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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Shona Samurai

When I was about 9 or 10 years old we had two expatriate Japanese at my primary school. Ms Ozaki who was our music teacher and Ms Yata our swimming coach. I had just become a boarder at the time so my encounters with them extended beyond the auditorium and swimming pool to the hostel that I called home at the time. It was there that I was fortunate enough to interact with them on a daily basis as they were the teachers in charge of my particular hostel.These encounters ignited my fascination with Japanese culture.

I remember being fascinated by this ‘other’ that seemed to have more similarities with my own Shona culture than the popular culture that I had been exposed to via the western TV shows that were the staple on Zimbabwean TV in the nineties. For one the Japanese language which we did not understand but were sometimes made to sing along to during music classes was morphologically very similar to my mother tongue Shona.That is to say the Japanese language is structured in a similar way to Shona. I first fell in love with Japanese culture through its language. Japanese like Shona sounds beautiful and simple, there are really no harsh sounding words. Not to mention how beautiful Japanese calligraphy is.

Japanese calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy

From that time my fascination with Japaneses culture has grown. And to this day I am still learning new aspects of the culture that continue to intrigue me. Through my learning I have noticed that the Japanese have embraced modern technology and yet still hold on to so many of their traditions and values.

This is best personified by Japanese architecture. Over the years I have become a fan of both the practicalities and aesthetics of traditional Japanese architecture. It is typified by wooden structures, usually with tiled or thatched roofs which are usually the most dominant feature. Sliding doors are used instead of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customised for different occasions. Minimalism may be the in thing in most of the modern world today, but it goes back ages in Japan. Efforts are also made to blend the structures into the surrounding environment as the Japanese  consider themselves as atune to nature.

Traditional-Houses-Idea

When you also look at contemporary Japanese architecture, you will be left in awe. Most contemporary Japanese structures are some of the most futuristic and creatively designed buildings. Certain parts of Japan look like galleries of modern architecture. And they still incorporate many elements of traditional Japanese architecture. Contemporary Japanese architecture manages to cater to the dynamism and mobility of the city’s urban nomads without completely eroding aspects of Japanese culture.

contemporary japanese architecute

I suspect that this is because the Japanese did not embrace foreign religions and in particular Christianity as fervently as most Zimbabweans for example did at the expense of their own culture. Japanese main religion is Shinto -( God’s way) is a religion native to Japan, and is historically rooted in Japanese ancient folklore about nature with divine spirits, mystical creatures and historical characters with supernatural magical powers. The richness of Japanese culture comes from its ancient cultural heritage and the ability of the people to preserve, cherish and further develop it. This has allowed them to forge forward technologically and yet hold onto their core values. They have shaped their own destiny, borrowing from the western world when prudent and holding on to their identity. The result is a culture that is a remarkably diverse and richly developed. Unfortunately the same can not be said of my own Shona culture, which is now just a caricature of itself.

Learning about Japanese culture has been a unique and horizon broadening experience for me. I love how well that the Japanese have applied technology to their lives as well as hold on to traditional ways of doing things. Whilst it mot be too late for the same to happen with my own Shona culture, it’s not too late for me to apply the same ethos to my own life. I hope one day I wont just be the digital nomad that I am today and will actually have the opportunity to physically visit Japan.

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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Her: A Story About Technology, Love & Relationships

Sometimes you watch a film that moves you in ways you least expected. Such a film brings into sharp focus realisations that have been hidden behind the blind spot of your minds eye. You connect with it on different levels. Emotionally, vicariously and existentially.  It deepens your understanding and makes you question what you thought you knew about technology, love and relationships. As the credits roll up, you allow yourself to marinate on what you have just experienced. Fully marinated you are eager to step out into the world and tell your friends about it.  But then you pause.  How are you even going to begin to explain the premise of the film without them rolling their eyes at you? You admit to yourself that if you were on the other end of that conversation you would probably do one better and give them the eye roll – side eye deluxe combo.

This was the dilemma I found myself in after watching Her a few weeks ago. If you haven’t watched it already, the much lauded Spike Jonze film Her is the tale of Theodore, an introverted  man in the final stages of an,ugly divorce. Theodore who is brilliantly played by Joaquim Phoenix day job is as a love letter ghost writer for a website that offers a unique service. Handwritten love letters that are technically not handwritten but typed up using a font that looks like handwriting. I know. But bear with me. Anyway feeling down, he decides to treat himself to the new OS1. The Siri like software is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness.” Almost immediately, Theodore finds himself enjoying the company and personality of Samantha, the voice behind his OS1. He begins interacting with her on a personal level, and before he knows it, he and the OS1’s digital consciousness have fallen in love, which, needless to say, presents him with more than a few existential issues.

