Not often does a book show up that seems curiously timed, but along came a copy of The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present in the mail the other day, so I gave it a read.
While it’s a good book – and I’ll mention just a few highlights in a second – there’s something very uncomfortable about it that rings true. Too true.
Especially so, since in recent weeks I have been working on the effects of “Compunism” – which is the take-over of life by ubiquitous computers. The book has a different context, but the implications are similar.
Used to be, once upon a time, that money and communications (the elements of stored-value trade) were not partisan in the various secular battles.
Look back on your historical times: Even in the midst of the Crusades, both sides were still basically bartering what they had in the way of excess goods and a bit of gold, here and there, and that was how life was carried out.
Even more so, up through most of early American history, there was paper money, but it was fungible in the sense it could be traded for “something.” A know and specified quantity. In the case of gold or silver certificates, which is what the US dollar was, once upon a time, there was an exchange where paper could become silver or visa-versa.
Today, we are reduced to the holding of Federal Reserve Notes, and these are only backed by the “full faith and credit” of the US Government.
Which…in case you haven’t noticed it…been reduced in stature a wee bit since we began the festival of spending that results in America’s national debt being (as of this morning) $18.086 trillion dollars, while the latest US GDP was running $17.7 trillion dollars.
Obviously, there’s a slight misconnect: Since the state of the debt is a real-time number, and in fairness, the GDP is an after-the-fact calculation. Still, given how lame the recovery is, we know with near certainty that by the end of Q1 2015, GDP will be estimated just slightly below the debt so in a real sense the Nation is Upside Down.
If you owed more than you had in the way of income, you wouldn’t necessarily be bankrupt. You might have some debt you could retire. Sorry to say, Federal Debt doesn’t ever really get paid off.
You might finally finish paying off that SUV in just 3-more years. But is the cost of welfare going down? Not no, but hell no! Nor, is any other government program of any consequence.
Which is why this book is such a nice “Splash Water on Face.”
There’s little mention of economics, at all.
What it is – with way more whitespace that you’ll find around here – conveying is some of the human-side impacts of living life online.
“Proverty with not Internet would be truly dreadful,” not the authors
“Hoard anything you can’t download.”
Here’s another wake-up call:1
“The Digital economy used 10 perceny of the world’s total electricity”
“It’s the same amount that was used to light the entire planet in 1985.”
And as a pilot, this part was particularly reassuring:
“Transporting data uses 50% more energy than world aviation.”
So it’s a good book – and a short read. Covers things like time distortion (thanks to the web) and all kinds of other aspects, but in the end, we are faced with the realization that while the world around us has changed, we have not made as much internal change as external.
So we have this problem…
Not a terribly spendy book, nor is it a long, academic read: I zipped through it in less than 2-hours. Not that I’m a speed reader – it’s just that the visuals in the book tell thousands of words worth of authoring points, so the writing gets to be quite compact.
And that, in and of itself, is a clue as to how world has changed.
Last night, I went to town for a bit of dinner while Elaine was having her hair “done.” Going on a cruise (we leave Saturday, Panama can hardly wait to have the ranch to himself…) is a big deal.
But already, I’ve been working on the “No columns left behind” part of living.
I like to write, and seems that the Norwegian Jewel (the floaty-thing we’re on) has wireless internet in much of the ship and for $100 I can buy 250-minute blocks of time.
The number of items that we’ll be engaging in this adventure that are “internet dependent” is truly amazing.
As we leave the ranch, we will run into our first surveillance cameras on the outskirts of Palestine, TX. Each of the traffic lights at major intersections now have cameras, and these, in turn are hooked up to computers, which in turn read license plates, and so forth.
Photo-enforcement of traffic laws doesn’t bother me – I drive extra carefully at all times because as admirable as the efforts of Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers are, there odds are if you’re injured in a traffic accident, there will be demon booze involved somehow.
Going south toward Houston next week, it’s almost a cinch that will we set off one – or more – photo enforcements as that’s cheaper than real police officers.
When we take a tollway, since we haven’t signed up for TexPass (the government lending its bonding authority to corporate entities to build roads to charge the public for something their bonding authority was used for…) a photo sense will scan our plates and send us a bill.
And when we get to the cruise ship parking terminal, we will flash a computer print-out of our parking which I prepaid because it’s five bucks cheaper to prepay…
And that’s before we wander into the cruise ship terminal where we will be multiply photo-surveilled and scanned, not to mention going through the airport-like scanners.
Even once on board, there will be no rest for the wicked…there’s the mandatory lifeboat drill, and all that froo-froo to go through.
Even before departure, though, we will be seeking the Internet lounge to set up access and seeing how signals are in our cabin.
This is how a vacation begins: Four hour drive through an electronic gauntlet, and in comparison, getting in our old airplane is hardly more difficult. The air traffic controllers are usually warm and friendly and have friendly names like “Razorback Approach” or “Houston Center”
In the car, it’s just boxes, waiting to print revenue vouchers.
By the end of the book, Age of Earthquakes, I was wondering to myself: Would there even be an Internet if we hadn’t first made up “administrative law” in order to take the load off the legally required Court System?
It all fades to gray as I realize it’s too late. That ship sailed long ago, and maybe that’s why we have “administrative law” – so the real Sheriffs of Nottingham, who now work mainly to cap the public debt and in the service of the banks – don’t look so large and overpowering.
But it is, of course. Computerized and faceless, just like property taxes yet….
Yes, it’s the nice lite version of electronic feudalism.
But like the book advises:
“Hoard everything that can’t be downloaded.”
Somewhere down deep, I don’t trust the ‘net even now. Perhaps the Bible and prophets got the spelling wrong. Maybe it’s not ARMageddon.
Maybe it’s simply E-mageddon and it wouldn’t have made sense until we got here. Like Nostradamus and Hitler versus his Hister reference.
Oh, look, an alert pops up on the screen: “Keep columns shorter and more on point.”:
Write when you break-even, then.