The Unremarked Lives.

Misty OutlineA day or so ago, someone commented on my post about my first surgery on this slab of meat that I inhabit. And they said, “One might call you generally unremarkable.” Taken out of context, that’s a bit of a slap. Taken in context, as it was done, was also a bit of a slap filled with assumption, but I gauged the intent otherwise and decided to interpret it as, “One might call your health generally unremarkable.”

But take a moment. Why would one have to dig into that? Because we all want to feel that we are remarkable in our own way. That somehow, we’re special.

I’m certain of who I am, and I’m certain that my life so far has not been like others, and I can say that with a grim authority that only I may have because I am special in my own right and, gentle reader, no matter how unremarked your life is, there is something remarkable about you – if even it is that, should you somehow be unremarkable, that you are remarkable.

To be unremarkable is certainly worthy of remark. There has to be something about cognitive dissonance regarding the uniformity vs. being special aspect of humanity.

While someone who doesn’t know you well could say that you have an unremarkable life, the reality is that they cannot tell because they have not seen any remark and thus have paid less attention to you – because that, too, is how it works. Popularity, a complex subject by itself, drives what people think is remarkable. If someone sings very well and sells their music, it doesn’t make them popular. Are they unremarkable? Or are they just unremarked? That a relatively small newspaper writes an article about you – let’s assume positively – means to that audience, you are considered remarked upon and therefore, possibly, remarkable. Possibly.

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of people live unremarked lives other than being statistics for revenue streams or votes, and the only reason that they are seen as remarkable is when they affect them. In social media, we call them social media influencers. This sounds like a really impressive thing to be because one who is an influencer and gets to find out can have all sorts of effect on society. They can convince people to drink Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana, or to work together for bettering something or the other in society. To be an influencer is to have a level of responsibility that, arguably, wiser people might avoid.

And so, the only truly unremarkable people in an age where social media has made it possible for everyone to shout or whisper, “Look at me!”, are those unremarked.

To be unremarked today is to be quite remarkable.

Facebook vs. Australia.

Generally, I try to avoid commenting on current events because they are so polarizing, but I do have a pretty strong opinion about Facebook vs. Australia. The premise of Australia’s law is simple: Pay the content generators rather than having them pay Facebook for advertsing that their content is more visible.BartMakeABetterWorldising

This turns what social media tech platforms have been doing on it’s head, and I appreciate not only the fact that content creators, such as myself, gain something from being shared on social media, but also that the profit disparity between the content platform and the content creators. This, too, is nothing new – ask any band or writer. But it’s not necessarily right because it’s the way it has been.

So, effectively, what is happening is Australia’s government is trying to negotiate for the hostage ( money for creators), and so… Facebook shot the hostage.

Looks like it really is time to find new ways of doing things, because the tech giants seem more interested in perpetuating a business model where content creators are creating content for the company store that they get to advertise in. Wait, what?

Why Problems Aren’t Solved.

thoreau_lock_and_keyAs a member of the Board for what could best be explained as a condo community, I find myself shaking my head quite a bit. One of the reasons I do so is because, simply put, people become more emotionally attached to a problem than a solution. One such example was an issue of a missing key. But the issue wasn’t the missing key. The issue was getting to what the key gave access to: The garbage room.

There’s a story behind that, as there usually is, but at this point in time there’s actually little good reason for the garbage room to be locked. At one time, there was some rationale, but that rationale has been found wanting as other things have changed. I had predicted this prior to coming on the Board, communicated it with the Director who pushed it (who is now no longer on the Board), and so I waited over the course of a week as this can got kicked around in community chats.

The conversation centered around the key. The key became this Holy Grail of sorts, and everyone wanted to blame someone for the issue regarding the key (it is lost to the entropy of bureaucracy, suffice to say). After a week, I finally sounded off because the time it was taking for people to sort out the problem had exceeded my patience.

“We don’t need the locks on the garbage rooms anymore.”

The underlying issue was that people couldn’t access the garbage room for bags that were larger than the chute. Everyone wanted to play the blame game about the key, and meanwhile, the garbage room was still inaccessible. And this set me to thinking because when large groups of fairly intelligent people disappoint in their capacity to solve a simple problem, it’s time to think.

The Solving Of Problems

There is a tendency to get caught up in minutiae, trying to solve a smaller problem with an assumption that solving the smaller problem will somehow continue solving a larger problem. In the above example, it was a simple matter of switching perspectives, a flexibility in viewpoint to be circumspect. Generally speaking, education systems, perhaps because of the amount of time to shove a few thousand years of knowledge into less than 20 years, doesn’t deal with this well.

