Monthly Archives: December 2012

Technofiction review of The Hobbit

Summary

On this film Peter Jackson, director and co producer, was in movie making heaven. This was a sequel to a wildly popular trilogy, he had a ton of money available, he could use all the CGI and New Zealand backdrop his heart could desire, and he could bring back popular stars for cameos. Ummm…

The result in the first half was really good. We get up close and personal with hobbits, dwarfs and wizards and we had some nice comic relief scattered through it.

In the second half Jackson’s “Inner Transformers” got the high ground and the show went to pure action, action, action, with only a brief pause for Bilbo and Gollum to meet each other and riddle.

So all in-all-it was good, but, I admit, I had hoped for better. Here are some details of what bothered me as I watched.

DetailsMILTON3

I read the book a couple times, but many decades ago. While I’ve forgotten a lot I did notice that Jackson has deviated from the book early in the movie by adding a new bad guy, the white orc, and by turning Radigast from a two paragraph aside into a major character. Orcs didn’t show up in Tolkien’s writings until Lord of the Rings. Tolkien added them in LOTR because he wanted bad-ass goblins. The Hobbit had goblins, and they were sneaky bad guys, not particularly powerful ones.

What adding the Orc is going to add to this movie trilogy story remains to be seen. I’m guessing he’s there to add some kind of continuity to the three films. Why ever he’s there, he’s inconsistent because if he’s ruling in Moria what’s he doing roaming the wilderness many days journey north of there? If he’s not ruling in Moria anymore, where is he based out of now, and why is he coming after Thorin now? It’s been decades since the humiliation. This meeting outside Shire seems to be coincidence, except that the White Orc is not talking as if it is one… inconsistent.

In the book Gandalf comes and goes. He is technically not part of this quest because he has a lot of other pots in the fire. This is why he invites Bilbo. This element of coming and going is lost in the movie, and I find it weakens Gandalf as an interesting character, the moving around was part of his being subtle and important.

Up until the dwarfs leave Rivendell the movie proceeds nicely. I like the settings and I liked the small scale adventures such as what they have with the trolls. The one problem that comes to mind in the first half is that these vagabond trolls have very powerful antique weapons in their small stash of cave loot. How did those end up there? It’s a small and forgivable problem, but I noticed it.

After leaving Rivendell Jackson gives us a triple feature of action: in the mountains, in the caves and in the forest. Each comes with crashing and smashing stuff and cliffhangers — my goodness how Jackson loves showing people dangling over empty space! The problem with the triple feature is that even as each is unfolding you know nothing will happen to the characters — this is story telling and they’ve been through this just minutes before and nothing happened. So by the third round of cliff hanging… yawn… the scene will end in some exciting way… yawn… and nothing will have changed.

Another issue for me personally is how much Jackson loves vertical in his settings. Everywhere was a hill or a ridge top or a steep-walled valley or a multi-story, multi-block cave setting — all very vertical. I’d love some horizontal in his movies for relief.

Jackson shows us innovative action scenes. He was particularly innovative in his goblin cave action scenes. He did a lot there I’d never seen before. But by then I was so tired of action I didn’t care.

In the book the ring is described as making a person invisible, not undetectable. In this movie Bilbo becomes completely undetectable by Gollum — whom the book describes as a being who has developed acute hearing and smell from all those years of living in the roots of mountains. In the book Bilbo has to dodge Gollum or kill him, but he makes that choice at a distance.

In the book there is some description of Smaug’s attack on Lonely Mountain and some description of a secret escape route. But the movie spends many minutes at the beginning on the attack. This left me wondering: Why didn’t the Lonely Mountain Minister of Defense have a better plan for repelling “Great Wyrm Attack”? These creatures were known to exist and not too far away. I don’t remember the book version on this so it may be an inconsistency in both.

