“There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users’ —illegal drugs and software.” –Edward Tufte
I RECENTLY WATCHED the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. It was disturbing. I’d always known that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were tracking everything we do on their platforms. I understood the Internet adage: “If the service is free, you’re the product.”
I also knew how the underlying machine-learning algorithms, the code running in the background, was learning more and more about each of us as we and billions of other users voluntarily fed it more and more data.
Before time began, before this creation of light
and from a slab of darkness hewn the day and the night,
there was direction, we’re told, with the Spirit of God
hovering not below nor to the left or right, but directly above
the formless and empty darkness of the deep.
Before land and sea, before fish and feather; before stars erupted from black firmament to watch over the night, before Man arose from dust there was only one direction with the eyes of darkness staring not down nor to the left or right but upward at the silent and golden…
These are the precise GPS coordinates
where this island ends and becomes
an iron-colored sea chipping away at mythology,
the shore littered with meager treasures
harvested from aging shipwrecks
groping their way toward icy reprieve:
a red bucket, an orange buoy, some yellow rope
hidden beneath ashen driftwood
bleached by brine, sun, and time.
We drop our packs and make camp
but not a fire because it is forbidden. …
THE FUTURE POSSIBILITIES for our species, as well as the millions of other species we selfishly share the planet with, were significantly changed on Monday, July 16th 1945 at precisely 5:30 a.m.
At that moment, the landscape of New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto desert was engulfed by a flash of beautiful light brighter than a dozen suns.
That beautiful light was caused by a very ugly explosion 10,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
So hot in fact that every living creature within a one-mile radius of ground-zero was annihilated and the very ground itself, the sand, was…
ONE OF MY FAVORITE scenes from the sci-fi movie The Matrix Reloaded, is when the protagonist, Neo, accompanies Councillor Hamann down into the engineering level of Zion, the underground city where members of the last remaining human society are hiding out from the machines seeking to destroy them.
“I like it down here,” Councillor Hamann exclaims as they look out over the cavernous room filled with humming machines providing potable water, breathable air, and consistent power to the inhabitants of Zion. “I like to be reminded that this city survives because of these machines. These machines are keeping us alive…
The stationmaster’s whistle calls our train back out into the night, leaving behind this moment of brief brightness and people dressed in black under fluorescent lights, silent chess pieces in this game of life: somewhere a funeral, elsewhere a bride and groom celebrate their union, a child is born, a dog dies, priests perform communion while kings & paupers alike squabble over the spoils of the day. It’s 2 a.m. at Katowice railway station and this night train to Prague clanks away down these tracks haunted by a history that carried its cargo to unspeakable ends: ovens and labor camps…
IT’S EASY TO FORGET that we all live within sight of the galaxy’s largest nuclear reactor: the sun. The sun’s photosphere, the part we can see during the day from 93 million miles away when it isn’t overcast, is made up of mostly hydrogen. All of that hydrogen fuels the sun’s reactive core where temperatures reach such unfathomable levels — 25 million degrees Fº — that the word “hot” fails to describe such extreme heat.
At the sun’s core, spent hydrogen is converted into helium, which the sun will desperately burn later in its life cycle before collapsing, cooling, and…
There’s a solitary light on the barn just up the road that guides my eye through the blackness of night out across the pasture framed by the kitchen window. It’s not “The Light” as in the one “at the end of the tunnel” just a dim glow suspended somewhere between heaven and earth that we also shouldn’t confuse with the sun not yet risen nor moon languishing in solitary reflection upon the pond. Near-death survivors are fond of reporting to have seen bright white lights and being blinded by flashes from a choir of angels armed with Kodak Instamatics. Research…
The Wall, which we walked through a little while ago, is a sign not simply of the passing problem in the politics of one region; it is a sign of the things that are deeply wrong in the human heart itself; that terrible fear of the other, of the stranger, which keeps us all in one kind of prison or another.
— Archbishop of Canterbury speaking in Bethlehem, Christmas 2006
ON THE ROAD to Bethlehem, I notice our driver is missing two fingers. …
THE FUTURE of the human race was indelibly changed on Monday, July 16, 1945 at 5:29 a.m.
At that moment, the rain had finally stopped falling after a long night of thunderstorms and what would have been just another sunrise washing over the desolate, arroyo-scarred landscape of the Jornada del Muerto desert was suddenly engulfed by a flash of light brighter than a dozen suns.
The light was so bright it could be seen across the entire state of New Mexico as well as parts of Arizona, Texas, and down into Mexico.
Scott Dewing is a technologist, teacher, and writer. He was born the same year the Internet was invented. This does not make him special— just old.