Black Mirror: Nosedive, Authenticity, and Lost Connections

I just finished watching Black Mirror’s episode called Nosedive, which is an interesting episode about the impact of continually rating people for every social interaction. It explores what happens when someone who was previously a very high rated person has a very bad day. It was, implied that it would happen throughout episode, that everyone was just a series of misfortunate events away from dropping from their current social hierarchy to a lower strata where they’d be unable to function in current society. Ratings indicate which jobs a person can have or not. Dropping too low indicates you’re not worthy of that job and in many cases, network effects and game theory type logic comes into play. Where you have to judge if a low ranking person or a person that’s currently out of favor would negatively impact your image.If that would drop you from a person of respect to a person of disrepute.

This episode made me uncomfortable to watch, because in a lot of ways it feels like it hits close to home as it deals with a major reason why I don’t like social media. I don’t like the constant need for validation through pictures, likes, and comments. I’ve tried to, in general avoid, Facebook lately, because it feels inauthentic, and creepy. Between Facebook, itself, tracking what you do online and partners with companies to track your shopping habits offline. Combing that with the desire to display the best of your life on platforms like Instagram, this can lead to depression.

In many articles it’s because of the fact that you’re comparing your messy every day life to what people are willing to post, which typically represents the best parts of their life. Their happy dogs, walking in a vineyard, going surfing, or some new thing that they bought. Even if you know that you are doing this, doesn’t really help. However, I think there’s a few reasons beyond that. For one, it forces you to live an inauthentic life, which is one of the major themes in the show Nosedive. The character knows she’s putting on a show and clearly has some serious anxiety around behaving that way. Her brother, who lives a more authentic life, doesn’t care as much about his social media score and directly asks for Lacie (the main character) to return to her authentic self (“remember when we had real conversations?”)

Being an inauthentic version of yourself is a type of acting as well pushing down the values you actually believe in. This is something referenced in Lost Connections as a root cause of depression. Where our intrinsic values do not align with society’s values and we must adopt society’s values over our own we become depressed. In the episode it Lacie only became aware that it was a possible to reject those norms when she was picked up by a trucker with a rate of 1.4/5. This woman allowed her to reflect on her experience as her rating declined and bottomed out.

However, it wasn’t until she’d been rejected by the society and put into a prison of sorts that she was able to find a truly authentic interaction. It was rage filled, but eventually became filled with joy as the two people in prison were able to be an authentic version of themselves.

In our society, while we don’t have the intensity portrayed in the episode with social media, it is possible we could move into that direction over time. For us to really have authentic interactions, we need to find people that support us being our authentic selves even when there are people in our lives that might not fully support our decisions. Or people in our lives that make it more difficult to be authentic.

A Competition of Values

I’ve written about values in the past and it was something that I’ve felt was really important to me. However, it wasn’t until I had read Lost Connections (see my review here) that my values, education as a Lean practitioner, and my work environment was a major source of my depression. I think at some level I knew this, because I would get frustrated often and talk about it with the one or two people that really understood it. When I read two sections of Lost Connections, I put a couple pieces together.

In one section, Hari talks about how being unable to control things in your job, regardless of the type of work, completely destroys someone’s sense of worth and drives you into a state of hopelessness and depression. This can lead to anxiety and the inability to plan, because the depression and anxiety shrink your time horizon down to the immediacy of dealing with the person in control of your work life. This is something that his abhorrent to Lean, Agile, and Six Sigma methodologies. Where the goal is to push down decision making to the person closest to the actual work. In companies that really focus on driving down cost or having the single point of decision making, this can be anathema to the company culture.

The second section that hit home was the portion about our culture being at odds with our intrinsic values. Considering that I’ve been immersed so deeply with Lean, I have a strong sense of what i believe is fair for technology and social policies, it’s unsurprising that the current political environment was contributing to my depression. I had tried to fight this by writing, but I had just felt beaten down. I didn’t feel like I had anyone around me to talk with to support my values, this plunged me into farther depression.

This is where you need to find like people around you and I completely failed in that. I needed support for my values to be able to compete with the unhealthy cultural values i was thrown into at work. While I threw myself into an unhealthy amount of news and media about current politics. These two together over a series of months and years really started to take a toll on me. I suspect that I’m not alone in this. No matter what your principles are, you need to have a strong support network to keep those values healthy. You also have to be aware that your values are under attack by a society that values things very differently than you do. By a society that’s trying to exploit your anxiety to take your money to make you feel better. Because that item is the only thing that will make you feel better.

I had thought I was immune to that because I read a lot. I wasn’t out on Facebook or any places like that really trying to keep up with the Joneses. But I believe that I just dealt with that issue in other ways, including eating more than I should when I’m depressed, having a couple more drinks that I needed, or by shutting myself away from friends and family through gaming or reading or staring off into nothingness.

