Saturday, April 7, 2007

The World in my pocket!

I am drowning in stuff. Even after several prunings and garage sales. Looking into my closet I see an extra keyboard and an extra printer (two are already hooked up!) My tool box had five phillips and five regular screwdrivers of all approximately the same size -- until recently.

I began planning some changes after a strange trip I made several years ago. The trip began with me working with orphans on a farm in a remote Russian village for three weeks. We had a village shower every week but I missed the first one because they called it a "sauna." Russia was having a heat wave and since I'm not anything like a farm boy I felt it was especially hot. I told them I would skip the "sauna." There was much weeping when I found out. Immediately after Russia, I gave a presentation at the Global Grid Forum in Scotland about getting computers that don't trust one another to collaborate. After that I had some vacation in London. Can you see the connection to 'stuff?' Please post if you have ever boarded an old wooden train with enough luggage to support farming, presenting, and vacationing. I'll lead the support group.

On the flight home I began brain storming ways to reduce the amount of stuff I need to as small as possible. I have literally spent thousands of hours thinking about how to reduce my footprint; searching for small but functional products, sewing elastic bands, soldering cables together that I couldn't find on e-bay. I have had an amazing success which I shall share in the hope that others can use my ideas. But there is a deeper meaning to my project. Here we are at the brink of a new century (will it actually start in 2008?) in a World ripe with new technologies, new knowledge, and new possibilities. But it is as if we are drowning in it! Does anyone really know how stem cells work? OK, some people know how to make a few modifications in stem cells but do they also know whether string-theory (the latest theory in physics) is producing results? Does anyone really even understand string theory? And if they do, do they understand the advances in computer science that are making telephone operators obsolete? Do they know why styles are changing every few years now instead of every decade? Have they also kept up with politics, psychology, and philosophy? The evolution of religion?

These pockets of knowledge are growing fast! And they affect us. Imagine how differently one who understands the psychological effects of the authoritarian style and who can recognize traits of personality disorders would perceive American politics from one who has never heard of these things. In the 20th century, specialized knowledge was all the fashion. But I hear the wind of change and I don't feel comfortable going into the next ten years without having a very broad as well as deep knowledge base. (Confession: I am also addicted to learning and self-improvement so there may be bias!)

Here is the problem: Using Google, Wikipedia, social nets and a thousand books to do research whenever something comes up is like trying to catch a rural, wooden train with way too much luggage in tow. But it shouldn't have to be like that. I don't need five screwdrivers of the same kind and I don't need to know set-theory, category-theory, formal logic, and computer science when there is so much redundancy in each of these mathematical frameworks. It is time to clean house! Let me lay out three principles that I have been using as a guide:

Three principles for getting rid of stuff:
  1. I do not want to lose functionality or sacrifice style. If I need two screwdrivers I won't go to one just to save space. And no solar-panel shirts or nylon blue jeans until they look good!
  2. I want to have my convenience. If a PDA could replace my MP3 player but it takes four times as much work due to all the clicking and waiting for the hour-glass and the rebooting, forget it!
  3. I want everything and I want it to go. I want maximum life-style with minimal baggage. Yes, I know you are thinking that it is impossible. I want a grand piano but I want it to fit in my pocket without weighing my pants down. I want everyone to have everything but I want a sustainable, healthy social/eco system. I want to live forever, but I want to eat lots of cheese-cake. I know that it is impossible, but it's a guideline. The idea is to lay out all the possibilities then make healthy, happy choices. It isn't possible to have everything, but it is possible to lay out all the possibilities.
Can I get all the knowledge that will affect me in the next ten years? Can I catch the bullet train with all my stuff in tow? Not in 20th Century mode. But... Well, it's going to be fun innovating a way to drink from the fire hydrant, and I hope you'll join me for the ride!


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