Comments Sections: A Clarification

Nick Bilton: One of the realizations I’ve had about startups is that they take on the DNA of their founding fathers or mothers. Caterina Fake told me when they started Flickr that they wanted it to be a pleasant experience and a happy platform. So with the first few thousand photographs that were up there, all the employees at Flickr wrote all these really nice notes. Even if it wasn’t the most beautiful photo, they’d say, This is the most beautiful photo I’ve ever seen. I love the framing. It created, from the beginning, this very happy place.

There are many true things in Nick’s statement in an article about Twitter in Fast Company. We very consciously created the comments section of Flickr, we did want Flickr to be a happy place, and for a long time it was. We wanted people to behave in a civilized way, and they did. We did not want to comments to devolve into glib pronouncements, snarky putdowns and ad hominem attacks as they so often do. We wanted real connection, appreciation and human flourishing. However, we never exhorted people to say something was beautiful that was not beautiful, and Flickr, and I, and the team were all deeply committed to the idea that you honor the wholeness of people, and that your comments be thoughtful. The team was encouraged to participate in all the conversations, because it is the founding team that determines how the software will behave, who set the tone, define the limits of what is tolerated on the service, which I wrote about in Wired.

The idea was the opposite of blanketing the comments sections with compliments, superlatives or “Likes”.  We tried to think about the photos we were looking at. Say something thoughtful. And that was what we were with great effort building into Flickr’s comments sections, which can easily become transactional, liking, and hearting,”Great!””Beautiful”,”Love it”! and on to more liking and hearting. Thinking about things takes time. It’s a slower internet. It’s a better internet.

Bluebells and buttercups eliminated from childhood in favor of celebrities and chatrooms

There was a recent update to the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and someone noticed that many words describing nature had disappeared. The Guardian says:

Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

Social Peacocking and the Shadow

I’ve long spoken of the idea that much social media has turned into “social peacocking” — showing yourself in a favorable light online, presenting only the happy moments, a “highlights reel” of your life, so to speak, and how this leads to FOMO in others. Look at me: here I am doing cool things, in interesting places, with beautiful people. This has always given me some pause. When I look at Flickr and Findery, two social media companies I’ve built, they are not, I hope, venues for presenting the air-brushed version of one’s life. So many of the new social networks seem to encourage it. They seem pretty, but shallow.

It occurred to me that the real problem was not the showing off. The eminence grise that was Carl Jung showed us what can happen to those who stay on the sunny side, and only on the sunny side of life. Jung posited the idea of The Shadow, the dark side of one’s character. The Shadow is not only what is evil, but what is petty, selfish, childish, annoying, and usually unconscious. The more a person acknowledges his shadow, and brings it into consciousness, the healthier and more whole the person will be. But if driven underground and sent into hiding, The Shadow will take on a life of its own, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Ursula LeGuin wrote a magnificent essay, “The Child and the Shadow” (which I collected quotes from last year), in which she discusses the fairy tale “The Shadow” by Hans Christian Anderson. In the story a man allows his shadow to leave him, and the shadow goes on to live its own life, without the positive side of its character. Eventually the Shadow has grown strong, and the man has grown weak, and the Shadow come back and murders the man. LeGuin writes:

If the ego “is weak, or if it’s offered nothing better, what it does is identify with the “collective consciousness.” That is Jung’s term for a kind of lowest common denominator of all the little egos added together, the mass mind, which consists of such things as cults, crees, fads, fashions, status-seeking, conventions, received beliefs, advertising, pop cult, all the isms, all the ideologies, all the hollow forms of communication and “togetherness” that lack real communion or real sharing. The ego, accepting these empty forms, becomes a member of the “lonely crowd”. To avoid this, to attain real community, it must turn inward, away from the crowd, to the source: it must identify with its own deeper regions, the great unexplored regions of the Self. These regions of the psyche June calls the “collective unconscious,” and it is in them, where we all meet, that he sees the source of true community; of felt religion; of art, grace, spontaneity, and love.

