The bandwidth of memories

Anoth­er fam­i­ly vaca­tion is com­ing up, which for me means think­ing once more about the pre-nostalgia of fam­i­ly pho­tos. While blog posts are osten­si­bly for vis­i­tors, the audi­ence I care more about is actu­al­ly future me.

Just before a 2013 trip, I wrote “Nos­tal­gia Comes Ear­ly,” a post about mem­o­ries and why I go to the trou­ble to share these posts — as much with my future self as with read­ers (I con­tin­ued this thought lat­er with Recov­er­ing the Past Through Pho­tos).

Every suc­ces­sive fam­i­ly trip cre­ates a mag­ni­tude more data than the one pre­ced­ing it. I have exact­ly 10 pho­tos from the first time I vis­it­ed Walt Dis­ney World, with my then-fiancée in 2001. I have only fuzzy mem­o­ries of the trip. A year or so lat­er I returned back to Flori­da (Key West this time) for a hon­ey­moon with her, a trip that has zero pho­tos. I remem­ber maybe a half dozen things we did but few locales vis­it­ed.

Con­trast this with a 2013 Dis­ney World trip, for which we made a whole blog, A Spe­cial WDW Fam­i­ly. The focus was trav­el­ing Dis­ney with autis­tic kids. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion in there. We wrote about meals and rides, small vic­to­ries, and child melt­downs. The band­width of mem­o­ries isn’t just in the num­ber of jpeg files but in the dis­tinct mem­o­ries I have of the events of that week-plus.

We took many hun­dreds of pho­tos over our most recent fam­i­ly vaca­tion in Decem­ber 2015, only a small frac­tion of which went online. In addi­tion, I have Google Loca­tion data for the trip and Foursquare check­ins logged in Ever­note. I know how many steps I took each day. I know whether I had a good sleep. We didn’t make a pub­lic blog but we have a long anno­tate log of each restau­rant and stop, with anno­ta­tion tips to remind our future selves about how we could do things bet­ter in the future. The meta­da­ta is in itself not so impor­tant, but it’s use­ful to be able to drop into a day and remem­ber what we did and see the smiles (and tired­ness) on faces each day.

Friends on Giving

The new issue of Friends Journal is available online. This month looks at Giving and Philanthropy. There's some good reflections from Friends on why they give to the causes and institutions they do. There's also a nice piece from Quaker fundraiser Henry Freeman on the "language of Quaker values." If you're trying to unpack what it means to be Quaker, this on-the-ground perspective is one way to parse out the reality of Quaker testimonies.

Seeing how it goes

It seems a lot of con­ver­sa­tions I’m in these days, on social media and IRL revolve around how we should be respond­ing to Trump’s elec­tion. I know there’s a cer­tain dan­ger in being too deter­min­is­tic, but a lot of answers seem to match where indi­vid­u­als are in the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty scale. Some are coun­sel­ing patience: let’s see how it goes after the inau­gu­ra­tion. Maybe we don’t know the real Don­ald Trump.

Well, I think we do know the real Trump by now, but what I don’t think we know is the actu­al fla­vor of a Trump pres­i­den­cy. Have we ever seen a pres­i­dent elect who was so thin on actu­al pol­i­cy? Trump rode his lack of pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence to vic­to­ry, of course, cit­ing his inde­pen­dence from the peo­ple who gov­ern as one of his chief qual­i­fi­ca­tions. But it’s also his per­son­al­i­ty: on the cam­paign trail and in his famous 3am tweets from the toi­let he often con­tra­dict­ed him­self.

He’s a man of high-concept ideas, not detailed pol­i­cy. This means the actu­al poli­cies – and the gov­er­nance we should and shouldn’t wor­ry about – will depend dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly on the peo­ple he hires. Right now it seems like he’s trolling lob­by­ists and a hand­ful of neo­con dinosaurs that start­ed the Iraq War on forged doc­u­ments. He’s bring­ing the alli­ga­tors in to “drain the swamp” and in the last 24 hours they’ve already sig­naled that a lot of key cam­paign pledges are open for recon­sid­er­a­tion. How much we have to wor­ry – and just what we have to wor­ry about – will be clear­er as his team assem­bles.

