Category: Culture


We each create or confront deceptions of varying magnitudes almost everyday of our lives. Whether it’s an advertisement, a fantasy story, a padded bra, or even just hopeful thinking, things that can’t quite be classified as truth surround us. Which begs the question, is fiction necessarily malevolent? Can it possibly be harmless or even useful?

Personally, I feel a strong physical reaction when thinking about the concept of dishonesty. My body tells me it is unequivocally a bad thing. So it’s a challenge for my head to consider the idea openly and candidly. Never the less, it seems a worthy endeavor given the ubiquitous presence of this grey area.

This is where artists have a vital role to play. Creativity allows some freedom with accuracy. Exploring and interpreting things through art offers the creator a chance to face the truth and fiction of reality without the constraints most of us feel. This is the arena where fiction, which is inherently dishonest no matter how thoughtful or sincere, is clearly useful. It makes for entertainment, drama, excitement, passion, adventure and fantasy. It gives the imagination sovereignty and the freedom to roam. It is easy to love fiction in the art world.

How about the real world? Can we embrace dishonesty through our choices while abhorring it in our minds and hearts? What does this internal opposition translate to for our health and wellbeing? Should we simply embrace the minor dishonesties or is that a slippery slope toward pathology? Things become even more perplexing when you consider that wishful thinking, optimism, hopes and dreams are all concepts that live outside of the truth category.

They are somewhere between. Not exactly true yet, but not a lie. It’s the definition of grey. Are leaders being dishonest when they set high standards of achievement for themselves and their charges? Is charting new territory dishonest?

In asking all these questions, it may seem like I am setting you up for some answers. Alas, I have none. My opinion is that fiction can be a useful way of examining the truth and teasing it out of the deceptions that surround it. Almost any of these subtle dishonesties represent works of imagination. Visioning or dreaming is, in my view, an essential step to actualizing anything and so could never be a bad thing regardless of its relative “truth”.

Ian Leslie in the Economist:

There is a gushing river of verbal creativity in the normal human mind, from which both artistic invention and lying are drawn. We are born storytellers, spinning narrative out of our experience and imagination, straining against the leash that keeps us tethered to reality. This is a wonderful thing; it is what gives us our ability to conceive of alternative futures and different worlds.

Johnathan Franzen delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College this year. It was a profound meditation on our relationship to the technological world of our own invention. Almost a Dr. Frankenstein and his monster story, Franzen shines a light on our near-romantic levels of fixation on gadgets and internet alter-egos. The harshness of his condemnation is tempered considerably by the dispassionate accuracy of his assertions.

Somehow Franzen manages to blend spot on critique of the narcissistic nature of a lot of social media:

We click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.

With breathtakingly frank observations about fear, pain and love

When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.

The speech is one of the most thought-provoking investigations into the ramifications of our techno-universe and beyond that I have personally encountered. Every word should be read, savored and possibly read again. As much as I’d like to insert the whole thing here, clinking a link hopefully won’t prove so great a hurdle that you’ll deprive yourself of his brilliance. Franzen adapted his speech into an essay published in the New york Times OpEd pages last month. Do yourself a favor and find a way to follow that link.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are.

 

 

Here’s a few of Edward Burtynsky’s hypnotic portraits of the oil industry. Deeply moving and often unsettling.

His website is full of more oil shots and a few other essays on the decay of industrialization. The pictures of ship breaking are other-worldly.

One of our favorite Pioneering spirits here at Net Positive, Douglas Rushkoff, has recently launched the Contact Summit. Just about 6 months away, this counter-conference as Rushkoff lovingly refers to it, will take place in the big apple on October 20th. Our favorite part is the non-heirarchical structure. All attendants are also presenters if they so choose. The whole event is designed with collaboration in mind and all are welcome to bring their projects to the table. Sounds like a priceless opportunity to mix it up with people who are walking the walk. Here’s the intro from Rushkoff:

We might open with some short “provocations” from people in the field sharing their greatest challenges, but the object of the game is to spawn, share, and develop our hopes and dreams. What will come out of this process is anyone’s guess. At at the very least, we’ll convene meetings about the ideas we care about, and vote on the ideas we want to pursue and push forward. We’ll have a giant Bazaar where everyone can demo their works in progress for one another and seek help, customers, or collaborators. We’ll have the chance to get the advice of leading technologists, entrepreneurs, and theorists on our work, and to educate ourselves about what everyone else is doing.

More than that, we will have planted a flag in the sand that social media is evolutionary in spirit, and capable of addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity at the brink of economic, ecological, and cultural crisis. And to celebrate this fact.

Social media is about more than socializing or creating affinity groups around consumption preferences. If you want to counter the commercialization of this incredible part of the commons, this seems like the chance to do it.

photo: tourism-review.com

A little reminder from our old friend Howard Beale. If you haven’t seen the movie Network in a while (or ever) I highly recommend a refresher.

The Economics of Happiness

A new documentary called The Economics of Happiness connects the dots between our consumer culture, environmental degradation and diminishing levels of satisfaction in life. There’s no mainstream release yet, but the film is following a unique kind of self distribution with screenings popping up all over the country. Here’s a trailer and a longer clip to whet your appetite. The film carries a timely message, the importance of localization to build genuine happiness, stability and sustainability, delivered by a luminous ensemble of visionaries. If you like what you see, help the film make an impact by setting up a screening in your area. I’m sure no group is too small and it’s a great excuse to gather friends!

If you really want to be inspired: Bhutan. A tiny Himalayan kingdom, closed to visitors until the ’70’s, where the king first declared that the national priority would be Gross National Happiness and then abdicated his power to make Bhutan the world’s newest democracy.

Looks like industrialized nations might be getting curious about how a society that puts people’s happiness first would look.Yes Magazine on the evolution of the GDP toward something more accurately representative of the impacts of our economic activities and more focused on the elements that lead to greater satisfaction for people.

photo by Balance Has Sides

Parks and Recreation

The best antidote to the blues TV has to offer! Just one thing, make sure to watch at least 2 or 3 episodes before you decide if you like it. Everyone in my house took that long to warm up to it/ understand and appreciate it for the brilliant show that it is. We were already serious fans of both “The Office” (same producers and mockumentary style) and “Arrested Development” (similar humor) so we had high hopes for Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and the rest of this stellar ensemble. To our surprise, not only did we enjoy the show, we fell madly in love with the cast, hanging on their every word like infatuated teenagers. I can’t bring myself to spoil even one surprise by giving and examples. Just watch it. It’s available on Netflix Instant Watch and the current season can be enjoyed directly from the NBC website free of commercials.(Everyone smart enough to have joined the band wagon on this one long ago {we’re half way through season three at this point} well done!)

Photo credit NBC