Bubbles Distilled By Time.

We all perceive the world through our own little bubbles. As far as our senses go, we only have touch, taste, feeling, hearing, smell and sight to go by. The rest comes from what we glean through those things, be it other people, technology, language, culture, etc.

If the bubble is too small, we feel it a prison and do our best to expand it. Once it’s comfortable, we don’t push it outward as much.

These little bubbles contain ideas that have passed down through the generations, how others have helped us translate our world and all that is in it, etc. We’re part of a greater distillation process, where because of our own limitations we can’t possibly carry everything from previous generations.

If we consider all the stuff that creates our bubble as little bubbles themselves that we pass on to the next generation, it’s a distillation of our knowledge and ideas over time. Some fall away, like the idea of the Earth being the center of the Universe. Some stay with us despite not being used as much as we might like – such as the whole concept of, ‘be nice to each other’.

If we view traffic as something going through time, bubbles are racing toward the future all at the same time, sometimes aggregating, sometimes not. The traffic of ideas and knowledge is distilled as we move forward in time, one generation at a time. Generally speaking, until broadcast media this was a very local process. Thus, red dots trying to get us to do things, wielded by those who wish us to do things from purchasing products to voting for politicians with their financial interests at heart.

Broadcast media made it global by at first giving people information and then by broadcasting opinions to become sustainable through advertising. Social media has become the same thing. How will artificial intelligences differ? Will ChatGPT suddenly spew out, “Eat at Joes!”? I doubt that.

However, those with fiscal interests can decide what the deep learning of artificial intelligences are exposed to. Machine learning is largely about clever algorithms and pruning the data that the algorithms are trained on, and those doing that are certainly not the most unbiased of humanity. I wouldn’t say that they are the most biased either – we’re all biased by our bubbles.

It’s Pandora’s Box. How do we decide what should go in and what should stay out? Well, we can’t, really. Nobody is actually telling us what’s in them now. Our education systems, too, show us that this is not necessarily something we’re good at.

Distilling Traffic

Having pulled Data Transfer out of cars, I’ll revisit traffic itself:

“…Each of them is a physical record of their ancestors, dating back to their, marked by life events – living memory. In minds alone, each human brain is 100 terabytes, with a range of 1 Terabyte to 2.5 Petabytes according to present estimates. Factor in all the physical memory of our history and how we lived, we’re well past that…”

me, Traffic, RealityFragments, June 6th 2023

So while we’re all moving memory in traffic, we’re also moving history. Our DNA holds about 750 megabytes, according to some sources, of our individual ancestry as well as a lot of tweaks to our physiology that make us different people. Let’s round off the total memory to 2 Terabytes, 1 conservative terabyte for what our brain holds and roughly another terabyte of DNA (conservative here, liberal there…). 100 cars with only drivers is 200 Terabytes.

Conservatively. Sort of. Guesstimate built of guesstimates. It’s not so much about the values as the weight, as you’ll see.

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

Richard Feynman, Chapter 1, The Law of Gravitation, p. 34 – The Character of Physical Law (1965)

Now, from all that history, we have ideas that have been passed on from generation to generation. Books immediately come to mind, as do other things like language, culture and tradition. All of these pass along ideas from generation, distilling things toward specific ends even while we distill our own environment to our own ends, or lack thereof which is an end. That’s a lot of information linked together, and that information is linked to the ecological systems that we’re connected to and their history.

Now, we’re beginning to train artificial intelligences on training models. What are in those training models? In the case of large language models, probably lots of human writing. In the case of images, lots of images. And so on. But these models are disconnected in ways that we are not, and we are connected in ways that we’re still figuring out.

I mean, we’re still learning some really interesting stuff about photosynthesis, something most of us were likely taught about in school. So these data models AI’s are being trained on through deep learning are subject to change and have to be changed as soon as information in that data model is outdated.

Who chooses what gets updated? It’s likely not you or me since we don’t even know what’s in these training models. For all we know, it’s data from our cellphones tracking us in real time, which isn’t that farfetched, but for now we can be fairly sure it’s someone who has decided what is in the machine learning models in the first place. Which, again, isn’t us.

What if they decide to omit… your religious text of choice? Or let’s say that they only want to train it on Mein Kampf and literature of that ilk. Things could go badly, and while that’s not really in the offing right now… we don’t know.

This impacts future generations and what they will do and how they will do it. It even impacts present generations. This seems like something we should be paying attention to.

We all live in our own little bubbles, after all, and our bubbles don’t have much influence on learning models for artificial intelligence. That could be a problem. How do we deal with it?

