The Programming of Robotic American Culture – PART I Time Periods

PART I- Time Periods


It is clear that I was not around during the Pre-Industrial Revolution.  The best first-hand experience I can bring to this as to the way in which people interacted and communicated with each other during this time is from my yearly experience at the Burning Man Festival during the last week in August.  There are printing presses, and some radio, but for the most part, information is disseminated by word of mouth and from camp to camp.  There are no cell towers or broadcast mediums.  If any were present, most people would ignore them.

In a sense, Burning Man is a village again–a throwback to the way things used to be.  In terms of understanding any sort of unified message or cultural programming, you are left with the mediums of bikes, art cars, and shoes moving you from place to place—watching the signs out in front of camps on the streets is really one of the only true mass communications method available.

There was a rainstorm in 2014, which actually was a mild natural disaster, as no cars are able to drive on the streets when they are wet.  This eventually leads to no ice and no waste removal from the porta-potties, and if this lasted for an extended period of time, there would be no more food or water either.  Necessary information was distributed from person to person.  I took it upon myself to make up things that weren’t true about how long it would be before the city would start to function again.  There was no way to determine if the rains would continue, or if the streets would become passable in the near future.  Whom could you trust?

What was nice about this experience, despite not having a greater knowledge of what may be happening around us, is that we focused more closely on what we could perceive for ourselves unmediated—we did not look at a screen or through some formulated statement to know what was happening in front of our faces or in our community.  We looked to the west to see if more clouds were forming, and watched another storm pass to the south as theatre.  We paid attention to the changing winds, cloud formations, and barometric pressures as our bodies could feel/see them—that was the most accurate information we had.  We experienced the excitement and potential serious danger of the endless unknown, which as humanity we still actually experience beyond our planet and in many respects here at home, but we don’t realize it.

Developing mass medias—including the broadcast channels of television, radio and print—and then seeing the recent destruction of them into a more personalized, village-like experience raises serious questions about whether or not we have more or less freedom now that information is perceived to be under our control.  While trying to learn what everyone else knows, are we able to affect it, or are we arrested by it?

Through the illusion that we are now all on the same page as a remnant of the Broadcast Media era, I assert that without the mass medias, we are actually less free and less individualized.  Further examination is needed to illuminate where these ideas and programmings come from, how they are accepted and who perpetuates them.  Emerging arguments question the manipulation of our ideas, information and our “digital trails” through dark and opaque forces, often referred to as algorithms by those ‘in the know’ or the wisdom of crowds by those who aren’t.  These arguments are an attempt to bring about the independence we once had in the villages, while also maintaining the illusion of a mass medias singular perception.  There is a reason so many technologists go to Burning Man; they need to step out of themselves, whether most consciously realize it or not—they are the ones enabling us to obscure ourselves from each other.
II. THE BROADCAST ERA: Forrest Gump, the Editor

It may have started with a fireside chat from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but with radio came the information—the idea that we as a country all had the same exact version of events at the exact same time.  For once, not only did you not have to read, but you could hear someone’s voice from very far away at the same time as the rest of the country.

Marshall McCluhan said, “The medium is the message.”  That observation arose during the time of broadcast medias, with the fascination on knowing what everyone else might be thinking at the same time.  Mass information helped to produce genocide in Nazi Germany – as well as war bond sales here in the United States.  The modern era was about getting everyone to think the same things, and have the same view of their culture and each other.  The medium of this time was broadcast, the message was the same idea to the largest audience.

Mass media aided the U.S. in going to war against communism in Vietnam and in maintaining the Cold War; many believe it also told everyone when those wars were over as well.  The electronic mediums of broadcast at that time were one-way channels of information from one source to the masses.  If we were told Khrushchev was crazy for beating his shoe on a podium, or conversely that Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War by telling Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, there were not many other choices from which to glean the narrative.

During this time, the reaction to cultural programming came in three choices:  with the stream, against the stream, or ambivalent.  What was different about these times is that even those who chose to be ambivalent probably heard, in some fashion, what everyone else was hearing.

In mass media there was always a lot left out of the story—such as the perspectives of minority or counter culture groups, or even those with different shades of the popular ideas.  All information was mostly a reaction to the central narrative.  With the duopoly of American political parties, the reaction to one or possibly two choices in direction persists today.  There were rules that editors would consider based on ‘objectivity’ requirements (equal sides, equal time, but only two sides) that reinforced the lack of choices.

Dispensation of information was somewhat limited as well.  Cultural programming in electronic form was mostly handled via a limited number of dispensers—for the first six decades of electronic media’s existence, there were only three major television networks of national significance, ABC, CBS, and NBC, which only broadcast news 15 to 30 minutes per day.  This grew with the advent of the UHF broadcast spectrum, and then eventually cable television, but the limits of information were easy to find.  By the time I entered the news business in 1998, there were only five places that could transmit news video to a national or global audience from within the United States—ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN—and this was true until about 2004.  Each day you could find all the available information by simply reading one or two newspapers and watching one or two newscasts.

In my hometown of Toledo, Ohio in the 90s, I was lucky if I could find a copy of the New York Times at five places in town.  One of the places was the public library, and The Times would be shared with others—you could not take it home, let alone share it in an email or a social network with all your friends.  Presently there is more access to this type of information than ever before, but people do not pay for it as they did then—which at the time constituted a sizeable barrier to entry as well.

We were stuck with a very localized and limited narrative of events.  Almost all local papers received their information from two large wire services: the stronger Associated Press, and the quicker United Press International.  Throughout the electronic medias and into the internet, the Associated Press was considered the non-partisan, unbiased source of information.  When the AP reported a story, people thought it was true throughout the land.

In the closing moments of the last century, most Americans mainly got their information from television, which has very limited bandwidth for the amount of ideas that could be conveyed in the same amount of time and space when compared to print.  This landscape was true for most Americans throughout the time of Broadcasting.






1998 The Aggregator

While this period brings the advent of the computer playing a larger role in what information is available and the perception of what we think we know, the very beginning of the internet and what you saw was still decided editorially by a person through the use of portals and aggregators.

Portals such as Yahoo! or the paid service AOL would be a starting place for your ride on the ‘information superhighway’ of cyber space—which in their case was a very limited range of media partnerships and chat rooms.  News aggregators like The Drudge Report, which was responsible for bringing the Monica Lewinsky affair to light, and thus giving the internet its first credibility as a primary medium, were still managed by people.  They may have had an editorial bent, but their stories were sourced by people who decided their placements like traditional newspaper editors did with their front page.  These aggregators often used RSS feeds to stay up on the news from other sites, and would often make money by selling link placements or doing swaps of links with other sites like theirs in exchange for traffic.

Although there is value in the organization of ideas, the ideas they were passing among themselves are not genuinely original—they contributed no new articles, only copied and spread around what was already there made by someone else.  The rise of the news aggregator contributed to the decline of the news originator—journalists that would go out and generate original stories and information.  Many services, like the early Yahoo! News and Google News strictly posted links from other sources, thus giving the impression that there were thousands of articles on one story.  I still hear from people that these thousands of the same articles actually provide more coverage than there had been before the internet, when they do not or about how overwhelming this period of time was to the mind—that may be true for some.

The truth is, there was more original reporting before these news aggregators and there has been significantly less since their invention—it was just harder and more expensive for one person to access it all.  There could have been an internet with more original sources gaining access to their audiences, but unfortunately, the business decisions made by news companies, combined with pseudointellectual faux-science propelled by a GO-GO Silicon Valley spirit, bankrupted our original journalism infrastructure.

There were claims by self-proclaimed internet experts like Jeff Jarvis, who once said “all media companies should be like Google.”  In this sense he meant all companies should create nothing themselves and sell ads off of the other media companies that were giving all their work away for virtually nothing.  How many of those can the world tolerate?

News Aggregators marked the beginning of the illusion that there were thousands of versions of one single story, when in truth, they were merely copies of the same AP version, framed with different colors.  The only winner in this game was the news aggregator, like Google News or Yahoo News – because all the little clicks of these same stories added up to a lot of ad revenue on their aggregation sites.  The individual publications would suffer as they neglected what made them original—in exchange for providing aggregators the ‘long tail’ that made them some of the most profitable companies in history by having little to no cost for their service.  This “long tail’ whipped away the value of original reporting by paying the same amount to publishers as they would receive by publishing the same wire story.  On most days there were about seven stories of national significance, such as a plane crash, a piece of legislation passed or an update on a war, or a scandalous criminal trial.  Now, on cable news, there are two or three such stories, or most recently, just one.


The Search Engine

Early search engines, such as WebCrawler, AltaVista and Lycos, were somewhat primitive.  Site owners may have had to apply to the search engines to have a link considered, or scanned each others’ sites, as opposed to the modern day notion that search engines find everything that wants to be found.  These engines employed a simple way of searching the web, but did not exercise consistent organization in how search results were displayed.  Many modeled their organization after the Yellow Pages: by topic.

Google’s entrance to the scene was not profound because of its simple interface, but because of the way they crawled the internet, and more importantly, how they surfaced search results to the user.  Google’s results were more intelligently delivered and more intelligently displayed than its predecessors’ results.  When combined with the incredibly lucrative search term based advertising, Google, more than any other search engine or editorial service, relied on algorithms to determine which results were shown to its users—with technologists programming and altering how the computers decided the results.  Accordingly, what people saw was often determined by what in reality was a black box—with a faint guise of fairness, often perpetuated through Google’s PR department and the mythology they prescribe of Google “doing no evil”.   If we knew how the search results were reached we could game the system—and while search engine optimization remains a serious industry, every time someone cracks the code of what it takes to get to the top of Google’s search results without either earning it or paying Google, the programmers at this powerful company change their mouse trap.


Maintaing their impressions from broadcast media, early search engines and internet portals like AOL & Prodigy, most internet users still believe that everyone sees the same results when searching the same search terms.   In the very beginning of Google, this notion may have been true, but in 2004, the company began developing user profiles.  It searched its Gmail service’s clients’ emails, and targeted its advertising and search results based on this personalized data.  With this advancement, cultural programming entered a new era of obscurity.

Although algorithms are executed by computers, they are designed and tweaked by humans—with their interests at front of mind.  The early stage of the internet had a happy, friendly expansion period in which these tweaks towards profitability are neither necessary, nor employed as the internet and its technology companies merely were trying to gain adoption and find their footing.  Almost all technology companies attempt to maintain this feeling of an honest dispensation of information and friendly expansion, but those days are long over if you listen to the business plans of new tech start-ups and now leading tech titans.

YouTube stars, for instance, stimulated by their audiences alone, and with no monetary reward, were often keen to sense changes in algorithms to propel their fame.  In 2011 Google, which bought YouTube, had enough with this fun-loving, friendly time of experimentation and simply stomped out an individual’s ability to rise to the top of search engines in favor of paid circulation from brand advertisers.   They now are in the process of trying to pay these stars to keep them from leaving the platform.

The Webloggers

There was a rise of individuals speaking their mind in the form of a weblog.  The early experimental phase of the internet, combined with the primitive, more transparent/easy to manipulate search engines, produced instant fame for early adapters of weblogs.

The weblog period was exciting in the sense that everyone from the “letters to the editors” crowd to the aspiring writer, and in some cases, well-known columnists, could have seemingly direct access to their audiences.  Some did well, but most did not, and writing regularly for no audience, while again adding up to profits for aggregators like Google, was not enough for individuals to pay their bills or more importantly feel the stimulation of having an audience read their work.  A seemingly endless amount of distribution and space was opened up overnight, but there still was a limited amount of time for people to read about what everyone else was thinking, so most blogs became empty, abandoned strip malls after a short period of time.

Even the reasonably successful blogger struggled.  Some of these bloggers had thousands of readers—a true following—but they did not have the job security of working at a newspaper.  If a blogger did receive money from an ad source like Google AdSense, the pay per click was considered very good at a dollar per thousand views—or a tenth of a penny per click.  Relatively large audiences did not even mean bloggers could sustain themselves, and if you did somehow earn enough, you were on a never-ending treadmill to keep those clicks up.  In a world where clicks on pictures of cats and a well thought out and researched journalistic investigation are the same, this new form of monetization incentivizes the lowest common denominator for content—this is often referred to now as BuzzFeed.

This precarity of the individual writer’s position in the marketplace, empowered the powerful instead of what many thought of as a revolution in self-publishing.  The more that concepts like citizen journalism—the idea where unpaid citizens submit acts of journalism, ranging from written stories, pictures, videos, and even investigative pieces and reports from press conferences in lieu of paid, professional reporters—were rolled out, the less powerful and substantive our journalism became.  Large publications with big buildings, deep pockets, and large staffs including teams of lawyers, had more security to not only question power, but also to be fully researched and taken seriously when they did.  Citizen journalists, motivated by attention alone, stood by themselves and often struggled to get true access to what was really happening even when they may have thought they did.  Like lightening strikes, most interesting things do not happen on accident in front of your cell phone camera when you happen to be recording something two times in a row.  Yet this was what most media outlets wanted from their citizen journalists—an endless stream of disposable gotcha moments.

We have ended up with more, loud, emotive repetition, and reaction to already-known information and gossip, the kind of information we all can find sitting at a desk with an internet connection without talking to anyone, and less actual research, reporting, or original story generation upon which to fuel it all.  It has gotten so bad, even our elected leaders wonder if there are any journalists left who know how to or have the time to research a story.

The more the pseudo-academics and Silicon Valley companies like Google and Yahoo! made deals with traditional journalism institutions, the more they destroyed the ability for the actual generation of original research and reporting.  They used the elite hiring/corrupt hiring practices of these institutions as a foil for the destruction of good paying reporting jobs and journalistic practices, in favor of a Walmart-style model of low pay, and in many cases, even darker, more opaque distributive practices that made it harder for provocative, original ideas to reach the general public.  At least in the old system you knew who was saying no to you.  Online as a creator, you have no idea why some stories have an audience and others do not.