Let’s be honest, too – the present techno-communication landscape of social media is more suited for allowing for cognitive bias: Social media sites, in their wish to get our eyes on their advertising, show us what we agree with rather than well rounded opinions. It’s all an echo chamber and makes looking for valuable dissent (as opposed to popular dissent) all the less likely to be found.

If we are only presented that which we agree with, how are we to move forward? If a solution is chosen because of popularity on social media, how valuable is that solution? And do all these people with opinions have knowledge on the topic or add value somehow, or are they simply looking for views on their website, just as without social media sometimes people add their opinions to look smart even when their opinion demonstrates that they are not?

It seems to me – and we all have biases on this – that the world is getting better at communicating solutions that are popular, but not right – and therein, we find the core problem, and the solution is… well, I’m sure I don’t know.

Cooking and Social Media

Ingredients for soupCooking is something that everyone around the world is doing more of as we hunker down during the Covid-19 epidemic, and some of us are good at it, some of us are good at taking pictures of it, and some of us are… not.

The same applies to social media.

A friend of mine – a smart person, a productive person, a kind person and a busy person – keeps sending me stuff on WhatsApp that I’ve already seen on Facebook. I told him this, and he told me he doesn’t like what he sees on Facebook.

In my opinion, the trouble he has is that he’s too kind to be more selective of his ingredients – he values the relationships more than what he gets out of them. This, as I said, is an opinion and says as much about me as it does about how I see him.

I am relentless in selecting my ingredients. When I’m actually cooking, I choose the ingredients I like (confirmation bias) best, but sometimes I have to make do with what I have.

With social media, I don’t have to make do with what I have. I don’t have to like what is offered to me, I can choose to spend my time toward creating what I like (confirmation bias), but… I can also choose the things I do not agree with that are also palatable to offer contrasts in the overall flavor.

Contrast makes things interesting. So I stand outside of what I like and don’t like and work toward an overall result – which is like cooking. I don’t particularly like onions, as an example, but I do like them in certain ways and so I choose my onions carefully.

So it is with dissenting opinion. No one actually likes dissenting opinion, but if we accept that our opinions are not who we are, and rather that we are the Chefs that use different ideas, trains of thought, and beliefs to come up with our own recipe – our own unique recipe – then we need dissenting opinion. It adds flavor, contrast – and ultimately, without flavor or contrast, the end result is boring.

Thus, when choosing a social media adventure, get some of the dissenting opinion in the mix, as well as the stuff you like.

Everything else? Toss out.

I would have gone with gardening, but weeds are things we fling out when gardening because a weed, by definition, has no value whereas good dissenting opinion does.

Choose Your Social Media Adventure

ChoicesWhen I was growing up, their were paperbacks where you chose your own adventure. You’d read a few paragraphs and the author would have you make a choice or roll dice to decide which part you would read next. As someone who grew up with much time to myself, I found myself ‘playing’ quite a few of these books and experimenting with things so that I could see the narrative twist.

Games at the time of this writing have become quite good at it.

It’s also what we do with social media. We make choices, decisions, whether consciously or not.

I play with it in what I once termed ‘Deep Writing’, but which I’ll now call ‘Deep Narrative Writing‘ because I think it suits it better and is less confusing than the tag for writing about deep learning (which some nutty people decided needed a tag other than ‘deep learning’).

The Conscious Choices

Everyone limits social media to a degree. It’s impossible to read everything, to consider every perspective, so we progress through our real world adventure by making choices. Some people are idiots, some are annoying, some are people we cannot stand for our own reasons, so we remove them from our networks.

Everyone also feeds their own confirmation bias to a degree as well – we pay attention to some people more than others, and this too is natural because to do anything, we have to decide quickly on how to progress.

The trouble is, invariably, what we ‘like’ is not what we ‘need’. Yet we do choose these (mis)adventures, and hopefully we learn things of value and also things that have no value if we have well developed critical thinking skills and a strong sense of self – a sense of self strong enough to have one’s own opinion that may not allow one to march in stride with the people whose arms are locked and marching down the information superhighway demanding, protesting, or believing what is best described as ‘nutty’.

I’m fairly certain everyone agrees so far on everything written – internalized, it should make some sort of sense. And yet everyone’s experience is different, and invariably, tribes form of like minds who… march down the information superhighway, demanding, protesting, and possibly believing something best described as ‘nutty’.

Somewhere in the not so distant past, whether something was nutty or not was decided by whether it was popular or not, which, if one pauses for just long enough to consider, is something best described as nutty.

Then we take sides and call each other nutty. Examples? Religions and politics are brilliant examples because every side believes that they are right.

