Relationships

Building Slack

(no, not the product!)

Towards the end of Life Menus, I had mentioned how I have quite a ‘scarcity mindset’ when it comes to money and time. I don’t think there will be enough, and many of my thoughts and actions are influenced by this. As explained very well in Scarcity, (highly recommended book, and thanks @shefaly) this is related to tunnelling, and my ‘inability’ at a certain point in time to see the larger picture and the broader consequences of my immediate actions.

One of the ways I have tried to beat it (and the book also has a term for it) is to create what’s called slack. [Remember the space between stimulus and response quote I keep using?] The reason I’m very interested in slack is because it can not just help me maintain equilibrium within myself, but also enable some sort of control in my relationship with others.  More

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 overhaul of currency

Back in 2012, in my first post on institutional realignment, I’d written this – “…my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money – will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better.” In the two years since, this movement has not only begun, but is also figuring out its own dynamics. I had expected, or wanted, a disruption of money, but it will most likely be a transition. At this stage, I see at least three broad areas to frame this movement -the democratisation of finance, alternate currencies and marketplaces for value exchange.

Democratisation of finance: This is probably where it began, because the internet has a reputation for removing intermediaries who do not add value in this case, financial institutions. From projects in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe to social investments like RangDe and Milaap, there are now many ways to mobilise funds for me and you from people like me and you, according to personal passions, interests and belief systems. I’ll add more to this in the ‘marketplace’ section.

Alternate currencies: Arguably, money as an institution has built a network involving processes, dependencies and establishments keeping in mind the dynamics of an earlier era. A civilisation connected by the www may find these tedious and irrelevant, and thus it’s only natural that it builds its own institutions. Bitcoin (a good introductory guide) is the one that made this phenomenon (relatively) mainstream, to the point that it even has ATMs. Bitcoin may or may not survive, it is probably the Napster in its domain, it has changed the game irretrievably. While on the subject, do read this fantastic tongue-in-cheek take on how it’d be if the roles were reversed – a cash based mechanism replacing digital currency. Meanwhile, there are other currencies similar to Bitcoin, and then there are completely different thoughts – for example, Pay With a Tweet. Which leads us to the various payment mechanisms that are being built.

Marketplaces & Value Exchange: While the other two are the dynamics, this is where the mechanics play a part as well. In the ‘democratisation’ section, I had referred to several platforms that aid both discovery and action. There are many more stories in this line – from AgreeIt, an app that allows crowdfunding from friends on Facebook to crowdsourcing for emotional advice, ideas and so on to selling one’s reservation at a restaurant/spot in a line through Shout to  a ‘new media company’ Ideapod that wants to “amplify the ideas that shape our world, create genuine and enduring dialogue around ideas and spread ideas that matter through new and traditional media channels.” to ordering food from neighbours, (Eatro in London and Imli – a startup I mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator- closer to home) there are various models of value exchange that are shaping themselves. In fact, the entire ‘social commerce via collaborative consumption‘ route is based on these marketplaces. (a few good perspectives and stats on its drivers here)

But, irrespective of the currency, every transaction requires (another) key element – trust. The social web is also building its own mechanics for this – from relatively generic clout mechanisms (Klout, Kred and the likes) to more context specific ones like LinkedIn or GitHub or even Wiki and review mechanisms. (from Amazon to TripAdvisor to Foursquare to GoodReads to Zomato) We earn trust through our knowledge and actions in these mechanisms. We earn social currency. That brings me to the final portion – how does all of this impact brands and what would be their role?

Brands & the trust economy: Across the ages, corporations have been built on competitive advantages pertinent to the economies they operated in. I found a fantastic illustration in this context here

Economies and competitive advantages

I think relationships are indeed going to be the major competitive advantage in the future, and if so, the currency that would play a bigger role than money would be trust. As in many other developments prior to this, there are opportunities here for brands to weave themselves into the consumer’s narratives and go beyond transactional relationships, and to earn social currency. Many of them are already on it, finding ways to earn consumer trust and helping him/her develop and change perspectives about various currencies and relationships between them. Since we’re talking of finance, let’s use an example in that domain. Fidor bank helps its consumers discover crowd sourcing options, staying true a bank’s generic commitment of excellent wealth management. Yes, it’s still money, but it understands that it can be deployed beyond traditional options. In the process, it also helps the consumer to belong to a community.

