On my Mind
Hiding in Plain Sight
There is something about the volume of our inbound newsfeeds that end up giving us an induced form attention deficit disorder, as those with little to recommend them to our attention get it by digital shouting.
If we combine that with the energies of what is being aimed at us – from spam, to thinly disguised propaganda, to conspiracy theories it’s no surprise that we either disengage, or just shout back. Not so much the dialogue technology is capable of giving us, but something more akin to playing tennis with hand grenades.
Which is a shame, because underneath all that frantic noise is the information and connection that can not only change our world, but our relationship to and fulfilment with it. What we seek is there, hiding in plain sight.
It’s been on my mind because I wonder how we turn information into meaningful action as we are faced with well documented, credible, threats from pandemics to climate change to dysfunctional politicians all quite capable of bringing us to the edge of extinction.
Faced with that sort of threat, and with the information and connection out there, just how do we spot it and bring it into service?
Social Media isn’t the answer – the technology that could help us doesn’t as it concentrates on triggering emotions rather than dialogue and draws our attention to the advertising that funds them. The same business model mentality as pharmaceutical companies selling opioids and then blaming customers for the addiction it creates.
Most mainstream media – print and visual – is not a lot better as it acts as a megaphone for vested interests. Some of the podcasts out there are excellent, but difficult to find when there over two million out there, with fifty million episodes on them, as the sector heads towards being a one hundred billion dollar industry, again feeding off our attention, by 2028. Curating that to create some sense of balance is some challenge. How might we do that? There is an idea brewing…
Out there, amongst those two million podcasts, I happened on one by Malcolm Gladwell talking about “near misses” and there it was – a serendipitous link to what I needed. In the discussion, the work of a Canadian Psychiatrist who analysed responses of people to traumatic events popped up.
J.T. MacCurdy, a Canadian psychiatrist, in his book “The Structure of Morale“, divides the population into 3 groups after a traumatic event:
1. Direct hits: those who suffer direct injury, leading to their death or incapacitation. This group cannot communicate their experiences or instill fear in the population. In MacCurdy’s words, “The morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors, and corpses do not run about spreading panic.”
2. Near misses: those who feel but are not debilitated by a physical effect, or those who witness the death of others. These persons “feel the blast, see the destruction but they survive, deeply impressed.”
3. Remote misses: those who see or hear the traumatic event and witness some of the aftermath but evade physical or emotional harm.
Two things struck me.
- The news in not made by those suffering from what we face, it is made by those who survive, and who the media make into “celebrities,” and those trading off remote misses.
- We are not likely to take action as individuals on things we have not directly experienced unless we find a way into MacCurdy’s second category through experience and empathy.
Most of us have reacted to Covid-19 far more viscerally than we have to climate change because far more of us have either lost someone, or have someone close to us that has lost someone to the virus.
Serious impact of climate change on the other hand, for most of us is far more remote.
How do we bring it closer?
In the conversations we have at Originize and New Artisans we have, equally serendipitously, found ourselves talking with people directly affected – in Australia, USA and South Africa. Whilst they are not people I have met in person, the nature of the conversations we have and the connection we make brings their felt experiences much closer to home. It cuts out the remote curator and replaces it with something altogether more experienced and felt, even if remotely.
I’m a huge fan of technology. Like all that we create it has a dark side as well as a light side, and it is easy to find ourselves mugged by the dark side of the attention farmers.
We have a choice. Technology allows us to connect at depth somewhere between the shallowness of social media and the intimacy of physical connection. Zoom and others give us the ability to talk to people having near misses rather than relying those reporting on it for us, no matter how good some of them are.
Small Groups, conversations, shared experiences, reaching out, understanding. Not like being there, but much closer than remote misses. We have the capability, through technology, to bring into view what is hiding in plain sight.
The question becomes, are we willing to take on the work of making contact and the human responsibility that encounter generates?
Inspiring me this week
Taken from Alan Moore’s rich newsletter, a reminder of where we live from some of the first people to leave it and make it back.
The Great Silence
The Great Silence (2014) interrogates our drive to find other intelligent minds in the distant static of space while millions of complex lifeforms right here on Earth face existential threats of humanity’s making. From Aeon Magazine. 17 minutes of valuable reflection.
Malcolm Gladwell – David and Goliath.
A reminder, because it feels like we all need reminding about the limits of perceived power.
George Monbiot writing in the Guardian on the networks we tread on every day. No matter how much I read on this, it never fails to inspire.
Assemblies bring about change where it matters. This is a great piece by NOÉMA that is food for thought whether we do it in person, or remotely.
Here’s an example from Ireland, who it seems to are using them in ways we could learn a lot from.
A Closing Thought
In a week that has seen almost reactionary zeal in trying to get people back into offices as some sort of dogma, lauding a private school system that perpetuates outrageous levels of privilege and a dysfunctional politics, sending immigrants to a latter day version of penal colonies and backing off even rudimentary regulation of junk food marketing, I think we are at an important juncture.
We would do well to take more control of the debate, and make democracy real. It’s a good time to do more than talk. Person by person, step by step, group by group, harnessing the power of compound interest.
Have a great week.