Last year I had the immense pleasure of meeting Alan Kay for a Skype conversation as part of my Meta Medium work. We talked about a range of topics covering design, HCI, tools, and software.
One thing he said stayed with me:
Are ideas made of matter, or are ideas made of light? You can shine as many spots on the wall as you want, and they all superpose; they all sit there.
A designer is a person who tends to treat ideas like light. They don’t try to resolve them in the current context.
Does all human technology exist to mediate communication?
Human technology includes organizations, brands, institutions, email, and architecture. In opposition to natural technology: ecosystems, sonar waves, or mushrooms, we created language to facilitate intersubjective spaces, and creativity. All technology exists to promote connections, and all connections facilitate communication.
Our technological work has immensely enhanced the relationship between words and ideas, giving birth to asynchronous communication in writing, long-distance messages with letters and phones, and hyper-connectivity through cybernetics and the internet.
I am postulating that any connection (/transaction) is secondary to communication. These connections and their underlying communication happen within a system, and it must be the same one. In equilibrium, both allow for balance; of natural resources, creativity, well-being, and social ethics.
“There was a startling recognition that the nature of the universe was not as I had been taught… I not only saw the connectedness, I felt it.… I was overwhelmed with the sensation of physically and mentally extending out into the cosmos. I realized that this was a biological response of my brain attempting to reorganize and give meaning to information about the wonderful and awesome processes that I was privileged to view.”
In the days of COVID and social unrest, many of us look for deeper connections. If before we could mix online relationships with offline communities, enjoying the affordability of the physical environment, and socially dancing with spaces, ideas, and people, the current situation can feel frustrating and limiting. Hours online can yield little in the way of creativity and meaningful connections.
As we move deeper into a new phase, I suspect that more networks, institutions, and conferences will keep building up their online gatherings and communities to satisfy frustrated global networkers.
As I meditated on in How to Build a Meta-Community, the solution might come from the nature of conversation itself rather than from any technological solution or editorial angle.
I am now calling ‘meta-community’ a ‘circle’ and asking: how might we move from the performative/personas/community to the transformative/persons/circles?
I have been running an experimental meta community for six months now, the experiment is succeeding, and below are my learnings.
Back in February, in what seems like a different universe, I decided to embark on an experiment. After years of running dinners, salons, and a few Slack groups, I wanted to develop an intentional community. A place where people don’t brush off each other, but engage. A metaspace where people can show up with a seed of an idea and know that it will be respected and given a space, not put on a shipping line. A place where value is generated, and not only passed around, where members can show up as a process and not a product.
Having run gatherings, salons, and more recently dinners, I grew to appreciate the transformational value of light facilitation (credit due to Priya Parker for opening my eyes to that space).
Out of all these formats, the smaller dinners were the most semantic. People showed up open and vulnerable, with an idea of how they thought, able to navigate different backgrounds and opinions around the table in a way that resulted in value, new thinking, new tools, and new concepts.
Those took place for a year, but I realized they didn’t have accumulative value, and that there was onboarding that needed to happen every time. There was little overlap in guests, but by large people were new to each dinner.
It made me think about starting a closer-knit circle, a group that commits to creating a space to act on their creative surplus, and looking for people who do the same.
By design, I came up with the idea of setting a core principle. Members pay $50 a month, and need to do 10 hours of work. That work is either on themselves or someone else.
The logic was more than creating accountability, as is the case in writing groups. It was to create what Shafir and Mullainathan (Scarcity, The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives) call slack in a system.
In a classic study researches in the university of Virginia asked colleague students them to sit with themselves for 15 minutes. Some preferred to be mildly electrocuted than to think.
In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.
Those who ask the work to define them measure such definitions by efficiency and busyness. When we look to the person we constructed as our public persona–the identity heuristic–to tell us how we feel, how we think, we loose our ability to self-reflect.
Doing nothing is hyperbolic of course. We could be doing a lot of thinking when we’re doing nothing. Hence the meditative pursuit. When we contemplate we look for unstructured thoughts, we find inspiration in the creeks of our mind, and can take stock of our mental tools.
Sitting alone is what separates us from machines. A couple of years ago, I jotted down thoughts on AI, thankfully still online.
Imagine an intellectual person sitting in a chair, and doing nothing at all, starring into thin air. That person is clearly consciousness, and intelligent. Their lack of action does nothing to rob them of the consciousness and intelligent title. In other words, intelligence is not conditioned by action. It need not be modeled around goals, nor operational switches.
I was focusing on the pragmatic differences between building silicon based minds, as is the case in the world of AI, and conscious human beings.
Does this mean that those colleague students, who preferred to be shocked than to sit along, were not consciousness?
The cardinal opportunity in this pandemic is the chance to repair and strengthen relationships. The majority of medals and recognition bestowed on our women and men in uniform is a function of one thing: grace under fire. Your character, and the perception of your character, is a sum of all your actions across your entire life. But the sketch of these actions is traced over with the indelible ink of the grace, or lack thereof, that you demonstrate in times of crisis.
Post Corona: The Cosmic Opportunity | No Mercy / No Malice
Rana Foroohar published an excellent op-ed on the need to move from linear to complex thinking, in the face of apparent interconnectedness and unknown unknown world.
Linear systems and baseline reversion to equilibrium is generally assumed. And efficiency rather than resiliency is encouraged.
If the economics profession is going to help solve the world’s biggest problems — from pandemics and climate change to deglobalisation and inequality — economists must stop tweaking the edges of their models and think outside the box.
The future of design is meta. And may not be designed by designers.
In a world of abundant technology, the bottleneck is the ability to read between the lines, to exercise meta creativity. Technology is becoming cheaper by the day. Big tech is not only creating a plethora of digital products, but also setting the stage for everyone else to do the same. This is what an exponential world means. When the barrier to produce a highly complicated algorithm is removed, smart machines abound.
As you might know – I write about AI, creativity, complexity, and even make some music. Years ago, maybe 10, I used to have a blog: a general catch all, Wordpress site which was a log of interestingness. I had all kind of fun playing with sidebar widgets (I even created one), and of course constantly failed at keeping my tags and categories organized.
It was a loosely structured set of content, with no particular end but to be published. This new publication is one such thing; a blog, which hopefully I can nurture and develop for years to come.
You can expect links to talks, ideas, musings, books, music and culture.
As a first such share this is a mix I recorded last week.