As elephants die at the rate of thirty thousand a year, our own lives change. Most of us who are neither for or against ivory trafficking, watch on the sidelines. Occasionally, we might notice the statistics that spell out the tragic story. Putting aside the heartbreak, we’ll realize that all life matters and that one life-system supports another.
WATCH THE TRAILER
We secretly hope that the madness will end before the extinction of Loxodonta—the scientific name for African elephants. We hope that the good work of conservationists, NGOs, and law enforcement will cancel out the evil work that has made ivory smuggling a world industry. But we also know that it doesn’t matter enough for us to want to change our busy lives. We are wrong.
This is not an argument for “the butterfly effect”, where small events can have large, widespread consequences—like a tornado in Texas being caused by the flap of a butterfly wing in Brazil. The larger meaning of the catch phrase is that the correlation is impossible to prove. Not so much with the effects of African elephant poaching. I believe that the illegal trading of endangered species—not only elephants—diminishes the quality of our everyday lives.
The connection between natural ecosystems and virtual—which we use to maintain our social media relationships—is not obvious. So it’s not hard to look the other way. But like it or not, the natural and virtual worlds are linked, and pretending this symbiosis doesn’t exist has dystopian consequences.
While researching my thriller, Atone for the Ivory Cloud (to be released on March 1, 2017), I observed the escalation and increasing sophistication of the ivory supply chain in tandem with the use of powerful tools available on the legit and Dark Web. I imagine that we are all drowning in this storm from ivory trafficking in the Internet cloud:
Poachers hack the tusks out of elephants. The societal impact: Poachers are deluded into believing that the poaching lifestyle is sustainable and therefore no effort is made to develop alternative, legal ways of making a living. Because the income is sporadic and dangerous, war lords offer alternative forms of employment and protection: Poachers are recruited into warring factions, often loosely aligned with foreign ideologies, such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Warring factions commit atrocities that tear apart the traditional societal fabric.
Tusks are sold to middlemen. These traffickers are controlled by organized crime. Organized crime becomes better “organized” using the technologies of the Dark Web. The social media, or rather, anti-social media, of the Dark Web incentivizes cybercrime syndicates to collaborate by bartering arms for ivory with the war lords. Anonymizing technology such as TOR—The Onion Router—facilitates bitcoin and other cryptocurrency transactions, making a mockery of the notion of “following the money”. The terror traders follow suit. The societal impact: We all become vulnerable to cyber criminals who are well-funded and hidden. Successful attacks on individuals, companies and governments attract talented hackers who out-code, outwit and out-earn their peers employed in legitimate cyber security operations in both the private and public sector. State actors have followed, becoming emboldened and meddling in foreign governments. Cyber attacks breed insecurity in financial markets, which shut down capital spending and hiring. And we wonder why our GDP hardly moves up.
The revenue of these nefarious organizations comes from ivory sales to predominantly Asian retail markets. Despite recent efforts by Asian governments and international watchdog organizations like CITES and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring organization), the demand for ivory is booming.
Efforts by CITES—The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—have disappointed due to their lack of vision in their own Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which in part, states that “the cultural, social and economic factors at play in producer and consumer countries.” should “promote transparency and wider involvement of civil society in the development of conservation policies and practices.” Unfortunately, CITES—the acronym, pronounced “sighties”, as in, appropriately, little sights—has failed us: The plan neglects to state that a “civil society” does not condone the reckless exploitation of wildlife. In its shortsighted focus on the regulation of the endangered species trade, it makes no effort to see the bigger picture and campaign to stop the flagrant consumption of ivory, not to mention rhino horn and parts of many other species.
At the recent seventeenth meeting of CITES the organization failed to protect elephants that die at a rate of one every fifteen minutes.
The proposal to give elephant populations from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe the highest protection failed by 62 votes to 71. Sadly, the EU that has 28 votes, voted against the proposal. So much for the civilized world that brought us classical music and the piano—with its ivory keyboards.
It’s true that the negative societal impacts are somewhat mitigated by leaders who speak out and act in an attempt to stop the carnage, specifically, princes William and Harry, and others including Leonardo DiCaprio, whose Netflix documentary The Ivory Game exposes ivory trafficking. The most visionary initiative, however, is The Great Elephant Census, a Paul G. Allan project. Over the past three years, GEC researchers have been collecting elephant population data from 18 countries in Africa in what is the first continent-wide aerial survey of African elephants. The results are alarming.
Unless those who are not involved take some responsibility for our planet—on which African elephants are now struggling to exist—our future is bleak. We know that a small change in our lives to take this travesty into account would make a difference. For example, unlike the flap of a butterfly wing, we know that social media engagement of the global crowd, through platforms such as Twitter, can change hearts and minds. The crowd can help eradicate the traditions that ascribe mythic power to animal parts. Conservation innovation is also helping: Drones, carbon dating, tracking dogs
and other methods are working to slow down the poaching. But perversely, as the supply is restricted and the demand for ivory persists, the price of ivory climbs–making trafficking more profitable.
Governments can help: Unless the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is passed by all partners it might fall to China, which is not a signatory of the agreement, to call the shots—and you can bet they will not ban wildlife trafficking as the TPP does. Wild Life Watch points out that hundreds of millions of animals and animal parts, from tens of thousands of species, are sold as pets, medicine, food, souvenirs, and spiritual and luxury items each year.
Ellie Weisel said, “Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.” Therefore, let us not have to atone for our indifference—and especially not for tolerating the #ivory cloud. Let us instead celebrate and manage our interaction with wildlife so that it is sustainable. We should never have to blame the negativity in our own lives, even in small part, on the exploitation of wildlife.
Geoffrey Wells’ thriller, ATONE FOR THE IVORY CLOUD is a fictional story of the consequences described above. Impressions on a South African farm, boarding school, a father who read from the classics to his children, and a storytelling mother, sparked Geoffrey Wells with a writer’s imagination. Though the piano and drum kits and Mozambique led to his first thriller, A FADO FOR THE RIVER, his career as Art Director in advertising led him to the American Film Institute, and an awe of digital technology propelled him to VP/CIO at Disney, ABC-TV stations and the Fox TV stations. Wells wrote an award-winning animated film, has visited elephant reserves, and climbed to the tip of Kilimanjaro. He lives on Long Island where he swims the open water and writes thrillers about imperfect characters who, always with a diverse band of allies, fight villains that devastate our natural and virtual ecosystems.
Geoffrey Wells writes about privacy, elephant conservation, cyber trends and music. And of course, updates on his latest thriller, Atone for the Ivory Cloud.
Both Eric Haggman and I write thrillers. Recently we discovered that we both have tendency to write in a cinematic bent and agreed to write about this. We’ve posted our pieces on each other’s website. Here is Eric’s post.
Writing a Book with a Movie in Mind
When writing a book, it’s common for authors to see their story play out like a movie in their minds. We have our own vision of our characters, the settings in which they live, the tone and timbre of their voices. In many cases, and definitely in mine, the characters become so real that we start to see them as living, breathing human beings. Sometimes, mine are as real to me as someone walking down the street.
