Utopian Illusion

“The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”

Plato, The Republic

There are many illusions that exist like a thin veil obscuring the reality of society. Political correctness is just another layer that serves as a distraction from the bleak truths we are sometimes afraid to confront. Chief amongst those illusions is the notion that freedom, equality, liberty – these ideals we hold so dear to our sacred conception of “democracy” – can bring about a utopian society where everyone’s needs are satisfied.

Utopia cannot exist because it is the product of human creation. We are a flawed species, and thus any system we invent will inherently have its problems. Like there is no ideal form of government or any singular, perfect philosophy, there can only exist the pursuit of the utopian ideal, but never any true attainment of the ideal.

Things in nature exist in duality; for there to be good, bad must exist as its counter-balance. For there to be day, there must also be night to give it meaning. It’s a sentiment best captured in the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching:

“Everyone recognizes beauty

only because of ugliness

Everyone recognizes virtue

only because of sin”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Verse 2)

We would only seek to fool ourselves further if we were to believe in the illusion of a utopian society. Plato himself, the paragon of Western philosophy, denounced the notion that the democratic state is the apogee of government. Our society is far more complex, nuanced, multifaceted to be easily controlled by a single system.

Once we can accept these limitations, and embrace the complexity of modern society, understanding that nothing will be perfect, and nothing can be perfect, we will truly begin to move forward. The stagnation felt by many as we struggle to enter a world that is seemingly wrought with inequality, despair, hoplessness, with unfair economic systems that only further the class gaps, leads to this yearning for the antithesis of the dim present – that is, the utopian dream.

Utopia, and its sibling, perfection, are ideals to strive toward, not something we can ever truly grasp. It’s like that notion of design as being a function of infinity: it’s something that has no end to it in and of itself. It’s a system that will forever be held just beyond our grasp, as we progress towards it.

“One may look for fulfillment in this world

but his longings will never be exhausted

The only thing he ever finds

is that he himself is exhausted.”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Verse 2)

Our Urgent Need for Philosophy Today

More so than ever, we live in a frenzied, unstable world. Between a fluctuating economy, continued global political instability, and a (mostly) bleak future presented to us by our modern literature, we are becoming restless souls drifting through existence. The meaning behind the work that we do on a daily basis is lost, creating an intellectually confused species.

These issues have troubled me for some time, and I have thus immersed myself in a study of philosophy to better understand just what’s going on in our modern world. That complex, difficult to describe branch of knowledge that, whilst key to almost everything we do in our lives, has become relegated to the hallowed halls of universities and its proper application in the real world has become lost.

I think that a study of philosophy can help guide us in navigating the turbulent waters of modern civilisation.

Philosophy is a study of the nature of knowledge. It literally means the “love of wisdom,” and it is urgently needed today more so than ever. Because wisdom has so often been shunted to the side in favour of the bottom line, of feeding the capitalist machine and surging us ever forward to that elusive lifestyle we are presented with by the media. As a species, we are lacking wisdom, our thoughts becoming lost amidst the continuous chatter of social media.

Thus, a study of philosophy can help us to develop a mindset of calm, of rationality and the ability to think about the big issues, and understand our role, our place, in the grand architecture of the Cosmos. More so than any other tool, a study of philosophical ideas can enable us to think about, and positively affect, a sociocultural landscape that has become wrought with instability and convoluted systems that simply create unnecessary stress.

Even better, though, than simply studying a course in philosophy, is reading broadly from a range of philosophical ideas across a wide range of history, thinkers and systems, and then choosing the best ones to create your own basket of wisdom, a little intellectual arsenal with which you can combat the daily challenges.

Embarking on a journey of philosophical study can be rather daunting. I’ve found one place on the electric internets (to borrow this humorous phrase from Bill Nye the Science Guy) that can help initiate the journey to discovering wisdom: The School of Life.