Well, of course they are right. It would be unpopular to think otherwise, and therefore, people might describe that as ‘nutty’.

“You’re obviously right in what you think and believe as long as you agree with… me. Us.”, says everyone’s subconscious – the very definition of confirmation bias.

The Unconscious Choices

There’s an argument to be made that some of the conscious choices are for most people unconscious choices. By accident of the who, what, where and when of your birth, you may have grown up with a specific religion, grew up with a set of beliefs that shaped your politics, etc. This gets into the nature versus nurture debate to an extent if you drill down, but in the end it doesn’t matter. We all have similar biases.

That’s not what I’m writing about when I write of  the unconscious choice. I’m writing about the algorithms that shape what you see on the Internet, through social networks, search engines, and what you – simply put – simply like.

Search engines use algorithms to find what you’re looking for, and the key to them – the good search engines anyway – is knowing what you’re looking for. An example of this was while I was searching for television mounts in Trinidad and Tobago.

I wanted something that could hold a monitor 4 feet away from me. The trouble is most desks, including my desk which I do like, are 24 inches or less, which has the monitor too close for my liking with the bigger screen. I considered a wall mount, but I’m not a big fan of drilling into a wall when I may reorganize the space at any time. Shelving might be a good idea, but again – drilling. So, having never even seen a floor mounted television stand, I searched the internet for just that – not a stand with shelves, just a plain old floor mount stand that I could move wherever I wished and adjust as needed (something else to worry about with more permanent solutions)… and there it was on Amazon.com.

I didn’t originally know the right question to ask because I had to work through it. This is the failure of people who depend on only what they know asking only what they know about.

Then there are the algorithms across the internet which, because nothing is actually ‘free’ on the Internet, drives advertising revenues for websites (including social networks). So they record some information about you in the infamous cookies that no one has tasted, and they show you advertising based on what you view, as well as what other things on their collection of websites that you might enjoy. The downside of this is that it robs you of new experiences unless you try really hard – consciously – to explore. It’s gotten more difficult.

The social networks, though you have conscious choices of who or what you connect with, do not show you the choices. Facebook newsfeeds, as an example, would simply be unmanageable if you tried to keep up with everyone. So they, being ad-revenue based, guide you based on what you like, what you read, and you end up unconsciously in a cave of your own confirmation bias.

Cave? Yes, eventually, you find yourself walled in within something that Plato himself described in the Allegory of the Cave when the world was significantly simpler. In the age of social media, Cavafy’s “Walls” gains new meaning:

Walls, Constantine P. Cavafy

Without consideration, without pity, without shame
they have built great and high walls around me.

And now I sit here and despair.
I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind;

for I had many things to do outside.
Ah why did I not pay attention when they were building the walls.

But I never heard any noise or sound of builders.
Imperceptibly they shut me from the outside world.

But What Can I Do?

Simply put, be aware of it and be critical of your own media. Where you find walls, you also have the capacity to insert windows and doors in that cavern the world has built for you.

Should you step outside, you may find the world an interesting place.

Calm Down.

Throughout my social networks, well intentioned armchair epidemiologists pounce on every tidbit they find related to Covid-19, depositing them in my newsfeed with the same level of pride a cat must feel when it drops a ravaged mouse for it’s owner. Some are recycled, some are not, and if it’s coming out of some countries, the media is so busy with the spin machine that they don’t seem to know at some point laundry needs to get into the dryer to be of use.

It’s tiring.

The truth is – whether accepted or not – is that we have experts at the World Health Organization and through governmental health agencies all over the world on this and they are doing all they can.

Another truth: We have doctors and nurses and other medically trained staff, even putting their own lives on the line as the work without appropriate protective gear. At great personal expense and risk, they are the front lines doing what they can in the face of a pandemic.

Another truth: They’re learning as they go. An update today may not be legitimate tomorrow, what may be true in China may not be true in Italy, may not be true in the U.S. All the experts are learning as they go.

Another truth: A vaccine has to go through trials, which is about a year. So we’re in this now, no vaccine will come out tomorrow. Or today. You can stop looking for updates on that. If a vaccine shows up, it will be experimental, and that comes with risks.

Another truth: Media and social media are rampant with all sorts of things, but unless it comes directly from a legitimate source, such as the World Health Organization, consider it speculation.

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” – Mark Twain

 

Do what the local authorities tell you to. Wash your hands. Don’t go around sticking things in your mouth. And wait.

Wait for the truths. Otherwise you’re just raising your anxiety and the anxiety of those around you.

Car Profile Pictures.

