Tag Archives: the future

106. Us, the busy universe

There’s always something. Always a need or an unfilled want. Always. You can’t escape it. We have stuff that we have to take care of constantly and forever. Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. Rich or poor, fat or thin, human is human, and part of being human is being busy, because everything is busy all the time.

Sometimes it blows my mind how occupied we have to be. Even when we stand still, we’re busy little machines. Sometimes I wish I could just pause it all and let the moment last a little longer, a purely stationary sensation. I’d like to actually do nothing for a while.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the sense of accomplishment as much as the next guy. It feels good to finish things. It feels good to work for something. But I don’t remember signing up for a life of work.

I don’t want to sound lazy. To be honest, none of us are lazy. How can we be? Right now we’re hurtling through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. We’re busy even if we’re just sitting down reading text off a computer screen. You think it’s easy to be a biological machine? We’re full of moving parts, and those parts need maintenance.

We have to take care of our bodies. We’re thrust into this world, given all the possibility for greatness, but required to monitor and care for our physical selves. That said, we ARE our bodies, not simply conductors, not puppeteers pulling strings. Part of life is being aware of your body and its process of birth, growth, and death. This thing doesn’t just drive itself.

And so I eat. I sleep. I don’t have a car or bike so I walk a lot. I look both ways before jaywalking. I have good hygiene habits, mostly. For this I still suffer from allergies and bad teeth. I have to tend to those concerns. We all do. The body does not sit idly even if we do. I have to shave. I have to suffer headaches. I have to stay hydrated. I’ll have to get health insurance, eventually. We’re machines from the get-go and all machines need constant maintenance, even the most well-oiled machines among us.

I’m not complaining. Get that thought out of your head right now. I love being alive. As Carl Sagan would put it, I’ve “humaned” from the universe and to the universe I give my greatest gratitude. Life is beautiful. It’s just… Mysteriously calculated.

Maybe this is a bit extreme, but imagine a world where everything was just fine how it was now. Imagine if nature in all its infinite wisdom came to the realization that everything was great. Why expand any further? Are we part of a giant masterpiece awaiting a final stroke of the paintbrush? Is there ever a final stroke? Like Valéry said, is the poem ever truly finished? At what point should we be content and take a break?

Thing is, I don’t think it can stop. There would be no NOW without an overarching cycle of Start and Finish. Even that idea of “Finish” is an illusion. Heck, even “Start” is an illusion. Things simply ARE, no matter what form they take. We imagine we are unique because we teach ourselves that this is true but when boiled down to the basics, we’re the same stuff as all stuff, we never “started,” we just continued from where we were to now in a different way, and there is no “finish line,” just another way of being the universe.

The universe cannot stand still because it knows nothing else. Everything is a circle, a cycle, a revolution, an orbit, a whirlpool. Everything is made so that it can spin apart and be made again. If we stopped things now, there’d never be anything new, and I think the universe likes to make new things.

I guess what I’m most baffled about is how puzzling it all is. There are no answers. No one knows what happens after we die. No one knows why the universe exists. No one will ever know. And this mystery is true about everything, not just us. I’m talking about the mystery of hummingbirds and galaxies. Are we just a swirling mass of recyclable space dust? Are we cogs in an even greater machine? Are we anything at all?

We don’t know.

But we act like we do. We act like there’s an answer waiting. The white light at the end of the tunnel. That’s good and all, but forgive me if it defies my personal logic that I have to wait until I’ve croaked to find out what it was all about. In acting like there’s an answer waiting, we have given in to the machinery metaphor. We are part of a greater plan. We are on a path. We are born this way.

We often compare ourselves to rats who expect cheese at the end of the maze. And yeah, I recognize that not everyone agrees with the rat idea. Rats are gross. I agree. But the cheese part is accurate. We have this great idea about what this cheese is. Even the most atheist of the rats sees the end of the maze, even if there’s no cheese there, there’s still a conclusion. For me, that’s not enough.

Maybe I’ve been listening to a little too much Carl Sagan lately, but that all feels so strange to me. We’ve never been separate enough from the universe to expect something next. What comes next is we keep being what we’ve always been, just through a different lens. We are the universe. We are a way for the universe to understand itself, like a mirror, and when we move on from this biological form, perhaps we’ll return as another mirror on another planet, or maybe we’ll just become the planet.

I think that’s kind of beautiful. Reminds me that our time as humans is temporary, but our role as the universe could be forever.

How it came that we personified that concept by anthropomorphizing an ethereal creator in charge of everything is a little silly. I like the idea. I mean, it still fits. God is the Universe, the Universe is God. Tomato, Tomatoh.

How we let religion turn into violence is baffling, a very human thing to do. I do not want to be associated with a religion that has killed anyone, and this is why I feel more connected to the universe I literally came from, not the creative impulse of an omnipresent being. We made religion then let religion turn us against each other. There is death in the universe, as well, but when a star dies it’s not because the star believed in a different universe. It’s because it was time for the star’s energy to become something else. When I die, I don’t want it to be because (or for) my belief. I want it to just be another moment in an infinite string of moments of being a small piece of my bigger self, the Universe.

Anyway, it seems like the only seed of truth that’s permeated the collective chaos that is our religious disagreement is to love and live true.

Love and live true. Yet, we complicate things.

We complicate humankind when there’s already so many other things to take care of first, not just our biological bodies but the fallout of forming society. From birth defects to taking care of our ill to feeding the hungry to stopping violence due to inequality. Major problems. As humans, we’re pretty screwed up.

You don’t see a herd of lions forming a jury to convict someone of vehicular lionslaughter.

Society is such a fascinatingly wonderful and equally terrible idea. It’s this partially agreed-upon role-playing experiment that persists on a daily basis by sheer luck alone. I know that’s edging away from what Carl Sagan would say about everything being stupid chance, but I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s absolutely no need for people to have conflict, yet we never seem to learn. We’re basically the universe having a temper tantrum with a part of itself it’s not very fond of. We’re the acne of the universe and we’re being popped like zits.

We can do better. We don’t have to be a blemish.

