A couple of years ago my Mom died and something in my life broke. Some of you know all too well what it’s like. Like driving with a flat tire or maybe with a strange metallic whine coming from the engine and a creeping sense that the outcome of the trip is in more doubt than you guessed. I think of her every day and the way I miss her rises and falls, now gentle, now fierce. It is a force of loss.
Isaac has come into my life as a corresponding force of connection. I am bound to this world as I have never been before. The force of a kind of river is at my back pushing me on through my stupidity and despair. My weakness is still very much in the game but it is not an “out”. I know a kind of love I never knew. My life is too simple & boring, even lonely. But somehow it has a knitting together force that is new in my experience. Becoming a parent locks you in a world of little necessities and circumscribes your choices and freedom all the while deepening the quality of your relationship to life itself.
Cows are not scary but they say “Boo” What does the cow say? Boo.
We played hide and seek yesterday and when he popped out from under the blanket he would say “Bo” I finally figured out this must be “Boo” learned at daycare as kids did halloween things. I like to picture him hearing this and thinking “Well that’s just silly. They must be saying Bo.”
He got another of those goddamn hard plastic toys that look like a cartoon animal and go off like a car alarm playing the same damn six little kid songs if you bump them.
“It’s supposed to be a caterpillar ”
“A caterpillar – a kind of bug”
I found a picture of a green caterpillar and showed him and pointed at the toy.
“It’s a caterpillar, a kind of bug.”
a few minutes later he looked at it and in a relaxed way said “Bug.” like you might say “Well alright then.”
He’s walking “hands free”. His cautious temperament finally felt ready to let go and he just started strolling across the living room. Now he often walks in odd patterns that are unmistakably about fine tuning the controls. He walks in little circles and stoops to picks things up and keeps on cruising. It’s a careful little waddle with his hands in the air but he’s making a break for it.
He is obsessively gathering data about the universe. His most common phrase is “Dat” meaning “what is that?” And we go through every book naming names and qualifying definitions. “That’s a baby bear” “That’s called a dinosaur, it’s like a lizard but very big” “That’s a truck it’s like a car but bigger”. For a long time we lived in a one word world meaning what we heard was kitty (Ki), doggie, birdie, etc. The most exciting thing verbally is that he is starting to hook up little things that go together. We have a tourist guide to Florida with herons on the cover and he looked at it and called out “birdie” which is obviously nothing new but I walked us over to it and picked it up to look at it and he said “bird book”. We count things on the pages of his books (one two three four) and when we ask him to count he goes like this: “One hoo dum hmmm buh” or “One One One One”.
He points at zero and says “None.” I can’t figure out what this means, he’s either parroting us talking about numbers or he is recapitulating the discovery of zero itself, one of the critical scientific revolutions leading to all the science and technology of our modern world. I think probably that’s what it is.
The other night at dinner he was talking in gibberish paragraphs that were like listening to a slightly familiar foreign language being spoken.
“Ribula norgo blahbiddy bodly pa dinku mor atoffa Birdie. Norbhd a bindu ohsa bladdiby Mommy and Daddy.”
To us this is pretty spectacular.
Things we call Isaac:
- Cutie Pattootie
- Sweetie Petitey
- Tiny Whiny
- Tiny McWhiny
- Zoomy Kabboomy
- & of course Boo Boo Head.
Toddlers are passionate and frequently negative. The books say this is the beginning of them carving out their individual identity. It makes sense to me that you have to be able to say No or your Yes is always going to be weak. So part of me that is fine with him uttering his offended little denials of this food or that book but it isn’t altogether easy to say goodbye to the relaxed kid who took what he was offered and enjoyed every book.
He is a sweet and really good kid but he feels more frustration and sadness and it’s strange knowing how much more lies inevitably, ahead. As a parent I sometimes have the heartbreaking feeling of having gotten him into such a terrible mess and yet I know that the being game is the only game in town. If you don’t exist you don’t cry but you don’t laugh or love either.
