Walking the Right-Of-Way

This is a post about trains. Also about innovation. But mostly about trains.

Wikipedia: Right-Of-Way

I. A Victory Celebrated

I’m celebrating a victory for public transit. Yes, of course I’m consumed by rage about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement (maybe). But I’ve been acting locally to promote public transit in one way or another since I was 16, in the face of NIMBY assholes. Victory on local actions is what gives us the wherewithal to keep pressure on the global struggle.

So the Feds finally approved funds for the grand Caltrain electrification project after many months of struggle. Continue reading

Published! ‘Incorporating Care in Silicon Valley’…

My esteemed colleague (and mother) Jan English-Lueck and I have officially been published in the most recent issue of the Anthropology of Work Review. There you can find our article, sadly behind a pay wall.

We ask: is the vaguely California-Buddhist (but mostly utilitarian) “caring” of Silicon Valley corporations a good thing? We answer, very academically: maybe, sometimes, someday. But today, it mostly stands in agonizing juxtaposition with horrendous inequality.  If some by long-shot thoughtful stars align…yes someday it could be some definition of good. We are trying to force some alignment from our humble positions. Join us?

If you think that seems interesting, this article is worth a read.

Here’s the abstract:

The struggle for labor rights is often one of asserting embodied care. Workers negotiate for rest and safe physical conditions. In the United States, further embodied care is translated into health care and family leave benefits. In Silicon Valley, while labor still struggles in the service and manufacturing sectors, professional high-tech work constitutes another set of challenges and expectations. Startup culture draws on the university-student lifestyle—where institutionalized care includes a broad palette of wellness care, cafeterias, and structured recreation. So it is not surprising that yoga, massage, food, and managed fun made their way into high-tech workplaces of the late twentieth century. Increasingly, however, that corporate care is a requirement, not a perquisite, of progressive companies recruiting elite workers.

Effective care requires personal awareness and corporate surveillance in order to be effective. Corporate responsibility in Silicon Valley workplaces embraces discourses in which worker productivity and care intertwine. This care is not evenly distributed or available to all workers, but still points to an emerging set of corporate care practices. Knowledge workers are expected to work more intensively, and employers sustain them by providing care. That logic of care shaped the social experience of both care providers, such as chefs and concierges, and workers, who learn to be the subjects of such care. Based on two decades of fieldwork in companies from Apple to Yahoo, this article outlines the uneven evolution of Silicon Valley’s corporate care.

And here’s an excerpt, which I think is within the limits of what I’m allowed to post here. Specifically, the prologue, which I wrote based on field notes from one of the more surreal experiences of my entire life.

A deep bell sounds at the hands of a brown-robed monk as hundreds of people bow their heads over trays carefully balanced on their laps. It is the fall of 2013 and the corporate dining room of an iconic Silicon Valley company is transformed as rows of workers, vendors, and guests sit in silent contemplation. Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned mindfulness teacher, leads the room in a guided meditation over the vegan lunch of subtly spiced Southeast Asian vegetables and rice. We are participants attending a workshop designed to cultivate a wonder of food in the larger ecosystem and an awareness of the act of eating.

The teacher asks us to savor each bite. He asks us to contemplate how dietary choices like these can heal a climate-disturbed planet. He asks us to consider the life of these plants, and all the human hands—farmers, cooks, and workers—who made it possible for us to eat the plants in that moment. Thousands more watch this performance through cameras placed around the room, possibly eating on their own, in homes and offices around the world. The organizers, chefs, and workers convinced that technology and compassion could do more together than apart, invited the monks to give their peers a transformative experience and to enlist allies.

Four months later, presenters from that same corporation, while reporting on that experience and the larger effort around mindfulness at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, were interrupted by an onstage protest. Local San Francisco activists waved signs reading, “Wisdom Means Stop Displacement” and “Wisdom Means Stop Surveillance.” The company’s efforts to care for its own workers and the planet, though literally fashioned on “noble intentions” drawn from Buddhist and secular compassionate practice, are mired in an inescapable context of a system that produces economic inequality and unequal access to physical resources. Diverse stakeholders contest the values around information flows and privacy. The ubiquitous computing that fuels the Silicon Valley economy also produces a panopticon of available information, which changes the lives of its workers and the communities in which they live. Those care practices also require a degree of self-disclosure and behavioral observation to be effective. If an employer wants its workers to be at “peak performance,” it needs to know how to promote that productivity year after year, and how to help its workers attain it for themselves.

A March of Haiku

1

Good omens I think

And fun conversations wait

For this lucky girl

2

A day spent in flight

A night spent deep in study

The hotel, muggy

3

Whispers and worries

Ladies stalk in high heels through

Air conditioned halls

4

Look! The Milky Way.

