RW12 - Intellectual Languages

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to all spoken languages, even poetry, being intellectual languages in contrast to music which is able to speak in an emotional language.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

On tour with John Hodgman and Adam Savage (RW12)

Last week John was all over the place. He was on trains, he was in a suit, he had a tie on, John Hodgman was there, Merlin showed up, and Adam Savage was there, it was a geek parade, getting the band back together! There was no reason and no real explanation for what they were doing. Hodgman did a series of shows and by his own admission he had booked the shows with no opener, it was just An Evening with John Hodgman.

As a touring artist you have 10.000 friends, but any of us only really has five good friends and meeting your 10.000 other friends can end up being lonely. Unless you are the sex addict type of touring person who is on the hunt and you are meeting your 10.000 friends every night searching them for someone who is going to spirit away with you, you meet all your friends, you have nice conversations, you sign the books, you say ”Hello!”, but then you are in your hotel room by yourself and it gets fairly lonely.

Hodgman realized that he made a mistake of not bringing someone along on this tour and he invited them to come along. They didn’t have to do anything but travel down to San Francisco together. Hodgman knew that John was just sitting there in Seattle, pouting about having lost his city council race, and it would be fun, like Hope and Crosby!

They spent a couple of days in Vancouver, they took the train to Portland and they flew to San Francisco. Planes, trains and automobiles! Beyond the initial idea none of them made any attempt to justify the extravagance. Unless Hodgman was on stage they were just eating fancy meals, going around, riding cable cars, and having laughs. John is not sure what kind of prestige he adds to anything, but Hodgman will invite him up at the end to do a ukulele song with him.

When Dan thinks of a tour, he thinks about something that is seven weeks long with a show every night in a different city. You show up in Orlando and say: ”Hey Tampa! I mean Orlando!” like Ted Nugent did. That is a Rock tour and the reason you have to do it this way is that you are carrying all your dumb guitars. Once you get out there you have to keep going. There are obviously plenty of bands who fly from show to show, but most Indie Rock bands and Punk Rock bands don't have the money to do that.

When Hodgman is doing a tour he plays four shows, he flies home, spends a week or two at home, making Pig in the Holes or Toad in the Holes, and then he does another handful of shows. He is not brutalizing himself, but it still wears on a body, let's be honest, unless you are an introvert like John: He can go out and do weeks of touring and not notice any wear happening on his soul, but Hodgman is more extrovert and likes to be in conversation with people. John likes that as well, just at slightly different temperatures. John has a four core radiator and Hodgman has a two core radiator, to use a radiator analogy.

They had a nice day in San Francisco with a hilarious encounter: Adam Savage, John Hodgman and John were having lunch at a fancy restaurant and the hostess was a pretty cool lady with cool Cleopatra hair and a dress with poofy shoulders that may or may not have been ironic. If someone in John’s era would have been wearing that outfit it would definitely have been ironic, but it looked good on her.

She treated them deferentially, she was very nice and as they were leaving she stopped them. In those situations Adam is always ready to say: ”Thank you for liking Mythbusters!” and Hodgman is of course is ready, but she said: ”I just wanted to say: John, I really love your band!” and John was like: ”Ha! In your face, nerds! Boom! Who is the Rock star here? Me! Not you guys!” That was fun!

Being a stage performer (RW12)

Stage fright

Having a job where you get paid to be on a stage performing for people, trying to get applause and get people to enjoy the thing you do enough to buy an album, get that ticket again next time, or talk to their friend about it sounds like something incredibly fun, but it is challenging. Some people like Johnny Carson are on stage not just a few weeks a year, but every day five days a week. You hear them interviewed years later and they say they have been nervous every single night.

The little ticks, the little mannerisms, the golf swing, and other things were Johnny Carson's way of coping with that kind of pressure, but there is also the pressure of knowing that you are out there to perform. There is a great quote from Bruce Springsteen where he was being asked how he gives these amazing concerts and gives 100% night after night on these long Rock tours. He said: ”There is always one kid in the audience who has never been to a Rock concert before. This might be the only time they get to see one and I want to change their life!”

John is always nervous before he goes on stage and so is everyone, even the most sociopathic performers and as John gets closer to the moment when he is going to walk on stage the nerves intensify. It happens all the time that he agrees to do a show a month from now or three months from now and a week before he starts to think: ”Ah, that show! Shit!” and three days before he thinks: ”Oh, God!” and he gets in a mindset where he is clearing the table, but even though it is the day before he can't really do it because he got that show coming up. He doesn’t want to get all gummed up, and it is leading into the day of the show it is just worse and worse and worse. Plenty of times he had wanted nothing more than that the show got canceled three hours before the show.

Then you are standing on the side of the stage, about to walk out, and once you have stepped across the Rubicon of the stage threshold your fate is sealed. You are at war with Rome and your nerves completely transform and you are just pouring your stuff into what you are doing. Stuff lands, stuff doesn't land, John gets frustrated when things don't go the way he plans, but you can't stand on stage being frustrated, you have to keep moving. It is exhilarating and giving a good live performance is wonderful, seeing people having a wonderful time.

Listening to performances with a musician's or comedian's ear

The first few times John went on tour with Jonathan Coulton he was really astonished and impressed with the number of people who came up to the merch table after the show and said that this was their first music show. They could be 35-40 years old, but they had never ever been to a music show of any kind. ”Thank you for having this be your first music show!”

The first time you listen to music your ears aren't very sophisticated, you don't notice things and you are hearing it all as one big wall of experience. A lot of people have been listening to music for a long long time and they still couldn't tell you what sound the bass was making relative to what the piano is doing because they don't look into music that way.

When you become a musician and certainly when you record a band for the first time, something in you changes forever and you can't listen to music the same way anymore. When John started writing and recording music his appreciation of The Beatles skyrocketed, but his enjoyment of The Beatles from a standpoint of putting a Beatles record on and be transported by a glossed-over wall of song was gone forever.

