Life Ordinary

Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right

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The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.

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Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Happiness: The End

A while ago, in Happiness and Compassion, I had written about what Fahadh Fasil described as the biggest lesson he learnt from failure – he said it made him decide that he would only do things that made him happy. The more I read, the more I think, and the more I live, the more I start relating to what Fahadh is doing, and what Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Everything else – fame, power, money, compassion, detachment etc – is probably just the means we create.

The thing though is, even if happiness were indeed the purpose, I can see at least a couple of challenges. In this excellent read “10 truths you will learn before you find happiness“, the first point is “It is impossible for anyone else to define YOU”. This echoed my first challenge – a difficulty in defining what happiness is to me. At the next level, I felt that the paths to happiness are confusing and have many things going against them. For instance, fame – “..other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness.” (Schopenhauer) Or compassion/pity (not kindness, which I regard as a more active expression, though the following might apply to it as well) – “There is a certain indelicacy and intrusiveness in pity; ‘visiting the sick’ is an orgasm of superiority in the contemplation of our neighbour’s helplessness” (Nietzsche) As you can see, it isn’t difficult to bring each down.

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The circle of nothingness

During a recent trip to Cochin, Dad pointed to a newly constructed building and asked me if I remembered what had been there before it, since he couldn’t. Neither could I, though I might have walked/cycled/ridden/driven past it many, many times. I get quite disappointed on such occasions, because when a memory is removed, it’s almost as though a slice of my life, thin though it may be, has been taken away forever. Strange though it may seem, I feel a sense of guilt, towards myself for not retaining a complete picture of my own life, and towards the object itself. A few days later, we passed a plot on 12th Main, Indiranagar, where a commercial building is being constructed. This place will ‘always’ remain in my memory as my uncle’s house, though they moved away quite a few years ago.

All of this reminded me of Schopenhauer’s “The world is my idea“, and a post I had written more than four years ago, the last paragraph in particular. From nothingness comes an idea, it then takes a tangible shape in a mind, and then probably manifests itself in words, deeds, objects and so on. Beyond its physical life, it exists in the minds of the people with whom it has been shared, maybe in forms massively different from its original, until the minds themselves are no more, and no connection exists between the current form and the original. “Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.” ~ Marcus Aurelius  More

The people we are….with

After I shared the “We, the storytellers” post on Twitter, Surekha sparked off this interesting discussion on how we could persuade others to be less judgmental and more compassionate. I really didn’t have a fix-it-all answer and felt that it was more important that we simply practice this ourselves. That, however, did not stop me from thinking about it.

The next day, my reading list had this post, which touched upon things that get people to change their behaviour. I remembered this William James quote used in the post from something I had seen a while back at Brain Pickings.

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The Art of Live In

I borrowed the title from a post I wrote nine years ago on live in relationships. We have come quite a way since then, but I am also seeing an evolution in this narrative. I call it the same narrative because fundamentally it challenges the institution of marriage as we know it. The way I see it, marriage was an evolutionary necessity – as a relatively structured process of procreation, and thereby organising society. The words below are from a work of fiction based on the life of the Buddha, it would seem that neither is it far from truth nor have things changed much.

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So why is this institution primed for ‘disruption’ now?

Technology is one factor. The family unit made sense when younger members of the species had to be protected. As AI advances, maybe a family unit will not be necessary for safety or security. Technology also might play a hand in the physiological aspects, more on that in a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post (Emotion As A Service) marriage is as much a transactional relationship as an emotional one. To paraphrase Scott Adams,  (fromthe internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships….a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships

The second factor – advances in medicine and increasing lifespans. Imagine living up to 150. The ‘life partner’ that you chose when you were a carefree 20 year old may not be the one you’d want to have fireside conversations with in your middle age – 95. Interests, outlook, worldview, personality etc change with time. Maybe you’d be living in different cities at different stages. 

Another factor I’d consider is depleting resources – these may be natural, (on a larger scale) and economic (on an individual scale) (any thing else you can think of?) These might force the species to rethink the institution, even though it seems hardwired into the brain by now. 

I can already see several paths diverging from this point. Robots as companions for the aged is a fast developing area, it could be used for young ones in future. In a physiological context,  though we might not be there yet, s3x with robots is a distinct possibility by 2025. There’s bound to be a learning curve, but hey! 

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In a relationship context, The Atlantic had a long article on polyamory, including perspectives on how society sees them, and the challenges involved. I was actually more surprised when Bangalore Times carried an article on the subject on its front page recently. The point here is that it is getting mainstream attention, arguably the first step in societal acceptance of units that are radically different from the traditional family. Even children with DNA from three parents might soon overcome legal hurdles and become an accepted practice.  

With all these paths, and many more, the institution of marriage might become one of the many options available. Some communities might hold on to it – as a tradition. But as time progresses, both individuals and society will undergo not just transformations on the outside, but in mindset as well.  After all, isn’t evolution just a logical response to a creature’s living environment? If it is, once the evolutionary necessity has passed, even this tradition might just fade away.  

(The views expressed above are just the author’s attempts at intellectuality, and do not represent his actuality. He hopes he doesn’t have to sleep outside!) 

until next time, along came poly! 

We, the storytellers

The day after Robin Williams died, I had posted this on Facebook

This was a man whom (I thought) no one could have any ill feeling towards. He made so many people forget their worries, for at least a while, through his roles. When you saw him, you couldn’t but smile. How could such a man have any troubles? But somewhere inside him, a story was being told, one that would end his life. In a tangential way, I had related it to “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind” from the ‘One off a kind rating‘ post in which I had written of self perception, and compassion vs kindness.

Once upon a time, I used to be very judgmental of people who chose suicide, but I realised over time that people are different. Some have the strength to deal with things, others don’t. But I still wonder about one facet of this decision. Barring the ones who end their life simply because they feel they have nothing/no one left worth living for, do people take this decision because they can’t live with something they have done/not done, or they are afraid of how people would judge them for this? In both cases, the common factor is the perception people have about themselves, and how it would change.

That makes me think – how much of this self perception is built based on cues from others? I think this is very relevant in the era of social platforms, because these cues could come from a variety of people. Arguably, Facebook is already affecting our thinking and behaviour, in a warped version of the Hawthorne Effect. (a phenomenon whereby workers improve or modify an aspect of their behavior in response to the fact of change in their environment, rather than in response to the nature of the change itself. ) That’s probably why we largely see only happy stories on Facebook – because people know they’re being watched, and judged. How soon before this becomes the guiding principle in lives, their only cue for creating self perception? It can be argued that this was happening even before social platforms, but I think there is a difference in scale. If entire generations are spending more time on social platforms, their behaviour offline would probably soon start reflecting that. To stretch it, their sense of identity would be built online before being taken offline.

When you connect this to the fact that the internet is also home to the kind of taunting and trolling that can radically alter one’s perception of the self, and one’s feeling of self worth, I see a problem. In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, the collective trolling power of the internet forced his daughter off several social platforms, at least for a while. Paul Carr wrote about a generation – born before the 90s – that should count itself lucky to remember a time before such acts became the norm. I think the power each one of us has to influence the stories others tell themselves is massively magnified now, if only we could use that to be less judgmental and more compassionate. Maybe that will also affect the stories we tell ourselves.

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One off a kind rating

(‘off’ is intentional. Thanks)

A while back, in ‘The Currency of Relationships‘, I’d written this – But there is no standard currency in relationships, and my lesson from this experience is to not to take for granted that my approach is the one that works for people at the receiving end. I should spend some time first in understanding expectations, and then meeting them. Recently, a little incident on Facebook reminded me of this. But first, a step back.

Don’t laugh, but I think of myself as a kind person. This is a recent phenomenon, and one that finds a parallel in my struggles with being judgmental, though I have had more success on that front. Together, a reasonable (and sarcastic) wit, a tendency to see things from a skewed perspective and more often than not, the propensity to see humour in the worst of (others’) circumstances, have made being kind a very difficult task.  I rib people all the while, and am probably the poster guy for “People who don’t know me think I’m quiet, people who do wish I was.” It is very rarely that my intent is to hurt, I try to be mindful of all my words and actions, and that is what has probably created my own perception of the self as a kind one.

kindnessAs with all perceptions, this one too built on itself. Maybe that is why I was quite surprised when a share on Facebook (the message being the same as what you see on the left – via)  – something I believe in and try to practice – elicited one response that I was in no place to ‘preach’ this. It made me think about my self perception, and reminded me of currencies. I also gained a few perspectives – common, yet usually forgotten. (Thanks N)

One is that my words and actions have effects that I might be completely unaware of. This is not a new understanding. In fact, for a while – a couple of years ago probably- when I became aware that my words could hurt, I willfully restrained myself from saying a lot of things I came up with! I realised that it might get laughs and LOLs but I might hurt someone too. (even if that may not have been my intent) But then I realised I was just being miserable and at least with friends, I let go, thinking that I didn’t have to prove the lack of malice. The fact that I was ribbed back by many only reinforced this. My credo since then has been based on “how would I feel if I were at the receiving end?”  But maybe that is a flawed approach. After all, what gives me the right to say when a person should feel hurt and when not. I plan to be a little more careful, and if you’re a friend and reading this, give me a heads up when you think I’m going overboard. :)

The second perspective was that it is probably my ego that wants others to perceive me as kind. If I trust the objectivity of my own moral compass, I wouldn’t need a reinforcement. I should also maybe realise that I can’t have the laughs and the label.

The third perspective came from looking at kindness itself. You might say it’s semantics but I noticed that there is a difference between kindness and compassion. Arguably, compassion is about how you feel, and kindness is about what you do. I can instinctively see that on a relative scale, I am more compassionate than kind. No, this is not me asking for a new label. Both deal with empathy and understanding, but maybe compassion is only the first step to kindness.

Meanwhile, my new ‘social’ plaything ‘Secret‘ is a good reminder. Its prompt when I have to comment on a post is ‘Say something kind’. Sometimes I can, and at other times, I keep quiet. :)

until next time, a different kind

The IP Man

Disambiguation: This is about the Infinitely Patient Man. For the original, see Ip Man.

In the last post, and a few before that, (Brand &  the personal API, The path to Immortality) I’d written about our increasing ability to log and monitor our various activities (food consumption, exercise, sleep, location, to name a few) as well as apply them – for example, to measure and  course correct – manually, machine-led or using a combination. The idea of the quantified self, I’d think, is to make a better human being at least in the physiological sense to begin with.

In another line of thought, I’d also explored whether, as we proceed along this evolution, we could also create a more mindful version of ourselves – what I called a qualified self. This surfaced again a few weeks ago, as I analysed my own behaviour in a certain situation. I have been trying to be non judgmental, but it’s not easy to let go of some baggage, especially deep rooted ones that have existed for a long time. As I became grumpier (also) thanks to my irritation at not resolving my battle with inner demons and the other person’s behaviour remaining unchanged, the person at the receiving end remained his calm self. As always, I had conflicting emotions later – on one hand, guilt, for treating him thus, and on the other, a justification based on many events past and present. I also tried to put myself in his shoes and imagine how he must have felt.

That’s when I realised that the process of creating a qualified self is much more challenging because there is no objective measure of right and wrong. i.e. one can objectively quantify the input/burning of calories based on BMI, gender, age and other factors which are subjective, but on what objective scale does one decide whether one’s action/decision/thinking is right in a particular context?

