Why Is This Even A Debate?

On TV tonight I saw an ad from some group that calls themselves the “Marriage Alliance“. I looked at their website which seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to be open minded when really all they want to do is oppose same sex marriage and maintain the unfair status quo…

Their site poses a number of open questions about marriage, and while they purport to being just trying to encourage a healthy discussion about the value of marriage in general, it’s pretty obvious what their agenda is. They are clearly in opposition to same sex marriage.

So, since they asked, here are my answers to the questions on their website…

Should children have the right to know their biological history?

Yes. As an adopted child myself, I should have the right to know my history if I choose to. Some choose to and some do not. But what’s your point?  So what if a child of a same sex couple knows their biological history and where they came from?  You think that will be a problem? You think a child will not be able to deal with that information? I believe you’re 100% wrong about that. Children don’t need to be protected from the truth, they need to be protected against those that think they cannot handle the truth.

Do we know the impacts of raising our children in a changed society?

No. And neither do you. But this proposed change to same sex marriage laws are about respecting people’s rights to acknowledge who they are as people and to give them the same rights that the rest of society already enjoys. If that means that society needs to change a few things to accommodate that shift then so be it. It’s not the first thing that has ever caused a “changed society” and it won’t be the last. The fact that you are so concerned about a “changed society” shows your true colours… you just don’t want anything to change from the way it is now. Sorry, but I have bad news for you…

Are you happy to have your family redefined as a social unit?

Yes. Perfectly happy. And by the way, I’m not gay myself just in case you were wondering. I have two children that were raised to be tolerant, open minded and respectful of others. My children understand that people are all different. They also understand that society changes. And they can cope with that. I’m a man married to a woman and I’m happy to be who I am. But I have many friends who are same-sex attracted and I want them to be happy with who they are, and to have the same rights that I have. I cannot think of a single good reason why they should not have the same rights as me, and that includes marriage if they so wish.

Are we asking the right questions about the proposals to redefine marriage?

I’m not sure what question you’re asking, since you haven’t really asked any good ones so far… but here’s what I think is the right question. Is it fair to deny same sex couples the right to be married? I happen to believe that to deny that right to anyone just because it doesn’t fit your own world view is unfair and unjust. If two people feel strongly enough about each other that they want to be married, who are you to deny that right? What higher authority granted you the right to be so bold as to suggest that you know best about who can and cannot be married?

Homage to Duchamp

It’s interesting that as you get older you become increasingly aware of your own influences. Aside from my parents and my direct family, who obviously had a major influence on my life, there are only handful of people whose ideas, thoughts and perspectives about the world have been so influential, so pervasive, so far reaching, that I can honestly say they have shaped the person I have become.

We all have them. They are the people you would invite to your ultimate fantasy dinner party. The ones who are so interesting, so fascinating in their ideas and the way they think about things, that you would give anything to spend time talking with them, learning from them and being in awe of them.

duchampI only have a few people in that category, but one is Marcel Duchamp.

For most people reading this, your reaction is probably “Marcel who?”

I don’t want to turn this into a history lesson, so if you want to know more about Duchamp, you can no doubt look him up. It’s quite likely that he will not affect you the way he affected me, and that’s ok. That’s what makes us all unique. But to me, Duchamp was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th Century. He was one of the truly great thinkers whose ideas had a profound, lasting and life changing effect on me. His insightful genius, his witty sense of humour, his unswerving individualism, and his sheer brilliance forever changed the way I see the world. Or perhaps it was that he gave validation to the way I was already seeing the world for myself. Either way, I grew up seeing Duchamp as something of a hero. He struck me as one of the most brilliant minds I’d ever encountered.

As a young teenager, and then on into art school, I read everything about him that I could get my hands on. I pored over his work, looked at whatever photographs I could find of both him and his art, and was always astounded at the way he managed to express such profound ideas in such simple acts of creation. His disruptive sense of fun was more than just a means to amuse himself, it caused us to question and change the way we think about art, life and the world. Or at least that’s what it did for me. It was the way he took the idea of art beyond the “retinal” – the way something looks – and instead explored intellectual ideas embedded in the art.

