Archive for August, 2011

Control the Media: Control the State

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Essential to all revolutions, whether personal or political, is control of the means of communication. When one controls the medium of expression there is a lock on control. This is well-known to tyrants whose last gasp for power is a radical shut down of the means of communication. These attempts often come too late or are far too limited to actually alter the course of events. For some, namely Mubarak in Egypt, the shut down serves as fuel to the revolution’s fire and cull deeper inspiration.

Now that the Libyan rebels have taken control of the communication medium we can confidently assert their success. The previous regime’s loss of the means of communication is truly the final blow. It is only when one has lost the ability to reach the public in mass that one is truly defeated. The greatest asset for any group is the ability to reach ears and brains beyond the immediate scenes of action. Branching out and spreading one’s message gives one the tools for inspiration and a crucial device in seeking out further assistance for a cause.

Core Skill: Communication

August 23, 2011 Leave a comment

When challenged by confusion or uncertainty we seek answers from those beyond our level of understanding. Recognizing our own limitations, we consider our limited sphere and look to those whose “bubble of expertise” extends beyond our own. In essence, our questions seek their own answers.

Perhaps human kinds greatest asset is its diversity of expertise. Howard Gardner’s theory of “Multiple Intelligences” always strikes me as the greatest defense or source of pride for anyone who has ever felt insignificant or stupid. Gardner argues that each human being has an individualized expertise and a skill set that effectively makes him/her capable of expertise in a field. The work is ours to complete, but biologically each of us possesses the tools needed to be an expert at something.

Herein lies my question: What is an expert? Often we unload our questions onto our experts and chore them with educating us. We expect answers from experts because, well, they’re the experts. Expectation precedes the expert and our very search for answers directs us to these figures. Expertise is an earned title with varied avenues of receivership. Some are classified as experts merely by having experience of documentation of extensive study. Though possessive of the knowledge we seek, not every expert is capable of communicating that information in a way that connects with the audience. Many experts are locked up by an inability to communicate with those beneath his or her cognitive abilities. These are common limitations but factors that hinder the role of expertise and create an important lesson for us to remember: the endless depths of human limitation.

Paradoxically, our own limitations seem to seep deeper as we become experts. Extensive study can make us experts whose possession of information and understanding of complex ideas leave us a rare breed of understanding. Such expertise may dramatically exceed any other human being but an inability to communicate this expertise may leave our expertise limited to our own brains. What use is our expertise if we cannot communicate it? Suddenly our hard work becomes a selfish exercise in futility. Without the ability to communicate our knowledge our greatest achievements are merely personal endeavors and trophies for a personal hall-of-fame.

Communication is the key skill essential for all human functioning. Garder’s multiple intelligences may ring true but if we are unable to communicate our unique skill set we are inherently useless to society. Great minds may vary and society may benefit immensely from our diverse skill sets but if we are unable to share what we know we face even greater dangers. A failure to share information eliminates the evolution of information and great blossoming that comes from sharing ideas and perspectives. Expertise is a closet of understanding whose only breath of fresh air comes with the process of sharing. Communication is the means of sharing and the essential procedure by which humans grow and extend our expertise to even greater discoveries.

Essential Filters: Knowing When To Turn Off or Tune Out

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

When violated, our norms undergo one of two processes: “explain & maintain” or “adjust and reform.” Such adjustments occur automatically when our sense of expectation has been altered, moments when even our most exaggerated notions fail to include an event. These are profound moments, events whose details are so violent, so stunning that we must adjust our sense of the world. Altering our norms is the powerful reactions to these moments and occur as a requirement of these moments. Tasked with tragedy we must assess and draw conclusions, working to change who we are in order to better meet potential events.

In this sense, major moments take on “major” status only after we undergo this procedure. Our outer shells are essential for our interpretation and as we consider and re-hash our notions we begin the gradual process of understanding. This may be obvious, but while the common perspective that experience develops instantaneously it is only our personal explanation of our experience that determines reactions.

These “personal” responses are only part of the process. We also are subject to the responses of others and tailor our perspectives to the responses of those around us. While earlier generations had limited outside influences, contemporary culture is defined by the plethora of perspectives available. One could absorb and consider different perspectives forever, creating a situation where a definitive position is impossible. Given that this option is available, do we exist in a culture where definitive perspectives must come at a point of selective ignorance? Must we decide that our absorption of information is suitable for our reaction? It is impossible to gather all perspectives and though they are available, we must choose to disregard certain pieces of information in order to make a decision.

