August 05, 2011
Technology is Like a Farmers Market: Feel the Peaches & Make a Bet
Thanks to my industry pal David Frank for sharing this with me recently. The quote is spot on and brought a smile.
"Life is a farmers market when it comes to technology; you have to walk the aisles...feel the peaches and make a bet. BUT, but you have to walk the aisles.."
July 07, 2011
Meet Google+: Curate or Die!
Google+ has been "out" in limited beta for close to two weeks now -- give or take -- and I finally found a window to explore. I waited of course for the same reason I waited on Facebook when it was new...an early version of anything means I'll lose a days (weeks) of my time. Testing early products is a time sync yet if you're in the technology industry, you waste a lot of time in front of big and small monitors alike, hour after hour after hour. We've all been there.
Because it's Google, you can't really ignore it. Unlike the zillion other social media and so called "productivity" apps I get pitched on a regular basis, Google is the giant Big Brother we all hate and love and bottom line, if you don't know what they're up to at an intimate level, it's hard to walk tall in Silicon Valley.
And so I dove in like a lion who hasn't eaten in two days, the same way I dive into all apps...it's one of the reasons product management and UI gurus love me if I actually commit to the time, which is becoming harder and harder to get me to do.
After four hours, I had the same reaction after spending time on any new "tech tool or service" that takes me away from time in the physical world. Do I really need another social network that glues me to a monitor and in this case, weds me even more to Google's world than I already am?
Of course I get why Google is doing this and would do the same thing if I were them. Facebook is the closed wall garden giant that has millions of us couped up inside their massive restricted "room" and there are so many things they do wrong, why not take a stab at it if you had the budget the size of Google?
On the surface, you might think this is Facebook with a Google UI, but without the apps and bells & whistles since its still so new. But Google has other plans and those who have worked with them on partnership deals know that they cross their t's, dot their i's and have nothing but a leadership position in mind.
What intrigues (and also exhausts) me more than anything about people's behavior whenever a new "platform" comes to town, is how consumed early adopters are, myself included.
By consumed, I don't just mean getting an account and inviting friends into your new "system" (like we all need another "system of people" to manage), but the hundreds of comment threads speculating whether Google+ is going to be the platform which will kill Facebook for good. (all 700 million Facebook users that is).
How many comments posing questions have you seen which ask: how much time have you spent on Facebook and Twitter since you started using Google+? Of course, the early adopters are spending all their time on Google+ because it's still a novelty and part of it, dare I say, is the curiosity to see who's on it early, what they're saying and doing and to score some points or badges we don't even know about yet. "Oh yeah baby, I'm an early Google+ user and that makes me a cool cat." Remember that Buzz Lightyear was glamorous and hip compared to Woody when he first arrived on the scene but it was Woody who Andy had the hardest time giving up at the tail end of Toy Story 2.
Yet, we all flock to the new glamorous platform (aka toy) in hopes that they'll do a better job than Facebook and then we'll spend massive amounts of times (weeks not days) rebuilding our network on ONE more place on the web. And of course Google unlike Facebook won't be a walled garden or use our private data for any other purpose than for the value and usefulness of their customers.
Google+ is more than just another new social network and you can guarantee Google is thinking far beyond what we see today, yet we're all spending a helluva lot of time in it. BTW, I think it's shocking that Google Apps don't currently work with Google+, something you think they'd sync up before their launch, beta or not.
What is cool is the ability to select and toss people in circles. It's also fun and addictive, far too addictive in fact to be healthy. The UI is sweet, however it is still too cumbersome to add people to categories, especially when you want to add someone to more than one, which I do often.
Note that while my geekier friends tell me tagging is enuf, I want my damn categories - it's the way my brain thinks and works, so having a "circle" that is geographical as well as topical is important to me.
The + seems to be the key thing here, but in order to use it, guess what? Your profile needs to be public. The "wear your life on your sleeves and in every corner of the Internet" folks always say to me, "give it up Renee, privacy is dead" yet perhaps some of us still want just a little corner of privacy we call our own after hours of being public public public everywhere, all the time. People forget how valuable our check-in and content contributions are to Google, Foursquare and big brands.
Having a public profile of course makes our posts more useful to everyone else in your network, but that info is more useful to Google and all the vendors and brands who want to sell something to you. Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge fan of human curation as an integral and wedded partner to search in order to improve the experience we have today, but at what point do you sit back and ask how valuable your time is? When will companies start giving something back? And, I don't mean making me mayor of Hooters and giving me a free coffee every tenth check in.
Google says of +'s value and having that public profile: "this helps people see who recommended that tasty recipe or great campsite. When you create a profile, it's visible to anyone and connections with your email address can easily find it." They do note that your +1’s are stored in a new tab on your Google profile which you can show to the world, or keep it private and just use it to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web. Here's a link to their video which takes you through the why +1 and how to start using it.
I'll admit that the latter is very useful as a curation tool and the UI is definitely more consumer-friendly than predecessors and others in its league who have been trying to make some headway for years.
While we're on the topic of UI, creating a comment from the upper right is annoying. Perhaps its just that I'm so used to being able to do it from a box in front of me but it "feels" like an extra step. Also when I post a comment in Facebook I simply hit return and it posts automatically whereas in the Google+ window, I have to physically hit that green post comment button.
I'm also not a particular fan of the UI for uploading photos. People take their photos personally, whether they're amateurs or a prosumer shooter like me. There should be a way to organize your photo albums the way you want with a customized display you want your readers/friends to see. And btw, like Facebook, does Google own your photos & everything else you post in its growing social garden? Just curious. You should be too.
