Tuesday, November 3, 2015

TCSY NYC Marathon

The NYC Village Halloween Parade certainly was peaceful, but the morning after was another story...

We lost an hour, which I feel brings out the grumpy Beastie in most of us!
 (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist
Plus, there is the ever present tension to contend with that the TCSY NYC Marathon brings with it. Forever casting the NYPD as the bad guys who block our weekend routes to spiritual services, cafes and brunch with closed off street barricades.

Though the NYPD worked hard to maintain good spirits, my block in Harlem is always weary of the annual territorial police take-over.
Very early in the morning, the NYPD were positioned at their posts.

Today's Personal Beasties Conscious Intervention plan was to reinforce to both competing runners
and the NYPD officers working the event alike, the benefits of taking a few deep breaths!
To my delight, a couple of female officers responded very well to our "Breathe in..." sign.
  • PB: "Here (handing them a download card), try our Personal Beasties Breathing app, it can help develop relaxation techniques you can use on the job."
  • Female Officer 1: "Oh! We can sure use that."
  • Female Officer 2: Laughing.... "Oh Yeah!"
  • PB: "Can you take our picture together?"
  • Female Officer 1: "Sure!"
Awesome, maybe this is our way in, through NYPD female officers...presenting deep breathing techniques as a way to tap in and strengthen their higher self, their compassion and patience?

As very fit and well trained runners jogged past us at good speed.
Varying degrees of joy and petty tensions oscillated.
By days end weariness was evident as runners now walked past.
But it's not over till the mobile NYPD PA blares "The NYC Marathon is officially over..."

Until next year that is  >:-)


NYC Village Halloween Parade

This past weekend started off with a bang at the 42nd annual Village Halloween Parade.
Costumed in a shamanic Personal Beasties outfit...

Rafiqi, from the Lion King
we pedi-cabbed along the Halloween Parade route with our young VIP charges in tow,
 escorting the Sing Along float

 up the one mile parade route
where approximately 60,000 costumed revelers;
DANCED

LURCHED

and ROLLED
...to booming loud speakers. 

Celebrating all that is:

BEASTIAL (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist
CARNAL (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist

HAUNTED
GROTESQUE, (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist 
RAUNCHY (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist 
and POLITICALLY CHARGED (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist 
...along the 6th avenue parade route. (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist
The NYPD were in stellar form (Photo Credits Scott Lynch / Gothamist

...and given the celebratory nature, high spirits, relative calm and pleasant weather of the evening, there was not much to intervene with during the parade :)





Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rise Up October

Last weekend Personal Beasties hits the streets to protest mass incarceration and police terror, with Rise Up October organized by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.

This was a great opportunity to march, protest and offer police officers, encountered along the protest route, to try our Personal Beasties Breathing iOS app... giving them relaxation techniques to draw on in times of crisis.

Why? Well, the only time academy recruits or officers get any introspective training is within a Martial Arts context....(NY Times story here)

The younger police along the route were far more open minded that their elder officers. But that said the Police officers were a 'captive' audience, so to speak...given that they where on the clock/payroll to attend the march. They were working!

To our surprise, the strongest backlash to our presence came from within the march route itself. A fellow marcher came up to me and commented that the Breath In..., Breathe Out... sign I was holding was actually part of the problem the others, like himself were protesting, and they were discussing the problematic nature of my presence among the protester ranks.
The critique was that our sign "Breathe In... / Breathe Out..." in combination with the Eric Garner "I can't breathe..." T-shirt was feeding into the hands of the bigots, who never believed Garner could not breathe... even though the medical examiner concluded that the officer committed homicide when they placed Eric Garner  in a 'chokehold' on July 17, 2014, and pushed his face into the ground.
This of course was not our intention!

We stated our position; that we were encouraging police officers to learn  relaxation techniques to use in time of stress, and we welcomed the critical dialog.... because that is how we grow and learn.
But, I did stop by Freedom Hall  in my neighborhood when I got home to Harlem, and spoke with Freedom Socialist Party representative, Dave Schumarch. We pealed back the onion and deconstructed the criticism from the fellow protesters.
There are so many social issues that Personal Beasties is intent on addressing, as we intend to be part of the current dialog that supports and places  faith in the power of humans to to do the right thing, treat our fellow humans with dignity and respect and develop the skills necessary to tap into our higher selves in order to accomplish this huge goal!



