Think About It

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!

A mind beyond auto pilot

The world we create for ourselves, as I wrote a fortnight back, is a filtered version of all the stimuli we encounter. As we grow older, our stream of consciousness gets more populated because of our experiences and we automatically try to find patterns. That’s the brain’s basic learning process which helps us to navigate stimuli. The world though, does become complex, the navigation more difficult, and that’s probably how we slip into auto pilot.

We think we’re conscious of the things we do, and we are, at a superficial level, but are we really mindful? The simple experiment to do, and I think I’ve written this earlier, is to re-imagine the last hour of your life. How many actions you can remember is probably an indicator of mindfulness. There’s no question that the auto pilot is useful, but I doubt we’re in actual control of the takeover, and that’s where the problem is. Our decisions and our actions become mechanical, and even when they’re not, they’re dictated by filters designed by the auto pilot.

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But I think there is hope. One of the best 2014 trend reports I’ve seen – by Zambezi – has ‘Mindful Society’ as its first trend. While that is more a take on digital devices and our time spent on them, the JWT trend forecast has ‘Mindful Living’ as their final trend, and talks about a growing interest to experience everything in a more present, conscious way. I also think that we might have unwittingly figured out a way to start out on this. One of the hottest trends this year is the quantified self - self knowledge through numbers - it encourages people to monitor all aspects of their physical, emotional, cognitive, social, domestic and working lives. (via)

At this point, it is more focused on the physiological aspects, and there will most likely be a deluge of devices, services and allied products that would be an end in itself. However, it is also possible that we will truly understand our body, as numbers show the impact of our behaviour and consumption, and as a result, we’ll become more mindful in our actions. And maybe, just maybe, once we’re done with that, we’ll begin trying to do the same for our mind, and the decisions it makes. It’s difficult to imagine how that will work out, I agree, but hey, even five years back, did you think something you wear on your wrist could give you analytics on your sleep patterns?

until next time, a qualified self :)

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.

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(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 :)

Notion states

My last post on the subject of home was in the context of the multicultural world we are creating, how in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity we might end up creating a homogeneous world, and whether the idea of home would change with time, as we begin to choose places that connect to our soul over the soil we were born in. (soul vs soil courtesy Pico Iyer)

One of my main punching bags in the institutional realignment line of thinking is the concept of the nation state, more specifically its relevance in a massively connected world. A simplistic view is that economics, trade and many other things might be better off without them, given how much of an enabler technology is turning out to be, and geo politics will anyway be a lesser phenomenon if there aren’t any nation states. Arguable, yes.

However, I had very little idea on the replacement concept. Geography (land) would exist and would have to be organised in some way. What way? In a wonderful display of appropriateness, Wired gave a possible answer – in the form of a post titled “Software Is Reorganizing the World“. I loved the concept of ‘geodesic distance’, and the mapping of not nation states but states of mind. (soul) The idea of (what is now) cloud communities taking physical shape is fantastic! While it might sound far fetched, it really isn’t – the post gives historical precedence and emerging patterns to back up the idea. As does Tony Hsieh’s The Downtown Project in the present day to transform the decaying and blighted part of the old Vegas Strip into the most community-focused large city in the world.

Around the same time, I came across this Facebook (official) note titled “Coordinated Migration“, (thanks MJ) which shows how Facebook is using ‘hometown’ and ‘current city’ descriptions to track migratory patterns across the world. Probably, in a few years, this would be a mapping everyone would take a keen interest in, to find kindred souls, and to be what they are destined to be.

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until next time, a state of bliss

PhilosoRapture

In one of the slides in the presentation I shared last week, I had touched upon institutional realignment, and ‘health’ as one of the drivers. But the origins of this thought go back at least 4 years to The Man..the machine, and  Life…streamers, and the subject of immortality and the path to it – the augmented human – have since then made several appearances here – ‘The Immortal’s Reality‘, ‘Back to Eternity‘,  ’Your Next Avatar‘, and Remember the Feeling to name a few. As I read these posts recently, I realised (again) that the possibility of the current version of the human being just another step in evolution is a humbling one.

