Smartphone hell (filters, part 6)

A couple of months back I got my first proper cellphone, upgrading for the first time since 2011. My old phone was sort of a smartphone, but not really, compared to what is standard today. It was running android 2.2, and most apps were beyond it.

The power of my new phone is disturbing. The thing just does so darn much. The utility is seductive.

I’ve spent years coming to grips with the distraction of social media and the internet. But this was something else.

The first month was extremely disruptive and unpleasant. And the addictive reality is clear. Other than reverting to a simple txt and call cellphone, finding a way to constrain it seems the best first step.

As a result, I have learned and adapted, and instituted some protocols/rules of thumb in self defence against the device.

1. no smartphone use in bed, at all.

2. smartphone not to be kept by bed at night.

(These are simple and obvious, but also the 80/20 in terms of effectiveness, and removing the greatest laziness danger zone.)

3. smartphone not to be used until after morning routine and most important tasks for the day are completed – basically, it is a luxury and a toy and it comes after what matters.

(Also simple, and the rest of the 80/20.)

4. smartphone not to be used while reclining on couch.

5. smartphone is to be used while standing.

(This is maybe getting paranoid. But the principle is to keep it in use as a tool, keeping it mobile, in motion, rather than getting comfortable and the brain switching off.)

Another experiment I am considering is to leave it on airplane mode most of the time, only allowing incoming calls, txts, and internet distractions at certain time periods.

Strange that so much of our time these days is spent wrestling our technology to allow us to be functional.

Having a decent camera is cool, though.

 

 

Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson – brief review

 

The other day I finished reading Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by G.I. Gurdjieff.

Gurdjieff’s stated intent for the book is “To destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world.”

The result is extraordinary.

A long, astonishingly diverse, intentionally difficult, sprawling, bizarre, cosmological, deeply hilarious, sort-of science fiction novel, containing a legominism for an incredibly contemporary and relevant spiritual teaching, it is more or less the most amazing book I have ever read, and quite indescribable in any normal way.

While perhaps too steep an ask for anyone not interested in the teaching, regardless I believe there is enough of value here for anyone who makes it to the end; and I am certainly very glad I read it, and grateful to Gurdjieff for his efforts.

 

One caveat: it certainly can’t be completely understood from one reading. But despite the effort I can imagine re-reading it.

Immortan Trump

immortan trump black and white

Positive effects of blocking Facebook news feed (Filters, part 5)

(Another in a very occasional series across the years about interacting with technology and its effects on the mind, and strategies to deal with information overload: here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4.)

 

A few months back I started using MindTheTime, a Mozilla extension, to track the time I spend online and where.

A bit over a month ago, I started using KillFBFeed to block the Facebook news feed.

Coming up to the end of this month, I now have a full month of data to compare with previous months.

Total internet use this month is down to about 2/3 – 3/4 of what it has been in prior months.

Facebook use this month is down to 1/3 – 1/2 of what it has been in prior months.

A small element of this could be seasonal – midwinter months had slightly heavier internet use – but the change seems significant.

The main reason to block “newsfeed” was to bring an end to mindless internet trawling. This has been a qualified success. I can still access specific lists on facebook to track close friends, and I still use Facebook as an email and events service. One side effect is I am spending more time on my Twitter mutants feed, which is a much higher quality curation of content.

Another intent of the switch was to pop my filter bubble, and especially to escape that rampant 2016-nausea. This appears to have been successful. I caught up with some people at a cafe the other day. When talk turned to a swirl of Trump, I had no idea what the latest godawful details of stuff out of my control were, but everyone else did.

In other news, I am engaging with my own creative projects more.

So, on the whole a successful experiment, and one I will continue. I would recommend similar practices to others.

elections 2016

I think it is important, in a social media cycle completely dominated by Trump hysteria, to remember to vote in our local elections, which, admittedly, cannot possibly be as entertaining or alarming as this year’s US election, yet have more impact on our day to day lives (to the extent that our lives are not solely consisted of posting and reading things on social media).

