Watch This Space

I published my first Ubiquitous. Quotidian. blog post in December 2010. At the time, I was halfway into what would be my 20 year career as an academic librarian. I was father to a three year old child and the first generation iPad had just been released. I was fascinated by the emerging importance of mobile computing as I watched smartphone ownership transform the way everyone I knew worked, played and related to one another in real time. Being an idealist and informational professional, I was hopeful about the ways widespread (ie. ubiquitous) internet access might unleash and amplify creative capacities of all people in surprising, useful ways in everyday life (ie quotidian).

It did. Looking back these 11 years, I hardly recognize the place.

I thought of my blog as a place to chronicle observations about transformations in my personal life and society at large. I did some of that and captured milestones of my own contributions to that work at my college, library and home.

Looking back 395 posts doesn’t seem a substantial document of everything that happened in those 11 years. I also notice that, with time, I have written less and less about information technologies and more about the emotional and intellectual developments of my own mind. This is a thing, I am told, that happens with maturity. As we age, the world begins to make less and less sense to us and we begin to turn inward. In middle life we turn inward to gather resources for the work of making sense of our own selves. I call it “going into the forest”, which is a phrase I took from an author I read (James Hollis?) or a therapist I once worked with or a wise, long-bearded elder I once met sitting in meditation at the crossing of many roads. (Note: it was James Hollis.)

Photo by Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga on

I have been quiet here in recent months because I haven’t known how I want to use this space. Several years ago, I changed the tagline from “Have Internet. Will travel.” to “Evolution of a Curious Mind.” The tagline feels right but the title no longer does.

My work here is about sense making. It is about protecting my own sense of wonder, inquiry and curiosity against the dulling effects of this never-ending, all-you-can-eat conveyor belt buffet of sensation, information and voice we have made of our 21st century lives. It is about the life and times of a digital magpie. It is about keeping one’s self sane.

I am thinking a lot about the idea of palimpsest:

  • Palimpsest definition 1: “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.”
  • Palimpsest definition 2: “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.”

The word fascinates me. Palimpsest evokes the realization that nothing new exists except in its relationship to everything else, everything that went before and everything that came after.

We don’t have thoughts really. Our thoughts have us. If we pay attention, we can see traces of our thoughts echoing up to us from the deepest past and echoing also away into the world and spreading toward future. Our thoughts are created from the interactions of thousands of other ideas, notions and expressions reaching us everyday. They penetrate and pass through us like radiation.

And we radiate our own thoughts, ideas and perspectives through interactions with one another every day.

It seems to me a confluence of the Buddhist notion of karma, emerging lines of information theory and the poetic possibilities of quantum physics.

That last sentence is embarrassing. It doesn’t actually mean anything except to say I am wanting a new way to make sense of things and your eyes on this blog matters because it means our lives have intersected, these thoughts I am having are touching some of the thoughts you are now having. And your thoughts, perhaps, are touching mine.

I am tired of my old habits of sense-making. I am going into the forest to find some other way of understanding. Something akin to scholarly rigor, spiritual awe and the feeling of “understanding without understanding” one gets from making poetry.

If you will continue to read, we can enter the forest together.

I’m Still Here

A few friends have started asking if I’m still here, still writing. Yes. Thanks for asking. It feels good to be missed.

I haven’t been blogging much because I have been focused on Other Projects. Oh, and the election, which I don’t want to talk about except to say it has been consuming much of my attention. I have been gorging myself on a steady diet of podcasts, news articles and social media posts. The end result has been outrage, crippling anxiety and a sense of impending doom. Perhaps you can relate?

I have a lot to say but have decided to try and keep my mouth shut. Nobody listens anyway. Everybody votes from the gut and then looks for comforting shreds of information to placate their nerves and justify their bias. We are irrational creatures.

I try to channel this weird energy into something productive, like writing an apocalyptic fantasy that arcs across three books about a corrupt king, a broken hearted terrorist, and a orphan daughter who has tremendous powers she cannot possibly begin to understand. You know, the usual remedy.

I have been working steadily and feel good about where the work is heading. But now it is time to ramp things up. I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, which means I will need to triple my word count for November which means I will be focused on my Other Projects for a while. I’ll try to post from time to time, but for now just want you to know I’m still here.

A Word of Thanks

I just want to take a quick moment to say thank you. Last week, Ubiquitous Quotidian had more visits and more new followers than any week since I started this blog in December 2010. I appreciate the visits, the comments and the likes. Each is a kind of affirmation. I am grateful.

I write because I need to. There are so many words trapped inside me, they would spill out over everything else if I didn’t release them somewhere. There are stories in there, entire lives that do not belong to me. I am a poor custodian of these lives and stories. I cannot do them justice. I cannot get them into the light fast enough.