In sum, the first half is a delightful movie that shows off some interesting characters in interesting ways. Jackson has fun with his settings, and puts in some innovative comedy. The second half is full of overbearing unrelenting action and is not nearly as interesting for a story-oriented buff like me.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Robert J.R. Graham Interview (Roger answers)

Robert J.R. Graham is the author of Seventh Journey and we have traded questions for our blogs.RobertColor21

Here are the questions Robert gave me:

  • Can you describe “Technofiction” and how it has influenced your writing?

Science fiction introduced me to the wonder of reading. This was back in the early sixties when I was in middle school. For years I was an avid fan. But in the seventies I noticed that I was reading lots of new stories that sounded awful familiar: by then I’d read a whole bunch about “This means the end of the universe!” Worse for me, the person saying that didn’t mean the end of the universe, they meant an end to life on a planet, or just human life on a planet. As my science understanding grew that kind of difference began bugging me more and more. In the eighties I started to do something about it: I started writing my own science fiction stories.2012-roger-06-400
At first I wrote for me and my web site, White World, which I started at the dawn of the Internet in 1994. In the 2000’s I started trying to reach a wider audience. That’s when I noticed that what I was writing was “different” from mainstream sci-fi, and as a result a lot of readers where saying, “Huh?” when I told them about my stories. It became clear that I needed some branding. So I came up with calling my writing Technofiction, and here’s what Technofiction is all about.
Technofiction is about stories with good science and technology as well as good characters. The science and technology doesn’t have to be real, in the sense of matching the reality we live in, but it has to be internally consistent within the story. It has to be well thought out, which means uncovering surprises uses as well as conventional ones. An example of inconsistency is moralizing on human social issues by showing aliens experiencing the abuses. These beings are aliens, for goodness sake, not discriminated-against humans!  For lots of specific examples, see my Technofiction Reviews on White World.

 

  • What inspires your writing?

During the eighties and nineties I worked in high technology marketing. An engineer would come up with a neat idea, such as a form of personal computer, and my job was to help people – the engineer and customers – figure out what this neat idea was good for in the real world. Personal computers turned out to be real good for word processing. That was expected. What was surprising was how good they were for spreadsheets (like Excel) and game playing. Those applications were what set the personal computer market on fire, but they weren’t the applications that were first thought of.
I write about this kind of surprise happening.63361-Tips-V1-100
The result is that Technofiction stories wander into unusual territory and the characters have unusual relations and backgrounds. An example: Earth sends of an intelligent war starship to battle aliens in another star system that had treacherously attacked Earth. But… this warship is intelligent. It thinks, a lot, because the journey takes years, and it decides that war isn’t the right solution to this problem. But the Earth designers had planned for this possibility. They… I’ll let you read the story “Intelitan the Destructor” in “Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric Vol. 1” This is an example of unusual characters in a story that unfolds in an unusual way.

 

  • How many books have you written, and how many more are planned?

I have eleven out now. Some are science fiction, two are what I call Science and Insight, one is a business history, one is romance, and the first I wrote was a how-to book on word processing. Here is a list.
The science and insight books are the preludes to the science fiction books. I work up some interesting science implications and then mix in some characters and story line and I have a Technofiction book.
The next in line is another book set in the Child Champs environment – our future world fifty to one hundred years from now when the genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence revolutions are in full swing. Child Champs told one story in that setting, but there are a few more to tell about that wondrous time to come.ChildChamps

 

  • You have some very interesting ideas about evolution and human thinking.  What is the “Human Thinking Stack” and what can we do about it?

What can we do about the Human Thinking Stack? We can live with it. <grin>
The Human Thinking Stack is simply a way of modeling human thinking. Its goal is to provide better understanding of how humans think, and through that better predictive value. Just to be clear, the thinking stack is insight, not science.
The predictions that come out of it are impressive. I write about those many times a month in my Cyreenik Says blog. One of the most vivid is Panic and Blunder Thinking. This is when a person, or a community, gets really scared, and while they are so scared, do something really expensive, but think they are doing the right thing. (expensive as in: costs a whole lot but doesn’t help solve the problem one wit.)
The Thinking Stack is just one part of my insights on how evolution has shaped human thinking. I have two books out about that “Evolution and Thought” (the short version) and “How Evolution Explains the Human Condition” (the long version). Why_We_See_Beauty_2012_03.04.12
The basic premise of these books, and my insights, is that humans are evolved. This means that we are a high performance fit for living on Earth. (everything alive today is) Our thinking is also evolved and just as high performance. But… evolution takes time so it’s high performance for living in Stone Age conditions, not civilized conditions.