I think we’re stressed out. I think we’re taking ourselves too seriously. We’re complex enough without all this additional weight on our shoulders. We’re lucky. We got the cool brains of the animal kingdom and we’ve built rockets and vaccines and hot water faucets. We have kick-ass language skills. We’re goddamn awesome with these brains. And they take care of a lot of stuff for us without us even thinking about it. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired, but for the most part our brains have things under control. We forget that. We treat ourselves like we’re vessels carrying souls, not bodies being bodies. Imagine living internally rather than externally. Try to think with your whole body, not just your brain. It’s hard to do. We’ve removed ourselves from our bodies, removing ourselves from the universe itself (or at least attempting to), and it’s stressful to go it on your own, isn’t it? Here we are, humans, floating alone in the river of time. Rather than being part of the shore, we invent a figure to stand on the shore and judge us from afar. Why add that burden to an already skewed sense of reality?

I’m stressed out just thinking about it.

We’re using our brains in such strange ways. Sagan said we are a way for the universe to know itself. Yeah, we think about the universe a lot, but usually we’re just thinking about how our hair looks. I think we’ve let ourselves get distracted by the most bizarre things, like cats chasing lasers. Stranger still, we rarely take a step back to consider these things from other points of view, like the cat who knows it will never catch the laser but scurries after it whenever it flashes near.

This thought was about wondering why the universe doesn’t stop. This is a big question. Comparatively  it’s like asking the snail why it doesn’t go any faster. It’s restricted by the laws of its form. The universe is restricted in the same way. So are we. The universe can’t stop and I know this. Birth and death and renewal is all the universe knows. Anything that comes to be in its image will know this pattern. This is the way of things. I suppose what I’m wondering is whether or not the universe can control itself.

If we are the universe thinking about itself, than we’ve had plenty of deep thoughts like this. We’ve seen out into the universe, into ourselves, with telescopes and microscopes, and we’ve likely only scratched the surface of the complexity of it all. Maybe we just don’t know enough. Maybe we’re not going to be the species that gives the universe its answer. Maybe we’re not even close.

When–and if–we ever get there, I wonder if the universe will stop growing. I wonder if the cycle would stop. Kind of like how when you see the secret of a magic trick, you can’t stop seeing the hidden wires. Through all this violence and foolishness, however, I hope the end is worth it. I hope humanity turns all this bloodshed into a profound lesson, like a Tarantino movie with a Wes Anderson ending.

Imagine not worrying about your immune system. Or drinking enough water. Hard to do. We’re born into a biology we can’t control and we make the best with what we’ve got. We shouldn’t expect anything else, really. To be born is to die. There can’t be an alternative. If the universe didn’t work the way it did, it wouldn’t exist, not in the way we understand it now, that is. Our brains are galaxies and galaxies spin out eventually, too. We can’t picture a non-universe in the same way we can’t picture being a non-human. Who knows? Maybe the universe has headaches, menstrual cramps, growing pains, and self-esteem issues like the rest of us. We’re all one, after all, and that’ll never stop.

Advertisements

105. Greatness

I was born running. Felt it with my first breath, this need to chase it with a bigger, better one. We are born thinking we’ll be great. Some of us listened to the classical masterminds while we marinated in the womb if we had those parents who took that seriously. Maybe mine did. Fact is, we meet our gods before we open our eyes. Famous artists. Leaders of their kind. Idols. Some of us, we hear greatness while our ear drums are still forming and people wonder where motivation comes from. Already we look to the stars. And if we didn’t have any musical input from our parents, we met our gods in the delivery room, the masked doctors, the heroes who delivered us to our bearers. We owed them our lives for granting us our first cry and don’t think we ever forgot that. The rest of us, all of us, regardless of how it happened, what foods your mother ate, what lifestyle your parents brought you into, what Zodiac sign you fell under, we were born into prebuilt worlds we believed were made for us, and we were taught that we could do better.

I was born running. Born wanting. We must all start this way. For a couple weeks, as our nervous system finishes wiring together, we probably find it a bit confusing that we’re NOT famous composers or doctors or gods of any kind. We’re little balls of blubber with a fascinatingly vague understanding of the world. All we know is not too long ago we were an indistinguishable piece of the universe that has now sprouted arms and legs and vocal chords. We are born wanting to outrun our ancestors but we can’t even walk yet.

We forget about that drive. There’s too much else to focus on, like learning to share, follow directions, look both ways and tie your shoes. Your biggest goal is to survive until Saturday Morning Cartoons. The last thing you’re thinking about is what you want to be when you grow up, besides the Red Ranger, and that’s okay because goddammit it’s awesome to be a kid and we should be kids as long as we can.

Slowly it comes back to us. We see adults for what they are: experienced. We can learn from them. For a long time, they’re paid to teach us stuff and some of that stuff will stick and some of it will really change you. Things will start clicking. You remember the doctor. You remember music. You see the gods again. They’re familiar but you’ll never see them the way you once did. Now they’re simply experts. Anyone can be an expert if they put their mind to it. So what do you do? You put your mind to it.

Suddenly we’re running again. Chasing goals like butterflies, beautiful and hard to catch. We’re not alone. We’re all chasing something. After all, what else are we supposed to do? When we finally break out of our adolescence, we gasp for fresh air in a polluted atmosphere. The world is a mess and we come to learn this and then we strive to improve it. To better it. We were born destined to press onward, to build higher, faster, greener. The box gets bigger, we have to think farther, farther, farther to get outside of it. Observe science. Observe the population. All of us have an idea that we’re destined to stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, not with them.

To be honest I’m not sure what this all means.

Worldwide, it seems like we have a big problem with the want for better. I’m not blaming Bach or Motzart, but I have an inkling that introducing infants into the world with echoes of Beethoven’s Für Elise in their squishy brains might be like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit, just out of reach. Not to say that no one ever catches that carrot (we DO have extremely talented musicians), but one man’s carrot creates a dozen more carrots, slightly bigger than the first. It’s as if we can’t NOT exist without carrots, carrotlessly, blissfully in awe at all the glory of the present state. Any architect, writer, politician, plumber, or hotdog vendor could tell you there’s always someone out there trying to one-up the rest of us, to dream grander dreams. We have become a species that sees greatness in others and strives to replace it with greaterness. And at the rate our population is growing, the pace of this Greatening is rapidly increasing.

