A Trumpless Twitter (and a Twitterless Trump)

A few days ago, the US President’s Twitter account was suddenly deleted. And I can’t have been the only one who found it amusing.

The first thought that struck me was that the tech titan had suddenly grown some cojones. Finally deciding that enough was enough, the company had taken the ultimate stance, showing strong moral leadership in respect of an account that many view as broadcasting a range of offensive and confusing (covfefe anyone?) content. This would qualify as a strident political statement by the tech sector, no doubt of that, and one to dwarf the great SOPA/PIPA protests of 2012.

“Good on ’em”, I thought. And I doubt I was alone.

But before I’d even heard the echo of my chuckle bouncing back off the opposite wall, I realised how unlikely it was that a major US tech company had actually decided to arbitrarily delete the official account of its own President. There might be well-known tensions between the tech industry and the state-sponsored powers of surveillance. But to see Twitter actively remove the chosen mouthpiece of its own President really would be an unbelievable story – even during the onslaught of unbelievable political stories that we’ve seen from across the pond in recent months.

Of course, as we now know, the reality of the situation is that this was nothing more than a failure of company procedure, as opposed to the opening shots of revolution. It turned out that a departing Twitter employee had been unable to resist that big flashing red button and took that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a story to share in pubs for a lifetime, deleting Trump’s account on the way out of the building. Indeed, the reports of the incident took more time to write up in the press than the incident itself. It took Twitter all of 11 minutes to restore the account and put it back online.

But the point here is not the fact that the account went offline. Believe it or not, I do have more interesting exciting things to do than to spend my time commenting on the failings of internal corporate procedures. No, the reason that I found this interesting is simple: I realised that in my initial reaction, I was being two-faced about the whole thing. And, more worryingly perhaps, if I’d been more active on Twitter myself at that time, it’s that initial – and wrong – reaction that I would have shared with the world.

Let me explain. I’m a believer in the principles of decentralisation where technology makes this both safe and possible. I also believe that we’re currently in the midst of a mostly silent (and technical) fight to ensure that we as individuals don’t lose our human rights to freedom of expression online in modern society. I think as individuals, we’re sleepwalking together into a ever tightening web where our views, data and identities are increasingly owned by other organisations (for good or evil, it matters little) and that unless we actively work to find a better way, the chance to find a better way forward will soon be gone.

The web was invented as an open platform to enable greater collaboration between individuals regardless of national boundaries. But in the internet that we all use today, we’ve moved far away from that ideal. Don’t take my word for it – listen to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web itself, for whom this has become a lifelong campaign.

It’s precisely because of these reasons that I support movements such as the SAFE Network and I’m fascinated by attempts to create decentralised versions of identity (see uPort and Civic) and social media/content platforms (see Steemit and DECENT).

So how come in this case my gut instinct was to enjoy this story when it cuts across so many of my beliefs? After reading Daniel Kahneman’s classic ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ earlier this year, one of the explanations might simply be the fact that when you revisit the decisions that you make, it’s often the case that your first, automatic reaction is rarely correct. I’ve been pondering how I took the story here as a result because to me at least, it shows the level of bias – unconscious, unintentional – that can exist. And when you end up finding yourself supporting something, no matter how briefly, that directly contradicts an area that you thought of as non-negotiable, it’s a good a time as any to take note and challenge yourself.

As you move through life, I increasingly think that one of the most important (and underrated) skills to learn is how to avoid becoming fixed in your beliefs and approaches. Whether they’re right or not often depends on the context – but in that case, why not try changing your context? Read a book. Listen to a talk. Meet up with people whose opinions you disagree with. When I suggest changing your context, I’m not saying that you should just give up and change your opinion. After all, it can be just as hard to genuinely connect with someone who holds no opinions as it can be to like someone who refuses to accept feedback about his own (looking at you POTUS). But don’t stop checking whether the context you have today changes the opinions that you formed yesterday. Many people think that it’s a weakness to change your mind. Yet it’s often a strength.

Bias. We all have it. But to my mind, rigidity of thinking and inflexibility must surely be the much greater crime.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

    (Winston Churchill. Or John Maynard Keynes. Or someone else entirely.)

Speaking of which, in the aftermath of The Great SegWit 2X-Hardfork-That-Never-Was Battle of 2017, I think it’s important that we all remember that within the Bitcoin community in particular. Dogmatic opinions – both ways – generally help no one.

 

The Cake Is A Lie

The Cake Is A Lie

If you haven’t come across “the cake is a lie” meme, try reading the quick post on Medium by Tobias van Schneider, Design Lead at Spotify (aside: anyone else notice just how good Medium is now becoming as a platform for both content creation and discovery?). In essence, the statement means “your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator”. In other words, you’re striving for something that you’ll never get.

