When the 2012 election returns came in there was no more tragic and revealing figure than Karl Rove. His live reaction in the Fox newsroom after the network called Ohio for the Democratic incumbent was that of a man at odds with reality. He simply couldn’t grasp that his narrative had slipped free from the world, the map hewn in twain by the sudden jutting of an unexpected iceberg.
Last night I was on a panel of 3 with Peggy Dolgenos and Cliff Hodges interviewing our local candidates for Santa Cruz City Council. I represented the Santa Cruz Geeks, one of the event sponsors along with SC NEXT, Cruzio Internet, and Civinomics. The legendary Kuumbwa Jazz center hosted the event (I was on the same stage once held by Booby Hutchinson, McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Zawinul, and many other greats). Our local darlings, the Penny Ice Creamery, brought free waffle cones. Billed as “Inside Scoop“, we crowdsourced questions from the community, then reviewed, consolidated, & massaged them into ~100 min of public examination. The event was fun, and warm, organic, and surprisingly challenging to the candidates and the panel.
I’ve just returned from a very interesting workshop in Washington, D.C. about fast-moving change, asymmetric threats to security, and finding signals within the wall of noise thrown up by big data. These are tremendous challenges to governance, policy makers, and the intelligence community. I’ll have more to say on these topics in later posts but for now, here’s a round-up of the most popular posts on URBEINGRECORDED in order of popularity:
Occupy Wall Street – New Maps for Shifting Terrain – On OWS, gaps in governance, empowered actors, and opportunities in the shifting sands…
Getting to Know Your Ghost in the Machine – On the convergence of ubiquitous computation (ubicomp), augmented reality, and network identity…
The Transhuman Gap – On the challenges facing the transhuman movement…
The Realities of Coal in the Second Industrial Revolution – On the energy demand and resource availability for the developing world…
Meshnets, Freedom Phones, and the People’s Revolution – On the Arab Spring, hyperconnectivity, and ad hoc wireless networks…
And a few that I really like:
Back-casting from 2043 – On possible futures, design fictions, and discontinuity…
On Human Networks & Living Biosystems – On the natural patterns driving technology & human systems…
Outliers & Complexity – On non-linearity, outliers, and the challenges of using the past to anticipate the future…
Thanks to all my readers for taking the time to think about my various rantings & pre-occupations. As always, your time, your participation, and your sharing is greatly appreciated!
Sathorn Unique is a 50-story skyscraper in Bangkok that was meant to be a luxury living address but now it’s totally abandoned and decaying. Cory posted about this Ballardian behemoth earlier this year. BB contributor Chris Arkenberg saw the building from a boat several years ago and was so inspired that he made a killer instrumental hip hop soundtrack for the building.
And from my summary:
The developers called the building Sathorn Unique, but the locals think of it as the Ghost Tower. 50 stories tall, built to show-off the mighty rise of Asia in the 1990’s, it was abandoned in 1997 when their economy dried up and capital fled to better markets. It remains as a hollow monument, nearly complete in the lower floors but slowly de-rezzing as it gets taller until the bare and open rooftop stands jagged above the Bangkok skyline. It lives as a shell, a reminder, a warning, and a resilient monolith.
I made this music to express the many different feelings & ideas that Sathorn Unique raises about architecture & acoustics, finance & globalization, great hopes & haunted dreams, and the way that futures can take sudden unexpected turns away from great visions.
I was driving through the Tenderloin the other night – one of the most socio-economically depressed areas of San Francisco. Across a long wall someone tagged “Occupy Wall Street” in big letters with a clean font and preceded by the Twitter “#” hashtag notation. It was a big, funky chorus bridging the grimy street with a shimmering virtuality beckoning from the other side. A shiny enticement to both residents and passers-by, yet it instilled in me that there are some hard reasons why Occupy is still a bit pale, demographically. The Tenderloin is where people fall to the bottom of the American heap, struggling every day just to try and get by. I can’t speak to their cellphone use but I’m guessing most aren’t on Twitter.
In America, poverty & homelessness are specters stalking the nightmares of the middle class. The stigma is crushing and many studies show how hard it is to fall out of society and fail normative expectations, forced to walk as a ghost the rest of us don’t want to acknowledge. We’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, to quote Steinbeck, but most are scared to death we’ll wake up from the American Dream wearing dirty rags and begging for pittance.
Amidst the looming failure of governance and the siphoning of capital into the hands of elite gamers the system starts to reveal interesting and exploitable gaps. The gaps opening up between the ruling elite, the body politik, the business world, the towers of old-world power, global supply chains and international demand structures, and the organic messiness of the street lashing together its own ad hoc infrastructure, battening down against the hard approach of a faceless Winter. A lot of innovation happens in the gaps.