To that end, I offer this wondrous piece of advertising:

wellington council inspired voter ad

inspired voter ad

In this campaign there are many different ads following this format. I only saw this one once, and am glad I got the photo.

In a world where our defacto world leader America is contemplating electing either a deranged incompetent laughingstock or an efficient woman that will faithfully serve the existing heinous and dysfunctional order, it is nice to realise we live in a capital city within a country that openly acknowledges “Hey, at one end of one of our primary tourist attractions we have this cool tree with a great view that you can climb up in and get high on top of” in the advertising it uses to reach out to local voters.

So vote, yeah?

 

 

term of the day: repressive desublimation

“Repressive Desublimation

This concept was suggested by Annalee Newitz, author of Scatter, Adapt And Remember. The idea of repressive desublimation was first developed by by political philosopher Herbert Marcuse in his groundbreaking book Eros and Civilization. Newitz says:

It refers to the kind of soft authoritarianism preferred by wealthy, consumer culture societies that want to repress political dissent. In such societies, pop culture encourages people to desublimate or express their desires, whether those are for sex, drugs or violent video games. At the same time, they’re discouraged from questioning corporate and government authorities. As a result, people feel as if they live in a free society even though they may be under constant surveillance and forced to work at mind-numbing jobs. Basically, consumerism and so-called liberal values distract people from social repression.”

{source}

reading 2015 part one

Have been very slack at logging reading this year. Does anyone read these or care, anyway? Who knows. But they are useful for me. So here is a recap, glancing through my diary. Feel like I read a lot less than usual this year. I also think I am getting a lot of my mental stimulation from podcasts these days.

 

The Pastel City – M John Harrison

First in the Viriconium series. Oddly angled fantasy, a very different mood and mode, elegiac and austere. Written back in the 70s, maybe? Harrison is a wonderful writer and this is bizarre and neat.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know – Ranulph Fiennes

Autobiography of adventurer/explorer/mad bastard Fiennes. What I read of it was entertaining.

Occupational Hazards – Rory Stewart

Scottish dude ends up running a really large province in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority after the US invasion. Really fascinating insight into what trying to run a country and make things better is like when the country is messy and complex, and the area you are in charge of has its own very distinct history and culture from the rest of the country. Things do not go well. Great read.

Think Two Products Ahead – Ben Mack

Really excellent book about marketing and how to think about marketing and communicate what you are doing by a, well, wizard.

8 Tribes: The Hidden Classes of NZ

That book about NZ being made up of 8 tribes. Meh. It was short to skim. Deservedly forgotten.

What We See When We Read – Peter Mendelsund

Really interesting book by a designer – so there was lots of wild design as a book – who loves to read, about what goes on in our heads as we read, and how we visualise and imagine and interact with words. Definitely worth a look if that sounds like you.

Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty

Epic tome about inequality and how it isn’t going to go away, and in fact has and will worsen, because of how our economic system is structured. Compelling argument. Necessary to be familiar with at least the introduction.

Ritual – Malidoma Some

West African shaman describes the function, role and importance of ritual in the life of his people, with some eye-opening stories.

Conversation – Theodore Zeldin

Something short and light about the art of conversation, I think.

The Laughing Monsters – Denis Johnson

Novel, gave up real quick, Johnson is great but wasn’t in the mood.

Prophet – Brandon Graham (comic)

If you want some very very weird sci fi comics, this is your jam. Epic scope, weird, mad, fun. The most Metabarons-esque thing since Metabarons.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – Neil Gaiman

Nice short story with illustrations, sort of the darker side of Gaiman.

Autobiography – Miles Davis

Entertaining ride, didn’t get too far. Jazz guys were a pretty wild crew, back in the day.

