My worstest grammatical/punctuation error ever . . .

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Last week I perpetrated what has to be the worst editing error ever committed on Root Simple in its nine year history. Is it fair to blame post-kidney stone surgery drug withdrawal?

I know that “want’s” is wrong and spotted it instantly, after I hit the publish button, of course. Facebook has preserved it for all eternity.

A few days later I spotted this gem in an office (note also the fantastic nautical themed to-do list) and just had to take a surreptitious photo:

safety alway's

Thankfully there is a web resource for apostrophe sins: www.apostrophecatastrophes.com.

An Awareness of What is Missing

Fifteenth century blogging.

Fifteenth century blogging.

While a fan of the Internet (we have a blog and podcast, after all), I’ve been growing increasingly concerned about the disruptive potential of our hyper-connected age. Just remember what happened after Gutenberg gave up on fabricating pilgrimage mirrors and took up that printing press idea. Or remember Socrates’ lament over the loss of oral culture to writing in the Phaedrus. It seems to me that mobile computing, social media and the sharing economy have just as much potential to cause social turbulence as did writing and the printing press. While writing the printing press ended up as positive developments in the long run, the jury is still out on our computer age. On a personal note, I’ve watched, to my frustration, as this blog has lost ground to the short attention span and creepy data harvesting tentacles of Facebook and other social media platforms.

So what can we do? Perhaps it’s futile, but I thought I’d devote some time in the next few weeks to developing skills that run counter to the prevailing technological winds. I’m hoping to, as George Clinton put it, “Free my mind so my ass will follow.” At the very least I’d like to enhance my own skills in these areas, but I’d also like to develop some classes or gatherings around these topics. And I’m hoping to reduce screen time.

The beginning of this strategy was to come up with a bucket list of the skills our Silicon Valley overlords are supplanting through new technologies. I thought of these four counter-cultural skills:

1. Memory
I’ve written about memory before. The important thing to note about it is that memory is a creative act, not a boring rote skill. It’s a way of expanding your mind’s creativity. And it’s relatively easy to learn. It’s also, of course, atrophying under our constant access to “the cloud.”

2. Wayfinding
GPS, and mobile technology are raising a generation that will no longer know how to get around without their phones. Like memory, wayfinding is a creative act. In the West we get hung up on maps, a relatively recent technology. If you look at indigenous cultures you’ll see that wayfinding is more about telling stories about the landscape. Think of the Polynesian’s abilities to cross vast distances, without maps or GPS, between tiny islands. Their wayfinding technique was about a relationship with nature: with the stars, the subtleties of ocean swells, the migratory patterns of birds, the movements of fish, the coloration of the ocean. What powers of imagination and observation are lost when we depend on maps and, worse, a talking computer?

3. Handwriting
Most states in the US no longer require children to learn handwriting (my own state of California still teaches cursive along with just a handful of others). But what will be lost in a world we only interact with via a keyboard and mouse? What will happen to our fine motor skills? My own handwriting is abysmal:

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Yet, with just a hour’s worth of practice using the handwriting chapter in the back of Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, I was able to do this:

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Kelly describes it as looking like a 19th century toddler’s scrawl and the calligraphers in our readership won’t be impressed, but with a modest amount of practice I should be able to write better cursive. At the very least, I’m going to use handwriting practice as a way of luring myself away from the temptation of Internet surfing.

4. Contemplation
Reclaiming the contemplative moments of our lives is out of my area of expertise and a bit off topic for this blog, but it’s still very important to me. I wrote about it when I covered the topic of acedia (a more precise way of defining distraction), and I’ll leave it at that for now.

A cranky conclusion
I’ve noticed that when the press covers the constant state of distraction our technology has put us in, they tend to immediately jump to neuroscience studies to understand why we’re addicted to checking our email, phones, etc. While I have no doubt there are neurological phenomena at work here, we also need to look at the sociological and spiritual issues surrounding the skills we’re losing. We can’t forget that the forces that want to keep us in a state of distraction or acedia, and constantly glued to our screens, have economic and social agendas. They are harnessing acedia to sell us crap we don’t need and harvest our personal data for their financial gain.

But I also don’t want to come off as a Luddite. I like the community that this blog has formed, as well as the great people I’ve met through resources like Meetup.com. And I know a few people who use social media in a very positive and uplifting way (which should, perhaps, be the subject of a future blog post).

So what do you think? What skills did I leave out? How is your relationship to technology evolving?

Pack Rat Palladio

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Admission: I’m a column hoarder. And the past few days I’ve been laying about, recovering from minor ailments and watching, through binoculars, a nice old house get demolished. I had my eye on the columns from the front porch and I just happened to be watching as the workers started pitching those columns into a dumpster. Summoning a reserve of foolish energy, I ran over and asked the workers if I could have the columns. I now have four more columns for my collection. Kelly is concerned.

Over the years I’ve acquired quite a few columns. I think their abundance has something to do with the Dwell Magazinifiction of our old neighborhood. As poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay put it, “As public sex was embarrassing to the Victorians, public classicism is to us.” The mid-century modern crowd just doesn’t dig the Doric, the Ionic or the Corinthian. Columns, molding, wood siding, old windows and many other ornamental details have fallen out of favor and are ending up on the curb.

House flippers loss, my gain. I’ve put my column collection to work as a grape arbor:

grapearbor

As garden follies:
follie
And a pretentious flanking of our back door:

backdoor

I’ve done a bit of indiscriminate column hoarding too. This tacky one should probably have been let in the street:

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As soon as I recover from last week’s kidney stone surgery, I plan on restoring the four I just scavenged for use either as a shade covering for the back patio, a neo-classical clothes line or an extension of our rose arbor entry.

Perhaps someday I’ll aspire to something as grand as the broken column house in the Désert de Retz.

Brother, My Cup is Empty

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Nick Cave in 20,000 Days on Earth.

Here at Root Simple we’ve long had a rule that it’s forbidden to write a blog post about why there’s no blog post. Nick Cave’s song There She Goes My Beautiful World sums up why. In short it’s pathetic to explain why I don’t feel like writing a new rocket stove post when much better writers easily accessed the muses under far more difficult circumstances. As Cave puts it,

John Wilmot penned his poetry
Riddled with the pox
Nabokov wrote on index cards
At a lectern, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff
Imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive
When he wrote Chinese Rocks

Our excuses? A kidney stone caused emergency room visit. We have a sick cat (Phoebe’s heart took a turn for the worse). Kelly had a record setting multi-day migraine.

So I guess this means that I’ve finally written the infamous “why there is no post” post. I’ll let Cave have the last word:

So if you got a trumpet, get on your feet
Brother, and blow it
If you’ve got a field, that don’t yield
Well get up and hoe it
I look at you and you look at me and
Deep in our hearts know it
That you weren’t much of a muse
But then I weren’t much of a poet

Skyglow Raises Awareness of Light Pollution

Two local LA photographers, Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan, just surpassed their Kickstarter goal to fund a very worthy project: a book, using the duo’s stunning timelapse photography to raise awareness of the problem of light pollution. For us humans, if we can’t see the night sky we lose our sense of wonder. But light pollution also harms many of the earth’s organisms, from migrating birds to insects.

This is one of those problems that would be relatively easy to fix simply by making sure that lighting is not directed upwards and by using bulbs that emit light on a limited portion of the spectrum. And we’ll save energy in the process. Unfortunately, as the Los Angeles Weekly recently reported, the City of Los Angeles has not done a good job with light pollution.

If you’d like to contribute to Mehmedinovic and Heffernan’s project, their website is skyglowproject.com. And check out our post on light pollution, Why Your Garden Should Be Dark at Night.