by Kai Staats
for MacNewsWorld
07/21/04 10:46 AM PT

The original story may be found at MacNewsWorld.

Before I open a book, I always turn to the back page to read about the author. I find it helpful to know about him or her, for in my mind I desire to picture this person when the words were first applied to keyboard, screen or print. It helps build a foundation for what I am about to read, even if idealized or oversimplified.

I am honored to be invited to write for MacNewsWorld. As one who is daily entrenched in Linux and high performance computing, it may be expected that I would write about the battle between Linux and Windows, PowerPC and Intel. But I do that for a living. I need a break, a creative outlet for those thoughts that otherwise remain trapped between brain, fingers and keyboard.

In this column, I plan to explore the subjects of human interconnectedness and isolation, interdependence and independence in a rapidly evolving age of technology and telecommunications. In so doing, I will derive as much as I am able from my own experience in order to share first-hand what I have observed within myself, my immediate associates and the world within my sight and touch.

I will also call upon conversations with customers, articles and books I have read, and the creative liberty of extrapolation for events and places that either I have not explored in person or to create those that have not yet come to exist.

Building the Foundation
Before I open a book, I always turn to the back page to read about the author. I find it helpful to know about him or her, for in my mind I desire to picture this person when the words were first applied to keyboard, screen or print. It helps build a foundation for what I am about to read, even if idealized or oversimplified.

Therefore, I offer to you a bit about me: I am the co-founder and CEO of Terra Soft Solutions, developer of Yellow Dog Linux for PowerPC. I am an avid rock climber, I prefer sleeping in a tent rather than a bed and I have traveled to many countries around the world. I would claim to live alone in my 1912 sugar mill home in Loveland, Colorado, were it not for the animals that live with me within the walls (literally): birds, mice, spiders and bees.

I purchased the oldest (by choice), ugliest (not much of a choice), fixer-upper (a third generation, seemingly incurable disease) house in this historic neighborhood. My mother cried when my parents first visited my home, asking if I could get my money back. Knowing it was too late, she promptly called in a 30 cubic yard dumpster, which we filled twice while gutting all 900 square feet of home. One more dumpsterload and I might as well have hung curtains in the dumpster instead. Six years later, I continue to prepare my food over plywood, for my countertop is not yet complete. I have more projects started than complete.

A Mixed Bag
Seemingly caught between two worlds, I am often perplexed by technology unfolding at a breathless pace whereby humans are able to conduct that which was written about in science fiction just one generation ago; and my own craving for a time since past when one could drink from mountain streams without concern for giardia or the outwashing of acid rain.

I use a 15-inch Apple PowerBook with immediate access to a dozen servers, routers and fibre optic backbone scalable to 100 MB with the click of a mouse, a gigabit with a phone call. I have employees in three states and Canada, one of whom I have never met nor even seen his photo. I don’t need to. We are connected daily via e-mail, electronic calendars, CVS, chat and phone.

At home I do not own a television, computer or game console. I have a 1914 piano, many books, and, as one who enjoys quality sound, a decent home theater system connected to my 1978 Commodore 64 monitor for watching DVDs. I have a peach, a plum, a mulberry and two apple trees. This year I am growing corn, beans, carrots and “a” strawberry (despite my best efforts, this plant seems to produce no more than a single fruit per year).

Ever Evolving
I am simultaneously thrilled by the possibilities of a space ladder to hoist payloads to orbiting cities without massive pollution — and frightened by the very real desire for some parents to embed GPS beacons in their children’s arms to make certain they are neither lost nor stolen.

If I recall correctly, just a few years ago, half of the human population had never used a telephone, let alone the Internet. But I am in awe of the rate at which intercomputer connectivity is increasing, not only in speed but in the number of persons online. It seems the gap between the connected and the disconnected will soon narrow.

This transformation will occur as a function of desire for interconnectivity and, oddly enough, independence. Therefore, I am fascinated with the potential for shifts in power when once-isolated peoples have access to the entire connected world, and of equal importance, the entire world has access to them. But what will happen when individuals fail to recall what it means to be alone and their desire for independence grows to become interdependence?

When microchips give way to nanobots which are replaced by organic arrays nearly indistinguishable from our own cells — passed from one generation to the next, evolving by design — then our own connected future may lie not in the light of fiber optics, but in the spectrum of a new kind of ESP (what I will call “Engineered Sensory Perception”), a means of interpersonal communication that makes a gigabyte per second look like two children with a garden hose, funnels held to mouth and ear.

Interdependence and Independence
My writing will be a one-way communication in most respects, from me to you. Given this constraint, I will do my best to write as a catalyst, offering material for discussion. While I do write with an agenda (or I would find no compelling reason to write), I will do so based upon the premise that “This is what I have experienced …” in hope that it stimulates thought, consideration, awareness, action, reaction, even debate among you and your associates.

I will remain attached only to the hope that I may cause the occasional “Hmmm,” or “Ah-hah!”

Given this introduction, please return to this column next week for the first of what I hope to be many thought-provoking ventures into the experience of being human in a world rapidly evolving to extend humanity’s reach through innovation in technology.

© Kai Staats 2004