What must have gone on in his head – did he face and win against the same struggles I had, or was he detached from it? Either way, it seemed to me that he was less anguished than I was. Is it his considerably larger experience of life that makes him so? It made me think – are such people, the infinitely patient ones, a key to cracking the qualified self? Is it even possible to monitor let alone apply their path? Or is it the kind of IP that refuses to bow to objectivity, and plays a part in making us what we are – human?

until next time, intellectual propriety :)

Bonus read: Achieving Apatheia

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The era of wearables

In the post on the Internet of Things last month, I’d mentioned two narratives on social products that I considered were working in tandem to shape the future of marketing, consumption, and living itself. Both using sensors – one on things (IoT), and the other on humans (Wearables, though I stubbornly use Techsessories!)  This post is on the latter.

Why I think it matters: Though nowhere remotely close to Chris Dancy levels, I have been interested in this for a while. As I mentioned in my Personal API post, I see it as an evolution of my lifelogging pursuit – from logging in experiences to sensors automatically picking up data – and something that is highly relevant to my area of work – brands. In the big picture, I also see this domain as a key player in the evolution of our species – from our persistent movement towards immortality (physical) as well as, what I hope will be, a more gradual steps towards mindfulness. (mental, emotional)

What is it? Smartwatches are just the beginning, and at a broad level, wearables can already be categorised into

(Some statistics, a primer, and a good classification to broaden your perspectives)

Where is all this going? For the scope of this post, let’s briefly look at the impact/deliverables from three points of view

Consumer: There are quite a number of views (read concerns) that wearables are probably the first step towards turning us into cyborgs. (what I refer to as the augmented human here) There is another line of thought that wonders if all of this is taking us closer to ‘sofalarity‘. I can argue the Hug Shirt both ways! I wonder if, as we race towards singularity, there is an unconscious adaptation that our species is going through to survive, or continue to thrive. Personally, I like to think that technology is giving me the means to first quantify, and then use that data (converted to information and then to insights) to consistently work towards being a better human. ( a qualified self, so to speak)  I have already taken the first step with Goqii. While there is no dearth of trackers, I found their ecosystem approach interesting. I also envision creation of personal APIs becoming easier in the next few years, allowing us to store, analyse and transmit data and information to others.

Ecosystem: At one level, there is going to be some effort in making wearables really mainstream. There is definitely going to be resistance. The answer, as always, is in using wearables as a means to address human needs. On another level, while devices are expanding in scope, quality and sheer numbers, as Chris Dancy mentions in the interview (linked earlier) interoperability is still a concern. (just as in the case of IoT) It’s not just wearables talking to each other, but talking to a larger universe of the IoT.

Brands: This domain has seen its share of brands – standalone ones as well as majors like Apple, Google and Samsung who want in on the action. There are fashion brands too, and I can imagine a near future when technology will be a hygiene factor in many kinds of apparel. While this happens on the device side, the data generated finds application across spheres – think, for example, how this can be applied in the health domain, (from medication to insurance) employment, sports and so on. Thus, there are many roles for brands – a standalone device and ecosystem with minimum connectivity, or devices and/or ecosystems that work in a complementary manner with another set and provide a product/service. As privacy concerns escalate, I believe the role of the consumer will be the key one to watch. This is the opportunity for brands to connect its business purpose to the consumer’s narrative. Brands should work towards gaining the trust of consumers early on and create seamless platforms for connecting devices, data, and users, working towards a common shared purpose.

Wearables

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From not believing that the world needed more than five computers (1943), we have reached more than 1.8 billion smartphones (source) that arguably do more than what a ‘computer’ can. So, a wearable (or a set of them) soon superseding a mobile is very much in the realms of possibility. As functions evolve, form factors will change – that’s inevitable, and on shorter cycles. The last decade in particular  has seen a massive technological evolution, but I think this is just the beginning – we’re at the cusp of a sea change in the way we live and work – about to push beyond the known boundaries of the body and mind. In the context of this evolution, Carl Jung’s profound statement would be a good one to remember – “Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

until next time, wearabouts!

P.S.  If the subject interest you, do follow my Techsessories and Health boards

P.P.S. Need a #lulz worthy wearable strategy – Check this out!