Category Archives: Social Media

Building a Better Fence in the Attention Economy

gold thumbs up

Living as we do in the much-heralded Attention Economy, where wealth is created (or captured) by harnessing the attention of electronic network users,  every connected person’s conscious (and even unconscious) life represents a little hill of gold that can be exploited by freewheeling prospectors, miners, and mining-supply merchants.

I, for one, have decided to put some better fences around my attention.  

You could say that I’m defending my attentional rights with greater intention.

Every major economic revolution begins with players who figure out how to derive exponential value from some previously undervalued resource.  Whether it is copper, silver, gold, bronze, iron, coal, uranium, petroleum, labor, land, water, energy, or information, the early winners of any new economic era are the ones who figure out how to cost-effectively locate, procure, transform, distribute, and resell a given hot new commodity at a high margin.

To get the best margin, the strongest players will often figure out a way to muscle out their competition early on and grab the resources without waiting for permission. They generally don’t spend too much time worrying about the wider impact of their resource-grabbing.

In the Attention Economy Gold Rush metaphor, we are both the gold itself and the prospectors looking for the gold — since one of the things we love paying attention to is each other (and each-other-paying-attention-to-each-other-and-so-on-and-so-on). Therefore, the best way for a company to exploit our attentional resources is to create a platform — a web site, an app, or a device — that we feel compelled to use.

The competition for our attentional resources has become so fierce that some of the best minds in the business are devoted to tracking and optimizing user “engagement,” harnessing human psychology and behavioral science to create ever-more addictive user interfaces. Even mainstream news headlines are written like clickbait vying for our precious eyeballs and sweet, sweet, delicious outrage. Given this rapid escalation and increasing fierceness of the competition, what price are we paying for letting others exploit our attention?

What is the point at which someone says, “Get off my land?”  

Or perhaps, “No thanks, I’d like to design, build and manage things for myself?”

Macraes Gold Mine - Fraser's Pit

Over the years, I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with my use of electronic media generally, and social media in particular.  I’ve experimented with various use (and non-use) patterns, temporarily constraining or even suspending my use of particular platforms and noticing how each pattern affects the rest of my life, my relationships, my happiness, my focus, my productivity, my creativity, and my wider contributions. These have not been controlled experiments because these electronic media are in constant flux, and my life has its own independent variables.

Nevertheless, toward the end of last year I reached a firm conclusion that merely limiting my use of email, social media, news, etc. to specific hours was not enough. Things had gone too far. I needed to kick some of these guys off my land completely.

At the end of last year — at one minute before midnight on New Year’s Eve to be precise — I deactivated Facebook.

Since then:  Relief.


This has also had the effect akin to a carb-reduction diet, where if a person stops eating bread, they eventually start to lose their craving for other kinds of sugar. Not being in the chattering environment of likes, shares and comments, when I now try to read the news, it’s so much less compelling.  News content is increasingly packaged to serve as a chemical solvent which extracts attention from the social media mines… and since I’ve kicked the attention mining company out, the news has less appeal. I don’t want to breathe in too much of those fumes. So, I’m dialing back on my news consumption as well.

Yes, I know the news lately has been recommending that I keep consuming more news. And no, this has nothing to do with politics, ideologies, or issues around “fake news.”   This is just about clearing more space in my head to do the things that matter.

This land is my land… and I intend to build on it.




(#27 of 27, final post in the series)

After re-visiting 26 posts from last year over the past 30 days, it’s time to wrap things up. The goal of this “blog feed-forward exercise” as I described it, was threefold:

  1. Focused output
  2. Reflective practice
  3. Sheer experimentation

Stretch Goals:  You're going to feel a little pressure...

Re: 1) Definitely got the focused output  — but it took a huge effort. As usual, I was being more ambitious than I initially realized. But I got it done with only a bit of faltering… well within the acceptable parameters of self-imposed high standards.

Re: 2) Got a boatload of reflective practice, in a much deeper and rigorous way than ever before. Even when I came across an oddball post that seemed irrelevant and/or poorly executed, I was able to draw out value from it by forcing myself to revisit it in some way. This was particularly true when I considered a sequence of posts which had continuing threads or themes, but looked at them in reverse order.

Re: 3) Got a decent amount of sheer experimentation out of this exercise. However, because of the daily pace and competing personal and professional demands, I could not fully experiment as much as I would have liked. I’d love to put together a graphic map showing how each of the last 26 posts related back to the corresponding 26 posts from 2014, with icons indicating the approach taken on each pairing.  For example, in a couple of cases I re-blogged a post. In one case, I split out a post into two posts, and in another case I combined two into one.  Many of the posts were reversals, some were refutations, others were remixes or extensions. Got to play around with visual and audio elements a bit, too.