These same Silicon Valley companies, and others who have joined them like Facebook, have traded in their pseudo-intellects for lobbyists, who now collectively spend almost as much as oil companies making sure the rules are bent in their favor.  The European Union has rejected these lobbyists and have instituted more humanistic policies, such as the ‘right to be forgotten’—if you request to have parts of your life erased from search engines, tech companies are now required to remove them in Europe.  The main reason companies like Google fight these measures in the United States and abroad has everything to do with having access to everything that they can possibly monetize and know about individuals, whether it’s humane or not.  They profit off of your pain and joy—it’s all the same click to them as long as they have total and unregulated access to it at all times.

A combination of blogs and news aggregators was later formed. The Huffington Post, one of the most prominent blogs, relied heavily on Search Engine Optimization.  This (leach) is worth noting because The Huffington Post relied almost completely on the voluntary work of those who published there, and who copied every article and video onto their site, thus creating a search engine magnet and thrusting itself to the top of every search and every advertiser’s call list.  The site still rarely broke any new information.  It also rewarded what everyone would generally view as stealing—simply taking a story from another site that actually paid for the original reporting and pasting it on to your own so you got the money for the clicks, and created a whole new crop of destinations that further eroded the funding for actual original reporting and idea generation.  Few, if any, even in the journalism industry, have decried these moves for fear of being on the wrong side of history.  Unfortunately, they all mostly lost their jobs and their profession anyway—and the rest of us are disempowered with fewer sources of real information.


IV. PRESENT TIMES:  An Obscure Era

2004-2008: Social Networking/Viral Video

There was a mythology of the democratization of the mediums.  After such a long period of obvious, centralized places of power with all of their walls, restrictions, and corruptions for gaining access to distribution, having the ability to seemingly transmit your idea or vision to just about anyone in the world at any time without a filter was quite profound.  With the advent of YouTube, it seemed like if you put up the right video, it might go viral—essentially, that everyone in the world would see it, if it was good enough merely by the world passing it to each other as simply as the common cold.

To summarize Slavoj Zizek, it’s not the opposite, but always the inverse of what you are thinking.  That is a tremendous oversimplification, but it does apply to these times we live in.  While you may think the viral video is possible—it is now certainly dead.  When you post a video, no one can possibly find it unless you have access to money or a friend who can pull a lever for you inside one of the social networks or distribution platforms.  There’s something incredible lost in everyone not realizing this.

I recently got into a discussion which exemplifies this opaque period.  It was Election Day 2014, and someone who had previously worked at put a posting on her Facebook page applauding Facebook for giving up some of its precious screen space to encourage people to vote:

Girl’s name obscured via NPR

November 4 at 4:28pm ·

Props to Facebook for doing this!

Anyone who’s worked in online sales knows that every time you add a non-revenue-generating link for someone to click on, you decrease your chances that they will click on a revenue-generating link. Facebook’s management team clearly decided to optimize for civic engagement here instead of money-making. That’s a tough decision to make as a publicly-traded company, and I applaud them for making it!

  • Daniel Beckmann
     I mean.. sound of one hand clapping. We all work for free for them 24/7

Girls Name Obscured  Daniel Beckmann, we also get an incredible relationship-building service from them for free. I personally think it’s a fair trade-off.

November 4 at 5:24pm · Like

Daniel Beckmann I dont. They don’t value work. They get a lot more out of it then we all do.


As users of the Facebook platform, even though we are essentially working for free, giving them our brightest ideas, our best pictures, in what Mark Zuckerberg explains as the history of our lives, to do with as they please including owning our postings into eternity, we are indeed so fortunate to have this platform to use, and thus, should applaud them for giving up revenue to benefit our plebian society?  While posting on Facebook is not like working in a steel mill, imagine if Andrew Carnegie had a similar policy where you were lucky to have access to his factory to do his work and that was the pay?

What is inferred in this exchange is the idea that we owe Facebook anything, or that they are providing us any service.  There would be no Facebook without us.  The truth is we are neither told how and why things are placed in our feed, nor do we know how our actions are being monetized.  But perhaps most importantly, we are given a false sense that the things we put out there are actually being heard by anyone.  Our work/postings have value, especially if we are to evolve as a society—that’s why Facebook has value and our collective value is worth more than their platform or anything they claim to do for us.  If we all stop doing work for them, they cease to exist and the relationship should be viewed that way.  We are not lucky they are giving us space to encourage ourselves to vote.  They are lucky we are there.


Obscurity in Life or Death

In February 2013, I died while surfing, and then was brought back to life.  A long and complete explanation can be found here:   About three days after I came out of my coma, I told everyone via Facebook that I was alive.  I received an outpouring of support for my existence.  With so many likes and comments on this post, you would have thought that everyone on Facebook was made aware of what had happened to me.  So, if they didn’t comment, respond or make mention of their appreciation for my existence, I would be correct in interpreting that they didn’t care very much for whether I lived or died.

Before Facebook and social network sites, I could trace the flow of information to key people, but I also could give people the benefit of the doubt as to whether they even heard the news.  I would have some idea who knew what had happened to me based on whom I told, and some guesses about who they may tell.  In the outer circles of people I knew of with whom I did not speak directly, someone could accurately say they may not have known what happened to me.  There were some people who have never mentioned this incident, and to this day, I think they know, but I cannot be completely certain.  Through this Facebook posting, most of the people I know found out about it but I don’t know who did not.  Facebook has not only obscured my relationship with my community,  but also whether or not people value my existence on such a fundamental level.


Viral is Dead.  There is No Such Thing as Viral

In the early days of YouTube, Facebook, and other social networks, it was possible for a video to go viral.  This meant that users could share something with friends, and it could spread wildly through their friends and beyond like a disease as a network effect.  Under the guise of privacy, YouTube, Facebook and other social networks changed their algorithms to make it impossible for videos to go viral unless you paid them, had a friend who worked there who would cheat for you, or the forces of virality happened some external way, such as through the press, or from a sort of seemingly-fair if-you-use-it-everyday-and-are-known-there aggregator site like Reddit.


Social networking sites put up silos between friend groups so that the feed of information was possibly narrower than in the broadcast days.  Users kept seeing the same types of ideas based on the silo they’ve been put in.  People don’t realize all they are missing.  New ideas are hard to bring into these silos and users are seeing fewer ideas that they may not like or agree with than during the broadcast days.  There may be more information available, but there is no easy way to make sure you know about it.  Even search engines silo results based on who they think users are in order to persuade you to buy things from certain advertisers, or to give users results they think fit their assumptions for that person without the user having any understanding of why their online world is being constructed this way.  (More on meta data follows.)

In May 2012, at the Digital Upfronts (a spring tradition where advertisers are courted from publishers to buy ads with them), YouTube proclaimed to the world that they were now BrandTube.  They planned to make YouTube a place where brands could feel comfortable.  User-generated videos were hard for brands to associate with because the brands never were truly certain what the contents of the video were that they were advertising on.  Even if brands placed ads on the long tail—one ad running across lots of little bits of videos—they wouldn’t necessarily reach the same magnitude of audience that they did in broadcast media.  Their old methods of selling, let’s say orange juice, were based off reaching the predictable mass audience of television and the fishy Nielson ratings.  The ad performance in these user-generated categories were much harder for brands to figure out even if they liked the number of clicks they were getting-were these the right people?  No one was getting fired for placing another television buy or buying on hulu, essentially the television networks’ attempt at continuing their business model online.

Also in May 2012, I attended the last ROFLCon—the Rolling on the Floor Laughing Convention—which took place at MIT.  The viral video was officially pronounced dead there.  Viral videos required the following to be possible: anonymity, a huge and free network effect without walls in between users, and finally an interest/fascination in user-generated content by the platforms themselves that regularly generated these videos.  All of those were dead by May 2012.  Those in the Youtube community noticed almost immediately the lack of virals to talk about—they had to rely more on making these videos themselves or having their users send them in.  The 2012 election was not one of the viral video—there had been many in 2008—it instead was the year of the static print meme.  The image files were easier to send through a network effect on social networks with higher bars and through traditional-style print mediums, primarily because Youtube, the primary network for video distribution, had destroyed virality as a possibility at all on their platform.


It’s All Slowing Down

The reason that I’m finally able to write this paper in 2014, is that the Digital Revolution, which began in the late 1980s/early 1990s, has begun to slow.  The oft-quoted Moore’s Law (named for Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel), explained that the number of transistors in a circuit doubles every two years.  The space on a microchip has now reached the atomic level, effectively ending Moore’s Law.  The entire technology community relied on Moore’s Law.  In order to increase computing speed, we now have to devise more efficient uses of the materials we have or accept more non-noticeable errors in our computing.  There has been a noticeable change as we approach the end of Moore’s Law.  For instance, you no longer need a new computer as often anymore.  I bought mine in 2009, and it is still nearly as fast as the ones being marketed today.


The Selfie (OMG)

The selfie is a very NOW example of the abundance of visual communication combined with the narcissistic period in which we now live.  Within the frame of a smartphone screen, it is not just a subject’s face that is communicated, but also the subject’s surroundings.  The audience is friends, family, and anyone else who cares or more often doesn’t care about the subject.  While the selfie may seem to have something to do with the historic record—I was at this bar next to this beer (very popular selfie)—the abundance of selfies trivializes these historic marker points, as there are now just too many of them to ever have enough time to look back and consider them all.  The selfie is really the continuation of the notion of “thyself as publicist”, shaping the image to elicit certain impressions from the audience.

“Thyself as the publicist” will continue to be refined through our mediums.  We have yet to truly consider how to construct alternative selves and redefine the selfie into acceptable alterations beyond your idealistic image of yourself.  The acceptable number of selfies is quite primitive—I’m with friends, I’m with a famous person, I’m next to the Eiffel Tower.  We have merely begun to shape the digital image of ourselves based on our programming, while also using these images to program others.

With limitations in technological developments, particularly in creative tools such as cameras and non-linear video editing, we will hopefully sooner rather than later enter a period of refinement of these digital mediums as opposed to the worship of wow wow wow gizmos and yet even more additional space to distribute.  More value will be placed on the creative person and their ability to make technology work instead of the technologist simply creating more capacity for work.


The Obscurity of Self-Image in Generations

 Generationally, Americans born during different eras have significant gaps in the way they receive and understand information.  These gaps may be more significant than those experiences during the last century, as we have split into smaller generations and have been born into vastly different periods of media, programmings and understandings of our selves and each other through these formats.


Baby Boomers/Forrest Gump & Older (Born Before 1965)—Baby Boomers see the world in terms of narrative stories.  This shared understanding is the last vestige of the campfire mode of story telling.  They also see things in dualities—wrong or right, for war or against it, Republican or Democrat.  On television, their primary medium, generally only two points of view are the most you can reasonably fit on a screen—these interviews in the industry are often called two-ways.  They have been given these two sides their entire lives and these dualities will die with them.


Generation X (1965-1978)—These kids were born as part of a collective hangover.  Popular culture raised them, but wasn’t as loving as true human contact.  They are the ultimate creation of the analog society and will forever remain lost in a digital world.  Their understanding of economics was destroyed by a .com boom in the late 1990s in which they thought they could get money easily from signing bonuses, stock options, and IPOs, and will always define the leaders of this generation as to whether or not they cashed in at the right time.  A great majority of them are untrainable in the new world and as the last analog-native generation they may be a burden for society until they leave us.


Generation Y (1978-1985)—Generation Y could be considered late Generation X.  They appreciated the analog medias, but some of the first noises they heard were electronic, synthesized music. They also entered homes with no answering machines and phones with busy signals.   We also had cable television and MTV tell us that we were original because we had an opinion and having an opinion WAS our opinion.  This fill-in-the-blank individualism was especially susceptible to marketing—and spawned the ever present ‘hipster’ movement, based solely in style, not substance.  The SNOWFlake, the idea that each person was slightly different and special, was born.

Yes, I am in this generation. We have flaws, but we are both digitally and analog native—there is hope for us.  But like Generation X, we were also heavily raised by popular culture.  We were forced to understand narratives, but were the first generation to talk about cool moments—or just the best parts of a story on their own not connected to anything else.  We still use Facebook—we created it.  The analog vs. the digital is a conflict within us, but we can be the translators between the two.  When the analog days are gone, and the digital natives feel like something human is missing from their lives, our generation will possess the knowledge of the higher quality of what records based on analog recordings sounded like, but we will also be credible because we enjoyed mp3s in college dorm rooms.   Or at least we will think this of ourselves.


Millennials (1986-2008)—This is often referred to as the snowflake generation—the idea that each and every one of them is special in design, white, sparkling, and bland and cold when they’re all stuck together.  It is quite possible that the members of this generation never experienced the pleasures of boredom.  Accordingly, all they understand are moments through social media although less and less through Facebook (still a narrative their parents use), and in favor of the disposable micromoments captured socially in Instagram and Snapchat.  To Millennials, life is quick and disposable, but their sense of self is great due to the seemingly immense distributive power of their Selfie ideas.

When Millennials attend an event, they do not participate in it directly.  Instead, they take pictures of real life and see it through a screen (we’ve already talked about selfies).  There will be no time to look at these moments later, because it’s not about posterity, only about immediate self-promotion and edification.  Yes, I will be the old guy who says that he is concerned about this generation’s future as we leave this era of endless wonderment and enter a new truly productive era of creative potential.  Millennials aren’t deeply connected to very much.  They didn’t play outside as much because it was too dangerous, unless it was part of some organized sport.  When they enter the workforce, they have to deal with the robotic nature of programmings (explained fully later on) through constant appointments and measurements (such as the SATs) and other external signifiers, such as Harvard University, or grades that will have increasingly less meaning as an individual’s ability to create and form subjectivities on their own will be paramount to survival.

