Tag Archives: perspective

Seeking Tribe #16: Coping With The Moderately Dystopic Time Machine

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In Our Perspective Is Improbably Warped, we briefly explored how our perception of the world is altered and reinforced by our networks, feedback from algorithms, and media consumption choices. These forces and the wild events of the past year have given us all a lot of new information to consider as we think about what the future holds for us, our families, and our communities.

Personally, while writing has helped, I think it has been challenging to process all of this information without having novel experiences, meeting strangers, and, in general, living a life more conducive to serendipity. Living in different contexts seems critical to processing new information. Some days I barely feel like I exist outside of a digital persona.

The effect of our physical environment on our day to day experience can be easy to discount. Humans are highly adaptive (he said, during month 11 of quarantine) and we tend to filter out stimuli that doesn’t change or isn’t useful (I dug a bit more into this in Lead The Future).

During the first two months of quarantine, when I pretty much never left the house, it felt like I was riding in a moderately dystopic time machine. Each day mostly consisted of trying to navigate what the pandemic would mean for iZone and then consuming endless scrolls of tweets and takes. Back in a world where the deaths of hundreds of thousands of US citizens was a hypothetical, when people were still trying to get a grasp on what exponential growth would mean in this context. Every time I went to go into the shower I would think, “Didn’t I just do this?,” as another day had zoomed by, completely undifferentiated from the last.

Fortunately, that time machine effect waned as the sun returned and spring came to save me from, more or less, total isolation. I returned home and spent at least an hour every day out in the beautiful sunshine.

Unfortunately, I feel like the time warp effect has more or less returned as SAD has beaten me down, particularly the last few weeks. For me, this just means that I’m generally much lower energy. I feel grateful that I have good habits to help me persevere (exercise, diet, writing, and too-few long walks). In this way, many of us in Rochester are viscerally aware of the impact of our physical environment on our experience.

This is not a sob story. I’m writing this today because it has been a great day. I woke up ready to get after it and had a bunch of positive opportunities suddenly present themselves to me:

  • helped a friend identify and connect with a more lucrative market segment for his math tutoring business, after he mentioned his goal was to 3x his revenues this year
  • scheduled a call with a manager [hiring] in crypto after I publicly critiqued their comms
  • reconnected with a friend who is interested in collaborating on growing one of his businesses

The last few weeks have not been like that at all. They’ve been mostly filled with focusing on my healthy habits and doing the minimum I can to still feel like a functioning person. I’m going to be fine. You’re going to be fine. I believe in you.

But please:

  • reach out to your friends to check in on them, it’ll likely make you feel better
  • consider how your physical environment might be contributing to how you feel right now and try to make it a little nicer, ie. make a cup of herbal tea/coffee, put on your favorite up-beat album, and clean your desk/vacuum/windex that mirror; go for a walk even if it’s cold
  • try to plan something to look forward to, ie.a walk with a close friend, zoom game night, a camp fire for when the weather breaks

After months of not having not-much concrete to look forward to, I have plans to visit Houston and Austin towards of the end of March, beginning of April. I’m still finalizing what the exact dates will be but please reach out if you will be in the area and would like to try to find a time to meet up. I am so excited to see the sun again and find out if the hype is real (love to all my Texans, I hope you’re well).

This post was initially sent via Substack on February 19th, 2021.

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Seeking Tribe #15: Our Perspective is Improbably Warped

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We live in a world where the improbable happens every day and it’s recorded on camera and curated by people and algorithms to dominate our perception.

The improbable consists of more than just accidents. The internets are also brimming with improbable feats of performance — someone who can run up a side of a building, or slide down suburban roof tops, or stack up cups faster than you can blink. Not just humans, but pets open doors, ride scooters, and paint pictures. The improbable also includes extraordinary levels of super human achievements: people doing astonishing memory tasks, or imitating all the accents of the world. In these extreme feats we see the super in humans.

Kevin Kelly, The Improbable is the New Normal

There are approximately 330 million people residing inside the United States. The CDC estimates that the probability of being struck by lightning in any given year is 1 in 500,000. If more than half of these yearly lightning strikes were recorded by a cell phone and uploaded online and posted to a, hopefully hypothetical, subreddit /r/AmericanLightningRods, you could watch a new American get struck by lightning every single day.

My only hope in sharing that example was to play on the cliché about the rarity of lightning strikes. There’s the tension between its statistical likelihood and what our perception might be if we were active users of the aforementioned subreddit. Furthermore, assuming the approximation would hold, globally (with ~7.8 billion humans alive) we would expect to see ~42 people being struck by lightning every day. As the internet further globalizes, the improbable and outliers will dominate more and more in the winner-take-most game of internet content.

The good news is that we haven’t allocated more of our waking hours over the last year to consuming this kind of horrific lightning-based ‘content’. And instead maybe we’ve consumed too many clips of people making elaborate Rube-Goldberg machines (many of these recordings take hours and hours of attempts, you just see the 20 seconds of success). The bad news is that our perceptions of the world are being influenced by these same probabilistic realities and content curation incentives in other, more affective ways.

My own combination of selection biases and algorithmically-curated feeds has at times left me feeling below-average and even like I’m being “left behind”. On LinkedIn, I see a stream of successes from my friends who have rapidly risen through the ranks of corporate America in highly competitive roles in tech, consulting, and finance.

On Twitter (and now in my Substack inbox), I am confronted by an awesome deluge of genius and expertise. Many people who I’ve not only discovered on the platform but developed friendships with seem to be not-yet-sung polymaths. Not only is the depths of their knowledge on niche topics of shared interest: nuclear energy, public policy, Bitcoin, etc. more expansive, but they’re also technically competent and have robust jobs or successful companies in growing fields.

The key to managing this kind of warped perspective is to reframe in a way that is helpful and productive. I am not in a zero-sum competition with my former classmates, or these, often pseudonymous, polymaths. Instead of despairing, I can find inspiration and optimism in their achievements and work ethic. The excellence of my friends, yourselves included, is not a problem but part of the solution to the many problems that we face.

In what other ways are our perceptions warped as our media consumption transforms the extraordinary into the ordinary?

With this in mind, how can you mitigate the harm caused by unrealistic expectations or other negative consequences?

This post was initially sent via Substack on February 9th, 2021.

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