Brands actually have an option to join in wherever there is consumer spending. Nike+, as usual, did something back in 2012 – they allowed runners to trade in (running) mileage for Nike goods (I had shared the video in the institutional realignment post too) While this ties in beautifully with Nike’s business purpose, maybe some brands would have to lean a little more towards the consumer side and get into relatively unrelated narratives, and a relationship, before connecting it back to the business purpose. For example, airBaltic’s loyalty program Baltic Miles rewards frequent fliers who jog enough to burn off the same number of calories as miles they’ve flown. One of the aspects of agile marketing would be to enable identification of opportunities early. For example, imagine Coke getting into the act in Beijing’s first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

In what might seem like a ‘changing of goalposts’, just as brands are beginning to vaguely realise that their currencies of engagement with consumers need to change, the consumer’s relationship with the common currency of transaction – money – is also changing. The two are very related, and brands need to tackle both to have meaning and relevance in a consumer’s life, because if (as Godin says) “money is a story“, we’re probably nearing a plot twist.

until next time, the end of money’s monopoly

P.S. For another detailed look at the subject, you’d want to read Gauravonomics’ post on ‘The Future of Money‘.

Emotion as a Service

More than a year back, I had written about institutional realignment and had briefly mentioned the institutions of marriage and parenting. ‘The currency of relationships‘ made me think of this, and family – immediate and extended – as a societal construct/contract/ institution, and probably even as a tradition. Where we are born, and whom we are born to, are apparently out of control, but we do have an illusion of control courtesy the choices we make as we go along. Thanks to these choices, our lifestyle and our perspectives may follow a trajectory that is totally different from the circumstances and people we grew up with/in. This is not just about the people from our childhood/youth, but is a continuous process through life. Each of us find our own ways to deal with the constant flow of people through our lives. These are again choices, and like most choices involves some amount of sacrifice and bring with them their own set of consequences.

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I loved that Goethe paraphrase, because I think it sums up our relationships very well. At the risk of sounding cynical, (or receiving a ‘speak for yourself’ comment) I’d say that we’re increasingly becoming selfish as a species. I have always had the notion that most relationships are contextual, and it would be difficult to scale our emotions/feelings for others for an indefinite time frame. Yes, I do acknowledge there are exceptions, but that’s what they are – exceptions. Do a quick test and find out how many people across your life you’re still in touch with – bouts of nostalgia not included?

It is with all this as the backdrop that I read Scott Adams’ “The Future of Marriage“. It articulates very well a thought that had crossed my mind earlier. (Of course, he obviously explores it way better than I could have) He deconstructs the institution of marriage and argues that marriage made sense “when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met.” Now, he says, the internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships. In other words, a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. He tempers everything by saying that in the future, marriage may be one of the many options available. By sheer coincidence, and in a different context, I came across this quote attributed to Steve Macone “A tradition is a habit whose logic has faded“.

I thought about this in the context of the expectations I had mentioned in the ‘currency of relationships’ post. If the institution of marriage can have a barter economy, why not other relationships? After all, isn’t every relationship a barter at its core? It’s just that we are rarely comfortable with voicing our expectations in the case of an emotional ‘transaction’, quantitatively or qualitatively. (generalising) Parents expect their children to look after them when they are old, in return for bringing you up; relatives expect you to return the favours they once did for you, and so on.

So who knows, maybe our pace of life and our need to be (seen as) fair in all our relationships will conspire to form a barter ecosystem that offers emotion as a service. It is possible that an alternate path to prosperity might take us in a different direction, but in the era of the quantified self and the augmented human, when we slowly transition our selves into the cloud, maybe ‘Emotion as a Service’ (like)  is not an impossibility. What do you think?

until next time, a qualified self

The currency of relationships

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Some people know me way too well! :)

A few days ago, I received a message that gave a jolt to my perception of how I deal with other people and what they make of it. I had written this post sometime back on taking friends for granted, and while that was in the specific context of friendship, this is an approach I extend to all relationships, be it transactional or emotional. I like to think that I’m fair in my approach and try to give back more than I get. But apparently, at least according to one person, I am not, and am “Mr.Use and Throw”. It hurt because I have always acknowledged the help that I’d received, to that person and others. I have not had an opportunity to repay it in kind, but whenever I have felt that my presence would bring happiness, I have made it a point to be there. I did reply with my perspective on the accusation, but it led me to think of the subject and how our actions are perceived by others.

