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Communities threatened by crisis of purpose

Automation is both an exciting innovation and a deep spiritual threat to our communities.

To be clear, I think it’s great. The 5-year-old in me loves watching robots build cars, navigate the world, and make food. Now they’ll deliver it too.

This morning, the WSJ was talking about food delivery robots. Everyone’s mega stoked to get their burritos delivered by a cooler on wheels, according to the companies that make the robots.

In this lighthearted video from 2017, you can see Doordash’s delivery robot weathering some staged hooliganry perpetrated by BuzzFeed’s entertainers.

I worked for Doordash for a little while. It was a fun side hustle and a good way to get to know Eugene’s twists and turns after I’d recently moved here.

Food delivery has for a long time been a widely-accessible decently paying job. Whether it’s pizza delivery or modern options like UberEats and Postmates, there’s always money in bringing lazy people their food.

The funny thing about these delivery apps, though, is that they’re actively trying to innovate the humans out of their business model.

All major food delivery apps have partnered with startups such as Marble and Starship Technologies to make delivery bots for the “last mile” between restaurants and our hungry bellies.

Even Domino’s, the pizza chain that delivered 24% of online orders in 2016, is taking big steps to remove humans from its pizza machine.

Once these robots are adopted, one of the ubiquitous side hustles of the modern age will disappear overnight. For people who need the extra work to live, this will be catastrophic. Financially and spiritually catastrophic.

No jobs, no hope

When people can’t provide for themselves and their families, sadness, alcoholism and suicide rise. Researchers at universities all across North America found strong correlations between poverty and suicide following the ’08 financial collapse.

But this is nothing new:

“The positive association between poverty and mental health problems is one of the most
well established in all of psychiatric epidemiology.”

-Deborah Belle, Boston University

As we automate away more and more jobs, we create a crisis of purpose. Left with fewer options to provide for themselves and their families, people fall into listless despair.

Many modern people lack the mechanisms to create purpose in their own lives. We use work as shorthand for life purpose, so the slow drying up of jobs is a drying up of purpose.

More people are talking about automation lately, especially with Andrew Yang running for president. He promotes the idea of a guaranteed income for all Americans, but that’s only half the solution.

If there is no external force (jobs) telling us how to spend our time, we’ll have to make that decision for ourselves.  We need to resist the urge to spend all that money on drugs and video games. We’ll be happier if we invest our time and money in art, entrepreneurship, and community development. We need a system of values that makes that a priority.

Religion used to provide a scaffolding for everyone. Nowadays, though, kids grow up with nothing but superficial #values they get from reality tv and social media.

As Johann Hari says in his incredible book Lost Connections, junk values are one of the major causes of depression. It makes sense. If all you work for in life is more likes and retweets, you add nothing to the world and live a vapid, empty existence.

Even a food delivery job helps you feel like you’re part of something outside of yourself. I believe that’s where meaning comes from. What do you contribute to that is not yourself?

Create meaning to create peace

When people’s lives are meaningless, they often hurt themselves or others. Violence makes sense to everyone, as horrible as it is, and that can add a base level of meaning to an empty life. Violence fills the void.

Among other things, I attribute the rise of political street violence to boredom and apathy that come from living in this superficial society. People with fulfilling lives don’t put on masks and assault bystanders at political rallies.

We need to help the Antifa goons find meaning and a sense of belonging outside of their domestic terror cells, ASAP.

Woman happy food delivery robot
No one will be this happy to see the robots coming

Meaning creation is hard. It takes a lot of responsibility to decide what gives your life a greater purpose.

Deciding for yourself what’s important is a key part of living well though.

Lacking religion, though, what do people turn to for meaning? a lot of times it’s political bickering, Netflix, or social media.

Most people look to external sources to create meaning because they don’t know how to do it themselves.

That’s why everyone spends their time arguing on twitter. Choosing a side in this manufactured conflict makes you feel like you belong to a real group.

We need to get off the internet, return to our communities, and create a purpose for ourselves. Volunteer. Start a band. Build a house. Plant flowers. There are countless ways we can live more meaningful lives.

And it’s not going to be easy. But we need to stop looking for lives free from difficulty and conflict. You’re going to argue with people in the band you start. GEtting materials and a location to build a house is hard. Your flowers might not grow.

Find peace in the struggles of life, though. Suffering means your alive, and if you’re alive, you can change the world.

Once all the jobs belong to robots, our options will be to create a meaningful world or to watch as we burn it all down.

Which will you choose?

I don’t play Pokemon GO, but it’s basically the best app ever made

pokemon go gameplay image park digital app

Pokemon is inarguably one of the most influential games ever.

