‘Renegade’ and The Authentic Moment

Neuroscientist/Philosopher Sam Harris tells a story of walking on stage to give a talk somewhere and upon seeing that there was bottled water on a table next to the podium he did what so many of us do and thought to himself, “oh good, they put some water there.” He then asks – why is he thinking that and who is he thinking it to? He sees the water there – his brain registers it, he already knows it’s there, but why is there this internal monologue or voice that reaffirms it to ‘himself’ when really, ‘himself’ already knows the water is there?

We all have this internal monologue or voice and it’s uniquely ours. It speaks in language and tone and with colloquialisms and slang that indeed often only we know and recognize. It’s an infinite loop of inside jokes with ourselves.

Saturday morning I was sitting in a grassy clearing behind a subdivision watching the sun come up. There wasn’t much to watch actually, it was an overcast day. I watched the world around me get lighter. At the edge of the clearing there were some deer grazing that I don’t think had really noticed me sitting there – the grass was pretty tall and I was hidden.

When I stood up to leave, they froze a bit and realized I was there. Inside my head, my internal voice said a line it uses all the time in these situations, “the jig is up, the news is out – they know I’m here.” The first part of that, “the jig is up, the news is out” comes from a line in a Styx song that I first heard so long ago I can’t remember when. It often pops into my head in instances like this where it fits. Why it does is a totally different blog post, because I’ve never even really been a Styx fan or listened to one of their records all the way through. I will tell you it has something to do with that ancient technology, radio.

I don’t usually listen to music when I’m riding my bike, but I chuckled at this opportunity and dialed up the song on my phone in Apple Music, set my speaker volume as loud as it could go, a proceeded to tear through the gray suburbs of Fredericton’s North Side with it playing 3 times in a row.

I didn’t see anyone. It was very early on a Saturday, but I bet some folks saw or maybe even heard me through sleepy, coffee-fueled gazes out of kitchen windows. Maybe some dog-walkers heard strange noise a block away but couldn’t quite pinpoint it as it was moving. Some guy up early to wake-n-bake in his backyard probably thought, “whoah this is some great shit, I think I just heard Styx.” I enjoy doing my part to keep Fredericton weird.

It occurred to me that the whole transaction – from that moment when I thought of the lyric through to fishing out my phone, searching it up and hitting play – that is what digital companies are trying to capture and ultimately monetize. That’s the hook.

The voice in my head is uniquely mine, but science has basically determined that – leave arguments about the true nature of consciousness aside for a moment – those thoughts, my internal monologue (or dialogue, since it seems to be two-way with someone) is merely electrical impulses zapping through my brain that I quite literally have no control over.

The March of Technology continues to advance. I’ve heard discussions on podcasts and elsewhere about the eventual availability of ‘neural nets’ – the mess of wires and transmitters that measure brain activity you see in the science shows – potentially in the form of wearables like hats or headbands and coupled with devices and apps to read your brain activity. Most of the discussions I’ve heard are about the beneficent use of this tech – say for example an app to help you quit smoking that can read your brain activity faster than you can even think and then prompt you via an app or otherwise with a behavior or thought that works counter to the craving.

Ostensibly, one day there will be surgical implants that can be placed into your head, connected to your brain to then connect with external devices – such as a phone – but then again, at some point, there’ll no longer be a need for the external device. Everything will happen right inside your head. Your phone calls, reminders, music – all right there.

In the case of my Styx example, the process would change from a clunky physical one – thought of the song, reaching for phone (or even asking Siri to play it) – pressing button – to simply thinking of the lyric and then thinking “oooo, play that,” and my head will ring with 1979 era rock. I guess the downside is that the neighborhoods I ride through won’t be able to hear it – which ruins most of the fun.

More ominously though, if our internal monologue/dialogue is just electrical impulses, then eventually, the technology will exist for the implant in your head to be 2-way. It will no longer just ‘listen and monitor’ – it will respond or prompt. And the response will indiscernible from your own thoughts. It will speak to you in that same voice and language that you’ve known your whole life. The device will – of course – be connected to external sources via wi-fi, bluetooth, and/or whatever new invisible data transfer technologies are created between now and then. At some point it will be very lucrative and very compelling for advertisers, organizations, causes, or anyone really – to be able to get into your thoughts – and you won’t even know it.

So it begs the question, at what point will your experience of the moment become inauthentic?

Because I know you’re wondering, Sunday’s ride soundtrack was The Bosstones. Now you’ve been inside my head, no fancy gadgets needed.

Really, It’s OK to Do Nothing Sometimes

The latest episode of Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast is pretty good. The guest, Tiffany Shlain, has written about about unplugging from screens one day a week in a practice that is sort of a modern day throwback to the notion of a weekly ‘sabbath’ or ‘Shabbat’. Some really interesting discussion ensues.