When a control system releases it’s organizational capacity, the system tends towards a period of turbulence. Turbulence can be thought of as a widening of constraints on energized systems, ie things start getting wonky & unusual. Institutions are challenged. Stability & confidence are shaken. Calcified bureaucracy cedes power to fast, open-source iterations. Hierarchies flatten, though riddled with super-empowered outliers, revealing design patterns more akin to fuzzy biology than the mechanized Taylorism of the Industrial Age. A mycelial hypermedia of distributed, tech-enabled, self-empowered collectives emerges. The landscape is shifting so quickly that even the rules of the game are being forced to adapt. And not in any particularly easy way, mind.
The United States government is failing to adapt or effectively shepherd its populace into the 21st century. Many western nations share a similar sentiment. They’re falling left & right to the slipperiness of the behavioral economy and to top-tier predators drawing capital out of weakened states and widening the gaps between people & power. Meanwhile, gangs & cartels and urban collectives (oh, and the estimated $10T – trillion! – informal economy) are all pulling the weave apart further and staking their territorial claims. The landscape is ragged and hungry and a bit unhinged. Many of us are growing nervous feeling the hot breath of the meathook future on the back of our necks.
“You will not hear me, you will not listen to me, so I will stand in your face and you will be forced to see me.”
Occupy Wall Street is an expression of this sweaty fear & creeping nihilism in a world that looks decidedly different than the one we were raised to expect. It’s an empowered disenfranchisement: the realization and acceptance that the American people no longer have a say in the conversation about our country. “You will not hear me, you will not listen to me, so I will stand in your face and you will be forced to see me.” This is what Occupy says. And it says it encamped in front of your hallowed institutions, deploying local food & health services, brewing ad hoc energy supplies, coordinating collective actions, surveilling the local PD and running mobile counter-ops, holding signs to the media cameras and managing international PR campaigns. This is a new model of power emerging across technologically-savvy collectives, economically detached on the ground but coordinated with well-healed and influential sympathizers among the extended technorati. You get amplification, charitable donations, shout-outs, drop-ins from mayoral candidates, and as-needed mobilization of supporters who still have to hold down their day jobs and take the kids to school. Of course, the PD knows all this & knows how to exploit mobile social media as well.
The Short Message Service (SMS) was implemented in 1992 and is now ubiquitous and coupled to an insanely sophisticated global supply chain. A large driver for cellphone adoption, these discrete packets of information passed almost immediately across non-local nodes have proven extremely powerful. With very lightweight protocols and minimal hardware demands, SMS is fast becoming one of our primary signalling pathways. Witness the simple observation that mobile-enabled teens are constantly texting, rarely speak on the phone, and disregard email almost entirely. More info, less work. Now make sure every one of the somewhat feral and vaguely radical protestors occupying the park across from your ridiculously powerful and possibly sociopathic local tax base, eg The Federal Reserve… make sure they all have SMS mobiles. And make sure all the other urban clans have them too so they can share updates & anticipation, coordinate a distributed response, propagate the sticky phrases and hashtags, and rapidly pass counter intelligence to every single global node. Oh, and there’s this thing called Twitter that will take your SMS and push it out to a broadcast subscriber list that’s being crawled by every journalist, intel org, and revolutionary sympathizer across the modern world.
Of course the NYPD is scared and twitchy. Of course the DHS is yelling at all jurisdictions to get this under control. The true sign of fear will be revealed if they send in the National Guard – a tacit admission that the police are more sympathetic to the protesters than the economic cartels. And if you wanna get really meathook, peep the vid of the armed, self-appointed border guards standing against the Arizona Police Department to defend Occupy. “Using our 2nd amendment rights to defend our 1st amendment rights” was the money quote from that one.
Pundits and old-century analysts can’t get past its slipperiness. It doesn’t look like how protests were supposed to look. It won’t fit into a neat soundbite or flashy statement of demands. This gets really annoying for a mainstream press corps empowered by semantic containment.
Occupy Wall Street is an exceptional sociocultural hack. Grabbing eyes & hearts, they’re making it OK to protest again in America. After 911 the normative pressure around dissent & protest shifted, making it very un-American to disagree with and or show criticism of The U S of A. Occupy is quickly becoming view-fodder for the mainstream media. Spin it any way you like but OWS is grabbing the spotlight globally. Expect the election cycle to raise it as a common talking point – a good reason Occupy can safely find heat indoors for the Winter, come back swinging in Spring. This normative shift allows the many many folks who aren’t yet willing or simply can’t come sleep in the streets to be active & connected sympathizers helping spread the word, defend the narrative, and get downtown at 2am on a Thursday to stand against an expected police action. Social media invites participation at all scales.
