0377 – social groups and answers within

I want to think about the strange thing that happens when I fixate on any particular group of people and allow them to become my representation of social reality. This first happens at home, when your family is all you really know. And you have the place you grew up in– for me it’s Singapore. [1] Then there’s the group of friends you grow up with in school– I remember when my classmates were my social reality, then some of my schoolmates who were into music. Then there was the local music scene, which I participated in as much as I could. And there are spaces like /r/Singapore on reddit, and Reddit and Imgur themselves, and Quora. All these spaces.

I’m thinking also of say, what it was like to have crushes on a few girls who were in my social circles. On hindsight, it was an unnecessary and narrow fixation– though maybe it’s easier to say now that I’m older, have more perspective, and realize that there are far more people in the world than I can ever make sense of, let alone even know.

It’s been interesting to walk away from groups. I went through a phase where I unfriended everybody on Facebook and Twitter, and then went silent for a while, and then I’ve been slowly sort of adding people back. And I don’t really share as much as I used to anymore, I don’t really talk as much anymore. And sometimes I catch myself having a conversation with an old group of friends and my mind jumps to the end of it– and I get bored midway, I realize that I’m just going through the motions and I want to do other things.

I suppose the point of THIS train of thought is to realize that there’s a necessary transition I need to make between arbitrary, randomly chosen groups to deliberately chosen ones. I can’t just be reacting and responding all the time. Maybe there was a time in the past where that made sense– and even that is kinda doubtful, I might just have been rationalizing my way through it.

The point is. If I don’t choose who I want to be influenced by, I will have that choice made for me by random chance and other forces beyond my control. And I think I’ve reached the age where I realize I can do a better job than random chance.

So what does that mean? What does that look like? It means that I have to make deliberate decisions about who I want to listen to and who I want to spend time with. I find myself thinking from there that I should curate my Facebook and Twitter and Instagram feeds all over again, but that’s unnecessarily tedious– and I suppose that’s something I could be doing on commutes or other boring moments.

But the real thing that needs to happen is an attitude shift. Rather than trying to eliminate all the noise, I should boost the signal. I should reach out deliberately to the people I think I should be reaching out to. Well– who are they? Sometimes there are people I think I’m interested in but end up finding a little tedious. For a while I thought I wanted to get into the whole intellectual-epiphany crowd on Twitter and on blogs, but I find that rather exhausting. I’ve discovered Aaron Swartz a little too late (RIP).

But also– I keep wishing that I’m going to find somebody who’s going to make some sort of huge impact on me. I have my colleagues who have made quite a big difference– why do I hope to have more people like that? Who should I be spending my time around? How long should I be spending time alone, avoiding everybody else? Who should I be seeking out? If I met Elon Musk tomorrow for dinner and had him all to myself, what could he possibly say to me that would make a difference? Nothing very much. What can anybody say to anybody to make a difference? Nothing! All you can do is just be present, be focused, pay attention, ask questions. And it’s stupid to wait to meet somebody else to ask you questions when you can ask yourself those questions.

So I should preempt all the questions I think Benjamin Franklin and gang would ask me, if I mysteriously had them to myself. I mean that’s the amazing thing about having access to all this information, right? Right now I’m thinking about Ray Dalio’s principles. It’s like a rational bible to making your life better. And there are so many sites– LessWrong has some good stuff. Quora has some good stuff.

Reading alone doesn’t give you all the answers, for sure, but if you can find something that’s relevant to the thing you’re about to do– if somebody’s done something that you’re about to do, it makes sense to get information from them. But only so that you get closer to taking some good-enough action. So what should I be acting on? Right now I just want to publish a word vomit while my wife’s in the shower, and then I want to shower too and head off to meet my parents. I’m going to give my mom a book to read on her flight, and maybe I’m going to read a book myself. And I have to think about what’s next for work.

Scrolling back. I guess what is missing, really, is meditation and reflection. I keep thinking the answers are “out there” somewhere, but I’m not going to walk into them unless I’m deliberately “going for a walk”. I need to do the reading and take the actions. And when I’m not thinking about it I’m hoping to do a ton of stuff all at once, but that’s not sustainable. As I’ve learned from the word vomits, I should just do 1/day. Write one vomit a day. Do one piece of reading a day. Take one action a day.


[1] Singapore is a tiny place, but moving from the East to the North has definitely been quite unsettling for me.

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