Craig does his best to explain what he hopes his new newsletter will eventually become and he revisits the foundations of the internet itself and relates the development of email to help with the metaphor. He further touches on the narcissism of “outrage culture”, the Yoruba people’s trickster God, Eshu, objectivity vs. subjectivity, the Atlanta hip-hop duo known as Tag Team, intellectual curiosity, Mark Twain, accepting personal challenges, and even the 1997 science fiction drama film, Contact, starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.
Don’t worry. I know you’re confused. A moment ago, in the half second before you opened this email, you asked yourself, “What is this?” Within that question, depending on the depth of your adolescent rebellion, your internal monologue may have included a vulgar word that rhymes with a type of conch or a waterfowl. It’s likely now that you’re asking yourself another question and the answer is, no, I can’t read your mind.
What is this?
This is a newsletter and you are someone I thought might be interested.
Congratulations! I know, it’s a wonderful surprise. I imagine it feels like winning a lottery you didn’t know you entered.
Some are too young to know and others too old to remember but, in its infancy, email was how nearly all communication through the system that would become the Internet was accomplished. And, really, simple communication was the original intent. Sure, there may have been some science fiction/fantasy writer out there who dreamt of a world in which they could watch funny dog videos on their miniature, wireless, hand-held computers as they sat on the toilet, and sure, as with all things that began with good intentions, bad actors would rush to construct new ways to corrupt the technology and turn it into their own personal source from which to draw power, wealth, and control, but both the need and the want, the simple goal of networked computing, was to develop an easier way to communicate and disseminate information. Particularly, to help solve the frustratingly difficult distribution of scientific research.
Proto-email has existed since the early 1960’s. In its initial iteration, users could log in to a computer and leave a message to a local file called “MAIL BOX”. Creative, yes? Since this “mailbox” was simply a file with a particular name, as storage capacity increased and more files became possible, eventually, each user would be given their own file, listed under their name, that became their own personal “mailbox”.
At first, when a user logged in to edit a mailbox, they were unable to delete anything written previous and could only add to the file. Again, as better storage and delivery was developed, new features were added and the system was able to be made more private. Messages could be “sent” from one user to another in that only the owner of the file could view what had been added to the mailbox file.
This initial work on proto-email was primarily done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and made reality based on a modified version of the IBM 7090.
The greater challenge came in getting all of the separate central disks to “talk” to each other. While the idea had been around for quite a while, no computer network existed until the ARPAnet, a communications breakthrough brought forth from funding through the United States Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 1966, a man named Bob Taylor convinced then DARPA Director, Charles M. Herzfeld, to transfer a million dollars from a ballistic missile defense project to fund his network project. By 1969, the ARPAnet became the first true version of the technology we now know as the Internet.
The first fully transmitted message on the ARPAnet, sent on October 29, 1969, from a UCLA student programmer to Stanford, was “login”. But that was the second attempt. In a perhaps prophetic and poetic moment that would make any man pause, look up, and wonder, on the first attempt an hour earlier only the first two letters, the “l” and the “o”, made it before the system crashed. So the first message transmitted through this life-altering technology was accidentally the word “lo”, a now archaic imperative meaning “Look!” “See!” “Behold!” and traditionally used to call attention or to express wonder or surprise. Try not to shiver.
Let’s fast forward…
By 1973, the ARPAnet included 40 university and government hosts, and email accounted for 75% of all ARPAnet traffic. As with all ideas and technologies that fundamentally change the course of human history, businesses and marketing professionals quickly took notice. I’ll spare you some of the finer details but, as the foundation was laid and the Internet began to grow, people began to include a wider audience of friends, family, and colleagues. These infant forays into universal publishing were early versions of what would become the “blog,” itself a primitive version of the social media we have today. And just as we’ve seen on social media in more recent years, in the early days of email people slowly became more comfortable offering their opinions and comment on modern issues. Many famous names you know and read today built their careers off the reputations, work, and followings they cultivated through their early blogs and newsletters.
- There’s a bit of a debate over the first spam email. Some say it came in 1977 when a user on the database mass emailed something political and when asked why they sent the email to everyone, their response was, “Because this is important!” The first confirmed spam email came in early March of 1978, when Gary Thuerk, a marketer for the Digital Equipment Corporation, blasted an unsolicited invitation to about 1/3rd of the total users, inviting them to come to an open house sales demonstration for, you guessed it, a computer.
What does this have to do with anything?
The previous paragraphs are a long-winded way of saying this is kinda sorta what I’m going to try to do, albeit a few decades late. Not necessarily build a career, per se, but maybe something, someday, will come of it? In the immortal words of Stephen Gibson and Cecil Glen, the Atlanta duo once known as Tag Team, “I’m takin’ it back to the old school, ’cause I’m an old fool, who’s so cool…”
You’re welcome to call this what you wish. A newsletter? A blog? A shameful display of narcissism? I don’t mind. However you ultimately choose to describe it, I see it as a general space to muse and offer an individual perspective on current events and issues I want to talk about. Be it in arts and culture, business, lifestyle, politics, science and technology, sports, and/or anything and everything in between.
