Tag experience

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

The starting point of my Zigzag Walk …*

 

Last week I wrote about Stephen Graham’s delightful little game of the Zigzag Walk, which is a framework for exploration that enhances opportunities for discovery and serendipity. The rules are quite simple: you select a starting point and from there turn left and then right at subsequents crossroads. Being in San Francisco for the first time, I was eager to try out this exercise for myself and spent part of Monday morning going on a Zigzag walk. I started at a corner a few streets down from the apartment where I am staying where, on the pavement, was engraved the phrase: ‘ask questions’. It seemed a particularly appropriate starting point.

My Zigzag Walk was a delightful experience which allowed me to get lost in the best way, discovering new streets and neighborhoods. It was also the perfect antidote to Google Maps. Since I’ve never been to San Francisco before, I have been relying pretty heavily on Google Maps to get me to where I need to be but I’ve noticed that whenever I ask it to lead me home it always highlights the same, and rather boring, route. I’ve since come to realize that this may be to help me avoid San Francisco’s many (and often ridiculously steep) hills. But I’m only here for a short time, I don’t want to keep going over the same route, even if it saves me from a few hills. I’d rather endure the slight discomfort of huffing and puffing my way up hills for the tradeoff of discovery and serendipitous discoveries in this beautiful city (sounds like a metaphor for something else…*) Until Google Maps puts out a “Serendipity” option on its routes (which, by the way, Google, please take note), the Zigzag Walk is a brilliant and free way to discover a city and its many hidden treasures.

e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative …*

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding. It occupies a central place in early development and learning about the world, oneself, and one’s place in it. A critical function of the dominant left hemisphere of the brain is to continually make up stories about why things are the way they are, which becomes our understanding of the world. Stories are a way of putting disparate pieces of information into a unified context. As we grow, the drama of stories enliven us and the narrative structure tells us something about how things are and how things should be, whether we are listening to Big Bird’s take on life or Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon.

Stories remain central to understanding well after childhood. When people make judgments about right and wrong, even in politics or the jury box, they often do so as a result of a story that they construct about events that have happened. […] It’s just human nature.

-Stuart Brown in Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately–those we tell, those we remember, those we believe, and those we feel compelled to challenge and rewrite. As Stuart Brown highlights above, stories are the key unit of understanding in human life. We look up at the sky and feel compelled to connect the stars with imaginary lines. Yet, the dangers of becoming too wrapped up in a single story are very real. If we are only able to view human identity–our own and that of others–through a single lens, we run the risk of falling prey to essentialism and a complete breakdown of any opportunity for empathy and true human connection.

The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes  the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one preeminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. That we are not. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.

Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect–and denial–of the role of reasoning and choice, which follows from the recognition of our plural identities. 

– Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time)

How do we go beyond the single story or the first story that we create about ourselves and those around us? A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of simply asking strangers and friends about their hearts and their stories. But I really am curious, how do you think we might go about getting a better sense of the plurality and fullness of each other’s identities? As I wait for your answers, here is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2009 TED talk, in which she poignantly addresses the perils of limiting ourselves to a single story.

So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.
. . . *
The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
. . . * 
I have always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult, it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
. . . *
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and
to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
. . . *
When we reject the single story, when we realize that there’s never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story 

“We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways.” – Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer …*

"We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways." - Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi is a Singapore based interaction designer. You may recall seeing him on rethinked …* a few months back when I featured his prototype for a “wearable tool to assist learning,” Grasp. Grasp, a timely and thoughtful design provocation, prompts us to question our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments. It is representative of Akarsh’s broader body of work which focuses on projects that bridge the gap between physical and digital life by applying computational methods in design and creative contexts. I am delighted to share his interview with you today. Connect with Akarsh, @akarshsanghi.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The latest project I have been working on is trying to understand the idea of creating urban trails in a city. Today we are able to navigate urban areas with the help of various mapping applications available on our mobile devices, but that is usually a static approach, since it is only to get a job done i.e. get you from one destination to another. But I believe there is a much stronger emotional value in exploring a city by following a trail created by somebody else. The experiences that this kind of serendipity can provide can amount to something great for an individual who is exploring a new place. This is an ongoing experiment in Singapore where I am currently based.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

