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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I


November 15th, 2018

The experience of giving advice that is either rebuffed or simply never taken seriously enough to be translated into action on the part of another person is nearly ubiquitous.  It is uncanny how we can listen to a friend’s plight and feel like we can understand and see the solution so clearly.  And yet, any advice we might give is so casually dismissed, it’s as though that friend is already familiar with the idea, as though it’s already been deeply considered.


Does this mean we are giving poor advice?  Or does it have more to do with our friend’s relationship to potential solutions?


It is far easier to simply complain and lap up any potential sympathy on offer with our mind’s little cat tongue.  This feeds that short term system of pleasure.  It’s enjoyable for only as long as it lasts, like a donut.


Can we think back for a moment and look over all the advice that’s been on offer through out our life and find anything that we now wish we’d taken to heart?  Most likely, the answer is yes.  It was an instance where someone caring gave us a gift.  One that we tossed aside and never used, and now that enough time has passed, it might not even be possible to use anymore.


The marketer or entrepreneur is faced with a similar dilemma.  Such a person is looking to give a kind of gift to the world, to strangers who may or may not use such a gift.


The marketer or entrepreneur has the similar choice of playing into those short term desires, or proffering a solution that requires effort, imagination and action.


Facebook and Instagram, for instance, while they seem to be ‘free’ actually charge a huge fee with regards to time and attention.  To illustrate this, just think about all the time someone spends scrolling some sort of feed during the day, multiply that number of hours by 365 and then by the minimum wage.  In the United States the minimum wage is $7.25.  According to one source, the average time spent on social media during a given day in 2017 was 135 minutes.  If you do the math, remembering that people take part in their social media job 7 days a week, this comes to just under Six Thousand Dollars.    Essentially, at a bare minimum, this is one way to see what platforms like Facebook and Instagram are charging.


These platforms work so well because they play into our short term system of pleasure – it’s a kind of instapleasure tactic that informs the structure and user interface of these products.  They are the equivalent of a friend who never offers any constructive feedback, but simply gives into our base desire when we feel the need to complain.


The other sort of marketer and entrepreneur, who wishes to give a useful gift that risks being unused faces a harder challenge.  Without those instapleasure tactics, it’s difficult to get people to listen long enough to understand what might be on offer.  Such is the case with the complaining friend.  Emotions are at the wheel in that situation.  Just think for a moment how many times a friend has really paused and grown quiet at the proffer of some piece of advice.  More likely, the advice was met with an immediate response beginning with the all-too-often ‘Yea, but….’.  This is not the mark of thoughtful engagement, it’s emotional reaction, pure and simple.  It may be couched in reasonable sounding language, but the mere quickness is a guideline for recognizing the difference between someone who is riding an emotion and someone who is thoughtfully trying to discover a solution.


Just as time functions as an important guideline in the short term, it is the most useful tactic in the long term. 


The marketer or entrepreneur who is looking for the quick turn around on investment, is more likely to feel like a sore loser when things don’t pan out the way they hoped.  Individuals on the quest for such a quick turn around on investment are more likely to build things that use our instapleasure system in order to get what they want.  Tactic and result have a fishy similarity here.


Conversely, the marketer or entrepreneur who seeks to make a good change that does not rely on the instapleasure systems within people may be less inclined to feel like a sore loser when things don’t pan out immediately.  Someone who is willing to have skin in the long game, is somewhat like the loving parent who is continually gives unused advice.  How feeble would the concepts of love and friendship be if we felt like sore losers every single time someone didn’t take our suggestion?


Considering the monstrous size of the global problems that are looming to face our species, we might do well to consider for a moment looking at the whole of humanity as a family.  This might be laughably unrealistic, but has there ever been a moment in previous human history when we have had a bigger opportunity to be connected across the globe?  No.  And while such a fact does not automatically make us a family, the technology that makes such a fact possible is certainly a practical step in this direction.


While much of the internet is currently geared towards hijacking our older, more volatile and instinctual impulses, we must remember that it is still evolving.  The number of people who have stopped using facebook, for example, is an interesting micro-event in this evolution.  In the future, we might look back and view the quick adoption and spread of these platforms in the same way we view a bad relationship that began in a hot and fast way.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  But the consequences slowly revealed themselves, and in the absence of some new instapleasure, perhaps our quieter, more thoughtful selves decided to pause and contemplate some real changes, some new actions, and better behavior.


We might for example, opt to go to a quieter corner of the internet, where we are challenged to think, to pause and to grow, instead of engaging in that frenzied scroll.  Or perhaps there’s a product that might actually improve our lives that we reconsider.  A book, or a meditation service, or an online course.  While the internet is technically 25+ years old, not everyone got on at the same time, and it may be fair to say that the internet and it’s evolving platforms are still experiencing the volatile ups and downs of a sort of puberty. 


While it seems unlikely looking at the internet’s short past, it is possible that it might settle into a far more thoughtful medium.  Such a thing might sound absurd, since there will always be shit kickers to stir the pot, but what if some clever person unleashes a new algorithm on the internet that begins to organize influences?  Bringing the trolls into check and highlighting the quieter spaces?


Perhaps not, but the people who were smart enough to tap into the instapleasure tendency of our limbic system may grow bored of such an easy game.  Appealing to the executive cortex isn’t just more challenging, but it expands the options infinitely since we can curiously contemplate things far beyond the reach of our impulsive limbic system.


Regardless, those quiet gardeners who are curating better spaces and creating better things need only continue.  The internet as a whole may not mature to that level of thoughtfulness, but individuals do, and will continue to do so, enabling those thoughtful spaces required to reconsider unused gifts.


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Podcast Ep. 214: Unused Gift

Tinkered Thinking

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