Thursday, 21 May 2015

Prophesying the Cyber-Sangha

This week I found a stunning quarter-column in an ancient Life magazine, dated 18 July 1962. In it, an uncredited writer summarises a Horizon magazine article (whether the British or American version is unspecified) by Arthur C. Clarke, in which the famous engineer and author meditates on the then-recent launch of Telstar I, Earth's first communications satellite.

The new technology, Clarke said, would continue to develop and spread until at last it had revolutionised virtually every aspect of human life. Among the changes he saw coming (quoted verbatim from Life):
  • High-riding (22,000 miles up) nuclear-powered transmitters in synchronized orbit which will make absolute privacy impossible. Completely mobile person-to-person telephone facilities will mean individuals can no longer escape from society, even in mid-ocean or on a mountaintop. This has, Clarke concedes, "its depressing implication."
  • An orbital post office handling transocean correspondence by instantaneous facsimile, and orbital newspapers dialled onto a high-definition screen in your home.
  • An electronic library – just in time, Clarke thinks, to keep libraries from collapsing under the weight of their own books – which can flash any piece of reading matter in existence from a central "memory bank" onto a home screen.
  • A powerful impulse to develop a world language – almost surely, he thinks, English. 
  • A complete breakdown of censorship, since communications satellites eventually can reach every living person on earth. Despite the possibilities for scatter-shot sadism and pornography, Clarke is on the whole optimistic since, as he wrote in Horizon, "no dictatorship can build a wall high enough to stop its citizens' listening to the voices from the stars."
Incredible to observe that over half a century ago, Clarke, while slightly off-mic on the precise nature of the coming technology (the Internet being primarily terrestrial), got 4 1/2 out of 5 points dead-on, in both principle and detail. I dispute his prophecy that English would become "Earthese", despite the desperate claims of contemporary speakers. But there's no doubt it has become much more widespread; is in fact the default auxiliary in much of the world; and that it rode the Information Age to that position.

More astounding are his bang-on predictions of the primacy of pornography and sadism in our world; the extinction of privacy; the negative spiritual aspects of perpetual connectivity; and the debilitating effect that connectivity would have on authoritarians and their regimes.

The unnamed Life reporter concludes with this advice:
In ways largely unpredictable now, Telstar and its successor will surely change the life and thinking of all nations. They challenge us to take full advantage of our awesome opportunities.
I wish I could claim we've done that. But at least I'm doing my part; Arthur C. Clarke, at any rate, would have no trouble understanding the concept of a cyber-monk.

(Photo of Thor Delta rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral on 10 July 1962, bearing the Telstar I communications satellite, courtesy of NASA, Wikimedia Commons, and a generous uploader.)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

WW: Yard rabbits

(I believe these are European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Introduced from Britain in the 19th century, they've become naturalised throughout the North Coast.)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Why Forest?









"Hermit wisdom is mountain-grown. It's the richest kind."

Mrs. Olson(-roshi)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

WW: Yellow flag lilies



(Iris pseudacorus; an invasive from the Old World, infesting all
North Coast shorelands salt and fresh. Beautiful all the same.)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A Million Tiny Shipwrecks: Velella

Science has made incredible bounds over the past few centuries, but unsolved mysteries still persist, even in everyday phenomena. Case in point: Velella velella. The precise nature of this common, extraterrestrial-looking cnidarian still confounds biologists. Some say it's an organism; some say it's a colony of smaller organisms. You wouldn't think such a question would be hard to settle in this day and age, but the debate rages on.

Velella – the word means "little sail" – is called sail jelly here on the North Coast, sea raft or by-the-wind sailor elsewhere, and the confusion over its basic composition is just the start of its weirdness. It also has a two-stage life cycle, giving birth to tiny jellyfish that somehow – no-one is quite sure how – come together later to form the sail-driven second stage pictured here. Far out at sea, great shoals of these tiny living sailboats run before the prevailing winds, the polyps below their waterlines straining plankton from the water.

Because they have no other means of propulsion, or even a rudder, they are liable to shipwreck on the beach in vast numbers if conditions take a turn for the unforeseen. When I was a boy, a sail jelly raid of this type, produced as it was by a radical deviation from usual wind and current patterns, signalled optimum pickings for prized Japanese glass net floats. Sadly, virtually all floats today are opaque plastic; not half as fun. But you can still smell a raid half a mile away; those tonnes of decaying flesh on the sand let you know it's happened again.

I for one am happy for it, all the same. Sail jelly raids were annual occurrences when I was a kid, but it's been years since I saw one. I was beginning to fear they'd passed onto the growing list of species we'll never see again.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

WW: Christmas cactus blossom


(Genus Schlumbergera; no less beautiful for tardiness. Interesting trivium: the six species of Schlumbergera occur only on a short stretch of coastal mountains in southeastern Brazil.)

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Autonomy Kyôsaku

Datong








By oneself is evil done
By oneself is one defiled
By oneself is evil left undone
By oneself is one made pure
Purity and impurity depend on oneself
No one can purify another

Siddhartha Gautama, Dhammapada XII, verse 165.




(Photo of a Buddha from the Yungang Grottoes courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)
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