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General News · 15th June 2021
Mike Brown
A letter to Cortes Island,

In a prior post, "A letter to Telus", I referred to the impact that Telus towers would have on the "culture" of Cortes Island. To clarify, the concern is with the ubiquitous cell service that would blanket the island and undermine a certain aspect of island culture that's worth preserving. This post is about that.

Ubiquitous cell service. . . it means you could use your celly pretty much everywhere on the island. Convenient! You could use it at all the beaches all trails, in the garden, while driving, parking lots, shopping of course, in bathrooms, kitchens, just all around the house really, anywhere in your rental, on your property, on any property, while working, bedrooms, alone, with friends, with your kids, family, with visitors, just everywhere you go, and always. . . . lots of cell service, finally!. . . now the Internet is everywhere, Googling, Facebook on beaches, banking everywhere, hit Carrington with a friend for Googling . . . . . How could this lifestyle not be completely awesome!

Except that it would undermine a certain important aspect of island culture, forever.

So there is that.

Island culture. A few examples of what it currently is not. It's not spending time with family, friends, and neighbors who are surprisingly preoccupied with their phone. It's also not conversing with another Islander who gets on their phone suddenly to show you a video (unless it's the one of the Japanese girl-drummer doing Led Zeppelin, that's an exception). It's thirdly not visitors making a road hazard of themselves standing sort of road-side and staring fixedly at a phone trying to locate the trail to Hank's Beach. These things do happen now, and they happen on the island, but they have nothing to do with that elusive and valuable thing I'm calling island culture.

Island culture: What it is. Island culture is having your mental and emotional space freed up enough to be present to other people in the community. To direct your mental and emotional faculties toward them, to converse with them about parochial issues, hall tax, local housing. To agree after paying attention, or disagree after paying attention. Above all, to pay attention, to attend. To attend to others as if they mattered more than random distractions during the sometimes brief duration of our paths crossing. Islanders currently interact with other Islanders in a way that's different from how it goes in the larger world. Our interactions are richer because we are so far unsubscribed to cell phone culture. Once subscribed to the culture of phones and the delirious need to engage with them all the time, your attentional resources at the brain level get co-opted, and something extra-cool about Cortes Island goes to bed forever. Which would be bad.

The term "cell phone" is really a misnomer, since the phone function represents so little of what it does. "Digital device" is the word preferred by behavioral researchers, the people who investigate the specific ways that mind and behavior are affected by devices, which it turns out are designed to do certain things that are problematic. Digital devices engage the evolved human "orienting response", or attention to things in the environment that change rapidly and may signal some variety of danger. You don't control your orienting response, like when a noise or flash makes you turn your head. So certain kinds of stimuli, in a sense, talk directly to your brain, and not to you, at least not to the "you" that's reading this. (Spooky.) Digital devices themselves, and the digital universe that they portal you into, are somewhat loaded with stimuli that capture attention directly, at the brain level. A flash, pulse, ping, ring, or things of that nature yank attention away from the material world and toward the immaterial netherworld of the phone. That's by design. By design, digital devices recruit attention mercilessly. Another tasty thing they do is induce anxiety while offering release from it: Not checking the phone induces it; checking it releases it. Adults can sometimes exercise some degree of restraint against the design features of digital devices. Teenagers can't, but still enjoy the illusion that they're "choosing" to dork around with their phone all day. Feel free to wrestle your teenager in the vain hope of separating phone and hand. No way. And that's by design. Not conspiracy, design. Here's Stewart Brand, intellectual hero to Steve Jobs, saying so:

"You can't change people's minds directly. What you can do is change the tools they use".

Ouchy! That's Steve Jobs' intellectual hero talking there, I can't not repeat that to underscore the significance: Steve Jobs: Apple iPhone. . . the game-changer in a line of digital devices that all entertain you while tweaking your mind function and behavior by first capturing your attention. You get bossed by your phone, in other words, is what this is saying.

Why are digital devices designed to capture attention? Boss you why? Because they're a central tool in the transfer of wealth within societies from the lower to the upper classes, specifically to the minority of elites that manage digital culture. Alessandro Baricco has written eloquently about this and sums it up thusly, "Counting the money simplifies the discussion." Nice! So the deal is that cellys aren't a conspiracy, they're just business, and they do business by capturing attention and manufacturing in the individual certain kinds of consumption behaviors, certain yearnings, and also certain intolerances, such as your teenager's intolerance to being separated from their phone.

Digital devices make people do stuff that moves lots and lots of capital to elites. The elites? Some examples: the owners of Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, Twitter, Tinder, and any currently alternative medium that will eventually be monetized for the same purpose. But again, it's not conspiracy, it's just business. The Church (as in, the institution) manages the movement of capital but it took a while to notice that. Capitalist regimes manage the movement of capital, which is self-evident. Communist regimes did that, which surprised some people. The current Digital regime does it and if you don't think I sound insane for talking about it at length then write the letters that Noba publicly requested and express your opinion about Telus towers on Cortes Island. For or against. Whichever.

One other thing, though. The thing called Telus. Telus' rep Brian Gregg displays in his communication the qualities of a person skilled at leveraging. He responds quickly, is courteous, is well informed, and uses language designed to keep certain options off the table. The option he (i.e., Telus) wants off the table is no towers at all on Cortes Island. He (Telus) would prefer a discussion about the merits of a given proposal for tower siting, which translates from the language of leveraging into normal language like this: "Dude, there are going to be towers. . . now lets talk about where and how." Implicitly cordoning off certain options that you end up forgetting you have. It's a leveraging thing. Even though Mr. Gregg (Telus) prefers the term "consultation". But no towers at all is an option, if you're opposed. And the three towers that Telus currently has planned is another option, if you're in favor.

Ok but also this. . . I think towers and ubiquitous cell coverage is bad news. But the baddest thing would be letting it pass without proper consultation which, for something so impactful of island culture, must be through an in-person public meeting on Cortes. In-person, on Cortes Island, all concerned Islanders in the same space at the same time. If a significant majority of Islanders want ubiquitous cell service, then too bad for me.

Democracy, that's what I'm saying. I'm not saying think like me and oppose towers. I'm saying think what you want, but demand actual consultation from Telus with the community of Cortes Island.

Mike Brown,
Whaletown Posse Massive.