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.

Suffering Tortured Networks

connectors twistedThe world twists us, with all the cultural inertia we inherit, with all the cultural inertia those within our spheres inherit, torturing our realities into what is sometimes hard to recognize. Social networks magnify this beyond our geographical familiarity, connecting us with those we would not otherwise interact with – an improbable thought for those who have grown up with this interconnected world, a sometimes nostalgic thought for those who existed before the Internet came into being. Algorithms control what we see, shoving us into the echo chambers of our choosing, dooming us to a perception of agreement.

This was all lauded at one time as a great democratization of information, of how it would change the world in ways that would be popular – and in this, it ended up being true where consensus will make fake news possible if only because people lack critical thinking skills that somehow escaped insertion in the indoctrination of formal education systems. Pieces of paper abound by people who followed a straight path and who did no more, who know nothing but what got them past batteries of multiple choice questions and glorified essays on topics graded sometimes with critical thought, sometimes not.

Processed like cheese, graduates come out homogenized and appropriately boring – perhaps, through good fortune, they become insightful in the areas they have studied in, but this does not translate to being insightful in the useful things in life because nobody seems to think life is important enough to talk about outside of the speakeasys of what social contact happens outside of formal systems.

We watch feeds of people arguing, jumping to conclusions, sharing things with catchy headlines that they did not deign to read the substance of. Reading to argue, emotion begets emotion and rationality is left behind. This scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey immediately comes to mind:

Given a new tool for communication, we seem pretty intent with beating each other to death over differences of opinion, the meek becoming exactly what they hated in others and unable to see it in themselves. Good intentions abound, right actions are lost in reactions to reactions to reactions to reactions… so much so that no one actually remembers the actions that started it.

Our tortured social networks have a guided evolution this way, marketing wanting to sell people things that they want on pages that people are more likely to visit because they agree with. Fights are good business on the Internet; more advertising impressions.

And now we see that the democratization that the Internet brought us magnified our social faults more than our ability to affect positive change. Or is it not too late? Can we untwist these networks?

Perhaps we’re just not ready for our own technology.

Social Networks: Having Vs. Being

Erich Fromm for PIFALI wrote a bit about being an introvert and building a social network of value in response to John Hagel’s post about measuring you’re real net worth.

There is, of course, more to it than what I wrote. To me, it revolves around two major things: Form vs. Function and Having vs. Being.

Speaking for myself, I’m a big fan of function over form – and being instead of having. These are two philosophical distinctions that separate me from what seems to be mainstream from my perspective.

Function Over Form

I have a 4×4 pickup that is set up for going offroad, but not with anything extraneous: What is there is there to meet a purpose, no more and no less. In my mind, anything but that is inefficient and wasteful. If I lifted the pickup higher, it would be unmanageable cornering on the roads – and would put the center of gravity much higher than I would want it given the hills I navigate in the bush on my land. I do not have more aggressive tires because they would be a liability on the road – but I do not have less aggressive tires because they would be a liability in the mud on my land. There’s a balance. And the vehicle is usually dirty to some extent, but always functionally sound. I am completely about function.

In contrast, I know someone with a 4×4, all white, street tires and just about every piece of plastic bolt on product you could find on his vehicle. He washes this pickup so often I’m surprised he hasn’t rubbed the paint off of it yet. He’s all about… form.

When it comes to my networks, I’m not a namedropper, and I don’t care who else someone knows or how famous they are or aren’t. I do not value people in my network based on what other people value them as – that, to me, is form. Instead, I care about what the people themselves have to offer of themselves, as well as their own expectations.

This is an intrinsic part of network building, where the mainstream – those more interested in popularity (form) are less interested in understanding (at least in my mind) and therefore truths (function).

I choose function every time.

Having vs. Being

I don’t ‘have’ connections in the way that social networks deliver their networks. I don’t count them, I do not see them as scalar quantities – I see them as vectors, as matrices of humanity that I connect to. I do not have them just as I do not have slaves; I exist with them.

This is in contrast to those that count their success by metrics, typically scalar, and these metrics are easily gamed by the echo chambers of social media where like minds rise in chorus even with bad voices and bad tunes – and, honestly, some reprehensible lyrics.

The Downside.

The downside of not having an echo chamber is that you don’t have an echo chamber. People don’t repost things you might offer, they don’t necessarily spread what you wish to spread – and I see this largely as a good thing with unfortunate consequences while in an open system where people do have echo chambers that can drown out individual voices.

So you’re likely not going to become popular this way. If you do become popular this way, it means that you are truly appreciated as opposed to not truly appreciated.

And this all revolves around what you actually value.

Echoed Extremism

People are ‘talking’, if that’s what you can call posts on social networking sites. They’re talking about Trump incessantly, they’re talking about Race as if it’s a real thing – and therefore talking about racism… and either side seems to be as hateful as the other.

If your feed, if all you can post about, is how horrible an elected official is – you’re not addressing the problem. You’re not. Blaming an elected official isn’t either. You’re pissing in the wind. You really are.

Be it hating on Trump, or Obama, or G.W., (or T&T: Rowley, or Kamla, or…) the list goes on. You cannot blame society’s ills on elected officials. You cannot.

Society elected them.

So, rather than spit the bile out on a site, rather than just regurgitate someone else’s pointed finger at someone to blame, take a deeper look beyond that. Take a look at what caused it.

