Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Once Upon A Time, We Had A Future To Believe In


1970 Deja Vu Album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Once Upon A Time, We Had A Future To Believe In

I found myself humming the 1970 song by David Crosby, “Almost Cut My Hair”. The first half of the song goes like this:

“Almost cut my hair
Happened just the other day
It’s getting’ kind of long
I could’ve said it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it, to someone, yeah
Must be because I had the flu this Christmas
And I’m not feeling up to par
And increases my paranoia
Like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car…”

Before the conclusion, Crosby elects to go south and enjoy some “sunny southern weather”. Birth, death, birth, death. In a succession of previous lives, we have all experienced that endless cycle. We raped, murdered, made war... and occasionally, made love. How many times did we burn at the stake? If you are forced to decide, always take drowning over death by fire. Neither is quick, but the human body takes to cooling more easily than burning.

Times have changed. If we choose, we are now more conscious of life and our place within it. Even in this lifetime, we have seen so much and come so far. Do you remember when personal computers displayed words, but no pictures? I remember first reading in the glossy pages of Time Magazine about the world-wide-web, now known as the internet. It was largely a free offering until July 5, 1994, when Jeff Bezos founded the now ubiquitous Amazon.com. Many complained that Bezos had ruined the free nature of the internet by charging money for books. In the early days of Amazon, Bezos picked, packed and shipped physical books from his home garage. I say “physical books” because in recent years, half of all adult books sold arrived in digital format. In 2017, according to Time.com, Jeff Bezos became the wealthiest person in the world. If you are into making money, Bezos accomplished that feat in only twenty-three years.

Mosaic Browser 1.0, was later to become the Netscape Navigator of early internet fame - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also in 1994, the Mosaic Netscape Navigator 1.0 appeared in a beta version, free to all non-commercial users. Before that, some school systems, universities and other non-profit entities had created their own text-only internet browsers. In those early days of internet access, most websites were textual documents created with raw Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). With the advent of the Netscape Navigator browser, web masters quickly created both text and graphical versions of their websites.

Displaying graphics on the personal computers of the day was problematic. For most users, “broadband” was a fantasy. Computer displays were mostly converted TV monitors. The most common method of connection was via a dial-up telephone modulate/demodulate (modem) device. Older users will remember a series of squeaks and squawks that coincided with an internet connection attempt on a telephone modem.

America Online logo, later to become AOL, and still later to slip into internet obscurity - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also around that time, America Online (later AOL) offered dial-up services to anyone with a modem. For $19.99 each month, you could use a proprietary browser to access exclusive content provided by that company. For years, America Online attempted to be a complete alternative to the internet, providing news and information across a broad spectrum of interests. Soon, however, other internet providers, such as EarthLink undercut America Online, while bundling the Netscape Navigator for equal or less money.

By the late 1990s, a few of us who lived within a mile or two of a telephone switching office began to access the web via a “digital subscriber line”, or DSL. Unlike dial-up, DSL utilized a carrier frequency on a standard phone line. In addition, its newer style modem allowed simultaneous use of both voice and data on the same telephone line. As such, it was “always on” and ready for connection via Netscape. Years later, cable TV companies figured out how to carry both a television signal and data on the same line. Again, a specialized modem was required.

After Bill Gates of Microsoft failed to collude with Netscape to divide up the internet between them, he released Internet Explorer, which later failed - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With the burgeoning success of Netscape, Bill Gates of Microsoft realized that personal computers might access more than his Microsoft Office software applications. After failing to collude with Netscape to divide up the internet browser business, Gates initiated one of the boldest and most underhanded takeover attempts in history. At Gates' direction, Microsoft cobbled together their own Internet Explorer (IE) browser. By 1995, Microsoft began including IE as a free addition to its Windows operating system. Simultaneously, Microsoft initiated a viral “whisper campaign”, claiming that anyone who had signed up for Netscape Navigator would soon be charged a fee by Netscape for the use of its browser. As IE ascended, Netscape tanked, becoming a marginal player, and later failing altogether.

An early version of the Google logo, before it began its inevitable slip into internet obscurity - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Ironically, when Google released its now ubiquitous Chrome browser in 2008, its software core derived from Firefox, which in turn derived from the 1998 public release of the Netscape Navigator source code. Today, Chrome is a complete operating system rivaling Microsoft Windows. Ironically, Internet Explorer is now a discontinued product, surviving like a zombie in older Microsoft Windows computers. Google has since degenerated to the point where in 2015 it strayed into autonomously driving vehicles, including the Google Pop Car, a prototype railroad safety vehicle. Google is now seen largely as a service name, owned by Alphabet. This brings me around to my thesis, which is “Nothing is permanent. Like electronic devices and computer applications, we all are born and die, often within a brief time period”.