Having lived with these characters as real people, I’ve always dreamed of seeing them realized in physical form – in my case, in film. I’ve spent the better part of my advertising career writing and producing commercials for television and have always eyed the silver screen as my next big move. So, when it came time to write my first book, The Apology, I made a point of planning it with a movie in mind. It’s a great way for any writer to visualize their work, but I found that in my case, it infused a wild energy in the project, and helped me find a signature style that I now consider to be an important part of my voice as a writer.
As an author, there are many tricks you can borrow from the film industry, but here are a few that proved invaluable for my process:
- Scout Your Location(s) – The Apology takes place primarily in Vietnam and Japan. Just like directors scout sets for their movies, it’s important to do the same for your book. Whether it’s a distant land or a diner down the street, visiting the location of your book can bring excitement, authenticity, emotion and grit to your story. Travel to Vietnam and Japan not only inspired the book, but gave me crystal clear visual and tonal references for world-building.
- Find what’s important in a scene, and get to it – Movies rarely have long, drawn out scenes. In fact, the typical scene is around 3 minutes. My natural writing style is short, quick and to-the-point due to my experiences writing for television. Taking a MasterClass from famed thriller author and adman, James Patterson, also helped me hone this skill, and inspires me to get right to the point in my writing.
- Make a Trailer – Borrowing a literal marketing tactic from the film industry, book trailers can serve as a digestible, high impact marketing resource, especially if you’re a self-published author. Visualizing a story can make the experience come to life for your readers – especially when you’re introducing them to new or unfamiliar locations, in my case, Vietnam and Japan. You can check out mine here, and I listed some of my favorites in a recent piece on Medium.
There are opportunities for independent authors today that never would have existed, even a few years ago. Andy Weir’s The Martian, among others, should be clear evidence that self-reliance, positivity, and dedication can pay massive dividends to self-publishers. With the Sundance Film Festival in full swing this week, many will be shopping around their books and screenplays with hopes of a story landing in the hands of an interested exec. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see The Apology or Atone for the Ivory Cloud on the silver screen! I know I’d be first in line for tickets to either one!
Eric Haggman is author of The Apology. To learn more, please visit, www.theapologybook.com
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As we set our sails for 2017, we will need to constantly adjust our rudder to steer us past the winds of change headed for our natural and virtual ecosystems. I hope my own actions are bolted to four principles, and though I expect to be buffeted and thrown off-balance, I’ll rely in their timeless resiliency. I hope to stay tolerant, respectful, transparent and a responsible citizen.
Yet, in each of these lie unexpected challenges that will require a firm grip on reality and a clear vision; but rough seas make good sailors.
Easier said than done. Must we tolerate those who despise us? And on the flip side, don’t we hate being tolerated—the charitable patronizing that makes us feel inferior? Yet, tolerance is what makes our society—if not civilized—then at least civil. Can we perhaps try that?
How often will I need to bite my tongue is year? How often will I need to take the higher road and not respond to hate-spewing social media trolls? Is it even responsible to allow their impunity? And we have the First Amendment that protects freedom of speech. Which begs the question: Is freedom a right (to which we are entitled) or a responsibility that we must defend?
Must we respect the rule of law when it allows the loss of wildlife for commercial interests?
Fine. We expose all sorts of things about ourselves to the world. I’m a huge fan of open-source in technology and in medical research. But where does open communication infringe on our privacy? We want our government and their government to engage in measured, considered diplomacy, yet do the cyber operatives agree, or even know about diplomacy? And how do we define ourselves, unless through branding our identity and in so doing, sell our souls?
In a shining example of openness, Paul G. Allen and his team at Vulcan Inc. have counted Africa’s savanna elephants, in an effort known as The Great Elephant Census (GEC). It is the first pan-African survey of elephants using standardized data collection and validation methods. But openness is a double-edged sword: The Chinese government recently announced that they would shut down the ivory trade—in 2018. To which I say, why the wait? Do we need more exposure from Wildleaks, which, I contend, helped to force their announcement?
Democracy (and citizenship)
This tattered concept is too vague and is abused by politicians and interest groups with equal disrespect. Innate in being democratic is the assumption that all human life matters. But without sounding too ridiculous, shouldn’t we value all life—especially sentient beings? Further, does being democratic mean that we are good citizens only of our own town or of our planet? These alliances are often mutually exclusive.
The uncomfortable truth is that science is showing more and more evidence that many endangered wildlife species are intelligent beyond our wildest imagination. Who, to cite just one example, would have thought that elephants can sense a tsunami and move to higher ground or an earthquake before it occurs? What do we lose by excluding the contributions of these beings?
Geoffrey Wells writes about privacy, elephant conservation, cyber trends and music. And of course, updates on his latest thriller, Atone for the Ivory Cloud.
Hackers love the holiday season. People are shopping and socializing online, and let’s face it, not paying much attention to safe desktop computing. But when your computing toolset fails, life gets unmerry quickly.
Here are six tips that can save you a world of pain, and are easy to implement. Apply these to your desktop computer, whether you are on a Mac or PC.
- Stay current: Keep your programs up to date. This includes applications and your operating system. Most upgrades are done to correct security loopholes.
- Use an antivirus program: Install an antivirus program to prevent malware getting into your computer. I use Bitdefender (see the review), or use Malwarebytes, which is free.
- Manage your passwords: I know, I know– it’s a pain in the butt, but there’s hope: use a password manager. Using the same password for many programs is a dangerous computing practice. So, you do what I did until I discovered a decent password manager–I wrote them down because I never use the same password more than once. So the list was eight pages of an unordered muddle of urls with updates, additions and deletes, past and present. I started putting them into a spreadsheet, then realized that this was actually less safe than my list–all my passwords in one file could be stolen. Selecting the right software for your particular situation is easy with PC Magazine’s password managers guide. I am currently evaluating LastPass and am finding it very effective, notwithstanding having to change my computing habits. Whatever option you decide to try, here’s something you must make sure you do:
- Authenticate your access to your own passwords: Do not store your password data in the Cloud unless you can authenticate your request on your smartphone. This is called two-factor authentication. Most programs offer this, but it is often optional: never bypass this option, because if your password manager or the host data center is compromised in the cloud, the hackers will still need your phone to get to your passwords. Full disclosure: Google Authenticator (GA) on your smartphone is the most-used app for two-factor authentication, yet it is a frustratingly annoying program, and there’s no decent support from Google. Your only recourse is to (yes!) Google your exact problem and you’ll find help. But, I always have issues. I hate to say this, but you must persevere. There are other authentication apps but GA is trusted and Google’s reputation hangs on it’s reliability. The good news is that once you have it setup, you won’t have to deal with it again. Here’s a link with a good overview of how to implement multi-factor authentication.