Watch this video, and begin your journey today:


And remember… as the beloved Laozi once wrote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Tao Te Ching, verse 64)

Bionic Citizen

Apple WatchWearables are the hot topic in technology today. What once seemed like something out of a Star Trek episode is now reality. And whilst Samsung, Motorola and others are veterans (if you could call more than two years in the product category “veteran”) I truly think that Apple’s design and brand-respected clout will be the final tipping point in solidifying this curious new niche as a distinct product line.

The Apple Watch’s gutsy move in positioning itself as a piece of haute couture is indeed a bold move; I have many questions about the longevity of such a device when the ephemeral (technology) is juxtaposed with the eternal (high-end watch design). It seems like a product conceived of contradiction as much as it is a device seeking to bridge two seemingly disparate factions of society (fashion and technology). However, it represents a progression of technology. A powerful progression, I might add: we are on the cusp of transcending the notion that technology exists as a realm separate to the organic body that is us. The Apple Watch’s ideal of being a fashion piece means it encompasses the design traits distinct of fashion: personality, individuality, intimacy.

But even more than that: wearables are a step closer to the assimilation of the inorganic — the world of binary code and cold, calculated lines of coding — with the organic: us, human beings, sentient creatures who have created these strange contraptions. Are we on the brink of becoming bionic? Is it possible that, by following this progression to its logical destination, we can assume that there will be a convergence: that these two worlds will properly collide; that we will become bionic creatures, beings made just as much with technology as we are with blood and muscle?

The singularity theory postulates a point in time in the distant future, called an event horizon. Beyond this point, we cannot predict, using the cognitive skills we have honed over millennia, what will occur next. The idea that we are assimilating ourselves with the technology that we use can be considered as an event horizon. The current state of technological development suggests that this is the case, but I think that if we examine the nature of our current society, we can further understand why this might very well be the eventual outcome of our species.

We live in an increasingly connected world. The Grid rules our lives: we are beings that connect to it daily; it is what provides us with a large amount of our daily intellectual sustenance. We cannot function without the Grid. Our society is hyper-connected, and devices like smartwatches illustrate how reliant we are on the Grid. That such a device exists signifies the ever-encroaching grip our digital lives have on us. Our lives are lived as much in the virtual sphere as they are in the realm of reality. When technology begins to disappear yet exert an even more potent force upon our existence, we begin to step closer towards that event horizon of the bionic being. Technology is beginning to disguise itself. It is no longer taking the visage of a “device that looks like a computer” — that traditional aesthetic is being challenged as microchips get smaller and more powerful, thus making it possible to insert them into devices that we are accustomed to for centuries.

As design becomes invisible, it will allow technology to ingratiate itself far more easily into our daily lives, slowly tightening the grip the Grid has on our psyche. As microchips become smaller and their power more potent, we will begin to subconsciously slip into a symbiotic reliance with the devices and the virtual networks we’ve created. This is going to change society in incredible ways. Everything from culture to politics to economics to the built environment will be affected. One area I’m particularly curious about is, of course, the urban architectonic. How will our bionic beings navigate an architecture of the future? How will our built structures evolve to support the new lifestyle that will emerge? How can virtual reality coexist with the concrete and steel that is so intrinsic to maintaining our human existence at the base level?

One simple device, oft derided and questioned for its very purpose, can have the potential for a significant sociocultural impact. For now, though, we play the waiting game: watching, patiently, as the progression of technology and society slowly merge, an intricate dance orchestrated by a plethora of parameters and the organic ebb and flow of time…

 

Arthur C. Clarke – Islands in the Sky

Space-travel was certainly a complicated affair – so complicated that it sometimes depressed me. Then I remembered that these men didn’t seem any cleverer than I was: they were highly trained, that was all. If one worked hard enough, one could master anything.

–Arthur C. Clarke, author of “Islands in the Sky.”

Bikes, Trains and Busses: The Key to our Future Cities

Sustainability. It’s a word that’s been bandied about by many futurists, urbanists and thinkers. Yet it’s a concept that, for some reason, is seemingly difficult and time-consuming to implement. Granted, transitioning toward a sustainable urban environment is a challenge in infrastructure design, but it must remain a clear focus and a high-priority goal if we are to move our civilisation forward.