First, we have to start with understanding the problem, and most people including myself are only staring at pieces of the problem from our own little bubbles. Applications like ChatGPT just distill bubbles depending on their models.

Data Transfer

In today’s news, a fruit company continues marketing stuff to people who don’t need what they’re selling for the price it is being sold for – but who buy it because of the brand.

Wait, that isn’t a fruit company. Doesn’t matter. It’s a slow news day.

So I’ll build up some of what I wrote in Traffic here, since it connects two things that are often disconnected and siloed in these chaotic times. Yet there’s some technical stuff that most people don’t know about that may make you think of things a little differently.

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

–Andrew Tanenbaum, 1981

You might be surprised just how much companies depend on trains, planes and automobiles to move data around. XKCD was asked about when the bandwidth of the Internet will surpass that of FedEx. The answer will likely boggle your minds: 2040.

Moving data storage devices is still the best way to move data quickly. It’s not cheap, but it doesn’t matter that much – we’re paying for it, after all, not them.

‘Sneakernet’ existed long before the Internet for much the same reason. The joke originates from around 1975-1976.

“…one day a plumbing contractor’s backhoe dug up and broke the underground cable that carried ALL of the JPL-to-Goldstone data and voice lines through Fort Irwin, and it would take at least a day, maybe longer, to repair. So someone was designated to drive two boxes of 12 reels each of magnetic tape down to JPL, and quickly. The first available vehicle was a white NASA station wagon. Hence the punch line: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of magnetic tapes hurtling down the highway”.

Rounding off the numbers, twenty-four reels of tape at 170 megabytes each is 4080 megabytes. Three and a half hours is 210 minutes. 4080 megabytes divided by 210 works out to about 19.4 megabytes per minute, or 32.3 kilobytes per second (258.4kilobits per second) – over 100 times faster than a 2400 bps data circuit of the time. Note that the incident above involved only 24 reels – which didn’t come anywhere near filling the station wagon, in fact the two boxes of tapes didn’t even fill the front passenger seat. (as an aside, a station wagon is known as an estate car or estate in other parts of the world). Incidentally, that conversation was the first time your contributor ever heard the term backhoe fade used to describe accidental massive damage to an underground cable (compare it to the term rain fade used to describe a fade-out of a point-to-point microwave radio path due to the absorptive effect of water in the air)…”

Stanley Ipkiss, Reddit post.

It’s a very tangible way of viewing how data is transferred too, and perhaps reinforcing the anxiety of seeing a backhoe in your area. Much of what is done on the internet these days is streaming, and I think maybe the present generations coming up may not immediately understand life without streaming. When we kept things on our hard drives and floppy disks, back when they were hard and floppy respectively.

So with that settled in everyone’s mind, let’s talk a bit about what’s being marketed as artificial intelligence, which is not really that much artificial intelligence as it is a bunch of clever algorithms using probability to determine what in it’s thesaurus/image library you would like to see when queried. Where do they get that thesaurus/image library?


I’ll get into this in the next post.

Language as a Communication Technology

We don’t talk about how much language is a communication technology with it’s own compatibilities and incompatibilities. Until around 2004, I had no idea how much of an impact it had. CARDICIS opened my eyes to a lot, as simple as it was.

Growing up, the education system and or my school decided that it was a brilliant idea to teach both Spanish and French at the same time, and I quickly decided neither was worth pursuing not because of my teachers, but because I did not understand how important it was and because it was initially difficult for me. Then I got behind, then I got further behind, and then I was past the point of no return for the academic aspect in secondary school.

If the system was dumb, so was I, but the system was older and I had the excuse of being young and ignorant.

I bring this up for a few reasons. In the vein of what I have been writing about bias, medium and messages and other stuff in the context of artificial intelligence, language is a bigger deal than what most monophones (people who speak only one language) might begin to understand.

“Because language flows in the same direction as other elements of culture… For the most part, language flows in the other direction, from the conquerors to the conquered.”

Speaking Of Tongues: Justin E.H. Smith On The Mysteries Of Language“, Justin E.H. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris

Language through conquest has long been a topic of colonialism. The Treaty of Torsedillas that Spain and Portugal agreed to started off by a Papal decree. Conquest was religious, divided by language because of division of European nations. England, France and the Netherlands simply chose to ignore the treaty. England was still Catholic when the treaty was written, and continued to be until 1534.

The medium was the language, and the message was the language, but the message brought new medium of religion which had it’s own message, and so on.

