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Creating Value in the 21st Century

I have a new talk that I’m beginning to get a handle on called “Creating Value in the 21st Century.”

It’s based around the idea of pushing our culture to see value beyond antiquarian measurement systems like the GDP or the DOW and move towards the inclusion of social and connection value systems that the new culture paradigm is establishing. For instance, the value of the United States as a country is still measured in the GDP, or the Gross Domestic Product, and as long as that number is going up our value as a society is as well. For reference it is defined as ‘the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.’

Adding to that, there is a formula where the actual GDP number itself derives. Investopedia lays it out in the the following way:

GDP = C + G + I + NX

where

C is equal to all private consumption, or consumer spending, in a nation’s economy, G is the sum of government spending, I is the sum of all the country’s investment, including businesses capital expenditures and NX is the nation’s total net exports, calculated as total exports minus total imports (NX = Exports – Imports).

(For more detail click here)

I am not an economist however, I understand that as an economic indicator in and of itself there remains popularity in the GDP because it deals with not just the value of what’s sold but also of the materials that go into whatever it is that is sold. So, theoretically the entire supply chain is accounted for.

If we take that snap shot and use it as the tell tale lens for a peoples overall health as a nation I propose there is something very flawed about that because it doesn’t take into account all the subtle, spiritual, inspirational, thought provoking and peer to peer work that most of us our doing on any given day. Therefore, with all of our insanely amazing ability to think, inspire and grow ourselves into these increasingly complicated biological connection machines there has to be a system of measurement that goes beyond just rudimentary manufacturing and sales variables that make up things like the GDP.

Let’s take the example of a favorite yoga teacher within your community. Let’s say your specific community and friend pool has a yoga teacher that is everyones favorite. His or her regular classes are usually packed and the feeling that is felt when leaving the class is commonly experienced to be ecstatic, inspired and transformational. For the sake of this example let’s say that there are 50 people who are in each class 4-5 times a week and of those 150 are unique (the other 50 being repeats). Those 150 people go out into the world completely changed people and take that change into their own individual lives. It’s without question, they are better teachers, parents, workers, lovers and friends all as a result of this one yoga teacher. Therefore the exponential effect that this one person has on the endless touch points of the 150 students is enormous and unmeasurable. If you really think about it, this yoga teacher may indirectly effect thousands of lives. Literally. That is value. That is real, tangible, un-esoteric value that makes the fabric of our society a better place. Yet, this person is often ignored as a value stake holder unless he or she creates a business around it.

Let’s look at another person. Let’s make it up and just say this person is the CEO of a successful pen company. Plugging in the variables lets determine that the pen company is in the US, does not outsource manufacturing, has been profitable for the last several years and employs around 300 people. Certainly, employment is good because it allows the worker to earn money that can provide for food, gas and various living expenses. Thus the town that the pen company is headquartered experiences value because of local tax revenue and steady employment for many local families. Because we’re assuming the pen company is profitable that means the CEO is wealthy as is credited for stimulating the GDP and might be heralded as a powerful and valuable person because of his or her ability to guide the success of the company. That CEO may rise to fame and fortune because he or she has managed to create a financial eco system that makes good on the American dream. These are the heroes of our society – take Jack Welch or Henry Ford for example.

When comparing and contrasting the two people and their function in society I’m sorry but I do not see the pen company CEO as providing more value than the amazing yoga teacher. It’s just that the value of the pen company can be measured so specifically and with great precision that we have gotten in the habit of only looking at value this way. This is flawed. The yoga teachers value, while not instantly measurable, provides for healthier, more compassionate, stable and inspired people which when trickled out into the world is certainly very powerful.

One may ask – well…if you had no pen company then the workers could have no money to take the yoga class! True! But if you had no yoga teacher then the worker wouldn’t be nearly as good of a worker thus productivity at the pen company would be down.

There are many more examples that I can illustrate. Many of which go beyond employment mechanisms and roles and stretch out into more nebulous realms like social media and media. More on those in follow ups to this post.

The point is that I think we need to stop and re calibrate our overall value systems. I don’t propose we do away with gigantic pillars of the industrial age but I do propose we integrate new thinking and consider new combinations of system indictors as we move into the future.