The one thing I fear most is getting myself involved in a project or an organization in which I lose interest or faith in while in the middle of it. As a designer, I am constantly thinking and developing new ideas and putting them out into the world. But while being committed to a project in which I lose faith half-way through, it becomes extremely frustrating to see it through till the end. Some ways in which I try to avoid this situation is by having adequate research and knowledge about what I am getting into. Also you have to completely believe in your own vision that you are trying to achieve irrespective of what other’s have to say about it, and do your best in achieving that.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I very strongly believe in the idea of applying existing forms of technology in the most creative and innovative contexts to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we are trying to create something new. There are numerous situation, contexts, problems and people who are still untapped by the use of modern technology. To cater for those segments of society, we have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways. There are times when I feel extremely disappointed while working with some big organizations, since they are constantly resisting change and are so afraid to take risks in any form.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Everything that Elon Musk has done in the past decade, whether it is in space exploration, electric cars, solar energy and the latest idea of introducing home batteries. It is inspiring to see and entrepreneur born from the Internet Age has taken up and succeeded in businesses which were earlier restricted only to men and women in white coats working in research laboratories. His work clearly showcases that an idea however crazy or absurd it may sound at the time, can be pursued to alter the way humanity progresses.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I wouldn’t really say that I have had one transformational moment in my life till now (I am 24 years old) but when I was able to create small projects and put them online which other people could use and give feedback was extremely enriching for me. It really motivated me to continue creating and putting ideas out in the world. You never know what form those ideas take once they are out of your system.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

At some point of time I want to look back at my life and sum up all the experiences I have collected, the journey I have been through, the people I have come across, the work I have done in one words, i.e. “FUN”

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Being able to distinguish between First Principles and Intuition. Some of the most powerful entities that a human possesses can do wonders in difficult situations where one can make decisions based on formal logic or a simple gut call.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can we develop tools and communities to bridge the gap between physical and digital lives of people by empowering them to control the technology and not the other way around?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Books

  • Evocative Objects: Things we think with by Sherry Turkle
  • Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Films

  • P.K. by Rajkumar Hirani [Hindi film challenging the traditional ways in which we see god and religion]
  • The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
  • Interstellar by Christopher Nolan
  • The Prestige by Christopher Nolan

Essays

  • By Isaac Asimov [access here]
  • By Bret Victor [access here]

. . . * 

THANK YOU, AKARSH!

Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2×2 – “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” …*

{ Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2x2 } “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Soyer & Hogarth’s article on HBR: Fooled By Experience

In a fascinating article titled Fooled by Experience, Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth, whose research focuses on the psychology of judgment and decision making, highlight the perils of using past experience to guide future decision making without first critically examining the various lenses and biases from which we filter and learn from our experiences.

The problem is that we view the past through numerous filters that distort our perceptions. As a result, our interpretations of experience are biased, and the judgments and decisions we base on those interpretations can be misguided. Even so, we persist in believing that we have gleaned the correct insights from our own experience and from the accounts of other people.

In their article, Soyer and Hogarth examine three of the main filters that many of us use to frame and learn from our experiences — the business environment, the people around us, and ourselves. I was particularly interested in the points they raise about our bias for outcomes rather than processes in the business world.

{ CAPTURING PROCESS NOT JUST OUTCOMES }

In the business environment, the outcomes of decisions are highly visible, readily available for us to observe and judge. But the details of the decision process, which we can control far more than the result, typically don’t catch our attention. If the aim is to learn from experience—mistakes as well as successes—acknowledging that process is crucial.

We celebrate successes and condemn failures–a response that disregards the underlying causes.

The tendency to overreward the results of a decision and underreward its quality is known as the outcome bias.

This bias can influence our actions in subtle ways. A good outcome can lead us to stick with a questionable strategy, and a bad outcome can cause us to change or discard a strategy that may still be worthwhile. For example, in the NBA, coaches “are more likely to revise their strategy after a loss than a win—even for narrow losses, which are uninformative about team effectiveness,” a recent Management Science article shows.

[…]

By concealing the prevalence of failures, the environment makes it more difficult for us to learn from them. Instead, we are fooled into thinking that we have more control over success than we actually do.