“…I think we’re now moving into a period when we will leave it to the machines to speak to each other. A lot of the tedious work of coding came during an early phase of computing. We’re developing artificial intelligence to do that for us. When we have only machines speaking machine, however, it’s going to be a big problem, because their language is going to proliferate beyond our ability to fully grasp even how it’s proliferating.”

Speaking Of Tongues: Justin E.H. Smith On The Mysteries Of Language“, Justin E.H. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris.

Well, when artificial intelligences did start talking to each other – we’ve already seen it happen, as in 2017 when Facebook chatbots were designed to negotiate with each other. In 2022, DALL-E2 was noted using it’s own language as well. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had not happened before and we didn’t hear about it. We certainly will be hearing more about it.

None of this is simple. Different languages evolved largely because of geographic isolation until people started wandering between civilizations. There’s other types of isolation too, but in the end what is remarkable is that these large language models, and machine learning/deep learning with a multilingual content may be some of the best ways for us to get that universal translator that Star Trek always has breaking (probably Microsoft updates), and that Douglas Adams simplified to a BabelFish.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai.

And it goes beyond that.

Consider The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Some of you reading this, if not most at the time of this writing, read left to right so when we view the image, we see the wave first, then the boats. Many people don’t even notice the boats and the people on them.

Yet the artist Hokusai was Japanese, and Japanese look from right to left. A native Japanese speaker would likely see the boats first, and therefore the peril those in the boats are in seems more real. A simple thing like the direction of reading impacts how we view images even beyond language.

As a software engineer, I wrestled with internationalization, different keyboard types, etc – but if we accept language as a communication technology, as well as an art, it’s pretty clear that transmitting and receiving information lacks the depth of interpreting.

That can be much more complicated for us, as well as our creations presenting unbiased output for us.

Justin E. H. Smith, who I quoted from an interview, has a fresh book coming out that you can pre-order now: The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, a Philosophy, a Warning

Bias in AI, Social Media, and Beyond.

One of the things that is hard to convey to many people is how bias actually affects things. So I’ll offer a unique perspective, one that involves hamburgers.

All good stories should have a good burger of some sort, whatever your meat or lack of meat allows for. Some people will see ‘burger’ and go for the default of beef in their head, some people will think chicken or turkey or lamb or mushroom or… that right there is a bias.

I’ll go a bit further.

My father, well into his 50s, felt like having a hamburger and I asked him why we didn’t just make them instead of going out and buying some crappy burgers. He admitted something that floored me.

He didn’t know how to make them. Here he was, having lived decades eating burgers, but he never learned how to make burger patties. My father. The guy who always seemed within 10 feet of a burger joint when it came to feeding times.

Now, why was that?

First, he grew up in a Hindu home, and beef was not on the menu at home. He never would have been exposed in that household on how to make a beef patty – or a beef anything, for that matter. So he had an implicit bias from the start on not knowing how to make a hamburger.

He did, according to his oral history, like eating hamburgers, and would go to a place near his school to eat some. His eyes would glow when he discussed that memory, as simple as it might be.

Now, he also got married in the 1970s in the U.S., and Mom handled all the cooking. We cooked burgers there, but he managed to not learn about making the patties. He worked night shift, and so he wasn’t around most of the day anyway. More bias on him not learning how to make a hamburger, which an American of his generation generally considers an art form – but he was not American. More bias.

After decades, he assumed that learning how to make them was beyond him – which seemed peculiar considering how much time and care he would put into an omelette.

If my father were an AI of some sort and you asked him about how to make a beef patty, he would have likely said, “they come in stores.” While not knowing how to make burger patties is a pretty low threshold when compared to human extinction– it’s not hard to see how omitting information can be a handicap and create a bias.

It’s also not hard to see that by creating information or perspectives can also create bias. If we don’t teach AI about weight loss, an AI might suggest amputation for someone wondering how to lose weight – and even recommend low weight prosthetics. Ridiculous, but we never thought kids would be eating tide pods. We don’t exactly have as high a threshold as we might like to think.

There are good and bad biases, and they’re largely subjective. We see systemic biases now over all sorts of things – can you imagine them happening faster and more efficiently?

Aside from the large sweeping biases of culture, the artificial construct of race, and the availability of information, what other biases do you think can impact an artificial intelligence? Social media? Beyond?

Trinidad and Tobago and/vs AI.

When I wrote ‘Artificial Extinction‘, I briefly touched on coverage related to artificial intelligence here in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s hard to explain just how out of mind it is, so I’ll just write a bit of the local scene.

