Is Fashion an Exercise in Prejudice?

The majority of my clothing budget for the last 5 years was spent on suits.  For the banking industry, it’s a uniform.  You show up in in a nice suit, well put together, and people assume you’re on top of your game.  If you show up in something less, people start to ask what happened.  It’s almost like wearing your resume.

I always liked my suits.  They were all tailored so they were among my most comfortable clothes.  They had a lot of personal detail like lining, monograms, etc.  It was also easy to come up with a bit of style, almost like the suit was a template where you just had to pick a few colors that went together.  For the first time in my life, people actually thought I had style.

So I left banking in January and now I work in the cannabis sector.  I don’t really wear my suits anymore.  I look for excuses to wear them here and there, and still suit up for big meetings with old colleagues, but the suit now carries baggage with it.  In banking, the suit was an exercise in putting your best foot forward.  In cannabis, the suit seems to represent the establishment, corporate greed, and a lack of liberal values.  Ironically, I’ve been dealing with far more prejudice in this environment than I ever did in the ‘corporate’ world.

The Cannabis industry seems to be filled with entrepreneurs and employees who hold a great deal of distrust for ‘business people’.  The suit is the uniform of such people.  If you see someone in a suit, it’s best to assume they’re a threat.  Lovely.

All good, I’m adaptable.  I started to break out the jeans, sweaters and t shirts that hadn’t seen much action over the last decade and made an effort to be a little more casual.  Casual wasn’t necessarily more comfortable, but it seemed to fit the environment and I really didn’t mind it.  Eventually, one of the founders started poking fun at my style of casual clothes (probably rightfully so), and suggested that we do a shopping trip in the near future where she would introduce me to some modern fashion.

That was last week.  I basically let her lead the way through the shopping district and tried on everything that she put in front of me.  For her, the focus was on making me appear ‘softer’.  I don’t mind soft.. Lions, tigers and bears are plenty soft.

Pretty quick, I was told no V-neck shirts.  I didn’t bother asking why because I’ve heard that V-necks are for douche bags at least a few times.  I didn’t know that douche bags were so geometrically inclined but was annoyed that they apparently ruined the 6 V-neck t-shirts I had at home.  Personally, I don’t understand why the V-neck or U-neck would hold any relevance, so I decided it was best to go with the flow.

Next came pants.  I grew up wearing baggy jeans, and it was awesome.  There was plenty of room to move around, they were comfortable, room to put stuff in your pockets, and they would still fit if you grew a bit.  Around 2010, I remember going shopping at the local hip hop store for another pair and finding out that they were now only selling skinny jeans.  I was told this was the new style, and ended up buying a pair.  I literally wore those jeans less than 5 times until I dropped them off at the salvation army 5 years later.  The tapered leg looked a bit silly with my shoes at the time, but it was mostly an issue with comfort and function.  I have a big bum and big thighs to begin with, but squeezing into these made me look and feel like a sausage.  Things wouldn’t fit in my pockets and everything got super-tight in all the wrong places when I sat down.  As you can imagine, I was not looking forward to pants shopping in 2017.

Most of what I tried on looked like spandex and was not comfortable.  For me being able to move around and sit down without discomfort seems like a reasonable prerequisite for buying clothes.  If they fit well when you’re standing like a manikin but start to burst at the seems when you sit down – they don’t fit.  I had some resistance on this claim from the fashionista, but I stood my ground.  One of my comments was that the pants were so tight than I wouldn’t be able to put anything in my pockets (keys, wallet, cellphone).  She said that’s why I needed to start carrying a man purse.

Let me get this straight… I’m supposed to sacrifice functionality, comfort, range of motion, and money, to buy clothing which is more in-line with today’s expectations of how people should be expressing themselves through fashion.

Isn’t fashion supposed to be self-expression?  If my brand of self expression was classic, timeless, functional, and comfortable, shouldn’t I be steering clear of skinny jeans?  Or do I start wearing the uniform of the socially acceptable?  As a kid, I remember seeing everyone wearing wide-leg jeans and casting prejudice on people who wanted to wear skinny jeans.  With the cyclical nature of fashion, now the dynamic is apparently reversed.  With that knowledge, there’s no way I can buy into the dynamic of one being right and one being wrong.

By the end the trip, I bought 3 pairs of pants.  2 will have to be altered to fit my over-sized legs and bum.  The other may never see the light of day, although I’ll concede that they’re quite comfortable.

