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. 

Undistraction.

Blue Bottle ExperimentationIt’s been 24 hours since I walked away from Facebook – and there are a myriad of reasons for that, but the one I’ll write about now is distraction. With roughly 1,200 connections – ‘friends’, in what Facebook has branded such connections – it got to be too much.

One of the problems with social networking platforms is that, as a business model, they cater content and advertising based on what you have done or liked or interacted with. It’s in their financial interest, and their bedrock of advertising forms a fatal flaw in the experience that most users don’t know enough to understand, and probably don’t want to understand in an age where social connection is as diluted or strong as the algorithms behind it.

I’m a big fan of strong connections. Of thoughtful discourse. Of wide and broad knowledge shared by people with depth and breadth in a world that doesn’t reward broad experience and only specialization. When one reads things, for example, that Richard Feynman said or wrote, you encounter an original mind, specialized in Physics, who spent time thinking beyond his specialty and into the realms of how what he was specialized in affected other things – and vice versa. In essence, he was connected to the world and whether conscious or not, it was a choice. I just read that he spent the latter years in his life working with Hillis on some great stuff, too. Interesting man, Mr. Feynman.

In finding myself creating thoughtful comments on thoughtless posts and comments, trying to maintain a level of interaction, I found all too often that the lowest common denominator wasn’t static but dynamic – where someone who was thoughtful would be momentarily thoughtless without looking back. And then I wondered if I was as guilty. There’s a want to be right, of course – no one wants to be wrong. And yet, there are many right ways to look at the same thing and it’s the intersections of those ‘right way of looking at things that has a sweet spot. The sweet spots are not constant, they too move.

‘Right’ is built on a foundation of sand, and I found Facebook was a bunch of people trying to create sand castles on a foundation with sand while others, for no good reason, might come over and kick their castle. It’s like what happened when children stopped being raised by televisions and instead by networks that they could interact with – where they could easily hide what they shared with others from brick and mortar society.

How unappealing.

And yet blogs remain, where people can be thoughtful or thoughtless – but blogs err on the side of thoughtful, in my experience, when compared to social networks.

Now I’ll have more time to write. “Oh no!”, some social media ‘expert’ might say, “no one will see your content!”. Well, shucks, it’s not like people saw it when I posted it on Facebook anyway – and those who liked it did not see fit to share it, even when cracked across the skull with blunt words.

Facebook is pretty fucking useless to me. Why spend time on it?

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.

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.