In this case, for instance, there were possibly expectations from me that I had not known of – not of a monetary kind, I think, but some other kind of help or acknowledgement. (Generalising) We live in an increasingly transactional world, where we are able to quantify all sorts of things and are also able to throw money at issues/problems/situations to resolve them. In scenarios where that is not applicable, we use our judgment to repay a gesture of kindness/affection/love. Over a period of time, I have dealt with the latter by acknowledgment and thanks in word and deed, and by paying it forward. 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. When the price and currency are not agreed upon at the outset, you will need to keep paying until both parties have agreed that there are no dues.

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until next time, emotional monthly installments

P.S. and a happy Thanksgiving 😉

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Audrey Niffenegger

It is easy to treat this book as a simple love story, with the added twist of time travel, but it goes much beyond that, and in that lies the magic. The love story of Henry DeTamble and Clare, who meet when when she is six and he is thirty six, though he’s only elder to her by eight years. They get married when she’s twenty two and he’s thirty.

That doesn’t even begin to describe the story of a man, whose genetic disorder causes him to time travel unpredictably. So, without warning, he finds himself disappearing from his present and appearing in some time in the past or the future, stark naked. It is only his love for Clare that keeps him going as they try to lead a normal life.

If it had continued this way, it would just be a good story, what actually makes it a wonderful read is the wonderful way the climax has been developed. Sadness, hope and an appreciation for things that really matter. (the last matches my perspective)

I wouldn’t consider science fiction and romance a natural pairing, and so, the author must be credited for blending it superbly. While these two are definitely the themes, the sheer lack of control in two lives which so desperately want to be together, makes one ask deeper questions on the nature of life and human existence.

Of Social Media Baubles

I read Umair Haque’s post – The Social Media Bubble, through the prism of  ‘interesting’ vs ‘popular‘, the subject of my last post. In the post, Haque’s biggest gripe with social media, the way it is now, is the low quality of ties between the people who are connected. Thin relationships, he calls them and he has five supporting arguments – the disproportionate rise in the average number of ‘friends’ vs trust, the creation of more intermediaries rather than removal of old ones, hate (and I keep ranting about this on the other blog – trigger happiness), exclusion (again, something from the other blog – the clique friendly web), and lack of intrinsic value (and therefore the need to monetise, perhaps by ‘extractive, ethically questionable ways’). He also sees three major casualties because of this – inefficient attention allocation, investment in low quality content, and the weakening of the Internet as a force for good.

Now, the archives of posts here and on the other blog would show that I am sometimes frustrated and disappointed with a lot of activities on the social web, its usage, and therefore the direction in which it is going. But then again, I still have faith in the social web, and believe what we’re going through is the phase of transition, a time between fundamental shifts in the way we interact, and I’d be naive to expect it to be smooth. Also, unlike the earlier forms of media and communication, the web (and mobile) seem to have a much smaller gestation time between disruptions. I now tend to believe that this IS the way its going to be for quite a long time, because we’ve only started exploring avenues and possibilities. So, extrapolating current usage patterns to the future in a disruptive scenario looks flawed to me. But yes, like any other ardent faithful, I too am looking for signs.. and thoughts.

So while I did agree a lot with what was written in the post, and considered it a very good read, I was even more happy to read two replies to that post – “Rethinking Thin: Social Relationships in Social Media“, by Adrian Chan, and “Umair Haque is another new spatialist” by Stowe Boyd.

Adrian Chan does a great job in deconstructing Haque’s post. He first argues that the logic and analytic of social network analysis cannot be based on the attributes and qualities of human relationships and social organization. He maintains that in the former, the tie (and its not the same as a relationship) is more significant than the node. (person) The (sometimes) asynchronous and unequal communication facilitated by the medium is also a point well made. The semantics of “social”, when explored through the meanings of ties, interactions, communication and relationships is something I found very enlightening. On the whole, I agree that these tools are modes and means of producing communication, and offer us means to form ties, interact, possibly communicate and then over a period of time, even establish a relationship. But the ties can be just that, and remain to be re-used in other contexts and at other times too, by people I may not have a relationship with, until then. Its a post you really must read, and I must confess that I’m still (re) reading it to truly grasp all the arguments.

