Car-less at Last

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    Car-less at Last

    It’s symbolic that the day after I got my new bike from Bikes Not Bombs, I was also able to get rid of my car–sometime yesterday the LaBaron was donated to a worthy cause. I really don’t need a car in the city, and I certainly can live with out all the repairs that car would have needed, given it’s age. Now I should be able to get by just fine between Zipcar and Cathy’s Jeep, and the rest of the time I’ll enjoy gliding around town on my hot red Bianchi.


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    New Wheels from Bikes Not Bombs

    After riding my old blue Crestone for 10 years, last night I donated it Bikes Not Bombs and rode home on an even older Bianci the built up for me from a donated bike. It was a bittersweet parting, but I felt good about giving the old bike a new home–which could end up being in Boston or as far away as Ecuador or Ghana.

    Bikes Not Bombs is a non-profit which takes donated bikes, fixes them up, and sends them (almost 3000/year) to other places that need them. They also sell about 500 custom built bikes per year, and they teach city kids how to repair bikes. 

    Picking up my Bianchi was a bit like going on a blind date since I had never ridden it before. We’ve been a little nervous and awkward together on our first two rides, laughing a bit too loud at jokes and tripping over ourselves while trying to impress. But I feel an underlying connection that’s going to deepen as we travel together around Boston in the years ahead.

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    Headed to Jamaica Plain

    I’ve known for a few months that I’d be leaving the Quint house at the end of the summer, but it’s only in the last few days that I’ve decided to move to Jamaica Plain (Map). It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in the same place for nearly seven years, and it’s even harder to believe how little affection I’ve developed for Allston. I’ll miss parts of it–like my friends Naama and Bob down the street–but I’m excited to finally move to the one part of Boston where I’ve always wanted to live.

    I spent the weekend responding to ads on Craigslist, and I take it as a good sign that one landlord referred to JP as his “little piece of heaven.” It’s been great to have an excuse to study maps and poke around the neighborhood, trying to get the lay of the land and beginning to imagine myself there. Last night I biked from BC to Forest Hills in just over 20 minutes, and I was thrilled by how beautiful my daily commute will be threw the back roads of Brookline and Chestnut Hill.

    So I’m thinking deeply about my own place again–and not as an academic activity–and I’m feel excited again to get to know a new part of the city.

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    Peter B. Lewis Building, Cleveland

    Peter B. Lewis BuildingI’ve spent most of my day today in the Peter B. Lewis Building, a Frank Gehry building which houses part of the Wheatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH). I’m here for the New Media Consortium Conference, and I’ve taking advantage of the wireless connection to finish my presentation. But over lunch I got outside to snap some photos of the building, a nice addition my growing collection of Gehry pictures  (L.A. Philharmonic building, MIT Stata Center).

    More photos 

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    Hit by the Book

    As a daily bike communer in Boston, I’ve grow used to being vigilant when biking, always alert for the person opening there door in front of me, the SUV approaching tool closely from behind, or the pedestrian about to step in front of me without looking. And I’ve been trying to moderate my adversarial, extreme sport attitude toward biking in the city, trying instead to imagine myself as engaged in an elaborate dance or as gliding Zen-like amid the energy of urban flows.

    But as of this morning, I apparently now have to watch out for flying books. On my way to Cafenation, I was suddenly struck on the shoulder and arm by a paperback book thrown from the window of a passing yellow school bus. I was more stunned than hurt. Everything about it was wrong–that the perpetrator was a child, that it was a book that hit me, that it was aimed at a biker.

    I was in a funk the rest of my ride, plunged into dark reflections on the state of the world and the prospects for next generation. But then I thought of Bike’s Not Bombs, where I just bought a bike last week, and I wished that book-hurling child could do the Earn a Bike program or one of the other youth training projects at BNB. Maybe then he (it must be a he) would love bikes and wouldn’t need to turn books into projectiles (though he had pretty good aim, i have to say). It was a utopian fantasy, perhaps, but it made me feel more hopeful biking might still add a little bit of peace to the world.

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    Internet as Oil Spill

    In his Tuesday Boston Globe editorial, “Paradise Lost,” Nick King reports the arrival of wireless Internet access to the isolated Palmyra Atoll, a US Natural Wildlife Area 1000 miles south of Hawaii. He poses the following question to frame his argument:

    “Therein lies a philosophical debate. Is the Internet compatible with a sanctuary whose very ethos lies in its detachment, its disconnect, from the world as we know it? Or is the Web’s arrival akin to an oil spill washing up on Palmyra’s shores?”
    It’s an interesting metaphor: Internet as pollution. It stems from the author’s conviction that we should be preserving the experience of living without the Internet in the same way that we a preserving places like Palmyra.
    “None of the island’s unspoiled ecosystem will be damaged by Internet access, of course. But what will change is the contemplative experience of another kind of inhabitant of Palmyra: the humans. Why not link Palmyra’s status as a jewel-in-the-crown nature preserve with a parallel effort to preserve it as an archaic way of life for humans, sans Internet?”
    He’s right that adding an Internet connection will change that place. What we do online is a form of place-making. Being online extends a place by endowing it with new layers of meaning and social interaction that change our sense of distance, proximity, and connection. We experience distance in part by the difficulty (actual or perceived) of communicating with others not in physical proximity to us. If I don’t have a phone and am out camping, I feel like I’m a long ways a way;  if I have to walk from a cabin to pay phone to make a call, that makes it seem more isolated.  When communication technologies remove that difficulty, being in a place takes on different meanings.  

    According to the author, there is concern among those who in charge of the place that “Internet access will change the way people think, behave, and even talk while on the atoll, ” and he voices his own worries about the effect it will have: 
    “Will the ethos of isolation on Palmyra be ruined by the Internet? Will visitors be less attentive to the atoll’s natural wonders when the real world is just a click away? Rather than sit around after dinner singing or leafing through old scrapbooks of the Navy’s stay in Palmyra as the Seamans’s crew did, will conversation veer to the newsy or the worldly — the latest baseball scores or missteps by the Bush administration? Indeed, will Lange, like a vigilant parent, have to resort to setting rules about computer use so the Internet doesn’t come to dominate life?”
    While I share his concern, I think there’s a hint of technological determinism in his worries,  as if once the Internet is introduced the residents of the atoll will lose all ability to resist the lure of online life. The atoll has so much presence that it’s hard to imagine the Internet having such an overwhelming draw for those there. If you’ve traveled thousands of miles to study this place, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to spend your time playing mult-player games over the Internet.

    And even though he referred to the atoll as something other than “the real world,” he acknowledges the Internet is a vital research tool that makes it possible for scientists to better protect this place. It’s survival depends not on hiding or keeping it disconnected–it is already affect by forces of climate change and globalization. Rather, it can only be protect by a deeper understanding of how these forces of connection might impinge upon it.  

    I agree with the author that the experience of living without the Internet is a valuable experience in itself, and we need to preserve opportunities for this to happen regularly in our lives. But I think there are equally important lessons to be learned from voluntarily choosing to disengage from the web. After all, most of us don’t live on atolls; rather, live with the Internet every day while at the same time existing in places that deserve awareness and care–even if they are just our neighborhoods and backyards.

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