(Thank you Douglas Rushkoff and Joi Ito for inspiring me on the topic of value)

Tech

Atheism and Big Data – a love affair

Imagine a time when you were walking through life without knowing much about anything around you. How you got here, how old the planet is and it’s place in the galaxy was a total mystery until not that long ago. Because of the vast mystery that enshrouded every single person back in those days the natural proclivity was to embrace religion and the explanation that it provided. Mythology, doctrine and dogma provided a sense of relief and comfort to this thing we call consciousness.

Time marches on of course and new explanations have come to light. Mans focus on pursuing science has no doubt given way to incredible insight into the origins of our species, the planet we live on and the universe as a whole. Going beyond just our origins we’ve gotten very creative with our ingenuity and now understand how to accomplish great feats that would have seen most men burn at the stake for their heretic suggestions. Remember, even Galileo wasn’t believed at first and faced a roman inquisition for heliocentrism.

Fast forward to now. We live in an age where so much of our surrounding worlds both inside and outside of us can be quantified, categorized and analyzed to the point of exhaustion. It almost seems that we are on a track to figure everything out. Because of this more and more people are starting to abandon the idea of mysticism or religion in favor of cold hard data. This is the age of Big Data.

Technically speaking the term “Big Data” refers to the way in which our modern computational power gets hung up on the amount of data and thus needs to rethink it’s relationship to it in and of itself.

Wiki says:

Big data is a broad term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharingstoragetransfervisualizationquerying and information privacy. The term often refers simply to the use of predictive analytics or certain other advanced methods to extract value from data, and seldom to a particular size of data set. Accuracy in big data may lead to more confident decision making, and better decisions can result in greater operational efficiency, cost reduction and reduced risk.

Moving beyond the academic definition however, we will also see that Big Data is also a descriptor for the age in which we are currently living in. We’ve moved beyond the Information Age and into a brave new subset of where technology and science has not only grown so incredibly huge and precise but it’s also given meaning to the way we live. Science has taken the place of God.

For example, here are three very basic and now commonplace occurrences of Big Data in action.

Many millennials define themselves by their social media profiles and how those data sets mirror the projection of what it is they think they are. And that accompanying algorithm for how to keep up and market to this set of people is becoming increasingly complex and onerous. Or take a very rudimentary understanding of a discovery found within Quantum Mechanics that basically says that light and matter are made up of the same stuff. Another example might be; take an analytical dive into the study of the human genome project that’s setting out to map our entire DNA structure from a functional and physical standpoint.

There are endless other examples of how the measurement of our physical world has gotten so precise and qualitatively satisfying that has in fact given way to not just the material world but also our existential one. The increasing accuracy of science and it’s accompanying technology is now defining who we are, how we got here, our purpose for being here and is giving us the ability to somehow fit those concepts into a measurability that makes sense to us.

Of course it’s true that most of us, including myself, don’t understand the actual complexity of the living and breathing Big Data machine that surrounds our daily lives. The sheer amount of storage space that Facebook is using everyday boggles the mind. Or try explaining credit default swaps to me, I don’t get it. Still.

Here’s a great short essay on the possibility that we’ve already moved to the age of technology being indecipherable:

https://aeon.co/essays/is-technology-making-the-world-indecipherable

Given these facts, there is also an endless amount of technology that I depend on every day that I have no idea how it works. Yes, I maintain faith that it will keep working.

The key word here being faith. What I’m starting to notice is that within the last 20 years the rise of science and Big Data has started to chip away at our traditional definition of faith. One can argue that chipping away at the draconian religious structures is a good thing, which I won’t disagree with. But what is alarming and more problematic is that Big Data has also taken a bite out of mysticism. The rise of atheism and lack of mysticism is directly tied into the rise of the age Big Data.

Look at the rise of either religious polling data provided by Gallup since the dawn of the World Wide Web in 1995.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.44.34 PM
 Now look at the rise in Internet usage for the same date range (provided my Internet Live Stats)
Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 5.59.16 PM

Notice the patterns?

The first glaring note is to point out that Internet usage, in and of itself, does not equal a rise in scientific beliefs. But it does represent a broad view of how human society has embraced the age of Big Data and all the tangents that have sprouted off from it. Our humanity now existing in a digital form call the World Wide Web is happening with such great acceptance that one can assume that it is a mass adoption of a scientific way of viewing the world and thus it can make sense for this argument.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that both sets of data, Internet usage and Atheism identification, are rising at the same time. Furthermore as the technological trends morph and adoption rates continue to increase into areas such as nano technology, bio tech and other trans-humanist utopian fantasies we will continue to see more and more people shun the labels of the great religions of yesterday and identify with “nothing” because it’s the only religious label that may fit. It’s the only label that means no mystics, just data.

