Lessons-Learned for Direct Experience in Disconnected Situations

I am launching Fringe Digital as a consultancy and an advocacy venture because I believe that our precarious future on this planet is going to require us to shift the balance of the use of technology in our lives. We are going to have to start learning how, at the right times, to put down our devices, step away from our computers, and understand how to manage our risk and exposure more effectively in a volatile real world.

The winter disaster (Storm Uri) that struck Texas and the South this month (February 2021) has laid bare the vulnerability and unpreparedness of yet another wide swath of our population and national landscape. Our state and national infrastructures are a far cry from being stable and reliable. When energy grids go down suddenly and in a sustained fashion; when essential services like running water come to a freezing halt; when environmental conditions swing suddenly towards the life-threatening–those of us who are able-bodied and capable should be ready to “brick the digital” and leap into action. Not just to protect ourselves in practical ways, but to be a help and resource to our neighbors and our community.

Image Credit: Matt Schultz

Here at The Fringeologist I talk from time to time about the outdoor trainings that I undertake to break my own habits of over-reliance upon high-technology and the digital to arrive at a more comfortable station in those disconnected situations where I’m faced with direct experiences. We’re reaching the tail-end of a very unique Winter season, both for my local region and for North America more broadly. My partner and I have been traversing the country to put ourselves out there. This season I’ve focused on a few high-level objectives that have some lower-level skills and decision-making lessons to impart. As with any and all adventures that I embark upon, the goal is not instant mastery but incremental step-changes toward a longer-term goal of understanding, growth, development, and transformation.

Everything kicked off this Winter with the culmination of a years-long set of trainings under the AIARE Framework for risk management and decision-making in avalanche terrain. I take these courses every year to not only be smarter, safer, and more confident in my back country snowboarding, but also to be a lifeline for others I am riding with or whom I encounter on the slopes. All of my courses have been taken in and around the Rocky Mountain National Park operating out of Estes Park, CO through the Colorado Mountain School. This year’s AIARE Pro 2 course was heavily focused on reading forecasts, observing and documenting terrain and conditions, and analyzing and understanding the snowpack.

Image Credit: Matt Schultz

Colorado and the Rockies are having one of their more dangerous avalanche seasons on record due to the prevailing seasonal weather conditions. Even in more predictable years, Colorado is vulnerable to one of the usual suspects in many avalanche incidents–the persistent slab. A strong layer of snow over weaker lower layers that can be easily triggered by either natural conditions or human activity. This season was off the charts when it came to the ubiquity and prevalence of persistent slabs. Finding safe zones to tour through and to ride was challenging. My takeaways from the training this year were:

1) the importance of monitoring conditions and risk-assessment;

2) balancing individual skill with group dynamics; and

3) trusting the framework and the heuristic process.

Without going down too many rabbit-holes, I’ll paraphrase a summary to say that after this last set of AIARE training I feel much-better equipped to routinely observe, evaluate, predict and problem-solve in a disconnected situation and to navigate my internal signals in an unpredictable human and environmental direct experience. These are transferable skills for a range of scenarios.

Image Credit: Matt Schultz

My partner and I leapt straight from avalanche training to an ice climbing excursion. The high-level objective here was to get some more exposure to climbing in bigger terrain. All of our previous experience had been on beginner falls at Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We had a great couple of days of targeted skills improvement with our guide. In terms of lower-level lessons and transferable skills, I have to say that I acquired:

1) a newfound appreciation for the power of consistent technique and follow-through;

2) trusting the tools to do their work; and

3) clear communication and signaling.

Each of these lessons can mean the difference between over-exerting yourself unnecessarily and experiencing new heights safely. We learned new stance, new swings, and new gear management and safety.

Last but not nearly least, we have just returned from Augusta, Maine where we spent an entire weekend with the Maine Primitive Skills School. This was the first, in what will be a series, of immersive courses that I’ll be reporting out on over the next few years. Billed as a Winter Skills Weekend, we spent a Saturday and Sunday learning how to build primitive earth shelters, conduct tracking, practice foraging, and carry-out fire-starting in wet, snowy conditions. As I stated it at the outset of the course, my longer-term objective for acquiring these teachings is to enable and support basic survival when outdoor and back country travel confront you with uncertainty. This will be an ongoing journey of traditional knowledge recovery. From this specific weekend, I learned the imperatives of:

1) good time and energy management;

2) following the stages of critical preparation; and

3) maintaining a stable central encampment and home base where resources can be pooled and replenished.

From Maine we ventured back to our home base on the shores of Lake Michigan, staying just South enough on our journey to avoid the Northeastern trajectory of the massive Storm Uri that crippled Texas. The entire drive home, all we could talk about were the many lessons to be applied from all that we had learned this Winter. As we transition into Spring, Fringe Digital has some more great professional development adventures lined up and we can’t wait to issue our field reports. Keep up and stay tuned!

