SINCE the advent of the industrial revolution, speed and productivity has commanded a premium. Today in the age of globalisation, life has reached a frenetic mind boggling pace. Technology makes it all possible, e-mail on the go, tele-conferencing etc.

What’s the real cost to this preoccupation with speed? Don’t tell me there’s no cost, there’s always a cost.

Our sinews, muscles and brain cells can’t keep on getting larger and better to keep up with the culture of speed – surely something has to give?

Is it any surprise these days, there’s a crisis in our ongoing obsession with speed? It’s a condition that affects people at all levels. From kids to university students and even managers, affecting both the affluent and the poor alike. Don’t assume for one moment you are immune just because it hasn’t hit you – it’s like artery clogging food. You don’t know it, till you’re lying flat on your back while everyone draws straws to see who will give you mouth to mouth. The fast forward life is reassuringly insidious, it creeps up on your like a cat burglar. Soon you too will be leading the glorious life of the battery chicken; checking your e-mail on the go while munching on sandwiches and trying to catch your broker before the stock market bottoms out. The fast forward brigade even have a word to describe this division of labor – it’s called multi-tasking, strategic rotation, skills upgrading etc. But whatever they dress it up to be. It just means you’re shifting to a higher gear – what’s happening here? Am I the only one that’s taking the time to smell the flowers? Or is there something really wrong with me? Or just maybe you’re the problem and you just need to seriously consider slowing down.

If I were asked to sum life in this age of modernity Albert Einstein’s dictum of fear would do quite nicely,

“The end of all civilization will be the point when technology exceeds humanity. After that, it’s downhill all the way.”

Have we reached the high watermark? Are we barreling inexorably towards a precipitous cliff? Why hasn’t someone put up a road sign?

Let’s begin by asking ourselves how much damage has already been inflicted on our bodies, minds and spiritual development. For example what happens when we encourage children to learn speed reading? Yes I know they read faster, but can scanning really enhance their understanding? That’s to say does skipping phonics and diagramming sentences improve deep spirited discernment at a jugular level? I don’t know about you but I believe it’s hard if not impossible to read poetry speedily without missing out large chunks of its deeper meaning.

Ultimately the question really hinges on; what you define as “understanding.” I don’t deny for one moment someone who speeds read a textbook would in theory cover a larger text footprint than someone who reads slowly. But surely to equate quantity with understanding is just plain stupid. That’s only progress, if you deny the whole notion of the quality against the quantity curve. It’s one that will ultimately militate against the whole idea of deeper understanding. I know this first hand because there are many instances when I find myself revisiting books I have read many a time and on practically ever occasion. I find myself coaxing out nuances and teasing out new meanings which previously escaped me. They’re of course small things, infinitesimal even but nonetheless, it all adds to up to the depth of understanding.

When Microsoft first developed power point – many managers heralded it as the beginning of accelerated understanding. According to industry experts this presentation tool would greatly enhance accuracy, understanding and improve managerial decision making. That only holds true if you believe. The complexity of business can be subject to simplification by compressing schools of thoughts and states of minds into baby food bullet point. I don’t for one moment deny power point improves the overall presentation with its endless options of bells and whistles. But it still doesn’t answer the question; does it really improve decision making and understanding? If understanding here refers to skimming superficially over concepts and ideas, by glossing over the glaring inconsistencies and contradictions – I have a word for form reductionism – its called “rail roading.” Nothing more than a derivative of watching TV, where your nose is pulled as you shuffle along roughly at a speed of a motorized wheelchair to a prearranged script. Others who are more critical of this sort of speed tool simply call it hypnotism. The failure of speed presentation falls flat because it predicated on the assumption its possible to build deep spirited trust and understanding that is supposed to replace stop and go dialogue where time and presentation isn’t as important as winnowing the underlying strata’s of the logic and content.

Truth remains accelerated or speed anything and it doesn’t matter whether it is food or just home renovations doesn’t really mean all that much when you begin the peel off the veneer of artificiality. There is no scope to discern the varying hemispheres of nuances or even the latitude to coax out the contradictions that adds to the truth. All that needs time and time and time.

