this is radio nowhere shared CC by onkel_wart

The tourist amenities and the beaches in San Juan are first-rate, so with the meetings complete, and my own workload in only a modest state of disrepair, I decided to take a day of rest along the island’s Atlantic coastline before returning home.

The water temperature was absolutely perfect. I’ve never swam in such powerful waves, and I spent hours bobbing and bodysurfing out in the churning maw, sometimes swimming, other times wading, following the irresistible rhythm of the waves. A glorious sensation.

Something I realized about myself that day… When I’m in a safe, comfortable solitary place I don’t achieve a state of blissful relaxation where I “get away from it all.” When I relax, I think. Which is a luxury in itself, given how the obligations of daily life seem to preclude thinking very much about anything.

So while I was bobbing out in the waves, I thought about that Canadian visionary Marshall McLuhan, and that early stage in his career when he transformed himself from literary scholar to media prophet, and how he cited Poe’s descent into the maelstrom as a metaphor for the human being sucked into the new media environment, how he wrote that when one enters the tumult it is foolish to resist, that the only chance for survival is to somehow connect with and ride out the pandemonium.

I imagined myself floating not in amniotic warm salty water, but in a digital ocean of zeros and ones, tossed this way and that, embraced one moment and thrown violently the next, riding waves wherever the prevailing energy happened to take me.

And though from my position I couldn’t see the waves coming, and I never came close to consciously determining a pattern between the mellow ripples and the big-time crashers, I came to develop a feel for the environment itself. Like how every now and then the water would get sucked away from me in every direction, and no matter how far out from shore I was I would find my feet on the sand below… that’s when I knew a really big wave was coming my way. The dumbest thing you can do at a moment like that is to plant your feet and try to resist the surge. No way… you have to be alert, get light, get loose, and when the boomer hits you have to jump straight up into it, and do your best to align with the energy and ride with it.

I thought about other stuff too.

I don’t pretend to be a McLuhanesque visionary, I’m just one of millions of nodes bobbing out in the digital wonderland, riding waves of information, with socially filtered antennae-bots probing out in innumerable directions and sending back data that I have no expertise to analyse. Lately I’m receiving increasingly strong and troubling transmissions… About a deepening financial crisis with the global megamoney players just staring at each other, waiting for someone else to blink. Energy prices are at record highs and the forecasts of the most hysterical peak oil pessimists are looking more and more prescient. The latest climate change reports suggest a truth not so much inconvenient as apocalyptic and irreversible. An emerging worldwide water shortage doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda. War is being driven by kleptocrats and theocrats intent on doubling down on their disastrously wrong bets, and there is the near-certain prospect of escalating conflict ahead. Nuclear weapons are proliferating, tracking mechanisms of existing weapons are breaking down from neglect, and we’re seeing the criminally irresponsible dismantling of multinational treaties, the weaponization of space, and evidently serious talk of tactical use of “strategic mini-nukes.” Centuries-old and unresponsive governmental structures are thoroughly corrupt and utterly unprepared to deal with the challenges they’re facing, a mood of resigned and depraved apathy prevails amongst the citizenry. New media is eating old media and spitting it back out so fast that the venerable old media institutions (including higher education — especially higher education) don’t even know that it’s happened. And one after another, inspirational heroes, peers and friends tell me in private moments how tired, isolated, burned-out and disillusioned they are… Believe me, I could go on and on…

I really hope I’m wrong about this… but I sense a damn powerful sucking sensation everywhere around me. I feel a wave coming. And it’s going to be a motherfucker.

Get ready to jump.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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13 Responses to Waves

  1. Alec Couros says:

    It’s just good to know that there will be good people jumping through the waves with me.

  2. velkr0 says:

    i really like this post…

    it has reminded me that we always need to be ready [for whatever]…
    and as long as we’re prepared, or even eager, for the ride… we’ll be ready for wherever we end up…

    well unless we… oh nevermind… 😉

  3. great, great post, brian. sounds like an epiphanic moment. I agree that we’re about to get hammered by some big waves. like you alluded to, though, we don’t even understand the nature of the water (H2O? bits? something else?) let alone the best reaction(s). Time to be nimble, loose, and fast. And, like bobbing in the big surf, if you wait until you’re reacting to the wave, it’s too late. You need to predict where it’s going to build and break. Hard to do, without practice. But if you take the time to understand the signs (sucking water around your ankles, dropping water level, etc…) it becomes easier.

    you must be like water. you can flow, or crash.

  4. Brian says:

    Thanks guys, you make me feel a little less insane with your support and riffage. As Alec writes, having good people around you makes the bad times a lot easier to take…

  5. superNova K says:

    So what do comrades do today?
    It seems that in the past, there was always a movement that had some anti-weight to challenge the main trends. What is it today? Who are the new heroes?
    It is not hybrid cars, latte-drinking socially-networked folks nor Bono’s protests.
    Should we all just declare the capitulation, raise the glass, and salute the winners?

  6. but… there are no winners this time. except, maybe, the cockroaches…

  7. Gardner says:

    I’m a cork on the ocean
    Floating over the raging seas
    How deep is the ocean?
    How deep is the ocean?

    B. Wilson

  8. Hey Blamb, great post, great analogy. You know, in a warmer climate I was a very keen body surfer. Fancied myself a big wave body surfer and had a bit of a rep in the local town too. So while I can’t extend as much as I’d like on MacLuhan, I can help call that big mutherfucker for ya.

    Did you notice that the big ones come in sets? We called them sets anyway, and the only thing to do when a set was spotted (the earlier the better) was assess where you where in comparison to the break zone.. will a swift paddle out, left or right get you under, over or around the first one, and do you think the others in that set are gunna be bigger again and so swimming out commits you to a terrible fate.. or should you hold back, turn to shore even and take a lesser pounding – but a pounding non-the-less, and multiple times.

    I don’t recall ever turning for shore actually. I just grit the teeth, swallowed the fear and swam into the brute. Often I’d get munched, more then once, but so long as I dove deep enough I would get under the sucker and pop up the other side ready to duck dive the next one. Eventually I’d be out there, where its calm and big, ready, waiting for my turn to ride such a beast!

    Once on a big bugga, its important to stay inside. Better to ride into the pit than to attempt to exit in front. Inside that nastey tube is actually a zone of pure peace. There is little room for error, but if you find it you will not be minced, but instead you will meet a stillness that is often confused for a moment of death. But what it is is in fact the wave’s centre, where all the energy meets at that point, and you will be held for a moment while the rest of the wave passes over you. We called that the sweet spot.

  9. so that’s how it goes. look for the sets, paddle hard, and try to hold the sweet spot. or get ground into the reef below…

  10. Jim says:


    Wow…that takes this analogy to yet another level, beautiful!

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