Buffalo Boy

Steven’s birthday had always been easy to remember. It fell on April 15; a moment in time when the United States government grants its citizenry an opportunity to account for their respective good fortune, wealth or absence thereof.

***

April 15 is a deadline accountants and tax attorneys need not be reminded of — their professional livelihoods rest in the bosom of the day’s arrival.

My friendship with Steven commenced in the late eighties (through a friend of a friend). Ever since, I have made certain to extend birthday wishes to him in person, by phone or with the assistance of the United States Postal Service (known, in our digital age as: ‘snail mail’).

Steven was not a technophobe. But he refused to join the ever-growing, multi-billion- worldwide-populace of web surfers; and by extension, he lacked an email address. “I can’t be bothered with computers,” he once said, during a conversation some years ago. “If you need to get in touch, you’ve got my cell number,” was how he deflected my best attempts at getting him on the Information Superhighway.

Steven was not liberal in his politics or with dispensing the digits that determined our cellular connection. Sometimes, when I opted to phone him, I felt like a member of his inner communication circle; but the geometry of that circle, of that friendship, sometimes felt skewed by the seeming fragility of those digits — What if he (in an act of consumer revolt) changed his cell phone provider/plan — consequently claiming possession of a new series of cell phone digits — falling short of comprehensively informing his inner communication circle?

This past April 15 was an unusual one. I was, uncharacteristically, self-absorbed; the preparations and circumstances of a June bride (me), trumped history — my previously unrelenting recognition of Steven’s birthday was in 2009, an example of the human capacity to forget amidst a flurry of emotion, anticipation and planning.

It was the middle of May when I remembered that I had forgotten Steven’s birthday. So, I swiftly chose a male-themed, aesthetically-sensitive card from my diverse collection, took pen in hand, expressed my apologies at sending a belated birthday greeting, stressed that Steven phone me (on my cell phone, if he preferred) and sent the card to his residence in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo, New York is where Steven was born, where his childhood took root; it is where his mother and three sisters (with their respective husbands) live. And Buffalo is where Steven (as he sometimes put it) “escaped from.” Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles, California and Boston, Massachusetts have been cities where Steven journeyed, to live; each one (obviously different in their destination draw) part of his “escape” plan.

Boston was our common urban link — his South End condominium a nucleus for close friends, a micro-repository of carefully selected, purchased and displayed art. Steven’s armoire was filled with clothes arrived at by Neiman-Marcus purchases. He was strident in his opposition to filth — disdainful of dirt in any shape, manner or form — making his stemware spotless, visitors subject to shoe removal and his vacuum the ultimate item in his household arsenal.

The day the movers came to Steven’s South End condominium to facilitate his return to Buffalo in the mid nineties, he was, naturally, pre-occupied with the mechanics of returning ‘home.’

Although he made sure to hire ‘the best,’ the movers, he determined required copious amounts of supervision. This move, this return to a place he once “escaped from,” would be his final move, Steven asserted as I watched him meticulously wrap one of his prized lithographs. The conventional wisdom is: Something always gets broken in a move. Steven wanted to defy those odds, this one last time.

When Steven got settled in Buffalo and I needed to get away for a few days, in the wake of circumstances that catapulted me, inelegantly, from one life, to the unknown of another, I drove, from Boston to Buffalo upon Steven’s invitation and urging.

We ordered in the first night of my stay; from a Chinese place a few blocks from Steven’s apartment. When we had our fill, Steven lit up a Marlboro Light, a brand he had been dedicated to since our first flicker of friendship, leaned back in his brown leather armchair and stroked Zephyr, his Siamese cat.

Thirst had found its way to my palate so I made my way to the kitchen to quench it. I took a guess where Steven’s water glasses were kept, opening the cabinet to the right of the sink, tentatively. A massive amount of prescriptions were revealed; the whole of which illustrated a dimension of Steven’s life I had only minimally, until that moment, understood.

The face of HIV/AIDS was manifest in my life before my friendship with Steven. I made sure to educate myself about the virus (and its associated consequences) as soon as it became a public health menace. But with Steven’s HIV positive assertion, what was an ‘abstract’ awareness and concern became an intimate fact between friends.

“You have to swallow all of that, each day?” I asked Steven, referring to my discovery. “Yeah,” he said. “All of that is keeping me alive.” I took a sip of water, swallowed hard and wondered how long Steven’s life would be sustained by such a daily regimen of pills. And I wondered too, how I would know when the pills stopped working; when the respective dosages would become no match for the complications sure to arise a man of Steven’s medical category.

When my belated birthday card was returned and subsequent calls to Steven’s cell phone indicating the number was no longer in service — I recalled our last phone conversation, a few months preceding his birthday. “I saw this Art Deco piece (a style he knew I was fond of) and thought about buying it for you so you’d have something to remember me when I die,” he said. “Don’t talk like that,” I shot back.

Even though everything seemed to point to Steven’s death, I wanted to be sure.

Sometimes, Google is a dead end, I discovered, upon locating Steven’s death notice in The Buffalo News.

Founded in 1998, Legacy.com is an online media company that collaborates with more than 700 newspapers in North America, Europe and Australia to provide ways for readers to express condolences and share remembrances of loved ones. The Buffalo News is one such “collaboration.”

Legacy.com is visited by more than 10 million users each month. It partners with 76 of the 100 largest newspapers in the U.S. and features obituaries and Guest Books for more than 60 percent of people who die in the United States.

“Combine memorable stories, photos, videos and more to honor and celebrate the life of your loved one,” suggests the Legacy.com website. They attempt to entice ‘mourners’ with a 14-day free trial.