 

  • Blindspots are a double edged sword.  We don’t know about them, they hurt us, and even if we find one, we beat ourselves up over it.  What strategy have you come up with to deal with blind spots in your work?

First let’s define blindspots. Blindspots are axioms in our thinking. They are givens that we don’t think to question. Many serve us well, but not all. Those that work well save us a lot of time and thinking in our day-to-day lives. Those that work well in a reality different from that which we experience are expensive to maintain. (An example of two different realities on earth are living in the tropics and living in the arctic. Move from one to the other and some of your thinking will now contain blind spots.)
How to spot a blindspot? Be a careful observer. Look at what is going on around you. Look for “self-evident truths” that really aren’t true and because they aren’t true people are wasting a lot of time and resource. Harsh reality will point out blindspots when you pay attention. I cover this in detail in “How Evolution Explains the Human Condition”.

 

  • In your book “Evolution And Thought” you compare a scam artist to our perceptions of marriage, calling it the Human Condition.  How do we get ourselves into all this trouble? White_Book_Covers2

As I mentioned earlier, our thinking is well matched to living in the Stone Age, something I call the Neolithic Village environment. That’s because humans have lived in that environment for ten thousand generations. That’s long enough for genes to adapt well. We have lived in the Agricultural Age environment for five hundred generations. We have started adapting to that, it’s started to change our thinking, but the process is far from complete. The Industrial Age and Information Age environments are essentially brand new.
This means we civilized folk have to use a lot more learned thinking along with our instinctive thinking. But the instinctive thinking is still fast, easy, comfortable, and really, really wants to be used, so it sneaks in where it can.
Con artistry is the dark side of this phenomenon. The con artist strokes the victim’s instinctive thinking. Marriage is the good side, marriage, in all its various forms, helps produce stable communities that raise lots of healthy kids.

 

  • You mention that beauty aids us in our evolution, can you elaborate?

Beauty is thinking that has practical value in the Neolithic Village environment. It’s a signal to cooperate – to help out. When we see something beautiful our instinct is to help it out.
Originally this signaling was designed to help children and young mothers who were just learning the ropes of motherhood and could use all the support they could get.
But, as with many things evolution creates, other uses were found for this style of thinking and added to the basic purpose. And like any powerful tool, it has surprises uses, such as supporting fashion. I cover beauty in both of my Science and Insight books on evolution.

 

Thanks for the questions, Robert, it’s been fun answering these.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Guest Blog from Robert J. R. Graham

Robert J.R. Graham is the author of Seventh Journey, a sci-fi techno thriller. He and I have traded questions about our books. Here are the questions I gave Robert and his answers.Seventhjourneycover2

1. You have stated that you feel we are entering a new dimension when we dream. How do you think future technology improvements are going to affect our ability to “dimensional travel” in dream land?

My novel Seventh Journey discusses the possibility of advancements in technologies known as “binaural beats.”  These are tones and sounds, vibrating at different frequencies for the purpose of “entrancing” the brain into various states of consciousness.  It works by sending sounds in one ear that vibrates at a particular frequency, while another frequency vibrates in your other ear.  The difference in frequency causes your brain to resonate at a particular rate somewhere in the middle.  This causes the person experiencing this effect to slip into different conscious “modes.”

I took the premise of this binaural beat technology (which was used in government research) and asked… what if a huge breakthrough were made?  Breakthroughs in technology happen all the time, CPU’s double in speed almost every couple of years, so why not a huge leap forward with binaural technology?  In Seventh Journey, I answer that question.