I can argue that each person is special and has the ability to influence the world.  Without taking the time to appreciate the world, however, or develop patterns to program themselves and others around them, the Millennials will never truly explore their individuality and their ability to break patterns beyond what is being shown to them through the obscurity of an algorithm.  They are the first digitally native generation.  They may fail to add lasting creative works to the collective human consciousness by the time they leave this planet.


Generation Next (2008->)I do not want credit for coining this phrase, and I would adopt another one that comes along. I do think that those born after 2008 will be a truly superlative generation.  They will be comfortably digitally native.  They will grow up during a time of refinement of digital tools, and instead of being told these times are special, simply because of the facility of self-expression and mass distribution, their teachers will have points of criticism against what the digital world has become—an incredibly limited world after all.  This generation will master technology, and will be in a position to rebel against what has become of it.  While they may not play outside as much as previous generations, they may have enough time to wonder about what digital has done to us in terms of our attachment to each other and humanity as a whole.  They will be the first to truly stake claims in the digital space creatively by not merely adapting ideas from the analog era, but making shapes, sites and sounds completely unique to the digital era.  Toward the end of their lives, this generation may experience the 1970s of digital expression—a time when the limits of the digital awakening are reached and they can put everything they’ve got into something creative, not just learning how to master the tools.  They will take the individual’s freedom and maybe actually use it for themselves and each other, instead of simply proclaiming it as part of an easily manipulated, consumerized purchasing power.


Venture Capital as a Study

We live in an era in which original idea generation is not encouraged.   Traditionally in technology, venture capital was allotted for BIG IDEAS that were risky.  The upside was huge if they worked out—but so was the likelihood that they wouldn’t.  The Venture community was small, and was often the first and last place a person could go to get funding for something truly technologically profound—or at least that’s the ghost of what Silicon Valley would like to believe about itself.

Now, a large portion and central piece of our economy is focused on technological and digital growth (as opposed to growth in manufacturing, service or energy-based economies for instance), and the true venture capital for this endeavor has been severely crowded out and diminished by those simply claiming to do it.  Individuals and groups of a few individuals are trying to start small businesses and they are calling this Venture Capital.  Before the technological boom, these were the same types of people who would have opened a neighborhood dry cleaner, or the one-hour photo shops that could do the job in 45 minutes instead of an hour.

These convenience items are not technological wonders, and cost less to start than physical dry cleaning businesses that require machinery.  The ease of the cloud makes it easier to start tech companies, but more difficult to make more clouds/infrastructure for truly original and profound foundational technologies.

When there was a requirement from an infrastructural standpoint for people to be close to means of production, whether it be a server, or a physical computer, or in some cases each other, the venture money was taking more risks.  Silicon Valley was a physical reality in the sense that all the components for taking true technological risk, from the universities and talent pools, to the physical computing power and culture of risk were all there, thus reducing some of the risk to your tremendous boom or bust investment.  The history of California itself is one of boom or bust, and Silicon Valley was one of the few places it made sense to try big things (the other being Boston).

Now, investors put money into start-ups because they want to maintain control of the technical labor pool and in some cases squash-innovative competitors.  They invest small amounts in many different companies and hope that one takes off in a major way to not only pay for their other investments but also in hopes of massive returns.  When they don’t, they still own the labor behind the failures and can often fold them in to other owned concerns and try to keep them off the market from their competitors.

In order to acquire funds, a company needs to show investors a very sharp increase in revenue—also known as the ‘hockey stick’ on a graph.  This pressure on a young company’s ability to perform reduces its ability to focus on true innovation, other than what might produce immediate revenue so they can sell to a larger company as soon as possible.  This entire exchange, in which the venture capitalists often have ownership stakes and make commissions on these deals when they sell to only a handful of tech titans of which they often have an ownership stake as well, reduces the pressure for places like Google, Facebook and certainly Yahoo! to innovate, while they pay off and capture any threatening talent before they can produce legitimate competition.

The most recent and egregious form of stifling innovation and independence was Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp,  a program truly in the purview of homo generator, as it allows people from all over the world to text with each other at little or no cost (roughly $1 per year).   WhatsApp’s user numbers quickly rivaled Facebook’s, but at a faster growth trajectory.  It also had a broader base of younger users that valued moments instead of narratives – a base that will make up the future of most users and one Facebook was struggling to attract, even with the recent purchase of Instagram.  Mark Zuckerberg made many overtures to buy WhatsApp, but its founders declined to sell. Zuckerberg eventually offered such an immense amount of money that the WhatsApp founders had no rational choice but to close the deal.  They could give up on what they built, take their money after some period of time being off the market, and begin another project.  It is not so easy, however, to build such a culturally relevant product all over again—especially once the monetary motivation is completely taken away.  With the tyranny of limited resources, better editorial choices are often made.

This happens all the time at varying levels.  It has reduced our ability to truly innovate, and the new startups are not motivated, despite lip service to this effect, to develop technologies are truly helping the world in any way.  Most Silicon Valley business models are based on exploiting endless free labour in the form of end-users. Until we place higher value or any value at all on the labor of the end user, the true realization of homo generator will either take longer to realize, or could be drastically curtailed in a new form of centralized, systematic control and slavery.


The Unshared Economy

It’s been called the shared economy – the idea that you can make money off the labor and resources you already have if you only knew of someone who wanted to buy them from you.  You’re connected via digital technologies, but the advent of the smart phone made the possibilities related to proximity really take off!  In some ways, this could be a considered an evolution; jobs are created based on ideas, and not productive elements that machines can do for us.  However, this is not the case in the largest growth area of this time.

The so-called shared economy, while not forcing people to work in coal mines under terrible conditions, maintains a similar social and economic order with one exception—in a coal mine, workers didn’t have to buy their own shovel, but in the shared economy, they bring all the upfront capital & really do not receive anything from their task masters to complete their jobs.

Forcing people to work to have their machines is nothing new.  Forcing people to use their machines as work in order to have them at all is seemingly a regression.  Those without machines or the means of any production, who need better access to the economy are becoming increasingly locked out..  The structures they used to gain employment are the ones most threatened by the shared economy—there’s nothing being talked about in technology for how to include this population, except often a token recognition that there’s a problem.

If the shared economy becomes the norm, we will also have less time for original content generation as we will have to spend more time simply maintaining the base standard of living to pay for the programmers/owners of this shared economy.  Even the programmers/owners of the shared economy will have a less interesting existence.  Who will have time to make their apps look cool without any time left for inspiration/visit the void as they resell their homes, cars, electronics and themselves in order to afford these things we now consider basic and mostly unshared?

There are several examples, from Uber, the car sharing service, to Airbnb, the service that allows you to share or rent your house/apartment to visitor from out of town in exchange for money.  Airbnb has had the following effects on its home city of San Francisco:

1)    Less affordable residential housing is on the market as long-term residences are being turned into short-term lodgings for out-of-town visitors

2)    Less sales tax revenue has been generated as a percentage from out-of-town visitors

3)    Secure, union, low-skilled jobs are being threatened as these bnb’s compete on price.

4)    In order to afford their apartments, people who used to live in their apartments alone full-time now have to rent them out (both when they are out of town and while they are home) and perform the tasks of a bed and breakfast, a service for which they are rated.

5)    The middlemen of Airbnb are making record profits by not paying lodging taxes, and more copycats emerge constantly, promising easy cash to all who take their assignments.  They continue to support and fund candidates who vote against taxing their business in the name of innovation, which would provide a more level playing field.


I recently attended a conference titled the “Personal Democracy Forum” where the founder of Airbnb was given a platform to speak.  He said that all of this bad press around his company was merely an issue of people not realizing the true positive nature of their story (later using the same Silicon Valley “tell our true story” Public Relations playbook, the CEO of another shared-economy leader, Uber, used the same justification after sort of apologizing for the actions of one of his top executives who told journalists of a plan to track, follow, and punish any detractors of the company).  He shared a tale of a woman with cancer who was able to pay her rent by sharing her house with guests while she underwent chemotherapy.  This woman wrote in a nice testimonial about Airbnb.  While it is sad that this woman’s only option was to open her home during such a trying time, it is more upsetting that Airbnb thought presenting her to its audience would make their business more palatable.  Instead, it reinforced that their actions are predatory, and do not truly value the humanity they exploit.


Self in the Age of Obscurity

If we can’t count on the viral video to program the masses, there are fewer and fewer venues with a captive audience, and we can’t even tell if people think we’re alive or dead, it would appear that those trying to control the information from a centralized point of power would have trouble doing so as well.  This is not true.  As a result of the internet, despite the appearance of more information, we are less aware of what is happening in the present moment and with whose ideas we are being programmed.  The general public has less war coverage than we did ten years ago.  This is not entirely a result of the business models of traditional media collapsing.  The wars are not even known.  The U.S. administration will casually mention an operation in Yemen or Somalia, but we receive little information about the specifics of this operation.  This creates piles of unanswered basic questions about those operations—such as who we are fighting, for what reason, or even simply how is it going?  With no critical mass from the public asking these questions, we may never get answers to these questions anytime soon, if ever.

Our ideas are shaped by the situations of which we are well aware.  There were always and will always be ways to hide information or perspectives.  Unfortunately, it is now much easier for the powerful to obscure what we know and understand about our world and each other under the guise of the open and free internet.

One example is our much-reviled legislature, the U.S. Congress.  Almost all the reporting we receive now about our government is about the sport of legislating, the personalities, and the winners and losers.  One publication in particular, Politico, personifies the lack of actual substantive reporting on our government.  While emotions run high (a popular phrase in television news), what’s lost in the balance is the substance of what’s being debated and all the different choices of what’s possible in our legislation.  Despite the fact that there is more capacity for distributing information, that capacity is not being utilized.  The low approval ratings our legislature also acts to diminish our power as individuals through our representative government.

Recently President Barack Obama used an executive order to circumvent what he called a dysfunctional Congress to give certain rights to undocumented immigrants.  In so doing, he set a precedent for future presidents to take similar unilateral actions.  The polarization of our media, the noise of information without the substance, is a product of our new digital media paradigm.  At the moment our power is being taken away in front of our faces, with one wide exception.

Twitter has been used, and in many respects was designed, to allow mass groups of people who don’t know each other to communicate.  Due to its limited character capacity, it’s been most effective in organizing spontaneous mass protests.  The Occupy Wall Street movement relied heavily on Twitter in the United States to organically grow its masses, and certainly a large part of the Arab Spring can be attributed to Twitter.  But again, Twitter is an open and anonymous platform for communication—virality can happen there, but the bar for truly mastering Twitter, and communicating complex ideas is limited on that platform.  Twitter has always struggled with its inability to support the financial desires of all those invested in it.  It started as a mass communications tool, but even if it stops failing in its attempts to turn the service into an advertising juggernaut, its future as a trusted and effective organizing tool accessible to everyone anonymously lays in doubt.

The sooner that we understand that Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and many, many other technology companies are using data to determine who we are, what we are doing, and what we’re supposed to have access to in terms of our understanding of the world, the sooner we can take back a fuller understanding of ourselves and each other.  John Gilmore, cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a proponent of technological advancement while at the same time protecting an individual’s digital rights, said during his speech at Burning Man in August 2014 that we have to remember that we are not the customers for these companies, and therefore, are not their highest priority.    My company, however, buys ads, and is a customer of these companies.  I can attest that the rights of the users and their well-being are often the last consideration in their focus, their transactions, or their goals to seek personal riches, corporate growth, market dominance/influence, and shareholder growth.  We have long passed the era of exploitation of children working in labor mines, among other labour rights achieved in the wake of the industrial revolution.  We have not even started our discussion about how almost every single business model being funded in Silicon Valley relies heavily on the exploitation of anyone who’s ever used their products or plans to in the future, unless something changes.


V. NEAR FUTURE:  Refinements

Welcome Logjams

Limitations = Better Work


In its infancy, the Internet seemed to have no bounds.  We would have endless distribution and endless space.  For instance, users can take and upload as many pictures as they want now because web space and bandwidth is cheap.  Prior to digital photography, we had to develop film at a cost and dial-up modems were too slow to effectively distribute pictures.  Endless space, however, did nothing to advance the meaning of the photographs.  While there are certainly more pictures available, and thus more possibilities for the pictures to be meaningful, due to the sheer volume of visual potentialities, very few have given any consideration to when, how, and why we take pictures in this new paradigm.  There have been some advances towards refining the quality or meaning of what we see visually online through the use of Instagram.  With this photo-editing and photo-sharing site, users can cosmetically filter and distribute their abundance of pictures.  Increasingly and especially with younger generations and those communicating internationally between different languages who prefer pictures to the written word, visual communication is expanding.  It is no longer a mode simply of posed picture taking, but instead of instant communication, without having to write anything or compose a complete thought.


Our Data Residue 

Eric Schmidt, Chairman at Google recently said that more information is created every 2 days than in the entire period of human existence before 2003.  Our digital footprint is being generated through everything we do online and quite often offline, as well as the actions our machines make on our behalves, whether we realize it or not.  The National Security Administration, most noisily, but also by every single major technology company from IBM to Microsoft, to Facebook to AT&T, to even political campaigns to some degree are making movements in “data science” to attempt to determine intelligent life from this activity, for both business purposes and betterment of society.  For example, Facebook recently concluded secret psychological experiments to determine how to manipulate their audiences better, and Google, through the purchase of firms like Nest, will attempt to first record and analyze and then better control the climate of your home and then as many homes and businesses across the country, based off this data.  Are you spending more on heating than your neighbor?  They will guilt you into programming your furnace the same way, possibly even publicly.

