I get tired of the way all news has to been attention grabbing these days. Even news stories about Apple, that I would have previously enjoyed , all feel the need to have some sensational angle to them. I am more and more inclined to restrict my reading to a few tech sites that I trust to give me information rather than opinion, that celebrate the positive about tools rather than sensationalise their downside, and that don’t knee jerk to every meme that rattles around the internet.
As someone who has a daughter who is studying dance, a wife who works in comms for a cyber security firm, and having thought a bit over the last few years about the impact of technology on the world of work, I feel reasonably confident in predicting that the dullards whose thinking is behind this sort of advert will regret not having more sources of entertainment available to them as they sit at home twiddling their thumbs wondering what the hell happened to them.
It feels like a big number. It is a big number. But I don’t feel my age, and I don’t act my age.
My Dad is ninety and, totally illogically and unreasonably, this encourages me to believe that I have another thirty years to go. Much can be done in thirty years.
I’d best get on with it though.
By far my favourite widget on my iPhone’s Home Screen is the Photos widget. Each day this presents me with a photo from my library that was either taken on that day in the past or was chosen for some other algorithm of predicted interest.
Since my mum’s death last month there have been an uncanny number of photos of her appearing in this feed. It may just be a heightened awareness, in the same way that when you are thinking of buying a new car you seem to see nothing but that type of car on the road, but for whatever reason it has been very moving and a real delight to be prompted with so many fond memories nearly every day.
It’s not often that I am on the road during rush hour these days, and I haven’t been since more people started to return to work. But I was this morning and I really noticed a difference.
All these pushy shovey drivers jostling for pole position at every junction. It reminded me of Amersham station in the mornings where the same sorts of people vie for the optimum place on the platform to secure the best seats.
I imagine this is the way they behave in the office. Keen to be in front, keen to be seen to have impact, desperate to be driving change.
All this “driving” is overheating them, overheating the people they work with, and overheating society and the planet.
Maybe if more of us were less driven…
The magic of having online spaces in which to share our perceptions of the world around us is that we start to notice more. Having a blog makes me more aware of the situations and people that I encounter each day when life presents me with things that pique my curiosity and hopefully the curiosity of readers when I write about it.
The same is true of the things that I see around me. One of the biggest upsides of modern mobile phones is that they have amazing cameras in them and I have never before been more able to capture and share the landscapes, artefacts, people and animals that surround me.
Sadly over the years this piquing of interest is what has become the engine of commercial social media platforms. The innocent desire to share what interests us become distorted by algorithms and peer pressure.
My recent inclination is to pull back from these increasingly distorted online spaces and to revert to the older tools where it all started. Part of this is to turn my back on the advert ridden world of Instagram and to resurrect my very old Flickr account.
I was one of the first users of Flickr when Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield set it up all those years ago. I stuck with it through various changes of ownership and periods of neglect but have really enjoyed opening it up again over the past few days and am more than happy to pay the annual fee to enjoy other people’s images in an ad free and less pressured environment.
Over the years I have come and gone so many times on various systems to capture, organise, and share my thoughts. I have learned not to feel awkward about this to and fro because all systems become stale over time and there is no shame in believing that a change of system will bring renewed focus.
One thing I find frustrating about having so many tools is that things can become scattered – “Where did I store this?”, “How can I connect these two bits of information?”, “Is this a to-do or a note?”. The idea of having everything in one place. The fact that a Bullet Journal is an analogue place is a plus not a minus. The friction of getting this into the system and moving them around gives pause for thought and pausing to think is a good thing!
So, my new Bullet Journal notebook arrives tomorrow and I am currently re-reading Ryder Carroll’s book on his system. I feel suitably re-invigorated at the prospect of, yet another, fresh start.
Every change in the rules from the government about lockdown causes ripples into society out of all proportion to the facts.
Different interpretation of what the rule “means” depending on your political leanings; personal commitment, or otherwise, to adhere to the rule depending on your sense of individual liberty; increased or decreased worry depending on your confidence that things are under control and will get better.
