A blog of yet another quirky guy out there

Indeed, one is one, not two, not zero, but one.

Two is greater than one, which in turn is greater than zero.

Yet, we don't care about numbers, we care about the stories behind them. Numbers don't tell stories, we do.

One human life is not equal to another human life. Depending on where and how you were born, a human life is more valuable than another. One is not one.

Many argue they only care about facts, hard data. “I trust the Science”, they say. Yes, not science, THE Science, with a capital 'S'.

As if it was a superior construct that has nothing to do with us, biased, selfish human beings.

As if THE Scientists belong to another kind of human being, a flawless kind, incorruptible and free from mundane passions.

As if they, from the top of their ivory tower, were the only perfectly qualified to dictate how reality actually is.

Numbers' unmistakableness does not guarantee absolute truth. Numbers may be correct and yet, create the wrong perception.

I like numbers. Numbers don't lie, we do.

This #YThijack experiment has shed some light on how I interact with the online world. There is a mixed feeling of duty and excitement that pushes me to watch every video, read every article (or post), consume every bite of information coming through my feeds. This is unsustainable and absurd in equal proportion.

In those virtual places where information is exchanged, where our attention — the scarcest asset of this century — is sold, it is so easy to overbudget. I must confess I take the bait more often I would like to admit, that I end up wasting my time consuming cheap entertainment.

Today consumers' behaviour has been carefully crafted to choose whatever is more convenient, whatever takes the least effort. Companies (and individuals) know it, and make huge profits from it. That's why showing up on the first page of a Google search, or getting the YouTube! algorithm to recommend your content, or placing your product in the premium spots in a grocery store costs you more (either money or time), it does not matter what you put there, consumers want it.

This ongoing experiment has provided me space and time to put things in perspective, to break free from the loop. This interminable loop of watching and never feel that it is enough. Enough, have we forgotten to recognize when we have had enough?

Life is too short to keep up with the virtual world, and I have had enough trying to do so.

The #YThijack experiment is going well. As expected, adding an extra thin layer of complexity to the consumption workflow disrupted the whole thing and helped to unhook me from it.

A few things worth noticing:

  • It is a social thing. I realized how many times I ended up watching videos simply because someone shared a link with me. The immense majority of those are links to meme videos. Would I put the effort to send the link to my computer, download the thingy and watch it? ... nay.

  • I can't crave the unknown. I don't feel the urge to watch videos I don't know are there, as simple as that. Mostly, I want to go there to watch again videos that I found interesting in the past — which amounts to hardly 2% of them.

  • Bad habits spread out quickly. So, I found myself spending more time on Fosstodon, LinkedIn and even R.W.a. Just as someone quitting drugs who suddenly starts drinking alcohol as if there is no tomorrow; then, when reality hits again, went on a smoking frenzy to deal with his transition to sobriety. Something I must definitely watch out for.

And still, the biggest change this has brought about is a deceleration of time, which now flows differently as I experience moments of boredom here and there during the day.

I have two blog posts and one story to share today.

Zampanò's “Letting Go” is a thought-provoking yet comforting piece. Feeling guilty, questioning our most rooted assumptions, understanding privilege; no easy nuts to crack there. And then, What should I do? What must we do? Is it really something we can do about it? How do I know I have done enough?, How to deal with the frustration all these questions triggered?

Why the constant need to document our lives online?, Dino asks hym-self. In a world obsessed with finding answers to how (there is even a whole category for that, how-to guides), finding an invitation to ask a different question open genuine reality shifting opportunities. Being able to answer: I prefer not to, on the constant invitation to share our lives online is quite liberating.

These days, when the popular abound, I feel grateful by finding those little gems along the road, pointing to the important.


Now the story.

A colleague at work drinks tea in the mornings and coffee in the afternoons. That sparked my curiosity from day one because I do exactly the opposite (except caffeine-free Mondays). I've been asking him why, but his answer has been always the same, something like: “I don't know, I used to drink coffee in the mornings as well, but then I started to do it the other way around, and it stuck since then”.

This morning, while drinking our respective beverages and waiting for our daily standup to start, I asked the same question once more, this time his answer was: “Seven or eight years ago I worked with another engineer in a project for several months, we spent the mornings together, and he always had tea, so I started drinking tea as well”.


We don't really know if, how and to what extent we influence others, but it happens, constantly.

(And no, I still drink coffee religiously before noon; otherwise, I can't sleep well).

Wondering how is this going:

Worker in the breezeway, music event here on the 31st, gave two weeks notice (well, a tad less, but they seem to want to accommodate) on the software position at work, Thursday, to pursue something pretty gosh-danged different, namely teaching 6/7/8th graders math with a touch of comp sci – less pay, but I'm projecting way more fulfilling.. plus summers off.. oh, and my wife accepted a teaching position in the same place, so: to and from work together, same work schedule, she'll be a great mentor for something I've never done before, and etcetera to the satisfaction power.