Careful, don’t turn your ankle.

A drink with new friends.

5

A future story

Like the ones we want to read

Someone must write it

perseid_and_milky_way

Continue reading

‘Logan’ Makes Caregiving Heroic

We’re used to seeing superheroes balancing saving the world with protecting their beloved.  Logan is a superhero movie of a different stripe.  Wolverine is no longer a gonzo loner reluctantly adjusting to teamwork and love triangles.  He’s now an aging icon of the sandwich generation caregiver: painfully devoted to a father figure deep in cognitive decline, and suddenly saddled with a rebellious daughter figure with special needs.  He must protect them from a hostile world, while protecting the world from their formidable but poorly controlled gifts.

logan-credit-fox

Professor Xavier and Logan (Fox)

I cannot overstate how much I loved this movie.  While my ‘Arrival’ review sits in my drafts box struggling with profound revelations and weird grammar, this one was running through my head as the credits rolled.

Like nearly one in five adults in the U.S. Logan is providing unpaid care.  Like 40% of those caregivers, he’s a guy struggling with the clash of macho culture with the drive to relieve the suffering of someone he loves.  Like two-thirds of caregivers today, he’s working to support a household.  And like 17% of caregivers today, his health is poor and getting worse.  These are all 2015 numbers from the NAC/AARP report on Caregiving in the United States. The prevalence and impact of caregiving, and the number of folks like Professor X struggling with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, are all projected to rise steeply between now and the movie’s setting in 2029.

It has enough gore to earn its hard R rating. But there are moments of such truth and tenderness I cried, a lot.  This is a movie for the coming decade.

 

​”So many particulars. So many questions.”

So many questions, indeed. 

This poem I encountered at SJMoA this weekend reminds me of why I’m marching Saturday. We workers, paid and unpaid, need allies who don’t blatantly lie to us and convince us to act in harmful ways.

It’s a reminder that singular individuals, be they heroes or villains, are overrated. This game was made for you and me. 

A Worker Reads History, Bertolt Brecht

A Worker Reads History, Bertolt Brecht

Magic Mushrooms, Mourning, and the Death of Carrie Fisher

Two pieces of news have got me thinking about death (again).  Most immediately, mere hours, I learned that a heroine and icon Carrie Fisher joined the stunning ranks of Great Voices who didn’t make it out of 2016.  The other I’ve been sitting with for a while: the confirmation with a second, more robust trial that psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, is a cure for “existential anxiety.” In other words, a cure for the fear of death. The latter is great news.  The former is deeply sad, but we’ll all get through it.

carrie-fisher-at-premiere-of-walt-disney-pictures-and-lucasfilms-star-wars-the-force-awakens

You see, I am not the kind of futurist who thinks that indefinite life extension is desirable, let alone a good idea for society.  I think that death is necessary, and that fear of death is natural.  Grief is a compound emotion, the elements of which vary for each moment it’s experienced and each person who experiences it.

Continue reading

Breathe. Move. Feel. Connect. Act.

The last month has been a difficult one for many, including myself.  Each morning since November 8th has been hard.  Our new surreality presents us daily with some doors closed on the future, and newer, stranger, sometimes apocalyptic ones opened.  Meanwhile, my own labyrinthine relationship with my mind-body imbalance has continued: some days are better than others.

I have relied on a five pointed star of futuring  self care:

  • Breathe
  • Move
  • Feel
  • Connect
  • Act

Breathe

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This may seem super basic to people who have not struggled with anxiety.  However breathing is not to be underestimated.  It is the one thing that we control, but are constantly in danger of forgetting completely.  I frequently forget to breathe.  I’ve been appreciating my Spire recently. It’s a nifty little device, although like many non-fitness wearables its still finding it’s stride.  The Spire measures depth and frequency of breathing.  When I forget to breath, it has a distinctive vibration that reminds me to do this most basic of self-care activities.  It also has integrated Thich Nhat Hanh-led meditations from his Plum Village retreat recordings.  I’ve been starting every morning with this as a grounding and centering facilitation.  When the world is chaos, it helps to hold on to any encouragement to not let the chaos in to one’s center.

Move

Again, those who do not suffer from depression may be experiencing a new sensation: actual difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.  Those of us who have greet this feeling cautiously, as an old but not well-loved friend.  Any movement can break the spell.  People ask me why I pace: this is why.  I’m wiggling my big toes.

c4229bc776d7ba1a6ecd9272653bca33

Feel

 I’m not sure how I’m feeling. This section will be updated soon!

Connect

Ditto. 

Act

I ran across this excellent post, How To Help The Cause When You Need Help Yourself. The takeaway, for those who would prefer not to wade through a meditation on self-care in perisuicidal states, is this chart:

what-can-i-do-today

Act.  In whatever way you can today, with full an compassionate recognition that some days are better than others.

