The Soul Is Built Entirely of Attentiveness

I heard a podcast the other day featuring a gentleman I had never heard of named Parker Palmer. He was quoting Thomas Merton, the late American writer, and it was one of those moments when the information you need comes to you at the exact moment you need it.

Merton wrote, “There is a pervasive form of modern violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

It destroys the fruitfulness of his, or her, work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

(These words were written in 1966.)

I have been reflecting on the modern violence of overwork on my own behalf, but also on behalf of a dear friend who I have watched grapple with these same issues. The feeling of near drowning is one we can slowly become accustomed to, until it makes us forget what “normal” was.

We are a society obsessed with effectiveness, results and outcomes. The tighter we cling to that effectiveness, the smaller and smaller tasks we take on. The smaller and smaller, inevitably, we ourselves become.

Faithfulness, Palmer exhorted, must trump effectiveness. By faithfulness he meant “am I being faithful to my own gifts and how I can affect the world around me? Have I shown up fully with what I’ve got everyday?”

The concept of violence goes well beyond doing physical harm. We do violence every time we violate, or fail to respect, our own or another person’s soul.

And the soul is built entirely of attentiveness.

Can The Expert Survive?

Uber has been in the news quite a bit lately, mostly for reasons that cast doubt on its long-term viability. Tone deaf comments from CEO Emil Michael about spying on journalists who had unflattering things to say about the company to reports about the company’s valuation alternately set at anywhere from $17B to $40B have kept the glare of the spotlight on the ridesharing service. The company often butts up against municipal regulations that they seek to address AFTER entering a new market. Their “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude seems ill-suited to sustainability, but I will leave that to others to analyze.

 

 

No, the news story that caught my eye dealt with how Uber is putting downward pressure on the cost of medallions in taxi-friendly cities like New York, Boston and Chicago. (Medallions are essentially the operating license one needs to legally operate a cab.) Medallions ain’t cheap- in New York, Uber is thought to have depressed the price of a medallion 17% to $872,000.

If the barrier to entry to become a driver is so low, and the cost to the passenger for the Midtown to JFK trip at 5pm is a fraction of a yellow cab, why would anyone ever drive or hail a cab again?
Why, indeed?
To me, the troubling trend at play here is one that I have been tracking since 2009 when I wondered “how good is good enough?” Long about 2006 or so, I began to notice a trend away from specialization in video production. The rise of the prosumer camera and cheap laptop editing software made anyone a producer. But, at what cost? Quality and experience began their inexorable decline into relative irrelevance.
The news business similarly eroded when reporters were now forced to both report on and take pictures (and maybe video of) the stories they covered. They might also be charged with writing both a print and web version of those same stories. The work of several specialists was now distilled down to one (likely underpaid) generalist.
“Hey,” I can hear you say, “you need to cut costs to respond to market pressure and increase value.” Or I can hear you saying, “how hard is it to drive a cab?” Perhaps, although I’m not sure that argument would have as much weight in London or Los Angeles where knowledge of one’s surroundings literally takes a lifetime to learn.
And that’s just the point: what value do we place on expertise and experience? I would say the the answer increasingly is “not much.”
So what?
Is good enough good enough? How do you value those hard-won life skills? And what happens when there’s no one around with the perspective, background and experience to make decisions?
It’s one thing to be a well-rounded individual who knows a little something about a lot of things. But I wonder if we haven’t made the expert extinct at an incalculable cost as we continually belittle and devalue their contributions.
We see it all areas of life: the big box store that offers every imaginable item from oranges to orange carpet to books on William of Orange; that newspaper (remember those?) reporter who now must report, take a picture of and edit the video of the news while posting it twitter and Facebook; or the company that can no longer afford to be the best at one thing but, instead, has to be passably decent at a lot of things.
Good enough is good enough. Until it isn’t.

What Motivates You?

Daniel Pink writes about a different paradigm for motivation in the workplace in his best selling book “Drive.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this new way of thinking, which obliterates the old notion of carrot and stick motivators and instead focuses on a new approach:

1- Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives.

2- Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters.

3- Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

These ideas have been dogging me for months, and as I continue to bear down on several different life and career milestones, I’m trying to decipher their place in my life.

The overarching revelation that I believe brings the promise for my enduring freedom, however, is one that I think I came up with myself, although I read so much I cannot be sure anymore, so forgive me if I stole this from you:

I am no longer willing to compete for stakes that are internally assigned but have no transcendent value.

Transcendence. That seems like a big word fraught with meaning, but to me, it really just means lining up with point number 3 above: purpose. Maybe it’s the time of the season, but finding something “important” to do feels especially urgent.

Quick aside: I realize I am not the first to feel these things or write these words. Nothing to see here, I acknowledge. Except maybe this: the word “important” does not mean that you need to invent a cure or devote your life to eradicating something or ensure the abundance of something or donate millions or organize folks to stop or start something. So often we get hung up on the grand gesture, which inevitably feels out of reach, which then guarantees disappointment leading to inertia and a profound dissatisfaction.

No.
Important means important to you. Because just like the old saw about not being able to love another until you can find a way to love yourself, I submit you cannot do anything important until you define the word for yourself.

I cannot help you do that, but for me it has taken on many shadings, all of which inform my overall definition of the word. Yet I find I keep coming back to the top three points over and again: autonomy, mastery and purpose. In my case, I have an thirst for knowledge that seemingly cannot be slaked, a desire to improve in all areas of my life (personal, professional, as a father, as a friend, as a golfer) and a devotion to a positive legacy.

Gone are pretense and hypocrisy and shallowness. Well, if not gone, they’re no longer welcome and hopefully on their way out.

So, where’s the transcendence? I think it comes from awareness, both of self and of circumstances. It feels like we all spend a lot of time figuring out (and complaining about?) what we DON’T want, which is undoubtedly time well spent. But do we pursue the reverse?

It’s up to you. Autonomy, mastery, purpose.

What motivates you? And can you get out of your own way?

Amazon Video, Netflix and the New TV Normal

The death of the traditional TV model has been forecast for many years now. I’ve always believed that the model needs to evolve and the rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated. I think we are finally seeing the concrete manifestation of that evolution, and some of the early results are fascinating.

Since 2012, Netflix has been producing and releasing original series such as “Lilyhammer” and “House of Cards”, with the revival of “Arrested Development” in May 2013 marking their most high profile project to date. Now Amazon Instant Video is getting into the act, with an interesting twist. On April 19, Amazon released 14 pilots all at once, a mix of 8 comedies and 6 kids’ shows. With high profile names both in front of and behind the camera like John Goodman, Bebe Neuwirth and Jeffrey Tambor, to name just a few, Amazon is clearly trying to get your attention. But, have they? I’d be willing to bet this is the first you’re hearing of it.

The twist I mentioned comes from the viewers’ ability to answer a few survey questions about the pilots they just watched, giving the audience the chance to switch roles with the network suits and decide whether the show lives or dies. If you are an Amazon Prime member in the US or you get Lovefilm UK or Lovefilm Germany, all the shows are free, although there may be a way to get them for a fee if you are not a Prime member.

“The goal is to get customer feedback, to understand which ones customers are excited about and are promising,” said Amazon Studios head Roy Price. The studio was formed in November 2010, with a focus on crowd-sourced, high-quality TV and movie programming.

It is certainly debatable whether the audiences will be better judges of TV than suits, but this model does two things right away: 1) offers a value add to Prime members, as they will be the ones to receive this content for free and, 2) continues the “American Idol”/”The Voice” model of audience participation and control over content, but in a way that does not involve a contest.

I watched two of the shows (“Alpha House” and “Browsers”) and they were both fine. No better or worse than standard TV fare. “Browsers” was a comedy musical, so if musicals aren’t your thing, you might want to skip it, although Bebe Neuwirth’s song is hilarious and raunchy. I will probably wend my way through 3 or 4 more of the pilots that looked promising, as I am intrigued by Amazon’s model.

Two questions for you: 1- Had you heard about this effort from Amazon? 2- Do you  like the idea of audiences giving input to the studio about a pilot? Does that make you more or less likely to watch it? (OK, that was sort of 3 questions…)

Leave a comment…

What is a Post-PC World?

For the past couple of years, since the advent of the iPad and other tablets, there has been a lot of digital ink spilled over how we’re living in a “post-PC world”. It got me thinking as to what that means.

At first blush, it sounds like the prediction that the computer as we know it is going away forever. With today’s announcement that Dell is taking itself private (the opposite of what you usually hear, right?) and the lack of focus on the part of Apple over the past 3 or 4 years on OSX upgrades, it might seem that the headlong surge to mobile computing might be the end of our relationship with our computers at home or work.

