“Software is eating the world”

Quoted here, from which also this:

The connected world we’re building may resemble a computer system, but really it’s just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Evgeny Morozov would agree.

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Obama’s civility in a polarised world

We wrote last week about political polarisation, through which we include two different-but-related things: (1) exaggerated debate about public services being the norm; and (2) the role of interest groups in polarising politics.

Then up popped a video comparing Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s ways of dealing with hecklers:

This echoed David Brooks’s piece reflecting on the civility of Obama’s presidency, and the fact we’ll miss it when it’s gone:

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

What I note about Obama is that he always plays the ball and not the player. He engages in the debate and doesn’t resort to name-calling, ad hominem  attacks or the tone someone employs.

As you would hope, he engages at the upper scales of the Hierarchy of Disagreement:

DH0: Name-calling

DH1: Ad Hominem

DH2: Responding to tone

DH3: Contradiction

DH4 Counterargument

DH5: Refutation

DH6: Refuting the central point

Our polarised political debate means Obama’s civility stands out. Perhaps we can restore civility and try to engage in what people are saying and why, rather than who they are and how they say it?

Twitter: It’s not you, it’s me

TwitterDying
Image via A Gentleman’s Journal

There I was, about to write another post on why I’m not as enamoured with Twitter as I once was (I have previous on this). The latest addition would have been prompted by this post on why Twitter still isn’t a social network, and particularly this bit:

[U]nless you’re a power user, someone sharing a unique story or a chance witness to something big, Twitter is essentially a broadcast you’re viewing[.]

But then Paul Clarke wrote a characteristically insightful and honest piece about Twitter. He notes:

[I]f you wanted to keep Twitter fresh for you, you needed to work at it.

And what did we do?

[W]e didn’t.

Dagnammit, he’s right.

For the last two years, it’s me who hasn’t put in the effort I used to with Twitter. The disappointment I have when my timeline isn’t what I want it to be is reminiscent of how I feel when I only get bills through my letterbox or promotional emails in my inbox. But there’s a reason that happens, too: I don’t send letters and only get personal emails if I’ve sent one myself.

So, you see, Twitter – it isn’t you, it’s me.

The issue I now face is that the only time someone says this is when they’re about to break up.

Always carrying a notebook

DV notebook
One of da Vinci’s notebooks. Source: The Leonardo Project

A good friend at university used to have a pen in their pocket all the time. We called it Wrighty’s Indie Pen, our sentiment a mixture of bemusement, disparagement and admiration.

Only in the last 18 months have I understood that Wrighty was on to something. In that time, I have carried an A6 notebook and pen in my pocket at all times and it has been fantastic. The notebooks have all sorts in them – thoughts, reminders, work, useful numbers, sketches, lists etc. – and I can’t now see a time when I wouldn’t have one in my pocket.

I mention this because of reading 9 things that happen when you carry a sketchbook with you nonstop. From there, it is a short hop to the positive difference carrying a notebook can make and the unanswerable question of which style notebook to use.

There is then the matter of how others have used their notebooks – here are 20 famous examples (I don’t know why they’re all men’s notebooks).

It’s a different experience entirely to making notes on your phone/tablet or carrying a more formal notebook of, say, A5 or A4 size. I commend the notebook to you.

We may already have our answer to the future of Twitter

Thanks to @CommCats for pointing me in the direction of a post from HR blogger @HRManNZ[1] on the decline of social media and blogging.

Some choice questions:

  • Have we reached a saturation point where every element of HR has now been battered, blogged and tweeted into submission?
  • Are our attention spans now so short we can’t read anything more than a one paragraph summary without passing judgement and moving on?
  • Is there simply too much out there that it’s getting harder and harder to find the quality and the different perspective?
  • Are there too many other ways of getting messages out there now?
  • Has the move to accessing everything online via phone made it harder to really take things in?
  • Are people consuming their learning in different ways?
  • Or, are we just consumed by group think and boring each other senseless?

and an interesting reflection:

Perhaps there is just too much noise and it’s just time for a little more quiet reflection in the HR and business world rather than trying harder to shout above it.

