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issue 09/15/1999

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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The Mind of Howard Rhiengold
part 2

page 3 of 3


DR: Howard, with telecommunting becoming more possible every year, many people are working more from home offices. You had worked in your home for many years before building an office as an annex to your house. What advice could you give to telecommuters concerning work practices, discipline and organization? The idea of working from home is, I'm sure, attractive to many people -but making the time and space in which to work effectively may be a hurdle for some. Could you help us out here with any insights?

HR: You really need to be a peculiar kind of person to really enjoy working at home ALL the time, although I can see how beneficial it might be if, for example, one commuter out of ten worked at home one day a week. Discipline for me was easy: if I didn't sell enough writing, I couldn't pay the rent, and would have to take a temp job. So I got my daily writing and communicating done. My mind jumps all over the place, so I tend to keep my office files, desktop, bookshelves pretty orderly. Externalizing order so you can see at a glance what remains to be done and where your materials and references are is a great help. And do get away from your computer once every hour or so and do some stretching and yoga.

[ Howard has been away for a few days on a rafting trip. Rumor has it that he has returned and is in the area. ]

DR: Folks, it appears that Mr. Rheingold is in the area. When we last heard, he was reported to be conducting salutations in a corn field. We're hoping he'll join us shortly. Until then, we take you now live to our remote crew who is at this very moment standing by in the corn field.

Howard, if you can hear us, how are you? I've heard you mention that "corn is your spiritual teacher". Can you comment on this rather unique relationship, and perhaps share a morsel of the corn's wisdom with us?

AM: Howard, in what order would you recommend reading your books?

HR: I certainly don't have any answers to the big questions, but lately I've been enthralled and enriched by the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, who does seem to have some extraordinarily simple answers: Breathe. Smile. Be patient and compassionate with others. The two books of his that have had the greatest impact are The Miracle of Mindfulness and The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings. I do believe that many to many communication has the potential for improving the level of citizen to citizen discourse, but that won't happen automatically, simply because the technology exists. In terms of my books, I'd start with Tools for Thought. Unless interested, you could skip Virtual Reality and go directly to The Virtual Community. Higher Creativity is still in print and They Have a Word for It will be reissued soon. Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind is out of print.

Nine years ago, I started a topic on the WELL about corn as a spiritual teacher. Here are some excerpts:

I grew up in Phoenix, a place I found devoid of any spiritual values. But I had known about the Hopi since I was a kid, and as soon as I could start finding out about them, I learned that their religion had something to do with corn. For some reason, this made a lot more visceral connection than all the stuff about wrathful deities or suffering deities. And I knew they did rituals with corn pollen.

When I finally got to see a Hopi corn plot I was struck by how improbable it was. It's downright amazing that anything grows in the Arizona heat.

The other thing I always remembered about corn was Squanto. Remember Squanto? When the Pilgrims had that first Thanksgiving, part of the bounty was due to the generosity of their indigenous friend, Squanto, who told them to bury a dead fish under each corn plant. Little did he suspect. My present corn bed is on the site of an old Miwok shell mound. I found a serpentine arrowhead out there last year. It's hard not to be mindful, digging in the corn bed.

I started growing corn because I had always been in love with the legend of "fresh corn" -- where you have to boil the water before you pick it. I had always wondered, eating corn, whether it was true and I was missing out on something by not having a corn field.

Part of corn's spiritual force, as far as I'm concerned, is the feeling of direct connection with some incredible technologist who made the stuff possible.

As I now see it both modern corn and annual teosinte are descended from the mybridization of perennial teosinte with a primitive pod-popcorn. Indeed, it was the hybridization with perennial teosinte, probably some 4,000 years ago, that triggered corns's explosive evolution as a cultivated plant.

Corn was the most important crop in the Americas even before then, as it still is today. Moreover, there can no longer be any doubt that it is American in origin. The best evidence is archaeological. More than any other plant, corn documents its own history, because its hard cobs are well designed for preservation under a variety of conditions. The remains of prehistoric corn, including some 25,000 cobs, have been found in numerous sites from Arizona to Guatemala; in contrast, not a single cob dating unmistakeably from before 1492 has been found in any part of the Old World. It was Columbus who discovered corn in Cuba and brought it back to Spain.

Whether the most ancient archaeological cobs are wild corn or early cultivated corn, it seems safe to say, as Mac Neish does, that "corn was domesticated well before 4000 B.C." The oldest corn specimens date from about 5000 B.C.

DR: Howard, with January 1, 2000 just around the corner, do you have any plans -and are you making any preparations? Any parting Rheingoldian words you may have for us?

HR: Traditionally, we have a New Year's Eve party, and this year will be no different. We have a color theme every year. People wear white or red or black or gold and bring food and drink in the theme color. This year, I want it to be camo and Judy and Mame want it to be pink, but they have agreed that guests should be required to bring some batteries. I will do some elementary Y2K prep -- a week's worth of food, $1000 cash, batteries, water purifier.

My main y2k preparation is to provide my neighbors on all four sides, including the fire department across the street, with abundant produce for my garden, along with a neighborly note. ;-)

Don't worry, be happy!



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