Nintendo struck gold with these fanciful superpowered critters. Satoshi Tajiri, the genius behind this franchise, could have never guessed how far things would evolve.

It grew from a groundbreaking 16-bit experience to the first widely successful AR game, Pokemon GO. It has transcended cultures and been wildly successful on every Nintendo console.

When Nintendo first released the Pokemon GO app, I tried it, didn’t get hooked, and deleted it after a day. I’m not enough of a weeb to be in the target demographic, and I prefer to play my video games inside, sitting down.

But the appeal was clear.

I lived in San Jose at the time, and one particular park became nearly impossible to skate through because so many nerds were out there hunting for elusive rare pokemon.

Haters always gonna hate, and a lot of critics made fun of the gamers wandering around, glued to their phones, living in some digital quasi-existence overlaid on the real world.

But those people should just shut up. Pokemon GO is great.

It gives gamers a fun easy outdoor activity to do. It’s also a great connection to a global community of fantasy wildlife enthusiasts. It sounds like a joke, but I want a peaceful global community and I believe Pokemon GO helps get us take a baby step in that direction.

And today, as I just found out, is #PokemonGOCommunityDay! I found this out because on my 6-block walk to the dispensary I passed about 80 people playing the game.

Some were alone, some were in groups of up to 15 people. 

I could tell people’s commitment to the game based on the amount of pokemon merch they were wearing and the number of phones and battery packs they carried. One old guy had 4 phones, all plugged into portable battery packs.

Getting nerds outside

Now, I honestly don’t know what’s different or special about Pokemon GO today. Maybe there are more pokemon running around, or some super rare ones like Entei are easier to find. Who knows.

But these people walking around look like they haven’t had much physical activity or exposure to the sun in a long time. It’s a beautiful hot midsummer day, though, and these nerds are out moving their bodies, talking to each other, and getting that sweet Vitamin D.

For that reason, I think Pokemon GO is one of the best things ever to launch in the app store.

Anything that gets people out of their houses and in the sun so effectively is a great invention.
I do worry that these AR games are habituating us to the VR mind control matrix I’ve been researching, but for the time being, I’m glad it exists.

So here’s the verdict:

Even though I don’t use it, Pokemon GO is officially Snaktak Certified to enrich communities and generate happiness!

pokemon go wallpaper beautiful cartoon nature

Write as Rain: Get your hands dirty (and your feet, too)

Farm plot with plants and dirt, nature
A field with some early sprouts on one of Rains WWOOFing farms

“Go pick out something to make for dinner,” our host said to us at the end of each day. Rather than reaching for the handle of the refrigerator, we grabbed a sweater and reached for the handle of the back door.

Feet with tattoo in dirt and plants
Dig those toes in!

Soft, cold dirt squished between our bare toes as we moved through the garden. Our eyes darted around like detectives after a clue. 

We earnestly pushed through the tangle of roots and leaves, checking for signs of ripeness. 

That wild garden grew our dinner, we just had to go find it.

This was a common scenario during any of my WWOOFing experiences. Most of our meals came from the farm where we stayed.

I was born and raised in San Jose, California, a city deeply rooted in agriculture. The massive influx of tech development has paved over much of San Jose’s vast orchards and farmland, though.

I’ve never really known, or put much thought into for that matter, about the food on my plate. It’s just always been something that magically appeared in the grocery store.

“Let me tell you a story.” This, for me, was the sentence that helped reshape my thinking entirely.

I was 18 years old. It was the peak of winter, a winter colder than I had ever before experienced, and I was staying on a family friend’s farm in a small town in British Columbia. The nearest grocery store was a two-hour drive away, so much of the food we ate had either been preserved or was sourced from the farm. 

As we sat down to eat one night, the family reminisced of the time one of their cows had gone missing. Almost a year late, when the memory of the cow was nearly forgotten, a neighbor had found her in a nearby pasture. It sounded like a happy reunion.

The once missing cow, they chuckled, was now butchered, roasted and steaming on our dinner plates.

To my surprise, I was happy about it rather than horrified. The meat sitting on my plate looked and tasted better than anything I’d seen before. Farm to table was such a foreign concept back then. I barely ever thought about it.

I suddenly felt detached from food as I had forever known it as I didn’t really know where any of my food had come from prior. I decided that I wanted to familiarize myself more with this concept. I decided to go WWOOFing.

Farm girls eat fresh greens in the rain, agriculture
The author (right) enjoying some fresh greens

“Here, this was in my way,” my host said as casually as anything. “You guys can have it.”

He handed over a plant as tall as me. “What is it?,” I asked timidly, knowing I should have probably recognized it. “Arugula,” he answered.