People talk of so-called “new models of work”. Remote specialists coming together around a shared task, doing the work with a minimum of resources, taking value, and collaborating with adjacent like-minded ad hoc clusters. All enabled by information technologies and responding to shifting economic realities. BTW, capital is leaving the West and moving eastward and into Africa. Brazil is doing OK as well, I hear. But these new models of work are the same 21st century design patterns iterated on by Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Mexican cartels (with varying degrees of flamboyant and or enigmatic leadership). Another eye-opening newsblip from the past week is word that Anonymous is going after Los Zetas cartel (or possibly not). Thing about the Zetas… they don’t just hang out in cyberspace. You don’t wanna be trolled by Zetas.
So yeah, DHS is nervous. They see all these small fires and worry that one will flame up into a real conflict, or that their ranks will be taken over by legitimate militants/gangs/cartels/etc… Meanwhile, China is quietly laughing at us, gently suggesting to the world that maybe Democracy isn’t really all that necessary for a decent house, a reliable job, and good prospects for your kids. It’s worth considering what this means for U.S. diplomacy and the project of Democracy.
The sympathy that boomers have with OWS is rooted in this emigration of prosperity away from our shores. They did fine, my generation is fighting to hang on, and the younger generation can’t get a job. Of course, the Boomers think OWS should be using the tried-and-true models of the 1960′s, not this crazy post-modern artwar stuff. But they lived in a very different world and, ironically, it’s the protest movement of the 60′s that hardened the economic jungle and trained it against the Left.
The front of the emerging cultural war is everywhere & nowhere.
Occupy is a new creature bred to adapt to a markedly different environment. It uses similar design patterns from Tahrir Square and Tehran. It’s the new hyperpolitics enabling virtualized ideologies & coordinated actions by distributed collectives. Like everything else being spread across the real & virtual, the front of the emerging cultural war is everywhere & nowhere. The focus now is on prosperity and equality but it’s tugging at the sweater threads of our entire industrialized economy, already well-frayed & tattered from the wear & tear of the new millenium. Occupy is a statement about failure & fear and a realization that the people who have been entrusted to keep it all together for us are no longer acting on our behalf.
It’s a scary place to find yourself, falling into the gaps. But there’s tremendous potential there as well. And it’s likely a manifestation of far deeper and longer evolutionary imperatives brought to bear on the aging and deprecated foundations of industrial civilization. We are due for a major upgrade. New features & workflows are direly needed, and please patch some of those nasty bugs we’ve been complaining about for centuries. It would be really nice if we could all get back to work helping the world get a little better, day by day.
[This article was picked up by Business Insider.]
Two of the most interesting articles I’ve read this past week:
I believe part of the meta-problem is this: people no longer inhabit a single reality.
Collectively, there is no longer a single cultural arena of dialogue.
What many techno-scientists fail to understand – and thus find most frustrating – about dealing with climate change deniers is that the denier has no real interest in engaging at the scientist’s level of reality.
The point, for the climate denier, is not that the truth should be sought with open-minded sincerity – it is that he has declared the independence of his corner of reality from control by the overarching, techno-scientific consensus reality. He has withdrawn from the reality forced upon him and has retreated to a more comfortable, human-sized bubble.
…And all this is but one example of the ways in which the traditional ideological blocs of the Cold War have fragmented into complex multipartite civil reality wars.
Reality, you might say, as failed state; its interior collapsing into permanent conflict under the convergent pressures of deviant globalisation, its coasts predated upon by new mutant forms of memetic pirates.
All of us that use the internet are already practicing Drone Ethnography. Look at the features of drone technology: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Surveillance, Sousveillance. Networks of collected information, over land and in the sky. Now consider the “consumer” side of tech: mapping programs, location-aware pocket tech, public-sourced media databases, and the apps and algorithms by which we navigate these tools. We already study the world the way a drone sees it: from above, with a dozen unblinking eyes, recording everything with the cold indecision of algorithmic commands honed over time, affecting nothing—except, perhaps, a single, momentary touch, the momentary awareness and synchronicity of a piece of information discovered at precisely the right time. An arc connecting two points like the kiss from an air-to-surface missile.
Benefiting from the artificially inflated margins of the illegal drug trade, Mexican cartels move billions of dollars worth of cocaine, methamphetamine, & marijuana to the high-demand markets of the United States, using sophisticated weaponry and horrific violence to defend their markets against competitors and directly challenge attempts by state militia to control their activities. In return, they purchase guns from border states like Texas, Arizona, and California to arm their narco-insurgency. The Mexican state apparatus has become a hollow shell, heavily militarized but incapable of managing it’s territories.
PEMEX, the major oil developer along the Mexican Gulf, has reported that cartels siphon about $1B in oil annually, reselling it on the open market to fund their insurgency. This tactic has escalated to include the kidnapping of PEMEX workers, possibly to further infiltrate the company. It was recently reported that cartels may be using IED’s to attack the Mexican military, suggesting that the techniques of full-scale insurgency developed in Iraq are now finding their way to Mexico.