- Practice safe email: Do NOT open any attachments (or click on any links) unless you know the person or organization sending them. Be especially suspicious of “typos” on the subject header and awkward language in the body. Delete the email without opening it. And if the message is from a friend asking you to open a link, or the message seems wildly inappropriate, then do your friend a favor–call them to verify that they sent it–their email address might have been hacked and the hacker is “spoofing” your friend’s email.
- Log out: Cyber criminals use “bots” that have “algos” (algorithms) that watch network activity, and they like periods of idle connectivity. Stop them in their tracks by simply logging off the wifi network that connects you to the Internet. Stepping out to shop for groceries? Log off before your leave. It takes just seconds to log back in. You’ll take yourself off their list of targets.
- Log off: For the same reason as above, always log off and power down when you are done for the day. This also serves as a refresher when all intradependent computer “services” are activated correctly through the startup routines of your operating system.
Think of it this way: The bad guys are less likely to get into your network if you log out (step 5) and logoff (step 6) of your computer that has current software (step 1). If they still get in, your antivirus program stops them (step 2), and even if they get past these safeguards, they’ll still need your passwords, which, if you authenticate them with your smartphone they won’t be able to access (step 3). Then, be smart about email: think before you click. (step 4).
Log out, log off, stay current, stay organized, stay watchful and stay protected. Replace the warning bells with jingle bells!
Geoffrey Wells writes about privacy, elephant conservation, cyber trends and music. And of course, updates on his latest thriller, Atone for the Ivory Cloud.
I have watched this documentary twice, the first time to take in its scope, the second to understand what lies in the future for African elephants. Each time I am left asking: can the trafficking be stopped?
Although a seemingly impossible task, the filmmakers show how dedicated, uncorrupt agents from Kenya and Tanzania collaborate with Intelligence sources in Zimbabwe and Mozambique to bring down the poaching kingpins such as Shatani—the devil, who was known to deliver up to 3,000Kg of ivory in a single delivery. These countries are taking responsibility and acting to save the elephants. Elisifa Ngowi, Head of Intelligence, The Task Force, Tanzania, states that, “anti-poaching is also saving our country from terrorists”. The message is clear.
However, East African communities bear a heavy burden. They must temper their rage when elephants destroy their crops, they must resist the money–it’s not easy money–offered by poaching strongmen who offer them 3% of what the they sell the ivory for, and they must refrain from serving war lords that are motivated by greed. Can they be blamed if the local government is slow in implementing electrified fencing? It takes money.
And raising money is what Ian Craig of the Northern Rangeland Trust, does. An ambassador for the species, he helps to raise serious funds for elephants, and states that there is no chance of winning this war. “We simply don’t have enough resources, enough men,” he states, “We need a political solution” As he says, we must kill the demand.
The filmmaking of Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani is superb. Although the beautifully photographed footage of live and slaughtered elephants is not exploitive, and the undercover scenes are obviously dangerous and authentic, the truly compelling part of this doc is the conviction and bravery shown by the men and women who are determined to put a stop to this insanity. Hongxiang Huang, the Chinese activist investigator, motivated to redeem his country’s infamous disregard for wildlife puts his life in danger. Craig Miller, Head of Security of the Big Life Foundation in Kenya who risks his life in the bush, states, “How have we got to this stage, as a human race when we lay waste to everything we value, everything we see…” Andrea Crosta, Founder of WildLeaks, whose operations take him and his investigators into extremely dangerous operations is another unsung hero of the battle for elephants (and rhinos).
Yet, despite these efforts the demand for ivory persists. Everyone involved will admit that they don’t know how this can be stopped. The fact that a store is selling a decorated tusk for over $300,000 is testament to the irrational greed and superstition of wealthy Chinese consumers.
And countries like Vietnam are complicit in being the gateway into those markets. Another store owner proudly shows off a secret warehouse with over four tons ($9.2 million-worth) of ivory.
While there is some hope in this documentary, the fact remains: we’ll stop the trafficking when we kill the demand. Leonardo DiCaprio and Paul G Allen should be commended for bringing us this valuable documentary.
There’s a romance author in my writing group whose posts crack me up. On Wednesdays—Hump Day, she calls it—she posts a Hunk-off: a pairing of two hunks and, in jest, she asks her followers to make the hard choice between the two. Is it the guy with the tat on his bicep or the full-bodied tats guy that turns them on? Or the city-type versus the country-type? You get the idea. My assumption about this was that the winning votes go to the hunkier of the two. Type, be damned, I thought, the bod gets the votes. The face is a secondary consideration, or is it?
Her own account is that, “it started as a goof because of all the other posts being made on Facebook on the same vein (Man Candy Monday, Wet Wednesday, etc). Aside from just being a fun way to share pictures of good-looking guys (objectifying them, yes, I know, guilty as charged), it also seemed like a good way to get a feel for what women are attracted to in a man, or more specifically an idealized version of men. That would be something I could translate into the crafting of my heroes. You might be surprised to know that the comments people leave are as often about the eyes and the smiles as they are the ripped abs. That has told me one important thing: no matter how sexy or attractive the heroes may be, the true measure of the man for romance readers is always going to be focused on the inside, not the pretty outer wrapping.”
I react to these posts as a thriller reader who prefers to see how the hero survives at the mercy of the plot. Or not. Other romance writers who comment on Hump Day posts, do so from the point of view of their alter-egos as readers of romance. They are not reacting as writers of romance since they are mostly married, grown-up, professional women. Being a realist, I find this parallel interesting, particularly since both my thrillers have a strong romantic element, but use conflict and love between genders as a catalyst in my plotting. (By the way, being a member of the RWA—Romance Writers of America—strengthens my understanding of how relationships fire the plot.)
As in romances, thriller readers struggle vicariously with the hero through the plot. But both men and women read my kind of thriller—a good example would be The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry—whereas The Romance is almost exclusively a women’s genre. In her exemplary essay, The Androgynous Reader (published in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, 1992 University of Pennsylvania Press) Jayne Ann Krentz points out that, “in romance, it is the hero who carries the book”, not the heroine. She flatly states that the man carries the book because the reader, “can realize the maleness in herself, can experience the sensation of living inside a body suffused with masculine power and grace (adjectives very commonly applied to heroes, including my own), can explore anger and ruthlessness and passion and pride and honor and gentleness and vulnerability: yes, ma’am, all those old romantic clichés. In short, she can be a man.”
No anti-hero losers in Krentz’s world.
The male stereotype is still relevant in romance as the posts prove, buying in to Krentz’s male-centric thesis about what she calls the male “placeholder” role. Consistent with her belief, Krentz points out that, in her RWA Best Book of the Year (1990) historical romance, The Prince of Midnight, the heroine character is virtually inaccessible for almost half the book. The book also only had the hero alone on the cover.
No clinch covers with over-endowed illustrated females for Krentz.
As someone who doesn’t write a romantic scene without a ticking time bomb counting down, I am liberated by Krentz’s approach to this point of view. Which is why I was surprised by her posts: it’s his face that encourages the viewer (or reader) to explore the hero’s anger, ruthlessness, passion, pride, honor, gentleness and vulnerability. Though, I have to say they mostly look like—forgive me—pussies, which to me, is far more offensive when referring to a man than to a woman. Objectification is insulting, but misplaced objectification is larceny.
