“Two worlds into one”

If you haven’t listened to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series on the Mongols called Wrath of the Khans, do so immediately.  The Mongols shaped the world into a completely different place through astonishing, brutal violence and cunning.  Nothing was able to stop them as they conquered the Muslims, the Chinese, the Russians, and the Eastern Europeans.  The way that Dan Carlin tells this tale of force and destruction is fascinating.  His narration parallels an audio book.  I must confess that I’ve listened to the entire series twice – from start to finish.

Without the background in history provided by the Wrath of the Khans, I would have brushed this BBC article aside without a second thought.  However, with the wealth of knowledge as related to me by the Hardcore History podcast, this article takes on an entirely different perspective.  My love to travel aside, the thought of experiencing Mongolia in a similar way to the traditional, nomadic Mongolians, and seeing the very steppe that gave rise to the most deadly conquerer the world has ever known with my own two eyes would be a dream come true.  To further entice me, it would seem that the current inhabitants of Mongolia are welcoming and very hospitable.  A trip through Mongolia, once something that would seem completely absurd (why bother?), has now earned its way to slot number 2 on my bucket list.

Footnote: To this day Genghis Khan’s burial tomb has never been found.  As the story goes, all who built it were killed by soldiers, then those soldiers were killed.  After his lifetime of spreading his empire from the East to the West, I just can’t imagine what the inside of his tomb would look like.  Mongols were notorious for coveting ‘loot’ and treasures and for having many, many ‘wives’. What a fantastic sight it would be to see what secrets and treasures his tomb holds.  I’d even be content with seeing pictures and the Nat-Geo issue.  

It's not a western, its Mongolia.

It’s not a western, its Mongolia.

Those little white dots are peoples homes.

Those little white dots are people’s homes.  Not kidding.


The Productivity Straddle

It seems that we have developed a split personality in the past couple of decades. One side of this personality has developed thousands of productivity apps for your smartphone and tablet, and calendar management tools, and ways to maximize one’s time for optimal productivity. The other side of this personality can be seen in the huddled masses directly consuming and using this new technology while not producing that much useful content. In many cases, we have a BlackBerry for work and an iPhone and iPad for home and family in addition to the PC and/or Laptop (one for home, one for work). With all of this stuff it seems like we should be getting LOADS of stuff done!! Our production of useful services and ideas and work should be off the friggin charts! It certainly isn’t for newer generations that are coming of age now.

There is a trend among younger people to spend an enormous amount of time tweeting, posting pictures on facebook, playing social games, and just all out wasting time on things like choosing ‘which Instagram filter to use.’ These young people spend tons of time cultivating these online personas, these hyped versions of themselves for others to consume. In this article/ video short a couple of guys talk about how the millennial generation is going to be a sort of ‘lost’ generation; but also the ‘cool’ generation. Our self absorption and involvement in our online lives lends itself to a giant distraction from reality in which we place more importance on immediate, but utterly meaningless ‘rewards’ that feed the reward center of our brain much like drugs and alcohol.  However, if someone is at least getting drunk with friends and playing games like bags or beer pong, we can say that at least they’re doing something that requires some measure of spatial perception and skill and at least that person/those people doing something ‘real’; they’re having real experiences involving space, time, and other humans in the same area.  Somehow I feel that a ‘real’ experience like that is ultimately more rewarding than many screen based experiences (at least you’re thinking, acting, and reacting in real time and on the spot).

It’s like tech savvy humans are split between the productive, interesting idealized versions of themselves and the black hole of time wastes available at their finger tips. Most people can effectively manage their desires to feed the Reward Center in the brain with feedback (comments, likes, pointless games), but there are a whole bunch of people out there who succumb to a technology addiction. Do a Google search for ‘technology addiction’ and you will find an assortment of articles and studies that illustrate the issues presented by it. I may sound like a crabby old grandpa, but I’m equally guilty of being tied to my iPhone, iPad, laptop, and work laptop also. However, I’m not guilty of compulsively tweeting, facebooking (of any kind), instagraming (of any kind), or saturating my social interactions by retreating to my phone when I feel uncomfortable. Yeah, I see this happening to a lot of people.

My stance and approach to my devices is that of a boss to an assistant. My phone and tablet are there to serve me. My phone will remember things, allow me to find restaurants, remind me of things, play music, educate me (podcasts, Zite, etc.), tell me when the next bus is coming, save articles of interest, act as a library for books, tell me what song I’m listening to, what time X movie is playing, wake me up in the morning, and take photos of my life. It’s best to describe me as a heavy tech user. However, I differentiate by the way that I use my technology. I’m using it to enhance my real life, to make my real life easier and more manageable, and to maximize my time and experiences with my friends and family. I am not, at any point, trying to escape my real life by involving myself with an artificial online community, or by embellishing an online persona and/or version of myself.

The flip side of this is that some people’s real lives suck. The online game/version of themselves allows them to feel good about some things in a world where they are allowed a bit more control. But shouldn’t they be spending their time trying to make their real lives not suck? Shouldn’t they be learning an instrument, or creating art, or playing a sport, or programming something, or writing something, or anything to make their life better?? Isn’t that what people have been doing for hundreds of years? Are we as a society being robbed of cool creations and contributions to the world because people are instead spending their time doing something fake and – arguably – meaningless?? Are we experiencing a loss of creative productivity?

Please share your thoughts. We read every comment and I’d like to hear what other people think about this. Am I off base? Am I judging this wrong? Is old man Rob just not hip with the times? I see, somewhat often, tables of young people where everyone is on the phone at once (like 4 + people) and I just want to yell at them (in a comical fashion) “Don’t any of you have anything f***ing interesting to say?? Be important here and now to the people in front of you, not someplace where your physical body is not.”

What are your thoughts about this?