Communication & relationships

Very initial thoughts on Together Alone

I’ve been a Sherry Turkle fan for quite sometime, so I was pretty excited to see her talk at TED earlier this year. The video of that talk has just been posted, but if you were following me on Twitter during TED you may recall me tweeting out countless quotes from her at the time. Here’s the talk in case you want to watch it, it’s 20 minutes, but it’s damn worth it. Trust me.

The talk covers some of the issues in her recently released book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other which I preordered while she was giving this talk live, but only recently started reading. I have to admit that I’ve really only cracked the cover (though, I’m reading it on my kindle, so does that even work?) and so these initial thoughts could be completely off base once I get further into the book, or maybe she even covers these ideas. I’ll keep reading and let you know what an idiot I sound like after the fact.

So anyway, I started reading and as I was reading I found myself verbalizing thoughts or comments about the text, so I started to write them down and next thing I knew I had several paragraphs, so I’m flushing them out just the slightest bit and posting them here for feedback, as well as later reference once I get further into the book.

Think Tank Thinking

I’ve been thinking about events a lot recently. More specifically about conferences style events that I’ve been to, I’ve gotten something out of, or felt like I was wasting my time being at. I’ve certainly been involved with my fair share of event organization and I know I’ve been involved with my fair share of events that wasted peoples time. I’d like to not do that in the future, and rather I’d very much like to work on creating events that actually mean something to people and they are better off for attending. In this thinking, I’ve been making some mental lists…

Things I’ve seen that make events suck:

  1. Sales pitches from sponsors/speakers
  2. Audience feeling like they are just spectators
  3. Huge audience with little interaction
  4. Boring venue
  5. More attractive location walking distance from the boring venue
  6. Single topic brought up again and again and again
  7. All attendees/speakers from one field

Things I’ve seen that have made events awesome:

  1. Hard to tell difference from speakers and audience
  2. Presentations that are open ended and spawn conversation
  3. Small audience with lots interaction. Under 100 total attendees is ideal.
  4. Inspiring venue
  5. Seclusion. No other location walking distance from the main venue.
  6. No clear connection from one topic to another, forcing the attendees/speakers to talk about the different ideas and how they relate
  7. Speakers and Attendees from diverse fields

I’ve been chewing on this for a while and need to think about it a bit more, but I think I’ll likely end up doing something soon that plays off these lists a lot.

More thoughts on Brands and Social Networking

I know the great Brands Vs Google+ war of 2011 has sort of cooled off so far, but there’s something about it that has been chewing at my brain. I wrote a little about it previously on Google+.

But when I wrote that I was thinking at it more from the connection standpoint. People go to social networks for connections, and an impersonal brand front is going to have trouble fitting in as well as a person from a brand that people can connect to. I still think that’s an important thing to consider, but I think there might be a little more to it now.

A Way To Make Meetings Not Suck?

My friend Michael Pusateri made this fantastic illustration which explains why meetings suck. I find that by and large they are massive wastes of time and generally do more harm than good. Because of this I avoid them at all costs. Sometimes they are unavoidable and if you must go to one, then it’s a good idea to figure out how to make the most of it. The biggest problems with them is that, as illustrated in the graphic above, so much time is wasted waiting for people and chatting about things not relating to the meeting.

I just came across this article called How To Run A Meeting Like Google which dives into Marissa Mayer’s 70+ meeting a week schedule which I found super interesting. Most of the extremely problematic meetings I have been to were of the longer “everyone show up at X time and we’ll talk” variety, where as the shorter “here are the three points we need to cover, we have 15 minutes to do it” ones actually work out OK. (With Crash Space we have a weekly meeting on Tuesday night and we try to keep it under 30 minutes.) The rules laid out in this make a lot of sense, briefly they are:

  1. Set a firm agenda.
  2. Assign a note taker.
  3. Carve out micro meetings.
  4. Hold office hours.
  5. Discourage politics, use data.
  6. Stick to the clock.

