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. 

You Are Not Alone.

#etmooc @audreywatters asks 'Who Owns Your Education Data (and Why Does It Matter?)'Have you found yourself the person who actually reads beyond the links being passed around on social networks and finding the headline misleading?

Have you found yourself the person who notices posted content, by reading it, is actually questionable?

Are you the person who checks the sources and, if interested, does some research on the topic independently in an age where it’s one search engine away?

You are not alone. When the people using their freedom of speech don’t meet the criteria of basic literacy and critical thought, it will seem that you are, but you are not alone.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. - Martin Luther King, Jr. In this week's issue of TL;DR - wiobyrne.com/tldr/ #truth #honesty #fiction #ignorance #education #perspective #identityOf course, it doesn’t mean you’re right – just as people who talk about the Dunning-Kruger effect often ignore the fact that they themselves are as much of an issue for some as they think others are to them. Basically, stupid people don’t know that they’re stupid because they’re too stupid to know… and that holds true for all of us.

Every. Single. One.

You. Me. That smart person you know who you ask advice from. All of us are not as intelligent as we think. That thing you taste in your mouth when you realize that is humility.

Yet all of us know people who find reading troublesome, who, when you post a link, ask you questions about the information in the link that is contained in the link itself, or worse, express an opinion based only on the headline and accompanying image. They haven’t even put forth the effort to find out.

In my mind, they are troglodytes, too afraid to come out of their metaphorical caves and see what is being spoken of. They shout from the safety of their caves because life for them, outside these caves, is a thing to fear. This isn’t always the case, sometimes the effort doesn’t seem worth the reward, sometimes they’re busy – but if they’re busy, why are they commenting on something that they know nothing about? Great question. When you find the answer, get back to us.

In a world where information is algorithmically spoon-fed to us, where our opinions are easily shifted one way or the other using coded psychology thoughts on distant web servers, we should be more collectively literate. It doesn’t seem to be that way. It seems to be that the more information mankind has at it’s disposal, the less mankind collectively wants to read – but maybe it’s the same percentage of the population. I don’t know.

Maybe stories are just data with a soul. - Brené Brown In issue # 122 of TL;DR. Subscribe at wiobyrne.com/tldr/ #dreams #data #stories #truth #fiction #drama #realitySo the question is, how do we change that? We can’t go off explaining everything to other people all the time – we have other things to do and, sometimes, we’re not that good at it. We can’t bang their head against their monitors, either – and if we could, I’m certain that there would be a Law to protect them soon enough, complete with pitchforks and torches.

What’s the call to action? There really is none except this, if you got to this last paragraph: Stay the course while retaining your sanity. Avoid conversations that are likely to go nowhere. Keep reading, keep thinking. It’s apparent that someone has to.

The Lost B Sides Of Our Lives

VINYLVinyl. Some audiophiles still say that it’s the best way to listen to music as they don their rubber gloves, pull their records out of the cardboard holders (plastic removed to avoid warping of the vinyl), carefully placing the record on the turntable, adjusting the speed for a 45 (single) or a 78 (album) post WW II, and 33 RPM later on for albums.

Today, the MP3 reigns supreme – a compressed version of the music where the frequencies are kept only to that which the average human ear hears. Yet there was a time before this, a time before the 8-track tapes and later cassettes and the then ubiquitous Walkman cassette players, before compact discs (CDs) (Hat tip to Valdis Krebs on his correction through LinkedIn).

In the house I grew up in, a Sansui amplifier and tuner was the core of the sound system – 2 Technics turntables, a reel-to-reel system, and a dual Technics cassette deck with Dolby recording and playback ability. When alone, the wooden floors vibrated as only speakers made in the 1970s would make them. Every Friday, Patrick and I would look over the Billboard Top 100 to watch the trends, and I would go off and buy some 45s at the local record store.

I learned early on that what I liked wasn’t always popular. With music slower to come by than it is today, I’d end up flipping the record over to hear the other single that came with the record. A great example of this was the B side of ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears: The Big Chair. A mixing dream, really.

I’d end up exploring the work of artists other than what was popular. Sometimes it was crap, something that the recording company chose out of their discography that didn’t even make it onto an album, and sometimes not.

We don’t do that anymore. I’m not even sure that many people did it in the first place, daring to spend the time to see if they liked the song, but I do know that at least some hit songs came from B-sides. You can read about some here, and some others here where you can listen to themThink songs like, “You can’t always get what you want” (Rolling Stones) and “Revolution” (The Beatles).

In an odd sort of way, we were allowed to explore the music of artists through their detritus on the B-sides of albums – the stuff that publishers ‘threw away’, not wanting to give a free hit single away with another. And yet, some of their greatest mistakes are treasures – some popular, some not, the listener deciding what was good or not simply by flipping a record over and checking.

Fast forward to today.

The Internet brought us the ability to get music like never before. I’d like to think most of us legally buy music, I’m certain at least some of us download without paying some service or publishing company. Artists in some cases have bypassed the middlemen in this, allowing us to purchase directly from them through websites. Some even make their music available for free here and there.

But the services, just like yesteryear, are about maximizing profit. There are no more B-sides; we are bombarded with things that are algorithmically decided for us as we stream music. Just as on social networks our digital shadow – what we do online – is used to decide what we see, so it is with our music. Alternative – how can something be alternative when it becomes mainstream? – is even decided for us. We are less consumers now, maybe, than we were before the Internet in that there is no conversation (hat tip to the Cluetrain Manifesto), decisions about what we get are decided not even by other human beings but by statistical and heuristic analysis of our data. We are, in the eyes of algorithms, what we were, and not what we can be – never-mind what we should be.

Generations have passed having never flipped over a vinyl record, having never read something not decided for them…. we are become the algorithms of our algorithms, the ‘tools of our tools’ as Thoreau might write today.

Unless we find the B-sides of our lives.

Forest and Trees

why hello thereShifting focus is a necessary part of being human – to be able to see the forest and the tree in the forest as needed. Deciding when to do that is a sign of education, discipline and experience. It’s also something that truly creative people can do easily.

Some people see forests, some people see trees, few people see both. Few people can understand a singular tree, how it works even in the most basic of principles – photosynthesis is a rote answer, misunderstood, osmosis is a concept that only can be learned through a permeable membrane. Nutrients, soil types, root types… all are lost if they are not found, and so a person can be limited only to the patently obvious, the growth above the ground.

And then people will look at a forest, not understanding the complex interactions with the pollination vectors, the mycorrhizal networks,  the air flow and the concentrations of different gases during parts of the day when photosynthesis takes place – and when it doesn’t. How the shape of leaves can affect not just how much photosynthesis happens but how water flows through the forest before it even hits the ground. How just as cattle have the cattle egret to keep them clean, there are creatures that keep the plants safe – and then there are creatures that do not, little microcosms of life and death happening at any given moment, an awkward balance shifting in real time. A cycle. Alive in it’s own right, a body of systems, perhaps even a consciousness of sorts that we cannot understand. Religion and fiction have played with this subject.

So, when we look at a problem, we have to understand the tree – each tree. And we also have to understand the forest, the complex interactions between trees and the other flora and fauna around them.

To often we have specialists that do only one or the other; we need people who can do both.