Whether you’re wearing a suit or dress, khakis or ripped jeans, wing-tips or flip flops, we all need to get better at judging people on who they are.  There is absolutely creativity, artistry, and personal expression in deciding how you dress, but replacing your clothes on a frequent and ongoing basis to conform to fashion standards set by others is downright silly.  Almost as silly as assuming that someone who wears a suit is a corporate douche bag, or assuming that someone who rocking dreadlocks is a lazy stoner.

If I were to redesign the fashion industry, everything would be done to custom measurements.  We all come in different shapes and sizes, most people do not fit ‘off-the-rack’.  Then we would have fabric designers.  People who create the different prints and fabrics of the world because that’s what they love to do. Then we have the clothing architects who build the blueprints of the clothes we want to wear.  Then we would have the option for custom details that make those items truly unique.  Finally, manufacturing would take place where ever it made economic sense.  We should be closing in on the fully automated manufacturing of clothing within the next decade so picking up a few items of clothing at your local shop should be a non-issue sooner than later.

If we could decentralize the design and manufacturing of clothing, then it would no longer be major designers and retails looking to set fashion trends and rotate them for the sake of new inventory.  It would be the designers  of the world, and the people who identify with their designs.  With greater decentralization comes a more transparent view of what the world’s fashion really looks like.  With a clearer perspective, comes a greater understanding and with a greater understanding, there’s less room for prejudice.

Once we get there, I may invest in a clothing line.  I’ll call it something pragmatic… like Function.  These clothes would be designed by an algorithm that considered:

  1. Custom measurements for sizing
  2. range of motion for the cut
  3. climate and intended use for fabric
  4. Personal requests around functionality for things like zippers and pocket

The algorithm would take all these details into consideration, and then produce a piece of clothing with all the required specifications, with the least amount of fabric, at the lowest cost.  Each piece would theoretically come with a perfect fit, unrivaled comfort, made with the most strategic fabric, and designed with the functionality of the wearer in mind.  The clothing would also be made for the lowest cost possible, with the least amount of fabric possible – leading to great value and an efficient sense of style.

Pretty sure it’s all going to look like spandex eventually.

Time Travel

Two quick thoughts:

  1. Keeping in mind that time is a human construct that measures progression throughout the universe, ‘travelling back in time’ would literally be a regression of the universe, in reverse order, to a specified marker to a system which we made up.
  2. Travelling into the future seems much more realistic.  If your goal was to travel 100 years in the future, it would simply be a matter of figuratively (maybe literally) freezing yourself for 100 years.  If there was a way to keep your body and mind in a form of stasis which allowed you to remain healthy for an extended period of time, this would effectively be time travel.  Assuming that you don’t have to endure what feels like 100 years of sleep and that the transition is more instantaneous (perhaps a bold assumption), this would effectively be like taking a nap and waking up 100 years in the future.  Sounds a lot nicer than most modern forms of travel.

There is however another way of looking at this.  Infinite universes, infinite timelines, infinite possibilities.  At that point though, I think we’re talking about inter-dimensional travel and not time travel.

A Completely Automated Business

Here’s a thought…

how far are we away from kids at Harvard coming up with a fully automated business for a class project?

I said it in that context for a couple:

  1. I suspect fully automated businesses already exist in the fringe but I’m talking about something more widely applicable
  2. By the time the kids at Harvard are doing it, it’ll be big news and government regulators will have to start shifting around this potential

Imagine a company called Widgets.com.  Widgets.com is a market place for widgets where manufacturers of widgets can list their products.  Buyers of Widgets can come to the site, pick the widget they want and place an order for delivery.  When a customer places an order, the order is relayed through to the manufacturer and the manufacturer will ship the widget directly through to the buyer.

Widgets.com outsources it’s live chat and call center.  And their web design.  And their IT.  And their Legal.  And their Accounting. And their digital marketing.

Widgets.com would also have extensive data analytics that would help track key information for making strategic decisions.  These data points would include customer feedback and reviews, website activity, error tracking, legal reporting, financial reporting, and social media stats.  And anything else you wanted to include.

The Widgets.com algorithm would be capable of making executive decisions, but would aim to outsource nuanced details.  For example, if pink widgets were trending on social media, a note would go out to the digital marketing team and manufacturers of pink widgets, while a request would go to the web designer to feature pink widgets.  If the situation was more nuanced, say with a zero star review, the algorithm would track that info, forward it to a capable customer service rep and have them work to resolve the issue.