Today, as I stood in line waiting an annoying amount of time waiting to pay for the 5l bottle of water at a local convenience store, I glanced at the headlines. As usual, there was someone having trouble with something at the head of the line, the other register was closed, and the line formed.

One of the benefits of that line is that I get to run my eyes across the front pages of the local newspapers: Newsday, Trinidad Express and Trinidad Guardian.

The Rastafarian gentleman in front of me found something of interest in the Trinidad Express. I saw something about the need for Constitutional Reform, a picture of “Indian Arrival Day Stalwarts”, ‘Paradise in Peril’ and a plea from the mother of a kidnapping victim. Having been back and forth over the decades, the news seems to say the same with only names changing. The politicians play politics, the crime has spiraled so long that it is now in control of the criminals, and nobody has fresh ideas. They all seem to be foreign and abused ideas, much like some of the used cars you can buy from Japan.

This is the canvas upon which local news is painted daily. I thought about seeing Trinidad and Tobago represented on Planet Earth (Episode 6) through Grand Riviere Village’s volunteer work to assist and protect the leatherback turtles. when I did a web search, I found the leatherback turtle site offline (something I’m considering digging into). That’s a shame. Keeping a website online for something with international attention seems important.

I get home, walking past the condo’s office, I wave briefly at the administrator who was busy talking with someone. 15 years as a corporate secretary, retired, decades of experience that could soon be replaced with something purchased off the shelf. The latent thought of my own experience being replaced looms quietly in the background as I enter the elevator, my thoughts on how to connect the local perspective on technology and thus artificial intelligence to the larger global perspective of “this could end very badly“.

My friends and neighbors are more worried about their family’s security than some online application spitting out gobs of text when asked a question. In a land where there are no questions, no one needs an oracle. The economic diversity of Trinidad and Tobago is simply not there, the oil money stolen or squandered (or both), and the youths see increasingly little opportunity outside of crime, as we talked about while I was at the barber shop last week.

Artificial intelligence is not going to help with these things, because these are largely broken systems that those who profit from do not want to fix. ChatGPT can go blue in the face telling the politicians what they should do. They’ve been told what it has to offer thousands of times before over the decades. The faces largely have not changed, only grown older and in one case distinctly more cadaverous.

Years ago, I had a Minister message me once because something I wrote, and he asked where I got the data from – I cited the source that he should have been aware of, the open data portal of Trinidad and Tobago. He was agog. He’d been asking for that information for over a year and no one seemed to know where it was. The website has since been updated, the data not so much.

Meanwhile, the largest employer in Trinidad and Tobago is the government, where many good people participate in overcomplicated wheels of bureaucracy. We could use technology to replace much of that, but then where would the people work? And since they vote, who would they vote for if they lose their jobs?

With this context, now, I can now discuss AI in Trinidad and Tobago in the context of jobs, particularly the last 3 paragraphs:

“…Taking charge of this rapidly evolving scenario of workplace change will demand one fundamental and overdue evolution in governance, the continuous gathering and distribution of actionable information about how this country operates.

It was a note that Jonathan Cumberbatch, Assistant VP, Human Resources and Administration at UTT touched on cautiously when he noted that, “Data drives most of the conversation outside of TT, but we don’t have a sense of that in TT.”

The propensity of governance to proceed on feelings, hunches and political expedience might have worked in the past, but the national distaste for transparently gathered, publicly available information cannot continue into an era hallmarked by a reliance on reliable, continuously updated datasets.”

AI and your job“, Mark Lyndersay, TechNewsTT and BitDepth#1408 for May 29, 2023

Of course, it wasn’t a global roundup of people related to AI, just those with local interests talking to the local Chamber of Commerce related to their products. Microsoft was definitely there, others… not here.

The short answer is that Trinidad and Tobago isn’t ready. Neither is most of the rest of the world, which is why there’s concern by some. I’ve seen firsthand government offices and even business offices completely ignore data driven approaches. Just recently, I proposed starting with the basics in the condo’s office, only to hear that without actual data they’re just pushing forward into a ticket system to solve all the problems. In time they will find it creates new ones, but that will be another story.

The point is that if you can’t even do data driven stuff, keep a volunteer website up when there’s international attention, the wave of artificial intelligence that will drive the world economy will leave many people stranded on islands, perhaps even twin island Republics. What will be done about this?

Maybe they’ll talk about it in Parliament. Then, if history repeats itself, nothing will happen.

Or, things could change. Things definitely should change, but those changes need to happen faster and faster as the government slides into the Pitch Lake, dragging it’s citizens with it. .

