Archive for December, 2010

Ownership and Protection

December 31, 2010 1 comment

In the previous post I considered the ways that one’s principles must be disregarded when functioning in a leadership position. This sort of role switching or multiple personality expectation runs constant through a multitude of human interactions and roles. In many ways we are required to perform these alterations of character in order to function successfully in society. For better or worse, we exist in a world where we must be dynamic in order to fulfill the varied expectations of our plethora of encounters in the world.

Do we like this? No way! All of this is very hard work, in fact its downright exhaustive and deadly as witnessed by the mortality rates of many corporate and political leaders. These statistics reveal the effects of this system on the individual but how does the corporation as a whole respond? Do corporations or large groups respond in a certain way? How does the collective group make adjustments to create stability in such turmoil?

In The Master Switch, Tim Wu seems to paint a series of images that suggest the corporation respond with monopolization and protectionism. As competition rises and a corporation invests larger amounts of capital into a challenge an adjustment occurs that in many ways reflects the sense of ownership created by these sacrifices. The figures who drive corporations steer companies into a position of ownership that swats away competition and seeks a level of control which gifts a sense of comfort via security. Wu highlights the response of Western Union, AT&T and movie studios as large examples and moves on to suggest that Apple and Google may be sliding into this role.

It should not come as a surprise that corporations develop this protectionist perspective. We cannot forget that corporations are composed of human beings. Furthermore, this collection of humans is under a special form of pressure in the form of corporate expectation. As my earlier post suggested, individuals functioning as actors for corporations often need to disregard personal principles for the sake of the company.

This is an inherently dehumanizing process and yet one that remains essential to the success of both actor and corporation. It is logical and understandable that a move to monopolization occurs- great sacrifice creates an expectation for pay off. After all, in both the corporate and personal world a major sacrifice which fails to flower can be viewed as a major weakness. In light of this let us not forget that human beings run our corporations and the human need for self-preservation makes monopolization and protectionism a natural response.

Government intervention can assist society both in making progress and protecting markets. Interventions in the form of funding to programs with broad social benefit (construction of country-wide phone lines, roadways and the development of the internet) are excellent examples of projects where public money can be used to assist the creation of a market that will benefit society as a whole. These investments ease the entry into a market and create an environment where development can occur. As an additional bonus, a corporation that does not have to make major investments will not develop protectionist tactics.

The best strategy to avoid personal and corporate protectionism is smart government intervention. By taking care of the major investments, the government can ease access into a market and create a platform for innovation. In situations where a social benefit is evident it is worthwhile that a government utilize public dollars to assist public good.

Holiday Reflections

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

New Year’s is the perfect holiday for reflection. A single night’s arbitrary transition from one year to the next offers a wealth of opportunities both to consider what has occurred and what lies ahead. I’ve always found reflection to be the more valuable of behaviors on this evening, the creation of resolutions smacks too much of hapless disregard and disconnect. If we really want to have a more successful year ahead we should look back and what occurred in these past twelve months.

An in-depth personal assessment can reveal common trends and errors. Just what have we done in this past year? What were we searching for? Importantly we need to focus on a variety of issues; perhaps, most importantly blending in warm and cold assessments of our progress. A year’s collection of success need also be contrasted with a year’s collections of failures and misgivings. Looking to the forces that drove us in these last twelve months I hope we consider the reasons behind these issues and not fall short at simply identifying shortfalls and vying to strive harder in the year ahead.

We are a fallible species but with a focused, prolonged reflection we can begin to uncover many of the interior ingredients that make up our lives. It’s a chore for us, a dense collection of animals, but if given the proper amount of time we can uncover many of the hidden factors within us. I hope my own reflection to be successful and look forward to a 2011 with a better sense of who I am, what I want, and where it is I hope to be when the time arrives for post-2011 reflection and the dawn of 2012. I hope only to have learned.

Principles v. Responsibilities

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

An interesting feature of contemporary life is an expectation that we separate our principles with our responsibilities. We now have multiple roles in life: professional and private lives being two of the more distinct and varied formats. In order to be successful in contemporary professional culture we need to not only accept the expectation that we will separate our principles from our responsibilities but also fully utilize this separation for the benefit of our employers. To our benefactors we are expected to do whatever is asked of us; anything less is justification for termination.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger saw two distinct spheres of existence, both of which were defined by the relation to the rest of human kind. In the “public sphere” the individual functions on the basis of social norms and perceived expectations. According to Heidegger’s writings, it is only in the “private sphere” that an individual’s true personality shines through.

