Roundabout Philosophy

Here’s the thing about being human: we love bullshitting ourselves. Admit it: how many monologues have you had in an attempt to justify your actions, your fears, your success, your habits, or anything else? And how many times have those monologues changed in direction in the span of a day, or an hour?

A few days ago, I was driving to work and part of my regular route takes me through the formerly-dreadful roundabout on Al-Khail road, which was jammed in traffic. The culprit turned out to be dead traffic lights, giving everyone authority over the road and resulting in a semi-deadlock.

That scenario to me became symbolic of how we conduct our lives.

We love freedom. We fight for freedom. Many across this region have been, and many have died in the process. All of us want our voice to be heard; we want to share our opinions on issues that matter to us on a personal level and at the community level — without being thrown in jail for doing so. We all want to leverage globalisation and technology to propagate our ideas (conscious or subconscious) into the digital realm of this universe. We want to be liberated from shackles that have been limiting our movements, choices, and opportunities for generations. And we all want to do so because we believe we’re entitled to. As a matter of fact, we are.

But.

We love control. We are wired to compartmentalise, label, assess, assign, leverage, and conduct our lives in an “orderly, proper” fashion. We want to feel empowered and the way we believe we do it is by gaining control. We want to control how people correspond with us. We want to control our social aspects of our lives. We want to control our kids, how the family treats guests, how dinner is prepared, and our conduct. We want to control other people’s ideas, influence, power, resources, and habits. We want people to conform to our ideas — whether we do so through concious coercion or subconscious manipulation — because our ideas are just too damn good.

But.

We abhor being controlled. We want to be free from this “order”. We want to “think out of the box” and “liberate our senses” and “free our emotions” and “be tolerant” and “learn from differences” and and and.

And… what do you get when you give people freedom? A deadlock in a roundabout. Because not one goddamned person — myself included — would want to wait for others to pass by if I could squeeze in a bit to the right and wiggle myself out to the other side of the road. We are opportunists and we take the opportunity of this new-found freedom by trying to control it. It’s all ours. OURS! Freedom is finite and is to be exercised at the expense of others.

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, pull back the curtains, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.” — Frank Zappa

Has it always been like this? Most probably — but then there’s so much of it now, I have to stop and ponder why all of this is happening. There are some dimensions at play, but if I want to look back at history, there are only two constants: time, and discontent.

Indeed, being in a state of continuous dissatisfaction is what drives innovation and what drives people to break the status quo. That’s the good side of it; when the good rears its ugly butt, you get greed. Infinite greed, and that’s what is the core issue of many of our problems today. And time? Because of all of this more more more approach to living the world, we end up with stressed and highly fragmented minds. We want to reach our destination in the fastest time so we can do as many things as possible so that we have time to do even more things — most of which do not add any value. We labour during the day and moan after hours and hardly 5% of the population is truly satisfied with what they do and spend no more time than required to do what they do.

Here’s how it works: in the yesteryears, people had more time to do less things. Now, we have less time to do more things. What this results in is fragmented minds, fragmented lives, empty days and time lost. You get all sorts of books on the subject matter as well as numerous articles online. Almost every other day I come across an article with a new way to get things done or to better your “time management”. Sorry, but time is constant; it should be called “Clutter Management”. We end up discontent and we want to be free from all of this and we want to do it by taking control of what’s around us.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work. When we live in an age with a brief attention span, our lives jammed with deadlines (and what a dead, flat line life we live), and we are continuously dissatisfied and want to do something about it but can’t — because you know, someone else is exercising their freedom at your expense — we do not sit and ponder the interesting aspects and big questions of life.

We let scientists do that, and we google the results at one point. When we have the time.

Social Media 30-Day Detox Experiment

I did it. Finally. After months and months of complaining about social media — and this is from someone who works in the media industry — I decided to put my cynical self to the test and deprive myself of everything digital (with the exception of WhatsApp, which serves to be my SMS app replacement). And what better time to begin with my experiment than when I went back home to Syria before Ramadan, the place where I usually unplug from the online world? With your run-of-the-mill social networking applications hardly accessible, self-control and restraint should have been easy.

Should have been.

Though in Syria I tend to spend my time completely offline, this visit was a bit different and more often than not I had an impulsive urge to share what I was doing with everyone, especially stories that my grandmother narrated to me on the balcony as we observed the streets and prepared Freekeh. Yet I was completely disconnected — and other than email on my mobile phone, I was completely cut off from the outside world.

