maybe I'm wrong

Daily mental prompts about life, technology, and humanity.

by spenser - Subscribe via email

Tainted Honey
When sugar was available to early humans, they would be wise to eat as much of it as they could. For us, we're better off avoiding the sugar-filled towers that litter every grocery store checkout.

As the story goes with many things - modern day dangers are a result of excess in a world where our biology is still expecting scarcity. Food, substances, experiences, information - every generation gets a brand new challenge as we thunder down the road of innovation.

Maybe wisdom in the new age is developing the unnatural ability to withdrawal from excess. To opt out of some of the games played at our expense. To step back and say, that's enough.
Impractical Things
As I've gotten older I've come to realize how much time I've spent on hobbies or skills that are, largely, impractical. Some of these interests have presented a shallow opportunity for learning, and others have gone much deeper.

Looking back now, the subtle lessons obtained from exploring a wide range of interests is, in many ways, how the world has defined my value. Of course, this only seems clear from my perspective - being able to see all of the time I've wasted perusing interests and skills that won't make me money or make me famous or make me an expert.

Maybe the motivation to pursue impractical interests builds a framework of care and understanding that differs from one that you're graded on, or the one you build when somebody else wants you to do it.
Convex Expectations
We were all born with mirrors.

When we're young, some of us are told that our value comes from how other people see us. Others were told it doesn't matter.

Of course, the reality is that there are over 7 billion people on this planet. Some people will have expectations of you. Most people won't.

Those that were trained to to conform to approval had their mirror bent for them, creating an outsized image of who's looking in, and how much it matters.

Maybe when we ask "but what will they think," we're looking at that warped reflection. And maybe we can unbend it.
The Dream You
It's like it was me, but it wasn't me.

Have you ever had a dream where you are experiencing events, but you aren't entirely yourself? Maybe your personality or appearance is different. Maybe your reactions are also different. Maybe you live in a different world, with an entirely different worldly context.

What does it mean that the you that retains the memories of these experiences is outside the dream character which only sometimes maintains your real-world behavior and characteristics?

Maybe these experiences are our body's way of teaching us that who we are is simply a collection of stories, and that when the context drastically changes, the us that we define drastically changes along with it. Maybe the observing you needs help shining light on the attachments we cling to throughout a lifetime of experiences. Maybe dreams help.

Neighbors: Part 1
It’s odd that we associate the word tolerance with big cities. It’s odd because if that’s correct, it means tolerance has an inverse relationship with population density, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would being around *more* people make me more tolerant? 

Many of us chalk this up to exposure - seeing more people obviously gets you used to being around different people, and therefore more tolerant, but that doesn’t quite add up. If anything, this constant exposure should be a reminder of how fearful I should be - how dangerous the world is because it doesn’t reflect my mental models. My negativity bias should be on overdrive with every seemingly crazy person who gets on the subway.
I can’t help think that survivorship bias player a role here. Malcom Gladwell talks about this in length in David & Goliath. The TLDR is that London officials were terrified that bombings during WW2 would destroy the economies, sending people into unproductive frenzies when they feared for their lives. This didn’t happen - instead, those that heard the bombs go off, but survived what they feared most, were left feeling more alive than ever. Maybe we live though this a little bit every day in the city.

Of course, data suggest this isn’t quite true either - maybe we’re overconfident in the kindness and safety of strangers. Maybe the caricatures of the city/rural divide are too easy.

And, in the end, maybe we just take whichever story makes us feel safe in the absence of control.
The cohort of people that grew up before access constant and instantaneous entertainment is shrinking rapidly. Our phones make it easier to ensure the dull roar of boredom is a faint whisper.

Of course, we've perfected this new kind of mundane self-distraction. We seamlessly shift from one screen to another. Videos, television, podcasts, music, audio books - we ensure that our experience is never empty.

But how many of your fondest memories are forged in this purgatorial state between focus and nothingness? How many of these memories are marked by the uncomfortable shifting to evade the absence of engagement?

Maybe we'll find that the salvation of meaningful experiences creeps in only when we feed it space. Maybe we'll find that clarity and nostalgia are fueled by boredom.
Fallen Limbs
Pruning a tree does a few things. It redirects and refocuses a tree's resources and  removes material which would block sunlight, invigorating the undergrowth.

It's also destructive and painful. Trees do this to themselves only to survive, discarding material that poses a sufficient risk. When we prune a tree, it's for optimization, not survival. Maybe it's easy to prune a tree because we so clearly see the rewards without feeling the pain.

Maybe there's no way to avoid the pain that's required to redirect growth.
Most of the work we set out to create doesn't require to be liked by everyone. Uber and Disney need to be liked by everyone to succeed, but that thing you're making for a small group, to support a small team, does not. In fact, by being unliked by the audience you are not engaging with gives you the permission to focus on the people who care.

And how about you?

Maybe in a world where you are liked by everyone, you silently walk on eggshells to maintain that status. Maybe it's a true gift to be unliked by someone. To be given the permission to only care about opinions the people who really see you.
Hypnotized by judgement
Judgement seems inherently human. There are too many symbols and too much context to really make sense of the reality that continuously floods our senses. It's much easier to label - is this good or is it bad. Is it scary? Is it wrong? If not now, could it be? If so, how?

We get so good at this as we age that we forget we do it - we forget the impact it has on the world around us and, more importantly, the impact it has on us. How exactly would you treat the judgmental voice you share a mind with if it was another person? How much would you let it control what you think and how you react?

And yet, we continue to listen to it's fearful, neurotic rambling day in and day out.

Maybe we're allowed to listen, but not obey. Maybe we're allowed to hear the voice, but decide whether or not it's reasonable. Maybe we're allowed to laugh at it.

And, if we're still around whether the judgement exists or not, maybe the judgement isn't really us after all.

This post inspired by The Untethered Soul
Glass Walls
Our world keeps getting larger. Whether you want to be or not, you are connected with what’s happening on the other side of the world.

Sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes we revert back to what makes us comfortable - what reminds us of our story of earlier humanity, when our worlds were small. After all, small worlds contain fewer people, fewer contexts, and less intensity.

The internet is in a unique position to craft small worlds. Coincidentally, a collection of millions of small worlds can sometimes be seen as a large world, but maybe that’s not the case.

 Maybe even within the large ‘communities’ of facebook, twitter, and reddit, the small worlds inside are the ones that matter - the subreddits, the hashtags, the cohort of people you see regularly.

The problem with internet-based small worlds is that they exist inside glass walls, where the outside can peer in and (at least occasionally) cause chaos.

Maybe opaque walls are better, protecting your world from outside observers. But how many worlds have you discovered because you passed by a glass wall and saw what was inside?

Maybe that glass walls are necessary for connection.
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