Stowe Boyd argues that Haque is ‘undervaluing the utility of weak ties’ and then brings in three of his own thoughts – ‘social has not gone far enough’, whatever is there has been ‘commoditized by the corporate types’, and a worry about the governance of the social web. The common thread that I sensed (with the paragraph above) was how the dynamics of broadcast media have been brought into play in blogging and microblogging. (attributes of one system forced on another). The other wrong attribution, with respect to Haque’s post, is perhaps looking at it through just an economic framework. The New Urbanism and New Spatialism notes are really fascinating, and that’s an understatement.

Very honestly, and it most probably is because of my levels of understanding, the two ‘rebuttals’ and the thoughts therein, are quantum leaps that are required, which will take time. In the short-medium term, I think it will be an evolution (as opposed to a revolution). We might end up with better social media structures and frameworks of understanding or we could become a set of gated communities within a world wild web with controlled experiences suited to our likes and dislikes. The latter is not something I’d like since we’ll just be trading one set of walls and gatekeepers for another. In either case, I hope the medium term will see better tools for managing our ties and relationships, and will help us streamline our creation, and consumption. A good note on that curation by Robert Scoble.

Meanwhile, I’m also thinking of the implication for brands. The no-brainer is an approach that goes beyond tools and looks at basic changes required within and without. The other part is setting the expectations right on metrics and ROI, when using the social web?

until next time, echosystems, I hope not..

The Onam tag

Today is Onam. I’ll get wished – “Happy Onam”, and I’ll mutter a thanks/flash a smile, hopefully not weary/ type a ‘thanks’ with a smiley that will not reflect the emotions within. That’s perhaps apt, because there aren’t many emotions within. I concluded a Kerala visit last weekend, and felt compelled to figure out what I was feeling. – for Cochin, as always, and for Onam, because it was the season.

I sit in the fancy store, as D and another M swan around trying to find appropriate things to hang from their neck/ears/hair. They aren’t alone, there is an assortment of folks of their gender, all there for the same purpose. Sometime during their existence, the store owners figured out that those of the other gender would really be lost souls in such a place, so they made sure there was a corner where they could be lost souls without impinging on the ecstasy of the real shoppers. A nice goodwill gesture. And so there I sit, with my companion, which never fails to respond to my touch, and type a few words, which are then saved in the messages drafts folder. Alternately gawking and typing, and realising that the shoppers would be here again very soon, in search of the latest trends in accessories. Fashions change quickly, after all.

I move around the city that once used to be undisputed home, and familiar feelings bob up. Things have changed, and it is perhaps no longer undisputed. An old breakfast joint, which has many memories attached to it, has changed its name. I look up at an old building, hoping to catch a glimpse of the old lending library that set the tone for many current reading habits. It no longer exists. It is strange how, these days, when I go back to Cochin, I have mixed feelings. Where once there was only a sense of belonging, the changes have ensured that there is now also a sense of un-belonging. Earlier, I couldn’t fully grasp this feeling, could one be homesick at home? But then I remember a comment that Cyn had made on an old post – “An Idea called Home“, where she described it as being ‘homesick for a life stage’. There’s an image of Cochin that exists only in my mind, with many tags, its from an age long ago.

I watch a movie – ‘Rithu‘ (Seasons), in a theatre complex that had 3 screens from the time I knew it, back in the 80’s. Music composed by an old school pal. (that deserves a post too…soon) Its a lovely story about childhood friends, about how their relationship(s) change when they grow up, and how they themselves have changed. I realise that its not just places, we also ‘tag’ people at different stages of our lives and we often don’t bother to update the tag, a kind of self-conditioning. Parents, siblings, friends, relatives, they have all been tagged at some point and not updated after some point, the tags define how we behave with them at every point later in life.  Over time, each believe they have different priorities/viewpoints/interests and so on,  maybe that’s why sometimes when we are ready for a relationship, they aren’t, and vice versa. There’s a chance that we will miss the opportunity to form a bond. We fail each other, without even realising it. We change, we move on, but the tags, in many ways, remain constant.

