Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lives Like Rubik's Cube

The thing that is both interesting and frustrating about life is that we all start out in a different place. Each one of us is a complicated jumble of different aspects—both good ones and bad ones. In fact, some of us even have aspects each which would otherwise be good, but are in conflict with one another.

For much of the beginning of our lives, we spend time just making the jumble worse. There are as many reasons this is true as there are people for it to be true about. Some lives become more jumbled than others, but they are all solveable—just like Rubik's Cube. Hey, no one ever said life was easy!

I'm a big believer in the singularity of truth. That is, no matter how jumbled and different we appear at first, there is a path that will lead us to the same place. Now, I don't mean we should seek to be clones—this is where the analogy breaks down. Unlike a Rubik's Cube, human lives have layers of depth. The deeper one goes, the more he should find in common with his fellow men, or else he is fundamentally flawed. We don't need to look the same on the surface, but our hearts should beat as one.

In the name of diversity, today's media has sold us on the idea that we don't need to change anything about ourselves. In effect, the masses want to believe that a jumbled Rubik's Cube is the way they were born and the way they must stay. Mainstream media and mass marketing, then, tend to generate their content accordingly. These two channels are awash with politicians and businessmen who want to make life easier for the little guy.

They mean well from their perspective, of course. Some measure of convenience in every area of life is the advantage that human civilization has over the animal kingdom. However, the other advantage we have over the animals is the ability to continuously improve. The more individuals take responsibility for solving their own small problems, the more prevalent innovation and ingenuity is.

These inventions of the human mind are valuable and can be traded for other inventions. In this way, civilization increases in total value and, subsequently, wealth. When media develops a culture where the widespread belief is that an elite few—those born without a jumbled Rubik's Cube—are responsible for all the inventions, initiative slows and civilization decreases in value.

But this is just a lie. It is true that some lives are less jumbled than others—and it has less to do with financial advantage than you may think—while others are extremely jumbled. However, there seems to be something in the human spirit that enables us to solve these puzzles the more difficult they are. Perhaps, it's that the extremely jumbled cases seem beyond hope to the aforementioned politicians and businessmen so they're on their own. Maybe it's because these jumbled individuals are more driven to work on themselves and so gain more momentum.

One thing repeats throughout history: more is created by those at a disadvantage than by a king in his throne. So how hard are you trying to solve your Cube?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ode to the Appreciator

I think many people get lost in trying to be in a band because they like music. However it isn't necessary to be in a band if you like music, only to help your favorite band succeed. Perhaps a music appreciator would find his fit in the promotion of music rather than in the creation of music.

Part of the problem with the music industry, as I understand it, is that there is a war between the developers and the promoters. (In the lingo of FITmedia, these are the musicians and "studio execs", respectively.) Most artists want both the freedom to do what they do AND the support of a major label. These major labels, however, know how to run a business, and want the freedom to shift their assets accordingly.

As such, they tend to want to micro-manage the artists in their network. As with any large-scale orchestration, it is easy to lose sight of the pieces, and treat unique entities in a generic way. When this happens, greatness—which is often unconventional—becomes undernourished and dies. They manage artists generically, and they get only generic art.

Or worse, they incite a rebellion, which they spread in the name of freedom of expression. I've always found it strange that large media companies perpetuate their own stereotype by spreading art that criticizes the very methods they use to manage their business. Even stranger is that they do not seem to learn from the critiques of their own media content.

The content itself perpetuates this as part of the culture when outside viewers see the critique and perceive the label's actions to be hypocritical though conversely successful. And so, newcomers learn about this struggle, and separate into bipartisan factions: business vs. art. The result is a cancerous spread of venomous themes, which thwarts the dreams of many would-be artists and music promoters.

Instead of destroying the asset that a major label can be to artists, or giving artists unlimited license to lyrically tear down the organization, it seems to me that another asset should be tapped: the Appreciators. More than just fans (even überfans), appreciators are driven by a desire to be productive.

They want to contribute in a big way, but the only way that is apparent is to start a band—to create media. I for one, am an appreciator of music, and toyed with the idea of starting a band several times. However, I soon realized that I would rather get paid to promote the band than to be on stage myself.