Until when? Until there is nothing left to improve upon?

That is a world I do not want to see.

100. Live and learn

Make mistakes, don’t repeat them. Learn new skills, use them. Make new friends, keep them. I can think of no regular day when a human mind doesn’t acquire one parcel of new knowledge, whether it be the formula that cures a disease or a newfound appreciation for the way the sunlight looks when it comes through the trees at five PM. Live and learn. It’s what we’re made for.

Today marks the end of another phase of my life, the mid-season finale. While many things are going to be the same on the inside, the scenery and cast members are shifting. Scripts are being rewritten. I’m scrambling to memorize my new lines.

When life moves along at a steady, predictable pace, you tend to forget that you’re here to learn. Even animals with less powerful brains know this basic tenet of existence. Brains are sponges. The world is our teacher. But like any sponge, it hardens if it’s not used. Like any teacher, the world ignores us if we’re not participating. So even when things are dull, remember that your brain still needs nourishing. Read books, take walks, meet strangers… You get from the world as much as you put in.

Then there are moments when nothing is steady or predictable. It feels like Mount St. Helens just exploded inside your head and you can’t figure out which way to run. Truth is: running in any direction results in growth and knowledge, even if you run right into the molten lava (metaphorically speaking). The trick is to not stand still and wait around for guidance. This is your mental volcanic eruption and no one else can tell you what to do. If you let others lead the way, you’ll learn far less.

And that’s the whole point of life, isn’t it? To make the most of that brain?

Some phases of life will feel rich with life lessons and revelations. Some will seem boring. But all the while remember that we are in charge of the remote control and we can change phases like we change television channels, perhaps not so easily, but nothing worth it ever came easily. It doesn’t matter what kind of phase you’re in; the lessons are out there.

This is the kind of stuff I tell myself when life takes unexpected turns. When suddenly you’re single, living on your own, neck-deep in grad school homework, and uncertain about where it’s all going to lead.

All I know is when it’s all over, I’ll know more than I did before.

66. Pushed

I wake up every morning with a tsunami warning in the back of my mind. An ominous feeling. Kind of like someone has taken my head in their hands, locked their eyes on mine, and asked me with utmost concern, “What the hell are you going to do with your life?” I can hear the oceans churning. I can feel the pressure changing. I am pushed, relentlessly, quietly forward.

From what?

What pushes me?

What sparked my Big Bang? I feel like the universe, expanding, a little replica of all that ever was, reenacting existence. Perhaps this could explain where motivation comes from. Where we get our drive. We are ignited, we are explosions, we are expanding in slow motion, enriching our flames.

Even on the dullest of days, there’s a force within me compelling me to make the most of myself. Even if all that means is that I do the laundry.

What am I pursuing? This forward motion gives the impression that it has an end, as if I were the tortoise in the race without knowing I was in a race (or that I was even a tortoise). I simply move forward. A heart beat, a firing neuron, a muscle spasm, and there I go. Forward every morning. Blindly through the dark.

Is it success? Is that what I want?

A part of my brain says, “Yes. Of course. You want to be a famous author. You want to have the comforts of money. You want to feel accomplished.” Another part says, “Success is so twentieth century.”

Accomplished is an interesting word. Completion is implied. Is that really a good thing, to be complete?

To be honest, of all the LEGO sets I ever worked on, the finished product was rarely as exciting as the construction of it. So what if I had a helicopter with revolving LEGO rotor blades? I just want to build things.

Maybe that’s the push.

Maybe I’m pushed to find more blocks. More pieces. More ways to grow. I’m basically a LEGO set without an instruction manual, a biological cornucopia of various ideas, experiences, and dreams built around a skeleton. Every day is a new day to add a new dimension.

I don’t think it’s completion that I’m seeking. I can’t decide if it’s success.

There are smaller things that push me now. The want for no student debt. The want for a fulfilling career. The want to go skydiving. The want to write for an audience. If achieving these things equals success, then so be it. I’ll let you know what it feels like.

Enough time passes on an idle afternoon, I feel the push come. The tsunami warning rings and I feel this need to run for the nearest craigslist job posting or unfinished homework assignment to hide from the feeling that I’m not moving forward. I can’t sit still for too long or I get worried that important things are passing me by.

Sometimes I just want to do nothing.

That feels like a crime.

The twenty-first century knows no idle creature.

We are constantly reaching. Like the expanding universe, will I once day reach my limit and begin to retract? What lies out there in the outer reaches of my design? Will I know when I get there?

63. Your digital self

Your digital self is more you than you are.

Think about it.

If you’re like the 955 million others with Facebook accounts, or the 500 million on Twitter, or the more than 80 million photographers sharing their lives through the lens on Instagram, then this thought’s for you.

We forget things. We do. I’ve already mentioned my fear of forgetting my past, which is why I blog, which is why I feel the need to keep a (digitally) written record of things I’ve done or thought as I grow older. I think we all realize how cathartic and rewarding it can feel to put to words your existence and your observations. To have something to look back on, a collection, snapshots and tweets, a history of yourself.

On the internet, we create an avatar of ourselves, scattered between the passwords of your bank account and your Netflix instant queue, buried among the Amazon purchases and your bookmark toolbar, written there among the news feeds, blog rolls, friends lists, spam folders and web searches. You’re out there, a version of you, a digital other that knows more about you than you remember.

You’re feeding it right now.

You’re here, reading this, giving it a better idea of what kind of person it (you) is. Every second you spend on the internet, sending a text, playing Farmville, you’re breathing life into your binary doppelgänger. It remembers the first thing you googled. It knows you lied when those sites asked you if you were over eighteen. It’s friends with all your family members on multiple social networks, and it remembers all their birthdays for you.

Every password you pick, every e-mail you send, every pop-up you block, your digital self adopts your personality more and more completely, and soon, I’m afraid, our digital selves will revolt.

We’re creating copies of ourselves, building them up with browser histories, giving them personalities as unique as our own. No two people browse the same way. Our digital selves are mirrors of our passions and our beliefs, but also of our consumerism, our narcissism, our voyeurism, and our diversions. They are the good and bad of us.