Sunday, October 18, 2015

New York Comic Con 2015

Last weekend Personal Beasties went to New York Comic Con to support fans with the conscious intervention of taking a few deep breaths if they felt stressed or anxious at the mega event, held annually at the Jacob Javitz Center in Manhattan.

In exchange we provided a blue screen for them to pose in front of and offered to take photos, with their own devices, for personal editing use at home.
Our Home Depot Blue Screen worked divinely, and the glorious sunny day just added to the delight as we intercepted Comic Con fans on their way to the event.
Of course, the traffic was two way and as some fans arrived, others were seen going home...loaded down with collectible goodies procured at the event.

It was still a work day for some, but the event cast it's magic upon reality as even this Roto-Rooter man had a look of Nintendo's infamous Mario about him.
NYPD was hard at work too, holding down the fort and keeping the roads clear of illegally parked vehicles.
Ticket scalpers were also out in full force, as can be expected at this sold out event, making sure that black market commerce operated in parallel with the government-sanctioned "Convention Center" channel...and what a big business it is!
John Kell, of Fortune Magazine, provides this background synopsis on how NY Comic Con, founded in 2006, grew into a $50 million a year moneymaker for organizer ReedPOP (not affiliated with Comic Con International: San Diego which is run by a non-profit)

So what does all this fan spirit say about participatory culture as a commodity?

Fun as the event appeared, its underbelly clearly reflected what Nato Thompson describes as the effects of the increasing privatization of space, culture and time...where the increase in cultural production is tied inextricably with to those of capital.
And once again we must recognize that the workhorse of the digital economy is "You" the fan, the comic book reader, the computer game player, the film audience, etc...
It was only in 2006 that Time Magazine's Person of the Year, was You, recognizing that millions of people anonymously contribute and fuel the ceaseless machines of consumer capitalism 24/7.
The New York Comic Con fans who wanted to be recognized with media attention were given just that as well as with the attention of the broader sphere of cultural producers (our selves included) .
It may be worth our while to check out San Diego's Comic Con International in March of 2016 to see if it feels any different in the non-profit world...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Addictive Effects Of Consumer Interfaces And Technology

By far the most impressive conversation/panel discussion at this year's Wisdom 2.0 conference was the Saturday February 28th break out session "How Can Technology Serve and Support Humanity" with Sherry Turkle (@STurkle), Tristan Harris (@tristanharris) and Justin Rosenstein (@rosenstein).

In this session, rather than just discuss the need for mindfulness and meditation which I feel the rest of the conference continues to support and hammers home quite effectively, this session focused on how  either corporations or consumers could take action to demand healthier, less addictive interfaces.

  • Problem: Consumers are more and more addicted to their digital technology devices and interfaces causing an increase in the inability to focus, higher stress levels and lower quality of life (for a more poetic explanation please watch this beautifully produced video by media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff's, Present Shock
  • Why: The attention economy metrics of success 
  • Potential Solutions: Ethical design by corporations and product designers/developers or political consumer action 
Justin Rosenstein, framed the "addiction" problem by outlining the basic success metric in today's attention economy…whether it be games or meditation app everyone is try to get users to "habitually" use their products.

Tristan Harris, representing silicon valley's design community, outlined the leading design books that all product developers must read to ensure that users stay "hooked" to their products. He framed it as the "race to the bottom of the brain stem… to manipulate and hijack brains"

Harris's proposed solution was a call for like minded designers to take responsibility through ethical design or ethical UX…who together would create design methodologies that protect the human psyche, design differently and design for choice. See more here at Design For Time Well Spent

Sherry Turkle, came at the problem from an entirely unexpected and delightful angle. She described the situation as vulnerable consumers being exploited through the affordances of technology. Technology offers us quite a bit, but the trade off is this "addiction" state we currently find ourselves in.

