Living in trouble

Unexpected signs of sanity in the universe: staff of Know Your Meme on The Verge

Lately, I've been reading many things written by technologists who think the internet has gone off the rails, and maybe (they think out loud), we should do something about it. Most notably, Dan Hon's No one's coming. It's up to us

This article published on The Verge gave me hope because I didn't expect the staff of KnowYourMeme.com to care. They haven't found a solution but they are working on it, realizing that it's going to be a matter of each of us taking responsibility for the unintended consequences of what we do

The assumption that something that’s popular is good, and that something with a lot of views is valuable, has been programmed into us by 100 years of mass media, [Kenyatta Cheese, co-founder of Know Your Meme] argues. And it’s something we need to unlearn “if we’re going to understand memes and if we’re going to understand influence.”

'Unlearning.' Yes, that's what we need. 

The Verge article focuses on the site's editor-in-chief, Brad Kim, but includes interviews with several staff members and founders. I highly recommend reading the whole thing

Qv180316km


Get better job feedback by asking "What can I do to contribute more?"

Several years ago I tried to get a co-worker to share some feedback about my performance, but he avoided it like the plague. I now realize that I made the whole process too risky for him. To find out how others see us, we need to ask simple, frequent questions that allow them to help us. "Why" and "how" can be too confusing and emotionally charged. "What" questions are easier to answer and more likely to produce information we can use. 

HBR: What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), 2018-Jan-4 by Tasha Eurich

My research team scoured hundreds of pages of interview transcripts with highly self-aware people to see if they approached introspection differently. Indeed, there was a clear pattern: Although the word “why” appeared fewer than 150 times, the word “what” appeared more than 1,000 times.

Therefore, to increase productive self-insight and decrease unproductive rumination, we should ask what, not why. “What” questions help us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights.

For example, consider Jose, an entertainment industry veteran we interviewed, who hated his job. Where many would have gotten stuck thinking “Why do I feel so terrible?,” he asked, “What are the situations that make me feel terrible, and what do they have in common?” He realized that he’d never be happy in that career, and it gave him the courage to pursue a new and far more fulfilling one in wealth management.

Similarly, Robin, a customer service leader who was new to her job, needed to understand a piece of negative feedback she’d gotten from an employee. Instead of asking “Why did you say this about me?,” Robin inquired, “What are the steps I need to take in the future to do a better job?” This helped them move to solutions rather than focusing on the unproductive patterns of the past.

Sc180201st


Learning about productivity from Cory Doctorow

I completely understand Cory's problems in managing multiple projects. I don't agree about the limits he finds, though. I'm always on the lookout for new projects and friends that offer a fresh angle on stuff I'm already doing, like growing a new root. 

I also find Facebook very problematic but I have to keep looking over the wall because so many of my friends are sharing there. I wonder how to get more people to at least copy and keep some of their writing and sharing separate from Facebook and Instagram. 

Locus Magazine: How to Do Everything (Lifehacking Considered Harmful), 2017-Nov-6 by Cory Doctorow 

...after getting rid of the empty calories in my activity diet, I had to start making hard choices.

In retrospect, I observe that the biggest predictor of whether an activity surviving winnowing is whether it paid off in two or more of the aspects of my life and career. If something made me a better blogger – but not a bet­ter novelist and activist – it went. The more parts of my life were implicated in an activity, the more likely I was to keep the activity in my daily round.

Some of these choices were tough. I have all but given up on re-reading books... 

Some social media tools – like Facebook – make for fun (if problematic) socializing, and all social media pays some dividend to authors who are hoping to sell books and activists who are hoping to win support, but Twitter also teaches me to be a better writer by making me think about brevity and sentence structure in very rigorous ways (and from an activist perspective, Twitter is a better choice because it, unlike Facebook, doesn’t want the web to die and be replaced by its walled garden) – so Twitter is in, and Facebook is out....

...the only activities left in my day serve double- and triple-duty. There is virtually no moment in my working day that can cleanly be billed to only one ledger.

The corollary of this is that it gets much, much harder to winnow out activities over time. Anything I remove from the Jenga stack of my day disturbs the whole tower.

And that means that undertaking new things, speculative things that have no proven value to any of the domains where I work (let alone all of them) has gotten progressively harder, even as I’ve grown more productive. Optimization is a form of calcification. 

