Data Has No Heart

Everyone wants numbers. You see this in advertising, media, Facebook, twitter, the news. You see it in corporations, in medicine,  and in the government: Everyone wants more data, and it must always be sliced, diced, and julienned into smaller bits,  compared in more ways, and illustrated with animated, full-color visualizations. The meaningfulness of the data is often less important than the volume of data and how impressive its visualization. 

Life-altering decisions are made based on the data, the numbers presented, and the stunning visualizations. While you may occasionally make these decisions yourself, most often, powers-that-be who are entirely unknown to you make decisions that affect your life based on data you didn’t even know was collected and analyzed. These “data driven” decisions affect our lives in small as well as large ways, influencing how we think and what we do, permeating and often directing our lives, our minds, our bodies, and our spirits more than we realize.

Data does not consider the quality of the heart, the soul, the being that we are. Data does not consider that which makes us most human. “Data driven” renders individuals into nameless, formless granular instances, meaningful only when considered as a component within a wider pool, a part of a group data instance that has tendencies that can be easily labeled and profitably exploited, without considering each individual face, soul, or heart. 

Data makes numbers more valuable than people. Data quantifies and negates the individual while seeking to prove, as circumstances dictate, that the biggest is best, the most is best, or smallest is best. This is inhuman, for in the grouping and quantification, individuals and individuality are sacrificed. 

Numbers and data can be, and are, manipulated as those generating them wish, and leveraged to make you think, feel, act, buy in a calculated way. The ways to manipulate data are many, and often simple — that’s another topic entirely. (Want to manipulate a percentage? Change the denominator.)

Governments, advertisers, researchers, another others use data to make decisions that affect populations and the individuals within the population — you and me. These powers-that-be compile data sets (groups of compiled data meeting certain criteria) and decide the relative value of those data sets. The data sets are then used to make “data-driven decisions” that justify granting money, investments, time, or attention to specific group. Health care, government resources, advertising, jobs, and products themselves (such as books, plays, music, food, and clothing) are selected, funded, and granted importance  — or not — based on numbers and data.

The choices we have in almost every area of our lives are dependent upon the size and/or perceived value of the data set or group that includes what we want or need, and we ourselves often have little to no way to influence the data sets and the relative value placed upon them. 

Data itself is manipulated, and data manipulates our minds. This is dangerous. It’s a tactic used by those who seek to increase their own power by dehumanizing and devaluing others. You, yourself, are negated. If we are not aware and careful, we become in our own thoughts and feelings that which the purveyors and manipulators of data consider us: meaningless as an individual, meaningful and useful only when grouped and judged by third parties imposing fabricated standards of worthiness.

What if we have needs, desires, expressions of our individuality that do not fall into data set that’s deemed desirable by the powers-that-be? 

What about the book, the movie, the music, the shirt, that we want to have, or to make? What happens when we feel called inside to express a creation — a song, for example — and we’re told that the song is not “worth it” because “the data does not support it”? How valid is that data — who even decides the criteria for what is “valid” data? How much control does the data-driven decision and the forces manipulating the data have over not only the external factors in your world, but over your mind, thoughts, moods, actions, and being? What happens when the data does not support what your inner voice calls you to do? Do you stop, consider yourself a failure? Or do you listen to your spirit, your anima, that which calls you inside, and continue?

We don’t need more data and more data-driven decisions: They negate the individual and lack compassion. 

Instead, we must recognize, respect, and have compassion for ourselves; cultivate our spirits; and have the courage to listen to our hearts and let them guide us in making compassionate decisions.

Data, big data, and (obviously) artificial intelligence are inhuman. They have their place — and that place is far smaller than you think. I’ll be writing more about this, and reminding you of your humanity and individuality, and the importance of cultivating both. ~ KMK

L’onda

Un giorno l’onda chiese al mare: “Mi voi bene?”

Ed il mare le rispose: “ Il mio bene è cosi forte che ogni volta che t’allontani verso la terra io ti tiro indietro per riprenderti tra le mie braccia.”

