How to communicate

You can not not communicate. Not discussing the elephant in the room is communicating. Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication.

~ Jason Fried from,

This article explains how Basecamp—the organization itself—communicates. If you are a human being, who ever encounters other human beings, the initial list is a great primer on how to communicate. The whole article makes me feel warm and fuzzy. As if, somehow, the world would take a big step in the right direction if more people would read this one thing.


An online advertising bubble?

The story that emerged from these conversations is about much more than just online advertising. It’s about a market of a quarter of a trillion dollars governed by irrationality. It’s about knowables, about how even the biggest data sets don’t always provide insight. It’s about organisations and why they are so hard to change. And it’s about us, and how easy we are to manipulate.

~ Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn from,

For years I’ve been beating the drum about how we individually need to take control of how we use social networks and the Internet in general. There’s still time for us to turn away from the dystopian future where everything has become an algorithm optimized for profit for profit’s sake.

I’ve long known that we are individually fighting an uneven battle. The companies running the social networks are using technology and psychology to manipulate us via our basic human instincts and our basic human cognition. (Each of us, thanks to our biology, has big, ergonomic, grab-handles enabling others to manipulate us.) I think it’s possible that we can each practice using our rational minds and make good decisions; It’s possible, but all evidence shows it is not likely. Meanwhile, I continue to fight the good fight. Those of you reading, seem to be similarly interested.

This article planted a new idea in my mind: The dystopian future is made possible only because someone is paying. We, individually, are not paying. (Reminder: We are the product being sold to the advertisers.) Every single pixel on every single social network is powered by advertising revenue.

What happens if the companies paying to advertise online realize that advertising online doesn’t work the way they think it does?

Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat? …perhaps.


If Lincoln had email

If the Internet is robbing us of our ability to sit and concentrate, without distraction, in a Lincoln log cabin style of intense focus, we must ask the obvious question: are we doomed to be a generation bereft of big ideas? Will we lose, over time, like some vestigial limb, our ability to focus on something difficult for extended stretches? As a graduate student, I’ve had to put in place what are, in essence, rigorous training programs to help pump up my attention span. It’s a huge struggle for me. Somehow, I imagine, if Lincoln was in my position, he wouldn’t be having this same problem.

~ Cal Newport from,

I usually quote things I agree with whole-heartedly. This one is a little different. I like the topic Newport has raised and he brings up several good points, but my thinking differs a bit.

The Internet is only a tool. There’s nothing magical about how it works to change your brain, distract you, or [as I’m found of describing it] eat your face. The power of choice remains with each of us. What do we use the tool for? What things do we talk about? Whom do we associate with? What change are we creating?

The Internet is only a tool. Make what you will of that.


Thoughtfully giving and receiving decisions

Decision fatigue is a well-known effect. I’ve long since learned to be mindful of when I am going to encounter this, and to take steps to avoid or reduce it. There’s a paradox where I used to want the option to make decisions, while not having the energy to make good decisions.

Also long ago, I started intentionally reigning in the urge to have an opinion when a decision is available. I now think, “do I want to have an opinion on this?” and I try to steer myself towards, “no.” There are countless examples, but they most often fall into, what I’ll call, refinements. This is when something is happening, and it is happening because I’m following someone’s lead. Our culture encourages that leader to solicit opinions; I’m presented a dinner invitation, but asked, “where would you like to eat?” These refinements come in a huge variety, but usually, that leader had an idea in mind when they set the ball rolling. These days, whenever I can, I don’t add an opinion to the mix.

I’ve gotten really good at not having an opinion. In fact, I’ve realized this is now a problem. Everyone is so used to people complaining—about everything; the movie, the food, the traffic—that they assume I too am going to complain later, after going along with their choice.

Each of us needs to practice giving the gift of making thoughtful choices for others. Each of us needs to practice accepting those gifts graciously, (up front, and during and after without complaint.)


Mindless or mindful?

Have you noticed how often we all repeat what we say?

Too many people simply begin talking at another person, before having obtained their attention. This happens all the time! Once you start to notice it, it’s everywhere.

Too many people aren’t paying attention. Although, I suspect it’s partly in response to too many people [and computers and phones and our entire culture] clamoring for their attention, that they’ve stopped paying attention as a self-defense mechanism. Withholding attention shifts the default setting of how attention-getting something must be to actually get their attention.

Many years ago I made a house rule that we would not talk to each other unless we were in the same room. It took a long time until it became the norm in our house. No shouting from one room to another with a question, or an order. How often do things like, “Hey, could you…” travel from room to room in your home? The rule forces us, when I want your attention, to go to you. This puts some actual effort onto me, where it belongs. No one is permitted to call from the living room, “Hey, can you bring me…” when we both know full well we should get up and get it ourselves.

Settling into that rule was tough, but part two was far harder. The other side of the exchange. The person who is interrupted, even if it is ever so politely, by a demand for attention. Having reached a point where we each travel to the other, (the first part,) we then had to learn to treat the arriving person with respect, (the second part.) For example, when I’m knee-deep in computer work and she arrives, I had to learn to pause from my work and turn my full attention to this person who is vastly more important than anything happening in my computer. Frankly I’m still working on this.

