October 2011

Our Perfected World

This is what we all dreamed of, right?I spent a week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was hot. Very hot. I walked around the city and couldn’t help but to notice all of the AC units hung on the outside of the buildings throughout the city. My eyes were drawn to these vital cooling machines as I walked in the nearly unbearable heat of the midday sun in the city. I was longing for an opportunity to sit in an AC building, but also wondering why the city had been constructed in a place that is so hot.

It sparked some thoughts about what is needed to live in this ‘perfected modernity’ we have created for ourselves and this battle against nature we have so enthusiastically participated in.

The image came into being not just from my experience obsessing about the heat of the city, but also the trip I took to the Batu Caves a few minutes outside the city center. The Batu Caves are beautifully (and naturally) constructed caves filled with monkeys and tourists alike. I couldn’t help to think about how much cooler it was in these caves than any place I had experienced in the city. It was a naturally designed air conditioning system, and it was beautifully constructed and enabled nature to continue flourish to a much greater extent than the middle of the city.

Of course there aren’t enough natural caves to go around for every inhabitant of the world; however, there is much to learn from these natural structures that seem to provide a healthy combination of nature and human use.

I put these two images together of what I claimed to be a ‘natural’ city in the Hindu temple cave, and a ‘perfected’ city in the center of Kuala Lumpur. The monkey was sitting in the Hindu cave, and the AC units are from the KL city center. The monkeys’ expression looks concerned, just as we should be about our current growth and consumption patterns. I placed the monkey on top of the AC units to demonstrate how disconnected we’ve become from nature. It just doesn’t look right that a monkey is sitting on an AC system. It is an attempt at mocking this ‘perfected world’ we have created for ourselves. The monkey doesn’t need AC to survive, why do we?

The distortion of the colors of the monkey represent our digital and technological revolutions as being the potential catalyst for changing how we live with nature. Whether it be through movements that start online, or environmentally conscious design, we yield more power than ever to begin to change our focus of what is important in the future design of cities.

Why didn’t the city planners incorporate a design that used the features of nature to regulate temperature and natural well being?

There is much progress to be made in the design of the ‘modern city’, one of the pioneers is the architect William McDonough. Watch his TED speech here. View his website here.


The price we pay for theoretical education.

In today’s world, theoretical education is arguably the most highly regarded institution in the world, aside from religion of course. We take out loans large enough to buy homes to purchase theories on everything. This is not to say that all education should be valued equally. The progress of science/engineering through education is undoubtedly valuable; however, we need to evaluate what is going on with theoretical education and why we pay so much for it (in the US).

Educational institutions are very powerful. They have huge investments and tons of highly sought after patents which earn great amounts of money. They have thousands of students paying thousands of dollars to consume concepts, intangible assets that can now be easily shared online through the internet.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the graduation cap and gown and that of a priest in religion. I watched the famous Steve Jobs commencement speech again at Stanford, and couldn’t pull my eyes away from the ridiculous caps and gowns everyone was using. In Jobs’ speech, he undermines the university system as a whole by sharing his story of dropping out of an expensive education to pursue the things he actually wanted to pursue.

Many of the great thinkers of yesterday and today have similar stories. They don’t believe in paying for an education. They don’t want their parents or themselves to be indebted to an institution for the majority of their career. They don’t want a piece of paper telling them that they are capable of something. They want to do what they want to do and not have to pay for it.

Today education is changing. It is in the beginning stages, but education is becoming something that people can explore, rather than pay for. It is a huge development in the equality of knowledge and the development of genuine interest for everyone.

Many people hate the job that they were able to get by means of their education and their expensive diploma. Not only do they hate their job, but they are also in debt from the very thing that got them the job – their education.

As we all know, religion has caused many upsets/wars/conflict around the world. I’m not suggesting that paying for theoretical education is causing as many issues, but what I am suggesting is that you think about what you want to do rather than pay someone to tell you what you should do.

I always have admired my mom’s ability to maintain the value of practical and personal education in her first and second grade classes. She builds gardens with the kids, incorporates physical activity, and allows students to draw and sing to enable students to develop in healthy ways and to focus on things that they love to do.

We don’t go through each day selecting the ‘right’ answers from a selection of ‘A through E’ options. We choose to do things because we follow our intuition and passion. ‘A through E’ test questions limit our ability to create anything at all. It is very admirable that my mom is able to still allow her students to focus on intuition and passion in and ‘A through E’ education world.

I can’t recall one single multiple choice question I had to answer from my university education – and there were probably thousands.

UPDATE – view – NPR Article on Student Debt

Check out WeAreThe99Percent

If you want to read more in depth about the debt issue with education read this article.

Take a look at the Khan Academy to see how theoretical education is being spread for FREE today. Wikipedia.org is also a part of this change obviously. It is a start, there is still much change that is needed.

Thanks to my step dad that has always introduced forward-thinking websites like the Khan Academy and Ted.com.

Building Things, Breaking Things

It has been about 7 years since the tsunami devastated the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. Many people lost their homes, family members, and everything else they had. Several people have been able to build their businesses back up, with bright visions of the future. Others haven’t been so lucky. Overall, progress has been made, life has returned back to ‘normal’ (at least it seems).

A few days ago, the government came by to enforce a new 10 meter line for the beach. Any building/wall/structure 10 meters from the edge of the beach was destroyed. There were about 100 police officers here on hand in case anything erupted in violence. Those businesses that were able to re-build themselves were now being destroyed by the powers that be. A few locals expressed concerns and flashbacks to what the coastline looked like right after the tsunami hit. Buildings diminished to rubble. Walls destroyed. Tractors moving rubble.

There is controversy of this new law of course. Business owners fear the loss of their land entirely, and many people are saying that big hotels will be built for luxury tourism here in Arugam Bay.

Through all of the destruction of the structures that lined the beach, I saw something interesting. Maybe it was just a combination of thoughts and an action that played itself out at the perfect time. Whatever it was, it gave me hope. At least some hope.

There were plenty of locals enjoying themselves in the water; playing in the waves, swimming, and just having fun. As I looked over to watch another wall get smashed down by the tractor I noticed a group of Sri Lanka guys creating a human pyramid in the water.

About 10 guys got together in the water and were building a human pyramid. I looked on as the first level secured their footing. Then the second. Then the third. It looked promising. They were building something. Working together. Unfortunately their structure (made up of themselves) ended up toppling. It was an effort nonetheless. Behind them, another structure was being destroyed by the ‘powers that be’.

It all made me realize how easy it is to break things, and how hard it is to build things. Hopefully someday we will all be focused on building things that represent our desires as a whole. Building things as a collective group of people focused on the progress for all, rather than progress of a few.

If only our cities could be pyramids built of people.

Here is a site focused on people changing policy – http://www.avaaz.org/en