Okay…still waiting for the “why?”
I understand even the idea of starting something like this, at the minimum, reeks of pretension and, at worst, will serve as “Exhibit A” in my eternal judgment. For who am I to suggest that my perspective or insight into an issue is better than any other? I assure you I’m not trying to insinuate a greater awareness or higher understanding. I’m no genius. In fact, I know there are many out there who would likely tell you I’m not particularly smart.
All I’m trying to offer is a view. A view for you to consider and a view you’re welcome to take and use as a talking point when you go out into the world and step into the ring of debate. Another tool in your talk toolbox. Another weapon in your argument arsenal.
There may be content you disagree with. That’s okay. I’m confident all would agree that one of the fundamental challenges facing our modern society is it seems in recent years we’ve forgotten how to disagree, how to debate, and how to find common ground with an iota of civility or, God forbid, humor. I suppose it’s a bit ironic that despite, or in spite of, the exponential advancements in global communication we see more schism rather than unification. But maybe we’ve yet to learn the lessons of Babel? I suppose it’s ironic that we’ve sowed a narcissistic outrage culture that has become almost Faustian in its quest for influence rather than truth. A culture that uses anger almost as a currency, a culture of “if you’re not with me, you’re against me,” a culture that demands, “if you’re not as angry as me, you’re simply not as human,” a culture that, due to this approach, has devolved into “the other side is not just wrong, they’re evil!”
I use the pronouns “we” and “our” and “us” because I include myself in the complicity. And here I write to add to the Babylonian cacophony. I am just as guilty as any other.
And yet, we’re fools to think we’re the first to deal with such conflict. Since time immemorial, Man has had to face the faults of our nature and, if history has taught us anything, Man forever will. Plato himself said, “The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Since then, you’ve heard variations of the same from Edmund Burke to John Stuart Mill to Albert Einstein and countless in between. This isn’t something that will just…go away.
Do I think my little newsletter will change the world? Of course not. Despite some big words, I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I only hope to help influence my little corner. And, I suppose, that’s all that can be asked of anyone. Because until we, as individuals, confront these eternal issues in our own foundation, the greater home has no hope of survival. It will crumble under the weight of indifference and be lost to time and dust. And it can both be true that it deserves confrontation under full acknowledgment it will continue forever through time. That it will rise and fall as the tide.
The Yoruba people tell a story about their trickster god, Eshu.
One fine day, Eshu was seen walking through the center of a village wearing a fine new hat.
A villager said, “Oh, did you see Eshu’s hat?”
“Yes, it was a lovely blue hat,” said another.
“Blue?” said another villager.
“That hat was RED!” “RED?”
“No, it was blue, I tell you!”
“It was red! What’s the matter, are you mad?”
“How dare you call me mad?!”
This bickering continued until the whole village was lined up on either side of the main path Eshu had walked. On one side, the red hats. The other, the blues. Just as the village was about to erupt into violence, Eshu came back and showed them his hat: red on one side and blue on the other.
As the villagers on either side of the road realized what happened they felt embarrassed, sheepish, and asked, “Eshu, why do you cause so much strife?”
Eshu laughed and said, “Strife? How could there be strife on such a fine day for a walk wearing my fine new hat?”
Of course, there are many versions and similar stories from many cultures around the world. Some hear that story as a lesson to not argue over the trivial, and they’re not wrong. Others see it as a lesson to not let a disagreement escalate to violence, and they’re not wrong. Or further, some see it as a lesson to always search for evidence and proof before you hold such strong convictions, and they’re not wrong. And further still, some see it as an argument between the subjective and the objective truth.
The point I’m trying to make is not that argument and disagreement is bad. Au contraire, mon frère, an argument is good. A disagreement forces an opponent to dive deeper into an idea or double and triple check the flaws and cracks in a foundation that, ultimately, makes it stronger. Argument helps refine. Argument, civil argument, is the quiet lake endlessly breaking against the shore, gently tumbling and smoothing the idea of the stone until it’s near perfect and ready for a wandering happy child to find and pick up, and marvel at its quality only to rear back and send it flying, skimming along the surface of the waters and back into the unknown and the process starts all over again. The argument working perpetually on the idea and the only reward a smile and the sound of laughter. The only reward necessary. The only reward worth a damn.
But in that story of Eshu, there is another point that must be considered. What if Eshu never came back? How would the villagers have ever known who was right and who was wrong or how silly and ridiculous the argument really was? If Eshu never came back neither the subjective nor the objective would have a leg to stand on. It’s entirely possible this argument would have led to senseless acts of violence through generations of Yoruba. The argument could have last forever.
But there is truth in the story. Truth that all the villagers could agree upon. And it’s there whether Eshu came back or not…
It was a fine day and a fine hat.