Fringe Digital: Unpacking Our Model, Framework, and Six Core Competencies

Later this year (2021), my consulting operation (Fringe Digital) will be delivering awareness-raising and educational trainings to individuals and communities on how to begin implementing better personal/corporate controls over data privacy and how to get involved with movements to decolonize and regain sovereignty over data and the digital in our daily lives.

The idea is to impart some basic good practices, orient people to the larger efforts underway to advance personal digital rights, and get them connected in with groups and movements who are pushing for new protective politics and policies at national, state, and local levels. We aim to help people tease apart the differences between technology sovereignty and data sovereignty, and how to practically engage these concepts appropriately between tribal nations and non-indigenous citizens and communities.

Whether you are just a concerned individual who wants to get better at avoiding being tracked by nefarious online advertisements; someone recognizing for the first time that you might be prone to social media or internet addiction; a citizen concerned about illegal surveillance practices or cyber intrusions; or even a tribal community seeking to understand how to better protect your relatives and lands from unethical research and exploitation–we’ll make good connection points for these and many other constituencies.

Photo credit: Matt Schultz

What sets our trainings apart from all others is our organic, holistic, situational, and place-based model that Fringe Digital centralizes for all of its outreach and advocacy. We aim to bring people back to square one. We want to bring the problem of our out-of-control and out-of-balance digital lives back to the individual, to the organization, to the community. The road to better technology and data sovereignty begins with us, in our homes, in our backyards, in our businesses, in our elected government offices.

More than anything, we believe that the road to better technology and data sovereignty means putting our devices down and getting out from behind our computers. At Fringe Digital we believe that our personal health, the health of our social relationships, and our engagement with the living, natural world are all suffering from the outsized role we allow for digital technologies and technological solutionism. To course correct our digital lives we make every effort to embed our trainings in a framework that promotes group-dynamics, experiential-learning, and outdoor immersion.

Photo credit: Matt Schultz

As Fringe Digital’s Founder and Principal Consultant, there are six core attributes that have helped me regain some balance and control over technology and data sovereignty in my digital life. Fringe Digital positions these six core attributes as goals, objectives, and competencies for measuring the success and impact of all of our outreach, training, and services to our audience and clients.

Decolonization: This means actively deconstructing and untangling our relationship to settler politics, technology, and society and indigenizing our lifeways;

Entrepreneurship: This means leveraging our sovereign resources to innovate, grow, and invest wealth in sustainable and responsible ways for the impact and improvement of future generations;

Exploration: This means pursuing a passionate engagement with our changing natural world and modeling a healthier relationship to the earth and its indigenous communities;

Activism: This means fighting for a future of freedom from political and corporate influence and control over our daily lives, our self-determination and our destinies;

Curation: This means exercising agency and ownership over our creativity and our content. Through story-making and storytelling we can breathe personal life into words, images, sound, and motion; and

Contemplation: This means deeply and actively considering the natural and built world around us and cultivating consciousness, connection, and compassion for and with all living things.

At Fringe Digital we believe in active learning and lifelong development. In the next few posts I’ll be providing some updates on our skills development program. 2021 is going to be an exciting year. We’re just returning from Colorado for some avalanche risk management and ice climbing safety, and are now about to embark to New England to take advantage of the fresh snowfall to engage some Winter skills. This Spring will see us in the Northwest for some wilderness medical training.

You will be able to keep up with all of our adventures right here at The Fringeologist. Thanks for dropping by!

Welcome to The Fringeologist

Welcome to The Fringeologist, the personal journal and travel log of Matt Schultz, Founder of Fringe Digital.

Here at The Fringeologist you will get a glimpse into the expeditions and trainings that deepen Fringe Digital‘s unique digital consultancy to individuals, organizations, and communities. Fringe Digital seeks to decolonize, declutter, and detoxify data and the digital in our daily lives. To do that we push the boundaries at the outermost interface between the virtual and the analog in our human experience. We deliver tailored and targeted immersive trainings to inspire and motivate everyday people to incorporate practical new strategies to reclaim a more balanced relationship with technology, the environment, and our communities. We also work on place-based levels to empower organizations and communities to reclaim ownership and control over their data.

Starting in January 2021, we will begin posting dispatches from the field. We’ll take you inside the trainings and research that undergird the immersive and interactive outreach and education curricula that Fringe Digital offers to individuals, organizations, and communities who seek to build up protective practices for managing their growing addictions to digital devices and social media, and to safeguard their personal digital assets and identities from an expanding array of virtual threats.

Fringe Digital wants to become a part of reshaping our faster future by empowering and equipping you to tap into and appreciate your own human hi-tech–your own innate intuitions and capacities for connecting with yourself, with others, and with the world around you. You can drop-in here for glimpses into how we make it all work, and join us as we travel around the country and the world to keep evolving our models and methods.