John didn't start writing songs when he was 14, but he started much later and so he was old enough to notice he could never listen to music the same way. Something real was lost! He wouldn't trade it, he prefers to hear all the intricacies of how stuff is made, but it was irrevocable. Even when a song is playing in a grocery store he is thinking: ”That's a cool tambourine pattern!” or ”That is interesting the way the bass pokes out through these shitty speakers in this acoustic environment. I wonder if I were listening to this on different speakers whether the bass would be as prominent or whether it is something about the sound system!” John is thinking that way all the time about music and wondering whether that was intentional.

Dan has talked to comedians who spend their time on stage telling jokes, trying to get people to laugh. He also listened to the great audio book Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, read by the author who even plays banjo on it. He is talking about how he was able to really get his act down, not to say he was on autopilot, but he was thinking ahead to how he might want to do the next joke or change up the order a little bit and make changes in real time. He also said that he can't enjoy watching another comedian because he is paying too much attention to the timing of the jokes, the mannerisms, the way the person looks around, how they handle the stage, and all these other little details.

On tour with the Pernice brothers having a stand-in drummer

John remembers a lot of those small transformative experiences because they hit him like a lightning bolt. One time he was on tour with the Pernice Brothers and Joe Pernice is one of the great American songwriters. He has written wonderful songs and they feel like they have been around forever. They have that eternal quality where you go: ”These were written by this guy from Boston who carries himself like a carpenter?” He is very workman like about it.

John was out on tour with them and every night he was astonished by their songs, standing on the side of the stage examining the craft. The drummer is a wonderful guy, he had a family emergency of some kind and he had to leave the tour in mid stream, but rather than cancel the tour they hired a session musician from Los Angeles called Ric Menck, who is a songwriter and has his own band and has played in a lot of bands over the years. His band was called Velvet Crush.

Ric learned those songs on a pair of headphones on the airplane on the way there. Maybe one show was canceled while they rented a practice space in Chicago for a day and practiced together, but then they rejoined the tour and all of a sudden they were playing with a new drummer who had never played with them before. It was amazing for John to watch!

John had already been listening to their songs every night and was very familiar with their arrangement, but Ric is a fantastic drummer who put his own take on them. A couple of parts which he perceived in one way when played by Pernice’s normal drummer suddenly felt like hooks. The little drum-fill was now a feature that stuck out and you could hang the song on it in a different way. It wasn't the way the song was written or intended, but it was something he was adding to a song he was just familiar with for the first time. He had the confidence as a musician to be able to do that.

He probably wasn’t consciously changing it, but he just received that part, understood how it was played, and then put his spin on it because that is how he heard it. John walked away from that understanding the drums differently, the role that they played, how much you can accomplish, and how much musicality there can be in drums.

For the majority of drummers, like for the majority of any kind of musician, the musicality isn't really what you are taking away. You are taking away proficiency or aptitude or speed or technique. You see all kinds of great drummers and you are commenting on technique or skill, but musicality is this unquantifiable thing where a drum part suddenly becomes musical and becomes emotionally affecting. That is why Hal Blaine was amazing.

Separating artists from their work

There are a lot of artists out there whose work we really admire, but then we learn that they are monsters, like Woody Allen model or Bill Cosby. They are personally bad and terrible, but they have made this wonderful work! How can we separate our appreciation of that work from the person and their personality? It is that other thing, the music, that ability.

Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, Phil Wandscher

One of the bands that John came up with was a band called Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter. Jesse was a great songwriter and a very compelling performer and the Sweet Hereafter and The Long Winters were both on the same label and played a lot of showcases together back when bands from the same label all would play shows together. They were around each other a lot and felt that they were peer bands and friend bands.

Jesse's guitar player Phil Wandscher had been the original guitar player in Whiskeytown with Ryan Adams, but now he was in Seattle and he was the guitar player for the Sweet Hereafter. The music that he and Jesse made was emotionally affecting, his guitar playing in particular was emotionally compelling, but when you would talk to Phil offstage he was a guy who wanted to get drunk and fight. Personalitywise he did not present himself as a really sensitive and emotional dude.

He was almost a grease monkey, he liked to work on trucks, he liked to get in and bar brawls, he was a pretty aggressive, antagonistic personality, but then he would put on this guitar and: ”Oh my God!” He had a particular quality that wasn't just melting the hearts of people who were there to have their hearts melted, but not even all the cynical dudes in Pendleton shirts against the back wall could deny the power of this music. It falls into the category of: ”We have no idea what the realm of emotions is. Some people can pull that stuff down from the heavens!”

Music being an emotional language, the Bad Brains

Music is the only way to speak eloquently in an emotional language. All spoken language falls short, even poetry, because those are intellectual languages. It is descriptive and it requires you to think, even with the most beautiful poetry. You have to consume and appreciate the artfulness of the language for it to have an emotional impact.

Poetry, novels, or paintings can inflame your emotions and connect with your emotion, but the language that they are speaking in, except maybe in the very top-most, (is still intellectual). If you look at a Van Gogh up close, if you are there in front of the Van Gogh, there are some paintings where your reaction is more visceral, but it isn't like music. Particularly Pop music is a mixed media of words, tune, and instruments, and it is much closer to what an emotional language would be.

How can human beings communicate in pure emotion with one another? We don't know how, but music is the closest we get. A lot of bands are very intentionally trying to communicate in an emotional language and to John that falls utterly flat, like Emo or anyone who says: ”I'm emotional!” There are plenty of great bands with a message of: ”I'm mad! I'm furious! I'm unhinged!” and that is connecting in that strain of emotional language: ”I'm desperate! I'm desperately sad!”

One of John’s favorite bands of all time is the Bad Brains. Dan has not heard of a single band John has ever named, but that is not even John’s stock in trade! There are people who can name bands that John has never heard of. These are all pretty mainstream-y bands.

The emotional language that the Bad Brains are communicating is utterly unhinged, but absolutely real and they affect John emotionally in a way that a lot of their peers in that generation of Punk Rock music don't really affect him emotionally because either he doesn't feel like it achieved it, or he doesn't feel like that emotion is something that connects with Him. The bad brains, from the moment he heard them, could take him somewhere where he apparently needed to be.

One time in 1990 John was sitting on his front porch, listening to the Bad Brains. He had put the speaker in the window of the house he was renting, and he was sitting on the front porch smoking pot and chewing tobacco, watching people walk by on the street, feeling: ”It is not going to get any better than this! I have a big chew in, I am high as shit, I am listening to Bad Brains on a sunny day, and people are walking by. Fuck them!"

Then he looked down and saw that his chew cup which was full of chew spit was full of bees supping upon the chew spit and dying of nicotine overdose. John sat there, baked out of his gourd, while these Lemming-like bees took this delicious drink of sugary nicotine juice and then died. The cup filled up with dead bees and John didn’t know what was happening, but the Bad Brains were the perfect soundtrack to this.

Most people fear to be on stage

Being on stage in front of people, giving a speech or a performance, is said to be the number one fear of all people. John doesn’t know if that is true and how you would actually determine that, but there are also those who are compelled to do it.

Having imaginary friends or an imaginary audience

Somebody asked John the other day if he had an imaginary friend. His daughter has a couple of imaginary friends called Lala and Unga Kinga. She started talking to them very soon after she developed a voice and was still sort of Goo Goo Gaga. Lala and Unga Kinga were her friends, Lola was the girl and Unga Kinga was the boy. They varied in age, sometimes they were her age, sometimes they were her babies, and sometimes they were older brothers and sisters. As she developed language more, then Jenk appeared as the father of Lala and Unga Kinga and they lived in Paris on the beach. John didn’t know what past life she was living and what she was pulling down, but those characters are now sealed in his heart forever.

John did not have an imaginary friend, but he always had an imaginary audience, even from a young age when he was playing alone in his room, like his daughter now does. He was speaking to a crowd, explaining things to them and doing a show for them, and it was always a mixed media show. Even as a kid John felt like there was always going to be a crowd of people who wanted to hear his thoughts on matters.

Some of Dan’s earliest memories are walking around the house with a little cassette recorder that had a microphone, interviewing himself. He might interview Superman and he had to play both parts. During holiday times he would interview his family members on that cassette recorder. In his mind this was always something he really wanted to do and he got that sense of an audience. It is especially useful if your job or your goal or your path or your talent is doing something for the benefit of people's entertainment. That imaginary audience is something you would almost have to have.

Connection with the audience

John imagines there is something about a connection with an audience that is as real as a connection with another single person. It is a different kind of depth because if you are really performing a thing that you are proud of, that you get behind, that you stand behind, and you say: ”Here is this thing!” and you have a roomful of people, they will all have their own experience of it. It is a human experience that is akin to, although very different from, being really in tune with a soul mate or one person.

It is addictive, too, although that is a different personality type. Some people are addicted to that interaction with the crowd and because they have a predisposition to that kind of addiction their hearts are susceptible to feeling like that connection is the truest. You get people who can't stop trying to get on stage! John doesn’t feel that way, but he definitely feels like the connection with the world that happens on stage is one way and there are plenty of others, too.

Being part of somebody else's show

John doesn’t like to be on stage with nothing to do, and that happens a surprising amount of time in cases when you are not in charge, when it is not your show, when you are being asked to be part of somebody else's show. A lot of the time you don't have enough to do. The other person is the voice of the show and they say: ”Hey, come on my show and be the guest!", like on Thrilling Adventure Hour.

Then you stand there and hold a script and then it is your turn and you go: ”Well, shucks marshal!” and then it is not your turn anymore and you are just reading along until it is your turn to say: ”I never…” and go: ”Wow!” This show is an ensemble, it usually features one of their featured players and you are happy and lucky to be there, but there is a lot of time when you are kicking dirt with your shoe up there and you can't run because you are needed in a minute. That is pretty hard for John!

It is like the sound effects guy on one of those old stage shows where all you have to do is a horse sound and then 20 minutes later the sound of thunder and the rest of the time you are just standing up there with the script. John’s experience of those foley artists is that those guys tend to be technical show people who really have very little desire to be on stage. They like making sounds and they like making lights and they like making sound and all the moving and the shaking that is required to get a show off, but they don't give a fuck about the audience, they do not want their own face out there. They are on the engineering side.

Different personalities in show business

Using the Mythbusters as an example now that they have revealed that this is their last season: The relationship between them is coming out now because they don't have to pretend to like each other anymore. Adam and Jamie are examples of two totally different types of people. Adam is a showman, a storyteller and a personality. He is also very into science and into discovery, but he communicates mostly through story. Jamie is an engineer and a maker of things who not only has no interest in story, but doesn't really understand the importance of it or care at all about it.

If it were up to Jamie, Mythbusters would just be seven experiments in a row and if you want to tell a story about it, fine! You can do that at home! "Here is what is interesting: I blew up a tube of gas and then I blew up a refrigerator and then I made a robot claw and: The End". Or: ”Here is the question: Do ghosts exist in people's radiators? Here is how to test it: We blew up a radiator. Turns out: No ghosts inside! The End!” and every show would be three minutes long.

There are a lot of people like that in show business and the only people the performers really have to interact with in most cases are these other people who are largely aliens. You see this on tour with big bands where the four people in the band are total freaks. They were freaky people to begin with and becoming big stars and just concentrated their freakyness so that they are other-worldly performer artist types. Their entire support crew, which is 80% of the people traveling with them, are all Leatherman-carrying, detail-oriented, checklists-oriented technical staff.

Backstage on these big tours is bonkers! There are four people in feather boas and g-strings and 80 people in black jeans with uncombed ponytails. It is lonely out there and that is why performers bring an entourage with them. Imagine Miley Cyrus sitting at a picnic table backstage at a stadium, eating a craft services dinner, and on all the tables around her are people talking about the Ω-ratings of speakers and whether or not they can get the rigging up with the current winch.

She got a little bit of money and she is going to bring some friends on the road, some freaky people, to party with her and to make her feel not such a weirdo in that environment. Show business could not happen without the technical people, they are the whole show, but a lot of them are naturally confused and contemptuous about the actual show. Why are people here to watch this? Because this person is going to go out on stage and bare their soul. That is interesting. Their job is to point the lights at them! John had some crazy conversations with people over the years. It is really two utterly separate world views coming together in this and in a lot of other creative enterprises.

People asking John how to start a podcast (RW12)

In the last two days two women came to him and said: ”I want to podcast and you are my only podcast friend! Can you tell me how to do it?” One of them is Amelia Bonow who started the Shout Your Abortion campaign. She is a good friend and she was on ABC last night and on Nightline last night. Shout Your Abortion has connected with people and she wants to take that conversation to more people and to have it be more than just a hashtag. She rightfully said that she wanted to be on a podcasts and talk at length with people who are interested in it.

”So, which podcast should I go on and what should I do?” - ”Oh my God, I understand why you are asking me, I am your podcast friend, but there are still technical hurdles to surmount in order to put your own podcast up and I don't fucking know what they are. I have two podcasts with two guys and I talk into a microphone and then it goes away, it goes into space, and Dan and Merlin both go "beep boop" and then the podcasts are up in the world. John doesn't know how to do that!

There are a lot of podcasts, many of them only want to interview people in the studio with them. It is still a world with basic technical challenges. How do you get a podcast up on iTunes? John couldn't answer that question if there was a gun pointed at his head! Does someone from iTunes come and knock on your door with a clipboard and say: ”We hear you do a podcast. Would you like it to be on iTunes?” or is it some other music business thing where there is payola involved? ”Beats me!” John was trying to help her and sent emails out to people, asking: "What would I do if I had a friend who wanted to do a podcast?”

Yesterday John's sister said she would like to start a podcast. She is a photographer and she knows the technical language of photography, but what really interests her is this realm of not new age spirituality because that implies a certain kind of thing, but she is a spiritualist and believes in the interconnectedness of the universe and the power of self-affirmation and that you can harness the unseen powers of the world through the power of positive thinking and the power of manifestation.

She has a lot of aphoristic things to share with people and she wants to do a 30 minute podcast where she is not going to interview people and she is not going to have a co-host, but she is just going to talk into a microphone about how everything in the universe is interconnected. ”How do I do it?” John again was at a loss. He sees podcasting blowing up, he sees people really wanting to do it, it is a fantastic platform, an opportunity for people to have a voice in the world, but there is still this barrier to entry.

The Internet is still in beta (RW12)

In the tech world it seems like the tech people have established that they are the dominant class and the creative people have been sidelined as the window-dressing side, the user-interface side, which the technical people recognize that they need it, but it isn't primary.

That is why the whole tech world and the Internet world is still in beta. It is dominated by the engineer class, but it ultimately will be dominated by the creative class. We are in an interregnum period where it hasn't shaken down exactly yet what we are using this stuff for. Apple will put out Mac Paint: "You can draw, creative people! Go ahead! Make a smiley face! Isn't that fun? Don't you feel validated? That's why you bought the thing!” but behind the scenes there are 4000 people going ”boop boop boop boop."

Dan thinks this is a fantastic observation. A little subset of that is blogging: The first people to blog were people who understood how servers worked on the Internet and could code in HTML and could use FTP and could put graphics in tables and make the borders invisible and design a page. That is what it took to put even just a paragraph on the Internet.

All those barriers fell away and now you can just go to one of a bazillion different sites and start posting something and it will look great on every device. Those technical challenges falling away paved the way for the creative people who don't know about and don't want to be technical to put their thing out there.

The Internet as a whole is still a super-technical thing and it is the tech dominance that these are the people who are still involved in building the stuff. We are past the inventing-the-wheel-stage, but we are still far from the combustion-engine-stage. Much of what is on the Internet, the most popular blogs, are technical blogs and tech people talking to each other.

A lot of the people with the technical knowledge want it that way. Maybe they are happy that they hold the keys? Not that they are trying to make it that way, but they are certainly not doing anything to change it. They are struggling to get those keys out there to everyone, to make a service, a product, or an app that lets people do it, but they will do it their way and then they will own them.

The tech world is having its ascendant moment, like in Weimar Germany: They are having their jazz, their parties, they are building their Bauhaus and their public plants, and they are just having a fucking orgy of XHTML. None of them sees that on the horizon there is a wave of all the people in the world who are on the other side of the fence, saying: ”We want access to this beyond just having a Facebook page! We want to dance and sing and play in your Magic World that you created and sold to us. You have succeeded in making this the ground. This is the unoccupied playa, and we are ready to fill it with our Burning Man of human nonsense. Get the fuck out of the way!” and the tech world is like: ”Doo doo doo doo doo!”

There has got to be a way to have an initial public offering. Our first round of funding has been very successful and we are building an app that lets users choose which color of butterfly to adorn their… and we are about to burn down and you are going to burn down by the very hand of the thing that you made and built.

John can't predict what that internet is going to look like, but the Internet ugliness is already starting to wane. Because it is at its peak right now it doesn't feel that way, but enough voices are saying: ”Enough! Enough! We have to corral this ugliness somewhere because this cannot be the language that predominates what is effectively going to be our reality!”