The photo feature I do like is the photo display from others in your network - see below: (though what would be much more valuable is to choose what photos you'd like to see and not see from your network - quality vs quantity please. I'd much rather see more of Thomas Hawk and less of a friend who shoots underexposed shots from their iPhone for example).
Other schtuff: there's a cool incoming feature which allows you to see posts from people who are following you, making it a compelling way to interact with friends and fans without having to follow them back (Twitter model...though lists and streams within Hootsuite make this very doable for me and it is like reading 6 newspapers from across the world every morning -- I don't mean streams here, I mean accounts...yeah I have that many). Sigh.
This would be an appropriate time to beg the Hootsuite development team: Add Google+ to my dashboard tomorrow please - we're all far too busy to manage one more tab, one more window, one more stream.
YET, here we are playing in all these networks and spending a lot of time doing so. It's astonishing to me how much time we spend sharing and consuming in these walled online gardens. Sure, there's value for us or we wouldn't be doing it but my point is that there's more value for brands and marketers and we don't get a financial high five back for our time: our valuable contribution of content time. And in Google+'s case, our valuable human curation time. (see Steve Rosenbaum's book: Curation Nation).
The personalization and recommendation aspsect of Google+ clearly isn't new (Yelp, StumbleUpon, Digg, Facebook likes, retweets, #FF's, the list goes on), but coming from Google, the massive Silicon Valley giant that knows how to exude its extraordinary power in the U.S. and beyond, we are all getting sucked into building yet ONE MORE SOCIAL NETWORK.
I saw someone post a comment suggesting that they might replace their Tumblr blog with Google+. Really? So, who owns that content? ...Your content? If you don't have the domain, aren't you placing your valuable contributions and ideas (visual, audio and other) into Google's hands?
I still think there's huge value in a site that you create from scratch - your own design, look-and-feel, personality, font, photos -- all of it. It comes from you and you alone and there, the world can see a more holistic view of what you're about and what makes you tick. It doesn't mean that you can't and shouldn't push some of that content out to Google+, Digg, Facebook or Twitter, or wherever your fans, customers and readers spend their time, but it should mean that you think about what content is relevant for what platform and be discerning about what you share where.
And now, because I make my living inside the technology industry, I have no choice but to lose time inside the bowels of Google+ observing the every growing circle of people who sign up every day, ensuring that I'm part of a new ecosystem that I can't afford not to be part of even if I really don't want or need another network to manage.
Why dive in if you resist it so you ask? It's like not going to that god awful high school party that the tacky cheerleader hosted at her house. More than anything you hated going, but not to go meant that you were left out of the conversation and being left out of the conversation is death in social media. I was one of the rare ones who was found at the football parties, the artist parties, the late night on the rock parties and the druggie parties and there was very little overlap between the four. But man, did I have perspective because of it.
People had their communities just like they do online today and even though there is always some overlap, you pick a tribe along the way and there you stay. Choosing more than one tribe makes you a great observer of behavior, a great marketer and a great curator but it also means you may not be quite as immersed as those who only choose one and have no interest getting to know or understand another.
In spending hours on Google+ observing behavior of a few of my tribes, one of the things I have noticed is an obvious one: the overlap in "friends and contacts" between people I've known for over ten years is larger and our social graph tends to be more alike despite the fact that our tastes and jobs are very different and have even changed along the way.
The other thing that I noticed is just how fragmented my networks are, something you can see within Facebook, but it's not as visually obvious as it is inside Google+. And, despite how many people I know around the world, Google+ even in its early days is a reminder how many people I don't know, which left me thinking about something I refer to a lot lately: "we don't know what we don't know."
It could be interesting to try a new exercise: join a new tribe, one which has an entirely new set of contacts from any of your former tribes just to see what it feels, looks and tastes like. If you're an artist, choose science contacts, if you're an academic, choose business management ones...(only). Try to play in and engage with that tribe for awhile to see what kind of data you get, the unique distinctions you pick up along the way and what your own contributions and perspectives mean within the textures of a whole new world, a whole new tribe. I digress, but it's something to think about...
I'm putting on my anthropology and sociologist hat on, the results of which would be nothing short of eye candy for someone like me who has lived in 11 countries and thrives on learning new shit from diverse cultures.
While all of this is interesting, I see the value of the brand spanking new Google+, like the UI and its potential, here's my point:
- Do you ever wonder whether you'll wake up one day after spending thousands of hours building and rebuilding yet a new social network and commenting to endless threads of fodder, that it will all seem rather pointless even though it was highly addictive and "felt" important at the time? (note that most successful CEOs I've talked to always emphasize the difference between important and urgent when making decisions of how to spend their time)
- Do you ever wonder that despite social networks' usefulness in connecting us with others from around the world (trust me, I GET this value as someone who has friends on every continent), that the amount of time and energy you spent trying to keep up with it all (never mind managing your Klout, PeerIndex and influence scores on a daily basis - am thinking high school scrambling to be more popular than the next guy behavior), meant 100 less hours with your kids in a given month or not having that coffee, dinner, or hike with an friend?
- And, knowing, understanding and relishing in the fact that these tools give people who wouldn't normally have a voice a megaphone (many stories that will make you cry), in ten years, will you wonder how much you could have created or built with the time you were spending commenting to threads and reacting to Twitter feeds just so you could continue to be part of a whole lotta fragmented conversations? (Refer to my blog post on Seth Godin's Linchpins where he talks about "creation mode" & how creation can't happen from "reaction mode" which is what we're in when we're glued to Twitter, Facebook & now Google+ streams).
