Knowing more – a reflection

My son loves Star Wars.

I have to admit I loved Star Wars back in the days when there was just one film, then two and three, but I’ve always been more of a Trekkie (even if I enjoy Babylon 5 and a handful others as well, including the stuffy Space 1999). It follows that I never felt any enthusiasm over the ‘prequel’ films – even the names have evaded me – so I’m virtually clueless when it comes to how Darth Vader came to be. What I know of it mostly comes from playing Lego Star Wars with my son.

This past spring I caved in and let my son watch the very first Star Wars film. I thought him too young but he and his friend loved playing Lego Star Wars and he begged and begged and begged to see at least the first film. I gave in.
Maybe not a surprise, given my love for science fiction, even if I truthfully think of Star Wars as more in the high fantasy genre.

As he can’t read yet it means I have to read all the lines for him, reading off the subtitles (but sometimes I improvise, because the subtitles are too far from the original intent and tone).

Anyway, he was a bit scared, that first time, because he felt it too real. A couple of months later he encountered the animated Clone Wars series, watching with his older second cousin. He explained to me it wasn’t as scary as the figures clearly wasn’t real. Then last week he started to nag me about watching the two other films, and a couple of days ago we started with Empire Strikes Back. Yesterday evening we watched the last part of Return of the Jedi.

Afterwards it was one thing that stayed with him – why Luke had to fight his father. In his world no son should have to do this, and I agree with him. BUT. I never thought of it that way. To me Darth Vader was truly evil, some one to be scared of.

The difference is my son knows a) Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, so no surprise effect in the films, and b) he likes Anakin, he’s a good guy, and the Evil Emperor (as my son labels him) has perverted him, by force.
It follows that my son never ever thinks Darth Vader scary, taking away a lot of the tension from the films. But it also means that to him the very last scene – when the the ghost of Anakin joins the ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan – is crucial, because it means Anakin gets redress, is exonerated, which is a relief to anyone used to thinking of him as ‘good’.
While to me that last scene is just a general feel-good moment and not terribly important.

What a difference a couple of decades and more knowledge of the back story can do.

Amazing. And perhaps a lesson in itself.


The death of Journalism?

Transparency. Journalism. Social media.

Some say this new thing called social media is killing the ‘old’ media, suggesting words printed on paper.

When Pagemaker first appeared we got flooded in badly made flyers, pushed on us by our local grocery shop. The Death of Graphic Design was announced – now everyone could make their own ads and no one would need those professionals whose only justification had been mastery of a set of hands on tools. Knowledge and experience was not an issue.

You all know were that ended, right? Since some years back those flyers and leaflets have started to look take on a more professional look. Because design is not about pushing graphics and chunks of text about on a screen – it’s so much more.

Now, quite a few people I know have told me journalism died +10 years ago, at the hands of reality shows and sensationalism. Others are saying it’s dying here and now, at the hands of transparency and Twitter.

Let me tell you my not so very humble opinion. We are drowning in a flood of information. We have to react to every thing, every time, at once. The flood is up, everyone’s running, and but a few has the time or backbone or the means to sit back and watch the macro perspective. So no one knows what information snippet is connected to what, what information is true or false or significant or insignificant, or who has planted it – a very elite few has the time to turn information into knowledge.

This is the logical next step in the political strategy of the pseudo-democratic western culture – to allow everyone right of speech but to listen at no one. Let the populace drown in egotistical indulgence in designer handbags and which celebrity’s in bed with whom and Today’s Outfit while the powers that be enact their agendas, fed by hunger for money and power.

In such a situation journalism has a place. Serious journalism, with an agenda, boldly announced. Not this present self-proclaimed and false ‘objectivity’ of the reporter ethos, but real journalism.
People analysing data, recognising patterns, and telling us what they see. Digesting information, and telling us their views so we can compare against our own value sets. Helping us stay afloat.

So while journalism sure looks dead to me there is a need for it.

And don’t forget – almost all media are social, only some are more participatory than others. TV, that demon, offered a channel for national and cultural cohesion, in a social context even though only a few got to participate in its production.

Quest for knowledge

I’m on a quest. It’s a personal one – I try to learn at least one new thing every day.

I’m not always successful, but I do try.

Some things don’t qualify, even if I didn’t knew them before. The retail price for a bed frame is, as an example, exempt. So are knowledge of events, like the recent wild fires in Australia.
There’s a fine line in there somewhere, and I think the rules don’t stand scrutiny. But still – I try to learn new things.

The day I resign from this quest I could just as well kiss life goodbye. Because getting to know and understand things are parts of what makes life interesting.

