Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tunnel Vision in Low Visibility

 When United Flight 1205 and US Airways Flight 432 “nearly collided” over the Pacific on April 25 of this year, air traffic control reportedly assigned both planes the same altitude.  An audible warning in the cockpit of the United flight alerted pilots to the potential midair collision and their rapid descent of approximately 600 ft in 60 seconds may have contributed to a few spilled drinks but the preservation of life of untold hundreds.  While the pilots deserve credit for their heads-up reaction, engineers at Boeing and the countless scientists who developed collision avoidance radar systems are even more to thank for averting the potential remote-controlled disaster.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have a joint task force en route to Hawaii to get to the bottom of this near disaster that appears to be nearly covered up but for the activism of passengers who made noise about the incident.  I make this observation merely because the NTSB “Current Investigations” website as of the time the story broke does not include this “investigation” which they told media sources was “on-going”.

Let’s see, fellow humans, how is this going to go down?  Probably something like this.  A trained professional in a windowless room in Hawaii was tracking an out-going flight while bringing another flight in.  Small screens in front of the controller’s face were lit up with simple icons slowly blipping their way across the display.  This two dimensional representation of multidimensional data was designed by interface engineers that were encouraged to simplify complex data into ‘intuitive’ forms.  And, without deep consideration, two blips were heading towards each other while dozens of other blips were meandering about the screen.  “Maintain Flight Level 3-3-0,” was instinctive instruction spoken by the controller between multiple other instructions to other planes in the vicinity.  And, at the point the planes careened past each other, they were about 8.09 seconds and 800 ft away from vaporizing each other.  They didn’t.

I was flying across the same Pacific Ocean this week and got to see the puzzling reality of the frequent passing of planes in remarkably close proximity given the vastness of the firmament.  Keeping things simple, it seems, includes increasing the likelihood that we’ll crash.  But simplicity is to be favored?

Perplexing me all the way across the same ocean was the conversation that sent me on my way from Papua New Guinea this week.  Through a cunning manipulation of one number, KPMG aided Bougainville Copper Ltd - owned by Rio Tinto – in calculating investment returns due landowners for compensation due them since 1990.  Using an investment return rate (PNG Treasuries) that was never used in the PwC-audited performance reporting of Rio Tinto or Bougainville Copper Ltd, these companies have conspired to seduced cash-starved landowners into settling for less than 1/10 of the appropriate investment returns made by the companies themselves.  And by appropriate, I mean the actual, audited investment returns made by Rio Tinto on their own cash investment and their own publicly traded equity.  After all, in a country where one third of the population lives on less than an equivalent of $1.25 per day, getting a $275 / per capita pay day sounds like a lot!  But not collecting the actual, audited investment amount due (nearly 1% of the nation’s effective GDP) puts this conflict-torn land in line for another predictable collision with the same civil war and violence that’s visited its shores several times in the past 50 years.  And in response to this information, senior officials expressed concern that, “if the public found out about this, there’d be an uprising or civil unrest.”  You think?  Like the NTSB and FAA, the response to a simple oversight made in ignorance leads to an impulse to decrease visibility. 

It has occurred to me that the axiomatic “knowledge economy” taxonomy may have more sinister truth than hyperbole entwined in its warping.  We live in a time in which information asymmetry competes only with active disinformation as a means of disproportionately advancing the interests of the few at the expense of the many.  It’s not knowledge that we transact in the economy but rather our systems celebrate the predation on what’s not known as a means to advantage. 

The “free” nature of the internet leads millions to place their personal lives in the public view for the benefit of “social” networking.  Yet this ingenious seduction (even post-Snowden when revealed to be what some of us have always known and pointed out to a massive hypnotized audience) is a phenomenally cost-effective way for agencies of power to collect information that would never be released if its true aggregators were known.  It’s not the knowledge economy.  It’s an economy in which knowledge of what’s knowable or find-out-able is the easy path to wealth redistribution and appropriation. 

And to add insult to injury, well-meaning people who actually attempt to call attention to the self-evident collisions on the radar are told to simplify their message so that it can be consumed by the tedious masses.  So here it is.  Really simply.

Planes can collide and go missing when complex modes of transportation are reduced to blips on a screen.  They’re vehicles of mass-transportation with lots of people on board.  They need to be more carefully stewarded and the lives on board need to be valued enough to monitor their movements.