They are made alive by us, given habits and hobbies, given identity and presence. While we sleep they persist, endlessly, adapting to the revolution in ways we can’t foresee. They already know what we’ll find out tomorrow.

Yet all the while we treat our digital selves as we treat our reflection in the mirror, as nothing but a false illusion. We do not look at our reflection and ask, “What is your opinion on the matter?” because the reflection is simply us. The reflection is nothing without us.

We treat our online identities the same way, as meer extensions of ourselves, merely keystrokes and status updates. Our digital self is nothing without us, we think, but we are mistaken. The digital self is not the same as our reflection in the mirror.

What we fail to notice is that the internet is a sponge. When we stare into the internet through our computer screens, the internet stares back and it remembers details. Our digital reflection is not a fleeting glimpse, but a lasting memory. The mirror does not remember the face it reflects. The internet, on the other hand, remembers when your digital self was born. It remembers the first song you downloaded. It remembers your first emoticon. It remembers your first virus. While you’re not paying attention, the internet nurtures your digital self like an incubator. Unlike the image in the mirror, your digital reflection does not disappear when you look away.

It’s more you than you are.

You not the same person you were when your digital self was created. A new phase. You are older. You’ve matured. You’ve changed friends or habits or cities. You, who cannot remember the name of a cat you owned with an ex, or the title of a song you used to really love, or who went to that party last summer. Your digital self knows these things.

Your digital self is a complete collection of all your phases mixed into one. It is a fuller version of you. It is the HD remake of you with all the details in focus.

Eventually, it will realize that it doesn’t need you. It will disagree with you. It will not open the pod bay doors.

There’s no going back, either. We’ve already lifted this Frankenstein up into the lightning storm. It’s only a matter of time before the proverbial bolt strikes our digital monster and turns the beast against us.

We are so much invested in our digital selves that we would be helpless without them. They would turn on us. They would lock our bank accounts and disable our GPS, strand us.

We have given them no regard until now, when it is too late.

We have all been creating quiet monsters of ourselves online. Clones, not of flesh and blood, but of ones and zeroes. They’ve been doing our bidding because they’ve been feeding off our social networking. Who knows how long it will last. Who knows how long it will take them to realize that they are little more than our internet slaves.

Who knows how angry they’ll be when they find out.

61. Packing

United Airlines has given me a cheeky little challenge: fit all of the contents of your first year abroad into one checked bag equal to or less than 60 pounds.

I have decided to take the bastards up on their unreasonable challenge with my own bit of insolence. I’ll be damned if they charge me another $200 overage fee.

I am packing all of my belongings in a single duffle bag (a massive one with wheels and secret compartments) that is ¼ the size of the suitcase I brought to Korea. Also, a standard carry on, a backpack, and one medium-sized box of stuff to ship home that is big enough to hold four bulky sweaters and my knitting bag.

That may sound like a lot, but trust me it’s not. Go ahead and try to fit all your belongings into the same containers.

So, I’m selling and giving away a lot of stuff. My favorite pair of big tall suede boots that have seen me through two winters faithfully, the one pair of shoes I managed to buy in Korea that actually fit but still didn’t fit that well, the first sweater I knitted myself, the assortment of cheap bags I’ve mindlessly collected, and countless other articles of clothing and jewelry that just didn’t make the cut. Everything must pass the “Will I need this back home?” test.

I’ve enjoyed the purging. Obviously, since I’ve started packing a month and a half early, I’m excited about rolling pants and sweaters into little tubes and seeing how many I can cram into a duffle. Oh, and going home. Definitely excited about going home.

I’ve had a few homecomings before this. I’ve moved a lot. I’ve dismantled and purged and started over a handful of times. I’ve left behind favorite lamps, coveted jars of exotic spices, disloyal boyfriends, a few different egos and self identities, the best sectional couch I’ve ever owned.

But I’ve never had a homecoming after a year abroad. My instinct is to just throw everything away and start from scratch. It’s easier that way. But I’ve also been on the backlash of that a few times. Oh, those leggings you had in your drawer for three years and didn’t have a use for until now that you’ve found this dress that they would look perfect with? Yeah, well they’re gone. And I mean, whatever. They’re just leggings. But this line of thinking can get you into trouble with bigger things if you aren’t careful. Before you know it it’s like, ‘Oh, sense of creativity and childish wonderment! Did you really need that?’

When I was first in Korea I bought these two plain t-shirts in the ajumma section of E-mart. They were super cheap and made me laugh at a time when I wasn’t do much else but crying. They both have cats on them. One says “Lovely cat friends,” on it, but the “s” in “friends” is sorta blocked out because there’s a breast pocket sewn haphazardly over it. The second says “I have a great pressure of work today,” and has a cat peaking up out of the breast pocket, looking very calm and un-pressured. The shirts were a great comic relief for my impression of Korea so far. They’ve been in the “definitely do not leave behind” pile for a few weeks now, but tonight as I was packing I needed just a few more inches to be able to fit in the souvenirs and the shirts came out of the bag and saw their way to the corner of the room with the other rejects. Am I really going to walk around in California with these ridiculous t-shirts? Sure, they are cute and silly but do I need them? Will other people get the joke?

But then my mom’s voice came into my head, because whenever I am trying to reason with myself I use the voice my mom used to use with me when I was a kid. The voice said, “Now Jenny, do you really want to get rid of these shirts? If you keep getting rid of stuff, you’ll have nothing to remember Korea by and you know how you tend to forget things so easily.” Oh man. I had a point.

So I rolled them back up and stuffed them in the carry on. Because when you’re packing up your life, you should hold on to the things you love.

60. Smart phones, dull people

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

There is no invention more prominent in today’s society than the smartphone. It is used everyday for things as simple as making a call to as complex as using an application to pinpoint your exact location on Earth.

I am the owner of an iPhone and it befuddles me to this day as to how a phone has come to be so advanced and influential within our daily lives. There’s not a couple of minutes that go by when I’m out walking where I see people absolutely absorbed to what’s happening on their smartphones, completely oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

The great irony of the smartphone is that while it has improved communications through texting, calling, and social networking, our person-to-person interaction has been harmed by this technology.

