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Archive for March, 2013

I hope you’re happy now. I’m taking valuable time away from my Hulu viewing schedule to spend time with you. All the episodes of the various permutations of Star Trek are free until the end of March in honor of William Shatner’s birthday. I could watch three or four episodes in the time it takes me to write whatever this is for this week, escaping the mundanity that makes up most of my days.

There are a lot of nice morality lessons in Star Trek, everything from race relations to drug addiction to what happens when you meddle in the affairs of mortals. Star Trek was ground breaking in so many ways. Too bad more people didn’t pay attention. To this day there is still a large section of our populace who consider it little more than fictional fluff, good for a laugh or an idea for their next Halloween costume. Tell that to a whole generation of scientists out there, on your touch pad smart phone…

There are articles aplenty on the cool things we have today because somebody watched a silly Wagon-Train-in-Space back in the ‘60s, so I don’t need to address those. No, what I want to point out are the things we DON’T have yet, things that were everywhere in the Star Trek universe, things that gave us the best examples of what humanity could achieve. Things like manners, common sense, compassion and personal responsibility.

Turn on the television, read the news, follow the trends on Facebook and Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. Hell, just go to the grocery store and experience our society’s lack of the social graces up close and personal. While you’re at it, don’t forget to eat some fruit without paying for it, talk loudly on your cell phone while your child is screaming in his stinky diaper, block the aisle with your basket and six unsupervised kids, ignore the elderly lady with the cane trying to reach for something off a high shelf, be rude to the check out clerk because your coupons are expired, leave said dirty diaper on the ground ten feet from the trash can, and abandon your basket one parking spot over from the cart rack. Oh yeah, I love grocery shopping.

That’s the kind of stuff that boggles my mind. It’s also why I don’t like leaving the house. It’s not that I’m agoraphobic in the clinical sense of the word; I just don’t want to go to jail. Because that’s likely what is going to happen if I’m continually exposed to the kind of rude, senseless, crap that goes on out there. I fear that one day I will snap and you’ll see me featured on the evening news. I’ll be the one in the anatomically correct breastplate, swinging a sword at the fleeing crowds of clueless masses, screaming about the end of the world because someone dropped that one last cigarette butt on the sidewalk right next to the ash can. Believe me, I’ve come awfully close already.

And the grocery store is just the tip of the iceberg. Just in the last few days I’ve encountered stories about seals on a California beach beaten by humans because the latter don’t want to share what wasn’t theirs to begin with, kids on bicycles running over a cat for fun, and a teenager burned to death as the result of a “prank.” WTF, people???

That’s why aliens haven’t openly visited us yet – we’re a bunch of heartless assholes. We’re not progressing as fast as a species as our technology might indicate. We don’t have the ethics and morals to play with the big kids out in the grandeur of space yet, so we’ve been quarantined until we learn how to play nice (Fermi’s Paradox, anyone?).

We tend to worry about the “big” issues of our world – nuclear armaments, famines, war, crashing economies – things most of us don’t have a direct impact upon. We put our two cents in by voting for the people we think will take the steps we want in the direction we want, but that’s about the best we can hope for on the big stage. We tend to forget about the little things we can do, the ordinary courtesies that can help us grow to be a better people. One cigarette butt on the ground may not seem like a big deal. Neither is one paper cut. But there are over seven billion of us on this planet. Even if just one percent of us didn’t care where our trash landed, that’s seventy million dirty diapers in parking lots somewhere. Translate that to paper cuts and then tell me it doesn’t feel bad.

That’s why I hide in my nice little house, playing with string, watching a version of the future that I hope we can achieve, and writing about the things we can do to get there. Sometimes I include my lessons in my fiction, just like Star Trek did, and sometimes I just lay it out right in front of you right here. Now it’s your choice as to how you proceed. Just remember, my sword is never far from my hand…

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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You can find anything on the Internet. And I do mean anything. Just do an image search for “hamsters wearing pink tutus” and see what you get. It’s actually kind of scary.

The Information Superhighway has drastically changed how we do things. Yellow pages, newspapers and magazines are dying off in the print world, while transitioning to the ethereal world. One quick computer search for “Mexican restaurants near me” came up with nearly twenty-four million results. Those results ranged from restaurant-specific web sites to review sites to listing sites and took only .25 seconds to compile. Everything I could possibly want to know about the dining options in my neighborhood, right at my fingertips.

