“Tomorrow is what one hopes will be better than yesterday. If it is not, then it is today.”
TODAY FROM AMERICA:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN CALIFORNIA:
So, off I flew from Bangkok, leaving LM at the airport and about 20 hours later landed at LAX and for almost two hours worked my way through what must be the world’s worst international arrivals circumstances. Monty was waiting to pick me up. He looked better than I had expected given the dire reports about his health I had received.
We drove to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Redondo Beach where we met Ben and where I drank too much wine. The next morning I decided to leave for SF because Monty was busy on one of his deals and gypsy style had no permanent residence, moving from motel to motel as the need arose.
Before leaving I stopped at Jimmy’s clothing store in Redondo Beach. Jimmy is a delightful Pakistani gentleman and wine connoisseur. We spent about an hour sitting on a bench in front of his shop discussing the spiritual simplicities of Ramadan, the health benefits of fasting and commiserating about the lack of potential customers.
Ben drove me to the train station where I took the train to Berkley to spend the evening with my sister. Although it was not the Coast Starlight but instead traversed the Central Valley, I still loved the trip. It took about seven hours, but was much more comfortable than the plane, has free internet connection and tables at which I was able to comfortably work or nod off as the whim took me.
The next day my brother-in-law George and I drove into SF to visit my mom. She was feeling a bit under the weather because of back pains. After lunch we took her for a ride along Ocean Beach. We dropped her back at the nursing home and I than took the Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento.
Norbert and Stevie, picked me up at the station and regaled me with a fine salmon dinner at their home. We talked about events almost 40 years ago that still remain a significant obsession to us today.
They dropped me off in el Dorado Hills where after hugging Hayden, I fell asleep.
The next day, I worked with the attorney handling the custody litigation after which we both felt relatively confident about our eventual success. During a follow-up call regarding some new information I had received, the attorney reported that the opposing lawyer told him that his client is considering dropping the case.
Nikki arrived later that night. The next day Nikki, Hayden and I went to the water park in Roseville. Although all I wanted to do is float around on an inner-tube, they persuaded me to risk cardiac arrest by repeatedly climbing in 100+ degree heat into tall towers to slid down a twisted inclined plane into a tiny pool of water.
The next day SWAC held a garage sale where she sold things she had lying around the house; a lot of which I recognized I had purchased over the years. The night before SWAC noticed the fake L. Viuton wallet I had bought in Cambodia for $4 and decided to give me a real L. Viuton wallet she had never used, that I had bought for her 10 years ago for $300.
While at the health club a few days ago, I ran into a middle-aged acquaintance, a sailor in his working life, busily engrossed in his smart phone applications. I asked him how the device affected his life.
“Well,” he responded, “I don’t go to the movies, they’re free on-line. I don’t read books either. I shop on-line and the stuff is delivered. I live in the city, closer to medical services so I don’t need a car. I kept my motor bike for getting around. I keep in touch with friend’s all over the world, it’s cheaper than going there myself. Mostly it helps me save money for health care.”
A few weeks earlier, I asked my 20-year-old grandson the same question. He recently moved from San Francisco to the small Central Valley town of Reading where he does a modest business selling things on the internet.
“I can do business from anywhere now. Living is cheaper here. I’m nearer the mountains for skiing. I keep in touch with all my old friends. I have time to kick back with friends who live nearby.”
I am sure most people have had or heard similar conversations before.
These type of life-style choices go on around us all the time now. They have consequences; economic, social and on the community and its physical design.
For example, a decision by as little as three percent of potential second car purchasers to delay or permanently do without, could affect the entire automotive industry and those dependent on it resulting in companies like, say, General Motors unable to adequately finance expansion and replacement of assets by sales of equity thereby forcing a greater reliance on debt financing and cost cutting with the costs to be cut coming primarily in the areas of labor and innovation.
Although the two people quoted are definitely not “Main Stream” (e.g., house in the suburbs and particular consumption patterns), nevertheless, in social and economic contexts, those on the margins or edges can and often do have effects far greater than their numbers suggest.
There are many things that can be drawn from these conversations that one can speculate about. Although I may discuss some in later blog posts, my focus here is on the realization by many like my sailor friend and my grandson that mobile communication and the internet can cut down on their living costs in several ways.
