It is an understatement to say YouTube has changed things. It has replaced Encyclopedia Britannica (merely an artifact from another age of learning) as the de-facto go-to resource for everything everyone may want to know, including how to fix an engine, cook dinner using a recipe, even how to tie our shoes. It is a utility, now. Like turning on a faucet, we expect water to come out.
For better or worse, YouTube may be best described as a showcase of fandom, attempts at something indescribable but driven largely by simply being a fan. A kind of fandom that morphs meaning, bends perception, voices expression, and yes, sometimes dilutes meaning. Still, each misguided attempt, flat-out mistake, or gleaming triumph of these efforts teaches, distracts, entertains, annoys, and surprises us. When was the last time a young human shared their favorite YouTube video with you? Next time it happens, instead of watching the video, watch them watch it. Watch them revel in it. Watch them be a fan.
The definition of fan is tricky. Most think of it in the context of sports or entertainment. In that context, it can be both good and bad to be a fan. It can be psychologically unhealthy. It can also be positive. All things in moderation. This is not the kind of fandom I am talking about.
For me, being a fan is something very diferent. It involves unbridled curiosity and the confidence to express it whenever and wherever we experience it. I think of it as a miniature and earnest expression that says, “I bow down to you and your awesomeness.”
Finding awesomeness in such moments leads us to joy, to humour, to the fine appreciation for all that is right and good in the world – to fandom. It is this spirit that is our best defense against the tough parts of living, the grumpy moods, dealing with bullies, and even our own self-doubt. It is contagious. No one would be inspired to do or make anything if they had no sense of it and were not a fan of other people and their actions or ideas. Can following that spirit lead to other ideas, invention, and potentially innovation?
Fandom and humour are cousins, whimsical and mischievous. Even at their worst, they create bonds between us. At their best, laughter, and where there is laughter, is there not promise?
It’s the 27th day of the month today. Turns out, the number 27 is singular. The Internet can tell us why, mathematically, the number 27 is so unique. For example, 27 is a perfect cube (3 cubed), a completely balanced equation. In math, that is truly saying something.
The number 27 pops up a lot, which is what led me to learn more about it. While I was at it, just for kicks, I made a list of 27 things my ideal 27-sided-self values. Please note, I do not take myself too seriously here, rather this is simply an exercise, a playlist, of thoughts and notions on moving the ball closer to the goal of growth, being a better communicator: a better pal, partner, father, son, and generally well-balanced cube, er, dude:
1 – Arguably, one of the greatest strengths may be helping others feel more comfortable being themselves. This does not imply enabling others to cultivate their hurtful traits, rather their best, most productive and positive ones.
2 – “Please” and “thank you” are two of the best parts of any language.
3 – Good moods are contagious. Spread them like colds.
4 – Be mindful of others’ aural, physical, and visual space. We all have different boundaries.
5 – Respect and trust require respect and trust.
6 – Words and tone of voice deliver packages to others. Stop sometimes and wonder what it may be like to receive them.
7 – Short fuses burn ourselves and others. Take a moment, get all the facts, or step away until it passes.
8 – Being open to constructive criticism is worth risking the initial discomfort of trying it on. Nothing to lose.
9 – Read, preserve, and share books and stories. Like music, they are the crux of so many good things.
10 – Good aesthetics are like good manners. Create atmospheres that foster acceptance. See #1.
11 – Any voices inside that say “You are not good enough” are illusions, shadows of fear. Break through them.
12 – Skills are not demonstrated better than by putting them to good use for a good cause.
13 – Laugh. Play. Pause objectives. Let fun in. It is not irresponsible or a waste of time.
14 – When I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, pause and read #24.
15 – Keep moving forward. Giving up is easy. Building anything good takes compromise, resources, and work.
16 – Things work out whether I like it or not. Do not underestimate the “unswerving punctuality of chance.”
17 – Do not be afraid to accept or admit we each need someone who does not give up easily.
18 – Forgive ourselves. Moments of weakness do not make us fundamentally weak, only fundamentally human.
19 – Make and share good, healthy, and tasty food with friends whenever possible.
