Friday, January 2, 2009

Technology/blawging, Fave #3

This is Salko, who works at the parking lot across the street from my building. His does not look like a very pleasant job to me. He spends all day in a room as big as two phone booths. But Salko is always very pleasant and professional. His lot is always immaculate. When it snows, like it did last night again, he gets here early and clears the stripes so it is easy to park.

In the morning sometimes I sit in my car and finish phone conversations. Once while I was talking to my brother, an unknown number came up and I answered it. It was Salko. "You left your lights on." He had looked up my number from my monthly pass application.

Salko reminds me of something my dad used to tell me, that a man who does his job well can look anyone in the eye.

I was driving into work this morning and wondering whether I would continue blawging this year. It's time consuming and difficult. There are times where it makes me feel more connected, sometimes less. So I started making a list in my head, What do I like about maintaining this blawg?

What do I like about maintaining this blawg?

1. I like sharing stuff, telling stories, connecting with people.

2. It is an interesting discipline having your words read by many people, people in my industry, strangers, family members, close friends. Creates competing urges to be honest, to be open, to be vulnerable, to be protective, to try to appear likeable or smart or funny. A good exercise in developing your authentic voice.

3. Self discovery. For me, I think out loud, and often don't know what I believe until I say it, or blawg it. As my dad used to say when he read something from his own journaling practice that caught him off guard, I didn't know I thought that.

4. Great way to document and encourage this incubation period of my life.

5. Great way for President-elect Obama and his team to see what I am about. I notice I am getting lots of visits from Illinois. Great.

But, blawging doesn't always feel good. Sometimes it feels isolating? Maybe because, despite the connections, it is still screentime, as Jacques called it.

Jacques, the street artist I mentioned in my last post, eventually moved into my apartment with me in Amsterdam, sometime in 1995. In Joseph Campbell terms, Jacques played the archetypal role of the helper, like Yoda, one who gives us courage and guidance on our quest. He also reminds me of the troll, beckoning me across the bridge and into the dark woods.

Before I met Jacques I loved all things technology-related. I was a member of the computer club in high school, an audiophile, an owner of the first generation Apple Macintosh. I was the first art director at Wieden+Kennedy to have his own computer! What could be bad about technology?

Jacques's technological world view was just to the left - or is that right? - of the Unabomber. Jacques avoided any activity that involved looking at, or talking about, things happening on a screen: television, movies, iphones, ipods, certainly computers. To Jacques, screentime was second-hand experience, as opposed to the first-hand experience of non-screentime, also known as "life," and was therefore inferior in quality.

Jacques started me with Technopoly, by Neil Postman, one of the most clear-headed but radical assessments of the pros and cons of technology you'll ever read. He eventually got me on the hard stuff, Jacques Ellul's nearly impenetrable but dark and brilliant Technological Society, and this book, my Fave #3.

Jacques pulled out a dog-eared copy from his satchel one night and held it towards me with a troll-like warning: "Don't read this book if you don't want to change your life." He wasn't kidding!

Jerry Mander was partner of legendary San Francisco adman Howard Gossage in the firm Freeman, Mander & Gossage in the '60s. He quit to start Public Media Center, a non-profit ad agency devoted to the public interest, and to write. This book performed some major career chiropractic for me and expanded my world view forever, shaping the complex relationship I have with technology.

The summary of all the books mentioned above: Technology threatens our humanity.

Sure. It all gets a little too digital. A reader blawg comment, no matter how personal, is a qualitatively different sort of connection than the real world - if mundane - connection I experienced this morning purchasing a parking pass from Salko. It's just more deeply felt.

But then, while writing this post, I go back and look at that reader comment, and I see that it is written by Dion Hughes, and I wonder, Is that the same Dion Hughes who did all that work I loved at Chiat and Fallon back when? And I check and yes, it is, and I go to his site, and I read how he is structuring his new company, and it's exciting, it sounds like exactly what I am going to do next, and it confirms for me the new model emerging in my business: small, talented groups of people, collaborating, self-organizing, open-minded as to what the solution looks like. And it inspires me.

And then you read this blawg, person working for Obama, or Google, or Peet's, or Starbucks, or some other cool company making the world better and more interesting, and you think, this guy sounds interesting, I think I'd like to meet him, and I fly out and meet you, and we hit it off and have a great meal at a cool little restaurant and it turns out you know my sister! No way! And we create brilliant things together. Incredible.

Screentime connection might not have the smell or touch or humanity or ultimate depth of non-screentime connection, but it has a velocity and expansiveness and serendipity built in that gives it a lot of power and surprise. For me, mindfully combining both screen and non-screen connections in my life gives me the most juice.