This blew my mind. I eat arugula all the time, but how could something so commonplace look so foreign?

We cheerfully walked down to our kitchen, arugula bush in hand, and began plucking away at the stems, pulling it apart leaf by leaf. By the time we were done, we had enough leaves to make salads for *literal* days. 

When I first learned of WWOOFing, I believed I was incapable of working on a farm. I’ve always loved getting my hands dirty, but I hadn’t the first clue about growing food! 

Permaculture, bio-dynamics, horticulture– these were all terms thrown around on the WWOOFing websites I researched, but I had never heard of them. Self-doubt crept in and I questioned whether I was even qualified to volunteer.

But I managed to muffle the self-doubt and registered.

“Don’t worry about being too gentle,” one of my hosts assured me as I delicately placed a seedling into the rich soil, “plants want to grow and they will if you let them.”

Since then I’ve WWOOFed at five farms around the world; in different climates and following different practices. I’m still in no way a professional agriculturalist, but I’ve come away from each experience with more knowledge and skills.

Picking my own dinner helped me understand the farm to table process and develop a deep appreciation for those involved in agriculture in its many forms.

This type of sustainability isn’t limited to WWOOFing. Make a compost bin, start an herb garden, shop at the local farmer’s market. However limited or unlimited your growing experience may be, just start somewhere– the “I can do it” feeling is absolutely magical.

Write as Rain: This is WWOOFing

Rain Stites

This is WWOOFing

Gritting my teeth, I slipped gloves back over each of my stinging, red, dirt-caked hands. My body was sore but my heart so full; I was ready for war. 

An army of stinging nettle plants towered over me. I knew, though, that little by little, we’d make progress and the pain would be worth it.

We spent hours upon days carving out apple orchards in the English countryside, infested with sticky weed, overgrown grass and stinging nettles. Somehow, achy muscles and all, I found the energy to belt out Spice Girls hits while I scythed one last section of the orchard.

This is WWOOFing. 

WWOOF, known in its longer form as Willing Workers on Organic Farms, in my mind, is a magical force for travelers. An address book of limitless opportunity. 

This loosely organized network exists across the world, linking traveling volunteers (aka WWOOFers) to thousands of prospective host farms and agricultural properties. 

The general idea, according to the Federation of WWOOF Organizations, is to facilitate exchanges around organic agriculture. This means in exchange for an agreed amount of hours of work on the property per day, the WWOOFer receives housing and meals.

Many WWOOF hosts have only one requirement — the WWOOFer must be a registered member for the country where they wish to WWOOF. (Membership costs range from country to country, but the average cost is about $30 USD for the entire year. Members receive access to the country’s registered WWOOF host contact list.)

It was December in Australia: summer Down Under. A friend and I were studying abroad in Queensland for the year and decided to spend our holiday exploring the eastern and southern regions of the country. We had no real plans and not a lot of money. WWOOFing seemed like not only our best option, but our only option.

We headed for Victoria clutching our little WWOOF membership booklets and stuggling to support backpacks nearly as big as us. Starry-eyed, we set up camp at a coffee shop, eager to reach out to potential hosts. We had no sleeping arrangements for the night, so time was short.

I flipped to the Melbourne region of the booklet and dragged my index finger down the list of hosts, pausing at each description that sparked our interest. We called about ten different hosts and were, discouragingly, met similar responses from each: Sorry, we’re booked for the month. We don’t have space for you girls.

We, however, remained optimistic and decided to try a few more phone numbers. Finally a woman, with the exact accent you’d expect an Australian farmer to have, answered our prayers. Her family’s farm was tucked away in a small town called Waikerie in the Riverland of South Australia. 

We’re maxed out on WWOOFers, ladies, but our friends are in need of some help around their farm, she told us. My friend and I were thrilled! And like that, no real questions asked, we were off to our first WWOOF farm.

A lanky man with a beard devouring the bottom half of his face met us there. A man named Alan met us there. His skin looked worn but warm energy flowed from the gentle eyes behind his this glasses.He shook our hands, grabbed our bags and drove us in his small sedan down a remote road toward his property. 

He seemed timid, yet eager to befriend us. We chatted away, trying to gauge how much we could trust this complete stranger.

The car slowed, making its way into the drive. A small black Kelpie bolted toward the car, as if to herd us into the parking spot. A smiling woman, his wife Jenny, waved at us from a distance, closing the gate to the chicken coop before making her way to greet us.

I tried to take mental note of each moment, as if engraving it into my memory like a photograph. Somehow I knew this place would forever be special to me. I was right. Almost instantaneously, these complete strangers that welcomed us into their home, felt like family.

