Life Ordinary

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.

Sid

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!

I won’t be the judge of that!

A few days ago, S wrote to me that she was going through my old posts and was delighted to find lower caps for ‘i’ , font change for each blog and heavy and careless use of ellipses after every three sentences. The background is that in my professional life I am a stickler for error-free content. Even until a few months ago, I’d have been irritated at myself for this and despite the painful process, would have gone ahead and corrected each post! In fact, as I told her, I had even considered this once. I occasionally refer to my own posts when I’m writing new ones and once, sometime last year, I happened to read one from 2008, with all of the things that S mentioned and more! That’s probably one of the first times that I implemented something I’d been wanting to for quite a while – stop being judgmental and to be comfortable with myself – past and present.

There’s a back story to that as well. My judgmental nature had been on an ascendant for quite a while, and coupled with a temper and wit/sarcasm, I realised that I was hurting people. As is my wont, I analysed a bit and figured that at the base of it was the fact that I was extremely unforgiving of myself. Since I drove myself to those levels, I took a higher ground and berated others when they didn’t live by those standards, across various life situations. I also understood that the work had to begin internally before I could manifest it to/on others. It wasn’t easy to forgive myself in the beginning, but I got the hang of it gradually.

KR

(The Kite Runner)

This was, and continues to be, a bit tricky. How does one maintain objectivity when being kind on oneself? When does it slide into laziness? The way I deal with it is to try and understand the relative importance of an incident in the larger scheme of things. Carrying it forward to other people was a much easier task, especially when I paused for a moment and made myself understand that behind every behaviour there is a story. The challenge here is to make sure others don’t take advantage of the new found benevolence! If you’ve gotten thus far, you’d be able to handle it.

During a recent offsite, my current boss said I was one of the most unflappable people he knew. Huge compliment, and one I totally cherished, not only because of my history in this context and therefore my progress, but also because I actually think he is one of the most composed people I’ve come across! This also allows me to bring up a related subject – praising others. One of the side effects of being harsh on myself was that I became stingy with praise. I think it was Surekha who first pointed this out to me. In Em and the Big Hoom, I saw some lovely words, and have tried to live by them.

EATBH

Anything else makes you less.” That’s probably a judgment right there, but we’ll let it pass. These days, I try to praise – not for the sake of it, but by being a little more open to it. I also try not to judge. Even if I do, I keep it to myself, and make it as transient as possible. In the era of Twitter, this does become quite challenging! It is still a work in progress, and most likely will remain that way always, but I like to think that I have gained some ground. The mantra these days is

quote-Wayne-Dyer-when-you-judge-another-you-do-not-42355

until next time, judge dread!

The world we create

A while ago, I had written about the narratives of our lives, a look at various narratives across time – from religions and nations to popular culture and brands to the internet – that have (arguably) tried to fulfill our sense of belonging. All the narratives I had considered were external in nature, though they might be dictated by our choices and preferences.

An excellent comment on the post by The Lit Room made me consider ‘the narrative of individual imagination’. As I answered, it is probably the most important one, as it takes all sorts of external stimuli, and converts it into a unique stream of consciousness. Just when I began thinking of writing a follow up post by including that aspect, I was reintroduced, thanks to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita, to the concept of ‘aham brahmasmi‘ – “every human creates his own imagined version of the world, and of himself. Every human is therefore Brahma, creator of his own aham“. I think it is impossible to crack everything that goes into the making of one’s own consciousness, which is probably what led to

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But there are at least a couple of perspectives that the book provides in terms of how one can create an ideal ‘world’ for oneself. It says, “stay true to the idea of dharma. Be the best you can be, in the worst of circumstances, even when no one is watching.” I thought a bit about what actually drives our actions, and realised that at the bottom of it is fear. (debatable) Not just one fear, but many, many fears driven by our contexts – some we acknowledge, some we don’t. George Lucas probably figured it out earlier, (see) though we might travel paths different from what Yoda has suggested. The book also states that – Fear is a constant, and faith is a choice. Fear comes from karma, from faith arises dharma. Faith in what, was the next thing I pondered over. In oneself, and a moral code that one adheres to? Or a higher power/cosmic law that governs all that happens? Or is it just a mechanical process with the fittest surviving? There are more options as well, probably, but I like to go with the first, because in the world that I create, my actions can ensure I do not have to fear.