Thanks to the Internet and social networking, I’ve reconnected with several buddies from my high school and college days that I hadn’t talked with since those times. They are all people that were important to me then, and who I often thought about over the years, but many moves and several passing decades left them in the dust. In some cases, we took right up where we had left off, as if no time had passed at all. With others, we just kind of peek in every now and then to see how things are, satisfied with the connection and pretty much leaving it at that.

I never ran with that big of a posse. Being a major geek often left me on the outside looking in, the lone wolf with limited social skills that was either teased or ignored. While I excelled in academics and solo creative endeavors, I bombed at being a teenaged girl. I’m pretty sure I went from being five to 25 without any transition in between. Because of that I’m still terrible in social functions. I don’t make new friends easily, I can’t stand crowds, I never “party” (which seems to require one to smoke and/or drink, neither of which I care to do), and I still have a little black hole of loneliness that never goes away.

If it weren’t for the Internet, I would have almost no interactions with the outside world on the average day. That’s the joy – and the sorrow – of working at home. The upside is I can order just about anything I want and it will show up at my door in a couple of days. The downside is there are no physical connections with others. Most of the time I don’t have a problem with that, given how much I love humanity (that would be sarcasm, people). But every now and then I get a lesson on what our technology has cost us.

This past Saturday, for the second time just since the beginning of the year, my husband and I attended a funeral. It was for a young man who had, up until a few months ago, been my husband’s partner at work. Thirty years old, and keeled over dead because of a reaction to some medication. It’s sad enough when someone aged passes, but it seems all the more poignant when someone so young goes, especially when it’s so sudden.

The service was at a local chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. My lily-white husband and I stood out like, well, lilies in a bouquet of red roses and I have to admit I felt a little self-conscious twinge. But I shouldn’t have worried. We were met warmly and from that point forward the anthropologist inherent in all writers was witnessed to a fascinating cultural experience. From the heart-felt gospel music, to the preacher who built his oration from quiet contemplation to fiery declaration, to the constant vocal punctuations from the pews, the connection generated by the rising tide of energy in the chapel turned what might have been the sadness for a life lost into the celebration for a life lived.

I didn’t know the young man. I had only met him, briefly, once or twice, but by joining with his family and friends in this service, I was allowed a glimpse into the life and love he shared. There are unique and powerful bonds we humans develop when we are together in the real world, bonds that are not easily translated into the ethereal. Sympathy and empathy don’t seem to manifest as well when we don’t have a direct connection. That’s why trolling, bullying and all sorts of ugly meanness is so rampant on the Internet. We have lost the ties that bind us together as a society. We use the anonymity of the electronic world as a shield, hiding behind the mask of an avatar and saying things we would never say to someone’s face.

It’s time we changed that. It’s time to think twice before we put something out there, because once it’s posted, it’s forever part of the fabric of that electronic world. Technology doesn’t have to be our downfall, just like it shouldn’t be our crutch, our excuse, or our replacement for personal contact. I’m a firm believer that we can have our technology and still have a vibrant and powerful humanity. But it takes effort. It takes each of us actively deciding not to type that snarky thing we’d never say out loud, to forgo listing what we had for breakfast just ‘cause, to ask smart questions and offer well-reasoned responses. It means carefully building the connections with words and pictures that we would normally construct with a gentle hand on the shoulder, or a shy smile.

As we move further into the ethereal and away from the material, as humanity leaves the boundaries of our planet and moves out into the stars, we’ll need to keep those connections fed in new ways or risk losing them entirely. Because when those go, so goes our humanity. We’ll just end up lost in space, alone in a vast empty. Even sharing pictures of hamsters in pink tutus is better than that.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Humans are a study in contradictions. We want to take our time doing our own jobs (if we do them at all), but expect everyone else to snap to our demands instantly. We order the large chocolate shake and then bitch about our weight. We don’t vote, but then complain about the results. We want to have it both ways: one standard for ourselves, and a totally different standard for everyone else.