From the return of Steve Jobs to Apple, Inc. in 1997, through the Mac G4 Cube era and on to the last of its breed, a small form-factor slice one-tenth the size of the original in 2013 (background), the whole world appeared to get smaller - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)At last count, I own almost 200 internet Universal Resource Locator (URLs). After ten years of collecting, curating and publishing blog articles and websites, I ask myself if there will be enough time to write and publish them all. If I died tomorrow, or if the person who operates my internet servers died tomorrow, the deprecation of my online data would begin. Within a year or two, all the contracts would end and most all of my internet presence would disappear. All of my internet personas, including Moab Jim, Durango Jim, Taos Jim, Yuma Jim, Reno Jim, Marina Jim, Kauai Jim and Fiji Jim would reenter the public domain, destined for recycling.

As hard as it might be for a current day teenager to believe, until 2007 there was no iPhone or any other “smart phone”. Even in 2009, the iPhone 3G internet browser was slower than a dial-up modem circa 1994. Now, you can buy the “all new” Amazon Alexa personal home spy for $79.99. If you do, Alexa will sit quietly in your domicile and listen to your questions, comments and mad rants all day long. Already, you can buy supplies (ex. toilet paper) based on how often you have ordered in the past. “Oh”, I remarked recently, “The toilet paper arrived just before I had to utilize my corn cob collection”. How nice. I then imagined saying, As with the Christmas Tsunami of 2005 and the Fukushima Tsunami of 2011, will a new wave sweep clean the use of personal spying devices like Amazon's Alexa? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“Oh, it arrived two weeks after I died and every month thereafter, until my PayPal account was drained”. How many of your dearly departed friends or family remain as friends on Facebook or LinkedIn?

The clash of the titans in our world is not on a cinematic screen in a theater near you. The real clash is between Old Energy power mongers and us, the lovers of freedom. Over twenty years after the advent of the popular internet, Old Energy federal agencies continue to remove scientific data from every federal government website. In a blow to "net neutrality", the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to allow corporate internet providers to throttle-down competitors’ websites. Old Energy politicians use computer analytics to gerrymander congressional seats for a permanent “conservative” majority.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos, pictured here in 1999, portrays Amazon a a New Energy company, when in fact it is an Old Energy juggernaut running roughshod over consumers, competitors and employees alike - Click for larger image (http//jamesmcgillis.com)In short, Old Energy uses computer power to find every loophole and rig every system they can. At any time, the United States federal government could declare a state of emergency and censor or cut public access to internet data, as Iran recently did. When the pressure on the current regime became too great, all internet access in Iran disappeared for approximately thirty minutes. Who is to say a similar outage could not happen anywhere?

For $52 billion, the Walt Disney Company will soon buy the majority of 21st Century Fox assets. I remember when they were “20th Century Fox”. As usual, press releases from both companies tell us that the transaction is "good for consumers". Prior to the 2016 presidential campaign, Comcast NBCUniversal promoted a New York Real Estate developer as a celebrity television star. In keeping with their “Universal” moniker, that failed land developer soon attained almost “universal” name recognition.

Another in a long line of now-forgotten shows premiered on the Fox TV network in September 1998 - (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The NBC television network broadcast that developer’s first twenty-five presidential campaign rallies live, uncut and uninterrupted by commercials. After helping to elect him as president, the same corporation realized that the man was attacking NBC and other mainstream media outlets as purveyors of “fake news”. Realizing that their own corporate power could erode or disappear, they quickly dedicated their MSNBC cable network and their NBC Saturday Night Live (SNL) television broadcast to un-electing the same man in 2020. In the name of Old Energy and profits, "Hollywood" had turned against the very man who they had shamelessly promoted during the campaign.

The changes in media and entertainment over the past two decades are too myriad to chronicle here. A few of the highlights not previously mention include the rise and fall of Google, the introduction of “fair and balanced news” on Fox Television and the rise of Netflix and Amazon as media and entertainment giants. As late as 2007, MySpace.com had eight-times as many users as Facebook. Does anyone remember Yahoo, which positioned itself as the “web portal” of choice for young people, entrepreneurs and sports fans? Now for some good news. In separate press releases, Netflix and Amazon announced plans to create over 100 feature-length movies each year, much of it streaming exclusively on their respective “web platforms”.

In 2007, MySpace had eight times as many users as the fledgling Facebook - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)While at home today, I checked the screen on my Samsung Galaxy 8 "smart" phone. When I touched the YouTube icon, it immediately connected to my 65", curved-screen Samsung “smart” TV. Somewhat enamored of seeing YouTube on the large screen, I watched a video of an old locomotive crash, staged for the movies around 1930. I went on to watch the 2011 tsunami hitting beach houses in Japan. To me, the scene looked similar to Malibu, or perhaps Montecito, California. When the waves hit, they splashed three or four times the height of the two-story houses. Then the video cut off, just before the houses disappeared into the rubble. “Is that real?” I asked.