Appreciators understand their bands because they are also fans, and so they can much more effectively promote their bands to other potential fans. It is also a two-way street: the appreciators can more effectively communicate business ideas to the bands they are close to. So if a band (or artist) is a small group of developers, then there ought to be a corresponding group of promoters. How these groups interact would be influenced by a larger group of appreciators who would be close enough to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

If major labels incentivize this sort of activity, they can fix the gap of animosity and waste that has been dug between the two sides, and allow the fans to lift the artists they believe in to greatness, while generating a public forum for how to be appreciated. With this information, rookie artists can learn from others' best practices and improve their content until it reaches its highest potential.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mentors and Media

Relationships are more important than media, and more powerful. There is an overwhelming amount of children's media that teaches the virtues of sharing, respecting differences in people, and generally living a fit lifestyle. The Great Ideas and endless practicable information about them are out there. So why are there so many problems?

One way of looking at it says that people simply choose to avoid information that they are uncomfortable with. Through a series of harmless personal choices to watch this or that, read that or the other, or favor entertainment over art, we each form habits or "ruts." These habits of media consumption become habits of mind which narrow the individual's field of understanding.

As I wrote in a recent post, the more the Internet enables access to information, the more that most people settle into these ruts. By giving us not only access to media, but also detailed information about its content, information technology enables us to tailor our media diets to what we feel comfortable with. But education is about new and challenging information, and therefore naturally creates discomfort.

My question is, how do people come to feel uncomfortable about certain ideas in the first place? When we are children, we are learning machines. We are curious about everything. Perhaps it is because everything is unknown and therefore uncomfortable that we seek knowledge in our youth. Once we learn a certain amount, we become comfortable with the illusion that we know enough.

If so, then how does discomfort switch from a driving force to a limiting force? The answer lies in relationships. This process begins with an individual's relationship with his parents which is the standard for all future relationships. The stability and level of encouragement found in an individual's family is then impacted by the influence of other relationships outside the home.

The more the members of the family live lives of integrity and truth, the more encouraging and stable the relationship will be. The stronger the relationship is, the more the individual will seek truth instead of comfort, and the less he will be susceptible to peer pressure and fashionable ideas. Essentially, he will be free from the influence of a great deal of cultural rip tide because he will sacrifice short term comforts to the long term peace provided by stability.

In the absence of strong, principle-based relationships, people turn inward and rely upon themselves. Like ships tossed in a storm with no sight of land, these people necessarily fear to change position, preferring the devil they know to the one they don't. Media content that challenges the correctness of an individual's position demands a change in that position. This feels risky to a person who has no perspective outside himself, and so, this information is avoided.

For a free society to flourish, people of lesser life experience need strong mentor-like relationships. Media alone—even at its most truthful—can be easily twisted, avoided, misunderstood, or ignored at the preference of the individual. Without guidance, more media, and more information about media merely tends to make it easier for a person to live in a world of his own making. And if it's not the truth, that's a problem

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"

DISCLAIMER: This post contains references to events in both the movie and the books. I recommend reading and watching Scott Pilgrim before reading this post. All links are affiliate links. You have been warned.

I recently both read the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels and watched the movie. The similarities are stunning, but the differences seem pointlessly disappointing. Whenever someone tries to adapt a given medium into a movie, the tendency is to start off strong and a lot like the original, but then to take artistic license and totally change it at the end of the movie. I know part of this is shortening the story in order to fit in the new format, but filmmakers tend to use adaptation as a platform for creation.

The question is, is this a good thing or bad thing? On one hand, you're creating a new medium for the fans of the original, but on the other hand, it's a new medium for new fans. To what extent is it fair change the original story to fit a new medium for the sake of gaining new fans? Is it just that the old medium didn't appeal to people who are now becoming fans of the new medium? Some people are just turned off by the concept of graphic novels (i.e.: comic books). Others dislike the time investment of any sort of novel, and are much more inclined to watch a movie which is easier and shorter. Even a graphic novel runs long (Scott Pilgrim in particular fills six books) compared to a movie which generally fits into two hours of screen time.