However, I now know that this is a thing that has happened to me and I can stop and listen to what I’m feeling. I’m going to with help of my friends locally and online to discuss my values and how I’m feeling about things. I’m going to sit with these feelings to understand them and figure out what it is that is in conflict causing me to feel this way and then make a plan to address it. As it is, i’m going to be working with my wife to figure how to get more connected with nature and how to get connected with more people in the area. As a way to get connected and be healthier.

I’m really glad I found this book, because it’s helped me feel a lot lighter about things. It’s helped me understand that I’m not broken, I have problems that cause depression, but they are solvable and I just need to ask for help and figure out to fix them with my partner.

Review: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected SolutionsLost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all you need to go into this book with an open mind. Skepticism on what he has to say is perfectly acceptable, but if you do not go into this with an open mind, you’re not willing to listen to what he’s saying. I read some of the 1 star reviews on Amazon and I believe that a lot of them really missed what he was trying to say with this book.

One thing you must be open to, is that our current pill happy society may actually be incorrect in using pills to address depression. That we may need to change how we live to address our depression and work with other people to get rid of it. It seems pretty ground breaking but this is supported with a lot of research. A full 30% of this book is foot notes (according to my Kindle). There are some foot notes that reference a full dozen different papers to support a given statement. This, for a layman’s pop-sci book, is pretty unheard of. I’ve read books by both scientists and science communicators and I’ve never been overwhelmed with evidence like I have in this book.

This book forces us to look at some very different causes for depression. One of the is trauma that we may or may not have dealt with in our childhoods. Just because it is A cause of depression, doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. There are certainly people that have dealt with childhood pain as well as some of the other causes like a soul crushing job with continual instability in keeping that job. Each of those are different causes of depression. In all, he lists 9 factors. I believe that there’s some of them that have actually impacted me in some way. From continual stress at home growing up to instability in jobs and a different set of values at work through my Lean Continuous Improvement training which just completely beat me down. I felt rather helpless in a lot of ways and I had no idea how to get out of it.

While reading this book, I’ve felt better than I’ve felt in a long time because he offers solutions to cases he describes. He explains people that were in bad situations and some of the solutions that helped them. Then he goes into great details to explain a large number of medically researched solutions that do not involve anti-depressants. This includes things like meditation, getting out in nature more, reconnecting with people through either support groups or something like a community garden. They are a lot more detailed than that. However, the important thing is that he describes cases with interviews, of where this has worked. In many cases with psychoanalysis but in some cases without.

The one thing that really helped was that you aren’t intended to do this alone. That you should seek out help and that one thing that is driving our depression is loneliness so the solution cannot be more of the same alone-ness. I’ve asked my wife to help me deal with my depression. Some of the things that we’ve committed to doing because of this book is to get to the coast at least monthly. To join an art class together, where we can meet new friends. She’s going to support me with playing hockey, as well as other things that we come up with from there.

I strongly recommend this book to people with any form of depression and I hope that you use this as a point to get help. Reach out and get a therapist, then, after you start to feel better, ask for help from friends to go with you when you start a new class or new organization. People generally know that you are depressed and being open about it and asking them for help will excite them. They want to help you (you know that I’m sure), but don’t know how to help you. This book can provide a language for you and your friends to discuss ways that you can get better.

You may always be depressed in some way, but you’ll be better overall.

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Review of Sam Sykes’ the City Stained Red

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1)The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. This definitely isn’t the high fantasy of Martin with big words, the biggest. This is the way that your DM talks to you while you’re playing a DnD campaign. Short, brutal, and with enough description to know how deep you are in the shit and let’s your imagination to fill in the rest. I mention a DM, because this books feels like someone took an incredibly chaotic DnD campaign and decided to turn it into a book. Where characters went off and did everything that you wouldn’t want them to do if you were running the campaign. It’s great. It’s funny, you love the characters, you care about what they are going through. Furthermore, this is generally a very tightly focused book on a single place without the massive world ending implications driving everyone to save everything. The characters are scared, in a horrible place, with crazy things going on that you don’t generally understand.

Sykes creates some really cool twists on existing fantasy character races, while makings new ones that blend seemlessly in his world. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has had a hilariously absurd DnD session or that just wants a fun book that isn’t as weighty as a Rothfuss or Martin (weighty in terms of plot not size of book).

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Review of Oathbringer by Brand Sanderson

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was definitely ok. It was a good way to pass time, but I don’t think this book is nearly as good as some of Sanderson’s other writing. I find these books to be bloated, take an overly long time for events to happen, and for there to be a general lack of emotional depth for many of the characters. The story progresses along a somewhat predictable path with a few minor twists and turns that feel like they come out of no where, but it doesn’t really matter. The twists don’t really feel like they materially change the general direction of the story.