Apart from the original statement everything is under our own control. Our reactions and all of the subsequent consequences are up to us. It is worth remembering this rather than letting anyone yank your chain.
I was talking to my dad yesterday about technology, how clever it is, where it is heading, and how important it is that more people get involved in making informed decisions about what we do with it. He asked me “If you had a seven year old child now what would you tell them?”.
I said that I would do what I had done with my two kids already. Talk about what I know, notice the things I notice, get excited about the things that I believe will make the world a better place, and let them watch me using the various devices to their full capacity.
He had expected me to tell the seven year old what it all means and what they should do with it. But I am very wary of this sort of idealism. I have no idea what is going to happen. I have no idea what technology will be used for. I would have no idea what aspirations and skills my child might have. Any attempts I might make to “steer” them in any particular direction are almost certain to backfire.
Sadly as societies we are still driven by the idea that we should know, and should be in control of, our futures rather than arming ourselves with as much knowledge as we can and training ourselves to react in the moment to the situations that present themselves.
I have written before about my addiction to buying books and how this regularly outstrips my ability to read them fast enough. Part of the issue is that I have so many books that I start, see another one that catches my eye, buy that, start reading it, see another one and on and on.
I have bookshelves of “real” books glowering at me as I sit at me desk, chastising me for abandoning them. I have Kindle apps on my iPone and iPad which have “downloaded” sections groaning under the strain. I have Audible apps testing the storage capacity of all of my devices.
I haven’t got around to nuking the bookshelves in my office but this morning I reduced the downloaded or currently reading queues on all of my devices to one each. In addition I have resolved to neither buy a new book nor move onto another previously purchased one until I have finished the one I am reading.
I am anticipating that this new found resolve will last about 24 hrs
One of the upsides of lockdown has been the rapid, albeit forced, adoption of remote working technologies. One of the downsides has been the obsession with video calls.
So many people’s endless meetings have migrated to endless Zoom calls – and it is knackering. Staring at that screen for call after call has become the norm for too many, and all in the name of “face to face” communication.
But is it really so important?
For three years in my first job at the BBC, as a clerk booking editing and lines facilities, I conducted my entire job on the phone and never met most of the people I worked with. It didn’t cause a problem and we built up some great relationships and trust.
During a recent Zoom call someone started banging on about the importance of eye contact and I had to point out that because he had his Zoom window in the bottom corner of his screen, and his camera was top centre, he hadn’t “made eye contact” with me once during our call and as a result looked decidedly shifty!
Don’t be bullied into turning your camera on. If you think better walking round the room, if you are tired of arranging your seat in front of your carefully selected rows of books, if you are getting back problems maintaining that unnatural newsreader position, do yourself, and the rest of us, a favour, turn the bloody thing off!
My sense of time has been changing. Since lockdown began there have been less junctions, less demarcations, between different periods of time. One day merges into the other. One week merges into the other.
This feeling has become more extreme since my family went on holiday on Friday. Within my days the only “events” are feeding myself and the cat, and letting him out. But it isn’t boring, far from it. I am quite content with each moment as it is. I have no expectations of the next moment. It is what it is. And it is now.
Each day my iPhone presents me with a photograph from my past. Very often these are photographs of the children when they were younger. It fascinates me the degree to which they are different people. The people in those photographs don’t exist now. The person I was doesn’t exist now.
In fact the person I was five minutes ago doesn’t exist now. I only exist in this moment now, and now, and now – and each moment is ok.
My wife and children have gone on holiday to Cornwall for the week. I didn’t fancy facing the crowds that are apparently there at the moment and decided to stay at home.
Some people might find this challenging, being on my own in the house with only our cat for company, but in fact I’m quite looking forward to it. I’m very used to my own company. One of the pleasures of travelling as much as I have in the past has been the time that I have had on my own.
It’s not so much that I’m antisocial (at least I hope not), and I will miss the company of my family, but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to focus on walking, thinking, and writing.
Given recent events there is a lot I need to process so this week couldn’t be better timed.
Yesterday I sat in Salisbury Crematorium observing the beautiful detail of my Mum’s willow coffin with its intricate interwoven flowers as it, and she, spent their last few moments of physical existence on this fragile planet of ours.
Such moments are precious.
I like being told what to do by Apple. Well, being nudged by them at the very least. The new Watch OS (I’m playing with the beta) does a couple of things that I really like.
The first is sleep. I set a schedule for the times I want to go to sleep and when I want to wake up. The watch then goes into Do Not Dusturb 45 minutes before my intended sleep time and can open apps like meditation timers or Kindle if I set it to. It then vibrates an alarm at the time I want to wake up and shows me a record of how much time I have slept. I have used other sleep timers in the past which have purported to show more detailed information about the depth and quality of sleep but I actually appreciate Apple focussing exclusively on the amount of time. I like that they are nudging me into behaviours that will make it more likely that I meet my sleep target rather than making me worry about things like sleep quality which I have no control over.
The second new thing on the watch is hand washing. If I have been out my watch nudges me when I get home to wash my hands and then automatically times my hand washing aiming for a target of 20 seconds. It also triggers the timer every time I wash my hands through the day. I have found it to be amazingly reliable in terms of knowing when I have started washing my hands, and not responding to false positives like running a tap for other purposes. The gentle nudge it gives me has meant that I am more careful about washing my hands than I have ever been and this is no bad thing.
I know that some will react to the idea of Apple and their devices “controlling their lives” but I have been into habit building apps for years, and to varying degrees the whole Quantified Self thing, so I am used to expecting my devices to monitor my behaviours and to nudge me in the right direction.
Another photo from the Photos widget on iOS 14, this time from one of the many, many flights I have taken over the years.
During lockdown, especially in the first month or so when there were virtually no flights, the quality of the air here was noticeably better. Clearer skies and sparklier light.
I have travelled so much over the years and seen so many amazing places, but I have come to realise that “wherever you go there you are”. Getting away doesn’t change things. The grass isn’t ever greener.
For these reasons I now find myself disinclined to fly again. Never say never – but who knows?
One of the real pleasures of using the public beta of iOS 14 is having the photos widget on the homepage. Getting glimpses of places or people from my past is a real joy. The image in this screen grab is of Tallin, the capital of Estonia.
The widget below is for Drafts, my favourite ever app and as ever Greg Pearce has proved his wizard status and managed to produce a widget that responds in ways that even Apple’s own widgets don’t! It’s a glimpse of what other widgets might achieve in the future.
I am sure many people have wondered why I have been banging on about the ideology of algorithms for years. My insistence that “there is no such thing as a neutral algorithm may have appeared geekily nit-picky. But then naybe some of those people have children who are affected by the current A Level results fiasco?
Once upon a time, in a world of supposedly equal opportunity, it may have appeared not to matter what school you went to or what it’s previous students’ results had been. Even now there are lots of bits of data collected about you that in their current context may appear similarly innocuous.
But what if someone in the future decides that those bits of data mean something else? What if they combine those bits of data with other, similarly apparently innocuous data, and suddenly 2+2=5? What if this continues to happen for the rest of your life, increasing exponentially year on year?
What if it’s already too late to do anything about it?
For a long time now I have been getting better at reducing distractions. Not watching or listening to the news, reading books on my phone more often than checking Facebook or Twitter, spending more time meditating, and learning to just sit in the garden without constantly feeling the need to do something. It takes a conscious decision and it takes practice. Our default is to seek distraction.
Not seeking distraction is all the more challenging in the days following my Mum’s death last week. Sitting still and being with my thoughts feels like the last thing that I would want to do. The temptation to fill any silences with noise is strong.
But I am putting into practice all I have learned from meditation and my bookshelves full of books on mindfulness and Buddhism. Pushing away emotions doesn’t get rid of them. They just go underground and fester. When the Buddha talks about clinging and aversion being the sources of our suffering, it is in our pushing away of bits of life that we don’t like that we give them strength.
Being with sorrow, letting it well up and pass away of its own accord (which it will) doesn’t mean not feeling it. If anything it means feeling it more fully. But it is a very different thing from fighting it and getting locked in a battle with it which just gives it strength.
Allowing myself to fully feel the emotions that well up at the slightest, and sometimes most unexpected triggers, really matters. Not being afraid of the feelings feels important.
The achingly sad thing is that I can’t talk to Mum about it…
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it … but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill…. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” – Soren Kierkegaard
“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.” – Vita Sackville-West
I write all the time, constantly taking notes in Drafts or dictating into my watch. Not much of it sees the light of day, but the process of getting thoughts and ideas out of my head and “onto paper” has all sorts of benefits. Mostly it helps me to work out what I think about things.
The process of writing slows down the thoughts rattling around in my head long enough to deal with them. When facing challenges it helps to get them clarified and to some extent objectified. Getting them out of my head and somewhere that I can look at them helps to get perspective.
I am currently reading Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold in which she re-introduces the practice of morning pages, the act of hand writing three pages of A4 every morning, first covered in The Artist’s Way. It is amazing how hard this can feel. Around the end of page one three pages feels like a lot! But the point is that in pushing through the trivial verbiage that inevitably starts off this process you eventually start to surface stuff that matters.
It is surprising cathartic to “get things off your chest” in this way and I recommend it if you haven’t already tried.
“The past does not decide now. It is our now that decides the past.”
I’m not sure where I got this note from but when I came across it this morning it stuck with me.
We are so convinced that what has happened to us in the past dictates how we feel in the present. And yet our only experience of our past is in the the thoughts that we have about it in the present. Those thoughts emerge unbidden, they change all the time, and they are fleeting glimpses rather than a consistent narrative.
This is true even of the immediate past. That row you just had can either feel like a major tragedy or something that will blow over. Which it is, is just a thought and the next moment that thought can change.
Rather than getting locked into the ruminative circles that keep us stuck, what if we consistently noticed that our past is just a thought?
There are so many really interesting and informative YouTube videos but I don’t always have the time or patience to sit and watch them. Unless there is some sort of visual demonstration or diagram involved, especially if the content is simply a talking head or a discussion, I have no need for the video.
Fortunately the paid version of the podcast app Castro has a share sheet extension for iOS that at the click of a button strips the audio out of YouTube and adds it to what it calls a Sideload playlist. I can then listen as I drive or walk around and this has massively increased my ability to learn.
I was musing, yet again, over the pros and cons of Facebook this morning. There are days when I feel like closing all of my social media accounts and reverting to just blogging. These thoughts are triggered by the balance of signal to noise in my feeds and also the levels of righteous indignation. Too much noise and too much indignation and I grow wearied with it all.
But there are two reasons that I don’t leave. One is the connection to smart people all around the world that I would be very sorry to lose. The second, and I know this is going to stretch your credibility, is that without my various feeds I would feel less well informed!
Yes, I really said that. Because I make an effort to have a range of views in my networks, and do my best to follow people who have an eye for interesting and well written content, I generally feel up to date and “well informed” on most big issues.
Perhaps more importantly for me the alternatives are increasingly unattractive. I haven’t bought a newspaper in decades and never watch television news if I can avoid it. Admittedly some of the well informed and well written content that I rely on through my networks comes from those sources but the thought of having to wade through all the other badly written, partially understood, and biased rubbish they contain is untenable.
This morning a message from a social media platform reminded me that it was a friend’s birthday. Sadly that friend died a few years ago.
I used to feel awkward about these messages which come from the accounts of a few friends who are sadly no longer with us.
Now I enjoy taking a moment to remember that friend and hope that the various platforms continue to remind me for years to come.
Why is it that outwardly nice, respectable people can turn nasty at the drop of a hat? Why do they get so wound up by movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmattter? What’s their problem?
I am beginning to suspect that deep down they know that they have enjoyed privilege through their race, class, nationality etc. and know how lucky they have been.
They also know how unfair and untenable their position is. They don’t let on that they know this of course, perhaps not even to themselves, but this is why they get so bent out of shape when someone less privileged than them dares to question the status quo. The teeth are bared and the knives are out. They feel as if their very existence is challenged and react as if they are involved in a fight to the death.
But they needn’t be, and nice people don’t really want that… do they?
We watched the last of the TV series Life On Mars again last night. For me it was the third time. Thankfully this is where my lack of ability to remember anything I have watched or read comes in handy, as the ending came as a complete surprise! All four of us sat there stunned and in tears.
Such clever story telling. Despite his toe curlingly appaling attitudes Gene Hunt manages to be one of the greatest screen heroes ever.
The main reason that we are watching both Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes again is that there is apparently a third series coming. Can’t wait!
As I lay on Whitstable beach on Saturday, watching clouds constantly forming and reforming in the sky above me, I found myself thinking, yet again, what a loose approximation for reality words and concepts are.
There is no such thing as a cloud. The word is an apparently convenient way to refer to something that is constantly changing. This is obvious with a cloud, but it is also true of ourselves. The cells that make up our bodies change at a bewildering rate and those cells are mostly made up of space. Even the apparently solid cells are made up of particles that are themselves mostly space. The distance from the nucleus to an electron (which itself doesn’t really orbit its nucleus but exists in a so called electron cloud with only probable positions – a bit like the cloud we started with) is approximately 1325 times this distance from the earth to the sun! This is why Buddhists refer to emptiness!
This is also why I bang on about our very fixed ideas of reality being totally made up. The words I choose to describe the reality around me, even the separation of the word me from reality, are nothing but concepts. And like the clouds my concept of reality changes. Thoughts pop in and out of my head without my bidding or control. Emotions and moods form and dissipate just like the clouds above Whitstable.
No cloud ever stays the same, ever, even for the briefest second. I never stay the same, even for the briefest second, and nor do you.
And then we make up stories about “I am a…”, “You are a…”, “We are…”. We expect reality to conform to our stories and get upset when it doesn’t. Very upset. Existentially upset. We pick fights over the fact that your story differs from mine.
What struck me about all this is that for years we have banged on about change as if it wasn’t the way the world was anyway! We have so deluded ourselves that the world around us is fixed, predictable, and controllable, that we have to pay “change experts” to realise that it’s not. And what those people invariably give us is yet more delusion about a planned transition to another apparently fixed reality!
Change and complexity have been seen as outside of the norm. As if simplicity, understandability, and a fixed stable world were real and anything else is unreal. But the next time you feel stuck or trapped in this delusional reality, this cage of your own making, remember the clouds over Whitstable. It might help a little.
The world that we see around is a reflection of our own personalities, warts and all. Sure there is a “real” physical world out there but what it “means” is entirely made up. What your made up stories are is a result of your culture, background, and personal experience and they are inevitably totally different from mine.
As it does with everything else the internet speeds up and amplifies this truth. It is worth remembering that the next time you let it bend you out of shape. It is your own self created shape that it is bending. That’s why it hurts.
I was aware of the risk of some people misinterpreting my recent post about getting stuck in stories about the past – but that is the risk one takes In attempting to challenge deeply held assumptions.
I had no intention of diminishing the pain and distress inflicted on people of colour every day around the world. Now. Quite the opposite.
Nor do I negate the pain and distress caused to people in the past. Standing on the steps at the entrance to the industrial scale gas chambers in Birkenau is a memory that will never leave me.
But that felt sense of mankind’s ability to inflict pain and suffering is a different thing from getting stuck in the stories about it, the differing interpretations of the what and the why, which trigger the tit for tat that keep the endless cycle of suffering going.