There are exceptions, of course. This is not to say that Scott Pilgrim is a classic in the same way, but if Peter Jackson had taken that much license with Lord of the Rings, fans of the original would've been appalled. What Tolkien fans were looking for was a visualized version of the amazing world that he created with words. The goal then was to fit Tolkien's vision into a watchable screen format without losing its original spirit. Of course, the books had existed long enough to have enough fans to support a budget that gave the filmmakers enough screen time—4 to 5 hours per film—in order to make this a reality.

Scott Pilgrim, of course, doesn't have nearly the fan base and so the question remains: why change the second half of the story so much from the original? The remarkable thing about this movie is that it so perfectly matches the graphic novel for about the first hour. After that point it starts making respectable cuts of scenes that arguably might have been unnecessary even in the novel. After some creative shuffling of the important plot points in the main body of the movie, the filmmakers made some choices that, I believe, diverged from the original story.

The most tragic thing about the movie is that the filmmakers and entirely missed the point of Nega-Scott. This concept isn't even fully developed in the novels, but even though it was subtle, it seems to me that the author was trying to say how Scott forgot his mistakes because he ran away from his dark side. In either killing or fleeing from his dark side, Scott also avoided absorbing the lessons from the experience. In the novels, Scott's training session with Kim leads him to eventually meld with Nega-Scott to become a whole person, capable of defeating Gideon and fixing his relationship with Ramona. In the movie, however, they seem to make a kind of flippant joke of the character.

All of this is not to say that the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is not thoroughly enjoyable on its own merit. It just simply does not contain the same depth as the graphic novels.

Is it impossible to maintain the depth while condensing the story into 120 minutes, or is it just REALLY HARD to do? I don't think it's impossible, and if I'm right, then this hard work is where the value is created. Interestingly, this means that it is actually harder (and therefore more artistic) to do a great job of condensing the exact story, than it is to create a new story out of the old one.

A movie with this kind of condensed depth kicks you in chest—and leaves you wanting to know more. If you're truly a new fan, you'll go to the original material for more. There is no point in using an original story to create a disconnected movie that is easier to swallow than the original. Condensed means potent. If you want to create art, never fear scaring away those that can't handle it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Holiday/Commercial Extravaganza

Around the holidays, a favorite moralism is that "it's not about the getting, it's about the giving." However, there is an insidious lie hidden even in this statement—not to sound paranoid. It is true to say that a focus on getting is a focus on self, and is therefore selfish or at least self-centered. The idea that giving is more in keeping with the spirit of the season is also accurate, though it is only half-true.

The giving of material things is an important link in the Holiday/Commercial Extravaganza. The "need" to give material things compels the purchase of material things. Unfortunately, this both requires and perpetuates the desire to get material things. Regardless of what media might try to tell us in the above mentioned adage, the reality of the situation is that if no one wanted to "get" there would be no reason to buy in order to "give."

The mass media/marketing continuum—as always—would have you believe that the simple movement of material goods not only constitutes genuine giving in-and-of itself but also strengthens the economy. Again, this is accurate, but only half-true. The spread of empty products neither constitutes genuine giving nor strengthens the economy. The majority of gift purchases are of consumer goods—especially consumer electronics, which have no lasting value.

To buy something that rapidly decreases in value and use it merely for recreational purposes is to purchase a hole in your wallet. To give the same thing to another person for the same reason is to give a hole in the wallet. Once you have something that breaks or becomes obsolete, you are compelled to replace it. It's funny what we can live without until someone gives it to us. Marketers know this, and most people know this. For that reason media has the job of making us feel alright about it. "Are you a Scrooge?"

With the difficult economic conditions we face today, preserving this bubble is becoming a more and more delicate task. On one end of the spectrum, they prop up your belief by selling you on the idea that giving stuff is a great reason to buy stuff. On the other end, they continuously decrease the lasting value of the stuff, so as to create the desire to buy more stuff. "No I'm not a Scrooge, because I have a heart."

The real secret of the Holidays is that its not about getting or giving. It's about loving! Give a person all the diamonds in the world, it doesn't guarantee you love her. Give her your presence, your kindness, your best smile... That's magic! And the same is true in all relationships—from employee/employer to family to lovers.