Of particular interest are cartel incursions into the United States. The DEA is tracking cartel networks across the major cities of the southern United States. Americans have been indicted smuggling weapons south across the border. Arrests of compromised Customs and Border agents has increased 40% in the past year. Agents say that substantial cartel violence in the US is only a matter of time. The US DHS has submitted plans to deal with cartel incursions into the United States.
Recently, Pinal county sheriff, Paul Babeu, states that Mexican drug cartels control parts of Arizona. ‘We are outgunned, we are out manned and we don’t have the resources here locally to fight this,’ said Babeu, referring to heavily-armed cartel movements three counties deep in Arizona. Even Phoenix has seen ongoing cartel violence.
It’s important to understand that the Mexican narco-insurgency is possibly the most direct threat to the stability of American communities, far more so than any of our foreign wars. Immigration laws will not work, just as drug laws have failed to stem the flow of drugs across US borders. Legalization of drugs is perhaps the most obvious solution, though it’s not without it’s own costs. In all likelihood, near-term management will take the form of increased troop deployment to southern states, coupled to advanced enforcement technologies. For example, Wired recently reported that the FAA is considering how to integrate drones into US airspace. Certainly the landscape of the America’s southern states is shifting to include a more violent and militarized gang presence.
Image by .faramarz.
“The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.” So opens the #iranelection cyber war guide for beginners just posted today and widely distributed across the web through Twitter. The guide continues with precise information about what behaviors and syntaxes on Twitter are now being watched by the Iranian security apparatus; which hashtags are legitimate and which are state honey pots used to identify and block IP’s; how to pass new open proxies to those within the Tehranian resistance; and smart guidelines for those considering launching Denial of Service attacks on State websites. The author has compiled a brief & succinct guidebook to help global non-Iranians better help those in Iran who are trying to ensure that these events are not hidden from the eyes of the world.
The guide closes with: “Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.” To me, this is about the future of all people.
As Clay Shirky noted, the events in Tehran mark a hugely important historic moment. Under an old theocratic and belligerent rulership, the modernist progressives from Iran’s urban center, Tehran, are using mobile communications and social networks to bypass the State and reach out to the world. Ahmadi’s swiftly-imposed net blackout has failed against the ingenuity of tech-enabled university students and the eagerness of sympathetic geeks across the world to help fight The Man (in this case, the authoritarian and repressive regime of the Ayatollah, the Guardian Council, and President Ahmadi-nejad). This marks a large state change in global power dynamics. In an age moving rapidly towards ubiquitous networked mobile computing, transparency and representation are the emerging foundations of civilization, simultaneously empowering the principles of Democracy while de-legitimizing the very notion of the State.
Perhaps even more surprising is the critical role of Twitter as the de facto global, real-time, open communication and collaboration channel. Using SMS, every mobile phone user on the planet has the ability to message Twitter and reach out to a global network. Twitter’s architecture guarantees an exponential distribution of information, and their lack of public shareholders allows them to take a more humanitarian posture. Protesters in Tehran were getting messages to hi-value nodes like Stephen Fry, John Perry Barlow, and William Gibson who then retweet the message to hundreds of thousands of their followers. By Monday #iranelection was the #1 trending term across Twitter and has stayed there since. Twitter is the primary channel for information coming in and out of Tehran regarding the contested election of it’s president – in a critical middle eastern Islamic nation, oil-rich with an aggressive posture towards the US and it’s allies, and who is poised on the brink of becoming a fully nuclear state. The out-of-left-field social networking phenomena has been so valuable to the goals of US interests in Iran that the U.S. State Department requested that Twitter postpone it’s scheduled service downtime.
The regime is now evicting reporters from Iran. The challenger, Moussavi, is likely not much different from Ahmadi-nejad. Both are pre-approved by the Ayatollah and Guardian Council. The pro-Moussavi population wants to see voting irregularities investigated and their “moderate” candidate approved as president. Tehran’s tech-savvy are redefining the fundamental relationship between people and governments. All power structures should be watching the events in Tehran and across the web. The people are getting smarter and bolder.
This is the age of empowered collectives striding across a globalized, hyper-connected world. In a virtualized information space, borders are less meaningful and countries are loose contextual buckets through which people interact. The swift assistance provided by western techies is not really about the US helping Iran, it’s about good, aspirational people trying to help other good, aspirational people. The playing field is leveling as humanity learns more and more about itself, overcoming fear and stereotypes and ignorance simply by communicating more effectively.
There will be a reaction as states work to retain power, upping their game to adapt to the new tech. And there will be darker consequences of these new tool as the All-Seeing Digital Eye rises over the land. We struggle now to free information but the next big struggle may be to secure it. All coins have two sides and all technologies will be bent to human will. Hopefully we’re all getting a little bit better at cooperating with each new day.
***This was written in a bit of a rush before I jet. Here are a couple more links:
Here’s a list of good info links.
Lyn Jeffery of IFTF writes Field Notes from the Iran Twitter Stream.
SF Gate article: SF Techie Stir Iranian Protests.