Anyway, I was stunned tonight as I browsed around the web to find a 28 minute video of Duchamp being interviewed on the BBC in 1968 (the year he died). It’s an amazing interview.

Which brings me to the second point of this post. YouTube. I still hear of so many schools that block or limit access to YouTube. When I was a kid, growing up trying to read everything about Duchamp I could lay my hands on, I was completely unaware that any television interviews with him even existed. For everything I’d read or seen about Duchamp, tonight was the first time I had ever heard his voice or seen a moving image of the man. I went to art school in the 80s and taught art for several years but until tonight I had no idea that a 1968 interview with Marcel Duchamp existed.  Tonight was the first time I’d ever heard one of my lifelong heroes actually speak. And it was YouTube that made it possible. Forget the criticisms about millions of cute cat videos or pointless clips of stupid people doing even stupider things. Tonight I finally met one of my lifelong heroes and it was YouTube that made it possible. Think about that.

Seriously. If your school is still blocking YouTube, do you have any idea what you are depriving your students of?

Header Image: Wikimedia Commons http://goo.gl/nw77Qu

Predicting the Future

Practical Television, Visions of the Future, Televisions DIY Futuristic Magazine, UK, 1950 Art PrintPredicting the future is challenging.

I remember reading Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital many years ago, and it’s been amazing to see so many of his predictions come to pass. In particular, I remember reading about his “trading places” idea, or what become known as the “Negroponte Switch”. It’s basically the idea that we used to have static devices that don’t move, like televisions, getting their signal delivered wirelessly through the air, while other devices that should be mobile, like telephones, required the use of cables in order to connect.

The “Switch”, predicted by Negroponte back in the 1980s, would be that telephones would one day get their signal wirelessly and televisions would get theirs via cables.  It took about 20 years for that to happen, but happen it certainly did.  Looking back now, if you understood the technologies that brought the changes, the signs were probably there and it made sense but it took someone like Negroponte to recognise it.

Thinking about that reminded me of another article I read sometime around the year 2000 where Jeff Hawkins, the founder of Palm Computing, predicted that one day more people would access the Internet using a phone or other handheld device than would access it using a regular personal computer.  In the late 90s, when I read that statement, I must admit I had a hard time imagining how you would get a legitimately decent Internet experience on a tiny underpowered handheld device with a small screen and a ridiculously slow connection. At the time, I owned a Palm III handheld device and even had a modem for it that I could plug-in to “dial in” to the Internet. Even though I felt I was pretty au-fait with technology and I thought I understood the principle of Moore’s Law, based on what I could do at the time it was still a struggle to envision a world where the main way to get access to the Internet was via a handheld device.

Of course, it’s easy to envision that now. Those technologies moved quickly and we had breakthrough devices like the iPhone that helped redefine the entire mobile experience. Depending on what report you read, we are pretty much at that point now where more people in the world are accessing the web on a handheld device of some sort than via a PC.  What once seemed far-fetched now seems obvious.

In this newspaper report from the New York PC Expo in 2000, Jeff Hawkins points out that Palm devices will soon be able to browse the web at speeds  of 8 to 9 kbps. Yes, kbps!  A recent article on mobile broadband speed in Australia says that some Aussie telcos are getting around 34Mbps over 4G wireless networks.  It took 14 years, but that’s nearly 4000 times faster.  And you can bet that speed will just get better and better.

The challenge with predicting the future is that we are generally far too conservative about it. Most of us find it difficult to make wild predictions because we still can’t quite picture how dramatic the changes will actually be. Basically, for most of us, even our wildest dreams are not really all that wild. When we do make bold predictions, most of us still underestimate the impact of those changes over time. And of course it only takes one unanticipated breakthrough technology to come along and change all the rules again.

If you could predict the future, aside from flying cars and robot brides, what does it look like for you? What are the big, huge, fundamental shifts that will shape the way we live in 20 years from now?

Image credit: Practical Television, Visions of the Future, Televisions DIY Futuristic Magazine, UK, 1950 Art Print