On Performativity and False Identities

Happy Tuesday everyone.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about status games. Eugene Wei’s brilliant post on Status-as-a-Service has got me pondering the nature of these games within my own circles and within myself. I’m not sure I like what I see.

Much of these status games, both digital and physical, seems to build off the idea of performativity.

In tech, performativity manifests as people being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. It’s masking cheap advice as aphorisms exclusive only to those “in the know”. It’s delivering opinions on topics that they believe people of their stature and title must deliver, regardless of their actual knowledge on that topic. Performativity here is the delta between who you are and who you say you are; the delta between the knowledge you have the knowledge you pretend to have.

It’s faking expertise as a means to acquire or preserve status.

We all have some form of status — within digital networks, within small groups, within families, and all to varying degrees. Simply holding status is an opt-in into the status game and performative behavior can help one move up in the status game.

The danger here is dual-fold. The first is when the person’s performativity is exposed, dropping the person’s status by a multiple of the status gained from performative behavior. The second is the artificial ceiling on personal growth that's constructed as the person develops a false identity around their inflated level of status.

False-identity construction around status is scarily simple. As the frequency and the magnitude of their performative behavior increases, the person constructs an identity around it. The person begins to believe in the notion that they have a level of knowledge greater than what they actually have. Their performative behavior, while initially directed at others, has begun to fool themselves.

Example: An entrepreneur specializing in medical adherence positioning themselves as an expert in all things healthcare. As they continues this facade, they begins to believe that they are actually an expert in all things healthcare. Their reactions to the opinions of others, the information in which they consume, and the practices in which they engage in, all become representative of this falsely-constructed identity and what they believe a person of that identity must know/do.

Holding opinions is valuable. Having tangential knowledge of any topic is valuable. Falsely identifying yourself as an expert is not, a honest understanding of what you know and don’t know is necessary. The ability to grow comes from the acknowledgment that one’s present knowledge will forever be a drop in the vast ocean of information.

Be comfortable with your ignorance and be excited for what you’ve yet to learn.

Within tech, the false-identity construction trap is an easy one to fall into. The stratification of society based on networks, the deification of successful founders/VCs, and the newfound social mobility with poetic aphorisms as its currency, has made tech an especially fertile breeding ground for this identity to arise and prosper.

I’m not above this either and I’ve been recognizing more symptoms of this affliction within myself even as I write this post. While I’ve been working on reducing the causes — and I’ve found myself happier and more invigorated when I do — there’s still much work left to be done.

There’s an irony here in writing a public post about how I’ve been reducing my own performativity as I engage in, what can be interpreted as performative, self-congratulatory behavior. Blogging is a status game like any other after all.

I hope you don’t read this blog as performative though. This is my way to refining my thoughts and finding smart people to riff on ideas together. With it, I hope to become a bit more aware of my own ignorance and subsequently reduce that ignorance. So feel free to push back on these ideas, rip them apart, or build upon them. I’m here to listen to your thoughts and learn from you. ❤️

Anyways, I started a couple of fun projects recently with some really inspiring friends (old and new!) that I'm pretty excited about. Can't wait to make headway on them and show them off to y'all soon.

Have a blessed day 🙏🏼

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White Tees

Good morning y'all.

Nothing sparks the feeling of freedom and boundless creativity in me more than a simple white tee. It’s an elite garment.

Other tops makes for killer fashion fits but they're stifling. White tees are invigorating. For me, it’s all about skin exposure. Less coverage = more public nerve endings = more diversity of stimuli. Wordly stimuli are the primitive inputs of the complex function for creative outputs.

Other tops reduce the diversity and quality of these inputs. They envelop your nerve endings, subjecting them to the same stimuli repeatedly across the entire day. There's nothing new to feel — the stimuli are too consistent, becoming monotonous. It creates a disconnect from the energies of the world. Nothing creative comes out of there. Chaos and novel experiences are essential. Sensory deprivation will only cocoon the creative energies, restricting them to the internal and preventing the soul from entering the physical world. I want to feel the warmth of the sun and the chill of the wind.

The whiteness of the tee is important. White tees are blank slates — tabula rasa. Everything shows up on white. It’s the most vulnerable color and vulnerability is fundamental to creativity. Your outputs aren’t biased by the influence of the shirt, it has no influence.

I like skinny jeans as a good complement for white tees. Jeans cover the entire leg, holding the nerve endings tight and comfortable. Looser jeans and pants inconsistently flood your senses with consistent stimuli, adding noise to the perceived world. Skinny jeans reduce the number of nerve endings that are variably stimulated, providing a necessary limiter to the stimuli of the world so that your senses don't get overwhelmed. It grounds the creative energies found from wearing the white tee.