I find it impossible to believe that the men in those photographs can fill the shoes of the romance hero; not just because they are so male-model-pretty, but because of the self-conscious vanity of their poses. If, oblivious to the camera, the country-type was carefully wrestling a bull to the ground to tend to a wound, would he not be more heroic? The woman reader is intimately familiar with the transference of alpha-male vulnerability when it comes to risking her own life for the sake of a child. Or a bull. Later in the Dangerous Men volume, Penelope Williamson, in her essay, By Honor Bound. The Heroine as Hero, shows how, in romantic novels, heroines transfer the heroic qualities of the hero to themselves.
Paradoxically, it was David Bowie’s death that brought me to wondering if the same rules worked in reverse. Do male readers of thrillers want to feel the predicament of the heroine; if only during the reading of the book? Bowie grappled with his feelings of alienation during the years of successive failures—believe it or not—in rock groups, then he developed Ziggy Stardust—the archetypal outsider. Glam rock was born—and became wildly successful. The excellent documentary, David Bowie – Sound and Vision (onemediamusic) shows how Bowie’s “otherworldliness” attracted thousands of teenage men who wanted to feel the thrill of the heroine in themselves. Whether it was the paranormal, phantasmagorical aspect, or his androgynous face, a generation bought in to his rebel vulnerability. As did I. Bear in mind that Bowie, despite his proclamations to the contrary, was not gay; he remained heterosexual all his life. It was okay that he acted out while taking us on his ride. I knew that when the song was over, I was still who I was. But the genius in the pages stayed with me. And that is what I want to take away after reading a really good book.
Just a quick post to announce the first of a series of videos I will be producing and sharing as I prepare THE FACES IN THE RAIN for publication this year.
I’d love to read your comments either here in this blog or under the video in YouTube.
I’ll be back with more of these…
You’ve been writing for years. Then, one gorgeous summer night, you decide to commit to a writing life. You have floated in the sea of fiction, but now you want to compete with the best.
So you work out. You build your strength for novel swimming. You hone your legs, abs, arms, and shoulders; the craft of gliding through water. A few times a week you venture out beyond the waves, to a point where you can no longer stand with something hard under your feet, and when you’re suspended, there’s no support to prop you up if you need it. You’ll set a modest goal, telling yourself, “I just want to swim seven hundred and fifty meters without stopping.” Like a triathlon athlete; which is an absurd presumption.
On your first few attempts out you have to stop to catch your breath after a hundred and fifty lame strokes. You’re disgusted and discouraged. You tell yourself it can’t be done. You don’t have the strength. The craft is not there and you don’t see how it could make much difference to your endurance. Besides, the demand on your time and stamina is unreasonable. You miss the next appointment with yourself. You’ll be happy with a hundred meters. Fine. You go again. Nothing changes.
Yet, you continue to pursue the dream–just to see if you have the guts. Now when you swim again you think less about yourself and how to not keep swallowing water. Instead, you wonder if swallowing some might actually do you some good. Or not. Your mind wanders. You think about salt. Fries. For some odd reason, something has changed–you have swum further. Not much, but it’s a start.
Again, you want to liberate yourself from that feeling of self-consciousness. You take a risk and go further out, deeper, realizing that you crave the immersion. You begin to express yourself in your swimming. Every stroke, kick, and breath refines, defines your free style. You realize that the paragraph of the well-formed stroke starts with an inciting, inhaled breath, is driven by the plotted kick, the pull of craft and ends with the exhale, the paragraph’s reflective sentence. You inhale and quickly make the same repetition. You keep alert, as your hands stab through the surface, leaving a contrail of bubbles, the vestiges of memory, struggling up for reality. You align your armed characters, controlling the rolling pace, mindful of the long haul ahead. Your story has acquired a conscious thrust. Suddenly you have reached your goal. But you’re slow and exhausted, and you’re just not good enough.
So you go back, encouraged, and do it again. You learn how to improve. You repeat, somehow finding more energy. There’s a moment of revelation: you now listen for cadence and you’ve stopped watching. You’ve started seeing things in the deep, beyond the stretch of your hands. Now, when you inhale, it’s a quick check with reality, followed by a plunge forward into imagination.
You realize that every microsecond spent looking above the surface is a distraction from the real work underneath, in the thinking water. The brief glimpses of the shore and the horizon are so much more. They are filled with the minutia of the practical world: your dentist appointment on Tuesday, the leaking faucet in the bathroom, the conversation you had with your soul mate. But having inhaled the oxygen of reality, you can become immersed again and start the next chapter.
Your mind explores the deep canyons of your genre. If swimming to thrill, these are dark, traitorous canyons, a land of threat, of predators ready to sever a limb without warning. If swimming for romance, these are the canyons that funnel the unreliable currents of emotion, pulling you down past amorphous shapes whose relationship to each other is a mystery. Regardless, here there is no boundary; you have been freed from a reasonable life.
Over time, you reconcile the dichotomy—the here and now, the there and how. The churning oscillation between the real world and the second nature of the other-world spreads a buttered voice over your swimming life. Lost between these unsympathetic worlds, you are nevertheless buoyed by the quest, not due to the extrinsic reason of having to complete seven hundred and fifty meters, but because you don’t care anymore. There are no better options.
You are not alone. You meet other swimmers who conquer distance and performance–because they love to swim. And they all tell you that they are not good enough.
To get an inkling of how Jonathan Franzen swims in fiction’s sea, listen to his interview with Terry Gross:
It’s funny how we adapt. I always think of the extreme—how people deal with life during a war. You’ve seen the survivors: a child with flies drinking her tears, a woman walks through a bombed market, men sip espresso in shattered cafes, shopkeepers sweep up the broken glass. Let’s face it, people need to eat, need each other and need some sort of order, regardless. Even in the cyber war that constantly infects everything we do online, we too carry on, regardless.
And who are we, the observers, watching the plight of others? When the ugly reality ebbs from our living rooms and offices and phones, leaving the blown spume of stale breaking news, the silent majority that takes it all in, and lets it out with the tide, does very little, other than adapt. And who watches the watchers? These are the voyeurs of history: the journalists, camerapersons, artists and writers.
At our last chapter meeting of Long Island Romance Writers, we discussed brainstorming methods: free-writing, word association, mapping, cubing, questioning. A flash flood of ideas swept through the room. Because I write thrillers with a strong romantic element, I thought of Steve Berry’s use of the protagonists crucible:
What makes her do what she would never do?
Later that day, still literally thinking of novel ideas, I watched Anthony Doerr’s YouTube video where he talks about the idea that started the story of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See.
