Step away from the sound-bite, Sir!

Ever since Facebook introduced the ability to make a short status update look more interesting by putting it in big text on a pretty colour background, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to put up short provocative posts.  And many of these posts provoke quite a lot of discussion – I suspect that’s the aim, to increase FB reach by tricking the algorithm into thinking the original poster has created something of value to the other platform users. After all, loads of them responded, didn’t they?

And, to a large extend, the algorithm is right.  More responses does mean the audience think the post was worth commenting on. Even if, as is often the case, to say it’s utter bollocks.

I would love to be able to say that the problem is that both the algorithm and the people commenting are rewarding behaviour they don’t really value. Because no-one sees value in truncated click-bait provocation with no thinking behind it, do they?

Except that’s not the case. As far as Facebook is concerned, pretty much ANY interaction with the platform is good. Unless it’s a baby with a nipple in its mouth, but that’s a whole other issue. Because people doing stuff on FB are people it can show ads to. WE are the product folks, never forget that!

That the algorithm rewards crap posts is bad enough. But the worse thing is that the people who respond are ALSO rewarding crap posts BECAUSE THEY LIKE THEM.  Posting sound-bite nonsense is serving a certain part of the FB community by giving them something to pontificate about.

Facebook is a great place to have a go at people, and to demonstrate our superior intellect/financial position/business acumen/spirituality/consciousness/general worthiness (select all that apply). So people posting poorly-thought-out click-bait are providing us with an opportunity to make ourselves look good.  And the fact that we get to do it at the expense of someone a bit dim – well, that’s even better, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a lot of very good conversations on Facebook (and other social media), where we‘ve been able to fully explore a controversial subject in quite some depth.  Most of those discussions have led to me understanding more about the world, and the shallowness of my previous grasp of the topic.  So I’m not saying there’s no value to arguing on Facebook (though it must be said that Mrs H disagrees – frequently).

But very few of those meaningful conversations have started from a brightly-coloured sound-bite click-bait post.

When the opening post has some depth (even if it’s deeply erroneous, in my world-view), those who bother to read it tend also to have sufficient depth of appreciation of the topic to bring cogent arguments to the discussion.  There’s less ‘yah-boo’ and ad hominem, and more reasoned and courteous argument – which is, in the end, what changes minds and informs debate.

The danger is that we become so used to the click-bait stuff, and get so much fun out of scoring silly points in a shallow and divisive argument, that we leave ourselves insufficient time to think deeply about anything.  And that harms the whole of society.

So please think before you respond to a click-bait provocation: would my time be better spent finding someone to engage with who can actually be bothered to develop a cogent thought?

I suggest that we all start right now to boycott all posts that seek to distract us with psychedelic  backgrounds and pithy, but essentially empty, sound-bites.

Why You Can’t Trust Facebook

I’m reading an article in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/) about the effect Facebook (may have) had on the 2016 election of Donald Trump as the USA’s 45th President. The article itself has many reasons for us to be very wary of the information we are presented with in our social media bubbles.  And it got me thinking about all the ways it can be ‘gamed’ (or worse) to skew our view of the world.

Let’s start by saying I’m not a massive conspiracy theorist. I choose to believe that the algorithms the social platform geeks cook up are genuinely intended to serve up valuable content that we will be pleased to see and will enhance our lives.  That’s not to say I think they always get it right though.  At best it seems to create an ‘echo chamber effect’ where everyone’s preaching to the converted, and we don’t get to see a real diversity of opinions and attitudes. And at worst it can lead to views becoming increasingly entrenched, coupled with massive cognitive dissonance when we finally do get to see some conflicting material.

Fans of the US TV show “Homeland” will remember the “Sock Puppet” plot, where hundreds of geeks sat in a darkened room, controlling thousands of online profiles, inciting their social media “friends” to outrage about political issues. It’s not far-fetched; in the Atlantic article, ad agencies admit to using FB Ads to skew political results in specific swing counties. So we know what people see on their social media feeds can either change or reinforce their views.

And what that means is that if a foreign government wanted to affect the result of a democratic process, they wouldn’t need to hack into anything. They could simply set up a massive sock puppet operation.  OK, they’d need to be a bit clever with their routing – it’s fair to assume that a whole load of connections from Moscow or Beijing servers befriending US voters in swing states might raise a digital eyebrow or two in Menlo Park. But that’s a whole lot easier than hacking a mainframe.

The trouble with (and the effectiveness of) sock puppet campaigns is they appear to be people like us.  And we tend to have an inherent trust of ‘people like us’.  In many ways that’s not too much of a problem when all it does is create the “echo-chamber effect” – our social media feeds being full of stuff we already agree with. That simply reinforces what we already think. It might save the odd ‘swing voter’ from flipping, but the overall effect is limited.

But there’s a much bigger potential danger in the combination of sock puppets and the ‘people like us’ effect. ‘Sock puppets like us’ if you like. And that’s when our sock puppet friends start to subtly change their views.  We like them, they’re people we get on with, we have shared interests. If they start to have doubts about our favoured candidate/policy/party, maybe we should also have doubts? When they ‘come across’ some convincing argument to weaken our position, we’re probably going to take more notice. More notice, even, than if we came across that new information ourselves.

All sorts of things are going on here, from Cialdini’s consistency to Maslow’s belonging. I wrote a blog some years ago back in my Ecademy days (the first real business social media platform, sadly now defunct through lack of funding), called “Where should you focus your efforts for greatest effect?” about how we are more likely to be swayed by our moderate opponents, especially if we consider ourselves to be moderate too. And that’s even more likely when they used to be just on our side of the argument.

That social media connection of yours may appear to be a socially-conscious mother of two from Wisconsin, with ideas and attitudes you can align with.  But for all you know you could be getting subtly influenced by Boris from Bratsk, or Supremacy Steve. So my advice is to be very wary of any online connection who you haven’t met in person. You really have no idea who they are, so before you allow someone’s reasonable argument to sway you, pick up the phone or jump on skype, and find out what they *really* stand for.

Learning to unlearn

Thinking a bit more about my post the other day, about the brevity of human life in the context of an infinite existence, I found myself wondering how come we don’t have memories of the other parts of our beingness? Those previous lives, or parallel experiences, that we might perhaps expect to subtly inform the way we work on this iteration on the human plane.

Then I realised that maybe memories are something our infinite being selves simply don’t need. Why would we need to have a store of experiences if we can simply do them again, at will? Why would we need recall of our mistakes, or of our successes for that matter, if we already had a knowing of the best things to do to achieve our aims?

When you know everything, and can do anything, you don’t need to rely on memory. It’s just there.

That got me thinking, that sounds like a pretty cool way of being – I wonder what I need to learn to be that way.

D’oh! Learning is based around memory.

Being is just … well, being.

So I don’t need to learn and remember what to do to become the infinite being I truly be. I need to UNlearn and forget everything this reality has told me about being limited. And go back to that child-like wonder before the world told me there was stuff I couldn’t do.

Simple, eh?

Not easy though!

Maybe time really is flying?

Do you remember when you were a child and sometimes a day felt like a week and a week felt like a year, because the possibilities felt so endless, and the adventures you could have were so vast and varied?

During my morning meditation the other day it occurred to me that what if, as infinite beings having a human experience, what we see as a lifetime is really, in the context of the existence of an infinite being, just a day or so of grand and glorious adventures?

What if for our real selves, the things we allow to upset and frustrate our human selves are like those little tears and tantrums we experienced as human toddlers? And instantly forgot when the cookie jar opened, or we found something else to explore.

What if, to our infinite selves, the world is one big cookie jar, open and ready to sustain us as we venture out into this brief reality with gleeful curiosity?

How much joy could we spread then?

Why local representation makes for bad democracy

The picture below shows the level of support in my local area for my political views – pretty much the lowest possible!

Source: uk.isidewith.com

So what, you might ask? Well, what it means is there is a very high possibility that my local representative will (1) not share my views and (2) be responsible for representing more people who disagree with me than agree with me.  It’s just isn’t possible for someone to do both.

I have posted before that the need for local representation was originally created in previous centuries, when your representative living a long way off meant that effectively only the very rich, who could afford to travel, would have their voices heard.  But that is not the case in the early 21st century – we regularly hold long and meaningful conversations with people on the other side of the globe, never mind the other end of the country.

You could argue that I can always move, if I want to be adequately represented.  After all, a quick trip down the South Coast line, and I’d be in sunny Brighton, where there is the strongest support for my views.  Even a little shuffle sideways into Kent would get me pretty strong agreement with my views, and a much greater chance of being well-represented.  But there are two issues with that: the first is, why should I (and all the other people of all political hues) have to move to get decent democracy? And the second is, that would create even greater division within our country.

I know I’m a bit weird, a bit of an outlier, but does that mean I lose my right to representation?  And what about all the other outliers – to left and right of me – do they not deserve real effective representation too?  Or is it only the middle ground, those willing to toe the various party lines, who get to have democracy?

The answer, as I have said before, is to move away from a party-based system of local representation, and instead have our representatives elected on the basis of the issues that they are willing to take up. Here’s the post where I first suggested this: http://life7bn.com/are-we-truly-represented/

 

Don’t be fooled …

The new US President is no fool.

It seemed inconceivable even as little as 6 months ago that he could really become POTUS.  A loud, ignorant, brutish man, with little political savvy and even less sense of decorum.  And yet, here we are, with Executive Orders seeing long-term, legal, US residents getting removed from their flights home, and facing a three month wait before they can return, if ever.

But do not make the mistake of believing that Donald J Trump is an idiot. He has made a career – and a fortune – out of a negotiating style that uses bluff and bluster, and not a little sleight of hand, to get his way – to enrich himself.  This is what he has brought to the White House.

With his close team doing all manner of strange things, from eviscerating departments to describing blatant untruths as “alternative facts”, or seemingly mistaking a living civil rights leader for his dead father, we are kept on the hop. We just don’t know what’s real any more – and that’s the way they want it.

I would urge you to take a look at the similarities with the way Vladislav Surkov has used misdirection and confusion to hobble opposition to Russia’s President Putin (see http://clamour.co.uk/surkov-and-the-politics-of-confusion/ for more).  Trump’s team are showing many signs of using similar tactics; he may not be sophisticated, but he is not stupid.

When we focus on Sean Spicer’s (apparent) incompetence, or on Trump’s (apparent) thin skin; when we make pejorative reference to his (apparently) tiny appendages, or his (apparent) ire about unflattering photos; when we call him things like “orange man-child” (amusing though that is) – when we do any of that, we are playing into his hands, and allowing ourselves to become focused on the minutiae.

This level of “resist-and-react” opposition is not going to work. A pull back to the previous political landscape is destined to fail – the old politics was already failing, that’s why we needed a Trump, and we cannot go back.  The only way forward from here is to a different politics altogether, one where people of like mind can come together for particular issues, then dissolve and regroup in different ways, to create other things that matter. The days of bi-partisan “align-and-agree” are numbered.

Make no mistake, one way or another, we are watching the end of the current form of democracy.  It can go many ways from here – to a Trumpian dictatorship designed to enrich just an oligarch class of billionaires, or to a utopian experience of universal care and compassion that enriches the whole of mankind on many levels. Or anything in between – and how it pans out is up to us.

Just don’t underestimate The Donald – that would be a dangerous mistake.

Delusions of separation

When we define and label others we make them less.

A person who happens to have black skin.
A black person.
A Black!

A person who chooses to follow the jewish faith.
A jewish person.
A Jew!

A person with light hair
A blonde person.
A Blonde!

A person who is very good with computers.
A technical person.
A Nerd!

The more succinct the label, the more likely it is to carry some degree of pejorative energy, making the person less (than us?)

All these labels focus on only one aspect of the the person, and seeks to lump them all together with other people ‘like them’ – separate.
Something judgeable, “Not like us” (whoever the heck “us” might be!)

And they ignore all the multifaceted gorgeousness that the individuals are.

When we name them ‘something-or-other’ we are making them not something else – maybe even not everything else?

Black; not white
Jew; not my religion (or not the other religions)
Blonde; not brunette (or not bright, or not undesirable, or lots of other loaded interpretations!)
Nerd; not social
… even Conscious; not stupid!

What if we were all part of one big thing, mankind, even consciousness?
What if every attempt at creating separation – at being separate – was just a false concept, designed to keep us unconscious, unconnected, divided, impotent?

And what if we could choose something different? Right now.

Living the dream?

I just read The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly – it’s a nice little tale of a business that wakes up to its role in helping the people who work for it to be the best version of themselves they can be.

The way they do that is by appointing a “Dream Manager” whose job is to help employees to first dream up, and then realise the things they really want from life.  In the story, that’s everything from owning their own home to simply having a proper Christmas.

It got me thinking – maybe the real reason organisations exist is not, as I have thought up until now, to help people bring their talent to the world, but simply to help them be happy.  Of course, they can probably be happier if the work they do is intrinsically meaningful, but perhaps this ‘dream manager’ approach is a good way to deal with those who find themselves having to do mundane work.

What do you think?

What are organisations really for?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – I think modern organisations – especially corporate ones – have forgotten what they are really for.

History of organisations

Back when people started to organise into collaborative groups, aka tribes, the purpose was initially strength in numbers. Over time, individuals gravitated to the tasks they were best at; and the tribe came to rely on them to get that task done. Whatever someone had a penchant for doing, so long as the tribe found that activity useful in some way – including pure entertainment value – the tribe would adjust itself to allow ways for each person’s special talent (or Genius, in my lexicon) to be used as fully as possible.

As tribes became cultures, and then societies, and then economies, they became too large to operate as a homogeneous whole, and they split into smaller units, each with a need for certain tasks too be carried out, and opportunities for those with a penchant for those tasks to provide value by doing them.

The first real commercial organisations were the crafts guilds, providing a way for talented people to learn a trade and bring their value to the world. From these came small businesses, with a Master taking on Journeymen and Apprentices – still with the purpose of making it possible for the individuals to bring their genius and value to others.

Rise of the Company

Then, at a certain point in history, mechanisation meant that if someone made a large investment in machinery, it was possible to generate more value from the same number of workers. And that was when the focus shifted from collaboration aimed at helping the individual’s talent reach the customer, to organisation aimed at getting the most from the machines in which the owners had invested their capital. Getting a return on capital took over as the primary concern; capitalism had arrived.

For a long time, capitalism played a valuable role in fuelling human development, and made significant contributions to improving mankind’s lot. The returns expected by the owners of the capital seemed justified, given the contribution they were funding to a better life. People stopped dying of preventable disease (in the developed world at least), and life-spans grew longer.

Shareholder Focus

Somewhere along the way, some bright spark had the idea of getting lots of people with money to each put in a bit of capital to buy machinery, build factories, develop new products, all in exchange for a share in the company – in the form of share certificates. So now, instead of one beneficial owner with a clear vision of what the business is there to do, there are multiple owners, who may or may not agree on its purpose.

Add to that the fact that these multiple owners then worked out that if you could get a nice return from a share in one business, you could probably do even better with shares in several. So each owner’s focus became less clear too – a recipe for confusion about what each business was supposed to be achieving.

Trading away purpose

And then another bright spark came up with the idea of an “exchange” where you could sell your shares, so now investors could easily get away from their involvement with the companies if they became irksome to them, or if things started going a bit pear-shaped. And yet another bright spark came up with the idea of putting your spare money (capital) into a “fund” that someone else would run, investing your money for you, in lots of different companies. And finally, a whole bunch of bright sparks came up with the idea of “derivative” investments, so they weren’t even investing in companies at all!

At every stage, ownership and control moved further away from any connection with what the business was actually for. Investors are no longer nobly contributing to something they want to see getting out into the world, they are just too far removed from what’s actually going on inside the companies. The only way they can know if their money is being used effectively is by the amount of profit they see getting paid out as dividends. The profit motive has now usurped the proper purpose of a business.

Real purpose

I believe if you go back to the origins of organisations, the proper purpose of any organisation, whether commercial, public sector or charitable, is to enable those who work in it to use their skills, talents and unique genius to make the world a better place for some group of other people – whether that’s by designing and building smart motor cars, by putting on amazing and amusing entertainment, or by providing the wherewithal to bring clean water to communities in the developing world.

And my question is: how can this true purpose retake the primacy that the profit motive usurped?

Are we truly represented?

Is our geography-based system of representation still the best form of democracy?

After all the shenanigans of the Brexit referendum here in the UK, I have found myself pondering upon what democracy really is, and how best to design a system of representation that delivers it.

Democracy is generally understood to be government of the people, by the people, for the people.  In practice, that usually becomes not by the people, but on behalf of the people.  We elect representatives to re-present our views in a parliament, and we have to trust that they will do so.

I’m basing this article on the UK, but in most democracies, like the UK, we elect our representatives based on geography.  That has practical advantages – we can trot along to our local MP’s (or equivalent) surgery and tell them what we would like them to find important.  And if they are a good MP, they will take the matter up.  But it is also based in the premise that all the people in a geographical area want roughly the same things and find the same sort of things important.  The recent referendum showed how false a premise that is, with most votes being in the 51-60% range in favour of one side or the other.

And we cannot realistically expect MP’s to take up something that we are the only ones to have raised, if there are other matters that more local people are more concerned about.  MPs have limited bandwidth, and so does parliament.

That has the effect of marginalising ideas that are at the edge of the consciousness of a society.  You may say that’s as it should be – if it’s on the edges of what people are interested in, why should it get air-time in parliament?  The problem with that view is that nothing will ever change, because that leading-edge thinking gets suppressed, not by government dictat, but by it simply not getting discussed in the corridors of power.

Let’s try a thought experiment, these are not real numbers, but let’s say there are maybe 5% of the population overall who would like to see a kindness-based system of government.  With 650 MP’s, that would mean we should have 33 of them willing and able to re-present that idea in parliament.  But because each individual MP is elected by a majority (well, technically a minority much of the time) of the people in their geographical area, unless there are maybe one or two areas where the 5% of the “Kindness Rules” tribe congregate and can create a majority, they will probably not manage to get anyone at Westminster.  So they are reliant on their local Tory or Labour MP bringing it up, which is unlikely, because (quite rightly) they are focussed on what the majority who elected them want.

I find myself asking: why do we continue to define constituencies by geography?  It made sense when the system was originally designed – centuries ago – when difficulty of communication meant having someone local was important.  And most people’s major concerns were about local issues, the wider world having little effect on them.  But with modern technology enabling the communication and discussion of issues much more widely, could we not select our representatives from across the nation, based on their views rather than where they live?

There are all sorts of difficulties with putting such a system in place, not least the potential length of the ballot paper in each polling station!  But again, technology could provide an answer – perhaps with voters selecting their choice electronically.  The risks associated with that are amusingly demonstrated in a fictional US Presidential election in the movie “Man of the Year” with Robin Williams, but I am sure it is not beyond the wit of C21 man to come up with a solution – perhaps mini-printers in polling booths printing off physical ballot slips?  Or a list of candidates posted on the wall with reference numbers for voters to copy onto ballot papers.

Those are just off the top of my head, I am certain the geeks can come up with something equally as robust as what we currently have.

Of course, we probably won’t ever see anything like that, because the sheer variety of candidates and views has the potential to destroy the relevance of political parties, so they would probably all use the massively-undemocratic “three-line whip” to defeat anything that came close, as the major parties have with PR in the past.

But imagine if we did – what if you could elect someone who genuinely represented your true views about the way you want the world to be?