Observing Editor bio photo

Observing Editor

One adventuresome atom

Email Twitter

As the sun rises on another working week, it is tempting to take an hour to review your upcoming schedule and commitments, perhaps pausing to peruse the morning’s news or at least the latest thrilling installment of The Glob. At these times of relative peace and quiet, nothing spoils the mood quite so much as a proper sense of perspective. While you are lolling at the breakfast table, or on the train, or in your task chair, every other living person on the planet is pursuing their own business during that hour, as best they can.

Given a human population of six billion, your lazy time can be seen as one piece of a collective 684462.697 years of human experience accumulated in parallel during those sixty minutes. Assuming for the moment a human lifespan of 70 years, this experience would occupy 9778 lifetimes, were it lived consecutively. And at least the same amount of human experience is accumulated every other hour, around the clock. In fact, given that world population continues to expand, we can count on our hour with the news becoming a more and more minute fraction of the whole. This state of affairs begs the question of what on earth the news can possibly tell us about the world in which we live.

After all, we can only spend an hour reading the news, and news organizations only have a limited time to collect and disseminate current information. What gets written about and published is therefore an insignificant subset of the total set of occurrences. Six billion days’ worth of questioning, laboring, striving, successes, failures, toil, pleasure, and anguish are experienced every day, and you will never hear about most of it. It simply isn’t possible.

At best, the news represents a set of stories that we use to synchronize our understandings with each other. If we all read a story about a skinny man from Gujarat who wins the crown of Steer King in a Texas Panhandle steak-eating competition, to the horror of his devout relations, then we all have grown closer together. We have another point of reference that we can use to try to communicate with each other. For example, the heavyset co-worker who, improbably enough, proves to be the best drunk dancer at the office holiday party could be referred to thereafter as the Steer King of soused salsa (or salsa con tequila).

It ultimately doesn’t matter what stories the news contains so long as enough of the people you need to interact with are reading the same stories. For this reason, I urge you to promote reading The Glob in your office, home, or institution of higher learning. Like the more traditional news outlets, The Glob presents a select, impossibly small fraction of human experience, distilled by hand with attention to the traditional values of fine writing, big words, and lack of obvious advertisements.

The Geek Chorus: Hey, dood, isn’t that like an advertisement?

Myself: I don’t believe I am obliged to answer that question.

The Geek Chorus: Takin’ the 5th, huh? Anyhoo, I just wanted to say the perspective stuff was awesome! I’m all inspired now to reach out and help people.

Myself: I see.

The Geek Chorus: Yeah, I’ve got this great idea for a new virus.

Myself: . . . Help people, you said?

The Geek Chorus: Oh, don’t get me wrong, dood! This isn’t exactly malware. It’s like a Buddhist worm.

Myself: I beg your pardon.

The Geek Chorus: Well, I was surfing around, and I found out that the Dalai Lama says that making a prayer wheel out of a disk drive is up to spec, spiritwise.

Myself: Yes?

The Geek Chorus: So, like, what if you have this worm that propagates through the net, and every host it infects, it finds the connected disks and copies the Diamond Sutra onto all of ‘em.

Myself: Yes?

The Geek Chorus: Well, then every time the disk spins, the Diamond Sutra gets spun out into the universe. Imagine the power of the Google server farm, co-opted as a massively parallel prayer engine!

Myself: I see. Why the Diamond Sutra?

The Geek Chorus: Er, well, at first I thought Neal Stephenson wrote it.

Myself: You just have a new exploit that you want to test, don’t you?

The Geek Chorus: Man, you will simply not believe it. It’s soooo sweet, and it’s like every version of Windows is vulnerable. It’ll spread like anything.

Myself: Very bad karma, I’m afraid.

The Geek Chorus: You think? Maybe you’re right. From what I’ve read, that Dharma guy is one bad dude. I maybe shouldn’t peeve him.

Myself: That seems wise.

The Geek Chorus: Good deal. Whoa, is that the time? Later, dood!

Myself: Goodbye.