Steven never did like “free.”



Hyper (Medication Optional)

The Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) (http://www.personaldemocracy.com) is the world's largest and best known conference on the intersection of technology and politics. For the sixth year (from June 29-June 30, 2009), more than 1,000 opinion makers, political practitioners, technologists and journalists came together to network, exchange ideas, and explore how technology and the Internet are changing politics, democracy, and society.

***
Though in its sixth year, I attended PdF for the first time, this year. My motivation was more than professional, it was personal. My attendance became mandatory after learning my Cambridge-culled friend Mark Pesce would be presenting “The Dangerous Power of Sharing (Power)” to PdF’s second-day, mid-afternoon, pre-Networking lunch audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall, steps away from Columbus Circle in New York City. The venue is popular for those as famous or more famous than Pesce (Jazz great Wynton Marsalis is an example of the latter).

Pesce, whose six-year-long, real-time-residence is Sydney, Australia, has Northeast, United States roots. Indeed, New England was once our mutual geographic anchor; the topography of which was distinct in our shared social network (some of Pesce’s closest friends became gold-mines of conversation at parties Pesce promoted and at which I was present and participated to the fullest extent).

While both of us enjoyed the dynamism of Cambridge, Massachusetts for its obvious and storied intellectual repositories (look no further than Pesce’s alma mater, MIT) Pesce and I once shared and enjoyed a cadre of people that was far removed from the virtual (one of Pesce’s passions); it was a social network that accentuated the actual.

As a ‘green’ tech-journalist, I sought Pesce’s presence and accepted his invitations to party at his MIT- adjacent apartment because I observed in Pesce, a sure-footed geeky masculinity which had not completely revealed itself, but was nonetheless part of Pesce’s panache and prestige.

Pesce’s expertise and insight into virtual reality/virtual worlds made my association with him during my live television days at Cambridge Community Television good for my show’s ratings. Pesce was described by many of my Talk Tech viewers as “the most captivating and dynamic” of all my tech-infused guests.

So Pesce’s arrival in New York City as a participant in PdF 2009 represented a reclassification of sorts — he went from being VHS archive material shelved safely amongst my VHS library to a tangible example of the phenomena Pesce eloquently emphasized (with above average visuals not standardly employed via PowerPoint) at PdF 2009: ‘hyperconnection.’

For the last four years, Pesce has practiced "digital ethnology", observing the behavioral, cultural and political changes wrought by the new technologies of sharing and communication. In his writings (both hard copy and e-thereal) Pesce has used his considerable talent for making logically-rendered, inspired, utopian terrains possible.

“We are so much better connected than we were even a decade ago, and this connectivity breeds new capabilities. The first of these capabilities are the pooling and sharing of knowledge – or ‘hyperintelligence’. Consider: everyone who reads Wikipedia is potentially as smart as the smartest person who’s written an article in Wikipedia,” Pesce portends.

The methodology of Wikipedia (which allows anyone to be an author or editor), is similar to the methodology of Wikileaks argues Pesce. Such an organic cyber-propelled community, a vast hyperlinked world of accurate intelligence fused with a collective knowledge and respect for statistically rendered demographic differences disrupts the ‘power grid’.

The success of Wikipedia in providing accurate and up-to-date information has been stunning and surprising to many. Wikipedia shows that the collective wisdom of an informed community of users may produce massive volumes of accurate knowledge in a rapid, democratic and transparent manner. Wikileaks aims to harness this phenomenon to provide fast and accurate dissemination, verification, analysis, interpretation and explanation of leaked documents, for the benefit of people all around the world.

According to Pesce, hyperconnectivity also means that we can carefully watch one another. We learn from one another’s behaviors “at the speed of light” he notes. This new capability – ‘hypermimesis’ – means that new behaviors can be seen and copied very quickly. Hypermimesis means that communities of interest can form around particular behaviors, ‘clouds’ of potential.

A f2f (face-to-face) with Pesce delivers a confident intelligence (notably lacking in conceit); which isn’t successfully transferable to the Web; no matter how many dimensions one imagines in virtual space. Notably not transferable, as well, is the glimmer in Pesce’s eyes when he considers the possibility (as he seemed to with me) of a conversation come full circle — a conversation that has been gurgling between Pesce and I since Google — whose SEO (search engine optimization) network infrastructure insists there are about 161,000 results for mark pesce..

At PdF 2009, I had an opportunity to assess if Pesce’s real-time persona is any less hyper than when I last saw him — at a party — where the dynamic of the room was elevated by intellect, computer-centered-conversation and many occasions when Pesce and I couldn’t help but laugh in each other’s presence.

My human architecture; the very one that forced me to stretch upward to a once frequent place on my time-space-continuum — where the body says what words cannot — when my affection for Mark caught up to him in the form of an embrace as he emerged from backstage — was a paradox drawn to human scale: A man credited with co-creating VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language) and who has a record of evangelizing about it was forced to get real — in a New York second.

Thanks to futurists like Pesce, the odds of democratizing the future enjoy a greater likelihood. Pesce (and his futurist allies) understand that citizens, domestically and globally can upend present-day, closely-held hierarchies. The power of political change, its very motion (the ‘push back,’ (as some in the cyber-scene identify it) is actualized and manifest on devices (choose your telecommunication talisman) that drive the visual narratives of resistance in places seemingly disconnected to us (e.g. where Islamic law claims absolute authority).

For some, a mathematical approach to Pesce’s bottom line is contained in this Tweet:

Hyperconnectivity = hypermimesis = hyperempowerment

Kindly direct any Twitter-based-technically-viable-utopian-driven tweets to me @right_hook