Seth Godin: “The internet has allowed an enormous amount of fake networking to take place.”

http://www.openforum.com/…socialgood.html

(Originally tweeted here and here – Not on twitter? Join and Follow me!)

Just watched a brief two minute Q&A from Seth Godin, marketing guru. Godin answers a question from an audience member about social networking and small business. His response indicts social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter as potentially “fake networking.” And it’s hard to dispute his simple argument: if you have 5,000 facebook friends or 20,000 twitter followers, does it really matter if none of these people will go to bat for you when you really need them to? Networking has (traditionally) implied that a relationship translates into real action.

Godin is asking an important question: where does the rubber meet the road on social networking? It’s hard to say. The same criticism is levied by David Wong in his piece on 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable. Sure you’ve got a bunch of internet “friends,” but if all they are doing is sending you wall posts on your birthday and are otherwise nowhere to be found in your life, does it really matter?

I’ll save the flipside to this argument for another time. Here’s two quotes from the clip from Seth Godin:

Networking is always important when its real and it’s always a useless distraction when it’s fake. …

The internet has allowed an enormous amount of fake networking to take place.

Ok I have one more thought I want to share: my facebook/twitter policy: I keep my facebook profile somewhat elite and restricted to friends in realspace or internet-friends with whom I’ve had extensive interactions. With twitter, on the other hand, anything goes. I think social networking on twitter, as “fake” or cheap as it may be, still can serve a purpose. More on this later.

Also see my brief explanation of the difference between Facebook and Twitter.

Is Technology Making us Miserable?

http://www.cracked.com/ar…-miserable.html

An article surfaced on Cracked.com sometime in February (I think based on comment dates) by David Wong titled “7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable“. It’s since made the top of Digg as well as making the rounds throughout the blogosphere. The premise of the article is that modern technology is making us miserable, lonely people. Despite the sad subject matter, it’s humorously written and worth the read.

Overall, I think Wong makes some good points. The overarching theme is one of technological isolation.

Captured in Wong’s “#3. Texting is a shitty way to communicate.” the Internet creates the tendency to rely on text-based communication over communicating by phone (better) or in-person (best). This is likely due to the control text-based communication affords — if someone calls you and you answer, you fit your life to their demands. If they email you, you can email them back whenever and put their demands on your schedule. Additionally, we have greater control over what we say in a text-based world, which means that we can shield our emotions better (among other things). Ironically, despite the care people put into wording emails and text-based communication to only say so much, the article goes on to point out how terribly inefficient text-based communication is. I can’t argue with this in the least as I’m daily confronted with my own preference of email over phone calls (even when I recognize the inefficiency) and see horrendous miscommunications resulting from loss of tone, misreading, etc. As Wong notes in his related “#4. Online company only makes us lonelier.”:

There’s a weird side effect to [living in Text World], too: absent a sense of the other person’s mood [experienced through body language and tone of voice], every line we read gets filtered through our own mood instead.

As I’m learning right now in Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, our brains inevitably filter feelings about the past or present (or whatever) based on our current mood. How much more amplified is this when the only communication inputs we receive are text-based?

Continuing my out-of-order analysis, Wong lists the related problems of “#1. We don’t have enough annoying strangers in our lives.”, “#2. We don’t have enough annoying friends, either.”, and “#5. We don’t get criticized enough.” These all relate to our enhanced ability to pick and choose the people with whom we associate over the Internet. The Internet has an amazing power to bring like-minded individuals to the same table where they all reinforce each other’s beliefs, congratulate themselves on their insights, and chide anyone who disagrees with them. This happens big-time in the blogosphere from what I’ve seen. For examples, just find any established political, health, or finance blog. The problem here is that we are empowered to surround ourselves with people who never challenge our beliefs or make us uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable and the price of sound ideas is constantly holding them to the fire to be tested. How do you do that if you effectively surround yourself with yes-men?

The flip-side benefit, of course, is immense: the Internet enables people with uncommon beliefs to find other like-minded folks.

Also, anyone who has spent any measured time on Internet forums can attest to the wide abundance of annoying people that you simply cannot escape. If you spend any time on forums (and even if you generally avoid them, they are still a fact of Internet life you’ll inevitably encouter), you will encounter annoying people who are nothing like you. Even when you can mute certain forum members, you still can’t completely isolate yourself from people you don’t like.