Yes, make the effort to understand man’s inhumanity to man, definitely change laws and policies to protect the vulnerable, but don’t let pulling down statues distract you from facing up to your own capacity to cause hurt and distress the next time you meet someone whose stories about the past are at odds with your own.
The recovery of Edward Colton’s statue from Bristol harbour is literally dredging up the past, but the past is made up.
Our own past, even our immediate past, is a partial recollection of highly filtered perceptions. This past only exists as a thought in the present and yet we allow it to drown out what is happening now. We dwell on things that happened even moments ago and distort our reactions to what is in front of us.
We live in a cloud of conditioned responses, steered by the collective made up stories of our families, friends, and culture. These collective stories on the grandest scale are history. This historical past is even more made up.than our individual past. It is not real, yet we allow it to dominate our present, to distract us from the only reality we will ever know. Now.
Deeply imbedded cultural norms of seeking justice, of retribution, of an eye for an eye, keep us stuck in a made up past that we can’t change. Even in our personal relationships we risk being trapped in a perpetual tit for tat that will never end unless we find a way to step out of it.
What matters is how we are now, in this moment, fresh, each time. Without baggage, without the stories, without prejudice (from Latin praeiudicium “prior judgment,”). Not black, not white, not wronged, not guilty. Human beings made of the very same residue of an exploding star, facing the same challenges, frightened of the same things, yet capable of the same unbelievable acts of courage and compassion.
Drafts is probably my favourite app ever. It allows me to get ideas, things to do, quotes, etc. out of my head and records them easily for me immediately. I can do this either by typing into my iPhone or, as I am now, dictating onto my watch.
Once I’ve captured the text, Drafts then lets me do all sorts of useful things with it from sending an email, to sending to my blog, or collating into a longer form document.
If you want to find out more this fantastic video by Christopher Lawley is a great place to start.
Growing up where I did, just south of Glasgow, “different” meant Catholics and The English. The tribal gap between Rangers and Celtic supporters was immense and carefully maintained. Being an English kid whose parents had moved north through work would be enough to get you bullied in the playground. Thankfully from an early age I realised just how mad this was.
Now, having travelled as much as I have, and having friends of every colour, creed, and sexual identity all around the world I truly struggle to understand how difference can be so important. Why is identity so fragile that people become blind to the fact that we are all human beings, facing the same challenges, with the same hopes and fears?
I distrust tribes. I get bored around groups of blokey blokes. I’ve been to one football match and hated the crowd mentality. Even the “do you want to be in my gang” side of office politics has me running in the opposite direction. Sublimating your self to the tribe, going along with the majority, not wanting to stand out, this is where it starts.
When you ask someone with racist views why they have a black friend they invariably say “oh they are different, they’re not like the rest”. Bollocks. You just don’t know the rest and have consigned them all to being different, to being “them”.
There is no them. There’s just us, all of us. Don’t let your tribe convince you otherwise.
So many people said to me that I should watch West World. They were right! Finished watching Series 3 last night.
What a complex, fascinating roller coaster. The show touches on so many of the issues that fascinate me; Artificial Intelligence, morality, free will, society, power, conditioning, and on and on… So many overlaps with dreams I have had, things I have written, they even played a bit of Dark Side Of The Moon in the last episode!
What struck me though was how many of the issues raised are becoming ever more current for us as each day passes. Watching our trust in “the elite” diminish even further. “The Truth” becoming totally malleable. Seeing people protest under intolerable pressure. Excited to be getting back into space again but very aware that it is in a billionaire funded spacecraft.
If you haven’t watched West World – do!
As we read our feeds, and react to the things we see, we are buffeted backwards and forwards by our emotional reactions. “That’s good”, “That’s bad”, “I wish I’d done that”, “Oh my God that’s awful!”.
Emotions wash through us based on nothing but opinion. Sometimes powerful emotions that take their toll on our nervous systems. But none of what we are reading or watching is happening here and now or happening to us. None of it is real.
We convince ourselves that we should care, that to not react to what we are seeing would be inhuman. But we are indulging ourselves. We are entertaining ourselves with the endorphin rush. We easily become addicted.
And once we are addicted we can be manipulated. Someone else can yank our chain.
Sitting in the sunshine in the garden with my phone (and the internet) well away from me. I am listening to an Audible book fed from my watch to one headphone (so that I am not cut off the from the wonderful early morning sounds around me) and dictating notes on the book (which are automatically transcribed) also on my watch. This is why I love technology.
– NOUN [mass noun]
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles:
a gentleman of complete integrity.
Most of us want to think well of ourselves, to feel that we have “done the right thing”. We certainly want others to think well of us, to be seen as trustworthy and reliable.
What happens when people gain power or fame that so often causes them to lose this? Do they think we won’t notice? Do they think we don’t care? Do they consider themselves above normal rules of behaviour?
Do they think “I can’t help being a wee shit but it is in everyone’s best interests that I am”?
What on earth goes through their heads?
Ok, so I have been responsible for my fair share of them, but when you realise how many millions upon millions of words are written every second all around the world – and how few of them make a difference or are rememberered – it is a sobering thought.
Especially in business. How many reports get written that no one reads? How many reports end up being the length they are and have the sections they do just because people mindlessly followed the template? How many arse covering emails get written – just in case?
What if we wrote better? What if we wrote to make a real difference? What if more of our words counted? What if our words counted for more?
The media are inter_media_ries.
The power of the internet was disinter_media_tion.
The point of tools like blogs, bulletin boards, and podcasts was that they allowed direct connection between those who wanted a voice and those who wanted to listen.
I felt sad when these tools became social media.
I felt sad when Twitter and Facebook began talking about themselves as media companies.
I felt sad when Russell Brand locked himself up inside Luminary.
I felt sad when Joe Rogan announced he was locking himself up inside Spotify.
I now feel sad that Apple, who gave podcasters a massive leg up when they made podcasts part of iTunes, are now “buying shows that would be exclusive to its services.”
I love observing people, technology and life.
I love reading about people, technology and life.
I love writing and having conversations about people, technology and life.
If people see value in me doing what I love and are willing to pay me for it, all well and good.
If not, I am increasingly ok with that.
Listening to a podcast with former Google exec Mo Gawdat yesterday he talked about playing video games with his son.
As a novice playing Halo, Gawdat would try to avoid challenges and danger in order to get to the end of each level as quickly and easily as possible. His son, an experienced gamer, asked what on earth he was doing. The fun of games like Halo is to explore everything and develop skills. If your character gets hurt or damaged by the challenges you pick yourself up, have another go, and have developed knowledge or skill in the process.
As Gowratt points out this is just like life. Why rush to the end avoiding interesting experiences on the way? Why not relish all of the available experiences, even the painful or challenging ones?
Back in the early days of the use of”social” tools in the workplace I used to talk about managers’ fear of losing control. I would point out that they had never really had control. Sure they had the appearances of it, they had the titles, they had the ownership of the communication channels, they had the “authority”. But in terms of the actual day to day actions of those they managed they had minimal control.
However by engaging fully with the use of social tools they could achieve influence. By noticing what was happening around them then writing about what mattered, and why, they were much more likely to encourage people to move towards shared goals and desired outcomes. They could become a fully functioning node in a healthy network of networks rather than a distorting force blocking the organism from working.
The same is true of life. We fear loss of control, but we never had it. We were on autopilot, our actions a result of biology, culture, and memory.
But if we are awake, and aware, and notice, and share, what is happening in every moment, over and over again, we can allow life to happen without distortion.
As Joseph Campbell put it:
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
Current circumstances are making a lot of us feel more out of control than usual. By attempting to exercise control, by using force to pursue some favoured ideology, we risk distorting the complex interactions that are life taking its course. These distortions cause stress and distress to ourselves, those around us, and ultimately the precious planet we live on.
This is not an argument for doing nothing. It is a plea to loosen our frantic attempts to control life, to make it fit to our preconceived and inherited ideas of how it should be. Instead we could allow life to work by noticing each and every complex, fascinating, moment as it happens, again and again… and then responding. Fully taking our place in the complex, interconnected, networks of networks that are life working as it should.
We are used to stigmatising those who do nothing and lionising those who are busy. But what if those who are always busy – pushing themselves and those around them ever harder, “driving change”, fighting off the competition, being the fittest who survive – what if they were the problem and not the solution? What if we saw them as the ones who are creating a divided world, causing stress and unhappiness, putting our precious planet under unsustainable pressure?
What if those who are content with doing nothing, with just being, what if they were the heros and the role models?
I have always loved being “in” weather. Sitting on mountainsides watching clouds form and disperse around me is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Feeling hard driving rain beating on my waterproof gear in the middle of nowhere brings a glow of cosiness. Being almost knocked flat by gale force winds is the height of excitement.
Staying at home all the time, and spending a lot of it sitting in the garden, is heightening my awareness of even the more “mundane” weather of leafy Bucks. The intensity of the colours in the crystal clear air that we are enjoying at the moment. The smell of rain falling on the warm, newly cut, grass. And today being able to hear the whooshing sound of the wind waving the lush trees – a sound that would normally be drowned out by traffic noise.
Finer grained pleasures are one of the unanticipated upsides of these challenging times.
I remember clearly the moment when kissing a girl became a possibility, having my mind fill with images from the films of the time of how various romantic leads went about the process, and wishing that it hadn’t.
But we can’t help this. Every time we consider doing something our minds are already pre-filled with the narratives from our families and our culture of what we should do and how we should do it.
There is no point agonising about this, as this is all we are. The me that feels that it is in control isn’t. It only exists as a combination of genetics, previous experience, and learned narratives. We retrofit a sense of control that doesn’t exist.
This isn’t avoidable but nor is it “bad”. It is life happening in us and around us. We are not separate from it. We are it. We can learn to accept it and not fight it.
In each moment we can get better at kissing life.
It is waiting…
Remembering drinking French coffee and eating a crusty baguette with unsalted butter and jam in a cafe as the sun starts to warm up on the south coast of France knowing that you have nothing more challenging to do all day than to lie on a beautiful beach getting browner.
Sometimes such a strong sense of place just hits you out of the blue and evokes all sorts of memories.
In a field near our house there is a large, almost exactly circular crater. Over the years I’d become convinced that it was where a bomb had fallen during the war. There is also a plaque on the wall of a local garden centre commemorating Polish Spitfire pilots who had been killed in a dogfight overhead. But I could never work out why bombs were being dropped this far west of London.
But then I got an answer. This area used to be the centre of the British furniture industry and those skills were required to make the Mosquito bomber, built in a local factory by De Havilland. The Germans had been trying to destroy the factory – hence the bomb craters and the dog fights.
This row of semi-detached houses were built in the thirties and so the owners would likely have been its first. Given the original two up two down configuration possibly a young family with children. The bomb crater is less than a quarter of a mile from our house. It’s a big crater and must have been a big bomb. The bomb blast would almost certainly have taken out all of the windows in the house.
I often think of the family sitting in here, terrified, during the raid. I will be thinking of them today and of the relief they must have felt when it was all over.
Where do you sit?
At one end of a spectrum you have libertarians in the US defending their right to catch and spread disease and at the other employers planning how in the future they will be able to track your every move.
We are all going to have to decided where on that spectrum we sit and what we are prepared to do about it.
This is another of those situations where “oh, I don’t do technology” is the least viable response. Learn enough about the NHS Coronavirus tracking app works and what the alternatives were/are to know how you feel about it. Learn enough about what your organisation plans to do with you and the space you work in when you go back to work.
Big decisions are going to be made on our behalf in the coming months and years and knowing how we feel about it will matter.