Philosophers are only starting to realize how speeding reading, math, cooking etc has resulted in what they refer too as the “paradox of the learning deficit.” When people speed read or speed date or speed anything they may not necessarily understand anything beyond the superficial and much of it has to do with how we are typically hardwired as humans.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. If on Monday I explained something complex to you like the theory of relativity (which I don’t understand myself but do a pretty good job of pretending too) and you were tested on it immediately. You wouldn’t do as well as another person who went through the same lecture rested or did something completely unrelated after the learning experience. That’s to say the second test subject would perform significantly better than you after a period of rest.

One of the reasons accounting for this is because the brain needs time to masticate the information for it to make the necessary connections which leads to a higher level of understanding. That could also be the reason why I regularly perform the Houdini disappearing act whenever girls start gawking at wedding gowns in shop windows – you know that’s the cue for the cooling off period. 

Since the advent of globalization, certain ideas have become dominant speed as I mentioned forms one of these yardsticks. A derivative of this naturally leads to simplification and their combined effects are nothing less than insidiously corrosive to the deeper understanding. If only one considers that children, students, scholars and even managers are regularly neurologically “programmed” to only register simple speed friendly cues more “competently.” Instead of taking the time to recruit their higher brain functions such as imagination and intuition – we can argue all we are really doing is systematically dumbing down people on a mass production scale.

All this suggest there are real advantages in slowing down. The case for reading a book slowly may take the twice the time, but its an experience that undeniably enhances the deeper meaning of the word, ‘enjoyment.’ Slowing down could really be the difference between just ‘existing’ or ‘living.’

It’s something to consider seriously when the world is poised to go mad again this time of the year as every man and his dog rushes off to foreclose on the Christmas season – I think, I am just going to sit it out this year.

By darkness & Harphoon – psychology /socio/political – EP 999272 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007) 

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December 10, 2007

Where were we? Oh yeah, the Law of Averages. The problem with, The law of Averages is for it to even turn on it’s linchpin to even work! It needs to regularly dumb down everything into one homogeneous glob. That’s fine if you are applying it to really simple stuff. However, when it’s directed towards something as complex and diverse like the internet, it’s bound to produce unintended consequences.

Now you would think that, to screw up big time, one needs to regularly make Byzantine sized mistakes. Nothing can be further from the truth!

There’s about 540 pages in “Das Kapital,” the Bible of the communist ideology. Most of it makes sense, but where it screws up big time is only in one page – somewhere in 387, when Marx couldn’t successfully pin down the term ‘value’ to make sense of the law of supply and demand, so he conjured up some fairytale to explain it away  – that’s the main reason why communism failed! It didn’t make any economic sense.

The space shuttle didn’t explode because something was fundamentally wrong with it’s $3.5 billion propulsion system, it crashed and burnt because of a $20  silicone ‘O’ ring that no one bothered to subject to a failure analysis test.

In this schema where the fractional minutea i.e the really small stuff  come back and bite! The effects are magnified to assume a proportion beyond their original scope and scale – that’s largely a function of having too many variables in ANY complex system.  That just means successfully navigating from A to B within a highly complex system, has roughly the same chances of succeeding as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and magically assembling a 747.

Now, I like to rush ahead, but it’s worthwhile to spend more time to understand why even the best plans regularly go South and more importantly trace out how complexity exacerbates the error by amplifying the effects of  unintended consequences. Consider this:  

In the early 1800′-s purple loosestrife, which looks quite dainty, was introduced into America by beekeepers as a source of nectar. Sounds benign and innocent enough, right? 

Well since its introduction, purple loosestrife has been turning wetlands into dry lands, choking out native plants and killing everything from fish to birds like the black plague – the weed from hell, is so prolific it’s becoming the No.1 environmental problem in North America!

How the hell did something so simple get so complicated?

Simple (only with the benefit of hindsight and always remember that!), in their native European habitat, insects munch them up. But in North America, the local bugs give them a miss, so they grow without any natural means to cull them.

The lessons to be learned from this illustration are various. Here we can say, when really complex and diverse systems that we don’t really understand are subject to even the simplest interventionist acts such as tweaking or incremental changes – they have the potential of altering the entire ecology to the extent of even triggering off a series of doomsday events.