I’ve got little to say about “#6. We’re victims of the Outrate Machine.” It is probably part of the human condition for us to want to see/read about misery. It makes us feel better about our lives, after all. Sad, but true. So that we see all sorts of gloom and doom sites on the Internet? That’s just par for the course. The only difference is that people with crazy ideas (Conspiracy theorists) are now empowered to find each other and then self-reinforce within their group their own bizarre viewpoints. But perhaps like the abundance of porn apparently reducing violent sex crimes, maybe the ability for wackos to find each other and exchange high-fives about their strange theories will reduce the likelihood of domestic terrorism. Hard to say.

Finally, Wong’s “#7. We feel worthleses, because we actually are worth less.” reminds me of this huge graphical “how to” guide titled “How to not fail at life.” The gist of both Wong’s observation and the humorous graphic guide is that human beings are not hardwired to exist in isolation, doing everything for ourselves, and nothing for our friends. When our friends only exist in digital form, there’s just only so much we can do to engage them. It’s like the 20 birthday messages you get via Facebook. All these people see it’s your birthday and write on your wall. Does it make us feel better? Maybe. It’s possible it makes us feel worse — after all, this sort of communication takes so little effort and is so transparently prescribed as to feel hollow and worthless.

There is probably more to say here, and I’m very skeptical that overall we aren’t incredibly better off thanks to the communication empowered through the Internet. However, Wong’s points are well taken and stark reminders that technology affords us the ability to isolate ourselves, be lazy friends, and pretend to have a “real” life and “real” friends, when in the end, most of our online buddies will disappear just as soon as we stop posting on our forums or blogs or facebook pages. A balance needs to be struck between realspace and our virtual worlds.

Here’s Wong’s conclusion:

It ain’t rocket science; you are a social animal and thus you are born with little happiness hormones that are released into your bloodstream when you see a physical benefit to your actions. Think about all those teenagers in their dark rooms, glued to their PC’s, turning every life problem into ridiculous melodrama. Why do they make those cuts on their arms? It’s because making the pain-and subsequent healing-tangible releases endorphins they don’t get otherwise. It’s pain, but at least it’s real.

That form of stress relief via mild discomfort used to be part of our daily lives, via our routine of hunting gazelles and gathering berries and climbing rocks and fighting bears. No more. This is why office jobs make so many of us miserable; we don’t get any physical, tangible result from our work. But do construction out in the hot sun for two months, and for the rest of your life you can drive past a certain house and say, “Holy shit, I built that.” Maybe that’s why mass shootings are more common in offices than construction sites.

It’s the kind of physical, dirt-under-your-nails satisfaction that you can only get by turning off the computer, going outdoors and re-connecting with the real world. That feeling, that “I built that” or “I grew that” or “I fed that guy” or “I made these pants” feeling, can’t be matched by anything the internet has to offer.

(H/T Patri)

The Importance of Brain Tech and the Limits to Acquiring It

Near my desk there is a stack of unread books (And ebooks). They taunt me. What ideas are they holding, eager to be assimilated and used, but stagnant until I can find the time to read them, tease out the knowledge, and add it to my mental toolbox? There are limits on acquiring brain technology, and it seems they are presently difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

being
This is not my stack! — Creative Commons License photo credit: Annie Ominous

There’s an idea articulated in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon that goes something like this: imagine there is a project that will take five years to complete. Imagine further that a technology that could be developed in a year would, once acquired, enable the project to be completed in only two years. Thus, rather than use existing technology to complete the project in five years, it makes more sense to acquire the time-saving technology first.

Reality is considerably less predictable than this simple example allows, but it still illustrates a useful idea: acquiring the right technology first can save time and effort later.

This idea seems most relevant to acquiring brain technology, which I’ll define as the sum of useful ideas, useful paradigms, and knowledge. Modern-day prosthetics, also known as our mobile phones and laptops, are rapidly eliminating the need for this last bit of brain tech. The rote knowledge we need is almost always a google or two away (See the recent grind skill discussion on maximizing Google search). However, these prosthetic devices can’t yet do the work of a useful idea or paradigm.

Functional ideas and paradigms are the programs by which our brains process data. The better the programs, the faster we can process problems and the better our answers will be. The better our brain technology, the better our lives. It is for this reason that I take measures to acquire as much brain tech as possible. This is why I read books, blog (On the power of blogging), and follow my curiosity. It’s all in an effort to boost my brain tech, which I hope will improve my life as it improves my ability to solve problems and understand the world.

