Imagining the Worst

I have these little things that worry me, sometimes. I guess that, because of my bent toward dystopian science fiction, I frequently ask myself what the world would look like if (fill in the blank) occurred. I’ll see these trends developing, or see the potential of how something could turn out, and suddenly imagine the enormous losses that we would experience if things actually went that way. Of course, my imaginings tend toward the gripping story lines of the worst case scenario, so my concerns seldom come true.

I’m not a pessimist…really…

I keep reading various online services that are coming up with special offers to monetize themselves…services that are primarily free developing business models, as it were. I’m not opposed to this…the coders and developers of these great services should be compensated for their work. I just begin to be concerned when I see the ways in which they choose to make money, because I wonder if they’ll choose to exclusively use these models at the expense of offering their services for free, in order to become (more) profitable.

And then I imagine a world in which the Internet…the communications medium that has revolutionized our lives and functioned as an equalizer of the classes, distributing the same range of opportunities to all of us…could become a “walled garden,” with the most useful and revolutionary services open only to those who are able to pay.

That would be…tragic.

I’m sure, however, that I’m inventing another worse case scenario, and that there’s nothing to worry about in actuality.


Little Bits of Me in Your History

I get the emails at least several times weekly. Often they come from Amazon, or L.L. Bean, or some other online store that I’ve frequented in the past, offering new sales, recommending new items, dressed up in classy design work to make the concept of buying appealing to me.

Some of them are better than others. I buy clothes from L.L. Bean frequently, but that’s about all. Unless it involves beach-combing or the occasional hike, I’m not really the outdoors type. So, when I get an email about a sale on, for example, kayaks, I’m amused a bit.

Amazon tends to be better. Often, I receive book recommendations from them that are already things that I own from elsewhere (I buy more often from Barnes & Noble). What’s specifically interesting are the book recommendations that I receive when I log into Amazon, because they’re an excellent sampling of my reading interests for, say, the past few months, combined with purchases that I made while in grad school. Amazon was my best friend in grad school (this was before I became a Nook owner, and before Amazon treated independent authors as poorly as it now does), because I could save nearly half the cost of a textbook by purchasing it there. Of course, that was all that I had money to purchase, aside from an occasional comic book at the time, so Amazon has a purchase history full of theology and religion texts. One would think that was all I read for three years.

Well, come to think of it…it sort of was, though by pressure of schedule, not choice.

In any case, my point is that, if some secret agency convened around a table in a smoke-filled room, or some alien race hacked into the world’s grid to examine the life of Dave (hey, it could happen), they could gain a wealth of information simply through my purchase histories. I moved from theology texts back to literature, to plays, to science fiction…this was all the process of my settling back into the groove of my natural self after having been displaced for the three years it took me to get that master’s degree.

Similar clues could be gained by sifting through my iTunes purchase history. One could not only quickly discover that I’m a sucker for police procedural dramas and quirky science fiction programs (and we won’t even discuss how many seasons of Cops are currently parked on an extra hard drive), but also see the sort of religious identity crisis in which I spent about two years of my life, based on the music that I purchased.

And I don’t even want to think about how much a certain search engine knows about my life, inspiration, academic plans, and who knows what else.

In fact, if a person can by judged by what he or she reads, listens to, and writes (and I think that’s a fairly safe judgement, as long as those things are looked at in their full scope and not in isolated segments), there are about four online retailers and service providers who, individually, could form a relatively coherent picture of me. With their powers combined, a professional profiler could be out of a job, and I would become suddenly very transparent.

That’s a little frightening when you think about it, and I don’t think that the Internet pioneered this potential for profiled knowledge as much as it perfected what was already there. What I buy for myself, what I buy for gifts (and the people to whom they are shipped) to read, to watch, or to listen to are in large measure descriptive of who I am. And that’s not even bringing social networks into the picture yet, because then the waters can become very murky, indeed.

I don’t think that this is a bad thing: I can opt out of whichever of these emails I choose, and I occasionally see a good recommendation when perusing them. It’s just that when I think of the amount of me that’s accumulated on various servers in the hands of various companies and corporations and private interests…the amount of privacy that I sacrifice for the sake of a certain lifestyle…I suddenly become protective of things. Progressive as I am in my view of technology, I won’t go entirely gently into that good night.

I just don’t know how much to rage against the dying of what quickly becomes antiquity.

Photo Attribution: ajc1 under Creative Commons

Is “Fantastical” a Word?

It actually is a word. It means, depending upon where you look, something along the lines of seeming more appropriate to a fairy tale than to reality. Every now and again, I stumble across an image, either a photo or a work of art, sometimes that’s completely fantasy or speculative, or sometimes a photograph that artfully twists the light as it captures its subject, that causes my mind to spring into the “what-ifs?” What if…that were a girl teleporting? An alien hovering above the ground in a globe? A man who can breathe fire? All of the things that we read about as being beyond the realm of reality, that we refuse to believe in on the surface, yet thrill at reading or watching on a weekend.

Sometimes I read a book that takes me to that place, an inventive way to take on a genre or two and meld them together. These books have the same effect.

And, honestly, sometimes it isn’t even about whether or not the novel or painting or photograph is of some stunning degree of excellence I’ve never encountered before. While they have to be subjectively good to take me to that place, they don’t have to be the best…just imaginative.

That, to me, is the fantastical. I cling to those moments of the fantastical because they take me out of the rational, the technological, the gravity-bound rules and parameters of daily life, which can sometimes sink to doldrums, and take me away to a different galaxy, a different dimension, with different people. That, in turn, inspires me to write different galaxies and dimensions and people in the hopes of saying something important.

I hope that you have a great weekend, and that you find ways to achieve some sort of imaginative escape velocity to launch yourself beyond the day-to-day and into a place that will feed you with the fantastical.

Image attribution: RL Fantasy Studio under Creative Commons.

Heroic Recap

As much to help myself keep track of this in one place as anything else, and in case you haven’t caught all of the thought process and happen to be interested, here are the posts I’ve written over the course of the last year to categorize what I’ve been calling “the nature of a hero:”

The Nature of a Hero

The Nature of a Hero Part II

The Nature of a Hero Part III

The Nature of a Hero Part IV

The Nature of a Hero: Epilogue? 

I hope you find the books, comics, shows, movies, and theology that drove my thought process forward interesting. Also, I tried to place all of the Avengers cinematic canon into these categories here:

The Nature of a Hero in Iron Man

The Nature of a Hero in the Incredible Hulk

The Nature of a Hero in Iron Man 2

The Nature of a Hero in Thor

The Nature of a Hero in Captain America

A Review of “The Avengers”

I may even continue adding to this as the thought process evolves, who knows. But there you have how I’ve gotten to where I am with this. Feel free to comment or contact me and give me your thoughts!