The work of writing is solitary. I fear the isolation of putting words down, setting them aside, letting them slowly accumulate like snowfall over night. I want to get these things born, drag them into the world where they can be seen and can belong to someone besides me.

For me, the blog is an intermediate space. A place to work with ideas in public and hear my own thoughts spoken aloud. There is much about writing that needs to be private, that should not be shared before it is time. I appreciate having a space that we can share, you and I, where can put those other things until it is time.

More Than Content

I have been thinking about Jim Rettew’s comments about the Idea Industry and how treating ideas and inspiration as commodities limits how we can interact with and use those ideas.

The Idea Industry is way bigger than TED. It includes writers like Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladstone, podcasts and, yes, bloggers.

As one of those bloggers, I sometimes wonder what it is I am actually doing when I write for other people to read. Am I just moving ideas around from place to place, pointing to interesting sites that others might find inspiring or, at least, amusing for a short while? Or does my work as a blogger contribute something greater?

We often talk about blogs and books and articles and movies as content, as if it were something physical that resides inside something else. A specific, discrete something with its own properties than can be placed in a vessel, carried somewhere else and then transferred to another vessel. That is the connotation of content. In this model, art is about information transfer.

Blogs and books and articles and movies can be more than just content. Content is information. If blogging is just about information transfer then it is easily done and pretty much anyone can do it.

My best blog posts, the one’s that get comments and get people interested, are the posts that tell stories. Good blog posts share something from personal experience and connect it to the experience of other people. That is what we can do here to add value. We can tell stories. We can tell stories about ourselves, people we know and people we invent. We can tell stories as a way to connect insights to experience.

Come to think of it, this is what great teachers do, too. They move beyond lecture and tell interesting stories to help students make their own insights.

Come to think of it, this is what Jesus and Buddha did. They didn’t lecture or preach a lot. They pretty much went around telling people interesting stories that connected ideas to experience. That’s how major movements get born.

The way we think about what we do determines the value of what we do. If we trap ourselves into the act of creating content, that is all we will ever have to offer. We can offer more of ourselves and help make the best ideas come to life.

We can tell stories.

TED Talks as One Night Stand

Last week, I wrote a bit about the limits and virtues of TED Talks as a vehicle for ideas that can transform how we work and live. I love TED Talks and usually find them wildly inspiring. The trick is what to do with that feeling. Where can we carry that sense of inspiration? How do we apply it?

Jim Rettew offers great insights on the nature of TED and what we should be doing with it. You should read “Are TED Talks a One Night Stand With Ideas?”

Rettew offers two essential insights for me. The Biggest Ideas are usually statements of problem rather than statements of solution. He offers Picasso’s Guernica as an example.  To be fair, Guernica is a different sort of thing than a talk, but the example gets Rettew to this statement:

Great Ideas, then, don’t merely easily please us with their immediate utility — often, they break our hearts with desperate futility; with both the aching impossibility and sure inevitability of the trials and tests of human life. But that’s precisely what makes them Great.

Which leads to Rettew’s other essential point about the TED Talks way of sharing: “It gives us the climax of epiphany, without the challenge and tension of thought.”

The habit of thinking represented by TED Talks delivers the quick thrill of insight without the underlying work of thought, reflection and bewilderment.

Rettew sees trouble not specifically with TED Talks, but rather the Ideas Industry. TED Talks are just a useful exemplar.

TED Talks are powerful, useful and generally helpful. The trouble is with the easy trust that TED Talks can create. The TED Talks website is an epiphany machine. Since viewers receive these epiphanies without the preliminary discomforts of confusion, critical thought and experience, the machine delivers the appearance of solutions as a form of entertainment. We can feel better about things because smart people have come up with great ideas. Action is not required. We aren’t asked to actually do anything.

Great Ideas, Rettew tells us, require something from us. Great Ideas require action. We are more than pundits and consumers.

As bloggers, we are part of the Ideas Industry. When I post, what is it I am doing? Am I contributing something useful that can be used to make something useful happen? Am I just a conduit for the comfort of other people’s epiphanies?

Maybe the idea of epiphany is what I am actually working with in this series of posts. The assumed belief that useful insights and solutions always arrive as epiphanies, and that progress always happens in unexpected, brilliant leaps forward.

We need those leaps sometimes, to be sure.

More often, progress comes from slow, steady application of reason, hypothesis and process of elimination.

The Idea Industry tells us that epiphanies are required to make things better. The problem is that epiphanies are not something we can count on everyone to provide. If we are going to improve things that matter, we need to get everybody into the game. We need to encourage both kinds of thinking.