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If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again. Being in bed, having a shower, sitting at my desk working my job, walking in the neighborhood, cooking and eating lunch at my kitchen table, with my spouse, exercising, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, reading before bed, writing weekly newsletters, going to bed again. There are a few more.
There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person’s life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see tat there are so few patterns of events open to me.
Not that I want more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.
Of course, the standard patterns of events vary much from person to person, and from culture to culture. For a teenage boy, at a high school in Chicago, his situations include hanging out in the corridor with other school children; watching television; hanging out with his girlfriend at a fast casual restaurant eating burritos or burgers. For an old woman, in a European mountain village, her situations include scrubbing her front door step, lighting a candle in the local church, stopping at the market to buy fresh vegetables, walking five miles across the mountains to visit her grandson.
A person can modify his immediate situations. He can move, change his life, and so on. In exceptional cases he can even change them almost wholly. But it is not possible to go beyond the bounds of the collection of events and patterns of events which our culture makes available to us. The simple fact that certain patterns of events keep repeating. Our individual lives are made from them.
Patterns and Environment
Your patterns are also a product of your environment. I remember when I was working the worst jobs of my life. I was underpaid, I had a terrible boss who would yell at me, I was single, and I didn’t have any autonomy in the work I was doing. I knew things were bad, but I didn’t quite realize it. Sometimes that happens. You’ll be down so long, you thought it was up.
What I would do in those days is search for stand-up comedy. I wanted to laugh, and not just a laugh a little bit, but I wanted to laugh a lot. I needed to laugh everyday.
When life got better, when I worked a better job with a better boss, higher pay, more autonomy, and a relationship I noticed I didn’t need to search for the large amounts of laughter. I was content with amusement. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy so much laughter, I just don’t need it like I used to.
For instance, if you need 4 espressos in the morning to get to work, something may be off in.
But there are much stronger substances than coffee available now for people to ingest.
Your environment isn’t just the garden you may tend to on the weekend for a few hours. Your environment is your work day and everything around your work day. For instance, substances like Adderall are being used to heighten attention in white collar professions. For many years stimulants like Adderall were used for people with ADHD or maybe college kids trying to ace an exam. That’s changed.
Why? A lot of the work people do is not worth their attention, naturally. But if you don’t do it, you’re not going to have a job. And then you’re not going to have any money. Secondly, there is competition for high status white collar work. Someone is behind you willing to take your nice salary, healthcare, status and upper middle class life. You can really feel the competition in when you’re in certain positions. You’re certainly going to feel it if you go down the ladder.
And as Seneca said, “Man feels the loss with much greater intensity, than the gain”.
So you’ve added a new pattern to your life in response to your environment.
The environment may stay the same but the people in it are different. From 2003 to 2015 there was a 344 percent increase in women ages 15-44 years who filled a prescription for an ADHD medicine from 2003 . Is this because more women are competing with men in the marketplace? For high status careers?
America is a workaholic culture and high prized white collar jobs are sought after by many people.
The rise of the Girl-boss could be related to this phenomenon. You see this image of women being strong, independent and tough all over the media. It’s not merely enough to be a healthy and functional adult who rises to meet the challenges of career, motherhood, or faces everyday sexism. You have to be some sort of Amazon warrior queen that battles rivals and advances through sheer force of will.
It’s exhausting to even think about it.
Poisons don't have to kill you right away to be a problem. Being Chronically poisoned is much different than acute pain, which (up to a point) you can adapt to and even be strengthened by. When I look at my environment, I tend to think what is going to kill me in small doses years from now. We humans have done a pretty good job of removing obvious threats. So, for example, there are no lions or bears roaming around where I live. Sure, there’s still threats like murder or a devastating car accident, but what will get you these days is cancer, heart disease, poverty, addiction, suicide, depression, alienation or psychosis from dosing yourself with poison over time.
In the dietary realm it’s seed oils or too much sugar. In the physiological realm, maybe it’s developing osteoporosis (a modern disease) from not moving around enough.
Chronic conditions are difficult to deal with. Perhaps something like television is a poison, in a non-trivial sense. Or the the latest trend of microdosing psychedelics.
But then again, maybe our today and future environment selects for people who start living on them? Simon Dedeo, who I interviewed previously, has a nice thread on evolution, adaptation, our environment and bottom-up systems.
LindyMan @PaulSkallasPeople think you can tweak genes around and just get smarter without side effects. They tried to remove the hereditary blindness gene and it caused a chromosome to be removed https://t.co/SEBep8mif3
The same patterns apply to digital consumption. But what’s interesting about patterns of consumption is the environment can kick someone out. A tiger eats your hunting buddy. You still have to go hunt the next day. Your pattern continues to be the same, but the people who are there change.
At work I have twitter open on a screen. If I want to buy something I usually check Amazon first. These are my patterns.
My patterns weren’t always like this. 10 years ago I visited many websites, I had a lot of bookmarks I would cycle through and would read newspapers. I don’t do that anymore. They’re not my daily patterns anymore.
One of the reasons why you reading this is because it’s being sent to your email box. Everyone checks their email. It’s already part of your everyday patterns. It’s much, much harder trying to start a new website and new pattern than just build atop one already in use.
Patterns have consequences. Think of the phenomenon of de-platforming. While we think we are following an individual, we are, in reality, just part of the network or platform. If the individual gets booted, they are gone from our life. We won’t follow them.