I love what we have been able to do for others (individuals and nations) because of open social networks -- have met some amazing people through Twitter and my blog -- but I only ask that in the midst of more and more being thrown our way to "manage," to not lose sight of the magic in a human connection and to make sure we don't get lost touching hundreds of people through our now Google+ circles when someone close to us wants a physical hug.
Perhaps that's a bit too deep for the end of a Google+ post, but I don't think so. Hopefully you get my point.
Perspective and balance people. Perspective and balance.
July 7, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, On People & Life, On Spirituality, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, Social Media, TravelingGeeks, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 20, 2011
I Nearly Missed the Father's Day Memo This Year...
I nearly missed the Father's Day memo this year, partially because I was on the road and partially because it's been awhile since I've had a man in my life I've thought of as "Dad." For girls, our fathers are often the first and quite possibly the most powerful male force in our lives. Good or bad, they're the first male role models we "see" and learn from, including what kinds of things we think men should do, not do, say and not say. You get the idea. Whether or not you agree with their behavior and their character or not later on in life, they had a powerful influence and for many of us, still do, even years after they have passed on. There's a whole lotta wiring going on at an early age.
There was only one man I called Dad yet he didn't raise me nor did he know me any better than I did him. From my childhood, I vaguely remember a Thanksgiving gathering where he may have showed up, a 5th grade birthday card with a $5 bill in it and a stuffed pink mouse he gave me I called Marvin.
The rest of the memories were infused with phone calls to my grandmother which left her in tears, uncles who passed on the same pain, and a grandfather with a temper and idea of discipline that would have impressed Baron von Trapp himself.
It was that grandfather who raised my father, my uncles and me. It was that grandfather I celebrated every Father's Day with, despite the fact that I never once referred to him as Dad.
He was a harsh man with high standards, yet a loving one who was obsessed with knowledge, growth and hard work, all of which he believed would make up our character, defined by our accomplishments and our acts for others. He also had a wonderful sense of humor, something he left in the memories of hundreds he shared jokes with over the years.
There were some Eastern European-like traditions and activities which were part of our daily life. Mix them with things that crept in from Wales, England, Scotland and American Indian camps and things got pretty interesting at times. I blame becoming a foodie later in life on my French mother I barely knew because it certainly couldn't have come from years of fried chicken, pancakes, grilled burgers and heavy casserole dishes, despite the fact that my grandmother did know how to cook.
No one seemed to want to talk about where these influences came from or why they did the things they did. The result of this mysterious vagueness led to my calling the only father I ever truly knew, Papa, at least for about 15 years.
As I grew older, the word Papa became a bit of an embarrassment because frankly no one else used it and while we may have lived in a small town, it was no Swiss Alps and I was no Heidi. Sadly, the word Papa faded into the background and died just like a famous legend does when no longer embraced by a tribe.
I never called him Papa once as an adult, but perhaps if I had, we may have had a different relationship. The memory of how it came about isn't all that clear, yet he was all Papa and zero Dad, Father, Pops or Daddy.
Despite his serious nature, where discipline was at the centre at pretty much everything he did, he would throw quirky things my way with explanations of why I should do them that never made a whole lotta sense to a 12 year old. Like climbing trees, building forts, walking on roofs (he had a thing for balance), and knowing how to make a good egg.
Papa also told us (me and all those male cousins of mine) to stretch our fingers every morning before and after squeezing this strange looking Asian rubber ball that somehow appeared in our house one day.
He believed everyone should know how to make homemade ice cream and sauerkrout and grill a kabase sausage on an open fire to perfection. He had the same drill for marshmallows and other things he felt belonged in a fire. Summers were made for open fires and we seemed to cook everything on them even when we later got a gas grill, the one we never used.
He forced me into gardening, not that I regret it today. We had a little land but not enough for vegetables, so we took over a small plot behind the garage of a neighbor and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, rhubarb, pumpkins and every herb you can imagine. He always said that if I didn't know how to feel soil and dirt in my hands and appreciate it for what it was and what it could do, I'd never understand the earth and my purpose on it.
Balance he said, would enter my life from all directions until the day I died and not having it would derail things along the way. Later I learned he meant both emotional and physical balance but somehow he felt gaining the latter early on in life would help the former as an adult. We did this by walking on narrow fences and standing up on the edge of a canoe while paddling on a regular basis.
Faith was a word we never said out loud, but it was always lingering in the background. Faith was for the times nothing made sense or when life turned to chaos and letting your brain fix the chaos only made things worse. Faith is for believing in a higher purpose far far beyond you I read years later in a love letter he once wrote that showed a far more sentimental side than any of his family ever saw.
Despite this belief system, he was far from "religious" and when he did go to church, you could occasionally hear him snoring away in the back corner. Later he would make it up to the pastor by delivering wood or a pie my grandmother made or telling him a joke he was sure the pastor understood and appreciated, yet I was never so sure. He didn't do this because he felt that snoring in the back was "wrong" however...if the experience made him relax and reduce his stress enough to fall asleep, shouldn't sleeping be a compliment? Oddly, I understood.
Because my grandparents were born in the teens, they were in their wild and healthy years in the 1930s, and martini and manhattan parties were something they frequently had in their upstate New York home. Known as a thrower of great parties, their soirees extended into the sixties and seventies when I entered the scene.
Those years of silver trays, serving, mixing, entertaining, record changing well into the wee hours and dish washing gave me great practice for a career as a publicist. Papa was always the life of the party and singing was a big part of their traditions, a time he showed beautiful vulnerability just like Baron von Trapp did when Maria showed up. I never quite understood why others my age didn't know all the lyrics to Bath Tub Gin and Yes We Have No Bananas.