Sometimes it’s those small incidents, whether they incite or not, that can ignite a story. Doerr’s glowing novel articulates adaptability for us, and we show our gratefulness to him by buying his book. Is it a fair exchange? Does the $13.99 I spent on this profound work offer me more than the nine bucks I spent on the panini sandwich that I brought to our meeting? Is it just sixty-four percent better than the sandwich? Not even close. I quickly forgot about the sandwich, but the book remains with me, urging me to look out at my world with wiser eyes. And in the vast Big Data mapped into my memory, there’ll be times, over the next months, years, and decades, when his language will wash up a pearl of truth. The sandwich, not so much. And that is as it should be. The writer, having watched, has augmented, abstracted, found a context and subtext, and has taken the time to leave us with a better, and if not better, certainly a new understanding of our world. Pinned to the corkboard above my desk I have a quote from Simon Lipskar, president of the literary agency Writers House, which states, “I love novels that aren’t afraid to shuck off the prosaic, mundane world and take flight into the imaginative possibilities of fiction. … A book owns me when it does that.”
This essay is partly in response to Doerr’s essay Cloudy Is the Stuff of Stones (Orion Magazine, March/April 2010). Whereas the thesis of Doerr’s essay is change and time, I was struck by how different my response was to the pebble-strewn beach that I frequent. (I must hasten to add, this is not to say that my approach is more, or less, valid—it’s just what I think and do when I see billions of pebbles.)
Involuntarily, in a spontaneous act, I might pick one up, admire it, and every so often bring it home with me. Why this one? Shape, color, size, uniqueness, all play a part. The pebbles I like are small and white and almost perfectly round. Except I also pick up that iconoclast, that outlier, that oddity—the brown one, with streaks of white and blotches of iron-oxide red.
And the writer’s voice in me asks: Is this how I, and other readers, choose my books? On this literary beach, do I only look for a particular genre of pebble, in spite of the fact that I know every one is different?
If Antonio Damasio heard my thoughts while I strolled along the shore, he might say that my reflective thinking is the voice of my autobiographical self. In his fascinating book on consciousness, Self Comes to Mind, Damasio explores the relationship between the brain and consciousness, and shows that emotions play a central role in social cognition and decision-making. He describes “big-scope consciousness” (as opposed to the minimal core consciousness of the here and now) as:
…one of the grand achievements of the human brain and one of the defining traits of humanity. This is the kind of brain process that has brought us to where we are in civilization, for better or worse. This is the kind of consciousness illustrated by novels, films, and music and celebrated by philosophical reflection.
The reason my autobiographical self comes blowing in across my beach is that a substantial part of my life comes into play when I reflect on the pebbled library before me. As I stroll along, both my lived past and anticipated future gang up on me, questioning my personhood and identity. Given this response, one would think I would run from that literary beach, as uneven as it is hard.
Of course, writers have better options than pebbles. After all, we’re thinking, sentient beings. We have the capability to have our books be as good as they can be and rise to the surface. They can then qualify to be picked up by the great Me out there. But as in war, people adapt. Readers might leave this beach in search of the less challenging beaches of Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and an entire softer, more gentle landscape of blogs. Yet lovers of the written word come to my pebble beach. No beach umbrellas here. No, this beach is for launching fishing boats. It’s for swimmers, not bathers. It’s where young women ride abused horses into the sea. It’s for the reader who wants to take a chance on a scarred, imperfect sphere, roll it in her fingers, and slip it into her pocket. It’s funny how we adapt.
This essay was first published in Shorelines, the newsletter of the Long Island Romance Writers (Volume 20, August 2015), a chapter of Romance Writers of America.
You know how frustrating it is. You post an incomplete Tweet, or send a Facebook post without that photograph…or email someone with the attachment left off. It’s happened to everyone. We all need the freedom to check our drafts before pinning them to the public notice boards. We also have the right to NOT broadcast where we are and what we are doing at any point in time.
If you lose your option to review and cannot approve the dissemination of your creative work, location and activity, even if your own lack of vigilance is responsible, you feel as if a chunk of your freedom has been wrenched away. You curse–though not as much as you would if your personally identifiable information (PII) was stolen. As our private data is casually thrown across cyberspace, more and more people are, understandably, resorting to encryption. The Internet is awash with available encryption products, ranging from onion routers such as Tor, to virtual private network (VPN) products such as Anonymizer, and many others.
Everything we do online should be safe, but should it also be secret and anonymous? And if so, can we still be transparent and participate in the sharing economy? The danger of confusing privacy with secrecy, or for that matter, security is that it’s self-defeating. The conundrum is that people want to secure what is private, yet the more they protect their privacy by encryption, the more unsafe they become. Despite the use of encryption tools, we hear every week that private information is stolen, yet people revert to secrecy. They hide. (Others, like Allison in my thriller, THE FACES IN THE RAIN, obfuscate their online presence.) The better people become at hiding themselves, the more they hide those who lurk in their hiding places. Neither can they be found by those who serve to protect them. They don’t ask for help, for fear of revealing their hiding place. And so the Dark Web is born. Honest people are trapped by their need for privacy.
This is a massive problem for law enforcement. FBI director, James Comey, testifiying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill (July 8, 2015 in Washington, DC), stated: “Our job is to look at a haystack the size of this country to find needles that are increasingly invisible to us because of end-to-end encryption,” He tells how impressionable targets in the US are contacted by ISIS through Twitter, then given an address of an app with download instructions, and when they use the app, they disappear. They cannot be traced. “Justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted device.” he said.
The corporate world is reeling from cyber war. On June 17, on-line, I attended the FireEye summit, Beyond the Breach: Cyber Defense. The Sr. VP and Global Chief Technology Officer pointed out that, at a recent National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) event, the entire one-day agenda was devoted to cyber security. It is no longer sufficient that companies avoid the “accountability wrecking ball” by simply exposing non-compliance. They need to work with other (sometimes competitive) companies and government organizations to combat three types of hacker: nation state actors, hacktivists and organized crime. As FireEye’s CEO, Dave DeWalt stated, “the attack surface is getting wider.” The old methods of excluding or re-imaging boxes (servers) no longer works. The company is customizing solutions for industry verticals–utilities, retail, financial, health, and pharmaceuticals. Their capability to constantly monitor the network, and send alerts in real time means they can fix problems in real time, preventing infections from metastasizing. Presently, according to FireEye, the average number of days before intrusions are detected is 205 days! This is all progress, but the price is that even proprietary corporate information must be shared, and our data is, increasingly, is part of that information.
What happened to the public conversation?
The “inter” part of the Internet implies communication. A conversation. As with billions of conversations, over thousands of years, there is a well-documented etiquette at work. Yes, it’s prissy and quaint, but under the manners of conversation, are mutual respect and trust in the discourse. Unfortunately, whether due to the immediacy, or spontaneity, or convenience of our communications, the rules of conversation are being ignored. However, it would be a mistake to think that the Internet is to blame. I don’t know when it became okay to ditch the conversation between the people and their town, state or federal government. Town meetings rarely succeed in engaging the community. Perhaps we’re just on the wrong side of the swinging libertarian/autocratic pendulum. The conversation on the corner of Proper and Sissy Street (it’s a prissy intersection) has disappeared. This has escalated domestic violence across America. When there’s no conversation we get police brutality and crazies who shoot people in churches, malls and theaters. Where is the non-political public conversation about guns and mental health? After the bodies are taken away we hear about the dysfunctional lives, the isolation, the lack of empathy. I sincerely loath people who use the word, kumbaya to accuse someone of being weak. I am no fan of the phrase, with its obsequious boy-scout idealism, but we should never ditch conversation because we fear the scorn of cynics.
