Since I’ve gotten back from Salt Lake City, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the Utah teapot, mixed reality, and “thingification” intersect. I didn’t quite know how to write about it until a few days ago when someone in Wisconsin asked if I would present to their group. That led me to revisit some upsetting research I’d done a few years back about middle school students, personalized learning, digital delusion, and a brutal stabbing that took place in Waukesha in 2014. It’s what sparked this post.
If you’ve got the stomach for it, I encourage folks to watch the HBO documentary “Beware The Slenderman” that came out in 2016. It is chilling; even more now given how much time children are spending online since lockdowns began almost a year ago. I woke up this morning feeling a need to get this written down, so forgive me if it’s still rough around the edges. The point I’m trying to convey is that we have, as Dr. King predicted, turned people into things, children into things, with devices, and there are going to be serious consequences rippling out from how we’ve lived our lives online and in social isolation over the past year. We need to own that harm and work collectively to repair the damage.
The Utah Teapot and Mixed Reality
Martin Newell, a computer science professor at the University of Utah, transformed a sketch he drew of a Melitta teapot into digital representation using mathematical coordinates in 1975. It became an iconic “virtual item” included in 3-D graphics modeling software programs for many decades, an in-joke among the coding community.
Besides hosting one of the first Arpanet nodes the university has long been a leader in the development of computer simulation technology. At the moment this is particularly significant since we appear to be on the brink of falling into the spatial web.
What is that? Well, it is a cyber-physical coded universe where objects and people are “augmented” with layers of data encountered through wearable and implantable sensor technologies. A digital world of virtual items like the teapot. It’s that militarized hedge fund mixed reality video game I keep talking about.
We’ve arrived, apparently, by way of Salt Lake City. Read about my visit to Silicon Slopes here.
In his August 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “Where do we go from here?,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asserted: “Your whole structure must be changed. A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will “thingify” them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally and economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.”
We live in empire, a nation built on stolen bodies and stolen lands. Scores of social scientists, entertainers, and thought leaders are handsomely paid to convince us we’re walking a “green path” of freedom and democracy and opportunity. Yet it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the insistent crunch of cinders and ash beneath our feet, and the acrid smoke that surrounds us. We’re on a scorched path, brain-washed to imagine otherwise.
More and more folks do realize something is up. Society, which grooms us to embrace mindless debt-fueled consumption to steal our souls and commercialize our culture, has been walking us ever so slowly towards that “thingification” of which Dr. King so eloquently spoke. The moment the masses no longer have the wherewithal to consume, which is not so far off, the Davos crowd plans to turn the tables. If we’re not careful, we’ll be the ones consumed – as pay for success debt products – by global financiers. Empire turning inward, our lives transformed into animated characters trapped in an inscrutable game of digital surveillance and coded nudges. The field of play will be the spatial web. New and improved with robot police and QR codes!
I think of the Lakota and Wounded Knee and the Ghost Dance.
Dr. King, too, knew it as a spiritual engagement, this unwinding of empire.
Instead, break the enchantments that keep us separated as “things.”
Energetically unified we’re far more powerful than the fools who think they hold all the cards.
Mind your step; watch the teapots.
Beware the Slenderman
In 2014, two Waukesha middle schoolers committed a brutal crime. They had been having delusions about a frightening Internet character called The Slenderman, a widely circulating meme originally created for a paranormal photoshop contest that has been incorporated into pop fiction, art, and gaming. The tall humanoid without a face was said to stalk and abduct children. The girls imagined the character had told them they must murder a peer, or he would harm them and their families.
One of girls attended a “student centered” competency-based education school, Flight Academy. The technology-based Flight Academy program uses an unstructured format where much of the instruction is delivered on i-pads in informal, student-directed settings. In the documentary the parents of one of the girls says over and over how upset they were about the about the school-issued i-pads and the amount of time their child was spending online.
Slenderman has a counterpart on the Minecraft online gaming / coding platform. This character is called Enderman. Endermen are members of a neutral mob that will attack you if you look them in the eyes. The tutorial below shows how to create a Slenderman variant of the Enderman.
For me, it is important to know Microsoft spent billions of dollars to acquire both Minecraft AND LinkedIn. I look at Pavel Luksha and Tom Vander Ark’s Global Education Futures Forum “future of education” infographic and cannot help but notice similarities between the Enderman and the “thingified learner” in the middle surrounded by wearable tech and surveillance devices and human capital finance “opportunities” pitched as self-directed education.
Archived here – the Global Education Future Forum website has been taken offline.
Is this a student?
Or is this an emergent humanoid character?
Thingified people, mental instability, violence
No one expected this bloody stabbing to happen in a suburban Milwaukee park.