Oh and shoes, I love shoes. I've been telling many of my friends that my personality shifts significantly depending on what shoes I wear. It's the largest indicator of what my personality will be like on any given day. Chelsea/combat boots if I'm feeling legit and ready to make some moves. Sneakers/low-tops if I'm chilling and just trying to enjoy a lazy day. Barefoot/sandals if I'm feeling the creative energies heavy and am just trying to send my vibe out into the world.

Side note: Socks and sandals are going to be the hot new fashion trend for summer 2019. Join the wave. You heard it here first.

There's something unbelievably energizing when the bare foot touches the ground. Not the man-made land of our concrete jungles but raw, fresh soil; warm, crunchy sand; soft, cushy grass. The inflow of positive energy is amazing. I think it’s a function of the newfound sensory freedom of my toes as they finally become free of the confines of the shoe. The wonder of receiving novel stimuli from an unorthodox place is energizing. Pseudo-scientists call the practice: earthing. The science is highly questionable, but I won't second-guess my personal observations. It works for me.

Fashion has a nontrivial impact on my own creative function. This likely does not hold true for everyone but if it does hold true for you, reach out! I’d love to hear about it.

Enjoy your day ✌🏽

A Case Against Dreaming

Greetings from the Iberian peninsula! Spring break finally came around and the squad is in Spain for the week. The past week has been quite humbling for me so I‘ve been depleted emotionally as of late. With a bit of luck, this trip will be one of replenishment and reflection.

Anyways —

Lately, I’ve been toying around with the value of dreams and I think they’re quite overrated. At their core, they are the visual manifestations of our expected optimal future, built on our assumptions and knowledge from a given moment in time.

Human desire exists in the abstract. But what is abstract is intangible and intangibles are resistant to visualization. As such, we need to concretize them by dropping them down layers of abstraction until we reach a layer in which they become conceptually fungible and physically actionable. That is the dream.

However, each time we drop down a layer of abstraction, we sacrifice a level of accuracy in the representation of our original desires. It’s a tradeoff between breadth and depth. The rain is an imperfect encapsulation of the spirit of melancholy. By the time we reach the layer of tangibility - the dream layer - we will have bastardized our original desires.

Furthermore, once we reach that layer and create the dream, it becomes the standard by which we base our decisions against rather than the layer of abstract desires - the base layer - that the dream is meant to represent. The dream becomes a symbol — we use them to refer back to our original desires rather than simply remaining cognizant of the desires themselves. But since the reference is imprecise, the symbol is imperfect.

To concretize the dream, we synthesize the abstractions in our current layer with our present information - situational events, emotional state, cultural inputs - to derive a level of tangibility that brings us to the next layer down.

To use the dream as a goal to strive for, a node in our decision-making framework, is flawed. By visualizing them, we endow them with a baseline level of permanence — the act of reevaluating and redeveloping a dream is one which requires significant mental energy that we often lack the emotional support and temporal resources for. The dream is a node that is outdated the moment it is born.

As such, they reinforce notions of our future desires based on information from the past rather than the present. It veils the desires, that which is used to build the dream, behind the dream itself — reversing cause and effect.

When evaluating opportunities, the formula should be:
— DERIVE decision node FROM desires PLUS present information

But most of us follow the following formula:
— DERIVE decision node FROM dream
— present information NOT CONSIDERED

Using dreams to reference desires presupposes that the state of our known information at the time of the dream’s birth is the same as the state of known information at the present — this is rarely the case.

So to make sure that our actions are always aligned to our desires, I believe we should remain cognizant of the abstract desires that we hold dear and continuously reevaluate what they mean to us at that present moment - synthesizing it with present information to build the decision node we use for the present situation at hand.

However, this has proved to be extraordinarily mentally taxing in practice. It may be part of the reason why I have more existential crises than most people I know.

However, the goal is that, with time, a variant of this concept will be discovered that is better suited for my cognitive process while still retaining the fundamentals benefits. Alternatively, the current weaknesses - the amount of mental energy to concretize abstract concepts - may be strengthened with practice. Also alternatively, it can just be proven to be wrong.

But right now, I believe there is something here and that success here can enable long-term positive returns towards the quest of self-actualization. Will let y’all know how it goes ✌🏽

Special thanks to Joseph Vukel for helping me make sure my thoughts are coherent here

The Information Deluge and My God I Know Nothing

✋🏼👋🏼 ✋🏼,

I’ve been feeling the dreaded imposter syndrome heavy recently.

I’m not sure why, but in these last few weeks, it’s been flaring up at the most inopportune times. A few days ago, I was on a phone with a friend talking through their app design with them and while they were speaking, I thought to myself:

"Damn, do I really know enough to give them advice here?"

