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NOSTALGIA'S EDGE

October 23rd, 2020

 

This episode is dedicated to Morgan Anastasi who you can connect with on Twitter with the handle @Morgan_Anastasi.

 

So many yearn for the good old days, and in many cases, those good old days predate the entire life of the nostalgic.  How can this be?  How is it possible for someone to miss, or wish for a time that once existed but which someone has no direct experience of?  There is certainly an impassable gulf between missing something experienced, like a loved one passed, and a time never even glimpsed. In comparison, the people who yearn for some future date are surely far outnumbered by those who yearn for some past time.  The obvious difference that might be ascribed to this rides on the fact that we don’t know what the future holds, whereas, we have some notion of what it was probably like to live back in the 1920’s or even the 1490’s.  But this difference is more subtle than first glance betrays, and the most impactful facets of the past thread silently into our present selves in ways that might even be insidious. 

 

Culture, as a collection of mindsets, beliefs, ideas, patterns of behaviors and methods of decision making is a constantly evolving, mutating entity.  Each of us located in a unique cross-section of all these intersecting flows of information.  We add to the culture, each contributing an influence on the direction it will take next.  But more important than the way each of us represents an intersection of cultural pieces, is the parts of culture that don’t influence who we are.  

 

As an example, think about what it means to be on the cutting edge.  Those who make a regular home of this edge are always read up on the newest aspects of some evolving arm of culture.  The cutting edge of technology, for example.

 

Those who harbour and nourish a palpable nostalgia for some aspect of the past are likely not a part of the cutting edge.  Certainly there may be strange outliers that manage to combine the two in unique ways (Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine, certainly seems to be an example), but for the most part, these two camps have a separation for fundamental reasons.

Nostalgia, if viewed with a pessimistically modern judgement might be described as “backwards looking.”  But this betrays a vital aspect of nostalgia.

 

Yearning for a past golden time is not so much a realistic desire as it is representative of a way of thinking now misplaced in time.  The “Nostalgiencia” don’t look backward so much as they are looking forward with an old perspective replete with beliefs, ideas, patterns of behaviour and methods of decision making.

 

The real question pressed by nostalgia isn’t so much whether it’s possible and preferable to “return” to simpler times as it is an implicit challenge to the future to be better.  This comes with certain tradeoffs.  Writing off the potential virtues of nostalgia may write off time tested wisdom.  The industrial-techno evolution of human space, for example, has certainly suffered from a disappointing and willful ignorance of what simple aspects of our surrounding makes for good living.  Obnoxiously simple things, like a little greenery and lighting that is perhaps anything BUT fluorescent white. 

The Nostalgiencia likewise suffer in similar ways.  The arena of coding and programming, for example, is dominated by a variety of person other than the artistic, literary types who are guilty of pursuing something once called “liberal arts”, and yet, an artist who knows how to code becomes a force of culture to be reckoned with.  The limiting factors on artists in previous generations can be lifted with the leverage afforded by a little technological knowledge.  Just imagine for a moment if every artist was suddenly imbued with the ability to code and program?  How many fantastical and fascinating things would begin to pop up on the internet?  One thing that such artistic types fail to realize is that the “look” and “feel” of the internet is dominated by the aesthetic taste or lack thereof of the people who have built the internet, which is primarily people who weren’t interested in the artsy things that lead others to become.. artists.

Artistry and nostalgia have strong ties.  The history of art is an obvious topic for virtually everyone.  Art has been a part of our culture since before we were writing words.  The connection between nostalgia and technology on the other hand is perhaps totally non-existent, and part of this may be that the history that lead to computers is somewhat invisible because it made some monumental jumps that are somewhat counterintuitive.  In many ways, the technological progress that has lead to laptops, super phones and Twitter was invisible because the progress involved something exceedingly tiny and because it evolved with exceptional speed once we learned how to make use of another invisible resource: electricity.

 

Technology in the modern computing sense is a facet of human exploration that feels as though it has no history, it has no memory, and because of that it looks more to the future, marching like a juggernaut into the unknown.  Being without such roots grants this freedom of perspective or rather, freedom from perspectives that were more relevant in past times.