This act of filtering is a new process that contemporary society has imposed on citizens. Largely at the hands of technology, this responsibility to look away from the information is a symptom of our incredible progress as a society. Paradoxically this need to disregard info comes from a cadre of tools that provide too much information at too fast a rate for our brains to consider. Our brains are far behind the capabilities of technology. Media often muses on technologies power over users but I would argue that the power struggle has long been handed to technology. In terms of information reception, gadgets are capable of doing far more faster than its humble users.

Though power has been lost, users have the ability to filter information. This is the saving grace for human kind: the ability to turn off or tune out is the key ability in the battle. Utilize a filter and make a decision. Though you don’t know every detail, rest confidence in your sense of knowing enough and the eternal possibility of revision. The info is always there and waiting for attention.

The Terms of Terror: Semantic Adjustments Via Tragedy

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Turmoil’s effects on individuals extends far beyond those directly involved. Though not present, those who become aware of an event take on a minor role in the experience. Suddenly awareness becomes reaction and perspective. These minor actors are distant participants in the story, but play the crucial role in defining the true effects of an event. Even the most horrible attack possible is dependent on other’s awareness in order to have power. Tragedy that occurs without anyone knowing of it dies with the victims. For a terrorist, the ultimate risk is eliminating witnesses.

Herein lies the power of terrorism- though a small cluster of individuals physically experience a terrorist attack, a far larger response comes in the form of those who simply hear about the event. By exposure we become part of the story and a minor act in the event. Terrorists use these reactions to create power: a small militia’s true power lies in its ability to inspire emotional reactions in those far away from the actual attack.

Adjustments to norms stemming from these events are often semantic in nature: our personal notion of the term “devastation” must be adjusted when presented with “devastation” beyond our sense of the word. Emotionally reacting to what we see, we alter our sense of what devastation is, increasing magnitude, and update our vocabulary to include terms capable of referring to these terms.

Likewise, we make adjustments in moments of extreme happiness. These adjustments occur (hopefully) more often and are often referred to as expectations. A romantic getaway is only as valuable in comparison to the getaways of the past and future. An individual will experience the event and compare it his or her previous experiences, the experiences she has heard of from others and maybe even her own fantasies of possible vacations. Moments never occur in bubbles- every experience exists to be compared to moments of previous, potential and future forms.

Rabid Rage: Means to Social Destruction

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Events in Egypt and, more recently, England, reveal the power in social cohesion. A popular belief exists that assumes a fragmented society whose technological goodies function largely to break down group cohesion and celebrate profound individuality. Devices that provide each person certainly do provide each user to exist in a community of speakers, but those who fail to recognize the ability for devices to link and expand ideas fails to recognize the true power of technology.

Though soft and fun for some, technology’s adaptability provides human ingenuity with devices to enact historic states of change. Alterations of technology have long existed in a culture sense- hip hop artists who used digital samplers to capture and recycle sounds created a new art form of audio collage. Extending beyond these uses, devices became less a handy gadget and quickly a tool whose unknown or hidden features provided the individual with an ability to communicate in new ways. Suddenly a hack gave way to an art form.

When utilized towards a common goal, technology can function to provide a small group with massive amounts of power. Technology with a communication element can be combined with other communication technologies to create a powerful collective. When clustered, devices can be cobbled together for profound effects. The critical variable is the intended result. Given this power, how does a group deploy the cadre of devices. Does one want to connect with friends or share items for culture? Tech can certainly allow one with this ability but if charged with more powerful desires these same gadgets give one the ability to spark revolution, create new art forms and revolutionize the ways in which a previously indifferent public responded to daily happenings.

One of the major alterations that the revolutions in the Middle East will reveal is the expanded sense of how technology can be used for revolution. While the final states of the countries remains in question, the means to justify these as-yet-uncertain ends exists as an established fact. The revolutions used technology to garner major changes and while the world watched in wonder it became apparent that new tools existed for these means. Watching on the very same devices used in the streets, tech-savy users were able to look away from their devices and see the powerful cadre at their disposal. Suddenly the angry teenager in his bedroom could see his collection of toys not as mere distractions but as weapons to a new society.