That’s how I’m dealing.  How are you?

Tall trees! (And the futuristic cities in which they may live)

In the future, I expect my cities to have trees.  You may or may not have thought about this expectation, and you may or may not agree.  But if you do, there are many actions required to ensure that future cities have trees.

paris-of-2060

Vincent Callebaut: Asian Cairns

This may not be on your radar of urgent environmental issues in the current political climate.  But our long-term future cannot be driven only by urgency.  We have to act out of aspiration too.  In the short term (0-20 years) that means fighting ridiculous vandals who cut down trees; prioritizing keeping trees alive during our long California drought (or your local climate calamity); and supporting local ordinances that protect old trees and forests. It means valuing their natural and economic benefits.  In the long term (50-200 years) it means re-imagining human habitats such that trees can thrive alongside, above, below, and within them.  I want my arcologies and mega-structures and futuristic dwellings on earth and in orbit to learn from and incorporate trees.  Tall trees!

You may now drop the needle on this post’s eponymous sound track, “Tall Trees” by Crowded House.

Let’s start by looking at some actual tall trees for inspiration…   Continue reading

Face the Future with poetry, art, and love

Last week I had the absolute privilege to be one of two dozen game masters (community managers and sense-makers) on the largest Foresight Engine the Institute for the Future has ever run: Face the Future, under the capable leadership of Jane McGonigal and experienced execution of Sara Skvirsky.  Furthermore it was a little like group therapy given the timing (right after the 2016 election) and the audience (high school students and teachers involved in Facing History and Ourselves, a group dedicated to teaching how the holocaust and other genocides depends on the decisions and silences of everyday people).

The topic could not have been more timely, or more provocative: the future of empathy. Take 10 to watch the provocation video at least, with content developed by my frolleague Jamais for the New Body Language edition of Future Now magazine (again, links forthcoming). I run down my three blog posts on the game blog below the fold.

Continue reading

Invisible Tattoos: In search of intimacy in the panopticon (updated)

High off the creative rush of Inktober 2016, I wrote a short story the other day.  I wrote it in the world of my desk-drawer-half-written-novel, in which the San Francisco Bay Area of 2115(ish) is blanketed by a soaring, window-filled arcology.  I’ll get back to that ambitious undertaking eventually, but nothing stops me from worldbuilding in the meantime.

It starts like this:

Stories about people’s tattoos are the worst. Listening to them tell about the pattern and the inspiration is boring, repetitive, and whatever meaning they capture on a person’s skin is utterly opaque to any other person. The aesthetics though, can be pure. Clean. A statement of commitment. A moment of clarity captured forever.

No one asks me about my tattoos during my work day, or even out at public clubs with friends. It’s not that they’re hidden under sleeves or skirts, though some are. They are not for common display. Their aesthetics are private; selective. And they are not drawn in ink, but in light and cells.

You can read the full story here.

pexels-photo-194074

The futurist debt I owe to the Institute for the Future for this story stems from two streams of work: the soon-to-be-released New Body Language research I led (UPDATED: listen to my release podcast with Mark Fraeunfelder!), and it’s continuation under my colleague Bradley Kreit Everything is Media.  We drew on signals from cutting-edge DARPA funded research on implants, artists and hackers, and entertainment both popular and fringe.  We also included my talented colleague Jamais Cascio, who has long explored the notion of the panopticon and it’s participatory incarnations in the present and nearish future. My contribution this year was to think about the implications for intimacy, hidden meaning and interpersonal care. The contrast of these two streams of foresight research beg the central question of this story: in a world where everyone could be watching all the time, what would you do to have an utterly personal, strictly intimate experience?

But I was also inspired by extracurricular science and art.  The morning I wrote this I was reading about this fascinating study about how plants use light. This small finding, about how light may be beamed from leaves to roots, helps us get closer to understanding how living organisms perception of wave-based energy (light, sound etc) interacts with chemical signaling (molecules in host and symbiote tissues) to go about the business of living and growing. Signals of light excite plants and set of more chemical signalling than photosynthesis.

I’ve also been thinking quite a lot about the skin microbiome, both professionally and on my own.  Throw a little CRISPR on humans and epidermal chimerism in there, and you get the possibility of a tattoo that altered the substance of human skin and its interaction with different fungi and bacteria.  In other words, tattoos that are completely invisible unless excited by certain kinds of light and promicrobial mists.

Finally, we’re already in a world where privacy is something that you pay for (one way or another).  Private clubs have been the work-around for a variety of intimate experiences, up to and including sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  What would be more intimate than sharing invisible tattoos and dropping acid with 20 strangers with whom you share nothing else?