Today I learnt one new word. Adduced. It means ‘offer as proof/evidence’. I have seen it before, but it wasn’t until today that I actually checked its meaning.

Yesterday was void of learning, and thus a lost day.

Tomorrow hopefully brings something new.

Is the importance of books a short interlude in our history?

I’m a bit jaded. I’ve seen technologies come and go, and after having invested time and effort into them I have lived to see most of them fade away. This have meant I’m not too keen on ‘new’ things. Not that I’m not interested, or curious. But most things I have seen before.

The difference now is, of course, there’s a critical mass. Places like LinkedIn and Facebook, services like Yammer and Twitter – they only grow important and inevitable if enough people uses them. And in western society of today, enough people have made the transition into the digital age to make those places viable.

The internet is perceived as a fast medium. Books is a slow medium, and TV is in between. Are books on the loosing end of this equation? Will books loose the importance they have had in conveying knowledge and ideas, historically?

These are some of my thoughts –

As long as people have been able to write written documents have been of some import. Used for to keep count of things, but also for poetry and political diatribe (a favourite in most ‘civilized’ societies, it seems!) and to document knowledge and theories. But prior to the advent of the printing press, books where both written and bound by hand, and very much one off. Rich people paid to have copies made, and the copies varies between them – bits and pieces shorn off or added so to ring true to current ideas and policies. Despite this books made a difference. Through books concepts of arithmetic and medicine got introduced to western Europe. Books, in a more conceptual way, because they are often scrolls, also was used to shape history. Hagiographies and biographies was used to reshape past events, and as those documents are what survived our sources are skewed. I’d argue that this was the intent, and in many ways they have proved successful.

Anyway, in more recent times books have had some impact. Think of The origin of the Species, which have affected us whether we think the earth is 4000 years old or if we think we and the world around us have evolved for millennia. There are, of course, more recent examples. This is not the place to name them – the list is huge and contains different books depending on culture and geography.

Today fewer and fewer read. The publishing houses are, on an international level, consolidating, meaning a handful of people decide what will get printed or not (Sweden, on the contrary, have a lot of small independent publishers). Ideas are conveyed via the internet and TV, and are so many most of us have no means of sorting or organizing the stuff in anything resembling a coherent picture. Some may argue that we are leaving the printed word for a more oral/visual culture.

If I may I’d say that if so we are only returning to what we left when we started to commit ink to paper (or papyrus or whatever). Humankind survived through millennia before we started to make markings more linguistically coherent than cave paintings.

Are we going backwards? Or are we leaving an intermediate state, to return to a way of communicating more consistent with ourselves as human beings?

I for one think books will continue to be important. In some contexts not HOW MANY but WHO and WHAT are the important factors. Books for pure entertainment? That will, regrettably, be a diminishing niche. Or so I think.

Thanks to my friends at The Green Dragon, and especially to JPB who brought this up (“Is the age of “writers shaping culture” over?”) (even if it wasn’t originally intended to take the turn it did. But that’s the way with discussions, so only to be expected!)

We are not the first…

Consider Newgrange.

Consider the Egyptian pyramids, or the Mesoamerican ones.

Consider the plumbing of ancient Rome, or the engineering of the Andalusian Moors. And a lot of more peoples, just like them.
Throughout the ages.

Each of them presumably thought of themselves as the height of civilisation. Just as we do.

How far ahead of them are we, in reality?

Should a single nation foot the bill for research in a propulsion technology that can take us to the stars?

And – when we get there. Will we have changed? Or will we still be bickering narrow minded humans thinking ourselves superior to all and everyone, including ourselves?

At the moment, I’m not very hopeful.

Knowledge – information off on lost tangents, found

Knowledge. What is it?

Information, opinions, ideas. DIFFERENT information, opinions, ideas that gets mixed in a pot, stirred a bit, and then comes out either edible or not. Whichever way the PROCESS hopefully led to something valuable. And that, IMHO, is knowledge, in and of itself.

Knowledge is not knowing when the battle of Hastings was fought. 1066 is just a year, and the name is a tag, a piece of information. Understanding WHY, and in which context… then we are approaching knowledge – something that can be understood and used and extrapolated.

The way I see it.

To make the information into knowledge you need to not be alone. You need diversity, you need opinions to clash, to meet resistance so to being able to find new and more sustainable ways.

I wonder – will diversity survive in this ultra-libertarian society we are building, where only the strongest survive, devouring it’s lesser brethren?

I wonder – will humanity survive when diversity slips us?

Reading Cyteen and Regenesis (by author C. J. Cherryh) makes the brain tick, adding aspects to issues not even under consideration in those two books.

This is not a review. It’s a recommendation.
I dare you.