Possessions would become a "chain around my neck," he said. The sooner I learned how little they mattered, the sooner I'd have peace late at night, well after the sun went down.
For him, being a "real man" aside from being successful in business, was being able to build a house, fence and dock from scratch all at the same time. Combine that with being able to "correctly" tie every kind of knot listed in some outdated Boy Scouts guide and fix a car engine when no mechanic could be found, let's just say that it made bringing men home from "the city" difficult at times.
Everyone should play an instrument he believed and if you didn't like to dance, you were someone who liked to watch life glide by rather than create one. I dated a man once who didn't like music and one afternoon on the front porch of our summer lakeside camp, he shook his head and said to me, "it will never work. A man without music in his soul is like looking into someone's eyes and only seeing one color with no texture at all."
For those who have never heard the song Oh Mein Papa or read the lyrics, find it, listen to it and smile while it brings you far back in time. The words to the song were related by a young woman remembering her beloved, once-famous clown father.
Written by Swiss composer Paul Burkhard in 1939 for a musical called Der Schwarze Hecht (The Black Pike), and reproduced in 1950 as Feuerwerk (Fireworks), it is one of the many songs from the 1930s we sang around the piano and one he loved to hear my grandmother and I play as much as he did Moon River and Misty.
He believed that higher education was crucial but without "street knowledge", you'd never actually see or understand texture in life. It was important to see those textures, understand them and emphathize with them he said. Street knowledge would make you "feel" and education would make you "hear." As new nuances and distinctions would come up in life, chaos would turn to clarity one word at a time.
When I said I'd like to become a dancer at 5, he asked for the date I'd be performing in Times Square so they could plan for it.
When I said I was interested in stars and space at 10, he wondered how I'd turn a telescope into our backyard into a scholarship and when might I be going to the moon.
When the family thought I was sure to become a writer or photojournalist, he spoke of Margaret Mead, and the South Pacific, not the local Leader Herald.
He was the one I called at uncanny times. Hearing his voice on the phone while I was plunging a toilet, drilling a hole in the wall or killing a large spider in our bathrub seemed to turn the "doing" into an act I was no longer aware of...
Sometimes he was my directions, sometimes my memory, and sometimes just a voice of reason when I lost my way. Going any deeper was tough because he didn't allow emotion to surface even when an event may have called for it, like a wedding or a funeral. He was from an era where men didn't cry and women didn't work. An era where men brought women flowers, opened their doors and built them houses. An era where women ran the household, cooked and raised kids and men took "care" of all of them.
Papa wasn't an easy man and many found his presence intense and overbearing albeit electric at the same time. Despite the fact that many of us have unresolved issues and baggage with our fathers, things we can't say or do or opposing beliefs, deep down in a place we rarely access, that bond even if a disfunctional one, carved out a life path we started as children dozens of moons ago.
For all the pain we were dished along the way, we were also given love in whatever ways our dads, fathers and papas were capable of giving with what they had and what they knew.
When he died in my arms seven years ago, I felt an unconditional love many of us only feel for our own children. It is this love I honor on this celebratory day of all fathers, all dads and all papas.
June 03, 2011
The Magnificence of Utah's Burr Trail
What’s amazing to me is how little a guide book talked about the breathtaking beauty of Utah’s Burr Trail, which starts only a few miles from the town of Boulder, UT. Perhaps its because there isn’t much there, so without the comforts of home where tourists can flock to hang their hat for the night, it likely keeps away a huge flood of tourists. That said, there is a lodge in the area and a couple of nearby motels within 10 or so miles.
Burr Tail is one of those wonders that continues to delight at every turn and just when you feel as if you saw the most amazing rock formation and structure, another one pops up around the corner. Like most of southern Utah, the colors have so much depth and texture that they change by the minute depending on the angle from your car.
Because we were in a convertible, we were able to take more in and I could stand for part of it with binoculars/zoom lens and see the cracks and etchings from relatively far away. We also got out of the car of course and took in a few walks and spent some time close up with the rock. There were also some unusually colored set of sand dunes at the start of the trail which resembled a combination of Buddha sand monster and a spaceship.
There were also a few scenic view points and immediately after the last one which was 13 or so miles into the drive, you could keep going on dirt road and here the scenery changed yet again. Drama after drama, Utah’s Burr Trail couldn’t and shouldn’t be described as anything other than an exquisite natural earth wonder. Yet a couple of guidebooks merely refer to it as breathtaking. All of Utah is breathtaking – the Burr Trail is remarkable in one of those remarkable ways that you remember for a lifetime.
In some places, you could almost feel as if the rock formations were alive and watching you. In other areas, you experienced this sense of silence we very rarely experience in our lives, the last time for me being the African Karoo at dusk in a jeep.
June 01, 2011
Why I Surrender To Tears on Airplanes & Why You Should Find Your Own…..
I write this after watching a movie on a long American Airlines flight. It’s not the first time I had cried after watching a movie on an airplane. It’s also not the first time I noticed that I cried after watching a movie on an airplane. The first few times I figured it was just the movie choice….that random movie choice, which brought on the tears. After many years of observing that I somehow ended up having a good cry after any movie I watched on an airplane, it started to settle in that the tears were a unique occurrence. Related to airplanes? Or, travel?
During my last cross-country flight, I realized it wasn’t related to airplanes or travel specifically, but it was related to reflection after leaving a place, something I have always had time to do while moving from A to B.
