I ran across this article on Sunday and it reminded me that I haven’t talked to you about the moral of Mesh. Yes, Virginia, there’s a moral. In fact, there’s a hidden cautionary scifi tale within Mesh.
Within the story, I talk about kids inventing a world-changing technology. By the end of the book, you’ll be scared by the implications of that technology. That’s my intent. Why should technology scare you? Let’s talk about that. First, let’s discuss the article itself and then we’ll talk about how Mesh connects.
Is Technology Making Things Better? That’s a good question. For geeks, we focus on what could be, not why it should be. We’re wired that way. Civilization follows behind, happy to reap the rewards of our curiosity. As a result, humanity has run a rabid, manic marathon of discover for two centuries now. Are we better off because of these new inventions and possibilities?
“We face a growing array of problems that involve technology directly or indirectly,” as Dr. John K. Davis of California State University, Fullerton states. “[T]he core problem is that we’re becoming more powerful but not more wise. The growing gap between our technological power and our wisdom is the ultimate cause of all these problems. We are clever enough to create problems we aren’t wise enough to avoid. ”
Dr. Davis is focusing on something I knew would be important to talk about when I started writing scifi four years ago: the Why of technology, and not just the What. I disdain scifi that’s little more than a sophisticated toy catalog. If you’re going to have laser swords and starships, I want to know why you have them. I want to know what this technology can do to push the human condition forward. Continue reading
If you write, there’s one person you’re going to make friends with along with everyone else: Your inner critic. The angry little man in your head that hates on everything you do. You know who I’m talking about. I’ve been trying to make peace with that guy my entire life.
Now your inner critic comes in many flavors. Maybe they sound like your mom, your dad, or a teacher. My inner critic is an Angry Little Man, and he sounds like the Teeny Little Super Guy from Sesame Street. In fact, he’s such a persistent part of my life that I made him a character in Mesh. Let Roman learn to deal with him!
Inner critics are brilliant at validating all your fears and insecurities. They are artists at cancelling out any type of positivity, exploiting every weakness. Inner critics are masters at making everything you think, say, or do sound as negative as possible.
The reason I’m talking about the Angry Little Man is this: We all have one. It’s okay to have him there. A lot of people live with an inner critic, and managing him is a life skill unto itself.
Since it’s the weekend, enjoy this *amazing* music video by The Weeknd, set to animation from the official Star Wars Kids youtube channel. The song is a banger unto itself, but when combined with the Star Wars animation well, it’s just awesome, that’s all.
This post isn’t about science fiction, but rather the craft of storytelling and why Taylor Swift is an expert at it. I’m reminded of that quote from Network where someone says Peter Finch ‘articulates the popular rage.’ Swift can also be credited for articulating her outrage with modern mendacity, which is why I’m writing down another theorem for modern life:
Theorem of Swift’s Constant Outrage
For every emotional inconsistency or toxic behavior related to human relationships that evokes a sense of outrage, there is a Taylor Swift song written about it.
I don’t think of myself as a TaySwift fan, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy her music. In fact, I discovered a new amazing song today while looking for Youtube videos related to the idea ‘This is why we can’t have nice things.’ Lo and behold, there’s a Tay Swift song about this and she’s spitting fire with those lyrics.
So because I appreciate good storytelling and articulate concepts, I’m taking a moment to say that Taylor Swift is pretty darn good. Is she perfect? Of course not, but she’s talented and if you’re looking for someone to learn from, you could do worse.
Like you, I’m overwhelmed by the madness of current events. This is a different time, an angrier time. A time of wrath. A time of madness. A world where people stupid themselves to death. A world where innocence and humanity wash away in the inexorable tide of cruelty. Over and over, one word echoes into the darkness, one single word missing from all of this chaos: empathy.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. As human beings, we gravitate to those who show us empathy. We respond to those who relate to us. Sadly, we live in a time where empathy is a commodity, a sign of weakness.
In fact, when you think about modern civilization it’s clear our culture thinks that the strongest person in room is the one who cares the least.. Our culture values those who demand that everyone relate to them while relating to no one but themselves. ‘I’m the center of the universe,’ they say. ‘You revolve around *me.*’ Our culture takes its cue from that toxic mindset and says ‘okay, well since I want to be strong this is what I gotta do.’
Our culture thinks that the strongest person in room is the one who cares the least.
I can cite a hundred examples of what I mean based on the news this week, but next week you won’t remember them. We seem to be trapped on a treadmill of loathing and animus, and I’m not sure where this lunacy will end. So I’m not going to discuss in detail what is already known and lost. The world is not showing empathy, and it’s apathy seems to beget more apathy.
Nobody is perfect. Even professional facilitators recognize their own weaknesses when it comes to fostering environments of reciprocal empathy. Our disruptive age challenges cultural norms of what empathy is, and what it isn’t and it’s created confusion.
For guys in particular, there are experts who say ‘men are experiencing a clear tension point between the expectation for them to be empathetic and emotionally connected spouses and fathers, to the equally strong expectation for them to be manly providers for their families … this tension seems to be at breaking point; men just don’t seem to know who or what they are supposed to be in 2018 and beyond.’
So yes, showing empathy is hard, but it’s a vital part of humanity. Horrible things happen when we let greed and apathy run the world. When Charlie Chaplin talked about the ‘passing of greed’ in The Great Dictator, he did not know the world was staring down the barrel at the Second World War. He talked about being victims of a system that makes men torture, but we live now in that system and it’s of our own design. There’s no mistaking that our world has become vicious and repulsive.
It’s difficult to show empathy to cruel people. The only advice I can offer is ‘learn to deal with them.’ Don’t take what they say personally. Don’t try to make them understand. Distance yourself from them, and their influence. Cultivate and nurture relationships with people who deserve your trust and your compassion. Recognize that you are valuable, no matter what other people think, say, or do.
We can’t save everyone. We can’t fix everyone. A college professor once said: “You all have a little bit of ‘I want to save the world’ in you, that’s why you’re here, in college. I want you to know that it’s okay if you only save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you.” Even if the light inside of you is small, let it shine! It will help others find you in the dark.
Quick Housekeeping Note: this blog post will either make you or break you. If that’s not something you’re up for, feel free to pass this one by. One of the big ideas I talk about in Mesh are harsh truths, and here’s one of them: Sometimes, you will lose at life before you even get started.
I know Forrest Gump says life is like a box of chocolates, but that’s nonsense. Sometimes life is like playing a game you know you’re going to lose. Suiting up for a game that starts out 1000 – 0. Boarding a plane you know is going to crash. For many people, including kids, life is the torture of seeing a finish line they’ll never reach, but trying for it anyway.
These are some harsh truths to talk about, but the kids who enjoy Mesh will get what I’m saying. Too often, adults sugar-coat the truth because they don’t know what else to do. Bad circumstances, bad childhood, bad role models … any number of things can wreck your shot at life. No fault of your own, nothing you could have done differently. Life can and will break your wings before you get a chance to fly.
Life Isn’t a Box of Chocolates
“That’s not true,” people will sputter. They’ll cite example after example of people who solved their problems, overcame their obstacles. They fail to acknowledge is that life is complex. What works for one person may not work for another. All those little differences can add up to what engineers call a ‘cascade effect.’ Sometimes all the weak points of your life align at the wrong time, becoming a catastrophic failure.
Plus, in this low-empathy / boring dystopia world, your life isn’t just a struggle; it becomes work just to have you around. Kids exploring humor and empathy will make cruel jokes. People have to be willing to show compassion to make room for you and your circumstances. Hard times bring out the best in good people, and the worst in bad people. Not everyone is up for that kind of choice every day so they check out; even those who promised to be there no matter what. That’s a soul-crushing reality to accept.
I know there’s a common myth that any problem can be overcome with a sufficient amount of willpower and determination, but for many people including kids, that isn’t true. Some are born into life hampered by circumstances they can’t change, imprisoned by walls they cannot climb.
The Good News Is …
For those experiencing a loss at life, you should know that you aren’t alone. The bitterness that comes after realizing your best isn’t good enough? The anger and sadness from living a life dealt a raw hand? That’s something I talk about a lot in Mesh.
That anger, that sadness, that bitterness doesn’t have to be the end of the story. After all, if you relate to anything I just said, you might be asking yourself a reasonable question: If I’m going to lose, why try at all? What’s the point of playing, if there’s no possibility of winning?
I’ll tell you why. Buckle up, buttercup.
We try for one simple reason: we don’t know everything. You might be wrong about your chances, I might be wrong that our circumstances won’t change. We might be wrong that people won’t care, we might be wrong that things will never get better.
‘Losing at life’ is what happens when your narrow definition of success is unattainable. You lose at life when when you think there’s only one way to be happy. ‘Losing at life’ is what happens when you think only superheroes can be brave.
Give Yourself a Chance to Win
We might be wrong about all of those things and sometimes we have to lose at life, be screwed before we get started, before we can start to see all the ways we can win.
I’m not going to lie – my life, my actual life, is pretty messy. That’s one of the primary reasons I write: writing helps me keep my frustration, my anger, my depression under control. I describe all my negative stuff with this example.
Louis L’Amour talks about something called ‘creep’ in his novel about the Nevada Silver Rush Comstock Lode. Clay mud, compressed between plates of rock for millions of years, were suddenly freed. There was nothing the miners could do to stop the clay from coming, billions of tons of pressure forced the clay out like gray toothpaste. Instead, the miners had to work to keep the creep cut back every day – otherwise the clay would fill the tunnel.
Here’s the Point
I admit it: this is a complicated, obscure metaphor. If you can think of a better one, please feel free to share it. Until then, this is best way I can rationalize why I write and why writing and publishing are important to me. When I don’t write, when I don’t create, that dark stuff starts crowding in quick. Daily work to create, or build the Inkican platform, is what keeps it cut back.