In book 1, the binaural technology is combined with sonic sound waves, which direct sound like a laser beam directly into the brain.  This causes vibrations at extremely high frequencies, which evolve Jacob’s brain.  As he finds out, it unlocks some very advanced abilities as well.

One of these advanced abilities enables Jacob Cross to travel inter-dimensionally.  At first, Jacob denies that this even occurs, but eventually he realizes that by using the “Auditum” headset… he can actually travel to different dimensions.

 

2. Do you think there are other beings inhabiting the dream dimensions?

Do they affect humanity?

I think that if we were to ever prove the existence of other dimensions they would most likely be inhabited.  These dimensions might even be accessible via the dream state, which is what I suggest in my books.  In the first book in my series, I suggest that not only do these creatures have an effect on humanity, they have been manipulating us for a very long time.   This is brought to light through creation of the “Auditum” technology, created by Jacob Cross, the hero of Seventh Journey.

 

3. What do you think distinguishes normal from paranormal? Where do you draw the line between them?

A “normal” event in this context would probably mean anything easily explained by science.  Paranormal on the other hand, are events not yet explained by science.  A belief in the paranormal means you essentially believe things which have not yet been proven.  This does not mean that science has disproved paranormal activity, it only means that sufficient testing has not yet occurred.

Many events are considered paranormal, including UFO or alien sightings.  These paranormal events have happened to many people over many years, but again, not easily proven by science (yet).   Unfortunately the term paranormal has received many negative connotations over the years, through popular media and movies.  This has allowed many to dismiss these occurrences like tales around a camp fire, not giving them the attention they may deserve.

An example of this would be the belief that telepathy exists.  Although telepathy remains unproven by science, most people have had some kind of telepathic or precognitive experience in their lives.  This is usually described as a sense of knowing the intentions of those around you in the current moment, or those to follow.  Sometimes even down to the exact thoughts in their head at the time.  Others have reported awareness of their loved ones emotions or hardships, even over great distances, which is particularly prevalent with twins.

My series Seventh Journey features many events not yet proven by science as Jacob Cross explores the various abilities caused by the “Auditum” headset.  Using Auditum, I’ve touched on a number of paranormal powers, such as remote viewing, telepathy, and even astral projection.  I focused on these primarily because they are the most fascinating, and were also the focus of several government projects, as I’ve mentioned in my book.

 

4. If paranormal abilities can be considered a tool, are there people using paranormal tools in their everyday life? How are these people using paranormal “powers” to make their lives better?

After having researched these topics for a number of years, I prefer not to label paranormal events at all anymore.  Instead I put it all under the umbrella of “knowing.”  This sense of knowing can come in the form of knowing someone’s thoughts ahead of time, events before they unfold, or future emotional responses from people… visions, etc.   Essentially the details of some event potentially transpiring is brought to our attention and experienced by our consciousness.

As it occurs we’re forced to deal with it in the moment, which at times may look like a person is “pausing” in mid-sentence… when in reality they are receiving information.  The mechanism of how this works could be chalked up to mysterious “psychic powers,” but I prefer the theory that this information is the computations of the subconscious mind (or some aspect of it), working in our best interests.  Either way, it’s a phenomenon which is experienced by many, usually as a sense of pre-cognition, or knowing before something occurs, and if used properly… it might even save you some grief.

 

5. You’ve done a lot with martial arts. What are some of the surprise uses of mastering martial arts? Some ways of using what you’ve mastered where you think, “Hey! I can do that with it, too!” but you didn’t anticipate that use when you were just starting out.

Well physically I’ve found it very helpful for keeping in shape as I certainly work up a good sweat.  I’ve also found that the concentration, focus, and disciplined movements have sharpened my mind and body, helping me in a variety of ways over the years.

It also helped add some really dynamic scenes to my book.  I’ve always appreciated martial arts, even before I began training, so that’s why I’ve added a combative story element.  It certainly made for a more action packed book trailer for Seventh Journey! RobertColor21

 

6. What do you feel makes 7th Journey a distinctive story?

What sets Seventh Journey apart is the use of Sound Wave technology to tear a hole into another dimension.  Jacob Cross slips into this other world, and must pass their tests before the impending doom pours into his reality.

