Let’s start with empathy.

We slaughtered nuance in favour of knee-jerk reactions. But that isn’t anything new for society.

What’s new is the web. In the last ten years the web has accelerated how knee-jerk reactions spread.

The great equalizer, the “level playing field”, has removed the filter of reasonable discourse.

We don’t have a dozen press/media organizations respecting journalistic integrity. Instead we have hundreds/thousands/millions/billions of voices all making a ruckus.

Traditional media has eroded. Their survival depends on attention. Now they’re forced to compete with the likes of bloggers and trolls and people who don’t give a damn about the truth.

Now we have this endless loop of hysteria and clickbait coming at us from every direction. It’s all fueled by outrage and emotional triggers.

It’s overwhelming. So what happens? People retreat further and further into their “teams” or “tribes” or “camps” (or whatever you want to call it).

I consider myself a centrist, though I do lean left of most American politics (Canadian here, sup?). It’s a hard position to be in. It would be a lot easier to choose a team.

Don’t think about it. Side with that team every single time. Go team go!

But I don’t want to do that. It wouldn’t solve anything. It would only feed the beast of polarization.

So what do we do? The only thing close to a solution that I can think of is pushing for greater exposure and empathy on both sides.

Keep asking “why?” and trying to understand.

It’s hard to do. I’m a straight, able-bodied white male. I live a comfortable life in a great city. I work in tech with a stable job and benefits. My family’s been here since the 1850s or 1860s.

I’m pretty sure I fall right in that target definition of “white privilege”. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a minority group. I don’t know what it’s like to be a target. I don’t know what it’s like to get profiled for no reason other than my race, religion, or ethnicity. I don’t know what it’s like to have my life upended by war or famine or natural disasters. I don’t know what it’s like to flee, trying to survive or protect my family.

But I can try to imagine. I can read and listen to others share their experiences.

Is that the missing piece? Empathy?

I’m convinced that the less exposure we have to “others”, the more we retreat into our bubbles. We listen to the echo chamber. We feed the vitriol. We dismiss the many because of the few.

It’s like trying to put out an electrical fire with buckets of water.

And it’s messed up. The web was supposed to make empathy easier. It was supposed to connect us with people around the world.

Instead we’re using it to build up mental barriers.

And yes, I believe that the tech industry holds a fair share of blame here. When the almighty algorithm reinforces everything you already believe? When it’s “personalized” to only shows you things that align to your worldview? And when it happens at a scale touching billions of lives every day?

Yeah. That feels like a problem to me.

This is all a big problem. There isn’t a single patch that’ll fix it. But empathy… I think empathy is the right direction. Can we start there, at least?

Planning, timeboxing, and setting goals.

I’m doing a lot of planning right now. It started with planning for work, looking at what needed to get done in the coming months and year ahead. But then I started looking at how I could apply that to other items outside of work.

As a remote worker, deciding how I structure my day and spend my time is an ongoing task. Timeboxing has been helpful for that.

For years I’ve been using my calendar to log my time spent on tasks. But blocking my time out, days or weeks in advance, is something I’ve started doing only in the last year or so.

I don’t always stick to the blocks of time I lay out. But I do try to make sure that the blocks get taken care of before the week is over. So if something comes up, or if I decide to work on something else, I’m not pushing off my to-do items.

I’ve been following this routine of disciplined timeboxing for the last three months. Now I’m thinking about how timeboxing can work at a higher level, months and years into the future.

For example, what about a five year plan? So that’s five big blocks. What five big things do I want to accomplish?

2018
2019
2020
2021
2022

Zooming in – for each quarter of each year, what are my goals?

2018

  • January – March
  • April – June
  • July – September
  • October – December

(…)

And for each month? Each week?

You can see how the granularity of timeboxing can scale up to encompass broader goals.

I turn 30 next year, and one of my big goals is to pay off the last of my student debt before I do. And then, from there, I’m timeboxing the future. I’m taking things from my bucket list and putting them on the calendar.

Where have all the books gone?

My crisis consists in the fact that I am describing my past, not my present. I used to read three books a week. One year I devoted an evening each week to read all of Shakespeare’s plays (Okay, due to interruptions it actually took me two years). Another year I read the major works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But I am reading many fewer books these days, and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work.

Source: The death of reading is threatening the soul – The Washington Post

One of my resolutions for the year is to consume more long, thoughtful reads. I’ve done a bit of that — I’ve read a few books this year — but not nearly as much as I wanted. Looks like I’m not alone in that…

Writing is hard. Editing is grueling.

If writing a book is the most difficult, the editing process is the most grueling. Young aspiring writers like to point to Jack Kerouac, who supposedly wrote On the Road in a three-week drug-fueled blitz. What they leave out is the six years he spent editing and refining it until it was finally ready.

Source: Here (with 2 Years of Exhausting Photographic Detail) Is How To Write A Book

Superb breakdown of what it takes to create a book. (Sidenote: This is/was one of my goals for 2017. I should probably get moving on that…)

On analyzing your audience.

Psychologizing your audience doesn’t have to be some big ordeal. I can see how surveying would be interesting if you have a group of very loyal customers, or pre-customers helping you finding product-market fit. I would definitely ask them what kind of information they need. I think that’s the key, it’s not the content their WANT to see… it’s information they feel they NEED to succeed. Where are the gaps they see in front of them, standing between them and their definition of success, or the metrics they want to maximize. How can you help them fill this gap? Really, you’re looking to provide utility, utility, utility. I think where a lot of content strategies misstep is providing customer stories, or trying to demonstrate value without considering what their customers’ goals are and how they can help with that first.

Source: AMA with Camille Ricketts, Head of Content and Marketing at First

Love this advice. I’m pushing myself to take a step back when someone hits me with a content request and ask a few questions first:

  1. Who are we creating this for?
  2. What problem does this content solve for them? (And if we don’t have a good answer, what problem can we solve for them?)
  3. What goal does it hit for us?

And then we go from there. 🙂