Not so fast.

As we sit here today, I believe the definition of  a “post-PC world” means how we interact with our data and how that data is stored. Cloud storage has made it insanely easy to never be far from your digital stuff. Before, everything had to be stored locally on your hard drive. Now Dropbox, Amazon cloud services, Google Drive and dozens of others make all your stuff accessible from anywhere. The ability to get your music, documents, email, photos, etc. from multiple devices says more about how we store and interact with things, and less about the machines we use to get to that storage locker in the sky.

There are certain things that phones, tablets and other “post-PC” devices are still not much good at: Skype, video gaming, video editing, Photoshop, document creation and document editing etc etc etc., and until such time as they can handle “computer” tasks like these, they will always just be cloud access devices.

So, I think branding this evolution as post-PC is somewhat misleading. “Post hard drive” might be more accurate.

How about you? How much do you rely on the cloud?

The Ongoing Online Privacy War

I love keeping my eyes open for changing trends in behavior, especially online behavior.

The battle to maintain one’s privacy in a world of socially mediated publicness is a topic well picked over. Both celebrities and folks of less renown have all had a digital mishap, whether it’s the mistaken click on “Reply all” or the R-rated photo that ends up in the wrong hands.

The message of “the internet is forever” is probably as firmly embedded in the consciousness of folks young and old, just like “look both ways before you cross the street.” Not that people always heed the good advice they hear.

Into the breach have stepped several apps and services designed to anonymize your activity online. Wickr, Snapchat and the Silent Circle products are just a few examples of companies trying to help you keep your private life private.

 Wickr offers “military-grade encryption of text, picture, audio and video messages.” Yikes!

Snapchat is a photo-only service (for now) that allows you to put a time limit on how long the picture will display on the recipient’s device, up to 10 seconds. I gather this one is popular with the younger crowd.

The Silent Circle family of products were created by a “mix of world-renowned cryptographers, Silicon Valley software engineers…and former US Navy SEALs and British Special Air Service security experts.” They even offer a feature called “Burn Notice.” Too much time watching USA Network?

All kidding aside, it appears that the time is right for options like these, for various reasons. While no one is FORCING you to post a status update on Facebook or check in on Foursquare, none of us ever feel totally confident that what we try to keep private actually remains that way. Our website visits are tracked by advertisers or your ISP, our emails and texts logged, phone conversations recorded. There is no digital equivalent to the Mafia movie scenes where the  two guys walk outside amid traffic noise, and far from wiretaps, to have a private conversation.

Nowadays, closing the door to your office has no digital equivalent.

All of us have had that slightly queasy feeling that everything we do might someday be a part of the public record. I’m not positive that even these three services can successfully wipe the digital slate clean. It seems to me that communications sent from your phone, across a network to someone else’s device must be stored SOMEWHERE. Do your research.

Too often the argument for more privacy online (or off)  is attacked with the tired argument of “well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t be worried.” That is so stupid on its face I won’t comment further. Smart people do dumb things, to be sure, but there are few justifications for the level of invasiveness granted to corporations, public utilities, your employer, etc. And there are times when you might like to talk to someone about something, and not have the whole world potentially know about it.

This is not some unhinged Libertarian rant against Big Brother, but I wonder if we are not seeing some push back in an area that all of us have probably felt some prior discomfort.

Plus, getting to play “Mission: Impossible” with your phone could be kind of fun. “This text will self-destruct in five seconds…”

What do you think? Do you think these kind of apps are responding to a real need? Would you sign up for one of them? Post a comment.

Has Instagram changed the internet for all of us?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Instagram lately and I’ve noticed that I am not alone.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center revealed that 46% of adult internet users post original photos or videos online that they themselves created. This was the first time they had asked about Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr, so there is no historical data to compare the numbers to, but the numbers are sure to continue growing. According to the study, “27% of internet users between 18-29 use Instagram.”

And then this, from AllThingsD: “In August [2012] US smartphone owners visited Instagram from their smartphones more frequently and for longer periods of time than they visited Twitter.” Instagram had an average of 7.3 million daily active users to Twitter’s 6.9 million, and they spent nearly twice as long perusing.