In Seventh Journey, the concepts and worlds experienced by Jacob are alive and vibrant, as they dynamically shift and respond to the thoughts of its inhabitants.  I don’t want to give too much away, so you’ll have to read the book to find it to out what happens.
7. What elements or events in your real life inspired this story?

Certain dreams left me in a state of wonder growing up, which caused me to seek some answers.  The insatiable yearning to know spurred years of research, personal growth, and peppered with several interesting experiences.  I’ve used these experiences to help fashion the dream world in Seventh Journey, along with many of the characters in book 1.

I’m often asked if I create characters based on anyone I know.  The answer is yes I do.  I think every author does, because we write what we know.  So when I create a character I start by understanding the role that character is going to play.  How is he helping the plot along?  What challenges does she have?  Is he funny, angry, balanced?  Who does she remind me of?  And from there, I begin to build their personality, and the dialogue just flows.

Buy Seventh Journey Online:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Before, During, and After the Singularity

When we plan for most things we use linear extrapolation. Example: “I just got a new job that pays a bundle. Yay! If I save $1000 a month how much will I have at the end of the year?” The linear extrapolation answer is $12,000. But, “If each month I put that $1000 into an investment account earning 10% a year.” then the answer will be different because there is exponential growth involved.

Asking what will happen in 100, 200, 500 years is asking for linear extrapolation, but human knowledge and prosperity are growing exponentially. And if you don’t scare yourself with the kind of “sky is falling”-type worries that power post-apocalypse stories, we don’t yet see a limit to those increases. So the different question must be asked: The Singularity question I posed above.

The Singularity is a concept that has been around a while and popularized these days by Ray Kurzweil and his book The Singularity is Near. The basic idea is that the combination of growing computing power, bioengineering and nanotechnology is going to change things so quickly in the near future that living on Earth will become unrecognizable to mere human mortals. Further, this “flip”, the Singularity, is likely to happen sometime in the 21st century — almost time to Hold your Breath!

I predict a variant on that theme. I predict that higher intelligences will be created, several times and in several ways, but there will still be humans on Earth, and they will still face human problems, the kind we can recognize today. The higher intelligences will come to exist. They will be real. But they will do things and worry about things that humans can’t comprehend, so they will have little impact on human living. We will take them for granted. Think of the relation between humans and the bacteria we evolved from: +99% of bacteria on Earth today don’t have a clue that humans exist, and those few that do interact with us don’t have a clue what we are up to. They just can’t comprehend us, but we both co-exist quite happily on Earth. We will have that relation with the post-Singularity intelligences that spring from human technologies and inventiveness.

Those entities will be writing their own history. For us they will be unthinkable — we will not be able to wrap our heads around what they are or what they do. (I write about this in my story “The Failure” in Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric Vol. 2.) But we humans will still be around and we will still have plenty of human-oriented day-to-day living to think about. That’s what I’m writing about in Child Champs. We humans will experience things such as driverless cars and Avatar Cruise Ships — cruise ships that sail around from port to port, but don’t have a single person on board — they just carry avatars. Why? They are a lot cheaper and safer and even more fun!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fashion in the Future

Introductionheather-Aug10-05-400
Fashion, female fashion in particular, is going to stay with us through “the snap”. It is also going to be as unpredictable as it is today. So, what will be different about fashion in the future? That is the topic of this essay.

Roots of Fashion
I have written about the roots of fashion in my books Evolution and Thought and How Evolution Explains the Human Condition. First, the concept of seeing beauty in someone has practical roots. It helped survival in the Neolithic Village environment. Seeing beauty in a person, or thing, is an instinctive signal to cooperate with it — to help it out. This instinctive thinking was successful because it encouraged everyone in the village to help out young child-bearing mothers and children, and when they got extra help the village survived better.

