The Truth About Zombies

After watching The Truth about Zombies, I learned things about zombies I didn’t know. People in Haiti, where Voudoun is practiced, fear zombification more than they fear zombies. Zombies are fairly harmless, since they are ppl who have been poisoned so that they suffer paralysis, but with total consciousness and awareness. But what was most interesting to me was that zombification is a form of capital punishment visited upon ppl who have done some harm to people in the community, but who have not been served by the justice system. So it is a punishment meted out by an extra-legal Voudoun justice system. The adjudicator, in addition to zombifying the perp, takes their will, their “petit bon ange”, and keeps it in a bottle.

FOMO and Social Media

I’ve been watching Twitter and Ditto feeds of people at SxSW, and, from a distance, I get a distinct sense of the social anxiety and FOMO that’s going on there. “FOMO” stands for “Fear of Missing Out” and it’s what happens everywhere on a typical Saturday night, when you’re trying to decide if you should stay in, or muster the energy to go to the party. At SxSW I see people wondering if they’re at the wrong party—the party where they are is lame, feels uncool, has too much brand advertising or doesn’t have anyone there they’d want to hook up with—and so they move on to the next party where they have to wait in line too long, can’t get a beer, or don’t find their friends, and so move on to the next venue where…and so on.

FOMO is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re participating, not missing out, even when you are.

There is a company that sells radar equipment to the police as well as radar detectors to the public. Clorox is one of the world’s worst polluters of water, and also sells Brita filters to get the bad stuff out of the water again. Lawyers create mazes that you have to hire a lawyer to escape. Similarly social software both creates and cures FOMO. If you didn’t know that party was going on, you’d be home contentedly reading your latest New Yorker. But since you do, you hungrily watch each new tweet.

It’s an age-old problem, exacerbated by technology. To be always filled with craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) is one of the Three Poisons of Buddhism, called kilesa, and it makes you a slave. There is true meaning in social media—real connections, real friendships, devotion, humor, sacrifice, joy, depth, love. And this is what we are looking for when we log on. Most of the world is profane, not sacred, in the Mircea Eliade sense. So it is. But within it is the Emmy award speech of Mister Rogers, a Japanese man being rescued at sea, Abraham Lincoln, moms who comfort sick children, the earnest love that dogs have for people…

FOMO can be fought. Stay alert! En garde!

(This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.)

Salary Commensurate with Effectiveness

I was just read this phrase “salary commensurate with experience” in a email list I’m on, and thought perhaps it should be “salary commensurate with effectiveness” or “salary commensurate with excellence” instead. A lot is gained through experience, but experience teaches some and not others. Effectiveness and excellence, whether or not they were attained by simply having the knack or through the school of hard knocks, is really what you want to reward.

A WORD ON STATISTICS by Wislawa Szymborska


Out of every hundred people,

those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four — well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred —
a figure that has never varied yet.

(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)

Lawrence Pearsall Jacks on Work

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

Technology is both constructive and destructive

“If we examine technologies honestly, each one as its faults as well as its virtues. There are no technologies without vices and none that are neutral. The consequences of a technology expand with its disruptive nature. Powerful technologies will be powerful in both directions, for good and bad. There is no powerfully constructive technology that is not also powerfully destructive in another direction, just as there is no great idea that cannot be greatly perverted for great harm. The greater the promise of a new technology, the greater its potential for harm as well”

Kevin Kelly, wrote this in What Technology Wants, where he advances a great argument that, ultimately, resistance to a new technology is futile, in spite of concerns that the new tech is dangerous, or has too many possible consequences, still unknown, and should be legislated out of existence. He writes that prohibitions are in effect just postponements, because inevitably new technologies will be adopted, no matter which Shogun bans guns from his beautiful, elegant, and ritualistic samurai sword fights.

Good, interesting, thought-provoking stuff.

Tinkering as Learning

John Seely Brown, who was the director of the amazing Xerox Parc for many years, and whose book The Social Life of Information was hugely influential in the tech industry in which I work, has a new book coming out soon, The New Culture of Learning, which looks great. You can download the first three chapters from the site.

He talks a lot about one of my pet subjects, Community Mentoring, the apprenticeship model of education:

Where traditionally mentoring was a means of enculturating members into a community, mentoring in the collective relies more on the sense of learning and developing temporary, peer-to-peer relationships that are fluid and impermanent. Expertise is shared openly and willingly, without regard to an institutional mission. Instead, expertise is shared conditionally and situationally, as a way to enable the agency of other members of the collective.

…as well as a dozen other favorite topics of mine: play as a means of learning, constraints as a stimulus for, rather than an inhibition of, creativity, and so on. I wish I could figure out how to get my hands on the whole book. There is a great page of resources on the site as well, for further exploration.

Here is an interview with John from the site, talking about tinkering as a mode of knowledge production, an idea reinforced by my recent visit to MakerBot.

(Thanks for the head’s up, Scott!)