So when evaluating a technological addition to my life, I ask myself, will this improve the quality of my life? Will it help me grow, or laugh, or think, or connect, or experience my full humanity? Will it make me more me or less me?

Computer, yes. iPhone, definitely. Microwave, no. Whirley Popper? For sure. TV, sometimes. Movies, definitely yes. Twitter and Facebook? Not sure. Sometimes. We'll see.

Blawging, for now, yes.

Love, Jelly


Bill W said...

I am with you on the whirly popper. Mine is beat to shit, but still makes the best popcorn. No one in my house knows how to use it without burning. I have my own method in which I'm able to put out about 5 loads at once. I'll bet you have your own method. Don't stop blogging!

John Helm said...

I am glad you are blawging. I feel more connected to you.


Dion Hughes said...

Hey Jelly, thanks for the mention and the link. I wondered if you'd remember me... we met a long time ago, I'm thinking through my partner at the time Cabell Harris. I've always loved your writing, both ad-wise and also I recall reading you in Adbusters (?)

Drop me an email sometime: dion at persuasionusa dot com
I'd love to compare notes on what we/you are plotting and scheming.

NoMonsters said...

Fork, yes. Spoon, no.
Jelly, I feel like you are looking at tools and trying to decide whether they will make you happy. A computer, iPhone, fork, or wheel are just tools. I am sure when man made the first wheeled wagon and was riding thru the countryside at 3 mph he thought about how his feet were not touching the grass. It had become a second-hand experience. It did however make his life easier, better.
I enjoy your blog.

I'm principal of a said...

Thanks Jan.

This from Wikipedia entry on Postman:

In an interview on January 17 1996, Postman re-emphasized his solution for technopoly, which was to give students an education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, so they may become adults who “use technology rather than being used by it."

Josh said...

Hi Jelly,

My name is Josh, and Peter Yue directed me to your blog. Interesting stuff to read! I've only written a few blog entries, but I really identify with the aspect of it being difficult and working through "why blog?"

I read Technopoly as a text for a class in '95, I think. I remember it being easy to read and really interesting. However, the only thing I remember consciously from it was his talking about the how abundance of information is usually seen as a good thing ("knowledge is power"), but the dangers of an over-abundance of information is less considered. There may be more that subconsciously affected me, but without reviewing the book again, I couldn't say what it might be. :)

I agree about technology -- technology should better our lives in some way. Even though I'm a web programmer, I've become a "late adopter" for that reason: if what I'm doing now does everything I need, the chaos for learning something new without corresponding extra benefit isn't worth it (i.e. transitioning from Windows XP to Vista). I have a cell phone now, but wasn't excited about them at first -- who wants to be on a leash _and_ pay more per month? But, when I first heard about the web, and later on, mp3's, I was incredulous ("It's too good to be true!"), then really excited! I'm still really excited about the web and the internet, but I don't necessarily think everyone needs a website. :)

You say "Microwave, no." Why? While I have grown as a person in the time I've spent learning to cook [without using a microwave], and could (will?) likely grow more, I have to say that the meals that come out of it now, particularly reheated leftovers, are pretty good and allow for me to do other really great things. So it seems harsh to write it off so completely. :) Are there new health effects that I'm not aware of?

Anonymous said...

The technology list at the end of your post reminds me of a couple of topics floating about at holiday gatherings: Facebook and Microwaves.

Various opinions. I'm all about Low-Prod and kind of use that as my rule of thumb. Seems like microwaving isn't cooking and facebook isn't a party.

Not every blog is good but yours is.


Unknown said...

Very much enjoying this insight to your innards, especially as I'm a relatively late comer to your world. Your comments re "the new model emerging in my business: small, talented groups of people, collaborating, self-organizing, open-minded as to what the solution looks like. And it inspires me." reminded me of the Malcolm Gladwell piece on Genius (I might have mentioned it to you in person). Here's the link to the video (also available on iTunes titled Genius 2012):
He "talks about the importance of stubbornness and collaboration in problem-solving, and how long it takes to master any challenge."
Hope you enjoy (forewarned - just under 30 minutes).

Anonymous said...

Out of all the possible ways to connect with each other, lest not forget music. Music warms the soul from the inside and has the power to indefinitely bind people together. Forever.

RNorthrop said...

Hey Jelly. It's your old pal Ronny Northrop. I am really enjoying your blog. Yours and a few others have inspired me to begin thinking about creating my own. Still getting my head around this but it's fun to consider, as a start. Just watched the inauguration, and I had a minute, and thought I'd see what was going on on with you. As with pretty much all interaction with you in the past,
I find the content to be inspiring. Keep at it dude.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Salky, I'm reminded of Jimmy Buffett's song,"It's My Job" that celebrates the dignity of doing one's job well and finding one's niche.