Subscribing to these beliefs establishes the precedent that a person is only “real” when in private. Furthermore, the individuals we encounter are not realistic representations, but are instead personal concoctions created to meet perceived expectations and social norms. This human function instills the separation of principles and responsibilities. The professional world has grasped on the awareness of the two spheres and created an expectation that our “public self” the false character of who we are, can function with the needed “false emotions” to act not in accordance with personal needs but instead for the benefit of the employer.

Interestingly, society does not maintain this distinction through the life cycle of a business. When successful, this cold-hearted, inhuman behavior expectation goes unquestioned. Lives are forever altered: weak employees are terminated, factories are shut down and re-opened in cheaper locations and a swath of corporate maneuvers are carried out with sole interest for the company at play. But what occurs with failure? What happens when the darker sides of corporation are considered and brought to light? Suddenly the acceptance of “responsibilities before principles” is discarded and the corporate actors in the spotlight are characterized as cold-hearted and inhuman. Rapidly the perceived positive qualities (here to fore qualities of the successful) are positive things, but face complication and failure and the reaction to these qualities is flipped and public pride becomes vengeful hatred.

A social system that strays into emotional denial immediately strays into dangerous territory. Reality is destroyed when a corporate actor understands success to be dependent on the ability to discard principles. Can we alter this system? It is highly unlikely? Why? Because this system of personal denial has brought about immense amounts of success. With our distance from human emotion and reality we have crafted narratives of existence that we have then manipulated for our benefits. Long ag0 we greeted this dangerous territory and will never make an exit. For now there is only one critical skill we all must develop: recognition.

When we see the system for what it is we can respond and prepare accordingly. Responsibilities tout personal principles in successful people and in order to function in a world where these players exist we must cruise with calm awareness. Take on this very skill to increase the possibility of success, but be wary of the damage such adjustments can bring about. It is a risky game of denial when these features are utilized.

Piled High: Our Subjective Historical Record

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

History can be a tricky thing. For some, the records of the past reveal details of the present. Look carefully and one will see a cause and effect relationship with the past and present. Can we explain the way things are by tracking down the way things were? In “Burnt Norton”, T.S. Eliot seems to waver near this conclusion, nudging us with a suggestion that “time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future.”

Let’s forget this line drawing though and focus specifically on what history is. History is our knowledge of the past, it is the collected ball of knowledge passed down from generation to generation. At its core, history is memory delivered. Human beings have a tendency to seek out greater meanings and history is an easy area of interpretation. Suddenly the moments that make up our history become fodder for this musing. Birthed from these considerations we have myth and fable and the a selective interpretation that smears a subjective layer to history that ultimately distorts the objective core of history and influences how each generation learns and considers the events of the past. In short, human beings do not have an objective history- everything we know has been distorted by the creative minds that have heard, considered and re-told the vibrant record of our past.

The narrative dynamic of our history is where these adjustments take place. Minor details like dates or number-related data (deaths, costs, etc…) often remain preserved with an amount of accuracy. It is in the stories of our history that the adjustments are made: subjectivity is infused in the transactions between listener and speaker.

What are the consequences of these transactions? If we accept the claim that objective history is an oxymoron we must distance ourselves from the influence of historical record. We must adopt a level of skeptical distance and caution ourselves when encountering any and all historical information. As a result we must discard our history and slide even further into the bubble of individuality. Because history is our connection to our past, a disconnection from history is a profound refusal of the culture we exist inside. Deny history and greet alienation.

One has a choice when considering history. One cannot accept a claim that all history is objective. Even a single subjective detail inserted into the historical record forever alters the data. Accept the subjectivity and make the choice: one can either deny the subjectivity or invest in a notion that such subjectivity is minor and that critical gems of objectivity remain preserved in the record. Or, turn away from history and consider the individual a bubble in time whose relation to the past has only established the basic details of life (location, family, culture, etc…). Beyond these details the narrative of the past is a tainted cluster of images. Such a state accepts alienation as the only state of life. Choose either delusion and potential happiness or choose recognition of delusion and with it the level of alienated individuality.


Raging On: Interests, Passions and Identity

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Among the many devices that humans use to identify themselves in relation to fellow human beings are “areas of interest.” These items, or sources of inspiration and passion, are the activities, items, or behaviors that excite the individual. We enjoy only a selective cluster of things and in considering this cluster better understand who we are as individuals. In a way, our interests function as a distinction from the rest of the population or, in some cases, assist in understanding which cluster of human beings we belong to. In short, our interests both define who we are and connect us to the rest of the population. Furthermore, this connection is two-fold: functioning both for the individual whose interests are under consideration and the population at large in which the individual is a member.

Due to this important factor, the communication of these interests is often the most powerful communication of any human being. An individual will express an interest in multiple formats and medium. Beyond dress and the image presented to the world, an individual will verbally express interests and act out these interests when possible. We seem desperate to tell as many people as often as possible what it is that makes us who we are. One wonders whether if in doing so we are merely engaging in our favorite behavior or functioning with ulterior motives, perhaps seeking out others who are like us or even trying to convince ourselves that this so-called interest is in fact as interesting and engaging as we believe. Does our behavior secretly state, “See me doing this and having fun? Do you like this and if so do you want to do this with me?” or “I’m doing this and I think I’m having fun. Am I really having fun?”

Sometimes we never know.

For some the communication of interests comes not in frequency of demonstration but in power. The consumption of food and beverage are interests best suited to this technique, but any activity that involves extensive physical action can utilize this format- specifically the jogger who runs further, longer or later than another. “How extreme are you? This is how extreme I am” seems to be the silent communication at play here. The drinker will consume until beyond appreciation of the item or the eater will consume so much to render his or her physical state beyond stasis. In a way we’re expressing the idea that we love our interest so much that we’re drowning in the passion.

The need to express an interest is understandable. Often we utilize varied formats to express our interests, most often via frequency and power. For some these expressions serve to communicate the level of interest and establish legitimacy. We all fear the status of amateur and see it as an insult to our personal value. One of the sourest human emotions is the sense of mediocrity. The sting of being half-interested or partially-skilled leaves us all desperate to express the things we love and drive home our point as clearly as possible. After all, if we can’t even express our interest in the things we love how great can we be at actually engaging in the behavior?

The Rising Subjective Web

December 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Web 2.0 has been characterized as a period in which a more social utilization of the internet became popular. Unlike Web 1.0 when websites were geared to individual experiences this new period is illustrated by the various forms of social networks which seek to connect individuals on the basis of varied common bonds. A major selling point of Web 2.0 is the commercial implications that this new level of socialization brings about. Unlike Web 1.o where an individual in the market utilized the internet for access to objective data (Government testing results) or subjective data from media figures (Consumer review journalists), the consumer of Web 2.0 utilizes the net to see what product a friend purchased or to gather feedback on a product on the basis of the social network. The new era of internet use is largely defined by this adjustment to use: transitioning into a paradigm where the network of the web functions less as a gateway to information and more as a network breaking down the physical distances of other networks and largely eliminating factors that otherwise kept these individuals separated.

The rise of a subjective web in which the opinions of members of a social network are more influential than expert opinion or “objective” data has many economic and cultural implications. Previous iterations of technology have indirectly fragmented consumers by taking them away from the social networks that defined previous generations. As Tim Wu’s The Master Switch illustrates, cable television was largely designed to appeal to niche markets. Similarly the telephone was a technology utilized by an individual to connect to another individual- group calling existed but this network ability was expensive and more exclusionary to participants. The internet is unique in many ways but perhaps the largest dynamic is this ability to create a strong social bond between individuals on so many levels.

If the subjective web continues to expand we will see a new form of consumer whose paradigm in the market place is radically different from previous forms. The new consumer will enter the market with the opinions of the social network as the major driving force. In a sense, a Web 2.0 consumer enters the market place with an invisible sphere or influences who will instruct and assist the individual’s motives. No longer will a sales person function as the major guide to a product. Web 2.0 shifts market place expertise from those who own and run the market and delivers it into the consumer hands. A smarter customer can be more critical and careful and base decisions of factors disparate from the issues of quality. In a subjective web there are new forms of expertise- less focused on quality and more on a product’s ability to gain traction in a social network. Herein lies a danger and potential for disaster.