It’s actually a fun exercise because you can do this with just about any decision being made within a company.  I’m pretty sure these are the steps to building this decision engine:

  1.  Identify the cues to look for when identifying a problem
  2. Use additional cues to verify the problem
  3. Review past solutions to the problem or similar problems
  4. If a past solution has worked, use it again
    1. If a past solution works again, make a note
    2. If a past solution doesn’t work, go back to step 2
  5. If a past solution didn’t work, look to variations of solutions to similar problems.

I know that’s a bit of an oversimplification but what I’m getting at is that with enough time and insight, a top CEO could effectively upload his decision engine into a neural net.  Perhaps a decision engine wouldn’t make the best CEO for a complex company that operates in a rapidly changing environment with an actively engaged customer base… but maybe at that point, a human CEO isn’t cutting it either.

That’s where I see this going, especially because it’s already happening.  Big data analytics is an early stage version of human/digital hybrid CEO.  Right now, we’re mostly using data analytics to provide the human CEO with more information.  If the human CEO sees that everything X happens, Y needs to happen, he can automate it.  Once it’s automated, that’s the responsibility of the digital CEO.  As more information starts to get tracked, more patterns will emerge, and more automation will occur.  As that process progresses further and further, the human side is needed less and less.

I’m not sure how this will play out, but I do know that today’s pundits are suggesting that the CEO’s role will be among the last to be taken out by automation.  That before the CEO role goes digital, manufacturing will be replaced by 3D printing, warehouse workers will be replaced by robots, delivery drivers will be replaced by automated trucks and drones, and even computer programmers will be replaced by computers who programmers have taught to program.  Considering that the new Atlas looks like its about to try out for Cirque, who knows.

Reddit Might’ve Just Saved Net Neutrality

Reddit is one of my primary information feeds.  Perhaps needless to say, I’m a fan.  Over the last week or so, I’ve observed something rather significant.

First, the gaming community mobilized against EA and their release of Star Wars: Battlefront 2.  EA’s new progression system meant that most of the game’s best content had to be earned.  Doesn’t sound too bad at first, until you find out that to unlock all the game’s content, it would take over 4500 hours, or $2,100.  To put that in perspective, if you were to play for 3 hours a day, 365 days a year, it would take you just over 4 years to unlock all the content.  To put that in perspective, the next generation of consoles is expected out before then.  And that $2100 that they’re hoping you’ll spend?  That’s above and beyond the $80 price tag for the game itself.  Short-sighted greediness for sure, but something was different this time.

Someone on Reddit had a rant, and EA replied with a classic, corporate speak, disingenuous answer.  I won’t bother repeating the entire reply as the opening sentence says it all:

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”

I’m tempted to pick it apart, but I’d just be pointing out the obvious.  The response though, was something special.  That reply, became the most down-voted comment in the history of Reddit, earning over 600,000 demerits within just a few days.  Not only did this make the news across several major outlets and cause the execs at Disney to check in on EA, but EA also froze the in-game payment system until further notice.  A win?  Maybe,  but the gaming community isn’t buying it (literally) as they suspect EA will just unfreeze the payment system once enough gamers have caved in.  Well fortunately for the gamers, sales are down significantly compared to the game’s first installment and that’s starting to weigh on EA’s stock price.  Effectively, the gaming community found a way to mobilize on Reddit to deny EA the opportunity to make a really dumb decision.  All within a few days.  All with a few clicks.  Very interesting.

Among all the gaming hoopla, I saw a post that said something to the effect of, ‘If we cared half as much about Battlefront 2 as we did about net neutrality, we wouldn’t have to worry about net neutrality’.  Well, Reddit responded.  Earlier this week, for about 48 hours straight, Reddit’s entire front page was entirely dedicated to the mobilization for net neutrality.  This wasn’t a banner, or an ad, or front page image, it was what seemed to be thousands of posts, across thousands of sub-reddits, all being up-voted by the masses.  I was almost a little annoyed that for 2 days, I didn’t have normal access to one of my news feeds, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of what I was seeing.

I don’t know if the effort by Reddit or any of the other tech majors will be enough to stop this repeal.  Senators don’t pay nearly as much attention to internet chatter as they do to phone calls to their office.  Assuming an average call takes 10 minutes, an office could theoretically take 144 calls over a 24 hour period, or 1008 calls over the course of a week.  There are 100 senators, meaning a little over 100,000 calls would completely occupy the senate’s phone lines for a week.  If that happened, it would probably be the documented as one of the greatest public protests of all time.

