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Stand out of our light

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Huxley predicted that the deliberate flood of information, perhaps a more lethal strategy than Orwellian censorship, would dent our interest in reading books, having active opinions, and therefore make us passive.

The internet, of course, puts information distribution on hyper-speed, skipping from one issue to the next. People consume and quickly forget what’s important, all the while externalizing everything onto the screen. We have lost our ability to pay attention, not just because of tweeting politicians but because of screaming merchants.

There’s yet another book dissecting this very topic of how technology hijacks the brain. Author James Williams of Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy writes: 

“The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time. We therefore have an obligation to rewire this system of intelligent, adversarial persuasion before it rewires us.”

The former Google strategist has witnessed the intentional creation of distractive technologies that overpower human will so we no longer “want what we want to want.”

The Financial Times book review writes:

In an attempt to invent new linguistic concepts, the author plays with three types of attentional light: spotlight, starlight and daylight, pertaining to doing, being and knowing.

In this respect, Williams admires the free-speaking Greek philosopher Diogenes. One day, while sunning himself in Corinth, he was visited by Alexander the Great, who promised to grant him any wish. The cranky Diogenes replied: “Stand out of my light!” Williams wants a handful of West Coast tech executives to stop blocking out our human light, too.

Perhaps if we regain our detachment from irreality we’ll be able to look back and pinpoint attention distortion with fresh eyes.

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Sharing sameness on the gram

I’ve blogged about it before but it’s worth repeating: Instagram homogenizes creativity.

Scroll your feed, and I bet one of the pictures that comes up includes the following: a selfie, a coffee cup in hand, someone standing on a rock, riding in a canoe, or feet up in the sand or mountains, etc. It all looks the same!

Of course, similar cliche-looking pictures can be seen on Unsplash, where I often pluck images to share on my blog.

Thankfully we have accounts like @insta_repeat to remind people, especially adventure influencers, of their mimetic desire to copy each other. The creator of the account is an unknown artist of their own, with no intention than to call out the patterns of sameness in the digital space.

From Quartz

The creator of Insta_Repeat is a 27-year-old filmmaker and artist, who wants to remain anonymous. “I’m not trying to be the arbiter of what photos have value and what don’t. I am just making observations about the homogeneous content that is popular on Instagram,” she told Quartz over email. She says she is baffled by how many shots there are of humans in canoes and atop SUVs—but does see the positives in the repetitive nature of Instagram. “I also think there’s an incredible amount of value in emulation both when someone is learning and continuing their craft,” she says. “Improving upon and building upon what has been done…is an important part the evolution of art.”

The art of conformity is real. If at first, we copy, then we deduce, mixing and meshing what others do until we develop our own unique style. That’s a creator’s ambition anyway, to do something novel.   

Below are some of the most recent posts from the @insta_repeat account. Make sure to follow along for the latest collages.

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Twitter = High School

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via giphy

The impulsiveness, the cliques, the gossip, and the ego — the Twitter cesspool can be fun, entertaining, and darn-right toxic.

Unlike Instagram, Twitter brings out the worst in people through the abuse of words. In short, it is ‘The High School We Can’t Log Off From.’ Writes New York Times columnist Jennifer Senior:

A few years back, the sociologist Robert Faris described high school to me as “a large box of strangers.” The kids don’t necessarily share much in common, after all; they just happen to be the same age and live in the same place. So what do they do in this giant box to give it order, structure? They divide into tribes and resort to aggression to determine status.

The same can be said of Twitter. It’s the ultimate large box of strangers. As in high school, Twitter denizens divide into tribes and bully to gain status; as in high school, too-confessional musings and dumb mistakes turn up in the wrong hands and end in humiliation.

Unlike Apple, Facebook, Google, and Pinterest, Twitter bucked the Silicon Valley trend and kept Alex Jones’s account live. Twitter thrives on breaking news and its divisiveness.

Clay Shirky, one of the shrewdest internet theorists around, has noted that the faster the medium is, the more emotional it gets. Twitter, as we know, is pretty fast, and therefore runs pretty hot.

Yet despite all the negativity, Twitter may be the world’s most important social network even if it’s the least profitable. And while some of its users abuse the public microphone, others use it just to talk, teach, and share their work for the benefit of others.

Kevin Kelly: ‘I define art as cool and useless’

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Kevin Kelly was the former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture magazine Steve Jobs adored. He also founded Wired Magazine and continues to write books and give speeches worldwide about the future of technology.

Below are some of the most interesting highlights of a recent interview with an online publication The Caret.

Just as Brian Eno believes that “art is everything you don’t have to do,” so too does Kelly think art at its rudimentary level is useless.

I think there’s never been a better time to be a creator. It’s a wholly new era for the ease and power of creation. And I think of art as a subset of creation. I define art as cool and useless.

In the glut of today’s DIY artists with internet reach, it’s even harder to stand out. But there’s no reason to hide: some artists gain a posthumous reputation — Van Gogh for instance — and according to Kelly, all an artist needs is 1,000 true fans.

But this goes back to my true fans theory: you only need 1000 true fans to support your work. With the large market that we have, almost any weird thing that you do, if you really strive for excellence it’s entirely possible to find 1000 fans in the world of that. I see it again and again, where something is very esoteric and very niche — if you have a market of a couple billion people you’ll probably be able to find 1000 true fans.

While Kelly continues to predict the technology of tomorrow, he’s equally sanguine on today’s developments. He scoffs at the notion of a digital detox, as the internet is just too good.

Whether it’s work or a habit or technology, when you disengage, you recharge your batteries and come with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas. But I don’t like the term “detox” because I don’t think technology is toxic. I just think that you gain something when you don’t have it — a new perspective and new ways of looking at things and those are SO valuable. The challenge of the world today is that when everyone is connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, it becomes harder and harder to think differently. And thinking differently is the engine of creation, it’s the engine of wealth. So anything we can do to help us think differently is a huge advantage. And I think one of the most powerful things you can do is turn something off that’s usually on, no matter what it is.

Also be sure to check out Kelly’s interview with Tim Ferriss.

Human plus machine 🤖

It’s inevitable. In technology, nothing stands still.

We’ll know what we want to accomplish and we’ll do so with incredible pace and confidence.

The only thing that stands in our way is lack of belief in the brain and body’s flexibility.

Virtual or non-virtual reality, there will only be one continuous world. Everything else is information, waiting to be decoded.

The human part will transcend the robot, the robot part will bring new meaning to the brain’s neuroplasticity. We’ll be able to recall Instagrams before the tip of the tongue.

Through neuro-chip exertion, the mind will make ‘always-on’ an exaggeration of the past.

Sleep may be the nature’s last organic recharge.

Further reading:

Making magical machines
This professor describes the future educated person
Competence without imagination 🤖
Learning to think again

What holds attention determines distraction

Even checked distractions will lead you to distraction. What holds attention determines distraction

This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. 

What holds attention determines action.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

Was it a rhyme or a sick joke that got in the thinker’s way? What do you think James was referring to?

Fast forward to modern day distraction

Numb to the pleasure of patience

@rafaeldearaujo

You can’t coax a train out of a tunnel. You have to be patient and wait it out behind the yellow line.

Perhaps the only thing we don’t have to wait for is the next alert or push message. Writes author Michael Harris on how mobile connectivity intercepts our sense of time:

Our sense of time has always been warped by our technologies. Church bells segmented the day into intervals. Factory whistles ushered workers. But the current barrage of alerts and pings leaves us more warped than ever. I’ve been trained not just to expect disruption, but to demand it. Back in 1890, William James wrote in The Principles of Psychology that “our sense of time seems subject to the law of contrast.” No kidding.

He goes on to explain how technology resolves our impatience by numbing us “to the pleasure of patience.” We quell our anxiety with the rectangular glow so the late train no longer puts us on edge.

In chasing any goal, it behooves people to keep the patience. Things always take longer than we think but appear shorter in the telescope of perspective.

The train will eventually come and we’ll hop on, prompting the nerves to jumpstart in anticipation of the next destination. As we grow nervous and impatient, the rectangular glow acts like a pacifier to allay our fears.

When we’re moving along plugged-in at warp speed, we are no longer tracking time. Like a carrot, the clock dangles in front of our eyes, waiting for us to notice its blessings.

Life on infinite scroll

Scroll, tap, repeat, refresh. Novelty hypnotizes us. The fantasy that we can talk directly to celebrities and act like one ourselves for fifteen seconds puts us in a dopamine-infused trance.

The internet’s a stage, with individuals accruing endorsements through the bartering of likes. Remember when tech intended to make the world a better place, not an impulsive and egotistical society led into dystopia by a Tweeting lunatic.

The good news is that our eyeballs are still intact. The scenery outside the sorcery of our rectangular devices is not going anywhere. We can always step out and take a fresh breath of air.

The barrage of distractions creates conflict that runs opposite of concentration. The goal now is agreeing to stay focused, like a referee judging a football match. We are present, reminding other people that they too are still there.

The art of doing nothing

Relaxation is an art, antithesis to the obsession of doing. If we could be immediately present, time would slow down. We’d be able to hear the individual ticks in the clock.

The route to super consciousness is paved with unplugging from the maelstrom of 24/7 news and unnecessary push messages. It is all the distraction that makes us less happy. Dopamine is addictive but ephemeral.

When we’re interacting in excess, we’re missing out on recharging and thinking. Always-on is benign until it isn’t.

When illusion meets reality

How real is any of this, our minds continually intertwined with the screen of irreality. We can only be certain of what can see, surely.

But the computer is an extension of our brain. Technology presents an alternative existence that replaces the status-quo with a broad range of possibilities. We are just beginning to see the amalgamation of mind and machine.

Reality has been in the ‘August imagination‘ all along. But like a parachute, cognition is just now cracking open to double its processing power in collaboration with artificial intelligence and algorithms that are constantly improving.

Technology stretches our eyes beyond optical error, begging for a fresh approach. Reality and irreality will work together to fill in the illusion of an empty calendar as we know it. Looking neither right nor left, the human mind works ahead.

What remains will be worthy of attention.

Hooked on artifice and spin

Twitter’s removal of millions of fake accounts reminds us that not everything is what it seems. The internet is full of bots, replicating humans, even programmed to act more human than the humans themselves.

We too are conscious automata, no more authentic than the droids themselves. People are just savvy editors. We present our best selves online to increase our self-worth make other people envious.

Artifice defeats authenticity in all chess matches of the irreality we crave.

Yet, the push to be at our best could be the resolution to our proposed mediocrity. Why shoot ourselves down when a quasi-celebrity lifestyle sits at our fingertips.

Fame happens to the mobile holder. Stuck in a ludic loop, we are the host of our own Truman Show. Attention captured, republished, and released. We’re neither superior to bots nor are we consciously behind.

Thinking aloud in chemical synchronicity

When you can think aloud your own thoughts, you will strip the mind of its own disfluency.

The brain’s pen will be mighter than the sword.

“Protect yourself from your own thoughts.” — Rumi

At which point it’s too late.

We, the data

Dissolved into data, we produce a feast of trackable interactions.

They are the editors as much as much we are the authors. While we create everything, they produce nothing, yet the internet still owns our words.

The attention merchants munch on the aggregate and peel off the niches into targeted prey.

Our eyeballs are the oil, primed, pumped, and then exhausted into tanks of consumption.

Monetization of the ego starts at birth, built for entertainment in the first place. We make, make, make until we are over-marked and sold to the highest bidder.