So armed with this formulation, policy makers don’t need to embark on mythical sized changes to screw up big time. Even if they decide to let’s say tweak the internet by doing something seemingly trivial and insignificant such as requiring all bloggers to register or revealing their IC numbers – with perhaps the pay out of reining in the feral nature of the internet.

It’s enough to set into motion a cascade of unintended consequences.

I know this only too well first hand, as I am a keen gamer who understands the game from ‘inside out.’ And what I regularly notice is how even really microscopic changes can be amplified altering the entire complexion of a game, sometimes even destroying it completely! – that imposes an understanding on policy makers to ensure whatever  they propose, doesn’t create more problems than it proposes to solve. The hubris of course is; how the hell are you supposed to know? There lies the problem. One can only know, if events are necessarily foreseeable, predictable and follow a pattern. That’s hardly the case in complex and diverse systems – as so many variables come into play guaranteeing at best a walk down, the hall of mirrors. 

I am not saying just because we may not be able to successfully predict the outcome of our actions, we should just sit underneath a tree, fold our arms and chant ‘ohmm.’ Only policy makers need to remain judicious as to how they propose to make sense of anything to do with the internet, that means there’s no possibility of short cutting, generalizing and reducing the complex into the simple. Whatever solutions that proposes to deliver the expected results – needs to establish the causal links between factor conditions and behavior – for all we know, the reason why certain quarters of blogosphere regularly resemble the planet of the Apes is because red dye regularly gets sprayed on veggies that kids are forced gulp down. Maybe it’s got something to do with the sugar content in gummy bears. What about the water supply, when was the last time, someone did some test to check the lead levels?  (did you know the Romans drank from lead goblets? That could explain why, they’re no longer a super power these days).

It also needs to take into account the diverse nature of the internet, not at a glob level that the law of Averages may conveniently produce, but at a individual level – as what we regularly term greater blogosphere – isn’t exactly static, as it is, a very dynamic complex ecology. Where there exist planars of psychological nodes within each division even within the blogging community. Some people hate the government, others like us remain indifferent. Then there are those who are content bear their hearts out to the whole world unabashedly in the way life mirrors art, telling the whole world, if they don’t slouch, they stand 2 inches taller – as there are those who still remain uncomfortable with even revealing the merest morsels about their identity and prefer to cling on to their anonymous tags like the proverbial security blanket, but what needs to be appreciated  despite it’s inherent flaws is; this is precisely what a very complex and diverse system should look like!

To me it’s not the form or shape they would assume that remains important, but that collectively they continue to supply the attributes that’s able to make up a vibrant community –  that naturally requires the ecology to be continually nourished by ensuring there is a steady stream of schools of thoughts and states of minds – that should never be taken for granted and if one quadrant is missing, subsumed into another, re-defined, promoted at the expense of another – rendered generic rather than individual.

The sense of estrangement can only become more profound, urgent and dangerous. Under those conditions, when new changes births a virtual community that is no longer as densely populated and heavily trafficked; one could even say, the price of silence is no longer the threat of obscurity but outright oblivion. 

Then we really need to ask: Would blogosphere still remain blogosphere? Would blogging still be blogging? Would the internet still be the internet?

I don’t deny the allure of regulating may even promise short term returns, quick fixes and even supply the panacea of a ‘would be cure for all.’ It may even beacon out the murk in the midst of otherwise mind-numbing complexity and diversity: may even be seen to be effective in promoting the ‘right’ behavior, attitude and response ; may even be economical to the enterprise of keeping the MSM in business by ensuring it’s monopoly remains unchallenged.

However to believe for one moment, that all this can be accomplished without recognizing it’s visceral cost to the community of writers and readers is just a travesty of rational reasoning on a scale that defies any comprehension to the average thinking man – life cannot be that simple, not even if we happen to be uniquely Singapore……it just cannot and not knowing it simply means, you have absolutely no idea what it means to even live. No idea whatsoever.