The return of trust.
At another leading cyber security company, Palo Alto Networks, CEO Mark McLaughlin, spoke about the necessity for trust on CNBC:
The good news is that the mindset has turned to the community.
Policing, shared medical research and open data about health all benefit when the community is engaged. Technology has given us instant communication and made collaboration effortless. The open-source code culture has spread to Open Data initiatives. Mobile phones with small high-resolution cameras capture violence perpetrated against disenfranchised people, but they also capture personal health data, feeding it, with the patient’s permission, to the healthcare establishment. Viral exposure of incidents or medical breakthroughs make good news that garners high ratings in both social and traditional media.
When government decides to collaborate with citizen groups and create Open Data initiatives, good things begin to happen. We begin to heal.
Our best defense is transparency, open data and trust.
The present administration has implemented the PIF program. As the web site states “The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program brings the principles, values, and practices of the innovation economy into government through the most effective agents of change we know: our people … These teams of government experts and private-sector doers take a user-centric approach to issues at the intersection of people, processes, products, and policy to achieve lasting impact.”
It’s the beginning of a national conversation. I hope it leads to other open initiatives where inclusive citizen groups become a factor for positive change. And it cannot happen if people don’t share some aspects of their privacy. Yes, secure your identifiable information and protect your privacy, but don’t hide. Share what you can. Come and play with the rest of us. Let’s build a better world. Together.
At the beginning of the year I published my blog on what was trending in 2015. If you were following me then, you might recall that these were my predictions on music, social media, smartphones and cyber-security. (All linked in some way to my book, The Faces in the Rain.) I was thinking about how you never see people face up to their predictions, and I always wondered how they measure up. Which is strange, because doesn’t anyone want to know if the sooth-sayers were right or wrong? Yet it seems that no one cares about auditing past predictions because we live in the present and look to the future. Unless we can’t, as on this memorial weekend, we are doomed to remember, in singular or collective pride or disgrace. It was a who
More interesting, and certainly more important is the need to monitor predictions, especially when they might influence the trajectory of our lives. Let me make a distinction: We understand predictions and trends, but what exactly is a trajectory, and how are they different? Dictionary.com describes a trajectory as:
- the curve described by a projectile, rocket, or the like in its flight.
- Geometry: a curve or surface that cuts all the curves or surfaces of a given system at a constant angle. (Bold is mine.)
When we think about the trajectory of a life, the geometric meaning is more applicable. If a “given system” is a life, then what is that force, that will, that geometric template that cuts all the lesser curves and surfaces in a life? This question dawned on me when I listened to the charming interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air.
Somewhere in this interview with comedian and podcaster, Marc Maron, she mentions the expected trajectory of her life. Expected trajectory. (Listen to the whole interview by clicking on the photo below.)
The difference, I think, lies in understanding that trajectory is not a goal, not a target destination. It is a momentum based on the parameters we are given. Our given system provides a stricture to constantly follow. Which leads us to make statements like, “it is what it is”. Predetermined. Fate. Rigid acceptance of trajectory has generated a thesaurus of folklore, brainwashing us into believing that doing what is expected, is the right thing to do. Indeed, society relies on this. But is it the right thing correct?
It is what it is. Unless it isn’t.
What if the momentum is based on parameters we choose? What if the arrow we launch must alter its trajectory because the target is moving? Inflection Point is well-known in geometry, and in business. The trajectory of a life comes to an inflection point more commonly for negative reasons than positive. People make decisions because they have to. Or want to. Less so because, for their own good, they should. However I think the tendency is to not disrupt.
There should be a word for proactively making a constructive disruption. CONRUPTION comes to mind. Your usage of either word will be subjective, but choose you must. The point is, the parameters (influence, trends, socio-economic status, expectations–to name just few) do change, but often they don’t change the trajectory, or they change, though only under duress.
Why is this? The Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert tells us that we have a tendency to believe in an optimistic future. So why disrupt that? How much unrealistic expectation can we tolerate? See his Ted Talk here.
He ends his TED Talk saying:
“The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if, for most of us, the present is a magic time. It’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.”
How has your trajectory changed in the last ten years? And if it did, was the outcome better? Proactively taking action to change your trajectory half way through is exerting your freedom to choose.
Okay, with that in mind, and in the spirit of appreciating the fact that values change over time, I looked at how my predictions are coming along after just six months. It turns out that I was wrong in some cases and, although these are superficial factors, they have changed the trajectory of my life in the sense that the efficacy of my book is based on these trends. Which accounts for my constant revisions, and if those make for a more compelling read, then, yes, the trajectory of my life has changed.
THEN: Music streaming services will get smarter. We’ll have more choice, better search.
NOW: Wrong. Just the opposite. Services get meaner; to the listener and to the artists. Industry? What industry? Listen to the Verve discussion here.
Phones and data theft:
THEN: Possession and ownership of data: In 2015, people will begin to understand the difference…
NOW: I have just one word: Hilary. (The public debate as to whether she owns her private email rages on.)
THEN: Identity Theft: Not a question of if, but when, in one form or another.
NOW: Surprisingly, a slight improvement, so wrong again. See the Fortune article here.
Anonymity and hide-in-plain-sight/cybercrime:
THEN: Anonymity: The flight to hide-in-plain-sight will increase. See the Wired article.
NOW: Okay, I got this one right. See the FireFly report here. “This latest tactic by APT17 of using websites’ legitimate functionalities to conduct their communications shows just how difficult it is for organizations to detect and prevent advanced threats,” said Laura Galante, Manager, Threat Intelligence, FireEye. (BTW, this is exactly the tactic Allison uses to hide from the cybercrime syndicate–or so she thinks.)
THEN: Users will be torn between openness and privacy. Multiple factor authentication will become normal. Law enforcement will resist encryption.
THEN: Authenticity: …will bring value to crowdsourced solutions. Authentic ideas will attract followers.
NOW: (for something entirely different..)
Not my thing, but Ellen Degeneres’ recent guest Tyler Oakley, who has 6.9 million followers on YouTube, talks about pop culture, and what’s going on in his life. When Ellen asks him why he thinks he is so successful, he replies, saying, he thinks people just want to see authentic lives, the good and the bad, and just see him being himself. That easy. Oh, and BTW, no meanness. (I agree.)
Conclusion? Authenticity works.
And a trajectory adjustment every six months is a way to stay proactive.
Watch him review someone’s else’s YouTube video. Warning: this is crude. And very funny.