Grazie a Tiziana, che me ha inviato questa citazione. Non lo so l’autore.

Sì, la spiaggia si trova in Sardegna. La foto è mia.

The Wave

One day a wave asked the sea, “Do you love me?”

The sea replied, “My love is so strong that every time you move away and towards the land, I turn you around to bring you back into my arms.”

Thanks to Tiziana, who sent this quote to me. I don’t know who the author is.

Yes, the beach is in Gallura, Sardinia. From my photos.

The Day the Bush Scolded Me

One bright spring day when I was in the third grade, I was having a conversation with the boy who lived a few houses from mine. We stood in his front yard, the only one on the street that had a basketball hoop. We—me and the neighborhood guys— would play pickup basketball in the boy’s driveway a good part of the year. However, the guys suddenly went from always wanting me on their team to not wanting me around at all. The boy with the basketball yard was defending the male opinion, and the conversation was a bit tense.

As do many people with labels such as OCD and Asperger’s Spectrum, I tend to center myself and listen, think, and feel better when doing something mindlessly repetitive with my hands. At school, I would take apart my mechanical pencils and put them back together again, over and over and over during classes. Sometimes, I would take a small piece of paper, methodically tear it into tiny bits, and make a neat pile on my desk. When I was outside, I often picked up dry leaves that had fallen to the ground, tearing them to pieces that would flutter gently back to earth.

That day, as I listened to the boy, I automatically and unconsciously searched the ground for a twig or leaf, but none were to be found: The strong March winds that rushed the white cloud puffs through the sky had carried away any desiccated foliage left from the previous autumn. 

Lacking a fallen twig, I reached for a leaf from the hedge beside us. My mind bushed aside a thought that came as my hand moved: “Don’t pick. The bush is alive.” 

My hand continued. I picked a leaf, a few leaves. The boy kept talking. I started breaking the vibrantly green, pliant leaves I had just plucked and letting the cracked pieces fall onto the ground.

WHOOSH. 

All exterior sights and sounds stopped. I felt as if I were in a vacuum. Although I could no longer hear the boy, I heard — sensed — another voice. It was clear, it was direct, and it was inside, yet it was also coming from the bush and the leaves, which came sharply back into visual focus.

“WHY DID YOU PICK US? WHY ARE YOU JUST KILLING US AND DROPPING US?”

I remained motionless. The bush continued to speak, more quietly, transmitting rather than speaking words. The bush made me understand it was alive, all plants and rocks were alive, and that I was not to forget they were living beings, with feelings, intelligence, and wisdom. Yes, plants could be picked, eaten, used with moderation for right purpose, yet humans should do so consciously, with gratitude. And rocks and earth and water were also to be respected, talked with, used judiciously, given thanks.

I listened, felt inside what the bush was communicating. I looked at the broken leaves I had dropped and bent down to caress them. Silently, I apologized to the leaves and the bush, thanked the plant, and said whatever was my version of a prayerless prayer. 

Marveling and dumbstruck by this direct yet loving communIcation, I walked away. 

The boy seemed upset — he was not done stating whatever complaint he had with me — but I had heard what was important: The bush.

Yes, bushes, trees, plants, rocks talk with us. Always. All of us. We just need to listen. 

In a culture based on competition, physical dominance, and external power, it sometimes seems easier to forget, to bury, to discount as crazy the voices, the lives, the importance of our plant and rock and nature siblings. 

I can’t. 

We can’t. 

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Appreciation

Both this article and this exercise may be “too long” for most people!

Want to appreciate someone you may have never before considered?

Take something apart.

I’m not kidding. This is an important lesson, especially if you’ve never made anything by hand.

If you have never whittled, worked with wood; sewn, worked with fabric; welded, riveted, worked with metal; or made something by hand—then take something apart. Carefully, methodically, and thoughtfully, undo all the pieces of something that a person used their hands to make.

A shirt, for instance.

