When I was looking for our friend Chad Hogg’s Lehigh University profile, I discovered that in addition to the fancy schmancy black Google bar, the search pages now have a red text motif and look streamlined. They even have new icons. Observe:
I’ve decided to call this Google Wolfpac. Yes, Mom, I’m 31 years old and reasonably well-educated, but this is where my mind goes:
I used to work for a mutual fund company, but I’d never say I’m an expert on the economy. If you want to wax nostalgic with me about a time when money markets were paying more than .01 percent, I can handle that. If you want to talk about Series 6 and Series 63 licensing exams, I’m sorely out of date. That said, I retain the basics, and I happened to leave the industry just as everything started to crumble.
I say “started” because everything’s still crumbling. I’m no Amartya Sen, but we Americans have the long historical memory of the Great Depression always at our backs, and while most of us don’t really understand everything that’s been going wrong, our gut index is pretty savvy. We know when times are bad and we know when they’re not getting any better.
In the mid and late 70s, just before I was born, there was an energy crisis, a high Misery Index, inflation, bad geopolitical situations and, so I’m told by the media and everyone over 50, a prevailing and understandable emotional malaise. People were worried, afraid, out of work, strapped.
In 2011, the gut index tells a similar story. We know, deep down, that we’re still in an energy crisis and will be until renewable fuel becomes a nationwide efficiency and standard. The Misery Index is officially back in political discourse. The economy is abysmal, the world stage is a mess (with some hopeful things still happening), and people are worried, afraid, out of work, busted.
Once upon a time, when main street was “white washed windows and vacant stores,” we had the luxury of telling ourselves that even if our mid-sized industrial cities failed, the wealth of the burgeoning suburbs would save us. Fail our cities did, and so grew the suburbs, over green space, agricultural space, water tables, cemeteries. So grew our commuter corridors, our pollution emissions, our traffic patterns, and BMIs.
Take a look around your local suburban strip mall. Witness all the empty store fronts. Consider all the tier two stories at your local mall. If your gut’s like mine, it’s telling you things are getting worse.
I’m not an alarmist, but it seems patently obvious to me that the era of suburban mercantilism is over. And, like most forms of mercantilism, the suburban boom of the last 20 years was, itself, a bubble. On the frontier line of our industrial cities, townships had wide open space to develop and overdevelop. The businesses leaving our strip malls like they once left our downtowns are never coming back, that is, there will never again be the faux demand for that many grocery stories, hair cutteries, pet shops, Subways, and Chinese buffets. We simply don’t need that many Wal-Marts or Targets or Sears.
What to do now with these vacant spaces?
Knock a few walls down and mix open space in with surviving retail. Plant flowers, get benches. Make butterfly gardens and bike racks. Young people drive the economy, and young people like being outside. We like having access to options. We’d love to sit in the grass with our kids while our spouses run errands elsewhere on the strip. We like eating outside, learning outside, shopping outside. Tell us that your micro-greens in the suburbs are part of your commitment to sustainability, and even if we don’t believe you, we’ll use them. What goes better next to a Petsmart than a dog park? Why not put tables and chairs and umbrellas between Subway and the pizza place? How about some of those lawn games hipsters love? Maybe a fountain or two.
One of the things our suburban communities lack is access to open, common spaces at commerce centers. Target being close enough to drive to from soccer practice isn’t what I mean. I mean walkability and multipurpose. Micro-greens could bring these opportunities. Kids could paint murals and the real estate companies could compete for most beautiful, creative, or sustainable patch. There could be concerts and readings and rallies and ecological learning stations. There could be weather monitors and air quality sensors. There could be meetings and speeches from leaders. There could be questions. And all of the sudden I’m talking about sustainability in much larger terms. I’m talking about art and culture and civics, all of those other things not commonly associated with our suburban places, and I’m talking about doing them out in the open, in front of people as a way of engagement, ecology and economic innovation.
My gut index says many, many people are more likely to patronize a multipurpose complex like the kind I’m describing than the same old depressing vacant strip malls. My gut says people want creative solutions, more fresh air, more green grace and more synchronicity. In short, we want better options than the failed strip mall aesthetic, and we want to be able to access our disparate goods quickly and efficiently. Beat those vacant spaces into open ones. If you unbuild it, they will come.