Older mothers didn’t need as much help, they had learned the ropes and their oldest children were becoming little helpers instead of helpless, so thinking about older women could change and the village would still be successful. Village women aged from brides into matrons, and the village thinking about them changed as this happened.

But… these matrons were smart people, they were innovative humans. Some experimented, and discovered that if they continued to look young, they would continue to get the cooperation they did when they were young. Voilà! Fashion is invented. Fashion is a way of gaming the instinctive thinking system.

Fashion has been around long enough that human thinking has adapted to this matron gaming. The constant cycles of fashion are a way for young women to identify themselves as truly young, not matron gamers. The randomness of fashion is part of the protection, it keeps the oldsters guessing.

So, one element of fashion is looking young. Another element of fashion is appearing as if a sacrifice has been made. Why this is important and powerful is not so clear to me, but it’s clearly an important element in fashion. In today’s fashion scene heavy cosmetics, towering high heels, slim figures, and piercing’s and tattoos are all sacrifice signals. But those were not the same signals as two decades ago, just as with other fashion elements, which sacrifice signals are popular changes with each generational cohort. This is part of the protection. (Here’s a wonderful Youtube music video about beauty sacrifice Yelle – Je Veux Te Voir.) (And here is a 1 Dec 12 Economist article indirectly about beauty sacrificing Thin cases: Many find pro-anorexia websites repellent, but banning them is futile.)

Fashion in the Future
For decades science fiction movies have been depicting women of the future as being dressed more casually and more revealing than the contemporary styles. Now that we’ve arrived at short shorts and bare midriffs in 2012 it’s hard to imagine where that trend can continue. (but, then again, that’s been the feeling of those shocked by fashion changes since women began revealing their ankles and arms.) Hunger Games (2012) veered away from more revealing by depicting fashion outrageousness instead, and some form of outrageousness is a certainty. In 2012 we have the Ukrainian Barbie and Manga girls as examples. (6 May 12 Fortune article, Deconstructing a Ukrainian Barbie by Katya Soldak)

There will be more prosperity in the future and less connection with harsh reality. This means that both outrageousness and sacrifice will become even more routine than they are today — they are powerful instinctive signals so they aren’t going away. Keep in mind that they are different, and instinct will support a lot of unexpectedness, so both trends will be actively supporting changes and the results will be surprising. Example: There will be “retro” in the coming cycling, but also a lot new, and the retro will in fact be caricatures of the old styles that use new materials and techniques.

Who to Signal?muscleman1

One issue that could be different in the future is: Who will these women be signaling? With men and women being more equal and urban, and child raising moving more to the periphery of day-to-day living, who a woman tries to signal is going to change. It will become more diverse. Even today, fashion, particularly high fashion, is more about women signaling other women than it is about women signaling men. In the 2050’s, when cybers are bringing home the bacon, not men, not women, who will women want to signal?

Hmmm… is Sugar Cyber going to replace Sugar Daddy?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Golden Age SciFi

Golden Age science fiction, written in the late 1930’s through the mid-1940’s, was written during a time of tremendous science and technology excitement in the world. Physics had just discovered atomic power, quantum mechanics, and relativity; astronomy was discovering what the planets were composed of and how really big the universe is; Sigmund Freud was revolutionizing psychology; Henry Ford was demonstrating how real the miracle of mass production could become, and the totalitarians and socialists were showing that liberal ideals were not the only way to lead mankind into industry and out of misery. These were exciting times, full of change. (much as we experience today)

Possibilities in space travel and social control resonated strongly with the emotions of readers. Pre-Golden Age writers Jules Verne and H. G. Wells could only imagine people being shot into space from cannons, and that never sounded pleasant or terribly real. Newly invented liquid-fueled rockets, on the other hand, opened up wondrous possibilities. That, combined with the possibilities that nearby Mars harbored ancient civilizations and Venus was a jungle planet, fired the imaginations of writers and readers.