Darkness 2007 

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When Speed Kills – The Way of The Tortoise

December 7, 2007

Have you ever asked yourself, why good ideas turn to mud? Remember Shin Corp? Started well, right? Till it all unraveled like the onion story, the more you peel, the more you cry, finally ending up with a big zero. What about the Segway, the machine that was supposed to kill the car? Where’s that great idea now? What! Languishing in theme parks for 10 cents per ride!  

What about latest idea of ‘regulating’ the internet? Sounds like a good idea right? After all, if something is not right with the internet, we’re just going to give a few whacks with the magic hammer. I am sure after that she will be humming and singing all the right notes? Right? 

I have no idea! That’s why we’re going the take a closer look at how the ‘experts’ are going crack this nut. Before we dive into the deep end, let me just confess that I have absolute no idea what in the world is an ‘expert’ in the context of the internet. Never mind that almost everything about the internet has absolutely nothing to do with predictability and everything to do with accidental forays. Never mind most of the inventions emerging from the internet these days come from kids and not big corporations. So you really need to excuse me for my apparent dumbness of being, if I confess to all of you that I remain absolutely clueless how anyone can even go around proclaiming himself to be an ‘internet expert.’ I mean you might as well go call yourself a reincarnation of Nostrodamus. Or some mahaguru of urination techniques or something. 

Since things are starting to get foggy. Lets just screw on our Nostrodamus hat for one moment and dwell deeper into the mysteries of how our “experts” are going to really approach this whole regulation exercise.

First of all what tools are they going to use? OK, we have the yes- maybe-no dice, Polly the talking Parrot and how can I forget, paper, scissors and stone….OK lah, lets be serious…. What tools are the experts really going to use to wrap their heads around this whole internet business? 

If I had to venture a guess, they would probably rely implicitly on the deductive reasoning tool, aka the 1+1=2 rule. I mean it hardly requires any elaboration – this is how it works: if you have a splitting headache, then find a decent sized hammer and whack your big toe and bingo the headache disappears, because now the pain has magically gone to your foot!

Now if you think for one moment, I making fun of the deductive logic tool nothing can be further from the truth!

Because this article is going prove it as a matter of empirically fact! That’s how the “deductive” tool actually works! Especially when it’s direct to something as complex as the internet. 

One of the short comings of the deductive logic tool, is, it assumes incorrectly everything is predictable and foreseeable. Now I don’t doubt that may well apply if you jump out of the window or if you stick your head into a microwave oven. But when it comes to something as mind boggling complex as the internet, things aren’t so predictable, that’s to say logic gets a bit screwy and elastic even, like the concept in space time, it bends and it begins to misbehave, that’s also when, the “deductive” reasoning tool starts smoking and smelling like burnt rubber – now if you think, this is a joke, don’t! Because there’s even a splinter of math that confirms what I just said, it’s known as chaos theory which even describes this phenomenon as ‘eccentricity.’  Now don’t throw up your hands and give up here – stay with me – this is really easy to understand as chaos theory isn’t really as complicated as much as it is a very simple concept.

As what it proposes to say is simply this: microscopic changes can all add up to derail a big idea from going to plan.

An adage that sums it all up is the famous: butterfly flaps its wings in Kyoto and causes a tornado off the coast of Florida. 

Granted in the realm of common sense, this sounds implausible, but in chaos theoryville when even the best plans go wrong, it’s not only a theoretical possibility, but given the right conditions theory can even pass into reality!

Don’t believe me? Consider this: once upon a time, in a small country, it seemed that the population was growing exponentially – the situation in statistical terms can be described as “critically alarming!”

So a few ‘experts’ got together and said, “we have to control the population boom. We have to stop people from buying into the idea that they can just reproduce like Jack rabbits.”

Solution: let’s drum into their heads that two’s company and three is a crowd – sounds logical right? If there is too much water coming out of the pipe, all we need to do is give it a few turns to slow it down to a trickle – it’s a no brainer – a straight line calculation with zero margin for error – what after all can possibly go wrong?