Social media companies coordinate to ban certain people they feel are problematic or break their rules. The environment changes.
Does it work? Yes.
Stefan Molyneux went from a million views on Youtube to only a few thousand views after he was banned from social media and moved to his own personal website.
Bill Mitchell was one of those people who went all-in on Trump during the 2016 campaign and became a wildly popular social media presence. Many people got rich during the Trump years. It was a bonanza. If you were for or against Trump, it was big business.
Mitchell had half a million followers on twitter. His tweets would go viral all the time. Now he's getting 18 retweets on Parler everyday.
He got de-Platformed (A lion ate him)
He’s back on Parler, but Parler is not in your pattern
And of course the biggest example is Donald Trump. Trump dominated the news cycle and Twitter since he started running for President. Then he got banned.
Why does de-platforming work? Because you have daily patterns and are not changing them.
Amazon is the first place I go if I want to buy something. That’s a pattern. And is one of the reasons why they are so successful
Is Social Media Bad For You?
One pattern most of us are in is logging on to social media. But we’re repeatedly told in the news that social media is bad for us. That the goal should be to “get off” of social media.
The stories are often alarming, suggesting social media and smartphones are responsible for sweeping negative trends, from rising suicide rates in the US, to widespread loss in memory, and reduced sleep and attention spans.
What does the research tell us about the causal impact of social media use on our well-being?
In a nutshell: The research is weak. Social Media itself doesn’t harm you. But how you engage with it is the issue.
the causal effect of social media on well-being is likely small for the average person. The best empirical evidence suggests the impact is much smaller than many news stories suggest and most people believe.
So what’s going on? If you ask a barber if you need a haircut, they will tell you that you do need one. News headlines want to blame social media, when maybe what’s making people really crazy is negative news. But the news can’t tell they are poisonous. That hurts the business. So they blame it on the platform. It makes sense. The news business is hurting.
If we’re going to use social media as a pattern, and it be part of our environment it helps to know what it is.
Each platform has a specific distance. Just like every relationship has a scale. Your family/friends, your neighbors, your town, your city, your state, your region and your country. Depending on what scale you’re in, you interact differently. You don’t treat your friend like you do someone from halfway across the country.
News pushers and political grifters are online trying to get you riled up. They want to cause repetitive thinking and hypervigilance which causes cascade adrenaline and cortisol to pump. They are designed to be produc3ed only when an immediate threat is present. The flood of data and “news” online today keeps this pump all the time. Much of online discourse is designed for outrage and addiction.
It’s causing a mismatch of scales. New types of guys are emerging:
If you followed most mainstream news for the last 4 years under Trump you’d think this country was at war. That’s not the case.
Cities and Villages
When I interact with social media I keep scaling in mind.
Twitter reminds me of a city.
Facebook reminds me of a village, much more personal.
While Twitter seems much more chaotic and crazy. Facebook has some really intense local village type content.
When you see *from the outside* a quaint village with a seemingly idyllic life, consider that the locals are preoccupied with local intrigues, split into fractious alliances, and entangled into petty disputes.
Copying Your Neighbors
When we try to create an environment we should be aware that we humans are wired to copy each other. This is a feature, not a bug. There’s an old adage, tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.
When human beings are free to choose anything they want, they typically copy their neighbors. It’s one of the deep ironies that we think of ourselves as individuals moving through the world, and as having capacity for free will, but it, in fact most of us just copy what others are doing. In fact, this too is a very deep and fundamental part of our humanity. This capacity for social learning, this desire to be like others is valuable and inescapable.
Rene Girard has written about Mimetic desire. He believes people don’t want things because they instinctively want them — they want things because other people have them. They feel if they could attain those things, or the status those things bring, they would attain some of the being they imagine the other person having.
Girard claims all non-instinctual desire to be mimetic. Other animals imitate, but they don't imitate to the degree we do. We don't just imitate on a “monkey see/monkey do” level, we imitate on a perceptual level. We imitate what we perceive our neighbor's desires to be. We don't think first and then desire — we desire first and rationalize our desires second.
The emergence of remote work gives people an opportunity to choose their neighbors and their community. But your neighbor can be someone you see online in one of your patterns.
Foster the Element of Chance
Designing an environment, whether one of media consumption or real life gives us the chance to make something better, more human. For instance, A typical suburban subdivision with private lots opening off streets almost confines children to their houses. Parents, afraid of traffic or of their neighbors, keep their small children indoors or in their own gardens: so the children never have enough chance meetings with other children of their own age to form the groups which are essential to a healthy emotional development.
A key word here is chance. In the age of activities, even casual interactions between children often get scheduled, but the dream for parents and children is to be able to step outside and play ... wherever, with whomever.
In my own early childhood in Chicago, children in my neighborhood congregated on the brick sidewalks, occasionally taking over the narrow alley or nearby park for kickball or basketball.
It isn’t just children who would benefit from this fostering of chance. Adults like it too. Making eye contact with a beautiful woman on the street is much more erotic than meeting someone for pre-scheduled date. A song that comes on the radio that you didn’t expect sounds better than one you consciously search for on youtube. Surprise and chance make life fun.
When you follow the right sort of people online, you get unexpected humor, insight and useful advice. And you never know what’s going to come next. It’s much more enjoyable than television.
Part 3 out next week