The Messy Work Begins

One of the take­aways of this elec­tion this is that we’ve all siloed our­selves away in our self-selected Face­book feeds. We lis­ten to most our news and hang out pri­mar­i­ly with those who think and talk like us. One piece of any heal­ing will be open­ing up those feeds and doing the messy work of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple who have strong­ly dif­fer­ent opin­ions. That means real­ly respect­ing the world­view peo­ple are shar­ing (and that’s as hard for me as for any­one) and lis­ten­ing through to emo­tions and life expe­ri­ences that have brought peo­ple into our lives. Basic lis­ten­ing tips apply: try not to judge or accuse or name call. If some­one with less priv­i­lege tells you they’re scared, con­sid­er they might have a valid con­cern and don’t inter­rupt or tell them they’re being alarmist. 

But all this also means apol­o­giz­ing and for­giv­ing each oth­er and being okay with a high lev­el of messi­ness. It’s not easy and it won’t always work. We will not always have our opin­ion pre­vail and that’s okay. We are all in this togeth­er.

The PTSD of the suburban drone warrior

Some­thing I’ve long won­dered a lot about, As Stress Dri­ves Off Drone Oper­a­tors, Air Force Must Cut Flights.:

What had seemed to be a ben­e­fit of the job, the nov­el way that the crews could fly Preda­tor and Reaper drones via satel­lite links while liv­ing safe­ly in the Unit­ed States with their fam­i­lies, has cre­at­ed new types of stress­es as they con­stant­ly shift back and forth between war and fam­i­ly activ­i­ties and become, in effect, per­pet­u­al­ly deployed.

I men­tion this toward the end of my review of The Bur­glary, the sto­ry of the 1971 anti­war activists, and it’s some­thing I’ve been try­ing to pull from poten­tial authors as we’ve put togeth­er an August Friends Jour­nal issue on war. Much of the day-to-day mechan­ics of war has changed dras­ti­cal­ly in the past 40 years — at least for Amer­i­can sol­diers.

We have sto­ries like this one from the NYTimes: drone oper­a­tors in sub­ur­ban U.S. cam­pus­es killing peo­ple on the oth­er side of the plan­et. But sol­diers in Bagh­dad have good cell phone cov­er­age, watch Net­flix, and live in air con­di­tioned bar­racks. The rise of con­trac­tors means that most of the grunt work of war — fix­ing trucks, peel­ing pota­toes — is done by near­ly invis­i­ble non-soldiers who are liv­ing in these war zones. It must be nice to have crea­ture com­forts but I’d imag­ine it could make for new prob­lems psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ing a war zone with nor­mal­cy.

What does it mean to be a Quaker?

Craig Bar­nett tries to define Friends:

“I want to sug­gest that there is a liv­ing tra­di­tion of spir­i­tu­al teach­ing and prac­tice that makes up the Quak­er Way, which is not defined by a par­tic­u­lar social group, behav­iour­al norms, or even val­ues and beliefs.”

As usu­al Craig clear­ly artic­u­lates his premise: that Friends have become some­thing of a content-less, lowest-common-denominator group that fears mak­ing belief state­ments that some of our mem­ber­ship would object to.

I agree with most of his analy­sis, though I would add some pieces. I don’t think one can under­stand what it means to be a Quak­er today with­out look­ing at dif­fer­ent types of def­i­n­i­tions. Belief and prac­tices is one part but so is self-identification (which is not nec­es­sar­i­ly mem­ber­ship). We are who we are but we also aren’t. There’s a deep­er real­i­ty in not being able to sep­a­rate Quak­er phi­los­o­phy from the peo­ple who are Quak­er.

In this light, I do wish that Craig hadn’t resort­ed to using the jar­gony “Quak­er Way” ten times in a short piece. For those who haven’t got­ten the memo, lib­er­al Friends are no longer sup­posed to say “Quak­erism” (which implies a tra­di­tion and prac­tice that is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the denom­i­na­tor of our member’s indi­vid­ual the­olo­gies) but instead use the vaguer “Quak­er Way.” In my obser­va­tion, it’s most­ly a bureau­crat­ic pref­er­ence: we want to imply there is sub­stance but don’t want to actu­al­ly name it for fear of start­ing a fight. Con­tent­less lan­guage has become its own art form, one that can suck the air out of robust dis­cus­sions. A truly-vital liv­ing tra­di­tion should be able to speak in dif­fer­ent accents.