A Life Connected

During my last year of high school I was one of the kids that thought he was cool and had a pager. Mountain Dew sponsored a deal in which you could pay a reasonable amount and receive a pager with a Mountain Dew logo inscribed on it and six months of free airtime (click here for a 1996 NYT article). The majority of the pages I received were special offers from Mountain Dew and I remember scheming how my friends and I could spell words using only numbers. The notion of a pager to kids in high school today is unthinkable – no calling, texting or browsing capabilities in your pocket would be unacceptable by most kids’ standards. Just ask my eighteen-year-old cousin now living with us for the next few weeks. A life not connected is a life unknown to her.

But now I can’t imagine life without a cell phone. Yet I managed to live my entire life until the fall of 2003 without one. In college when people asked for my phone number I told them to email me, since I had neither a home nor cell phone and checked my email frequently enough. I figured that I was hardly home and a cell phone seemed too expensive and unnecessary for me at the time. Growing up I clearly remember making calls from pay phones for rides home from the movies or the mall, but have a difficult time recalling how I met people at specific meeting points. We must have been very specific with our plans – meet at so and so time at so and so place. These days, people agree to meet you at a park, arrive at the park and call you. There is no need for specificity anymore when meeting someone.

With time, the ordinary cell phone will go the way of the cassette tape and the pager and be replaced with a mainstream smartphone-like device where everyone knows where everyone else is via GPS and what they’re doing (at least in a short blurb, like with Twitter or Facebook’s status updates). Email will be instantaneous for everyone and I will probably be among those connected. And similar to my cousin not remembering what it was like pre-email and when people had pagers, my daughter won’t know what text messaging on a nine-digit numerical keypad is because the times will have changed again.

The Wisdom of the Crowd

The twenty-first century will see collective wisdom and peer-to-peer collaboration change the world as much as computers and increased communication changed the world in the twentieth century. While intellectual property is still a valid concept and will continue to live on, the businesses that will thrive in the years to come will be those that learn to treat their proprietary information more liberally and allow and encourage others to share, access, modify and improve it. The underlying theory is that there are smarter people in your field outside of your company or organization than inside it and ignoring that fact would be foolish. Even for a company that possessed the most esteemed expert in a certain field, such expert’s body of knowledge is still inferior to the knowledge of 100 other experts in the same field, even if they are deemed to be lesser experienced on an individual basis.

This notion of open source has existed in the software industry for decades, but we will soon see the same idea across all industries, technologies, businesses and cultures. There are more than six billion people in the world and those smart enough to tap into the collective body of knowledge, talent, wisdom, training and experience will survive. A growing marketplace for problems and their specific solutions is just now effectively forming that will change the world and the traditional business model we have grown accustomed to. If you are seeking a solution for which you have no idea how to resolve, let the crowd solve it for you via InnoCentive, Yahoo or Wiki Answers or elance, among many others. In an effort to apply this concept, Senator McCain is promising anyone $300 million (in taxpayer dollars) if they can find an energy source other than fossil fuels to power cars. Sure, the government could establish a team to work on resolving such an issue, but the best solution will come from the collective body of scientists as a whole. Hopefully those working on Senator McCain’s challenge will share knowledge and science as opposed to forming secret groups afraid to share their progress or intellectual property, which is how many businesses still function. Believe me, the understanding of collaboration and the open sourcing of everything will change how we work together and ultimately the world.

The Streets of New York

Someone once mentioned to me that his favorite thing about New York City was that a day in the city became truly an adventure for each of your senses. He explained that unlike walking around other U.S. Cities, New York provides something for the eyes, ears, nose and reflexes. I have to agree.

Where else can you go and see what you see in NY, both the good and the bad? I have seen the heroic, the ignorant and the idiotic. If nothing else, New York is always ready to impress, from individual fashion to the downright dirty and everything in between, the streets of New York are a feast for the eyes.

Sound is also another sense that is constantly bombarded on the streets of New York. From the never-ending fire truck and police sirens to the hilarious things you’ll overhear as people walk by with their cell phones attached to their heads. You hear languages you recognize and some you don’t as people go about their daily business on the streets of the city. All types of music too loud for headphones waft in around you on the subway and on the crowded streets. Indeed, it is never quiet on the island of Manhattan. And after getting used to it, a truly quiet place is a bit unsettling at first.

One’s sense of smell is also tested on the streets of New York.  From the sweet smells of the roasted peanuts sold on the sidewalks to the pungent steam that drifts up from the grates and manhole covers, the City is certainly home to many smells. The smells from each location vary widely, from the back streets just south of Canal Street in Chinatown to the wide and well-manicured streets of Park Avenue. Like with so many other things in life, not every street is treated equally in this city.