Artificial Extinction.

The discussion regarding artificial intelligence continues, with the latest round of cautionary notes making the rounds. Media outlets are covering it, like CNBC’s “A.I. poses human extinction risk on par with nuclear war, Sam Altman and other tech leaders warn“.

Different versions of that article written by different organizations are all over right now, but it derives from one statement on artificial intelligence:

Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.

Center for AI Safety, Open Letter, undated.

It seems a bit much. Granted, depending on how we use AI we could be on the precipice of a variety of unpredictable catastrophes, and while pandemics and nuclear war definitely poses direct physical risks, artificial intelligence poses more indirect risks. I’d offer that can make it more dangerous.

In the context of what I’ve been writing about, we’re looking at what we feed our heads with. We’re looking at social media being gamed to cause confusion. These are dangerous things. Garbage in, Garbage out doesn’t just apply to computers – it applies to us.

More tangibly, though, it can adversely impact our way(s) of life. We talk about the jobs it will replace, with no real plan on how to employ those displaced. Do people want jobs? I think that’s the wrong question that we got stuck with in the old paint on society’s canvas. The more appropriate question is, “How will people survive?”, and that’s a question that we overlook because of the assumption that if people want to survive, they will want to work.

Is it corporate interest that is concerned about artificial intelligence? Likely not, they like building safe spaces for themselves. Sundar Pichai mentioned having more lawyers, yet a lawyer got himself into trouble when he used ChatGPT to write court filings:

“The Court is presented with an unprecedented circumstance,” Castel wrote in a previous order on May 4. “A submission filed by plaintiff’s counsel in opposition to a motion to dismiss is replete with citations to non-existent cases… Six of the submitted cases appear to be bogus judicial decisions with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations.”

The filings included not only names of made-up cases but also a series of exhibits with “excerpts” from the bogus decisions. For example, the fake Varghese v. China Southern Airlines opinion cited several precedents that don’t exist.”

Lawyer cited 6 fake cases made up by ChatGPT; judge calls it “unprecedented”“, Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica, May 30th 2023

It’s a good thing there are a few people out there relying on facts instead of artificial intelligence, or we might stray into a world of fiction where those that control the large language models and general artificial intelligences that will come later will create it.

Authoritarian governments could manipulate machine learning and deep learning to assure everyone’s on the same page in the same version of the same book quite easily, with a little tweaking. Why write propaganda when you can have a predictive text algorithm with a thesaurus of propaganda strapped to it’s chest? Maybe in certain parts of Taliban controlled Afghanistan, it will detect that the user is female and give it a different set of propaganda, telling the user to stay home and stop playing with keyboards.

It’s not hard to imagine all of this. It is a big deal, but in parts of the world like Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t see much about it because there’s no real artificial intelligence here, even as local newspaper headlines indicate real intelligence in government might be a good idea. The latest article I found on it in local newspapers online is from 2019, but fortunately we have TechNewsTT around discussing it. Odd how that didn’t come up in a Google search of “AI Trinidad and Tobago”.

There are many parts of the world where artificial intelligence is completely off the radar as people try to simply get by.

The real threat of any form of artificial intelligence isn’t as tangible as nuclear war or pandemics to people. It’s how it will change our way(s) of life, how we’ll provide for families.

Even the media only points at that we want to see, since the revenue model is built around that. The odds are good that we have many blind spots that the media doesn’t show us even now, in a world where everyone who can afford it has a camera and the ability to share information with the world – but it gets lost in the shuffle of social media algorithms if it’s not something that is organically popular.

This is going to change societies around the globe. It’s going to change global society, where the access to large language models may become as important as the Internet itself was – and we had, and still have, digital divides.

Is the question who will be left behind, or who will survive? We’ve propped our civilizations up with all manner of things that are not withstanding the previous changes in technology, and this is a definite leap beyond that.

How do you see the next generations going about their lives? They will be looking for direction, and presently, I don’t know that we have any advice. That means they won’t be prepared.

But then, neither were we, really.

Gaming The Medium

Even as we paint on society’s canvas, society paints on our individual canvases, and in this modern world of the Internet, social media and games, there’s a lot of paint being thrown around. Our world changes us, we change our world.

It’s not all as pretty as staged videos on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook reels, where ‘influencers’ do their best to find attractive red dots for people to chase. It’s in their interest. Before the Internet, it was broadcast media, but now with social media there is an increasingly large illusion of being able to interact when we might just be interacting with some algorithms attached to a dictionary.