One of the biggest lessons for me was seeing what it was like to blog every single day. It had all the elements of a grind, and it often felt lonely, but I did manage to get some feedback — both online and offline — during the process. Some of my “interaction” with fellow WordPress bloggers during this time helped improve my perspective and/or validated thoughts I hadn’t yet fully articulated. For example, the essay  “Why I Write so Personally, Publicly” resonated deeply. Sinawali Clip Art WomanAt least one real world friend offered solid encouragement and insights. I now realize that I miss the dialogue and debate that I used to have in comment threads with my buddies, especially Nareg. Having bolstered my writing skills by running this mini-marathon of 27 posts, I’m now interested in slowing down the pace and delving deeper with a stronger element of conversation and co-creation.

All of this ties in neatly (of course) to the first two posts from 2014 — one of them written by me (“Rough and Refined, Filipino Style: Sinawali Eskrima”) and one ghost-written by contributor Jake Broce (“6 Tips for Making and Sticking to an Exercise Regimen”). My two biggest takeaways from this past month are:

  1. I need to keep writing on a regular basis — not necessarily daily, but more often than once per week; and
  2. I need to engage with a chavruta – a learning partner — whenever possible, to generate some creative and intellectual sparks.

As for now, it’s time to rest and recover…and take a few days off from the blog.

Onward into the rest of 2015.

Dear Internet — Six Things I Admire (and Dislike) About You

(#25 and #26 of 27 — a synthesis of two posts: one was overly ironic, one was overly vague, but both had excellent visuals)


Dear Internet,

We’ve been together in this relationship for quite a while and let’s face it, it’s complicated.

I’m writing this letter to let you know how much appreciate everything you do for me — both the good and the bad — and what I intend to do about it.

1. You provide endless resources and support to my quest of constant learning. Sometimes this is a distraction but mostly it is a good thing. By putting undiscovered worlds of knowledge at my fingertips, you help me think and work like a polymath. As I integrate and extend my central nervous system into you, the extent of my repertoire becomes limited only by my imagination. I want to further improve the quality of my integration with you.


2. You provide endless streams of inane and meaningless novelty and tempt me constantly with click-bait designed to rob me of my precious time and attention. This is a useless distraction. That said, nobody is immune from stodgy comfortable thinking habits and you offer a source of fresh ideas and perspectives. I will choose to see this aspect of you as just another way to keep myself young in spirit, and to keep my repertoire dynamic and relevant. But I will sip sparingly from your ocean of distracted drivel.

shark jump

3. You enable me to move and sift more quickly through vast amounts of information. In a span of mere minutes, I can go from having understanding to achieving insight, and from achieving insight to unlocking foresight. As I do this however, my mammalian pack rat habits cause me accumulate a cluttered landscape of open browser tabs on my screens and in my subconscious. I become bloated with unresolved notes and suspended ideas. This is not your problem — it’s mine. Every day I’m getting better at managing the vital balance of creative clutter and zen-like simplicity.

fat cat on couch

4. You hamper me with vast amount of misinformation and dubious content. I  can waste hours trying to sort the signal from the noise, and more of than not I just don’t bother trying. I will choose to see this as a reminder and test  to maintain my critical thinking skills, and to guard against the temptation of lazy thinking. As much as I’ve outsourced parts of my brain to the cloud, I can’t ever delegate my faculty for judgement and discernment.


5. You are on all the time — 24x7x365.25 — and tempt me to be on with you. This pulls me away from being present with the people are important to me, the people who I love. Since that is unacceptable, I’ve already limited how much of my life you get to be a part of. I also ignore you for days at a stretch. In fairness, you do ask me about my friends and loved ones and even provide opportunities for me to interactive with them, but it’s on your terms and in your space. I would trust you more if you encouraged me to spend time with them in the real world. There are parts of you, Internet, that are more aligned with my interests and I will seek to connect with those parts.

maya and kristen dancingI know that we’re both still growing and evolving. Even as I’ve barely scratched the surface of your being, I see how rapidly you are changing. This is a source of inspiration and provides some of the fuel for my own continued development.

Thank you, Internet… and ttyl,


Clear Ideas, Tangible Feelings — Alphabet versus Emoji

(#11 of 27)


Revisiting a quote from Gustave Flaubert,

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”  

If Flaubert were alive today, he would be absolutely appalled by the rampant usage of emoji.

