Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 - a challenge to Integrity?

So, here we are, digesting the knowledge that the information really does seem to want to be free.

2010 might prove to be the year of Trust No-One, as the whole time it seemed one revelation after another about the state of what we used to think of as our 'privacy'; and the secrecies and abuses of privacy practiced by governments and corporations were brought to light.  Maybe we found some new black and white for a moment or two there, before the inevitable greying of entropy and the chaos of life set in.  The contrasts we saw remained stark right to the end.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I shall quote Julian Assange to illustrate:

"What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I'm a villian.

Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he's Man of the Year."

So at the end, we all got a nice fat dose of what we knew all along: those who control the mechanisms of society (to the extent that they are controlled) lie, hide, and don't play fair and they do it for their own gains. 

 "We now know what happens when we build institutions that are not transparent to our eyes even though they demand transparency from us. We now know that the net we depend upon can be yanked away from us if we anger those who control it. We now know there are those in control. We believed the net to be mere anarchy loosed upon the world - turns out it’s just another shopping mall." - Mark Pesce.

Many are now awake to just how much of what we once thought of as 'our' information is simply now let loose.  There are many who have risen in anger about all this.  Many will change the way they operate online at the very least to try and re-protect their personal life from scrutiny.  And there are those who will simply accept that this is a new reality and enjoy the good parts, adapt to the more irksome ones.  I think this year will see a massive rise in the use of all sorts of online tools and methods to re-privatise not just personal spaces, but protected group spaces too.

Still, the cat's out of the bag.  Someone can upload a picture of you and without even tagging your name to it The Machine may recognise you and tag the picture for you.  Another little data blip attached to your datalife doppelganger.  We've been feeding this shadow-self for a generation now, allowing ourselves to be tracked with our credit card purchases, our net surfing, our social networking and even our physical locations through our ever-present mobile devices.  And since these datasets are valuable to someone, because they tell a pretty good story about us all added up,  there has been an ironic twist added to the struggle of your information to free itself; the corporations to whom it has dollar meaning, and the governments to whom it has political purpose wish to liberate the data for their own use, and now those very institutions have lost control of it through the mechanisms and agents of we (the people) wishing to wrest the power back from them.

I started writing a post about privacy quite some time ago, and restarted again when US student Tyler Clementi killed himself.  You might remember, he briefly became a posthumous cause celebre for those railing against our new information tools' ability to facilitate the rapid spread of personal information.  In his case, this information was a webcam recording made (without his knowledge or consent) by a roommate of him having sex with another man in his dorm room, and posted on Facebook.  Tyler was not exactly openly gay, it seems, and in a sad irony he posted his last words on Facebook.  "Jumping off GW bridge.  Sorry."

We have never been able to legislate or dominate our citizenry sufficiently to ensure nice and proper behaviour.  Never been done, ever.  Yet now anyone with a net connection can say anything about anyone, reveal any information and imagery, and there's nothing we can do about it except hope no-one does OR- to not care.

Imagine if Tyler lived in a reality where coming out was OK, because obviously he didn't.  A reality even where 'coming out' was not a term we had a use for any more, because sexual preference was just not an issue for anyone.  Expand that thinking out, to a place where people just naturally 'did right' by one another, where there was no argument over creeds or rights,  and you've entered the heart one of John Lennon's greatest pieces - Imagine.

That might be a little way off yet, I think.  In the meantime, how to adapt?

There was much hue and cry in the UK when they started getting full-on with the whole CCTV thing, but then the powers-that-be  and Have Your Say Champions Of Justice rallied around the tired old cry of "if you've got nothing to hide then what is the problem?"

Well, um, exactly.  What if, right, we just behaved with integrity?  You know, told the truth?  Sure, I've been as guilty as anyone of selectivity and creativity with what is real for me throughout my life, but eventually properly worked out that it was a shitty way to live.  The explosion of online media has made it so easy to show only a part of yourself (or none, to be seemingly anonymous) or to present only a carefully-crafted version of who you are, and it's so tempting to do that.  As we used to say in NLP class "why be yourself when you could be someone really useful?"  I've tried to stay faithful to my stated aim of honesty here in this blog and otherwise in my life these last years.  It doesn't have to be full disclosure (after all, I have my honest commitments to care for others and protect their confidentialities and privacies) but it does require a certain willingness to be open about one's failings and weaknesses.

Of course, it's a rare person who sees themselves very clearly much of the time anyway, so we can only be honest about what we believe to be our truth at the time - and be honest when that changes.

Had Tyler Clementi had maybe just a bit more support from a friend, or a family member, he may have made some different choices.  Had his roommate been behaving with a little more empathy and compassion - which I believe we all feel but are not always honest with ourselves about - then things might have been different too.  I'm not here to judge in that way, but what seems clear to me is this:

  •  Your information can be gotten out, and very likely will be.
  •  Hiding is a choice, but requires virtual hermitage, and even have a past.
  •  If you spend the time to get comfortable with being who you really are, publicly, and choose to try and behave well toward your fellow man, then when it all comes out - who cares?
It can probably only go one of two main ways, I reckon - a hive mind with massive homogeneity where new ideas flare up as storms in the zeitgeist and are quickly either subsumed or discarded - the Borg.  Or a consensus to agree to respect boundaries that others erect around themselves, should they choose to do so, for no-one will be able to enforce such a respect.  The first way to me has dangers of totalitarianism and too great a loss of individual liberty and creativity.  But might well work anyway.  The second way seems far more fulfilling, and more in line with how I see our spiritual and social evolution.  But without honesty, no-one wll be able to be a part of it.  

