As people become more divided by technology – less willing or comfortable to make direct contact, the smile is given even more power. The unspoken action of goodwill, good intention, does not come so easily to many. And when two strangers meet, if only for a moment, it is the smile that extends intention, feeling, the initial moment of faith building. Even if that moment is fleeting and assumed to be gone just as fast as it came. This exchange builds warmth in the most distant and unlikely connections.
With this new year rolling out, I find myself coming back to a topic of personal improvement that has been on my mind for a while: Social Networks. How they appropriately can support relationships and communication, and how they detract from relationships and communication.
It’s been said a number of times that people actually find themselves isolated from a physical social life when using online social networks, in some cases, even doing so in place of interacting with people in the physical realm. While there is a bump of excitement when friends like or comment on an update we posted to our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. (and in some cases strangers or exclusively virtual acquaintances), the long term value really doesn’t work out to much more than this little emotional bump. And then it’s gone, with nothing left, not memories, no stories to pass along. Quite an empty social interaction really.
Personally, I haven’t read about any studies on the effects of using social networks versus spending time with people face to face, but recently I began to look back through all the time I’ve invested into social networks, the people I have connected with there, what I get out of it, and then I looked back at my face to face world; similar to the social network parts: the time I invest, the people I connect with, and what I get out of them. Turns out, from the online social networks, the biggest value has been that people know what I’m up to, and I know some of the things going on in their life too. That’s about it. Aggravating this, turns out, with all the algorithms managing the things we get in our social network “feeds”, we’re not even getting all of the updates from our friends, just those programmed to meet our ‘expectations’ for things we would like to see, based on some programmers work. In the face to face realm, the people that I spend time with is far fewer compared to the online group, but those that I do see and speak to, provide more important moments for me. Turns out, there’s a lot of people who will take time to connect and communicate with me online, but have never once made the effort to do anything with me in person. No coffee chats. No parties. No help with work or personal life issues. That’s something I seek to change.
I just finished a year off from work and when I got back I pursued finding work aggressively, online and offline. The online efforts got me one small job, but the offline efforts, even those like walking up and down the street talking with businesses, got me multiple jobs, which have been worth easily 8-10 times more value than the one job I found online. That’s right, the return on investment in face to face time got me more work than the efforts I made online. And believe me I spent a lot of time generating some opportunities online. I guess the people who I could meet in person had a stronger impression and really focused on my needs. Those online, might have been too distracted, or I wasn’t communicating properly through the text and updates, etc. Who knows. The results are still obvious.
This wasn’t a scientific experiment, surely there are many opportunities for people to explore online alone, with no need to leave their computer. But there are just as many people baffled by the dependance of others to online networking and communication dependance. And those people trust a face they met in person, and would rather discuss important topics than spell it all out in an email, or schedule a video chat.
I know I’m not alone, many folks feel the pain of the rush to be online, some are just over whelmed with all the things that can be done online now. Many get by still just fine with brick and mortal style, it’s nice to see. But then there are all the others who I know I will not stay in touch with unless I stay online. And that’s the thing that’s on my mind the most now. How offline can I be and not fall out of touch? Should I just go 95% offline, saving the few moments I do login, to reply to email and respond to a Facebook message or some other online only activity? I would like to stay offline. In my own experiment, I will focus in doing more offline. We’ll see how it goes. I hope I can offer some more insights on that.
I’ll keep you posted.
Photographers, I challenge you to turn off your autofocus.
So much of our lives are now dictated by software, don’t let the focus algorithm take control of your photography style too.
Focus is perspective. The detail in your photos is a choice to make. When you submit to autofocus, you give up one of your liberties as a photographer. You are in fact letting the camera take your picture, instead of you.
You don’t let the camera select the aperture, ISO, or shutter speed. So why are you giving away the right to choose the focus?
The ability to decide how your image should look, what should be in focus and what should not, isn’t a function with a simple problem to solve. And yet, that is all the autofocus software is doing. Hundreds of software engineers together with product managers, photography designers, and consumer focus group experts created that feature. They have made a collaborative decision what it means to focus the image, and they pass that choice onto your picture taking experience, it is hardcoded into the camera autofocus. So when you take a picture and use autofocus, your focus is not perfect, you are simply outsourcing the style and detail in your photo to a long line of programmers, and photography experts, allowing them to choose how your photo should look.
Certainly if you have bad vision, no patience for finding a focus you like, a cell phone camera, a point and shoot without the ability to focus, or any of these other cases, then the feature is useful if not mandatory. But at least know why it is there and what you lose when you use it.
I want to be wealthy.
I want to be super filthy, Scrooge McDuck, swimming in money rich.
Only, it’s not money that I want.
Money alone clearly doesn’t add value to a person’s life. Don’t believe me? Google: “lottery winners lives ruined”, enough said. And if that seems like a cop out to you, just look around for stories of the complicated lives of billionaires. Sure money can help. Private jets are awesome (at least skipping TSA and baggage claim sounds nice). But wealth is not the happiness and great life in a jar it can be objectified as.
