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Utility of Choices

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Just as our decisions reflect back on who we are, the utility of these choices has suggestive power. We learn more about who we are when we consider what we purchase and the reasons beyond our thinking. In Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character admonishes us by saying “You are not your fucking khakis,” but how accurate is this statement? Are we not, in some minor sense, our purchases?

Everything we buy exists in multiple domains. A pair of Dockers khakis are at once khakis and symbols of our culture, perceived social status and the characterization of ourselves we wish to present to the world. Certainly the individual wearing a pair of khakis is seeking to suggest something different from an individual wearing frayed jeans. We benefit in our ability to use these varied symbols as we need to: everyone can wear khakis or jeans and do so on the basis of what the moment demands.

It is in this deployment of choice that we can learn so much. If each of us can posses the varied means of communication than it is in the application and selection that the real communication takes place. What pants does he wear and when? Pants are just one example of this ability to communicate. Similar options exist in what we eat, where we live and even what we choose to view on television. All aspects of life come with options and it is in the selection that the individual is revealed.

Beyond Apology

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Certain individuals achieve a heightened level in society that renders bad deeds beyond apology. The Celebrity X whose racial epithets become public or the popular singer whose demands appear monumentally selfish. These are the figures whose fall comes just as fast as their rise: born via media attention they fall away in flames as the very beast that allowed them platform falls away and leaves them desperate.

Unfortunately the skills that give birth to additional attention do not provide the ability to control message. Celebrity X may write a great song or cook a great dish, but if he or she cannot control behavior than very little remains safe. Protection comes cheap in a world of public attention and a citizenry fascinated with a rapid rise is just as entertained by a rapid fall. The flames that kiss so often burn to ash.

When an individual achieves celebrity status, he or she transcends their human form and becomes a symbol. Is the Celebrity Chef really a human being or is her existence less about who she is and more what she brings to those who give her platform. Comedian Marc Maron often simplifies the process of celebrity making as essentially determined by a single question: “Have you made me money?” Those that do are granted attention because they provide the source with profit. Advertising runs media and anyone who fails to provide this capital or tarnish a networks ability to profit risks annihilation.

When the celebrity does violate the brand and his or her image has been destroyed there is little that remains. Damage to one’s reputation is damage to the brand. The Celebrity Chef may try to apologize but her position has been eliminated. She has violated the image and tarnished brand. Try though she might she has little left to save: the meals been burnt and her tables long been cleared.

Mismeasurements

May 25, 2013 1 comment

Executives tasked with creating a network of programming must measure its consumption. Determining popularity is essential when deciding what material remains in production. Limited resources demand that only the most popular material exist, but how does one measure this popularity? Most often it is a  quantitative measure of reception: how many viewers are consuming?

Contemporary technology has made this measuring process far more complicated than in decades past. What was once a living room of one television has become a world of multiple devices. Among the many locations where today’s viewer engages with media are game consoles, smart phones and set top boxes. Rich variety means greater access to viewers but one in which measurement is difficult.

Ironically, a piece of content that becomes popular with collective groups suffers from poor measurement. Viewed in mass, a program seen from a single device may entertain a mass of hundreds. Are these multiple eyes measured? Often not as the single device means single viewer.

Most important in the measurement process is a realistic understanding of inherent limitations. If it is not possible to accurately measure something is it best to abandon the attempt? Perhaps a better technique is to develop a more realistic perspective. If we cannot know exactly are we best served by an acceptance of the most realistic? When certainty is impossible we need not resign ourselves to the displeasure of ineptitude. Limited though we are, what we can know does have value and our best perspective is one based on everything we know.

Distortion Games

May 25, 2013 Leave a comment

In one sense, to participate within society is to subscribe to a collection of symbols. Citizens might be understood as a collective of subscribers- individuals who are both aware and participatory in a system of signs. Within my collective I can see a vertical strip of colors and understand green to mean “go” and red to mean “stop”. Likewise green can mean recycle in some other contexts. Meanings are fluid, but as a member of my collective I learn to adapt to new adaptations. I change just as my symbols do- ever evolving in application.

If so inclined, one might seize these symbols and utilize them for personal gain. This story introduces one such attempt. Here the company is taking advantage of the collective’s response to an ambulance. The collective understands the ambulance with flashing lights to mean a medical emergency is taking place and that they need to make way for the vehicle. If seen with flashing lights, each member of the collective knows they are expected to pull over.

How might an authority stop this manipulation of symbols? Certainly unable to stop each ambulance to verify that an emergency is taking place, the “manipulating company” enjoys multiple layers of protection. Trafficking in symbols of medical emergency provides an added level of security as the uninvolved fear getting involved and endangering a real-life problem. Far symbols hold more power than those involved with emergency. Merely flashing red and blue lights suggest emergency and demand attention.

