Monday, 14 July 2014

Could we be living in the future? First make sure we’re living.

Are we living in the future?
Could the residents of 1914 have predicted all the elements of today’s life?

Can we predict what will be commonplace 100 years from now?

100 years ago nobody could have predicted being able to watch TV on a tablet, but they were happy to predict we would all be living on the moon.

It is all a matter of extrapolation…

It is easy to think about the things we do today, then make them easier or more efficient via the application of technology. That’s really just a waking dream. On the other hand to be able to predict the less likely is more than just an extrapolation of the current. First we would need to imagine some strange new wonder.

Perhaps the more productive way would be to try predicting the motivation of our desires, this may be a starting point from which we can step toward a less usual extrapolation.

For example, the growth of our world’s communication technology has made it seem like the world is getting smaller. Communication has been the key. Technology has made it easier to transmit and receive a message. Tiny little smartphones that can do more than the average computer from only a decade ago.

Some would say that the resulting increase in quantity has shown a reduction in quality, but the important thing to remember is that this technology has forever changed the way we all live our lives. The smartphone fills our desire to be connected to, to belong to, a bigger group.

A larger clan.

Global acceptance.

How many people use their mobile phone to look at pictures of people they don’t really know, doing things they don’t have time to do themselves?

So, you see how 100 years ago, this desire would be very hard to predict, especially by someone living in a world where the telegram was state of the art.

So what unusual developments might we expect in the future?

Let’s think about possible motivations - People want to be removed from reality, so perhaps new drugs? Perhaps realistic immersive games?

Another driving factor could be the desire to understand others, so maybe electronic mind reading? Could it commonplace that human interface devices are implanted into babies? Will we use genetic engineering to predispose people to certain emotional preferences?

Another common theme when considering the future, is the question of population density, will we all be living underground or underwater? I’ve never really been inspired by these, but they still seem quite likely.

The key to the future is that we will all be involved, global accessibility is what will make it unusual.

We cannot predict what some ingenious inventor will produce in a world where anyone can make whatever they can imagine and use it in any way they wish.

Similar to the smartphone example earlier, perhaps we will be using smart “matter transformers” to leave unique “shape messages” to each other in locations we don’t really look at because they seem better when viewed in augmented reality?

Whatever the future brings it will have an element of the unpredictable, tinged with an element of the utterly mundane. 

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams" - Eleanor Roosevelt

I can’t wait, but perhaps I’m already living in the future? The older I get, the more I believe this to be true.

Since “future” and “past” are simply a matter of perspective, then surely I can be living in whichever one I choose?

"Now" is where the life happens, the "past" is where the lessons live and the "future" is full of our dreams.

Be whenever you can.

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Promote your love of music and writing, what if we had neither?

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ~Victor Hugo

Sometimes it really does seem impossible to be silent. Things in your life just get to you and you have to let them out. Maybe through joy or maybe this feeling is born of frustration.

At times like this I often seek consolation in the expanse of music. It can heal me on so many levels. Using music as a tool in this way works because it follows some core rules;

First – I must silence my mind to properly focus on the music.

Second – Whatever music I choose (consciously or not) has a connection and therefore a meaning which I can ponder.

Third – Being carried by the rhythm of music is a primal motion that brings out emotion in a controlled manner.

Fourth – The path of the music can often teach (or remind me of) a lesson.

I have used the power of music throughout the course of my life. Ups and downs have had a soundtrack. In my naiveté I used to believe that I could teach other people how to cope with life by sharing my musical preferences.

Of course, music that speaks to me does so for a whole set of reasons. Reasons that may or may not apply to anyone else.

I find that writing can work in a very similar way.

If you don’t believe me, just go back to the four “rules” and replace the word music with the word writing.

But there’s more. Writing has a greater power.

Good writing speaks to you the same way music does. Mental peace, a doorway to contemplation, a controlled rhythm and a lesson. The written word can bring all these, but the best, most beautifully constructed writing can become timeless by combining profundity with simplicity.

Music relies on a mental placeholder to connect the song with the emotion, something that marks a sentimental location in the listener’s life, a geotag on feelings. Writing can break through this barrier. Truly great writing can yield a response by painting a picture that needs no other connection.
I’ll give you an example.

I quite like the song "Spirit of ’76" by The Alarm, if you don’t know it I recommend you find it, it’s worth a listen.

When I hear it I am carried back to days of my youth and my mind dawdles pleasantly through my memories of a past self. As the song says "I find myself in reverie". The song itself rises from quiet and reflective tones to sharp and proud guitar hammering and is perhaps a little harsh for some people, sad too as well as being a call to action. 

All round good music, but I would think that most of you that hear it will not have the connection with it that I have. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it is mathematically unlikely that you heard the song for the first time in the same way that I did, unlikely that you were in the same frame of mind or the same place in your life. How could it say the same thing to you that it does to me?

