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.

 

 

Facebook, AI, censorship, surveillance and a global ID

Over at global guerillas John Robb has been knocking shit out of the park lately.

Here’s the latest: re where the convergence of AI, surveillance and information control is going

A global ID. Simply, Facebook is getting close to being able to create a global ID for everyone on the planet (sans China/Russia). It’s not a bit of paper or something you put in your wallet. It’ll be passive. It’ll replace your passport and driver’s license. If you can be seen by a camera, you will be known.

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.

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.

 

undulating ungulate turned 10 years old a month or so back

undulatingungulate turned 10 years old in September, I have belatedly noticed.

Weird!

In that time 1125 posts have accumulated, and the world and internet have changed a great deal. Blogging is not what it was when I began pre facebook, twitter, social media, smartphones, apps, etc. These days it is all narrow-casting and niche-focus to build an audience for a blog, whereas the ungulate has been all over various places in its day. Thanks to anyone out there who still reads! Hopefully you’ve got something out of the various content and musings…

 

 

 

NZIFF 2015 in review

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

Fascinating and disturbing re-enactment of the accidental murder of a Wainuiomata woman by her Maori family as they tried to lift a curse from her. Even handed doco leaves the reality of things open – the crux really is belief, what we believe to be true, and how that allows us to act – there is no doubt the family genuinely believed what they were doing was for the best. The film is really about putting you in the room with the extended family for five days as they stamp and chant and try to drive the spirit out. Intense, probably essential viewing for New Zealanders, and anyone interested in the clash between traditional/spiritual beliefs and the modern world. (From the director Q&A there is definitely more to the story, but this holds up.) Also works as a straight up horror movie about people going insane.

Victoria

Shot in one take, starting at about four in the morning, as a young women meets some guys at a club and things end up going in a very unexpected direction. Really solid and enjoyable. Big recommendation; try to avoid spoilers.

Inherent Vice

Stoned surfer private investigator in the 1970s takes a shaggy dog trip through the conspiracy haze of the day. Adapted from a Pynchon novel, lots of fun and very well done but not really having a discernable point.

The Colour of Pomegranates

Famous 1969 Russian/Armenian film. A sort of impressionistic/symbolic biography of an artist that unfortunately pretty much plays like the most excessive and pretentious student art film of all time. Punishingly bad with a few striking images.

The Assassin

Chinese period piece about a female assassin in 7th Century or so China. Looked pretty great, didn’t really seem that interested in telling its story, extremely stylish and very enjoyable however.

Alice Cares

Doco about trialling Alice, a robot with AI in it, to hang out with elderly people with dementia both as companionship and to help keep track of their lives for them. As proof of concept, it works. Alice has a realistic face and expressions, and talks well enough and naturally enough and follows up enough that a relatively normal conversation is possible. She can look things up online and remember information and help people do exercises. This is like an early cellphone, in terms of AI, so we are heading in this direction. Still somehow uncanny and discomforting conceptually. You are left wanting there to be more going on in Alice herself, and it is somehow off that there isn’t, once you have bonded with her a little. A necessary glimpse of our changing world and what is coming. Big big recommendation.

10000 Years Later

CGI animation, set 10000 years after present day. More of a kids movie than I expected. The story is trite and the characterisation lacking, but its environmental etc themes are apt. overall, pretty cheeseball with some excellent design. Would recommend watching it with the sound off and your own soundtrack and improvise your own story.

Embrace of the Serpent

Awesome. Mostly black and white film about two explorers, one following the journals of the other, travelling in the jungle in search of ayahuasca, and their encounters with the same shaman across time. The film is based on real accounts, including that of Richard Evans Schultes, who, among other things, introduced magic mushrooms to the West. Gets very surreal. But yeah wonderful and huge recommendation if this sounds remotely your kind of thing.

The Look of Silence

Companion piece to The Act of Killing (which was my film of the year of 2013, and remains the most striking and necessary film I have seen in years), returning to Indonesia and the aftermath of the mass killings of the 1960s. This film follows Adi as he seeks to engage with the men who murdered his brother, among a million others, and offer them forgiveness.