20 – Risk being affectionate and vulnerable.
21 – Keep money and ‘need vs. want’ in perspective. Measuring against others is an empty pursuit. See #11.
22 – A brief stop to smell the roses is worth being ever-so-slightly late for on occasion.
23 – Values only mean something if stood by when inconvenient.
24 – Stress kills slowly and silently. Reduce it by taking a break, a walk, reading, writing, or something else. Don’t do too much of any one thing all the time. Try to find balance in work and play.
25 – Music in any shape or form helps everything.
26 – Stop and listen. A clear mind is open to ideas.
27 – Keep it simple. Show up and do your best.
You’re a ghost driving a meat-coated skeleton made from stardust. What do you have to be scared of?
Buddhists sometimes meditate on the vision of their own corpse. Imagine that for a moment. That this whole thing is temporary, accepting the inevitability of death is an act of courage that opens life up to even more capacity for joy by basking in the fleeting nature of it. No one makes it out of here alive, as Dad says.
How counter-intuitive. Perhaps that’s why I find this particular assembly of words so motivating and beautiful.
Buddhists also believe the soul never dies. Giving in to the impermanence of the idea of life, at least in the sense most of us think of it, is incredibly liberating.
With so many of our loved ones passing on in front our eyes, it helps to bend the days thinking in a more conducive way, thereby approaching, processing, and getting on with what we have left of it.
Keeping fear at bay is a life pursuit for most of us. Fear is the mind-killer. This phrase that so conveniently spread around the internets over the past year has brought me much comfort, not to mention, something to meditate on. What is left to fear when the odds of such an odd combination of forces have converged to give me even just a quick passage of life here on this strange, blue planet.
We have no idea what we are doing here, really, so there is no manual, no proper-way, no right or wrong way to do anything we do. We are pioneers falling, spinning, floating, on a sphere within a sphere, within a sphere, stuck to this particular sphere by gravity? All the while, inside, a ghost of some kind drives our meat-coated skeleton made from dust fallen from the stars? Really? What do we have to be afraid of?
Recently, some educators I work with asked me what I thought the most important skill children can learn is. The question came to me in the context of technology, as I am responsible for technology operations and integration at a private school in the city of Chicago. I try to answer these questions as best I can and in the context they are asked. This is a huge question, one that transcends technology, and my off-the-cuff inclination, which was to say simply, “collaboration,” was not nearly going to cover it. My answer involves much more than that.
Perhaps it would be useful to provide some back story regarding why I do not default to a pro-technology answer in these situations, as is often the expected result from the folks who ask them:
From my perspective, technology just as easily gets in the way as often as it provides solutions. I realize this is not the type of outlook most “tech people” have but I can safely say I am not a bona fide “tech guy” for a couple of reasons. First, I was not formally trained in technical sciences in the traditional sense. I was instead self-taught through experience in various fields and my own tinkering. I learned most about systems and theory by trial and error in tandem with the good fortune to be mentored by some very smart and talented people who were not all technically fluent (though some very much so). Second, I am fortunate to have worked in multiple disciplines and sectors in unique technical capacities, in heavy adaptive, integrative, and creative contexts.
Being steeped in interdisciplinary use of these tools shaped and now informs my perspective in a refreshing way, specifically where and when tools are assets and/or obstacles to a culture, both in the short and long view. In other words, I have seen, and continue to see, the same patterns over and over again. These patterns do not always move as solutions where and when technology is involved, but you don’t have to take my word for it. We get in the way with our cultural choices more than we think.
Therefore, my default starting point is typically from a place of questioning revolving around existing tools. Are they working? Where? Are they failing? Where? Are they capable of more? Could they be modified in a way that would empower the culture to solve their challenges out-of-the-chute? If not, what additional level of complexity (the addition of tools, perhaps technology) can be leveraged to provide a solution that produces enough improvement to warrant a shift (displacement, really) of the working culture?