On the other hand, the written word is not constrained by the rules of music, the pattern can be ignored (carefully). If this is done with skill then all the references required to paint the intended picture, to induce the emotions are imparted in one short sentence or paragraph.

For instance, a favourite quote of mine is by Marcel Proust “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners that make our souls blossom”.

That is a turn of phrase performed with a level of skill to which I can only dream of aspiring. Pertinent, inspirational, descriptive; nothing missed and not belaboured. 

So perhaps I should look at this another way. Perhaps the two are opposite ends of a continuum. Music gives generously while writing must be produced.

I am a consumer of music, but I never compose (except within the depths of my mind), but I am both a consumer and a producer of writing.

The act of producing writing gives me more than the act of hearing music.

Maybe you feel the same way?

Either way, a world with neither would be a barren, joyless pit that I would not wish to inhabit. 

That is why I encourage others to enjoy both music and writing. Let your soul drive for a bit.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Picnic Table: Carry your scars with pride.

The Garden Bench - Warts and all

Quite a few years ago, I determined that our garden would be significantly more enjoyable if it contained a picnic bench. It was a great purchase, we have all used it again and again. It is nothing special. A simple “A-frame” construction but it has served us well.
I remember clearly, sitting on it in the middle of the night,

nearly seven years ago, as my wife’s contractions grew closer together, waiting for the in-laws to arrive for “sitting” duty, before we went to the hospital.

It holds many memories, but the years are beginning to show on this item now. The bolts and screws are getting loose. 

The weather has wrought cracks across the surface of the wood.

So a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time I refurbished this revered piece of garden furniture. I sanded, replaced screws, tightened bolts and painted the old friend with a weatherproof stain.

When the work was done, it looked like a new bench. 

No more rickety wobble when we sat on it, but still, it wasn’t quite new. Looking closely, still visible, were the cracks from year after year of alternating rain and sun, expanding and contracting the wood. These marks cannot be hidden with mere sanding and staining.

I suppose I could have bought a new one. They are not that expensive, but this one had been with us through so many events that it seemed only right to put in the effort that might see it survive a few more years.

On reflection, I am glad I kept the old thing.

Every time I use it now, I can ponder the things it has seen. A new table would not have brought those thoughts to mind. A new bench may have been easier, it may go on for a few more years, it may not need painting, but it would not have had any connection with my past.

So now, I look at those cracks and I compare them to lessons that life has taught me. Lessons that may not have been pleasant, that may have left an emotional scar, but without those lessons I wouldn’t be me.

Some people try to hide the emotional scars that life leaves, sometimes a person can pretend; “Nothing to see here”. Those people often come across as less genuine. The people that are easier to trust are the ones that let the scars show. Individuals that seem confident, that progress through life with tenacity and courage have often learned to be that way because of the scars that they have collected.

Don’t be afraid of sharing your imperfections. 

Just like the treasured bench, cracks are what will remind people to love you, more than that, the imperfections are you!

The scars we bear should be carried with pride, not pushed onto others, not paraded, simply left on show.

Let people see the real you whenever you can.

I dare you.

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Monday, 7 July 2014

Don't beat around the bush

Focus on the message. Be clear when making a point.

A couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to go on a cruise around the Mediterranean. We saw some wonderful sights. It is a trip I will remember for a very long time.

As you might imagine on a trip like this, 

we all took a lot of photographs.

 In fact Zac, my eldest son, took a real interest and was never far from the camera. 

After each trip we would review the snaps and discuss what we had seen. Inevitably, I also took a few of him photographing the surroundings. Most of these pictures were fairly ordinary, but some of them have come out really well, they tell the whole story in one happy image. 

This is Zac, with the camera, in St Marco square, Venice

This picture tells the whole story, the crowds, Zac with the camera, the sunny weather. It’s all there.  

Zac again, same activity, this time in Split

This photograph tells exactly the same story crowds, Zac with camera, sunshine, but I prefer this photo.

When I thought about the difference between the pictures, I realised that I prefer this snap because the message is much clearer. Both pictures have the same subject, in virtually the same setting, but the second image tells the story so much more clearly.

This is how it should be with other forms of communication.

Be clear and focus on the message.

When writing, just as with conversation and photography, any point should be concise.

Just In case my photographic examples don’t make it clear, I have over-emphasised this by saying the same thing in a rather more long-winded way, below.

If one is implementing the act of manuscription it is of paramount importance that any drafted passages remain breviloquent and undarkened by belabouring or coercive vocabulary. In precisely the manner adopted when engaged in the execution of conversation, candour should be held uppermost.

See what I mean?

Remember, direct does not need to be offensive or abrupt, simply precise.

Speak to people in a way that best tells your story.

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