The author tried to add a great deal of tension throughout the story, but I never felt that the important characters were really ever at a real threat to being killed. I also didn’t feel like there was a threat to them being removed from the real important battle in a meaningful way. This was basically accurate throughout the story.

I also felt that many of the characters still seemed two dimensional even though we’ve now been with them for three books. This was simply confounded by the fact that no one truly grieved when an important (but not a main) character was killed. I couldn’t help but compare the death of this character to my reactions to characters that were significanly more minor or insignificant generally to the story, but we learned more about them in series like Malazan Book of the Fallen.

This was a good entertaining book, it’s not the best fantasy out there. It’s good enough to get you through to a better series though.

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Review of Lean Media

Lean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline production, and create media that audiences loveLean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline production, and create media that audiences love by Ian Lamont
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Normally, I wait until I finish most of the book to start a review. However, in this case there are some things that I must call out immediately after reading 39 pages of this book. Which, I almost put down this book after page 38, but since this was a review copy I felt obligated to continue. In Chapter 2, the author calls out a number of customer/advertiser behaviors that had negative impact on the media landscape, including sites like Craigslist which killed the classified section of news papers and saying that “some [customers] had gone as far as installing ad blockers.” This I found deeply problematic, because it starts with the premise that we, as consumers, should accept every ad thrown at us. The book never reflects as to why a customer would want to use an adblocker.
This is due to the fact that in chapter 3, the author explicitly explains he’s eliminating the Five Why’s methodology from the Lean Media tool kit. Let’s take a look at an example I saw on twitter the other day about the importance of the Five Why’s in this case.
Site: “You’re using an ad blocker, please Whitelist us”
User: Whitelists
Site: Hidden ad plays music and sound at full volume
User: Blacklists site

Here’s a way to use Five Why’s (you only need one) in this case.
Site: Why did you black list our site?
User: Because there was an obtrusive ad that I was unable to control, it started to use my speakers without my permission and since I couldn’t find it, I wasn’t able to mute it. My only recourse was to blacklist your site for violating my trust.

This single ad now has likely cost the repeated visits of this user and has reduced trust in sites that ask for users to whitelist their site. There is a clear lack of trust.

Ok, maybe that’s not a fair example. Let’s look at someone of the rationale the author users to throw it out as it reduces creativity. Paraphrasing here, some creative people are tyrannical and that seems to work for great creative processes. Well, given that many of these tyrannical personalities have been outed as sexual harassers lately and the Five Whys might have identified this as a risk, maybe that’s not a good answer. His other answer was to look at the Doom creative process and showed that tension was part of the reason why that game was great. Sure, it might work as a one off, like Doom, but the problem is that you want to build a long lasting company. If you allow that sort of toxicity in a company long term you risk driving off creative talent that are being overruled by those voices. Furthermore, this approach has been thoroughly debunked in the Agile software development community (which is an incredibly creative space in general and has just as many egos as game development (which is fundamentally software development)). There are frequent “Retrospectives” where the team asks what they can do better and the leaders are expected to go and fix the problems, which typically requires Root Cause analysis, where Five Why’s is a key tool to doing so.

As someone that has read a large amount on the topic of Six Sigma, Lean, Agile, DevOps, and Creativity, I find a book that purports to be about Lean and Creative material content development that ignores the Five Why’s to be deeply problematic because it is ignoring Root Cause analysis because personalities that clash are important. In “Creativity Inc.” the history of Pixar, by Edwin Catmull one of the founders, the explicitly call out reigning in the egos was a key part of their success and that they use Lean and the Five Whys as part of their creative process. I propose that if a media giant like Pixar can figure out the best way to use Five Why’s in their methodology, then every media company can and should use it as well.

The remainder of Chapter three is problematic for two reasons. First the author argues that Data driven media companies are doomed to fail, which is an argument that warrants farther investigation. However, the example, Zynga, wasn’t done in by missing the mark with their data, what happened was that Facebook essentially killed Zynga by blocking most of the Mafia War links, the games themselves were going strong until Facebook interceded on behalf of other Facebook users. Second, since the author argues against being exclusively data driven and that there are these qualitative features that are unique to media ventures, but clearly the Five Why’s, an interview approach, can answer some of the questions. For example, the author poses the question, why did you leave after being on the site for 10 seconds. That’s literally the point of the Five Why’s and A/B testing, which are both qualitative and quantitative ways to answer that question.