In other words, technology is the easy part. Designing, architecting, and implementing these tools is rather trivial when compared to integrating them into a culture. That is the real challenge and knowing when and where disruption of a culture is necessary in order to move it forward and where to allow it to grow without such invasive intervention is a tough call, requiring multiple perspectives in order to formulate the clearest picture of what the advantages and disadvantages will be, across contexts and disciplines.
What we are talking about is problem-solving here, in its simplest and also most complex forms. It is a process, but one that is less about technology and more about people. The most critical skill in designing and creating these solutions, and enabling the people we designed them for to be able to use them most effectively, is recognizing strengths in others. Bending the tools to the culture, rather than the other way around. Design is being present and mindful of the user.
For example, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant a change we make to a workflow is, we can always expect a certain level of push back from the culture within which it resides. Leveraging the strengths of the team is the key ingredient to success in any case. Empowering others to do their very best work, making them feel more comfortable being themselves, is non-negotiable in regards to radical changes (and, let’s face it, any change will be perceived to be radical) to any culture.
Through illustrating this, demonstrating this for our children, we can rest assured that we have done and are doing everything we can to instill in them this idea. By helping others succeed, we, too will succeed. In the end, perhaps, is this more a conversation about building community than integrating technology or teaching a specific skill set? Seems like the best teams do this without thinking about it – the goal is clear and when we are playing at it in earnest, the machine fires on all 16-cylinders and next thing we know we have accomplished more together as a whole than the sum of each our individual parts.
So, this has been a long way of answering the question. To put it simply, I suppose I could have just said:
some of the most important skills we may be able to teach our children are related to the art of alliance and how to recognize strengths in others. From a leadership standpoint, this is about finding a solutions-oriented approach to challenges that include everyone in the group. Such an approach gives the group, and each of its members, a sense of purpose. Purpose builds a sense of belonging and ownership in the work and thereby empowers everyone to do their very best work, regardless of the context.
Perhaps it is no wonder, then, why there are so many TED Talks across contexts regarding collaboration. Some great inspiration there.
This piece speaks for itself:
Go cart design, assembly and testing by the inimitable Team Tinker with snippets of boat model design and other moments of singular, whimsical tinkering mastery. Thanks to Moby for his song, Porcelain.
Who is Neil Postman?
Wanna watch more? I sure did. Click here.
Easy to take this all for granted. Breathing. Walking. Seeing. Feeling. Any sense. Pick one. And it’s even easier to stroll through this whole thing blind to the possibility that this may just very well all be some dream. We know nothing about what any of us are doing here.
In the meantime, we find things to make it about: for some, it’s about love and a sense of belonging. For many it appears to be money and fame. That’s surprising, isn’t it? Celebrity only seems to present new problems. It doesn’t change anything. It steals privacy, creates further issues with identity, but doesn’t provide any solutions for this singular dilemma. Nothing does.
So I am writing this to myself.
When people die, people close to us, it kindles something. What is that feeling? It makes me calm, reminds me of our connectivity to everything. It may be morbid, but I am oddly comforted by that loneliness, walking around in that stupor. Pleased to be again so intimately conscious that we have no control over any of this schwack. I am at peace within the moments of tragedy in a way I cannot be to quite the same degree otherwise. i don’t need anything in those times. I’m not hungry or thirsty. I’m not tired. I just seem to be picking up some signal that can’t be known coming from somewhere, everywhere. Call it shock if you want. There’s something more going on there, something unseen that has properties. As if ocean waves generate this frequency that we haven’t even considered the possibility of, or clouds being ghosts that have trapped themselves here, not having let go of their lives here on Earth yet. I laugh at what we think we know. Even if it is correct, it is always, ALWAYS, only the tip of the iceberg.
We can buy this, travel there, pretend to be this or that but it doesn’t help.
As Vonnegut used to say:
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”
Are we evolving closer or further away from this awareness? What are the advantages of each? Disadvantages?
What could this awareness do for us? Is it important?
Does it change how we treat each other? Ourselves?
Do we care?