The first week I suffered from severe withdrawal symptoms. I had dreams of shrinking URLs and twitpics. I created conversation scenarios in my head and lived them, whether they be on twitter or Facebook. Quite sad, right?

When I accepted the fact that I could not use social media, I was flown back to Dubai. Armed with my new-found self confidence that I can remain unplugged for a longer time, I deactivated my Facebook (quite a dumb thing to do as I use many services with the FB login, but that’s another story) and uninstalled all applications (twitter, G+, etc) from all my devices and browsers.

And I came to this conclusion:

  • It is so w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l to be away and focus for once in my life! To have the time (shock) to read books and go out and do other things! To not have to deal with links about Google Plus on Google Plus!
  • Living without social media is d-r-e-a-d-f-u-l. I miss how enriching interactions are and how I felt I was part of a community.
By then it hit me that these are just services and I am the one in charge. I can allow myself to use them the way I wish, or be abused by succumbing to the addiction. I have the willpower to work from 9-5 and drop by on my breaks. I have the choice of what I can post and where. More importantly, I have the choice of what I want to read. It all seems silly, but for a guy who considers himself to be on the inquisitive side, I tend to feel obliged that I have to read everything.
I wanted to conclude with something else but I have this request to make instead: FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING HOLY, UNLINK TWITTER FROM THE REST OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA SERVICES! NO NEED TO REPLY TO @myexgirlfriend ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK AND G+ AND LINKEDIN!

The Social Farce

I cringe at what I intend to hint to with the blog title as I type it. The world around me is being consumed by this “social media” virus and I stand here in it, but not of it; I stand between shifting paradigms in a knock-off world – a mere mental state of perceptive reality shaped by our subconscious lust of belonging to this cognitive group yet be unique in the hundreds of thousands around us.

My director asked me a few weeks ago: “What do you think is the future of social media?”. I replied with silence; I did not know what the future of social media is, because I believe it is built around a psyche that is adept at being delusional yet can be broken by an odd individual. I believe that that we are ushered into an era where we believe that we are empowered. We believe we have power because we now believe our voices are heard. We believe we can change our world because the rest of the world is now watching. Common folk like you and I and a horde of other people. Our ideas are becoming a by-product of the corner of the massive pool we happen to swim in. And, indeed, we have seen countless examples of this “empowerment”.

But we never stop to ask why we have been empowered, and where is this en masse cognitive process going – and who is driving it. We never stop and wonder that we are being heard in most cases because the recipients are exercising mob-control. We almost never consider that instead of being heard, we are being herded.

When there were little options and little opportunities, people knew what they wanted. People knew the market, each other, their needs, and their desires. Now, people have little knowledge of what they want, and, if they do, they need reassurance from their peers.

Here I am in an era with an infinite amount of options none of which is satisfactory. I am in an era which screams FREEDOM when everyone is a prisoner of their own mind. I am in an era where we juggle between many gadgets and services and our to-do lists get bigger and longer. We need tables and sheets and agendas and Excel and three hundred web-apps to keep track of what we’re doing and keep track of all the other apps we use to keep track of us. Every single aspect of our life has become a target for a service, and then we have services and apps which attempt to consolidate our fragmented lives into one “box”.

Our minds have become so fragmented that we fail to see how broken the system is.

There is a difference between riding the bandwagon and doing things right – though anyone at this point can still theorise at what is right and what is not. Every time I hear “social” I begin to imagine a group of silhouetted individuals in a grey, bland room with flashy rings and teeth and a projector displaying some random infograph (which have become a commodity right now and information unusable within days) plotting their next strategy to brainwash people en masse.

If I were the word “social” I would have killed myself right now.

Double Standard Bullshit

It’s easy to tell from the title that I am bottled up with thoughts, right? I have a *lot* on my mind and, quite frankly, at the moment I don’t feel quite the diplomatic, complacent self that I am. So this post is not about protecting someone’s ego at the expense of mine.

And here’s the first example of double standards, coming from yours truly:

The content of this post is a personal opinion of mine and not a reflection of any bloody entity I have worked in, working in, will work in, studied in, serviced, or been serviced by, sexually or otherwise, metaphorically or in the literal sense, in this life or the next, in my dreams, be they wet or dry, real or fictional, in any country on this planet, terrestrial, aquatic, aerial or virtual.

Now on to the main point: WHY DOES EVERYONE HAVE DOUBLE STANDARDS?! (including – but definitely not starting – with myself)

Here’s a prime example I have been experiencing since I lost my job in 2009: Almost every company I apply to is seeking a professional candidate (side note: please drop these stupid terminologies, HR) with a myriad of impossibly complex skills to perform tasks that a well trained monkey will be able to perform, eventually. Most notably are soft-skills such as your amazing ability to motivate yourself to move forward while the company closes all doors of hope in your face and subjects you to endless psychosomatic torture.

