The weight of information

Early communications were face-to-face. Early humans had no choice but to relay information in this way. The advent of written language allowed the recording and passage of information in a relatively compact way. For the first time ever, thought could weigh something, as you can learn more of in this TED talk.

Now the weight of the internet, the most comprehensive collection of stored information on the planet, is estimated to be roughly the same as a strawberry (though it could be as light as a grain of salt).

The average weight of a book is 12 ounces. The average weight of the internet (estimate) is 1.7 ounces. The book, so tangible in our hands, has roughly 1 word per every 334 million words on the internet.

No longer needing to heave the weight of knowledge, we can pass on any thought without consideration or restraint. (Thank you, by the way, to those of you reading this blog…)

And thus our email inbox is a veritable cacophony of discordant thoughts all vying for our attention. The ones that matter, those that need a response, are simply the quick jottings of someone else passing off an item that needs to be accomplished.

Example a: “Give me a call when you get a moment.”

Why wouldn’t the sender just pick up the phone to give you a call? The obvious response is that it’s an effort of consideration. Perhaps you’re too busy to pick up right now. But that’s short-sighted. It’s okay. If I don’t want to talk, or I’m too busy, I won’t answer. I have voice mail. Leave me a message.

Example b: “Can you get this to the boss/your spouse or partner/ the janitor.”

Unless you’re a secretary or planning a surprise party, the person sending generally has the same access to the person they’re trying to get the email to. They can send it themselves. Or, better yet, call. “Hey, I’m going to be sending this over. Can you look at it for me?”

Example c: “Good job on the project/report/performance review/whatever.”

On the surface, this seems okay. But really, it’s an acknowledgement of receipt and (if actually critiqued in some way by the other party) a notice that the task was met satisfactorily. If you want to give positive validation to someone, write two to three lines on a physical card, and mail it. Yes, it takes a little bite more time, a little bit of money – for a card, envelope and stamp. But, the appreciation becomes evident. Then you’re much more likely to receive an email back thanking you for your thoughtful card, or even a phone call.

It seems that most bad news comes over the phone, and the mundane and even good news gets sent via email. It’s as if we’ve let the internet messaging system take over whole chunks of our lives.

But how can we cut that cord?

For the mission

A nonprofit must remain true to its mission. For some, it’s an easy proposition to maintain, even now. If your mission is to feed the homeless, then maybe you run a soup kitchen. If it’s to provide support to low income workers, maybe a food pantry, financial assistance, or transportation benefits is what your organization does. 

However, if you’re one of a number of organizations whose mission is to enrich the lives of the public through artistic means, you may be finding the need to shift how you do that to be insurmountable. Boards across the nation are investigating virtual experiences, trying to figure out how to remain viable when, suddenly, any arts group can be a competitor for the time and money of your constituents. 

In the race for money, it’s important to remain mindful of the mission behind your nonprofit. Enrichment is more than entertaining. Educating is more than childcare. Artistic excellence isn’t a buzz word to drive sales or audience development.

It needs to be deeper than that, and the groups have to dig down to find a competitive place to do their work. Is it possible there will be groups that don’t survive this pandemic? Yes. It certainly is. But if the whole interaction that organization has had in the past with every patron has been transactional in nature, then the group was probably failing to fulfill its mission in the first place.

Recent Items 13

As I continually reevaluate these Friday postings, I bounce back and forth on what to call it. And, truly, what should be shared. These are the things that I find interesting which popped up in the past week. Not all of the things, but a few.

For instance, album sales have surpassed compact disc sales for the first time in 34 years. While that may seem like an anachronism in the modern age, it demonstrates a return to a more conscious listening of music, rather than passive.

Then there’s this author’s review of her $700 coffee-maker she recently bought. I actually enjoyed reading it, though for that price, I could think of a number of other things I could purchase instead. However, about ten years ago I had a one shot espresso maker made by Mr. Coffee. I think I got it at Target for $40. I used it every morning for about four years. There’s a slow, conscious effort in making coffee like that, similar to using a pour-over carafe, which is a really nice start to the day.