The planners of our future will need to stop talking about a “sustainable future”, and rather begin the implementation of it. I think that the biggest impedance comes from political pressure: the unfortunate reality is that it is the politicians that dictate the design of our environments, and the engineers and designers are merely the technicians that carry-out these ideals. If we truly want to progress toward that green light of our imagined future, we’ll need to move beyond political chatter and instigate real, determined thinking that can influence the change needed.

And the road to sustainable cities lies in our transportation grid. A sustainable city is one where there is a careful management of resources; a sensitive attitude toward the natural environment. Carbon is a key factor in this; it’s quite simple – reduction of carbon means a greener urban space. Thus the implementation of bikes, trains and busses through managed systems and programmes is a way that can improve the kinetic scope of cities, and thus lead to a sustainable growth in the urban fabric. It reduces the exponential growth of individual vehicles, streamlines traffic networks and allows for the creation of a more structured, organised city – a future urban space that can promote the thinking and ideas needed in a society that’s increasingly looking forward.

Technologically, by having regulated transportation programmes, there exists the possibility of computerised control that allows a far better managed, integrated transportation system. It means safer, more reliable public vehicles running on regulated schedules, increasing reliance on these systems and thus better adoption of them. Let’s face it: public transport isn’t a very attractive means of getting about. But if we were to design and engineer a system that fully integrates these key components, and make them an integral part of the city, we a sure to be on-track to attaining that “sustainable” future we’re so craving right now.

Welcome to Pixelated Thinking, My New Personal Blog

Blogging has been a big part of my life. Creating websites, the technologies that power the web… these things have fascinated me for a long time. When I discovered this thing called blogging, and the ease with which one could publish on the WWW, and thus stake a claim to a small slice of this ever-expanding digital sphere, I was captivated.

It’s been around five years now that I’ve been involved in the blogosphere. I’ve created numerous blogs, most of them fairly successful. But one constant that has run along my blogging adventures has been my personal blog, which I named Life in Pixels. It was started in 2007 on WordPress.com. From then, I’ve learned a lot about blogging by testing ideas out on this personal platform. In 2010, I finally realised a dream I had for a long time – to self-host my blog. That meant purchasing disk space, a domain name, and managing a discrete installation of the powerful WordPress blogging software. Life in Pixelshad thus moved to its own little space on the web, distinct of a blog network as such.

However, times move on, and I’ve decided to return to my roots – to where it all began: here, at WordPress.com. I believe that being part of a larger blogging community will do good for my own blogging, and it will further compel me to blog more often (something I’ve been promising for years now…)

That’s why, with this post, I’d like to introduce you to the next version of my personal blog. I call it Pixelated Thinking.

Through this blog, I aim to publish my thoughts on the future, on technology – from the social web to the latest ideas and devices being developed around the world – to opinionated essays on science, engineering and the built environment. I’ll also deliver some short fiction from time to time, whenever I get the inspiration to write as such.

Recently, I have become deeply interested in the way our cities of the future are being shaped. Through my studies in Architecture, and my interest in design, engineering, science and technology, I have begun to contemplate not only our future amongst the stars, but also, out future as it’s occurring through the spaces that define our global society. Pixelated Thinking will serve as a platform on which I aim to project my musings on these matters, along with those I’ve mentioned above.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the tagline to my blog – haud ignota loquor – it translates to “I speak not of unknown things” in Latin. It serves as an encompassing statement of what this blog stands for: that everything I write here, the thoughts I proffer about the future, my opinions, they’re things that may seem fantastical (I’ve been known to have crazy ideas) but I truly believe that we can, with our technology and science, attain such visions with time.

I invite you to share your opinions in the comments section of each post. I cannot express how much comments on a blog mean to a blogger; they really do inspire us digital writers to persevere with our blogging endeavors and continue to generate content for you, our loyal readers.

So once again, welcome to my new blog.