I also realise that we do it to ourselves too – tags. We make images of ourselves which define what we say and do. We tag ourselves. We rarely acknowledge that and proceed to make up our own justifications, which suit us/others. They make sense at a particular point in time, they may or may not later. Yet, we live by them. Do we revisit the tags…objectively?

One of the reasons, I store thoughts and feelings here is because I want to look back. Who was I in that September of 2009, what was i feeling, what was i thinking, can i understand me at a later point? It is amazing how some earlier posts give perspectives about the self, that had been forgotten. Time has a way of distorting, hopefully these tags will aid me in objectivity at a later point.

Meanwhile, almost every shop has the ‘Onam Discount’ board put up. There are restaurants that have already announced their ‘sadya‘ rates. What is Onam to me? At a very young age, I had thought it was someone’s wedding since that was the other time we used to have a sadya on banana leaves. Memories – ten days of school holidays, a trip – most likely to Palakkad, meeting up with the vast set of paternal relatives and a few days of fun, collecting flowers for making pookkalams, dressing up in the traditional mundu, visits to temples, and so on. These are childhood memories and it is interesting how the memories dwindle as I look back to the later years of my life. The recent memories are somehow more indistinct, not separated much from the days before or after, except for the special (new) movies that get shown on television. I wonder whether I should stay back for a few more days and script a few new tags. I don’t. So, ironically, Onam survives, on its early tags. For now, I think that’s best. And as the line in that movie goes, I eagerly await the next Rithubhedam (change of seasons) of my mind.

until next time, thanks for tagging along on a mind ride :)

PS. For a more light hearted approach to Onam, you could check out my version of the myth, my Ram Gopal Varma version and the 55 word view.

Forsake

And sometimes, in the strangest of places, you find food for thought. ‘The Peddler of Soaps’ by Anand Kurian, which I had expected to give me only some entertainment, and not points to ponder, did the former quite well, and tucked away in a page, a paragraph that provided the latter too.

Because a group is always a compromise, an intellectual or an ethical compromise. And a compromise always involves the lowest common denominator

I thought about it a bit, and found that I agreed. And it doesn’t even have to be a group. It can even be two individuals, and can involve any of the relationships we have with each other. Friendship, marriage, relatives, professional groups and so on.

While in the case of close relationships, we might tend to agree with each other most of the time, there are several times when we reach a compromise, sometimes with the other person, but mostly with ourselves, for the sake of the relationship, and the value we attach to it. In fact this value is also the factor that makes us compromise in casual relationships, and larger groups, in which case, the value is perhaps social acceptance.

Sometimes we forget these compromises, and at other times, they have a long shelf life, like open sores that never go away, as though to remind us that there was a choice, and a different decision might have led to the fulfillment of what we were meant to be. I wonder, by these compromises, do we forsake ourselves?

until next time, for the sake of….

Withering Heights

From the balcony on the top floor of the apartment complex, I see the shanties below, rows and rows of haphazardly constructed dwellings.

On some evenings, when I stand outside, I see them huddled together in small groups, their weary yet cheerful faces lit by the dim incandescent bulbs and the small fires they make, having animated conversations, punctuated with laughter. There are games of carrom, and sometimes, I think, impromptu concerts too, since I hear loud singing. On weekends, there are cricket games, and sometimes, feasts are organised too, large vessels are brought out into the open area, and everyone joins in the cooking.

One day, as I stood watching them, my neighbour walked out onto his balcony. We smiled at each other. At least, I think it was my neighbour and not a visitor, since I’d not seen him earlier, in 3-4 months spent in the apartment. And that set me thinking on communities, and how, as we move from place to place on account of job and lifestyle changes, as our standards of living improve, as we climb higher in life, we tend to move away from shared experiences and communities, and start having transaction based relationships, established when a need arises. 

It also made me think about this in the context of blogging, of how we start off as small communities, where almost everyone knows each other, then we grow and move on, and lose touch, not just with each other, but also where we started out from, and how.

The inhabitants of the shanties below are auto drivers, labourers, maids, dhobis, the people who we depend on to keep the clockwork of our life running smoothly, the people who we pay anything from a few rupees to a few thousands of rupees, sometimes grudgingly, and expect to make a life out of. And sometimes, i wonder, in the community spirit that they manage to develop and maintain, if they succeed in making a better life, if not a better living standard.

until next time, altitudes and attitudes