Source: Fooled by Experience

This inequality between capturing outcomes versus capturing the decision making process is something that our team has been actively thinking about in our last few workshops. In fact, my explicit purpose in our last workshop was to capture the meta elements of what we were thinking about and considering as we were producing our prototypes. This desire to capture the more ephemeral aspects of the decision making process are linked to Daniel Kahneman’s acronym: WYSIATI – What you see is all there is. We are hardwired to respond to what we can see and tend to ignore the aspects of a situation that fall outside the filters for salience with which we approach that experience. Yet, as Soyer and Hogarth observe, the tendency to overreward the results of a decision and underreward its quality leads to failed opportunities for learning and improved future decision making. 

Head over to Harvard Business Review to read the rest of Soyer and Hogarth’s article and learn the techniques they recommend to help you uncover the real lessons experience offers.

{ HAPPINESS IS A 2×2 – THINK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS THAT YOU DON’T WANT & THAT YOU DON’T HAVE} 

Experience is very important, but not necessarily the experience that you have, but maybe sometimes the experience that you don’t have might matter a lot. Experience in general we know it’s very important, it’s how we understand what’s going on around us, it’s how we form our habits, it’s how we decide and make judgements. And sometimes the environment where we make decisions, where we operate is kind to us–it gives us all the information, all the feedback that we need abundantly, immediately. But sometimes, it’s wicked. The environment, when it’s wicked, it hides stuff from us, it filters out certain part of the information that is crucial for an accurate judgment and accurate decision making. And in those cases our experiences get biased, and this whole thing has adverse effects to our health, wealth and happiness. – Emre Soyer

After doing a quick Google search for Emre Soyer, I discovered the TEDxtalk he gave in 2013 in which he explores the importance of being attentive to the missing elements of our experiences. I was particularly struck by his ending observation, by way of a 1986 interview with Hillel Einhorn, which highlights the power and impact that shifting and questioning the filters we apply to our thinking can have on our happiness.

Now there are some interesting issues there about looking for evidence opposed or evidence about non-occurrences and this was brought home to me dramatically in a Chinese restaurant one night. After the meal, I bought the usual fortune cookies and I opened the cookie and read my fortune, it was a very interesting one. It said: don’t think about all of the things that you want that you don’t have, think of all the things that you don’t want that you don’t have. Well that kind of stopped me dead. I don’t know who writes these things but this is a very interesting one. So, I immediately draw a 2×2 table: want, not want, have, not have. And of course we think about what we want that we have, what we want that we don’t have; what we don’t want that we have; but rarely do we ever think about what we don’t want and what we don’t have. So, I’d like to use this example to point out that if the correlation between wants and haves is some notion of happiness, and because that don’t want and don’t have cell is so large, we are actually a lot more happier than we think we are.

-Hillel Einhorn, 1986

{ Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2x2 } “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” ...* | rethinked.org

Happiness is a 2×2 – Screen Shot from Emre Soyer’s TEDxTalk at TEDxOZU

 

THE { } AND – A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us …*

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

Just last week I was writing about the really exciting trend amongst filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of their craft and medium to enhance and rethink human connections. Here is a new project from director Topaz Adizes, THE {  } AND which is a bit reminiscent of Tiffany Shlain’s Cloudfilmaking in form. THE {  } AND is a human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern world–think StoryCorps but with a visual component.

Basically, how this started is someone came to me and said, “Topaz,” a year and a half ago, “let’s make a documentary about why better looking people these days get farther ahead.” Alright, let me think about that, that’s not really interesting. What’s really happening is that because of technology–I mean there’s more cell phones in the world now than there are toothbrushes—and that didn’t exist seven years ago. I mean, all of a sudden we have the smartphone and it’s giving us access, it’s changing the way we’re relating, stigmas are changing, economics are changing, the way we relate is totally changing—that’s what’s interesting. And I’m thinking, now, do I make a doc about that or do I create an entity that creates experiences that explores that. What’s the best way to tell this story and it was not for me to make a classic 90 minute feature documentary. No, no, no, let’s just create a bunch of interactive experiences that discuss this subject. 

THE {  } AND lets you browse the couples’s interviews or you can answer four questions about your relationships and they create a customized short doc suited to your answers created to spark your interest and direct your browsing. You can also play a short version of the game on the website or order the set of question cards to play it at home.

199 questions to explore your connections with your partner and loved ones. Deepen your relationship by asking the questions you’re dying to know but are afraid to ask. This is a ride worth sharing.