Money: Master The Game – Tony Robbins

Pretty exceptional book about managing money and investing. Robbins used his access to the most successful billionaire investors in the world to model what they are doing and put it together in a system. Essential.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – Ramit Sethi

Irritating smartarse Indian teaches you money management and investment. Very sharp, good material, but annoying.

A God Somewhere – John Arcudi (comic)

Random grab from the library. Neat take on someone actually getting super powers and the guy who remains his best friend through it.

The Wake – Snyder (comic)

Ditto random. Award winning comic. Decent.

Neonomicon – Alan Moore (comic)

Alan Moore turns his genius to modernising Lovecraft. Really fantastic, and easily the darkest and nastiest thing I have read by him. So good.

Ecko Rising – Danie Ware

Random genre novel from the library on a whim. Sort of a sf/fantasy mashup. Shades of Thomas Covenant without the prose ability. A heavily implanted hi-tech assassin wakes up in a fantasy world, doesn’t know what is going on but has some special abilities in the local sense. Fast, fun read.

New Spring – Robert Jordan

Never knew this existed until I found it and read it. A prequel to the Wheel of Time, which I read a bunch of when I was much younger, then gave up on 300 pages into book 6 when nothing had happened for those 300 pages. This prequel features Lan and Moiraine 20 years before the first book, and how they got to where they got to at the start of the first book. It was really fun to reconnect with that world, though man does Jordan go on and on. Like, a hundred pages of this book could have been summarised in a paragraph or twp, but the depth of the world is amazing.

What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars – Jim Paul

Really useful book about when to get out, and how not to lose money, and the inner psychological game of money and investing. Biggest takeaway is this amazing question: if you were not already in your current situation, would you want to get into it?

The White Lama – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Fun times as Jodo does Tibet.

An Interpretation of Universal History – Ortega y Gasset

This was actually pretty fascinating. Dude takes on Toynbee’s model of history by showing that the Rome Toynbee takes as an exemplar of civilisation never existed on those terms.

Guide to Tranceformation – Richard Bandler

Bandler returns and summarises his life’s work. Best book you could get on NLP.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Hugo Award winner? Real good for reasons it is difficult not to give spoilers about. Slowly uncovering just who the main character is and their history is exceptional.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Read about 4/10 of it, which is an immense amount of this tome. It is incredible and Wallace is obvious genius and deserving of whatever praise is heaped upon him. Still, too long, eh? Gargantuan, genius, very funny, very dark, very empathic. No wonder the poor bugger topped himself. Sort of hope to get back to it someday.

Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach

Skimmed it. Woo Buddhist positive psychology.

Bold – Peter Diamandis

Very very interesting book about accelerating change and exponential technologies and what that means for changing the world via business. We are living in very interesting times.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

Classic book by psychiatrist holocaust survivor about the experience of Auschwitz and what separated those who survived from those who didn’t. Incredible, powerful, stark view into humanity, and what is really important. Essential.

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

Sequel to the above. Still enjoyable but much less interesting since most of what there is to be revealed has been revealed.

Magic and Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Kneale

Woo. If you only read one book on Tibet, this is the one. French woman travels around Tibet in the early 1900s, spending time with hermits and magicians and in monasteries and documenting her experience and the stories people told her. There was some wild and crazy shit happening in Tibet, and credible miraculousness.

6 Months to 6 Figures – Peter Voogd

Sharp, punchy, entrepreneurial book. I rate it.

The Metabarons – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Jodorowsky’s masterwork, in a number of ways. A lot of what would have gone into Dune made its way into this. Mindfuckingly epic account of a thoroughly unreasonable lineage as they tear the galaxy apart.

Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Read a chapter, Gaiman doing storytelling, was not in the mood.

Providence

Moore does Lovecraft in Lovecraft era. Still coming out. Nice.

