The Digital Dimension

Remember Elon saying that there was a good chance that we were a part of an advanced civilization’s computer simulation?

And now we have all this multi-verse theory with infinite possibilities across infinite dimensions.  Aww jeez.

But how?

Here’s one idea.. a digital dimension.  Bear with me on this.

If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, is it a duck?

If you couldn’t tell the difference between your reality and a digitally simulated reality, then is the digitally simulated reality not just an alternate reality?  If they both carried the same laws of physics, same galaxies, same solar systems, same planets, same people, is there really a difference?

But what if you were to simulate a different set of physical laws, in a newly designed universe with new planets and new species? How would you classify this reality?

How can you be sure that you’re not in it now?

And how would one go about designing such a digital reality?  The idea of intelligent design, suggesting that the evolution of the universe from it’s origin to the present day was a planned out process seems unrealistic.  Too many variables over too much time.  But who’s to say that intelligent design couldn’t have been part of the equation?

If I was in the business of creating universes, this might be my approach:

  1. Design a set of physical laws which would govern the physical world.
  2. Bring all the contents of this physical universe into a single point, creating an immense pressure to expand
  3. Pop the bubble and see what happens

So who’s to say you couldn’t build this scenario within a digital universe?  Assuming the computing power was available, you could take the contents of a universe, compress them into a single point, with predetermined physical laws, and hit enter.  If that simulation were to run long enough, say 13.8 billion years, would you be all that surprised to find intelligent life within your digital universe?  Perhaps even intelligent life who had begun to understand the origins of your creation?

I’d like to push this out to one more thought.  Would it be possible to create a different set of physical laws that the ones we’ve observed?  Could light travel twice as fast? What about half the speed?  How would this impact all the other physical laws? Error?  How many of our physical laws are functions of other, more fundamental physical laws?  How inter-connected are they?  I would guess completely.  If so, could you change one without changing the rest?  Is there a recipe for a functional universe beyond the laws which exist here?

Hmm…

 

 

Business Ideas: Take-a-Tic App

So I was at the city’s development permit office the other day and just like the DMV or any other government run admin set-up, they asked me to take a ticket and wait for my number to be called.  Problem is that this office takes about a day to get through the queue.  No joke, I’ve shown up at 9am up in the morning, only to be told at 445pm that they wouldn’t be able to get to me today.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  I did arrive early in the morning and I did take a ticket but I didn’t stay there all day.  The ticket system that they have is digital and there’s a city URL which lets you monitor your queue so that you can go about your day and pop back in when your number is close.  That’s definitely a step up from having to commit and entire day to waiting in that line without knowing if they’ll get to you… but not by much.  It did however give me an idea.

A few years ago, a new steakhouse opened up in a trendy part of town and apparently it had the nicest patio in the whole city.  A few friends and I were hanging out at a friend’s place a few blocks away and thought we’d try them for dinner.  When we arrived, we were told that it would be an hour wait.  We were about to decline but they suggested we take what looked like a puck with a bunch of blinking lights on it.  Apparently, this contraption would blink and buzz when our table was available.  We figured sure, why not.  We went to a restaurant a few doors down and started with a few drinks but ended up ordering food anyways.  Ironically, the thing didn’t buzz until we were back at my friend’s place a few hours later.  Now it’s a coaster.

That was the first time I had seen one of those, but I’ve seen them plenty more since.  I don’t like it.  There’s a better way of doing this.

What if… there was an app for that?

Let’s call this app take-a-tic, a shameless rip off of a friend’s company, Picatic.  I swear I’ll come up with a better name if I ever pull the trigger on this.  Anyways, the idea is that this is line-up management software.  Whether you’re a restaurant, a city by-law office, or somewhere in between, this just seems… more efficient.

Imagine walking into the DMV and seeing a crowd of people that probably amounts to a wait time of at least an hour.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  So you head to the front counter and ‘take-a-tic’.  Instead of getting a piece of paper with a number on it, your position in the queue is loaded into your app.  It would be fun to think of all the paper we’d save but I’m far more interested in all the time we’d save.  Imagine being able to leave and getting a notification of when you should head back.  Imagine the app using your GPS, knowing how far you’ve gone, how long it’ll take to get back, and then takes that into consideration for when to send you a reminder.  Imagine being notified at the most inconvenient time and being able to hit the snooze button and let a few people go ahead of you without losing your place in line.  Not bad right?

While the convenience is certainly there for the user, it needs to make sense for the business as well.  There are more demands on our time than perhaps ever before and when a business says their cost savings is more important than your time.. it tends to not go over well.  When you show your customers that you value their time, you tend to end up with happy customers.  As with any scalable app, data analytics come into play and in this case, could help businesses better manage their queue.  Finally, and perhaps the most obvious: cost savings.  Without any need for hardware or physical tickets, the only real cost is the subscription to the service.