Car Tunes show in BeloitIn this day and age, when I see someone’s profile picture as a car, I wonder…

Do they identify with the color of the car, or are they trapped inside waiting to be a different color?

Do they identify as an automatic or manual or CVT or Dual clutch sort of car?

Do they identify as having leather seats or fabric?

Do they identify as a V8 trapped in a 4 cylinder body? Or vice versa? Or do they identify as electric, or hybrid?

Do they identify as a front wheel drive, a rear wheel drive, an all wheel drive or a true 4×4?

Do they want some cosmetic surgery, maybe change those headlights to round or rectangular or… hexagonal?

Have they been abused? Will they be triggered by someone with heavy feet, or a woman with stilettos?

Car profile pictures are so very open to interpretation. People worry about people too much, but what about people who identify as cars? What kind of cars?

I’m sure I don’t know.

What is clear is that they don’t identify as a human, for whatever reason. Maybe they were born that way. Maybe they smoked some strange plant – not marijuana, of course, something stranger. Maybe they were raised by feral Tonka toys, or Matchbox cars.

Maybe their parents were cars. Maybe it was a one night stand, they met by accident, bent some fenders…

So don’t treat them like humans – you should treat them like cars. Send them lubrication. Fuel/electricity. Make sure that they have enough blinker fluid stockpiled. Communicate in ‘vrooms’. Wave your hand at them like windshield wipers.

Whatever you do, don’t make fun of them. They’re really, really sensitive.

Stand For, Not In.

Wall with ShadowHistory doesn’t repeat itself. People repeat history.

People make a choice not to change things. Sometimes it’s because they like what happened, sometimes it’s not, but it’s always because people didn’t want to change things. They won’t complain if things are going well, or they’ll gripe about it if things are not.

And, unless people change things, there will be a repeat. That I felt the need to write this seems to be the result of wandering through life and watching people beating their heads against their own walls, blood trickling down their faces. They’ve grown used to it, I think, and they might miss that wet and sticky feeling on their faces should they stop – that metal taste in their mouths feeds them to continue doing what they’re doing, and yet… every now and then, they might pause and wonder why they’re doing it.

And, with renewed vigor, they go back to doing the same thing again and again and again.

As a society, we’re pretty good at this as well – and in an age where we can communicate so quickly around the world, social media seems to move to a rhythm of people beating their heads in time against walls. And they chatter about it.

Your Brand TM

So, picture this – picture you have this thing that you hate, you hate the smell of, and you have it in this pot that you show everyone who will come by. Everyone agrees it smells bad. Everyone agrees that it looks awful. Everyone agrees it smells awful.

You’ve been stirring this crap so long that the scent is in your clothing, in your hair… but you’re used to it, so maybe you don’t notice it – but everyone else does, other than the ones who are doing the same thing.

Flaming pile of shitAnd you – your brand – gets associated with that smell. That look. That very thing you hate so much, yet you are drawn to share. Meanwhile, people who really don’t like that scent or look…. well, they’re going to avoid you.

I just described a person at least everyone knows one of through their social media accounts. That one thing.

Want to learn how to deal with issues and affect change? Well, we can start by not smelling like the problem you’re trying to fix. People typically avoid things that smell bad.

Look at successful advocacy, such as the EFF. They don’t smell like what they’re advocating against. They smell like what they’re advocating for.

Or, by all means, continue beating your head against the wall.

Big Data, Social Media

NumbersWithout individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, “casualties may rise to a million.” With individual stories, the statistics become people — but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless.

Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted, distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?

Colors And NumbersWe draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, from our souls without real pain.
Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.

A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.

– American Gods, Season 1, Chapter 11.

(Why would I rewrite this?)

Simplification

Digital Abstract Oil PaintingIn the context of social networks, I have found myself feeling feeling it as repressive – thus I have left them behind other than for broadcasting, really, and even that is debatable.

I’ve always been a proponent of simply creating content and allowing people to find it; I’m not sure shouting in the bazaar is useful when you don’t actually own the bazaar. It certainly doesn’t add to the appeal of the bazaar unless you love being shouted at by random people.

The Internet is my bazaar, not their social network. Their social networks are algorithmically cathedrals disguised as bazaars.

So, to simplify that part of my life, I am withdrawing. Even email has a new layer of obfuscation to protect me from the constant drivel of marketers and their marketing, of conversations with those who don’t want to have conversations but to shout at you as if your ear is their bazaar.

There is a poetic symmetry in randomly popping up in someone else’s bazaar and whispering, “Hey. I wrote something new.”

I have retreated to the Internet, the bizarre bazaar, the foundation upon which cathedrals disguised as bazaars are built.