Fast forward to the present. Well people not only figure out that two is a crowd, they go one or maybe two steps further (that incidentally is the part the experts never factored in, the first fractal protocal of chaos theory – when things begin to fuck up by assuming a form and shape that goes out of control!) and draw the logical conclusion even two may be crowd, because we live in an environment of resource scarcity! Drawing from the analogy, modern couples decide having kids these days just makes a lousy life proposition – they begin to hold back, they put their eggs on the shelve, they settle for hamsters and puppies instead. By then of course, it’s too late, because all the calculations show that the population control measures have worked too well. They’re now in negative growth! i.e the extinction formula has kicked in. Someone scrambles to shift it to the reverse gear, but it’s too late! By then, the second fractal protocal has kicked in full force; events will gather momentum and move towards a trajectory rendering all control futile.

How did the experts dig such a hole? Well they set into motion a series of events which can only be described as a social Chernobyl i.e the extinction game, because now, not only is the population regressing – the effects are sadly irreversible.

In short, the experts for lack of a better word, fucked up big time!

This just goes to show you how a good idea can go so very wrong.

This illustration is pertinent to our article as it highlights the dangers associated with attempting to ‘control’ or ‘moderate’ the outcome of very complex and diverse systems – such as the internet. This is also the part, where you need to ask yourself: whether the whole idea of regulating the internet is such a good idea? How much do we really know about the internet? Is much of it subject to the predictability? If we get it wrong, will it come back and bite us?

Well that depends on understanding; why the experts fucked up in the first place? Where did they really go wrong? One clue lies in understanding the limits of anything associated with the process of ‘rational decision’ making. What if I said to you, much of it has nothing to do with rationality. Instead what we term ‘rationality’ is predicated on the law of averages.  

Understand this! I am a big fan of the law of averages. I am such a big fan that I even buy all my shirts and shoes off the shelve and 90% of the time, I even manage to look above average in average cuts. That just goes to show you the law of averages works! Most of the time at least –  It’s also the reason why those MRT seats are sized the way they are, someone factored your average boney ass into the design. That’s also the reason why those dim sum dollies in SPH can never ever fit into those average cuts sold in ZARA or Mango not without asking, “Is my bum sticking out?” Of course the right answer to avoid being averagely flattened is an average, “no lah.” Understand now, how the law of averages works? 

Now I have every reason to believe (unless someone can tell me otherwise and be very careful here, because I will run through it with a super fine tooth comb) that when and if, the experts decide to muck around the internet – they will be relying implicitly on the Law of Averages to make sense of how their strategy would be expected generate an outcome along with the expected payouts etc. That’s to say, in their calculations, the law of averages will feature very prominently. As it will be used to scale, the average blogger, average reader, average reaction to an averagely anti-establishment article, average consequences of their action, averaging everything under the sun.

This brings into focus my point! Are they even using the right tools? What if I said to you, they law of averages is just a lousy tool of making sense of the internet? What if I said, at best, it can only produce average and mediocre results and at worst blow up in our face? Why?

Firstly, it provides absolutely no room for factoring anything exceptional i.e outside of the statistical median into the calculation – you could even say, it cannot for it to even work properly. There lies the critical flaw in the law of averages.

That’s why I don’t believe the law of averages should go any where near the internet! One can only buy into that proposition if you believe for one moment, the internet has absolutely nothing to do with exceptionality – consider it’s exceptional growth – what about the exceptional people who featured in the course of it’s exceptional history?

Is it possible for any reasonable man to conceive that relying on a tool that can ONLY consistently produces average results is the best means of making sense of the internet?

It’s just no good. In short, in every practical definition of the word – you just don’t have any idea what you are doing! Do you?

The stakes just went up by maybe 10,000%. Hey, but what did you really expect when you decide to mess around with the machine that will change the world?

It’s getting hot under the collar, right? You’re not so cock sure now are you? That straight line is starting to look a bit bengkok? Good, that’s very good, now you know your mama was wrong, things can never be that simple.

This is where we will have to stop as this is a two parter, stay tuned for the next installment of this article, where I will provide the solutions.

Darkness 2007

Read The Second Segment of this Article Here!

When Even The ‘Experts’ Can Get It Wrong – Part II

Publication Date: December 4, 2007