There’s a part of me that knows I do (I promise!) but sometimes that part of me hides under the covers refusing to show its face. I have to rip off its Gravity Blanket and kick its ass out of bed. I usually knock over its Otherland candles in the process. Even mini-me is an unnecessarily boujee tech bro.

In the middle of one of these episodes of self-doubt, I started thinking about the ways I’ve been learning and consuming information.

A good chunk of my learnings each day comes from mediums that are list-centric, the nature of aggregators like Twitter, Facebook, and many email newsletters. Each one of these mediums provides multiple news nuggets, and every one of them is screaming for attention and begging to be clicked on.

The fool I am, I click on them all.

In this deluge of facts and opinions, my thoughts get swept away. Numbers and characters swirl around my head while my brain desperately tries to grab everything and keep it in the box that is my memory. It often fails and most of this information rushes out of my head, refusing to be contained.

By the end of the day, I generally consume thousands of individual bits of content. And as a result of that scale, none are processed deeply. For the next couple of days, I would be able to quote random figures about funding valuations or design trends. I would be able to throw out new industry buzzwords or the word for word opinions of ~experts~ with ease.

For personal conclusions or analyses though, there’s nothing. Guess that means I’ve really learned nothing as well then.

Even worse, consuming all of that content is absolutely EXHAUSTING. My entire Wednesday was full of reading short-form (defining this as <1 min) blurbs and tweets and by the end of the day, my emotions were utterly drained. The amount of context-switching between ideas sucked out all of my energy and I jumped (read: crawled wine-drunk) onto my bed a husk of the man that I was when I work up that morning.

Why do I do this to myself? Anxiety mostly.

Anxiety from not knowing the latest tech and design trends. Fear of seeming ignorant on phone call and at dinners. Stress from talking to founders that I admire and not knowing the latest news around the industry. I feel the need to consume copious amounts of content so that when the time is right, I can regurgitate these facts and spit them out to make myself seem well-read and worthy of giving advice.

It’s a twisted form of social performativity exacerbated by imposter syndrome and FOMO.

So something I’ve been thinking about instead is that: what if we’re given just one high-quality idea (Note: high-quality is relative here, define it as you wish) and we spend our day’s spare energy analyzing and unpacking it.

Yes one idea is significantly less than a thousand, but the worth of our understanding of that single idea may be so much more.

The situation of Amazon backing out of NYC or on the nature of pine trees are both multifaceted topics that deserve more than just a brief article or a passing thought. Ancient monks, ascetics, and scholars of various affiliations have been known to spend years on a single idea of that level of complexity. We should be able to do that for a day.

One day for focusing on just one idea. Forgiving ourselves the time to let our minds wander around and between its structure. For formulating our own opinions and re-examining them over and over. For discovering parallels between its essence and our present. For engaging deeply with it and with all of our soul.

I think that’s beautiful, but I’m also a foolish romantic.

Last Rites - 01

Evening fam.

A little bit of personal news to start off: I left Pison two weeks ago. It was an end I've been planning for a few weeks now but a sad one nonetheless. Once the new semester rolled around and I started re-evaluating what I wanted to spend my time on, I realized that I just didn't have any more room in my schedule for Pison. The problems that they was tackling was truly at the frontier of human-computer interaction and led to some really interesting projects in my time at the company. I learned a lot about speculative design from them and am very grateful towards the entire team for the experience they gave me. If anyone wants to work at an innovative early-stage company creating the next big interaction paradigm, hmu for the intro!

So onwards to the main topic, in these last few months, I’ve been attempting to become more aware of my personal decision-making framework and have recently reached a point where I feel comfortable consciously inserting my own axes into that framework. These axes have been quite varied, most are just fun little ideas I've been wanting to play around with as a experiment, but one I’ve been using recently has proved to be both a valid and useful metric to judge life decisions against — its the envisioning of my own last rites.

Historically in Christianity, the ritual of last rites was meant to prep the soul of the dying person for their inevitable departure from the earth. It’s the occasion for them to confess their sins, seek forgiveness, and attain spiritual peace through the guidance of a holy man, often a priest. The loose ends of their life, that which plagues the last moments of existence, are soothed by this priest so that they may travel to the flip side free of earthly worries and regrets.

I really vibed with the concept and wanted to understand how it might manifest in my own personal life, as an agnostic theist.

As a result, I decided to try to insert that idea into my decision-making framework and envision the future form of myself in the minutes leading up to my death. Those are the moments when a devout christian would generally be given their last rites and I wanted to use my self-constructed ideal of those moments as a point to consider when assessing the opportunity sets that arise in day-to-day life.

In those future moments:

  • What thoughts do I want to run through my head?
  • What are the circumstances leading up to my death?
  • How would I want my friends and family to feel?
  • What are the last things in the world that I would want to sense?

Initially, this idea didn’t appear to me as anything more than the classic questions of “Where will you be in 5 years?” or “ How do you want people to remember you by?” — basic interview questions. The nuance here though is the idea of finality. There’s no going forward — its the final moments of my life and my feelings, reflections, and thoughts in those moments are the last ones that I will ever make.

This nuance is what allows for the exercise to output significantly deviant ideas from the ones that are normally engaged with, turning it into a methodology for surfacing values that one holds dear and putting them into a concrete context.

The ideal then becomes the manifestation of a set of abstract principles in a discrete set in the time, allowing for the succinct comprehension and tangible application of those values into a day-to-day decision-making framework.

It makes that decision-making process a bit more fun as a bonus.

I really wanted to write a bit about how I envisioned my own ideal last rites but this post has started to get a bit long. I’ve found that around 500 words is about how much I can write comfortably without feeling the urge to proofread excessively and would like to stay at that level for the sake of brevity in creation and consumption — hopefully this keeps the content fresh and engaging for y'all as well.

Until next time.

Rest well ✌🏽

Fog and Murmurs

I’ve been dreaming a lot recently.

One dream has been appearing over and over again — one of fog and murmurs. Lost in a world of infinity with all sights and sounds alike, the axes collude and intertwine.

When the daybreaks™️, my senses become overwhelmed with the auras of the world — an 180° deviation from my dream state. It’s a fearful experience. I just want to close my eyes again.

Lately, I’ve been trying to be less aware of the world. The idea of conscious ignorance has been at the back of mind for much of the past few weeks. There is so much in the world, and the vast majority of it are extraordinarily weak signals. I’m hoping to block those out and allow only the strong ones through. Those are the ones that invigorate and depress, renew and destroy. In a normal distribution, it’s the tails of the 95.

Through simple existence, our senses have developed filtering mechanisms to parse out the noise of the world. With an infinite number of stimuli and a limited amount of cognitive ability, our bodies have built for us a natural defense mechanism for making sure we aren’t constantly bombarded with information.

It works well.

I think we can do better though — creating an internal world of fog and murmurs, where only the strongest lights and sounds reach us, each one with the ability to shake our world away from the steady state and impart upon us, the utmost extremities of emotions.

The goal is the ocean. Infinity of mice and men, a world of fog and murmurs only broken by the greatest of stimuli. Inconsequential to the world — the rustling of the wind-blown bush — but of consequence to us. It need not matter what breaks us from free from our idyllic harmony, only that it impacts and that we meditate upon it. For only the strongest of substances should be the ones that reach out hearts and remind us — hey, we’re still alive.

On the Future of Gesture

Working in AR has led me to spend an unhealthy amount of time recently thinking about the new interaction paradigms that may arise alongside this new technology. One of the most compelling ones for me is gesture-based interactions.

Looking at the current major interaction paradigms, we can abstract two major commonalities from them that are crucial for their continued existence: 1) they are agnostic across most population demographics — age, language, and major factors native to the human condition and 2) they require relatively similar levels of effort in the general case and a distinctly lower level of effort in their specific niche cases.

The traditional notions of gesture-based interactions, as exampled by Microsoft Kinect and the cult-classic: Minority Report, are antithetical to both of these commonalities.

  1. Present gestural language is segmented across demographics. Like memes, gestures are created by the collective consciousness of a group and are only used + understood within the group. Those outside the group lack the context and mental models to interpret gestures of other groups. Demographical divides create the most obvious groups - splintering populations across age, race, and culture.
  2. Present gestural language also contains multiple instances of complex movements that are exhausting at scale. i.e. pointing with the finger to select objects or placing a finger to the lips. Generally, all full-arm movements require a level of effort an order of magnitude above wrist-only movements (writing) and finger-only movements (tapping).

My personal belief here is that for a gesture-based interaction paradigm to evolve beyond being just a gimmick, the interaction has to be comprised of a set of primitives in which people can put together (with context) to form the command they want AND it has to be a non-trivial improvement above existing paradigms in non-niche scenarios.

A few months ago, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to further develop this thesis by joining the team at Pison Technologies as their first interaction designer focused on gestures. Our research surrounds decoding our body's nerve and muscle signals — coupling these signals with an IMU, we can understand a broad range of finger, wrist, and arm movements that were made by a user.

Unlike traditional notions of gestural interfaces that are translated by cameras using computer vision, Pison gestures are translated by a small wearable wristband, allowing for commands to be sent discreetly and effortlessly from spatially-agnostic locations — commands as simple as a flick of a finger.

I’m excited to see what we create.