Google-Mediated Self-Poetry – Holiday Edition

A new sub-genre of my experimental internet poetry! Is Google able to capture the essence of this blog?

Rules:

  • Search your own site on Google, using site:[your site].
    This ‘poem’ is based on results from site:elkement.wordpress.com.
  • Open the first search result in a new tab.
  • Pick one phrase from this page (your own content) and note it down as a new line of the poem.
  • Open the next search result, pick the next line.
  • Editing of phrases is not allowed, and you must not re-visit the pages already processed or re-shuffle the lines.

This is so-called poetry from the first three pages of search results, as usual combined with my images.

I’ll stay away from social media for a while so you have time to digest it!

~~~

Nothing you have not seen in more elaborate fashion elsewhere
the true connection between my diverse activities

Mutant Tomatoe

a nitpicking stickler and painstaking submitter of DMCA complaints
a pioneer who did such an experiment long before the social media era

In past years I tried to eradicate it
a rotating alien-fighting device throwing darts
It is utterly exhausting

Scary Rotating Things

the phase portrait deviate from the circular shape
So what to do with all those old sites?
Steampunk seems to allude to a part of our common DNA

The tank will also be used as a cistern
shining laser light on the dark filament and analyzing the diffraction pattern
due to different spontaneous freezing temperatures of supercooled water.

ice storage

I am in need of trivia.
mentally insert black and white images inspired by Philip K. Dick‘s short stories.

Black and White

driving hansoms and communicating by wired telegrams.
We abandoned some gadgets and re-considered usage.

I finally added permanent redirects
you should try to use energy more efficiently first

Subconsciousness already takes the decision but you do not notice yet.
so there is no violation of energy conservation.

Bullerjan: Fire!!

Don’t panic – I have left the lofty heights of political analysis for now!
As a fallible human you might give in to the most intrusive requester

denying cap-and-gown costume as I detest artificial Astroturf traditions
I have a secondary super-villain identity.

Super Villain

Here is a typical example of very volatile output:
the irony of being considered a notorious link scammer

salt crystals should easily glide downwards from a tilted plane.
It’s time to compare costs again

Otherwise the grass might always be greener over there.

Green Grass, and more

 ~~~

Unplug Myself: First Update

It has been three and a half weeks since I have unplugged myself from social media and suspended blogging temporarily.

I was rather active on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter before since I had started the Connect Myself to the Collective Experiment last November. Now my Klout score is dwindling again.

This is my first update from the void, about the void. What happened?

I spent a short vacation – hiking in the Austrian Alps. If a mountain isn’t a symbol of eternal solitude, I don’t know what is.

elkement-mountain-snow

This is me, trying not to stumble. As the saying goes “Not trying is worse than to stumble and fall.” (c) elkement

I have recovered my ability to read and write long-winded, technical, analytical, wooden prose. My anecdotal evidence confirms the hypotheses put forward by Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: Skimming Facebook postings and science news posted on G+ diminished my ability to immerse in books and to dig mind-altering material such as technical standards and laws. The good news is that this deformation can be undone rather quickly due to the plasticity of the brain.

The bad news is that I lost the zest for or the capability of creating social media compatible information snippets (They should be called information-lets or infolets, shouldn’t they?).

I believe the reason is very simple: I have always written, blogged and ‘shared’ in bursts, and after a fireworks of bursts I needed to recharge my creative batteries and gather some experiences or fresh knowledge I could write about.

Having set-up the subversive websites 10 years ago I started penning anything I pondered about another 10 years before. Then I had said anything I had to say about things that mattered to me – and it was time again to just live and and work. In particular, in times of change (personal or career-wise) I felt a need for writing – it remains to be analyzed if writing catalyzes change, if I start writing before I know I want to make a change, or if I write about changes in hindsight.

Currently I am inclined to the latter theory: In the last year I have written about the corporate world and my difficult relationship with it, after I had taken a decision to leave it. This is a recurring pattern I find in texts on my proto-blog websites, too – I post-process painful decisions though a reader who does not know me might conclude that I am mulling on a problem that remains to be resolved.