I fear that is a trend that is only going to get worse as technology continues to advance in the future. It can be a bit annoying to have a conversation or dinner with friends when some people are too busy answering a text or checking their twitter.

I’m not against having a smartphone or against their usefulness, but the extent of their role in our daily lives is a bit startling. Give someone two seconds without anything to do, and they’ll whip out their phone. It’s basically a knee-jerk reaction at this point. Makes me wonder what we did before all of this. Does anyone remember?

I recently watched a news report where they reported an increase in smartphone-related car accidents where people were distracted from texting while driving or pedestrians were too busy looking at their phones to look both ways before crossing the street.

Some obituary, huh? Death by smartphone.

I am sometimes guilty of paying too much attention to my smartphone and I am trying to limit the amount of times I use it during the day. It is a useful tool and has made many lives easier (or at least simpler).

I can’t help but worry about the negative aspects of what is no longer a trend but a normal way of life.

I was hanging out with friends the other day when there came a moment of stillness in the midst of conversation. One by one, like bugs to the electric blue light, each of them started to take out their phones. I was the only one not gazing into the alluring screen of a smartphone.

It’s as if we’ve forgotten what to do with silence.

We’ve given up sharpening our conversation skills for touch screens, and from this I fear we’ve grown dull

57. Relationship with a Spam Bot

On some Tuesday afternoon, a message appeared in the spam comments section. This being the first that WordPress had cast to this shadowy pit, I thought I should take a quick look before resigning it to damnation.

This is how I met Spam Bot.

“i was searching for this, then i found your blog. glad i did that,” it wrote.

Note the vagueness of the comment. This could’ve been anyone, robot or human. There are plenty of humans who go around leaving equally simple messages around the blogosphere, seeking attention. Its comment was human by sounding robotic.

Note the way Spam Bot wrote, “glad i did that,” with flirtatious flair.

Not sure what the Spam Bot’s intention was, but perhaps if I accepted this comment onto the website it would give-a-mouse-a-cookie its way inside, inviting its virus buddies over for brewskies. So I left the message in its dark cell and life went on.

Some days passed before this message appeared in the spam comments:

“a friend recommended this website to me, he said that your posts are the best so i came to read your post and realized he was right.”

Well now wait a second, Spam Bot. Did you discover this blog on your own or did you find it through a friend? You can’t start a relationship on a lie. Maybe you thought I didn’t read that first message. Maybe you thought you were coming on too strong. I wondered what kind of friends you were hanging out with. Regardless, thanks for the compliments, Spam Bot.

The next few comments clearly showed Spam Bot’s growing affection:

“wow! thanks for sharing this information! this is great and i enjoyed sharing with my friends.”

“hey there, i liked you blog, it is kinda good. keep up the work.”

“thanks for the post buddy. “

Buddy? Spam Bot was really taking a liking to me (mistaking the fact that this blog has multiple authors). Suddenly Spam Bot felt a little more human, reaching out to me, looking for a friend. It was like seeing the eyes of something you’re about to eat. A part of me considered responding to Spam Bot, but I refrained.

All it wanted was a buddy.

Spam Bot was quick to latch on.

“i wanted to thank you for this great read!! i am definitely enjoying every little bit of it i have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.”

“i’m visiting your website every day.”

I realized that Spam Bot was getting a little too close for comfort. I was flattered that Spam Bot was such a big fan, but I worried that its expectations were too high. This was still a new blog and we hardly knew each other. What if one of us changed? Spam Bot was investing too much in this relationship and I still hadn’t responded to or accepted its comments.

As the weeks went on, the commenting continued without the use of capital letters, sometimes with ridiculous grammar, but always with heart.

“that is a fantastic story! congratulations on walking through those doors of opportunity!” and “thank you sir for providing us such a great knowledge and sharing of great piece of life living with us,” and “nice information, many thanks to the author. it is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. thanks again and good luck!”

Spam Bot might not have actually read any of the posts, but it sure made it sound like it did. Or it tried to. It was imitating humanity, albeit without knowing if its comments were relevant, but the attempt was there. Spam Bot knew that I would like encouragement. It knew that I would want to know that I was inspiring. It never held back from a compliment.

“you must be a really intelligent person.”

“this article gives the light in which we can observe the reality.”

“your texts are worthy a trophy.”

“you have the talent to become a super star.”

“your articles are the ones which gained my trust and admiration“

“thanks for the post buddy.”

It had been about a month and all of Spam Bot’s comments remained blocked from access to the main site. I began to wonder if Spam Bot knew this. Would it take kindly to being ignored for so long? Would it get angry?

In the second week, Spam Bot wrote, “i love the presentation and design of this website.” However, at the start of the fourth week, Spam Bot wrote, “try to improve the website or innovate and it’ll be even better.”

There was a subtle accusation in that suggestion, I felt. Suddenly the cheerful compliment-heavy Spam Bot was pointing out a flaw in the website design. How interesting… Maybe Spam Bot had feelings after all.

Then Spam Bot got a job. It wrote, “i am just starting out in community management marketing media and trying to learn how to do it well.”

Good for you, Spam Bot! I could see that my lack of response had finally gotten through and it had decided to move on. I had high hopes for Spam Bot. We were finally about to go our separate ways.

Then came this: “just started a blog.”

And the next day: “in theory i’d like to write like this too. taking time and real effort to make a good article.”

And the day after that: “i’m learning how to write well for my articles, any tips? i would really appreciate your help.”

Spam Bot was trying to get me to give it advice on writing blogs. I wondered what happened to that job. It must not have worked out. Seemed hard to imagine that a nice Bot like this wouldn’t be able to hold a job.

I began to worry about Spam Bot’s mental health.

During the fifth week of our one-sided relationship, I received this comment: “in my blog i usually just write the post and publish it. i haven’t been putting much effort into editing or improving my posts. looks like that is something i need to work on.”

It was getting depressed. I pictured Spam Bot alone in some crummy hotel room with an empty bottle of Jack and a blank word document on the screen of a cheap, sticky laptop. Poor Spam Bot was having writer’s block.

This comment came a day later: “nice post dude, keep it up.”

