The Hollow Men

Image by Wells Baum

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

T.S. Eliot

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Shadow of a doubt


The software and hardware companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook want us to trust them. The theory is that our information is better kept stored with them in a private cloud rather than with the government. Outside America, however, the NSA can collect our information without a search warrant.

The internet companies are not only American-based, their manifest destiny makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.

“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security,” says Maciej Cegłowski. “But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

We are all citizens of tech companies, trading privacy for free communication. But the users are the ads and coders are the kings; the latter which convert our interests and attention into ad revenue.

Technology platforms appear to be doing more harm than the good. Most recently, they’ve facilitated fake news and ushered in FOMO-hitting mental health issues.

The internet is as indispensable as water but it’s also a perceivable threat when the few that run the show are creating new problems while hesitating to solve them.

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.

Predicting the multi-screen world in 1967

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In 1967, Rube Goldberg envisioned the future of screen culture.

What he didn’t foresee was that all of these individual devices (TV, phone, radio, camera) would converge into a single device: the smartphone.

People prefer to be distracted all the time. It makes the outside world easier to cope with. Today’s obsession with multi-screen entertainment and multitasking behavior was only a matter of time. Screens are second-nature.

Meanwhile, electricity is the pipes.

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Pennebaker’s Writing Rules

From journalling to brainstorming to blogging, there’s nothing more magical than getting all notes, ideas, and emotional experiences down on paper. 

In the case of Pennebraker’s Writing Rules, it instructs us to write about our recent or past emotional experiences for twenty minutes a day, for three days straight. 


The practice intends to release us from the prison of negative thoughts. Instead of fighting bad memories, we come to accept them. 

Writing out our anxieties is a tool to cope with their pervasiveness. It opens up the pathway to better accept ourselves.

The image above appears in Susan David’s Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life

Evolution is all chance variation and luck


Without chance variation and experimentation, evolution does not exist. It is through struggle and adaptation we evolve.

“Evolution depends on the existence of high-fidelity copying but not perfect copying, since mutations (copying errors) are the ultimate source of all novelty.”

Daniel Dennett

It’s the imperfections that round out the edges and sustain life. But most of it’s luck. 

Good fortune rewards those who not only get the longer beak but ride out the wave of their mutation in order to advance.

Nostalgia: what it meant before, after and now

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Nostalgia didn’t always have a positive tone. In fact, before the 20th century, the word was used in the pejorative sense.

Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”.

Today, people use the word nostalgia to look back on happier times, perhaps a slower one.

Nostalgia seems now to mark out a particular type of attention. If you call something “nostalgic”, you are suggesting that it evokes a memory of a former pleasure, a bitter-sweet recognition of the passing of time, or a sense of a lost era. To be nostalgic oneself is to experience those (possibly quietly melancholic) pleasures. It would be odd, indeed insulting, to describe the return of a concentration camp victim to Auschwitz as nostalgic.

Fantasizing about a simpler, pre-Internet world is a nostalgic reaction to rapid digital change. We’re all stuck in the whirlwind of 24/7 breaking news on social media that makes everything feel so immediate we can’t prioritize the important. 

We can’t even appreciate the moment. The present is quickly consumed and forgotten. The next iteration of nostalgia may become synonymous with experience, a world that was devoid of distorted facts and where events meant something.

Storytelling released humans from the prison of biology

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We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.

You can never, for example, convince a chimpanzee to do something for you by promising that, “Look, after you die, you will go to chimpanzee heaven and there you will receive lots and lots of bananas for your good deeds here on earth, so now do what I tell you to do.”

But humans do believe such stories and this is the basic reason why we control the world whereas chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

— Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The mind helped humans escape the prison of biology but not all of its fabrications; some of us still think a map represents the territory and that the Earth is flat.

In that dream of mine 


Whether through religion, materialism, or video games, the pursuit of fantasy is an inalienable right. We earn points in repeating rewarding behaviors: praying, shopping, or playing Half-Life.

Says Yuval Noah Harariof, the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:

“The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.”

We’ll always be chasing the butterfly in our mind’s eye.

Put some pep in your step

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If you want something done, it’s better to ask someone who’s already in motion. That, or ask someone with a sense of purpose.

It’s the lull and lack of desire that puts people to sleep.

Case and point are the DMV. Both the customer and employees expect slow service. The DMV has developed a reputation as backward, government operated red tape, quite the opposite of a busy shop or restaurant where busyness necessitates speed without hurting the quality of the product. Starbucks is the paragon of a mediocre cup of coffee delivered in a timely manner.

Speed doesn’t guarantee customer happiness nor cleanliness. McDonald’s once used powdered milk. But there’s no doubt that a little hustle produces a dose of flow.

It’s the slow, methodical, non-autotelic folks that just role with the motions.

A robot is as the robot does. Ship faster, or at least act like it.

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.