Some life-affirming thoughts for a tech New Year

by Chris Matyszczyk

(Credit: CC KhE/Flickr)

Viewing the tech world, as I do, largely from the fringes, I sometimes wonder just how seriously it takes itself.

Make a joke about Apple and invective will descend on you. Make a joke about Google+ and expect to be told to “eat a large bowl of raw d***”– oh, and to be followed by a lot more people on Google+.

The New Year will, no doubt, see more intensity surrounding tech companies, tech products, and tech personalities.

Some people will work beyond their physical and mental capacities. Some people will believe that killing Google, Apple, Facebook is everything that exists in life. Some people will lose perspective entirely about what’s important and what is mere group-speak.

So to celebrate the New Year, here are the words of a palliative-care nurse who’s spent much of her life listening to people on their deathbeds. These truths were first published on the Arise India forum but were then republished by the extraordinary writer Kelly Oxford.

These, then, are what this nurse saw as the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Perhaps they might seem obvious, perhaps not. But their raw reality becomes evident when, as the nurse says, people realized they were experiencing their last few days on Earth.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was, apparently, the most common regret. In tech terms, think of everything that is expected of people. Many of those who leave college believe that tech is the only place worth working these days. They don’t always consider whether they’ll enjoy it or not. Most people in the world are now being told that if they’re not on a social network, they don’t exist. So they spend hours every day peering into screens. The life that is true to you isn’t always easy to identify, never mind to live.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. Self-evident, perhaps. But surely still something worth thinking about in a world in which personal insecurity is now being traded as if it were just another commodity. We’re scared, so we work harder. The harder we work, the more scared we become that this is all there is and all there ever will be.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. The nurse talks about how people developed illnesses that she believes were directly related to the “bitterness and resentment” they felt as a result of living a false life. In tech terms, how many people truly believe they are creating a new tomorrow? And how many feel they are staring into their screens in order to line someone else’s pocket and ego, without ever themselves being appreciated for what they do and who they are?

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Yes, these people never had Facebook. But are those Facebook friends really your friends? Have you let go of your real friends because you’re too busy with your Facebook friends? As the nurse puts it: “It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.” Which would mean real relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. “When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind,” says the nurse. And yet here we are in the real, techified life, where what others think of us matters more than ever. If someone says something bad about us on the Web (something that is so very, very easy and therefore likely), we are mortified–more so, because the bad words will always live in some electronic physical existence. The bad words will never go away because we can find them. Ergo, so can everyone else. Yet what this nurse tells us is that the opinions of others matter far, far less than we might think at the time.

Perhaps this seems a somber way to wish everyone a Happy New Year. But the one thing we have that those of whom the nurse writes don’t is time. Here’s looking forward to a very happy 2012 and, hopefully, one that is very true to each of our individual selves.

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing. He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.

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Enter the Dragon Year 2012, with hope, fear, or both?

Chinese Dragon

 China moves to centre stage


The most striking contrast when comparing today’s American world with a possible Chinese world of tomorrow is how their people experience the world beyond their borders.

FOR a European these days, thinking about the future is disturbing. America is militarily overstretched, politically polarised, and financially indebted. The European Union seems on the brink of collapse, and many non-Europeans view the old continent as a retired power that can still impress the world with its good manners, but not with nerve or ambition.

Global opinion surveys over the last three years consistently indicate that many are turning their backs on the West and – with hope, fear, or both – see China as moving to centre stage. As the old joke goes, optimists are learning to speak Chinese; pessimists are learning to use a Kalashnikov.

While a small army of experts argues that China’s rise to power should not be assumed, and that its economic, political, and demographic foundations are fragile, the conventional wisdom is that China’s power is growing. Many wonder what a global Pax Sinica might look like: How would China’s global influence manifest itself? How would Chinese hegemony differ from the American variety?

Generally, questions of ideology, economics, history, and military power dominate today’s China debate.

But, when comparing today’s American world with a possible Chinese world of tomorrow, the most striking contrast consists in how Americans and Chinese experience the world beyond their borders.

America is a nation of immigrants, but it is also a nation of people who never emigrate.

Notably, Americans living outside the United States are not called emigrants, but ‘expats.’ America gave the world the notion of the melting pot – an alchemical cooking device wherein diverse ethnic and religious groups voluntarily mix together, producing a new, American identity. And while critics may argue that the melting pot is a national myth, it has tenaciously informed the America’s collective imagination.

Since the first Europeans settled there in the 17th century, people from around the world have been drawn to the American dream of a better future; America’s allure is partly its ability to transform others into Americans. As one Russian, now an Oxford University don, put it, ‘You can become an American, but you can never become an Englishman.’

It is, therefore, not surprising that America’s global agenda is transformative; it is a rule-maker.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have not tried to change the world, but rather to adjust to it. China’s relationships with other countries are channelled through its diaspora, and the Chinese perceive the world via their experience as immigrants.

Today, more Chinese live outside China than French people live in France, and these overseas Chinese account for the largest number of investors in China. In fact, only 20 years ago, Chinese living abroad produced approximately as much wealth as China’s entire internal population. First the Chinese diaspora succeeded, then China itself.

Chinatowns – often insular communities located in large cities around the world – are the Chinese diaspora’s core. As the political scientist Lucien Pye once observed, ‘the Chinese see such an absolute difference between themselves and others that they unconsciously find it natural to refer to those in whose homeland they are living as ‘foreigners.’

While the American melting pot transforms others, Chinatowns teach their inhabitants to adjust – to profit from their hosts’ rules and business while remaining separate.

While Americans carry their flag high, Chinese work hard to be invisible. Chinese communities worldwide have managed to become influential in their new homelands without being threatening; to be closed and non-transparent without provoking anger; to be a bridge to China without appearing to be a fifth column.

As China is about adaptation, not transformation, it is unlikely to change the world dramatically should it ever assume the global driver’s seat. But this does not mean that China won’t exploit that world for its own purposes.

America, at least in theory, prefers that other countries share its values and act like Americans. China can only fear a world where everybody acts like the Chinese. So, in a future dominated by China, the Chinese will not set the rules; rather, they will seek to extract the greatest possible benefit from the rules that already exist.

Ivan Krastev is Chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a Permanent Fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna.

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