The Young(ish) Fogey

A few days ago, I was confronted by a real-life fogey, and while neither of us is young, neither are we truly old, and my Young(ish) Fogey is definitely not sufficient in his years or dryness of ears to espouse what he openly shared with me. Of similar views on many things, and even proximate views on the very thing, we nonetheless diverged in a way I will essay to describe.

Familiarity, and a kind of nonexistent kinship, led me to quickly, too quickly, venture where I should I not have when my Young(ish) Fogey was apprising of the latest in personal developments. We were standing in the midst of an under-lavish event, raising fundraising drinks with an expected enthusiasm, but not more. It was only when I extended too quickly, dashed into an opening that was not one – and I should have known better – that the room and our association shrunk back to its actual dimensions. I will only say, as for his occupations, he is a lobbyist. But that’s okay! We need those, I thought and still want to believe.

It was on a related subject to his issue – central in my mind but certainly not to his – that I for better and likely worse parried, drifted too quickly, giving him the obligation to correct my wanderings, follow them up with further remonstrances, all tell-tale of the Fogey, I already knew. ‘But he was so young(ish),’ I ignored my own warnings. You think you may speak freely, but you may not understand how little your interlocutor may have given themselves to do so, or how long since they had given up on doing so. A quarrel was afoot, one that I had no real use for, nor did I wish to engage for amusement – either of which would have been a better prospect.

Friendship – really acquaintance – is not openness nor grounds for sharing. People can get offended by forward comments, especially in under-lavish settings. An assumption that he might provide helpful insight turned into a realization that I was dealing with a guardian of the middle. It was genuinely startling – a young(ish) fogey in the wild, though actually it was I who had wondered absently into his habitat. I was exhilarated, but all the same terrified with indifference. Convinced that compromise, a return to some unstated agreement and mutual concession was the key to progress and problem-solving, he counseled further, extensive negotiation with the facing-eating leopard Party as the ONLY way forward. I looked around the room and all the exits were sealed. I realized even the bar staff were trapped behind scrimmed tables. The folly of continuing was real and apparent, of further incursions where I only emphasized my blasphemy, or of re-winding the preceding five minutes back to some reparable shore, was all but impossible. I could go neither forward nor back.
I explained the leopards, the half-eaten faces littering our discourse. But, he objected then summarily effused, ‘if you demonize the leopards, you are part of the problem.’

I assured him that I would continue the treachery of leopard portrayals, based solely upon the mangled faces left in their ruin. This only precipitated a kind of filibuster that drained my interest as it went, so much that I was able to finish my drink. Uninterrupted, my young(ish) fogey soon also lost the vim of his harangue. I puffed hm back up with a couple of pepper-ish comments on related leopard doings, until he finally asked me: is everyone who voted for the face-eating leopards Party evil? To complain of binaries but reduce your argument to one is almost the truest sign of the young(ish) fogey. But there is one worse, one still more true. Should they deign to make the charge of ‘revolutionary’ in your pitiful direction, it is two-part gambit. For you will be re-assured, at least in the young(ish) fogey’s mind, when he calls himself, as captain protector of his mighty, right and true intentions, a ‘radical moderate.’

All just to remind: we really should be careful about what we say to people.

Tech Fascination Capture


A somewhat cheeky line connects the many points along what I’ll call our Tech Fascination Capture. Describing that line can be tricky, but that’s what blogs are for, so here goes.

Interpretive problems that computers cannot solve, or rather those they can solve that aren’t the important ones, are at the center of a cognitive gap that is only increasing – and doing so fueled by our gaze and awe. We can’t seem to figure out why or how Russian troll farms might have swayed the most recent U.S. presidential election, if not others. Will artificial intelligence and the occupations lost to robots be good/a net value/desired? Self-driving cars – will we get there safely?

Much of this mystery is obscured by the need for a single answer to any one question, of course. But we are also frightened by the prospect of a single answer to multiple questions. This fear is a sort of disbelief itself, based on our own uncertainty about what we know from what we’ve learned, plus this more recent tendency to fall back on what everyone knows to be true. I’m actually unsure about the origin of that dynamic, though I am unafraid to speculate.

But, one thing is certain (and demanding of emphatic, if parenthetical, punctuation!): the answers lie in the questions themselves.

On social media misinformation, we don’t seem to want to contemplate the very top-level tradeoff: is the ability to connect with people worth the price of manipulation? That is, transmission of information and disinformation flow through the same tube – whether we believe one is sacred and the other profanely immoral or not is of not consequence whatsoever. There is one tube/portal; these are its uses; do you want to play?

Will robots kick us to the curb and take our places? Who programs what robots can do? What will machine learning do about the should question? Is there such a thing as robot creativity, outside of MFA programs, that is?

Self-driving cars: so few startups and new products have anything to do with actual technology anymore that this one – which does – should (ha!) be attached with a free-rider proviso. The billions of dollars and pixels that accrue to its pursuit all ignore the same problem with driverless cars: unanticipated events. If a couple, holding hands, is jay walking and a young mother is in the crosswalk with her carriage on the same section of a street simultaneously, who gets run over? It all happens in an instant, plus bikes, buses, other cars (are there bad self-drivers?), weather, darkness… the idea that these variables can be solved is an answer to a solution, not a problem.

This is not to suggest understanding our capture is simple. But let’s think about it.

2012, R.I.P.

Look back, look ahead. It proves difficult to do with much accuracy, or honesty. We reach for the rose-tinted glasses first, and in this way have learned well.

Humans are fragile, vulnerable, to wreckage of the physical body but vulnerable also to flattery, then to the higher beliefs in our better selves (let’s call them b.s. for short). In part we owe our fellows at least that, and it smoothes the way for beauty, when and wherever it may arise. But it also lays us low for the wiles of corporate propaganda and short-term myth, professionally designed to appeal not to our better selves but the rosier view of our b.s.

When, in the course of human events (love the poetry of that assumption), the consequences of which we now must absolutely extend to the planet, this rosy view becomes the prime facilitator to the shattering – of our environment as well as our human decency – wait: have you ever experienced the horrifying if inconvenient search for glasses that were simply and already perched upon your head? Glasses you may be already wearing can be similarly [mis]placed.

The point is, and it is here somewhere, that we must first realize that we’re wearing the glasses. That is, most of what we see, we view through this filter. Hence appall waits beyond our grasp for a host of terrific insults on our way to the store. How far we had to drive, what we bought, how much it costs, what we do with it, the packaging it came in and what we do with that… the list goes on and on from that one simple trip and much is required to secure the lid that keeps all these questions from ruining our trip. If you cut down on any aspect of the errand, the insults change somewhat. There; we felt the glasses for a moment. Maybe it was enough, maybe I’ll let them slip, even take them off for a while, and re-adjust my vision toward my own, actual b.s.

All the best to you in the New Year, including a sustained view in the direction of your better self.