No. I want to be rich in what I’ll call “life assets”.
The life assets I want are: skills, stories, friends, family, memories, great meals, and health. You get the idea. I also believe that when you’re rich in those things, you will be successful in life. After all, happiness is probably the greatest measure of success in my book. If you are gaining all those things in your life, you’re bound to be happy.
Attributes in life as assets
So then, entertain this concept; if you can be rich with life assets, then can’t we say there is some unit of measure for those things? Perhaps no unit we’ll all agree on like we agree on the unit of $1, but at least, the idea that one can have many friends, or very few. If I speak three languages and you only speak two, would you then agree that I have a greater wealth in language than you? Or perhaps, you, on average, spend several hours a week with various friends, while I barely have time to see one. Maybe in that case I am lacking in friendship wealth, at least time with friends, compared to you.
Your life assets as investments
If that all still makes sense, I now propose one more concept to branch off the last. If you can have a surplus of these life assets, can’t you also invest in them? That’s easy to agree on, right? You can learn to cook a new meal, make a new friend at work. Get married! These are all investments in your life assets. Hell! They are investments in your life! And if you keep track of them, and watch them grow. Continue to feed them, just like a monetary asset, they will get greater and greater and pay dividends.
Investing in life assets as a way of life
I want to propose that we use this concept of investing in life assets, as a way of making good decisions. When trying to decide what to do with your time, be it work, sleep, exercise, eating, catch up with friends, consider each of them as assets. Think about which ones are lacking in the distribution of time you can give them that will in turn keep them healthy and make them grow. I think this method will make it easy to choose what is better, to go for a walk or call a relative, instead of say… watching TV 😉
Final thought: strong life assets tend to also mean longer life
You’ve probably heard of centenarians; people who live past 100 years old. National Geographic did a great profile of the three poster child communities. In Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California. If you look at the attributes of the people from those groups, they all share some commonalities; community and or close family. Daily exercise. Great diets (read: not dieting –they simply eat healthy food regularly, rather than as a way to lose weight). And they all have a sense of purpose (described as having a life worth living). These people all invest in their life assets daily, they maintain low levels of stress. They use their bodies and minds, and they have great nutrition. And that keeps their organs healthy and functioning.
From a different perspective, but not a different side of the coin. When a palliative nurse heard the thoughts of people on their death beds, their thoughts were eerily connected to this subject. They wished they’d focused more on being happy, worked less, spent more time with friends, and had more courage.
So, even if you aren’t the Warren Buffet among your peers. You probably have many valuable assets, that can make and give you happiness. That can give you more time with the people you love. Invest in those assets, they are probably a lot less volatile than the financial markets.
People invest so much time into being seen, heard, discovered.
We create email accounts, make ourselves available through our phone and social media accounts. We think and rethink our cover letters, status updates, tweets, and photo captions. So much energy and thought going into being understood and loved.
And then there is the countless missed connections. Emails we forget to reply to. Personal reminders gone lost. Plans made with friends we drop the ball on.
The amount of effort put into making connections, compared to the amount of effort lost in the potential connections is huge. But why? Are we afraid? Are we lazy? Where does that desire to be loved go?
Looking around the landscape of startups and founders around presently, it dawned on me, the aim for many of them is simply to succeed. Their company is not one they dreamt about as little kids. The problem they solve isn’t making the world a better place. Maybe it optimizes some workflow for someone somewhere and is therefor valuable. But if you boil down what the end to those companies are, and the wins along the way they may bring, the plainest take aways are success i.e. proof he can start/operate/grow a company, and cash.
So if the company doesn’t actually fulfill the dream of the founders, and it doesn’t make the world better, why are they doing it? What is the point of earning money simply to have money? It’s an empty goal. The results of it will be empty for all involved. People should avoid taking jobs, or starting new businesses just for the money. There is no greater waste of your life than to look back at 80% of the time you had and feel like it didn’t amount to anything but cash.
Yes there are skills to learn, and perhaps you have to take one for the team so you can get to a point where starting a meaningful company, or doing something meaningful is possible. But at all costs, avoid making that huge investment. Life is beautiful, and short. There isn’t time to waste just so you can have more money.
Every single moment of time is an investment into something, whether it’s sitting in a chair and investing into a bad back and bigger waistline, or talking to someone, and investing your thoughts, and ideas into the exchange of thoughts and ideas with that person as well as your relationship with them. When a employer pays an employee to be in one place doing one thing 40 hours a week, they are investing their cash into having a warm body available to perform a task when they need it.
Try to avoid being the one that is throwing away valuable time investment dollars into someone else’s pot, unless it builds assets for you and can make you happy, it’s a waste of your investment resource of time.
When shopping for a new product or service (P/S) and unfamiliar with the various brands offering them, a higher price can mean higher quality, or it can represent a compensation for having a bad P/S.
By offering a bad P/S a company must stay in business by relying on customers willing to tolerate the poor quality and higher prices, which makes up for a lower volume of sales overall, yet nets to the same income a good quality company with lower prices can earn.