Jamais Cascio: The Dark Side of Twittering a Revolution.
And Hillary Clinton Defends Twitter Efforts for Iran.
I’ve been tweeting a lot more than writing lately. Here are my recent tweets on the Tehran situation, in order of posting:
- Iran SMS networks “mysteriously” fail right before elections http://bit.ly/nsjm3 (via @boingboing)
- “You cannot stop people any longer. You cannot control people any longer.” (Iran & Twitter) http://tinyurl.com/kwmh7g (via @mpesce)
- Tech-enabled urbanites push for change as country folk vote for stasis, even reversion. collaborative networks win over tine
- Coordination of Tehran tech-savvy w/ international openinfo/progressive nodes shows leveling of global playing field, decline of statehood.
- Tehran: Ayatollah backs Ahmadi, police take Tehran University to shut down dissident comm nets. Power fears Change. Old fears New.
- University of Tehran held literary session on Saturday reviewing works by Woody Allen. http://bit.ly/Et7fa [Comedy, genius trumps religion.]
- @HiggsBoson23 Totally. The US must have people on the ground in Tehran working to open the comm channels.
- RT @robinsloan: #iranelection Giant photos. You are going to lose your mind: http://is.gd/12G72 [Tehran approaches civil war]
- Incredible to see instantaneous networking around control systems. No oppressor can hide their actions. Tehran: the future of Democracy.
- The events in Tehran are reinforcing the global identity of humanity in a way that directly challenges all oppressive regimes.
- What fascinates me most about Tehran is the empowerment of the tech-enabled to route around the State and reach across the globe.
- To me, the new democracy: granular representation; modernists using tech to challenge traditionalists; collectives taking power from states.
- No surprise that US elements might be encouraging/engineering the scene in Tehran. Via @NickHate: WSWS on NYT & Iran: http://bit.ly/H1s12
- Note: all Iranian candidates are pre-approved by the Ayatollah & Guardian Council. Resolution in favor of Moussavi will not bring freedom.
- Value lies in watching how empowerment of progressive voices impacts the stategies of rulership employed by the Iranian theocracy.
- Is Iranian dismissal of western media the prelude to a brutal smackdown on protests? Def not a sign of sudden openness…
- RT @m1k3y @DavidForbes: The State Department asked Twitter not to shut down yesterday. http://bit.ly/QQoyj #iranelection #awesomeabout
- RT @TEDchris: Here’s Clay Shirky on the incredible role Twitter has played in #iranelection. “This is the big one” http://on.ted.com/zabout
- “Mousavi is no liberal reformer. But the principle of freedom of speech and fair elections and the desire for reform trump that.” @cshirky
- What you should know about the Iranian Cyberwar: http://bit.ly/2b2NL (via @GreatDismal) [History in the making.]
I stayed in Las Vegas for a few nights this week to see Jane’s Addiction at The Pearl. A large part of me loathes much of what Vegas is (and by “Vegas” I’m mainly referring to The Strip and its satellites – no offense to the folks who live in the city) yet I can’t help but be mesmerized and amazed at the sheer scale of fantasy on sale there in the wasteland of the Nevada high desert. It is by all accounts an impossible mirage, timeless and ephemeral, drawing in the seekers, fleecing them, and sending them back home like it never existed. Inevitably, it seems it will fall back into the desert as Lake Meade dries up and the drought deepens, leaving behind skeletons of a once mighty empire. Caesar’s Palace may retain it’s name but Nero is the ruler of today’s Vegas.
