Learning how to use a new tool

The latest post written by Laurent last week hit me deeply. It's about the idea of physical bubbles and our own relationship with space. 2 topics I feel very close to. If you read french 🇫🇷 I highly recommend it - and his newsletter more broadly: etre soi, ensemble [in english it would translate into: being yourselg, altogether].

You might have heard already the term 'filter bubble'. I'll let Wikipedia do its magic here:

Personalized searches utilize website algorithms to selectively curate search results based on information about the user, such as their location, past click-behavior, and search history. Consequently, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles, resulting in a limited and customized view of the world. [...]

The term filter bubble was coined by internet activist Eli Pariser circa 2010. In Pariser's influential book under the same name, The Filter Bubble (2011), it was predicted that individualized personalization by algorithmic filtering would lead to intellectual isolation and social fragmentation.

Laurent points out a new version of this - "more exciting and scary" as he writes: the physical bubble. I discovered through his post the latest Apple film about the new AirPods.

I'm quite speechless indeed. Is that really what we want? I don't like my surroundings, too noisy, smelly, let's curl up. It's a sad vision. No wonder we're currently facing a loneliness crisis.

I saw this happening in a different context for a little while: skateboarding. Back then, when you went out skating, you literally embraced the spot, the place, the space and consequently: the present people. It obviously made skateboarding a very communal activity. Sure we wouldn't necessarily talk to everyone else but still, you can't help but engage with the others. We shared a moment. In time and space. Nowadays, most people in a session have their earphones plugged. They're in their own bubble, completely disengaged from the others. It definitely changes the spirit of the session; that special moment in time.

We - Sapiens - need communal experiences. And community is a relational practice remember.

Laurent mentioned 2 solutions. The most radical one: completely ignore all these tools [social networks, airpods, etc.], don't be a user at all. The more nuanced one: let's regain control over these tools, use them according to your needs/ want but keep them at a healthy distance.

It made me react [and I commented directly in french if you'd want to read]. I'm always surprised by the radical options: don't do X at all. Really? What have we learned across 300,000 years of Sapiens? Once a new tool enters our toolbox, ignoring it completely never seems to be a feasible option. In order to simplify I went back to simpler tools: like the knife, or the hammer. Every tool offers us a trade-off. We can use them to do good [a knife feels damn useful every time I want to eat -- look at these chefs]; or to dramatically harm [a neighbor wouldn't want to see me become crazy and start stabbing everyone]. In that case, the trade-off was pretty straight forward - and it wasn't to opt out completely for using knives - nope, we collectively decided (a) to learn how to use a knife and (b) to strongly punish any bad behavior. It didn't happen overnight though. But still, at the end, knives are everywhere and we made it quite clear what the 'good use' of them was.

I understand the fear around more modern tools: their 'damage-potential' is much higher - and at an unprecedent scale. But we have to remember both sides of the coin here: their 'do-good-potential' is way higher and more impactul as well. So we have no choice but to collectively learn how to handle them accordingly.

I do see a new challenge though: the fact that these tools are highly adjustable to all of us, individually. It's like the old knife was actually changing and adapting depending on the hand that holds it, and the desires of the holder. Which means: finding one playbook for everyone isn't the answer [compare to the knife]. Everyone one of us has to explore and find his/ her own distance with the tool. Now Laurent wrote that the platforms themselves have an immense role here, and should harp on how to use them. I don't know about that.

I mean, I agree that we should collectively learn how to make the best use of any tool, no matter how powerful it is. But whose role it is exactly? I don't really know. Or to say it another way: I've the intuition it should be a collective effort. It's the only way to (a) involve the society at large (b) balance all the incentives at play [many of them being opposite].

If I go back to when/ how we learnt to use a knife, there's a been a mix of:

  • parents showing their kids how to handle one [the incentive here is clear: they don't want their kids to hurt themselves]
  • schools then take over on a daily basis, over years
  • we agreed on laws that strongly punish any act like 'well I didn't like my neighbor so I stabbed him'
  • thanks to this 'collective dance' we can all go to a restaurant, sit very close to each other holding knives, without the fear of being stabbed

What would be the equivalent for any modern tool like social networks, airpods, the Internet at large and so on?


Objet du jour

My own AirPods Pro 1st generation feels like a no brainer for today's post. I should add: I love them. I use them everyday. Mostly when I'm commuting; and 99% of the time because I'm listening to a podcast. Now that being said: I never take them when I'm out with the kids, or anyone else actually. And obviously, I don't take them when I go skate :) Full story engraved for eternity with Objet.