He’d say that emoji are a verbal crutch, a way to get out of clarifying and communicating exactly what we think.

“Vague. Lazy. Trite. A slippery slope to incoherent illiteracy,” he’d declare… except he’d declare that in French… and no doubt deploying le mot juste to deliver a devastating denouement of instant messaging patois.


Yet, for all my Flaubertian appetites and tendencies (minus some of his personal choices — we can discuss that another time), for all my aspirations of becoming a worthy wordsmith, I happen to think that emoji have great potential.

Untapped potential, in fact.


Emoji after RockwellBut first, please read the New York magazine article, “Smile, You’re Speaking EMOJIThe rapid evolution of a wordless tongue,” by Adam Sternbergh. It provides an essential understanding of what emoji are, where they come from and how they can be used.

For Sternbergh, emoji are…

  • a new form of punctuation
  • non-verbal communication frozen and standardized into unicode characters
  • a constructed language that breaks through global linguistic barriers
  • user-specified hieroglyphs
  • yet another example of the disproportionate influence of Japanese culture, with all of its positivist biases and kawaii peculiarities, on the rest of the world  (not unlike the disproportionate British influence on world culture via the English language… what is up with these island nations…)
  • an efficient compressor & transmitter of complex, unspeakable emotions

I’d add to that list the following possibilities:

Let’s be clear, however:  Some people don’t like emoji, and don’t want to be usin’ none of this newfangled language.

emoji-angrypurpledevilEmoji Haters

“The word, although prevalent in our day, has lost its reasoning value, and has value only as an accessory to images.


“These related images provide me with practical content: a common truth that is especially easy to swallow because the ready-made images that showed it to me had been digested in advance.

Make no mistake here: this is how modern people usually think. We are arriving at a purely emotional stage of thinking.”

– Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (1981)

There are people who avoid using emoji out of a desire to maintain clarity of thinking… or at least, clarity of a certain kind of thinking.  The concern here is that, by using emoji instead of words, they will miss opportunities to refine their thoughts and improve their ability to articulate themselves in writing. According to this view, the round-faced glyph is an enemy of reason and rationality. McLuhan would agree, albeit gleefully.

However, I’d offer that if a person refuses to use emoji — but then uses emoticons anyway — then they’re not so much sticklers for language and reason as much as they’re mainly/vainly concerned about not being taken seriously.

Is there really that big a difference between this… emoji-wink

…and this…?   emoticon-wink



*smiles and winks*


Well, okay, I sorta get it… maybe it’s similar to the way that I’m a font snob. My distaste for tasteless typefaces might be analogous to their eschewing of smiley faces… and girly-girl bubble-hearts, shooting stars, rainbows, blue diamonds… emoji are often used like stickers, only without the scratch-and-sniff.

That said, even with my puritanical zeal for Helvetica, I can’t fully empathize with the emoji-haters. There is absolutely no reason (no reason!!) to use the abomination known as Comic Sans (or its close cousin, the horrible Hobo STD!!) in ordinary graphic communication, whereas expressing immediate visceral adoration for something with the image of heart-filled eyes is truly indispensable. How ELSE can you do THAT??


But, that’s just, like, my opinion, dude.

Question for you, the reader, to reflect upon: As you read this blog post, does the fact that it is interspersed with emoji-related images make it easier for you to read, or harder?

Do the pictures break up the monotony of text for you, or do they otherwise distract from your reading focus?

Also: How does your understanding of the author’s tone and intent get affected by all of these goofy little pictures?

A new dictionary definition to consider:

Emoji – n. – A way to connect directly between limbic systems, circumventing the pesky, stifling cerebral cortex.

emoji-lightbulbHow do I emoji? Let me count the ways…

Here are just three of the ways we can say good night, via text message:




Although each of the above messages conveys the same general idea using the same medium (instant text messaging), each message also provides a different feeling and activates a different sub-medium, i.e. a different form of reading/looking and thinking.

McLuhan differentiated between television, large-screen television, and stadium-television-with-instant-replay.  If he were around today he’d have a field day with all the different ways we can play with our emoji.

A good rule of thumbing:  Use the style and type of emoji that your conversational partner is comfortable with.  Just as you would with other aspects of communication, over time you’ll tend to develop a distinctive dance with each of your conversational partners.