Anyway, here are my tweets from the trip, in chronological order:
- Heading off to Sin City for glittering nights & saltine days before it all dries up & blows away. #NIN/JA2009 New Aeon Rat Pack 8:55 AM May 17th
- Have successfully played my role as cattle/combatant/customer in SanJoseAirport security theater. Now matriculated to cargo. 10:22 AM May 17th
- Tarmac running to the jetwash mirage of Las Vegas. 12:06 PM May 17th
- Vegas directs its formidable will at constantly maintaining the illusion of plenty. Super Size everything while the desert bides its time… 4:41 PM May 17th
- Vegas, in a nutshell: http://twitpic.com/5ew00 10:21 PM May 17th
- everything about this city is designed to separate me from my money. call me the mark. 12:29 AM May 18th
- Vegas commodifies dreams and the easy score, selling back crumbs at criminal markups, preying on mammon & ruin. 12:02 PM May 18th
- A sign of my age: hoping to trade my #NIN/JA floor tickets for seats. 1:13 PM May 18th
- Little fluffy clouds march relentlessly across the ancient Nevada desert as spacemen floating high above tweet us thermospheric thoughts. 1:45 PM May 18th
- As growth stalls, Vegas withdraws into the strip to focus on sustaining the mirage. The illusion thrives at the expense of the sprawl. 2:35 PM May 18th
- Recent NPR story spoke of tracts of abandoned LV tenaments haunted by erratic chirpings: the sound of fire detectors with dying batteries. 2:40 PM May 18th
- About 2M people inhabit Las Vegas. Nellis AFB brought federal stimulus; the mob & Howard Hughes built The Strip. 5:19 PM May 18th
- Deserts are like seas, vast & deep. In this The Strip is a glowing lure above the gaping maw of a dark desert angler. 5:25 PM May 18th
- You think you’re about to score a nice meal but really you are the prey about to feed something much larger. 5:26 PM May 18th
- got tix sorted. now heading to The Pearl for NIN/JA with @jingleyfish & friends. w00t! 7:28 PM May 18th
- Goddamn i love Jane’s Addiction 12:31 AM May 19th
- crawling the vegas strip with the good dr 1:17 AM May 19th
- new dreams waking with the sun on the fiery vegas strip, raging towards another night 5:49 AM May 19th
- ack. marinating in ambient cigarette smoke on the casino floor. 4:31 PM May 19th
- your trowelled-on cake facade masks the withering age of dessicated bones, too long standing on sore heels to hawk & bark a distant fantasy 4:37 PM May 19th
- Ruminating w/ @jingleyfish about the resource usage profile of the Vegas strip. How much does this desert fantasy consume? Is it a threat? 5:52 PM May 19th
- To paraphrase the bubbling hatery, is Vegas a “cankar needing to be excised”? Carbon tax would likely crush phallic wavings of Wynn et al. 5:56 PM May 19th
- sleepless pineal cascade, flush with endogenous indole, wondering if im really still stuck in this airport 7:27 PM May 19th
- on the ground rolling back to santa cruz. crowd-induced stabby mysanthropy subsiding. actual sleep nigh iminent. 10:24 PM May 19th
Responding to low Q4 revenues and economic uncertainty, Adobe Systems laid off 600 employees reinforcing its conservative posture amidst the growing epidemic of fear in the markets. The cuts were wide and deep and many very talented people were let go. I was among them. This move was surprising for a company on an innovative surge with zero debt and over $2Billion cash in the bank, and is certainly ominous and portends to a long recessionary slump across the industry. Indeed, the entire global economic paradigm is faltering and losing faith in itself sending waves of fear up into the highest ranks.
I started contracting at Adobe in the beginning of Jan 99, then converted to full-time in June 01. I’ve been working for the company for 10 years but I learned long ago not to personalize such realignments. I’ve been through several, barely spared. It’s business, nothing personal. The move will probably strengthen them through the slump but I do feel there may have been less severe options with fewer side-effects. The company is well-positioned to innovate and capitalize in this downturn and could easily operate at a loss for 16 months if necessary. To be certain, profits are down but certainly not negative. In the aftermath, Adobe should capitalize on its lightened books and quickly reinforce its core properties and revenue streams with enough resources to get the job done, instead of further retracting to spare the nerves of The Street. It will be interesting to see how Adobe balances its highly innovative and ambitious platform play against its very conservative financial posture.
More importantly, however, I feel strongly at odds with the fundamental notion that a business must continually grow and deliver heavy dividends to the shareholders in order to be of value. The very paradigm of relentless growth is clearly unsustainable. It appears to be a dying system built on top of ancient biological imperatives. Get as much as you can, spread out to cover the broadest swath of territory, always struggling against the other big dogs in the pack. Meanwhile, the Long Tail slowly, steadily, patiently cuts into your markets from every edge. If nothing else emerges from this global economic meltdown, hopefully the principles of sustainability, transparency, fairness, and accountability will find their way back into the market. Friedman, Keynes, and even Adam Smith can all rest in peace.
But I am not a CEO or CFO and I must accept a certain degree of faith in those trained and entrusted to steer the ship. Indeed, there is a tremendous amount of responsibility that rolls up to executive teams. They must manage a huge multinational business as if it were a living being and a host to thousands of lives. Employees and investors must get paid for their support and markets must be carefully tended and nurtured and defended. Disgruntled board directors could be just a bad day away from outright hostility towards the CEO if things are not being run with maximum diligence to the benefit of the Trust.
And to be fair, Adobe is an exceedingly open & honest organization that has operated with great integrity since its inception. I do want them to succeed and it’s my passion (and admitted ignorance) that makes me worry this may have been a damaging move. The company has been injured by its own hand. There will be a lot of work to rehabilitate the degree of commitment and passion needed to execute on its strategic directives. Letting go of respected contributors who know your business inside & out is always detrimental to the troops and the brain trust, and often helpful to your competition. As I’ve noted elsewhere, there are a lot of really exceptional people hitting the streets, looking for a new work family to fight for and wondering which company will snatch them up and capitalize on their talent.
Would I return to Adobe? Absolutely. They have a huge future and a great vision. Like all organizations heading up their growth curve, they should take time to carefully re-evaluate some of the fundamental assumptions and operating procedures that may have served well in earlier iterations but are now working against their optimization and execution.