Find a (discarded) well-made, long-sleeve collared dress shirt, preferably of 100% cotton. Get a seam ripper or Exacto knife, and set aside an hour or two. 

You’re NOT to destroy the shirt by shredding it to pieces — that would entirely circumvent the point of this exercise.

Study the shirt, and with the seam ripper, carefully and methodically undo each seam, each stitch, each button, and each label. As you take the shirt apart, lay each piece of the shirt on a table. You’ll probably find there are more pieces than you realized, more seams than you imagined, and wonder how in the world someone stitched all those pieces together. Or even figured out how to design and cut the pieces so they fit together perfectly.

That’s getting to the point of this exercise. 

As you take the shirt apart, consider the pieces. How were they sewn together? How were the pieces of fabric cut before they were sewn together? Look at the little edges folded under — consider the dexterity of the fingers that folded the fabric so precisely. The skill of the fingers that guided the fabric through the sewing machine, fingers next to the needle going up down fast fast fast so fast that needle-hole marks punctured too-close fingernails.

If there’s a pattern to the fabric, does the pattern match where the seams fasten together different pieces of fabric? What kind of skill did that take, to cut and to sew and to design the shirt so the patterns matched across fabric pieces?

Can you easily get the seam ripper in between the individual stitches of the collar? Can you even see the stitches? Think of the person sewing the collar — what would their eyes feel like at the end of the day, after making the shirt?

What about the buttons? The placket? Do you even know what a shirt placket is? Or the yoke?

Don’t give up. Don’t put the shirt down and forget about the exercise. 

Think about the person making the shirt. They didn’t put it down and give up on making it.

Finish taking the shirt apart. Your taking it apart was easier than their making it — and you probably never thought of who made your shirt before, or the skill, the time, the difficulty of making it.

Yes, the shirt you take apart was probably made in a factory, by several people, each sewing a particular part. But years ago, a tailor, or your mom, would have made the shirt for you, to your specific measurements, stitching each piece at their machine. Even further back in time, they would have stitched entirely by hand, without a sewing machine.

The hours, the abilities, the love of the tailor or mother for their craft: So much once went into the making of a shirt, and were valued by the shirt’s owner and wearer.

Now, the maker of the shirt is too often lost, a faceless factory-worker who has become, like the shirt itself, a commodity to be discarded. 

And you — the wearer of the shirt — feel this lack of care just as much as the anonymous maker of the shirt, but you probably don’t have words for the sensation. Blinded by labels and advertising, fashion and merchandizing, clothes-wearers pay for expensive brands, yet feel a lack of . . . something.

The “something lacking” is NOT a new fashion, not a replacement shirt, not a different brand shirt.

The “something lacking” is the spirit of the maker. 

Mass-produced items don’t have the same anima, the same spirit, as a handmade item. 

Items made with care and love bear the spirit of the maker. Mass-produced items bear the ghost of industrial production, the shell of spirit. 

We feel this, yet most can’t name what’s missing: the anima of the item and the spirit of its maker. 

We’ve discarded them. 

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Posted on Mother’s Day with much love and appreciation for my mom, a master seamstress who made, among other things, many shirts for me, and fostered my appreciation of the handmade and hand-makers.

The photo is of a handmade shirt by Angelina Pirastu of Samugheo, Sardinia, Italy. I’ll be writing more about her and the costume soon!

May Each of Us Be a Rose

Walking through the rose garden in the nearby park, admiring the beautiful buds, rejoicing in the open flowers, enjoying yet somewhat lamenting the now-fully-bloomed, petals-about-to-fall roses, and delighting in the intermingled perfumes of the diverse bushes, I also marvel and learn from our rose-siblings. 

Roses are roses, and beautiful in every way. 

Roses don’t question their spirit, their anima, their life as a rose. Even after having been cut down, roses flourish. After all, that’s what flowers do.

Rose buds don’t question whether or not they should pursue blossoming. A bud does not think, “There are enough roses of this color. I don’t need to blossom” or “Why bother? No one will see me” or “I wish grew on that side of the garden; more people would see me. It’s not worth blossoming here.” 

