Jul 08 2012

World Domination Summit Recap

This past weekend, I attended the World Domination Summit right here in Portland, OR. Chris Guillebeau organized this conference for the second year in a row, and this was my first year going.

I didn’t have many pre-conceived notions about what the event would hold, because I know Chris’s audience is diverse – travel hackers, nomads, bloggers, startup people, musicians, and basically anyone who is interested in living a life of non-conformity. So, there is no telling where things will go.

And, as a result, it felt like a little taste of many things. Enough to whet your whistle, and hopefully stir something in you to make you want to go deeper on your own.

Brene Brown was outstanding – I was not familiar with her work before the conference, and am now an instant fan. Her work focuses on authenticity, shame, empathy, and vulnerability. Pretty woo-woo stuff, except she is a Ph.D. researcher on these topics, and has done a ton of quant work proving out the concepts she talks through.

One key takeaway from Brene was that you can’t experience joy without being vulnerable – we must risk something in order to allow someone else to respond to us in an affirming way. What occurred to me was that gay people who have gone through the process of coming out understand this concept – and the vulnerability and exposure of coming out is exactly what makes gay people able to live authentic lives in other ways. Using this very fundamental reality about yourself as an opportunity for vulnerability is pretty empowering.

The other stellar speaker was Cal Newport, who talked about how to “Follow Your Passion” is terrible advice. Instead, he offered up another model that is much more productive, leads to better overall outcomes, and is actually proven to be successful: create a skill that is rare and useful, then use that skill to trade for the values that are important to you.

The model works this way: by developing a marketable skill through the process of mastery, you can use the scarcity of what you offer as leverage for the things you really want. Of course, that means you need to be accurate in your assessment of what skills will be useful and rare, and how to master them. It also means you have to understand what you really want. But it offers myriad ways to a path of success.

While many of the sessions were long on the “why” to do something, and short on the “how,” the attendees made the experience worthwhile. Being around interesting, passionate, motivated people was motivating in and of itself. I’m looking forward to next year already.

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Sep 10 2011

Google+: Real Name Policy Makes a Boring Social Network

Published by under identity,reflections,social media

This is a cross-post from Mashable.

Google has raised a lot of digital hackles with its new policy requiring real names for Google+. Cory Doctorow says that real identities are bad because they make it easy to sell us to advertisers. danah boyd goes further, saying that the policy is an abuse of power, because it may compromise users’ safety.

But they vastly understate the case, and ask for the wrong solution.

The hugeness of Google’s error is in misunderstanding the basic human need for a flexible framework for identity creation. People change and evolve, and throughout the entirety of human history, we have been able to shed old versions of ourselves, and construct new identities. This is so universally true as to be a cliche. How many films have this arc as the first act: A stranger comes to town. What is the mysterious secret he hides? What did he run away from?

Our identities are complicated. In fact, the need for multiple identities only accelerates in today’s internet culture. Digital natives understand the notion of curation so much so that they curate their own existence on social networks. Julia Allison and iJustine are extreme examples of this phenomena, but it happens all over every Friday night when young people spend more time shooting photos of themselves to upload to Facebook to show how great a time they’re having, instead of, you know, actually having a great time.

The act of identity creation happens on the social network, through the curation process. Not by the things that are really happening to the person.

In this context, we are becoming more like celebrities. We manage our personas by curating which pictures get tagged on Facebook with our identity (hint: only the ones where we look good). We portray the most interesting aspects of our lives through status updates (“I found a dollar on the street!” gets 27 Likes not because it’s important, but because it’s interesting.) We understand that parts of our personalities are most appropriate for different audiences.

The rise of celebrity culture is actually an attempt to create shared experiences for a large, fragmented society. Smaller countries have smaller celebrities in the U.S. (Incidentally, that’s why Kylie Minogue had to redeem her post-Locomotion career in the U.S. with the wonderful “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head;” and why David Beckham left a hugely successful career in the U.K. to bring soccer to a country that would rather watching boring old baseball than see a low-scoring soccer game.)

So, as our own social circles continue to grow, we become more like celebrities ourselves. So, we can learn something from celebrities about the importance of alternate identities. Increasingly, artists have created alter egos for themselves to make space for a different or new part of their personality to emerge. As they get boxed in by the expectations of their fans, they need to create an outlet that allows them to risk something by creating work that is outside of their traditional oeuvre.