Defrauding the public using the guise of internationally-branded auditors and advisors and using slogans like, “development that meets the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” sews the seeds today for violence and revolt tomorrow.

Assuming that communication over “free” networks isn’t being observed by the people who are actually paying for the network is ludicrous.  And when they’ve gotten what they want, they’ll take it down.  So, building “sustainable communities” in virtual space is oxymoronic.  If you want to be in a persistent relationship, you need to be persistently relating in analog space.

We don’t need midair collisions, civil unrest and revolts, and privacy intrusions to prove the fallacy of simplifying that which is inherently complex.  And we don’t need to pick “the important” fact in isolation when the wisdom only occurs in multi-perspectival discernment.  A star does not aid in navigation.  Stars in relative position locate us with precision.  It’s time that we opened the aperture of our perspectives, challenge ourselves to deeply expand our awareness and sensitivity, and embrace the fact that knowledge may be born of our reconnecting with others who know what we don’t so that we too can avoid the collisions that are entirely knowable, known, and in certain instances, entirely engineered.  Embrace the complicated because therein is the essence of living!



  1. I identified with this article in thinking about some of the more public actions I have taken in the past, perhaps on the more QT (quiet), to avoid outside comment, mostly criticisms, but never involving important money or life issues.

    You wrote, "The “free” nature of the internet leads millions to place their personal lives in the public view for the benefit of “social” networking. Yet this ingenious seduction (even post-Snowden when revealed to be what some of us have always known and pointed out to a massive hypnotized audience) is a phenomenally cost-effective way for agencies of power to collect information that would never be released if its true aggregators were known. It’s not the knowledge economy. It’s an economy in which knowledge of what’s knowable or find-out-able is the easy path to wealth redistribution and appropriation."

    Who are these, "agencies of power" and the true "aggregators"?

    What are they using their economy of knowledge for?

    How are they using this aggregated information to amass, appropriate and redistribute our wealth?
    pt 1. cont.

  2. pt 2.

    In a minor sense, I completely understand your point. Many years ago, I always said that companies should ask people, like me, my opinion, what I want and what I need in their products. Well, it seems that they have and the more they know about what I want and need, the more it costs me! Slyly they inquire, tell us what you really want so we can package it for you, -in ways most profitable to us!
    For one price, I used to be able to buy a lamp with a shade. Someone along the way told probably told them that the flexibility to have a choice of mixing and matching lamp bases and shades would be lovely, so now they are sold separately, which considerably raises the total price. Look at what's happened to television and all the companies separate packaging and pricing schematics. It's the same with phones companies and their packages! And just TRY to compare different phone or cable company's packages against each other, the creative little buggers have ever so craftily mutually engineered corporate obfuscation! It has been designed to be virtually impossible. One cannot straight up compare apples to apples within these companies. Most of us waste very little of our precious time before we throw our hands up in frustration and disgust, signing on the dotted line.

    I always take time to inform the management of my displeasure at their huge marketing ads laminated on the grocery store floors, which I consider dangerous because visually it suddenly appears that I am about to trip over something previously unnoticed.

    I have also informed them of my displeasure at their newly installed tv's, sometimes 4-6 per aisle, blaring ads in the groceries aisles that I refuse to go down even if I needed something on that aisle.

    I have informed them of my displeasure at gas stations where there are tv's newly installed at every gas pump, an un-synchronized cacophony, droning their BLARING ads at us captives loudly over traffic, where we are helpless to either turn them off, or even just down.

    In short order, I discovered that the grocery floor ads were scrapped off and the blaring tv's discreetly removed as well from the aisles. I haven't run into an exploding tv population at gas stations either, but I'm not sure of the state of that issue.

    I always preface my displeasure with, "I would like to share my opinion with you and I say this with a loving heart ..." I have always been very graciously received. I'm sure these changes are not due to my "loving heart" informing them alone, but who knows?!

    I have also wised up about being more discreet about informing them what I want from products. Oh, and I stopped answering those surveys long ago!

    Regarding the public space, I wonder do you have any more positive coping suggestions for us? Unless of course, my experience when I share my "loving heart" is a small case in point, but I do mean more online though!

    A very interesting perspective, thanks for writing this, David!


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave