Slow Social Media

In his recent posts, Cal Newport outlines why our attention will benefit from individuals owing their own domains. We may need tools to help us do it, but companies will assist us from behind the scenes allowing us to build our own brands. People should be able to move their brand (and data) from one platform to another when improvements come along. This is the social internet, and it will power the economy of the future. Value online comes from those who create it. All we can do as technologists is empower others to make their art with greater efficiency.

Context: On Social Media and its Discontents and Beyond Delete Facebook by Cal Newport

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Collapsing Context

Assorted music amps, records, tapes, books, and televisions on a wall

Does Jaron Lanier follow blogs? Where does he get his news? How does he learn about Meltdown/Spectre?

 

Word of mouth was the original form of communication. Before there were books, people could only tell stories to share information. The collective hive mind of civilization would do their best to spread knowledge equally from one person to the next. Verification of stories could only be carried out collectively as groups of people could ensure what they believe was true. One could add Individual color a story to show creativity but ultimately lead to deviations from the original idea.

Fast forward to books. Once we mastered the skill of preserving information in physical objects the amount of our collective knowledge exploded. We could remember things across generations, and even without coming into contact with the person or people who first transcribed their ideas. We could pull from philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, composers, playwrights, and doctors to develop deeper ideas and advance our understanding.

What is the hive mind in the world of books? It was still among the people reading these works who pulled from their own experiences and created their own interpretations. Remixing their learnings into new forms of intelligence.

Today is another progression. We go beyond having all the knowledge in the world documented and at our fingertips, to peering into the minds of everyone on the internet. Social media, like Twitter, amplify ideas only for an instant, as the next thing comes along and yanks at our attention.

(This is no different than before when we spread stories across the world, or documented our understanding of nature.)

We go where the thought leaders go. And when rapid reactions and quick wit are incentivized, we miss out on the deep thinking required to keep progressing forward. As Lanier mentions, where are all the Woodward and Bernstein’s these days? Deep investigative journalism is becoming a thing of the past. Instead our big stories take the form of the aggregate. Pulling the voices of all perspectives involved. And taking down multiple people.

Continuing the thought, how can one create new ideas and seek blue oceans? Part of the success of the web (an any technology for that matter) is the externalities spawning new industries out of the original innovation. Like cryptography, it takes a lot of work to come up with a solution, but once public, the idea is easily verified. It’s the “why didn’t I think of that moment” you get when watching Shark Tank.

So how can we do it? Why is music from 90s and 00s so similar in sound? Are we bound to digitally rehash all of history? To find out, lets think about some of the new ideas stemming from web 2.0.

Well one more digression. To do so, lets start with some digital rehashes: Airbnb -> hotels. Lyft -> taxis. Wikipedia -> Encyclopedia. Ebay -> Thrift store. Amazon -> Bookstore, grocerystore, restauraunt brick and mortar. These are all hugely successful companies that replaced what existed before. I think what’s missing from Lanier’s manifesto is the added value web 2.0 tech brings to previous implementations. However, he does highlight what’s lost in the transformation. (there is more to talk about here, but I’m getting off track)

What is new thought. Is a review of a book just adding to the noise? How can we ever learn if we do not discuss our thoughts and opinions with others? There is value to rehashing work if the idea can stand for something greater. A new version of Unix? Ok sure. But openly available for all to improve and understand? This is novel and moves society forward. Lanier is concerned with the side effects of open culture and I agree with him on the aspect of sustainability (via employment, how do you make a living working on open source?), but how do we build cathedrals if we don’t have the tools?

Part of Lanier’s concern stems from the abstraction of humankind. Kevin Kelly’s one book theory, for example. And it is important to maintain human individuality and creativity. So how do we keep from abstracting the person behind the creation as we move to an aggregated world? People no longer know which studio produces a movie or TV show, unless it’s from Netflix. Netflix advertises their creations, and everyone else’s are abstracted to a title, image, and caption.

Context Collapse

There is a recent episode of the Ezra Klein Show with Lanier. Instigated by the release of Lanier’s new book, the two discuss all sorts of things including VR, music, Facebook, blogs, and podcasts. The most intriguing thread was on the topic of social media’s influence in collapsing context of the things people create. They didn’t know who coined the term, but it seems to have been either danah boyd or Michael Wesch (see below), although it might as well have been Lanier.

The basic idea is this (as nicely described by Joel on Software):

Here’s what happened with the 140 characters. You would start out having some kind of complicated thought. “Ya know, dogs are great and all? I love dogs! But sometimes they can be a little bit too friendly. They can get excited and jump on little kids and scare the bejesus out of them. They wag their tails so hard they knock things over. (PS not Huskies! Huskies are the cats of the dog world!)”

Ok, so now you try to post that on Twitter. And you edit and edit and you finally get it down to something that fits: “Dogs can be too friendly!”

All the nuance is lost. And this is where things go wrong. “@spolsky what about huskies? #dontforgethuskies”

Ten minutes later, “Boycott @stackoverflow. @spolsky proves again that tech bros hate huskies. #shame”

By the time you get off the plane in Africa you’re on the international pariah list and your @replies are full of people accusing you of throwing puppies out of moving cars for profit.

The context for Joel’s thought is his decision to give up Facebook and Twitter for 2018. (Isn’t it odd how things come in threes? Reading Lanier, Context Collapse, Joel on Facebook & Twitter). His reasons for doing so are exactly what Klein and Lanier discuss in the podcast. You just lose the human connection when everything we say and do is mashed up, chomped into a sound bite, and thrown around far outside the initial context for the idea.

And I realize I’m constantly doing that know. I haven’t quite figured out how to include quotes and references to others when developing new thoughts and creating new things. I have to keep exploring. Which leads to…

A basis for further understanding

A quick search lead me to this post from danah boyd on coining context collapse. danah boyd talked about the term back in 2013, referencing her thesis from 2002. So the idea, while not new, was new to me. This topic is a rabbit hole, and I have just scratched the surface. I need to go off to read, watch, and listen. I will return soon.

from danah:

From Michael Wesch:

P.S.

I’ve fallen victim just now. I scoured the web for an hour following links to uncover new and interesting things to read. Then I took it all out of the context I was in and distilled my findings into a nice tidy list. I’m grappling with how the onslaught of Ben Thompson’s Aggregation Theory can mesh with avoiding context collapse via boyd/Lanier (the three should do a podcast together). Does pulling together sources and finding key themes inherently strip the human side of what people create? Or are we bound to keep mashing up ideas. Certainly all new things come from the history that preceded, but how do we balance this growing from this influence with remembering where we came from?

To do research, you take all the mind space of the internet open 100 tabs, make some progress, then save it across all services to pick up again tomorrow. Just with this topic alone, I scattered material to YouTube, Kindle, Instapaper, iBooks, and OneNote. What in the world!? How do people keep any semblance of a train of thought when the best technologies are designed to keep us stretched in multiple directions. Where does the context remain after distilling your work into buckets and silos? This frustrates me, With all the learning one can do on the internet, why is it so unnatural and inhuman? What if the internet was set up more like college, where thoughts and ideas are shared amongst new learners and experts, instead of like a kindergarten classroom where things may be haphazardly thrown everywhere with no sense of where they came from?

There is more to this thread, but I need to dig deeper. I have my materials and my thoughts. Now I just need to stay focused. Keep my mental state and remember the context of where it all began.

Week in Review – October 8, 2017

Another stock image of a person simulating an open office environment

Readings

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Thich Nhat Hanh via Lion’s Roar

Teach tech with cartoons by Julia Evans

Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other with Daniel Kahneman via On Being (listen)

On Overuse of Technology

Follow Cal Newport. He lead me to Jony Ive’s talk at the New Yorker Tech fest. Here’s the transcript

Jony Ive’s thoughts on Focus

I tend to be so completely preoccupied with what we’re working on at the moment. That tends to take the oxygen. Like any tool, you can see there’s wonderful use and then there’s misuse.

This isn’t a new phenomenon that we have to exercise a modicum of self-control to try and find the right balance. I do think sometimes, it’s just nice to have space. I think we fill space because we can and not because we should.

If I get to sit down for two hours with one of the world’s best silicon chip designers, I could not be happier. And what connects us is a curiosity, and also sort of sense of the authentic pursuit of excellence.

The art of focus is even if it is something you care passionately about, focus means ignoring it, putting it to the side. And often, it’s at real cost. And [Steve Jobs] was remarkable at that. And there have been a few occasions, a few periods where I felt have achieved that focus, and it’s a little eerie. You do have a sense — boundaries before impedance, before that seems insurmountable, seems trivial. And it takes so much effort and is exhausting to sustain, but all of the good things we’ve done have required that sort of focus.

If you’re going to do something new that means that the reason it has not been done before is that is there’s 55 reasons why it hasn’t been done before. And so you have to be so focused and so resolute, and in some ways almost blinkered, but you have to be so determined, but then you have to move between these two behaviors that are almost on the polar opposite.

I am confident that the mistakes weren’t born from laziness or some self-satisfied belief that it’s inevitable that they will be successful. I think we’re bunch of very anxious, worrying individuals who generally assume it’s not going to work unless we can prove otherwise.

Smartphone habits and addiction transforming into information dystopia

via The Guardian

This is classic Nir Eyal

One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the world gathered at a conference centre on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products, on a course curated by conference organizer Nir Eyal.

His book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products is a recipe book to shows how to game human psychology to get people addicted to your product, or as he puts it:

“Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them,” he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”

But there is a line between solving a problem through satisfying a need and engineering products for more usage. Read Don Normans’ The Design of Everyday Things instead.

And push notifications, turn them off:

Brichter says he is puzzled by the longevity of the feature. In an era of push notification technology, apps can automatically update content without being nudged by the user. “It could easily retire,” he says. Instead it appears to serve a psychological function: after all, slot machines would be far less addictive if gamblers didn’t get to pull the lever themselves. Brichter prefers another comparison: that it is like the redundant “close door” button in some elevators with automatically closing doors. “People just like to push it.”

Sometimes psychology can make boring situations a little more convenient, even elevator rush hours and grocery store queues.

On the Open Office

Open offices are overrated via Vox

The idea is worth executing well because it matters too much to stop trying to fix it. By that we mean the 40 hours a week, the 8700 hours, the nearly 10 full years of your life you spend inside the four walls of one room.

The Office Gets Remade Again via NY Times

Salesforce’s new skyscraper campus in San Francisco, for example, has areas on every floor for meditation, partly inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Create things so others can create

Getting to the Future Faster from Exponent

The conversation starts with a discussion on long term thought development via writing on a blog instead of cementing a momentary mindset in a book. In a blog, the audience can learn and grow with the author, while the author can support writing with a subscription business model. They move into universal basic income, single person businesses with an audience of 100s and Etsy as a model for unlocking creative potential of people across the world. Also, Instagram and YouTube stars are entrepreneurial in a job that did not exist five to ten years ago. How can we build technology that enables more people to create?

Two Weeks in Review – August 20, 2017

It's about time

Thoughts

on Renew Psychology

Here’s a test. I decided not to renew nautilus for $29 a year. I already have another 1 year on my subscription, and while I currently would like to have the magazine for another year I am balancing a few things to decide if in one year I want it for another year. In reality, the $29 for a year is really, $29 for two more years since I already acclimated to the original cost. So now, I am taking the option of not wanting the magazine in a year at the cost of an increase over $29. My current rate is $35 a year, so my value on the option is $6.

 

Readings

Aziz Ansari Quit the Internet

via Cal Newport (via GQ)

when he gets into a cab, he now leaves his phone in his pocket and simply sits there and thinks; when he gets home, instead of “looking at websites for an hour and half, checking to see if there’s a new thing,” he reads a book.