The Death Cure – James Dashner

Third part of the Maze Runner trilogy. Saw the first movie randomly, the second movie is way better and I recommend it, read this cos I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the third movie. A lot must have changed in the second book to movie adaptation. Anyhow. Decent enough. Very YA.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

Absolutely extraordinary. Pulitzer prize winning journalist gets to know slum dwellers in Mumbai over several years. Writes up an eventful period of their lives as a novel, essentially nonfiction but written novelistically and based on immense interviews etc. Shattering, profound.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself – David Lipsky

Lipsky spent a week interviewing David Foster Wallace on the last leg of the book tour launching Infinite Jest, as Wallace was in the process of going stratospheric. Fascinating as an account of a guy coping with the descent of fame, and as an insight into a remarkable mind. A film of it came out, End of the Tour, haven’t seen it.

Hard To Be A God – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Russian SF from way back. Russian observer-scientists go to another planet to document the Renaissance happening in a medieval world… except it doesn’t seem to be happening, if anything, a reversion to barbarism is underway. Great novel. I read it cos I saw the insane, incomprehensible film version at the film festival a year or two ago, and wanted to know what the hell actually happened.

The Magus – John Fowles

The first 3/4 of this are an astonishing novel. The end, well, lost me a bit. But hell, the quality of Fowle’s prose, and the intensity and observation he brings to bear, are exceptional, and the dizzying weirdness of the island and the elaborate charade the narrator is caught up in is unforgettable.

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Modern Chinese SF, apparently a bestseller there. Very unique take on first contact and Earth being invaded by aliens, through a very different cultural and historic lens. Recommended.

Killer in the Rain – Raymond Chandler

Early novella from Chandler.

Teaching the Dog to Sing – Jonathan Carroll

Recent novella from Carroll, whom I hadn’t read in years. Alright, I guess.

Harvest – Jim Crace

Multi award winning Irish novel of the end of the era of peasant farming before enclosure. Beautifully written.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s most intense and darkest vision of the old West. If it was the first thing of his I’d read it would have taken my head off. Incredible evocation of landscape and nature and random brutality and the ugliness of humanity, in astonishing prose.

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Pulitzer prize winning novel, told through a bunch of different tangentially related characters set over many years, about growing up and the changes time wrings. Really well done.

The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

Fantasy novella from a real master of fantasy. Good good shit.

Beasts of No Nation – Uzodinma Uweale

Novel about a child soldier somewhere in Africa caught up in a cycle of senseless violence and destruction. Short and unpleasant. Weirdly similar vibe to Blood Meridian, come to think of it.

 

Lovecraft, magic, and belief

“A few months before he died Lovecraft wrote to a friend, ‘If the Necronomicon legend continues to grow, people will end up believing in it.'”

— Grimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies (p268)

Jupiter Ascending (2015): Review

The Wachowski’s films are not subtle or particularly coherent. They layer on symbolism which gets generally missed. They use too much CGI and write awful dialogue. They have a tendency towards a detrimentally pseudo-scientific mysticism. This doesn’t stop them being great fun and actually trying to communicate something important through the medium of mass-appeal films.

I won’t comment on the plot or story, more the underlying structure.

Jupiter Ascending, essentially, is a gnostic parable about the archon Abraxas – a demonic entity here taking the form of a multi-headed galactic corporate dynasty dedicated to eternal life for itself (a greed paradoxically life-denying by denying death), lies, and profit (selfishness) – which seeded life on Earth for the purpose of profiting by farming its humans and turning them into the elixir that gives eternal life (ie) to feed itself. This, from a certain point of view, is a literal representation of reality, rendered in over the top symbolism. (The Matrix holds a similar pattern, with humans as energy cells feeding a power at a higher remove.) Our task of course is to wake up and free ourselves from this situation and redirect our life energies along fresh channels – or at least grooves not carved out by enslavement to our baser elements.

The world gets redeemed by the reincarnation of an element of Abraxas itself reborn as a human (Abraxas is genetically human – in a nice touch, we are our own demiurgic enslaver) who rejects the Abraxas hive-mind / business as usual, choosing instead to honor its humanity in all its toilet cleaning glory.