When the rose blossoms, individual flowers don’t compare themselves to others on the same bush or another bush. They don’t try to steal another blossom’s sunlight, block their water, or try to be better than other flowers. 

Fully-bloomed, petals-about-to-fall roses don’t lament their stage of life. I’m the one who labels them and feels a tinge of sadness at their scattered descent to the earth.

The petals fallen on the ground are beautiful, even when their edges are curled. I stop, pick them up, and offer them with a prayer to the bush, to nature, a saint, a friend, God. 

The rose did not consult any petal usage statistics and determine whether to grow, to blossom, to give happiness — to be.

Completely and fully, the rose is.

And if no one sees it, if no one collects a fallen petal and treasures it, the rose bush still grows and flourishes. It does not doubt its existence or importance in the grand scheme of life. 

May each of us be a rose. 

~KMK

Sardinian Beach Meditation

Five or six minutes at a beautiful beach in Portobello, Sardinia (Italy).

A great meditation, especially if you can watch it on a large-screen TV.

Sit close, on the floor, and imagine you are on the beach!

This video is downloadable on Vimeo for personal use only, and also posted on SardinianArts.com.

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They Don’t Understand – Non Capiscono

Prima all’inglese, poi all’italiano

I stopped, immobile, at the sight of the greens growing in the hole.

It was a grey and rainy day in November 2019, and I was walking through an old Milano neighborhood that is well-known and fairly dense, with well-traveled streets. The street I walked had no grassy pathways for trams, no trees, no flower-boxes in windows. There weren’t even sprouts of grass venturing through cobblestones, for the street was paved with asphalt.

Turning a corner, I saw these greens sprouting in a post hole. They were the only plants visible for blocks — and completely ignored by passers-by. 

I stopped to admire and talk with the greens, complimenting them on their persistence and beauty amidst the brutal surroundings imposed on them.

The greens required a photo.

I willingly snapped a portrait, and thanked them. 

I think about these persistent sprouts often, thanking them every time. 

They don’t understand how important they are.

***

Mi sono fermata, immobile, alla vista delle verde crescendo nel buco.

Era un giorno grigio e piovoso di Novembre 2019. Facevo un passeggiato a Milano, a un quartiere antico, bon conosciuto e popoloso, con strade battute. Sulla strada dove camminavo, non si trovavo sentieri erbosi per i binari del tram, né alberi, né scatole di fiori sulle finestre. La strada era asfaltata, non acciottolata, e non si trovava nemmeno una fessura per crescere un germoglio dell’erba. 

Mi ho svolto un’angolo, e ho visto verde crescendo nel buco del palo. Erano le sole piante visibile per un lungo tratto della strada — e erano completamente ignorate dai passanti. 

Mi sono fermata per ammirare e parlare con le verde, li dando complimenti per loro persistenza e bellezza fra i dintorni bruti a che erano imposte.

Le verde necessitavano una foto. 

L’ho fatto volontariamente, e li avevo dato i miei più sentiti ringraziamenti.

Penso spesso ai questi germogli persistenti, dando i miei ringraziamenti ogni volta. 

Non capiscono come importante ci sono.

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Lokaha Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

May all beings everywhere be happy and peaceful

Possano tutti gli esseri, ovunque, essere felici e in pace

A Sanskrit prayer for universal peace and happiness. Una preghiera universale nella linga sanscrita per la pace e la felicità.

Move Beyond Appreciating Art to Experience Art

Many words to insufficiently describe the difference between appreciating and experiencing art.

The vast quantity of art available online during the Pandemic of 2020 is amazing. Museum collections from the greatest archives in the world; concerts, plays, dance, tours of artists studios, and more, all available in our very own rooms. We don’t even have to dress for the occasion!

The disadvantages of this treasure trove of online art are the same as the advantages: The treasures are online, and vast. The photographs of a painting, the depiction of a weaving, the streaming concert are all wonderful and to be appreciated — but the overwhelming quantity of material, and the arrival of digital art on our gizmo means we see an image or hear a sound much differently than we would experience the actual masterpiece in person. 