Like Macklemore

 

Podcasts

 

Tech and Learning

 

Knick-knacks

San Juan Island

Ferry and driving tour

Cele is no more

I removed it from the App Store. It had a good run, but it was time for other things.

Gated Reverb

via Vox on YouTube
and a Spotify playlist

Weekly Productivity

I like the option I have with this iPad to either read, or write in the mornings. I swing back and forth between the two activities (right now trying to finish Sapiens), but I thought a lot last night about how I was going to write a book. That fell flat in July and August. Replaced with video editing, coding, and having fun with friends. All in moderation is my way of doing things.

Stories

Folded newspaper, cup of coffee, and phone on a wooden table

Some of the articles and podcasts that came through my feeds recently had similar themes. It got me thinking about a few things.

  1. The idea of using misinformation as a way to hack one’s mind and shape one’s view of reality.
  2. How we carry out our lives differently. We surround ourselves with people we like and ideas we agree with.
  3. And after reading of Russia’s influence into the discussions of fake news and alternative facts, when we are all content in our filter bubble (how many buzzwords can I fit into one sentence?), slight white lies that confirm our beliefs go unnoticed.

The Invisibilia podcast episode called The Culture Inside explored feedback in the real world and confirmation bias in what we experience.

COX: Human brains are very good at learning things and not so good at unlearning things.

SPIEGEL: Because of the way that our minds work, it is just much easier for a stereotype to perpetuate itself than to be overturned because to change a concept you need to get extremely consistent feedback that the concept is incorrect. But most of the time we get no feedback at all.

COX: You know, imagine you’re walking around downtown and you see a guy in a pink shirt who’s maybe listening to Britney Spears, maybe talks with a lisp. And often people will see that and what’ll pop to mind is the idea that he’s gay. They’ll make an assumption. Oh, look at that gay guy. But they’re not going to run up to him and ask him, oh, are you gay? I had the thought that you were gay, but I just want to, you know, confirm or disconfirm it.

SPIEGEL: If you instantly found out that the man wasn’t gay, that stereotype wouldn’t gain power. But you don’t, so just the assumption strengthens the stereotype.

COX: The way it gets stored in their memory is that that was a gay guy, that having a pink shirt means he’s gay because that’s how our learning happens. It happens by the activation of these associations.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the deck is kind of stacked in favor of whatever stereotype is already in there.

From an early episode of Better Call Saul (I can’t find the episode, but here’s a montage and reddit post), I posited that in today’s world it is impossible hustle people and too easy to call BS (baloney sandwich). They can simply look up the answer on the internet and believe it as true. But what happens when we run into truthiness and the things we take as fact are not quite so?

This part of the TED Radio Hour Truth and Lies episode about credibility of what we see online makes novel connections between the real world and the web. How to hack your mind, reality, truth, and lies via misinformation on the internet.

The dependence that we have for not just our news but really for how we’re thinking about our collective experience as people and as a country and as a world is just so intensely derived from the Internet right now. Your smartphone is more your reality than walking down the street. So it’s now time to figure out what seems fake, what seems real, why that’s the case. And you don’t yet have the same Spidey feeling or, you know, goosebumps on the back of your neck that you get when you’re walking down the street and there’s a shady character walking down and, you know, you’re not going to trust something that they say or take it at face value. You don’t have that feeling yet on the Internet.

As our realities are increasingly based on the information that we’re consuming at the palm of our hand and from the news feeds that we’re scanning and the hashtags and stories that we see trending, the Russian government was the first to recognize how this evolution had turned your mind into the most exploitable device on the planet. And your mind is particularly exploitable if you’re accustomed to an unfettered flow of information now increasingly curated to your own tastes. This panorama of information that’s so interesting to you gives a state – or anyone, for that matter – a perfect back door into your mind.

It’s this new brand of state-sponsored information operations that can be that much more successful, more insidious and harder for the target audience – that includes the media – to decipher and characterize. If you can get a hashtag trending on Twitter or chum the waters with fake news directed to audiences primed to receive it – all tactics used in Russian operations – then you’ve got a shot at effectively camouflaging your operations in the mind of your target. This is what Russia’s long called reflexive control. It’s the ability to use information on someone else so that they make a decision on their own accord that’s favorable to you.

