The True Cost of Commuting

Every time I see a freeway full of cars, I get angry. Aside from the environmental issues, which should get everyone riled up, I see a great mass of human brain power devoted to nothing. I see lost productivity. By lost productivity I mean not only in the traditional economic sense, but lost time. Time to spend with family and friends; time to play, to create. The "human capital" that we squander in service of our automotive fetish is astronomical. It’s just an extra bonus that we’re doing grave damage to the planet at the same time.

In the Greater Toronto Area alone, I wouldn’t be surprised if we squander a million person-hours per day getting from home to work and back. If we say that this applies to a population base of roughly five million, extrapolate that to a North American population of 300 million, we come up with a cool 60 million hours. Of course, Toronto has legendary problems with traffic congestion, so let’s be conservative. Divide by two and call it 150 million as a ballpark estimate for average. If everyone chose to work those hours, using an eight hour day, that represents a workforce of almost 19 million. Of course given the choice, probably 15 million of those would choose to watch television, but that still leaves four million to do valuable things, like think and create, to contribute to society. Even if my estimates are way out of whack, that’s a lot.

Clearly there’s a huge indirect payoff to building better, faster mass transit systems with comfortable environments that allow people to do something other than play human sardine. Then at least while you’re stuck in motion, you have a chance of getting some work done instead of focusing on not getting in an accident. Is this likely to happen? No. Government policies seem to enshrine — if not deify — car culture. Support of the automotive sector is taken for granted as "the engine of the economy", when it’s really an engine of decay. But trying to change this is tantamount to tilting at windmills, particularly since the capital investment required would probably be in the trillions.

Consumer Culture is Consuming Culture

The way I see it, there are two classes of activity that people engage in: creating and consuming. These classes apply quite broadly, from creating wealth and consuming goods, to creating art and absorbing information (a form of consumption) by reading a book.

Left to their own devices, I believe most humans have a need to create. Whether it be knitting a scarf or developing a cancer fighting drug, creating is an intrinsic part of human existence.

Yet in our mass-marketed, consumer driven culture, individual creativity seems to have suffered greatly. Cultural gateways such as large publishers and mololithic music and entertainment companies arbitrate and edit our views, selecting what we see based more on economic potential than cultural value. Thousands of people are creating works that may be of value, but we rarely discover them. Individuals who might otherwise be creating their own works are watching television with their minds only partially engaged, or worse, expressing their creativity by assembling the latest and greatest over-branded, over-promoted consumer goods into a "personal statement" of cookie-cutter uniformity.

The Internet is an immensely positive disruptive force that provides hope of to reversing this destructive trend. Once musicians discover that they can both find an audience and earn a substantial living by dealing directly with fans, record companies will cease to add value. They will lose control and become "disintermediated" in short order. New intermediaries who provide value that is relevant to the Internet age will thrive (officialcommunity.net is a good example).

Large entertainment companies will be restricted to projects that require large capital investments, but even then the prevalence of easy copying will limit their potential returns, which will be reflected in smaller production budgets. The days of the quarter-billion dollar blockbuster are numbered.

Sites like lulu.com will revolutionize publishing. Blogging and photo upload sites give a stage to hundreds of thousands of people with something to say, or with images to share; They provide a platform for creativity.

Idealists refer to this as the "democratization" of culture, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Any widely distributed, truly democratic process is subject to displacement by larger commercial interests with profit as a motive. Ironically what’s required are large, strong, profit-oriented corporations who embrace "quasi-democratic access" as a paradigm, and who find a way to profit without interfering with the mechanics of that paradigm. This is why Google, Yahoo, eBay, and even Amazon have become culturally important institutions. These companies will serve as the seed for a new cultural renaissance.

Jon Stewart Admits to Pat Robertson Payoff

Following the disclosure of financial transactions by a disgruntled former employee, Jon Stewart, star of The Daily Show, has been forced to admit to making clandestine payments to far-right evangelist M. G. "Pat" Robertson, in exchange for making ludicrous comments in public.

Faced with copies of bank statements as evidence, Stewart reluctantly admitted to the payments. When contacted by telephone, he justified his actions: "Hey, really good wing-nut material is hard to come by these days, and Pat has a natural talent for it." He later added "considering the ratings boost we get when lampooning this guy, a few hundred grand is peanuts."

The disclosure is unlikely to affect Stewart’s scheduled appearance as host of the Academy Awards. Anonymous sources in the Academy said that they briefly considered replacing Stewart with Robertson himself, but soon discounted the idea. "Our people talked to his people," the source said, "but apparently he’s not ready to ‘come out’ as a natural comic talent just yet." A spokesperson for Robertson denied any contact, saying "Dr. Robertson has no intention of ‘coming out’ of anything for any reason. We just don’t use that phrase around here!"

Shared Space and Interaction Manifolds

Shared Space is a term coined by Gordon Thompson, long time chief of scientific staff at what is now Nortel. I had the good fortune of getting to know Gord very early in my career in the late 1970’s. Gord’s claim to fame was that his name was on the patent for the "Stored Program Electronic Telephone Exchange", in other words the modern phone switch. For this, he should have been as famous as Alexander Graham Bell himself. At the time, he was known as the "Private Sector’s Marshall MacLuhan" But now there’s almost no mention of him on the Web, save for some blog notes from a conference where visionary Don Tapscott credits his influence. And what an influence it was.
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Election Advice for Paul Martin

The odds are that Paul Martin, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, will never read this but here goes. I’m sure nobody in the heat of the election will read all of this, so here’s the executive summary:

1) Start telling Canadians that this is the "new" Liberal Party, that you’re the new CEO, so to speak, and that you’ll continue to find and purge people who can’t respect the public trust. Here’s the trick: you’re running against Cretien’s Liberal Party, not the other guys on the ballot!

2) Please stop doing this indirect "hidden agenda" crap when talking about Steven Harper. Come right out and call him a Western Separatist. Put the cards on the table or get ready to sit in opposition.

3) Use Harper’s proposal to cut the GST to illustrate that he’s willing to do anything, to say anything, to get into power. A GST cut runs completely against Conservative fiscal policy. The last guy who pulled this kind of stunt during an election campaign was Cretien, and Cretien the cretin has to be the most loathed living politician in the country… so link them together. Say "hey, you want a guy who will compromise his principles just like Cretien, vote for Harper." If you do a good job at distancing the Martin Liberals from the Cretien Liberals, this will stick. Harper’s rising in the polls because he’s pulling planks from the Liberal platform and you’re sitting on your hands letting him do it. He’s lying through is teeth and the majority of the population is so desperate for an alternative to the "old" Liberals that they can’t see that.
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