There is an example of the expansion into the ‘internet of things’—the idea that everything in our world, all machines, humans, and nature are connected to the internet for the purpose of collecting and analyzing data, often under the guise of the betterment of the world based on ‘data sciene’.  Another modern example, your car will report back your driving behavior to your insurance company—at first in exchange for lower rates, but eventually as a standard feature on all cars sold, all in an attempt to reach the promise of a better, more well behaved society, based on the central control of our actions through algorithms and data science.  Data Science is a new religion and within the minds of data scientists, a huge amount of trust is being placed.  Ask most any honest data scientist, who is really a mathematician or a statistician, and they will hopefully tell you about the limits of their abilities to understand the present, let alone predict the future.  What’s really happening here are the bright ideas of a few, no matter how flawed they may be in universal application, are being used as a way to further reduce control of the masses into the hands of those who have access to this data and the platforms for population and mind control.

My company presently works on data science projects.  We have a data science platform, part of which attempts to analyze and report the sentiment of people—for instance, what subject they are writing in about and whether or not they are happy or angry about any given topic when writing in to their elected officials.  The intention is that their politicians may react to their concerns or desires in real time, while removing the impartialness and imperfections of human organized and analyzed correspondence.

Although computers are beneficial for shortening tasks for which there are large quantities of routine processes—and in the case of the application we built for Congress, our machines are more accurate in their job than the humans doing it before them—they are only accurate in sorting what has already occurred.  Despite all attempts, they are not as good as the equipped person at predicting unforeseen outliers and anomalies.  For instance, many attempts have been made to use data science to predict the outcome of legislation—and while these algorithms work on the obvious bills, they are no better than a coin toss at predicting the outcome for legislation that is too close for any human to call—essentially the machine is only right almost half of the time.


The Tyranny of Actuaries       

A recent White House report declared that data science has the potential to be incredibly discriminatory.  The availability of all the data we now generate, combined with an increasing use of software and the assumptions associated with all of our mundane actions is creating a world in which people will be denied freedoms, in the form of home loans, health insurance, and access to information without any knowledge of why or how, and without any recourse.

This pervasive monitoring culture, already in effect in post-September 11th New York City, prevents individuals’ actions for fear of constantly being watched.  For instance, during the New York City blackout of 2003 and the longer, less well-known, 2006 Queens blackout, crime was lower than normal, as people felt they were being watched by authorities even when the power was out.

At present, even despite the White House report, our society is now trending toward a complete and total meta data surveillance society that goes well beyond what the NSA is doing.  Private companies already maintain data on everything they are able to access.  It is not necessarily the data itself that is the issue, but the interpretation and the uses of this data by those who base their entire worldview in logic while simultaneously rejecting the humanity and emotions of our actions.  These assumptions about who we are and the ways in which we will act based on theories, math equations or general prejudices prove themselves wrong time and time again, and often are situated to give those in power even more power.  Despite the possibility for better data analysis to improve our individual quality of life, very rarely do those with the power to master these techniques and the control of the facilities to distribute them, enter with the goal of empowering humanity on an individual, decentralized level.



Silicon Valley is obsessed with the concept of singularity—the idea that we are advancing toward machines and humans becoming one someday soon.  Technologists, self proclaimed futurists, their bankers, and their business and marketing attache´s use this as a justification for any of their personal greed or ignore the raw humanity they are repressing through their actions to generate greater return on investment.  In a sense, these perpetrators of the advancement of machines are using the concept of singularity as a way to gain more control of all our humanity and control it with their companies and their greed.  It’s not just a way they can sleep easily at night—the inevitability that we will all be controlled by machines and vice versa—they get giddy with the prospect of planning the demise of free will and individuality among humans.  They will be the humans closest to the machines.  It’s akin to those who joined up with Adolf Hitler before it was really popular—and a great many of these people control a large chunk of our technology sector in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The concept of homo generator, as I understand it, will employ machines to do physical work so that humans can focus on more complex activities—but at its foundation is a humanist notion.  These latest trends in technology, however, do not point towards this eventual reality—they seek machine control over humans with an uber council of human programmers who have some ultimate control.  In reality, there is a willingness on the part of humans to accept the imperfections of machines, or at least to assume that we will reach a point when machines are so improved that imperfections are no longer an issue – but without a proper symbiosis, humanity is poised to rebel against its machinery time and time again before homo generator is fully realized.


What’s the Big Idea?

I have not heard of a venture capital firm, or even a start-up idea, that attempts to create what could be the next BIG revolution—the connection of minds.  Where do our ideas exist?  How do they become a reality?  What do those brainwaves look like, and how can they be tuned to be interpreted by another human in real time?  These questions have serious interpersonal implications.  How would business deals be conducted?  How would sex work?  Would we need blockers to prevent hearing each other’s thoughts?  What are animals afraid of?  What keeps them from attacking us?  This type of technology, should it ever be conceived, would turn our entire world on its head.  The meaning of our writing, sense of history, poetry would all drastically change overnight—in much grander fashion to that of the internet, and our world of blind intentions.

Twitter is the closest existing technology to a rapid understanding of what someone else may be thinking—except it’s actually what they want you to think they’re thinking, not what’s going on in their mind.  You can read the historic record of what users wanted you to think when hopefully the ideas came to their minds, but they had to act with intention and could have changed the thought by the time it reached their keyboards.  While many pseudo intellectuals and old-timey journalists speak of their amazement at the speed of 24/7 communication, if we incorporated wearable technologies like health monitoring watches and the transmittance of bio-readings to others in the room, in short order, we would see a larger flow of information on what the other is experiencing on a raw, human level almost overnight.

The big idea is knowing what every living creature on the planet thinks, as well as their perspectives.  Beyond our planet, of course, lies an even bigger idea.  So, yes we have microwave popcorn, notifications of things that bother us to spend money at a store when we walk by it, and ads that attempt to read our minds about what we want built on generalizations they make based on a cloudy nether world of data salesmen.

We are extremely primitive, and the excitement about our technologically advanced times is also a tyranny.  The fascination and defense of our recently established and opaque internet platforms stabilizes the power in the hands of the few, for the moment, and it prevents further innovation that can bring our entire society into homo generator: a world where the machines work more for us than we work for our machines.

The Programming of Robotic American Culture – TOC, Introduction, Preface

The Programming of Robotic American Culture










A Dissertation Submitted to the

Division of Media and Communication

of The European Graduate School

in Candidacy for the Degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


Daniel P. Beckmann

November 2014

Table of Contents


INTRODUCTION                                                                5

PREFACE                                                                              8

                        The Provocation of Study

The Programming of Robotic American Culture Project as Explained[TM1] 

Why American Culture?

            PART I – Time Periods                                                        13


1.2  THE BROADCAST ERA: Forrest Gump the Editor

1.3  DIGITAL REVOLUTION: 1998-2008

1998 The Aggregator

The Search Engine

The Webloggers

2004-2008 Social Networking/Viral Video


1.4  PRESENT TIMES: An Obscure Time

Obscurity in Life or Death

Viral is Dead – There is No Such Thing as Viral

The Selfie (omg)

Venture Capital as a Study

The Unshared Economy

Self in the Age of Obscurity

1.5 NEAR FUTURE: Refinements

Welcome Logjams

It’s All Slowing Down

      Our Data Residue

      The Tyranny of the Actuaries


What’s the BIG idea?

PART II – Theories in Programming

Robotic American Culture                                      38

                        2.0 PROGRAMMINGS & Homogenerator

                        2.1 Robots vs. Programmers

                        2.2 A Discussion in Robotic Culture 

Alright everyone now-IN-FORMATION!

Robotic formations: Answers first, then proof


2.3 A Discussion in Programming

2.4  Robot Vs. The Programmer

2.5  Homogenerator: Applying Philosophy to The Programming of Robotic American Culture

                                    The Role of Metaphysics

                                    New Dimensions in Programming


2.6 Introduction to the American Mainstream as Model of Robotic Programming

                                    Functionality of the American Mainstream in 2007

                                    Theories in Programming for the American Mainstream Audience

            PART IIIApplications in the Real                       58

3.1 THE 4 step PRO-cess for IDEA CREATION:

3.2 Subjectivities Accepted: The Formula for Finding Most Agreeable Programming

Broadcast News

                                    The Eagles


                        3.3 Ending Subjectivities

Broadcast Anchor Leaves


3.4 Real Potentialities for the Programming of Robotic American Culture in the Future

So Much Potential

                                    The Pen vs. The Internet

                                    The Egocentricity of the ‘New Media’

                                    Infantile Stage and Here’s Why

                                    Disruptive Technologies: User Generated Content

                                    How to Program for the New Technologies


PART IV – Ephemeral Writings                                         73


                        The Robots vs. The Programmers

NYT’s Digital Report is BAD NEWS

                        Obvious Places have Obvious Faces

                        Contempt for Content 

                        Political Programming

                        Kick the Bucket List


PART V – Projects in the Real                                            100


5.2- The Blindspot/ABC News

5.3- Beatniks Project/ABC News

5.4- Current Journalism/Current TV

5.5- Viral Videos/Supporter Generated Content/Obama For America ‘08

5.6- Schmooru Network

5.7 – The Narrow Show/Schmooru

5.8- Art as Life/Schmooru

5.9- Correlate For Congress/ IB5k


ACKNOWLEDGEMNTS                                                    125




The European Graduate School in Saas Fee, Switzerland, is like no other place on earth.  It is the only place a student like me, whose education embodies my entire life, can successfully execute my academic mission.  I earned a traditional Master of Science in Journalism certification from Northwestern University.  In most cases, this is the ultimate degree in my profession, and along with my wealth of work experience, would enable me to teach at many esteemed institutions of higher learning throughout the world.

Northwestern did not allow me to complete the research I needed to fully understand the work of a journalist.  It did not encourage me to think, or question how the media works.  I did publish what one might consider a master’s thesis, but the Northwestern registry labeled it a “special project”.  This thesis entitled “New Business Models in Broadcast Journalism” provided the foundation for the first part of my journalistic career.  It foretold of the downfall of traditional business models and provided for some of the new ones that I have tried to employ, and others have failed to attempt, over the last 10 years.

For the past decade, I have been working on this dissertation.  While some have suggested I “finish this already” or thought I wasn’t serious about completing it, the truth is, I had not felt comfortable asserting anything that would stand the test of time, let alone even a few years from now.  The 10 years since I started my work at EGS have been marked by tremendous upheaval in our understanding of how American culture is programmed.  The pace of technological development and our reactions to it have slowed down enough over the last four to six years that I now have a reasonable basis upon which to build a foundation for my life’s work, which will be explained in the pages to come.  As a result, an entire part of this paper will strictly deal with the changes that have taken place over the last 10 years since I began this piece.  This is part of the experimentation I conducted since I began my work at EGS.


A Different Dissertation

While I do intend this to be a philosophy paper, it will read dramatically differently from dissertations from traditional American institutions.  There’s a reason I’ve chosen to do my studies on foreign soil at the European Graduate School.  It is the only institution I have found that has tolerance for my study methods and the way I can best convey my ideas.  EGS’s faculty is well known for their experimental nature, in addition to their groundbreaking and provocative work in their respective fields.

In particular, I was drawn to the ability to continue my daily work in an attempt to bring the theoretical to real, everyday practice.  While it might have been nice to dedicate my entire time to academic study, my ability to apply theory in the real is a unique experience that is singular to EGS and made this dissertation like no other.


Unfinished Potential

In part, this paper deals with the potentiality for writing or even starting such a task, an idea attributable to the influences of EGS professor Georgio Agamben.  All we have in life is the potential that we work with for the future.

I have included an ephemeral section of writings and examples of my work over the last 10 years to remove the reader from a traditional academic perspective and closer to the front lines where media philosophies find their struggle and conflict.

This paper will never be completed, nor will my work.  It serves as the foundation for the potentialities in further research and development in the areas I will outline.  If this paper were to actually ever be finished, using the terminology of Wolfgang Schirmacher, homo generator will cease to generate.  These dissertations and descriptions will indeed act as a guide for the enrichment of homogenerations to come.


Where are the footnotes?

It is never my intention to present anyone else’s ideas as my own.  I will credit ideas wherever it is possible—conversationally as part of the text—so that acknowledgment doesn’t become buried as it so often is in traditional academic works. My objective for this project is plausible deniability.  Few in my generation have had the chance to read enough to have full command of everything that is written on their topics before writing a dissertation.  Furthermore, true understanding of another’s written or even spoken words is almost impossible in this writer’s view.

When EGS faculty member Jacques Derrida died while I was enrolled in school, but before I could take his class, it seemed that some philosophers breathed a sigh of relief because Derrida was no longer there to criticize them if they butchered his words and intentions to serve their own purposes in papers such as this.  In order to respect the genius of Derrida and all who came before and after him, I will take great care to avoid inflicting similar damage onto their hard work.  I will delineate when I am referring to someone else’s influence/programming whenever and wherever possible, but I do not claim to offer a total understanding of another’s work in this regard.  Moreover, I cannot claim that there are no further and/or more representative examples from where these ideas were originally gleaned.

I will be as complete in expressing my philosophy, as I am able to do at this point.  After the paper is published, I will continue to seek out continuous criticism of everything presented here.  When the ideas presented here cease to be discussed, my work is no longer alive.


Please email me at at any time to tell me what you think of my approach in writing this paper.


-Daniel Paul Beckmann

Omaha, NE 03/2007

Toledo, OH 07/2014

San Francisco, CA 09/2014




The Provocation of Study

I originally started my consideration of the programming of Robotic American Culture as people used to pass me in the hall at Ottawa Hills High School in Toledo, Ohio.  It is customary in the Midwest for people to greet each other as they pass one another whether or not they like the person or even know them.  Strangers always say “hi” to each other.  This is part of the reason that the Midwestern United States has a reputation for being ‘friendly’- at least on the surface.