Ben Thompson discusses truth vs beliefs in his post Not Ok Google:

Deciding how to respond to fake news is a trade-off; in the case of Facebook, the fact that fake news is largely surfaced to readers already inclined to believe it means I see the harm as being less than Facebook actively taking an editorial position on news stores.

Google, on the other hand, is less in the business of driving engagement via articles you agree with, than it is in being a primary source of truth. The reason to do a Google search is that you want to know the answer to a question, and for that reason I have long been more concerned about fake news in search results, particularly “featured snippets”

Facebook may be pushing you news, fake, slanted, or whatever bias there may be, but at least it is not stamping said news with its imprimatur or backing it with its reputation (indeed, many critics wish that that is exactly what Facebook would do), and said news is arriving on a rather serendipitous basis. Google, on the other hand, is not only serving up these snippets as if they are the truth, but serving them up as a direct response to someone explicitly searching for answers. In other words, not only is Google effectively putting its reputation behind these snippets, it is serving said snippets to users in a state where they are primed to believe they are true.

And finally, in The Stories We Tell Ourselves, Todd May discusses the complicated lives we all lead:

Why might this matter? Here is one reason. The presidential election has displayed in stark terms a phenomenon that many have commented on in recent years. With the proliferation of various cable news channels, the internet, niche marketing, clustering in communities of like-minded people, most of us live in echo chambers that reflect the righteousness of our lives back to us. We are reinforced to think of ourselves as embodying the right values, as living in ways that are at least justified, if not superior. Reflecting on the stories we tell about ourselves might reveal to us other aspects of who we are and what we value, aspects that would complicate the simple picture provided by our echo chamber.

And that complication, in turn, could lead us to another revelation: that those who live outside our echo chamber might also be more complicated than we have imagined. While the values we take them to be expressing might be mistaken — or even abhorrent — to us, there are perhaps other aspects to their lives as well, other values those lives express, values that would become manifest to us if we listened to some of the stories they tell about themselves. If we are more complicated than we like to think, perhaps others are also more complicated than we would like to think. (And also more complicated than they would like to think.)

 

Week in Review – August 6, 2017

Stock image of a person simulating an open office environment

Meditation and Routine:

I took time this morning to meditate. I noticed I was going to rush to make it to the bus, and decided to wait and take the one leaving 30 minutes later. It was a simple decision that has big impact for the day. I leave in a calmer state and am able to get more done in the morning (at a relaxed pace). If only I would wake up earlier to take advantage of the time with my scheduled routine. My alarm goes off just after 7am and the next 20-25 minutes are spent snoozing and scrolling on my phone. I should re-read my routine post.

 

Readings:

Anil Dash on open space workplaces

via Medium

Anil Dash is not a fan of open offices for programmers. Programmers need to get into a state of flow to focus on the work in front of them and go deep. This is difficult with constant visual and auditory distraction.

At home it is quiet and there is little going on. Because of this I am able to stay focused and get work done. Deep work can come at with a loss to collaboration, but Cal Newport details how deep collaboration can be done.

More on open space at Fog Creek.

1000 True Fans

Kevin Kelly

I read this before,

“A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—in other words, anyone producing works of art—needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

but it came up again (via Ryan Holiday)

“So don’t wait. Build your platform now. Build it before your first project, before your first great perennial seller comes out, so that you have a better chance of actually turning it into one. Build it now so that you might create multiple works like that. Build it so you can have a career—so you can be more than just a guy or gal with a book or movie or app. Because you’re more than that. You’re an entrepreneur, an author, a filmmaker, a journalist. You’re a mogul.”

Tuesday’s hard fork of bitcoin

Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are fascinating. Some analysis on the bitcoin cash spinoff. I don’t know anything about it him, but I’ll have to read more from Matt Levine.