Meanwhile, also from the book – Shiva chooses the path of asceticism and self control to control the aham, and the world it creates. Vishnu chose to live amidst materialism and yet find a way to break free – a middle path. (now I can see why Buddha is assumed to be a form of Vishnu) I think there are several degrees to choose from, and there lies the challenge. I also realise that it if each of us are creating our own worlds, we cannot really answer the questions of the world at large – a universal answer – because it is an aggregate of each of our worlds, which are different from each other and have unique rules. We can only find the answers to our own world, and through our individual paths, find our own version of the answer to the purpose of life.

until next time, muddled path

A measure of helplessness

A while back, I’d seen a Malayalam movie titled Pigman. Not really a typical movie by any standards, and that explains the poor performance at the box office. It is the story of a young man whose life pretty much becomes an abyss. (spoiler) The movie starts with him pursuing a doctorate in linguistics but failing to get it because of his research guide, who is miffed at him rejecting her advances. He sees no point in continuing and thanks to his family’s dire financial circumstances, is forced to take a job. He gets a clerical job at a pig farm courtesy a friend. A series of altercations with the corrupt management gets him demoted to the lowest job in the system – that of a pigman. He continues his protestations and the movie ends with him losing his mental faculties after being given electric shocks.

It is a depressing story, and one can really feel his helplessness as his life spirals downwards degree by degree. In fact, the entire theme of the movie is failures in life, and it is as though, the intent is to drive home the point that some lives are meant to be lived in a continued state of helplessness.

I think we have all felt helpless at some points in time, in varying degrees. Helpless in traffic (probably tactical helplessness, for the lack of a better word) at one end to probably the other extreme of watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything to prevent it or alleviate the suffering. I couldn’t help but compare it against what I’d call (again for the lack of a better word) chronic helplessness -a life consistently going down in quality (defined in this context as standard of living) – like the life of Pigman’s protagonist. In turn, I also couldn’t help but compare this to someone who has never had a decent standard of life. I wondered whether, among the last two, the last was better – if one hadn’t really experienced a higher standard of living, one wouldn’t know what one was missing, and therefore the suffering would be lesser than someone who had experienced it earlier, but could no longer do so because of circumstances.

And that is the really enigmatic thing about this business of living – there is no objective measure of mental anguish. If there were, probably we’d be better at helping those less fortunate than us. That would at least be a step up from feeling helpless at the injustice of it all. Help more, to feel less helpless. Sounds like a plan?

until next time,

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The path to immortality

I’d written earlier on how brands could use an individual’s data (the personal API) to fit themselves into his/her narrative and had used Nike as an example.  But this data could also be used by fitness and health companies to discover ‘fault lines’, gradually delay wear and tear, and one day, totally prevent a machine shutdown. This video - A Day in the life of Tim Ferriss (watch for a minute from 3:25) – gave me an idea of how we might be moving faster in that direction because of  data collection.

Back in 2011, in ‘God in the details‘, I’d opined that over a period of time, when our data capture capabilities were evolved enough, and we had a lot of data on people on a lot of their behaviour, consumption etc, we would potentially be able to answer the most profound questions about our existence, purpose etc, and unlock further dimensions. I was extremely happy to read the same thought in this (long, but) amazing read called ‘Navigating Stuckness‘. “I could sit safely at my desk and write computer programs to gather vast amounts of Internet data, which I thought could finally answer timeless questions like “what is love?” and “what is faith?” with precision and clarity.

On one hand, data could help us in our path to immortality, and on the other, it could provide us the answers to fundamental existential questions. I wonder what would happen first, because, as I wrote in PhilosoRapture, I also wonder if those questions would remain relevant once we became immortal.

Meanwhile, the other track to immortality that is rapidly developing is that of the augmented human, where human parts (including the brain) will be replaced by mechanical replicas. We’re only a part of evolution, as this wonderful, humbling video would show, and it is probably only our ego that makes us believe (if we do) that we’re the endpoint. Maybe, there will be a species later, of whom we’d be probably be creators, for whom our questions will seem irrelevant and who will have their own sets of answers to seek.

cs

(quote via, image via)

So it would seem that whichever way we approach immortality, by the time we get there, chances are, it may not be that significant.

The year we conquer morality, by the way, is 2040, as per Ray Kurzweil. I’ll be 62 then, or maybe not, or maybe it won’t matter, or maybe…  :)

until next time, live long and proper :)