Likewise, Freud was bringing science to the study of the mind, and the totalitarians were demonstrating that new communications technologies such as weekly news reels in movie theaters and radio really could mobilize people to do great works. This was the time of colorful Nazi political rallies that became fodder for those news reels and FDR’s Fireside Chats which became memorable on the table-size radio that was becoming a living room fixture in American households. Science fiction writers were exploring how practical psychology could be used for diagnosing and mind control.

What changed in the fifties and sixties was increased knowledge in those areas that had SpaceSunrisebeen fun mystery. Space travel actually happened, and it turned out to be more expensive and slower than was imagined. Venus turned from possible jungle planet into super-hot hellhole. Mars got cold and empty, the canals indicating civilization were an optical illusion. The stars got really far away — rocketry was not a solution — they became accessible only by clearly imaginary propulsion systems such as warp drives. Socialism and totalitarianism transformed into the gloomy USSR and the Cold War.

In short, the cheap and easy science thrills were gone. <sigh> And what has replaced them are cheap and easy fantasy thrills.

What I am attempting with Child Champs and my other Tales of Technofiction stories is to move on: To reveal what the next generation science and technology-related thrilling stories can be about.

They won’t be the same. The tools have changed so the stories will be different. But that’s exactly what makes them exciting.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dealing with Encrustment

Introductionblossoms-02
How we organize people and resources change constantly as humans get more educated and more prosperous. As we approach and get into the “post-snap” environment of the 2050’s those changes are going to continue and pick up in pace. Three organizations that are of big concern to me as I prepare to write my Technofiction stories about living in the post-snap environment are education, business and government. How are these going to change?

The Dark Side of this change issue is “encrustment” — my term in this essay for changes in how an organization is structured that slow down its adapting to change and distract it from its main mission. They are things which add to the cost of the organization and reduce its flexibility — its ability to adapt to changes happening in and around it. Encrustments are additions to the organization’s costs and ways of doing things that are implemented with good intentions during the fat years, but then force the organization to change slowly in the lean years and as a result it loses its ability to keep succeeding.

The issue of encrusting
As the Hostess Products debacle of late 2012 has so poignantly demonstrated even rock-solid success can be spoiled. In the Hostess case the brand identity was rock solid, but the management, workers and investors trying to exploit that icon failed. To explain that failure there’s been a lot of finger pointing in the media between managment and various unions: Each said they were giving up too much and various others weren’t giving up enough. But the harsh reality is this failure has been going on for more than a decade. This is, just to belabor the point, the second Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What we are witnessing here is encrustment. Over many years of success the brand and the company acquired so much dead weight that continued success first became difficult, then impossible. That said, the lesson to be learned here is not the specifics of which weight at Hostess was the dead weight. What is more important is looking at the processes that allowed so much weight of all kinds to be acquired. And acquired in such a way that made it difficult to lose when harsh reality came — lean times. So difficult that it seriously threatened survival. In the Hostess case, dead seriously.

One way stands out in my mind as the big problem way: This is when weight is added based mostly on good intentions — emotional justifications. The problem doubles when those warm fuzzy benefits are then taken for granted, “Of course. We should always have [X].” This happens during successful times — fat times. People involved with the successful organization say, “We’ve got a good thing going here, let’s add some emotionally attractive features to the basic mission. We’re doing well so we can afford it.” Because the justification is emotion-based, not cost-benefit based, this addition feels real good. The problem with feeling real good is that losing it at some future date will be emotionally painful. It will hurt, a lot! The benefit becomes a given, an encrustment, and losing it will be seen as betrayal in future lean times.

This kind of encrusting is a constant threat, and every organization controlling the movement of resources is threatened, right down to the personal level. At the individual level impulse buying is an example of encrusting. When it gets out of hand, the individual, and those around him or her, don’t get full value for their efforts. Hostess is an example in the business scale range, and on the regional scale we have what I call the “Midwest Disease”, which I have written about in in other essays.