There is a significantly greater meaning behind why this greeting is such an important currency in the Midwest.  I didn’t know much of the deeper context when I first started out.  I did know that it greatly irritated me, and I began to react differently to it than my peers as my way of coping.  I began to grunt at people as they walked past.  It wasn’t always in such a negative tone – they still got the impression that I meant the same thing as saying ‘hi’, but my friendly grunting often elicited a different reaction.

At first, most people laughed.  Laughter is an acceptable reaction when someone has perceived the truth, but doesn’t know how else to react.  In this case, it wasn’t the truth I was telling them—at least not explicitly.  Instead, the Midwesterner encountered programming for which there is no script.  The truth was “why do we all feel the need to exchange these pleasantries when we may not actually even know or like each other at all”?  But then, in place of ‘hi’, I grunted.  It did not compute.  The error message can come in three different forms—laughter, anger and no response.

Most people would argue, why not just let it go and enjoy the hospitality?  The problem was that the ‘hi’ didn’t really say anything at all about the greeters’ personalities, their real intentions or what they actually thought of me.  The ‘hi’ was simply a means to keep the peace.  The repressive Midwestern culture, still has not begun to completely boil over— although, it’s starting to show its wear, in places like Ferguson, Missouri where they are just now beginning to talk about the awkward non-greetings they’ve had between white and black people over at least the last hundred years.  This repression is based in this scripted form of interaction.  Passing on the street: “Hey what’s up?”  Asking a waiter for something: “SORRY, can I have some ketchup?”  Are you really sorry to ask for the ketchup?   No.  But you disturbed the silence and almost all conversations among strangers are awkward in the Midwest. People are not saying what they feel to each other—they’d mostly rather not talk at all.  (Midwesterners are programmed to reject this hypothesis at ALL costs.  Ask them about it.  See how far you get.  In the East—they tell you how they actually feel or nothing at all.  The West, you may not even register to them, they’re into themselves. The South, they genuinely want to have a friendly culture among their fellow citizenry for better or for worse).


The Programming of Robotic American Culture Project as Explained

The example I’ve been using to explain this project to everyone with whom I have discussed this paper over the last ten years since the name was conceived is such a useful one that it deserves high billing in this preface.


When anyone enters a 7-11 anywhere in the U.S., no one ever fears that she will not be able to operate one.  The customer goes inside and looks for her desired purchases. The clerk watches from the counter until the shopper puts the items on the counter, tallies the total, gives change, and says, “Thank you, come again”.  There may be variances on that theme, but something or a group of things decided this cultural programming long ago—but what were they?  7-11 does not have to work this way.  In other countries, things work differently at times.  In some cultures, any discussion at all is offensive or perceived as a waste of time.  In yet other cultures, not stopping and having a more in depth discussion with a live person in front of your face is perceived as quick and offensive.

I am interested in how these programmings originate, how certain ones catch on, and why others do not.  What other programmings are already out there that I don’t yet perceive and which ones have already died out.  The pursuit of the origination, dissemination, and the inevitable doom of these programmings will be my life’s work.


Why American Culture?

Why not human interactions overall?  Why limit myself?  Put simply, I have been a student of this culture and its programming from a code level to a folk capacity my entire life.  I understand it well, even beyond what language allows.  I’m certain some readers will want a larger area of focus.  The Holocaust and World War II are a common period of discussion at EGS.  There were certainly cultural programmings present that led to the mass execution of several million Jews, including a great many of my relatives.

Despite the American focus of this paper, I have to admit that this period evoked serious questions within me and has effected the foundation of this paper.  I have often said that the reason I found my way to journalism and still work in this field in the capacities in which I do has a lot to do with the hundreds of relatives of which I am one of the only descendents, who had no one to hear their screams as they were swept from their homes, broken apart, dehumanized, and killed.

My grandfather was the lone survivor of a very large family of rabbinical Jews. There are many questions about why he may have survived.  He had blond hair and blue eyes.  He also escaped and joined the Polish partisans.  Ultimately, it is unknown why he escaped.  My grandfather probably only talked to me about his experience for a grand total of 2 to 3 hours over the entire 16 years that I knew him.  He settled in the American Midwest, in suburban St. Louis, Missouri.  His perspectives—even those not associated directly with the first half of his life—helped me to realize just how interesting our open, yet repressive culture is, but also how it could be used to program large groups of people to do inhumane things.

I’m motivated do this work to give voice to the people who are screaming right now, whom no one can hear.  I write this dissertation and continue my life’s work to try to understand how these atrocities continue to occur.  It is my view that we, as humanity, through our digital tools which often obscure the truth instead of refine it, are going farther away from understanding these questions and, despite the endless cheerleaders to the contrary – even farther away from a clearer, more enlightened point of view.




NYT’s Digital Report is BAD NEWS.

With consideration to how much the leaked New York Times Innovations report was instantly lauded, even though this is a losing battle, I want to go on record.   This is nothing more than a continuation of the con game Silly-con Valley and Silly-con Alley have been playing since Web 1.0.   The underlining premise is: They deserve your actual work for free and they are entitled to make as much money off of it as possible (and you need to say thank you on your way out of business).  It’s the beginning of every idea involving users I hear walking the streets of SOMA and passing the line at Shake Shack in Madison Square park (I would never actually stand in that line, Shake Shack is crap).

These tech companies do nothing to contribute to actual original content production.  They do destroy good businesses left and right where people actually make things and it leaves most of us behind in our shutdown economy while most of them keep using our money to get more.

The New York Times is the Alamo

There’s nothing new about this cycle.  An old guard place is scared about the changing world and instead of fighting it, they allow the enemy to come in and tell them how to sell out more.  Social media LOVES these stories.  Faux reporters latch onto more blood in the water—followed by quotes from pseudo academics that may never have written a serious piece of journalism in their lives (Jeff Jarvis—we should all be Google—I think that should fall under your JEERS category in a 1987 TV GUIDE?  How much did they pay you directly or indirectly?).

At the end of the day, these places get sucked in—they give up their right of control to monetize their own goods and we all lose products of depth, while another place spends more time and money filling out boxes for privately held Facebooks, Twtiters or giving up their wall space to Google or their meta data to the burgeoning, endlessly fraudulent & creepy ad-tech industry.

Now, unfortunately, this wave of bullshit has reached all the way to the New York Times–the last {news} stand.  In the ‘future’ we give it all away for free & have a conversation with our audience (generates more ‘engagement’).  What’s left to go?  The AP?   After the New York Times falls to this crap, name one daily, editorial American institution that covers the world first and not clicks?

I’m 34 years old.  I have won an Emmy & a Peabody, but I’m just beginning to turn grey-I started a successful tech company.  I’m not a luddite.  I worked at ABC News before Peter died and Ted left, Current TV(which paid our journalists), Obama 08’ where many said we won on digital, and I have my own digital agency where we’ve helped the US Congress to get with the times.  I don’t support hunkering down in the past—I do support common sense.  Don’t give up the store.

Tech Companies Provide Empty Strip Malls

Social media companies produce nothing original. We provide everything from our family photos, our best thoughts and ideas and of course our digital footprint.  We have to stop thinking they are doing us a favor for giving us a place to put our best things and start thinking about them for the empty strip malls that they are without us (some of us remember what friendster/myspace was like after we left).  We need to start considering ALL of our work to be of VALUE.

These same DIGITAL EXPERTS that applauded and cheered this report, hated the NYT’s Paywall, which has provided serious and sensible revenue to the New York Times without prohibiting too much access.   There are plenty of ways to take in more revenue without succumbing to temptations of trend chasing–which honestly is ALL THIS REPORT IS.

[Arrested] Audience Development

Here are some IDEAS:

1- FIGHT SEARCH -> original content from better sources should surface higher on search reports.  Aggregators are nice, but if they use gimmicks, they should not be rewarded by algorythyms.  They presently are because places like Google and Facebook need clicks and they don’t care how—its all the same to them.  Porn, your arrest report, cat falling off the TV and someone who risked their life to get you a report from Syria & the assholes who copied that report in FULL—all paid the same.  They need to be help to account for this practice.  NOT ALL CLICKS are the same.

2- KICK OUT AD TECH -> Publishers should take better control if their inventory like they did before ad tech came along and stole their money.  There’s a reason GOOGLE is richer than several countries and the NYTs is worried about tipping over.  Its not because people don’t like what the NYT’s has.  Its because they outsourced their ability to monetize it.  This would be like someone coming into a Dennys and telling them because it’s the future, they can no longer operate their own register, we’ll handle that for you and pay you whatever the hell we feel like.  Sound dumb?  Publishers CONTINUE to take this deal and its absolutely killing them.

3- HIRE KIDS TO FILL IN BOXES -> If you have to fill in the boxes for these social media assholes and it appears as though you do – hire cheap kids out of school to do this work—lets face it, this is really ALL most millennials want to do all day anyway—let them have it!  Who knows, maybe some day one of them might become someone who cares about the external world through association and start going outside and asking people questions.   No serious publication should divert actual journalists to filling in boxes for these for-profit companies, to the detriment of their product.  Its corporate welfare for some of the biggest companies we have—when you’re the one whose poor & in need.  They don’t lift a finger to help you as they pass you by at 80 in their Tesla fueled by your money.

4- THEY STOLE, OK.  YOU STEAL TOO, BUT TAKE IT ALL -> I recently read that CNN claims they were able to break the Veterans Administration scandal because the missing plane story gave their investigative team some time to work on it.  This is a good point.  So your competitors like Gawker are stealing your stories FLAT OUT?  Steal theirs—all of ‘em!  The Huffington Post cheats and has better SEO– Start a NYT aggregator—use the traffic position you have to make YOUR fraud machine BIGGER than theirs.   The new competitors VOX(?) and whatever — they are running on investment & PR fumes(you’re helping to fan).  We’ve seen this story before, they may work out well, but will they build an international reporting structure that catches NON popular stories that we need to know like ones about collateralized debt obligations before they BECOME big ones.  No.  Probably not—‘enterprise reporting’, as we used to call it but actually MEAN IT, doesn’t necessarily drive hits! (ask the widely-successful Politico if they have ever broken a story from anyone other than anonymous source—STEAL all their STORIES TOO!  Mark them as sketchy if you’re worried, but wholesale TAKE THEM).   Use THEIR CRAP & GUTTER TACTICS to pay the bills (and destroy them for the pricks that they are), to pay your real people to do real work.


YES– Journalism REEKS Elitist

Hiring practices at places of journalism used to be incredibly corrupt and in many cases still is.  Lets face it– one of the writers of this report is a Sulzburger—his daddy owns the paper.  Most journalists are told to work their way up from small papers or go to war zones.  There was the Triumvirate.. the 3 Ws– Washington, War, & and some place out West.   I doubt Sulzberger’s spent much time in Toledo.

Nonetheless, I feel a lot of people have confused this outrage– which actually has gotten significantly better over the last decade as salaries have plummeted — with the idea that journalism needs to be done for free and that we need tremendous access to the people who write our journalism.  That for some reason they need to hear OUR opinions in order to craft stories.  This is not true.  Good journalism takes a ton of time, and there are certain sources worth cultivating for the good of the many.  The comments section on an article or on Facebook is really never one of them– sorry.


What is Church and State–why do we want it? 

Since the practice of real honest journalism has gone the way of painting– let me dust off the concept of why YOU REALLY WANT the business office to be separate of the people writing your journalism.

Here’s one point– popular journalism is not necessarily informative–often its NOT.  Do the cable talkers ever report anything new?  The ‘petty at best, absolutely asinine more often’, Politico is insanely popular in DC, playing off everyone’s hunger for the demise of the powerful person above them.  BUT, is their scorecard and constant controversia helping you to better understand how our government works?  No.  In fact, do they cover Congress—I mean like what’s IN the bills instead of who may WIN or LOSE on them?  Does anybody?

We need MORE places that focus on traditional beat reporting.  Its unsexy until its not—it takes more time, but its how journalism is actually done.  Beat reporting is the only thing that holds up against a powerful government or a rich corporation that says what you’re reporting is wrong.  It’s the only thing that can give you the confidence to say they’re bullshit and report the truth anyways.  Business people are never going to be into sort of game, it makes huge profits when you get it going, but before that, it’s a scary ride.  All risk, hard work and time.


Money Makes People Say Anything

Beyond that quality argument, this seems basic, but somehow it isn’t anymore: Journalists aren’t supposed to accept money for stories!  YES–sorry, yes even you TECH COMMUNITY, and native ‘CON-tent’ artists– you get what you pay for after a certain period of time.  Or at least we all do.  When advertising gets into journalism, it ceases to be honest—its just whatever!!(omga voice implied).  This is happening all over the country out of desperation– and again, what’s sad here is why are we so quick to destroy what’s good and honest about journalism instead of fighting the people and places who are stealing our business from us?


Journalists Are Still High-minded Assholes.

I pitty the fool who has to take a road trip with a journalist.  We’re self important.  We never shut up. We don’t play along.  Its part of the reason people hate journalists, but not all(the worst ones always trying to blow open the next Watergate is probably a larger reason and those people should be investigated themselves—quality journalism is about writing the FIRST CHAPTER of HISTORY not ‘gates’).

Until I joined the Obama campaign and ostensibly, in my opinion and those I consider honest, surrendered my objectivity, I had very few friends.  Girls didn’t like me.  I had my journalism.  I would give everyone a fair hearing no matter who they were—and I honestly would.  I was in the business to get to see things in person for myself and have a different, unpredictable day ahead of me every single morning– I liked getting paid to write down what I saw for other people, in a fair and honest way.   My agenda was not to have one.  I loved it– I was lonely, but I didn’t care.  I had ‘the calling.’