In any case I write in bursts, and each burst is based on years of experience – with the notable exception of spam poems. I even applied the same ‘logic’ to social media infolets: I tend to share only stuff related to some experience of mine – I don’t want to browse the daily science news to share the coolest stories.

But the trickiest part of social media is the social part, in particular what I would like to call reciprocity. You need to decide on a strategy – and you do so, maybe unknowingly:

Are you going to follow back? Do you handle following (back) in a different way on different networks? What does a like really mean? Are you going to give priority to creating your own new postings / messages / updates, do you process  comments first, or do you read others’ posts first? Do you apply the same twisted way of thinking that got ingrained in your brain after years of corporate e-mail politics (She knows I read her e-mail because I sent a read receipt (accidentally), so now I need to answer her e-mail first before I leave another virtual trace that gives proof of my being online.)  Or do you give up, shout out your message – the same on all channels, that is: using Twitter and Facebook basically for announcing your blog posts?

Believe it or not I had even considered to publish these updates on the void on my non-blog websites only – as I am not sure if I can guarantee reciprocity in terms of reading all your posts during my blogging hiatus.

Social media / online culture sceptics say that on reading online stuff we are overwhelmed by the necessity of taking decisions all the time: Should I click that link? This prevents moving information from the short-term to long-term memory, so Google makes us stupid indeed. Online, decision-loaded reading is very different from the meditative and easy immersion in a single author’s thoughts that you follow over hundreds of pages. On adding the social component (Should I like this?) the load on our decision taking faculties is significantly enhanced, I guess.

lake-mountains

Lake in the mountains. Solitude. The most exhausting part of the hike was still ahead of me – luckily I did not know it. (c) elkement

There is no final conclusion yet, I have no long-term plan concerning social media. Probably there is a way to train your versatile brain to switch between deep reading and decision-loaded reading. Who knows. But it seems the ‘issues’ that made me pull the trigger last month were related to reading, rather than to writing, and they are worse the more snippet-like the so-called content is. So I won’t stop WordPress-ing.

Chances are high that this update will remain the only one for July. I am just finalizing a piece of tech prose (my master thesis). As I tweeted yesterday: Life is great.

What Is Normal? (My Way of Announcing Blogging Time-Out)

In my single attempt of crafting Error Message Poems I have tried to remember the best Out-of-Office note I have ever received – musing on not being able to get back to me as quick as normally, and culminating in the philosophical question:

But – what is normal?

Probably this is one of the hidden, leading questions that have driven this blog ever since I started it in March 2012. Is it normal to blog regularly? Is it normal to have ideas on a regular basis? Is it normal to follow more and more virtual conversations – not only on WordPress but on other social networks as well?

Nassim Taleb’s books have reminded me reminded of antifragility being grounded in burst-like patterns. At least this is the way I would summarize it. A mundane example is the alleged positive effect of irregular physical training – such as long walks alternating with extreme workouts – both unscheduled.

I would like to continue ridiculing those home-story-style articles about famous persons (One day in the life of…) who manage their lives in such a swift way and who are able to add utmost regularity to the universe’s imponderables. Who get up at 4:00 to mediate in their Zen-like garden, taking the first important business decision at 5:00 – such as acquiring a hot tech start-up in passing – by firing off an e-mail on your smart phone, driving their kids to school at 7:00 while having a conf call with your VPs … etc.

Thus I would embark on an experiment I have pondered about for a long time – I owe to these two posts that finally make me pull the trigger.
(Pull the trigger… what a metaphor. NSA, did you hear that? And I go into hiding. A non-blogging sleeper cell.)

I will unplug myself from social media in the next 2 – 4 months. (This is an estimate in terms of order of magnitude – 100 months)

Don’t panic.

I won’t disappear, I will follow-up on your blogs – but most likely more randomly than I did in the last months, and I will respond to comments.

I will resort to something like a monthly update – as I can’t bear a number of zero posts per months in the blog’s archive. WordPress is still my favorite network.  Probably I will appear more radical as a Facebook, Google+ or Twitter user, as a monthly tweet is like not tweeting at all. I have been on these networks now for less than a year and after intense participation (intense in terms of the accumulated impacts of the sum of those networks). In contrast to other social media users with erratic posting habits I will rather leave an OOF message and clean-up.