When he wants a book read to him (450 times in an average day) he makes a noise like the music during the shower scene in “Psycho”. How does one respond to this?
Daddy or Mommy: “Of course sweetie” or “For Gods sake, cut that out” or simply “AiYEEEEEE!”He is still wild for birdies. He goes to bed calling out to them and wakes up asking after them. When he recognizes one in a drawing or photo he has to shout it out with the satisfaction of seeing something very important. Buses and trucks also hit this sweet spot as well as dogs and cats but without the edge of sheer intensity that birdies bring.
I took him to Green Lake yesterday and we walked into a wild wind. Whitecaps were leaping and leaves flying but strangely it wasn’t very cold. I wanted to walk him to where the birds are but didn’t find them at the usual spots we walked on and on around the lake and finally found a collection of ducks. They looked us over and watched expectantly. I threw them some cheerios and they came closer. Now lately when showing Isaac pictures of ducks we say:” Quack quack quack” as duckily as we can. His rendering of this is “Gaga”: He calls them gaga birdies. Now meanwhile, seagulls and grebes and geese and crows had all gathered with that sixth sense for handouts. Isaac became incredibly excited, laughing and after telling every single one that it was in fact, a birdie, he began to yell at them in what I guess he figures is their language.Ga Ga GAGAGAGAGAGA! GAGAGGA! GAGGAGA! Ga Ga GAGAGAGAGAGA! GAGAGGA! GAGGAGA! GAGAGAGAGAGA! GAGAGGA! GAGGAGA!
Conversation in the car on the way home:
Hugh: (oops) Hello.
Things I can’t believe I said this week:
- “Please, no. I hate Timmy Tiptoes”
- “No, it’s a boat not a dog. It looks like a dog, and it has a dog face but it’s a boat.”
Well it’s been too long since a crib sheet went to press (or to “press send” at any rate).
Most of you getting this already have a pretty good idea how our marathon trip went but if you don’t…it went fine, thanks. We all got along well. Isaac was a trooper generally and it was fantastic to see the grand parental units in Florida and Colorado.
Isaac is grumbling his was through the arrival of molars but especially with a little ibuprofen on board still dazzles us with sweetness on a regular basis. He is very, very close to walking without help and I suppose we should savor this golden brief moment before we have to run our butts off for the next several years. What happens is that after acting very cautious about walking or standing alone he suddenly just seems to forget to hold onto anything at times. Just the absence of any support makes him look at those moments, more grown up.
He knows many many more words that he can say. He absorbs books like there was something in them that might explain everything and so we keep delving into the mysteries of books like “Go, Dog. Go!” and especially any picture and word books that touch upon his favorite subjects. He grabs a book out of the pile (they didn’t start in a pile but they end up there every single day – life with a baby is like making those Tibetan sand paintings) and waves it at us insistently saying something like “Yagadi!” Which apparently means “Your king commands you. Read!”
The Isaac Hot and Not list:
Hot: Buses, birdies, kitties, cars. planes, doggies, playing.
Not: Molars, vegetables, denial of any whim no matter how small, falling.
Well…I’m all at sea. I don’t know where I left off but I know it was a while ago.
Isaac is Six feet tall and taking pre-med at UW.OK not quite, he’s fat and small and still a baby though a big strong smart one.
As my earlier email to most of you this week mentioned, the word “birdie” is filling in for well, all the other words. It could be summed up by this phrase: “If you don’t have something birdie to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Except bye bye and cat).He is still using his parental slave units to hold his hands while walking across open rooms but he is round pink lightning along walls, off couches and beds and after rolling toys and cats.Some of the cool stuff I could tell you doesn’t fit well into anecdotes because it’s about the little things he notices by listening and looking and the ways he tries to communicate. No example really rates a story to you (I have some self respect left) but he is more observant and involved and relating in deeper ways.