I’ve always said the worst dinner party to ever be at is one with a bunch of journalists.   They all want to talk and talk and talk, no one’s listening– its depressing.

Advertising parties are much better.  Those people look better, dress better, have better food– don’t really talk about much but at the end of the day probably have better lives.  Political parties– they have each other– even if they aren’t very attractive places or their conversations are always one-sided — they have each other.   Journalists don’t have any of that.  We all hate each other.  And that’s the way it should be– or the way it used to be.


Please Fight. 

Mr. Sulzberger.  Burn the NYT Digital Innovations Report.  Grow a pair and defend one of the last outposts we all have left.   I don’t know if this is one of the reasons why you fired your editor — the timing of this leak can’t be a coincidence, but you guys know you can pay your bills.  Sure, you’ve got problems– but don’t let them take your store.


A Letter to People Who Work @ Companies

Dear People who work at companies,

We write the jokes.  We write your music.  We start the companies that fail, but sometimes succeed.  We produce your reality [television].     WE are the people who take the chances.  We also in most cases have to go it alone.  We ARE the CREATIVE MINORITY.

YET– We, together, have virtually no special representation in government.   We are taxed more.  We don’t have an interest group.

We DO have power though.  We’re the ones that step out of line.  We know how to write the jokes.  We know how to effect your minds through imagery.  When we DO get together you notice things, but just like atheists, we tend to not all pray to the same god (or any god at all).  As the ones who may not even realize our powers of manipulation, those of us who do are often afraid to use them for our own purposes because we think its tacky.  We CREATE things.  Without us– nothing new.  Yes Jesus himself started out this way.

This is the Creative Minority.

So when Bill Clinton said that Obama should honor his repeated commitments to let us keep our health insurance, and mentioned the young people involved here– let me put more of a face on this issue.

In my past, I have clearly supported Barack Obama.  I worked on his 08′ campaign.  I even openly and early (when it counted because I had something to lose) warned President Obama that the people he was “paling around with” on technology were not inclusive of the best of us from that era.   This type of risk, at best made the people that circle him act weird to me, at worst, privately try to destroy the progress we genuinely tried to create.  I believe Obama when he says they didn’t tell him the website was busted– they are good at covering their tracks while not doing things, I’m only sorry that it may have just undermined the central argument of liberalism for a generation, that the government can DO things:

So My insurance was canceled.  I was incredibly happy with my plan.  I had over $200k in medical bills in February because of a ‘surfing accident’(I know its not like I had cancer) – it cost me $6000 out of pocket and I paid only $139 a month.   This was a fucking AMAZING plan.

In the new plan that’s ‘better for me’ because I was getting ripped off somehow with the old one, my premiums more than doubled.  Services I didnt think should be covered like acupuncture were(no offense to accupuncture, I’d just rather pay out of pocket, its cheaper!), other things were cut, like the size of my network of doctors.  I was willing to deal with this when I got the notice two months ago.     The Media which doesn’t really mediate anymore but follows SHINY OBJECTS didnt report on the cancellations back then.  THEY are being PLAYED right now.

I have spoken to two groups of friends in this market of which I clearly have many.   There are those of us who, like myself, are good soldiers and are willing to pay more to help other people get health care and remove the pre-existing condition even if it means we’re the ones shouldering the costs yet again.  Then there are others who rightfully are pissed off or in denial about what’s going on with them.  The website fix won’t help this, the information is actually out there for those who want to find it.  When they find it, you can’t just tell them they’re wrong.

What bothers me is not this increase.  It bothers me when they try to belittle this meager 5% of the population of several million people(we’re roughly larger than the proper populations of NYC, LOS ANGELES, CHICAGO & SF put together).  We exist.  We shoulder a lot of things and don’t complain about them, or threaten any politicians.  We don’t start campaigns to purely help ourselves.   We continue to take risks for ALL of society because that’s the way we do things.

It would be nice if they kept their word on letting us keep what we had.  We were the good ones who HAD health insurance and paid our bills. But what would be better is they didn’t openly & continually shit on us like we don’t matter as they try to get out of their self-made political problems.   It’s offensive.


Obvious Places have Obvious Faces

Part one in a long series on Obvious Faces and their Obvious Places.. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked at some very popular, well known places– AT TIMES when they were reaching the peak of something.  Most of the time I had very little directly to do with these moments– but the truth is, most of the people around me didn’t either.

For ABC News (I’m picking on this one now its an E-Z target, but clearly Obama’s 2008 campaign was incredibly obvious, but its obvious issues are still being played out) — for my generation, I fashioned myself as someone who at least gave a fuck about the specifics of the history of that institution, with most of its mandate was derived from a Three Channel Era and nice brown hair-dos.  It came from a time & place when even in third place, they garnered recognition by default and you could not avoid knowing them.

The way people got jobs there when I started there about 10 years ago this month, was not often based on talent, but because either they knew someone or were related to someone or they interned there, based on being known by someone, coming from a really known place or being related to someone known– the obvious ivy league was big then(I dont think its a place those obvious graduates would bother much with anymore).  This employment process and particularly the process for advancing your career at that place produced the results we see today of an institution that even when they put all their smoke together all at the same time has a hard time making a cloud anyone would notice on their own block.

ABC News, in its time, was an obvious place.  A household name of all household names!  In certain parlance an OMGAA place!

It was easy to find.  A Paul Rand Logo to boot!  It wasn’t where you would really find anything interesting going on.  And normally, once a place is that obvious there really isn’t much further upwards it can go (google sounds like this to me, in some cases its worse because of the implied expectations for greatness, at the end of the day, even people @ ABC in its day knew they were often “SSTM” or “Shoveling Shit to Mules”).

Obvious places attract obvious faces.  They have great PR departments because they are the ones who can obviously afford them.  And the faces they attract, if they had less obvious things to do, they still wouldn’t go to those places because those dark things are scary.  A lot of an obvious person’s self worth, whether it be from society, nature or nurture, is tied into being OBVIOUS.

This is all well and good and the obvious people wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t enforce the OBVIOUS so hard core and in doing so, prevent more obvious places from being created out of obscurity so they can have more places to work at, defend, be proud of and utterly ruin(thus the cycle of life and capitalistic economic concerns).

They can also really become a problem when their obvious place is really obviously wrong, such as the SS during World War II(oh but they didn’t know it was so bad @ the time).  By nature, the obvious faces tend to make it harder to see the truth at all costs.  They’re so well invested in these places, they’ll ignore just about anything to keep things obvious!

We’ll go into this further about what happens at a COOL PLACE, when the obvious people show up (well there isn’t much further to go into there, its time for you to leave!).  Obvi.!


I’m back

It seems appropo that the last posting here was about my “death experience” as I like to call it.  This blog in many ways needs to be brought back to life, and so do the intentions of the Schmooru community.

Schmooru was established at a time when creative people were being taken advantage of by things much bigger than them, through contests that pitted us against each other, while these powerful forces were able to shirk any responsibility for the RISK of creating off people lugging around digicams trying to make it in this world on their own.

Fortunately, in many respects quality reigned supreme, and those contests mostly fell by the wayside as the seemingly never ending supply of talent gave way to reality that ‘vaster wastelands’ of shitty content didn’t help to sell your soda company.  Beyond that, there were cheaper easier mediums to exploit where you didn’t even need to have the contest or pay anyone anything for anything.

That’s the world we live in now.  I will bring up the age of obscurity often in this resurgence.  We live in obscure times,  where the information we think we’re getting is not what it seems, not always manipulated by the people in between(as it once was), making the all powerful (an increasingly smaller set) almost completely unaccountable for what they do to manipulate us.  For instance, as a creative community, mostly of filmakers I woud like to dispell a myth that there’s anything democratic or quality oriented about how your videos you make for these private entities (youtube-googleplex, vimeo, etcs..) are reaching your audiences.  They are highly censored by powerful people who know virtually nothing about content or the love of the craft (yes its worse than the reptile network execs from the 50-90s, at least YOU knew who they were and THEY knew who they were!).

I will add this caveat.  The views expressed here are my own– and brought forward through my role as the moderator of THIS creative community.  My ulterior motive here is having enough STUFF to fill and complete my PHD work at the European Graduate School.  My primary motive is, I get to see a lot things where I sit in the Cole Valley in San Francisco.  There is a bad, greedy air in this city over the mountain and its killing what made this place give birth to the idea that magic boxes at the end of the content could do amazing things.

Please be critical of me.  That’s welcome here.

-Daniel P Beckmann, Cole Valley - 11/6/2013 

P.S.  This will be spelled wrong.  The word order may be complicated.   Despite everything you say or ask for I refuse to put this new resurgence through a filter of any kind.  Good luck out there.  I don’t need a large audience.  For my conscious I need to express the antidote to the obscurities of our times and for my PHD, I need things in writing.

P. S. S.  The rules of RETRO <a href=”></a> certainly apply here.  We will avoid the Zero-Sum-GAIN, you may not like it– but something new will ALWAYS greet you here.


Dragged Back from Death – My Story

A lot of people, some I didn’t even realized cared, have been asking about what happened to me.    While I had an interesting view, all this activity certain revolved around me, as a journalist, I know I did not get the entire story right below.   I did feel compelled to write this all down.  Some said a miracle happened to me– the chances for survival, let alone full recovery for what I went through, were extremely low.  I will get into the details below and I caution, they will likely change as more people are found who know more about my darkness, but the public service message will follow.   Am I scared of the ocean?  Could things have happened differently that day had I done something different.  The spiritual nature of something effected by moon patterns, earthquakes, that covers so much more of earth than land– the bottom line is there are NEVER any certainties.

If I had:

1) heeded shore warnings (the pertinent ones weren’t posted till later that day but I didnt look before hand)

2) Used a leash with my board

3) stayed closer to my partner

4) as an Ohio boy, known what the hell I was doing in the ocean

5) worn flippers

No one may have been put out on Saturday February 2nd on my behalf.   One of those things probably could have changed it, but I have to tell you, the part of the ocean I was in, was intense, came up out of no where and was unforgiving.  Leashes can break, your friend can be in trouble with you, I could have worn flippers, but sometimes, these things are bigger than us.

Here is my full story:

12:30 PM – Leave Mission

My friend Lelia got off to a late start from the mission on our way to go surfing at Stinson Beach.   Actually, I was boogie boarding… she had a small board.   Lelia normally went to Pacifica—the beach with the Taco Bell on it—and I had gone there before a lot too, but my favourite was Stinson.

A long sandy beach, it was the first beach I ever surfed at before work one morning in 2007—the idea that you could go surfing before working was foreign to me, moving here from NYC.  After my first day doing it I was euphoric the rest of the day—it also symbolized I had arrived in California.

One other thing about Stinson, compared to Pacifica is looking out from the ocean you saw mountains instead of cars driving by and a sewage pipe.   I would often take Midwesterners there for their first time in the Pacific.  You can drive 35 minutes through the forest or along the sea to get there started out from SF over the golden gate bridge.  Doing this—was one of my favourite things to do.

We were late even though there was no plan.   We quickly got coffee from Atlas café, parking with the blinkees on in front of the place, and then we were off.   I knew a little shortcut around traffic and we arrived around 1:30 PM by my count.    I always park in the same place, next to this little restaurant.  The beach parking lot is sometimes closed and sometimes you have to pay.

1:30 – Arrive Stinson Beach

We got suited up—Lelia has a little funny hat and talked about how she needed all the coverage she could get because of how cold the water is this time of year—and pretty much the entire year.    I had booties and my wetsuit on.  I commented how it takes a little bit to feel warm and if I can get through the first 5 minutes, its normally OK from that point on.

As you walk down to Stinson, there are warnings about Sharks.  I’ve never seen them there, but they have attacked there before.   I’ve also been ‘washer-machined’ by freak waves, and on another occasion warned by Park Rangers not to enter the water since it was too dangerous without seeming to be.

1:50 – Arrive at the beach/enter the water

It was Saturday.  There were a lot of people around and when you have car keys you need a place to hide them.  One thing about Stinson though, is its probably gotta be one of the richest areas of the country.   I hid my keys in a towel and we looked at the water.

It was mostly ‘blown out’ – meaning the waves were not well formed.  They were mostly the foamy kind.   We wondered if there would be enough to work with—but I secretly knew the waves would be fine by me.

2:00 – Surfing together

We started off surfing together and we caught a few.  A lot of the time I don’t catch any.  I can remember thinking to myself how today I figured out something about my boogie board – about sitting more on top of it and forward actually helps to catch the wave.  I caught a few that day.

Lelia doesn’t know this, but I was starting to get worried about her running me over.  I still not the most comfortable with surfer etiquette and to deal with this, I start to move away from her.  I went closer to shore and she seemed to go further out.

Earlier in the morning the National Weather Service released a warning about sneaker waves:

One of my doctors also said that he had read there was an underwater earthquake that day around the time of the incident.

There were several that day around the pacific as there always are.  Its not clear to me why the NWS ordered a sneaker wave warning or if this incident had anything to do with seismic activity.

By the way the waves looked to me they were large, unsetteled walls of water and plentiful.  The first wave hit me by surprise, really hard and I lost my board.     My first attempt to duck and cover was met by another one after another after another one.  After the first one, I was tired and with no breaks, in sight I didn’t freak out or specifically mentalize what was happening, but I basically thought if this didn’t end soon, it would be too much.  I also saw waves coming from two different directions.  Not just one which speed up things up quite a bit.

I had gotten much closer to shore than lelia, who reported that she was able to get ‘washermachined’ by the big wave.  She counted less waves than I did.  My theory is that I was at the parts where the waves were crashing and there was no tube to get into.

