Should I keep blogging?

This is not a passive-aggressive maneuver to get you to scroll to the bottom, read the footer and consider supporting my work. (It would mean a lot though if you did.)

This is a serious question which I ask myself at a frequency approaching every minute. All the benefits are not directly measurable.

Exposure — In order to ensure I have material to write posts, I have various processes and systems that force me to skim an insane amount of stuff pretty much every day. If you imagine skimming my weekly email in a second or two, that’s 7 items. I skim about 300 to 500 items every day. A small number each day catch my attention enough that I toss them on my read-later queue. There are 764 things on that queue at this instant. It takes me significant time to read them, but often just a few seconds to realize, “yeah this is going to be a blog post” (and then I go on reading to the end and then I write the post.) If I stopped blogging, would I still do all that work to be exposed to ideas?

Learning — Writing blog posts creates a third “imprint” in my mind. First a glance, then a read, and then thinking about it. Even if I sometimes abort the blog post mid-writing, it’s still three different repetitions. And I have software that feeds me my own blog posts (“what did I post 10 years ago, today?” etc.) so I am constantly re-reading everything on this site; that’s more repetitions as things drift into history.

Integration — If I write a blog post about it, I generally try to figure out its relationship to everything else. Adding blog tags is the most obvious bit of integration. But figuring out what to pull quote involves deciding what is salient to me. And deciding which part(s) I want to focus on, magnify, or disagree with requires further integration.

Writing — Thoughts swirl in my mind. Characters appear on my screen. There are several skills one can work on between those two sentences.

All of that goes into feeding my personal growth and priming my curiosity. Since good conversation is powered by genuine curiosity, all that stuff also enables my person mission.

Should I keep blogging? It doesn’t feel like stopping is realistically an option.

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I’ll be podcasting and presenting Art of Retreat 2022

During the Sept 24th weekend, I’ll once again be recording conversations with community leaders and movement enthusiasts at a retreat in the Cascades outside of Seattle. Follow that link If you’re interested in the nuts-and-bolts of what I do in order to create some conversations. Over there, I’ll be posting replies as the project progresses over the next two weeks. I’ll be showing my work—preparation, packing, gear, field recording, and post-production. I’ll try to cover everything from ideation to the final deliverables.

The first piece of context is, what is the event that I’m attending? It’s an immersive gathering celebrating leadership in parkour. We bring remarkable leaders from the global parkour community together for 4 days of learning, sharing, and play.

https://www.artofretreat.com

The event is a concept which has been held in various locations over the years. It’s near and dear to me both in the sense that I’m into parkour and I’m into podcasting. I’m also leading an interactive session about Creating Better Conversation.

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Thoughts on Conversation

A few weeks ago I finally got around to starting a dedicated newsletter for my Thoughts on Conversation over on Substack. This new, weekly newsletter is free to subscribers through Substack—you can read it on the web or via email.

Over on Substack I’m publishing more polished work. I’m sharing what I’ve learned and hopefully engaging in discussion.

The blog here at constantine.name remains the same; same posts, same quotes, same same. Here on the blog things are messy as I’m working with garage door up. There’s a lot of discovery and reflection happening here. If you’ve not been to the actual blog web site in a while, you may want to swing by my new Projects Page to see what I’m up to.

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Babble

Consider sketching on a page, where various ideas or points are connected by drawing arrows or shapes or groupings. When sketching, you aren’t quite sure how to structure your thoughts before you start. And sketching is, in some way, the act of figuring this out. There is something highly nonlinear about this process where your thoughts backtrack to previous ideas and test the strength of old conclusions.

~ Gytis Daujotas from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/tZTqwmtE8BGtcszek/iterating-fast-voice-dictation-as-a-form-of-babble

Before I begin, I want to point to these general thoughts about Babble, and to this very interesting series of articles advancing the idea that the antagonistic algorithms Babble and Prune can at least partly model how the mind works.

I’m thinking that one way to have what I’d call a “really good conversation” is when the participants are babbling together. Baby babble is generally incomprehensible, or at least not comprehensible overall. Baby babble has many comprehensible words, but rarely a comprehensible sentence. In conversations which I’d call “good”, the babble has comprehensible sentences, and often comprehensible paragraphs, but may not be comprehensible overall. We’re babbling, and pruning, to see where we end up.

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Doing discourse better

Do conversations have known best practices? How much do they improve the odds of landing on the truth?

~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/2020/09/29/doing-discourse-better-stuff-i-wish-i-knew/

I hate this terrific article. It’s completely stuffed with great ideas and great questions… and exactly zero answers. It starts talking about the particular type of conversation where two people acting benevolently are trying to find the truth about something under discussion. (Here I snicker at all of humanity, and myself, because we’ve been having conversations for like a gazillion years and we don’t yet know how to do it well.) It then narrows down to discussing just online conversations. Said narrowing feels like a great idea because there are a lot of online conversations and it feels like something we should be able to be good at. (Again here, snickering is warranted.) Anyway, at least some people are trying. Maybe, just maybe this is the epoch we get it sorted out?

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Deep conversation

People benefit from deep conversations, but we often stick to small talk with strangers because we underestimate how much they’re interested in our lives, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

~ University of Texas at Austin from, https://phys.org/news/2021-11-swapping-small-strangers-deeper-dialogue.html

I didn’t find this at all surprising. None the less, it’s nice to see it demonstrated in a repeatable experiment. I often talk about simply being curious, and how that curiosity generates conversations full of wonder. I’ve had hundreds of conversations now with people I know and total strangers, countless times they’ve expressed delight at the conversations we’ve created. The best part? It’s not a trick I’m performing; I’m genuinely curious.

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Conversation as a spectrum

Communication between two people falls on a spectrum, and that spectrum has more than one dimension. In fact, I imagine it has many dimensions.

Information could be flowing predominantly from person A to B, evenly, or in the other direction; this can be imagined as one dimension of the communication. The tension—antagonism, slight repulsion, a neutral first meeting, mild interest, intimate whispers—can be negative or positive; this can be another dimension. Communication can be durable (recorded, written, notes taken, etc.) or ephemeral; that’s another dimension. It can also vary in the dimension from private to public.

It’s interesting to consider how real scenarios could be characterized using those dimensions. Consider: An interrogation involving torture, an interrogation of a subject with their rights observed, a private investigator seeking to solve a case, a journalist interviewing a war criminal, a journalist interviewing a cultural icon, two friends talking while sharing a meal, single-serving sized friends on a plane (hat tip to Chuck Palahniuk), or lovers sharing pillow talk. The scenarios, like life, are endlessly varied.

All of that is a reductionist analysis; how do I simplify the real scenario to find some principles that are durable across scenarios. That’s useful. But I could also turn my analysis around. While having a conversation, I could consider those principles as a way to guide my efforts to create a certain kind of conversation.

Direction of information flow? …should I be talking more or less? Tension? …is there, should there be, more or less? Durability? Privacy? There are certainly more dimensions, and therefore more principles, than those I’ve listed. And the insight gained from understanding every principle could be evaluated in the context—the right-now in each moment’s context—of every conversation.

What would happen if I continuously (as often as is possible in a conversation, but also by reflecting on each conversation and planning for the next), made conscious adjustments? What would happen if I did that over 100, 500, or even 1,000 conversations? Now that’s a good question.

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Oration

A speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start it, but to end it requires considerable skill.

~ Lord Mancroft

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Conversations are difficult to end well. I’ve spent considerable time thinking about how to end them, and talking to people about how to end them. (I am aware it’s awfully meta to have conversations with people about how to end conversations.) As with anything (making toast for example), it’s good to first figure out common ways to horribly muck it up (try burning the toast), and learning to consistently not muck it up.

Here are three ways to muck up a conversation so as to avoid having a good ending.

First: Drag the conversation on until your conversation partner is exhausted. One might think it could make for a good ending—just the sheer relief of it ending! But alas (poor Yorick), it’s just an ending and not a good one.

Second: Get the last word in. If you’re the host (of the podcast, the dinner party, etc.), insisting on being the last one to touch the conversation baton is guaranteed to make a bad ending.

Third: If it’s going well, always keep going. That way, you only end when it’s not going well. In other words: Actively choose a bad place to end.

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Tolerance

Tolerance is becoming accustomed to injustice; love is becoming disturbed and activated by another’s adverse condition. Tolerance crosses the street; love confronts. Tolerance builds fences; love opens doors. Tolerance breeds indifference; love demands engagement. Tolerance couldn’t care less; love always cares more.

~ Cory Booker

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When I’m having a recorded conversation for a podcast, “being loving” or “loving the other person”, aren’t the words I’d choose. Low-brow jokes aside, it just doesn’t feel like the right word choice. Booker’s phrasing is obviously rhetoric. But there’s a reason rhetoric is like that: It works.

When I read Booker’s rhetoric I was thinking how shifting one’s context to coming from being loving changes the way I’d approach those situations. …or at least, how I might approach those situations. Changing my mindset would enable me to see opportunities I’d otherwise miss. (While still allowing me to rationally choose when it might be wise to walk by, cross the street, build a fence, get on with life, etc..)

And my new mindset—coming from being loving—made me think of a conversation I had a little while ago with Andrew Foster.

Ruh-roh, there might just be something to this “love” thing.

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PS: *gasp* I too have been misattributing “ruh-roh”, as in “ruh-roh rhaggy” to Scooby Doo. “ruh-roh” is Astro’s catch-phrase. Both dogs were voiced by the same actor though…

Framed dialogs

And I mean dialog which is set up with certain agreed-upon concepts and boundaries, not literally framed for hanging on a wall.

A while back—January 4th, 2021 to be specific—I made some notes about an idea tickling my brain. I had had a conversation with two people. We had decided to get together to talk about… something. I’m not sure what. It probably was something like:

I feel like I need to talk to someone. But, I’m in this place where too many people—basically, all the people I regularly interact with—see me in a certain way. They know me in a certain context. Anything I say or do, they evaluate it as a continuation of what they know about me. That’s not a criticism of them, but simply a statement of reality.

…something like that. Not saying that’s it exactly. I’m asking for a friend. ahem.

We three hopped on a call and it didn’t really go well. We didn’t have an agenda, (which was probably a good thing). But also, we didn’t have a purpose nor clear idea of why we wanted to have the conversation. We expended an hour, (of our expected 694,700 total available,) shrugged, and moved on with our day. After my mind moved on from the experience, when I returned to thinking about the tickling idea, and the conversation, somehow I felt like the conversation had been useful. So in hindsight, it felt like the conversation was much closer to being useful, then I thought it was in the moment.

Since I’m generally interested in conversation, I scratched some notes—as I mentioned, in January a year ago—about what I thought might have been the magic: Time limit, ephemeral, minimal structure, and anticipation. Those four properties seem to be the essentials for my having felt the conversation was useful in hindsight. This isn’t about “talk therapy.” But, somehow, those features (which would be a part of a talk-therapy session) still facilitate… something.

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