The greatest advice I have to Adobe is this: be paranoid, fix your installers and look at performance & stability as the #1 feature. Do whatever is necessary to incentivise point products to work cooperatively and collaboratively across the Suites. Instead of reducing the workforce you should be reinforcing it. Realign without reducing headcount. Marshall the forces and move when your enemy is weak. Don’t assume the brand is untouchable and understand that managing the narrative of your business is just as important as managing sales. Turn that cash & credit into product innovation. Bring the future to the world again just like you did with Post Script and Photoshop and Flash.
I will be fine and have been working up my own transition for months anyway. For me the hardest part is the damage to close relationships. The hugs and tears among boxes piled up in the hallways. Shots of tequila with managers & directors heavy with the decisions they were forced to make. There was such a swelling of good will between colleagues who had worked together so many years, decades even, as the boxes pilled up in the hallways. The warmth and friendship of the workplace will be hurt, as will the functional networks optimized for efficiency over years of collaboration.
My layoff is simply a single point in a much larger dysfunctional global economic paradigm. Everyone is in panic, uncertain of what the next day will bring, but knowing that, surely, it cannot be the same as it was yesterday.
Definitely a lot of interesting, if not especially cheerful, news happening this week.
Experts believe Iran has enough nuclear material for one atomic bomb. Will this draw us into war to defend Israel? Expect a lot of saber rattling from Washington in the 11th hour. Yet another big test of the incoming Obama presidency.
Former Nixon aid and architect of the GOP propaganda arm, Fox News, Roger Ailes signs on for 5 more years. Will he continue his mission to help build conservative business rule in America? Will he lead an attack on Obama?
Scientists now believe there may be vast frozen water reserves on Mars. Get ready for the prison colonies (weak Total Recall reference.)
With the Dow skidding down towards 6000, Al Gore warns of global civilization collapse. Is he right or just being alarmist? Is the global network strong enough to right itself amidst this sudden shakeout? Systemic change happens a lot more quickly than human cognition is able to keep up with. Expect continued struggle to rebuild the Old Ways amidst sudden innovation and concerted work towards The New.
Meanwhile, Wall Street financiers continue to loot the U.S. Treasury before Obama gets in office. Say goodbye to that money cause it’s going offshore into tax havens.
[Note: I haven't been blogging much and this is just a lazy way of passing on some content. I'm just back from the IFTF Blended Reality Exchange and will have some more inspiring words in the next week or so.]
Amidst the global financial correction the large majority of financial advisors and investment managers are eating their words with bitter medicine. Watching videos like this one with Peter Schiff battling the prevailing pundits illustrates just how many truly incompetent investors drank the economic kool aid. In retrospect, it’s amazing that any of these people still have jobs, their predictions were so wrong. Either they were simply ignorant, or caught up in the exuberance of the security boom, or were willingly gaming the system for their own benefit (like mid-level pyramid schemers trying to convince the rest of us to give them our money). In my opinion, there should be a public registry of every analyst, fund manager, and securities broker who deliberately and vocally espoused the unstoppable growth of the credit & securities market while publicly trashing the work of those who saw the writing on the wall.
Indeed, some names are now recognized for the predictive value of their somber analysis in the face of so much Pollyanna positivism. The aforementioned Peter Schiff of Euro Pacific Capital was a voice of sanity, publicly battling pundits and analysts back in 2006 (watch the video linked above). Recent economic Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has been saying what nobody wanted to hear, and doing it in a highly politicized way, for years now. And of course Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been talking about the hollow economic boom and it’s pending meltdown for years, making his clients 50% returns even now during the crash. And to his credit, though I don’t think he should be running the country Ron Paul has been taking the Federal Reserve and private banking community to task over their criminal mismanagement of the US dollar.
The US financial system shifted in the 1970′s and the radical growth since has been built on massive credit expansion while simultaneously reducing manufacturing and production. We and much of Europe are debtor nations. We borrow and borrow but don’t have enough revenue income to support our debts. Now as the system shakes out many of the financial organizations that got us into this mess are looting the US Treasury grabbing all they can before it goes bust. Simply amazing that we let them do it and Paulson isn’t even providing a paper trail of where the money’s going. Sadly, much of it is leaving the country moving into offshore tax havens like the Caymans and Luxemborg.
I’m just about to start reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”. I’ve followed her work and already know the outline of her theory here: that the Powers That Be have grown into the habit of engineering catastrophic events that simultaneously pad their vaults with cash while creating enough social instability and fear that the next round of legislation that favors the wealthy elite can be pushed through as absolutely critical to stave off the apocalypse right around the corner. I generally don’t see the world or The Great Conspiracy as being entirely monolithic, though most conspiracies have some truth to them, as we’ve seen history reveal. Nevertheless, I’m seeing more and more data that supports the notion that certain elite interests would prefer that Democracy fade away and we return to the glory days of monarchies and autocracies.