There is strong evidence, however, that suggests more and more people are identifying with the whole “spiritual but not religious” label but not to the detriment of people still favoring the atheist label instead. That’s another tangent to explore. Certainly, the long term effect of how the whole radical Christian/radical Islam game plays out will have an effect on these data sets over time.

Going back to mysticism and Big Data, it is my hope that our species won’t merely rest on the “facts” that data provides but rather on the manifest of God that can be found in the circuitry that we are creating. For me, the Godhead is taking form in the connectivity that we have invented that takes disguise in the Internet, VR, nano tech and AI. Just as a tree creates an apple, a human creates a computer.

In here somewhere is God working itself out in a way that’s talking to us. We just can’t hear it yet.

And let us not forget the great words of Terrence McKenna  – “There exists a dimension beyond language, it’s just so damn hard to talk about.”

But that’s another post…

Me Tech

Mutations

I’ve written on this somewhere before, I just can’t remember where or in what form right now.

As I was driving down the coast from Big Sur this morning I reflected on my own personal digital detox that I had the pleasure of undergoing for the previous weekend. Basically I only checked my phone once in three days which for me is extreme. Unless I’m in some far off land or physically unable to my phone, like most of us, has mutated into an appendage.

With great trepidation and cynicism I’ve been checking out what the Digital Detox (http://digitaldetox.org) team is doing. My first reaction is one of defensiveness and outright defiance in that these damn dirty hippies are trying to disrupt the train that has already left the station. That they are trying to challenge the nature of progress and creativity by guilt tripping us into getting our feet dirty in the god damn dirt and if we don’t we may loose out on the truly meaningful things in this life. Deeper friendships, connections, inter personal love affairs and fresh air are all things that come to mind. And of course while I’m busy judging the book by its cover and rallying against these extremist antiquarians I am being bombarded with more texts and tweets than a) I can keep up with and b) can sustain my attention in any sort of cognitively sane way. Yes, it’s true that I – like just about everyone else in the western world – is seeing their attention span dissipate into a stream of short sound bytes and only half way real digital connections. The pay off for the short term shift is that my long term neural network based creative potential and inspiration is far more developed than ever before, that – however – is another blog post.

The weirdest part about our digital connections is not that it’s happening but rather, the speed at which we’ve adapted to its happening. I’m at the age where I can remember my adult life pre smart phone and post smart phone. Or pre web and post web. Somehow, I lived life before Google Maps telling me where to go or before a friends text message telling me where and when to meet them. This did happen. Yet, I can’t remember it. No, seriously. I can’t remember.

I can’t remember how day to day life worked just a short 8-20 years ago. This is not to say that my memory has dwindled or that I’m exaggerating the circumstances, neither has occurred. The mutation of how the technology has been chosen, applied and then just accepted is a thing of pure mysticism that is found within the human condition. Yes, these mutations have happened before – from the Guttenberg press all the way through the advent and subsequent mass adoption of TV – we are very quick to embrace the new stuff and quickly discard the old.

There is something different about personal digital technology that can’t quite be put into the same category as the others – partially due to the peer-to-peer connective tissue, the rapid acceleration of the thoughts and ideas and the simplicity and grace that is found within the UI. It’s easy to get sucked in and quite frankly the laziest most introverted troll on the planet can have skin in the game. We’ve mutated fast. So fast that I’m of the mind to suggest that it’s a natural evolution and may in face be a form of some quasi warped blend of spirituality and purpose driven destiny. On a good day. On a bad day, it’s the end of the world. It’s us being sucked into a black hole where there is no more empathy or compassion, just social media driven justice and cold hearted hellos. Somewhere in between is the truth.

Back to last weekend. With just two and one half short days off from the digi-drome I did indeed remember how it used to be. It came flashing back to me in little bits complete with euphoric recalls of pay phones and note pads.

Then I got lost and needed Goolge Maps. My notifications were not off. Sigh. The cycle repeats.