Bus-wrap advertisements like this one of 'Nurse Jackie' soon gave way to full building wrap-ads, as originally envisioned by Ridley Scott for the original Blade Runner movie of 1982 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)For the original Blade Runner movie in 1982, Ridley Scott (of Thelma & Louise fame) created print advertisements that supposedly covered entire buildings. His building wrap-ads were part of a future that no one expected to materialize. By 1993, Pepsi Co. deployed the first transit bus wrap. Soon thereafter, someone developed the full building wrap-ad.

Even today, we can discern the fakery from reality... most of the time. If we so choose, we are both conscious and free. As Pete Townsend wrote for the Who in their song, “Going Mobile”:

“I don’t care about pollution
I’m an air-conditioned gypsy
That’s my solution
Watch the police and the taxman miss me!
I’m mobile!”

Facebook, which under Mark Zuckerberg's direction allowed the Russians to throw the 2016 presidential election, pretends that it has no power in American life... as if - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In a metaphor to life, we spin many plates on the ends of tall sticks. As is our custom, we keep adding more and more plates to the spin cycle, until they all crash to the ground and break. In this life, I still have plenty to do, see, write and feel. Eventually, however, there will be a lien sale. All my collected t-shirts  and posters will go to auction at 7 AM on a Tuesday, at the Salvation Army in Santa Monica, California. What will you bid for all my remaining possessions? Something? Nothing? Either way, by then it will not matter to me.

If we stay healthy, do not smoke or drink too much and participate in regular exercise, we could easily live to 80-years-old. With a bit more luck, 85-years-old is attainable. Actor Kirk Douglas, who appeared “live” on the 2018 Golden Globe awards celebrated his hundred and first birthday in December 2017.

MySpace, which once was the dominant player in internet social media, met it demise under the ownership of Rupert Murdock, thus proving that Old Energy cannot play in the New Energy game - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In a possible end of this life, the auto wreck that kills you (or me) might not register as more than 30-seconds of dash cam video. In my neighborhood, some speed demon struck and killed a gray squirrel yesterday. It was one of the last squirrels in our neighborhood, surviving on the produce of a large oak tree. I always slowed my Jeep when I passed that tree.

Soon after the squirrel’s death, I stopped, got a plastic bag and removed its beautiful body from the street. Now the squirrel is gone for good, relegated to the trash bin where I tossed his lifeless body. Someone in my neighborhood knows who killed that squirrel. On the other hand, perhaps they were texting on their smart phone and never saw the squirrel at all. Today, I saw the squirrel’s mate, searching for him from the relative safety of the oak tree.

Sorry, if I sound a little bit dour. Finite reality comes home to roost. I suggest that you chose now if you do or do not wish to return. By that, I mean, if you die in a hit-and-run collision, do you wish to be born again into this world? As your brain cools beneath the tsunami's wave or the car bumper hits you in the head, there may or may not be sufficient time to decide.

Humans bear responsibility for the care and perpetuation of all natural species here on earth (Gray Squirrel, pictured) - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As humans, we tie our identities closely to our physical presence in body. Not remembering the freedom of being non-physical, we fear death. Then again, if we elect not to return to Earth after this lifetime, it will not be easy for us to have and enjoy a future non-physical dinner party.

In the non-physical realms, amorous behavior is not a problem. In our current “physical life”, we can only catch a glimmer of the ecstasy. If you elect to bypass a return trip to Earth and transition to non-physical, you could visit a New Earth or come back to this Earth and observe the hipsters from Snapchat as they continue the ruination of Venice, California. Either option is possible, since the speed-of-light does not apply to the non-physical realms.

Let us ponder our interpersonal relationships. Most would agree that they are not so easy to maintain here on Earth. We love the idea of interpersonal relationships and occasionally find a great one. Do those relationships last forever? We may die, the other may die. Wireless communications cards of several generations represent our ability (soon) to communicate directly with any consciousness in our universe, and those beyond - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Alternatively, we often just move on. Perhaps you and your mate are that “one in a million” couple who remain in love together until one or both die, many decades hence.

To me, the Clash song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is about life, not about a one night stand. Those of us who are the Baby Boomers have definitely been here for the best part of world history. From the end of WWII, despite the dawning of the nuclear age, until now has been a great time to live and love in LA.

Be at peace. If you stay, I hope you enjoy every moment. If you decide to go, every so often make a soft knocking sound up in the upper corner of the room, late at night. I will know it is you.

Someone or something just made a small sound up there. For a moment, I thought it was you.