CSAs require 90 seconds or less of our time and, when done well, can be artful while they make great impact. This is a particularly good example, thankfully tipped off by Julian Gough, who we tip our hat to for it:
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As I write this, I am taking meds to fight off malaria. I am leaving for Dakar this morning for a week and the meds are a final, though ongoing, step in a series of vaccines administered to me en masse (The first of two rounds knocked me for a loop for a week. I had not ever felt that kind of energy depletion as my body immediately began building up antigens, fighting off the militia of micro-infections introduced into it) in preparation for the trip. The bottle told me to start taking them two days before entering the malaria risk zone. It says to take with food. It says to take them with plenty of water. It says to take one every day I am in the malaria risk zone. It says to continue taking them for 4 weeks after I return.
I should be surprised at the types of reactions I get upon telling others where I am headed and what steps I have have been required to take in order to be eligible to go, but I cannot say that I am, given the current mode of the media, especially in the West, full of anger and fear, some justified, though mostly misguided. The information given out at the infectious disease center is intimidating enough to make many change their travel plans. I have heard stories from others about these malaria meds who have experienced nightmares throughout the prescribed duration. This is all to say that the general culture in the developed world effectively conditions us to be afraid of anything that poses even the slightest amount of risk – and there are plenty of excuses around for us to use and give in to it.
Before today, I have not stepped foot upon the continent of Africa. I honestly do not know what I am expecting. When I think of Africa, the only images and ideas that come to mind are not my own. They are the images and sounds of films, emblazoned with romance and exotic, timeless beauty or violence and timeless unrest. Then there are the various agendas of the associated news agencies and television ad campaigns to raise money for the developing world, full of images chosen exclusively for their compelling attributes. All told, a polarized mix of love and hate, reverence and fear.
There are many ways of interpreting those messages. Realities are ethereal things, existential and elusive. They are relative, just like the physical. Like biology. What constitutes a cold to one person, requiring a trip to the doctor, may be just a sniffle to another. So they wait it out and in a couple of days they are just fine.
I do not know what we will eat there or if the water will agree with us. I do not know how I will fare in the heat of the day while filming the team. I do not even know if there will be enough electricity to power the equipment I will be using to shoot. I have learned what little I can about the region from what is posted on the CIA’s World Fact Book and related sites about the history, populations, languages, political and economic stability of the region. The work of Ben Herson, Democracy in Dakar, is some of the more current, compelling and poignant information out there and I am thankful for it – the struggle of the Senegalese people, politically similar to that in other regions of the world, is set apart by the conditions under which they muster the spirit to persevere in order to bring change and any improvement in their quality of life. How they manage to create such beautifully compelling art amidst such adversity and poor living conditions is a triumph in and of itself.
I do know that I feel a sense of mystique about it, having been so glorified by my own culture as a key piece of the anthropological record and also demonized for the strange differences of culture hidden within it. Is it natural for us to fear or discount what we do not understand? My culture has made the same mistakes as those that have gone before it – including insulating its people with convenience and luxury, softening minds and hardening hearts.
Naturally, I am invigorated by the idea of leaving these burdens behind if only for a few days. The mere thought of what it will be like to see, taste, smell, hear and feel Dakar for myself stirs butterflies of the best kind within. However, I am clumsy the way others are graceful. My only concern about the journey is making some bumbling move or inadvertently inconsiderate statement relating to something I take for granted in front of our less fortunate hosts. A good solution for this: I am focused on doing more listening and less talking, which should serve us all well. Being behind a camera lends itself to this.
The trip will mean something different to each of us on the team, though our primary goals are the same. One of the goals is clear: to move us out of the comfortable security of an illusion of our own design about the world. As I have said, the team is coming from a place of extraordinary comfort when compared to that of our hosts and our own struggles will be put promptly into new perspective. The other goal is to contribute to the construction of a house on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, which will power our third goal to create in the process a documentary of the journey, both for posterity and for the benefit of Habitat to use to promote their own future efforts. Our work shall leave an indelible impact on all of us.
In the case of the few who believe such a humble contribution is equivalent to a screw falling out of a deck chair off the back of the Queen Mary, they may have have a point of merit, given the obstacles between what is right and fair in the world and the sad fact that justice does not always prevail. Nonetheless, there are those who give up and those who, in the presence of great adversity, continue to do what they can to push the world to a better place. This is in line with something I read in my only surface-scratching study of the region’s primary religion – Islam:
None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself – Number 13 of Imam – Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths
Such thoughts are small changes in thought which act as catalysts for larger ones. Through subtle shifts in our perceptions we are able then to move forward in bigger ways that would not have been possible without them. Whether we like it or not, as tough as they often are to initiate, these small changes are the stuff. Moving ourselves out of our comfort zones is arguably the only way to growth, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically and metaphysically. The metaphor of dropping of a pebble into the glass stillness of a lake is spot on here: the ripples fan out towards shore, bringing with it perhaps a nourishing drink that makes it just far enough up onto the shore to provide a drink for a flower that may have otherwise perished were it not for a timely, though seemingly insignificant, toss. These are the risks that have value, that have the potential to produce beauty. Without taking risks, we risk living life without beauty. Beauty in our ability to be generous. Patient. Tolerant. Alive, curious and excited to learn about the myriad of things we do not know or have only heard of.
I raise my glass to anyone reading this with my most sincere wishes that all our travels, wherever they take us, may nurture and raise our understanding to new pinnacles and give us fresh vantage points from which we are naturally inclined to take less and less of our life and times together for granted.
The first week of living in a new place is somewhere up pretty high on the list of things that don’t get any easier with practice. Like a new anything, after the initial infatuation wears off, what’s left is this: the realization that what worked before is no longer valid here. Here, in a new place, we are confronted with what we seem to be most naturally resistant to: change.
So it is with a tinge of reticence we set off to see about developing new methods for accomplishing the tasks of living under a new definition of ourselves within the unknown environment surrounding us. This means getting lost, losing precious time and generally being hard on ourselves to find a pace equivalent to what we once knew. Previously simple tasks that were quickly accomplished now require inordinately huge investments of time by comparison. Add to this a language component and we’re talking about a serious commitment to even the most basic objectives, such as acquiring groceries. Everything must be undertaken with a strong focus on patience and not getting down in the face of the adversities that present themselves on a seemingly constant basis.
This is the real stuff. The moments that move us outside of our comfort levels and force us to face our weaknesses in spite of our better judgment.
At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves as we step lively into the streets of the unknown ; )
Such is the case for yours truly, who admittedly hasn’t had much of any other experience in this life other than nearly constant change. Let me share this earnestly with you: for someone who’s had as much practice as anyone, change simply does not get any easier with practice. It continues to challenge, it continues to humble and it continues to push me to being open to the process of learning in all of its tough, wonderful and hidden manifestations.
This, of course, does not mean to imply that it’s always a barrel of laughs.
Take, for example, the luxury in which people live in the US. Particularly: hot water. Most of the people living in the States take this single resource for granted far more than they realize. Hot water is in abundance there, even in the less-refined regions of apartment living. Folks rise in the morning, evacuate their bladders and promptly prepare for the day ahead with a shower of the stuff. Each time they approach the shower, turn it on, they are accustomed to waiting no more than a few moments before the warmth of it is doing what it does to invigorate, cleanse and get them ready for the day. It runs freely over heads, arms and legs while washing away the sleepy night and down the drain it goes for as long as deemed necessary. It’s given nary a thought.
Such extravagance is what is known as “double-glazing” (taken from the wise comments in this clip from Creature Comforts (@ 1:40 in)
Take, for example, my shower this morning: the size of the shower is taken into consideration here because in my experience in Barcelona, apartments all have showers half the size of what used to exist as phone booths. Half. The. Size. The hot water supply follows in kind. There is so little of it, that a person must ration if off during the course of a shower like oxygen would be should one ever find themselves trapped in a disabled submarine at the bottom of the ocean for an indefinite period of time.
Prior to entering the shower, one must first ensure that there even IS any hot water available. If there is, I don’t let it run too long during testing. I’m hip to the possibility that a short blast of what is left can be an illusion, which means upon entering the shower and reactivating, one must prepare to potentially be blasted with an equally-awakening, though, heart-stopping-ice-cold pulse and the risk of cardiac arrest before the day even begins. Should there actually be any remaining hot water, a quick blast to wet the head is priority one. My father always taught me to wash a car from the top down in order to ensure that we work with gravity to maximize the cleaning process. The same rules apply here to maximize effectiveness of our hot water rations. After a quick douse, proceed with suds-ing of the hair.
Now, mind you, the water is OFF at this point, right? If you’re not used to the sound of washing your hair WITHOUT the accompaniment of running water, this can be a rather, let’s say “odd” sound. I say it’s a bit on the sad side. I dunno why it’s a sad sound but it is to me. Perhaps because it is being faced with a RADICALLY different experience than the years of conditioning I’ve had doing this while listening to water running and warming my entire body while doing so. In this case, not only is the water not running, but my body, freshly warmed by the quick douse to wet the head, is beginning to cool rapidly: yet another strange sequence out-of-tune with what has been expected since birth.
For those of you who know me, you are aware that I am of of above average height and size. This makes the process one of even greater comedy. Anyone watching or listening to this would wonder what is the matter. Standing flush up against the inside of this glass box, a fella my size is at risk for breaking the thing, inflicting deep flesh woulds from the broken glass (here I should mention I can only just barely get the doors closed and am required to finagle myself extensively in order to succeed in doing so). The same is true for most restrooms found in restaurants in this part of the world. I can barely enter them, let alone contort myself enough to do what it is I usually desperately need to do at once, as I typically avoid these spaces vigorously until the last possible moment, which has often enough led to even more profound instances of bumbling foolery.
This is how the process continues: a quick rinse, followed by proceeding to wash whatever body part is next-highest in relation to gravity that has not yet been washed, a rinse, and so on, until the job is complete. All the while, the rest of the body shivers in the cold morning, wondering where the feeling of circulation-stimulating hot water is that it’s so used to after all these years.
One can imagine, though, how much water this actually saves compared to letting so much of it run down the drain while we’re washing or, even more gluttonously, just standing in it while dreading the idea of yet another day filled with unproductive meetings.
On the upside, successfully completing a shower while maintaining a successful balance of safety and hot-water-usage prepares one for the day better than transcendental meditation.
This is all to say that space, hot water and the double-glazing is all very easily taken for granted. In a week I will be in Dakar, Senegal, where this, too, will be deep-dish luxury by comparison.
I welcome the contrast. Returning to Barcelona will then be its own, new flavour of double-glazing that I can then in turn continue to take for granted as I have been so well conditioned to do.
David Byrne is spot on with his thoughts for a perfect city:
A Talking Head Dreams of a Perfect City
The Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2009
By David Byrne
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an old joke that you know you’re in heaven if the cooks are Italian and the engineering is German. If it’s the other way around you’re in hell. In an attempt to conjure up a perfect city, I imagine a place that is a mash-up of the best qualities of a host of cities. The permutations are endless. Maybe I’d take the nightlife of New York in a setting like Sydney’s with bars like those in Barcelona and cuisine from Singapore served in outdoor restaurants like those in Mexico City. Or I could layer the sense of humor in Spain over the civic accommodation and elegance of Kyoto. Of course, it’s not really possible to cherry pick like thisÃ¢â‚¬â€mainly because a city’s qualities cannot thrive out of context. A place’s cuisine and architecture and language are all somehow interwoven. But one can dream.
>>> read the rest via DavidByrne.com
Author Michael Pollan says:
The tulip, by gratifying our desire for a certain kind of beauty, has gotten us to take it from its origins in Central Asia and disperse it around the world. Marijuana, by gratifying our desire to change consciousness, has gotten people to risk their lives, their freedom, in order to grow more of it and plant more of it. The potato, by gratifying our desire for control, control over nature so that we can feed ourselves has gotten itself out of South America and expanded its range far beyond where it was 500 years ago. And the apple, by gratifying our desire for sweetness begins in the forests of Kazakhstan and is now the universal fruit. These are great winners in the dance of domestication.