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

© The Skin Deep Media

In the interview below, watch Adizes talk about the project and discuss his plans to create a whole ecology of tools to help all of us explore modern day relationships—from further interactive interviews, apps, to the analogue card game.

THE {  } AND is a relationship genome project that we’re making, which is already growing beyond romantic couples; it’s growing between mothers and sons; daughters and fathers; siblings; coworkers; collaborator; we’re doing deaf couples, blind couples—really jumping into relationships. And we’re going to make this that human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern day and it’s all feeding from a content collective called The Skin Deep and we’re creating a bunch of experiences like this. This is the first one, it’s called THE {  } AND, it’s exploring intimate relationships, 

The content is addictive, the conversations between the couples are honest, vulnerable and touching. On a final note, of special interest to NYC rethinkers:

THE {  } AND invites parent/child duos to come in for 1 hour and use a deck of question cards we provide to interview each other. It’s like the best therapeutic conversation you can have – done in a creative interactive filmmaking twist!

You keep the footage of your entire session as a home video and we create a 4-5 min video to include within our interactive documentary. Reconnect with a loved ones and share your story on our relationship genome documentary.

Filming in NYC this weekend –May 2nd to 3. Go to The Skin Deep Tumblr for more info.

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation …*

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

A few months ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the fifth lesson: Grow In Peace – Transformation, it turns out, is astonishingly banal.

If you ever decide to walk the Camino, you will soon discover that everyone you tell knows someone else who did it. Apparently, all these friends of friends found it a fantastically transformative experience. They all felt something grand, spiritual, almost supernatural upon reaching Santiago. When I arrived, it was raining and I was battling a mighty cold. To reach Santiago, you have to bypass the airport and then walk for a few hours through the sprawling suburbs that have grown around the historical center. The predominant feelings I remember were disappointment and annoyance having to tread through a torrential downpour through this urban wasteland. A feeling akin to trying to get on the NYC 1 train during rush hour. Nothing grand about it.

When I returned everyone’s first question was, “So, are you transformed? Did you feel it?” I’m still not sure what that ‘it’ was supposed to be. I felt lots of things. I felt cold and sweaty, tired and elated, grumpy and excited, awed and overheated, achy, curious, lost, optimistic, jealous and delighted–the whole gamut of human emotions from the petty to the exalting. As for noticeable transformations, other than my feet which became freakishly swollen halfway through the walk and went up (permanently, I have now found out) one full shoe size, there were none to speak of. But now, over six months since I have returned, I am beginning to discern the transformative effects of this experience. I have changed in subtle but important ways–I feel more urgently the need to align my beliefs with my behaviors and I feel more confident and optimistic about my capacity to do that. This is not a new observation, I didn’t get to Santiago and just realize that I am feeling off center because I’m not committing hard enough to the things that break and delight my heart; what changed is my determination to do something about it.

. . . *

When I arrived in Santiago, I went to the cathedral and decided to light a candle to Saint Anthony of Padua, my mother’s favorite saint. I walked around the cathedral a few times unable to find him and finally asked a security guard.

“Excuse me, do you know where I can find Saint Anthony?”

“I don’t know, did someone tell you he was here?”

“No, but I was hoping you might help me find him.”

“Let me check. No, sorry, he’s not here.”

I didn’t find Saint Anthony, but when I stopped looking for him, I walked around the cathedral again and took in all its treasures, finally seeing the other saints sitting impassively in their richly carved nooks and corners. I think that’s a good metaphor for transformational moments. We sometimes invest these moments with so much expectation that we ignore the smaller changes we undergo. Static is an illusion, it is in our nature and our biology to be constantly changing, if only just through the unavoidable pull of entropy. My father’s family motto is ‘Change or Decay’. Whether on pilgrimage or on the 1 train, we are constantly in motion. Change is inevitable, we can choose to be intentional about the direction of this change or we can just let our experiences change us mindlessly. I think that’s the power of transformational moments, they rarely transform us into a brand new person (subjectivity doesn’t work that way, we need some sort of continuity in our sense of self), but they give us the perspective and hopefully the courage to be intentional about our growth and evolution.