 

Both camps are incorrect by lacking the perspective and resources of the other, and those who can comfortably exist in both worlds can operate in each as though with superpowers.  The oil painter who knows how to leverage social media in conjunction with an online store that uses print-on-demand technology to sell hundreds of copies of a painting all with a purely automated system that functions while that artist sleeps and paints is going to do much better than the artist  who doesn’t know how to leverage all those things.  And even more interesting is the fact that an artist with such a commercial system doesn’t even need to know how to code, but simply needs to understand what is technologically possible.  An artist with such a livelihood can spend more of their time actually working on their art.

 

The inverse is also quite powerful, and not in the straightforward sense that an artist who codes doesn’t need to rely on a graphic designer to do “art work”.  The artist doesn’t just bring skills, but a perspective that is rooted in different fundamentals and directions which then perceives the challenges, obstacles, and most importantly the opportunities inherent in other skills, like coding.

 

Nostalgia’s Edge is an updated use of older, time-tested methods for approaching the future. While it’s good to let go of old things that hold us back, it’s vital to take stock of the good, because, at the end of the day, the perspectives of the past are what got us to the present opportunity we have today.

 


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Podcast Ep. 922: Nostalgia's Edge

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Tinkered Thinking


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INCOMING, OUTGOING

October 22nd, 2020

 

We operate in conjunction with two vectors: incoming, and outgoing.  Materialism is perhaps the best example of the incoming vector.  We seek to acquire more things, to bring these desirable things closer to us, to possess them.  But of course other things slide along this vector: social media addictions, chemical addictions, and drama of all sorts.

 

On the other hand the outward vector is the symmetrical version:  We either let go of things, or we create, produce and ship things out into the world. 

 

One of these vectors is a tool for a far more fulfilling life than the other.  Writing a short story is far more fulfilling than watching the next episode of the show Netflix has queued.  Letting go of possessions is strangely more relaxing than obtaining others.

 

This simple rubric of direction reveals even more subtlety when we look at some specific language.

 

 

Take for example two of the most coveted and desired things in modern society: happiness and passion.  Both of these are concepts that indicate a possession.  You have a passion, and happiness is something we chase.

 

Compare those to a couple of other terms that seem to be in the same wheelhouse but operate on the other vector: Peace and curiosity.  Both of these are defined by a lack of something.  Peace exists when dread and anxiety of chaos leaves, and curiosity is a thirst for something that is still unknown.  Both are defined more by an outward perspective, whereas happiness and passion are inwardly focused.

 


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Podcast Ep. 921: Incoming, Outgoing

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BUILD TILL IT BREAKS

October 21st, 2020

 

Over-planning stems from a a good intention: the hope is to anticipate and sidestep mistakes long before they happen, in fact, before anything even starts.  It’s an impossible ideal for a less obvious reason.

 

Mistakes and break points in progress function like forced shifts in perspectives.  If for a moment we envision progress as a straight road which suddenly has a bolder blocking the entire road, the problem forces us off the path, and from the side we see the entire venture from an entirely different perspective.  Progress gains an extra dimension every time we have to detour from it.

 

The forced shit in perspective is of course due to an unforeseen obstacle, which is the more obvious reason why it’s an impossible ideal to plan perfectly.  The road ahead perpetually curves away from view, like a closer horizon, hiding challenges we do best to expect, not in order to avoid but to cherish.

 

Each change in perspective allots a potential for new angles on how to progress further, how to build better, and inevitably, when things break, reality is revealing the aspect of our work that can raise the quality of the whole if we turn our focus to it.


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Podcast Ep. 920: Build till it Breaks

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EDGE OF ABILITY

October 20th, 2020

 

Massive projects are daunting to start.  To overcome that ominous veil cast about the future, the trick is to chip off a real small piece that’s manageable and deal with just that piece.  Once the ball is rolling, that’s when real motivation actually shows up:  The emotion of motivation arises from the motion of action. Picking that action is the real trick to both motivation and taking on Goliath-sized projects.  

 

 

But how exactly do we pick which spot to start with?  The answer to this question doesn’t just apply to the first bite of the mammoth apple of achievement, it’s also part of the answer to which step should be the next step, for each and every step after that.

 

The first qualification for choosing a spot to start or a spot to continue is knowing with absolute certitude that it’s possible.  We might feel this is the case for the whole project, but the question of scope is important here.  