Another idea that, if it hasn’t already been done, will be done:


Build your own library of emoji using your own pictures. This would make the communication feel more personal and less trite… although it would also undercut the power inherent to cartoons, i.e. how a simple drawing causes the reader/viewer to project themselves into the image and fill it with the details of their own head-universe.

emoji-finger-to-fingerClash of the Text Titans, and a conclusion

It’s true, I love Flaubert. I aspire to his command of language and to his discipline of clearly defining and articulating what he really thinks. I enjoy his elegant economy of words. Flaubert wants his reader to become an aristocrat.

However, I also love McLuhan and share his not-so-secret disdain for the unimaginatively fragmented style of thinking inherent to alphabetized hyper-literacy, as well as his crush for sensual new forms of multi-modal, multi-faceted communication.  And yes, I enjoy his dense, heavily referenced and meta-aware sentence style. McLuhan wants his reader to become an anthropologist.


I think Flaubert and McLuhan would agree on some things, though.

I think they would agree that the alphabet and the icon are two completely different things.

They’d also agree that being lazy sucks.

So go ahead… use emoji.

Hell, use expletives too.

But try to use them artfully and with purpose.

“The art of emoji is the art of letting others embrace what you’re feeling.”

– Not Flaubert

How does that grab you?


Surround Sound

Our experience of life is, for the most part, the result of the stories that we tell ourselves.

…and the mood of that story is colored by the soundtrack playing in the background, sung by the people surrounding us.

Situational MotivatorsThis post (#10 out of 27) revisits a quote from Winston Churchill about what to do when you’re going through hell. Recently, I positioned that quote just above the base camp of a metaphorical mountain, depicted here on the left.

When I originally posted the quote last June, it was during a particularly challenging time in my life. While I was experiencing some time-demanding Professional Bests, I was also experiencing some soul-testing Personal Worsts. Gritting my teeth and relaying that quote was pretty much all I could offer for blogging purposes. Beyond that, I went on a strict social media diet, deactivated Facebook and pretty much stopped reading the news. Looking back at it now, I see I was operating in pure survival / perseverance mode.

Half a year later, I find myself back online and back up at the Strong Performance (aka “Madonna Ciccone”) side of the metaphorical mountain both professionally and personally. Yet, I’m once again feeling like turning off Facebook and the news. Yeah, all it took was a few months.

Social Contagion

[*grumbles something about correlation not implying causation and too much Pharell*]

Our electronic media have gotten too good at creating a single instantaneous worldwide Hive Mind… and the emerging collective psyche is highly susceptible to infection… or hijacking. Loud voices of blame and punishment shout down the softer words of praise and encouragement, causing good people to waste their efforts on backwards-looking concerns.

As a single human being — a mere synapse among 7 billion others —  I want to protect my mental and emotional bandwidth and focus on more productive pursuits.

That said, I don’t want to check myself into a permanent Laughter Yoga retreat either. I still want to learn. I still want to be challenged. My friends post fascinating, inspiring and thought-provoking stuff on Facebook… from time to time. Once in a while (though more rarely), an interesting article will even show up in my news reader.

There’s an incentive for me to venture out into the din of negativity so that I can hear some wise voices. But then, why should the price for enjoying a few fleeting notes of a beautiful melody be a barrage of angry screeches which cannot be un-heard?

(Social media plug-in idea: Rose-tinted-lens Social Media Reader, kind of like an ad-blocker for negativity.  Yeah, yeah, I know… deeply Orwellian and would just lead to even further degradation of public discourse due to selective listening. Also, sort of already exists thanks to the balkanization of media publishing. Even still… it could be one more tool in the growing set of social media coping mechanisms, e.g. Social Media Cleanses, Facebook Friend Purges, Digital Sabbaths, and so on.)


Selecting our connections

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

-Jim Rohn


That quote from Jim Rohn — which provides a neat summary of Social Constructionist theory — holds especially (and exponentially) true in a world characterized by large quantities of social media exposure. Like it or not, the newsfeed on your mobile device counts as one of those five people… and as it scrolls past your thumb that ‘person’ is dragging down your average. 

Last night I had a wonderful non-social media (aka, “real world” or “meatspace”) experience that I’d like to have more often:  Hanging out with people who inspire me and who make me want to become a better version of myself.

Specifically, last night I was at a dinner event honoring two of my friends who are outstanding role models and community volunteers. They are wise, potent and ambitious individuals who inspire others to be the same.

In other words, they are exceptional leaders.

I’d like to listen to the soundtrack of exceptional leaders, more often. Exceptional coaches, too.

In conclusion, to revise the Churchill quote:

If the music is starting to suck, turn the dial and keep dancing. 

(Just not always the same song.)

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