Facebook users: I have deactivated posts to my timeline, and tightened the who-can-see-what settings despite or because my birthday is looming. I need to retain some level of integrity when ranting about liking and sharing confessional automata.

There is no particular earth-shattering reason for that – or this is exactly a reason in its own right: I want to challenge myself by unplugging, by reducing input. In a weird sense I am reconnecting with my very first post about my social media denial.

I will even reduce my frequency of devouring books – sorry for that, Amazon.com (or probably I don’t want the NSA follow-up on my Kindle collections).

I am moderately busy, I have some other deadlines, but nothing that couldn’t be handled, and I could of course come up with some posts in the way the social media experts recommend: Recycling content, old posts – and I should have kept some articles in my stores of things to be posted when I have run out of ideas. But I even haven’t run out of ideas.

Since this might be the front post of this blog for some weeks, I would like to add self-serving links to related posts that I do not recycle now.

After a break I am rather sure I will continue to write about:

My most recent posts have told me something weird and I need to think about that:

Probably I over-emphasize aspects and arguments for the sake of those arguments. I am not at all that concerned with the Evil or Corporate or the Devastating Effect of Gamification, for example. Actually, in the moment I could not care less about these in the real live. It is rather my blogging avatar who has seized opportunities. This avatar is adding a filter that enhances contrast, for the sake of entertainment, or for the sake of making an argument a real argument. Any hyperbole and sarcasm comes in handy.

Nevertheless, it does not feel like dishonesty though.

And this is not at all meant self-critical – I like these posts more than my balanced ones.

I just need to think about that, and by thinking I mean the thing that goes on in your unplugged brain when you are not talking or writing. Probably exactly when you force yourself not to talk or write.

You get ideas from writing and interacting with others, but in the other hand there is a chance of getting trapped in a social media bubble of like-minded people. Finally it is a matter of available time – I admit I would not read blogs I strongly disagree with.

I feel the last sentence in this post should be sticky and remarkable – and exactly because of that I will not add a final statement at all.

snail-and-slug

I have stumbled upon these in the garden recently. I am convinced the universe wanted to tell me something, and I will decode it.

Shallow Waters and Deep Reading

I have re-read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, and this is not a balanced book review. I am an occasional reader of popular psychology books and I am guilty of selecting these books according to my pre-established bias.

The following experience puzzled me before I read the book:

I spent a two weeks vacation without computer and internet – I dedicated this vacation to make up my mind about the future of my professional career. I had decided already to return to where I came from (science, physics, engineering) and leave the IT industry, but I had not come very far in terms of actions and output. After that trip I started to re-read old physics books, such as Feynman’s physics lectures or 6 volumes on Theoretical Physics my former professor had written in the 1960s.

The vacation ended and I was back in the tread-mill of IT projects – but I managed to re-learn physics from 04:00 AM to 07:00 AM still. I had to prepare a report for a customer – and I was stunned by the efficiency I was able to apply to the task and by quality of the output. I was a perfectionist ever since and I had always received very good feedback on all kinds of written documentation. But this was by far one of my best results ever. Re-reading my report I realized that my writing had become more concise, precise, scientific again, and I needed less time then usual to get “into writing” and keep writing linearly for hours.

My conclusion was that resurrected physics thinking had boosted my performance in IT projects. I can safely say this is not true vice versa. It is not so much the field as such: computer science versus physics. “IT”- at least for me – is synonymous to a special way of working, of “processing information” that is detrimental to some mental and cognitive abilities:

  • Dealing with ambiguous situations quickly. This holds for troubleshooting under high pressure, having to take decisions quickly (based on incomplete information), transferring customer requirements into technical infrastructures.
  • Reaction instead of action. Feeling exposed to ever flowing stream of e-mails, phone calls, instant messages and trying in vain to keep the inbox free.
  • Being surrounded by peers who enjoy that type of environment, at least much more than I did. Going for the latest gadgets, reading e-mails on the smart phone, replying instantly.
  • Focussing on an aspect of a technical challenge as there is no overall goal I consider worth pursuing. Meeting a deadline set forth by some manager is not a true motivation, nor is the enforcement of legal requirements or industry standards crafted by bureaucrats.

