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January 2nd, 2020


This episode is dedicated to Gray Wheeler


The more you poke reality, the more you understand about how you can effect reality.  The faster you poke reality, the faster this understanding grows.


This boils down to a question like:


Would you rather be a fast learner or a slow learner?


If you feel like you are a slow learner, it may not be something fundamental about you.  It may simply be the way you are poking reality that is an issue.  For example, if you take up archery the feedback loop is pretty straightforward: you take a shot and it either lands closer to the center of the target or father away, and based on this information, you change what you are doing in order to get a better result, a result that is more predictable, and you may take hundreds of shots everyday in order to improve.  Each shot consists of a single run of this feedback loop. 


But if your chosen activity is writing fiction specifically geared to elicit delight for people who will exist 100 years in the future, then your feedback loop is 100 years long, as opposed to archery where it’s perhaps a couple of seconds.


The different ways that we can get feedback on our writing is an example where we can see these different mediums achieving the same goal at different speeds.  If you go the “traditional” route and send your writing out to publications for consideration, you have to wait for a response, and this can often take months.  But if you post your writing online for everyone to read freely, your ability to garner some feedback drastically increases.  Twitter is a great example of this.  It’s possible to get better at expressing yourself in such a limited format because the feedback loop is very tight on Twitter.  You write on the platform, you post it, and feedback can be instant.  In fact, the complete absence of feedback on Twitter is extremely valuable if you compare it to the months of silence that follows when you mail a piece of writing out to a publisher.


The true difference here is between digital and analog.  Digital is simply faster with the internet, whereas the physical analog is cumbersome and takes comparatively huge amounts of time to move through space in order to run the route of a feedback loop.


This is at the heart of why tech companies can and do grow so fast.  Before the internet the business of companies had to rely on totally analog forms of communication, which simply take time, as per the speed of mail, and the physical transportation systems through which mail flows.  Telephones certainly sped this up, then fax machines, then email, and now there is an absolute sea of variety when it comes to how we might communicate, all of them perhaps slightly nuanced for different situations of communication.


Any feedback loop at it’s core is a connection through which communication occurs.


The arena of sports is a good example of how we experience this feedback loop outside the realm of language.  An athlete takes an action on the field and immediately they receive feedback as the game changes.  Compare this iterative speed to our traditional writer who has an address book full of possible publications.


One area where this feedback loop seems to have a troubling application is conversation.  Considering how much we all talk, it’s rather a surprise that we aren’t all masters of dialogue, virtuosos of rhetoric and geniuses when it comes to persuasion.


We certainly all put our time in, so what’s going on?


One aspect of this problem is evident when we compare the conversations on News Channels with the conversations we hear on podcasts.  New Channels are obligated by their business model to limit conversation in terms of time.  This creates a situation that is little more than a volley of predetermined sound bites.  Podcasts on the other hand have no time limit and this freedom creates a space where perspectives can be explored and unpacked.


So conversation does have some of the constraints that come with analog forms.  It literally takes time and space in order to speak.  Whereas a message on twitter by a single person can instantly be read by hundreds of thousands.  To put that in perspective, just think about what it would take for one person to say a single sentence to hundreds of thousands of people?  Such an amount of people simply take up too much space to all be in one place where our orator could maybe yell such a sentence at the top of their lungs.  Online platforms like Facebook or Twitter make a person’s speech replicate ad infinitium.


But conversation, despite its analog limits often lacks the mastery of one crucial tool.


If conversation is defined as the presence of two people’s perspective, then as long as each person gets an opportunity to talk, the conversation is an absolute success regardless of whether they agree, or hate each other at the end of it.


The art that underlies what we might think of when we consider being good or bad at conversation is really


The Art of the Question.


It’s not a description of our own perspective that we should use to poke reality for feedback.  In some sense, that perspective doesn’t matter unless it’s somehow translated into action, and creating sound waves is a fairly minimal action.  If we really want to stir up reality, the best way to do it is to ask a question.


But what exactly is a question?


For that, check out Episode 390: Question about the Question.


Thanks again Gray.



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