On one of the last pages of the journal that I brought with me on the walk, I recently rediscovered this note I had scribbled to myself:

“No groundbreaking epiphanies, no blazing revelations–mainly just an increased awareness of what’s already known and the mental space to see how much this awareness/knowledge needs to be transformed into action.”

. . . *

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

{ The Potential of Virtual Reality to Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine } Chris Milk: VR Is A Machine That Makes Us More Human …*

“[Virtual Reality is] not a video game peripheral, it connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other. And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world. It’s a machine but through this machine, we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic and we become more connected. And ultimately, we become more human.” – Chris Milk

I’ve been getting very excited over the last few years witnessing the growing trend of filmmakers who are actively thinking about and engaging the potential of their chosen medium to foster and advance an empathy revolution. (Rethinked favorite, Tiffany Shlain, who has been pioneering a new form of collaborative filmmaking“Cloud Filmmaking,” just recently gave a TED talk on empathy.) The connection between storytelling and empathy is an ancient one but with advances in technology and neurobiology, we are getting a better understanding of how stories engage our emotions as well as being able to push the boundaries of how these stories are told. In this captivating TED talk, filmmaker and self-described ‘maker of stuff’, Chris Milk explores the potential of Virtual Reality to help us become more human and empathetic by transporting us more viscerally into the emotional worlds of others.

Film is an incredible medium but essentially it’s the same now as it was then. It’s a group of rectangles that are played in a sequence. And we’ve done incredible things with those rectangles. But I started thinking about, is there a way that I could use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways, and tell different kinds of stories that maybe I couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for a hundred years. So I started experimenting, and what I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine. 

But then I started thinking about frames, and what do they represent. And a frame is just a window. I mean, all the media that we watch–television, cinema–they’re these windows into these other worlds. And I thought, well great, I got you in a frame but I don’t want you in the frame, I don’t want you in the window. I want you through the window, I want you on the other side, in the world, inhabiting the world. So that leads me back to Virtual Reality. Let’s talk about Virtual Reality. […] It’s difficult to explain because it’s a very experiential medium–you feel your way inside of it, it’s a machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life, it feels like truth. And you feel present in the world that you’re inside of and you feel present with the people that you’re inside of it with.

Watch Milk’s TED talk below to see how he’s been harnessing the power of Virtual Reality to get his audience out of the frame and into the world of his subjects.

imagine, feel & rethink …*

{ Drawing As A Fundamental Instrument For Understanding …* } “When children are prevented from drawing, their brains don’t develop fully.”

“For me, drawing has always been the most fundamental way of engaging the world. I’m convinced that it is only through drawing that I actually look at things carefully and the act of drawing makes me conscious of what I’m looking at. If I wasn’t drawing, I sense that I would not be seeing. ” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking for a mid-week pick me up, I highly recommend this short video of Milton Glaser drawing Shakespeare while reflecting on the role of drawing in his understanding of life and capacity to engage with the world around him.

“For me, drawing has always been an absolutely primary way of encountering reality. I’m astonished by drawing. I always think of every drawing as a kind of miraculous occurrence.”

MILTON GLASER DRAWS & LECTURES from TEAMVVORK on Vimeo.

draw, [re]think & understand …*

Hat Tip: Milton Glaser Draws Shakespeare & Explains Why Drawing is the Key to Understanding Life

{ Stand by Your Choices } When the Going Gets Tough, Remember You Chose This …*

A few months ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the fourth lesson- stand by your choices– When the going gets tough, lean into the discomfort, after all, you’re the one that chose to put yourself in this situation

. . . *

I first discovered the notion of “leaning into discomfort” last year, from my father. In a spur of the moment decision that still baffles me I had committed to run a half-marathon. I printed a training schedule I found online, got a good pair of running shoes and motivated myself with the promise of New York’s best donuts (I stand by that claim) at Peter Pan after every run. I was soon forced by an interminable string of snowstorms to train indoors on a treadmill. Let’s be honest, running in place inside in bad lighting is far from a stimulating experience. I dealt with the drudgery of burning lungs, aching muscles and being forced to awkwardly stare at my wheezing tomato-red reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors strategically (perversely) placed in front of the treadmills by zoning out. I would pick a point on my shirt, somewhere near the collar, directly under my chin, stare at it in the mirror and blast music (or podcasts, thank you Debbie Millman) in my headphones to slowly force my mind out of the gym. My runs were a chore and while with time I came to appreciate and look forward to the way I felt after a long run, the act itself was something I just had to get through.