Her recently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, despite the fact that one of the main characters is heard but never seen. This might actually be down to Scarlett Johansson’s sultry voice and how she was able to get all the right inflections in her voice, so much so that at its best you actually forget that she was an operating system. This for me made the movie feel more plausible and authentic. I found this movie beyond fascinating, one of my favourites so far in 2014, not just because it’s good entertainment, but because, thematically, it correlates directly with our relationship with technology. And for most of us that relationship is facilitated by our Smartphone’s. The brilliance of Her lies in how it articulated emotions and situations we experience in our day to day encounters with technology that we often struggle to either  express or  understand.

For some people, especially digital natives (younger individuals who’ve never known life without computers and the Internet), the line between virtual reality and actual reality is increasingly blurry. And while some older folks (digital immigrants) might find this bizarre, younger people typically do not. For them, digital life and real-world life are merely two sides of the same coin, each to be enjoyed, nurtured, and cherished, with neither side more real, more important, or more meaningful than the other. So interacting on an emotional level with a perfectly matched digital creation, as occurs in Her, may not be as far-fetched as many people might think.

For someone like me, an analogue living in a digital world who sits on the cusp of the digital native/digital immigrant divide, I have often wrestled with the “What is real?” dilemma. I have been fortunate enough to live in different parts of the world.  I have always appreciated the value of technology in helping me maintain the relationships that were borne from that experience. Be it via Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook  etc. However it is the relationships I have with people online that I have never met , on Twitter for example and even closer to themes in Her the relationship that most of us  basis of the “ What is real?” dilemma. It is an internal debate that remained just that until I watched Her.

By now you are probably wondering how my little dilemma ended. Did I end up talking to my friends about Her? Unfortunately, No. I ended up talking about another film that is also up for Best Picture, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf OF Wall Street because … Dicaprio, debauchery and decadence. I know. Shame on me.  But hey I ended up writing about it.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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IF I Do Say So Myself

I have been procrastinating on getting started on this blog again for a few days now. I haven’t written anything at all for so much longer. 17 weeks to be exact. I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the line I just stopped writing. All I know is I have been in limbo since, waiting for something, anything, unsure exactly what but knowing I will recognise it when I see it. Unsurprisingly I haven’t been able to get myself to write anything. I should have known better.

A few weeks ago I turned 30 and so did the Mac. But I digress. The day itself was nothing like I had imagined it would be. Neither was I in a place in my life I had envisioned I would be. In my moments of reflection in the days and weeks after I have struggled to reconcile the person I know I can be with the cold reality of the person I actually am. In those moments I have even glanced across the digital fence that is Facebook . The grass on the other side is an amalgamation of engagement announcements, wedding and baby photos.  My exes, friends and uni mates are all either getting engaged, already married or having kids (on purpose). They are doing all the grown up and responsible things I had imagined myself doing at this stage of my life.

Weirdly enough this does not leave me feeling green with envy. Rather it has made me question whether I actually wanting all of that? Eventually, I guess. All I know is that at this stage I am ok with not having all of that. On most days I enjoy my own company just fine. I am content with just doing me. But thing is I haven’t really been doing me. I still have the travel bug but I have not made any concrete plans in that regard. I find myself still wanting to take photography up more seriously, something that I have been putting off for years. And then there is the small matter of finishing that book.  A small consolation is that I had actually started working on my writing, but then I stopped.

After not writing for so long I feel like I am back at square one.  Once again I am a writer who doesn’t write.  Only this time I am burdened with the guilt and regret of having failed. Getting over that carried over feeling of failure and inconsistency has been challenging. A big part of restarting again has been about letting go of the angst that goes along with writing. Or better yet channelling that angst into coherent sentences. In my moments of procrastination doubt has been the main protagonist. I have found myself starring at the blank page, my mind equally blank. I have berated myself for letting my pen fall asleep on the page for so long. I have wondered whether my time as a writer was just a brief dalliance with my muse that I was doomed to always be nostalgic about. Oh well better to be a has been than a never was right?

But that feels like I am giving up on myself and that’s actually harder to live with than not trying at all. So I go through the words I have written before and I am reminded myself that when I am writing consistently I am my favourite writer. That I can be nice with the pen.

If I do say so myself … If I do say so myselfIf I do say so myself

For me, writing is a lot like exercise. When I’m writing consistently, and making progress toward my goals, I feel great. Then one day something upsets my routine and I tell myself to just let it slide for a day. The next day there is another acceptable reason for me to pass again. When I skip days or weeks I become grumpy and lethargic. Everything is terrible and I don’t know why. By the time I figure out that my lack of exercise is causing my terrible mood, I’ve usually reached the point where I’ve lost all motivation to write ever again.

The first days getting back into a routine are rough but necessary. The hardest and the most important challenge is getting over worrying about writing well, and just writing something. For the first week or so it’s not an exercise in skill, it’s just all about getting back into the habit of writing every day. Whether it be writing tweets, status updates, emails, ideas, random thoughts, whatever. Baby steps.  Basically it’s just about doing anything and everything that makes you feel like you’re somehow attached to your passion.

 For now I am doing just that and I know that as long as I continue to write consistently on any platform I will be my favourite writer once again.

 

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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