Oh, another drippy Saturday morning here in Soggy-Bottom. Still, I awoke with a sense of purpose, feeling a rant bubbling up from deep inside. You see, I’ve read other blogs a bit more widely since we got started here, wanting to help understand the various currents of debate swirling through the ether. It doesn’t take a “rocket scientist” to see just how choppy those waters are.
At any rate, if you, the reader, has found this little start-up, I suspect you know a bit more about that process than I do. Frankly, it’s more than a bit mind-numbing and, in me, it fosters quite a lot of sympathy to those among us who’ve simply turned their backs on virtually all media of any sort.
Any of you older “surfers” who can actually remember using TELNET, FTP and USENET protocols, perhaps even helped form the early ranks of Compuserve, might find it shocking to realize that even the younger “upstarts” (or should that be “start-ups”) Amazon and Yahoo are now already sixteen years old. Well, at the risk of dating myself even more, I’ll admit that I’m shocked.
More shocking has been the progressive evolution of thought and knowledge in our society. In the mid-90’s, I began learning about (and, to a limited degree, earning from) the development of what was a relatively new and revolutionary way of organizing and processing information. These new “relational” database formats were well on their way to replacing the age-old hierarchical systems that pre-dated the “information age”. Naturally, there were (and are) other competing models, all of which were hoped to, in effect, loosen the constraints imposed by actually vetting, evaluating, and understanding information before actually using it.
The “relational model”, on the other hand is, first and foremost, all about optimising the collection, storage, and accessing of data, and not so much about understanding them. My thoughts at the time, “uh oh, that right there surely looks just a bit like Pandora’s box“.
Don’t get me wrong, like a whole new generation of fools that stood in line to type FORTRAN program commands on paper tape and/or IBM cards, I’ve made my living on data processing in one form or another for much of the last 30 years. I know just how constrained the hierarchical database structures can be….and still have to work with some of the bloody legacies that remain today. In a word, they suck rocks.
But, here’s the deal: We’re now awash in information and appear to be losing all those useful and reliable tools to process it….neatly replacing context with volume. And, by the way, this mountain is growing by leaps and bounds, by all accounts at an accelerating rate of change. While opinions vary, one notable “futurist” Ray Kurzweil (see prior link) boldly asserts that human knowledge doubles every year. Well, that’s just marvelous.
For the record, I don’t really care how much of a “Luddite” you might happen to be, virtually all of us have been swept up in this current of secular humanistic advancement. Some might even put that under the heading of “basic survival skill” in this world. Not surprisingly, even remote African villages are now replete with cell phone technology and now, ostensibly, internet access as well. Well, as might be obvious, I’m among those that hold some reservations about all of this “progress”.
Notably, assuming the idea hasn’t been utterly swept out to sea as yet, it’s worth recalling the old adage that “context is everything”. (That reminds me to try to track down a copy of Susan Engel’s book of the same name.) That can’t be true, can it? Might I be confused on this very topic? Really? Everything?
Well, I do believe that the greatest continuing battle over the course of human history has been the one of context. In this case, I’m talking about the one that addresses the simplest of human questions, “how and why are we here?” You might guess where I stand there, so I won’t belabor the point.
I will, however, try to foster some thought with how we might imagine that “little bit” of context changes your (or my) position on all those debates raging thoughout the blogosphere. Let me know if you can figure out, for instance, which of the following might be the “Frying Pan” or the “Fire” or, alternatively, whether it even matters to you anymore.
Capitalist vs. Socialist
Collectivist vs. Individual
Man vs. Woman
Man vs. Planet
Republican vs. Democrat
Conservative vs. Liberal
Carnivore vs. Vegan
Christian vs. Everybody Else
Muslim vs. Everybody Else
Muslim vs. Jew
Rich vs. Poor
Growth vs. No Growtha
Creator vs. Creation
Climate Change vs. You gotta be kidding me
Urban vs. Rural
Tradition vs. Progress
Pessimist vs. Optimist
Language vs. Reason
Truth vs. Spin
Thin Crust vs. Deep Dish