The Milk Carton Kids

Last weekend I saw a folk duo called the milk carton kids. Either because of the headspace I was in or because they really are that good, it was one of the best nights of music I’d seen since watching Joanna Newsom live way back when. I was rapt and transported by their beautiful harmonies, amazing guitar playing, and unassuming (and really funny) stage presence. Here’s a little sample of a song of theirs that’s been running through my head a lot since then. they are The Milk Carton Kids. Their albums are available for free on their web site. And, if they play near you, you should check them out.

Mental Suburbia

I have aged
When I have gathered
Enough turns of phrase
To effectively isolate
Myself from feeling
Most anything I
Don’t want to feel
Boxed into my own
Pink mental suburbia
With clean cars
Even rows of trees
Precisely edged lawns
And dog shit
Hidden in the grass
Everywhere I step

Open Source

In the above picture, there are three computers with closed source hardware. A laptop with a Broadcomm WiFi chip, a netbook with closed source Intel graphics processors, and a mac mini.

I spent 5 days last week battling closed source hardware and software. Battling the philosophy that, by keeping things close to one’s chest, profit can ensue and the self will be improved. Of course, that philosophy was espoused by corporations like Intel and Apple and Broadcom. They occasionally/frequently/always refuse to let programmers know how to work with their hardware. Because of this, the linux community is stuck as the “third party” much like the Greens in US politics. Extremely competent and ready to improve everyone’s time with computers, but always on the outside looking in, lacking the for-profit connections that could launch them into the mainstream. Anyhow, this is all nerd talk for a very human tendency that just so happens to be expressed in that setting and many others.

I think of my own life and my tendency to do it all myself and sometimes keep things private and in. That tendency is very human in that it is self protecting in the case of threat and might keep you alive in some kind of bombardment that we are fortunate to rarely ever have to face. But true expansion can only come when you are open to the world and living fully and honestly with yourself and those around you. Not that I’m dishonest, but that I’ll hide mistakes, or gloss over deficiencies that I have. Come to think of it, that is a kind of dishonesty. Sometimes instead of laying myself bare, I’ll turn turtle and wait for everything to wash over. Hope that nobody notices. Closed. Closed source. If you don’t provide anyone access to your inner workings than you can’t develop anything together or what you do develop will be limited by what you allow them to see.

Dealing with my computers last week was extremely painful. It was blind, frustrating groping. I realize I’ve probably brought comparable feelings to people who work with and around me, or to friends and family. I know I can be mystifying and a slave to my own inner voice.

Just imagine if there were no secrets. If the tendency to keep them was gone from us? It would be a radical change in ourselves and the world and how it operates. Dictatorships couldn’t survive in the light of perfect knowledge, lies wouldn’t exist, capitalism, if it could stand, would be better aligned for the good of all people. Etc. You could always look other people in the eye and know you were getting the whole person every time. Instead we have this tangle of half knowledge and half guesswork subject to the errors of human prediction. Maybe it’s more fun that way? Or maybe we should work in the other direction. Look up your local hacker space. Examine how you might be keeping secrets and lying to yourself and others. Recognize what you are complicit in when you buy something even if it’s something you almost can’t avoid having. Shop at a cooperative. In my case, I try to use technology that is free and open to all. Recognize that being prevented the ability to know about something/anything represents a kind of oppression that limits your life in sneaky ways and probably limits the life of the protector. Consider what it would mean if social security numbers were freely available to anyone who asked after them. I know this all sounds like conspiracy, but I don’t think it is. It’s a product of our social selves and human insecurity at all levels. It’s an aspect of humanity that we can try to grow out of and thereby grow into something that works better for more people maybe even everyone.