Most Powerful of Powers

May 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Influence comes in many forms. In its most basic (and likely historical) form, influence by bulk allows direction and control. The bigger body holds command because its simply bigger. The bigger body is a threat, a potential hazard threatening life. “I’m bigger and can hurt you”, though unspoken, hovers over interactions.

In our need to avoid pain and continue our existence we self-preserve in consolation. Roll over, weak man, the bigger one is near and knows just what he wants. Dare the smaller body refuse to concede, he must utilize a different form of influence.

Where physical power is defeated a power of cognition fogs the interaction. Tasked with challenging a stronger figure, the weaker body’s strength of mind becomes the crucial tool. The weaker one can gain power by manipulating interpretation. Reality is understood by interpretation and any technique that can muddle this procedure gives way to endless forms of control.

To control what one perceives is far simpler than it seems. Can one decide what another sees? Can sound be manipulated or the very tools from which one frames the sense of life? Herein lies the greatest form of influence: the controlling of the mind.

For the skilled operator of rhetoric and reason it is the ability to control interpretation that has greatest power. Well deployed by leaders of all areas of life, this skill provides the user with immense strength. Millions have given their lives for causes and figures whose existence they were unaware of until some introduction. No one is born with a call to action or need to fulfill a destiny. All must be indoctrinated and convinced to act.

The control of the mind is the greatest power. For some, the ability to manipulate the intellect is an in-born skill. Discovered with age, the master manipulators in society spill forth with perhaps the most profound decision granted to an individual: to manipulate or not to manipulate? For those gifted with the ability to influence it is simply a question of application. While some will recognize their gifts and skills as devices from which to create a better good, others will see powers for abuse. How might one utilize the ultimate gift? If power corrupts it does so while providing the simple question of “How?” If you choose to use these skills, it asks, how will you do so? In the end there is no greater strength than this ability to use communication to manipulate. Is our entire history a series of responses by figures given these skills? History is a narrative of these answers.

Insistence Unforgetting

May 5, 2013 Leave a comment

To commemorate is to call back to memory trauma of the past. We commemorate to not forget, to battle memory’s passing and bind more tightly our experience with our memory. Do we commemorate to honor? Do we show respect in reliving our tragedies? From year to year we return again to guilt and fault. We turn again to follies and tragedies in hopes of what? Do we honor or learn from these actions?

One wonders whether every day could be filled with actions of nostalgia and while useful one wonders whether a greater folly is taking place. As with many human conundrums, time heals all and through the passage of years we evolve to different views. Wisdom comes slowly and our experiences provide us with different perspectives. We are learning creatures: never perfect and never made complete. Herein lies the key- recognition of imperfection and the need to turn away from commemoration. We learn little in reliving our past and work against our own evolution. Escape the muck of evil thinking and look ahead.

Though history has great value, one must distinguish between history and commemoration. The key is tone and intention. History is objective record, a presentation of facts and the details surrounding those who acted in that time. Commemoration largely discards these details and considers ancient figures in the terms of today. We compare those of the past with our beliefs of today. Of course they will look different. Discarding human learning and the natural process of cultural evolution eliminates a legitimate intellectual action. What we can learn from the past does not come from subjective perspective.

Modern Mayhem

March 24, 2013 Leave a comment

One motif in post-modern or (at least) some contemporary media is a search for identity. Films like Fight Club present the individual in search of identity. Often male, the figure lurks through the world in pursuit of a meaningful purpose. Careers are stable and financially fulfilling but fail to prove a personal sense of value. Equally as shallow are the material possessions that these characters seem so capable of acquiring. These are wealthy men- men whose apartments are both stylish and self-designed.

Often the solution to these character’s conundrum is a self-pursued path of destruction. Each, it seems, blindly walks into an unconscious free fall. Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone seems the perfect soundtrack for this journey. “Until you ain’t got nothin’, you got ‘nothing to lose.” These men have it all and yet have nothing. Their paradox is what we now know as the modern condition: though we pursue wealth and status it is empty and the only real value in life is via humility and the spiritual.

Herein lies the risk: spirituality and humility have been hijacked by the very model they exist to contradict. Keen individuals recognize the need for spirituality and traffic in its pursuit. Self-help is a genre of reading and travel. Spiritual retreats promise relaxation and self-discovery.

Is the solution to this “modern condition” a recognition of real humility and spirituality. It is not church and it is not self-help. Instead it is the realization that pure reality must be sought. If we are unhappy it is our fault. We do not need to pursue anything. Instead, we are served best by a stripping away of the items we have used to lift ourselves away from who we are. If we hate who we are we have only one real solution: confront and pursue.