On one hand, I remembered the story of Yudhishtira and the Yaksha, and the answer to a part of Question 9. The Yaksha asks, ‘What is the greatest wonder?‘ and Yudhishtira answers “Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to/think they will live forever. O Lord, what can be a greater wonder?” On the other hand, I also read that Google (which shares its first two letters with God) has invested in a company that will work on combating aging and disease. Google is not the first company to attempt this, and scientists are already figuring out how to reverse ageing, but it does have the Ray Kurzweil advantage. (also read) This is promising to be a fight to the death! :)

On the same day that the Google article was published, my favourite thinker on the subject – Scott Adams – posted an article on our ‘choice’ of immortality- one was the Google way of doing away with aging, the second was we would be able to transfer our mind to robots, and the last was transferring our minds into virtual worlds. I am inclined towards the augmented human route – body parts getting replaced one by one, until we become a ‘Ship of Theseus‘ and a perfect example of the paradox. But one way or the other, it seems as though we’re destined to be immortal. The funny thing is that despite that, the question would remain – ‘what is life and why do we exist?’ I wonder if an eternity would be enough to answer it. Or probably, our state of consciousness would be such that we wouldn’t feel this urge for an answer. After all, according to my 500th photo on Instagram,

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The end of death is probably the end of philosophical questions as well. Whether that is a good thing is an open question. Or not. After all, Carl Sagan did say “I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.” :)

until next time, cogito ergo hmm

P.S. Not a big fan of donuts, but a fantastic take on the subject of life and its context - http://imgur.com/K6EKeRW

A different kind of prosperity

A couple of months back, there was a very heated debate (mild term) based on an article that was titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” and (also) dealt with something that has occupied my thoughts for a while now – the sense of entitlement. It had a very simplistic formula on happiness : Happiness = Reality – Expectations, and the author’s take was that a sense of entitlement/being special heightened expectations and when that collided with reality, Gen Y’s happiness suffered. Another key factor in this was they are also regularly ‘taunted’ by people who are doing better – simply because the latter share their successes much more.

I must say that my observations on the sense of entitlement have led me to believe that it’s not totally an age thing. I do agree that societal and lifestyle changes have led to parents becoming more indulgent, but I think the larger culprit is mass publishing platforms –  the ability to broadcast one’s thoughts to large number of people. It is enhanced when the publisher realises he/she has an audience. It does seem higher in younger groups but that’s only because they have been exposed to these platforms much earlier in their life than an earlier generation and therefore do not have the alternate perspectives and experiences of the latter. But the entitlement discussion is for another day.

An interesting point made in the article was that Gen Y wanted fulfilling careers. What does not come out though is what defines ‘fulfilling’. Is it the emotional satisfaction of working towards a shared purpose, or is it the perks that come with a high-flying career? I suspect that fulfilling at this point swings more towards the material success that the latter provides. Umair Haque has an interesting take called ‘Growthism‘, a devolved form of capitalism, whose dogma is to achieve growth at all costs and according to the author prevents us from developing a sophisticated conception of what prosperity is. It does seem fluffy but that’s probably because we have been conditioned by various institutions for a long while now.

But I sense a change is on its way. For instance, thanks to this post, I came to know of The Prosperity Index, which goes beyond the GDP and economic success based models of measuring prosperity of nations. While this is indeed a positive step, I think true change will happen when constituents like the Gen Y mentioned earlier begin to look at currencies beyond money for a sense of fulfillment, and happiness. In this must-read article titled “Who Will Prosper in the New World“, the author mentions “People who don’t need money” - people who have the incomes of the lower middle class and the cultural habits of the wealthy or upper middle class.

I think we’re at the beginning of a new cycle – a generation will start ignoring the paradigms of success and fulfillment set by its predecessors and their institutions, and use the fabulous technologies that are evolving to craft its new narrative of happiness. I also think that my generation might be the casualty of two large concepts at war with each other, but maybe that’s what it takes for a civilisation to be entitled to its prosperity….

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until next time, changelings

P.S. On a related note, do read ‘On Lifestyle Rigidity

Guided by fear

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I have this habit of adding a bookmark fold at the bottom of the page when I want to refer to it again. It is quite a task when I have to figure out much later what line in the page I’d originally bookmarked for! These days, Instagram solves it. At some point, I’m sure I can search my feed with a #quote hashtag and retrieve all the ‘bookmarks’ easily. Yay!

