Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

21 February 2010

Living Off The Grid

If you take the time to read my wordy first entries on this blog, you'll see the story of my Grid message.  Some might say it was just a dream, but if it was just a dream, it was a very odd one. For the sake of those readers (if there are any) who don't want to read my earliest ramblings, the message I received in a dream was this: Jesus will come as the scholar in the four days of the Grid.   I woke up and wrote it in my journal.  Alongside of that sentence, I also wrote: The Age of the Grid?  Then I went back to sleep, hoping for more news.  I got none.

Five and a half years ago, right after receiving that message, I did a Google search on the term "The Age of the Grid," and it yielded only a couple pages, and they all were about Grid Computing.  Today, a Google search on especially the phrase the "Age of the Grid" will yield pages and pages.  The idea of The Grid is cliche now, and there are now even people talking about living off the Grid.

I fully understand why someone might want to live off the Grid.  A London Times story online points out that this is part of a compulsion to avoid surveillance.  There's actually an entire website called 

It strikes me as both odd and ominous that in the short period of time between my receiving my dream-message, and the present day, the idea of The Grid has gone from being a fairly rarified geek notion to being part of the daily lexicon.

I imagine that someone reading about this message would be alarmed, if only for my sanity.  Fundamentalist Christians might ask: "what should we do to prepare for the Coming of Jesus?"  My answer to that is simple:  act likes he's coming today.

And that gets to the true reason for this posting.  For me, the most compelling question is when?  When are the Four Days of the Grid?  What are the Ages of the Grid, and when is the Fourth?  It appears, quite clearly, that we are currently well beyond the First Age of the Grid, if in fact people are considering living off of it.

Those who seek to live off of it seek to avoid surveillance.  They seek to be spared the tyranny of an Orwellian nightmare.  And I understand that fully.  But my question right now is: at what cost?

Any technology is a tool, and tools can be used for both good and not-so-good ends.  As I have said elsewhere, just as a hammer extends the capacity, limits, and strength of the hand, computers and the internet (which is the DNA of The Grid) is that technology that extends the capacity, limits, and strength of the human mind.  I'm not the only person to make this claim. 

One can both kill and build with a hammer, and so too is the case with the internet, and computers. 

But just because someone can kill with a hammer (indeed, here is a most disturbing video of some young men in the Ukraine killing someone with a hammer and a screwdriver.  Please do not follow this link if you have a weak stomach. I could not watch the whole video) does that mean we should start "living off the hammer"?  No, I'll bet even people who are living off the grid have hammers.  They may even have guns, which are far more lethal extensions of the arm, and the hand, and the fist, then a hammer.

Indeed, even Jesus used a hammer, if we are to believe the stories we've been told about him.

This is why I am disturbed that people would opt to live off of the Grid, when it's very likely that the Grid has as much potential to build something good as a hammer does.  It all depends on how you use it.

At its most basic level, the strength of The Grid is its ability to create a mass, communal mind that can work very quickly and collaboratively to produce some kind of meaningful end.  What's at risk, of course, is individuality.  What is to gain is the survival of humanity.

Let's consider two cases, one where the Grid was used for evil ends, and one for good ends.

The first case has almost become a cliche, that being the horrible incidents of 9/11/2001.  It continues to intrigue and boggle my mind that a relatively small group of terrorists was able to do something that no nation has been capable of doing: attack the United States on their home turf.  And how was that group able to do that?  They used The Grid.  They used the internet, telephones, and any number of other technologies that allowed them to produce a collaborative effort that far extended any one individual's abilities.  And frighteningly, they succeeded.

They will continue to succeed.  The U.S. government's attempts to pursue individual terrorists, and to frisk innocent passengers en masse come no where near touching the apparatus that binds a breed of terrorist who really doesn't care about individual fame.  Lone Christmas day bombers, or single men trying to light their shoes are decoys, designed to keep our attention away from a plot far greater than the attack on the Twin Towers that is no doubt being planned as I type, and is using the same technology to disseminate its messages.  When or where the next true attack will occur, I really don't know.  I am, after all, just a slowly aging diva with an overactive mind.

Efforts have been made to use this same networking power for positive ends, but they're not always as successful.  Still, those efforts are kind of wonderful in their own ways, hinting at the power this technology can hold for us.  Consider this:  a few years ago, I heard the story of a missing computer scientist, a man named Jim Gray.  He had taken his sailboat out onto the Pacific, and disappeared.

According to Wikipedia, Jim Gray "was an American computer scientist who received the Turing Award in 1998 "for seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation."  His colleagues decided to try to use the very technology he was so instrumental in developing to try to find him.  They initiated a search of the waters he was believed to be lost in, via the very accessible and user-friendly Amazon Mechanical Turk.  Again, I'll quote Wikipedia's definition of what the Mechanical Turk is:  "one of the suites of Amazon Web Services, a crowdsourcing marketplace that enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do."

The keywords in this definition are "co-ordinate the use of human intelligence."  Yes, therein lies the power of The Grid.

For a few weeks, anyone with a little extra time who was willing to subscribe to the Mechanical Turk could search a sector of the sea, presented through images captured via satellite, for anything that looked like an overturned boat or debris, or perhaps the actual boat itself.  Detailed instructions were given on what to look for.  I know, because I did a few myself, hoping that I might be the one to spot a sail, or an overturned hull, or some other little clue of what happened to the missing man.

No one found Jim Gray.  But part of his legacy is that his final search attempted to utilize the combined strengths of multiple human minds in a way that his own research helped to make possible. 

This story is both beautiful and absolutely misguided.  I was fascinated by it, because it allowed me to become part of a project that was bigger than myself, and that, ultimately, had very little to do with me.  However, it was designed, ultimately, to serve one man, and - if I remember correctly - there may have been a reward to the individual who found the spot where Jim met his fate.  Lovely idea; however, this is not, in the end, how this tool should be used.  The internet is not designed for the benefit of any one individual.  It is the most perfectly democratic medium and technology.  And in a perfect democracy, all men and women are created equal, and work together for the communal good. 

And that is how the internet - The Grid - can be used positively.

If people with good intentions - intentions fueled by the true teachings of a man named Jesus - were to use this tool for humane ends, Jesus would come again, and he would come again as The Scholar - the communal mind of humankind. 

But as of right now, it's true, the only efforts that have truly used the power of The Grid to successful ends are terrorists, misguided governments, and big business.  And ultimately, they're all one in the same, and they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, anything like a Jesus.  It is really up to us - and that includes those poor misguided individuals fumbling around, trying to light fires "off the grid" who fundamentally do have good intentions.  Living off the grid must be done in ways that also maintain grid-based communal cooperation, especially if the true intent of the off-gridders is to maintain human life on the planet.

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