September 24, 2011

Terms and conditions

It’s easy to be cynical. Like, really easy. Given enough time, you can find faults in the visible and invisible alike, and even what was once good can dim. I’ve seen The King’s Speech frice (that’s four times). I haven’t watched it in five or six months because I’m afraid it will no longer move me. More immediately, I fear I’m growing disenchanted with both Radiohead and the Beatles. That’s not good.

But even proper Cynicism is popular these days. Movies like Fight Club and shows like Wilfred are Cynical. In both shows — SPOILER ALERT — a pseudo-fictional character works to convince the protagonist to live naturally. (I mean naturally literally, as in ‘according to nature.’ I value literal expression.) Cynicism says, “Forget respecting societal conventions like authority or private property rights, Edward Norton/Elijah Wood/YOUR NAME HERE. Just live like the animal you are.”

Cynicism seems freeing. It challenges conventional values and thus frees people from the burden of meeting arbitrarily high standards. But Cynicism still values natural living. What if you’re as disenchanted with basic human functions as you are with everything else? You just might be a nihilist, and that’s nothing good. In fact, it's nothing at all.

Suffering through frustrations and travesties produces character. That character might be cynical or gracious, but it will be you. Honestly, grace makes no sense given how disappointing and terrible things can be. Why patiently hold out hope and choose to love what’s so dismissible? Because that’s grace, and grace is beautiful and true and good. And, unlike nothing, it is.

September 19, 2011

Ahoy, information!

In case you didn’t already know, it’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day. That means it’s high time to read up on piracy on the high seas.

Pirates were pretty great — I hear David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag is a great account of the golden age of maritime piracy — and they’re still terrorizing the Indian Ocean. (The graphic I wanted to post here is too big for the page. Check it out on Wikipedia:

In fact, if you want to ship anything from Europe to Asia through the Suez Canal, you run the risk of having your ships overtaken by pirates. Insurance companies are making a killing, too.

But while maritime piracy costs billions per year, digital piracy costs more. (There’s a great Economist article about the national extents of Internet piracy. It’s pretty new, too:

The gist of the article is that piracy of music and movies varies from country to country depending on laws and legal prices of information. Piracy in the United States is relatively low, actually. But the subject of information sharing remains.

Information sharing exposes security levels and acts as a shortcut.

Obviously, I’m talking about more than file sharing here. I think the type of information people share says a lot about how secure they are. On the one hand, kids will bully other kids about something that bothers them. Their bullying is a way to express their own insecurities. And don’t adults do the same thing? If something crazy or shocking happens to you when you go to the DMV, you want to share it with other people to know you’re not crazy yourself.

But on the other hand, sharing deep personal information can be a sign of security with the company involved. A person with an addiction will share that with a loved one when ready. There’s a level of trust involved. But sharing that doesn’t mean the person is secure with their own problems. I think we share things to carry each other’s burdens. The Randian individual wouldn’t need to share anything with anybody. But that √úbermensch doesn’t exist. We mere mortals have to share things with each other to get by. We just can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can carry everything ourselves.

Now, once information is shared, it can act as a sort of shortcut. Whereas Russian graphic designers are way ahead of Americans because they’ve pirated the latest versions of Photoshop, so too can information sharing fast-track a relationship. I think many college students are surprised at the quality of friends they make away at school. People are more open with their college peers, and that can even dwarf years of parallel experience with high school friends.

But what kind of relationship will information sharing fast-track one to? It’s important to remember the first point about security levels. Trusting someone is a tricky business. It’s like pirating online without Privoxy — it can get you in trouble. So you must beware about who’s secure and insecure in a relationship before sharing information.

In fact, the golden rule of BitTorrent downloading applies to relationships, too. Seed as much as you leech; or, upload as much as you download. (Actually, you should seed a little more than you leech, but that would shipwreck my metaphor.) You should never get in a relationship where the information sharing is only going one way. That’s unhealthy and, in one direction at least, parasitic. One-way information sharing is great for therapeutic relationships, but we’re not all licensed counselors — and that’s a very good thing.

So next time you share what’s been bugging you with someone, make sure you’re both secure enough for that. And beware that that sharing (I hate it when you get two thats in a row) will shortcut your relationship somewhere. You better have a map or some navigational tools to know where you are and where you’re going.

Now for a pirated clip from Muppet Treasure Island.