So I did something that lore tells you never to do—I turned my back on the ocean and I began to concentrate on treading water.  I felt, like my board, if I focused on treading water for as long as I could, the waves would eventually push me to shore.

That’s the last thing I remember.  It didn’t hurt.  I don’t even remember wanting more air.  Darkness followed.


There’s been a pretty significant accounting submitted here:

I’m grateful to this report because it helped me to understand what happened and to try to know those who were involved.   However, like I’m trying to do right now, the reporter was trying to piece everything together after the fact.    He was not there.  So there’s a little bit more here that might be interesting to people.

One person in particular not mentioned is Lelia.  After she washer machined—she came on shore to see how I was doing.  Then saw the two high school boys pulling me on shore.   I have no idea how long any of this took, but those boys must have found me pretty quickly.  Clearly these boys and their curiosity about me played a critical role here.  I just got a response from their parents, and plan on calling them up this weekend to hear their side of the story.

Lelia was the one who started CPR on me on the shore.   They started it so soon that towards the end of it the waves came crashing up towards me again.    Lelia was doing mouth to mouth and another person had come up, who I think may have been the third dr, who was not doing CPR fast enough.  So a woman Dr came along and took charge of the situation.   The Golden Gate National Park Rangers rolled up, and one ranger took over the chest compressions while the other went for a defibulator.

The account of 8 minutes of CPR is hard to reconcile.     I’m obviously writing this right now.   Lelia claims they did 9 sets of CPR which she thinks took maybe between 4-5 minutes. On average, only 5–10% of people who receive CPR survive.

There was a 3rd doctor there who I will be seeing next week, he claimed they had given up the CPR it had taken so long, but then decided to keep doing it and then I started to come alive again.   I stayed that way and the defibrillator did not say I needed it.

One reason this may have turned out so well was the coldness of the water.  It may have slowed down my body processes to the point where maybe they thought they couldn’t feel a pulse but it was just a lot slower because reacts were chilled out.  The water off Stinson beach is roughly 50 F this time of year.

I don’t remember any of this, but was apparently conscious in some very strange state.  The helicopter came and with the paramedics asking lots of questions Lelia didn’t have the answer to, like my birthdate and insurance, she went up to my car.

2:56P – Lelia calls my phone looking for it

I have two phones.  A new ipone 5—which was locked—another was my 7 year old DUMB phone which wasn’t.   Lelia looked through and called the label “Mommie”.  (there was a “dad” for the record).   My parents in Ohio were preparing to have friends over when they got the call.

By this point they were taking me off my boogie board, onto a hard board, sticking me with things and I was making weird noises.  My parents heard all of this on the phone.  Lelia wanted to go with me in the chopper, but they wouldn’t let her.  She followed to Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo in my Volvo, where she stayed with me until my parents arrived from Ohio the next morning.

I met Lelia on election night 2012—that’s three months before.  It was the Credo election night party in SF at this place called “the Hub”.   I started talking to Lelia because in many respects it seemed like just another night to her.  She was working on other things there that night.   For me election night 2012 was the end of the most unstable 4 years of my life.   I was happy Obama had won, but also happy to use it as a sign to move onto other things.

I had kept texting with Lelia off and on, there was a time in November where I tried to meet up with her for a happy hour they wouldn’t let me into —she went to Thailand for a month in December,—but had not seen her again until the Thursday where we hung out for about 3 hours at the bar down the corner from me.   I told her there that owned a wet suit had opened up entirely new worlds to me.   We said we would text each other when we got up on Saturday.

Saturday Afternoon – > Enter Sandman

This part wasn’t reported in any article.  No one I know from before this was present to see what came next.   Lelia wasn’t there.  I was only able to piece this one together by people who were involved coming to my room throughout the week.

One running gag the entire week was why I was sent to Doctors Medical Center.  The nurses kept asking me, as did people on the outside.   I don’t know who decided to send me there, but it was said that they have one of two hyberbaric chambers in the Bay Area.  The people on the beach didn’t know if I’d been diving and would need to be depressurized.

I didn’t.  And it did not seem like a case like this came through Doctors very often despite having this chamber.  Doctors patient population serves roughly 90% people who have MedCal or no insurance at all.  They seem to have a solid emergency room mostly because of the amount of gang-related trauma cases that come through there.   Most nurses after they would casually ask me to YELP them positively, would say they had never had a near drowning before.   Others said they normally med-evaced people away from Doctors, not to.

I obviously cannot complain one bit about the place or their abilities.  They did everything right, starting from when I came in.    From their reports I was covered completely in sand from head to toe.   So much so, I filled their emergency room with sand, and was given the name—SandMan.

When I got there they started four IVs, and intubated me.  I had feeding tubes, I was not breathing without the assistance of their respirator.   From all reports, there was sand all over the emergency room by the time they were done with me.

It was decided here that they would put me in what was later called the ‘frozen buritto’.  Essentially they wrapped me in cold, reducing my body temperature to 90 degrees.  This, like the pacific ocean was intended to slow down my bodily operations so it could prevent any brain damage while by breathing became closer to normal.  In order to do this, they put me in a coma—paralyzing me and putting me to sleep.

A cat scan was done which showed normal brain activity.  I’m not sure whether this was shown to many people at the time or if there was still a lot of question about whether I would be normal when I got out of the burrito, but this was where a lot of my friends and loved ones had a hard time that I don’t really know what to say about it.

Saturday Night -> A Game of Telehphone & The Breaking Up the Shakras

Lelia, on her way, by herself to this hospital with this guy she sorta knew with parents at least 20 hours away, decided to reach out to more people on my dumb phone.   She texted my friend Lauren from burning man.. she texted my business partner tom—who told her to reach out to my friend Jessica, Tori and all the other right people, it seemed like most of my San Francisco friends and business people were put in touch with my parents.

My dad set a rule, which was followed.  There would be a Facebook embargo.    I like facebook, but I’m really happy about this one.   Not being able to respond to people and the amount of amplification this ended up getting once the embargo was broken, would have put a lot more people into worry, but also would have taxed the people at the center of things even more.

After all the texts were done, Lelia sat next to me in the ICU while I was a sand covered vegetable buritto.   She was all alone there until 10 PM.   I don’t know what to say about Lelia in general, but waking up in this place, I can certainly tell you that wetsuits open up some really interesting worlds.   People who do not have anyone to go through the hospital with them are less likely to receive the best care.  I’m not saying anything bad about anyone in particular, but having Lelia there was incredibly important—everyone on the STAFF of the hospital kept telling me days later.  I’m not sure if she said things to them, her mother was a nurse, or if it was just her, but they all seemed to know her name.

Later that night, a band of my SF friends including Jessica & my roommate Chris decided to venture out to Doctors Hosptial.   Chris packed me a bag which would come in handy for sure—but Jessica brought my sound healing bowl & healing people who actually knew how to use it.   This was an ICU in a rough neighborhood after 10PM on a Saturday night.  These people see a lot, there have been gang fights in the emergency room—they had never quite seen this before.

It took me days to know this had happened.  But I think this worked on a practical level—it got me more attention and notoriety in the hospital.  I also think the sound waves of these bowls after break up the shakras.  The spiritual beyond is another question, however, I appreciate it and can’t help but think it played a role here.

It was also said that later this night, Frank, the “respiratory specialist who smokes” as he described himself, did something called respiratory toilet on me.  He used this vacuum to suck all of this sand out from inside my lungs.  They did not find very much sea water there, which was a good thing.   I don’t remember any of this—one week later, I was still coughing up some sand.

Sunday -> The Visitors

My burning man friend Lauren came to visit on Sunday morning.  I didn’t know about this till I was discharged.  Lelia must have slept through it.  I don’t know who else came during this time.  There could have been others.  I think I’ve found you all.

Around 11 AM my parents arrived in SFO from Detroit.  It was decided that my friend John Reed would pick them up.  His car was in the shop, so without telling anyone, he went out to rent one—brought them breakfast and picked them up.  I don’t recall John ever meeting my parents before but it seemed like someone thought he had.  He said they just looked completely shell shocked and frazzled.

I do not know anyone who probably had a harder time with this ride than my parents.  From getting this call out of the blue, to having to go all the way out here not knowing the outcome, putting them through this is probably the thing I feel worst about this.

When they got to Doctors Medical center, they seemingly spent 2-3 hours with Lelia before she left with John Reed.   Friendship is really made up of shared experience.   I really don’t know what happened there exactly, but my parents have a bond with her now that reveals some serious experiences they had together.

The Super Bowl happened this night—and the San Francisco 49ers were in it.  I obviously missed the entire thing.

Monday – Awakenings

Apparently I was coming in and out of it all day.   But may parents went home and then were called back around 9 PM because it looked like I was coming back.

All I remember in between the waves and waking up there was darkness.   I don’t know what could or should be read into this.  If I was alive the entire time, even at some low level, the insides of my eye lids are dark.  That’s what it looked like.  The period of two or so days that I do not remember did take up time.

I fully remember the waves as I explained above, but what I didn’t explain there was how I didn’t think I was going to get out of there and how at peace I was with the whole thing.  I was focusing on treading the water, I wasn’t freaking out which may have been what slowed things down to a point where I was barely alive long enough to be dragged through everything I was back to consciousness.

But when I woke up in that hospital bed—looking at the calendar that said Monday and my parents in front of it, I knew where I was.  At first I was surprised to be there, or anywhere for that matter.  Then I felt that “ooooo you’re in trouble” feeling when you see your parents standing there after you’ve done something bad and in many ways that hasn’t really left me.

My parents left for the night – and that what came next was probably the worst part of my experience.  If I came back to life, I had to work back up to things we all normally take for granted like, going to the bathroom, eating, drinking and walking.   I knew where I was and why, but nothing about in between.   My nurse that night, who ended up being one of my favourites didn’t really know the answers to any of my questions.

She was my favourite because she got me to do things like sit up in a chair, eat, go to the bathroom on my own (I didn’t understand how to use the catheter and it was something that would go off every 2 hours).   But that night was dark, alone, with bleepie bleepies and pokings every two hours that wouldn’t end till I got discharged on Friday.

Tuesday – I’m Alive

I started the day sitting up in a chair.  I ate the clear liquids breakfast my first morning—I must say, this was by far the best one.  I have joked about this with many people, but towards the end, I stopped eating the hospital food and the subway across the street was legitimately fresher.  I heard rumours about the cafeteria having good food, but I think they gave us what was left over or something.  It came in plastic trays like eastern airlines.  The ocean spray plastic juice things I drank so many of as I got my sense of smell back started tasting like plastic.

I only had one little window that was far away leading to the outside world.  I had no idea where I was, I sort of had an idea of how I got there.   This is where I began two fixastions in my mind– what happened when I wasn’t awake & where is this place.   You’ve seen the fruits of the first one here… it wasn’t till Thursday night that I was able to google map on my iphone that I knew where I was.   I was 20 mins from home with no traffic, near my friend Dave’s house, but it was impossible to get there.

Why did people think this hospital or neighborhood was so bad?  I didn’t know.  There wasn’t anything more these icu people could have done.  I had so many doctors coming in and pokes and bleeps that I couldn’t get any sleep.

Today a lot of friends came to visit and I was able to hang out with my parents almost all day.   It was really reassuring maybe more to them than me.   John Reed came by with Sarah and brought me this flower I still have.  Tori, who makes the trains run on time at our company, brought this massive bag of cookies that I used to gain favor with nurses and just about everyone else the rest of the time I was there.   (its funny because she made them with some special wheat or something, this hospital was the only part of the bay area that seemingly had not gotten the memo that California grows fresh things or the whole foods movement;).   Richie, who I had planned to see the new Arnold movie with came to the hospital instead.  We made a plan to see it the following week.  Richie and I drove down to Cupertino to see the Last Stand of the Last Stand the following Tuesday night.  I try to keep my word on things.

I was on oxygen and they were concerned about my lungs drying up.  The hardest thing I had to do every 15 minutes was do this sucking exercise to expand my lungs & cough to try to get more crap up.   Both were hard since I had CPR.  I don’t think I broke any ribs, but I was incredibly sore.  I think my lungs may have actually been better that I was sucking, but it was so painful to move after that.

Later this night they actually talked about moving me out of ICU.  That was a good sign.  Thursday was thrown out about leaving.   These days were really long to me—maybe I used every minute of them to try to get out of there.

Wednesday -  Facebook!

Wednesday morning, sort of first thing, I got wheeled to a regular floor.  They wouldn’t let me walk up there.  If I would have walked, it would have certainly tired me for the day, but that would have been ok with me.

The big headline this day, was I was able to use my iphone again.  I sent a note to my company to tell them I was ok—and really only missed two days of work entirely.   Someone, and its fine that she did this, broke the Facebook embargo.  I love facebook— I spend way too much time on it—but it would have been REALLY bad if all those people knew before Wednesday.   But since I was able to answer things for myself, breaking it this day did two things:

1)    it made me feel GREAT to have to much love and support

2)    tired because people sent me all sorts of intense things I didn’t have the energy to deal with.

Things started to take on a normal feel towards the end of the day.  Danny came to visit for like 6 hours.  I don’t know if you know any De Bonis’s, but they have this presence.  One surprise guest to came visit, my friend I refer to as “surfer girl”.  She was the first person I ever went surfing with at the first place I ever went surfing, Stinson Beach.   I am still happy they brought me out that day & about all the worlds my wet suit has opened for me.   She brought this trail mix which I swear helped me to make it to discharge day on Friday.

Then later that night Lelia snuck into to the hospital.  Visiting hours were over, but apparently, she has a way of bending the rules.  It was nice that she still wanted to talk to me considering all she didn’t sign up for.

Thursday -  It’s a miracle !