New York City is also a suitable testing ground for one’s reflexes. When I can, I like to see how close I can cut corners and avoid traffic and people. Try walking quickly through throngs of people in midtown during rush hour and your reflex skills can’t help but improve. No where else in the world is such a treat, surprise or disaster for one’s senses and reflexive skills as New York City. Depending on who you are, you’ll love it or hate it. But at some point, somewhere, there is something here for you.

European Travels

Five years ago this month I was traveling through Western Europe with a good friend of mine. Fresh out of college and in love, I was full of optimism and eager to do something memorable before starting law school that coming fall. This being 2003, the U.S. was not the most popular country at the time and I remember being a bit concerned regarding safety and how we, as Americans, would be regarded while in Europe. But we luckily had no problems throughout the journey.

We began in Paris and spent a few days there before taking the train overnight to Venice. One of the memories that stick out the most while in Venice is walking down a centuries-old alley only to come around the corner and find a Foot Locker blaring 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”. We made our way from city to city on overnight trains that are popular in Europe. The sleeper rail cars were always an adventure and a great way to meet people from all over the world, not to mention being forced to share tight sleeping quarters with them. We stayed in youth hostels while traveling and I found the experience to be fine, so long as you go into the adventure not expecting a five-star hotel (or any privacy).

From Venice we traveled to Rome and the on to the French Rivera (where Monaco will make anyone feel dirt poor) and then down to Barcelona and over to Madrid. We spent one night baking in Seville in southern Spain due to the heat and a few more days in Madrid hanging out with the friends we made on the road before returning to Paris for our last few days. Needless to say, Paris was incredible. But Barcelona and Madrid also left strong impressions on me. I would immediately return to either city again should an opportunity arise.

I have a photo from that trip that I keep in the journal I started while in Europe. It shows me standing alone on top of the hill in which the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur sits in Paris and overlooks much of the city. Montparnasse looms in the background of the photo, and I am alone, marking my last summer as a bachelor. It was a good way to spend such a summer.

A New York Visit Redefined

My brother came to visit us a week after my wife and I moved to New York several years ago. We had literally just finished unpacking and settling into our new apartment when he arrived. We did not know the area and I was hesitant to drive out to JFK International Airport and pick him up. As part of his New York adventure, I thought I would make him take public transportation to get near our place and I would pick him up from there. After taking the red eye flight from Seattle, I forced him to take the A train from JFK into Manhattan (an adventure in itself) and then transfer to the uptown train that ran to the end of the line in the Bronx. Weary and unsure of where he was, I picked him up and brought him back to our place many hours after arriving in the City. His first experience in New York was good, but he was learning the city as I was, given that we had just moved to the area. We didn’t know the cool neighborhood parks, the great eateries and the history and the secrets of the City that tourists rarely discover.

Fast forward several years to this past weekend. My brother was in town for only the second time since we had moved here, again arriving on an overnight flight. This time, however, I made the early trip out to JFK to pick him up like I have so many other people since I made him take the train. I have learned that if you are unfamiliar with New York City, JFK is not the easiest of places to arrive, especially on little sleep. This time around I felt as if I was able to give my brother the full New York treatment. I took him to my favorite places in the City, we ate some great meals, I showed him some historical sites and places of interest (tailored, of course, to him) and I introduced him to some of my friends in the area. We even played basketball together for the first time in many years. Since I am hoping that this summer in New York will be my last, I am glad I could show my brother my New York and had a chance to redeem myself from his first visit several years earlier.

Cuernavaca Summer

Six years ago today I was in Cuernavaca, Mexico wondering what I was doing there. I arranged to stay with a host family while I was there and spent six weeks in Spanish classes and activities before returning to Hawaii for my last year of college. At the time, I was hoping to improve my Spanish and develop a level of conversational fluency. Given that most Americans harbor a less-than-stellar image of Mexico, I had no idea what to expect. I knew no one and my Spanish was poor. I was leaving dear friends and what was comfortable for the sake of a summer adventure. My short experience in Mexico, however, was a good one and left me with warm feelings towards the country and its people.

While in Cuernavaca I stayed in a separate house across the street from my host family’s house with two guys from Minnesota and a guy from California, the latter of which became a good friend for most of my time there. On the weekends when we were free from Spanish class, we would hang out in Mexico City (about 45 minutes away) or go sightseeing to one of the nearby ruins or historical sites. Recently I came across a journal entry I wrote in 2002 while in Mexico of things you may see on the streets of Mexico City. The list included the funny, scary and outright dangerous. But after living in New York and walking the streets of the city for several years now I can say that what I saw in Mexico City would not be all that peculiar to a New Yorker.

My Spanish improved in Mexico, not surprisingly, although I managed to still speak mostly English with the Americans I met there. I made some good friends, one of which I am still in touch with, and had an enjoyable time overall. But when the time came to return to Hawaii and my friends, I was ready to go home.