So the real gift is love. It can be demonstrated by the giving of material goods. It can be shown in a mere handmade card. It can be seen in your eyes, or it can be viewed when you uncover someone's eyes. Just remember this season to really think about the person you're giving to. If they know you love them, that might be only gift they need.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Groupthink in the Internet Age

"No matter how hard people tried to interact only with like thinkers, no matter how hard they worked to keep their children free from diverse views, neighbors nearly always ruined this Utopian scheme." -Oliver DeMille

One would think that in the age of the internet, where avenues for connection and communication are increasing almost daily, that the rough edges of human nature would be quickly spun smooth by deeper understanding among the populace. If there is anything one desires to know, it is written down somewhere on the internet. There are millions of blogs which cover anything a person might be interested in, and numerous mainstream social networking sites through which to find the perfect match.

Unfortunately, the ability to access limitless information does not guarantee that limitless information will be accessed. So, in fact, the opposite of what one might suppose to be true in theory, is actually true in reality. The problem is fear of change, resulting in an aversion to contrary information, stemming from an unwillingness to change oneself. When nothing changes, the illusions of stability and security is easier to believe. It is comforting to be in equilibrium, so we naturally desire to remain blissfully ignorant of information contrary to our perceived balance.

Therefore, given a library of limitless information, most people will automatically seek out information that is in accordance with what they already believe, and reject or avoid information that is contrary to their beliefs. The internet also makes this process very convenient. In the interest of speeding information to the individual on the "information superhighway" numerous strategies for previewing or filtering possible information exist. The result is that instead of a blending effect on public awareness, deep divisions are created as groups master the ability to draw new readers, viewers, players, etc.

Without real interaction, virtual interaction gives a person a "safe" way to avoid all deeper understanding. It is impossible to confront someone online. Prior to this virtual world, people physically lived together in communities. Simple fact, I know. Consider the implications of this, though. The actions or decisions we made in our lives had to take in to account our neighbors. If some charlatan tried to pass off a scam on the community, it was likely that someone who's proven himself more trustworthy would call him out. In the virtual world, however, the charlatan can effectively exclude those "naysayers" from the group altogether.

So without self-mastery or self-leadership, the individual tends to get sucked into groupthink. A charismatic leader who knows his beliefs well, can easily lead a herd to the slaughter. With self-mastery, however, the discovery of new information requires a decision to accept or reject based upon the level of truth contained therein—rather than on a momentary feeling. In order to avoid being "swept away", someone seeking self-mastery would proactively seek out challenging new information in order to make a rational decision before it is presented with emotional fervor.

Like many things worth doing, people still need a self-interested reason to do them. No one becomes passionate about challenging information overnight. The question is: what is on the other side of confusion for you? What would your life be like if you were enlightened?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gap

Can you imagine if FITmedia as a company were to buy the license to show certain TV shows and movies at exclusive watching parties? The shows and movies would of course be advertising free. The advertising to pay for the event would then come from the distribution of promotional, trial, coupon type deals that each affiliate would bring in their own right—either because they own a business which they are promoting, or because they have found one they can get paid to promote.

When advertising is mass marketed through static media, there is a gap created between seller and buyer; between the creators of value and the appreciators of that value. Because of this gap, even products which a person might want are perceived as being forced upon them by someone who cares little for him as an individual. We would create an environment where friends give friends a good deal on stuff they actually want or need.

If we can organize events around networking and relationships, and distribute media content that promotes conversation and teaches about relationships, the companies that approach us to give us promotional material, commercial trials, etc., will necessarily be the kind of companies we actually want to work with. These companies will be interested in relationships as well and would promote further refinement of our media content's principle-based message.

The gap created by mass advertising between businesses and people tends to promote a blurring of the hard lines of natural law in the name of diversity. Instead of seeking to base stories and build product campaigns upon the bedrock of human nature (which all people and peoples have in common), they skimp on the difficult work of identifying and standing by these principles. They prefer to spin tenuous connections between superficial facets of everyday life, then promote the false dogma with stories which make it appear true.

