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2.19.2004

Refish
It's Thursday again, which means the Fishing Report is back in today's Chron. Read it. It's a tasty cross between a gossip column, a weather report, and poetry.
Education v Entrenchment
My friend David posits (in response to my most recent post) that the cultural value of any technological innovation should be the the educational value of the product minus the entrenchment value (which he defines as the ability of the product to enable users to continue doing what they have always done). I agree. As I wrote back to him, the nature of the market is to create products that people "need," which is to say products that help people do what they were already doing, only faster or easier. It is a rare product that offers consumers educational value such as a new perspective, a new way to solve a problem, etc. On the whole they simplify life, unfortunately.
The only upside to this, as far as I see it, is that this bandwagon tendency - of products to accelerate society's ability to reach current goals such as not having to leave the house, keeping the kids quiet, or not having to cook dinner - displays the value of those goals sooner than would otherwise happen. It's like watching a computer solve a maze with a thousand dead ends. The sooner Americans get to see the result of attaining those goals, the sooner they get to evaluate whether they were worth reaching. The question would seem to be whether we see the pattern in our choices before we run out of short-sighted goals.

2.17.2004

Snuggling up with Change
Listening to KQED this morning, I heard them mention that Hewlett-Packard was sponsoring the program. Their slogan was something to the effect of, "Using technology to help people and businesses embrace change." It caught my attention.
Really? Embracing change? That would be some feat, because the way I see things, Americans' reaction to the perceived increase in the rate of change of all types (social, environmental, cultural, etc.) is the one element that most defines our culture and worldview. And the rapid change in technology plays no small role in the rate of change. Computers are outdated after two years. It's almost comical.
I have written about this before. Americans are searching for ways to organize the stimulus thrown at them into some sort of coherent pattern and they're having trouble succeeding. There is just too much information, too much change happening too fast, and people are unable to process it all. The ones who aren't trying to organize it have given up and hide out in their apartments. Or out in the suburbs.
I would love to embrace change. I just wonder if technology isn't more a symptom than an answer. Education, I think, would make more sense. People need to understand their environments in order to embrace them.

2.12.2004

The Fish are Changing Color
Looking for new input this morning, and stuck in vicious traffic on the Bay Bridge, I found myself reading The Fishing Report on the back of the Chron sports section. I don't fish. I've caught one fish in my life, and that was with the help of three people and a dipnet. But there I was, reading about how the halibut weren't biting, humpbacks could be spotted off Half Moon Bay (the earliest they've been spotted in these waters in 30-some odd years, according to a Salty Lady skipper Roger Thomas), and how the locals were recommending fishing with scrambled eggs (also called "squid skirts") for salmon runs.
I was comforted by reading these comings and goings. I couldn't care less about what Dianne Feinstein is wearing at a fundraiser ball, but hearing about the gossip of the maritime scene settles me. It's seasonal rituals. It's who's going where, again, and how to catch a glimpse of them on their way. I'll talk to anyone who will listen about how the one thing that bugs me about San Francisco is the lack of seasons - but there I was reading about how it's almost time for the opening salmon run of the season, how the whales were doing their seasonal migration, and how the tides were low this week. The patterns are still there, you just have to put your ear to the track and still your internal voices for a second.
It doesn't beat me over the head like the colors of the New England foliage, but it's there. Listen.

2.09.2004

The Land Under Your Feet
I like the article in today's New York Times about the struggling city of Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy. Located on the top of an improbably tall and skinny butte in the middle of a canyon in the province of Viterbo, the ground beneath the city is slipping away slowly, and bit by bit the buildings are falling off the edge of the cliff to the valley below. There are only a handful of residents, one inn, and no grocers. And you can only get there via a steep and narrow footbridge.

It's improbable isolation reminds me of McCarthy, Alaska, which is located at the end of a 60 mile dirt road in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest in the United States. At mile 59, the road stops when it hits the Kennicott River. Park your car and walk the footbridge and the last mile to town on foot. There is something about a city huddled in isolation that is defiantly proud. McCarthy, pushes on despite the fact that the copper mines long ago stopped operating. Civita is undergoing a $15m, 10-year soil strengthening project. Nature tends toward entropy. Cities fight back.

2.02.2004

The Stretch
There's a nice, simple article in today's New York Times about eastern European and Russian immigrants going up to northern Westchester County to icefish and reminisce about their motherlands. I sympathize. While San Francisco is hardly as different from my native New England as New York is from Siberia, I too find myself searching out places that remind me of my old home. I feel warm when I see brick buildings. I nod my head at stone walls. We all see our environments in relation to where we grew up. It's the way our brains work - the experience of the present through the filter of the past. And no matter how far afield a person moves, they always seem to find one place that reminds them of home, a place that makes their feet stick to the earth a little more firmly while their heart goes elsewhere. It's in that experience of disparity between the old home place (as bluegrass tunes call it) and the new home that I remember exactly where I'm from, where I am now, and how I transversed the distance. It makes me feel alive and hyperaware. I couldn't stand to feel that way all day every day, but I wouldn't want to go a month without it.

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