When he was really an infant and he put his head down on my shoulder it was sweet but it meant he was going to sleep. When he does it now it means “you’re my person” and it is to die for. He’s very grumpy when he’s grumpy and he’s very sweet when he’s sweet. We play “I’m Gonna Get You” and he laughs and squeals with a purity of joy that makes me feel less cynical about life, the universe and everything.Here’s to you all
That’s what he has turned into. A little shiny pink and golden monkey.
Life is a series of wild workout sessions involving getting up and walking (along things or with adult hands) and sitting down and crawling at speeds approaching 30 mph.
Isaac’s list of things to do today (and everyday)
- Mommy’s papers must be rifled: They are strangely flat, smooth and complete.
- Cat dishes must be checked for interesting surprises
- Everything on the floor must be tasted
- Attempts to reach the cat box must continue (What is so special that Mommy keeps it all for herself?)
- Touching electric outlets makes parents run and scream. What else can they do? Possible flight or dancing?
He is very bright and sweet. He isn’t that sweet while teething but who would be? Interesting vocalizing; he calls me (and other things) “Danya” adding this odd “ya” to various sounds. We think he may be Russian.
He impressed the heck out of us by learning something very interesting. He had a tendency to try to plunge head first over the side of anything he was on and wanted off of. This scared me and I would stop him and rotate him around and slide him down feet first till his feet caught under him and took his weight.
Yesterday he did this all by himself. We applauded and told him how smart he is and he applauded too and looked thrilled!
Projects: I am trying to teach him to howl like a wolf. My dream scenario is this: He is at daycare and another parent who doesn’t know him well comes to pick up their kid. Following some internal gut sense of timing Isaac tilts back his head and comes out with a long haunting blood chilling howl.
Yours for good mental health,
Benjamin Bratton reveals the truth behind the “happy pill” that is TED talks.
It’s a short sharp shock for TED but hopefully corrective. The point isn’t that TED should shutdown but that it should splash a little water on its face and notice how formulaic it has become and how it actually steers clear of real problems, preferring happy talk.
YouTube is the most successful disaster on the WWW.
YouTube is the 24/7 Meth Santa of distraction and it’s so successful at its drunken confetti flinging approach to video sharing that a meaningful redesign, let alone a socially responsible reimagining, is a distant possibility on a galactic scale of distance.
It’s sort of ridiculous critiquing YouTube; it’s such an irreplaceable, giant hub of internet life that a shrug and “well, what can ya do?” might be a sensible place to leave this. But I’m not sensible and we all know an intervention is needed.
This year I’d like:
- Fewer suggestions. I know you are infatuated with your supposed ability to detect my heart’s desire and serve it up to me, but you are not actually good at this. The fact is I really don’t WANT your suggestions. I want my subscriptions and whatever I feel like searching for and nothing from you unless I ask for it…This is part a.
- And this is part B. Your suggestions suck and may even pose a danger to society. This is because your system of competition between channels and your resultant ranking of those channels drives them to endlessly inflate drama and conflict. In ordinary video channels, this just results in lots of stupid talk, overstatement and ginned up make-believe conflict but with your political channels this is further dumbing down the national dialogue, widening our dangerous divide and making the search for accurate news at YouTube impossible as titles claim lurid or thrilling content and drama that doesn’t exist anywhere BUT the title. This is disinformation. You are driving a race to stupidity and you don’t suffer a single qualm.
- I want you to stop showing me right-wing political videos just because one time I watched a right-wing guy.
- Not surprisingly, I want at least the OPTION to change my homepage within youtube away from your recommendations and to my subscriptions, by default.
- A little x button (or thumbs down) on every recommendation that would let me exile it forever. I want to make some of those suggestions go away FOREVER. If I want them, I’ll go looking.
- A little check button (or thumbs up) on every recommendation that means “More like this please”. But I worry because you make bad guesses. You guess wrong a lot more often that you should. You’re like a crazy girlfriend generously giving me plaid shorts, black knee socks and 142 jars of green olives. Why just why?
