Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Golden Desert Wasteland

A few days ago, I drove back to LA from the Bay Area. I had been at home for Father's Day. There was construction on the 5 South near Bakersfield that resulted in two lanes being reduced to one. Having experienced a 1 hour delay on the 5N at the same place for the same reason, I decided to take a detour. I took highway 46 going West towards Lost Hills / Wasco.

This was one of the most beautiful detours I have ever taken (on any trip). From the 46, I took the 33 South through Taft and at Maricopa, I took the 166 East to the 5. The whole detour took over an hour. I embarked on the detour at around 5pm, which was a great time because I got to experience sunset in this wild country.

These roads were deserted. I could literally drive for miles without seeing another car. At the same time, the roads were nerve-wracking - they were two lane roads (one side going, the other coming), and with no cars on the road, it was tempting to fly by at 80+ mph. When I did see a car, it was usually an oversized 4x4 pickup truck.
Golden hills never looked so beautiful. I guess one of the great things about 5 is that you are driving in a valley - but you have the enormous San Bernadino mountains and 152 mountains in the background / foreground. The altitude difference is striking. The 5 desert can be a quiet, beaufitul place of solitude. No different and just as compelling as the feeling of solitude in Patagonia.  

The economy in these towns seemed weak. One normally doesn't think of California as an oil-producing state, but oil is the main economy in Lost Hills, Taft, etc. The gas stations I saw in these cities were not brand name stations. The convenience stores looked like they were from the 1970s. What will happen to these forgotten towns as we transition to a world of non-oil based energy?

There is something otherworldly about this detour. It's worth taking if you have the time and you can make the trip around sunset.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Reverese Technology Movement

A few days ago, as I was driving home from work on the 405, I thought seriously about deactivating my Facebook account. True, I was late to the Facebook bandwagon (starting in 2007 when I was in India) but now I feel the overwhelming urge to deactivate my account.

Seeing what's happening to the FB on the stock market, I guess other people feel the same way. But, I think the anti-Facebook backlash is just one example of technology over-reaching. Everywhere you look, the reverse technology movement seems to be taking hold.

Take minimalist shoes like Vibrams Five Fingers. After consuming heavily cushioned shoes with stabilizers, Born to Run questioned the need for such advanced shoes. Humans were born to run, as the name implied, so why not create simpler shoes that allowed the feet to do what they were built to do?

Or how about the trend to organic, natural, raw food. In Santa Monica, raw vegan restaurants abound. Only all-natural ingredients are used (not to mention that the food is not cooked over 114 degrees). Some people are on the "Paleo" diet which is supposed to mimic what early man ate (nuts, berries, and raw meat).

Workouts have also become more natural. CrossFit, for example, trains people without machines and with minimal use of free weights - it trains people through normal tasks like carrying heavy sacks short distances (something farmers have to do anyways).

Out of pure curiosity, I read passages of Kaczynski's Manifesto entitled "Industrial Society and Its Future" when a news article popped up on the Internet saying that Ted Kaczynski had sent in an update to Harvard's alumni magazine from prison. Hopefully I don't end up on any government watch lists. While I certainly don't agree with the actions he took, I do think there is merit in the argument that technology has made people less happy. The Manifesto begins:

"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life un-fulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world"

Facebook is a prime example technology making people more unhappy.  People waste endless hours on Facebook checking out what others are saying, posting status updates, and hoping that people like their updates. They become competitive and begin to define their worth based on how others react to their online profile. Is this making people happier? Not to mention "friending" people who are really just acquaintances. 

This is another excellent passage that distinguishes between real and artificial goals:

"It isn't natural for an adolescent human being to spend the bulk of his time sitting at a desk absorbed in study. A normal adolescent wants to spend his time in active contact with the real world. Among primitive peoples the things that children are trained to do are in natural harmony with natural human impulses. Among the American Indians, for example, boys were trained in active outdoor pursuits -- just the sort of things that boys like. But in our society children are pushed into studying technical subjects, which most do grudgingly."

This passage no doubt refers to the author's own experiences but the point is still strong: people were meant to be outdoors, not inside. 

So, is this world better off with no technology? Kaczynski would suggest yes; I'm not so sure. I advocate for the judicious use of technology while the Kaczynski believes that there can be no "judicious" use - any attempt to use technology wisely would like to abuse and then misuse of technology. Here's an example:

"Even if medical progress could be maintained without the rest of the technological system, it would by itself bring certain evils. Suppose for example that a cure for diabetes is discovered. People with a genetic tendency to diabetes will then be able to survive and reproduce as well as anyone else. Natural selection against genes for diabetes will cease and such genes will spread throughout the population. (This may be occurring to some extent already, since diabetes, while not curable, can be controlled through the use of insulin.) The same thing will happen with many other diseases susceptibility to which is affected by genetic degradation of the population. The only solution will be some sort of eugenics program or extensive genetic engineering of human beings, so that man in the future will no longer be a creation of nature, or of chance, or of God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions), but a manufactured product."

 Of course, this passage questions they very work I do (and might want to do in the future). But what if these advancements caused humans to live longer and live better - thus enabling them to enjoy the great outdoors? Enjoying natural life seems to be what the Kaczynski advocates over all else (with the enjoyment coming from the pursuit of 'real' goals). I believe that even if the enjoyment comes from an artificial activity (like 'hiking'), the enjoyment can still be real. The one point I can't argue with is that with genetic engineering, we will engineer all defects out of the human race. We will cease to be natural - maybe this is wrong, or maybe this is just the next step in our evolution.

I don't mean to be hypocritical. Full disclosure: I have an Ipad, a Droid Bionic (4G), 2 laptops, a TV, and I work in the medical devices industry. Technology is a big part of my life. But I also know when to shut all of these things off - and I don't put technology above regular social interaction.

I feel a palpable movement against technology. While technology will never / should never be eliminated, I can see technology becoming more powerful as it becomes more subtle.
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