I wrote about this in the previous piece, The Experience of Art, and I’d like to offer a few more thoughts, specifically about how you can use a single piece of art you find online to deepen your appreciation of art and whet your desire to experience a masterpiece in person. 

As mentioned in the previous post, rather than making viewing a quantity of art your goal, seek the appreciation and experience of art. And while you can’t fully appreciate a piece of art via the computer, you can become acquainted with a piece online, and then, when the world calms down a bit, seek the art in person, so you can experience it, for the experience is beyond appreciation. 

First, let’s clarify what appreciation means in this context. Appreciation is not liking. You can understand something, and how and why it was made, and perhaps something about its context and history — you can appreciate it — without having a personal inclination towards it, without liking it. 

Appreciating something, especially a work of art, takes time. You can practice appreciating art on your computer, tablet, or phone with a masterpiece you find online — we’ll use a painting as an example — over the course of a week.

Find a well-known painting from an online museum collection, and bookmark a high-quality image of it. Set aside 10 minutes each day to look at and contemplate the painting. Yes, that’s 10 minutes, each day, for a week. There’s a great deal to look at, really!

For starters, look at the painting from a distance: Set the size of the replica to fit in your screen so you can see the entire piece at once. What’s the feeling overall, especially if it’s an abstract painting? How do the colors feel together? Look at the shapes, where the light comes from within the painting. Do you imagine a story or background to the the images? 

Zoom in on the replica. Look at how the colors, the shapes, the shadows are constructed. Are brushstrokes or pallet knife markings visibile? Can you tell what type of surface lies below the paint? Are there cracks? Is paint perhaps discolored? And is the paint watercolor, oil, acrylic? Do you know the difference? 

Some of these details may or may not be visible depending on the quality of the replica — and if they are visible, they are seen but not experienced as you would in person, standing in front of a painting the artist actually touched and worked. 

Looking at details is not all you can do. Contemplate beyond what you see: How were the paints made? And from what? Hundreds of years ago, paints were mixed by hand, from natural materials. Imagine matching paints from one day to the next!

How long did it take to make the painting? Was the painting done from a live model, or sketches? How did the painter get a consistent model, consistent shadows, that degree of detail in an era before photo cameras?

Think of the skill of the artist; the task of painting day after day and week after week; making and procuring materials, and more. What’s the context, the story behind the painting? Is the painting from a specifici period in the artist’s life? Do some research about the artist and their life — the time, the country, the social, political, artistic environment in which they lived and worked.

There’s so much you can see and appreciate when you view a replica and consider how it was made, the artist, the history, the context. 

All this helps you gain appreciation of a work of art, yet appreciation does not give you the experience of that art — and hopefully, the appreciation engenders within you a desire to experience the masterpiece in person. 

The appreciation gives you intellectual information, the experience gives you. . . the experience. 

And yes, you can experience a painting, a work of art in person, without having first gone through the intellectual appreciation. The appreciation doesn’t really even prepare you for the experience; at best it can foster the desire to have the experience of a painting. (See the previous post for my description of experiencing, for the first time, a painting which I knew by replica.)

Now you’ve read way too many words suggesting you learn how to appreciate art, hopefully with the end result of motivating you to experience art. 

Dare I write that if you’ve read this far, you’re becoming a student of the Humanities — which for centuries were considered essential, teaching us how to live? 

Stop reading, find a masterpiece to appreciate, and when you can, go to a museum, gallery, or studio to have the experience of a masterpiece.

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A note on the image in the header: Yes, it’s mine, and obviously, it’s a take off of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, with visual commentary relevant to 2020: Rather than tomato or chicken soup, we have vegetarian vegetable soup, a photo of which appears on the requisite monotonous smart phone, duplicated as in Warhol’s work. The upside down can, an attempt at differentiation, is barely noticeable. I could write more about this, but I won’t — at least not now! ~ KMK

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