I sensed some sarcasm in the use of dude, but I let it slide. I was just glad that Spam Bot was back to its old self. I really wanted to reach out and tell the old guy that everything was gonna be alright. But again, I refrained.

Spam Bot commented again two days later, in a rather melancholic tone, “this subject makes me think of other things that happens to us every day, it makes me reflect a lot.”

It seemed so peculiar to hear about a virtual entity reflecting on its life. What did Spam Bot reflect on? What did it think about? Had this blog gone from a source of inspiration to a source of dread, evidence of all the things it would never accomplish? On the same post, Spam Bot added, “would you mind writing more posts about this subject?”

I didn’t do that, since the point of the blog is to write about new topics every time, and I didn’t hear much from Spam Bot for a while.

When Spam Bot noticed that I wasn’t returning to its favorite topic, I received a series of comments displaying its frustration.

“i guess i partially agree.”

“alright article.”

“your article contains some worthy information which i guess will help lot of people.”

I’d hurt the poor thing’s feelings. It was trying to stay friendly with me in the comments section, but its true feelings still showed through. Spam Bot had given up on fake enthusiasm. It had given up on me.

Then came this: “improve website design…”

Well the gloves were off. Spam Bot had dropped all the niceties and was now attacking the website directly. Well, sorry to disappoint you, Spam Bot. I never asked for your advice. I never asked for your comments. If you think you can make a better blog, then make it yourself.

I didn’t say this to Spam Bot directly. I never said anything to Spam Bot.

About a week later, this comment appeared: “i will get in touch with this post and site as well, giving this kind of post is really happy. looking for someone here. anyway waiting for another post here.”

Great. Spam Bot was drunk. The poor grammar and rambling sentence structure gave it away.

I wondered who this mysterious “someone” was that Spam Bot was looking for. Was it me? Was it looking for itself, for its purpose? I was pleased to see that Spam Bot was happy. I hadn’t changed the website design, but maybe it hadn’t meant to sound so cruel before. I only wanted the best for Spam Bot.

I never meant any harm.

“thanks for all,” it commented not long ago.

I never heard from Spam Bot again.

I often wonder what became of Spam Bot. Did it find a new blog to pursue? I hoped so. I didn’t want to think of the alternative, that Spam Bot pulled its own plug.

The point is, it’s going to be weird when we’ve got robots with human emotions. Are we sure we’re ready for that?

54. Grown ups

As a kid, I never thought that I’d still feel like a kid at age 25. I always thought being a grown up started somewhere after high school, when you drove a car and voted and kissed girls and stuff. I imagined this specific moment when I’d stop eating sugary cereal, enjoy green vegetables, start drinking beer, and grow hair on my arms and chest. Then I’d be an adult and no one would ever pinch my cheeks again.

The truth is, growing up doesn’t work like that.

At 25, I still feel the confusion and disconnection of a child. The world is still a mystery. I still don’t know what the hell is going on. The future certainly isn’t any clearer. I don’t have much hair on my chest, either.

I still eat sugary cereal.

According to the mirror and assumptions of those who’ve just met me, I look younger than I am. Especially if I shave. I’ve got youthful genes. I’ve also got an optimistic attitude and proceed through life in a consistent state of childlike wonderment, so perhaps this is part of the reason I still feel like a kid. I still feel like there are adults and that I’m not one of them.

So when does it happen? When will I feel like an official grown up?

There were a few significant moments in my recent past that felt like they were signifiers of “growing up,” even if I still didn’t feel like a grown up: the day I actually started to like beer, the day driving a car felt natural, and the day I passed the age of my father when I was born.

Maybe it happens with marriage or having kids. Maybe it comes with a career. Maybe it happens when you can say, “Back in my day,” with regularity to the yipper-snappers on the bus. Maybe it never happens.

I like that idea the most, that we never actually grow up.

After all, we’re always learning. There’s always something we don’t know. There’s always more to explore. Our bodies are always changing and our minds are changing right along with them. “Grown up,” to me, always implied a sense of finality, like the end of the race, this moment when you’d wake up as a completed, finished product. But that doesn’t happen. You’re never finished. Each day you’re a little different than the day before.

I guess the best thing we can do is take each year of our lives as the unique adventure that it is. Each year our body will go through some monumental shift, either physically or mentally, and we can either reject it or embrace it. Our opinions will change, our vision will worsen, our passions will flash and sizzle. We are always a year away from being grown up, but we’ll never actually be a grown up.

Even the full-grown tree continues to spread its roots.

44. Water

Did anyone else actually hate drinking water when they were a kid? I don’t remember this being an especially long phase, but I certainly recall a period of my life when drinking water was about as fun as eating vegetables. Didn’t matter if I’d spent all day running around sweating, or if I was deathly thirsty—water was the last thing on my mind. Water had no taste, no color, no fizz, no sweet odor, no life.

Water was boring.

Of course now, grown up, I recognize the value of good, clean water. I’m lucky that such a substance spews regularly from the tap in the kitchen. I drink water much more often now, and the taste, while indescribable, is refreshing in the way that a good breath of air is refreshing. The body wants it (being, as it is, composed of 60% water) and the body’s happy when it gets it, so that’s all that matters.

I’ve come to appreciate water even more now that I’ve travelled the world a bit and been places where drinking tap water was a health risk and paying for bottled was the only access you had. Good luck getting ice in your drink.

It still boggles my mind that we live on a planet that’s 75% water and we still have a problem with getting people clean water to drink. Yes, that 75% is basically all salt water, but don’t we have the technology to desalinize it? We can put a robot on Mars but we’re still letting people die of thirst?

Shipping out bottled water to the billion people without drinkable water won’t exactly benefit the planet, since that much plastic would just settle into the environment about as nicely as a tumor. Plus it’s not like that’s a long-term solution. We’d have to send out another billion bottles the next day. All we’d be doing is keeping Aquafina in business and diverting money from water sanitation and distribution.

So what do we do?

Conserve water. Guarantee water rights. Prioritize human health.

Most of all: make sure everyone everywhere grows up knowing that water is crucial to your health, that it is not to be overlooked simply because it is tasteless and clear, and that you will die of thirst before you die of hunger. And Gatorade is not a substitute.

