There are no accidents, but sometimes a cigar is a cigar.
I’m on a mailing list that recently has had some communications problems. People have written emails to test if the list is working and have responded in various ways. Others have talked about their feelings when messages are not responded to. I wrote an email to the list sharing some of my reactions to the discussions there and this is a version of that message adopted for my blog.
I've been fascinated by some of the discussions on the list over the past few days and thought I would add another one of my typical, out of left field, responses.
When it comes to text based computer mediated communications, people often comment about the disadvantages that a lack of non-verbal cues presents. On the other hand, some argue that having just text makes it a much richer environment for exploring projections. I've been fascinated by this viewpoint and always enjoy hearing discussions about this. Yet it struck me this week, that there may be projections not only on the words, but on the form of communications itself.
This line of thought started as I wondered why we have these various bursts of "Test" messages. What are they really all about? Are they reflecting some sort of need to stay connected in this world that seems increasingly connected via online communications? Years ago, I would not have expected to hear from people in Austria and Australia. If by some chance, I had established a connection like that, I suspect that a delay in communications of a few days would be less likely to be noticed. Before the days of air mail, a letter would take many days to make it half way around the world. A delay of a few days would be unlikely to be noticed, and I would also suspect that I would have been more likely to expect messages to get lost in transit. I probably wouldn't have sent a letter back saying "test". Now, if we don't hear something we quickly suspect something is amiss and often quickly become frustrated.
I've also found, especially in my younger years, that if someone did not respond to me, I quickly assumed it was because of some flaw of my own. People didn't respond because they didn't like me. Yes, I struggled a lot with my own insecurity when I was younger, and perhaps it comes back to haunt me today. When I send an email to the various mailing list and get no response, I am still perhaps more likely to assume it is because I said something stupid, than to assume it is because there are problems with the mailing list servers, or perhaps even, that it is because other people on the list are really busy with other things. Yes, I want my words to be more important than server problems or other important things going on in my friends’ lives. The same applies to my reactions to no comments on my blog.
As a technologist, I have made mistakes adjusting settings on servers and made it difficult for people to get their messages through. Perhaps these were accidents. Perhaps they were the result of me being too tired, distracted or inattentive to make the correct serve configuration adjustments. Yet at the same time, to the person wondering why they haven't gotten a response to their emails, it may be because of mistakes by me or other technologists and not a reflection of some character flaw of the person sending or receiving the email. The undelivered email might not be an accident, but it might not be a cigar either.
When technology doesn't do what we think it should do, it might not really be telling us anything interesting. However, or responses to problems with technology may be very rich material to explore to learn a little bit about ourselves.
I’ve always thought of the adage “you are what you eat” in terms of physical food and the shape of our physical body. If we eat healthy food we are more likely to have a healthy body. If we eat junk… Yet it seems as if there may be much more to the old phrase than that. What about our media diet? How does it affect who we are as people? How does it affect us physically? I’m beginning to think that it may be much more substantial than many think.
A couple years ago, I went to a group psychotherapy conference where a keynote speaker said something to the effect of, “The self exists at the intersection of our internal neural network and our external social networks.” As a person fascinated by both neural networks and social networks, I really liked this idea and I’ve thought about how what is going on in our social networks affects our internal neural networks.
On a mailing list recently, a good friend talked about hearing Andrew Weil speak at “The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference”. He suggested that to maintain one’s health one should stay away from the news. This brought an interesting response where one person responded quoting Pastor Martin Niemoller, “They came first for the communists…” We need to pay attention to the news, lest there be no one paying attention to the news when they come for us.
Yet what should we be paying attention to? In this world of constant partial attention on our social networks, of advertisers trying to grab our attention, perhaps even to repeat their message and help it go viral, it becomes harder to find what we really need to hear. This is perhaps most pronounced in the political entertainment industry with commentators breathlessly talking about what we need to fear in politics.
Fear has always been a great selling tool, whether it is fear that our smile won’t be bright enough and we won’t have any friends or fear that someone is going take what we cherish most, whether it be our guns, our right to make our own choices over our bodies, or something harder to nail down, like ‘freedom’.
Fear and the stress it produces can cause our bodies to produce cortisol, “the stress hormone”. Cortisol, in proper amounts is beneficial and can help blood pressure, memory, immune functioning and so on. Yet too much cortisol increases blood pressure and screws up our metabolism.
In the fight for attention, news organizations, advertisers, and perhaps even our friends on our social networks, feed our cortisol addiction in an effort to gain attention in this increasingly competitive attention economy. This is just not good for us. So, what do we do about it?
Cortisol is useful in a fight or flight situation. We need to find ways to get our cortisol in real fight or flight situations where we can act on the situation and then let it go. Even on American Idol, the fight or flight situation when our favorite star is chastised by the judges provides an opportunity to respond. Text your votes to… News reports that have suggestions about contacting elected officials provide an opportunity to respond. Yet neither example wants you to let it go afterwards. You need to stay tuned to keep your cortisol up.
There have also been discussions about blogs and anonymous comments on online newspaper articles. Much of what goes on there also seems to be feeding a cortisol addiction without any meaningful opportunities to do anything other than call our opponents Nazis, Socialists, or Communists.
Likewise, it seems that so much of prime time television is about feeding our cortisol addiction. Do you get your cortisol rush from Lost or 24? Is it good for you?
So to the mailing list discussion, I suggested that we need to think globally and act locally. We need to listen for news that we can do something about and then we need to act locally and move on. Beyond that, perhaps we need more opportunities to de-stress, to try and lower our cortisol levels and our addiction to cortisol.
What do you think? Does this make sense to you? What affects your cortisol levels, both for better and for worse?
Update: A friend on Facebook commented about this pointing to a very interesting podcast about what's happening in our brains during times of stress. For more information, check out Yale Stress Center. More food for thought...
A recent email discussion about the earthquake in Mexico and people’s reactions to it have caused me to spend a little more time thinking about how political and media ecospheres are virtual environments were large group behavior, for better or worse, emerges.
In the 1990s, I was working within a complicated matrix management structure for a large international bank. To increase my effectiveness, I hired an organizational consultant to coach me. Her doctorate was in psychoanalytics as it applied to organizations, particularly in the tradition of Tavistock, Wilfred Bion, A.K. Rice and others called Group Relations. I became fascinated by Group Relations and read extensively on the topic, as well as attended various Group Relations experiential conferences.
A key part of Group Relations experiential conferences is the large group. The attendees of the conference gather with tasks like “learning through experience how groups function, how leadership in groups takes place, and how the participants can become more effective leaders within their organizations and communities”. It was fascinating to watch people in the group take up roles that they might otherwise not have taken up, due to pressures from the group as it reacted to the anxieties of the group.
I became particularly interested in this as it took place online and was invited to write an article about the Internet and the Large Group for the Journal of Group Analysis back around 2001. Technology has changed a lot since then, and there are many more people online now than a decade ago, but still people have similar reactions as members of large groups online.
With this long introduction out of the way, let me explore a discussion on the mailing list of group psychotherapists that I participate in. One person noted, “This is an unsafe world. Don’t you think it’s becoming less and less safe every day?” A graphic in the Los Angeles Times provided a good illustration of this. The first two months of 2010 showed fewer earthquakes of magnitude four or greater than the previous four years, but more earthquakes with a magnitude of six or greater. Looking at U.S. Geological Survey data, the first two months of 2010 showed over twice as many magnitude six or greater earthquakes than the average from 1900 until the present.
Others suggested that the daily media blitz, focusing on the ‘disaster du jour’ is what makes things seem worse. If anything, the media ecosphere with its focus on, “If it bleeds, it leads”, may be creating a dangerous feedback loop in the large group of media viewers. The ‘disaster du jour’ is what boosts viewership, so media corporations seek out the disaster du jour, which feeds the group’s anxiety addiction.
Yet with a large group at a Group Relations Conference, there are ‘consultants’ to the group that will, from time to time, share observations about what is going on with the large group. Perhaps bloggers can take on some of this role in questioning what the traditional media is doing, and if it is feeding some sort of anxiety addiction. I flirted with this idea a few years ago in my blog post, Are bloggers Group Psychotherapists?.
I ended that blog post with:
Ultimately, bloggers are no more group psychotherapists then they are journalists. Yet just as bloggers can learn a lot from journalists, they could learn an awful lot from group psychotherapists and could help bring innovation and healing to problems that our towns, cities, states, countries and world faces.
This returns me to my reaction to the email discussion. There, I suggested that the real issue is perhaps not whether or not the world is more or less safe than it was in previous years, but how we deal with anxieties that it might be less safe. It seems like much of the political discourse these days is focused on people’s fears about this world being less safe. In fact, the discourse may in fact be contributing to a less safe world, just as a large group, running wild with its anxieties can become a more dangerous place, without someone helping people contain the anxieties.
So, my question to bloggers, journalists and politicians, are you able to step up and help contain anxieties instead of fan them? To any group psychotherapists that might read this, can you help people in media and politics learn how to contain anxieties and process them into more helpful reactions? Can you help transform our media and political ecospheres into safer holding environments?
What do you think?