When Facebook allegedly coughed up $1 billion to buy Instagram, the black crows in the media  focused on the astronomical price tag for a company that hadn’t made any money yet. I was more interested in WHY Facebook decided to acquire the popular service. More accurately, I’m intrigued by what the rise of photo sharing apps means to the future of communications. I happen to love Instagram and enjoy seeing the way people express their creativity. It also challenges me to try and find the visual narrative in any given situation. While there is certainly an overabundance of food photos, pet photos and pictures showing the view from an airplane with the wing featured prominently, I wonder how we will all tell our stories over the next few years. While Facebook and twitter allow for photo attachments, the updates that people post are largely text-based. Maybe it’s because of my background in creating television and video that I find visual storytelling more compelling, but I’m certainly not alone. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a picture passed through a saturation filter worth?

Do you use Instagram or some other photo sharing app? What do you find compelling about it?

The Attack of the e-Reader

I may be a digital immigrant, but I fully support the customs, language and diet of this new digital country I find myself living in.

 

I get most of my news from blogs.

 

Most of my professional development comes via online sources.

 

I stay in touch with friends over the web.

 

I subscribe to about 20 different podcasts.

 

And about a year ago I got rid of my laptop in favor of an iPad.

When the first iPad came out, I couldn’t envision any viable use case for the way I lived my life. A fancy e-reader seemed like a nice toy, but I couldn’t see myself owning one. But a funny thing happened just prior to the release of the iPad2. I noticed that I was lugging my big laptop all across the country, but when I reached my destination, I found myself managing email (something done just as easily from my iPhone), scanning through my Google Reader and reading, reading, reading. As a long-time video producer, I would occasionally do presentations where I would need to bring my laptop to a meeting, but it was largely becoming a posture-killing appendage.

 

So I got an iPad, and ditched my laptop for good. So, what’s changed? Well, for starters I am no longer lugging a heavy laptop around, but, more importantly, I find I am reading more. Much more. The ease of sampling and buying books from the Kindle or iBooks store has exposed me to books that I might not have plunked down $25 for based on a review or a lengthy book store browse. I’m not alone.

 

According to a Pew Internet and American Life study, 20% of American adults have read an e-book in the past year and the average e-book reader has read 24 books in the past year, compared with an average of 15 by a non-e-book consumer. (Here is a link to the study.)

 

Clearly, this is a trend line that will only continue rising over the next several years into the future. There is quite a bit of talk about the “post-PC” world that many who try and predict this sort of thing feel we’re moving towards. In a nutshell, this means that as mobile and cloud-based computing begins  to dominate, many of us will do away with our laptops and desktops because everything we need to do fits in our pocket. I’m going to call bull shit on that prediction, but it is undeniable that the future of computing is mobile. I just don’t feel like it’s such an all-or-nothing proposition. Mobile will undoubtedly continue to take an ever larger share of the pie, but as I have pointed out many times before, radio didn’t kill TV and the automobile did not kill the horse. I’ll leave the apocalyptic predictions to others. (As I write this post, this just came in regarding first quarter iPad sales. Truly mind-boggling that Apple sold 63% of all tablets sold worldwide in one quarter.)

 

So, if people are reading more and more and Apple (and others) are selling more and more devices that fit easily into your purse or bag, what’s the opportunity for you or your business? The barriers to publishing are low and the versatility of e-publications is only going to continue to improve. You can already seamlessly embed video, audio, photos, links, etc etc etc. into your publication, whether that publication is a standard book, or something more focused on your business, industry or organization.

 

 Maybe you want to take a second look at some of those old brochures, folders and presentations that never got the distribution you felt they deserved. 17 million iPads in three months. That’s a lot of eyeballs…

What is truth?: The controversies around Kony2012 and This American Life

Like just about everyone else with an internet connection, I am aware of both the video and the “controversy” surrounding the video Kony2012. I first saw it posted on a friend’s wall with the comment that her 12-year old son had made HER aware of it.

That is how it started: young people sharing it with other young people until it became one of the most viral videos of all time.

Before I even watched the video, however, I felt a combination of emotions because of what my immediate reaction was to learning of its very existence. My very first thought was, “Who is going to try and poke holes in this video?”

We live in a “Prove it!” age where seemingly everything can be faked and there are competing industries of content creators and content disprovers. I’m not sure what makes me more sad: that our willingness to believe what we see has been decimated by those who would prey on our trusting nature, or that there are so many out there who prey on our trusting nature.

Before I was even finished writing this blog post, another “truth” controversy was unearthed, this time by the producers at American Public Media’s This American Life. A recent episode devoted to Mike Daisey’s one-man show “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”  was their most downloaded episode ever.  Then it was revealed that the actor had taken a few liberties with the facts, throwing big parts of the story into question.