- I’d like a “Please pretend I never watched this” button on every video I watch. YouTube, most of the time when I visit you I’m just indulging a vague curiosity in a Reddit link or letting a friend show me something funny they want me to see. I don’t WANT you to learn anything about me from it. YouTube, I really want you to stop interpreting each of these moments as equal to the things I search for on your site. I want to be able to communicate with you. I want to be able to say “Ignore this…this isn’t me.”
- And YouTube, someone has to tell you, uncomfortable as it is…your search algorithm…stinks. You need to clean it up. Honestly, everyone’s been talking about it for years and you’ve been in denial. YouTube, you give search results like someone hard of hearing answers questions. When I type in “Yogscast xephos and honeydew the walls episode 12” I’m actually telling you quite a bit about what I’d like to see. You can use this information to return a list of things that could be …related to those words. For example, the list could only include those words or even just most of them. Are you with me? When my list of results come up and 75% of the entries don’t even have those words in them and the others will be every other episode of the series in random order scattered over 3 pages of search results with mine at the top of page 4… I feel…disappointed, YouTube. I feel like you aren’t listening or maybe that you are just sort of… well…stupid?
Well, thanks for listening…what’s that? What did you say? Gerbil eats first piece of broccoli? Drunk kid gets knocked out? Too fat to get out of bed?
You may not know it by the name but it probably affects you multiple times each day. Filter bubbles are algorithms that track a visitors choices on a website and selectively feed them tailored options when they return. There are a thousand variations of this on the on the web. When you shop at Amazon and search for things it affects the results you’ll see next time. Every time you watch a YouTube video a hodgepodge of results influenced by that viewing will appear as recommended videos. There are even “cookie relationships” between different websites where what you look at on one could influence what you see THE FIRST TIME you visit a different website. Nobody sees the same Facebook, Reddit or YouTube. This is enough to give many people a creepy “shadowed” feeling while others may shrug and say it’s all anonymous really, so why get into a sweat? The websites would certainly claim that it was only about providing better service by fine tuning your experience to better fit your interests. Of course, better service is always really about better revenue. Plus who are they to say that my experience is better as opposed to overly managed? It probably comes down to two not very nice things:
1. Their anxious sense that they need to control the people visiting the site. I think it unnerves investors and managers to think that visitors are wandering chaotically around out of control, doing what they want in an unmoderated way. I think they feel (not think) that if they are NOT manipulating and attempting to force people through some sort of filters they’ve devised that they’d be failing to do their job.
2. A related issue but not EXACTLY the same: The sense that the product must be refined and distilled for extra strength and intensity so it becomes a more powerful experience. In effect, it’s like adding more sugar, salt and fat to fast food. Is it good for business? Yes. Is it good for the customer? Nope.
One important thing to know is that since Dec. 4, 2009, Google results have been personalized for everyone. Google itself has become the meta filter bubble by telling you more of what it has decided you want to know about and less of what it thinks you don’t want to know about. There is a conflict of interest here that isn’t attracting much notice. Google (motto: “don’t be evil”) has not been high profile about this dramatic change at all and if you want to get unfiltered results you have to do some tricky behind the scenes settings changes. Google clearly profits from the personalization of search results. Google’s advertising profits are enhanced by tailoring them more closely to the personal biases of users but its vaunted informational purity is downgraded. Google should provide a clear: Personal / Objective choice. And think of this, years from now where will your shaped results have drifted? Given enough personalization would a conspiracy theorist for example never encounter a competing version of reality?
What this whole process reminds me of (especially in this age extreme polarization) is the way people treat the boss, telling him only what he wants to hear and isolating him further and further within a mono-cultural inaccurate echo chamber. What could go wrong, eh? You can imagine all of us gradually glassing over with ever more satisfying drivel.
Eli Pariser is the one who coined the phrase “filter bubble” here he is describing his concerns.