Along the way they throw in everything they can think of.  (Anime hair? Check. Ganesha? Check. Genetic werewolves with gravity surfing boots having lots of laser battles? Check. Cute nods to crop circles and alien interference on earth? Check. Princess fantasies? Check. Psychic bees? Check. Reality melting CGI everything? Check. Continual madly overdone design? Check. Villains talking like that? Check. Giant lizards? Check.)

Needless to say, the resulting film is completely bugfuck, and not entirely successful, but none of that matters. It is the imagination of a 12 year old from the 80s gone mad. It is an extremely fun ride ineptly pointing out the possibility of human spiritual transcendence. Approach it with the expectation of great silliness, and the possibility of something deeper for the unconscious to ponder.

internet addiction (filters part 4)

Two months into the internet restriction protocol, here is a report.

The short version? It is great, a clear and definite improvement.

I have more time, more focus, and am getting more done. Of course, I have made other changes in my life which help with that, but this is definitely a factor, and a big one.

I am noticing old habits creep back a little – I check email more than I need to, that is for sure, though I do not touch my busiest account. Unsure if it is confidence that the habit is broken, or that it is just habit reasserting itself, and that I need to formally rededicate myself to the protocol. Writing this post is part of figuring that out.

Some longer rambling observations:

There is something weirdly addictive about the sense of power and control that comes with the internet, and using a computer in general.

For example, clearing my email inbox after a week away. I make decisions, little decisions, reading some, deleting others. Moving things around. Controlling the little world of my desktop. Arranging files. It as as if I am doing something real. And I am, in a little way. Organising information so it is where it needs to be for what I want to do next is an adjunct of organising my physical space to be the way it needs to be. Useful to the extent that it is necessary – creating a functional environment – but negative when it becomes obsessive or redundant – as with OCD cleaning.

On the days I access the internet, I want to check again, an hour after I just checked. Even though most of what was there for the last week was not essential. There is something addictive. Research indicates that irregular reinforcement schedules – never knowing when you are going to get another hit of whatever you are addicted to – is the most addictive timing, and email is that par excellence.

Once a week re-exposure to the flood of trivial information Facebook provides is addictive in its own way. It is easy. It never ends, the page will scroll down forever. Not quite a sugar hit. Not quite food. More conscious than breathing. Popcorn? Moreish even when you don’t want or need more. Even when it is rarely any better than it is, rarely rates more than a vague “Oh?” It turns out I have missed a couple of incidents in my wider community, but nothing it feels catastrophic to have missed; and surely some announcements of insight or life redirection have slipped by unnoticed.

(The one cheat I allow myself with Facebook is to occasionally log in just to send someone a message if it is the only way to get hold of them, but not look at anything else. I think directly communicating with people, and the ability to do that, is such a powerful thing it is odd to limit the ability to act on it when it is a conscious choice; the difference is in not checking obsessively for a reply, or just in case. There are many avenues of communication, and perhaps a thirty second phone call is the answer to many prolonged email waits.)

So I need to shore up the habits and restate the boundaries. It is about using the internet more consciously, and I feel like I have managed that. It is a powerful resource and tool, the trick is to corral it to just that; the danger is it can be an endless drift of youtube clips and pointless linkbait lists and sort of vaguely interesting articles, a gossip magazine collectively edited by your friends.

The biggest challenge in a way is finding something else to do. It is almost embarrassing. The internet is such an easy default. It is our generations television. Instead of just sitting down mindlessly with the remote and starting to flick, we sit down mindlessly in front of the internet and start to click.

I have watched more media – am I just replacing internet with TV downloaded from the internet? Certainly, discovering live streaming of the cricket world cup sucked some time. I am reading less at the moment since I am writing, so that is out as a distraction.

So yeah. Interesting and useful so far, will be an ongoing process of tweaking the protocol and observing the feedback.

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