When I’m leaving a place, even if its one I’ve been to dozens of times before, there’s always a reflection point…..a particular conversation, a new way of seeing a friend’s life I hadn’t seen before, the repetition of patterns from a conference I had been to ten times, a speaker I heard say the same thing in the past, and yet it resonated differently on the last round. And on and on and on.
The physical journey mapped with the emotion of someone else’s life journey in a movie, is a reminder of life as it is in that moment. Nothing more, nothing less…..
Alas, we are all growing older, wiser and simpler at the same time on this long life journey which we all share.
Sure, a lot of airline movies tend to be dramas or comedies rather than action flicks, but don’t almost all of them have a love story, even if it’s not one between two humans? A love story with a passion can be just as derailing and challenging, whether it’s Kevin Costner’s battle with choosing between love and baseball or Gweneth Paltrow choosing between music and fame or love and life itself.
When a movie is well written, it brings you into the plot as if you’re in the script yourself. You resonate with a character and if it’s not their personality you connect with, it’s the pain they’re feeling.
A good story always has some pain in it, largely because getting through the pain is what makes us grow into something better, bigger, stronger than we were before. Someone once said, “God only gives us as much pain as we can handle in order to learn the lesson.” Whether it’s a God who dishes the lessons out to us, the universe herself or a mishmash of happenstances and people who fall into our path, showing up as both teachers and students, life (and our journey in it) is definitely not a random accident.
Movies, like really good writing, force me to reflect on all of it as I migrate between two worlds. A movie doesn’t necessarily have to have amazing writing to invoke emotion in the way a good novel does. It does need tons of “human moments” and the ability of the actors to bring you into their world as if you are in the storyline yourself.
Whenever I leave a destination, I start to reflect on what I just left, almost immediately. In New York, it always happens the moment I jump into the cab on my way to the airport, in other cities, it may not hit until I’m on the plane and in others, perhaps not until I’m smack in the middle of a movie. The reflection isn’t just about the drama and pain that is happening in the movie, it’s a reflection on everything I just left and everything I am about to embark on, sometimes for the first time and sometimes, into a world where I’m on autopilot.
What happens if there’s no movie? I reflect anyway, and often I write, but the tears don’t always come like they do after a good airplane movie. A well known CEO friend of mine used to talk to me about “walkabouts,” which is an Australian phrase that refers to going off somewhere to clear your head and get back in touch with your heart. (in so many words).
Years later, I not only understand “walkabouts” but need to take them. The in between state – the airplane – brings me to a reflection point where I begin to contemplate a “walkabout” even if it doesn’t bring me into one.
It’s a way of being present….yes, in the middle of a movie. Unlike anywhere else I watch a good movie, I’m aware of everything around me. I’m aware of the person I’m sitting next to whether or not I started a dialogue with them. (Refer to my blog post: Not Just in Aging......)
In sharing an intimate space with them for anywhere from 2 hours to 12, I feel as I’m now part of one of their life chapters just as they are mine, whether or not they’re aware of it or not.
Maybe I’m over-thinking a simple plane journey, and even if that’s the case, who cares if the experience brings me to reflection points, tears and being present. I want as many experiences and moments in my life which are present and sometimes they come naturally (bring me red rock, Cape Point or any ocean or lake), and sometimes I have to pinch myself or meditate to go there.
Being present with someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, even if its with yourself. Being present with yourself btw almost always turns into a gift for someone else because for the time you are truly present, that openness creates a door for someone else to enter, even if its for one beautiful moment.
As for others on your path, I’ve noticed that my exchanges are pretty random and in that randomness, I find that I always talk to exactly who I’m supposed to talk to at the time.
The other two things I’m reminded over and over again is that randomness often creates magic moments worth cherishing and there are no accidents on this long journey we call life.
Sometimes when people see me cry, they assume I’m watching a movie about death or a sad love affair if they’re not watching the same movie as me. Other times, they just glance out of the corner of their eye quietly, perhaps wondering why I might be shedding a tear. Even if I am tearing up over something sad or cruel or painful, it’s always a good shed. The clearing through tearing brings on a birth of new ideas and ways of looking at the world, not unlike a new skin which grows back after the old skin sheds from too many hours in the sun.
My sun is my PC and mobile device, and being tethered to them bring me into the most unpresent part of my life – the Internet. When I’m there, I’m reacting to noise, even if I AM learning something new along the way. OR, meeting someone new in a Twitter exchange. Knowledge and productivity are great things and while they are not separate from being present, I find my brain either has room for one or the other and when my brain is overworking, my heart takes a back seat. (Read Nicholas Carr’s What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains and a blog post I wrote called: Hey Digital Maven, How Okay Are You With Silence?).
Having a cry as a way of reflecting on what I just left and what I’m ‘going to’ isn’t a replacement for a good “walkabout” and frankly I think we should all take them, whatever a “walkabout” is for you.
A “walkabout” isn’t necessarily the kind of activity that puts you into your zone, which may be your passion -- skiing, photography, cooking or whatever. A “walkabout” takes you to a quiet place where you’re not going anything at all but connecting to the earth below your feet and the sky above your head.
Here, you’re in a place of silence where you are not only “being” present but you’re “aware of being present” with who and what you just left and where you’re going. Along the way, you’re grateful -- it’s hard not to be grateful when you’re truly in this state btw – and every motion, every thought, every move you make is free flowing. In other words, there’s no resistance, there’s no struggle, there’s no pain, there’s no head, because heart is driving every step of the way. Heart is ruling thought and Heart is making every decision. (Read Eckhart Tolle).