It seems simple enough but there are problems: (1) it takes a long time to acquire brain technology, it’s difficult or impossible to know what it is we should be seeking to know (2), and it’s hard to know when our existing brain technology is obsolete (3). I have no good ideas on how to attack the second problem, which is Black Swan-esque and thereby unforeseeable. Awareness that it exists may mitigate our base ignorance but then again, it probably won’t. Regarding problem three, seeking out new brain tech as well as simply sharing our own brain tech with others may help — as far as mundane tasks go, that is driver behind writing about Grind Skills.

I’m left to dwell on the first problem. My solution here is to filter through as much information as I can manage and mine out the useful ideas and paradigms. By filtering information, I usually mean reading books and blogs. On the blogging front, a feed aggregator is a must-have. And as far as reading books, get thee to a library (or amazon.com)!

Reading provides a starting point, but even here there is a problem. The volume of information that must be mined to find a single useful idea is immense. There is a brain bandwidth problem: I can only read so fast. Furthermore, even supposing I’m maxing out my reading speed*, I will inevitably read books and blogs that have broken ideas and paradigms (or none at all). How do I reduce the risk of wasting time and energy spent reading empty datasets (books/blogs)? I don’t know.

One workaround to my own bandwidth limitations is to leverage the bandwidth of others. I do this by surrounding myself with others who similarly seek out useful ideas and paradigms and are eager to share what they know. As far as the Internet goes, there again we see the power of blogging and the importance of a good, share-friendly feed reader. In real space, I think Nassim Taleb’s suggestion to “go to parties” is astute. Socialize (Don’t isolate yourself!)! Otherwise, observe others and ask questions.

These are ground-breaking insights, I know. I’m mostly just articulating a problem that has been on my mind. It’s great that modern technology has improved our understanding of the world and enabled us to outsource at least some of our brain functions to our gadgets (Thereby freeing up some bandwidth). However, it seems to me that the age-old ways to acquire wisdom, which is all brain technology really is, are the only ways we’ve got. Read as much as you can and share your tech with others**. And that’s what I’ll be doing until some other tech comes along and renders this brain tech obsolete.

* Speaking of brain tech, I’ve previously attempted learning to speed read. I’ve had no success with it though.
** I’m optimistic that this latter method (sharing) is being accelerated via the Internet.

Follow-up

The YouTube Demographic for Watching Gross Videos

http://www.autodogmatic.c…ttoilettraining

Warning, the following video is gross.

[video:youtube:awYO4ArTsQg]

What feels like an eternity ago (2002) I tried to train my cat to use the toilet. It sorta worked: it’s a long story (See the Link above if you really want to know the details).

Today, the momento of that training lives on in the YouTube video I created back in 2006, embedded above. As of today, that video has been seen by over a million people. Weird.

What I didn’t realize until now was that YouTube has some fairly robust statistics regarding who views your videos. In tinkering around and looking at these stats, I stumbled on this report on the viewer demographics. Note which age-group has viewed the video the most:

The “gross” majority of viewers are between the ages of 35 and 54 with the 45-54 group only barely being inched out by the younger crowd. That means that a majority of people watching Zeke, my siamese cat, popping a squat on my toilet, are middle-aged. That sort of amazes me. Sure, adults are just grown up kids, but I’m wondering if this distribution holds true for other videos on YouTube. Is YouTube’s core demographic the Gen Xers?

It’d sort of make sense; of all the entertainment mediums available for consumption on the Internet, watching videos requires no real tech skills. Perhaps this is just tied to the general population distribution? Or is it that most of this age group is at a desk job pretending to work while actually watching cats poop on the Internet?

Anyone else have video data from YouTube that might shed light on this subject? Other insights?

The Internet is making traditional advertising obsolete [The truth prevails again?]

http://www.blog.sethrober…er-joes-update/

The cheap ability to publish offered by the Internet is incredibly powerful (I wrote at lengthad nauseam about this yesterday in my The Power of Blogging post). In my analysis on blogging, I honed in on the ability of blogging to prevent idea obscurity, encourage idea generation, and amplify the spreading of good ideas. Substitute the word “truth” for “good ideas” and I think Seth Roberts is after the same point, when he discusses how a homemade Trader Joe’s ad posted on YouTube became wildly popular because it tapped into the truth. It captured the widespread feelings Trader Joe’s shoppers have about the positive experience they associate with the grocery store.

You just can’t buy that kind of advertising.

Every publishing mechanism (Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, blogging) that is catching on over the Internet is powerful because it amplifies the ability for good ideas/truth to spread.