 

It must also be small enough that the task can fall within the unit of effort that we have at our human disposal.  A huge project cannot be accomplished in one fell swoop.  It must be taken down in tiny pieces, as when chopping down an enormous trees: it’s simply ridiculous that one epic swing is going to bring it down.

 

After these two qualifications, it’s a matter of what we know we can do and what we don’t yet know how to do.

 

For everything that is bite-sized in terms of our available effort, and it falls under the category of things we know how to do: these items are the low-hanging fruit that’s best to go at first.  If any of them are also fun, then go for those covered in icing.

 

After that, the next in line are those items we’re not totally sure how to do, and so on until we have thing we know are possible but which we have no idea how to pull off.

 

What occurs as we move from the low-hanging-icing-caked items toward those things we’re not so sure how to do is that the network of tiny accomplishments - even with things we know how to do - builds it’s own knowledge.  This network gains like an army surrounding an enemy.  Our progress on a project doesn’t need to barrel headlong into an area that is nothing but a blank question mark.  Our progress can work around it, and by enveloping it, the shape of that problem refines, winnows and through this process the true form of the issue emerges, which often, ultimately betrays some trick, idea, revelation or familiar component that acts like the thin edge of the wedge used to crack conundrum wide open and solve it.

 

This organic, growing entity of progress on a project is perhaps best phrased as the edge of ability.  By starting with what is well within one’s ability, we move out to find that edge, and it advances like a heavy ax swung into the tree trunk:  the blade’s edge makes progress not just because it’s sharp, but because of how much solid weight is behind it and adding to it’s inertia.  The same goes for our ability to achieve something large in small pieces.  The components of success gain inertia as we fashion each and join them into a robust foundation, a network which can then be used to overtake the unknown.


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Podcast Ep. 919: Edge of Ability

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BLAND GEMS

October 19th, 2020

 

Exotic inevitably has an element of being foreign, of being different.  It’s this otherness of the exotic that gives it it’s allure and generates our fascination.  On the coin’s other side is the familiar, the commonplace, and by default: the plain.  The ordinary lacks allure because it lacks mystery.  It’s this framework of human fascination and disinterest that cripples a vital pathway between people, and underlines why it’s so important to share.

 

Share what?  Share thoughts, ideas, modes of being, personal strategies, observations - all of it.

 

Though on a personal level all of these things feel fairly benign, this is because of that framework of fascination: anything that we are overly familiar with is just boring.  And this emotional catch-22 keeps the mind from considering just how impactful these benign and boring thoughts might be for other people.  

 

What seems like a lacklustre idea to the person who casually has that idea might be the golden key to someone else’s conundrum.

 

The perspective that’s nothing but everyday to one person might be mind-bending to someone else.

 

The effortless methods one person has for organizing their internal life might be the saving grace for someone else who is suffering.

 

 

There are these bland gems that exist within each of us - bland because such things are boring to the one who possesses, and gems to others oblivious to such things.  The analogy works just as well with actual material possessions.  It takes no effort at all to imagine the restless, disgruntled and bored billionaire sitting on the back of their yacht wondering just what they should do.  Meanwhile there are countless millions who would rejoice with unhinged ecstasy if they were to suddenly find themselves beset with boredom in such conditions.  In the arena of material possessions and pleasure, this is referred to as hedonic adaptation, which if phrased simply, means that we get used to the good life and because of that, it ceases to be all that good, hence the need for more, and more.

 

Intellectually we are similar.  We suffer from a kind of personal intellectual adaptation: we are both bored of our own internal accomplishments and gems.  Everything we know and understand is just so obvious, by default.  But what is obvious to one is certainly not obvious to others: hence the benefit of sharing.

 

But as a further note, there’s perhaps a question of medium to consider.  While there are good influences on platforms like social media, such places are perhaps not constructed in a way ideal to the task of sharing for mutual and widespread benefit.

 

The old and school-abused method of simply writing is perhaps best, with in-person conversation following as a trailing second.  But both of these benefit immensely from a bit of skillful practice - and neither get much of such treatment.  School often signals the end of that eye-rolling drudgery known as writing, and almost no one is thinking about what it means to become a more skillful conversationalist.

 

How many of us are left like locked boxes of gems we ourselves see no value in?


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Podcast Ep. 918: Bland Gems

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If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.