The airplane movie for me is merely a trigger point in the middle of the noise, in between my “walkabouts,” and in between two very distinct worlds, which remind me I haven’t been grateful enough, I’ve lost perspective or gained some, or I haven’t spent enough quality time with people who matter.
It’s almost never about the movie; it’s about a human connection which is brought to the foreground in the movie and it moves from the screen to my minds eye….and then to my heart.
It’s about the fact that I am in fact in “motion” between two places, two cultures, two ways of thinking, two lifestyles, two memories, sometimes an old life versus one which replaced it, sometimes the other way around. So bring on the tears I say. Bring ‘em on for whatever purpose they serve along that long journey we call life.
After all, isn’t it always when we’re in that in between state when we have the most to give ourselves and others in our path? When we’re in a vulnerable beautiful state where the heart drives, not our heads? (Read Pema Chodron - she’s one of my favorites).
Whenever you find out what your trigger points are, you know, the ones that bring on the tears, purposely plant them in your life if they don’t happen naturally. And, more importantly, interject them with “walkabouts.”
While “walkabouts” don’t have to include nature, it’s a good idea even if nature isn’t a primary “go to” for you. Nature and paying attention to it rewards you in ways words can never describe. It IS where we all began and honoring nature will bring you back to your source, that source which will take you on a rollercoaster ride you’ll never want to get off. Trust me. The world really does surrender to a quiet mind.
May 22, 2011
Not Just in Aging that the World Surrenders to a Silent Mind
It was on a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, a flight I had made countless times over the years, when I had a deja vu moment about aging. As I glanced over to the woman to my right, I suddenly remembered all the times I had watched the older women in my life as a child and felt as far removed from them then as I do now from a 15 year old male skateboarder from Detroit.
On that flight, a surreal feeling swept over me...as if I was her or could have been a dear friend of hers in a previous life. The moment was short lived but vibrant and incredibly real, and it made me incessantly aware of aging and this precious thing called human life.
She was probably 70 or so, the woman was a petit, short Asian woman with beautiful silver hair, strands of black scattered throughout as the only remnants left of her middle age life. Her skin was glowing despite her obvious fatigue and you could tell she was once a stunner in that way you can about some people; there's a certainty, a quiet sauciness, and a knowing smile that suggests a life fully lived. She was wearing faded jeans, classy gold earrings with just a touch of ruby red and a Victorian blue button up top with a crocheted back that barely covered her neck, just enough to add a sweet balance of feminine energy to her other otherwise masuline aura despite her small frame.
Her face was weathered, not terribly so, but like her glow, certainty and smile, her face and hands exuded a lifetime of stories, over decades of experiences, far far beyond Las Vegas or San Francisco.
My deja vu moment came moments after a visit to the airplane lou where I observed my own weathered skin from years of sun exposure including the most recent trip in an open convertible where the hot desert sun beat on my skin, adding more aging spots which will someday tell a long story, or a series of them, just like the silver-haired neighbor to my right.
Although I was more than 30 years her junior, I felt as if this woman, whose coiled sleeping body next to me, was a kindred spirit somehow, despite the fact that we had yet to exchange a word.
Part of the desert trip included exploring rock ruins, flora and engravings, the latter of which told some of our ancestor's stories during a time that not only knew no computer, but knew no pen, paper or even a primitive chalkboard. I couldn't get enough of the hot Utah sun largely because the sun had become such a foreign oddity as I had somehow become more accustomised to hanging out with words on a screen as Google's Chrome churns them out tab after tab.
Despite the fact that I had "inked" my face up with pure white zink from Australia, the sun took its toll, not just on my face but on every inch of my body except for the six inches which were covered by scarves and shawls.
In the mirror that afternoon, seeing the weathered results of miles of sun and wind, brought back a memory of my South African host sister and I basking in the African sun as teenagers one hot summer afternoon in Durban. We were coated with baby oil as were our neighbors and their neighbors and so on. My host mother would bring out iced tea (roibos) with mint on the hour to make sure we were hydrated and their rotweiler would bark every time she opened the door. White as snow, she came out glaring through the sun to find us spread out on the grass in her 1950s-style apron with printed pansies in oranges and reds. She would shudder as my grandfather would at the amount of time we spent unprotected under the far too close to the equator sky. Like our neighbors, and their neighbors and so on.
As the memories flooded my head, I looked back at my silver-haired friend, who opened one eye on this occasion, just enough to add a small but tired smile as a way to acknowledge my gaze. At the end of the flight, we exchanged one short sentence as we all queued up like cattle waiting our turn to exit the plane.
I felt so connected to this woman I knew nothing about for some reason and yet......an older short, silver-haired Asian woman with gold earrings next to an American auburn haired, blue eyed woman nearly half her age and yet the almost silent exchange was as if.....as if, we had met before in a far away place, in a previous life, at a time when time had no meaning.
When time has no meaning, aging has no meaning. Later, I read an excerpt called Late Ripeness by Czeslaw Milosz that went something like this:
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
It made me think of her, the woman whose name I never learned, nor whose origin I will ever know. Yet when time has no meaning and aging has no meaning, I understand how things in an aging mind might just be ready to describe things better than they were before, and as the brush does in fact come closer, we also appreciate the preciousness of the journey we're on, have more gratitude for what we are becoming and who we encounter along the way.
We also become okay with the silence that blesses us along the way. Just when we think the silence is a "negative" as it reminds us that we are in fact getting older, we realize that it is in fact a gift, the biggest gift we'll ever receive in our lifetimes, for when we live our lives from this place, we are more open, more vulnerable, more authentic and more pure. How appropriate to end with one of my favorite quotes: "The whole world surrenders to a quiet mind."