Technology companies always think it's a great idea to use technology to make marketing less cumbersome (for them) by grabbing little snippets of information about people, connecting it with some sort of ad, and shooting it over to them without involving any actual human emotion. Unfortunately, that just seems creepy.

I just heard that Microsoft apparently thinks it's a good idea to use the new Kinect to take a snapshot of a person playing a game, look for anything around them that suggests some sort of product that they might want to buy, and then uses that information to tailor ads to them. Now I'm all for using technology to tailor ads to people to better deliver them information about products and services that they actually want to buy. How else are you going to know about products unless someone delivers you the information about where to get them?

However, technology companies seem to think that just because the piece of information can be delivered over a long distance to a lot of people that that is the best way to deliver the information. Like robots, they seem not to have any comprehension of how important relationships and the emotions of relationships are. Basically, they don't realize that every business is a people business.

Basically, customers are cynical that any companies actually care about them. In the age of information, what we need is not more information, but information delivered with a personal touch—and a lasting relationship. Who do you watch TV with?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cheating on Your Project

To achieve success at anything, focus is an absolute must. If you're an artist or an entrepreneur with a great idea, chances are you tend to discover and/or attract other great ideas. This is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, you know you will never run out of ideas. This gives you the unshakeable belief that you will eventually succeed with enough effort. Never do you fear an idea that fails, because there is always another path to be taken.

On the other hand, every great project has points when it seems hopeless. Having an unlimited reserve of good ideas (and even great ideas) makes it very easy to justify cheating on your project. You know the one you swore on your life would take you to the top?

Did you mean it when you thought it? Is it really over? Is there no salvaging it? Yeah, your project is not only your brainchild, it's also your husband/wife!

First you have to court it to learn if it's right for you. Fall in love with it for sure, but also learn everything you can about it. Don't get seduced. Second, armed with passion and understanding set the commitment in stone to finish what you started!

Eventually, you will be able to see the boundaries. Then you can have intimate friends on the side. Never mix up the natures of your respective relationships (in either case). Until you see the boundaries, you need to keep friends (and intake other projects) that themselves understand, respect, and enforce those boundaries which you cannot see.

In relationships, as with projects, success does not come from hopping from one to another at the first sign of trouble. It comes from putting all your eggs in a basket you understand and love, then guarding the basket with your life. No matter the problems.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November '10: The Month in Posts

This was a difficult month for me. A recent move left me without internet for more than two weeks! I subsequently (and shamefully) got out of the habit of writing for this blog. Fortunately, other projects are in the works which did get more of my attention during this lapse in blogging. This may actually be a blessing in disguise. Forced to take leave from my duties here, I was given a much needed break from what might have become a habitual grind. Of course, this could also be a problem (see subsequent post).

Anyway, here the the highlights from what was posted.

"Hoarders" - November 5, 2010
I recently emptied out a storage unit after two years. That's two years, during which I made maybe three trips there to get something out. So the point is, it probably could have burned down, and I would have been no worse for the wear. There are infinite, good excuses for keeping the stuff: some clothes for charity, which never quite made it there; a couple shelving units, which could come in handy; old baby stuff... oh, the memories! (read more)

Television Revolution, part 1 - November 11, 2010
The very businesses which were responsible for the financial futures of millions, rushed to get their products marketed to the masses via television commercials. This heavy reliance on sponsors shaped the content of the television medium, pushing it gradually into a mechanism that attracted (even developed) the perfect audience. Not only did it applaud the company man when it talked about work, but it applauded the consumer when it talked about play. (read more)

The Last Choice - November 26, 2010
There are times in every person's life when he or she is presented with a choice that amounts to a life-changing decision. There are many more times, when a person faces the little decisions that either expand his choices or narrow them into the big ones. There is, however, only one time when a person chooses never to make another choice. (read more)

Apathy and Complacency - November 29, 2010
Whenever a conversation turns onto the subject of the world's problems, the favorite cause is nearly always how selfish and greedy people are today. This is merely an unthinking stock answer with which few would ever consciously disagree. Certainly, greed is a problem in the world, but to assume that it is the problem shows a lack of understanding of mankind. (read more)