The electorate. For one reason or the other, the electorate chose this. Now you can cling on to whatever you want to say about voting machines, or whatever, and put yourself into the same cycle that happens after every close election. You can. And, as history will show you, that solves nothing. Not. One. Damned. Thing.

Democracy isn’t about voting anyway – it’s about conversation. Discussion. This is an *exchange* of ideas. It’s you extremists that can’t have a conversation with opposing views that are the problems – and you might be surprised it’s not the White Supremacists and BLM and whatever other groups aren’t the real problem. The real problem is their echo chamber.


Yeah, sure, there are people with extreme positions – but why do they have them? Largely it’s because of culture and lately, economics and policies that hurt them. And sure, you’ll say, “They don’t hurt them, they aren’t about them.” Maybe they are. The Left is convinced that the Working Class are the poor, whereas the Right is convinced that the Working class is the middle class. Same country. Same language. Amazing.

Instead, I see an echo chamber that will perpetuate extremism – yes you, well meaning reader, posting everything bad you can possibly find about an elected official to show everyone (who already agrees with you) how bad they are. Yay, group masturbation.

So if all you got is how bad someone else is, and that’s all you can post about, you’re just adding fuel to the fire. Take a look at your stream. It defines you. It defines your connections; algorithms do not sweep the bad under the rug – they aggregate it. It’s the rare evil that does not think that it is doing good.

Adapted from one of my Facebook status updates

The Audience: Know It.

Blue Foundation liveAnyone who truly wishes to communicate is usually taught, somewhere along the line, about knowing their audience.

Knowing your audience is important for business, sure, but it goes beyond that. It gets back to personal communication, and as I noted elsewhere and helps diminish the signal to noise ratio: In essence, you should know what you’re communicating, to whom, and to what end.

Since we’re all sharing content on the vast canvas of the Internet, we should all understand this, particularly since people who we didn’t expect to see our content may well do so… and also because it creates our digital shadow: Who people think we are.

If you’re going to be late for work, as an example, what you would call/text to your boss should be different than missing a meeting with friends. There are people who don’t understand that difference, and they will find no help in this post. 

There are some assumptions that will help with this:

  • What you communicate on the internet will last forever, even if you delete it.
  • We may not be what people perceive, but they don’t know that. Your digital shadow is who they think you are and you should consider what you want that digital shadow to be. If you want to be seen as an idiot, by all means… 
  • You can’t control how your content is viewed, but you can control how you are.
  • Spreading bad information makes you an untrusted source, spreading good information makes you a trusted source. Which do you want to be?
  • Social networks only show your content to the audience their algorithms think will want to see it. If you want to change someone’s mind about something, they need to see it and they probably won’t see it unless you change how the algorithm perceives it… which means you might want to write to your audience. Unless you’re just intellectually/emotionally masturbating with people who think like you.

    I don’t judge. If that’s your thing… (but expect me to disappear if I’m in your network).

  • If you don’t want to be perceived as an idiot, don’t communicate like one.
  • It’s safe to assume that someone will absolutely hate what you’re communicating. They’re part of your audience. Defuse them beforehand if you can.
  • If you share content of a certain type all the time, you’ll get typecast. Do you want that typecast?
  • Using profanity might seem fucking brilliant at times, but overdone it’s cliche. Oh. And your parents/children might read it 10 years from now, so get a grip.
  • Lawyers might use what you share in a court case. Yay. We love lawyers. It isn’t mutual when it comes to litigation. “It’s not personal…”
  • Ranting and shouting isn’t very effective.

I’m certain I’ll think of a few more after I post this, so don’t think this is an exhaustive list.

Summarized: Everything you communicate can and will be used against you at some point.

Your audience on the Internet is more global than your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Communicate like it.

Hitting Pause: Social Networks

3D Social NetworkingI’m displeased with social networks in general at this time, particularly after the last year of idiocy with the U.S. Presidential Election. It extends beyond that, and I will touch on that shortly.

I wrote about what I saw in June 2016 as related to politics in “Social Networks, Democracy, and Ethics” – and after the election, people are still wrapping their heads around it because they have been given their opinions from within the echo chambers of their social media accounts. It’s the allegory of the cave in that people are fed what they want to see, and it’s the hedgehog’s dilemma with a bunch of thin skinned and long-quilled hedgehogs.

Typically, I’m in the center – connected to all walks of life, around the world, of different opinions on everything. I’m in a prime location to watch people disagree, and when I try to explain the sides to each other I find myself tired. People are just going to have to figure out how to deal with each other. And, of course, everyone who reads this will think I’m writing about everyone but them when in fact the odds are almost 100% that I’m also writing about them.

The conservative that can’t allow for the free choice of others (ain’t that free will?). The liberal who pursues their ideology with the fervor of a zealot who, fortunately, isn’t armed by their very nature. The religious person who tears at science, the anti-theist who just can’t leave people be with their religion. The anti-Islamists, intent on calling all Muslims violent, and the Christian right, who has no idea just how much they have in common with the Islamists.

It goes on and on and on and on. And on. My newsfeed is littered with articles based on supposition and no actual facts, posted by well-intentioned people to poorly belabor their own perspectives.

The Internet has allowed these people to know about each other and, rather than hash out differences, it becomes a battle of tribes that I have lost patience with.

So: Pause. When you folks figure out how not to be assholes to each other… let me know. A smoke signal or something.