Also about coffee, the BBC Science Focus reported on a report about the benefits of the caffeine, including lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Darius Foroux, on his blog, shared a concept called Six Spokes Theory, suggesting that the good life if ample energy is applied to each of the six spokes: Body, Mind, Work, Love, Money, Play. This was reminiscent of something I read in Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, which she called the Life Pie (Spirituality, Romance/Adventure, Friends, Work, Exercise, Play). There are other examples as well I’ve seen, taking different shapes and forms. The important thing is that, when there’s a massive imbalance in one, it can upset every aspect of your life.

And lastly, this week saw remembrances for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Two interesting pieces:

  • MASH alumni Alan Alda tweeted, “In the 70s I wrote a piece for MS. magazine on why men should support the ERA. A law professor fact-checked it and said, “Whoever wrote this seems to know nothing about constitutional law.” So, instead, I interviewed HER. She was brilliant. And kind. She was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
  • Brain Pickings shared the writings of a 13 year-old RBG, commenting on the creation of the Charter of the United Nations. “No one can feel free from danger and destruction until the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again. We cannot feel safer until every nation, regardless of weapons or power, will meet together in good faith, the people worthy of mutual association.”

Who you’re supposed to be

The hardest fight to win is the one you in which you fight yourself. Every decision you make that goes against your beliefs, your feelings, your desires, or your motivations makes it a little harder to act. Sometimes it’s so bad that even getting out of bed is an enormous effort of will.

Conversely, it’s why that, in the face of great adversity, someone can keep going, even though it seems impossible that they should do so. Larger thank life examples exist, like Civil Rights leaders John Lewis or Martin Luther King, Jr.; Thomas Edison, again with the thousand-bald failure example; or even the soldiers during the American Revolution, fighting an established army and navy.

But it’s not always about the big battles. It can be the small ones. The daily ethical choices we have to make. The decision to pursue comfort or to risk that in the potential of living your best life.

These are choices you have to make for yourself, but they’re choices that matter greatly.

The untrod path

“Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story upon the monuments of fame erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction.” – Abraham Lincoln

For all the exploration we’ve made into this world, there are still places unexplored. Even for those previously explored, it could very well be seen with a fresh set of eyes in an entirely new way.

Think of all the mold people had seen for thousands of years before Alexander Fleming discovered its use in fighting infections, thus bringing us penicillin. Or the countless failures Thomas Edison had in his attempts to create a lightbuld.

Sometimes, all that’s required to move forward in a situation is to embrace a sense of discovery and follow each new path to its inevitable conclusion.

Innovation

A common buzz word for companies flouting their “next big thing”, it’s easy to forget the significance behind the word.

I love books, so I always come back to the Gutenberg Printing Press, developed in the fifteenth century. Its invention ushered in a time when knowledge was more readily disseminated throughout the masses and literacy rates increased throughout Europe.

Modes of transportation – both personal and for cargo. Horse-and-buggy gave way to the automobile. Wind, steam, fuel-combustion, nuclear, and electric forms of the ships, trains, and other vehicles.

Those are just two examples that created both connections among disparate communities as well as opportunities for trade and knowledge-exchange. The internet certainly falls into that category as well.

However, what we’re seeing now is predominantly incremental returns on innovative investment. As the Industrial Age wanes and the Information Age still grows from its nascent stages, the advances aren’t taking us leaps forward, but rather a step here and a step there.

All that is to say, be wary of the use of innovation as buzz word. I do believe that we’ll see significant innovation sooner rather than later. I would predict extensions in the average lifespan by another four-five decades; Virtual and Augmented Reality becoming a hub for commerce, entertainment, and socializing; and renewable, safe energies powering everything from city grids down to the smallest microchip.

Governance

I spent a lot of time learning about governance during my M.A. work. The responsibility of organizations and their leadership – to be ethical, fiscally responsible, and operating in line with the mission.

There’s not much of a difference between good governance and good governing. But we often seem to let those we elect slide in their behavior, when we expect more from those operating companies or organizations.

As we approach the November elections, it’s a prudent reminder to fully examine the qualifications of the candidates. Whose beliefs and values do we align with?

As they say, vote your conscience.

Nineteen years

And you still remember it.

The anniversary of September 11th passed and was filled with remembrances and thoughts of a country post-crisis (oddly amid several crises currently underway).

Nineteen years ago, I was in my English class. The teacher, an amiable old fellow with a doctorate (we called him Doc) was lecturing on, I believe, Heart of Darkness. When the class was dismissed, we ran into other students in the hall who told us what happened. The rest of the day was spent watching the television footage and news reports coming in from New York, Pennsylvania, and DC.

It was my first understanding of the frailty of the world on that level. Generations have defining moments, and at the time I was sure that was it.

While we know more now than we did then, we still have a lot to learn. I remember a call to unity, and one that, for a time, was heeded. I guess it’s encouraging that, even then, the world can go back to a state of normalcy, no matter the catastrophe proceeding it. We’re just waiting now for normalcy to reemerge this year.

Amazon’s constitutional

The new deal struck by Amazon to bring Marielle Heller’s What the Constitution Means to Me from its 2019 Broadway run follows in a wake of recent stage filmings shown on streaming services. Disney with Hamilton and talks of a Once on this Island addition; Netflix has had Shrek the Musical for some time; and of course there is the BroadwayHD service that you can subscribe to.

All this comes as live theatre is still in a hazy moment of uncertainty. Will the future look less live and more televised, at least while the pandemic is still a concern? Is that even called theatre anymore?

All these questions and more are those that have been discussed ad nauseam in the arts communities. For business models that hadn’t changed in centuries, suddenly outside forces necessitated rethinking what purpose do the arts serve, and in what medium can you connect with patrons.

As in everything else, the internet provided opportunity. However, had this been a more frequent discussion over the past two or three decades – on how best to utilize technology in traditionally in-person arts experiences – the rise of Covid may have been less disruptive than it ended up actually being.

For your weekend

It’s been a couple of weeks since I shared some items for you to check out. I suppose that I’ve been trying to reclaim my routines. Some of them have gotten away from me.

Quote that’s been giving me a hard time: What gets measured gets managed. This gem from Peter Drucker has left me wondering about certain things in my personal life, as well as the way we interact with tracking apps and apps that give achievement progress in terms of streaks – how many days in a row you’ve used the app.

For instance, I wake up every morning a write. There’s no app, no tracking (other than notebooks filled with pages and dated, so I guess that counts), and nothing to be accountable to – save for myself. I suppose that being accountable to a device in a way feels like I’m missing the point. It’s something I’ll spend more time considering.

What I’m reading this week: Financial Freedom by Grant Sabatier. Recommended by someone, I checked it out at the library and gave it a a pretty quick read. It’s only about three-hundred pages, not offering much in the way of new information, and it includes spreadsheets and graphs. What it does do well, though, is give you a call to action. Every chapter is a workable suggestion for how to make more money, save more money, and, in some cases, spend less money. Most of what I spend my time thinking about anyway.

Some stories that I found interesting:

  • On Shadow Work. Assume for a moment that the old adage is true: within each of us are two wolves, one light and one dark. The grow in size depending on our actions, our thoughts, and our intents. The light wolf encompasses the positive aspects of us: the good, the kind, the charitable. The dark wolf indulges in all the negative emotions and bad actions that we commit. Which one grows? Whichever one we feed. This binary way of looking at self can prevent us from understanding that negative emotions are a part of us. Fundamentally. Shadow work delves into attempting to reconcile that understanding.
  • How a generation grew up thinking about the internet thanks to the film Hackers.
  • How C.S. Lewis conned children into asking for Turkish Delights.
  • Emmy Award Show this weekend, trying to stay interesting amid pandemic weirdness.

And, finally, a thought about Halloween. October is often my favorite, most busy month of the year. This year, however… Well, my hopes aren’t high. I’m reminded, though, of a tv special I watched as a kid. And I wanted to share it here. The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t.