The End of Terror

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The power of terrorism is unavoidably linked to the emotional reactions of those not present. It is the overheard reports, the secondary eye-witness stories that relay the events that ultimately create panic and, as a result, the emotional power of terrorism. The actual act of terror, the bomb explosion at X location or the hijacking of X form of transportation at X location holds more emotional power than physical power- the panic inspired from an act will be greater to those outside the physical location of the act. Ultimately, in order for terrorism to be effective, a terrorist depends on the bystanders (whether a mile of thousands of miles away) to quake in fear of an act.

In this dependence on reaction we find the major fault of terrorism and a possible end of its use: over-exposure. Similarly to bad art or trash TV, the producers of material designed to shock an audience must fight the power of diluted reaction. Gradually the public accepts the state of material and moves forward. A decade ago the Jerry Springer Show shocked American audiences but today we find a deluge of more shocking programming that took note of Springer’s ideas and then ratcheted up the shock value. A program like Jackass would never be able to air in the 1950’s and yet in today’s entertainment environment its content grows tamer by the day. With comparison comes the need for exaggeration: the pubic needs the newest thing no matter if it shocks to taste buds or moral inclinations of vulgarity.

Just as trash TV faces the uphill battle to ratcheting up shock, terrorists also face the challenge of maintaining shock. An over-abundance of terrorist acts leads to the acceptance that these horrible events happen. Gradually the public accepts a world where extremists clamor at opportunities to kill citizenry or disrupt society in some form or another. “Its just the way things are,” some might say, a tragic and yet calming perspective that shows that human beings will never rattle in panic. This global reaction alone should teach terrorists that their methods are inherently faulted.

The point I seek to make is that terrorism will ultimately be impossible to conduct effectively. Gradually the public will come to accept terrorism as a way of life and stop reacting with panic. We will come to accept terrorist acts on Christmas, we will hear of a terrorist hijacking and understand it to be just another event of tragedy we have to swallow. Slowly with acceptance comes a reduction in the emotional power of terrorism. As this process takes hold the extremists of the world will reach a point where of the calculation of an act will sway to make it not worthwhile to act out. Such a calculation would appear like this:


Value of Terrorist Act = Public Reaction – Costs of Action

Interestingly, as we grow more accepting of terrorism, terrorists will need to ratchet up events which will lead to higher investments. Slowly the cost of terrorism will not be worth the investment. As our reaction dims the power or action slowly loses value and the costs of terrorism grow to steep.

Is there a lesson here? Perhaps. This remains just a basic observation after going to bed and wondering where the Christmas terrorist attack would be taking place. I wondered where and when it would happen, almost knowing that when I woke up this morning there would be a story, Unfortunately for the world such a story was in today’s headlines and though tragic and horrible, I can’t help but wonder how the constant onslaught of terrorist acts will slowly create the stale feeling of expectation that I felt last night. Is such a reaction more a psychological factor as acceptance actually internalize responses or with acceptance are we evolving to accept the ways things are and indirectly diluting the power of terrorist acts.

Text Reflection: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1890 William James gifted us with an equation from which to understand and predict our amount of self-esteem. For James, our evaluation ourselves boils down to an evaluation of personal success in light of pretensions. In short, what did we want and how much of it did we get? The equation works well to remind us that lower standards are easier to achieve and, if possible, a far happier life will blossom for individuals whose aspirations are more humble or at least easier to achieve. For the “pie in the sky” dreamers whose aspirations for greatness knowingly require constant dedication, luck and effort there exists the higher chance of low-self esteem and the daunting notion that failure is the highest possible outcome.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz urges readers to keep a realistic perspective on personal aspirations. We are better served by a humble perspective towards life: avoid perfection, disregard regret, and recognize that our information obsessed society works against our need for control and focus. For Schwartz a world of endless choices and possibility is a nightmare, his text suggests that humans need their limitations and if placed into a world without boundaries, the majority of the population will wither in indecision. He cites a study by Richard Eckersley that connects increased rates of suicide with high rates of independence and personal choice. For Schwartz, our world of choice is literally driving some to mental illness and, in the worst cases, the act of suicide.

Choice can be a dangerous thing. If one is a perfectionist than no decision will bring happiness; because, after all, we may have bought an item that fulfills our every need and gives us pleasure, but are we sure it is the best? In the end the potential for something better will forever haunt the perfectionist even when such an item’s existence is unknown. Schwartz warns against this pattern of thinking, referring to those who engage in this behavior as “Maximizers” and showing that these individuals have more regret, are less happy and are even more prone to depression and suicide. Herein James’ theory applies: the Maximizer’s standards are too high.

The best attack plan towards life is to be realistic. Don’t aim too high and strive for balance. There’s a power in figures from our culture who urge us in this direction. As we leap further into a society where everything can be known at anytime and any place, we risk disconnecting ourselves from our community and sense of rational pace. Schwartz reminds us that the community is the most important thing in life, pointing to studies that reveal community membership to be the most likely indicator for happiness. We may have everything but if left all alone and unable to share the things we’ve learned, what is the point? In the end we’re better held in the company of friends and family with whom we can share the bounties of our world and revel in the power of our culture

Wikipedia: The Latest Great Human Creation

December 22, 2010 1 comment

Wikipedia is a remarkable piece of work. Since its creation on January 15, 2001, the online encyclopedia has blossomed into a power house of over thirteen-million members maintaining over three-million pages of content. Beyond its depth the site also has broken a number of news stories, most notably the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, reflected on this development on NPR in 2007.

And yet despite the sheer size of the resource and the fact that each of its three-million pages are the creation of a voluntary group, the site is considered low-grade and is frequently frowned upon as less a viable resource and more an extensive wall of graffiti and system where bad info prevail. Critics cite a lack of editorial oversight (untrue) or a skepticism about the general public’s ability to craft a legitimate educational resource. Some, it seems, are doubtful that non-experts are capable of creating legitimate info.

Of course any user of Wikipedia will recognize the error of these perspectives. The gradual evolution of the site has been a response to the growing body of users and now includes features that preserve and protect pages from rapid or irrational changes. Users who aim to damage the legitimacy of Wikipedia face hurdles in doing so and every set of eyes who utilize Wikipedia possess the ability to improve or correct material on the site. It is the a constantly expanding resource just like the human race and the collective knowledge we possess.In some ways Wikipedia is an abstract representation of our minds, an artificial symbol that reflects our progress, foibles and pitfalls as intelligent creatures.

Wikipedia is a jewel of human creation. It is the single greatest human creation in the last one-hundred years and perhaps, the greatest and only thing that collective human beings have ever created. Never in our history have we worked together to create something like Wikipedia. Some pose the question of what material would be best to showcase Earth to a visiting group of aliens. What piece of art? What film or piece of music could serve to represent our many cultures and ideas. The answer now is simple: the provision of access to Wikipedia will suffice to reveal just who we were, are and continue to be. We’re an imperfect bunch, ever growing and learning and just like all of our creations are reflections of their creator, Wikipedia reveals just how strong and weak we are.

Unwrapped: Gift Giving and Influence

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

The process of purchasing a gift is a complicated process. When we finally reach the check-out and exchange our money for an item we reach the culmination of a series of complicated maneuverings used to inform our selection. What begins as a simple question, “What should I buy him?” becomes a slippery slope of musings that reveal much about who we are, who we perceive our friends to be and the person we hope to present. A thoughtful gift is far more than just an item to make life easier: a shopper who sincerely seeks out the “perfect” gift ventures into a complicated maze of assumptions and compromises.

Our initial thoughts will focus solely on the receiver of our gift. We begin by wondering what the person needs, seeking out an item that can make their life easier. We have the best of intentions at this stage and see the list of potential gifts as endless. It is only in the marketplace that we begin to compromise and narrow down the list based on item availability, cost or the factors of our own life that affect our venture for the perfect gift. Even in situations where a perfect gift is found we begin to tweak our perspectives to the issue of what the gift communicates about us and develop ideas on the reaction of the receiver when this potential gift is received. Suddenly a simple process becomes an act of physical communication which extends far beyond the simplicity of the initial notion.

Gradually the receiver’s needs and wants becomes a secondary factor, replaced at this stage with our personal concepts of who we are and how we want the receiver to perceive us. We begin to look for an item that communicates the identity we project to the receiver of the gift. We see a similar behavior when we buy gifts for family, friends and colleagues. Each gift is closely tied to the person we aim to project. Our gifts become extensions of these identities and minor items loaded with important symbolic power.

Our gifts are projections of the identities we present to the world. Just like our gifts which are wrapped snug in paper disguises, we present a similar distorted perspective to the world. When our gifts are open we unveil both our selection and the perception we aim to transfer. Gifts are rich in symbolic power and function as a yearly reminder of who we are and who it is we want the world to perceive.

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