Can you see a different way that has a good ending?

Happy New Year all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Someone died yesterday, and it was.....good.

For the last year or so, I've been following the story of a young woman, Andrea Clegg, from a distant country, as she's been waiting for a heart transplant.  Her blog site makes for great reading if you treat it as a story and start at the beginning, you can find it here:

There's a certain kinship in us folks who have dangerous or life-limiting conditions going on, and with the whole Rise Of The Internet has come a greater ability for people to share and support one another.  I came across Andrea's story through my association on the Blenderized Diet forum, a place of great community knowledge and support for tube-fed people and their carers who want to use real food, because Andrea's sister-in-law Shannon is a member there, and has a tube-fed son Ashton (who, as an aside, has one of the mad-craziest smiles ever seen on the interwebs).  Shannon just popped a little post up one day about Andrea's story and new blog, and I started following.

I'll admit that there is a subtle and subterranean sense of ghoulishness involving yourself - even just as a witness - to someone in this boat.  You're watching a life-and-death thing here after all and by saying hello and giving your heartfelt wishes you're now invested somehow in the outcome.  There is a little of the car-wreck-watcher syndrome.  But that's not really what draws one in.

Andrea's suffered from such bad heart problems that for a long time now as well as an implanted defibrillator she's been tubed up to an LVAD, essentially a battery-in-a-backpack powered artificial heart, and came pretty close to death on multiple occasions along the journey.  It's trite to say, and these days it's almost completely expected to say, but Andrea is a rather special person, and so are the people around her.  That's why it's been a privilege to watch and why last night was so terrifying and elating all at once for me - just some guy in at the other end of a computer in a faraway land.

Andrea's a pretty small lady, meaning that many donor hearts simply wouldn't fit.  She knew that chances were she'd be waiting for a child's heart, just to add extra poignancy to the whole organ donor thing.  It's not like a heart is coming from a live donor now, is it.  This, some other factors, but mainly the woeful rate of organ donation in the US have all combined to make a lengthy wait.  She celebrated her first anniversary on the list not long ago.

There was a false alarm a few months ago, with a possible donor situation......oh well.  Never mind.

Last night (my time) she got the call, and the drill began.  Status updates were made on Facebook, posts were made on the BD list, the blog was updated, and all the many, many people that have been sharing this journey - family, friends and strangers alike - lobbed in their blessings, wishes, prayers and tears that all would go well, that the heart would be a match, that all would go well.....

To say Andrea is a brave woman is also trite.  Of course she is.  She carries on living as normally as possible despite having this amazing burden of uncertainty, advocating for organ donation, sharing her story with all who will listen to aid that cause, and never complains of her own ills publicly.  She has faced down unkind comments (can you believe it??) on news stories about her with grace and compassion, and has been it would seem in some ways a core of strength for all of her carers to draw from.  So saying Andrea's brave or courageous or gracious or simply awesome is redundant.  Because it's obvious.

What is less obvious at first glance though is the fortitude and sheer love of those around her, and this has been some of the greatest stuff to watch.  I mean, just imagine for a moment being her husband.  No really, just imagine it for a second.  Shaun; kudos to you.  That is all I have to say.  The sort of man that can make you quietly proud to be a man.  Props, fella.  Shannon, a tireless campaigner and fierce sort-of protector, an unexpected gift when you get yourself a new sister-in-law.  And all the innumerate family and close friends doing all their bits, pulling their little bits of weight, all in the same direction, towards a new heart for their loved one.

Maybe you had to be there, I dunno.

So anyway, yes, someone died yesterday.  And it turns out they were an organ donor, and all the right boxes were ticked.  It was late and I had yo go to bed still wondering if the heart was a match but when I got up and got online, well, there it was.  As I write Andrea has a new heart, beating inside her, doing its thing, and the doctors are completely happy with the way it all went - even the operation was shorter than usual.  It's early days of course, and I'm tipping she's going to be one SORE lady when she wakes up and for a while, but for now she's no longer dependent on wires and batteries and pumps and electric shock devices and what-have-you.

Look - a heartbeat.

All because someone had the heart - pun fully intended - and created or was lucky enough to have the family support to be an organ donor.  Their life has given not new life, but rather renewed life.  To Andrea, and to all the souls around her now weeping and throbbing with happiness and joy.  This amazing woman and all the people who have grown in ways the planet just needs more of have been given a stay, a prolonging of life on earth; and for this we all would best be grateful.

Who knows?  Yes, the thing that is almost never said is that of course this might not work, and Andrea may not make it through the recovery phase.  And if that happens, OK, life has its sadnesses too.  But even just taking all the time up until now, this moment, and all the good that has come from this journey for everyone involved and even those of us just able to barrack from the sidelines - hasn't it all been worth it?

So the question now remains:  if you are not a registered organ donor, why not?

And lastly Andrea?  Good luck.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lunch at my place - check it out

OK, so I've posted it on the other blog because it's fairly topical for that audience, but I think you'll find it intriguing and enlightening also.  Plus, there's good music, and a cute ending.

Go HERE to see.