Sunday, October 7, 2012

21st Century Stoicism

I find it interesting how someone, like my friend, Richard Rosen, can send me an idea or an article and it can stop me in my tracks. In this particular case, the topic of stoicism. I read the lengthy article that Richard linked to in his email to me and it really got some wheels turning in my lizard brain. Now, there is an interesting thought, do lizard brains have wheels?

So, since my last post titled Living Free, A Stoic Philosophy?, obviously posed as a question, I've spent a significant amount of time doing some research, meditating, cogitating, ruminating and just plain old thinking about this topic. The original school of thought dates back about 2,300 years. The world has changed so much since then and, no, I'm not going to include a long list of the ways it's changed. If you can't figure that one out, then you're really reading the wrong blog and, actually, you're probably on the wrong planet. Change is inevitable. Progress through various kinds of technology is the constant. So then, how does the classical stoic philosophic thought apply in the 21st Century?

The Global Community of the 21st Century

The world was a much smaller place 2,300 years ago. I don't mean it was smaller in physical size or geographic area. I simply mean there was no such thing as a global community. For example, I can sit down with my tiny smart phone, something the ancient world couldn't have even imagined, look at the brilliant full-color display and see that the bars indicating signal strength tell me I have plenty of signal to connect effectively with the Internet, again, something unheard of to the world a mere 50 years ago. I can then touch the screen and activate an application (a computer program designed to work on smart phones) called Skype. I have no idea what a skype might be, if there is such a thing, other then a name given to this computer program.

I can then look at a list of contacts I've compiled of friends, business associates and other assorted connections and select one that says "Brian Morris." Brian is my buddy in Auckland, New Zealand. We've been friends for more then two decades. When we first connected it was through an ad I placed in a magazine he was reading in New Zealand. He wrote me a letter sent by mail - a technology now referred to as "snail mail." On ever so infrequent occasions we would speak by long-distance, wired, telephone service at exorbitant rates.

We then discovered that we could take a single piece of paper, using a typewriter (another ancient technology that's nearly obsolete currently) with the smallest size type available on that typewriter and fill that page with our communication from edge to edge, side to side and top to bottom, without breaks for paragraphs. We then put that piece of paper in a machine called a facsimile machine or "fax" for short. I have a connection to the fax machine since my father was one of the inventors who made the fax technology a reality. This is another technology that is rapidly becoming obsolete. The fax machine then dialed my phone number or his, depending on which way the communication was going and transformed the information on the paper to digital information. It transmitted the digital information and then reprinted it on another piece of paper at the receiving end. This became a more cost effective means of transmitting information to one another without it taking one to two weeks for the slower snail mail service to carry the piece of mail to it's destination.

Then, the computer, which was rapidly replacing the typewriter, was connected to a second communications network that few people knew about or understood before the early 90's and we had a new technology called electronic mail or e-mail. This technology was considerably faster, extremely reliable and extremely inexpensive. It simply required a connection to the Internet, the new network. Meanwhile, concurrent with these developments, wireless telephone communications were evolving at an ever increasing pace. Telephones began to utilize digital technology, interconnected with the Internet, combined many of the day to day technologies we were becoming more and more dependent on until, viola, today we have smart phone technology that has placed more computing power in the palm of our hands than the computers that sent the first men to the moon.

Now, this is not a discourse on smart phone technology or the Internet or anything other then how technology has moved us from that very small, ancient world of 2,300 years ago when most people never saw all the borders of their small countries to the global community of today. I look at the bars on my smart phone, activate my Skype application, touch the screen where it says my friend's name with his photo on my Skype contact page and within seconds, I'm speaking with my buddy, Brian Morris, in Auckland, New Zealand. And, I do this for free, other then my monthly costs for my digital phone service and Internet connectivity, which I pay for anyway as a general utility. And, here's the best part, Brian sounds like he's sitting next to me, not nearly 10,000 miles away. And further, each of us can turn on a function that allows us to actually see each other in live, full-color video as we chat. And sometimes we'll add a third party to the conversation, perhaps in England.

This is what I mean by a global community and that's only one small aspect of it.