May 16, 2011
TEDx Silicon Valley: Anderson, Hogg, Meier and Stein: #tedxsv
Anderson asserts that a data feedback loop can improve behavior as you see real-time stats on the consequences of your actions, whether its from a device or a non-intrustive wearable monitor. Simply by being aware of how your body is affected by your actions, you can improve your performance and lead a healthier life - emotionally and physically.
Feedback loops was a popular theme of many of the speakers, who focused on the growth of sensors which track your patterns and behavior. Bpttom line: once we see value in the feedback we receive from sensors, which continue to come down in price, we can measure everything we do. "Measurement," says Anderson, "quantifies what matters most and through that feedback loop, we can make smarter decisions."
Gamification -- on and offline -- can also be effective and is growing in popularity. Whether its points or rewards we give a child who remembers to brush his or her teeth or badges and coupons to buy things online if we cut out that donut and coffee for five days in a row, the feedback we receive through gamification is validation that we're doing something right or wrong.
Imagine a future where you're measuring nearly everything you do? Tomorrow, your thermometer can let you know when is the most efficient time to run the dishwasher, shaving money off your bill month after month. Today, you can already do quite a bit with measuring devices, right down to measuring stress levels in real time based on who you're talking to. (be prepared bosses, mother-in-laws, accountants, dentists and lawyers - stress meter readings may not be all that pretty).
Chris Hogg reinforced Anderson's message about the importance of data and measurement, particularly as it relates to better health and well being.
He pointed to his 67 year old step father who regularly drinks foul tasting tea and can see a correlation between drinking it and improved health, all of which he tracks on his iPhone.
Patrick Meier gave us a demo of something he referred to as Check-Ins with Purpose.
Country after country, he showed us a mapped location of how check-ins and smart location mapping has helped humanitarian efforts.
Forward wind to the Japanese Tsunami. They created a "crisis map" to help locate missing people, which the Japanese government and other organizations who were providing relief, could access.
The other example he used was Libya, where they created a "social media map" to improve their humanitarian efforts on the ground. Take a look at Libya Crisis Map.net.
The Libya Crisis Map platform was activated by the request of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to the Standby Task Force (SBTF). The platform continues to be supported by volunteers.
We can be more effective at helping people than we ever have been able to do in the past with rich geo-location based services and social media tools at our fingertips. We can use Facebook to schedule and post notices, Twitter to coordinate and get the word out and YouTube to share the story in more depth. "These live maps," he says, "are like having helicopters above you so you can see exactly where people are and therefore find them that much faster."
One of the things she has learned from going through the process is to keep your ear to the ground....in other words, listen to voices from the local community. She calls the phenomena they have created, a "global tribe."
Says Lara, "My goals have migrated from how do you create systems and back ends on the ground TO how to we paint the story of this massively global and passionate tribe? The latest stats are staggering: 1,783 past events, 1,002 future events, 101 cities and 46 countries.
A handful of guidelines she has learned include the following: plan for the predictable, be prepared to invent as you learn, don’t get in the way, pave the way of your real time feedback loop, ignore the chorus, be prepared to fail (another theme of speakers), don’t think of it as a part time job, listen to the community on the ground, and follow your moral compass. She adds, "our focus is inspiration and action, not education."
She quoted an attendee who attended a TEDx in a remote area: "I was sitting on the end of the world, huge oil fields surrounded by massive dunes and nothing else, I was surrounded by really smart kids and nothing else." Indeed. That feeling is most definitely is a TED-like moment.
May 16, 2011 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, On Education, On Health, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 30, 2011
Long Live the OLD & Traditional Adirondack Chair
One of my favorite memories (period) is sitting in an Adirondack chair with my grandfather in the Adirondack mountains where I grew up, talking about Indian arrow heads while overlooking a peaceful Caroga Lake at the end of a sunny August day.
The weather was perfect with only a slight breeze and the waterskiiers were coming out for their late afternoon ski when the lake once again turned into a glassy glaze as the wind settled down. I was often one of those afternoon skiiers as a teenager, around the time I had started to ban early mornings. As a kid however, I'd scurry out at dawn ready to take a dozen or so cuts on the not yet touched water we all loved about early mornings on the lake.
We had both just gathered some twigs and dry wood for the fire pit where we'd often cook burgers and kielbasa on an old small grill that my grandad would throw over the pit.
Equally magical to gazing out over the lake in our Adirondack chairs was reading a novel on an Adirondack hammock overlooking the same lake, but that's for another blog post.
Alas, the Adirondack chair. When I was really young, we had about four of 'em, all made of wood, all rustic, some with splinters from wear and tear and years of rain. We painted a couple over the years, always dark green, since that was the traditional Adirondack color (same goes for the hammocks), and as they would fade and the paint would wear away, we often wouldn't touch them up right away since the half painted, half natural wood look and feel of the chairs often told the story of our lives at the camp.
In other words, it was outdoor living: life wasn't perfect, it most certainly wasn't modern, we didn't have central heating, the water tank for the showers was small, the plumbing was outdated, our small TV set rarely got a channel, Internet didn't work and until we sold the place, it had an old fashioned rotary phone. (the one we had since the early 1970s).
The Adirondacks are not modern and to try to throw a modern title, label, or experience on top of "Adirondack" anything feels just plain wrong, at least for someone who grew up there. You can imagine my horror when I received this subject line in my inbox: The Classic Adirondack Lounge goes Eco-Modern. The Eco of course is there to make you feel good about buying it. Take a look at their visual:
All I can say is UUGGLYYY. It feels like Walmart plastered blandness on top of authentic Adirondack wholesomeness. Gotta love the tacky plastic looking orange circular thing with the pretzels next to them to add to all that modernity.