BCH spun off from BTC on Tuesday afternoon, and briefly traded over $700 on Wednesday (though it later fell significantly). But BTC hasn’t really lost any value since the spinoff, still trading at about $2,700. So just before the spinoff, if you had a bitcoin, you had a bitcoin worth about $2,700. Now, you have a BTC worth about $2,700, and also a BCH worth as much as $700. It’s weird free money, if you owned bitcoins yesterday.

Apple and the Oak Tree

Stratechery

The iPods Shuffle and Nano, the last two iTunes-dependent (i.e. non-iOS) MP3 players Apple sold, were quietly discontinued last Tuesday. The revelation two days later that Apple was, at the behest of the Chinese government, removing VPN apps from the App Store in China, drew considerably more interest

 

Podcasts

Long Distance

Reply All (Ep. 1 and Ep. 2)

Wow. The two part episode lacks closure, but is a captivating detective story that spans the globe.

 

danah boyd — The Internet of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On Being with Krista Tippett

 

“Even the most fleeting acquaintance with the history of information and communication technologies indicates that moral panics are episodic and should be taken with a grain of salt.”

 

danah boyd on why fake news is so easy to believe

The Ezra Klein Show

 

“Give me more kale”

These interviews are so similar, it’s almost as if they are with the same person. Still, each interviewer provides their own color. Tippett takes a more human approach while Klein focuses on the news, but both are searching for truth

 

 

Interactive thingy

The Evolution of Trust

Nicky Case

“We are punished by our sins, not for them.”

~ Elbert Hubbard

Almost as cool as the game. The history of making it: https://github.com/ncase/trust/commits/gh-pages

 

Movies

 

Earworms

 

Mindfulness Economy

Imagine our economy without advertisements. What would it look like? Facebook would not exist, Google would be a fragment of its current self, and for that matter, most tech companies propped up by VC money would be gone. Sports would only be seen in stadiums and played by athletes making minimal salaries. Media reliant on CPM would be no more. And that’s just the start.

We accept advertising as a way to subsidize the products we enjoy.

We sanction almost all aspects of our life to the effect of the attention economy. “Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging”.

How vastly different would the world be if we had to pay for things with our money rather than our attentions? We would be mindful of what we consume and wouldn’t by junk that looks nice online. Products may be more expensive, but imagine how improved they would be. The best products would survive by our recommendations to others. Real, in person recommendations. Not purchased reviews.

With our minds free from the barrage of stimulation, we could explore and share stories of our experiences. Maybe go see the world instead of getting the latest gadget. New ideas would spread by word of mouth and mindfulness would flourish as we place focus on our thoughts and emotions. We would become a more empathic people.

Businesses making products to better human kind would survive. Space exploration, solar, and entertainment would return to its roots with movie theaters, bookstores, live music, and Broadway shows. Writers will ensure the most important relationship is with the reader, not the advertiser.
And basic necessities like food and clothes would still be required, but stripped of their grandeur (stoicism) to their essential qualities: nutrition and function (with a bit of expression). Life would be more real and less inflated.

So how do we get there and how can it stick? Products should focus on real innovation and organic growth. We should not make something to get people addicted and hooked, but build a product to get people excited. Excited about life, growth, and being human.

Zootopia

I’ve watched every Pixar movie (and short) ever made and a fair chunk of the movies from Disney Animation Studios. These animated movies meet at the intersection of creativity and technology, blending state of the art film techniques with tremendous storylines. Plus, they really stand out for their empowering and timely messages, relevant to both children and adults. Disney Animation’s Zootopia explores prejudice and stereotypes through the eyes of a cute rabbit and sly fox (just don’t call them cute or sly). If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch. Here’s a quote (no spoilers):

“I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.” -Judy Hopps, Zootopia

A thoughtful and inspirational message for an animated kids movie, eh?

More!
If you are more of the bookworm type, check out Creativity Inc. to read about the inner working of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, and how John Lasseter and Ed Catmull (and Steve Jobs) shaped the futures of the companies.

And of course sloths! (mild spoilers)