Cast A Way

ABC is airing Tom Hanks’ flick where the FedEx executive splashes tragically
into the South Pacific where he idles away several years with a volleyball as
his only friend. It’s a somber film–one I like for simple reasons: water
dripping from the broken pager, the hullabaloo of corporate-career resuscitation
when he returns from the isolated isle, the varied, impractical contents of the
FedEx packages. It’s easy to watch, easier if there weren’t any commercial
interruptions. To keep my media noise at a sufficiently entertaining level
for a Saturday night working on course stuff (D. on her lesson plans, me on some
web things, Ph. in bed at 9:30), I put on Rhythm of the Saints kind of
low. It’s been a wild party ever since.

On the plane Monday night (yeah, that trip, the one still at
the front of my mind), I could see the variously shaped clusters of lights,
towns and cities mapped by their luminance–a kind of social electricity,
grouped filaments graphing the housing patterns of the northeastern American
landscape. I was sitting in 1A, front and left in a row of one (service
space for the attendant on my right, compartments for sodas and pretzel sticks
in tiny bags); it was a Continental puddle-skipper, a low-flying model, which
was nice because I could stare out the window and see more than the topsides of
cloudvapor. Staring, I got thinking about the selfishness of my
aspirations to take up a rigorous, demanding phd program. Like so much sudden
turbulence, I felt a shudder of sadness followed by a wave of dread. I
remembered telling Ph. that turbulence is normal when last we jetted as a
family: to Detroit last Thanksgiving. And so it is.

To distract myself from a melancholy-mood hiccup, I pulled out the courtesy
magazines. Sky Mall. Evacuation card. Oh, and what’ve
we here? Technology
(note: crap link–all for subscribers–cha-ching.). I
started on the article called "10 Emerging Technologies That Will Change
the World." Fair enough. I leafed through the profiles. The one
that interested me most (no. 6?) was about bio-programming–using computer
programming techniques to condition cell behavior. I guess it takes only a
few chemical impulses and RNA encoding to get cells to form cell communities
able to aid the normal functioning of the human organism. The short
profile made all of this sound cyborg-ish, like there are fewer degrees of
separation between humans and computers than there’ve ever been before,
especially now that the human genome has been mapped and most cellular behavior
can be neatly coded. Soon we’ll have comparative genome assessments that
will inform us about our predilections toward all kinds of things, and not long
after that, we might be able to affect those probabilities (er,
certainties?). I don’t know a whole lot about how all of this comes
together, but I am intrigued by the way cell behavior patterns are discussed
like human behavior patterns. In fact, the descriptions of programmed
cell communities
and, elsewhere, synthetic
gene networks (PDF)
bear a surprisingly clear reverberation to emerging
conversations about weblogs as social network construction (are weblogs programming
humans into discrete, selectively knowing/performing/associative groups?).
Timeout. I’m just wondering about all of this, watching what’s taking
shape at Network(ed)
, and trying to play through some of it here. No conclusions
tonight. Mad TV is on. In case that stinks, SNL is on, too.