The internet has drastically altered the uses of technology. Given the ability to link communication devices, dissidents and unhappy individuals can grapple their society with affordable toys and gadgets. Recent history has revealed the power of these devices and with expanded reflection and technological development, the uses of technology to garner major change will reap major changes to the world. Chaos has a new face in the world and in its arms is likely an internet connected device with the ability to share the action on the street and inspire others to join the fight.

Tyrannical History

August 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Moments do not occur in bubbles. Though our memory is composed of blips of experience we sometimes lose sight of the ways in which we evaluate these experiences. Never do we have an experience without relation to our other experiences; instead, each experience occurs with an immediate reflection in which we compare the new experience with experiences of the past.

There are distinct benefits to these process: each moment occurs with background information that informs our response. If each day was filled with completely new experiences, life would be an exhaustive series of moments demanding response. Our experience gives us context, a wonderful gift that tells us how to respond to a situation. When we recognize a common feature between the moment and a memory we can apply what we have learned and act.

Despite these benefits we face significant challenges under such a system. New experiences are never truly “fresh” experiences and we easily fall into a trap of evaluation. How does this new experience compare to the past? Evolutionary benefits aside, we often use our experiences to make judgments. The gourmet industry exists because of these skills: now a cheese burger is an item of comparison in which we can evaluate it and expand our judgments outward. History gives us a the terms of comparing the now with the then and establishing expectations for the future.

The biggest pitfalls of this process of comparison comes in endeavors where history holds considerable sway. Perhaps politics is the largest domain for these dangers- often we see politicians whose actions are less tied with the demands of the moment and more invested in the actions of the past or possible reactions of the future. Though our brains are designed to respond to the moment, our society is a complicated system in which moments must be evaluated in multiple contexts. Today’s world is far too complicated to rest decision making on the historical record, the distant future or even the needs of the moment. One must consider each domain and make the best decision.

The greatest challenge our politicians face is the chore of making decisions that affect the past, the present and the future. Tasked with comparisons of what was and what might be, considerations of the present often lead to bad choices biased too heavily towards one domain. Balance is the key.

Categories: Uncategorized

Knowing and Not Telling: Information Classification

August 2, 2011 Leave a comment

If a piece of information exists, everyone (given the needed abilities) can be aware of it and assist in its further dissemination. In some sense, we are all educators and each tidbit of knowledge is less a possession and more a piece of data with which to function in society. Beyond financial measures, what better way to evaluate the value of an individual than by his or her contribution to the knowledge of society? Likewise, we can evaluate a society on this basis: how well does the society create an environment where information can be gathered and spread? How well does the society establish the foundation for this sharing to exist? These are critical questions and valuable insights when considering quality of life.

Despite the “universal access” to information which comes from the ability to communicate certain artificial boundaries are used to limit the spread of knowledge. Not all knowledge is created equal. Certain forms of information are too intimate for public consumption. We classify information according to different levels according to personal needs. When certain people need to know information they are provided with access though these same individuals may be secluded from other pieces of information deemed beyond their “need to know.” One certainly doesn’t share personal details of home life with professional colleagues or details of the workplace with casual acquaintances in the grocery aisle.

Certain professions depend on this classification of information to function effectively. The military utilizes classification to control secrets and maintain security. In some sense all professions protect information, though the forms and depth of detail vary. At the highest form of classification there are technical details at stake: ingredient combinations, manufacturing processes and market data are common high-level information protected. At lower corporate levels the classification of data becomes more personal as individual employees protect their ideas and knowledge gained from experience from other who employees who could poise a threat. In a toxic environment there is no sharing and information that drastically improves efficiency becomes sacred data for employees under pressure.

At its core, information is an objective entity. The facts and figures that make up data are cold and emotionless, though, as with all items reaching human brains, tainted with subjective classification. Information’s social life begins when humans take possession of information and distort the existence of data for personal or corporate gain. The “need to know” is a means by which data is classified and certain people are granted the rights to knowledge. Though all things can be known, there are some who function to control what we know and those whose knowledge of our lack of knowledge classifies us in numerous ways. In society there are those whose “need to know” leaves them utterly in darkness and yet blissfully unaware of their status.


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