It's not as if I don't love modern things. Sure, my house has more antiques and woods than it does modern pieces, but its a mix. And while I have some classic pieces of art, there are some abstracts (photography and oil paintings), as well as some Salvador Dali-like pottery and toy-ish etchings scattered along my walls.
This felt more like a classic American marketing decision: take something that was and is great and cheapen it, while throwing some fabulous persuasive language (and of course sustainable messaging since "green and eco" are important adds right now) on top of it to make it appear that you're going to purchase something of substance.
The materials may be solid - that's not what I'm arguing here. And, I'm all for environmentally friendly materials. But, let's call a spade a spade and let it have its deserved glory. A little history is in order.
The Adirondack chair (also called the Muskoka chair) is used in rural, outdoor settings. The precursor was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903 when he was on vacation in Westport, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home.
After arriving at a final design for the then called "Westport plank chair," Lee offered it to a Westport-based carpenter Harry Bunnell, who manufactured these chairs for the next twenty years.
The original Adirondack chair was made with eleven pieces of wood, cut from a single board. It had a straight back and seat, which were set at a slant to sit better on the steep mountain inclines of the area. It also featured wide armrests, which became a hallmark of the Adirondack chair. In searching for a chair that was closer to what I grew up with, I came up with the following image on the web although even this one isn't quite right....ours tended to lean back a bit more but those I found with stronger slants, were painted in shiny colors or their original design was altered.
In the yards, patios and on the docks of all the camps we used to hang out at including our own, the chairs were rustic and wooden, often made by locals. Sadly, more of the modern Adirondack chairs are made out of plastic lumber or engineered wood instead of wood.
There have been so many replicas and variations of Adirondack chairs, that its original design is getting muddled, I guess you could call it a furniture mashup. Take a look at the variations from a Google image search:
Remember that I live my life in the modern technology world where mashups happen in my circles every day. In fact, I may be at an event where a mashup of an old technology and the creation of a new one may occur within the hour and a new way of creating, curating or organizing the web is born before my very eyes. I think mashups are great as long as the original "piece" whatever that is, is honored in some way for what it stood for.
In the case of Adirondack chairs, they are all about life in rustic rural environments and frankly, experiencing the Adirondacks on any lake in a modern home with tons of bells and whistles isn't the same, including the furniture. Of course, the designer of this new modern eco chair Mark Daniel will likely not be impressed by my opinion.
While the sustainable, FSC-certified solid eucalyptus wood with a grey stain which is made in China btw (how ironic for an all American piece of design), may be a fit for some, it doesn't preserve what the Adirondacks is all about.....in my humble local opinion that is.
Long live the old and traditional Adirondack chair for sitting in anything other than an original is like experiencing China in Orlando's Disneyland instead of China itself.
March 23, 2011
Tom McCarthy's WIN WIN Includes One of My Favorites: Paul Giamatti
We had to arrive an hour and a half before the producer, actors and director arrived. During that time, the film publicists checked you in and lined you up in a particular location at the edge of the red carpet, which was set up in an L shape that led into the theatre.
The cast included talent Paul Giamatti, most known for his stunning and humorous performance in Sideways (aka I don't drink Merlot), Amy Ryan and new to the stage Alex Schaffer who was a young boxer who tried out for a part for the first time. Tom McCarthy was the film's Director/Writer.
Below is a live broadcast interview they did the day before the premiere which I attended as an observer.
Should you see the film? Absolutely! Here's the storyline: disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy's mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything. As always Giamatti brings you in for more of his quirky and funny personality regardless of what role he plays.
Here's a handful of snapshots I took at the Red Carpet Event:
Amy Ryan: warm, engaging, charming and playful
Here's a review by the Christian Science Monitor. One other note: Tom McCarthy's latest film (The Station Agent & The Visitor) was also a big fan favorite at Sundance. I had a chance to talk to him briefly and in my brief exchange, all I can say is thumbs up. I'd recommend seeing The Future, a film which previewed at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) last week. The film tells the story of a thirty-something couple who, on deciding to adopt a stray cat, change their perspective on life, literally altering the course of time and testing their faith in each other and themselves. Characters Sophie and Jason are strange the way all couples are strange when they’re alone. They live in a small LA apartment, have jobs they hate, and in one month they’ll adopt a stray cat named Paw Paw.
March 22, 2011 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Conference Highlights, Entertainment/Media, Events, On Technology, On Women, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink
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Below is the video footage I took of the cast and director getting interviewed along the Red Carpet while I largely shot stills:
March 22, 2011
Miranda July's THE FUTURE: Living in 2 Terrifyingly Vacant & Different Realities
Here's a review by the Christian Science Monitor. One other note: Tom McCarthy's latest film (The Station Agent & The Visitor) was also a big fan favorite at Sundance. I had a chance to talk to him briefly and in my brief exchange, all I can say is thumbs up.
I'd recommend seeing The Future, a film which previewed at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) last week. The film tells the story of a thirty-something couple who, on deciding to adopt a stray cat, change their perspective on life, literally altering the course of time and testing their faith in each other and themselves. Characters Sophie and Jason are strange the way all couples are strange when they’re alone. They live in a small LA apartment, have jobs they hate, and in one month they’ll adopt a stray cat named Paw Paw.
March 22, 2011 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Conference Highlights, Entertainment/Media, Events, On Technology, On Women, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack