Social media as gift culture: the prismatic self

Multiple-selves-in-social-mediaThis is the third post in a series on social media gift cultures. The series draws on indigenous gift cultures to examine the psychological and motivational dynamics of social sharing online. The first post in the series, The reputation game, looks at the North American Potlatch to reflect on the enticements and rewards of sharing online. Social sharing involves a reputation game. The aim of the game is to win the favour of your tribe by presenting them with exorbitant gifts.

The second post in the series, Sharing circles and tribes, considers how tribes are formed online. Tribes emerge when participants share with select users, who return the favour by sharing with them. These sharing circles are typically based in common values and interests – hence, so are tribes. I indicate the unstable nature of sharing circles and how an affirmative attitude towards gifting helps sustain them. Imbued with the ‘spirit of the gift’, the gift becomes a token of gratitude for the sharing circle and the tribe it maintains. The more that we cultivate this spirit in our online exchanges, the more robust and fulfilling they become.

This post considers the challenges of sharing across multiple systems online. Active users of social media are often engaged across multiple sites, groups, and activities in real time. Multi-tasking online can be a source of signficant consternation. While missteps (below the threshhold of the screaming faux pas) are mostly overlooked, this doesn’t reduce the anxiety that users (particularly new users) feel when tasked with sharing across multiple channels in real time. It is easy to lose track of how one is expected to behave in different contexts.

When tech journalist Paul Miller returned to the internet after a year off, he was surprised to find how stressful it was to multi-task across services. ‘I had, like, three tabs open and I just didn’t know what was going on’, Miller complains. This is a familiar experience for users of social media, who struggle to keep up with the flow of information on multiple channels.

The solution is to find your tribe. Sharing across multiple channels is easier when we share with our tribes in mind. A thriving tribe gives back more than we contribute to it. Tribes are a living reservoir of cognitive capital and an infinite human resource.

[Read more…]

‘I want to practice things like patience’: Paul Miller’s year of exile from the internet

web-paul-millerPaul Miller is back online. Senior editor for the tech website The Verge, Miller took a year off the internet between 2012 and 2013 to see how it would impact his experience. As we might expect, Miller reports that being offline in 21st century society is rather inconvenient. No email. Miller had to deliver his submissions to The Verge by flashdrive. No social media. Miller was out of the loop on all sorts of things. He couldn’t check Facebook to see what his friends were up to. Neither could he jump on Google to browse the open web. No YouTube. No Netflix. Life offline, Miller discovered, can be extremely boring. He admits: ‘I did have a lot of free time, but a lot of it was loneliness and boredom in ways that I hadn’t really experienced before’.

Being disconnected was also empowering in a way. Miller wasn’t subject to constant interruptions and requests, and so he was at liberty to decide what to do with his day. He could get things done. He started working on the book that he envisaged coming out of the experiment. He was able to engage with lengthy reading projects, and spend quality time with himself and others. Unfortunately, the initial burst of productivity only lasted so long. Miller disconnected from the internet in the hope of re-engaging creative touchstones and overcoming blocks to his productivity. In the end, he discovered that his productively problems ‘didn’t have a lot to do with the Internet’. The same problems ‘manifested differently on and offline’.

Positive insights that Miller gleaned from his experiment include the importance of having good habits and the value of mindfulness and presence in life. ‘I want to practice things like patience’, Miller claims in an interview with CNN. ‘Just being present with people and not having so much noise in my head’. Miller found that without a connection to the internet, it was easier for him to be present in the moment. Yet, presence is something we have to work at. In the context of smartphones, laptops, and wearable computers, it is more important than ever that we practice the virtue of disconnecting our minds from the internet so that we can genuinely connect with a real person before us. Miller pledges: ‘Now that I’m back on the Internet I really want to be the shining example of what it’s like to actually pay attention to somebody and put away your devices’.

There is a lesson here for us all. Sometimes we need to disconnect from our devices in order to discover what real connection is about.

Social media as gift culture: sharing circles and tribes

kulaThis is the second post in a series on social media gift cultures. I am interested in how indigenous gift cultures can help us understand the psychological and motivational dynamics of online social sharing. The first post in the series, Social media as gift culture: the reputation game, used the Potlatch ceremony of native North Americans to reflect on the enticements and rewards of sharing online. Social sharing, I argued, involves a reputation game – a ‘virtuous competition’ premised on the free exchange of gifts. As in the Potlatch, social media prosumers seek to create value for their followers through ‘gifts’ in the form of posts, tweets, pins, shares, comments, vouches, etc. The more value they create, the more reputation they earn and the more support they stand to gain from their communities.

In sharing content online, we are playing a reputation game. The object of the game is not to beat other players but to challenge them to greater expressions of generosity. It is a battle of abundant spirits that contributes to the common good.

