Brian Eno wrote a letter to Nassim Taleb in 2013 as part of the Long Now Foundation’s Longplay Letters Series. It is a “diabolical” chain letter. I wish there were more attempts like this.
I think that the Long Now Foundation serves as a necessary antidote to the poison of immediacy that has infected the net. If we had more long form ‘institutions’ cooked into the DNA of our systems perhaps I wouldn’t be making all these rookie mistakes in my online life, errors that arise from not attending to the long haul. At least we might have more balance. The missive that Eno directs to Taleb calls in part for this balance as a survival adaptation.
More people are easing off the online throttle with ‘tech sabbaths’, the slow web movement (http://theslowweb.com/), slow food, and slow reading. It is a small but hopeful faction seeking balance. I have been unbalanced of late in my online work. This post seeks equipoise.
The last six weeks I have been enmeshed in a rather frantic undertaking called #rhizo15. This MOOC was titled “Rhizomatic Learning: a Practical View” and each week felt like a Tilt-A-Whirl. At this time I would like to declare an intermezzo in this post to attend to theTilt-A-Whirl.
When I wrote the word ’tilt-a-whirl’ above I had a cascade of memories from carnivals and fairs both county and state that always had one of these mad rides in residence (if it dared to call itself a fair). The Wikipedia article is a short chronicle of the Tilt-A-Whirl’s 88 year…ride… obviously written by a loving member of the Sellner family (manufacturer since 1927).
I thought about my own long relationship with this particular ride culminating in a stint as a teenaged ‘carny’ myself at Fontaine Ferry Park/Ghost Town on the River in Louisville. Kentucky as an operator of both the tilt-a-whirl and the Octopus. Lots to slow down for and savor, not all good, but all mine.
I started comparing in my own mind fairs now and then. What ride today is as ubiquitous as the tilt-a-whirl was then? I would have to argue for the ‘bouncy castle’. If there ever was a symbol for the story that is the decline of modern America, this is it. Even our fun has degenerated from the long term sustainability of the Tilt-A-Whirl (there are a few of the originals from 1927 still in operation) to the throw away, unsustainably cheap majesty of the closed inflatable trampoline (aka bouncy castle).
Maybe this is why the ‘few but fine’ reads these posts. I favor the peripatetic feldgang over the short walk wasted we call Facebook and Twitter. I am not saying the long form is better, it just needs to be given its due.
What Brian Eno is doing with Nassim Taleb is starting the long walk conversation. Why don’t we have more of these in our online institutions? Why did this #rhizo15 have to announce itself as only six weeks long? Why did the previous #rhizo14 stop last year? Maybe it didn’t for the researchers, for the academics, for those with tenured sinecures, but it did for me. Why don’t we have institutional support for just starting a conversation like Eno started with Taleb? Maybe they exist in the form of the university itself or in foundations, but I don’t feel these touch me directly. I am not valuing the long haul enough. I need to be more of, in Myles Horton’s words, a ‘long haul’ person.
When I walk on my farm I fertilize the fields with my own footsteps. It is a slow, composting process. I value it. I have been my own John Muir on this postage stamp of ground for nearly 30 years. I call this a feldgang and stole the term from Otto Scharmer’s work with presencing. He made me realize that you can take feldgangs where the field is your own mind and memory. But we have a problem with that–you need to factor in time, sometimes lots of it, as well as attention, an ingredient that is in rather short supply. Perhaps if we began to ‘dam up’ attention and time in the streams of our conscious lives we could all take more inner feldgangs. Our society and all its institutions seem to be militantly opposed to that effort, but…. I really do believe as Horton preached that patience and ingenuity can overcome blind power.
What to do? I have created some resources here: https://www.diigo.com/outliner/5ip8ln/%23slowtech?key=pokvtizlgw
Or maybe you can check out this manifesto for inspiration:
There are those who urge us to speed. We resist!
We shall not flag or fail. We shall slow down in the office, and in the bedroom. We shall slow down with growing confidence when all those around us are in a shrill state of hyperactivity (signifying nothing). We shall defend our state of calm, whatever the cost may be. We shall slow down in the dining room and in the streets. We shall slow down everywhere. We shall never surrender!
If you can slow down when all around you are speeding up, then you’re one of us. Be proud that you are one of us and not one of them. For they are fast, and we are slow. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly. Some are born to slowness—others have it thrust upon them. And still others know that lying in bed with a morning cup of tea is the supreme state for mankind.
Or maybe you can pretend I am Brian Eno and you are Nassim Taleb and we are in it for the long haul. For now take a garden walk with me, it’s only a few minutes. Don’t forget to breathe.