I become good at thriving in the chaos, doing “triage”, applying a “good-enough approach” (the latter was not at all a bad exercise for a perfectionist). I learned to paint all sorts of architectural maps and topologies in my mind – actually to me this is the main link between physics and information technology, the ability to “think systems”. Nevertheless I felt the negative consequences as well (and I did not consider most of the aspects highlighted above positive either):

  • It became difficult for me to delve deep into a longer article or a book. I scanned texts rather than reading them.
  • I became addicted to checking e-mails and obsessed with replying as fast as possible.

It is hard to say if I liked all this or if I rather felt obliged to act in this way and pretend I liked it. There were times when I was absolutely positively convinced that being the prototypical IT geek is my true calling and all the not so pleasant side-effects are just part of an overall fair deal. I did not come to a final conclusion, but I can say that it was important for me to look for substantial changes.

And then I was recommended Carr’s book and I read it with the expectation to find confirmation, evidence and some scientific explanation to the processes I felt being affected by. My expectations have been fulfilled. Nicholas Carr is an accomplished and well versed writer and he has written this book based on personal experiences related to mine. But the personal part of the book is brief  – Carr focusses on putting these experiences in a broader perspective. He has done extensive research in the history of technology and neuropsychology to undermine his hypothesis that Google is making us stupid (as his article antedating the book was entitled). I cannot judge his research in terms of scientific scrutiny as I am neither a historian or psychologist. But compared to other books in the same genre he did an extremely good job on keeping his writing concise and avoiding repetitions. I have read too many books (business or psychology) that have beaten a good idea to death by repeating a basic idea over and over; The Shallows is different and new facts are presented in every chapter.

Carr tells the story of various technologies that shaped the way we comprehend the world and that finally shaped also our minds – including the wiring of neural circuits. He explains how maps and clocks profoundly changed our relationship with real or abstract structures and the continuous or segmented flow of time. How tools put between us and the world made us approach our environment in the role of scientific observers rather than engaged inhabitants. He acclaims the rise of the book although it set an end to the medieval tradition of oration and story telling; books have fostered solitary, deep reading and development of distinct, intellectual individuals. Books have made us capable of following and creating long-winded subtle arguments. All of this it at stake with the rise of the internet. Thus over-simplifying he does for the internet what Neil Postman did for mass media. For Nicholas Carr TV and traditional mass media are less dangerous because of the peculiar features of the internet and because of their ubiquity and connectedness: Bluntly put, simple user interfaces make you dumb. Helpful software as Google’s auto-completion features makes your mental abilities numb in a way comparable to the loss of muscular strength when using mechanical tools. He quotes some rather convincing scientific studies in different fields. E.g. it was expected that the availability of literature and scientific papers on the net would cause scientific authors to quote papers more often that had been hard to find in earlier times – as such papers are accessible now. But the opposite is true: The range of papers quoted narrowed down.

Summarizing and adding my flavour of sarcasm to these arguments:

  • The more “information” is available, the less value is attached to well-researched and original – but probably long-winded – articles and books. Everybody likes and links (blogs about, twitters) the simple and short main stream version.
  • Groupthink makes us dumber as a group, we turn from individual thinkers to a Borg-like collective. The last chapter in his book on automated grading of essays is truly scary.

I would add the amusing fact that today classical land mark books can be obtained nearly for free as well as e.g. video lectures and lecture notes on advanced topics published by universities. In contrast to this there are overpriced management trainings that basically teach you the type of common sense wisdom “my granny had already told me”. Thus not only do lengthy text vanish from the radar of searchers and sufers but they are even considered less valuable.