John is not enough of a science fiction writer to know exactly what it is going to look like when we are all in there and we are all free, but it isn't going to look like it looks now and the tech people are right now building the rope that will hang them. This is very exciting to John, even speaking as someone whose friends now are basically all tech people.

He just can't wait to kill the king because he is an artist who wants things to be written in emotional language which is a) unintelligible at first and b) terrifying. There is no Rosetta Stone for it and we can't translate it yet into words very well. That is the frontier that interests John. Space exploration interests him, too, but this is the inner space frontier that nobody is really talking about right now, but it is there.

Discovering emotional language (RW12)

CEOs of startups talk about emotional language at their shareholders meetings or when they are announcing a new product or talking about how their product or service or app provides emotional connection and allows for a deep meaningful new kind of communication that didn't exist before they launched version 2 of their app. They are either going to downplay emotional language and sweep it away because it doesn't matter and it is just for poets, or they exploit it because it is a feature in their app.

That ”feature in the app” language is very dismissive. They are trying to sell their product to dummies, to be the consumer who wants to have more emoji. "Here is our app! You can dress your emoji in your own customized clothes! Isn't that amazing? Give us $1 billion!" And they are going to get it, but what they don't understand is that ultimately those emoji dressed in those customized clothes are going to become a language and what is communicated in that language is not what they think it is! That language will begin to communicate a thing that we currently don't have the language for and nobody knows how transformative that is going to be.

When John was growing up, and it is still true today, emotions are thought of as something frivolous, something that is meaningless because it can't be controlled or codified, something to be overcome, something to be suppressed. We are trying to have demonstrable, measurable, statistical knowledge, which enables us to get things done. Bridges get built, tests are conducted, results are published, and that cult of results, that cult of demonstrability, has infected the liberal arts.

The introduction of the notion of psychology was an early step, a toe in the water: "Here we go! We recognize that there is a world inside our heads that is not empirical. Let's talk about it, let's discuss, let's examine it!" But immediately psychology was infected with the disease or the expectation of measurability and psychology became a pseudoscience because you cannot measure these things with a yardstick. The desire to measure infected the social sciences utterly.

John doesn't understand the notion of rating a piece of music and in particular cataloging your music collection according to a five star rating. "These are my five star songs and these are my four star songs!" - "No! Those aren't! You are measuring things, but that is not how we actually receive that information and that is not what is important about it. We have the social sciences and all of our notional ideas about who we are and how we interact with each other, but we have suppressed the actual language that we use to interact with each other, which is our emotional language.

We don't understand it and we are privileging data, which doesn't reflect the truth, so for decades we have been making all these decisions about how we understand ourselves and one another according to the metric system. It is laughable and it will one day be laughable! It isn't laughable now, but we don't have another way.

These things are thought technologies and the time before the invention of them, before the 19th century, is like the time before the invention of the teenager. The notion of a teenager arrived on the scene around 1930 or 1922 and by 1950 teenagers were a real thing, but before 1922 there were no teenagers. You were a child and when you could lift enough material that you were useful to the farm, when you could make a child and lift a bale, you were no longer in school and you were now at work.

The same is true of our understanding of the mind. There has always been art, beauty and emotion in human life, but we never had a psychological understanding and codification of mood, motivation and memory in the way that we have it now. It is a fantastic first step, but we are completely up a blind alley in the way that we are interpreting it. 100 or 500 years from now people will look back and go: ”Oh, those poor monkeys, playing with fire still, not understanding that we had already transitioned into the era of electricity and metaphors of fire. The language of fire isn't useful in interpreting electricity.”

Wanting to know where their listeners are (RW12)

When it comes to viewer mail John prefers to just hear it for the first time on the show. He doesn't want to get into the habit of preparing a response. He doesn’t know how much time viewers are spending composing their question because he can't picture the Road Work viewer. It is probably somebody in Kansas City wearing a plaid short-sleeved button down shirt, pretty fit, but not necessarily. A Road Work viewer is living in the mid-part of the country, whichever country it is, like in the middle of Germany or in the middle of the United States and they are curious about the coasts.

They want to visit the dynamic coast, but they are also pretty comfortable living in the middle part of the country because they feel like other people don't understand the culture as well as they do there and there is actually a lot of exciting possibility in the middle part that the people on the coasts are fairly presumptions about.

Every Road Work listener may be living in San Luis Obispo. They might have 80% of the population of San Luis Obispo listening to the program and no one else. People who are writing in from now on should share what they are wearing and where they are. Don't make them go to their Twitter bio to see whatever funny location joke you have put in there, Madagascar or whatever, but make it real and tell them where you really are.

Technology being on the way to a two-class society (RW12)

Greetings Dan and John. I started listening to this podcast when released, just got into podcasts. I enjoy it.

Dan would have thought that this podcast would be for people who were very well seasoned podcast pros, people who understand how to find, handle, and perhaps polish a diamond in the rough.

I enjoyed specifically the stories about John's pilgrimage through Europe and his opening at the new mall and Dan’s dead possum in the house. Two questions, technology based and a comment: Listening to John talk about the interconnectedness of society and the role the Internet plays, I am sure we all agree that introducing children to electronics and that Internet sub-level from a young age can be damaging. John sees a lot of potential in social media and the Internet, but some argue that it has CLEARLY done more harm than good. I agree with John's prior takes on the law, I run reds too when it is safe, never speed due to my own rollover at 22…

John has also rolled the car and he was also age 22.

… but I feel cameras at every major intersection on cops’ bodies and federal regulations of the Internet are ruining the American lifestyle and particularly privacy. PHEW! Question is: Do you think when it is all said and done the Internet and this AGE of technology will be viewed as a positive or negative to human culture? Countries have always had culture that they protect and pass down throughout the generations. What is America's culture today that I would pass down to my kids? Is it emojis and Instagram? Side note: I use neither! — Steve

The Internet and the surveillance culture are fait accompli. We are in a transition moment where our ideas of privacy and what we traditionally think of as our personal autonomy, separateness from one another, and separateness from the government, from institutions, and from businesses is all changing in a lot of ways. Autonomy is going away and it is going to be more and more a case where if you choose to live outside of that you will be living a very different style of life. People within the Borg are going to feel like you are living an impoverished life. That has always been the case in all of human civilization.

The people who live on the edge of the village or choose to live all the way out in the forest can come into the town and resupply, they can come into the town and listen to a music-show and then go back out to their forest cabin, but as time goes on they are less and less able to come into the village just because the sights and sounds are too overwhelming.

They don't know the protocol and they don’t have access to the Borg system where your bank account and your identity are going to be more and more synonymous, where your credit rating and your identity are more and more synonymous, where you are visible and your location is visible. Who you are, who you have chosen to present yourself is not only visible, but it presages your actual personal self.

People already know everything about you, even as they are meeting you, because it just pops up in their heads-up display: Here is their resumé, here are some interesting things about them, here is their credit rating. If you choose to live outside of that system you will be much more estranged than just being a hermit living in the forest because you won't understand how to interface. If you do try to rejoin the system your interface will be mostly blank and people won't know how to interact with you.

It is an inevitability. We need to see it coming and understand all of its ramifications, and decide for ourselves not which stuff to opt into because opting in is going to be mandatory, but rather if we can collectively say: Here is where we draw the lines and how do we keep technology and this interconnectedness from being a very different experience for the haves than it is for the have-nots.

If your credit rating is an integral part of your status, which is what the technology world would like it to be, then you create separate strata of access to the world for people much more exaggeratedly that now. Now it is: ”Oh, you live in a gated community, you fly first class or in a private jet, you are separate!”, but when you are on the highway between the airport and your house you are on the same highway as the rest of us. But this future world offers limitless possibility for people of higher status to be on a completely other highway.

If we won't decide what we want it to look like in advance, then capitalism will decide and it won't be anybody's decision, but it might turn out that genetic engineering and healthy food will only be available to people with a 700 credit rating or better. The question is if we can intervene because some of their listeners are presumably the people who are going to be building the architecture of that system and they do not currently feel that they are morally culpable.

All they are doing is writing some code for Uber or they are working in the legal office. It is not their responsibility, they are just doing their job, they are just following orders, but what about the moral culpability for building this world which the Internet capitalists would tell us was morally neutral? "Let the market decide!" Uber is morally neutral, even though passengers have ratings and you presume that passengers with low ratings are left waiting in the rain.

If we are headed toward a world where the Uber model is the only way to get from place to place because it has supplanted personal ownership of cars and public transit, then we will end up with a top tier transportation and if you have a rating below 4.7 you will only have access to lower tier systems. There will be budget transportation systems which take longer, are dirtier, effectively what we have now, but just exaggerated and much more explicitly stratified. There will be transportation options for poor or disabled people, but they will be in the slow lane.

In today's world of hyper-fast movement and total interconnectivity, that slow lane has much greater potential for abuse and it will be a much darker world for people who don't have access. We see it already in nascent ways and all you have to do is extrapolate from the increasing denial of access and assume that this is not going to stop and nobody is going to say: ”Wait a minute! I am altruistically going to build a system that makes me less money but is more utopian!”

People will do it, like Google right now is available to everybody equally and nobody can google things more effectively than other people can Google things, but it will be the trend unless we talk about it and agree and the people who are building it build it better than they are currently doing. We cannot let the market rule us because the market is not a pure and morally neutral system.

Fluffernutter (RW12)

Lastly: John, eat a sandwich! It is a peanut butter and fluff sandwich. It is truly delicious compared to the honey stuff from your childhood. You will love this!

John was at XOXO and fluffernutters were specifically brought there for him, but he avoided them the entire weekend. Those fluffernutters were being schlepped around, someone was waiting to corner him in an alley and stick a fluffernutter in him, but he somehow used his ninja powers to not even see a fluffernutter. John seems to Dan as a down-to-earth kind of person. A person who would chew tobacco and smoke pot at the same time (Highly recommended!) is not someone closed off to experiences.

John seems to be open to trying things and yet he won't try this. People don't understand! If Dan said he had vanilla ice cream and you can amp this thing up big time by putting chocolate fudge on top of it, he will be all about that and he would try it even though he never tried that before, but for some reason John says "No!" to the combination of fluff and peanut butter! This is a guy who puts anchovies and pretzels on his pizza, maybe even potato chips, but he won't try a fluffernutter. Dan is not saying John should try it, but he is saying people hear that and they get confused.

John is an Elvis fan, but he never had a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich either. He knows what peanut butter tastes like, he knows what bananas taste like, he knows what a grilled sandwich tastes like, he has the taste in his mouth and he doesn't need to taste it. Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff? John pretty much has it. Maybe there is some Umami happening when you mix those things together and all of a sudden you are in a kaleidoscopic world of taste, like with peanut butter and pickles?

Whacking some peanut butter on a banana for a little extra protein is like feeding peanut butter to a dog: The dog will eat it, the dog thinks it wants it, but then the dog spends a half an hour going (mouth noises)and you are like: ”Ha ha, you are an idiot!” If John had a banana with peanut butter on it he would probably be standing over the kitchen sink and go (same mouth noises). Dan thinks John might like it.

This might be like The Beatles and jelly beans: At every nerd thing John goes to somebody will be waiting with a fluffernutter sandwich and John will eventually going to have to say just out of politeness: ”All right!”, but he is definitely not going to buy the ingredients and make one for himself. Fluffernutters have been brought to him! Someone went to extra trouble to bring some, but John never saw them and never had to make the decision. He was on his own course and the fluffernutters were on their own course, they were like Binky The Ghost in Mrs Pacman! John was trying to avoid the ghosts, not get the ghosts, because he was out of power pellets and there was no chance for Binky the fluffernutter.

Arguing via text messages (RW12)

Hi Dan and John!

While listening to the discussion about instant messaging on episode 5 of your show John commented that text is the ideal way of debating. That really resonated with me! As someone who likes arguing a lot I find that in real life people are too quick to adopt a conciliatory posture which can prevent very absurd-sounding, but often very true ideas from ever being uttered. Sadly, I think the Internet is slowly going the same route: Discussions can get toxic very quickly and so people revert to only discussing banal stuff. I think this is partly because you can't really show emotion in texts, but also because as the Internet life blends into real life everything is becoming very public. What do you guys think? — Phillippe from Brazil

John totally agrees! Obviously he prefers type arguing and there are a lot of people, even people close to him in his life who hate it and want to argue in person precisely because of this false resolution when everybody is either tired of arguing or not up to it emotionally. It is the: ”Yeah, I guess you are right!”, it is the We Can All Agree on Cheese problem of: ”I am not convinced, but I am going to make some cooing sounds at you until you stop and if you to continue to persist in this argument past my cooing sounds, then you have become a bully or you are being mean because I have cooed at you three or four times.”

No resolution is possible, no greater understanding is possible, it is just ”Coo coo coo coo! Now stop arguing with me!” and John hates that. This happens on text, too: ”Now wait a minute! The thing you just said doesn't work and here is why!”, and the person writes back ”I'm done!”, or ”I can't think about this right now!”, there are a million ways to get away from that kind of intellectual frisson.

The lingua franca of today is not going to be the way we speak to one another in the future, but is a transitional language, we have expanded the franchise, and everybody can speak now, which is an ultimate good, but right now at least there are a lot of people who never had a voice who are learning to use their voice and there is a lot of shouting.

A lot of people felt like they had a voice and now their voice isn't ranked as highly as they thought it was going to be and they are mad, which means that everybody is mad and everybody is figuring it out. The generation that is coming up is steeped in this and is going to know what their voice is and there isn't going to be all this contention. The contention of now isn't really in the realm of ideas, people aren't arguing ideas, but they are arguing about status and dialect, and that will go away.

Giving kids access to the Internet and technology (RW12)

Dan has seen John’s daughter use an iPhone, but she has never seen a Disney movie except Mary Poppins, and she has never seen Tangled. Neither of them even know what that is!

Jonathan Coulton's idea about technology is similar to John’s: Technology is inevitable, it is a fait accompli, and he puts his money where his mouth is with his own kids: By the time they are in High School they will never open a book again, so why should he insist that they read books? Their classes are going to be conducted on iPads, their life is going to be led on iPads and in the computer, so why would he limit their screen time? They should be as articulate in this new world and as versed in it as they can be!

John recoiled at that before he even had a daughter because that was the premise even with Jonathan's three year old. They don't have completely unlimited access and access is controlled to a certain extent, but with much freer limits than certainly John would allow. He is correct that the iPad interface is going to be the way. John’s daughter understands it intuitively, she reaches out to pictures on his phone and is gesticulating to move them around although she was never taught that, she just saw it and adopted it. That is going to be the interface and why would you make your child less articulate in that?

The reason John controls access is that he believes that it is still in beta and that the majority of material on the Internet that is directed at kids is directed at turning kids into consumers as quickly as possible. John does not want his daughter to interface with the world primarily as a consumer. By the time she is 10 there might be plenty of content on there that isn't directing her to the Buy Now button immediately, but maybe not. Maybe there are just going to be subliminal cigarette ads through everything.

Adults trying to raise kids in this world can respectfully disagree. John can see what Jonathan Coulton is saying and Dan is somewhere in the middle, Merlin is definitely for more access to the Internet, but not all the way to completely believing that there won't be books. Jonathan's case is that there won't be books! Books will sit on the shelves until people move one last time and don't bring their books and they all just go into the shredders and we just keep the ones that are written on vellum.

Dan struggles with this a lot because he sees both John’s side of it and Colton's side of it and he doesn’t feel he has the right answer. Obviously he loves books and has always loved books!

Dan collecting comic books (RW12)

For so many years Dan was a serious comic book collector and reader. He was bagging and boarding books, but he knew realistically that they were never going to be worth that much money. There was a part of him that said: ”Maybe they will!”, like: ”I have X-Men 15. It is never going to be worth a lot of money, but it is worth something! This is where this one character appeared or this thing happened to them, this is the first time this villain appeared. That has got to be worth something!”

Dan realized it was more like returning bottles: You might get a couple of cents if you save all these bottles and bring them to the recycling center, but the chance of you really making money on anything is not very high. Dan continued to do it because it was his thing and he got the idea that he will save those books for his kids because one of his kids will want to read Amazing Spider-Man number 157 Volume II, of course, the introduction of the Amazing Kreskin!

Moving to electronic books (RW12)

On the one hand Dan thinks: "Why would I want these books?" You could say: ”This book was owned by a person I happen to be related to and who took really interesting notes in the book while they were reading it, which is a connection to someone who lived a generation or two before I did. It is fascinating to see what they were thinking when they read this book and it is still really relevant as much as it was back then. I can take this journey through time and read these interesting notes that this person took!” There is a whole different level to it, but that is going to be a tiny niche.

Why would Dan have all of these things on his shelf? He very much got into the philosophy of: "Once I have read something, can I give it away? Can I give it to someone else if it is not something I will definitely want to return to or reread?" Over the years his attitude changed to the point that if wants to read a comic he will download it in Comixology on his iPad and he will not have a physical copy of it anymore. With regular books he has taken that attitude as well.