It sounds quite fulfilling, although, maybe some extra patience is also needed ... (?)

I did teach once—at the university level, though—and I quickly realized it was not for me. That place was a private school, and as a product of the public education system, I couldn't get my head around the fact that my students were, at the same time, my “clients”. Plus, they didn't care about anything other than getting a diploma with the least possible effort, and that killed all the potential fulfilment.

#Enquiry2Inquiry

As I am not a person with high willpower, the first thing to get done was to uninstall YT! app from my phone.

Expecting a non-trivial task as my phone runs Android and this app came preinstalled, I first went to the Play store and pressed “uninstall”; it went unexpectedly smoothly. However, YT! icon remained in the same place; the app is useless but still there:

Useless youtube app

Being suboptimal yet a “good enough” solution, it was considered done after removing the icon from the main screen.

What I first experienced was an unexpected and subtle feeling of relief. It was supposed to be a struggle, but I was there, feeling at ease. Being subscribed to several YT channels that publish content regularly, I believe I had endured mild but constant anxiety — a form of FOMO, maybe? — that triggers my compulsive behaviour of checking this app quite often — since I don't have any notifications enabled, I “have to” check it manually.

Equally noteworthy is how I unconsciously kept opening this app (even though the icon is not in its usual place). I had seen the image shared above not one but many times since yesterday.

It seems time flows at a slower pace this weekend.

P.S. This is a follow-up post of this one.

#YThijack

I've been spending way too much time on YouTube! lately. Automatically grab my phone to watch one more video has become a knee jerk reaction whenever I experience the slightest trace of boredom. It is an addiction. And like any addict, I often deny it or justify it. This unhealthy habit is rationalized in many ways: “I'm learning new skills”, “It is an effective way of keep informed of what happens around the world”, etc. If I'm truly honest to myself, that's bullshit.

Information, particularly the excess of thereof, does not always precede knowledge; a quiet period of reflection is necessary. An uninterrupted stream of images and words became pure noise in our heads when it does not intercalate with periods of quietness, when no new information is consumed and just let things sink in.

As a software engineer — and contrary to most people perception about this profession — my job is to come up with reasonable good decisions based on convoluted, sometimes vast but often irrelevant and insufficient information, and deal with all frustration that this process entails. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the part of my brain that deals with processing information is already exhausted by the end of the day. Looking at how I mindlessly consume yet more information through my phone in my spare time is tremendously counterintuitive, even absurd. My mind craves silence and I give her more noise; and no, I'm not really learning something anymore by looking at the screen.

I've tried to quit Youtube in the past and failed.

Admittedly, there is a lot of value in there. However, the platform is not designed so that you get the value from it, but the other way around. So, I want to hijack it.

There is one simple rule from now on: I am only going to watch YT! videos offline.

Since I'm not paying a premium (and I won't do it), that effectively means that I can't watch videos on my phone (unless I download them[1] on my computer and then transfer them). The basic underlying strategy is to make my video consumption more inconvenient.

This idea came from two previous experiences. The first one being those early days as an Internaut with a modem-based (hence super-slow) Internet connection, when you had to wait minutes (or even hours) for a video to load (or download) before watching it. The second, a more recent one, was when I joined Mastodon and noticed how I was getting hooked to it. The long term solution was to uninstall the client mobile app and only access the platform through the browser, which is a fairly clumsy interface on the phone. The same tactic worked for LinkedIn.

My expectation is that, by making it hard to access, I will be more selective and mindful of what and how I consume information. Organically, the waiting time will create a gap that triggers reflection; the up-front effort required will enforce more filtering out; sometimes I might even be lured into something else instead of sitting in front of a screen. That's the hope.

I will post about how things unfold with this little experiment as a way to keep me accountable.

Thanks for reading.


Footnotes:

  1. I'm using some third-party tools for this, which is not illegal as long as I do it for personal use. Some people argue that it is immoral, but I disagree.

#YThijack

Today, there is a self-appointed organization with the “authority” to decide what information is trustworthy, the Trusted News Initiative (TNI).

“The Trusted News Initiative partners will continue to work together to ensure legitimate concerns about future vaccinations are heard whilst harmful disinformation myths are stopped in their tracks.” -Tim Davie, Director-General

TNI's partners are the following: “AP, AFP; BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Facebook, Financial Times, First Draft, Google/YouTube, The Hindu, Microsoft, Reuters, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Twitter, The Washington Post.” [1]

That effectively means that all the information consumed from these sources is subjected to censorship. It is up to them and not you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When we talk about vaccines, the TNI is aligned to whatever the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO)—an organization primarily funded by the US government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—deemed as truth. Under the narrative of “follow the science”, they actively suppress any information that contradicts the CDC and WHO (both public health agencies and not scientific organizations).