Three Pillars Trading Company is a client of mine. I’m producing blog articles for this fair-trade, sustainable import business, and from time to time, I’ll be sharing pieces of them here. My first post at Three Pillars is about the disgusting conditions that factory workers in Shenzhen, China endure while they put together our computers and hand-held devices. Yes, as fellow Apple fanboy Mike Daisey exposes, even our MacBooks and iPhones.
Monologist and raconteur Mike Daisey recently spent hundreds of hours exploring the treatment of industrial workers in the Shenzhen region of China. His findings are nothing short of chilling, and he’s taking to the stage (and Internet) to get the message out. Mike makes the stunningly simple observation that while most justice-minded people work very hard to integrate their ethics and consumer choices when buying socks and sneakers, very few of us ever really stop think about the fabrication and delivery chains that produce our favorite hand-held devices.
Continue reading here. Whatever you do, be sure to click through and watch the video interviews TechCrunch conducts with Daisey. They’ll make you angry, sad, and sick. The fact that people like Mike Daisey exist might also make you feel some hope. As I’ve said before, if I ever link to anything I’ve been paid to produce, I’ll say so. That’s the case here, but, as you might know, I only take jobs from organizations I can get behind. It would be great if you surfed from here to my cool new client, but much more important to me and to Three Pillars is that you please, please, please hear what Mike Daisey has to say. In fact, here’s a direct link right to the TechCrunch article with three video segments. They are worth your time.
As for Three Pillars, one of the chief goals of their blog is to provide a place of interest and information gathering around the the kinds of issues that people interested in fair-trade goods are likely to also care about. If you do make your way there, I know the Three Pillars folks would appreciate any feedback or comments you might have about how to make the blogging experience on their site all it can be. My job is strictly on the content side and I get to pick the issues I blog about there. If you have suggestions, please let me know.
While we’re on the subject of sustainability, and since I used “hell” in the title (that’s just a figure of speech, Rob Bell), I’ll also say this: after watching Daisey speak, I’m seriously worried about the state of the Western soul. Most of us don’t know that a company as seemingly with it as Apple is party to the things happening in Shenzen. We get great products for low Western prices, but at an unknown human cost to people with even less access to power than most of our own unemployed homeless.
I’ll be honest. This makes me feel like shit. Since I read Karl Rahner in div school (Savvy Sister, are you a fan of his? I am.), I’ve always thought his take on original sin made the most sense: everyday, we’re part of sinful, evil systems that we don’t even know about. Doing something as simple as buying a banana (let alone an gallon of gas or an iPod) might end up supporting unspeakable evil. The same goes for your retirement funds. Unless you’re in a socially aware mutual fund, chances are your IRAs are funding weapons and Chinese petro companies with dirty hands in Darfur. Shit, when I worked in finance, even the so-called “socially responsible funds” invested in Big Pharmaceuticals and Big Banks because after taking out cigarette makers, arms makers, gambling companies, pornographers and environmentally destructive firms, Banking and Medicine were the only two industries left. If you want a brief rundown on how powerful those industries are, consider if this is true where you live like it is here: most of the most consistent new construction going on prior to the banking crisis and even after was and is for new banks and new drugstores. I’m not saying prescription drugs aren’t legit or that there’s something wrong with taking medicine as directed, but we all know that on the R&D and supply ends, opportunity for corporate abuse is rife. I don’t think I need to say anything at all about banks and financial institutions. You know where I’m going.
Where does all this bullshit evil come from in the first place? I know the following:
everyone we meet is fighting a great war.
Karl Barth, (Karl Rahner’s Protestant Number) said that evil is the aggregation of humankind’s repeated choice of Das Nichtige (very basically: choosing “Not God” (aka “Nothingness”) instead of God, who is life) played out in history. He’s not very far from Rahner here when it comes down to it: Evil is a given, and it gets amplified as we continue to choose it (or, finally, participate it in unknowingly because it’s so entrenched). Its the manifestation of everything that isn’t God, actualized by aggregate choices and non-choices framed by the earlier actions of others (which, in fact, may not have been truly free choices, given #1).
be kind, because (see #1).