Dan's son has used an iPad from a very early age at two or three years old, and he loves the iPad so much that if Dan would ask him to chose between having a TV or an iPad forever, he is pretty surely going to pick the iPad. He does so much with it and Dan would have done so as well at that age.

If Dan was going to hand him down comics he would want to read them on the iPad because why would you want to put them in a bag with a board and take up space in a box and have to organize it and alphabetized it? The app does all of that and it is always going to be there! In their next iteration those comics are going to be interactive. John has sometimes absentmindedly reached out to a physical magazine to enlarge the photograph and zoom in. They have colonized his mind now and he sees why it is important and inevitable.

They all watched Blade Runner back in the early 1980s and thought: ”Can you imagine being able to zoom in on a photograph like that? Enhance!” Somehow in the Bladerunner technology you are able to look around a corner in a paper photograph which never made any sense and they should have figured out a way to explain exactly how that happened, but we will be able to do that as things get more interactive and as augmented reality becomes the norm.

Dan’s kids are going to look at those comic books and go: "What? I can't cross-reference anything? I can't zoom in on anything? I can't read the backstories? It is all in this book?” Dan’s little girl thinks that whenever he is using a computer that she can tap the screen, and her reaction to it is like: ”Oh right, this is that thing.” She can't express it at four years old, but the attitude is that this thing doesn't work that way and it is not very good. Why do you have to use this weird mouse when it should be smart?

Everything is rented these days, having 50.000 songs in iTunes (RW12)

Our current understanding is that all media will be there forever, but that is where we are wrong! The current model, and it will not stop, is that those things are only rented to us.

John’s desktop computer is running OS 9, let’s say, or a ludicrously earlier iteration of 10, and he has 50.000 songs on there. One time a good friend of him who is a Rock’n’Roll drummer was visiting Seattle on tour and he was visiting a mutual friend who had a room in his house with walls of CDs. He was thrilled because he had one of the first multi-gig iPods, a big fat iPod, and he spent an entire day off on tour, which are prized, in this house ripping CDs to his iPod. He was so happy! ”Oh my God, you have this and you have that!” and he was collecting it all.

John went through that phase 10 years ago and he has more than 50.000 songs in iTunes. He has the history of Western music on this computer, but he has not downloaded the latest version of iTunes because it won't run on this OS and if he download the latest OS it will freeze his computer and it will become a brick. John is not a tech person and he doesn’t understand how to get those off of his computer running 10.6 and put them on any one of his devices that would enable him to listen to them or use them. His past experience is that if you start moving them around, all of a sudden you click on a song and they are like: ”You don't have access to this song!”

John wants to listen to A.C. Newman's first solo record on his phone and he can listen to it on the computer, but if he moves it anywhere, all of a sudden he doesn’t have access to it. Apple is saying you can listen to this song on up to three computers and then your rights to it die, which is not ownership of a thing, but it is covered with eels and you are a slave to a company because you clicked on a terms of service agreement you didn't read and we can do nothing about it because there is no due process.

Because those companies are not governments we can only sue them as a class action. If we were suing them because they have effectively rented us these things which we thought we were buying would make everyone laugh! Apple would laugh, the courts would laugh, and they would say: ”Fuck you! You have no rights here! This is a commercial exchange! You clicked on the terms of agreement!"

Our ideas of what we own are changing fast and they are going to change. In his imagination and his emotional mind John has effectively abandoned these 50.000 songs. One day this computer will stop working and the time he spent collecting that music, the legal and rightful ownership he has, the hours he spent ripping CDs, entitled him to nothing because somewhere up the food-chain somebody wrote a line of code that made it the property of Cupertino and not the property of John. That is the infuriating thing!

John resents these eels so much! He does not want automatic withdrawal from his bank account to support his not even high-status existence, but he just has normal status. He is just a regular person who wants to go on the Internet and he does not want every single door he comes to ask him the question if he wants to pay for better access or if he wants to go in the cattle chute access door.

John receiving silver medallion status on Delta Airlines (RW12)

John has recently received silver medallion status on Delta Airlines which entitles him to nothing. You might be able to board sooner, but that is in itself an insult. Getting on your fart tube sooner and being at the head of a line of animals trying to force their oversized bags into the tiny overhead compartment is not a prize, but a shitty system that should be reformed.

They have created a shitty method where they started charging for bags under the plane now and, what a surprise, everyone takes their bag on the plane now. Boarding the plane is going to take 45 minutes longer because the plane is a Lord of the Flies environment, and past a certain point they have to stand at the gate and check all these bags.

It has overcomplicated the process by 1000% but rather than making the first bag free they have put up a cost on it, not just on bringing your bag, but they have developed a seemingly infinite strata of access and charge you for it. ”If you fly this many qualifying miles, not all your miles, you can have a jump start on the feeding frenzy of getting your bag on the plane!” - ”Fuck yourselves!”

For $50 more you can get treated like a subhuman, for $80 more you can get treated like a chattel slave, for $200 more you can get treated like someone working in the mercury mines. To get treated like a basic human being you must already have a status that is impossible for you to parse.

All the Internet companies and companies all over are looking at that and are saying: ”Well, huh! Another opportunity to charge people! What if the latest iteration of Google brought back different results depending on your zip code or depending on your credit rating?", for lack of a better term.

John keeps saying credit rating and people keep asking: ”Credit rating? I am not getting a mortgage!”, but there is that credit rating mentality of putting an SAT score to your viability as a citizen. John is astonished that it hasn't proliferated but is still only being utilized by people who are giving you a loan. John doesn’t know why it hasn't yet percolated out into every strata of consumer life, but it will! If you have a 750 credit rating or better you get Amazon Prime for free or less, that type of thing is waiting around the corner for now. Bastards!

1920s ending

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