I’ve WWOOFed a total of five times in the past six years. I’ve travelled to towns I’ve never heard of and have been exposed to lifestyles and skills I never would have dreamed of encountering. Each experience has proven to be completely unique and equally magical. 

Folded away in an old piece of my luggage are a few marked up maps I’ve kept after each of my travels. Each mark, for me, represents a part of my story. The marks remind me of where I’ve been, what I’ve learned and who’ve I’ve met. These are places I would have never otherwise traveled to, and memories and skills I would never have gained. 

Each of these hosts, each of these small towns hold a special place in my heart. They will forever feel like home.

This is WWOOFing.

Does your environment make you use your phone more?

Smartphones are important because we are digital beings. Our levels of connectedness will only increase as we move deeper into the technological age.
Now is the time to practice using technology and the internet in the most beneficial ways possible.
Visit our shop to find some items that will help you be happier and use your phone less.
And next time you pick up your phone, use it to call an old friend or thank someone important for making your life better 🙂

Write as Rain: Eating well on a road trip

Hundreds of kilometers had passed under our tires since our last meal. As our little red truck zoomed through the trees toward our rest spot for the evening, I placed my hand over my growling stomach to let it know I’d ease its emptiness as soon as I could.

My boyfriend and I were somewhere in British Columbia. It was right after graduation so we were embarking on a road trip with no real time limit and no real plans; we had nowhere to be and everywhere to go. All we wanted was to fully experience the western side of the country as best and affordably as we could.

Our trip became a month-long adventure and our 1998 Ford Explorer became not only our mode of transportation, but our home and kitchen.

Most road trips are synonymous with junk food and other unhealthy eating habits, but eating goes beyond merely satisfying a growling stomach. Yes, food is a necessity, but also dictates your mental and physical state every day. As they say, ‘you are what you eat.’

The National Institutes of Health states that eating healthy not only decreases one’s chances of developing conditions related to poor physical health, but can also improve one’s mental wellbeing by helping increase energy, manage stress and bolster an overall better mood and body image.

During our trip, both my boyfriend and I found this to be true. Most days we maintained a healthy diet, but on the days where we indulged our junk food cravings, I remember feeling less willing to rise and shine and more willing to chill in our makeshift bed.

David Katz, M.D., a nutrition specialist, suggests sticking with foods ‘close to nature.’ This, he explains, means eating foods containing one-word ingredients, such as almonds, lentils and spinach. The longer the list of manufactured ingredients in your food, he warns, the greater the chance for ‘manufactured mischief.’

This is an idea we held on to while on the road 24/7. Now, I’m no expert, but I’d like to think that I make mostly smart choices when it comes to feeding my body and this didn’t halt while on the road.

I’m a longtime vegetarian and my boyfriend is a former butcher shop employee and part time hunter. Although my boyfriend tends to follow my vegetarian diet when we cook together, he’d much prefer a boar or deer he bagged with a nice side of potatoes.

Our trip, we knew, was going to require substantial physical energy if we wanted to “opt outside” and experience the country to its fullest potential, so we had to ensure both the healthy and the hearty when it came to our regular meals.

I’d say we nailed it by the end of our trip! (Although there’s always room for improvement of course.) We’ve learned eating healthy doesn’t have to be tasteless or expensive. Our favorite easy meals became peanut butter banana sandwiches on whole grain bread for breakfast, grilled cheese and lentil soup for lunch, cheesy black bean burritos with hummus & veggies and egg-drop soup for dinner, packed with noodles, egg, tofu, spinach and mushrooms (and hot sauce when you’re feeling spicy).

A “helpful tip” I’ve found while on the road is that easily accessible food preparation actually helps encourage food preparation rather than ordering takeout. On every extended road trip my boyfriend and I have taken, we’ve packed what we call our “kitchen box,” which includes all the tools we need to create somewhat of a mobile kitchen for ourselves

Our kitchen box includes a pot and pan, spatula, can opener, a good knife, silverware, dishes, sponge, biodegradable soap, paper towels and napkins (which we always make sure to replenish when we opt for a fast food restaurant) and my parents’ old Coleman stove.

These things make preparing food in the great outdoors a little more simple (even when the weather is dreary and eating inside the car is the only option).

My advice for road trip dining? Take the time to listen to your body’s needs. Feed it the fuel it needs to live a quality lifestyle but also don’t always deprive it of its fast food cravings (sometimes that stuff is good for your soul). And have fun with your food; get creative and don’t be afraid to seek out the discount section at the supermarket– it not only saves you money but can help inspire creativity when obscure ingredients make their way into your cart.