And that’s what fades. When we lose focus on our common perspective, we fracture and degenerate into chaos. The further we travel from the campfire, the more disoriented our senses and the more lost we become. The subjective is certainly real, but the subjective is a layer laid over top the objective. And in focusing too much on the outer subjective, we begin to lose sight of the inner objective. The common denominator. Our core.
It’s a perilous path and we, as a society, will reap. Unless we metaphorically pause, take a breath, and make a conscious effort to check our compass and get our bearings.
- Please note I am not accusing you, one of the persons who received this email, of any wrongdoing nor were you sent this email because I think you need to read what I have to say. On the contrary, I consider you a person who has an open and exploratory mind, a good-natured skepticism, gratitude, honest intellectual curiosity, and a hungry appetite for life and its many experiences. I just needed to start somewhere and get this out of my system, so I started with you and some others.
Okay…but, seriously, quit messing around. Why are you doing this?
I don’t know. Bored, maybe? I suppose, at some point, every man begins to question what he’s doing with his life, and to question the legacy and the memory of himself he’ll ultimately leave.
I highly doubt anyone would consider me a quiet person and I know anyone who knows me well would never say I lack in opinions, principles, or convictions. If anything, I hope to give myself an incentive, a challenge, to communicate more. To elucidate some of what’s going on in my head and put it out into the world around me. Thought made manifest. I have to admit to being a bit terrified at the prospect of climbing into the proverbial ring or taking a step forward into the public square, but I also feel it’s time.
A sword cannot be sharpened against another sword. It needs a whetstone. And I want to use these letters to help focus and sharpen my thoughts and ideas and philosophies. To challenge myself to condense them into something more, in order to build a stronger foundation within.
I promise I’ll do my best to not be deliberately hurtful. Regardless, I urge you to keep an open mind and not immediately dismiss something that may strike a dissonant chord within your psyche and to revisit and explore at a greater depth. I promise to do the same.
This is awfully…verbose…and I still fail to see what the deal with the email was…
Sure. You could even call it flatulent.
I recently rewatched the 1997 science fiction drama, Contact. It’s based on a story, written by Carl Sagan and his wife during some of the more tense moments of the Cold War and set in the lead up to the new millennium, about the first contact between humans and an advanced intelligent extraterrestrial civilization/form of life. The climax of the movie comes when Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, after traveling through a wormhole into deep space, finds herself standing on a beach recreated from a childhood memory of how she imagined Pensacola, Florida. A figure approaches that Arroway sees as her deceased father. She quickly recognizes that this alien(s) life form has recreated her father’s appearance and it’s explained that the familiar landscape and person from her past were used to make the first contact easier and, most importantly, that this journey was just humanity’s first step to joining other space-faring species. As she presses for more information, her “father” stops her and explains that this is how it has been done since the long before they, too, were first contacted. It’s punctuated with one of his old sayings from her past, “…small moves.”
Despite being about 13 when it was released, I always remembered the line and that’s, ultimately, what this is. A small move. A start of something that may or may not turn into something more, where it’ll go I do not know, but it’s a start of something, nonetheless. For something more cannot exist until there is first something. A baby can not begin to run without taking its first step.
And that’s why I began this email describing the first email. Because just as the first email became something so much more pervasive and widespread than how it began, it still behaves much as it did and shares much of the foundation it had at its inception. And without the invention of the computer, however primitive, we would have never developed a system of delivery and storage for communication that would become the email you’re now (finally) close to finishing. Likewise, without the radio or the transistor, without electricity, without the wire cable, physics, mathematics, without the wheel, without fire, as far back as you want to go and as much as you want to include, none of the incredible technology we have today would exist without that which came before. The same is true of ideas, law, philosophy, religion, etc. The same is true of us. Each moment brought forth by another small move that makes us who we are. The Great Mystery fractalized into each individual human experience and held by threads that wind back to the beginning.
“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Isaac Newton, 1676
Even good ol’ Isaac borrowed that quote.
“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” John of Salisbury, 1159
And I’m sure if I were to look hard enough, John borrowed from something similar. You get the idea.
I don’t buy it…
Yeah, it’s probably the narcissism. Do me a favor and indulge me for a little while?
By no means will I quiz you on any of this nor do I expect you to read or listen to anything I have to say. In fact, if you’d rather not receive this, please, do not hesitate to unsubscribe. I promise I understand.
All I ask is if you do enjoy what I write in these letters that you, quietly, pass them on. Please do not make a big show. Simply forward the link to a friend in an email with a subject akin to, “I thought you might like this.”
This newsletter, along with some other things I have planned in the future, is part of a larger strategy I’ve been constructing and ruminating over for quite some time. I hope we’ll both enjoy it and it continues. At least, for a time. Last chance.
If I’m being entirely honest, the truth is, I felt that I should make you aware, I’m goin’ to pick a fight.