This post shifts geographical focus from North America to the Western Pacific. I want to look at the Kula ring of the Kiriwina Islands to reflect on the nature and origins of social media tribes. Your tribes are comprised of people with whom you commonly chat and share online. Sometimes they are based in offline friendships, but not always. Shared values and interests are ultimately all that are required to hold a tribe together. If you are wondering who among your followers count as members of your tribe, make a list of the people who commonly like, favourite, share or RT the things you put online. Make another list of the people whose content you like, favourite, share and RT. Look for names that appear on both lists. These are the members of your tribe. [Read more…]

Nietzsche’s way of the creator: my north star

nietzschesupermanFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is my favourite philosopher and greatest philosophical inspiration. I have spent years defending Nietzsche’s concept of will to power from detractors, explaining why it has nothing to do with domination and control. Nietzsche is a philosopher of creativity and spiritual health. If he comes across like a rabid dog, barking furiously at the world, it was because he dreamed passionately of a better world – a world of free spirits, risk takers and creators, people who selfishly seek to cultivate their powers so that they can unleash themselves on the world in powerful and dynamic ways.

Do we live in a Nietzschean world today? In many respects, we do. Still, creators walk a lonely path, for they engage in disruptive activities, and thereby ruffle as many feathers as they release birds into flight. I dedicate the following passage to the passionate dreamers of the world – the pathmakers, philosophers, and radical entrepreneurs. It comes from Nietzsche’s magnum opus, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-4). It is called, ‘The Way of the Creator’. It has helped me find my way, and I hope it helps you find yours.

Would you go into solitude, my brother? Would you seek the way to yourself? Then wait a moment and listen to me.

“He who seeks may easily get lost himself. All solitude is wrong”: so say the herd. And long did you belong to the herd.

The voice of the herd will still echo in you. And when you say, “I no longer have a conscience in common with you,” then it will be a grief and a pain.

Lo, that same conscience created that pain; and the last gleam of that conscience still glows on your affliction.

But you would go the way of your affliction, which is the way to yourself? Then show me your right and your strength to do so!

Are you a new strength and a new right? A first motion? A self-rolling wheel? Can you even compel the stars to revolve around you?

Alas! there is so much lusting for loftiness! There are so many convulsions of the ambitious! Show me that you are not a lusting and ambitious one! [Read more…]

The meaning of philosophy

puzzledWhat is the use of philosophy? Is it simply to reinforce the value of critical thinking, or is there something more meaningful to the discipline that academic philosophers, with their passion for critical thought, have missed? I founded Philosophy for Change because I believe that philosophy has a unique vocation, which was central to ancient philosophy but which is mostly overlooked today. Philosophy is a transformative discipline. It puts us on a path to meaning and truth. Setting out on this path – or even just realising it’s there – is a life changing experience.

You don’t need a university degree to be a philosopher. All that you need is a dose of courage, a questioning mind, and a passion for meaning. Academic philosophers like to put truth at the head of the inquiry, but in fact meaning is the most important thing. Who would set out in search of truth if the search itself wasn’t a meaningful one? Ultimately, it is the desire for meaning in life that draws people to philosophy.

The ultimate goal of philosophy is not knowledge or truth. It is the rejuvenation of life itself.

Most people value happiness over meaning. It is easier to acquire. You can buy happiness at the mall, though it doesn’t last for long. Happiness tends to be shallow and fleeting. As a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology argues, happiness is focused on the here and now. It reflects the satisfaction of immediate wants and needs. Meaning, by contrast, takes a broader focus on whole-of-life experience. When we dwell on the meaningful life, we expand our horizons beyond the present moment to reflect on the significance and purpose of our existence.

Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), argued that having a sense of purpose is a great source of personal satisfaction and resilience. In the death camps in which Frankl was interned during World War II, those who had a sense of purpose were determined to endure the suffering rather than allow themselves to be overcome by it. Frankl observes:

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’

What is the ‘why’ of your existence? What is the meaning of your life? If you are struggling for an answer, ask: ‘What do I bring to the world through my gifts? What can I give the world in order to make it better place? How am I living right now? Is there a better way?’

These are not ‘classic’ philosophical questions. But by asking these questions and staying with them, reflecting deeply and honestly on the meaning of life, you become a philosopher. It really is that simple. The meaning of philosophy is to reflect on meaning. Reflecting on meaning makes life more meaningful, which is why there has always been and will always be philosophers.

Stop talking about philosophy and do it

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‘Empty is that philosopher’s argument by which no human suffering is treated. For just as there is no use in a medical art that does not cast out the sickness of bodies, so too is there no use in philosophy unless it casts out the sickness of the soul.’ ~Epicurus

I started studying philosophy because I thought it would answer my questions about life. I was young and confused and in a hurry to figure things out. Other people I knew took their parent’s advice and enrolled in practical subjects like law, engineering, or business and economics. I thought I was clever by diving in at the deep end. I figured that once I’d answered the big questions of life (like ‘What is goodness?’ What is truth?’ ‘How do I know I’m not living inside the Matrix?’), the other subjects would be easy. First things first, right? Aristotle would have been proud. My parents, who’d never read Aristotle, were not so impressed.

But I persisted. I soon realised that I’d been wrong about philosophy. Not that it didn’t tackle the big questions of life. It was just that it didn’t produce many answers. Philosophy offers lots of theories, but these only seem to create more questions. Semester by semester, year by year, I watched my philosophy buddies and fellow seekers give up in frustration. I kept on. After a while, I had an epiphany. I realised that philosophy isn’t about answers at all. Philosophy is about asking the right questions. It is unlike other disciplines, which focus on communicating knowledge about the world. Philosophy isn’t really about anything. Nonetheless, it is a practical discipline insofar as it teaches us to step back, zero in on this or that aspect of life, and ask: why? [Read more…]

Life-changing love: Badiou and the birth of possibility

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

What is love? Poets and philosophers have struggled with this question from time immemorial. Before talking about their findings, it is worth noting that ‘love’ is an abstract noun that can be used in a various ways. As Wittgenstein observed, in most cases, the meaning of a word is its use. I love Nietzsche and I also love a good cherry Danish. I doubt that either of these forms of love is what Wendy James from Transvision Vamp has in mind in the song, ‘I Want Your Love’. You see my point. Let’s start by agreeing, then, that love is an abstract noun that can have different meanings depending on its context.

Love comes in many flavours. Ultimately, though, you (and I) are probably not so much interested in the weird and exotic variants of love as we are with big love – true love – the kind of love that Pierrot and Marianne feel in the shot above (from Godard’s 1965 film, ‘Pierrot le Fou’). Transformational love. Pulse-bursting, sweep-us-off-our-feet, turn-your-life-around love. This is the kind of love I am thinking of when I ask: ‘What is love?’ Not just a feeling. A life-changing event. This kind of love is something that French philosopher Alain Badiou takes as a given.

France - "Vous aurez le dernier mot" - TV SetIn The Meaning of Sarkozy (2010) and his ground-breaking dialogue, In Praise of Love (2012), Badiou claims that ‘love needs reinventing’. We need to rethink love as an existential event in which two (or more) people discover a different perspective on life and the world. Lovers, Badiou claims, see the world ‘from the point of view of two rather than one’. This thesis initially appears to be a gloss on Aristotle’s take on love as ‘two bodies with one soul’. However, Badiou’s theory is more interesting than Aristotle’s rather trite conception. It explains, for a start, why love, when it happens, is a life-changing, and often inconvenient, event. It also lends itself to extrapolation in areas of life beyond the realms of romance. Quality collaborations are infused with an element of love, as Badiou understands it. It should come as no surprise that Badiou is a committed political activist in addition to an incurable romantic. [Read more…]

Nietzsche’s demon: the eternal return

Arc De Triomphe @ FineArtAmerica

Arc De Triomphe @ FineArtAmerica

Alexis was in love with life. Fresh out of art school in Fremantle, Australia, she’d picked up a scholarship to study photography under a famous Parisian photographer. Her mother had urged caution but Alexis persisted – and thank goodness! The course – and Paris itself – was everything that she’d dreamed. Her French sponsor found her an apartment in the Latin Quarter, just a stone’s throw from the Place Saint-Michel. Alexis would stroll along the Seine in the evening, up the Champs Elysées to take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe in the flurry of lights.

After two months documenting daily life on the streets of Paris, she had enough material for an exhibition. Alexis felt like she was at the heart of life. Things could go anywhere from here.

One night Alexis was speaking to a friend in Australia. They were reminiscing about their student days, which her friend dearly missed.

‘Do you remember Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return?’ the friend asked. ‘If I had to choose one time of my life to live out again and again forever, it would be art school’.

Alexis, for her part, was ambivalent about the ‘good old days’. She realized then that if there were a time in her life that she would have again and again, it would be her time in Paris, not Fremantle. The more that she reflected on this, the more her life seemed to come into focus. Looking out the window at the bustling streets, Alexis imagined Nietzsche’s demon coming into her room and making her the offer of Eternal Return. Alexis could hear herself reply, like Nietzsche:

‘Yes. You are a god and I have never heard anything more divine’.

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This post is excerpted from Chapter 3 of Life Changing: A Philosophical Guide

Epic change: Foucault on ‘today’ as a moment of vision

GenevaCrossing.Silhouette
We are living though remarkable times. Digital technologies are disrupting societies around the world, while our economies putter fitfully in and out of recession, and climate change sweeps whole suburbs into the sea. What is most remarkable about these times is how few people attend to their changing nature. Many people invest time and energy in distracting or shielding themselves from the changes that define the present. Even those who engage the present tend to treat it selectively, singling out those aspects of the historical moment that are relevant to their occupation and interests and zeroing in on them while ignoring the rest.

It’s time that we all took stock of the amazing times we live in. Because what we need today, more than anything else, are leaders – people that are capable of synthesising the chaos of the present, engaging with these changes and steering us through them. We need circuit-breakers, disruptors, people who look for opportunities in a crisis – people with the resilience to confront the present as a moment of crisis, the agility to mobilize multiple resources to deal with it, and the vision to mark new paths into the future. Today, our challenges are global in scope, yet so are our opportunities. The breakthrough initiatives that will define the coming decades will connect challenges and opportunities in unforeseen ways, putting us on paths towards goals that previous generations didn’t know existed. The great leaders of history have always been disruptive thinkers.

[Read more…]