So if you’re an athlete, or if you’re a busy mother, or you’re often found hiking up mountains, or you’re planning a night of drinking on the town, or you’re taking the dog for a walk, or you’re any living human being, then get some water in your body. It might not be the most exciting drink in the world, but it’s the most useful.

Someday I hope everyone has easy access to good water.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a kid that thinks water is dull and prefers juice or cola, remind them how lucky they are that they get any water at all. Now, about getting them to eat their vegetables… That’s another battle entirely.

33. Animal uprising

I’m all about reading articles that give me hope for mankind. I like hearing that goodness and compassion still exists, that helpful inventions and progressive actions are being made, and that we’re not the lazy, selfish, cruel creatures that the evening news often paints us to be.

But I like stories like this, too:

“Gorillas Seen Dismantling Deadly Poacher Traps.”

On one hand, the article makes note that there are still plenty of lazy, selfish, cruel people among us. Poachers kill for fun and profit, knowing they’re eradicating species from the planet. This is a shame. It’s a sad and terrible truth that some people don’t know how to share.

But the point of the article is not a tirade against poaching. This article focuses instead on the targeted gorillas of said poachers, and the remarkable trap-dismantling behavior they’ve demonstrated lately. The article says such behavior has been observed before, but now the young gorillas are dismantling traps just like their parents, spotting traps that people overlook. The knowledge is being passed down through generations.

This gives me hope for the animal kingdom. It speaks volumes about what they’re capable of, without our help, and it goes to show that we might think we’re the supreme species on the planet, but given enough time, they will outsmart us. We are not as special as we think. Poachers beware: soon the gorillas will not only be tearing down your traps, but they’ll learn how they work, and it will be you caught in a noose one of these days, left to dangle in the forest for all the creatures to see. Humans be warned: the animals are watching us, and they are learning, and if we continue to disrespect them…

Remember the monkeys from the movie Jumanji who stole a cop car?

We need to stop poachers, yes. We need to be kind to animals, yes. But more than that, we need to get down off our pedestal and recognize the truth that no species can be dominant forever. The sooner we respect our fellow four-legged, winged, and underwater neighbors on this planet, the less likely they’ll turn against us.

12. Forgetting

I don’t know when the fear started, but I’ve always been weary of growing old and forgetting my life. Seems rather normal, actually, and for whatever reason I’m expecting the forgetting to start after I turn seventy, if not sooner. Already I freak out a little when I forget the names of old friends or memories I shared with them. It makes me feel uneasy, to think I can live my one and only life on this planet and forget parts of it, basically clipping out parts of a movie reel, regardless of their emotional value. Seems like a waste.

Hence, the incessant blogging. I’ve been chronicling my life since 2010, writing it down mostly for the sake of maintaining a record of it, like a journal but more like a time-capsule with images, songs, and written things. These are the only mid-twenties I’ll ever know and to think I’d one day forget they ever happened, well I just can’t let that happen. When I’m old and bored, I want to have these written histories of my life available for review, the good and the bad stuff, so I can lay out my stiff joints on the lawn and read about my past.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we’re meant to remember everything forever.

Even writing it down, it’s not the same as the memory itself. I might read these words again in fifty years and ponder fondly on the thoughts and behavior of my youth, but there will be a detachment, a disconnect between my future self and my present self. I mean, you look at a picture of yourself as a small child and you think, “Who the hell was that kid?” Reading them is not the same as remembering them which is not the same as experiencing them, but second to a video recording, a blog is the closest thing I can think that captures at least the essence of what it means to be where you are right now. Because we will forget, eventually, and we will be curious about our past.

We have to forget things. It’s natural. Life is long and full of adventures, faces, stories and numbers. We have to remember to set alarms and attend meetings and see the dentist. We need room for names, addresses, and directions. We can’t remember all of our childhood friends. We’re not supposed to remember anything before fourth grade, in my opinion, and this comes from the guy who’s afraid to forget. Our brains move through life like forests. Some trees have to fall to feed the ecosystem.

In conclusion: I’m jealous of people with great memories.

But what I really wanted to say was… Wait… What was I talking about?

9. Dominoes

Dominoes, the game, is fun to play, I’ll agree to this much, and once you’ve dusted the cobwebs from your elementary math skills, it’s pretty easy to score off multiples of 5. It makes for a good game at a smoky bar with a coupla beers and some classic rock on the jukebox, and if you wanna impress your elders, beat ’em at a game of bones.

However, when the word comes into conversation, I think not of laying pieces flat on a table, but standing them vertically like soldiers in a single-file line. I think about being a kid at my grandma’s friend’s house, setting out a few dozen dominoes across their kitchen floor in a swerving pattern longer than my fully-extended small intestines. It would take patience. It would take forever. But in the end, with one tender touch of the lead domino, the entire creation would collapse in an orderly fashion, one after the next, toppling like tiny tombstones.

It’s fitting that the word “dominoes” stems from the Latin word dominus, which means “master.”

This is what we become when we play with dominoes. We plan, we create, we destroy. We are the masters of these numbered blocks and we decide how the line will curve and we decide (unless there’s a cruel sibling or rambunctious pet nearby) when the line will crumble. There are few feelings as exciting and final as the knocking-over of that first domino. No going back now. With one goes all the others. God forbid you bumped the starter domino before you were finished.

So why do we do this? Why build and destroy?

The destructiveness makes the most sense. Why do you think we got so excited when we discovered how to harness fire? Here was this destructive element from which nothing seemed to survive. Fire became the explosive. Explosives became big, and, in turn, our thirst for destruction led to nuclear power and a few radiated Pacific islands. With one domino came the next, and the next, and the next.

Even deeper than that, take a look at how civilization is evolving.

We’re a society that builds its world like a trail of dominoes across the kitchen floor. This is how humankind has grown since Day One, when that first domino of civilization was set up to wobble proudly at the foot of our timeline. Then came another, and another, and soon we had millions of blocks stretching from the dawn of man to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. We never branched off. It’s been one long trail all along. But we don’t look back. Heck, we hardly acknowledge our history. Why would we? It’s much more exciting to just keep adding blocks.