It’s evident in politics all the time. Taxes and gun control are for the masses, but not for the elite. We’ll cut the pay or hours of a minimum wage worker to balance the budget, but don’t expect one red cent of our bazillion dollar a year salary. We’ll cut education so we can build more bombs. We’ll kill all the abortion doctors in the name of a loving god. The ass-backwardness of the way we do things just makes my head spin sometimes. Usually counter-clockwise.

Watching the real world can be very disheartening. That’s why I avoid it whenever possible. The 21st century beyond my front door isn’t the one I imagined when I was a kid. We were supposed to be more enlightened by now, with better science and less war, while discrimination and poverty would be just history terms learned in school because neither existed anymore. I look out the window and it seems we are stupider than ever.

But even in my escapes from the modern era, I am my own oxymoron. At night I’m a science fiction writer. I read up on nanotechnology, microbiology, quantum physics, all so I can travel decades, centuries or even millennia into the future and tell the tales passed to me by the characters there. I love technology. The advances that have been made just in my lifetime are almost mind-boggling. As a child I watched mankind take its first steps into space, and now a handful of us live there nearly year-round. Those grainy, jarring videos of the moonwalks have been replaced with crystal clear digitals of the Martian surface. Star Trek, my most revered childhood love, foretold handheld communicators, computer tablets, FTL drives, and medical diagnostic tables. And I still want to be a starship captain.

On the weekends, though, I travel back in time over a thousand years and take on the guise of a Continental Saxon from the shores of the Baltic Sea circa 925AD. I study weaving, needlework, sword work and archery and wish I could afford a great black charger upon which I could gallop through the woods. Time is much slower, and scissors represent the height of technological advancement. I spend weeks or even months working on a single project, silk stitched carefully onto linen, or wool woven into a brightly patterned belt. Some might think that life was much harder in those days, but our ancestors didn’t know any different. It was simply their life. They worked hard, they played hard, and they were ingenious inventors and unparalleled artisans. Everything they did was done with the fullest of efforts. Something that is lost to us these days.

I’m happiest when I’m not in the present century. Give me a starship or give me a knight in shining armor, but don’t bother offering up cranky third world service reps, land-bound cars, or airport security checks. Why should I deal with that crap when I can stand on an alien shore under twin moons and listen to the winds chime across the sea, or sit quietly by the fire on a cold winter’s night and enjoy the sensuality of soft silk as I stitch a new garment? The dichotomy of my alternate lives gives me both high tech and low demand. Both sides of my personae are satisfied, and the real world can just go stuff it.

All of us are oxymorons in our own way. We are all bundles of contradictions, and often lose the oxy- prefix and are just plain morons because of that. Don’t let that be you. Pay attention to yourself and your interactions with others. Do you expect perfection from them, but let yourself slide? Is it okay for you to overeat, while feeding your ten-year-old yogurt so she doesn’t get fat? Do you get mad when someone is late meeting you, yet you think nothing of being “fashionably late” for dinner with friends? Is everyone driving faster than you crazy and everyone driving slower than you an idiot? It’s everywhere, and you perpetrate it. The only way we can grow into that bright future envisioned by some dorky TV producer 50 years ago is to let go of our double standards, to leave our flawed rules behind and teach ourselves to actually live to the standards we insist others do. It’s our responsibility, each of us and all of us, to make the world less oxymoronic.

And while you’re handling that, I’ll be doing needlework on the bridge of a starship…

 

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

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The zombie apocalypse has already started. Most of you probably haven’t noticed yet because it is far more insidious than anyone could have possibly imagined. The shambling flesh eaters of Hollywood are just the cover story to throw us off the truth.

I noticed the first signs a few years ago. The blank expressions on the pale faces of the afflicted. The awkward steps as the newly turned tried to maneuver through the world. The loss of their ability to communicate in full sentences. I realized then the plague was already well under way. It was just a matter of time before we all succumbed…

As I dug deeper into my research, I found that the infection hadn’t started because of some CDC accident, or aliens, or even the likes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” And the vector for spreading this new mutation was like nothing I had ever seen. It wasn’t airborne, blood borne or even in our water. No, it was far worse, far sneakier than even my demented mind could have thought up. The latest incarnation of the zombie infection is spread via electronics.