This is right in line with a consistent thread of thought here – see, for example, Whither Twitter(?) and No News is Good. This way of thinking has lead to my trying to blog, read and watch films more and tweet less in 2016 and numerous Twitter breaks over the last two years.

What I think is most interesting, though, is that HRManNZ‘s thoughts are related to a specific area of expertise (i.e. HR). Part of me had been thinking the issues of social media and blogging had been general ones, but his post alerts me to the fact that the problems actually apply just as much – if not more – to specific areas (in my case, that’s primarily social care, health and public service reform, where there is indeed a weekly avalanche of ‘content’).

We can all ponder the question of the future of Twitter and the like. If you’re already personally feeling like you’re not enjoying it much and are looking around for different ways to be, to reflect and to be in touch with interesting people, we may already have our answer.

[1] – A man called Rich W who also enjoys cricket. He must be right!

Solidarity amongst the Grapes of Wrath

I first read the Grapes of Wrath when I was 17. Re-reading it now I realise how little I understood it then but that, at some level, it must have helped to form a sense of anger at the injustice and inequality in the world.

Of the many causes of this injustice and inequality, I was struck this time by Steinbeck’s description of the anonymity of the banks and companies causing so much misery, and the way in which they are somehow more than the people who make them up:

The Bank – or the Company – needs – wants – insists – must have – as though the Bank or Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. These [men] would take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because they were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and monsters all at the same time.

Steinbeck skewers the supposed helplessness of individuals who work within these monsters (in a way that, to be frank, brings to mind what we often hear people who work in large public sector bureaucracies say):

‘It’s not us, it’s the bank. A bank isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either. That’s the monster…’

‘… Yes, but the bank is only made of men.’

‘No, you’re wrong there – quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.’

What’s worse, the anonymity of the banks and companies is combined with a lack of understanding of the land, histories and culture their actions are displacing. This picks up a theme Steinbeck covers in a series of seven journalistic essays he wrote in 1936, The Harvest Gypsies, which provided much of the research and material for The Grapes of Wrath. There he notes:

Having been brought up in the prairies where industrialization never penetrated, the [migrant farmer families] have jumped with no transition from the old agrarian, self-containing farm where nearly everything used was raised or manufactured, to a system of agriculture so industrialized that the man who plants a crop does not often see, let alone harvest, the fruit of his planting, where the migrant has no contact with the growth cycle.

There is a sense of hope, though – represented most directly in the character of Tom Joad and more mystically through Rose of Sharon. The contrast between “I” and “we” –

This is the beginning – from ‘I’ to ‘we’… the quality of owning freezes you forever into ‘I’, and cuts you off from the ‘we’.

– provides through communal effort a basis on which Man will always, somehow, progress:

This you may say of man – when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back.

There is solidarity amongst the grapes of wrath.

Tom Joad is often portrayed as the hero of The Grapes of Wrath, and is given this famous speech (in both the book and 1940 film adaptation):

I think the real hero, though, is Ma Joad. Steinbeck describes her like this:

She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practice denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended on. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seems to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.

She herself describes the role of women compared to men like this:

This seems to me right, and why, perhaps, people “is aimed right at goin’ on… Jus’ tryin to live the day, jus’ the day.”

Brad Pitt and the 2008 financial crisis

Two films about the financial crisis of 2008, both with Brad Pitt in them. Is he trying to tell us something?

I enjoyed both Killing Them Softly and the recent The Big Short, though the latter’s editing takes a bit of getting used to. (It’s based on the book by Michael Lewis, of The Blind Side and Moneyball, which also had Brad Pitt in it.)

As films, what was most interesting (alongside the editing choices) is that both chose to break the fourth wall.

The Big Short’s approach is audacious: nearly all of the main characters talk directly to the audience, and there are three breaks in the narrative in which people-as-themselves (including Selena Gomez and Richard Thaler sitting together at a casino table, obviously) explain some of the complex financial instruments central to the crash (such as Collateralised Debt Obligations, or CDOs).

Killing Them Softly’s fourth wall technique is much more subtle. An edit chooses to maintain the shot of a camera mounted on a car door as the car door opens and closes. Some have suggested this is a bit of a show-off shot, but I take both films’ breaking of the fourth wall to highlight that what they’re talking about – the economy – is about “you”, i.e. us.