Word started to circulate through the hospital that I may be leaving.    From being the sandman, to my interesting spiritual ceremony, to the fact I had paying insurance and parents that cared, all set me apart from the regular population there.   They aren’t used to kindness @ doctors.  I had gotten a TON of balloons from my DC friends and we knew we’d be moving on soon, so we asked the nurse if she’d give them away to other people.  She acted surprised—“people don’t give anything here.”   Well there’s a first time for everything.

One by one, people came through, some I’d seen before, others who I’d never met before and those were the creepiest ones.   The first respiratory guy who didn’t think I was going to make it.  My first ICU nurse who just looked at me from the doorway in shock and surprise as I walked in circles around my room.   I had never met my lung Dr. before—my parents knew him.  I did not—he certainly must have saved my life somehow.

The climax of all of this was when the head of surgery came in.  She seemed like a tough woman.  She started to tear up.  She said the last person she saved went to prison for life.  A lot of her patients end up back there sooner than later with bigger wombs from gang fights.  She didn’t normally help people that seemed to have a future.

Then my very first nurse in the ER came in.  She knew why I had a bandage on my leg.  They stuck something into my bone for nutrients; I apparently didn’t like that too much.  She began to give me a history of all the holes all over my body.  She knew my body better than I did.    It seemed like almost none of them had seen anything like this before—and certainly had not had too many near drowning cases.  One nurse said I was her first in 16 years.  One reason may be that people who have what happened to me, don’t normally make it to the hospital.

They all did everything right.  They did such a good job I didn’t even realize all the stuff they did and I probably never will.

Later that night Jessica came over.. and it was still hard to piece together what exactly she did that night.  My Sound Healing Bowl had traveled with me to the new room.  All the nurses asked me what it was.  There was a guy screaming across the hall, my mom thought he had hospital dimensia, but the default method no matter what there was to inject.   While they wouldn’t use it on hime, I really wanted to nurture the nurses curiosity in the sound healing bowl.   While it doesn’t cure pain, the sound does chill everyone out.  I intend to bring some bowls with me—if I can find them—to my follow up appointment.

More than what Jessica did for me, my hope is this sound healing may be an expensive, lasting good impression on this hospital, its population and its practitioners.

Friday – I get to go home

I’ll be honest here.  When they did the test, walking up and down the hall—they were measuring whether my lungs provided enough oxygen.  I thought I had failed.    There was about an hour where I didn’t know if I should tell my parents about it or not.  I didn’t think I could stay there any longer.  I was already not eating their food anymore.  I wasn’t getting any sleep with all the pokes and bleeps and lets weigh you at 4:30 in the AM.

I did eventually mention something to my parents—they tended to take an optimistic view.  They were right.  I had gotten the oxygen numbers and my heart rate inverted from when I was walking.  This concern wasn’t just based in those numbers though.  I didn’t feel right.  And as they were releasing me—walking down the hall did make me light headed.   I knew getting out of there was the right thing to do, and since I agreed to stay at my parents hotel near by the first night, I thought if I was wrong I could probably get back there quickly.

Walking outside and having my dad drive me away in my car, for the first time I was able to see just how small the Doctor’s Hospital was.  I saw some of the places people mentioned, but I didn’t think the hood was as bad as everyone was making it out to be.

Saturday & Beyond

By night fall, I slept.  Got up the next morning—and while I was a bit shaky, I somehow convinced my parents to let me drive home back to San Francisco.  I knew the way.  Everyone knows no matter what time of day I-80 pretty much has traffic near Berkeley.  I drove the 30 minutes home, in traffic without stopping.

I thought this might give my parents confidence, but if anyone knows what its like to have drive with a jewish couple that’s been married for over 40 years—this was probably our best option.

Later that night I ate dinner with my roommate Chris and his friend Surfer Matt.  It was a nice way to ends things I guess—one week later.   Matt told me my biggest mistake was not wearing flippers.   I’ll add it to my list.  Beyond that the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Northern California is a particularly dangerous and rough place.  I’ve always known it was cold,  but the deceptions, that’s another thing.   Not even flippers can get you out of sometimes.


I should recover 100%.  I’m not there yet.  I don’t have the reserve energy that I used to.  I’m also not trying to make big and lofty statements about anything.  I tried really hard to be a good person before all of this, I don’t plan on changing that.    If I can say one thing, a little less than a week after discharge, about what I value:

My family, my friends, my California driver’s license and my ability to walk this earth to try new things everyday again—in that order.

– Dan Beckmann, 2/14/2013, The Mission District, San Francisco

What Does Hurricane Sandy Mean To the Readers of the Village Voice of Ottawa Hills?

As submitted to the Village Voice of Ottawa Hills. A similar version was Printed in the December 2012 Edition..

I was invited to write for the Village Voice about my experience volunteering to help in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, NY. While there’s certainly a lot of devastation from the storm, one thing’s for certain, the area will rebuild and most of the people, who lived here before the storm, will do so again.

The same can’t be said our hometown of Toledo, OH-which cannot be divorced from the Village of Ottawa Hills which leads it and the seemingly larger disaster that’s happened here over the last 30 years– one that has caused a mass migration of almost an entire generation.

This exodus didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t a hurricane, earthquake or even terrorism, but the implications its had on the demographics our community are more profound than any of those other disasters we often hear about, combined. It threatens an entire way of life that we were all raised in-almost an entire generation that largely will not return.

I was in the class of ’98 and from my grade, I can count talented scientists, lawyers, doctors, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, marketers, investment bankers, casting agents—enough had all they stayed they would have made Toledo a really interesting place. These are your children–other communities are now largely enjoying the work Ottawa Hills put into raising this generation. What happened to where we grew up?

There’s been a lot of explanations for the ‘brain drain’ or demographic crisis in Toledo. It’s certainly about the economy and jobs! It’s too cold in Toledo! It’s the unions! Our kids weren’t trained to work in factories! All of these explanations fail to explain why all of you live in Toledo right now, many the proud owners or descendants of prosperous businesses.

I would like to offer up a different explanation. The mass migration of my generation from my hometown was simply caused by bad ideas. To put the issue more clearly, people of my generation, no matter what their political beliefs, are not flocking to intolerant places that are stubborn in their ways anymore, they are running away from them.


Back to the task at hand-I was invited to write about my service work in the hurricane recovery. Its been said it takes a village to raise a child—I now 32 years old was a child of Ottawa Hills. Working for free and helping other people makes me feel good in ways that drugs, sunny days and making piles of money simply can’t top. I didn’t discover this from any overt attempts from our teachers at Ottawa Hills, but they certainly played a role.

You see, in the pre internet 90s at OHHS, no matter who you were, you were given a caste and no matter what you did, as long as you attended our school system-arguably the best in the area, there was nothing you could do to change it. While this is somewhat common in, well life… this caste was reinforced by yes our fellow peers-that’s to be expected. But what surprises most people who didn’t grow up in the village is when I tell them our caste system was enforced 360 degrees by almost every single one of our teachers, parents & community leaders for as far as the eye could see.

Whether you were cool or whether you were a loser, there was simply no escaping it unless you escaped the village entirely. What does this have to do with Hurricane Sandy or anything else? Living through Ottawa Hills schools, despite the fact that I came from privilege financially, I was able to identify with disadvantaged people and minority groups because whether I was the oppressor or the one being oppressed, there’s not a student who went through our school system that doesn’t understand that arrangement first hand.

My classmates who were coddled & celebrated at OH, were not prepared for the world that faced them out there and that’s unfortunate. Others who were devastated by some of our vindictive parents, conspiring teachers (who can forget the bully that carried the hockey stick & called himself a math teacher), and well the way we treated each other, became the people they are today largely based on these impressions, for better or worse.

Those who were in between, as I like to think I was, saw it all—either contributing to the oppression or fearing when these weapons would be thrust upon you. There’s not enough room to get into the cut-throat competition, overt racism, athletic idolism, rampant cheating & vapid materialism that colored my childhood—again, not just from my friends and classmates, but from their parents and those they hired to teach and watch us in their schools.

I would not have accomplished everything I have today without Ottawa Hills, but at the same time, I would never send my children there, nor subject them to what you all describe as a community.


I find it fitting that I was invited by Yarko Kuk to write about my community service experience involved Hurricane Sandy. It was in fact, riding around with Yarko while shadowing him as an Ottawa Hills Police officer, that showed me how serving the community can actually feel good. But its beyond Officer Kuk—its truly a person’s upbringing that truly sets the stage for future service to the community.

When my parents moved to Hasty Hills in 1980 from out of state, there was actually a housing shortage in Toledo at the time—now despite their huge investments over the last thirty years, I hope they will be able to find someone to sell it to, so they can move on. My point here is, and yes, maybe it could help their property values, is that there is a tremendous amount of community service that needs to be done in Toledo.

I’m not talking about writing checks, or posing for more pictures on the pages of the Village Voice, I’m talking about genuine community building where the people of Ottawa Hills, as leaders in the Toledo area, actually organize around the notion, that if you make the area a more welcoming place, it may not only personally make you feel good, but it also could save your retirements and your property values from plummeting further into the gutter.

It all starts at Ottawa Hills Schools. It’s still our biggest asset and it’s the place where we all come together to build the next generation. Keep in mind, to send three children to private school in some major cities FOR ONE YEAR could almost pay for a reasonable house in Ottawa Hills now—but in order to attract that type of student, instead of threatening to cut Chinese language for more faded glory on the Football field, give your students a reason to learn Chinese by establishing a legitimate cultural exchange progamme.

The disaster that our community is enduring did not happen overnight and it will take a tremendous amount of will and determination to turn the tide. While those suffering from Sandy do genuinely need your financial assistance, they fortunately have something we all could learn from here—a strong, generational connection to their land and to a way of life that says no matter what happens, they will rebuild and be here for the next generation to want to come home to.

For more go to The Village Voice of Ottawa Hills

NEW SEASON! Prez Campaigns: HEY! No More Free Trips, Just Give Us The Damn Money!

We’re going to cut to the chase here.  No matter which candidate you vote for (and I’m on all their lists), they’ll come up with just about anything these days to get you to cough up a few bones.  While paying them MO’ money is important & everything– we @ schmooru have something that doesn’t cost you a damn penny.  No you don’t even have to have DINNER with us OR take a ride on our campaign bus.   Its called our… SCHMOORU’s ENDLESS SUMMER NITES SUPER SEASON (echo echo echo).   And, its already well underway!

TRAILER: Jack’s Nite Out

There’s NO question about it Mitt’s Romnous is Smoothus.  Where ever he goes, his charms attracts the ire of millions!  While we couldn’t get the actual WILLARD to share his tricks of ALURE.. HEADLINING our NEW LATE SUMMER SUPER SEASON, from the ‘land of Romneys & Bains” is a Boston-based show, filled with gel hairdos, goombas, senseless late night bar fights & go fuck yourselves!      At the end of it, even the speechless can pick up chicks!

NEW SHOW: Do Cats Like?

You’ve seen tons of cat videos– maybe you’ve even gotten that weird cat disease Toxoplasmosis?  But what do cats really like?  Meet the END OF ALL CAT VIDEOS that’s pouncing the online world and leaving everything else for dead!– do CATS like? (ITS SO FRIGGEN CUTE!)

NEW SERIES: Stories by Work. 16

We actually do GOOD STUFF around here!  What do I mean by that?  No, its not a ROMNOUS insult to all the other find work we do in some foreign land – when we tell stories, the backbone of anything entertaining from the campfire to the iphone, we like to try to find an interesting way of doing it.  Stories, by Work. 16, not only finds interesting characters, they are beautiful to watch!


We continue on with our high acclaimed abstract visual project, Art as Life.  We have stored up submissions and will be revealing new distribution points as the 1 year anniversary of this on-going expression continues.

Plus, all new “Narrow Shows” & and RE-Launched “Food With Sam” after Labour day.

But that’s if you meet our special DEADLINE.  There is no TOMORROW or NEXT MONTH or TWO MONTHS LATER after this deadline.  They’re out to GIT US!  We need the HITS NOW!  Or Barrack won’t have a nice Birthday & Mittens won’t have a nice hairdo.  Its your choice.




#SXSW : Do you Douche?

Do you DOUCHE? Its my first year at the #SXSW Festival. I’ve been nervous about coming here for the last month or so since we got invited as a finalist as part of their business accelerator for Correlate, the thing we haven’t really talked about that makes it so the American people are heard by their elected leaders in congress. Not only is this huge for us and we’re lucky to be here in a way that cuts through the clutter, but the magnitude of this place still remains quite intimidating.  The Texas-sized amount of social media goobleygoo– as a I call it– that swarm this place has always made me feel quite allergic from a distance. This week I normally attend the completely unlisted #NXNW.

Accordingly, if we weren’t invited I don’t think we would have come. The idea that people would try to get attention for their social media goobleygoo HERE amongst all the biggest hype machines in the entire world borderlines past insanity.  One could argue(and they might be right) that this is really the only place that most SOCIAL MEDIA GOOBLEYGOO actually makes sense or works in a real world context(which instantly attaching humanity and physicality to your TWEETS or TASK RABBIT can be quite illuminating).  Or maybe its just the dream of endless space that is Texas where there may still be oil(I was born here), or maybe its just the way we do things in America through reality show contests of humiliation and getting voted off the island (I was born there too).

The amount of OPTIMISM and HOPE, albiet DOUCHEY, thats enveloped in all who come here– even if they’re only doing this stuff mostly for their own personal ambition to STRIKE IT BIG and SELL OUT — is honest, genuine and uniquely optimistic at its core.

So this week– yes sir, I Douche. (one way to see the humanity in douching, is its one person’s failed, sloppy, selfish attempt at providing food and companionship for oneself).

I’m going to be writing from here all week.