For individuals, like the two above, the ability to do more with less and do it cheaper through modern technology transforms their life choices in ways that are only now beginning to be appreciated. Both men imply that modern technology lessens their need for high income to achieve their non-subsistence needs. They seem to view work as only the minimum needed to allow them to enjoy the full benefits of modern technology.
Imagine if you will, before embarking on their life’s work the young Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were offered a billion dollars to spend however they like, but they first must choose between working more than 10 hours a day six days a week in an exciting job as upper management in a large innovative corporation, or 4 hours a day or so working in some burger joint. Now, I cannot guess what Gates or Buffet would choose, but I suspect for most of us having more time to enjoy the billion dollars including using it to improve oneself or to engage in some appropriate life’s work would outweigh the less psychologically rewarding aspects of the burger job.
For many today like my two interviewees, modern technology offers them just that choice. Compared to say seventy years ago, modern relatively low-cost technology conceivably is comparable to the entertainment, informational and interpersonal benefits they could buy with a billion dollars (or the equivalent in today’s dollars) then.
So what does this have to do with smart and connected communities of the future? A lot actually. Both the sailor and the young man, largely because modern communications technologies satisfy so much or their needs relatively inexpensively, have settled comfortably into what has been referred to as “resilient walkable” communities. Older communities, with existing and less expensive housing well served by local urban amenities such as better transportation options. Ironically these resilient walkable communities tend to be denser than the suburbs and foster more interpersonal interactions (coffee houses and the like)
Recent studies seem to indicate that American neighborhoods with better transportation choices have far more discretionary income than the average American family or those who live in the outer, “Auto-dependent” suburbs. An average family earning $40,000 per year can save over $4000 per year by moving into a transit oriented development. They can then use that money to pay off the debts that they incurred to the banks that persuaded them modern economics can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics and grow forever or they can spend some of it upgrading their personal communication capability.
During my talks with them I got the impression that the nature of their more mobile lifestyles lead them to prefer inexpensive rentals rather than being tied down to a fixed asset and that their living space needs have shrunk also.
I also surmise that they are not searching for expensive upgrades to their homes or neighborhoods such as energy independence or technological displays, preferring to save their money for better and more versatile applications to those devices that remain as close to them as their clothing, go where they go, satisfy their needs and connect them to the world.
They seem to be turning Thorsten Veblen’s observation on its head. We may be changing from a society of “Conspicuous Consumption,” to one of “Conspicuous Non-consumption.”
Perhaps we are entering a time where for some, possibly even many, the future of community may be in an application and everything else merely a temporary accommodation.
2011 – In America, for the first time in over 60 years urban populations have grown twice as fast as low density suburban populations.
2012 – 66% of Americans ages 24-35 own a smart phone
A. Pookie’s puerile epigrams:
Beauty is what I say it is.
If I can persuade at least one other person to agree with what I say is beautiful, I can call myself an “Artist.”
If I can pursued lots of people, I either am an “art critic” or I have created a religion.
C. Do Generals do this all the time?
During the suppression of the Philippines in the 1900s an American General Jacob H. Smith issued the following frightening order to kill all Philippine, men, women and children over the age of ten within the area of his command:
“I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States,”
Although he was subsequently court marshaled he got off with only a “reprimand.”
During the Vietnam war Lt Calley was forced to serve three years under house arrest for ordering the killing over 10 times fewer people in the village of Mai Lai under similar circumstances, but he was not a General. Calley said he was only “following orders.” I wonder what was General Smith’s excuse?
D. Preparing our children to meet the challenges of the future.
“One day in 1943 when I was already in Crematorium 5, a train from Bialystok arrived. A prisoner on the ‘special detail’ saw a woman in the ‘undressing room’ who was the wife of a friend of his. He came right out and told her: ‘You are going to be exterminated. In three hours you’ll be ashes.’ The woman believed him because she knew him. She ran all over and warned to the other women. ‘We’re going to be killed. We’re going to be gassed.’ Mothers carrying their children on their shoulders didn’t want to hear that. They decided the woman was crazy. They chased her away. So she went to the men. To no avail. Not that they didn’t believe her. They’d heard rumors in the Bialystok ghetto, or in Grodno, and elsewhere. But who wanted to hear that? When she saw that no one would listen, she scratched her whole face. Out of despair. In shock. And she started to scream.”
Filip Muller, Auschwitz survivor interview in the film “Shoah”