I’m on the East Coast for the rest of the current fire season in California. Which is cool, literally. I miss Santa Barbara, but not the fear of destruction (which I generally don’t have there, but I need my rationalizations). Speaking of which, here’s The Mania of Owning Things, my EOF column for August 2009 issue of Linux Journal. I wrote it during the Jesusita Fire, the second fire-bullet we dodged this year.
The column title refers to the last line of this bit of Whitman:
I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals.
They are so placid and self-contained.
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.
Not one is dissatisfied.
Not one is demented with the mania of owning things.
(For some reason most of those lines didn’t make it into the published piece. So, when you look at it, bear in mind that the top text is part of Whitman and none of me.) Some exerpts (from me, not Whitman):
Ambition and industry in the face of inevitable destruction is the job of life…
I believe in ownership—not for economic reasons, but because possession is 9/10ths of the three-year-old. We are all still toddlers in more ways than we’d like to admit—especially when it comes to possessions.
We are grabby animals. We like to own stuff—or at least control it. Where would a three-year-old be without the first-person possessive pronoun? No response is more human than “Mine!” And yet possessions are also burdens. I have a friend whose childhood home was burned twice by the same nutcase. He’s one of the sanest people I know. I can’t say it’s because he has been relieved of archives and other non-negotiables, but it makes a kind of sense to me. I have tons of that stuff, and I’ve thought lately about what it would mean if suddenly they were all cremated. Would that really be all bad? What I’d miss most are old photos that haven’t been scanned and writing that hasn’t been digitized in some way. But is my digital stuff all that safe either?…
I’ve just started backing (it) up “in the cloud”. But how safe is that? Or secure? Companies are temporary. Servers are temporary. Hell, everything is temporary.
When I was young, I acknowledged death as part of the cycle of life. Now I think it’s the other way around. Life is part of the cycle of death. Life generates fuel for death. It’s a carbon-based refinery for lots of interesting and helpful stuff.
Think about it. Marble. Limestone. Travertine. Oil. Gas. Coal. Wood. Linoleum. Cement. Paint. Plastics. Paper. Asphalt. Textiles. Medicines. Even the heat used to smelt iron and shape glass comes mostly from burning fossil fuel. The moon has abundant aluminum ores. But how would you produce the heat required for extraction, or do anything without the combustive assistance of oxygen? Ninety-eight percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is produced by plants. Most of the sources are now dead, their energies devoted to post-living purposes.
The Internet grows by an odd noospheric process: duplication. In “Better Than Free”, Kevin Kelly makes an observation so profound and obvious that you can’t shake it once it sinks in: “The Internet is a copy machine.” As a result, the Net is turning into what Bob Frankston calls a “sea of bits”. This too is an ecosystem of sorts. Is it, like Earth’s ecosystem, a way that death makes use of life? I wonder about that too.
Anyway, the rest is here.