You read that right. Whoever told you that viruses couldn’t be spread from machine to human obviously has never read any science fiction. The zombification of the Western World started with the invention of the television. There were some minor advances after that, but the next big jump in infections came with computer gaming. I’m sure all of us know someone who has been sucked into the alternate universe of an electronic game. At first it seems like an addiction, with the hapless infectee playing more and more to attain that high associated with leveling up or unlocking achievements. Then the poor sap looses all sense of time, doesn’t bother to bathe, eats sporadically, refuses to make eye contact. I know you’ve seen someone like this, some pale, smelly, grunting zombie incapable of connecting to the real world any longer.

From there the next major level of the infection went to smart phones.  Now the zombies can shamble around the streets of our hometowns, blank eyes locked on tiny screens, only the thumbs of their hands able to move anymore. They are oblivious to everything around them. They walk into traffic. They stumble into fountains. They trip down stairs. Our cities are filled with the Walking Dead. Go ahead, try to talk to one. You’ll see what I mean.

Sadly, I have many of the very early symptoms myself. I check the weather with my app, instead of looking out the window. I play Solitaire with electronic cards. I can’t even remember my own mother’s phone number anymore. If it weren’t programmed into the phone, I’d have to look in Contacts.

And my grip strength isn’t what it used to be. My fingers just don’t seem to work as well as they used to, while my concentration lacks any… SQUIRREL!

You see the problem. The only real cure is to get rid of any and all electronics in our lives. Some hardy, dedicated survivalists might be able to pull that off, but the vast majority of us are trapped. Even Zulu tribesmen out herding their cattle have smart phones these days. Doomed with the rest of us.

It is possible to resist, if only to delay the inevitable. But the longer we can delay, the longer we can maintain our independence, the longer Skynet has to wait before it can terminate us. Or we get plugged into the Matrix, depending on which version of zombie hell you’d like to follow.

Just because the phone makes noise doesn’t mean you have to immediately respond. That’s what They want you to do, to become little Pavlovian dogs panting at Their every whim. It’s okay to turn it off sometimes. Yes, really. And use full sentences. That really bugs Them. The fewer letters you use, the less you have to think, and the more infected you become. If one of your friends starts writing in thumb-speak, you’ll know it’s close to the end for them. When “Why are you sad?” becomes “Y r u :(” just go ahead and plan their wake. Their time as a fully functional human is over.

Read real books. I mean the heavy paper things in which you have to manually turn the pages, with that indescribable smell of wonder when you open it. Get a fountain pen and really nice paper and practice your handwriting, with every curly Q and dot and cross, listening to the metal nib of the pen softly scratching across the page, feeling the texture beneath your fingertips. Go for a walk in the park. And I don’t mean the virtual kind on your treadmill, but a real one, outside, with the trees and the sun and the sky and the pollen and the dog poo. Stand at the bay and smell that moist, salty smell of the fog rolling in. Careen down a mountain on a sled and revel in the cold snow making its way into your boots. Paddle a kayak down raging waters with slippery fish jumping all around. Go to the theater and laugh or cry or cheer. Hold hands with that special someone. Dance.

In our world of ever-growing technological advancements, we have inadvertently created a monster. We are losing touch with what truly makes us human and becoming more dependent on the machines as we ourselves become more robotic. It’s our fault. But resistance is not futile. We may all be infected, but we don’t all have to succumb so quickly.  Hopefully we can find a balance before our children no longer read and write, or even lose their ability to speak because they are wired directly into the computers. The more brains we can keep in our control, the less the zombies will have to eat. Only you can prevent zombification.

I think it’s time to go camping now…

PS: This was supposed to have been published last week. I did indeed go camping, and had this article all drafted and ready to go before I left. Because I’m trying to maintain a regular schedule, and because my little OCD self couldn’t bare the thought of publishing EARLY, I planned to make the final post from my sleeping bag in the wilds of Arizona. Once there, I and my smart phone and the WordPress app didn’t seem to be agreeing on what I wanted to do, despite having a decent connection (wi-fi is everywhere, it seems), so I gave up, cringing at my failure to provide my followers with their weekly dose of madness. Then I realized the hypocrisy of my real crime, succumbing to the electronic demons even as I rail against them. Me – 0. Zombies – 1. *sigh*

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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