“And the Mountains Echoed” had many such bookmarks. (still an unconscious habit despite the Instagram method) But this one has to be my favourite – “..but most people have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they are afraid of. What they don’t want.” I can easily confess that a large share of my actions is to preclude some dystopian version of my old age. (one) Many a time, this leads me to choose cautious paths over (what I think might be) more emotionally fulfilling ones, and even ones that I think might be leading me to my purpose.

But when I thought about it a bit more, I realised that it can be read positively too – after all I am afraid of being switched off without knowing why I was here, and that’s what makes it an obsession! Also, the ‘afraid-don’t want’ factor often drives me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, so it’s possibly even pushing me towards my purpose, albeit from a different direction. Just a form of reduction? :) It’s probably not a coincidence that my second favourite quote from the book is “When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour

until next time, fear off

The narratives that we drive

It probably started with the ‘narrative’ post, but a few things I read later made me wonder about our choices of narratives and where this could be leading to. Some narratives happen to us depending on our circumstances – time, geography etc, and some we choose of our own volition, or so it seems. Continuing from the earlier post, I think it’d be safe to say that with a more connected world, our ability to choose narratives has been heightened. Abundance of creation, and consumption. I think this was the related fantastic little piece of content that triggered this entire line of thought. It has some thoughts on material consumption, and though delivered differently, it has some profound insights as well.

Partly thanks to that abundance, the noise around us has also increased, and has found better ways of being amplified. To quote Clay Shirky,

It is our misfortune, as a historical generation, to live through the largest expansion in expressive capability in human history, a misfortune because abundance breaks more things than scarcity.

In fact, one could argue that compulsive consumption (material, and otherwise) is one of the reasons for our ‘emptying out‘. (do read) As I was writing this, I had a sense of deja vu, and some searching pointed me to this, written 3 years back, in which I tried to figure out whether there was a middle path between a self that was driven by others’ perceptions and one that was driven by a moral compass dictated by few external stimuli. In that post, I had quoted from Paul Graham’s ‘addiction’ post,“we will increasingly be defined by what we say no to” I think that still holds true.

In this era of abundance, what narratives should we choose to be part of? How can one be objective, is one even right by being objective? An excellent post whose advice I hope to implement more is this. I really couldn’t disagree with any of the 30 things mentioned, it just seemed intuitively right. But I think this would serve as an excellent first lesson..

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until next time, an open and shut existence

The narratives of our lives

This wonderful post at Ribbonfarm got me thinking about places as narratives. Specifically, it reminded of something I wrote a few years ago on the subject – Watermark. The conclusion of the post that got me thinking was this - The space we inhabit is more topological than ever as we locate our positions within networks instead of maps and this may be the most true narrative about the present age: No matter where in the networked world we’re coming from or traveling to, we’re already there.

Indeed, places were probably the earliest narrative that existed – in our early days as a species, we probably didn’t move away much from the place we were born. As civilisation evolved, I think many more institutional narratives were added – religion, nation, culture, and so on. In the era of consumption, even brands (media and otherwise) have attempted to invade the space. For example, in our own lives, there are many narratives that we consciously or otherwise become part of – the kind of books we read, the music we listen to, the movies we watch – in short, popular culture. Each generation has its own set – from Ramayan on TV to Facebook.

Sometime back, I had written about the internet being the zeroth place - the one that supersedes all the other places, including the physical ones, in our life. Especially with a social layer, it has the capability to accommodate all our narratives – individual and societal. The Ribbonfarm post talks about how the default nature of the digitised era is to store, and no matter how much data our society manages to produce, we’re even better at finding places to keep it. In that sense, it isn’t just geography that the internet seems to have removed as a driver, but time itself. The other day, when I was reading The Confusion, I happened to read a post from 2005 which summed up how I felt about The Baroque Cycle in general. Yes, I tweeted about it. :) But I still can’t be sure about the evolution, and wonder if the abundance of storage might drive us to consciously seek out ways where the information will not be stored. eg. the rise of Snapchat.

I have always felt that narratives are a way to fulfill our sense of belonging. Across time, this role has been played by several entities. The internet has made it possible for even the smallest of niches to have its own narrative. Where does it go from here?

until next time, comment on the narration? :)