Too often we run from what we are and what we hate. Do not run away. See that which you hate and work towards the creation of a solution. Running away will only lead to more confusion. As the clip above suggests, sometimes the only real solution is to simplify the problem. Though you want the water because it seems to make sense your “common sense” is wrong. You cannot know the solution and find safety in the sour vinegar of reality. It burns because its there and its there because its happening. Be present and aware.

Human Tool Reflections

March 23, 2013 Leave a comment

That which we use defines us. In our tools we see both need and solution. Hold a hammer and support within your hand a remnant of a problem solved. What can be learned from our tools? Do we see our priorities in our devices? It is our selections that tell the story. Preference refers to selection and the process by which need became desire and desire became reality.

The sense of “choice” and “taste” comes more from popular notions of selection and less from actual quality. What is a “choice wine” but one that has been selected by another. Does the expert palette serve the general tongue? Expertise and specialty does not suggest the ability to provide a greater experience by all. In one’s acute senses there lies little beyond a personal skill. Just because you can taste the difference doesn’t mean that I can.

What can be learned from our choices? Does a preference for a certain brand suggest some deeper need? Might one’s avoidance of a brand suggest an attitude of belief? One recent development in consumer behavior is a consideration of a company’s ethics. Many of today’s consumers happily choose a sub-part product if its competitor’s ethics are less than desirable. Bad actions and cruel policy tarnishes even the greatest product.

Social policy is now connected to consumer behavior and as tools reflect who we are so to does the expressions that surround it. Now it is less what type of hammer but what we do with it. You might make a great chicken sandwich but if your policy on same-sex marriage offends me I’ll go elsewhere. I like your discounted craft supplies but your attitudes just put me off. Yes, your products are amazing but the way you make them makes me sick.

Today’s better product is measured less in terms of quality of production and more in the who and what the surrounds the device. Bad policy and action is far more powerful than great innovation.

Pattern Makers Making Patterns

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Both the genius and the lunatic find patterns in disparate details. The molecules which could be combined, the facts that might be suggestive of something more- as yet disconnected and yet waiting for the glue. This game of possible discovery is a dangerous game of risk. Does a mind which seeks these patterns risk losing touch with reality?

In many cases a pattern may be present and yet meaningless. If a random string of digits has a pattern does it mean something more? The mind must consider and find these patterns. Both lunatic and genius may find a connection, but what differentiates a great discovery from a crack-pot theory? Does the application of a discovery determine its worth?

Often the lunatic’s search for patterns dips into conspiracy and paranoia. Perhaps these flights of fancy can be expected. Complicated entities like companies and governments perplex us with their complexity. We cannot know all of the details, but does that mean a secret lurks inside? Does the fact that something remains unknown suggest significance? For some, the mere feature of being hidden suggests conspiracy. For some minds the only acceptable world is one of complete transparency and illumination. Herein lies the blinding world that distinguishes the lunatic from the genius.

Where the genius knows a limitation and focuses on certain details, the lunatic demands clarity for all items and grows weary of the unknown. Genius knows its limitations and embraces its power with caution. The lunatic greets power with unbridled enthusiasm and passion. Lunacy knows to run the engine cool- insanity runs it to the brink and often blows to bits in fire.

Self-Imposed Slavery

March 4, 2013 Leave a comment

For some, a task without reward is never worth doing. Why make an effort when no reward is to follow? Only a fool works for free. For others, the unpaid work is all that matters. Creating art or working for a charity is a labor of love whose benefits extend beyond monetary reward. These are the “self-imposed slaves” whose work is not about financial benefits.

A unique breed of worker is now becoming common in contemporary society. Wikipedia’s army of editors and creators work for free. Linux continues to be edited by volunteers and millions around the world dedicate time and energy to goals without immediate fiscal reward.

How might a society recognize and reward this new breed of worker? If one is to spend hours of one’s time working towards a goal is not fiscal reward due? The Huffington Post seemed to feel this was not the case but free labor only goes so far. For many it is the selfish sacrifice that has value but turn these labors into profit for another and the game has changed. “I’ll work on this because I care,” they might say, “but take it for your profit” and some might not be pleased.

In a society where large portions of work go without compensation we must work to recognize some new form of compensation. Perhaps not direct cash reward, but some reprieve or recognition should be awarded. Might we offer tax deductions? This may be too much. One key change that we can quickly change is public recognition. Volunteer work on a resume need not be disregarded. In today’s world this free labor means less that “I couldn’t find a job” and more “I had a passion and dedicate my time and energy to it.” Herein lies the power of this act and delivery of the profit where its needed- right back for those who do the act.

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