This screening had a Q&A with Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, which was fabulous.

I don’t really know what to say other than these two films are totally necessary and about the highest example of the documentary art, especially in terms of their real world impact; they have opened a dialogue for change within Indonesia that continues to gain momentum.

Tale of Tales

Inconsistent, opulent, byzantine melange of fairy tales with dark and unexpected twists. Totally worth a look, though somehow unsatisfying as a whole.

Cemetery of Splendor

Woo. The way Apichatpong Weerasethakul (director of Uncle Boonme Who Can Remember His Past Lives) blends the mundane and the supermundane is an achievement of the greatest artistry. His films are gentle, meandering and bizarre. So strange and lovely, and quietly unsettling. This one is set in a makeshift hospital with soldiers struck down with a sleeping sickness, and follows a woman volunteering there. Somehow from there we drift into a world with looser boundaries. Goddesses stop by for tea. The openness of Thai culture to the spirit world grounds the weirdness. Glorious and not remotely like anything else in film, I will keep going to this guy’s films. Challenging in unexpected ways.

on web pop-ups

Dear every website ever

If when I visit your site via an inbound link you make a popup appear that asks me to sign up to your site on social media or email or anything before I have been able to read more than a paragraph of the article I have linked in to read, I will a) not do it, and b) never come to your site again unless some other random link brings me there.

Yours

The internet

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.

internet restriction protocol (or Filters: Part Three)

 

Time and attention are two of the most precious resources we have, and the always on internet is one of the worst things for draining and disrupting those resources. (This is something I have been thinking about for a few years now.)  Most of the great thinkers, innovators and so on of the past had one thing in common – their ability to focus on what they were doing for hours at a time. This type of thinking is crucial to certain types of breakthrough and productive work. (I have a faint terror that the current generation will never even develop this capacity for extended focus.)

So I am embarking upon an internet restriction protocol. This is based on the observations I made a few years ago when I went and lived at the beach without internet, television or phone, and came to town only once a week at which point I checked email etc, and my dissatisfaction with my current experience of online mediated reality.

The protocol is essentially this: I am going to stop checking my email and social media accounts except for one day a week – Fridays. (I will likely check my business email address more regularly.) Within the protocol I am allowed to use the internet consciously, as a tool, in recognition of how embedded it is in life. (eg) internet banking, buying stuff, research, Skypeing. But then get offline once I am done using it as a tool.

The key is to avoid general browsing and mindless clicking on things that leads to more clicking. I like the idea of checking my /mutants list on Twitter once a week for an hour as my information gathering phase.

The goal is to be offline as much as possible; to shift that fundamental practice, to realign my sense ratios, and re-engage more consciously with the world. After spending a week lying under trees at Kiwiburn, I realised again that I don’t miss most of the online world. I acknowledge it is somehow important, but hypothesise that this importance can be successfully and accurately valued within the confines of one day a week.

I suspect that one day a week is enough to stay informed/connected in terms of email and social media. If anything really important happens I assume someone will call or txt.

I do plan to spend some of the time freed up hanging out with people in meatspace, pursuing a better quality of connection.

I anticipate getting more done in general, writing more in particular, and being happier overall.

I may blog from time to time about the results of this experiment in attention and filtering. I invite anyone else who feels inclined to join in the experiment.

birthday mutants

 

The mental side effects of travelling into space. Interesting historical survey of the break-off phenomenon.

The myth of AI. Jaron Lanier being interestingly iconoclastic again. Watch or read at the link.

I want to go little deeper in it by proposing that the biggest threat of AI is probably the one that’s due to AI not actually existing, to the idea being a fraud, or at least such a poorly constructed idea that it’s phony. In other words, what I’m proposing is that if AI was a real thing, then it probably would be less of a threat to us than it is as a fake thing.

Retired US army general, author of “Why We Lost”, explaining the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.

The future of autonomous weaponry – the ethics of bombs that pick their own targets.

 

Next Page »