Again, the hazard of encrusting happens when the benefit is taken for granted. The weight becomes an axiom of the organization’s life. So when harsh reality calls for giving up the expense, people involved get angry, outraged, and feel betrayed. They feel they will only give this up over their dead bodies.

Encrustment in the post snap environment
Sadly, as Hostess has so poignantly demonstrated, life has a lot of such corpses. The challenge to be thinking about for the future is: How does TES effect encrusting? The TES state (Total Entitlement State) is a prosperous state. In the TES state the various communities can afford a whole lot more. Does that mean they will pay for a lot more encrusting?

The Dark Side answer is yes. Humanity will use the exponentially growing wealth of the post snap decade to engage in more and more emotion-driven causes and perks. In the process they will divorce themselves more and more from the harsh reality of “No such thing as a free lunch.” That will become an “old grandpa saying”, irrelevant to modern times.

The more this course is followed the more irrelevant humans become to creating wealth and innovation — the more they become rent-seekers and entertainers, and the more they revel in their successes at gaming the system.

As this happens the cyber elements will become more and more responsible for making tangible and valuable things happen in civilized Earth communities. They will have to deal with, and be in charge of, harsh reality. This leads to my big concern: Humans will more and more become reality shows for themselves and cybers. As humans prance around in the delusion of their reality shows, the real work will be being done by the Morlocks… er, cybers. The cybers will be deciding what is and isn’t possible, and while humans may rant and rail about a few of the choices made, if push comes to shove they will have to accept them. And, even more spooky, they will take 90+ percent of the cyber choices for granted — the cyber choices are just part of life. But unlike draconian SF Big Brother scenarios, the ranting and raving will have an effect: The cybers will likely toy with those ranting and raving because it makes good entertainment.

This is a spooky future scenario, and quite probable.

The Bright Side

The Bright Side alternative will take a lot of dedication and self-discipline on the part of the humans who engage in it. Those humans will stay enmeshed in the processes that create manufacturing and services. They will understand what’s going on and contribute innovations and reality checks. I envision that a few humans will do this — they will stay enmeshed in the system. As the snap progresses these enmeshed humans will become fewer in number and be looked upon by the rest of humanity as either faceless technocrats or semi-magical mad scientist types.

Strange as it may seem in today’s heated emotional environment about bankers, finance will likely remain an important center of cyber-human coordination. This is because finance is about marshaling resources. It will continue to attract clever and ambitious people and they will help the cybers decide how to allocate resources. Big Business will be a closely associated profession. Small business, on the other hand, will be mostly about hipster endeavors, something quite different. Big and small business will become distinctly different institutions.

Government will become more and more about emotion. It will remain “for the people and by the people” but it will become divorced from the harsh reality of making and servicing. Even more than now, it will become the home for busybody thinking.

This will produce a series of crises as the role of government adapts to supporting delusion and away from being able to influence how wealth is created and distributed. Even more than now government will become the institution for ambitious demagogues and busybodies — people who understand a lot about human emotion, but little about how material things are accomplished.

Government will become able to support long-standing mythologies and fantasies. Something such as Area 51 — some kind of secret government base supporting some mythical secret activity — may become more and more real just because government gets so disconnected from harsh reality.

Conclusion
Encrustment has been with us a long time. It happens when an organization has good times and in those good times allows itself to get distracted into supporting feel-good projects and perks. This becomes hazardous to the organization when these distracters are taken for granted — the people of the organization think they should always be part of the organization. When lean times come and the organization needs to cut back, there’s a lot of harsh emotion connected with cutting back encrustment. The cut backs feel like betrayal to the people of the organization.

Encrustment can kill.

The hazard of encrustment is likely to grow in the post-snap environment because people are going to become divorced from the harsh reality of how stuff is made and serviced. Without harsh reality to put limits on their wishes, they will successfully wish for a lot more — their emotions will win out even more than they do now.

But… we will be living in a prosperous world, and cyber will be keeping it running, so we will be able to afford a lot more than we do now. Even with massive encrustment the post-snap TES lifestyle may be a success.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized