Does automation make us less human?

Life on auto-reply

How much of our thought process do we want to relinquish to artificial intelligence?

Even Gmail’s auto-replies takes the burden out of typing in two-word responses with pre-populated text likes “yes, great,” “sounds good,” or “awesome.” Soon enough the computers will be the only ones conversing and high-fiving each other.

Just as the painter imitates the features of nature, algorithms emulate human memes. The problem is the tendency to abuse these recipes to avoid thinking altogether. Bathing in such idleness set the precedent for laggard times.

Without thought and action, our memories will starve. When we type, we produce pixels on a screen. Auto-reply forfeits the experience of being there. But such detachment may not be as harmful as we think. 

The symbiosis of man and machine begs for innovation. AI may free up cognition for other more intensive tasks. In other words, having a dependable personal assistant may compel us to do even more great work. 

The only fear of AI is complete human dependence. We need elements of crazy to keep creating. We’ll die off as soon as we stop winging it.

Everything goes in the queue

The queue is more of a scrapbook than a notebook. It’s a hopper of brain farts and observations brewing in all formats: text, images, video, and sound. It’s…

  • Where ideas get stored and intermix
  • Where content molds and takes shape
  • Where visions incubate until the timing is ripe
  • Where some concepts never the day of light

Your goal is to never let the queue go empty. You should always keep refreshing it with new content to help you sustain your thinking presence. The dull, the interesting, the ephemeral; it all goes into the Tumblr bin to age marvelously.

“I’m not writing it down to remember it later,
I’m writing it down to remember it now.” — Field Notes

Take copious notes and frequently revisit them. In generating novelty, you’ll always be two steps ahead.

What does it mean to be me?

Sociologist Erving Goffman believed that all human interaction was a theatrical performance. In his most famous book [easyazon_link identifier=”0385094027″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life[/easyazon_link], Goffman called his analysis the study of  “Dramaturgy.”

Dramaturgical analysis is the idea that we present an edited version of our selves when we meet others in person.

All the internet’s a stage

The internet, of course, adds a new layer of complexity to Goffman’s perspective. If social media is edited real life, then our dramaturgical action is the physical extension of it. We are no less authentic online than we are in person.

Goffman’s theory builds on American sociologist Charles Cooley’s ‘The Looking Glass Self’ theory. In 1902, he contextualized the individual:

“I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind.”

Keep in mind that people didn’t even think of themselves as individuals before the spread of mirrors in the 15th century.

We juggle identities online and off but each of us has a fixed character. It is our friends and family members and Google that know our truest self.

 

The peripheral things

The periphery shapes reality. We consume everything through our phones and apps likes Instagram. These tools shape the message and our interpretation of the world.

Things are rarely novel. What changes is the method in which items are delivered to human attention. People latch on to trends and make them feel new, no matter how old they are.

img_0997
The original fidget spinner dating back to 2000BC (via)

We confuse newness with progress. History rests on a gif loop of attention. The fear is that we lose all memory of how reality existed the first time.

You are the one and only

les-anderson-164520 (1)
Image by Les Anderson

‘Go out into the streets of Paris and pick out a cab driver. He will look to you very much like every other cab driver. But study him until you can describe him so that he is seen in your description to be an individual, different from every other cab driver in the world.”

Guy de Maupassant on the process of finding specific uniqueness in everybody, everything.

Think for your selfie

octavio-fossatti-37556.jpg

Your first opinion is always someone else’s. There’s nothing wrong with that; that’s just the way we learn. At first, we copy, then we pursue our own version of the truth. The truly curious will spend time doing research and originating their own thought.

Thinking takes a lot of work. You can spend years analyzing and combining disparate ideas, letting it all marinate. Only then does the big idea hit you in the shower.

If there were one answer, people would’ve stopped thinking a long time ago. What we consider truth now is what we know to work most of the time. But we’re all still guessing.

To propose new ideas is only risky because of all the pertinacity required to get others to accept them. It’s even harder in a world that twists the facts. But the facts don’t lie. They explain.

To echo William Gibson: the doctrine of the future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. What matters isn’t always popular, at least just yet.

Susan Sontag on taste

Intelligence is really a kind of taste- taste in ideas.”- Susan SontagFailure is notan option.png

“For taste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion – and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”

— Susan Sontag

From the essay “Notes on Camp,” available in Against Interpretation: And Other Essays (1964)

Everything starts on paper 

writing, note-taking, gif

Everything starts on paper.

Whether you are using post-it notes or loose leaf, paper is ideal for getting down thoughts and mapping out ideas quickly. In fact, some Google employees prohibit phones and use paper exclusively to brainstorm. The magic of writing in analog is a controlled speed, flexibility, and focus.

“Everyone can write words, draw boxes, and express his or her ideas with the same clarity.”

If computers are a bicycle for the mind, as Steve Jobs once proclaimed, then writing on paper is like taking a walk. Paper jogs the mind, it is slow yet methodical, allowing it to connect the dots between disparate things.

“As with music, so with thought: when you want clarity, you seek out paper. Paper is the slow food of thought.”

As much as technology facilitates creativity, it can also distract it. Various studies show that taking notes by hand helps students remember more. Physical books, like vinyl, are also still hanging around despite the popularity of e-readers. Meanwhile, handwritten letters are considered more meaningful because of the perceived effort it went into writing and mailing them.

Digital abundance drives up the value of scarce objects like paper. Paper is proving its longevity not just as a nostalgic medium but also because it benefits the process of thinking and planning.

“As long as everyone is thinking and writing stuff on paper, you’re on the golden path.”

Read The Google Guys Use Paper

Note to Self

via giphy

Oliver Sacks (RIP) used a different colored notebook for each of his ideas. He selected a green notebook to input his notes on philosophy.

Had he grown up a Millennial, his notebook would be his phone. He might use Evernote to categorize his notes in different folders. He might dump them all into the default Notes app on iPhone.

It doesn’t really matter how or where you place your ideas and observations when you’re on the go. The most important thing is to write them down so you can remember them later.

Note-taking is really note-talking, the act of connecting disparate ideas to better understand yourself.

“Each of us constructs and lives a “narrative,” this narrative is us.” – Oliver Sacks

What’s Your UBI?

source (1)
gif via reddit

My high school English teacher had another word for thesis. He called it UBI, for Unifying Big Idea.

Anytime I get confused or frustrated because I can’t explain something, thinking about that acronym helps me simplify my thoughts. What’s the point? What am I trying to say, in a nutshell?

One of the challenges of making statements is that they’re not proven yet. They’re merely guesses about what feels right. We need to think and talk about them more deeply to develop them further.

Jony Ive alludes to the UBI conundrum in the most recent New Yorker interview:

“My intuition’s good, but my ability to articulate what I feel was not very good—and remains not very good, frustratingly. And that’s what’s hard, with Steve not being here now.”

Jony Ive worked out his ideas with Steve Jobs the same way my English teacher helped me corroborate my thinking.

Ideas are democratic. They need to be launched, discussed, and tested about. We need other people to rebut and poke at our theories to make us clarify and justify them.

Why I Write

tumblr_inline_ofcwftJhST1qcq9hm_540.png

I write because I’m bored and writing is productive. I write because of all the arts it’s the easiest to do. All I need is a pen or keyboard or paper or computer. I write because of all the things I make it may be the only thing that lasts. The Internet archives every word, the good, bad, and mediocre. I own all these words.

I write because like a DJ, it gives me an opportunity to combine disparate things and share it with the Internet. Writing is learning. I write because I want to make sense of my surroundings. An attentive mind finds pleasure in the dullest moments.

I write to connect the dots between the now, space, and time. I write for the future. I write because it motivates me to do other things.

I write to investigate life. Writing opens up the doors to new possibilities. The more I write, the more ideas I have to play with. Writing is not my job, but it is my experiment. I refuse to see a blank page.

Why do you write?

Light Bulb Moments

Ideas spawn as soon as you stop thinking about them, and only after you experimented and done your research. After the work’s been done, the best thing you can do is allow your ideas to bake. Sleep on them. Turn your focus to something else while your brain connects all the neurons and turns them into thoughts.

Turning off your brain is just as important as turning it on. Ideas emerge when you stop thinking and step away from the work. If you can’t step away from the day to day you’ll never let the mind wander into different things that may offer the missing piece to your solution.

When you let go of thinking, thinking finds you. It finds you in the shower, in the gym, or in the car. Eureka! Therefore, persist with patience and not though force.

How to ideate:

  • Pick an idea.
  • Put in some work. Experiment.
  • Let your brain sit on your experience and connect the dots.

For some people, letting go of an idea is just a stepping stone to the next one. It’s rare that anyone succeeds the first time with their exact intent.

Back of the envelope…for starters ✍️✉️

It doesn’t matter where or how an idea emerges. What matters is that the idea exists somewhere on paper, a napkin, an envelope, a Tweet, or a blog post.

We can’t begin to assess and dissect a new concept unless we can see its basic framework and bones visually.

I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now. – Field Notes

Jack Dorsey sketched Twitter out on a napkin. Hugh MacLeod started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards.

There isn’t a perfect time, place, nor medium to write out your ideas. The most important thing is to write it down or sketch it out as the first step toward execution.

Starting is so easy but seems to be the hardest thing for people to do. We can’t write the future until we write it ourselves first. And then we can test, tweak, market, and sell the idea to see it actually works. Turning an idea into a legitimate business is the hardest part.