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…every which-a-way. (The Coasters, 1957)

When we were all just first hearing about the “web” in the early 90s, I worked in the software business in Palo Alto, California, then and now the heart of Silicon Valley. Tim Berners-Lee had invented the World Wide Web (aka www.) and Univeral Resource Locators (url’s) as a way to find documents stored away in large-scale database networks.

Innovators in the Valley and elsewhere rushed headlong into search engine research and started businesses as fast as they could. In 1994 or so, a front-runner was WAIS (ways), or Wide Area Information Systems in Menlo Park. A colleague and I watched as the WAIS founders demo’d a search engine we thought we might want to embed in our enterprise software development system to help find code and other bits hidden away on corporate hard drives.

Later, but still before Google, the dad of our son’s friend showed us Surfwax, with its “practical tools for harnessing today’s information.” It was another search engine cum research system looking for a natural audience and a ticket to the big time. And there were many others. Search engine technology leveraged earlier work in artificial intelligence and decision support systems. Everything has roots.

Within a few years, Google gave us its eminently simple front end that worked to let us discover the exploding universe of resources we might locate, and a behemoth was born.

 

 

 

We can’t go back to the days when most of America worked in manufacturing. Ubiquitous computing, robotics, globalization, wage-pressure, massive productivity increases, and being way behind the 8-ball on job re-training all mean we can’t re-create the American job market of the decades from the 1870’s to the 1970’s.

However, we can do a heck of lot better than we have been doing over the last thirty years to encourage our economy to maintain a healthy diversity, preserve American middle-classism for the many who don’t have the ability or the time left in their lives to become big data analysts, coders, video game designers, or medical concierges.

Witness a piece on CBS 60 Minutes about how a guy in Mississippi is a one-man chamber of commerce and has brought manufacturing jobs back to the Golden Triangle region there. Sort of a 21st century Horace Greeley.

 

community

11/03/2017 — Leave a comment

Last evening, we heard a David Brooks lecture nearby that confirmed our appreciation for what he says and how he says it. We’re big fans. He gave a preview of his next book, an assessment of, among other things, what needs to happen to make it through our current “slough of despond” to our next phase as a culture and community. As usual, he draws a compelling conclusion based on solid history and analysis, and delivered with humor and accessibility.

The “we’re all in this together” generation that fought and emerged humbled from World War II yielded in the 60s to the “free to be you and me” generation that in the 80s and 90s spawned the “what does anything mean?” generation. We parents said “be free” and “go be you.” Be free to do what, exactly? They are yearning to know who they are; they are lonely and unconnected to institutions and beliefs of the past. And it’s not their fault. The imperative for their futures is to become embedded in communities, causes, relationships that they will commit to and build their lives in and around.

Brooks says he now understands that the 2016 election wasn’t about the usual big government/small government issue that has characterized the essence of the Democratic and Republican philosophies since forever. 2016 was about the growing gap between those who are relatively globalistic, progressive, forward-looking and technology-enabled (generally college-educated) and others who are relatively protectionistic, reactionary, tradition-bound and technology-phobic (generally high-school educated). I sensed this schism as early as the 80s in Silicon Valley as I participated in building the new world and read on the news about the dissolution of the steel and other industries in the rust belt. The divided forces of progress and regress were catalyzed by Trump, for and against, and in the end, guess what? A wrinkle in our election rules, which are unlike any other country’s election rules, allowed the underdogs to carry the day. (I mean here the combined impact of generations of gerrymandering, the edge effects of the electoral college system, and the aggregated disenchantment of lots and lots of voters, for a variety of reasons.)

New communities need forming based on new ideas about proximity. Who is my friend and neighbor? After 42 years of moving, staying awhile, and moving on, from one coast to the other and then to the middle, my wife and I are only really proximate, connected and committed, to people and groups that are far away, Facebook friends and family, and not the next-door neighbors. But I remain optimistic about it all. Recent tragedies, man-made and nature-borne have shown every time that people do feel connected, that they will create, almost instantaneously, communities of help and support, where none existed minutes before. At the crucial moments, we are suddenly all in this together, again.

bookends

10/31/2017 — Leave a comment

I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since the release of his second album, Freewheelin’. I was 15. Last Friday, I attended my fifth (only) Dylan concert and the third in Chicago. It was a fitting bookend to my first two concerts in 1963 and 1965.

On December 27, 1963, Dylan was all blue jeans and acoustic at Chicago Orchestra Hall. The Times They Are A’Changin’ had just been released, so this was at the height of his folk period. Coming five weeks after the JFK assassination, the concert was a profound palliative for a traumatized teen-aged spirit needing reassurance.

On November 26, 1965, at the old Aerie Crown theater at McCormick Place, it was a very different vibe and result. The first half of the concert was acoustic. When the curtain opened on the second half, there was the band (The Band) and Dylan in sharkskin with a Fender electric.