So overall I agree to nearly any of Carr’s arguments as far as I have some personal experience (though anecdotal of course). There is one minor argument I disagree: I do not think that the amazon Kindle turns books into some new internet version of snippets to be commented on etc. For me the Kindle really is just a device for reading books. Period. But Carr might be right in the long run and my view of the Kindle is due to the differences between the Kindle products and services in the US and Europe. I am using the key board version of the Kindle, not the Kindle fire. And I really appreciate the fact that the “internet connection” can be used for the sole purpose of purchasing books. There is no visible clock on the device, and most important no e-mail and no browser. There are just letters in black displayed on a white background in a way that makes reading a pleasure.

A critics might argue that it is not consistent to cherish books but condemn the internet. First of all, Carr’s arguments related to the internet are balanced – more balanced than Neil Postman’s arguments on TV for example. Carr’s line of reasoning is consistent and compelling. Yes, he ranks books higher than the internet and there is reason for doing so: Books and the associated development of deep reading in solitude was an anomaly in human history – an anomaly that enabled us to produce the most remarkable results in science and art. Since the dawn of the internet humankind might degenerate and return to the pre-book status: back to simpler arguments, easy-to-remember stories and a generally shorter attention span. We might become hunters again – hunters of junks of “information” (actually distraction).

There is one caveat I need to add: I am not sure of the arguments are true for all of society. Actually I doubt if effects are “that worse”. Carr as a journalist and writer is what I consider a classical modern “knowledge worker”. This is the reason why his writing resonates so much with me. I am pretty sure the majority of business or technical consultants would agree and people in high-tech industries. For “people like us” the world really seems to have become dominated by this furious stream of “information” and – most important – by ever accelerating cycles of deadlines and response times. It is cliché, but yes – people are expecting immediate responses, scrolling through e-mails on Blackberrys all the time. Anyone of us thinks he or she can beat the system by responding fastest and thus we are pushing the bar even higher.

It is important for me to distinguish between the effects of just using the technology I choose to use versus the effects of the technology that I am forced to use. You might say, this is splitting hairs, as there is no difference. Some people I know told me they are on Facebook just because all of their friends are there. So this is the networking effect etc etc., think usage of fax machines etc. There is always some level of enforcement involved, nobody would invent social networks from scratch, out of the blue – just because they would like to communicate with others in a different way.

Yet I think there is a difference and I might be due to psychological trick I am applying to myself. Nevertheless I feel a very real difference between choosing technologies and being forced to. I could literally feel it physically some time ago when the restless IT life style put me on the edge of burnout. Currently I am advancing into an industry sector new to me – a sector more associated with traditional engineering and slower paced “innovation cycles”. And to my relief I meet people who do not sync their calendars to their smartphones and check their e-mail all the time. They do not even carry any type of computer with them all the time. Yes, of course we use the internet in research and we need online conferences in projects. But there is a much deeper gap between using IT and the internet just as a tool and being obsessed with it (and what I call obsession turns into a subtle peer group pressure felt my less obsessed members of the community). Originally I was a scientist using IT as a tool, then I became an IT expert focussed on IT, now I am moving backwards. I can track down exactly when and why I the internet and software tools are “just tools” supporting my mind that is clearly detached from the tools or when and why I feel exposed to technology and member of the Borg collective. The type of the tool – such as internet versus software applications, browser versus e-mails, blogs versus Word processor – does not matter that much. I think it takes considerable practice, trial and error and self-inspection, but I really believe there is a mental switch or filter that we can turn on and off to make technology less or more invasive. The filter’s effectiveness is (for me) dependent strongly on the level of control I feel “permitted” to have over technology.

So I fully agree to Carr’s analysis but I am not convinced it fully applies to all of humanity, all professions and all users. I dare hypothesize that there are specific communities and professions that are much more affected or affected at all by Google’s mind-numbing tendency and the variation between different individuals is greater than what could be concluded from this analysis.

I would have been interested in reading more about Carr’s personal strategies as all those technologies built on the network effect (I need to use it if all of my friends use it) would not be able to exert any transformational power if we all resisted to use it. Personally I feel an increasing percentage of former tech-savvy users are literally unplugging – as Carr did at least for a while. Strange as it may seem – writing this blog (that is not linked anywhere) is part of my personal unplugging strategy.