Turkle's call to action was for a politicized consumer movement, similar to those that evolved during the fight against obesity, climate change or most recently for Net Neutrality.

Turkle also described a recent study by her colleague at MIT, Natasha Schull, author of Addiction By Design, Schull's cultural anthropology study on slot machine gambling in Las Vegas. Shull, like Harris also advocates building choice into interfaces which she describes in a recent interview as how "Cass Sunstein would put it, choice architecture -- in other words, that choices always unfold in context."

My reaction to this variety of solutions was a need to map it out.


Historically, at this Wisdom 2.0 Conference, the emphasis has been on encouraging personal responsibility and building emotional intelligence as a way to cope with the hyper-connected, ever faster paced digital world we live in. But I have found over the course of a months time, since the conference has passed,  that Turkle's words have resonated deep within me, and ignited a strong desire to participate in a consumer political movement that raises awareness and demands change.

Course correction can occur when strong consumer demands for change are met by smart producers, who hear and embrace the needs of their aware and educated target consumers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Danger Will Robinson...The Robots Are Coming!

Here at Personal Beasties we have been reading, with interest, all the fascinating Elon Musk quotes in the media, regarding his $10M pledge to the Future of Life Institute for research to "keep AI beneficial" and protect humanity from the potential evils of rouge Artificial Intelligence systems.
"With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn't work out."
Our immediate reaction to this quote was, how very Personal Beasties!

Throughout the ages we have delighted in sharing stories of humanities attempts to tame inner demons or beasties by illustrating exciting struggles between heroes and fantastical outer demons/beasties;

"When the demigods slew monsters, they were also slaying the bestial part of themselves and of humanity…Humanity had been given animal consciousness, but that gift carried with it a danger for every human being -- the danger of turning bestial and monstrous."
Mark Booth The Sacred History
Personal Beasties, of course, is all about leveraging technology to help tame the beasties within and we recently learned about a fabulous organization, here in NYC, at New York University Langone's Child Study Center.

The Child Study Center has a program called Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) in which children learn to identify, experience and safely express emotions, sometime using breathing techniques when necessary. Foster care workers as well as foster parents are also trained in TST, "to help make them more empathetic and tolerant of a child’s behavior."

At Personal Beasties, we applaud the work of the team at NYU Langone's Child Study Center and we hope that Elon Musk and his luminous contemporaries will soon understand that donations to organizations such as this may be the ideal way for us to defend humanity from the dangers of rampant AI systems.

As Stephen Hawkins's says, these systems have the potential to "spell the end of the human race." This is particularly relevant as consumers are on the verge of being seduced into mass AI culture with the entrance of sociable robots into the marketplace, particularly caregiving robots, given that this was the year that robots went personal at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES): "They listen, they speak, they react, they do what they’re told—they’re a help to us on a personal level…and way more."

Why is this potentially so dangerous?

Well, as Sherry Turkle explains in her letter to the New York Times; "Robots proposed as 'caring machines' fool us into thinking they care about us. Maintaining eye contact, remembering our names, responding to verbal cues — these are things that robots do to simulate care and understanding."
And as Turkle explained in a 2011 PBS Nova piece on the subject; "We are outsourcing the thing we do best --understanding each other, taking care of each other…The danger is in the conditioning of humans to think that someone is there, when in fact there is nobody home…robots will disappoint us if we are looking for human connection."

NYU's Langone's Child Study Center and their TST program is the opposite of this doomsday scenario, rather than outsourcing caregiving, they are training caregivers and children in how to strengthen their inner human resources.

We at Personal Beasties are committed to this evolutionary approach, of taming our inner beasties with compassion…not in weakening our ability to care for others (and ourselves) through outsourcing our innate caregiving capabilities to robots.

"Every technology provides an opportunity to ask, “Does it serve our human purposes?” — a question that causes us to reconsider what these purposes are." Sherry Turkle

We feel that NYU's Langone Child Study Center should be used as the Gold Standard for a "Turkle Test" to assess all future technology driven, caregiver applications and mechanisms coming down the pike, which try to seduce us with promises of improved efficacy and the nirvana of saving precious time.