s3e25: Change will continue to accelerate until morale improves 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

Monday, July 18 2016 at the XOXO Outpost in Portland after an almost freakishly productive morning. If I didn’t know any better, I’d put it down to some sort of medication change and a tweaking of my brain chemistry.

Today’s title is from a twitter conversation with Glenn Fleischman and I’m going to be the nth person who misquotes to you the phrase “sometimes there are decades where weeks happen, and weeks where decades happen” (though I won’t dare to misattribute it) after, I don’t know, either Nice or Turkey or whatever else has happened. For those of you who’ve read Gibson’s The Peripheral or de Abaitua’s Red Men series, my Jackpot/Spasm Index is up at least 46 points since, well, the last time.

1.0 (A) Normal Head

Warren Ellis’s new book Normal is being serialized as a set of novellas[0] and the first part came out last week. It tells the story of Adam, a Foresight Strategist, who gazes a little too long and too deep into the abyss of the future, and what happens to him after the abyss stares back. (What happens after, of course, is that Adam gets checked in by his employers to Normal Head, a special psychiatric in-patient treatment center in the middle of Oregon and “tight, provocative techno-thriller” ensues). Robin Sloan (humblebrag: reader of this newsletter) and Ellis (ditto, even less humble) had a chat about Normal in a Tor.com interview[1] as part of what amounts to book tours these days in what’s arguable one of the *least* surprising and shocking bits of future-shock that anyone’s experiencing at the moment.

Normal cut a bit close to the bone for me.

I mean, I don’t have pretension or the sheer ability to lie and say that my job is either a foresight strategist (the civil kind, trying to avert doom) or strategic forecast (the grey-area spook kind, planning for doom). But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t associate with the first group or accidentally know some of the second group or even recreationally stare into the abyss and write about it in some sort of public form. You might know what I’m talking about.

But, for what it’s worth – and I’ve written about this before – I didn’t quite get checked into in-patient psychiatric treatment, but I did go to the next-best-thing: intensive outpatient, where you turn up every weekday and, well, get intensive outpatient therapy. In my particular case, for anxiety and depression.

Part of the way the whole thing was sold to me was a sort of “look, we think it’d be helpful to you and your mind if you went somewhere where you didn’t have any professional responsibilities and the phone didn’t ring all the time”. And I’d say: “look, the problem isn’t the phone ringing, who even has a phone that rings anymore? No, it’s more the notifications and the pings and the unrelenting, crushing force of thousands and millions of efficiently-enough routed IP packets impinging on my geolocated position, down to the nearest ten centimeters.”

I have to admit, no-one else in group therapy had that problem, though.

(Although I did have some thoughts about quite how many people in group *did* all have smartphones (all of them) and what they used them for (hi, I’m available for research about digital device habits of those seeking professional mental health treatment and potential ways to satisfy user (ha) needs).

Because I was outpatient, I didn’t get my phone confiscated. I did it to myself. I signed out of everything. I deleted Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Turned off all the email accounts. Turned off my *phone*. And I mean *actually* turned it off – not just silent-and-airplane mode, but completely powered down. (I didn’t take out the SIM, though).

And after a while, it was OK. It wasn’t so much breathing room that I got back as some weird other sort of space. Of course, it helped that at this point I chose to become baseline-human. Without going so far as being admitted, I became dependent upon other people. Other people drove me from place to place. Other people reminded me where I needed to be and when. All of the stuff that I knew that was otherwise in my exo-cortex, my meta-self, my outboard brain: all of that just disappeared in a sort of NO CARRIER signal and then the true horror set in: I had to do art therapy.

A security organization would notice this. They’d notice that my digital footprint essentially disappeared for all those weeks, that a sort of lift-and-shift had happened. And, mostly, things would be okay in group sessions: I could talk about how there was a bit of my brain (okay, most of it) that’s out hunting and looking for patterns and connections and enjoys playing with systems and making them do things they’re not supposed to do or that they don’t want to do. And then I’d be told to turn it off and try to figure out what the rest of my brain wanted or needed.

Instead of spending a few weeks staring into the abyss of whatever I was working on at the time (oh, you know, nothing much, just attempting to rearchitect how the government of the world’s 7th largest state by GDP deals with its entire technology infrastructure) I had to stare at the abyss of the pattern recognizers of my own brain and figure out how to deal with *that* system.

Systems. I love systems. And I haven’t even looked at (not closely, anyway) the really scary ones. (I’m looking at you, friends who are into CRISPR).

Oh, and new drugs, of course.

[0] Normal Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 by Warren Ellis
[1] Fiction and Anthropology: Interviewing Warren Ellis About Normal | Tor.com

Well, that one didn’t take long. On to writing a blog post about the thing about that 7th largest state by GDP.

Best,

Dan