Read the article for more details on each of those but I can attest that a firm agenda keeps things on point, and using “office hours” as a place to move “just wanted to chat” kind of things out of meetings can do wonders for shit actually getting done. For me I’d also add into this to defer to shorter meetings rather than longer – when people are presented with an hour or 2 hour meeting they walk in knowing it’s going to drag and usually end up trying to find things to fill the time which wastes everyone elses. If a meeting is 15-30 minutes tops and everyone knows what needs to get done it’s more like a race and people can get back to their own lives quicker.

More on Twitter Lists

The other day I made some predictions about twitter lists and after a week or so of using them I thought I’d report back at least how I was using them and how that was working for me. It’s taken a few days of use for me to sort out what works, in theory anyway, so I’ve changed thing up a lot.

Initially I made a bunch of lists like “People who I am sitting next to on the couch right now” which contained one person. This was kind of a joke, but funny enough some people started following those lists. So I did the only reasonable thing and deleted them.

Next up I made a ton of public lists. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Art, Music, Tokyo, Bikes, etc.. and started sorting my friends. This made sense because now I had some context for the peoples tweets as they’d roll up with out thinking about them. What I mean is, when looking at my “Art” list I know the people who were on there I’m following because they are in the artworld somehow. This puts some of the things they say, and some of the things I look for them to say in a different category than people who I put in a “Business” list. It’s subtle, but when you sort tweets that way you start to pick up on it.

I did this for a few days and then realized that I had a ton of lists cluttering up my twitter page for really no reason. Why does my “NYC” list need to be public? It’s just a handful of my friends in NYC who I keep up with and hang out with when I’m there – opening them up for browsing by the general public just seemed a little odd. So I went through and made my lists private.

But then I started think that was a little selfish and doesn’t really help with the discovery aspect of lists that is actually pretty valuable. But there are millions of people in NYC, and millions more people with NYC lists so that just seemed to be added to the noise. I decided that a valuable public list might be for something more niche, maybe things that people might not think of on their own.

So I created a list of vegans and made it public. This includes people I know who are vegan, people I don’t know who are vegan, celebs who are vegan, and some feeds and resources from vegan sites. It does not include vegetarian or animal rights tweet streams that are not explicitly vegan. It doesn’t include accounts I found that were named vegansomething but only had 2-3 tweets and still had totally default layouts. I hoped that would create a useful list for myself, but also for others. And people started following it right away so I think that did the trick.

This also was the first list I made were I added people I wasn’t already following, and you know, that was AWESOME! I can monitor the general overall discussion from a bunch of people without it clogging up my main page and getting in the way of people I’m friends with and know in real life. Over the course of a few days I started thinking in the same terms with my other lists – if I was only following an account because they had bike news, and I had them on my Bikes list, now I didn’t need to follow them anymore. Likewise when someone said something interesting about music or I cam across someone from a band I like, I could add them to my Music list but not worry about following them or not. It’s been pretty liberating.

Obviously this is still a new thing, but I’m really excited about where it might lead.

Things that go bump in the night

A couple just walked past my house while having a heated argument. A lot of people don’t realize that everything they say while walking down this street in Venice can be heard by any resident with their windows open. Anyway, they were arguing about if Paranormal Activity was just a movie or a real document of actual events.

He was making the point that it was just a movie, with actors and a script. She was arguing that it was a documentary made by the people in the film of events that were taking place around them. He noted that if something like that had actually happened it would be on the news and not in movies theaters. She said it happens all the time and no one covers it, but this guy was just lucky enough to film it. He said he was pretty sure there was no documented stories of ghosts murdering people. She pointed out that the media never covers important issues like that and if he wasn’t being such a fucking asshole he would go see it and would know, as she did, that it was real. He commented that nothing he could see on screen would change the facts that it is a fictional story.

She suggested that he wasn’t going to get laid tonight because she couldn’t believe she was dating such a closed minded jerk.

My guess is there’s another factor weighing a little heavier on that, possibly that he’s dating an idiot.

Going down in flames, or being OK with endings

This is a concept I’ve wanted to write for a while now, but have kept putting off and forgetting about. I was reminded of it the other day while having lunch next to a table with two girls talking about their recent breakups. Yes I was eavesdropping. Heavily.