At this point, I don’t have a clue how many up votes were cast across how many posts.  If I had guess, somewhere between 2-5 million, suggesting that the support is somewhere between 20-50 times what it should probably take to get the government to reconsider their position.

There are a few problems here.  First, why is it that in a democratic framework, where the people have not asked to repeal net neutrality, is the Chairman of the FCC introducing measures to repeal net neutrality?  The second problem is that internet community, arguably the constituents of this decision, are protesting this decision more fiercely than anything they’ve ever done – and it might be ignored.  Finally, and perhaps the worst problem is that we’re encouraged to think that calls into our senators’ offices are what will make the difference here but at this point, we know that’s bullshit.  They listen when they have to, and they use public backlash as a measure of what they can get away with while still being able to get re-elected.  In all likelihood, there are only two calls that would make a difference here:  If Ajit Pai received a call from the president, or if received a call from the chairman of Verizon.  Unfortunately for us, both have vested financial interests in restricting how the general population accesses information… so I don’t see it happening.

Doom and gloom, I know.  But there’s a bright side.  An awesome bright side.  Government needs tech, desperately.  I’ve been mulling over the idea of a app that would let governments better connect and engage with their people.  The current lines of communication between politicians and their constituents minimize inbound traffic which increases the disconnect.  Without a live connection to your people, it becomes a lot easier to pay attention to the lobbyist that just took you out for a nice steak dinner.  The people need a platform that lets them engage in real time with the people making these kinds of decisions, one that’s easy to use, that people would want to use, and one which decision makers would be held accountable to.  The way that EA and Disney reacted to the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 issue was the first time that any modern platform, let alone Reddit, ticked all those boxes.  If we manage to stop the repeal of net neutrality, I might even say proof of concept.

While Reddit might be the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a platform like this, Reddit wasn’t designed to bridge the gap between a government and its people.  To do that, it might have to be a little less rough around the edges and frankly, that’s just not Reddit.  But that’s ok, because I have a hard time thinking that I’m the only one that’s been inspired here.  I suspect there are a lot of smart people out there who are seeing what I’m seeing.  We need to revolutionize the way that a government listens to its people and I think the public is figuring that out in a hurry.

One of the greatest counter-productive efforts throughout history has been the ruling class putting a greater emphasis on maintaining their power than helping their people.  A lot of us assumed that kind of behavior died off with the monarchies but somehow it’s more obvious today than ever.  I think we have the internet to thank for that.  The internet revolutionized how we access information which means the government is having a harder and harder time controlling the conversation.   They’re still trying, and it’s confusing the hell out of a lot of people, but the truth keeps finding a way.

The best thing about this for me is that when I keep pulling at that thread and try to visual where this takes us, I start to see something pretty special. If we could create a public that’s actively engaged with the governance issues that they’re interested in, able to control the public discourse, and aware of what one another is thinking in real-time, we have a highly capable voter base that’s capable of decentralizing a government’s power.  If we can connect that voter base to governing officials who are accountable to public discourse and the ongoing engagement of their constituents, we may just be able to put everyone back on the same team and point them in the same direction.  Wouldn’t that be neat.

 

 

Business Ideas: The Next Great Chat Platform

First came texting.. or sms.  Then came a slew of other chat platforms like BBM, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snap, and not to mention the messaging functions in other apps like Instagram.  I thought it was downright ridiculous what Facebook paid for Whatsapp considering that they could’ve bought all of Blackberry, including Blackberry’s BBM platform and security IP for a fraction of the price.  I could see a shift away from sms but considering that 99% of my texts were just brief text messages, all the added functionality on the newer platforms were lost on me.

The craze over Snapchat also seemed rather ridiculous.  The novelty of sending nudes that would auto-delete wore off pretty quickly when people remembered you could still take a screen shot, but the platform persisted.  I think I eventually figured out why Snapchat was so popular, and it’s rather interesting.  When pictures auto-delete, they don’t take up space on your phone, meaning you can send them frivolously.  A picture is worth a thousand words so a facial expression along with a text is a far richer message than just the text.  It’s also a bit of a game with all the added functionality of filters that continue to push the boundaries of augmented reality.  Effectively, it’s a superior mode of communication to classic texting and like with most things.. the kids are all over it while the old people are complaining about how they don’t understand kids these days.

So what’s the winning recipe?  Especially when you have such well established heavy-weights dominating the industry?  Simple solve the two most relevant problems.  Give them a centralized messaging platform and take an opensource approach to the development of add-ons and other features.

