Passion without a harness

иконографияikoniWe hear and read all the time about how we have to be passionate about what we do and, yes, we do. It’s hard to generate enthusiasm in others if we don’t feel passion and it is also hard to hold our own interest in something if we aren’t passionate about.

But we have to keep a lid on it.

I’ve just written over 3,000 words (and growing) for something requiring 1,000 to 1,200 words. It feels as if I could go on forever, though I’m sure there is an end point somewhere.

All these words are a result of caring about the subject.

Here is the problem: It is never simply what you write that makes it work; it is also how you write about it. The “how” often means personalizing it. This works great guns for making something more immediate, accessible and interesting to readers. But it also leads you down paths you don’t need to go down. It can clog the delivery of what you are writing.

That we are interested — passionate — about a subject is great. But we have to keep the reader in mind.

In what I am currently writing, I need to find balance between the factual information I need to impart and the anecdotal, personal writing that makes it immediate and engaging. I need to stop writing and drop about 2,000 words!

It got so long because it is so interesting to me. I am so passionate about it, I want to deliver everything.

You can’t. No one will read it if I do; it will be too long and meandering.

We need passion in what we do but we also need to keep that passion in control. Passion without a harness to keep it in check becomes tedious, unfocused and far, far too long. It’s a horse without a rider.

I shall now assume my role as editor and begin the cutting process. :)

Nothing is secure; no one is anonymous

No matter how sophisticated technology is, it always has one big hurtle it can’t overcome: us. How we use something — how we behave — will always condition technology, either by how it is designed or how it is used.

Not five minutes after talking with some friends about security on the Internet, a number of them pointing out their Facebook pages aren’t public, “just friends see them”, I go online and see this story: Facebook, Paypal accounts released by hackers.

In that story, and many other hacker stories, when I look at the comments I see they are peppered with variations of, “We should thank the hackers for revealing the security holes in these companies’ security measures.” I seldom see mention of details like, “the most common password is 123456”. (That is like putting a “Do not enter” sign on an open door and believing it is enough to prevent someone from breaking in.)

Vancouver skyline as rioting takes place.

In the aftermath of Vancouver’s rioting following the Stanley Cup Final, I’ve seen loads of video on TV of rioters, including a woman proudly displaying the purse she stole in the looting. I’ve seen video online and seen Facebook and Twitter updates with people preening about their role in the rioting. The pictures, and often the names of the people in them, are all over the Internet.

Yet the technological world that gives them a sense of anonymity is also the world that will get them caught.

In both cases, security and anonymity, there is a wildly wrong faith in technology. Nothing is private online. Some thing’s are more difficult to access than others, but everything is out there for someone with the patience and knowledge to eventually get into, if so inclined.

No one is anonymous. With cameras, smartphones, shared posts and links everywhere, the only thing between being unknown and known is time. If anything, we are more public than ever. If don’t draw a great deal of attention it is only because we are not interesting enough.

Where does this blind faith come from?

"All my friends will now see where I was on the night of the riot and no one else in the world will ever know."

I think it’s a variation of Mooer’s law, which roughly says, “Ease trumps authority every time.” The law concerns information systems and tells us that a source’s authority is less important than how easy it is to access. A hard cover book at the library may be the authority, but it is a lot easier to just Google it and go with whatever source comes up.

How does that relate to our blind faith in technology? It is simply this: it is too easy and, frankly, fun to believe we are secure and anonymous than to admit otherwise.

If we didn’t believe we’re secure and can remain unknown, we might have to be more thoughtful in what we do and post; we might have less fun; in some cases, we may even have to refrain from using technology for some things.

"This is just like that time in Rome you got a shot of me sitting on those steps outside the Vatican."

The worst of it is, we might have to sacrifice our popularity. (Note the contradiction: faith in anonymity as we do our best to be popular.)

As the critical comments about some companies and their security suggest (and often the criticisms are warranted), we’ll continue to desperately focus on more technology to solve a problem that isn’t, at its core, a technical problem. It is a human behaviour problem.

I don’t think technology can change that one. Or maybe it can? Our “fight or flight” response appears to have been amended to, “Fight or flight or take a photo?”



In praise of disinformation

Worries about storing data and what corporations and governments know or can learn about us have been alive a long time in the world of digital devices. Currently, it’s a concern about smartphones, location tracking and, most recently, what Apple is doing.

The response tends to be to consider government involvement (laws etc.) and, perhaps more practically, greater security — encryption, in other words. (One of the specific concerns about Apple’s location database is that it is unencrypted.)

It strikes me that a much simpler approach to addressing the worry of personal information collection is not to try stopping it (which strikes me as a not-very-likely scenario) but to taint it. Pepper the databases with disinformation.

What good is a database that is filled with wrong information? Why not just have some app, or whatever the technology would be, that simply alters the information sent? For example, something that changes the longitude and latitude that is associated with a picture you’ve taken.

Couldn’t something like this simply have the equivalent of an off/on switch? When working, you have it off because you want your location available. When not, it’s on so any tracking information that is stored shows you are in Guam when in fact you’re in south Indiana.

In other words, preventing the gathering of information seems an all but impossible task to me. I think it would be much simpler to just taint it, making it unusable.