That changed when one weekend I visited my parents and went on a run with my father who is an avid runner. He told me to leave my music at home and said to focus instead on the way the air felt in my lungs, the crunch of the ground under my sneakers, the noise of the birds overhead–to lean into the experience, discomfort and all; to be fully present in the moment. This all sounded like a terrible idea but I trust and look up to him enough that I was willing to give it a try. It was on that run that my feelings about running started to change. I acquired a new appreciation for the act itself, I began to enjoy the feeling of running, not just the feeling that came when I stopped. There was still discomfort and pain but I discovered a strong sense of joy in those aches. This was my body, moving, strengthening and even though the process sometimes hurt, I felt incredibly excited by experiencing the fullness of the process.

I injured myself two weeks before the race and was told by my doctor that I had to stop running for a few months until I recovered. I’ve since given up on the idea of running a half-marathon but I’ve kept running. I don’t want to force myself to run in place on a treadmill for up to an hour and a half to reach a certain number of miles by race day, but I come alive when the weather is pleasant and I’m out for a run.

{ Stand by Your Choices } When the Going Gets Tough, Remember You Chose This ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Entering Galicia

 

The last stage of the Camino Frances goes through the luxuriant hills of Galicia. The second I crossed over into Galicia three things happened: I was awed by the breathtaking greens hidden and revealed by opaque layers of thick fog; it rained all day every day, and I came down with a massive cold. I’m not talking little seasonal sniffle, no, this was the real thing–mouth breathing, body aches, sore throat and fever. I tried to rally and thought about my father’s advice to embrace the fulness of each experience by leaning into all its components, including the uncomfortable ones. That got me through most of the first day but by the third day, walking from morning to mid-afternoon in torrential rain, slipping in mud, and lugging my heavy pack, I fell prey to whining and self-pity.

After spending the better part of the morning telling myself that this was awful, that I hated it, that it was the stupidest thing I had ever done, I was reluctantly forced to come to the unavoidable conclusion that I had no one to “blame” for this but myself. No one had made me walk, it had been my choice and it had been something I had really wanted, something I thought would be important. The mud, the rain, the cold, the constant running out of tissues and burning sore throat, all that was a consequence of a choice I had made. It was part of the package.

I have always been obsessed by notions of identity–who are we? how do we know? why does it matter?– There are so many layers to get lost in when trying to formulate a sense of the self. In the bustle of daily life it is so easy to avoid owning up to who we are by hiding behind habits, labels, complacency. We make excuses–we’re too tired, too busy, too stressed, we’d be/act differently if only… It’s astonishing what carrying all your belongings on your back will do to help you clarify things. In the end, when all the noise is removed and each day comes down to lacing up your boots and walking down the path you have chosen, the questions crystalize. Do you walk through the breathtaking landscapes but also the cow shit and the mud pits? Do you own your choice or not?

My walk helped crystalize some thoughts around selfhood, voice and experience that have been brewing in my mind for the past few years. I feel a bit vulnerable sharing this insight because it seems so definitive and if there is one thing I find ridiculous it’s certainties. But for me, at this stage in my life, at least, I reached the end of my walk and the conclusion that the measure of who we are comes down to wether or not we are willing to stand behind our choices.

In some way, choices are cheap– A or B, stripes or polka dots, adventure or safety. We may agonize for extended periods of time over which choice to make, but the actual decision takes only a moment. The real work comes after, will we reaffirm our decision each day and embrace the consequences or will we whine and blame and become alienated from ourselves and our experience in the process. It’s been said before, but there is an expiration date for blaming your parents and circumstances for wasting the numbered amount of moments you are given.

This is about taking ownership for the lives we live; it’s about living with intent, courage and perseverance. Do you want to go through life running in place in bad neon lighting, blasting music through your headphones until your mind is numb or do you want to live the fullness of who you are by accepting accountability for the decisions your make? It’s not our choices that define us, but our capacity and willingness to stand behind them.

{ Stand by Your Choices } When the Going Gets Tough, Remember You Chose This ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

What the last 10 days of my Camino looked like, more or less.

 

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