Tq180110gp


Why we have to notice when capitalism goes off the rails, as in fake markets like Facebook and Uber

  • I've spent my last dime with Amazon (they would take it if they could get it). I just used up a gift card, and future gift cards will be given away to someone desperate. 
  • I'm considering giving up on Facebook, but I think I'll just do my best to avoid letting them make any money. (Also my policy toward any media owned by Rupert Murdoch.)
  • Divorcing Google will be the most difficult. They've insinuated themselves into the infrastructure of my business. But I will start using search engines like DuckDuckGo. 
  • I'm not giving up Apple products, but I will not become a 'sheeple' as my son warns. 

Anil Dash brilliantly points out that these fake markets appear to offer businesses the chance to become sustainable but then exploit them ruthlessly, driving their profits to zero. 

"I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." I'm not going to fall for the lure of convenience, and you shouldn't either. Choose to consume goods and services from people you know and trust. 

A Blog About Making Culture: Tech and the Fake Market Tactic, 2071-Mar-1 by Anil Dash

Worse, we’ve lost the ability to discern that a short-term benefit for some users that’s subsidized by an unsustainable investment model will lead to terrible long-term consequences for society. We’re hooked on the temporary infusion of venture capital dollars into vulnerable markets that we know are about to be remade by technological transformation and automation. The only social force empowered to anticipate or prevent these disruptions are policymakers who are often too illiterate to understand how these technologies work, and who too desperately want the halo of appearing to be associated with “high tech”, the secular religion of America.

It’s essential we develop a vocabulary for talking about these issues...

Qv170331cp


We don't realize how much we're all used to getting along without facts...

So here's another reason why facts don't change our mind... We're used to getting along without them. 

New Yorker: Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds, 2017-Feb-27 by Elizabeth Kolbert

When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.

Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about.

Tq170302fa


The truth we can't find

To some extent, I think the rise of 'fake news' or propaganda, or whatever it is, relates to our inability to handle uncertainty. We hear something we don't want to believe, we worry it may be true, then we look for disproof. When we see something we like, we decide that must be true. 

We are too ready and willing to stop searching. Real truth is an evolving reality. We have to be searching constantly, scanning  in places we haven't look before. 

Points: The Inescapability of Uncertainty: AI, Uncertainty, and Why You Should Vote No Matter What Predictions Say, 2016-Oct-31 by Jennifer Wortman Vaughan and Hannah Wallach

Rather than conceal the assumptions and uncertainty in their predictions, AI systems should enable users to understand the roots of this uncertainty and provide them with ways to reason about it more effectively. Longer term, this is an education issue. We need to acknowledge that uncertainty is here to stay and equip future generations to embrace it. In the mean time, though, remember that regardless of how precisely stated, there are hidden assumptions behind every prediction.

Tq170221tt


The Casino-ization of Facebook: don't mistake clicks for friendship

I'm not saying the Facebook isn't a good tool for maintaining relationships. I'm saying that using Facebook indiscriminately can lead one to believe that it's a substitute for friendship. 

How We Get To Next: The Uneasy Blurring of Work and Play, 2016-Nov-22 by Tom Chatfield

If social media is a form of play, what does it resemble? When I think of memes and hashtags — of their constant, cascading mix of high and low; horror and triviality; trolling and larking; abuse and tenderness — I think of a vast playground at the world’s worst-disciplined school. It’s tribal, infantile, anarchic, rippling with rumor and sentiment. That’s the content side of things. When I look at the interface through which this comes at us, however, I start thinking of the world’s largest casino. Every single item on the screen, no matter what its source or cause, only exists to get you clicking one more time — providing one more byte of behavioral data for aggregation and sale....

Play is freedom within constraint, which means improvising, tinkering, disputing the rules and debating the scoreline. It’s the sublime moment of skill before the score, the thrill of the chase. If we do live in a simulation, whoever designed it was a genius — because they knew that pleasure isn’t the point. We keep score so that we can play; we don’t play in order to have scores to keep.

What should you be doing with as much of your time as you can manage? Hack the funhouse. Play in the gardens, hide in the hedgerows, climb onto the roof. Think for yourself. Take play seriously. Don’t confuse someone else’s game, however good, for the world.

Tq161222hh
Halloween in Houston