Good kids, never any problems before.
Before digital delusions and the Slenderman.
If you take the Flight Academy competency-based model to the next level – right out of the school as we are seeing during lockdowns – that is what we’re going to get. It is the “city as school / learning eocystem” model being pushed by the MacArthur Foundation’s spin out Collective Shift. The LRNG program is one of digital badging developed with Mozilla; pokemon-go education in a militarized police state. LRNG is already pushing youth workers into setting up LinkedIn profiles that feature their badges. It’s being baked into summer youth job training programs in many smart cities, including San Jose. Read more about that here.
In the Minecraft tutorial a character is “built” using various “blocks,” not unlike stackable credentials. Picture LinkedIn attestations and skills badges. We know the not-too-distant future plan is to turn most people into bundles of securitized debt tracked back to a blockchain ID.
BLOCK – you’re seeing the pattern?
Children are being targeted RIGHT NOW for digital ID, as have been the unhoused and refugees before them. California intends to create blockchain health records, using the pandemic as justification. These interoperable databases can then be used to mine student health data and track kids and trace them and traumatize them through daily health checks tied to QR codes, without which they are literally locked out of their rights to access in-person instruction.
Click here to watch a video featuring the Los Angeles Unified School District’s “exciting” new partnership with Microsoft and Anthem, the country’s largest member-based health system. It’s called “Daily Pass.” Feels like we’re crossing the threshold into that spatial web right quick. The problem is too few see the bigger picture. Please, everyone, step carefully and do mind the teapots.
Google knows data is the new oil. This is not really about safety; it’s about profit and control. Children are commodities. You can be sure their “quality” is going to be evaluated using all of those data points. The peoplenaires (Slendermen?) are after the children. They really are.
Source – archived.
For Luksha and Vander Ark, who both have expertise in resource extraction and mining and are now working in ed-tech venture capital “re-skilling,” I imagine it would not be hard to see children remade as blocks of raw material, the playthings of a debt finance Slenderman. Is it any wonder the minds of children today are breaking in constructed worlds of false reality?
Can we not see Davos’s plan is to gamify the process whereby coming generations will be compelled to code the digital jail they’re going to be forced to live in? Minecraft Education is just the thing to get them ready. Indoctrinated to earn digital scrip to be spent in virtual worlds. Life, all of it, lived in the company store, building the company store in fact. Existing on a leaderboard, interacting with non-beings, like Endermen or Slendermen that you cannot even look in the eye lest they attack you, or spirit you off, or twist your mind to attack your actual friends…
We were never meant to be human equivalents of the Utah teapot.
Powerful forces are hell bent on turning us into programmable avatars, digital twins, that are disconnected from nature, isolated, and ready to be mined as data commodities. Don’t believe me? Check out the tag line of ReadyPlayer.me: “Level up your virtual experience with selfie-based avatars that people love and emotionally connect with.”
Unite and Cut the Gordian Knot
We’ve gotten ensnared by dark forces cunningly camouflaged by “playfulness.” The “game” we’ve been drawn into is a military one, and we don’t understand the rules. If adults don’t understand the game, imagine what it must be like to be a child in today’s mixed (up) reality. How are children supposed to understand reality, when “reality” has become whatever powerful interests digitally program it to be?
We must step off the paths being made for us by the global elite. They lead to an anti-life future of automation lacking soul, love, vibrancy, and serendipity. Our quest, if we choose to take it up, is to cut the Gordian knot of racism, wealth, power, dehumanization, war, and greed. I do believe it is our destiny to reassert the imperative of right relationships and reciprocity. Replace this lean, efficient, brutal machine with a world of sacred mutualism. Let us work together to keep the social impact investors and defense contractors at bay as we figure out next steps.
“Where DO we go from here?” Dr. King asked, knowing the whole structure must be changed.
That is the question people keep asking me. What do we do next?
To be honest, I’m not sure.
There is no instruction manual. We’ll have to write it.
But I believe in us. I believe we will figure it out.
What IS certain is that if we do not cut the knot soon, we humans will find ourselves responsible for exterminating the natural world. Carbon supplanted by silicon, an AI simulacrum. I refuse to believe in the end we’ll sell future generations short, sitting on our hands as a totalitarian planetary computer running digital twin versions of EVERYTHING gets installed on our watch.
No, I’m betting we’ll find one another and stand in our power. We’ll turn back this military-bio-nano “thingification,” and throw open the doors to peace so healing may begin.
Please take a minute to listen to this one minute clip from Coretta Scott King on wealth, power, machines, loss of identity, alienation, materialism, and “thingification of people.”