Saturday, April 30, 2011

Qualifications

Given that 15 years of experience is obviously not enough, I am jumping into the certification pool.

I am booked in on Friday to do the Cisco ICND1 exam (first part of CCNA) in Brisbane. I will be hugely embarrassed if I don't pass...

Hype? Yeah, but...

So amidst the horrors visited on the world thus far this year, with death and destruction on all continents, the world slid not towards apocalypse, but banality.

A clownish, jumped up real-estate agent emerges as the leading presidential candidate for an ostensibly serious political party. The leader of the free world feels compelled to release documents to squash nutty conspiracy theories. And both sides of US politics can't seem to do anything about their horrific economy, their military entanglements or anything more substantive than agreeing that taxes are bad, m'kay.

But never fear, the Royal Family is here. Look at the shiny things, people; forget about your troubles for a while and bask in the soft light of nuptials of the privileged and purposeless! All shall be well for a day, then we can go back to worrying about the Syrian government slaughtering its own people and the Libyan situation getting worse by the day. The hype surrounding the Royal Wedding (it must be capitalized, you plebs) borders on manic and obscene. A grand irrelevance, sparkling like glitter on the surface of the contents of a septic tank.

That being said, I have to admit that I did watch bits of the telecast on and off. Well, how could you not, apart from cutting yourself off from all forms of electronic and print communication? Irrespective of the politics of the republic debate, you have to admit that for all their faults, the Royal Family knows how to put on a show. For funerals, they go out like Vikings, and as cynical as one becomes, there is still a pull of the fairy tale about their weddings. For one day, there is something genuinely shiny and happy, or at least the illusion of such. The tabloids (and the serious organs for that matter) go nuts in the lead up, and they start digging for dirt from the day after, but the event itself is distracting.

There is also something about weddings in general. Sitcoms, dramas and soaps all use the "wedding episode" to boost flagging ratings. Attending other peoples' weddings elicit nostalgic feelings even in people who haven't had one of their own. And there is just something nice about seeing people who (you hope) are unambiguously happy in that moment.

As someone unlikely to have the experience myself due to my numerous physical, psychological, sartorial and olfactory flaws which seem hugely repulsive to the opposite gender, I have to admit that the event was a vicariously pleasant distraction. Worth the hype? No. Worth the money? Probably not. The world is still going to hell in a hand basket, but at least for one day a couple of people I've never met seem happy. And by proximity, some other people seem to feel better for a while. I'm not going to go out and buy commemorative tea towels, but I'm not going to gripe about it either.

Good luck to them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Rise of the Gutless

Every new thing, idea, work of art - everything - is hated, disliked or opposed by someone.

Everyone has their reasons or excuses for their opposition to their thing of choice, but it seems to me that in the howling wilderness of the online world, and increasingly in what used to be "main-stream" media, the well-reasoned middle ground is disappearing. The extremes of the spectrum get all of the airtime; reasoned debate and examination of the evidence are drowned out in the din. Every issue must be seen as a clash of ideological opposites, a faux "balance", if you like, that results in a news-tainment format of people shouting at each other on the TV, twitter sniping, and wars of words carried out in the battlefield of the blogosphere. And the bitterness becomes an echo chamber. The comments on blogs and media sites, and the re-tweeting of loyal followers create little ecosystems of groupthink. Isolated bunkers of closed minds.

An overload of information, and more importantly misinformation, results in an unconscious filtering. Have you ever noticed how in comment threads or conversations, the preponderance of links and quoted "facts" seem to support the contention being posited? And the corollary is that if you find a site promoting an alternate view, you find a similar situation in mirror-image? With the adjunct of supporting sites linking to each other as sources, it becomes a technological version of the circular argument. On both sides, but nobody seems to be reading the other side.

There appears to be no time for reasoned debate any more. On any issue, a position must be staked out early, and defended unto death. This is not decisive; in most cases it is a knee-jerk of ideology. In the political sphere, this usually takes the form "the other side is fur it, so I must be agin' it". My party right or wrong.

Which leads me to the rise of the gutless. In politics, in public debate in general. It is not a weakness to have a change of mind - to be swayed by reason and evidence. It is similarly not a weakness to wait a while to stand by a decision while alternatives are analysed and investigated. It is not a weakness to admit you are in error. However, this is almost universally not the perspective today. But even worse, it is assumed to be courageous to never admit "I don't know".

And so as not to be seen to be "weak", the gutless stand by a staked out position, assailed by evidence and argument, and call it courage. They plant their flag, then retreat to the bunker, impervious to the world, with their echo chamber secure inside resonating with reassuring sounds of how right we are and hang the rest.

I think it is alright to not know. As long you keep an open mind, listen to reason and evidence, you may one day know. Or not. It is fine to change your mind, to be swayed by the power of argument and debate. It is fine to stand by your decision, too. But you need to know your biases and your reasons.

I think the world needs to slow down a bit and think. Then talk. Then think again. It has to be better than just shouting, at ever increasing volume.