21st Century Stoicism vs. Classical Stoicism

So, now, let's get back to the original premise. Can we pursue a "living free" (my term) or stoic lifestyle while embracing and utilizing all of this exciting, life altering technology? I believe the answer to that question is yes. But, it has to be considered a 21st Century stoicism, based in basic principle on classical stoicism. In other words, we can still embrace the basic principles of living simply, maintaining a minimalist profile, practicing frugality and, in essence, accepting and living the concept that less is more.

Let's look at this from a realistic perspective. At this time in current societal development, it would be unrealistic to not utilize modern communication technology, modes of transportation, medical science, entertainment media, etc. Why? Because you would set yourself back decades, even centuries. Your chances of surviving to the life expectancy we currently experience would be less likely. Sure, there are still parts of the world that don't have all of the modern advantages we have in the developed world. But, the wireless network, television, medicine, transportation and so on are reaching out to those who have not, yet, been fortunate enough to embrace all that's available. And let's face it, there's an old song line that goes something like, "How ya gonna keep em down on the farm after they've seen Paree." In other words, does anyone want to return to the ways of the ancients after they've experienced modern technology?

So, here is my thinking on this. I've chosen a "living free" and nomadic lifestyle. This is my choice and my course in life from this point forward until I may decide to change it again. Does this mean that I'm going to backpack and carry everything I need on my back and walk across this continent and everywhere I want to go? No! Does it mean I am going to travel this country on a bicycle or maybe in an old Conestoga wagon pulled by oxen? No! Does it mean that I'll travel in a 40 foot luxury motor coach with four slide out rooms that will be equivalent to having a small, luxury condominium on the road? No! Does it mean I'm going to use a smaller, much more efficient, comfortable and habitable, motorized vehicle that I'll initially customize to my own needs. Yes! Any of the modes of domestic travel I just mentioned are viable. Though, on a practical level, the Conestoga wagon would be the most difficult in our modern society due to all the laws and restrictions that exist today that weren't in place two or three centuries ago. My choice is pragmatic and follows a less is more philosophy, at least in my personal,  living free, stoic interpretation.

Let's look at another example. I mentioned that I have a smart phone. I decided to choose a phone based on the Google Android operating system. Why would I make such a decision? Doesn't your smart phone indicate a lot of excess, you may ask? The answer would be yes and no.

First, I determined that using one of the other main alternatives, a plain, simple phone (which is becoming harder and harder to find) would actually cost me more (there goes the frugality), require that I acquire other devices I would need for my chosen nomadic lifestyle, (there goes my minimalism) and complicate my life by having to learn and maintain and carry all of these other items (there goes simplicity). So, in this case, the smart phone represents less is more.

The other major alternative would be the iPhone. Now, the iPhone is a very nice device, but it would cost me anywhere from $100 to $400 or more depending on which model iPhone I want/require to meet my needs. My current smart phone cost me an investment of $5.00 and with it I received a bundle of accessories that I would have had to purchase separately for an iPhone. Both phones require a two year contract with the service provider, so there is no advantage in that decision. I'm also not interested in being particularly trendy and status driven as it appears that many typical iPhone owners are. I, also, didn't have to wait in line to place an order to get an iPhone because I had to have the latest and greatest version.  And, even though my smart phone is not an iPhone, I can do virtually everything with my smart phone I could or would want an iPhone to do. In fact, my Motorola Atrix II has a 1.2 GHz dual core processor. It's actually a very powerful computer that is also a wireless phone communication device.

In other words, I got more phone for less. My smart phone requires less money to acquire and maintain. My smart phone allows me to do virtually everything I want to be able to do in my chosen living free, nomadic lifestyle with less "stuff" and devices. The bottom line is that by doing some research, making careful evaluations and then selecting the best technology for my chosen lifestyle, less is more.

More Less Is More 21st Stoicism Is Coming

This is one aspect of 21st Century Stoicism as I see it. As I continue my meditating, cogitating, ruminating and just plain thinking, I'll make my observations and discoveries known to you.

Perhaps, you have your own ideas on 21st Century stoicism and living free. I welcome your comments, thoughts and contributions. I know I can't be the only one out of seven billion human beings inhabiting this planet who is thinking about this. Let me hear from you. 

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