As a consumer, unless quality is obvious from first glance, the only way to determine which you’re dealing with is find feedback from previously existing customers.
When a popular shop changes something about their business unfavorably, its customers have a choice: either 1) be complacent, 2) complain, or 3) find a new shop to go to with more favorable conditions.
In a free world, countries should act the same as businesses. When they start to mismanage, change hours, increase prices, or fall short on the upkeep (i.e. sanitation); some patrons will complain, and some will leave. Citizens of a country are (usually) tax payers, they rely on the services provided by their government, and when the cost of living in that government becomes too great, or the service quality provided by their country goes down too much; the citizens can ignore their frustrations which only allows the problems to fester, they can complain and try to stand up for their right to better services (considering how difficult it is to move… this is perfectly fair), or they can leave and take their tax dollars elsewhere.
In some countries moving to another city, state, or province can solve the problem. Which is good news for those who aren’t allowed to leave their country, or don’t have skills, or other qualifications needed to become welcomed as a citizen of another country.
Some people are not fortunate enough to pack up and move, when they grow tired of conditions in their current homeland they can protest, work with policy makers, and hope things improve, or ignore the problem and learn to deal with it.
But someone who speaks english and has valuable skills such as today with engineering software, mobile, or web applications, this person is literally free to go anywhere in the world. That is how badly engineers are needed in today’s economy. It’s only a matter of time before countries get the message and pay more attention to the customer suggestion box entries. Sadly, these organizations are so big, they tend to get the feedback after the proverbial ship has sailed.
I think the trend of demand for engineers will continue for at least a couple more decades, and with it, countries will be forced to see how they are losing valuable, talented citizens because the country didn’t offer a sweet enough package. Unlike the wealthy elite, engineers can make a good living, but not quite enough to freely do anything they want. They don’t have the luxury of living on a yacht and lobbying politicians, but they do have the luxury to take a job in a another country with better work life balance, culture, and cost of living.
Does it wake at 7am, beginning the day with 10 minutes of yoga, drink a mug of green tea and then a short pause for meditation? After reading some poetry and making a simple healthy, sustainable breakfast, does it go for a hike, or climb a very tall tree… something similar to the quest of a hunter gatherer?
When it defecates, does it squat? To clean, if by shower will it only use cold water? Speaking of water, how does the human use water sustainably? Is all the water from the sink, toilet, and shower pipes recycled? How is its energy generated? Are there a super powerful solar panels on its roof that can absorb 200X more energy from sunlight than current photovoltaic solar panels?
How does it get exercise? Does it lift weights or go running? Or do resistance workouts? Does it ever sit down? Or is it always in motion?
Where is its social life coming from? Does it read books? Or listen to audio? Or perhaps communicate telepathically? How about sex life? Is it in a monogamous relationship? Does it live in a congested city or a spread out village? Perhaps completely alone in the wilderness?
How often does the perfect human eat? Is it even eating or does it take pills, and do jaw and digestion work outs to mimic the experience and loads on the body of eating and digesting food? Does the perfect human drive a car? Or ride a bike? Or use a public transportation system? Maybe it flies with a jetpack? Maybe it rarely leaves its home except when on foot, or longer journeys for regularly scheduled mental development outings.
Does it take care of it’s food production? Or spend time on a nearby farm supporting the local agriculture? Maybe the perfect human has invented means of food production that don’t have the same flaws that our current methods do, faster, cleaner.
Humans have come a long way from hunting animals and living in caves to survive. They’ve evolved as all other species beyond many flaws of the mammals they descended from. But along the way they got a little too comfortable, and made a lot of new processes and devices that are shortening how much longer they can sustain their own species, and making their time while alive less enjoyable, not to mention cramping the lives of thousands of other species in the process if not simply running them off the face of the earth all together.
A perfect human would in theory, not have a negative impact on the ecosystem it lived in. Its lifestyle would have a net positive result on its own physique, instead of deforming its body, it would be in constant state of equilibrium. The food it produced would be healthy, and not leave a scar on land and atmosphere.
Humans’ pursuit for life, liberty, and happiness, should include the pursuit of sustainable living for themselves and the environment around them. Everyone drop should drop their latte, turn off the TV, and start to look at life as a jigsaw puzzle, one that has been thoroughly scrambled, which only comes together solved when all the things we do, come from sustainable sources, and leave the planet better than it was before we were smart enough to muck it up.
People like definitions. They like things that they can relate to, it helps to create a world that can be understood. A world without mystery is a world without risk; by removing risk we remove fear. In some stretch, this has a lot to do with common getting-to-know-you questions, like “what do you do?”. When someone poses a question like that, issues arise when you can’t say in straight terms what you do. Maybe you do a few things, maybe you do one thing that people are familiar with, but you really do something else too and it’s just hard to explain. In that case do you explain the second less familiar occupation? Do you avoid it to keep the conversation smooth, to avoid being seen as a strange one? Not having one home, not having one occupation, this is were it gets crazy. Try telling someone about the way you don’t live in one box, see how they react. It may just open doors of discomfort.