Social peacocking is life on the internet without the shadow. It is an incomplete representation of a life, a half of a person, a fraction of the wholeness of a human being. It’s the lonely crowd, the network and society, and not the community, as Tonnies would have it. As Jyri Engestrom observed, it’s implied in Google’s mantra “Don’t Be Evil.” That’s the Yang without the Yin. We have to bring The Shadow back into our technology if we are to live there and find our humanity reflected back to us. In our strivings to be better, we must not forget to be whole.

Even more tips for recruiting women

In your recruiting literature:

1. Talk about the overarching goal, why you are building what you’re building, and for whom
2. Talk about the whole product
3. No references to size (Massive, Huge, Gargantuan)
4. No references to war or assassination. (Ninja, Killer, Slaughter)
5. No references to defeating or subordinating others: (World Domination, We Rule)

The Pace Layers of Civilization

Pace Layers of Civilization

One of my favorite diagrams is from Stewart Brand’s book “The Clock of the Long Now” Derived from a diagram in Brand’s prior book “How Building Learns”, alongside an idea of Freeman Dyson’s, Stewart Brand expands on the idea of the pace layers of civilization in The Clock of the Long Now. Here are some note from the chapter in which this diagram appears:

“The fast parts learn, propose, and absorb shocks; the slow parts remember, integrate, and constrain. The fast parts get all the attention. The slow parts have all the power.

We can examine the array layer by layer, working down from fast and attention-getting to slow and powerful. Note that as people get older, their interests tend to migrate to the slower parts of the continuum. Culture is invisible to adolescents but a matter of great concern to elders. Adolescents are obsessed by fashion, elders bored by it.

The job of fashion and art is to be froth: quick, irrelevant, engaging, self-preoccupied, and cruel. Try this! No, no, try this! Culture is cut free to experiment as creatively and irresponsibly as society can bear. From all this variety comes driving energy for commerce…and the occasional good idea or practice that sifts down to improve deeper levels, such as governance becoming responsive to opinion polls, or culture gradually accepting multiculturalism as structure instead of grist for entertainment.

If commerce is completely unfettered and unsupported by watchful governance and culture, it easily becomes crime…Likewise, commerce may instruct but must not control the levels below it, because commerce alone is too shortsighted.

Infrastructure, essential as it is, cannot be justified in strictly commercial terms. The payback period for such things as transportation and communication systems is too long for standard investment, so you get government-guaranteed instruments such as bonds or government-guaranteed monopolies. Governance and culture must be willing to take on the huge costs and prolonged disruptions of constructing sewer systems, roads, and communication systems, all the while bearing in mind the health of even slower “natural” infrastructure, such as water, climate and so on.
Education is intellectual infrastructure; so is science. Very high yield, but delayed payback.

Culture’s vast slow-motion dance keeps century and millennium time. Slower than political and economic history, it moves at the pace of language and religion. Culture is the work of whole peoples.

As for nature, its vast power, inexorable and implacable, continues to surprise us….When we disturb nature at its own scale, as with our “extinction engine” and greenhouse gases of recent times — we risk triggering apocalyptic forces. Like it or not, we now have to comprehend and engage the still Longer Now of nature.
The division of powers among the layers of civilization allows us to relax about a few of our worries. We should not deplore rapidly changing technology and business while government controls, cultural mores, and so-called wisdom change slowly; that’s their job….The total effect of the pace layers is that they provide many-leveled corrective, stabilizing negative feedback throughout the system. It is precisely in the apparent contradictions of pace that civilization finds its surest health.”

How to recruit women in tech

Etsy’s work in creating a friendly place for women in tech should be widely emulated. Don’t just sit and wait for women to apply for jobs. Make sure your company is friendly to women. Let it be known that you are interested in recruiting and retaining women. Build your own pipeline for applicants.

Also, read this interview with Maggie Nelson of Findery, about becoming a software engineer.

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