What these two episodes share is the now common tendency to play fast and loose with the truth. Both the Kony video and the “Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” get both stories mostly right, but the liberties taken with some details immediately call into question the whole narrative.

Or do they?

There was a time when it meant something to be a journalist, and there are still legions of ink-stained wretches (can you still say that in a digital age?) who do their damnedest to get it right. But neither Jason Russell nor Mike Daisey are journalists, they’re storytellers. My question is: Can simplifying complicated stories in the service of a larger goal ever be excused? Much of the criticism leveled against both the Kony video and Daisey’s “This American Life” interview had more to do with what screenwriters or authors might term creating a “composite” character. Kony2012 has been accused of, among other things, being oversimplified. Not false, mind you, just oversimplified. Well, as someone once said, complexity is complicated.

Daisey, for his part, recounts an incident where some Chinese Foxconn employees were poisoned due to exposure to a chemical but, in his account, he claimed it happened in one factory in China when it, in fact, happened in a different one. I’m just not sure how this blows up his whole story. With more than a little indignation, Bob Garfield noted in his essay on On the Media, “…facts in and of themselves do not constitute truth. They can be selected and arranged any which way, intentionally or unintentionally, to distort truth and turn it upside down. That is precisely how political consultants earn a living: assembling nominal facts to tell big, fat lies.”

Fair enough, but a lot of this seems like hair splitting to me. No one can deny that Kony is an evil guy. No one can deny that Apple, and every other electronics manufacturer on planet Earth, exploit lax Chinese labor laws and low prices in order to give us the shiny gadgets we all want. Now, because of Daisey and others, they are trying to clean up their act, the way Nike did 15 years ago. And the whole world knows about Joseph Kony.

But it still gnaws at me, this idea of getting things MOSTLY right in the service of another goal. It’s OK as long as you agree with that larger goal, right? But what if you don’t? And where are the ethics?

Nicholas Kristof wrote an OpEd in the New York Times on March 15. Since getting behind the Times’ paywall is becoming less and less of a trivial matter, here is the takeaway:  Kristof, who has probably seen more of mankind’s atrocities than any living journalist, delivered a point-by-point rebuttal to the early Kony backlash.

“It’s true that indignation among Americans won’t by itself stop Kony. Yet I’ve learned over the years that public attention can create an environment in which solutions are more likely.

I asked Anthony Lake, now the executive director of Unicef who was President Clinton’s national security adviser during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, whether a viral video about Rwanda would have made a difference then. “The answer is yes,” he said. He suggested that this kind of public attention would also have helped save more lives in Darfur and in Congo’s warring east.

In 1999, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid a brief visit to war-ravaged Sierra Leone and was photographed with a 3-year-old girl whose right arm had been chopped off. The photograph, widely circulated, helped galvanize outside powers to crush the militias. Sierra Leone is now at peace, and that girl is studying in the United States.

I asked Albright, who later led a task force on preventing genocide, what she thinks of the Kony video.

“Shining a light makes a lot of difference,” she said, adding that Kony’s prospects are probably less good now than before the video came out.

The bottom line is: A young man devotes nine years of his life to fight murder, rape and mutilation, he produces a video that goes viral and galvanizes mostly young Americans to show concern for needy villagers abroad — and he’s vilified?

I don’t know if this initiative will make a difference. But if I were a Congolese villager, I would welcome these uncertain efforts over the sneering scorn of do-nothing armchair cynics.”

Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome

We have worked with Design Miami/ and Art Basel Miami Beach since 2005, first helping them get introduced to the South Florida market and, in recent years, telling their story of phenomenal growth.

This year, we created a fun time lapse video of the installation of Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome. The video was picked up by the New York Times, and can be seen here:

Design Miami: Back to the Future

The 24-foot, monohex, geodesic Fly’s Eye Dome, patented in 1965 by R. Buckminster Fuller as a futuristic, low-cost shelter, was one of the renowned inventor/architect/environmentalist’s most iconic structures, and one that he wrote would “be highly efficient in its use of energy and materials.”  He envisioned the structure would be used as a beautiful, fully-equipped, air-deliverable dwelling machine that would weigh and cost about as much as an automobile.

Time lapse videos are fun, and this one is particularly cool. Hope you enjoy it.