Saturday, December 28, 2013

Imagine No Possessions

Recently I was at a friend’s house for dinner and she was cooking fish on the grill outside. She came in the house looking for a flashlight, and when she asked her husband where it was, he said, “Use my phone.” He clicked on the flashlight app and a strong beam of light came out of the camera flash.
In this season of consumerism, I like to focus on the fact that we are living in an age of dematerialization. Computers, the Internet, and smartphones are eliminating the need for countless products.
When I was growing up, my family had a multi-volume encyclopedia taking up lots of room on a shelf. Who needs that, or a dictionary any more? Think of the forests of trees no longer being consumed for reference books.
Many of us have (or had) shelves and racks full of books, CDs, and DVDs. But who needs those anymore with ebooks, iTunes, and streaming video services? Think of the manufacturing plants, distribution centers, trucks, and retail stores that are no longer needed, not to mention space in our homes.
How many of us have shelves full of photo albums gathering dust? Now our cameras don’t have film, and we view our photos on screen. Think of the millions of gallons of developing chemicals, miles of film, all the ink and paper no longer needed—and that’s just for the countless bad snapshots that we tossed out right away.
Linked to dematerialization is a change in attitude towards possessions. When John Lennon wrote the song “Imagine,” the line about no possessions seemed hopelessly idealistic, or a paean to some kind of soft-headed communism.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
But now it’s coming true.
Recently Thomas Friedman wrote about the new “sharing economy,” and a website called Tradesy where people can buy and sell used high-fashion garments and accessories, including wedding dresses. The website was started by a woman named Tracy DiNunzio who needed a way to get rid of her wedding dress after a short marriage.
The sharing economy is producing both new entrepreneurs and a new concept of ownership. “With improved peer-to-peer commerce platforms that remove the friction and risk from multiparty transactions, consumers are being empowered to value and sell their space, their belongings and their time in ways that weren’t previously possible,” said DiNunzio. “For those at the cutting edge of this trend, durable goods are viewed as temporal objects to enjoy and pass on rather than ‘belongings.’ Personally, I no longer feel like I ‘own’ anything. I enjoy my consumer goods for a day, a week or a year, take good care of them because I assume they’ll go on to have another life with someone else, then share or sell whatever I’m tired of. I get access to goods and services that would typically be beyond my means, without accumulating a ton of stuff.” 
This “lightweight living,” she added, “goes hand in hand with a reimagined concept of ownership that’s focused on utility rather than possession, and can ultimately result in consumers enjoying more variety for their dollar.” [my bold]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spiraling Through the Stages of Psychological Development

Recently I borrowed a book from a friend called Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self, by Anodea Judith, a psychotherapist. In the introduction she lays out the major theories of psychological development, and then shows how the chakra system matches that.
The various theories of psychological development divide the maturation process in different ways; some have four stages (Piaget), some eight (Erikson). Judith’s book provides an outline of psychological development in seven stages (matching the seven chakras):
  1. Learn you are a separate person, it’s ok to be here and be taken care of physically
  2. Learn that you have feelings and needs, and that when you express them you get an appropriate response; this communicates to you that it’s ok to have needs and to have them met
  3. Learn to express your will in the world without being demeaned or shamed for what you express
  4. Learn to have relationships with others; learn to reach out rather than just pull towards self
  5. Learn to communicate your needs, feelings, and will
  6. Learn to visualize, have intuition, and be inspired
  7. Learn to be conscious and aware, to integrate knowledge and experience

What I really liked about her approach is that it emphasizes a balance of all the levels, not a progression from the lower to the higher. When I’ve read psychology books I always got the impression the developmental process was a straight line. You couldn’t go back; you were stuck with your issues and had to deal with them the best way you could. Other writers who have tried to integrate western and eastern thought, such as Ken Wilber, have given me the impression that the later stages are better and development means leaving the lower levels behind. If you get spiritual enough you don’t need to worry about the problems you have with, say, asserting your self in the world.
Judith, on the other hand, gave me the idea of development as a spiral; we initially go through the stages in a linear fashion but as an adult we can cycle back through and heal the traumas that were inevitable as we grew up (no matter how wonderful our childhood might have been, there will still be issues). This is important, she shows, because if there are gaps and problems in earlier psychological stages, that will affect our ability to successfully navigate the later stages.
By cycling back through these stages of development, and healing the problems we have at each level, we can then become a balanced person, with an integrated life.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Guaranteed Annual Income

I have been thinking and reading about the implications of the coming robot revolution ever since I wrote my first post about it. The essence of that post is that artificial intelligence (AI) and robots have been steadily increasing in computational ability and they are about to put almost everyone out of work. In fact, some observers suggest that this is already happening: this is why the unemployment rate has stayed so stubbornly high in the last few years. There are economists who forecast 50 to 75 percent unemployment twenty years from now. What would this mean? How would people live without jobs?
Economist Paul Krugman wrote a column last summer called “Sympathy for the Luddites,” in which he suggests a basic income for everyone is the only solution.
This fall, activists in Switzerland collected enough signatures to bring a referendum to the ballot that calls for a minimum income for every citizen in the country. When the group brought the petitions to Parliament, they also brought a truck filled with 8 million coins, one for every Swiss citizen. If enacted, the measure would guarantee an income of about $2800 per month per citizen, regardless of any other income.

Business Insider published an interview with Daniel Straub, one of the people who initiated the Swiss referendum, and Straub linked the concept of a minimum income to the future of robots:
BI: Why choose a minimum income rather than, say, a higher minimum wage?
DS: A minimum wage reduces freedom — because it is an additional rule. It tries to fix a system that has been outdated for a while. It is time to partly disconnect human labor and income. We are living in a time where machines do a lot of the manual labor — that is great — we should be celebrating.
I agree with Straub that we should celebrate this—I imagine our robot future in a very positive way—but of course there are many dystopian views. I guess that’s not surprising in our culture, where the movie industry constantly pumps out films portraying a bleak future where the machines rule, the earth is devastated, and humankind fights for survival.