So the interview goes smoothly for a few minutes before the interviewer’s eyes widen at the blasphemous text which claims I am studying Masters. “Oh, you’re studying,” remarks the now-doubtful interviewer, “how will this affect your working hours and commitment?”

Seriously? You seek a person who is self-learning, self-improving, multi-talented, multi-tasking, multi-anus, and instead of commending their pursuit of self-everything you start questioning business impact? How about you change attitude and say “Oh wow, that is impressive. We would certainly put your skills into good use in improving how we conduct our work and bring in fresh insights to our dinosaur of an organisation.” A couple of friends abroad tell, and some here (from Abu Dhabi) tell me that their companies pay their tuition as an incentive to continue their education.

I lost count of the number of times me and my friends have been rejected or put on the sideline because we are trying to better ourselves.

If you just want to meet your bottom lines, then change the job descriptions and change your screening criteria. If you want competent people who have the potential of doing things differently or better – whether or not they eventually do so – then be more receptive.

I am not kissing ass here but I am glad my boss has so far been receptive.

Now, moving on: WHY THE HECK IS EDUCATION DOUBLE STANDARD? It feels as though the mediocrity of education is directly proportional to your investment. Wikipedia is the most comprehensive school you can ever find – and it’s free. I am not undermining formal education of course – but at least provide a service that is equivalent of how much money I am investing. The frustrations I have towards my college is enough to warrant a cardiac arrest; in fact, I probably will just drop dead on my graduation day – which, by the way, has been pushed six months because of a course offered only once a year (which is ridiculous considering it is a foundation course).

There is just so much I have to say – companies and brands which force their employees to only use their products (examples are cigarette companies and soft drink companies and probably condom companies). Brand loyalty? Through chronic exposure? Or how about companies which claim to be pro-free-speech and support global causes (such as uprisings and the such) yet at the same time ask you to remove any remarks made about clients? Are we now instruments to our organisations that we cannot voice our own opinions without consent? The same companies whose employees tweet and post about the backwardness of authoritarian rule will themselves practice such methods in their organisations.

I grow sick and mentally deranged every day as I read the same tired news all over the web, news outlets, and the only thing that’s noisier than a baby: twitter. So much bullshit going on and I have no idea what’s what any more. Almost everyone on this planet have become pawns and puppets of circumstances. The term “social media expert” has changed from “unemployed and tweeting” to “client bitch” instead of “on-line business enabler”. Whatever is “trending” or in the flow – everyone else flows the same way.

We are *all* striving to be unique and proudly exhibit our uniqueness yet we struggle with the sense of belonging with everyone else and become like everyone else. We all have different capacities in accepting/changing double standards around us – but the cardinal sin is to be in our own.

That’s how it has become post Web 2.0, and on some level I envy the “backwards” people who are content with the little things they have. At an era when reading a book has become a luxury, it is time to say no to bullshit.

Against All Odds

Here we are, in this day and age, where we assume we know almost everything about ourselves, our planet, and a fragment of outer space. Yet we have not mastered how we spend our resources. Our money, oil, time, oxygen, brain power, health, happiness – almost every single resource you can think of, we are have become experts in wasting. The more we study, read, and try to conserve, the more we waste.

Suicide rates worldwide range about 10-14 people per 100,000. That’s anywhere between 650,000 to a million people per year. People joke and say that we’re the best swimmers among the 200 million others when our parents copulated. But it’s much more than that. You’re 1:200 million of that specific mating session. Don’t forget the many times your parents have been trying – or not, for that matter. Add another layer of complexity by the odds of your parents existing because of their parents, and so on and so forth, and you’d find that the probability that you – as the person reading this – existing now is staggeringly impossible.

Yet you exist (and, if you’re a bit of a pessimist, so does Justin Bieber).

Want it more complex? Look at the friends you’re close with and the people whose life you touch and allow your life to be touched by them. What are the odds that they – just like you – sprung to life, and, against other odds, crossed paths with you?

People talk about finding purpose in life, a calling; a mission. Some people find it, some people make up something, and some others don’t. Others don’t even bother. Nothing wrong with any of those.

The point I am trying to make here is that everything around us that we come in touch with – right here and today – is against their own odds yet we currently co-exist.

Where we take things from here is not only making a choice on our behalf, but possibly affecting the odds of a billion other things around us, current and future.