Schneider puts the idea in the context of risk aversion, pointing out that as we get older, we devote more of our time to trying to avoid losing the many things that we’ve accumulated (income, personal image, gadgets) than we do to pursuing growth. Hence the struggle that banks and other established businesses have to actively pursue innovation at any meaningful level. Research has proved the loss aversion theory which tells us that people tend to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

On a corporate level, you could argue that’s no bad thing. If that wasn’t the case, we simply wouldn’t have a business environment in which a startup with “nothing to lose” can seek to disrupt an established industry. However on an individual level, the warning should be considered more deeply. Schneider suggests that every time you face a big decision, ask yourself whether your dilemma about whether or not to proceed is simply down to the fact that you’re looking to protect that cake. If so, be very wary.

You don’t get happy by putting all your energies into protecting a cake that you never actually eat.

Today’s my 100th successive blog post. I’ve been blogging (on this website and elsewhere) for a few years now but never with this level of consistency. So what changed?

As most people are aware, I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s work. And as he says, “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship”. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If I was worried about perfect grammar, ground-breaking commentary and creating a comprehensive database of knowledge on the subjects that interest me, I would never have got started. Posts would take days rather than hours and we all know that real life has a habit of getting in the way whenever it can.

If we’ve never met in person, you might not know that I enjoy acting. And if there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from my entirely undistinguished but thoroughly enjoyable time on stage to date, it’s that the very best actors are invariably the ones who aren’t acting. Or – more accurately – they’re living in the moment and responding naturally to everything that takes place in front of them. Undoubtedly, there’s talent involved. But, even more importantly, I believe that it’s also a habit. Crucially, they’ve managed to construct an environment in which they’re free to take the risk of getting things wrong. The best are never afraid of falling flat on their faces because that’s what gives them the chance to develop their ideas. It’s all about eating the cake, not protecting it.

I guess that’s what this blog represents to me. An attempt to build and maintain a place where I can do the same. For those who are reading it, thanks! For those who aren’t – well, I intend to keep on going. Because to quote Godin once more, “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing”.

 

PS. Here’s a list of the posts that were some of the most enjoyable to write (see it’s not all about Bitcoin, honest…)

  1. Why The Internet Of Things Needs The Blockchain
  2. Satoshi’s Songs: Can Bitcoin Save The Music Industry?
  3. Why Science Fiction Shapes The Future
  4. How Do People Get New Ideas?
  5. AI And Summoning The Demon
  6. Startups, Maslow, Happiness, Unemployment
  7. The Six Walls of Surveillance
  8. Farm2050 Collective & The Coming Global Food Shortage
  9. The Genius ISM’s
  10. Collaborative Consumption
  11. Why Art Is Just As Important As Science
  12. The Stark Reality: Surveillance or Security
  13. The Social Challenges Of Peer To Peer Markets
  14. Bitcoin, Accounting And The Blockchain
  15. Coffee and Bitcoin: The Last Few Months

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Year Ahead

I’ve been thinking about how to evolve this blog over the next twelve months. It originally started out a few years back as a place for me to post more considered, long-form articles that went into some depth on topics that fascinated me.

That worked for a while – in the sense that I enjoyed writing and received complimentary feedback from various quarters. But as someone far more productive than me (in making quotable statements, if nothing else) once wrote, “The perfect is the enemy of the good“. The reality is that whilst the more detailed and comprehensive articles may attract decent levels of interest online, the extra effort required to polish up that final 20% slows down the frequency of posts.

But doesn’t quality beat quantity? Usually – but with one caveat. Regular practice inevitably improves quality and writing should be no different. At the same time, I’ve always found that the process of moving knowledge from head to screen using your own words is the most powerful learning technique there is.

So I took the decision to just relax a little more in each post and to just write more frequently – every day – more broadly about the topics that interested me. The logic’s pretty simple. Even if I turn out to be the only one out there that enjoys these topics, at least I’ll enjoy looking back over some of the posts in the years to come and see just how far some of the thinking has evolved.

This year, I’ll keep that approach going. I’m hoping to redesign the site in the near future to make things cleaner and easier to read, particularly on mobile platforms. And as for the topics themselves, I don’t think they’ll be of any surprise to those that have visited before.

The key theme will inevitably be Bitcoin and associated block chain technologies. But on top of that, the other areas under the spotlight this year will likely be data security, surveillance, drone technology, 3D printing, the internet of things, networks, startups, VC investment, AI, the coming singularity and last, but by no means least, how traditional forms of creativity can not only survive but thrive in a digital world.

I’m guessing that’ll keep me pretty busy for the next 364 days.

The 2014 End Of Year Soundtrack

It’s been a busy year. Over the course of the past twelve months, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and speak with some of the most creative and intelligent people of my life to date. I’ve learned more about a vast range of subjects than at any other point of my life and as a result I now have more questions to resolve than ever before as the year draws to a close.

That, to me, is a good thing. It’s a sign of progress.

I’ve written before about how I dislike making predictions. So to wrap the year up, I thought I’d put a little marker down instead to remind myself of some of the songs and albums that have soundtracked my year. By no means comprehensive, this will if nothing else help to remind me of the people, places and ideas that have shaped my 2014.

Thanks for reading – I hope you have a great 2015!