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Archive for the ‘truth’ Category

Shootings in Aurora,CO

Sad day.   I wondered whether I should write a blog or not today with the event that took place this morning in my hometown of Aurora,CO.   I haven’t lived there since high school but much of my family still lives there as well has the majority of childhood friends.

There are many rambling essays I could write about my own experience with mass murder in Aurora, CO and how it haunts me nearly every day.   After nearly 20 years I have yet to resolve the huge existential questions raised by such events.  And, by god, have I tried.

Words fail.

Today: it hurts.

 

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Just watched absolutely fascinating NatGeo Explorer episode, The Moment of Death.

This is a really uncomfortable show to watch.   Asks some amazing questions AND unemotionally explores some answers/approaches.

What got me really thinking was listening to the Drs. and researchers who work on this stuff everyday.   It’s shocking to many of us who don’t deal with this stuff everyday, but for these researchers, its clinical.

Absolutely fascinating research over hundreds of years.   Some really kooky stuff.

There’s a part where this Dr. “MacDougal” attempted to measure the weight of the soul in the 1800s.   WHAT??!?

There’s an amazing part involving the air force testing the effects of G on pilots’ brains.

Definitely a much watch, if you can handle it.  It’s not for everyone.

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I recently watched the PBS documentary, art and copy. it’s a feature about advertising focusing mostly on the big agencies and agency personalities. absolutely fascinating. partly because these are big personalities but mostly because the campaigns featured are ones almost all of us know well and probably love.

there’s a stat at the end… 186000 employees at ad agencies worldwide. 26000 agencies. but 4 holding companies produce 80% of the advertising spend.

what that implies there just isn’t that much advertising that gets big, mass consumer popularity (and likely nor does the products behind the advertising).

so the questions for me:

is most advertising unappealing? just noise?

do people only have so much attention to give? the populace can’t support more than a few campaigns getting big?

are most folks in advertising biz just not very good?

is the ad biz really about unglamorous, small campaigns that work for small companies?

is the old ad model going to last? more and more big brands didn’t need an agency and an ad budget at all to go big (google, facebook, twitter, crocs…)

when should a biz use a big traditional campaign?

I don’t question whether a well capitalized, well executed branding campaign works. they do. I think it’s hard to get all the right things to make it happen and only those with the deepest pockets, best products and most aggressive teams will ever have a shot.

I think that’s why other advertising approaches are more appropriate for most businesses and growing in spend online advertising, for the most part, isn’t artful. it’s math. it’s about getting frequency and follow up and flow just right. science based advertising works better for the majority of products and services where there’s little differentiation or brand value between competitors. price and location (at time of purchase) are the keys, not artful impact.

also worth noting is that the current context in which online is viewed doesn’t lend itself well to bigger more potent messages like tv or radio. I think some of that has to do with the fact that tv and radio are more passive consumption around visuals and sound of people rather than text about the world. and tv and radio are usually consumed with others generating more shared experiences. the built in fragmented personalization of the web means known of us ever have the same basic experience.

I’ve worked on a lot of online campaigns that tried to do the big budget big branding thing. no shortage of good ideas and mostly good execution. the consumers just never respond.

there are no best way to do it.

one thing I think the folks in the documentary have in common with the successful math based online advertisers and agencies is a willingness to try and be wrong. too many folks think there’s a best way to do it and that you can know that a priori. you can’t.

as one of the agency celebrates. fail harder.

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Blame! Blame! Blame! Boy do we love to dish it out in this country (only country I have any insight into, FYI.).

Who screwed up the oil rig? Who fat fingered the computer on the flash crash? Who ruined main street? Who heated up the oceans and melted the glaciers? Who started these wars?

And on a more personal level – who’s to blame for this relationship or that messed up deal or that poor choice or that car accident…

On the flip side, we also like to heap praise on ourselves, our celebs, our CEOs, our saints, our leaders for how much of a difference they made. Without you, where would we be?  Here’s a big bonus just for you.  Here’s the MVP trophy.  Here’s the street cred.

All of this assumes way too much control by humans over the incredibly complicated interconnectedness of the world – in business, sports, relationships, politics.   No doubt specific folks shape and contribute, hurt and hinder, but no single person is due that much credit nor blame.

I don’t know when our culture gained this orientation.   Maybe it was from the beginning… the whole “American Way.”   Where there’s a will, there’s a way.   You can do it!  It’s up to you!

The attitude is maintained by repeated association of blame and praise to the negative and positive happenings in our lives.  The association is inaccurate but is very hard to break.  Perhaps there is some juice in this attitude.  Maybe it helps keep people working more.  Maybe it helps people commit longer than they would with a different view.

Personally I don’t think it’s healthy.  Nor do I really think it leads to bigger business, better policy, or decades of championships.   I think our individual powers don’t extend much beyond keeping ourselves alive.  It takes a tremendously positive mix of variables to help us thrive beyond the basics in life.

Persistence is the key.  Survive long enough for the mix of positive variables to align.

Fear of failure and over indulgence in taking credit are the enemies of persistence.   They are energy wasting red herrings.   So much of persistence is about maintaining your energy (physical ability, concentration, passion, etc. etc.).

Change when it’s too painful.  Help others along the way. and keep going.

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Do we lose any important details as we compress experience through gadgets and social web?

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I seriously wonder about this all the time.

Spending a lot of time thinking about collective intelligence and collaborative filtering over the last decade has led me to believe that most of the stuff we’re creating actually reduces our vision.

From Facebook to twitter to iphones…. we’re pruning our networks and our opportunities to actually run into new people, new experiences.  Why have a new, uncomfortable conversation at a school function when you can just text your friends on your phone?  why participate in a town hall meeting when you can just join a Facebook group?  why surf the web anymore when twitter can just tell you what’s hot?  why go to a bar for a band you’ve never heard of when Pandora can just pick what you like?

Maybe it’s just me.

Food for thought.

Read the following Edge piece or check out “You are not a gadget”.

34. The Internet today is, after all, a machine for reinforcing our prejudices. The wider the selection of information, the more finicky we can be about choosing just what we like and ignoring the rest. On the Net we have the satisfaction of reading only opinions we already agree with, only facts (or alleged facts) we already know. You might read ten stories about ten different topics in a traditional newspaper; on the net, many people spend that same amount of time reading ten stories about the same topic. But again, once we understand the inherent bias in an instrument, we can correct it. One of the hardest, most fascinating problems of this cyber-century is how to add “drift” to the net, so that your view sometimes wanders (as your mind wanders when you’re tired) into places you hadn’t planned to go. Touching the machine brings the original topic back. We need help overcoming rationality sometimes, and allowing our thoughts to wander and metamorphose as they do in sleep.

David Gelernter

and do all this before midnight tonight when you pre-order your vision reducing iPad, like me!

oh well….

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This question, and its variants, might be the most common question asked in literature, storytelling, laws, history and philosophy (less so in daily conversations!).  This question defies an answer not because it is too complicated or out of our reach.  There is no such thing as Man (with a capital “M”), so the question is non-sense.

There is man – in the Linnaean taxonomy sense – you know, man is the creature with two hands, two feet, a biggish brain, two eyes and so on.  Though if we push hard enough on that – trace the evolutionary line back a couple of million years or push it forward a bit – we’ll find that pin pointing the precise animal known as “man” gets increasing hard to pin point.

This is definitely not a new idea or clever statement on my part.  I call attention to this in attempting to synthesize the impact of improving technology to augment our biological weaknesses, confusion over shifts in religious beliefs, global warming concerns, health care reform and other big things going on in our world that call into question some universal sense of Man.   My thesis is that clinging to a belief in Human Nature gets in the way of knowledge and impedes the progress of society on many fronts.  It is also can have grave consequences for each individual.

Cultures, societies, governments and various other collections of humans struggle to integrate big shifts within their lifetimes because learning is a long term exercise (some patterns of behavior take a lifetime to integrate).  The schedules we grow into throughout a lifetime are incredibly hard to change and sometimes require dramatic changes to the environment and/or our relation to it (body changes, for example).   It’s made every more difficult for most humans because our “blank slate” is so quickly filled with bad data, false assumptions, false positive patterns (aka superstition, religious dogma, good vs. evil, old wives tales, urban legends, irrational fears).   All of these things get associated with more and more behavior patterns very early and throughout life so much so that we all spend a life time UNLEARNING and DISASSOCIATING the falsehoods, inefficient behavior, and counter productive patterns.

The biggest false positive belief humans have is that there is Human Nature and definitive ideal of Man.  Our cultural narratives and norms claim that there is some Platonic form, some universal concept of Man and if we look hard enough, think deep enough, and/or believe enough we will understand Man and figure out how to really live.  This false positive concept of Man isn’t confined to religion or fading cultures – it pervades every modern institution too!   Top universities teach it (“liberal arts”).  Science chases it (google for scientific papers’ references to human nature).  Art celebrates it (the thinker!).  Churches preach it (man was made in the image of God).  Governments and courts enforce it (e.g. all men are created equal).  This belief is maintained over generations because it mostly “works” to keep people alive and procreating (at least, I think it does). A useful fiction, perhaps.  Truth, no.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

If we give up on Man what changes?  what contingencies go away?  what schedules are no longer maintained?

Does stem cell research pick up?  Do we march ever more quickly towards machine enhanced bodies and brains?  Do robots really start to pervade our workplaces? Would we really continue to worry so much about global warming destroying the sensitive environment we require?

How much does this false belief really change our behavior or is it just “exhaust” we spew out when trying to synthesize all the behavior around us?  That is, does a well defined and earnest belief in Man actually contribute to what we do or don’t do?

It’s an important discussion.

  • Health care reform tend to fall into two camps:  health care is a human right (Man is real and necessary) or health care is essentially an economic issue (Man is not relevant)
  • The penal system are built on a concept of perhaps not Universal Morality, but certainly a very strong concept of Character.
  • The debate on global warming rides on whether people believe the we should keep the earth at a stable temp for our current species biology (if we’re machines or just digitized versions or in space, global warming isn’t as concerning???)
  • Abortion rights are obviously about whether you think a bundle of cells in a woman’s body constitutes Man
  • End of Life decisions – is the life supported body still a Man when the lights have gone out?

Beyond these big issues consider many of the plots of recent pop culture smashes (all are about What is Man?):

  • Avatar
  • Terminator
  • Twilight
  • Heroes
  • Harry Potter
  • The Secret
  • Eckhart Tolle

If we lose the belief in Man (the soul, autonomous man, in God’s image, human nature) is there a negative impact personally and in society?  Do we all just become nihilists? Do we stop passionately pursuing things? do we devalue our relationships?

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