16th century self-promotion

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Before the rise of ownership of mirrors in the 15th century, people mostly identified themselves with others. It was their reflection that made them appears as individuals.

The portable oil canvass in the 16th century accelerated the self-absorbed trend. Self-portraits became the predominant way to flaunt one’s importance and durability. Artists, in particular, were the first to latch on to painting technology to curate their image the way people edit their selfies today.

Modern day photography with software editing tools like Photoshop wishes to make people look better than they actually are, unlike the television which adds five pounds.

Either way, we’re not going to be remembered for how we looked but rather for what we contributed to the world. The work, not the selfie, is what’s going to last.

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Einstein: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction.”

All images by Wells Baum (NYC)

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

— Albert Einstein

All images by Wells Baum (DC)

Consider ‘social snacking’


Social media allows for light touches. You can snack on a relationship by sending a friend a text or simple email just to remind them that you still value their relationship.

Even sending a happy birthday message on Facebook can help keep you top of mind.

What makes communication awkward are the long periods of silence in between. Even though people are ambiently aware of each other, they still need to follow up. 

A quick text, a like or comment, an email, or better yet, a phone call or handwritten letter, keeps you relevant. Small acts of care help preserve relationships in the long term.

If anything, social smacking helps break the ice when you do meet again face to face.

The great selfie mirage


We’ve gone from frictionless sharing to casual over-sharing to automation to ultimately all drowning in the same looking content in a morass of feeds.

Writes economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz:

“Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.”

We’re more likely to check-in to the Ritz-Carlton on Facebook than the Holiday Inn. We signal to others our better selves, even if it’s half-true, yet hold back on revealing any vulnerabilities. Social media devours the happier, exaggerated stories.

Google is the sole platform that reveals the truth. It “offers digital truth serum.” We type in everything there: our worst fears to the ridiculous and unremarkable.

Furthermore, we should take anyone’s social media profile with a grain of salt. It’s the best version of us. The real anxieties exist in the search bar.

Life on fast-forward

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The internet complicates what it means to be productive. We trap ourselves in email and unlimited social media browsing. We eat lunch at our desks to justify your busyness when “we should go for a walk, to the coffee shop, just to get away. Even Victorian factories had some kind of rest breaks,” says workplace psychologist Michael Guttridge.

Studies repeatedly show the dangers of multitasking and continuous partial attention. By doing more, we’re immersing ourselves less. More than five minutes of Twitter a day won’t make you any better of a Tweeter, observes Seth Godin. Fast-forwarding through movies, podcasts, and books won’t allow you to go deeper into the experience. More information just makes your brain fatter.

In a world of limited attention, it pays to be bored. The brain needs time to switch off, wander, and disconnect from the 24/7 neuron-inducing chemical factory. If everything is meaningful, nothing is worth doing.

Finding Vivian Maier

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gif via Fast Company

The 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert once said to be “be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Vivian Maier took this to heart. No one ever knew this nanny was an artist of her own.

She took over 100,000 photos, mostly street photographs of downtown Chicago, and kept them for her own viewing, including her selfies. Taking pictures was her happy place, a creative outlet, that allowed her to see the world with a third eye. She wrote with light.

Today, Maier would’ve been an Instagram and VSCO sensation. While she may have resisted social media given her inclination as a loner, she probably would’ve enjoyed connecting with others who shared the same passion. The internet unleashes the weirdness in all of us, motivating us to share our work.

Van Gogh only sold one piece of artwork in his life, to his brother. His posthumous reputation speaks for itself, as does Maier’s.

Don’t let social media use you

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Attention is a gift that the social networks want to steal from you. Here’s a simple trick to ward off their magnetism and catch yourself: put the social apps on the fourth home screen.

That’s right: make it harder to access Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest with just a couple taps. The design hurdle allows the mind to pause before engaging into a sinkhole of distraction and emotional envy.

Take back control of your time and don’t let social media use you. Direct its intention by redirecting your attention. Let the story be about your presence.

The best of the best

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Facebook makes you unhappier because it produces envy. We always want in our feeds what we don’t have in real life: a stable relationship, a high-paying job, a weekend vacation in the Caribbean, a beautiful house, a new car, the latest gadgets–the list goes on.

But social media is edited real life. We tend to over-post happiness and under-post negativity. Who’s going to share about their mental illness, a divorce, or a family death? That’s sad stuff, even if Facebook allows you to respond with a weepy face instead of a thumbs up.

We usually post things that we wish were, not as they are. Social media presents the best of the best, an online Truman Show that excludes the beautiful struggle in between. At the very least, social media is pseudo-news that often omits context.

“There’s always another story,” indeed.

Listen to Hidden Brain: Ep. 68: Schadenfacebook

Leave it to the experts

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We’re all created equal but we’re not all experts.

Experts are the hedgehogs, the servants; they do one thing well. They’re indispensable like doctors. Yet, the internet came along and unleashed a free for all of know-it-alls.

Our friends and family members, even ourselves, opine on subjects where we have voice but no mastery, not even of the fundamentals. We’ve given people a microphone, a platform, and they produce garbage, demonstrate ignorance, and bask in mediocrity.

Says Tom Nichols in his new book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters:

“Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge. It assuredly does not mean that ‘everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.’ And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.”

We need practicians. We need the ideas. But we really need people we can trust. It’s no surprise that our experts are usually the ones with most humility and eagerness to learn.

Newsletter: Social media divides democracy 😔

wellsbaum.com

web gems

  1. “Mindfullness needs a redesign.” I’m reading Rohan Gunatillake’s new book Modern Mindfulness so I can learn how to better use technology to help me relax on-the-go.
  2. How do you define war? “If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both.” A warning of words from Ursula K. Leguin’s 1963 novel The Left Hand of Darkness
  3. Design creates function. As Austrian architect, Hermann Czech writes, “The ‘function’ does not precede the design, but is always only mediated in the design.”
  4. The idea of what Ray Kurzweil calls ‘mind uploading’ isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Read ‘Your animal life is over. Machine life has begun.’
  5. Creator’s dilemma: “We’ve made it easier than ever to make stuff, and harder than ever to make enough money to live.” Creatives are fucked. And it may be too late.
  6. “It’s such an American thing that nothing is real until it’s on television.” – Tom Nichols. As Charlie Brown says after looking into the dark sky: “Let’s go inside and watch television. I’m beginning to feel insignificant.”
  7. Thinking about this: Social media divides democracy

digging in the crates

  1. Rapper lojii and beat maker Swarvy are a hip-hop duo currently based in Los Angeles. Their collaborative album Due Rent debuted on the Fresh Selects label, responsible for acts like Iman Omari who’s track Kendrick Lamar sampled in his stunning performance at the 2016 Grammy’s. Similar to ‘Omari’s Mood,’ the track ‘outchea…’ is a short track which boasts a horn sample but gets the added layer of lojii’s smooth lyrics. | LISTEN
  2. Kelly Lee Owens is a London-based electronic producer. Her eponymous debut album pairs together deep techno vibes to balearic beats and drifting vocals. ‘Bird’ is one of the highlights of this fantastic album. It fades in at the 1:45 mark. | LISTEN
  3. Rebecca Foon is Saltland, a Montreal-based cellist. Her newest album A Common Truth features a well-rounded mix of classical music, gentle electronica, and floating vocals. The track ’Forward Eyes II’ is one of the more ethereal tunes on the album, strung out in cello, violin, and a looping instrumental synth. | LISTEN

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A clash of sameness

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Image via Eric Nopanen

Now when the phone rings on the train, everyone instinctively checks their pockets. People used to personalize their ringtones so that their incoming calls were unique. Ringtones were a badge of individuality, demonstrating your music tastes and personality. The passengers with the Ghostbusters ringtone anthem always made seatmates chuckle.

The standardization of sound is one indication that the fascination with mobile phones has petered out. Instead, it’s the apps that live on our screens that determine what type of person we are.

LinkedIn, SnapChat, Instagram, Tumblr– these ‘places‘ allude to where we like to live, work, and play. We are uniform on the outside but raging in our little worlds, filter bubbles, or echo chambers on the inside.

It’s only when we chat with a stranger or go the polls do we realize that the digital and physical realities don’t match up. The world is not as it seems.

There is no such thing as a virtual utopia, a second life. If you’re not acting as the person online and off, you’ll inevitably run into frustration and subjugation. The real world runs on tribes until the creative minority once again breaks it back into pieces to retain their originality.

I stopped thinking in tweets

Image via Unsplash
  • because it wasn’t the game I wanted to play
  • because I wanted to synthesize my thoughts on my blogs and share my discoveries in a comprehensive newsletter
  • because I didn’t want to think in 140 characters
  • because I wanted to read more books
  • because I decided to do something more durable, i.e. write another book
  • because I strived to go deeper
  • because I felt nostalgic for the insights that emerged in those moments of boredom

And although my mind still thinks in sentence fragments, it no longer feels the need to throw darts.

Twitter me this, Twitter me that

Twitter is a strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

It drives both optimism and pessimism at the same time. It foretells the future, flashing signs of progress along with inevitable doomsday. One tweet can drive markets and shift national conversations.

Most Twitter users are consumers that use it to discover great content and breaking news. Others abuse the platform to stoke an agenda.

Checking Twitter is the fastest way to monitor the pulse on society. At the same, avoiding it will make your happier and healthier — you may even get your mind back!

Twitter changes how the brain works. It hijacks your attention with the facade of novelty, consumed and quickly forgotten. But your trash may be someone else’s treasure. There are gems to be found even in a dump.

A Grand Don’t Come for Free

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Do the work

Social media is still a game of numbers. The more followers you have, the more credible you appear. Removing the public follower count as Snapchat, Tumblr, and VSCO does, puts content first.

The entrepreneur bros on Instagram with one hundred thousand followers are all acts. The Ferrari, the yacht, and jewelry are props.
Dressing for success is a canard if there’s zero effort to put in the work to compensate the expectation.

There’s a gap between what someone thinks their worth and the amount of money in their bank account. You’re not a billionaire even when your ego tells you otherwise.

Putting on a show is real work for actors. Sharing an online facade is a substitute for real life that requires human effort. Skip a step and the lacking the fundamentals will be sure to let you know you’re out of place.