So meta. She arrived to talk about something as I was typing this… ;)


After a few years of all of the above, I noticed my attention was becoming a much sharper tool in my interactions out in the world. Some of this was surely due to years of martial arts training, but much of the change was due to my intentional practice described above.

(Then I realized just how much of my attention my phone was demanding, and I fixed that shit right quick. Then I threw my participation in social networks under the bus.)

Now, I see countless examples of mindlessness any time I venture out into the regular world. But I also see examples of mindfulness. They’re not as common, but some people I encounter are awake. Some people I encounter are interested and interesting. Some people’s presence make the immediate area a better place.

Which are you, mindless or mindful?


I am the crowd

This moment of forgetting always begins with a thought that you’re somehow different, morally speaking, than the rest of the crowd. That guy didn’t signal when he changed lanes. I always signal. That car could’ve made the light—I would’ve been quicker. I am always very efficient with overhead bin space.

~ David Cain, from

It’s been a long time since I‘ve gotten upset about crowds (of any sort.) But there was a time when stuck in traffic, or held up by a crowd, etc. really pushed my buttons.

Now I just feel sympathy for everyone who is in the crowd, (as I am as well,) but who doesn’t yet realize it.


Factory work, Round 2

My fear—or maybe it’s better written, as “my lament”?—is that for every made-it-big tech person who represents the worst of avarice and greed, there is a sea of regular tech people who are being ground up by the works. Countless pasty faces staring at screens, drinking diet soda, trying to live in the bites of life they can grab after hours, (taking their phone so they can be summoned, of course!) stressed-out, burnt-out…

So when I hear people talk about “tech people” as if we’ve collectively done something wrong and messed up the world, I look around and all I see are people who’ve been broken and smashed. The grass is no greener on the inside-tech side of the fence. To everyone outside-tech, what gets done inside tech is magic—it’s not, it’s factory work, round two.

I don’t mean this as a repost to what people say when they lament what has happened to the world, but as a commiserating plea: “Yes! Yes! The problem is everywhere.”


Are you part of the solution?

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

~ Seth Godin, from

This rant from Seth is a couple years old, but it remains as important as ever.

I talk often about the problems with social networks. But what I’m particularly interested in is what, (if anything,) actually works to change people’s minds. I bet you can guess what works: Basically, nothing works.

I wasted a lot of time trying to explain the problems with social networks using facts and rational arguments. You know how far I got with that. One day, I stopped trying to educate and explain, and started trying to plant seeds. Little seeds of inquisition. Little seeds of self-awareness.

How do you feel when you are not on that social network?

And how do you feel after it ate your face for 2 hours?

Do you like the way you look, all hunched over with spine twisted and your face completely facing the ground?

Could you make progress on your dream if you could just find 10 hours of time a week? (As if you only spent 10 hours on social networks this week.)

Hold your phone facing you at arms length. Look just to one side and notice the actual amount of your immediate world which it occupies. How do you feel about only living within that small fraction of your world?

Visualize your death bed. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.) Now begin to list your imagined regrets as you lay dying. (Seriously. I’ll wait.) Which items on your list were related, in any way, to online social networks?

You have Seth’s thoughts. You now have my thoughts. Do you have any thoughts of your own?

Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?


Change is not a commodity

[C]hange does not take technology, it takes courage. And, this is why change is not a commodity. Change is not easy nor is it formulaic. But I can say this with the utmost conviction, change is inevitable and it is yours to define.

~ Brian Solis, from

If you want to affect change you must first understand which sorts of changes are difficult and why.

On the one hand, things change all the time. A great definition of “old age” is when you begin to lament the inevitable changes to the specific things you prefer in your supermarket. On the other hand, affecting a change that you desire feels extremely difficult. (Go try to bring back your favorite brand of mustard after the manufacturer has discontinued it.)

On the one hand, there’s a huge array of things I can change easily: My shirt, the book I’m reading, and the lane I’m driving in. On the other hand I quite honestly struggle changing my physical body, my bad habits, and my addictions.

On the one hand, changing thousands of minds at once is easy: Give me a few orange cones and I can make everyone change their mind about always driving on the correct side of the road. On the other hand, it seems impossible to get people to do the correct thing, when they are waiting to turn left at a two-way stop sign, and I arrive opposite them intending to go straight.

On the one hand, millions of people have been convinced to spend their time on social networks. On the other hand, try convincing just one of them to disconnect.

Sometimes a piece of technology is enough to change everything and everyone. Sometimes no piece of technology seems powerful enough to get it done. Sometimes a tiny idea spreads like wildfire, and sometimes the mindless mob wins. Sometimes people are swayed by emotion, and sometimes they make choices based on logic. Sometimes change is objectively good, sometimes it’s objectively bad, and sometimes it seems too complicated to decide.

The important question is: What sort of change do you want to attempt?