Thinking about 2020

This has been a truly strange year for a multitude of reasons. Things appear to be trending upward in terms of the pandemic and people are about to enter another period of increased isolation. Generally I think people are are of that dynamic, but are trying to figure out how to function well enough to manage things. One of the things about writing in this functional journal in the past was trying to discuss complex things in a very direct way. Things just go so sideways this year that even trying to write about complex emotions was not working. It was not enough to communicate a series of feelings. That in part was probably due to the crushing inability to move on from that perpetual upward trending that could be seen in news reports and on tracking websites. From that understanding it became harder to try to get a foothold between the emotions of being isolated and the uncertainty of what would happen next. Together those two forces have a powerful combined effect on society in general. Wondering what will happen next at such a mass scale is itself a watershed moment for the nation. 

That last paragraph contained a very condensed version of my thoughts on the matter. Today I have been thinking about 2020 and what this year has meant. A preponderance of it is already gone, but the effects will linger on for some time. A generation will remember the uncertainty and the crushing feeling of failed containment. Maybe that feeling is what I’m trying to capture, but I simply do not have the capacity to summon words to adequately describe it. People strive forward for improvement to make contributions to the academy to build society. Our nation has been built based on a framework of expanding institutions. We witnessed those institutions challenged in ways that defied the very normative fluidity with which we expect civil society to function. Outside of the strain on institutions even our most basic supply chains began to break down. That realized the actual reliance people have on institutions even the ones sustained by capital exchanges for commodities. A very small percentage of the total population is capable of surviving without being able to shop for food. That is probably one of the driving factors to why the uncertainty this year is so confounding and worrisome.

Thinking about communication

The art of writing letters has been lost. 

Dear Reader, 

People seem to have forgotten how to debate in general communication. It seems that all conversation is directional in nature vs. providing some solid type of given and take. People are often directing others or trying to move the trajectory of an argument by pushing the very end of the argument as a slogan or aphorism. This type of directional effort falls short of convincing people of anything due to the hollow nature of it without the supporting foundation. That is one of the reasons that the media has been breaking down as an institution. Ongoing narratives have broken down and the foundation and background of an argument no longer fit into a sound byte or the space between commercial breaks allows communication to suffer and the people to be less informed. 

Maybe in some ways it feels like every conversation is for all the marbles and the national dialogue is the local dialogue. This obviously is problematic for a number of reasons. I started to think about how the art of writing letters has been lost. Imagine somebody sitting down and having to put everything together in one submission of thought to another person. Each of them having as much time as necessary to complete the communication cycle. In this case of a letter writing cycle the communication method was not as instant as an email, text, audio, or video. Even if people did sit down to write comprehensive missives would that format of communication be consumable is a question that remains. Maybe both the generation and consumption of arguments had changed. It does seem that with the rise of podcasts people are seeking out longer form communication. 

Dr. Nels Lindahl
Broomfield, Colorado

More reading and writing

Today could have started off with a review of my notes. A few observations have been squirreled away for coverage at a late time. Right now is not a time for notes or for thinking about things from the past. It is a time for being present right now in the moment. At the moment, I have a cookie and two shots of espresso. That should be enough to produce a solid page of prose. This functional journal is going to need to become a little more observation driven for the next few months. While I’m not going to by any means become a live journal type of writer where my every thought and feeling get put down on paper more things could be written. Throughout the last 132 days I have been trying to write a page of prose at the start of the day. Those words have been targeted from a stream of consciousness that sometimes yields to the production of prose and sometimes does not allow that simple task to be completed. Writing a single page of prose should be relatively easy to achieve. It should be even easier given that any topic could be covered. Maybe that is the underlying problem the totality of the scope being covered makes it harder to sustain. Perhaps focusing on one topic and going for extreme depth of coverage instead of the ongoing breath of coverage would be the best way to go about the daily production of prose. 

It seems like the best path forward toward that perfect possible future is to engage in more reading and writing on a daily basis. My bookshelves contain hundreds of books that could be consumed again from a slightly different perspective. My views on things are more refined and probably a little less interesting than 20 years ago when a lot of the books behind me were purchased from university bookstores. It would be pretty easy to just start reading from one side of a shelf and just enjoy the intellectual ride across a ton of different authors and subjects. 

I jotted down 3 book titles that should be on my shelf, but have not been written:

  1. Observing civility in America: Being a citizen of history
  2. The American Citizen: Civil society and being a citizen of history
  3. Community in America: Understanding place, interest, and circumstance

At the moment, I’m in one of those modes where I could probably write down 25 titles of books that should be written. Some of that energy should be used to write the outline and maybe a chapter or two of one of them, but that seems unlikely to happen at the moment. Something tells me interruptions are about to abound this morning. Having the time to simply sit and write in my office is a luxury beyond the time that I have today.

Wondering about media continuity

A percentage of people pay very close attention to the stream of news that is occurring on a daily basis. It is a percentage that has been shrinking and is harder to track. It is the stream that I’m interested in not the percentage of people observing it at the moment. Keeping track of the stream of news occurring is actually getting harder and harder. No one place exists that could be described as curating the information stream. It happens online. All over the place online a fragmented tapestry of news sources share content as quickly as they can to catch the wind behind a new entry to the stream. Like a ship with sails following the wind the newest entry into the stream propels focus and attention and drives speed above accuracy or continuity. 

It is really the question of the continuity of our information stream that has me wondering about the world this early in the morning. I could sit down and make a calendar of events that occur every year that will ganner news coverage. With that calendar you can sort of map out a few things that will happen within the stream of news, but that calendar is becoming increasingly more irrelevant. Streams of news are no longer event based time sequence driven and predictable. They are very much spiced up by the very incentive to catch the wind and within that mass of attention the hope of profitability. 

I would be more interested in reading a solid daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly digest than a stream of reported fillings from news outlets. The key difference in preference is that I’m less interested in the single newsroom filing of a report and I’m more interested in the continuity of a digest describing the broader totality of events occurring. That preference is not a foundation supported by the same montiorizaintion that advertising provides currently in a world of clicks. You would have to build up a base of paying subscribers like a traditional journal or newspaper, but that foundation might not be economically viable anymore. That and the nature of the claim in the first paragraph are what are driving my curiosity this morning.

Increasingly discursive prose

Right now I think the ability to engage in longer form discourse of a deep and meaningful nature is more needed than ever. Our ability to communicate a philosophy about things has been diminished. Discourse has changed and in the methods of consumption in the public square have changed. All of the social media posts have the depth and effect of walking by a sign on the wall in the public square. Really deep and meaningful communication about complex issues has boiled down to simplistic exchanges of platitudes that have been ignored before they were even uttered. Within that argument I started to wonder if we have a structural communication problem for intellectual thought leaders. Maybe all of the public intellectuals still exist, but they have no method to actually communicate that reaches the public mind. That must be exceedingly frustrating for them assuming they are aware of the phenomenon occurring. This weblog has a target audience of one person. It is literally written for me to be able to think out loud and consolidate my thoughts. These words are not written like a soaring political speech to communicate to the world. Each post is just an increasingly discursive collection of my prose.