A central messaging platform would allow you to receive messages from all the other messaging platforms, features in tact.   The opensource approach to feature development and add-ons would effectively give the platform to the people, letting them continually develop what they wanted for it.  Almost a democratic approach to its evolution.

Anyone already using more than one platform would likely to gravitate to a centralized messaging hub.  Knowing that the hub maintains the features of all other major platforms, you wouldn’t even need to have the app on your phone after adding your account.  Keeping the feature development in the hands of the users would also ensure that the platform would always remain current.

Texting is like a utility.  Sending brief messages from person to person has become standard mode of communication and the technology is readily available.  Make it secure, make it quick, and have a rich set of continually updated features.  One and two are the responsibility of the business, number three are for the people.  I see a few other businesses who have pulled this off, and many more who might benefit by taking a closer look.

A Brief on Spectral Thinking

I’m sure I’ll dive into this again at a later date as my understanding of it continues to grow but I wanted to unload some of these thoughts for now.

There seems to be a natural evolution of thought from binary, to categorical, to spectral.

You have men and you have women.  It’s one or the other.  Except for intersex.  So 3 categories and everyone fits into one of those 3.  Except there’s at least 9 distinct categories of intersex.  So 11 categories, and that’s it.  Except these traits are expressed differently in each individual so it’s as if everyone ultimately ends up in their own category and it’s way too complicated to have infinite categories so why not just a spectrum?

You’re either gay or you’re straight.  It’s one or the other.  Except for bi.  So 3 categories and everyone fits into….

You’re either smart or you’re not…

You’re either privileged or you’re not…

It’s either black or white…

You’re either good or bad…

So if spectral thinking is next level, what’s after that?  My guess is another axis.

Duality of Privilege

When you apply the concept duality to privilege, it creates a rather interesting perspective.  Consider example A:

John is the child of a wealthy family.  His grandfather did very well, and John’s parents never had to work.  John grows up knowing that he won’t have to work either.  John’s parents lead a lavish lifestyle and give John is given everything that he asks for.

As a result of his unique circumstances, John has a unique perspective on life.  In that environment, I could see it being extremely challenging to develop qualities like a strong work ethic, perseverance, or the ability to deal with scarcity.  I could also see it being difficult to develop healthy relationships with others for a variety of reasons.  This doesn’t sound like a life of privilege to me.  Consider example B:

Jane is the daughter of two working class immigrants, and is raised in a rough neighborhood.   Jane grows up admiring the work ethic of her parents, knowing how their sacrifices let her grow up in a better place than where they were from.  Jane doesn’t have much growing up, but she appreciates what she has and learns how to work towards the things she wants.

In that environment, Jane was given several obstacles and challenges which John would be unlikely to face.  I’d like to think there are two ways to look at this.  You could say that John is privileged to not have to work for anything.  Or you could also say that Jane is privileged to have learned a great work ethic when she was young.  Perhaps there’s a key difference between these two though, in that Jane earned her work ethic while John didn’t earn his family’s wealth.  While that may be true, neither Jane nor John earned their circumstances – in this case, their family.  Had Jane been born to John’s family,   would she have turned out any differently?  Had John been born into Jane’s circumstances, would he have developed Jane’s work ethic?  Who’s life would you rather be born into?  If you’re like me and picked Jane’s life because it would probably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling, successful, and healthy life, wouldn’t that be the more privileged life?

When you think about our greats, from Muhammad Ali to Connor McGregor, from J Lo to Jay Z, from Abe Lincoln to Narendra Modi, from Indra Nooyi to Oprah Winfrey, from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, and from Charles Dickens to JK Rowling, you start to see a pattern of overcoming a more challenging set of circumstances from a young age.  You know who I don’t see?  I don’t see the children of billionaires.  How often do we see the children of wealthy families behaving as inspiring leaders that move the world forward in a positive direction?

I think that inheritance doesn’t exist in a meritocracy but that aside, I genuinely don’t have any issues with someone inheriting a fortune and then settling down and living a comfortable life with their family.  I just know that’s not the best environment for producing good human-beings.  It looks easy, and nice, and better, but it lacks the struggle, and it’s the struggle which defines us.

The most challenging moments of my life directly preceded my most significant moments of personal growth.  If this pattern stays true for others, is adversity not to be embraced as the fuel of progress?  If so, perhaps privilege represents someone who’s arrived at the destination without having made the journey.  If so, perhaps there’s an argument to be made for an empathetic approach to this whole ‘privilege’ thing.  If we’re lucky, it might be contagious.