(This link verifies Google+)
<meta name=”google-site-verification” content=”VtFrLEbUyJKecujDUSM99FIIAjw_ubb5s8kPW5RgJAE” />
With the spring, the usual noise of useless information, that comes to us through new technology, turns to more informative and socially conscious matters, and to the stirrings of malcontent. Along with the buds of May, we see, here and there, scattered about in virtual spheres of influence, man’s inhumanity to man; exposed, raw and confrontative. Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere show us unfolding events that we could not have known was happening prior to the information age we live in. Sure, we have seen these stirrings before. In my case the scenes of the student riots in Soweto in 1976, and the photograph of the Napalm Girl in Vietnam, stand out.
The power to communicate in those images was diminished by their lack of immediacy. The iconic images of our lifetimes have, until recently, been viewed after the fact. And so, because of the delay, we could stand back and declare that what is past is past, and we can postpone our responsibility.
As we know, the Arab Spring changed all that. It came to us in real-time, and in April, 2010 the Egyptian government declared the repeal of an emergency law that had been in place since 1963, allowing the government authority to suspend constitutional rights. That month the Syrian government launched the first of what became a series of crackdowns. We have watched the decent into mayhem ever since, and as we watched, the voices of decent have risen up.
When almost everyone has a camera in a phone, and has the ability to post their photographs instantly on social media, without concern for publication deadlines, quality or censorship, we are exposed to a wide variety of images that are happening in close-to real-time. As Americans protest police violence against black and other communities, the story trends up and goes viral almost as it is happening. The television networks chase the story. They don’t cover the story, they cover the event. Seldom do they analyze the root cause, but they air, over and over and over the same sensational clips. Later, they hire paid pundits to weigh in. Meantime, the on-line analysis is crowd-sourced, frequently skewed, and inaccurate. All opinion is welcome, yet the silent majority remains silent, and their silence is taken as conservative and frightened. I was struck by the Baltimore protester who pointed out to Garaldo Rivera that Fox didn’t come to report on what’s wrong with living conditions for blacks in Baltimore, they came to report the “black riots”. The protester even asks that the cameras covering his outrage be turned off. “This is not for YouTube,” he says. (although he must know it is.) But Rivera refuses to engage him. No conversation. Point made: television broadcasts, it’s a one-way street. The point of view (see video below) is one that no network would ever cover, yet the video has been viewed over a million times.
Regardless, the discerning reader must find perspective and compare what is happening as Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities explode.
The conclusion becomes clear:
POLICING HAS TO CHANGE.
Because we are all watching.
Our watchfulness blocks, what before, was censored, obfuscated and doctored for public consumption. Instead, a barrage of video and photographic material boils to the surface from a wide cross-section of a population who cared enough (for good or questionable reasons) to be there to record the event. It is not reporting, but it is a report, and it is plentiful. Even police departments are beginning to adopt uniform cameras, and in some cases have incriminated themselves.
I am grateful I live in an age where technology leads to transparency. Yes, we need to manage it better so it protects people’s privacy, but it should never be managed so that the truth gets swept under the rug.
Managing space is something we all do. We exist in three dimensions, and, as sentient creatures we want to handle physical space in a way that suits us. While birds fly and build nests, we decorate homes, drive in traffic, and move in buildings where space has been well or poorly considered. Your consideration of space is different than mine. We are led to believe that the more we manage space the more effective we’ll be. This is especially true for composers, with their precious rests, sculptors, architects, painters and designers who know that decisions about space determine the effectiveness of the work. For them placement in space is a calibrated and precise decision.
When it comes to mental space we act like these artists; earnestly placing ideas in mind-space where better decisions can be made. I wonder if people are probably more inconsistent in their physical and mental management of space, than consistent, depending on behavioral and cultural influences. The neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (FYI, the underline is mine. I write about personal freedom and privacy in Letters #8, 9 and 12.) How we choose to act out in the space between the stimulus and the response informs our character type –introvert/extrovert, etc; yet just as with physical space, we are led to believe that more mental space leads to better decisions.
(“Unless they don’t,” says the smiling extrovert to introvert.)
Which brings me to Mark Ronson. Yes, the music producer Mark Ronson of the mega-hit, “Uptown Funk”, featuring Bruno Mars. Notice that the YouTube video below has 540 million views (plus), to date.
NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Mark on Fresh Air. Here’s what she said: “The song, on the album Uptown Special, just ended its 14-week run at the top of theBillboard Hot 100. Ronson has put out four albums under his own name, and they all feature other artists singing the songs he co-wrote and produced. Ronson has also had a hand in other hits: He produced some of Amy Winehouse’s 2006 album Back To Black, including the songs “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.” (Listen to the full interview, and read the article here.)
So, what does this have to do with intuition and mental space? He tells a story about how he and Amy Winehouse came up with the song, “Rehab”.
It is a stunning example of the role intuition can play, and I would go so far as to say that it makes the argument that over-thinking can kill creativity.
(See this Psychology Today article.) Here’s the except from the interview:
She wrote “Back To Black” and “Rehab” while we were there in the studio, in like, kind of a matter of hours. So when she was telling me this story about rehab — we were actually walking down the street and she was saying, “There was this time a couple of years ago, and I was in this dark place, and my family came over and some friends, and they tried to make me go to rehab, and I was like, ‘No, no, no.'” And she put up her hand, and I just thought, “That’s such a catchy turn of phrase, and should we go back — and do you want to try to write a song with that?” Because it just instantly sounded like a hook to me. I remember it so well. She was telling me this really deep story, and I’m kind of like, “Is it gross?” — all I can hear is a big pop hook in there.
At the time Mark was building his career, and was relatively unknown. To me, it seems that he acted authentically in that moment. So did the success of that act encourage him to remain authentic? Who knows, but the point is, you can’t accommodate intuitive space if you’re not present. In the moment. Sadly, that act of intuition on his part later became achingly ironic when Winehouse took her life. (I mention her in the context of Music Trends in 2015 — and now add pitchfork.com as a strong influence.)
My character, Allison in THE FACES IN THE RAIN learned to be authentic—-the hard way. So, while we’re moving things around in our places and in our head, making room for decisions, maybe, before we actually act on that decision, maybe we should stop and ask, what is that voice inside my head, telling me to do something entirely different? And why am I thinking in two dimensions, when stimulus, response and intuition offer me a much wider three-dimensional palate? When I am writing, I occasionally give intuition a voice to shout out, so the reader can hear it echo elsewhere in the book. Then, like the composer, I give it a rest.
Cynthia’s animation is now being repurposed into web animation formats, and I think you’ll agree, this sample promises lots of great stuff to come from the master animator. Can’r wait!!
A clip from “Interview with Tallulah, Queen of the Universe” 1995
I was inspired by Laurie Anderson‘s lyrics from “Monkey’s Paw” “those high heeled feet”.