They talk about the notion that people don’t know how to just sit with themselves anymore – or that it’s become thought of as a bad thing to ‘sit idly’. I feel the generations my kids belong to will especially have no concept of this, or construe it mostly as ‘wasting time’ having been exposed/connected to tech their entire lives.

The reality is that in many cases time spent in self reflection, or simply being present in the moment with others without the distractions of tech, is time better spent but we’re not taught that anymore and indeed, most tech companies/platforms are trying to encourage the very opposite.

When Good Intentions Go Bad

https://fs.blog/jonathan-haidt/

Great stuff here from Shane Parrish over at Farnham Street on The Knowledge Project podcast. I’ve posted stuff before in relation to Jonathan Haidt and he continues to be full of insight and useful information. I’ll post a few standouts here, but the whole thing is really worth a listen – I can’t transcribe all the worthwhile commentary:

Some people have sent me quotes from ancient Greece, where they complained about the kids today and how they don’t respect their elders, and things like that. So partly, it is a constant generational thing. But the reason why Greg Lukianoff and I think that this is so different is because, never before have the mental health statistics just gone haywire for generations so quickly. So, whatever we’re doing, kids born after 1995 have really high rates of anxiety, depression, self harm, and suicide.”

As a parent – this should be a required listen. It’s at turns informative and terrifying if you let it be, but ultimately empowering.

I’m realizing that, in some ways, I have missed the boat a bit with my older two kids and I’m almost too late with the younger two, but there’s still value and ideas to be gleaned from this discussion. I wish I’d had this podcast – and Haidt’s insights in general – like, 6-8 years ago – but, if you listen, you’ll realize that in many ways we as a society and as parents had no way of knowing then the way the internet and social media would effect kids and their mental health, it was simply new, uncharted territory.

Any parents who are listening to this podcast, I urge you to follow a few simple rules. That is, two hours a day of screen time, not counting homework. And no social media until high school, and lots of free play outside. Let your kids out, especially by the age of seven or eight. Let them out to have unsupervised time with other kids, in a place that’s physically safe.”

These seem like, “well, duh” type revelations, but speaking from experience, I know I got very much caught up in the tendency and social pressures to over protect and shelter kids – with the best of intentions – versus how my generation was raised.

If you can imagine growing up, where in your teen years you’re always self censoring, you’re always careful, we think this is what’s happening. This is what many students tell us it’s like. They often just accept it as normal, because that’s all they’ve known. And this means we might have a generation that’s afraid to take risks, afraid to play with ideas. Afraid to challenge dominant ideas. It’s going to lead to a lot more conformity, a lot less creativity.

And much more great discussion here on learning the importance of how to disagree with people, how to engage with those you disagree with and the importance of surrounding yourself with people you disagree with and expose yourself to ideas that you might not like in order to grow as an individual which in turn makes you more of a benefit to society as a whole.

Why What You Think You Know is Wrong – And Right – at the Same Time

Why we can’t have nice things. Or agree.

Great episode here of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. Discussion centering around tribalism and polarization and the misconceptions we have about how we view what are ‘facts’ and what aren’t. Why what can be ‘true’ for one person is not necessarily so for another.

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we spend time with political scientist Lilliana Mason and psychologist Dan Kahan, two researchers exploring how our tribal tendencies are scrambling public discourse and derailing so many of our best efforts at progress — from science communication, to elections, to our ability to converge on the truth and go about the grind of building a better democracy…

…Now this is something we talk about a lot on this show. In fact it’s the foundations of everything you are not so smart about. We are unaware of how unaware we are, yet we proceed with confidence in the false assumption that we are fully aware of our motivations and the sources of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In fact, much of the time, if not most of the time, the true source of those things, the true motivations behind our behaviors, is often invisible or unknowable, or in the case of tribal psychology something we’d rather not believe about ourselves. None of us wants to think that we are simply parroting the perspectives of elites or going along with the attitudes of our tribes, but the work of Dan Kahan and Lillanna Mason and many others suggests that for many issues that is exactly what is happening.

David McRaney

Podcast transcript available here if you’re more of a reader.

Jacked

Another post I’d bookmarked quite some time ago to read and only recently got around to. Lots of information here on how apps and UI are effecting our day-to-day practices.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds

Tons of good take-aways – one for me is installing the Moment app to see how much time I spend on my phone each day and on what apps. I removed all the social media apps some time ago, but am still curious about what I use it for most, and how much time it constitutes.

Is there an irony in the fact that I’ve downloaded an app to help me be more cognizant of app/phone usage? Sure. But as Tristan Harris hammers home in the article linked above, the apps and their usage could be entirely different – as could our lives – if the design was refocused on the user’s interest and well being vs. the company’s bottom line.