Madonna took the persona of Dita when she released Erotica and her Sex book in order to explore sexuality in a deeper way than she could as the Material Girl.

Sean Combs became the rapper Puff Daddy, then P. Diddy when he needed to refresh his stale 90s image. Instead of creating a new personality, he just kept beating that dead horse, and when it stopped working, he dropped the “P” and just became Diddy. But, for his serious menswear clothing line, he uses the moniker Sean John.

Marshall Mathers became Eminem, and when there was still too much darkness and bile, he created the persona of Slim Shady.

The most extreme example is Nicki Minaj, who has taken the notion of alter egos to the insanely logical extreme. She has only released one album, but has no less than eight distinct personas:

1. Onika Tanya Maraj is her given name

2. Cookie is the first identity she created to escape her troubled home life

3. Harajuku Barbie is the playful Minaj

4. Nicki Minaj is her primary performing identity

5. Roman Zolanski is the hard charging, angry brute

6. Martha Zolanski is Roman’s mother

7. Nicki Theresa is a Mother Theresa-inspired saint

8. Rosa is her Spanish moniker

The value of multiple identities to these artists is indisputable. One of the most extreme examples is Roman’s Revenge, the 2010 Nicki Minaj and Eminem duet. Both rappers spend the entire song spewing hate-filled lyrics at their fans. This is not a song that a musician would want to present to the public as part of their late night talk show personality. Without alternate identities, this song could not exist. And while it’s a tough song to listen to, the world is a better place for having the song in it.

One single name will never be able to contain all of the aspects of any individual person, in all their complicated, contradictory glory. That’s why Google+ will ultimately fail in its attempts to create an “identity service” with their real name policy.

Quora also has a real names policy. But it never came under serious scrutiny because it was always clear about what kind of community it was: a serious-sounding, wonky intellectual place where deep-ish knowledge, packaged well, is appreciated. It’s a very specific niche, and it is more interested in keeping quality high than getting lots of users to interact.

Google+ wants us to give it everything, which means that we will end up giving it nothing of value. By requiring real names, Google+ is sending clear signals that it wants to be a specific type of community: the kind where people share cat videos and links about current events that can inform Google’s own search rankings. Paradoxically, even this banality will still create a huge amount of value for Google, because of how bad computers are at truly understanding people. Google’s ability to sell advertising will still grow tremendously, even from this crappy level of information.

Critics of the Real Name policy want Google to change its mind and see the error of its ways. That is the wrong solution.

The right solution, of course, is to do nothing. Allow Google+ exactly the kind of community they ask for: the one where you use your real identity, but in return, only share a certain, specific part of yourself: the part that you don’t mind being indexed by Google’s servers and made available to the entire world. In other words, the most boring, unimportant, and universal version of yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nov 07 2010

Trust in MSM Falling, in Blogs Climbing. Is Anyone Surprised?

Published by under reflections,social media

By now, the idea that blogs and mainstream media create a more complete media ecosystem is well established amongst bloggers.

But, it’s still frighteningly absent in the minds of most journalists.

Now don’t get me wrong – journalists will let bloggers make their own research easier by sorting through thousands of documents, digging into stories that don’t get play in the MSM, and pulling interesting blog threads into the big leagues when the story merits it.

But that doesn’t mean that journos think of themselves as part of the same information system as bloggers. By and large, journalists have been focused on saving their own dying newsrooms, which means protection, stonewalling, and entrenchment.

The scary thing is that mainstream press exposure still pushes so much of the context and nuance of a topic. This was apparent in this past Monday’s Op-Ed page of the New York Times. David Brooks wrote (presciently, given that the election was not even concluded) about how the Republicans would move their economic agenda forward once they took the House.

In that column, Brooks does his readers a disservice – not because he is wrong on the facts – but instead because he is wrong in the context and nuance.

Brooks mischaracterized the new health care law provision requiring businesses to file a 1099 form for purchases over $600. Here’s the passage:

The new health care law has a provision that forces companies to file a 1099 form to the I.R.S. every time they pay more than $600 a year for goods or services from any individual or corporation. If you’re a freelancer and you buy a laptop from an Apple store, you have to file a 1099. If you spend more than $600 per year with FedEx, you have to file a 1099. Republicans are going to make this an early target (for repeal) — an example of the law’s expensive interference in business life.

All of these facts are true – there is a new law. But, it is unlikely that his readers know that this new provision will take effect in 2012, but before it does, another law takes effect in 2011. That law will exempt credit card purchases from this type of 1099 reporting.

Therefore, buying a laptop from the Apple Store would place no additional burden on the freelancer, provided they use a credit card for that purchase (when was the last time anyone you know used cash or a check for a purchase totaling $600?).

There are literally hundreds of articles online that discuss how these two regulations go hand-in-hand. Brooks’s piece grossly overstates the burden this will have on small businesses and freelancers, and unfairly legitimizes the point of view that this section of the recent health care needs to be repealed.

For journalists to thrive in the digital age, they need to be able to use the blogosphere for research, yet still be able to get complete, quality information. Otherwise, already-shaky trust of the media will continue to erode, even as we continue to build greater trust in bloggers.

Personally, I get more than 90% of my news from the blogosphere. How credible is your news consumption? And where is it from? Let me know below.

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Jul 14 2010

Worst Summer Job Ever

NPR is running a series on influential summer jobs. This is the essay I submitted:

For two summers, I worked in Hell on earth – the dirtiest, hottest, most dangerous place I have ever visited.

I worked in a foundry. We made disc brakes for cars and kitchen sinks out of molten steel.

As a summer employee, I did the grunt work. On my first day, I worked a line making sinks. I was in charge of breaking apart the molds after the metal was poured. Hot metal would flow down the spigot, and fill the mold. Within a few seconds, the sink cooled enough to hold its shape. I was stationed down the line with a metal rod held over my head. As each new sink was poured, I jammed the rod into the mold, and wrenched apart the dirt.

Each sink emerged from its mold like a glowing alien, breaking out of a shell. I lifted, thrust, cracked over and over. Then, the line stopped for a break. I set the rod down, and jumped from my platform. I was so hot and dirty that rivulets of sweat cut clean paths through my grimy skin.

Immediately, the rod rolled down and cracked my skull open.

On my first day, after forty five minutes on the floor, I left to get 6 stitches in my head.

No one thought I would make it past the first week. During the school year, I waited tables at Shoney’s. I was in college, studying International Relations. With a minor in Dance.

But I came back, determined to prove myself.

Most days, I was responsible for mixing in additives to the raw steel. The chemistry in making metal parts is very precise. So, after the fresh dip of steel came down the line, I measured out 1 cup of zinc, and 2 cups of magnesium. Then I scrambled up the ladder, and stood on the edge of the pool of liquid steel. I dumped in the buckshot metals, then stirred them in with an iron rod that melted in my hands.

After that, I hoisted a jack hammer to the edge of the pool, where metal had started to cool and adhere to the sides, and I hammered off the hardened steel. Pieces of molten metal flicked up and hit me in the face, chest and legs. Every day, I had a pattern of tiny new burns, instantly cauterized by the heat.

It was grueling work. But, at the end of the shift I had a sense of accomplishment because I had made something new in the world. Every day I left, sweaty, gritty and exhausted, with the satisfaction that the world was a different place because of my work.

Now, I build websites and create marketing campaigns. I don’t get paid to do anything tangible or concrete. I work with my hands only to type. I sweat only when I’m at the gym.

But, every time I am challenged with something that seems impossible, I remember the foundry. I remember my sweat sizzling as it dripped onto hot metal. I remember being wrung out and dehydrated, with metal shavings flying into my eyes, and hours to go before the shift ended.

And the new challenge that I face now simply doesn’t seem that bad.

Because at the foundry, somehow I always kept going. I never slowed the line down. And I never caused it to stop.

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Feb 08 2010

How to Become An Expert At Anything

Becoming an expert – a real expert – in something is not as difficult as you think. It involves work, for sure, but it does not involve as much work as you think. You can become an expert in something in four steps. Continue Reading »

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Jan 05 2010

2010 Is Here – Finally!

Published by under reflections

Today was the day that everyone’s collective brains switched back on. The Christmas chocolate and New Year’s boozefest has finally lifted, and the world has started creaking inevitably forward again.

Did you notice? Continue Reading »

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