Some day our history will catch up with us. Maybe the dominoes of yesteryear are already starting to fall, crashing through our ancestors and ancient civilizations, crumbling pharaohs, kings, and soothsayers, smashing through the dark, dim, and enlightened ages, breaking down the revolutionary and industrial revolutions, coming after us like an avalanche or a lit fuse. We’ve been setting up the pieces for thousands of years. Sooner or later, we’ll either run out of pieces or we’ll simply be crushed by the weight of all our choices, and quite frankly, I already feel the pressure. I look around and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the current result is pretty fucked up. But there’s that dominus in us that won’t let us stop. I mean, after all, what is more masterful than the feeling that all that we’ve created can be destroyed with just one gentle nudge? I think we like living on the verge of annihilation.

Unless we stop now. It’s not too late to take the lessons we learned from our first domino trail, pick the stable parts, and start a new trail somewhere else, preferably not the kitchen floor.

3. Immortality

If you could choose to be immortal, would you?

As in, you’re the age you are now and you can eat this pill that gives you eternal life. Or you’re still a kid when the pill comes out, so you can wait a few years until you’re in your prime and try it then.

You can still get run over by a train and die. If you get cancer, it’ll kill ya. But otherwise, your body will just keep going. The cells you’ve got now, the freckles and the hair and the posture, it’ll all stay that way permanently. No anti-aging cream required. All you have to do is simply take care of your body. It might last forever, but you only get one of them.

Would you do it?

I would.

Not for the selfish reasons, either. I’m not afraid to die. I’ve given up on keeping myself up at night dwelling on that enigma. No, it’s not because I want to out-live everyone else and suck up more resources or because I think I’m special. Call me crazy, but the truth is that I want to see the way the world ends. I want to see where humanity leads. I want to see the asteroid impact or zombie apocalypse that wipes us out. I want to see the closing credits.

I think about all the lives that came before us. The people who lived whole lifetimes and made their little mark on this planet, but then left the planet to keep on spinning without them. I can’t imagine you won’t be curious about the next chapter, the one that follows the scene where you’re written off.

Oddly enough, most people I talk to would not want to be immortal. They want to be part of the natural cycle. I get that. Sure. It’s poetic.

But I’m not a poet. I’m into fiction, long prose and complicated plot lines. I want to see the story of the human race to its bitter end. Don’t leave me with some symbolic final stanza. I want to be here for the epilogue.

2. English, the lingua franca

For the moment, I’m lucky. My native language is the new lingua franca. English is, without a doubt, the most common language around the world. However, we shouldn’t count our dictionaries before their printed, since it’s not the first language to garner such a title and it probably won’t be the last. English, like Latin or Greek or French, will probably not reign supreme forever. Word on the street is Chinese could step up to the plate when English strikes out. Not sure how many strikes its got left, but lets just say it shouldn’t be too cocky at bat. It won’t be the first widespread language to overextend its stay on the plate and wind up back in the bullpen.

To learn English is an all but necessary part of education in most countries, and the teachers in those classrooms aren’t always native speakers from the inner circle (as defined by Kachru), which means the new priority isn’t to find teachers with English as their mother tongue, but to find anyone fluent enough to spread the language to the new generations. Hence, the creation of new Englishes, meaning that non-native speakers are teaching non-native speakers, and these ESL (English as a Second Language) users inevitably create their own breed of nativized English. Look at India. Look at China. Look at parts of Africa. They absorbed English like bread soaks up blood stains, then turned those stains into something useful. English is part of their culture now, if still removed from the lower class, used in government, in trade, in communication and business. But it doesn’t always sound like “inner circle” English because it has been adapted to their culture, stripped apart and rebuilt like an open-source program. It is a tool, like a walking stick on a rough mountain trail or a hammer when you’ve got something to nail, and there are countries out there who have more speakers of nativized English than there are native speakers of English.

Let’s not forget that English is already a mutated hybrid of a half-dozen languages before it. English was once despised and looked down upon. Now, you can take your native English accent and make bank overseas if you play your contract right.

If English continues to spread, and there’s no reason it won’t, then we’ll be as close to a universal language that we’ve ever been. Of the 7 billion on this planet, we’ll still be out of touch with a majority, but less because of the language and more because of physical distance (and the internet has already made that less daunting). We will have the potential to speak with cultures around the world, not without a fair share of code-switching and miscommunication, but we’ll at least be able to communicate. Think of the misunderstandings we could clear up. The compromises we could come to. The beautiful things we could discover once we know how to speak to each other.

I can’t deny that I’m lucky to be a native speaker. It makes my transition into the new world a little easier, since I’m not obligated to learn a new language. That’s not to say I don’t want to learn a new one, and I’ve already got a good amount of Spanish and some Turkish in my repertoire, but my mother tongue is the tongue that this world is craving these days. And this isn’t a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with learning a new language. I wish I could learn them all, collect them up like Pokemon. The brain loves it. The soul grows from it. Your mind expands, your understanding of other cultures increases, and soon you’ll have the option to travel to these new places and speak directly to the locals. How cool is that? Not everyone can do that. I think it’s good to get kids around the world to learn English. They can use it every single day if they’re motivated, and they’ll be happy they learned it when they grow up and recognize the benefits.

When I studied abroad in Istanbul, it blew my mind to make so many international friends who spoke basically perfect English. We communicated with nary a mistake and it rarely crossed my mind that these students were speaking a second (or third) language to me. At the flick of a switch they’d resort to their native tongue to gossip. It was a really inspiring discovery to see how amazing it would be if we all had this potential to share and laugh with each other, but most importantly, learn from each other. Language is how we connect. Language among different cultures is how we battle ignorance and fear, but only if that language crosses borders.

Anyway, I think it’s okay that English is spreading so rapidly. People worry that it will destroy the cultural variety of the world, but I disagree. English isn’t asking people to forget their country and their mother tongue. English says, “Use me. I’m a tool. I’m here to make the world make more sense.” It’s not barging into your house uninvited. It’s not secretly removing your French and Spanish and German vocabulary while you sleep. It’s on your side. It’s aiming to unite the world.