A database of wrong information is of little use to anyone.ИкониПравославни икониПодаръциikoni

The problem with content

Content has a problem and it is easily stated: I have no interest in it. I don’t believe many do and, of those who are interested in it, they aren’t interested in content but in what it can do for them.

I don’t want to read or watch content. A movie? Yes. A video? Yes. A story? Yes. Information? Yes. But content? No.

Content is a boardroom term.

I wrote about this back in March in “Content is not content.” Here’s part of what I said:

“No one is looking for content. Most people are looking for people and ideas. They’re looking for stories and stories come in a wide range of forms: video, pictures, words and sound.

“Content is not king. It’s the rabble. It’s us. And we’re not interested in content.

“We like people and stories.”

If you’re in a boardroom, fine. Call it content. People in boardrooms seem to like that. But do yourself a big favour and don’t think of it as content. And don’t call it that outside of a boardroom. It’s a sleep inducing term that refers to commoditized rubbish.

No one likes that. They like stories and information and people.

People and stories — Part 1

Yesterday I wrote that, “A story is people involved in events told by people to people.” I then asked why some stories are interesting and others dull. I suspect the answer to that has to do with that word “people.”

We’re obsessed with ourselves, each other, and what happens to us. That is what news is about. That is what books and movies are about. That is what social media is about. But what is it that makes us more obsessive about some and indifferent to others?

I don’t know. But I’m going to try to suss it out.


Every story is a quest. Sometimes the characters set out on it knowingly; sometimes they do so unwittingly. But there is always a goal. This is why most discussions about stories speak about characters wanting something. Will they get it? Will they fail? That is the story.

You can see this applied to business too. Every company has the same goal: make a lot of money. But when you look at vision or mission statements, companies rarely speak of that. They speak of some goal, such as Google and its quest to digitize all the world’s information and make it accessible to everyone, everywhere.

Will they do it? Will they fail? That is their story.

Companies as companies are rarely very interesting to us, however. We care about people. So you often hear Google and its goals spoken of in terms of the company’s founders. Ah! People! Now that is interesting. (That is why people speak of Apple and Steve Jobs almost synonymously. His face makes Apple a people.)

What kinds of people do stories contain? Heroes and villains; good guys and bad guys; good girls and bad. We want the former to succeed and the latter to fail. When that gets reversed, or seems to, we get anxious and wonder what will happen next. That anxiety and need to know what is coming is what draws us in to a story.

Will it be a successful quest or will it be a failure? We need to know.

But I’m still not sure why. At this point, my quest to discover that is failing.

What will happen next?

Our Misinformation Age

In our digital age we have buckets of information and much of it is easily accessible. I can go online and with a bit of hunting find out all kinds of things about my neighbours, friends, strangers, and you.

Many of us have written essays, published books, lectured, and made careers out of simply talking about all this information. We speculate about it, we connect it, and we harvest it like wheat. We’re busy being busy with information.

We don’t often ask if the information we’re working with is actually accurate. It’s there; it must be true.

Well, it ain’t. Not always. I wonder how often it is not accurate.

Two Bucks Is Two Bucks

I’ve spent the last two days getting information about my personal credit. (This is what our information age has become. We now have information about information. Soon, we’ll have information about that too. We’re so crazy for it, I’ve used the word five times in this paragraph.)

I’ll try to be short. This all began with the discovery that my credit report had a “derogatory” on it. (Derogatory means negative information on a credit report.) This isn’t a good thing so I tried to track down what it was that had produced frowns over my credit report.

It turns out it had to do with a couple of things. Or not, depending on who I spoke to. The first had to do with a very late payment from about four years ago, an outstanding bill I had been unaware of. I had paid off the entire balance of an account. To me, the account was closed.

It turns out that when I had paid the balance some additional interest had accrued. I wasn’t aware of it so it was never paid. When, several months later, I did become aware of it I paid it off (about two or more years ago). This is one of the derogatories on my credit report. The amount of that bill? Roughly $2.00, give or take a few quarters.

It appears those $2.00 still haunt me even though they were paid ages ago. They are on my credit report saying I am someone not to be trusted. It gets better.

Who Is Mr. Wan?

When speaking to the credit reporting company I discovered I am an Asian gentleman with a name the Internet tells me is the 86th most popular surname in China. I am the mysterious William Wan.

In order to have them correct their mistake, I have to mail a signed letter with several pieces of photocopied identification. Until such time, I am William Wan.

It could be worse. On Facebook, a friend tells me her husband found out through his credit report that he had been dead for the last several years. At least Mr. Wan is alive.

One of those other derogatories on my report may or may not exist. When speaking to one person, I was told a derogatory regarding a certain company was on it. I called back to clarify the company name and it turns out there was no such derogatory on my account. Like Mr. Wan, it is mysterious.

Time, Information, and Value

It uses up my time and work to get this information and try to correct it, time and work as a result of data entry errors and indifference to updating information. I’m considering invoicing the credit report company for these billable hours.

The real and worrying upshot to all of this, however, is the awareness of just how dubious quality of all our ubiquitous information. We have access to just about everything. But what happens when everything is bullshit?

Just what do we have access to?