One girl had obviously just gotten divorced and was telling her friend about some resulting confusion, and her friend had also just broken up with a long term boyfriend and was in the same kind of situation. Their conundrum was that in every relationship they’d been in, one party had done something wrong, enough to kill the relationship and cause those involved to never want to see each other again. Painful, but fairly straight forward. However in both of these girls recent relationships nothing had caused a major fracture. Rather, they had just grown slowly apart and both had realized it and decided, like rational adults, that rather than stay together in a relationship neither one of them was happy with that they should end it, and give each other the opportunity to be happy elsewhere.

The resulting confusion was they didn’t know how to treat the other person when they ran into them in the future. Painful break up exes were easy, they’d mutually snub each other and go about their business but given that they had no lingering hard feelings for these recent exes, and likewise the exes didn’t hold any ill will towards them, what the hell were they supposed to do? But this isn’t only a relationship conundrum, and I know plenty of people (myself included) who have the same kind of questions and confusion come up in regards to business in one way or another. I think at it’s core, the bits and pieces of whatever the previous situation were don’t really matter anymore, it’s all about being OK with something coming to an end.

Taking responsibility for your own interpretations

My last post about Facebook ruining relationships (or not) got linked to about a million times but didn’t generate that much discussion. My guess is I was so long winded people either never finished it or were just too exhausted by the time did to add anything to it. That’s fine, and I’ll try and be more concise in the future. Maybe. One comment that did come in struck a chord with me and rather than follow up there I thought it deserved it’s own post. Commenter Robert K got me thinking when he said:

I once misheard a lyric by the group Stereolab. What I thought I heard was “Responsible for what I say, responsible for what I heard”, which I found incredibly illuminating. Wow. I am responsible for what I hear. Ironically, I heard the lyric wrong. The last word in the lyric is actually “hush”, not “heard”. In this case, I’m proud to take responsibility for that interpretation. But to your point, so often I forget that I am responsible for feeling annoyed with what others say or write, and it’s up to me to control my behavior, not theirs.

I’m so relieved to see someone else say this because it’s honestly something I think all the time. I often find myself in situations where people misinterpret something I’ve said and I have a negative reaction to it. I have to find a way to delicately explain that I meant something else entirely, something which probably wouldn’t elicit such a reaction. Sometimes this is because I just do a bad job explaining what I’m trying to say and sometimes it’s because people have a preconceived notion of my standpoint before I’ve said anything. It happens with business associates, friends and family. In any case it’s annoying and frustrating. How do you tell someone nicely “you are upset about something you made up in your own head” or worst “don’t get all excited just yet, you misunderstood what I was saying.”

It’s not that easy, trust me.

But this goes both ways- I learned a long time ago that interpretation was a powerful tool. Both in how others interpret you, and how you interpret others. It’s hard to control how others interpret you (hence the previous paragraph) but realizing you are in control of your own interpretations can make a huge difference in your life. This is all about trying to decode intent, but in the same way beauty is in the eye of the beholder, intent can and is often decided by the recipient. While it’s true that if you hurt someones feelings, even if you weren’t intending to, their feelings are still hurt. It’s also true that when someone is trying to hurt your feelings, simply readjusting their intent (in your own head) can soften the blow considerably. If someone tells you that “you suck” that could mean they have taken a careful look at you and found you to be sub par, and this might hurt your feelings. Or it could mean that this person just has incredibly low self esteem and the only way they can feel better about themselves is to try and push someone else down, this might make you snicker at how much they themselves suck. Not what they intended, but arguably a better interpretation, from your standpoint at least.

I think a lot of this boils down to, as Robert put it, control our own behavior. As as society we reinforce the idea that there is always someone else to blame when someone does something wrong. I don’t like to give anyone else that much power over me. If someone else upsets me, it’s because I let them upset me. If I upset someone, it’s because they are letting me do it. This is passive for most people, but when you realize it and learn that it can be an active choice then more often then not when faced with “do I want to let this person or situation upset me” the answer ends up being “no.”