I’ve been learning about creating animated gifs in Photoshop CC. I love Adobe’s Creative Cloud because for a monthly fee you get access to so many Apps. I spent an insane amount of time learning Flash in 2002. My site “PiazzaNYC”is a flash reliant site intended to feature animation in a new way. A virtual piazza in NYC featuring the characters of the Commedia dell Arte – the 17th century traveling comedic theater. Then Apple decided to not support flash files. I was crushed. I moved on to other projects and recently began researching animated gifs and that’s when we discovered the Creative Cloud. Now I’ve got some catching up to do.
Geoffrey Wells Letter #12:
I continue to explore the facets of privacy. It is a meme on the Internet today, and it is mutating from the embryo of the word private. The word is stealing DNA from the words, personal, confidential, secrets and identity. They are all closely related, though the distinction is important. There’s nothing nefarious about choosing to keep aspects of your life private. In those private times when we think, reason and create, we are free. We can exercise our freedom because we do not have to trust that our personal expression is judged by anyone but ourselves. We are free to decide when to subject ourselves to the scrutiny of the world at large.
A reader of my blog, Bill, sent me a response to my post last week. Bill says that, “The age of privacy is over! It’s an antiquated idea born during the age of industrialization and urbanization. There was no privacy when humans lived in communal groups. You fought with your wife–the whole village knew about it. Children acted badly–the whole village dealt with it. Your gay son couldn’t hide in a closet. If someone or family didn’t share the bounty of their hunt, they were forced out of the group and lost their place and the protection of the group. How did the concept of privacy come about anyway? Why do we insist on privacy? Why are laws written to protect privacy? Should any information be private at all? Can the concept of privacy coexist in an Information Age? Isn’t that contradictory? We need to think about privacy in a new way! Or, as the electronic information brings us closer in so many ways, are we returning to our ancient communal societal ethos–we share information with our electronic brethren and they with us. Privacy?!?! We don’t need no stinkin’ privacy!”
Well, Bill–I beg to differ. And let me start with your last statement. In Glenn Greenwald’s TED Talk, “Why Privacy Matters”, (see video below) which has been viewed 1.4 million times, he poses the hypothetical question to someone who claims that they do not care about privacy. He would ask this person to email all his passwords to him. Of course, like you Bill, he would refuse, but not because it’s personal, or private, but because it’s confidential. Here’s the video:
Margge, another responder, points out privacy is a personal choice. And my response was to agree, but on the stage of social media, friends, family and business associates challenge us to be authentic, because authenticity breeds success, and it encourages us to reveal our personal choices. If we’d rather not, are we being false, by hiding our private lives? Neither position is satisfactory and both have ramifications. We could protest–privately, but publicly is inadvisable; the unsettling thing about protesting on the Internet is that it serves to attract more attention. Nothing is more true of this than with the privacy issue. It is so common as to have its own label: The Streisand Effect. This term was coined after Barbara Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. The campaign had the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely on the Internet. (Which is why the subject of this post, asks that you don’t read it.)
Of course all the talk of privacy becomes moot if our privacy is watched without our permission. And while this certainly is a problem, the fact remains that most private information is accessible from the Internet. And most of it is not watched or exploited. Like the economy, privacy relies on trust. My new MacBook Pro laptop was delivered yesterday, on time. I thought about how much trust it took to get it from Shanghai, China to my doorstep.
How many people were entrusted to get this laptop delivered on time?
Personally, Bill (and yes, it’s my personal preference that we preserve privacy), I think we’re a lot more civilized than when the (global) village knew everything about us. And, just to invoke the Streisand Effect, I’m thrilled you didn’t read this.
Geoffrey Wells letter #11:
I start with a request: Listen to this Ethiopian jazz while reading the rest of this blog. Don’t ask me to explain why the music adds poignancy to the subject matter of privacy, except I will say that this subject seems to strike deep notes in the soul. (…and thanks to @worldisafrica that I follow on Twitter)
Last week, as we saw a mountainside of the French Alps strewn with airline and body parts, I thought of the many and conflicted opinions we have about privacy; its precious and destructive power being played out publicly, viscerally–the volcanic shame oozing through the fissure of our collective guilt. It seems apparent now that Andreas Lubitz, who is alleged to have murdered 150 people, including himself, was a sick man. Did sheltering under the veil of privacy allow him to keep flying? Or was it Lufthansa’s policy and German law that prevented an oversight of the 27-year-old co-pilot’s health and mental state? This raises troubling questions about where the responsibility lies. Should there be separate rules that are applied to those who are responsible for the safety of the public? And if the answer is yes, then could we not argue that we are all responsible for the safety of each other, in some way? Isn’t that the social contract? Who, I would ask, cared so little for him that they allowed him to fly?When I drive on a four-lane freeway, how many people might I murder by driving badly, or because I had too much to drink, or was depressed? Would that mean that I should not be allowed to drive? Who is to decide, and how, and how often?
In Alex Preston’s searching essay, The Death of Privacy (The Guardian, August 3, 2014), he breaks down the debate; that what we hold as private is thought of as shameful and secret, or, conversely, that sharing what is private is seen as socially responsible and actually convenient. I don’t know to what extent people shared their instant reactions to the news of the Germanwings disaster, but I don’t think I was the only one thinking, “terrorist” and dark thoughts about the chaos in the Middle East. Of course that rush to judgement should be private, and if that sentiment went viral, then the condemnation would be sealed into the history pages of the Internet. That bell could not be un-wrung–unless, as Preston points out, public censorship becomes common. He cites the European Court case of Google vs. Costeja Gonzalz, who won “the right to be forgotten”. False judgement (read slander) might be erased in the future. So, will the Internet then be the revisionist’s history? I hope not: It might be kind, but it also might be a lie. Because that’s not what happened.
In Europe, Google search pages warn, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” –The Guardian, August 3, 2014.
The subject of privacy fascinates me. At a psychological level, it brings into question how conscious we are of ourselves. Privacy, is so fascinating to me, that I wrote my latest novel with the aim of exposing the privacy conflicts that a character might face. In THE FACES IN THE RAIN, Allison is, like many of us, somewhat indifferent on the issues of privacy, though she is fanatical in protecting her career as a musician and composer–especially after losing her identity. Determined that it will not happen again, she takes a passive-aggressive approach to protect both her privacy and her identity. So she corrupts them. So effective is she at this, that she is able to hide-in-plain-sight; a tactic commonly used by cyber criminals. Her approach is simple. Then the CIA informs her that she is being used by a cybercrime syndicate. With enough coding skill to be dangerous, and plenty of smarts, she has mastered the art of obfuscation. Now she must help them lay the trap, while undercover as someone else. The irony is that in the subsequent confusion she finds her authenticity. But reconciling it with her identity is another matter.
Allison, like the rest of us, while we gaze at our collective belly button, must answer the nagging voice, asking, “Who am I?” And so the personal and public consciousness of ourselves gets mapped to our identity in time and space. And if we’re careful, it will be what it is.
Well? Did you listen to the track while you read? Regardless of what you thought of the music, I hope you agree that it’s impact changes the emotional weight of what I wrote. Do you agree? Can music with creative writing be considered reading?