The recent US election has brought some hope to my eyes but I remain highly suspicious. If the fundamental way in which we manage global business and finance is not radically altered, greed will continue to win out and the Obama presidency will simply set up the next artificial bubble to be pillaged by the mad industrialists. If Goldman Sachs and their ilk make headways into the new administration, you can expect they will continue to forge financial policies that pad the coffers of their clients at the expense of the public. As we’ve seen time and time again, the wealthy elite always prefer to privatize profits and make losses a matter of the public. They get rich and we bail them out.
We still have a democracy. Better be sure to use it this time.
“I hear a very gentle sound… With your ear down to the ground…”
Talk of the global mind tends to look primarily at intellectual and cultural endeavors, digitized and uploaded to the cloud. In this conception the hyperconnectivity of humanity provides instant access to all the data we’ve thus far gathered and to all the content we’ve thus far generated. As culture digitizes our individual selves grow closer to one another, unbound by the restraints of locality and empowered by the technologies of connectivity, integrating towards some hypothetical merger or emergence of a global mind.
But this conception neglects the emotional body of humanity, arguably far stronger and more willful than our ideations. Beneath much of the mind lies a torrent of emotional content often deeply informing (or barely restrained by) the words released to share those nameless currents. While scientific method offers perhaps the apotheosis of restraint most of what we as humans engage in and communicate is driven by psychology, not intellect.
Witness the very foundation of modern civilization: the global economy. Our economics are radically mathematic and rigorously intellectualized. Most of us have only a basic understanding of how such an enormous interconnected system of numbers actually works, let alone the few capable of articulating the obscene calculus of it’s proactive management. Our markets of commerce are left to the banking and finance wizards whose trust must be infallible to secure their credibility in such an occulted domain upon which our very lives rest.
Yet it’s clear from current events that no one has more than a tenuous grasp of what this enormous nonlinear system is doing at the moment. It’s completely out of our hands and the world’s governing bodies are scrambling to make sense of it all in time to reel it back from the precipice of total catastrophe. They try bail-outs and capital injections and various other methods only to watch the markets plunge in a downward spiral of fear and panic. The machine of global commerce is gripped in depression, tossed in the great and swelling tides of human emotion.
By nature of their abstraction and the collective faith required to sustain them, the markets are more a construct of psychology than finance. Panic and fear become self-fulfilling as investors bail-out as fast as possible when the economic indicators falter. Fight-or-flight takes over and the human animal, who so abstracted the biological imperatives of food and shelter into hedge funds and credit-deferred swaps, is seized by adrenalin and sent running in fear. The sound of chambered bullets grows across the land, hunkering down for a long struggle.
These days I can feel it without even looking at the markets. The Fear grips my gut on mornings of great decline. We’re wiring up very quickly, so engaged by the miracle of communication and content, externalizing our minds for all to witness. We get lost in the news cycle and the blogosphere, and in all the deep and meaningless experiences stuffed into increasingly ineffective syntax. We’re wired to invention and distraction, dimly aware of the currents working their way through our evolution.
Underneath the global mind is the global heart, tremulous and open, more intent on externalizing the Soul than the Mind. We’re sharing our emotional bodies far more than we realize and it’s at times like these that the herd feels it. Danger is on the air. A great predator is rustling through the brush. The vibe is harshed and global. The very foundations of human behavior are shifting and rewriting themselves. This is no market correction. It is a civilization correction. The Great Work of our Age is underway, unifying Heart and Mind and all opposites, comfort and commodity be damned. If we can’t evolve willfully, then the system will evolve for us.
Hear the words of the Rastaman say:
“Babylon throne gone down, gone down.”
I really want to encourage people to keep an eye on the writing’s of John Robb, both over at his blog, Global Guerrillas, and in his ground-breaking and extremely relevant book, Brave New War. His writing focuses on the evolving dynamics of the global geo-political system with a keen eye towards 4th generation guerrilla warfare, it’s impact on the de-legitimizing of increasingly hollow states, and the need for communities to take control of their resources to establish independence and resiliency. His work is very much in line with my own sense of where things are heading, and his writings offer a coherent framework for understanding the great shift that is happening across our system of civilization.
My own personal recommendations: assume that the state will be increasingly unable to provide the fundamental services we have come to take for granted. Energy, water, food, health care, protection. The state will continue to spread out in extended foreign military engagements; American cities will move towards increasing chaos and conflict; local communities will seize the reigns of innovation, and assume responsibility for basic services and maintenance.
I don’t expect apocalypse – and in many ways things will likely stay the same – but increasing strain will be put on state and federal budgets ($700B Failout?) and the state will grow more and more pre-occupied with defending its own demise (and continuing is conversion to a loosely fascist merger of industry and governance).
The State is dead. Long live the State!