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year. Happy New Decade (depending on how you count). That special kiss at midnight. Yes, 2009 was a rough year, and 2010 is starting off great. It seems like that is often the case for any new beginning.
I remember the beginning of 2009, the jubilation about the election of Barack Obama as President; the inauguration, the discussions with friends. Yet as the year progressed, life, and death, got in the way. One friend lost his battle with Leukemia. Another who had welcomed 2009 with so much joy and enthusiasm started her battle with Leukemia and didn’t live to see the end of the year. One friend tragically lost her brother. Many people struggled financially, and it seemed like our political process ground to a halt as some people obstructed any efforts to make our country better, or even wished for the failure of our country and its leader.
I remember back at a freshman orientation in college, the head of the college counseling center telling the assembled class that many people come to college intent on turning over a new leaf, and then, soon, fall back into the same old habits. It seems that the same is the case for New Year’s resolutions. We come into the New Year with high hopes, only to have life get in the way.
In an email that I received from a political organizer today, she suggested setting goals. People break resolutions, yet they achieve goals. An email from a psychologist observed that every moment is the opportunity for a new beginning, and while it is great to join with others on making new beginnings on New Year’s Day, we can make a new beginning any day.
This leads me back to another story I remember from college. A student had gone on some school sponsored trip, making a pilgrimage to the cathedrals from Paris to Santiago. He came back a changed man and spoke at alumni gatherings about his experience. At the end of one such gathering, an elderly alumnus stood up and shook his finger at the young man saying, “You know what’s wrong with you? You don’t have any goals.”
The young man replied, “No, I have one goal, to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous”. This isn’t the sort of concrete goal that my political organizer friend had in mind, but it is a great goal, and it captures some of the idea of my psychologist friend about every moment being an opportunity for a new beginning.
Another story I remember from the professor that told me about the student and the pilgrimage was in an aesthetics course when he made a comment about “museum runners”; those people who quickly move through the museum, pausing a predetermined amount of time in front of famous pictures, but perhaps not really seeing anything at all. It seems like this fits in with the young pilgrims story. To live more fully, we need to slow down. We need to appreciate the beautiful snow outside, even though we know that our commute might be more difficult tomorrow. Who knows, if we manage to stop for a moment and appreciate the beauty in our lives around us, if we perhaps even manage to contribute a little bit to that beauty, then we have a good chance of also living a little bit more lovingly.
So, I will spend time worrying about where the next paycheck comes from. I will struggle with my writing, my politics, my technology, my marketing, my education, my socializing and all the other things that go into this blog. Yet most importantly, I will try to slow down, to just say no to museum running and trying to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous.
How about you? What will 2010 bring? I hope it brings a Happy New Year.
At the Digiday:APPS conference in New York City last August, Teaque Lenahan, an Associate Partner, at Gravitytank presented the results of some of their recent research. He showed a clip of some of the people that they had spoken with, including a principal talking about giving kids iPhones instead of text books. I really liked this idea. While I am leaning more towards other mobile devices as the best development environment, iPhones do have a lot of appeal, and I could imagine some students really enjoying doing their studies on an iPhone instead of from a textbook.
So, it was with great interest that I received a press release last month from Michael Mayrath of GetYaLearnOn. They had just launched a pilot test of an application for learning statistics on the iPhone at Abilene Christian University. I corresponded with Dr. Mayrath to get a better understanding of what they were doing. It seems there is no dearth of educational apps for iPhones. What makes their app stand out?
What makes GetYaLearnOn’s approach exemplary is that Dr. Mayarth has his PhD in Educational Psychology and their director of Research and Development, is finishing up her doctorate in Educational Psychology as well. Dr. Mayarth did post-doc work at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education on Virtual Performance Assessment under Dr. Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies. Besides his work on virtual performance assessment, Dr. Dede is working on Developing Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE)-based ecosystems science curriculum modules for middle school. I have long been a fan of multiuser virtual environments for education and would love to see such an environment eventually available at the school my daughter goes to.
Dr. Mayarth also suggested checking out The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia as another good starting place for information on instructional design in multimedia learning environments. He also noted that his Masters was an evaluation of a two year pilot program that examined best practices for using Second Life in the classroom.
The focus on assessment of learning tools, I believe to be critical, and I was very interested to hear about their focus on this as part of developing their application.
I must admit that I’m not an iPhone user and have not had a chance to kick around GetYaLearnOn’s Statistics Application for the iPhone. However based on the discussions I’ve had with Dr. Mayarth, it seems like they are approaching using mobile devices in education in ways that the principal in the Gravitytank presentation could only dream of. Hopefully, it will help establish a new standard on how educational applications will be developed.