Chosen Futures
  • Connected to What?

    January 16, 2012

    I still remember the phone number of my best friend when I was growing up, but I don’t know my husband’s cell phone number. Of course his number is in my phone, so I don’t need to remember it, but I also don’t have occasion to learn it by repeated dialing. Is this a gain or a loss? In Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age (HarperCollins, 2010), William Powers brings the wisdom of an eclectic group of thinkers to the plusses and minuses of living in an age of increasing connectedness.

    The book’s title refers to the “tables” Hamlet uses in Act 1, Scene 5 to write down what he has heard from his father’s ghost. We moderns take no notice of this moment; we are used to keeping notes and reminders on pocket-size gadgets. Elizabethan theater-goers, on the other hand, would have recognized these writing tables as a popular new means of coping with the information overload of their time. Powers points out that these newfangled tables actually incorporated two much older inventions, wax tablets and handwriting, and he reminds us that new technology does not necessarily make old technology obsolete. His own favorite handheld device is a Moleskine® notebook, which warms up much faster than any electronic device and offers few distractions from the observation he wants to capture right now.

    Socrates and Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan are the mixed group of advisors Powers surveys. The common theme is connectedness, especially how people in previous times of rapid, even chaotic change coped, grumbled, and experimented with new technologies of connection from writing (which Socrates distrusted) to modern media. Powers argues that it often took a generation or two for a society to incorporate a new technology so it would effectively help human beings connect with each without becoming overwhelmed by all the information coming their way. He gives examples of early adopters and proto-luddite skeptics in relation to writing, international mail (in Roman times), printing, railroads, the telegraph, and the increasing speed and density of cities from ancient Athens to the present day.

    Powers argues that we 21st Century humans can be happier and more productive by making choices about how and when to connect with the breadth of information and potential relationships in the world and when to go deep into actual relationship, including relationship with ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. He describes his own family’s choice to turn off their modem on Friday nights and leave it off until Monday morning and the positive results not only in shared family activities but in clearer thinking and greater creativity. His suggestions remind us that we don’t have to wait a generation or two to come up with solutions to our modern (electronic) servant problem, we can thoughtfully choose our own definition of a good life and take steps to live it now.

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  • Passports, Identity, Security

    July 22, 2010

    The Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is missing the 2010 FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester, England.  They wanted to be there, they were prepared to be there, but an international disagreement about sovereignty and security kept them in North America.  No one wanted that result, but everyone had principles to defend.  Everyone stuck to their principles, and in the unintended consequences of their principles, everyone lost out.

    The Iroquois Nationals team travels on passports issued by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes members who live in Canada as well as members who live within the United States.  If the team had arrived at the Championships, they would have needed to present these passports from the country the team represents.  The last time the team travelled overseas for a competition was in 2002, when the Championships were held in Australia.  At the time, their passports were accepted by all the nations involved. 

    But international agreements have changed since 2002.  The Haudenosaunee passports don’t meet new security standards, such as holograms and microchips, which are intended to prevent identity fraud.  Team members would be eligible for passports from Canada or the United States, but they consider that travelling on such documents would be a denial of their preferred identity as Iroquois.  (Go to for the Haudenosaunee position on travel rights.)

    For their part, British officials said that they would not issue visas unless the governments of Canada and the United States provided letters guaranteeing that the players would be permitted to re-enter these countries after the games.  The US State Department did issue such a letter, carefully specifying that it was a one-time document prompted by special circumstances, but the Canadian government did not issue a similar letter and the United Kingdom did not issue visas.  So the Haudenosaunee did not travel overseas and they have not been part of the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships.

    "It really is a shame, as we feel like we're losing a connection with the sport's heritage," says Neil Goulding, spokesman for the Federation of International Lacrosse.  "The Iroquois had been due to open the tournament with an ancient blessing ceremony, where sacred tobacco is burnt and prayers are chanted.  Now the games are just going to start with a few words from Manchester’s Lord Mayor."  [from, July 15, 2010]

    The Iroquois have been playing lacrosse longer than anyone except maybe the Hurons, and their tradition of democracy is one of the oldest in the world.  There was minimal risk of team members being stranded in England had they travelled on the tribal passports.  The Haudenosaunee are even well along in the process of developing new passports which will conform to the new international standards, so that they can assert their sovereign identity in ways compatible with modern security technology.  If all parties had made it possible for them to travel to the Championships this year, the issues of identity and security would have ended up as forgotten footnotes to the larger matter of becoming a world society which honors and protects everyone. 


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