A dear friend of mine, wry with a sort of common-sense Pennsylvania German-Lutheran fatalism would say this leaves us pretty screwed. But I’m not so sure about that in the end. Shortly after I got out of the mutual fund industry, another friend of mine with many years in the retirement-planning business told me that it was impossible to invest with your conscience. As you might expect, I disagree. You probably do, too. Whether you’re a person a faith or simply a person of faithful ethics, you already know that voting with your dollars, so to speak, requires certain sacrifices. I’m due for a phone upgrade this month. Oh, how I want an iPhone. But maybe I won’t get anything. I know the phone I would have bought will still be made in shit-hole conditions and will still be sold. I know it will be the best looking chunk of original sin on the market. How funny that it’s made by a company who’s logo is a piece of bitten fruit. Well, not funny ha ha. Funny strange. Actually, not so funny at all.
“If you’re roughly my age, we may share some of these academic distinctions:
last or close-to-last class of students to attend various Cold War or pre-war era schools before their 90s and 2000s-riffic renovations. (Elementary school, high school, college)
last or close-to-last class to take a typing elective where actual typewriters were used. (9th grade, but I didn’t really learn to type until I started using AIM the next year.) Possibly the last class to even be offered a typing elective.
last class to run DOS in a computer applications class. (10th grade)
last class to run DOS-based email and instant messaging on campus servers. (college)”
What I didn’t mention was that before I learned to type (and before my family got our first home PC) we had a Brother word processor, a fantastic 80’s device that combined the functionality of a computer with none of the fun. Still, as a budding writer, I was mystified by the green and black interface and by the mechanical goodness of the printing process, which pounded out every word and punctuation mark with austere, efficient resolve. If you love the visceral feel of typewriter mechanics and, for whatever reason, the ability to edit typos before they actually print, brother, these things were for you.
I saw a featured post on the WordPress homepage today that took me back to the days of digital input and ribbon printing. Dr. J asks, and thankfully answers, the defining question of word processing’s transitional age: “Mr. Owl, how many spaces really DO go after the period?” One, he says. Just one.
Sir, I think I must respectfully disagree. See what I mean? Too close. Too close for comfort. My sentences need room to breathe, friend. Like this. And this. Maybe not this, though I was first taught to do three spaces. This just feels wrong. This is the good stuff.
Because I wanted to include a picture of a Brother word processor in this post, I found this excellent Craigslisting:
Brother Portable Daisy Wheel Word Processor – $35
Brother Word Processor WP- 2600 able to save document on discs, print, & see other worksheets, etc on the screen. Great for someone beginning to learn keyboard typing & doesn’t have access to computer. Prints & saves documents.
Whisper Print ultra quiet daisy wheel system
Standard 3.5″ 720KB disk drive for MS-DOS file compatibility with PC’s
Allows transfer to ASCII files
Allows conversion of spreadsheets to LOTUS 1-2-3 WK1 files
Double column printing
Icon main menu
Dual screen capability
Allows you to view two files simultaneously and exchange information between them
Easy to read 5″x9″ (15 lines by 91 character) CRT display with contrast adjustment
GrammarCheck I with “word-spell” 70,000 word dictionary and 204 programmable user words
45,000 word thesaurus
Easy access pull down menus
On screen help function
Uses Model 1030 correctable ribbon and Model 3010 correction tape
Bold and expanded print
Automatic “Word-Out” and “Line-Out” correction system erases a single word or a complete line
Automatic relocation after correction
Direct and line-by-line typing to handle labels and envelopes
Full line lift-off correction memory
Disk copy allows you to copy text from one disk to another
I’m not too enthused about the ultra quiet daisy wheel print system, but this post does a great job of showing us all the features that made these things practical for people who didn’t want or need a personal computer back in the day. What a fantastic hybrid of nineteenth and twentieth century innovations, you are, Word Processor. Even if you have no place in the 21st century market place, you’ll always have one in my heart. Shine on, you crazy diamond!
In honor of you, and of the icy, wintry mix outside, I offer proof of how badly we needed you:
I love you. And I love the Beatles exactly as much as I’m supposed to (that is, you know, a lot). Congratulations on settling your differences, but this is hardly “A day I’ll never forget.” When you promise earth-shattering things, I’m expecting some new paradigm shifting device. Or moon colonization. Not Rubber Soul, great as it is.