the relatively wealthy live in walled communities whilst the rest of the population exist in a less secure ‘open world’?

When I was a kid I remember reading a suggestion that the evolution of community resources, like street lighting, sewers, etc. came about because the rich had to share the world with the rest of us.  A wealthy man might have a well lit private estate and safe water, but if he, or his family, had to go outside the confines of their safe zone they might soon be in dark, dangerous streets and exposed to foul standing water rife with disease. 

So, philanthropically minded individuals acted from enlightened self interest (and then from the profit motive) to create municipal organisations that provided street lighting, paved roads, sewers, etc. for everyone.

It’s ironic that a century or so later we’re heading in the other direction by starting to consider retreating from these communities in to walled communities and other protected environments.  The wealthy no longer choose to collectively improve the commmunities that they interact with on a regular basis, but instead choose to isolate themselves from them and rely on defences rather than building a ‘common treasury’ in their communities form which all can benefit.

I have recently become very interested in Permaculture and ‘Transition Towns’   as means of addressing the pressing problems of Peak Oil and Climate Change.  Both of these philsophies reflect the enlightened self-interest approach to surviving massive cultural shocks.  They assume that the ebst way to make lives in a future totally changed by fuel and energy crises and climate modification is to survive as a community.  Compare this with the alternative approach – wealthier individuals building individual bolt holes for themselves and their families shows admirable foresight and planning but there remains the problem that at some point, after the MREs have run out, the inhabitants of these bunkers are going to have sally forth in to the world they left behind.  At that point they’re going to have to interact with those who didn’t have bunnkers – either by force of arms or by negotiation. 

I see survival built purely on personal and family group provision as being short sighted and, whilst for some it may be the only way open to them, for the vast majority of us we need to work out how we’re going to mould together the communities in which we live to prepare for changes in the future.


Dumbing Down 2.0?

I regularly follow Bill Thompson’s columns on Online Issues at the BBC’s website – see the Blogroll here for a link to Bill’s personal blog – and recently re-read this item  which I found very interesting indeed.

In it he comments on the idea expressed by Nick Carr – that Google and it’s ilk on the Internet might actually be diminishing our capacity for thinking.  There is also a little backing from neurologist Susan Greenfield for the idea, in that the way we take in information from modern media is different to how we’ve taken in information (by more direct experience) for the last couple of million years.  In other words, there may be a bit of re-wiring going on…

Now, what really interested me here was that it actually supports a vague suspicion I have that my own mental faculties have changed in recent years.  I’ve also witnessed it in others, and heard people complain about the fact that ‘They can’t settle down to read’, for example.  Just watch people around you – we seem to spend an awful lot of time when we are mentally engaged in ‘information surfing’.  We used to joke about MTV Attention Spans and ‘soundbite politics’ – how long before we start commenting on your ‘Googlespan’ rather than your attention span?

Experience in administering and contributing to numerous online discussion forums and mailing lists has also exposed me to what I think are changes in the style of discourse.  Ignoring the ‘slanging matches’ I’ve noticed more use of links to things like blogs and wikis without any interpretation of the target link by the poster.  Sometimes this is appropriate, but sometimes the relevance of the link to the ‘guts’ of the issue at hand seems to be tenuous or requires ‘drawing out’ from the material referenced.  In either case, I’d expect the referenced material to be developed in the discussion; without this development it often appears that the poster is simply ‘Google Bombing’ the discussion with a load of references designed more to give the appearance of knowledge than the actual knowledge itself. 

After all, Googling a topic rarely takes more than a few minutes; understanding the material returned, cross referencing it, checking it’s particular bias or accuracy – these are the parts of the process of Internet research that take the time if done properly.  I guess I’m concerned about laziness or, in some cases, posters exhibiting intellectual intimidation by simply attempting to floor people with their apparent erudition.  How one determines whether soemone is lazy, intimidating or simply assumes people know as much as they do is a good point for discussion!

Perhaps we should all take a few steps to stop the rot in our own thinking. 

One starting point is to search for knowledge, not to point score.  Resist the temptation to Google for facts in a topic about we know nothing, purely to win a debating point.  After all, shouldn’t you be engaging in that debate with at least a grasp of the basic issues involved?  Now, don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying don’t Google; I’m saying Google in the heat of debate to get clarification and detail, not to get ‘first time exposure’ to the issues.  If you see a debate that looks interesting but of which you know nothing, then take soem quality time out to read around the issue from a number of online sources and – dare I say it – the odd book or magazine article?  After all, if it’s worth your time debating it, it’s worth doing well.

Secondly – know and question your sources.  See what other ersources are referenced.  regard anything without at least a couple of supporting ‘quality’ references as an debate-pieces rather than it necessarily being afctually correct.

Read deep as well as wide; too often people see something that appears to support their point of view and then stop reading. 

 Let’s see what we can do to stop the ‘fast food’ approach to our acquisition of information.  We should be acquiring information, to improve our knowledge, and from that develop wisdom in the application of that hard earned knowldge.  Read deep and wide and continue the tradition of the centuries.

Now, stop reading this and grab a book.


Computer says no – or, `How I stopped worrying and learnt to love the waste…`

People who know me will be aware of my occasional – and increasingly regular – rants about the lack of joined up thinking that surrounds us in every aspect of life in the UK.  I’m currently attempting to reduce my carbon footprint and general consumption, but every now and again succumb to a desire for take away pizza.

I know I shouldn’t, but just occasionally noting hits the spot better than watching TV whilst eating something that is baaaaad for you. 

Tonight, however, ended up with me almost beating my head in frustration against the telephone receiver.  The order was simple – big pizza, two portions of garlic bread and a pot of ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.  The problem started when the assistant tried to be helpful by creating a ‘deal’.  However….ice cream wasn’t included – fine.  And you can have a third side dish.  Not fine.  I didn’t want a third side dish.  Mrs P. and I couldn’t EAT a third side dish.

I explained this to the assistant and then sat back to listen to her try and get the 1 pizza, 2 sides and ice cream through the computer.  I worked really hard to explain that I didn’t want to waste food by taking a third side order that wouldn’t be eaten…

And failed.  Said order arrived…with three garlic breads.  Ack…..

It’s funny in a way but let’s take a serious look at this; Wee Gordon tells us to stop wasting food.  His Government are also concerned about obesity.  Yet major fast food chains in the UK are basically promoting food waste and obesity by attempting to talk people in to taking food they don’t want.  Utterley, utterley bizarre.

The Government and the Corporates need to get their act together on this sort of issue…if they are genuinely concerned, that is.  Or, as I suspect, are they just mouthing platitudes because they genuinely feel powerless in the path of world events?