Another point that is frustrating to me as a reader is that the author seems to be confusing “Media ventures” and “Creative Media” because many of the points the Author makes fall into media ventures, which are the firms, which could definitely benefit from all lean methodologies. Then turns around and argues that they are so unique, because creativity and basically argues that design is so purpose driven that it doesn’t count as creativity. This is patently false and books like Design Driven Innovation and Creative Confidence both call out some really great creative qualitative tools that are used in both lean and the even more data centric Six Sigma. The building on this point, one of the major areas of “creative” media the author talks about is newspaper articles and book editing. The latter is certainly not a creative process, it is a process though and that can be improved by lean.

Another problematic aspect of this book, is the general tone of the writing. There seems have been some past issue between the author and the operations side of the media business that he puts into this framework book. Maybe it was intended to come across as humorous or an in joke between fellow creators, but if I’m a creator and I want my media company to adopt Lean Media as a way of doing better media development, I’d want to feel comfortable giving this book to a member of that team as a rationale why we should change our management practices. Based on the tone of this book, I’d be unwilling to do that. These are cases where the author is 100% correct in what he is saying. For example, he’s arguing that a way to reduce waste (more on waste later), is to have smaller teams, because it improves the creative functions and those sales VPs are idiots. That might be 100% correct, however the tone misses the mark. Agile and DevOps make the exact same argument, but in a less antagonistic tone, which is significantly more effective in making the case to the creatives, the head creative (the pigs), and the operations team (the chickens) than the Lean Media approach. It does it through an old joke about a pig and a chicken wanting to open a restaurant called ham and eggs. The pig wants to have full control since he’s committed (Ham) while the chicken is only involved (eggs). This is a significant tonal shift that allows for the exact same conversation in a less confrontational way which allows this book to be shared between the main target audience and the media executives that may have to buy off on the management and cultural change.

After finally finishing the book, the real value of the book kicks in around page 70 where the author really starts to talk about how to analyze audience feedback. This is where the book stands out compared to just about every other high level Lean book I’ve read. The book provides much more explicit direction, but not tools, about who should be included, and generally how to use the feedback provided by various audience members. The book does parse out the different groups of people that you should try to get feedback from based on the phase and maturity of the media that you are developing and uses a few great examples of that towards the end.

I think this is clearly the strongest part of the authors Lean experience, but is still mostly intuition/experienced based rather than using some of the common tools already in use in the Lean space for dealing with feedback. One common tool I’ve used to analyze, group and include/discard feedback is called the KJ Analysis or Affinity Diagram, this would have been incredibly powerful to include in this discussion. It would have taken the book from a high level framework to a much more powerful tool than it is. It’s isn’t like the author is avoiding this either. He provides one or two tools throughout the book, with the Lean Media Project Planner being the most powerful and obviously useful of the tools.

I think based on the Author’s experience, adding tools to the second half of the book, providing more examples and showing how to use the Five Why’s to analyze the root cause of a failing project (which may indicate that the project needs to pivot) would be really powerful. I would recommend that the author shortens the first half of the book, and expands the second half. The second half is where the framework becomes more powerful.

I also have doubts about how much the author really understands of Lean and waste because the impression that I’ve gathered from reading this book is that waste reduction is primarily focused on the size of the team, not reducing defects, overwork, over processing, or any of those common waste types (for a translation from manufacturing to office waste reduction which applies more to media, I would recommend reading the Lean Office and Service Simplified). Complicating this, the author uses “lean team” to literally mean a team with only a few people in it, which is different than a team that embodies Lean practices.

I hope that the author takes this feedback to heart and makes improvements to the book like he says he intends to at the end. The back half was a fantastic dive into audience identification and how to use audience feedback. The first half where the author looked at the fundamentals of Lean is flawed and less than useful.

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Book Review of DevOps Handbook

The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology OrganizationsThe DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations by Gene Kim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me longer than was warranted to finish it. This was a fantastically written book that takes a large number of case studies provided by experts in the industry to argue for using the methodologies espoused in their first book the Phoenix Project. While that book was more akin to the Goal, this book was more related to a book like Lean Thinking. Providing case study after case study arguing with clear data and results from a variety of differently sized organization that this is an imperative if you want your business to scale in a structurally sound way.

This book doesn’t by beating you over the head with just the end result. Instead they walk through a series of different steps that any DevOps practitioner will need to follow to fully implement DevOps. However, the authors note that doing most of the steps in the book can really enact massive change in your organization. This book isn’t just for CIOs it is for anyone that has influence in an organization. In fact, the authors point out that many of the people driving these changes did it through their informal organizational authority rather than their hierarchical authority. In some cases they actually made these changes in spite of being directed to do the exact opposite by their leadership team.. In the end, these cases were wildly successful because of the bottoms up adoption where other groups decided they had to do the same thing, if they wanted to achieve similar results.

I highly recommend this book if your organization is struggling or if it is performing well. The tools in this book provide the best way to take a good team and make it a great team.

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