One of the biggest challenges of these truths is to realize you don’t have all of them. I have no idea what the true answer is to all of this for me, or anyone else. All I know is that this is keeping me from giving up, and I talk about that in Mesh because there are many kids out there struggling on that journey with no idea how to take the first step. It’s important to me, then, for Mesh to help show Roman taking those first steps and getting the help he needs.
So the end of this blog post is really the beginning of a conversation. Mesh is a deeply personal project, as I’ve said. Now you know a little bit more about why it’s personal. I’m hoping that Roman, Zeke, and the rest of the Snow Foxes become friends for the other kids just like them. We’re all working to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives, now that life as we know it has come to an end.
As an aspiring sci-fi author, I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Star Wars. On the one hand, I love everything about Star Wars (Hello, see the previous post?) and will be celebrating May the Fourth with all of you. On the other, stuff has happened to the Star Wars franchise that makes me realize an uncomfortable truth: You love Star Wars, Jackson, but Star Wars doesn’t love you.
Maybe you saw this news story on Tuesday – Disney took some heat for some poorly-worded tweets connected to MayThe4th. According to the news story, ‘Disney Plus, encouraged fans to share their favourite Star Wars memories using the hashtag on Monday. It followed up with a legal warning suggesting any user who tweeted the hashtag was agreeing to Disney’s terms and letting it use their content.’
Then the fans exploded with indignation, and Disney walked their comments back, saying ‘that the wording applied only to specific tweets in the original thread.’ I’m over here like ‘Um, kay …’ Disney’s social media faux pas rips the Band-Aid off of many fan fears that festered ever since Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas. They want to be seen as cute and cuddly, but then they drop the Death Star on your head. It’s hard to look like an Ewok after you threaten to force-choke Twitter.
And look, I love both Disney and Star Wars. But that doesn’t mean I love what they’ve become. Forty-plus years after New Hope, I hung up my Han Solo jacket and started writing new stories, and exploring new universes as an emotional necessity. I wanted to find new scifi universes I could fall in love with, and that would love me back.
So if any of this resonates with you, if that Twitter thing is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, know that you aren’t alone. If there’s something about Star Wars in a post-prequel era that doesn’t sit well with you and you’re really sure what it is, but the feeling won’t go away, maybe I can give you the words. Let’s say it again, for the people in the back:
You Love Star Wars, but Star Wars Doesn’t Love You
“This is all stupid,” some might say. “I still love Star Wars and everything you’re saying is wrong!” Okay, that’s cool. I’m not saying that you have to stop loving Star Wars. I still do, myself (Remember the start of this blog post?). But I think it’s important to give myself the freedom to see things as they are, to look beyond the obvious.
It’s always been my experience that science fiction isn’t just like fiction. There’s a central cultural truth about sci-fi that I believe even if I don’t have the empirical data to back up, and here it is: Sci-fi fans and creators enjoy some mutual interaction / control over the universes. Star Trek, for example, has gone out of its way to include fans in the movies, to the point of hiring them to be extras on different films (See Star Trek, the Motion Picture)
Star Wars doesn’t follow that Fan Happiness Playbook. They’re content to keep fans on a tight leash, and let’s be honest: in many ways Star Wars fans are to blame. So I don’t completely fault Disney for exercising that level of control over Star Wars, but at the same time it’s important to see the relationship for what it is: Star Wars doesn’t love you.
Being aware of that, giving yourself permission to realize that, is liberating in many ways. You can enjoy Star Wars when you want to, when it’s doing something for you. And then when you’re finished you can go enjoy something else (I suggest old 70s sci-fi – tons of interesting old ideas down there).
But the main thing is to understand what Star Wars is, so that you can go decide what YOU want to be. Don’t forget that, don’t lose sight of that. YOU are in charge of your own universe. Go make it something you love.
One of the things I celebrate in Mesh is hacking – the real, original version of hacking – along with the current version celebrated within cyberpunk. What I find interesting today is how, most kids have no idea what the history of hacking really is. Let’s spend a few moments talking briefly about that history, and then you’ll have a better sense of how Mesh fits into that history.
Before we start diving into the details, let’s do some housekeeping: This essay is by no means an exhaustive list of computer hacking incidents, nor is it meant to masquerade as an InfoSec white paper. I haven’t found too many places where old-school hacking is connected to modern cybersecurity, so I decided to write something up for myself and other interested readers.
The Olden Days
To begin with, did you know that hacking dates back to 1903? It’s true! Magician and inventor Nevil Maskelyne pranked John Ambrose Fleming’s demonstration of Guglielmo Marconi’s ‘secure wireless telegraphy technology.’ Maskelyne figured out how it worked and then he took over, sending insulting Morse code messages through the auditorium’s projector.
This tradition of science-based pranks continued, notably in the 1930s when Ken Wadleigh, who later in life became a dean at MIT, and 4 others welded a streetcar to metal rails by first distracting the motorman and then setting off thermite bombs to weld the wheels in place.