For me, science is first and foremost about skepticism, not faith; scientific advancement comes from challenging what's deemed as truth at some point in time. “Follow the science” makes sense if and only if you have access to all the scientific views, not only to one view that some organizations decide is the “correct” one. We need scientists and experts to help us to understand what is going on, but it is up to us to draw conclusions and decide accordingly. I'm one of those who hold freedom in higher regard than security (whether is real or just a false sense of security).

A complex and multi-factorial problem such as the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be solved without contrasting and considering different strategies and points of view. Artificially manufactured consensus is harmful in many ways and beyond the current public health crisis.

It is outrageous to witness how those organizations who we're supposed to trust barefacedly (try to) change the meaning of concepts used to describe reality. One example I came across recently is the definition of heard immunity, a concept that pops up frequently in pandemic-related discussions:

W.H.O redefining herd immunity

In the last year, the WHO provided three different definitions:

9 June 2020:

“Herd immunity is indirect the protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection. This means that even people who haven't been infected or in whom an infection hasn't triggered an immune response, they are protected because people around them who are immune can act as buffers between them and an infected person. The threshold for establishing herd immunity for COVID-19 is not yet clear.”

15 October 2020 (Archived page link):

‘Herd immunity’, also known as ‘population immunity’, is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.

Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.

Vaccines train our immune systems to create proteins that fight disease, known as ‘antibodies’, just as would happen when we are exposed to a disease but – crucially – vaccines work without making us sick. Vaccinated people are protected from getting the disease in question and passing it on, breaking any chains of transmission

31 December 2020 (current version) (Archived page link):

'Herd immunity', also known as 'population immunity', is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection. WHO supports achieving 'herd immunity' through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through any segment of the population, as this would result in unnecessary cases and deaths.

Herd immunity against COVID-19 should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination, not by exposing them to the pathogen that causes the disease. Read the Director-General’s 12 October media briefing speech for more detail.

Vaccines train our immune systems to create proteins that fight disease, known as ‘antibodies’, just as would happen when we are exposed to a disease but – crucially – vaccines work without making us sick. Vaccinated people are protected from getting the disease in question and passing on the pathogen, breaking any chains of transmission.

At first, I could not believe that they asserted that herd immunity could only be achieved through vaccination (October 2020 version), that's a plain lie.

The second point (still available in the current definition on WHO website) is that “vaccinated people are protected from getting the disease in question and passing on the pathogen, breaking any chains of transmission”. Specifically, not “passing on the pathogen and break any chains of transmission” is true for sterilizing vaccines, which none of the current COVID-19 vaccines is. The fact that mass vaccination wouldn't prevent the spread of the virus, simply because these vaccines do not induce sterilizing immunity, is something that some scientists warned before the vaccines were rolled out. It is ridiculous that the (TNI-approved) scientific community starts to make this public now as if it was something they just found out.

Are these the organizations I should blindly trust?

As mentioned before, I'm one of those who value freedom, which means every individual has the right to weigh the pros and cons, and decide whether or not to get vaccinated.

Follow THE science? I agree.

Follow your science? —one that mindlessly changes the semantics of terms to adjust the perceived reality— I would prefer not to.

References: [1] Trusted News Initiative (TNI) to combat spread of harmful vaccine disinformation and announces major research project

Today, our perceptive apparatus itself is incapable of arriving at any conclusion: it just clicks its way through the endless, digital net. Our senses are completely distracted. Yet only contemplative lingering manages to achieve any meaningful end. Shutting one’s eyes offers a symbol for arriving at a conclusion. Abrupt change from image to image, from information to information, has made any such contemplative conclusion impossible. If all that qualifies as reasonable is a syllogism – a conclusion – then our era, the age of Big Data, is an epoch without reason.

Psychopolitics, Byun-Chul Han

“One may understand Big Data in analogy to a movie camera. As a digital magnifying glass, data-mining would enlarge the picture of human actions; behind the framework of consciousness it would then disclose another scene shot through with unconscious elements. Big Data’s microphysics, then, would make actomes visible – that is, micro-actions that elude detection by the waking mind. Thus, Big Data could also bring to light collective patterns of behaviour, of which individuals are unaware. This would render the collective unconscious accessible. In analogy to the ‘optical unconscious’, one could call such a microphysical or micropsychical web of relations the digital unconscious. As such, digital psychopolitics would be in the position to take control of mass behaviour on a level that escapes detection.”

Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han

And that's how worldwide consensus can be manufactured. Then, if someone suggests that something like that is possible, it is readily discarded as a non-sense.