Seth’s point about “when science was young” reminds me of what I took from reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything; namely, that some of the greatest discoveries in science came at the hands of enthusiasts/hobbyists who were just following their own interests. The decentralization and ease of publishing the Internet provides is bringing that sort of incentive structure back. Corporate-cronies and information protectionistas best take heed.

Here is Roberts’ take. Note the tie-in for self-experimentation:

I think Carl’s commercial is very important as a glimpse of the future. Long ago, only the powerful could speak to a mass audience — and they couldn’t tell the truth, for fear of losing their power. Then cheap books came along. Instantly a much larger group of people could speak to a mass audience — and, having little to lose, they could tell the truth. The truth, being rare, was an advantage. When science was young and many scientists were amateurs — Darwin, Mendel — they could tell the truth. As science became a job, a source of income and status that you could lose, scientists lost the ability to say what they really thought. For example, David Healy lost a job because he told the truth about anti-depressants. Self-experimentation is a way around this problem because, as I’ve said, no matter how crazy my conclusions I can keep doing it. I don’t need a grant so I don’t need to worry about offending grant givers.

Blogging Thesis Progress (On power law distribution)

http://polibyte.com/blog/blogging_thesis_progress

I’m pretty sure I already knew that hyperlinks and web traffic followed a power law distribution, but Brian’s explanation is clear and worth saving down for future reference.

Another possibility is that the Internet might not be so egalitarian after all. To understand why this would be, it’s necessary to reflect on the structure of the web. The element tying one web page to another is the hyperlink. Clicking a hyperlink is what allows an Internet user to “browse” from one web page to another. Across the web, hyperlinks follow a power law distribution . A power law distribution is highly inegalitarian; this means that a small number of web sites are the destination of the vast majority of hyperlinks.

The distribution of traffic to web sites also follows a power law. To understand why this should related to the hyperlink structure, it’s necessary to think about the ways Internet users discover web sites. If a user already knows about a web site, they can visit it directly. If they don’t, they can discover it via a hyperlink from a site they already know about or by using a search engine like Google. Both of these methods favor the discovery of highly linked-to sites. When browsing the web, the more hyperlinks there are to a site the more likely a user is to come across one of them. When using a search engine, most users only visit web sites on the first page of results. The release of search data for over 600,000 AOL users showed that 90% of clicks went to the results from the first page, 74% of clicks went to the first 5 results, and 42% of clicks went to the first result. This is significant because search engines’ rating algorithms give heavy weight to the number ofhyperlinks a site receives. Although the exact algorithms vary from search engine to search engine and are often secret, search engine result ordering is barely distinguishable from simply ordering web sites based on the number of hyperlinks to them.

An Importqant Message from the Global Entertainment Industry

http://static.thepirateba…/cartoonish.gif

Great cartoon from The Pirate Bay that illustrates how emerging technologies tend to be feared (and villainized) by existing power structures even as those technologies drastically improve the quality of life for human beings.

Cartoon after the jump.

There’s No Biz Like No Biz at Twitter! (And Will Google Swoop In Before It All Comes Crashing Down?)

http://kara.allthingsd.co…-crashing-down/

Another dotcom valuation – is Twitter worth $250mm? More?

Since BoomTown constantly called the $15 billion valuation of Facebook “insane” when Microsoft forked over $240 million in 2007 and gave Slide’s Max Levchin a very hard time when his widget company got a $550 million valuation a year ago, it’s only fair that I say something equally appropriate about Twitter. The hot microblogging service just got its very own $250 million valuation, all without a dime of revenue in sight. (I know, Bijan, it’s coming, it’s coming!)

On the road: Michigan

Last week was my pseudo-vacation with my family at Lake Oconee (so-blogged: 1 2). Good times were had by all though my vacation was accompanied by a normal workweek thanks to the lakehouse’s wifi (Thus, the “psuedo-vacation”).

I returned to Augusta this past Saturday, and on Monday I joined my adopted family for a road trip to Michigan — we have a wedding to attend this Saturday.

Unlike the last, I don’t consider this week vacation and am having a fairly reasonable time staying connected and on top of work. I also don’t feel the stress of making an attempt at vacation and work (Balancing the two is an exercise in futility — I suppose that should have been obvious!).

Working from the road can be frustrating due to the unavoidable connectivity hindrances, but even with these speedbumps, that I am able to have a normal workweek while being completely away from the home office is a testament to the mobility afforded by abundant technology.

And thanks to the packability (driving anyway) of kettlebells and Vibram five fingers, I’ve got my exercise covered, too. Speaking of exercise … off to check out the gym here at the Holiday Inn Express!