My first thought when looking to poke holes in this was nobody’s going to download an app just to wait in your line.  If they have the choice between that and the blinking coaster, they probably take the blinking coaster 8 out of 10 times.  But… what if everyone used the same app?  What if you downloaded the app for dinner a few weeks ago, but through out the year was able to use it at several other businesses?  What if every long lineup was equipped with this tech?  Well, now it has merit.  And if everyone is using it, it opens up a few more possibilities.

What if you were thinking about going to the DMV today but wasn’t sure about how to schedule it in?  What if you could open your app, search the DMV, and see what their queue was like today?  What if it came with comparisons to last week and this time last year?  What if you could even jump in the queue from home?  I’ll admit that last one might create more problems than it solves.. but maybe not.

If you were to give someone the ability to lineup from home, then you’re likely going to boost your no-show rate.  But what if there was a way to screen for that?  If everyone was using the app, perhaps businesses would have the ability to view a user’s no-show rate.  Or maybe it would make sense for the business to set the bar for who can line up from home.  For example, I probably show up to 95% of my commitments on time or early.  If a business could see that, they would have no issues with me jumping in the queue from home.  But lets say my no-show rate on the app was 50%, businesses would have the option to bounce that request.

What this all amounts to is efficiency of time.  I’m the first to avoid a place if it has a long line up.  45 minute wait for brunch?  No thanks.  Line up to get in the club?  Ya right.  Might be able to fit you in at the bar in about an hour?  Bite me.  But there are some lines you can’t avoid.  For those, I’d love to have access to something like this.  If it was mass-adopted, imagine how many hours could be used more efficiently.  Who knows, something like that might even boost GDP, haha.

A Digital Nation

I’m a problem solver by nature and the bigger the problem, the more interested I am in solving it.  In looking to solve things like gun violence, the application of democracy, educational inefficiencies, or health care, I often end up back in the same place – the system for creating change is deeply flawed.

I don’t mind a flawed system, most are.  What I do mind is a reluctance to face those flaws and solve them for the sake of progress.  In the world of business, poorly run companies go bankrupt.  In the world of politics, poorly run governments increase their national debt while raising tax on their citizens – and continue on.  In the great recession, the big 3 auto-manufacturers were running their businesses poorly and were on the verge of bankruptcy because of it.  Some argued that allowing them to fail would be catastrophic to the American economy and that losing those jobs were not an option.  I would argue that failing businesses should be allowed to fail so that from their ashes, ingenuity and integrity may have the opportunity to build something better.  Instead, 2 of those companies were bailed out and 10 years later, not much has changed.  Had they been allowed to fail, I wonder if Tesla would be the only major new entry in the auto-industry in the last several decades.

Tesla wasn’t the first crack at the electric car either.  We tried that back in the 90s but the system we exist in allows large business interests to influence government policy.  Auto-manufacturers weren’t overly interested in the R&D necessary to tackle electric cars and the oil industry wasn’t interested in the competition – so they lobbied.  A government which allows well-funded business interests to limit the innovation and competition in their industry is deeply flawed.

So how do you fix these problems?  Run as a member of a major party and try to create change from within?  I’ve experienced first hand how change from within can be an unrealistic approach, especially when you require the cooperation of those who would rather keep things the same.  Run as an independent?  Good luck getting any legislation passed in a 2 party system.  Try and operate outside the government?  They don’t take kindly to that.  Start your own country?  All viable land has already been claimed.

What to do.. what to do..

My pipe dream was to develop the technology necessary to build large, stable islands.  Once you built an island large enough, you could claim it and start your own country.  With a progressive game plan, you could easily lure great minds and great businesses.  Together, you could set the example for the rest of the world on how things could be done.

I think Elon Musk’s plan is similar, but he prefers the buffer of 50 million miles of empty space.  Given Russia’s announcement of their nuclear missile with indefinite range and all the other fun stuff going on, he might be on to something.

While these are fun contingency plans to think of, it’s overlooking something important.  Life always finds a way.  There’s a natural progression to what happens next and I think we’re starting to see it.

We’re moving from an analog reality to a digital reality.

I’ve watched a few animes over the years which touched on the subject of a futuristic society that was digitally based, and I couldn’t help but connect the dots.  When I saw the first trailer for Ready Player One, I knew it wasn’t just me seeing where we were headed.  With the film out last week and on my way to see it tonight, I wanted to put a journal entry together to document my thoughts before they’re further inspired by what looks to be a Spielberg masterpiece.

For anyone who still needs some context, a digital reality is the inevitable evolution of virtual reality.  Virtual reality as it exists today is rather limited but the momentum is there and we seem to be approaching a new plateau.  Within the R&D being done right now, there’s a focus on getting your brain to accept that the illusion is real.  If that sounds like hocus pocus, you’d be right.  For as long as magicians and illusionists have existed, there has been a craft designed around the manipulation of your senses.  As complex as the the mind is, and as good as it is at processing the outside world, it can be fooled.  Right now, the holy grail in virtual reality is getting your mind to forget that it’s within a virtual reality.

There’s an idea that we all hallucinate our own reality.  Some are quick to dismiss the thought, thinking that what they’re experiencing is the same reality that everyone else is experiencing – but they would be wrong.  Everyone’s mind is constantly collecting information from all of its senses and continually trying to make sense of all of its surroundings.  If those senses are your input, your hallucination is the digital rendering.  And this is the genius of true virtual reality, where all of your inputs have been taken over, and your mind hallucinates your new digital reality.

On the path to a true virtual reality, we have much ground to cover.  Sound is perhaps easiest, sight is where the most progress is being made today, and touch is where new ground is being broken.  There are a few people putting energy towards taste and smell but they don’t seem to be a priority right now (although I can’t help but think that smell may be one of the most immersive inputs).  The piece of tech which I’m most interested in at the moment is the haptic suit, a full body suit which allows for a very real sense of touch.  Within the next 10 years, I think it’s extremely likely that we’ll have sight, sound, and touch dialed in at a very high level.  But perhaps this is where we’ll plateau.  The biggest obstacle I see in VR is getting to the point where we have this brilliant digital universe to explore, only to be bumping into the couch and TV at home as we try.

As I’m trying to map out the future of virtual reality, I’m seeing an eventual division between analog and digital.  Analog will be with the helmet, headphones, haptic suit, and everything else.  Digital will be with what Elon and a few other think tanks are working on right now, a direct neural link.  I don’t understand the science well enough to know what the timeline on something like this is but with the ramp up of AI, it’ll probably come quicker than we’re ready for.  I suspect that this will be the technological jump that truly takes us into the digital age.

Today, so much of what we already do exists in the digital realm.  Our work, our social lives, the way we learn, the way we play, the way we explore, the way we communicate…  it’s now all digital first.  What some of us may not realize or want to accept is that we’re already one foot in the digital world.  We just have a low-bandwidth way of accessing it.  What if it wasn’t through our thumbs on our phones or fingers on our keyboards that we accessed our digital world?  What if we could interact with the digital world as quickly and accurately as we interact with the physical world?  What would that look like?  What would that lead to?  Or maybe there’s another way of looking at this.  If this is the direction we’re already headed in, what problem is this a solution to?

Well, what  if the current level of inequality in the world persisted?

Well, life finds a way…

I’ve watched very closely as the disposable income of the lower and middle class has evaporated over the past decades.  Half your income goes to tax, of what’s left, half goes to rent, of what’s left, you try to live a life you’re happy with.  It’s failing.  And when going outside begins to cost significantly more than staying in, dynamics start to change.

Personally, I’m feeling a very real resistance to leaving my house because of how much it costs.  Rent is so high right now that to remain on budget, I moved to the edge of the city I’m in.  Our city is paying the highest fuel costs in North America, which means anytime I want to go anywhere, I’m mindful of fuel and parking.  High costs of real estate mean business owners need to increase their prices to stay open.  That means the cost of eating out or shopping at local businesses becomes prohibitive.  I used to eat out several nights a week with friends for the company and experience.  Now we all stay in.

Stagnant wages in tandem with a drastic increase in the cost of living has left the younger generations without much to work with.  So we rose to the occasion and introduced the world to the sharing economy and decentralization.  Knowing this leaves me optimistic about our future.  I suppose I’m pretty optimistic in general, but that’s not to say that I don’t see the other side.

Through the trailers of Ready Player One, it looks to take place about 20-30 years in the future where many of today’s biggest problems haven’t been solved – in all likelihood, they’ve gotten worse.  In a world where the cost of living rises faster than income and a minimum wage doesn’t afford you a minimum lifestyle, in a world where government has forgotten its responsibility to the people and in a world where a handful of people horde the majority of the world’s wealth… where do the rest of us go?

According to Spielberg… into the Oasis.

I can’t help but think that I’m glimpsing that future now.  As the digital approach has made things easier and more convenient, we’ve adopted them.  From our finances to our social lives, we’re already most of the way there.  What I think may determine how quickly we move towards being fully immersed in this digital reality is going to be a function of cost.

If it continues to cost more to be outside than to stay in, we’re going to come up with better reasons for staying in.  Virtual commuting, virtual sporting events, virtual concerts, virtual dating… virtual sex… did I mention that porn was likely going to be one of the biggest drivers for advances in VR?  I digress.  If it costs $100 to go out and have the full analog experience, or $10 to have a virtual experience that’s most of the way there, which would you choose?  And what if you didn’t have $100?

Personally, I’m kind of excited about event-based virtual reality.  Big Jay Z concert on tonight?  Don’t want to spend $200 or deal with the lines and crowds?  No problem, just put on your VR headset with your VR headphones and you’ll be teleported to a front row seat where you can H to the Izzo along with everyone else.  Now imagine being ring-side for a big UFC match… or pitch-side at a world cup finals where you didn’t have to pay for the flight, hotel, and rental car.. and where you go back to your normal life when you take the VR kit off.  That sounds pretty darn neat to me.

While the cost of staying in versus going out is likely going to have a huge effect on the development curve of this technology, I don’t think it will change the destination.  There’s something extremely unique about a digital reality that’s so much harder to create in the physical world, and that’s freedom.  In Ready Player One’s digital reality, everyone creates an avatar for themselves to explore The Oasis.  Want to try out another gender for the day?  Go for it.  Want to be the giant robot from Pacific Rim? why not.  When the limitations of how you project yourself rest within your own imagination, I can’t help but think we’re going to encounter something very, very cool.  And it’s not just about the freedom to be who you want, it’s also the freedom to do what you want.

Something especially interesting about a digital reality is that it literally comes with it’s own laws of physics.  I have a recurring dream in which I have the ability to fly.  Sometimes it’s even lucid, so in a very real way, I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to fly around the city like a superhero.  Best thing ever.  Unless that experience would be available to me anytime I wanted.  Or maybe you’d rather fly around the galaxy and explore the other planets.  Imagine being able to shrink down to the size of an atom and explore molecular structure.  Or imagine having no physical form at all.  Crazy right?

I was watching Elon at SXSW a little while ago and what stood out most to me was something he said about AI.  At least in the early stages, it’ll be our responsibility to give direction to the AI – A prime directive.  As Hollywood would suggest, telling the AI to keep us safe probably isn’t the right approach.  We’re terrible at keeping ourselves safe and it’s a big part of how we’ve gotten this far.  So what directive do we give the AI?  According to Elon, it’s to maximize our freedom.  I can’t help but think that he’s done the same deep dive that I have and understands how central the concept of freedom is to the human condition.

If freedom is core to who we are, and essential to our growth and evolution as a species, shouldn’t we pursue the direction which affords us the most freedom?  Would that not be one which also frees us from the limitations of our physical selves?  Worth pondering.  But who’s to say that we’re not putting ourselves in the matrix by pursuing the future.  In The Matrix, it was a war between man and machine which led to machine dominating man and plugging them into the Matrix as batteries.  Maybe a more accurate future is one where we plug ourselves in and forget to leave.

EQ vs. IQ

I was reading an article the other day about hiring practices.  The article discussed how people used to hire for IQ, until they learned that it was better to hire for EQ.  An example they gave was how brilliant leaders would rarely fail for a lack of IQ, but failed often for a lack of EQ.  Interesting.  The article went on to talk about how people are now hiring for LQ, or a learning quotient.  Now they’re talking my language.  In an age where your ability to acquire knowledge is worth 10x your ability to retain it… this is the age of learning.

But I digress.

What inspired this entry was the article’s brief comparison between EQ and IQ, suggesting that EQ is a better predictor of job performance than IQ.  I can’t help but disagree with that.  And I can’t help but think that EQ, as the general public understands it, has become overvalued.

Before the Justin Trudeau ran for Prime Minister, I remember hearing all these comparisons to Pierre Trudeau, his dad who had also held the role of Canadian Prime Minister.  The one which stood out for me was from John Oliver and it was about IQ vs EQ.  Where Pierre Trudeau was intellectually brilliant, Justin Trudeau had Emotional Intelligence.  I’ve been paying very close attention to the value of EQ since and I’ve noticed a few things.

I guess the first thing we should do is define the term EQ.  Google defines it as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” It’s the first time I’ve seen that definition and I quite like it.  Actually, I really like it.  Let’s break it down.  The first part is about self-awareness, self-expression, and the ability to control your emotions.  So often, someone who is highly emotional qualifies themselves as having a high EQ but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  If being aware of your emotions and having an ability to control them is part of EQ, that makes a lot of sense.  The second part is about being able to understand the emotions of others while handling those relationships fairly.  This is where things get interesting.

Emotions are part of the human blueprint.  To assume they don’t exist is incorrect.  To assume they can be suppressed indefinitely is unhealthy.  To be aware of, to be in control of, and being able to experience emotions seems to be the philosophy of emotional intelligence and I can get behind that.  Being able to understand the emotions of others, as a non-verbal language… I can get behind that, too.  Where I think the modern understanding of EQ falls apart is when handling interpersonal relationships judiciously.

I’m often criticized for being insensitive.  I’m also recognized as being very honest.

If you were presented with the option of telling someone what they wanted to hear and making them feel good about themselves, or telling them a hard truth and making them feel bad about themselves, which would you choose?

When people discuss individuals with a high EQ, they seem to be discussing people who are skilled at telling people what they want to hear.  It’s like a comedian walking into a room, being able to feel out the crowd, and then delivering the kinda jokes they want to hear.  When you hear what you want to hear, you feel good about yourself, and when you feel good about yourself, you tend to think highly of the person who helped you get there.  That’s what I see when I see EQ being discussed in the mainstream,and it’s wrong.

In the age of thought bubbles and echo chambers, we desperately need to move away from the people who are skilled at telling us what we want to hear.  Those who prioritize telling us what we want to hear are selfish.  For them, our long-term well-being is secondary to feeling good in this moment.  And feeling good in this moment almost always produces what they’re actually looking for.. a date, a sale, a vote.. and even a presidency.  And it’s extremely unhealthy.

There’s a 50 Cent song from back in the day called A Baltimore Love Thing.  50 raps from the perspective of heroin.  If you’d like to know what a relationship looks like when the other person cares more about making you feel good in the moment than your long-term health, that’s it.  And if you’re looking towards the other end of the spectrum, think exercise.  It always sucks at first, and the harder the exercise, the more it burns.  But the more you do it, the better you feel about and the healthier you are.

And this brings me back to my personal struggle, perhaps why this topic is of such interest to me.

Over and over, I’m labelled as low EQ because being capable of understanding and controlling my emotions is perceived as suppressing or not engaging with them.  Over and over, I’m labelled as insensitive because I’m unafraid of delivering the hard truths that help people the most.  Over and over I’m told that I’m not empathetic towards others because I’d rather motivate and inspire than offer blind support.  I’m done accepting those criticisms.

I am not without room for improvement, but I am not without EQ.

 

 

The Illusion Of Privacy

Every so often, I come up with an idea which I think is worth writing about.  When I do, I make a note and then come back to it when I’m ready.  This one is from December, but all the hype around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggested it was time.

There seems to be a fair bit of traction behind the #deletefacebook movement and I find that surprising.  But then, less so.

We seem to be in an age where we quickly look for someone to blame.  I can relate to looking at a problem and immediately looking to identify the cause, but there’s often a wide gap between the cause of a problem and someone you can blame.  In many cases, the individual being blamed, even when ‘justified’, is a symptom of a bigger problem that isn’t being acknowledged.  It’s why problems usually find ways to persist when you remove the symptom.

In a world where people are quickly looking to label the bad guy, I find a lot of people blaming businesses or technology.  Something something corporations are ruining the world.  Something something technology is destroying humanity.  I find this perspective rather challenging.  As far as I know, technology and business becomes rather hollow when you remove people from the equation.  In that sense, both are extensions of our own humanity.  Both are tools we’ve developed over time to help us accomplish more with less.  Understanding that these tools are a reflection of our own humanity, we accept that we can be capable of both good and evil.  From fireworks to gunpowder, from missiles to rockets.

What I’m getting at is that if we want to move past the blame game and start looking to solve the problems we’re facing, we need to look at the people.  It’s people who are behind the development of this technology.  It’s people who are behind the companies like Cambridge Analytica.  And it’s people who are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by both.  So it’s about time we look at the people involved.

For the most part, I place very little responsibility on the tech developers at Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter.  Almost every piece of technology that’s made, is made to solve a problem.  If it doesn’t solve a problem, it becomes obselete.  Throughout history, people have shown a desire to be more connected with one another.  Technological advancements in transportation brought us from horseback riding to hyperloops.  In communication, we went from telegraphs to texting.  Along the way, we realize that we didn’t have to physically be in the same place to have a social interaction with someone.  To some extent, we realized that we didn’t even need the other person to be there at all.  Asian Avenue, Apartment 107, Black Planet, Myspace… all pre-cursors to Facebook and show a continuum of what we were trying to accomplish.  The internet gave us this great platform where we could connect digitally instead of physically, and it was a dynamic that we clearly wanted to explore.  Had it not been Facebook, it would’ve been someone else.  And to think that this evolution stops at Facebook would be be unwise.  Social Media wasn’t a lab experiment from Silicon Valley, it was a social evolution, started by, driven by, and consumed by people.  Facebook just happens to be the playground we chose to play in today.

The blade is a tool, indifferent to whether it cuts the flesh of your enemies or a dinner for your friends.  It’s the person who chooses how to use the tool.  Could Facebook have made it more difficult for Cambridge Analytica to do what they did?  Probably.  What happened to #DontBlameTheVictim?  Maybe it only applies to people..  Regardless, understanding what happened at Cambridge Analytica is definitely the fun part.

Cambridge Analytica was a firm who realized that Facebook could be used as a platform for modern political propaganda and did so with a high level of efficacy.  That’s it.  I’m trying to see why it’s more complicated and complex than this, and I don’t think it is.  Propaganda isn’t a new or foreign concept.  For as long as there’s been politics, there have been people trying to manipulate the message for the sake of political gain.  And America has probably used those tools more frequently and effectively than any other government in the last 100 years.  How much has been used against its own citizens and how much has been used in countries abroad is anyone’s guess.  But just as propaganda found its way into print media, broadcast media, and digital media, it would surely make its way into social media.

Cambridge Analytica looks like they may have been up to some other shady political tactics.  If they happened, it just strengthens the case that politics desperately needs to be removed from governance.  But politics is how the powerful stay in power so perhaps that’s too big of a topic to tackle here.  What is worth focusing on though is what Cambridge Analytica was able to do and why they were able to do it.  After having watched all the hidden camera footage from Channel 4, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – their goal of targeting people’s fears.

The only thing that Facebook really provided Cambridge Analytica with were details on the things that you liked and didn’t like.  The sinister part was when they took the details of each voter profile and used them to created targeted groups based on what they were most afraid of.  If you were from a southern community which had lost jobs to immigrants, it was ‘build that wall’.  If you were afraid of a change in gun legislation, it was ‘Hillary will take your guns’.  If you were concerned with political corruption, it was ‘drain the swamp’.  Whatever you were afraid of, they would play to your fears.  While most people know that making decisions from a place of fear isn’t great, not everybody knows why.   Turns out it’s literally the wrong part of the brain for making these decisions.  The part of the brain which governs emotions like fear, is different from the part of the brain which governs rational thought.  People are navigating this propaganda in an emotional state of mind instead of a rational state of mind.  Instead of being able to think critically and rationally about the content that’s in front of them, they’re thinking emotionally and looking for an enemy.

And this is where I let Cambridge Analytica off the hook.  They should be held accountable for what they did, but then, we should also be held accountable for what we let them do.

The first few times I saw a juicy headline on Facebook, I definitely clicked through.  Juicy headlines and misdirection have been around since well before the Facebook news feed so it’s not like I was being duped, I was just sufficiently curious.  But each time was a let down.  The headline was always better than the content.  So I learned to stop clicking on what was eventually termed ‘click-bait’.  Seemed straight forward.

Over time, digital publications like BuzzFeed and Vice started popping up on my timeline.  They were far more legitimate than the click-bait articles I was used to, but something else was going on.  These publications also realized they had tapped into fear.  The fear of being a racist, the fear of being a sexist, the fear of being transphobic, and perhaps most importantly, the fear of being on the wrong side of a movement which seemed to be based on the virtuous pursuit of equality.  Their approach was more nuanced than Cambridge Analytica.  Instead of pushing raw propaganda to their audience, these digital publications started editing interviews or not properly sourcing articles, looking to craft a narrative which their audience was hungry for.  They were more interested in providing a narrative which made you feel good about what you already thought.  When you think you have the moral high ground, confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing.

But not everyone fell for it.

Not everyone took Jordan Peterson’s Vice interview at face value.  Not everyone liked or shared memes saying ‘The South Will Rise Again’.  Not everyone saw a comment section where everyone was agreeing with them and jumped right in.  Not everyone avoided a perspective that challenged their own.  And for those who did debate, not everyone approached it as a battle of them versus us.  Some of us couldn’t help but look at it as us versus the problem.

The problem isn’t privacy.  The problem isn’t Facebook.  The problem isn’t even Cambridge Analytica or the shady politicians they help put in positions of power.  The problem is us.

The problem is us.

When tools stop working, people stop using them.  Propaganda is the tool, and it will be used as long as we keep letting it work.  If we #deletefacebook, I can all but guarantee that this propaganda will follow us whichever social media channel we choose to spend those hours.  If we put the team at Cambridge Analytica behind bars, I can all but guarantee that another organization will take its place.  So why is our reaction still to place blame instead of facing the reality that this is about accountability.

If you think that sharing information about yourself makes you a better target for people looking to take advantage of you, welcome to the world.  But there’s hope.. and perhaps things are darkest before dawn.

I’ve learned to live my life like an open book.  I’ve abandoned the illusion of privacy.  I understand that information is more valuable when fewer people have it, but I also understand that knowledge is most valuable when everyone has it.  Digging deep on why people value privacy, it almost always comes back to a fear of what others will do with their private information.  So I choose to live without a fear of what others would do if they knew everything about me.

And – it – is – glorious!

I really couldn’t care less if Facebook showed to the public: my health records, my genealogy, my personal finances, my relationship history, purchasing behaviour… all of it.  To some extent, I wish they would.  I would gladly take that risk to try and demonstrate that transparency isn’t itself a risk.  In reality, our ability to share more information with one another has been at the core of every big leap forward our species has taken.  From a spoken language, to a written language, to the printing press, to the internet.  We just seem to have momentary lapses in judgement where we’re afraid of what will happen when only some of us can access that information.

We’ve now arrived at a point where between Facebook, Google, Apple and the NSA, there isn’t much that isn’t known about us.  The data is already being collected and unless you’re keen to go live off the grid, it won’t stop.  Who gets access to that data is largely out of our control.  There will always be bad actors with innovative ideas on how to abuse that dynamic… which means we either have to accept that we’re screwed, or find a way to rise above it.  I choose to rise above it.

My choice is that when someone takes the time to learn about me, and to use that information to take advantage of me, I’m prepared.  Not only am I prepared to be critical of the information I’m being presented with, I’m also prepared to be critical of my own actions if I allow myself to be misled.  It’s not always easy and I’m not always perfect, but when you let go of right and wrong and prioritize the truth, seeing through the noise becomes much easier.

I think that everyone’s life will be impeded by dishonesty and misdirection at some point, but I think it’s worth considering that it’s our tendency to be dishonest with ourselves which impedes our progress most.  A fear of how others might perceive us and how that might impact our lives.  But what happens when we let that fear guide us?  What happens when everyone had the ability to project to the world what they thought the world wanted of us?  Social Media gave us that ability and we’ve used it to create noise.  It’s a feedback loop of confusion where people struggle to understand the disconnect between how we present ourselves and who we really are.  And the closer we get to facing the truth, the louder we yell ‘Privacy!’

Or we could just let go.  When I imagine a world that has abandoned the premise of privacy, I see a world which has embraced the value of transparency.  I see a world that has truly realized the value of honesty.  A world where every piece of information is always available to every person.  I can’t help but think about that being the ultimate equalizer.

 

When the only thing that looks the way you wanted it to is your LinkedIn profile

A few days ago, a good friend sent me the ‘Corporate Fuckboi Starter Pack’.  2 years ago, I would’ve checked off just about every god damn box on that list.  I wasn’t big on happy hours or energy drinks, but the rest was close enough.  On the surface, things looked good.  They looked a lot like my LinkedIn profile.

I used to joke around and say that on paper, I was the guy that every girl’s parents hoped they would bring home:  Nice guy, clean cut, university educated, good job, bright future, etc., etc.  The rest was a bit complicated.

I think I grew up with the wrong idea about personal and professional development.  Rather than looking at it like an exploratory exercise or a journey to be enjoyed, I looked at it like a race that I was supposed to win.  I would pick a path based on what those around me respected most.  It rarely had anything to do with who I was, and everything to do with how high of a bar I could set for myself. And I committed myself to getting there faster than anyone else.  In the process, I learned to prioritize income, status, resources, and eventually, making a positive impact in the world.

Part of that competitive effort was building the kind of track record which would allow me to compete at the higher levels.  Enter LinkedIn.  Between my volunteer and professional efforts since 2009, my resume now read Branch Manager, Director, Director, President, Director, Investment Advisor, Vice President, Vice President.  Had I told a younger me that this is what my resume would look like at 32, he would’ve been pumped.  Would he believe me if I told him that it’s all bullshit?

What if I told a younger me that every minute spent manufacturing this impression of who I thought I was supposed to be, was a minute wasted?  Not because it didn’t get me ahead.  But instead, because it held me back.

I often think about what would’ve happened to me had things played out differently at the bank.  I was on pace to earn a 7 figure income by my mid-30s.  I was very good at my job.  My clients were very appreciative of my efforts.  Income, status, making the world a better place for my clients and then having the ability to do a fair bit of philanthropy?  That was the plan… doesn’t sound so bad does it?

But that person isn’t me.  It almost was.  Maybe it still is in a parallel universe.  But it isn’t me now.  My path will be more difficult.  My path will be more interesting.  My path will not be defined by milestones on my LinkedIn resume.  I’ve lost all interest in becoming what other people expect of me.

Trying to become the best version of what others expected of me is what got me here.  That and my competitive drive to do it better than anyone else.  I think the competitive drive is baked into my DNA so my sincerest apologies for everyone who has to deal with that.  But now, it’s time to match that drive with becoming the best version of what I expect from myself.

So what do I expect from myself?  And this is where I can’t help but pull in data from all around me.  What do my friends expect from me?  What about my little sister?  What would my dad expect from me if he was still alive?  What does the world expect from me?  I am fundamentally connected to the universe around me.  When I drop, they ripple.  Those ripples are a reflection of what I am and how I behave, but it’s incredibly hard to reverse engineer that understanding.  And even if I could, would they just reflect the giant question mark that I’ve already hung over my own head?  Or maybe I’m going about it all wrong.  Maybe there’s a different approach…

I’m starting to see these inflection points in my life where things could’ve gone very differently.  I can see an alternate reality in which I’d probably already be married.  I can see an alternate reality in which I was still at the bank.  I can see an alternate reality in which I’m no longer living in the city I grew up in.  And the variables which would’ve led to each were largely out of my control.  So how much control do I really have?

Or maybe it’s not about control.  Maybe it’s about awareness.

Maybe it’s not about choosing a future, and forcing it into reality.  Maybe it’s about understanding where the future is headed, and being aware of your place in all of it.  Maybe it’s about understanding your path more than choosing it.

My LinkedIn profile is an example of someone who thought they knew more than they did and a person who thought they could force a possible future into reality.  That person feels like a dummy.  Moving forward, I’m looking forward to seeing how my LinkedIn resume develops as a reflection of what I find most interesting and engaging.  If I’m fortunate, I’ll find a way to live the rest of my life like that.

Walking Through Life with the Confidence of a Honey Badger

Several years ago, I watched ‘The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger” video.  As entertaining as that video was, it was also the first time I had really seen a Honey Badger in action.  King Cobras, bees, jackals.. The Honey Badger did not give a shit.

Last week, I found out that the skin of a Honey Badger was so durable, that it could withstand a machete, arrows, and spears.  I suppose there can be some real value in having thick skin.  And off my mind went…

I read a book a couple years ago which discussed the concept of not taking anything personally.  The idea is that whatever someone was saying about you or to you, was a reflection of how they were experiencing their reality, more than it was a reflection of you.  If a random stranger yelled a racial slur at you, there’s a good chance that outburst had more to do with them than it did with you.  Even if that random stranger said something flattering, the premise is the same.  The goal is to understand why something is being said, rather than to take what is being said at face value.

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach.  There are times where someone paid me a compliment that I really enjoyed hearing, and instead of understanding why they had paid me a compliment, I accepted it as a true statement.  Later, I would discover that I had been misled, not because the other person was malicious in their intentions, but because I misunderstood their perspective or what they were trying to communicate.  If your priority is to have an accurate understanding of the world, you need to be mindful of the prejudice and bias of how others see the world – even when it’s in your favor.

While I appreciate how this approach has helped keep my ego in check, it’s arguably most effective as a defensive measure.  While I’m not perfect, I do my best to walk through life without fear, anger, or hate.  And I’m getting pretty darn good at it.  How?  I walk through life with the confidence of a Honey Badger.

I wasn’t born with thick skin.  These callouses were earned.  A lot of it was scar tissue.

I entered into adulthood understanding that sensitivity was not always a strength.  Being sensitive worked against me more often that it worked in my favor because a high degree of sensitivity would bypass my ability to think about things rationally – and I would just react.  More often than not, these reactions were extremely counter-productive.  I had to learn to handle things differently.

In my 20s, I learned the value of rational thought.  Emotions and sensitivity became something to control, not something which I would let control me.  Someone could call me the meanest thing they could come up with, and I’d be more likely to end up at a point of compassion than of anger.  I would also have more confidence in my ability to turn that person into a friend than an enemy.  And even if I couldn’t make any progress with that individual, I could move on from the situation knowing that I handled the situation the best I could and that I may have created an opening for someone else down the road.  There was something enlightened about this approach, and yet it left me feeling invincible.

I now walk through life with the confidence of a Honey Badger, knowing that there’s very little that others can do to hurt me.  And it’s changed the way I see the world.  Without fear, there is no hate.  Without hate, there is no anger.  Without fear, hate, or anger, Love is a much more natural state of mind.  Walking through life, ready to love… I can’t help but think this is a far more productive approach than walking through life ready to fear.

Now in my 30s, I’m trying to incorporate a more balanced approach, inclusive of sensitivity and emotions.  These days, I understand sensitivity to be like a dial on an instrument which collects data. If you turn the dial to zero, then you’ll collect no new information and you might as well not have the instrument at all.  If you turn the dial on the instrument to 100, you better have the ability to process all that information accurately.  I suspect that most people have a hard time adjusting that dial themselves.  I’ve seen a lot of men out there who have set that dial as low as possible and go through life too insensitive to notice the emotional nuances of those around them.  I’ve also seen a lot of women out there who have their dial set rather high, and go through life overly sensitive to the actions and words of those around them.  I doubt either is healthy.

A thick skin doesn’t make you insensitive to the world around you.  A thick skin is the difference between someone wanting to hurt you and someone being able to hurt you.  And when you realize that this dynamic exists entirely in your head, as an understanding of how the world works, it really does stand out to me as something special.  Imagine a world, full of people who are never offended, never angry, never fearful.  That world often exists inside my head… but then I venture out into the real world and I’m reminded of how much fear, hate, and despair exists in the world.

I’m not entirely sure how to navigate what comes next…  But I do know how I’ll carry myself in the process.