Algorithms, though, carry dangers.

Via CuriosityGuide.

The video outlines some of what has been happening that isn’t good.

Algorithms, though, are important and can be used for good. We don’t see that as much as we should, largely because the wide swath of algorithms seem to be at the least questionable in whether they are good or not. That questionability comes from what we all want to see from the world and what cost we wish to pay for it – or, in the case of Internet trolls, the cost which we wish to have others pay for the world they want to see. I have more to write about trolls, but not yet.

What do we want? Before we figure out who we are, we seem to be told who we need to be. We mimic behaviors as children, and we grow within the framework supplied by our environments – rewards and punishments are set. We begin playing the game. In an environment, or, subjectively, an anti-environment.

Life In the Anti-Environment: Learning How To Play is an interesting paper by Adam Pugen in this regard – you can find the PDF of the paper here. It’s focused on video games, yet much of what is in there could apply to social media since the world is increasingly contrived and served through flat screens. This contrivance has been noted and mocked by more than one person. This German artist is a wonderful example, mocking instagram photos.

In any game, there are things that are possible and things that are less possible. One of the more common real world games, a lottery will sell us on the fact that there is a possibility to win despite there being a extremely low probability. The lottery has the distinction of being forced to be honest about the odds, but I have yet to see that honesty in the advertising for a lottery. What do you spend, what do you get? Most people see spending a few dollars every week over the course of their lifetime a worthwhile risk – otherwise there would be no lottery.

The game environment is simply defined. Enter the world of multiplayer games, which connect people through the internet and allow them to interact within certain guidelines. People, of course, find the loopholes and some enjoy the anonymous trolling aspect since they are faceless names and avatars. Others try to play the game by plodding through, others pay to get ahead, all depending on the game and how it is set up. If that doesn’t sound like a metaphor for modern social media, I don’t know what is.

All around the world, people are playing the social media game. How one ‘wins’ is dependent on how one views success, just like everyone else, but since social media is attached to real life more closely than other games there is the financial aspect that is quite real for the majority of the planet. How one loses, implicitly, is by not winning.

Now that we have large language models and the promises of artificial intelligence making things so much better, the game is more complicated.

If money is how we measure success, there are billions of people losing. We could change how we could measure success, or we could change the odds. Right now, the odds seem to be going the wrong way. There has to be some middle ground between tossing out participation trophies and a few winners taking all.


Broken Time.

This space was going to be intentionally left blank as I spend some time on Memorial Day, but then this I was reminded by a vibrating watch that I had to write something here – a reminder.

Reminders allow us to remember to do things, which is also a fitting thing to write about given that it is Memorial Day.

The day itself sits comfortably on American calendars, itself a technology from the Roman Empire era. It allowed scheduling and organization. In time, it enforced scheduling and organization and to some today, it is a tyranny. Deadlines make wooshing sounds as they rush by.

The technology that I was reminded by is voluntary, I set it up and of course it doesn’t have settings to take public holidays off – and if it did, it might not work because where I am located, Memorial Day is not a public holiday. The world outside of the United States trudges on.

Much of the reminders I get these days are involuntary. Some software company wants to update something just about every time I touch a different device. The poor woman at the optical center who wants to remind me of needing to check my eyesight this year calls while I’m in the middle of talking to someone.

Reminders can be interruptions, as the reminder was today for me.

When I was younger, I recall seeing those older than myself sit quiet for periods of time, lost in thought or memory – or both. It was an inordinate amount of time, I thought, to be so long without motion and observation. As I grew older, I learned the time is never enough, there’s always something that shakes us from the moments of deep thought, of reflection, of revisiting events, of studying problems and possible solutions, or simply taking a moment to be human.

We don’t talk about the time it takes to be ‘simply human’ that much, and we have neatly shoved it into the realm of the introverts that the extroverts scream outside of. It’s necessary, and while technology pushes the frontiers of productivity employers push the frontier of the clock, tapping their watches insistently as they look at us.

The difference between a reminder and an interruption is the importance of the what you are doing versus what you needed to be reminded of. If you’re rushing to get online to check for an email about a deathly sick relative, that interruption from Microsoft is likely a very negative experience.

“You’ll upgrade my operating system to the next version of Windows for free? That news on Aunt Samantha can wait! Screw that lady!”, simply doesn’t seem to be something would think in such a situation.

It does seem that in my lifetime, we get interrupted more than reminded. That could also simply be my anecdotal experience as I grow older, but it does seem to me that Pavlov might have a lot to write about these days.