Note to self:

You need to start writing again here on the Guy Cicero blog. It’s good for you! Don’t expect that anyone will notice. Don’t expect “likes” or “attaboys” or great reviews. Just do it. Show your respect and appreciation for all the bloggers you follow who crank out their thoughts and creations weekly, or even not weekly. They have taken the writing bull by the horns and are riding it to self-enrichment and fulfillment, even when they are scared to death of being thrown off into the dust any second. Even then, get back on and grab those horns. Get your ideas out. It’s part of being really alive.

I cried when the country elected JFK over Ike’s man Dick Nixon. It’s true; I was thirteen and a lifelong Republican, or so I thought. The Democrats got lucky again when we elected their Georgia peanut farmer, (although he turned out more than OK as an ex-President), and later, a glad-handing, wanna-please-everybody, philanderer who just kept […]

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adulthood

02/23/2017 — Leave a comment

I blame no one.

NPR ran a piece this morning on a school that teaches 20-somethings some basic skills helpful to running an adult life: money management, making a bed, etc. Some, according to the reporter, think this is coddling—that they don’t deserve to have someone show them skills that others see as basic, skills you shouldn’t need help with.

When I went off to college in 1965, my mom intentionally taught me two new skills: how to scramble eggs and how to iron a shirt. These both came in very handy. I’d be glad to teach them to anyone today (except for the shirt thing, who cares?). Just having these two skills under my belt boosted the confidence of a young adult who was to have his confidence squelched many times for many years.

So what skills do young adults need today? I mean they know about computers and social media and activism and cause-based organizations and the chemistry and artistry of craft brewing and their music is amazingly sophisticated and they care and know a lot about the Earth and bio-diversity and sous vide and civil rights.

But unless someone has shown them how to clean the lint filter, how would know that this is why their clothes aren’t getting dry?

I remember so well how mystifying the world was at 20-something. I blame no one for not being able to put air in their tires when no one has shown them how.

thucydidesJust about every day, I hear something on the news or Facebook, or in conversation that leads me to think, Wait a minute. Don’t you remember that….” whatever. And being a history enthusiast, even with all the faults and biases of historians (like Thucydides), I always like to replay in my mind the historical events I can remember that bring better understanding and, I hope, wisdom to my interpretations and imagined solutions to the problems and crises of the day. For people reading the same news who don’t know or remember the history, I feel sadness, and for the media, exasperation that they seem satisfied to spew headlines and leads that excite and feed our anxiety but fail to place today’s tragedies in context. We are left to cower, fume, and worry instead of pause, ponder, and prepare to be watchful for other news that might help us discern a trend, plan a response, or take an action that would get us engaged.

But, hey, the news is a business and not a public service, or charity, or “helping institution.” It’s on us to seek out the context and understand how this latest detail fits in a bigger picture (which they all do). Or cower.

globalization

09/05/2016 — Leave a comment

Get with it. Globalization is good for you. Well, most of the time.

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frontierland

09/04/2016 — Leave a comment

File Jul 02, 8 14 11 AMI recently completed a vacation trip to California from Illinois, by car: Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada—and returning through Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Open spaces, not many people, an amazing number of wind farms —a very different experience from what you see east of the Mississippi.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this country up close. There’s just so much land, ready and waiting to be populated. And things look clean and neat and prosperous…at least from the interstates. I imagined America one or two hundred years from now with our West transformed by a new economy and the movement of many millions of people out of the crowded East and into the land of the big sky and roaming buffalo.

But for now, it’s not that hard to see why this part of the country is mostly Red on certain maps. Out there, the land invites you to dream about having the space to grow into your potential, your own way—you and your family, or tribe, independent of big government, big money, big data, creating and living out your destiny expecting liberty and personal freedom to stake out your claim, build your homestead, and keep it safe and secure for generations. Oh, give me a home, where the introverts roam.

How different the open country and small-town America is from the big cities, or even the suburbs of the big cities, where life is dominated by the interdependence of things. We are completely dependent on governing authorities, institutions, and businesses for safety, order, employment, income, opportunity, education, growth, entertainment, and fulfillment. We crave being settled in, with our basic necessities provided for, or at least with somewhere nearby to find anything we need or want. The dream of personal liberty is still alive, for most of us, but is tempered by the recognition that we find ourselves in the greatest country with the most prosperity in the world, wrapped in the cloak of semi-invisibility, which is not a bad thing.

But immigrants and Silicon Valley billionaire wannabes keep the dream alive. If you’re still new to the USA, you have come to live the dream and may have learned that as gold-lined as the streets may be, you have to excavate and sweat and persist to get your share. If you are new to a sense of personal wealth, that is, you reside in imaginary Silicon Valley, you can touch and taste being rich and that keeps you going toward personal freedom nirvana where money gets you in at the golden gate.

Anyway, when you travel out west, you feel the independence dream again, and it becomes easier to see why big skyers and small towners vote for the party of Jefferson, the brilliant gentleman, intellectual, slaver farmer. If it weren’t for the electoral college system, these folks wouldn’t stand a chance to be felt in presidential elections.

I loved our trip out West, to frontierland. All Americans should get out of the cities once now and again to see how healthy and friendly communities can be, not that it hasn’t taken generations of community-builders to make the great ones great. But community-building opportunity beckons, once again, out west, young people.