Ten cringeworthy social media terms I loathe using (guilty as charged)

1. Gone viral: Everyone drops this term very loosely these days. Any video/post/tweet that receives even the tiniest more attention than usual has “gone viral”. Viral comes from the word virus that denotes an infection. Infections make you ill and connotes negativity. You don’t give someone Ebola or H1N1 intentionally or consciously. But a “viral video” is shared consciously — noted, sometimes without careful examination or thought — and it may or may not be negative. Relating it to an infection just makes it cringeworthy. I prefer “shareable”, but I know that’s never going to stick. Perhaps, the word “popular” will do.

2. Monetize eyeballs: When a print editor drops this bomb I know he’s gone over to the dark side. He thinks it’s hip, but it’s so 1990s. We used to be called readers. Now we’re just eye sockets with dollar signs in editors’ irises. You’re a “pageview” or a “unique” for which a commercial value must be extracted. Which brings us to…

3. Traffic: “Viewership” and “readership” seem to have a nice, stately, cruiseshippy connotation. Traffic just connotes jams, smog, anxiety and roadrage. It suggests we humans are just being herded into some corral like farm animals. “We need to bring in more traffic and monetize those eyeballs”, says Mr Marketeer. Urghh.

4.Engagement: Nice word. It’s a step up from sleeping together but just shy of taking the plunge. But in Mr Marketeer’s parlance, a unique visitor (he visits, he doesn’t read, view, or listen) is considered “engaged” when he @tags, shares, comments or likes your last post on a friend’s funeral. “To calculate the ER (engagement rate), take the total PTAT (people talking about this) and divide by the total number of likes.” Sounds like a mathematical formula to derive whether the couple will eventually get hitched or not.

5. New Media: It isn’t new anymore. The net has been with us since 1969. The web since 1990. It is hard to call something new anymore when it’s old.

6. Social media: Put the word “social” in front of anything and it will sell. I should know. I train people on social media marketing, social media journalism, social media crisis. In fact they’ve even dropped the word media: it’s social marketing, social selling, social business. Social business, you say? I say, oxymoron.

7. Hyperconnected: Seriously, this was the theme for a major political party’s forum “A Hyperconnected World: Challenges in Nation Building” in 2014. So someone thought the word hyper is still sexy. It isn’t. In this article, they even mention that we live in an “era where dissemination is at warp-speed”. “Aye, aye captain. Shall we add some hype to that too and sprinkle it with hyperlinks.” Anything prefixed with hyper eg: hypermarket, is just hyperbole, and sounds so dated. The word hyper needs to vanish from our vocabulary just like the triangular ship in the arcade game Asteroids when we hit the Hyperspace button.

8. Smartphone: The phone’s smart. And we aren’t? Some friends still feel obliged to send me XXX videos via WhatsApp making the phone a smutphone. We went from handphone to featurephone to smartphone. What’s next hyperphone? Noooo.

9. Bleeding-edge: Beyond the leading-edge? Really? Come on. That seemed cool to say like in 1999. Now it just sounds creepy and macabre.

10. Listicle: defined as “an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list”. Sounds like a list to me. Why “listicle” when “list” will do? Was it merged with “popsicle” = sweet lists you can lick or like? Or perhaps it derives from testicle = lists with some gonads? Or maybe it’s a combo of list and tickle. Which makes this, if you came this far, one of them.

Simon Sinek: Start With Why

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” Simon Sinek

Motivational speaker and writer Simon Sinek believes he’s codified the reason why some individuals and organisations are so inspirational. He calls it the world’s simplest idea — The Golden Circle.

It comprises of three rings with WHY in the centre, HOW in the middle ring and WHAT on the outer ring.

“Every single person and organisation on the planet knows WHAT they do, 100 percent. Some know HOW they do it — whether you call it your differentiating proposition, your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organisations know WHY they do what they do.

“And by WHY I don’t mean to make a profit. That’s a result. By WHY I mean ‘What’s your purpose?’, ‘What’s your cause?’ ‘What’s your belief’, ‘Why does your organisation exist?’ Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

“The way we think, we act, we communicate is from the outside in — from the clearest to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and inspired organisations, regardless of their size or industry — think, act, communicate from the inside out…”

1. More Sinek videos at his YouTube channel
2. The TEDx talk that kicked it off.
3. His website and blog.

What’s your story?

Trey Pennington, a popular social media speaker died from his own hand on Sunday morning beneath an oak tree, near his church at Greenville, South Carolina. He was 46, the father of six children and grandfather of two grandchildren.

Understandably, there is an outpouring of tributes online of his sudden loss. (1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 )

I never knew Trey but discovered him only through those tributes. His poignant last tweet resonated with me as it did with many.

Trey’s death coincided this week with the demise of a Malaysian TV journalist, age 41, who was shot dead in Somalia while on a humanitarian mission and the sudden death of a schoolmate from my year who had an apparent heart attack at 48.

Death seems to hover over my professional and social circles, like a dark cloud, a constant reminder of my own mortality. (On Sept 10, 2011, my dad would have been 92, this is the first year we will not be celebrating his birthday.)

Wallowing in my own selfish concerns, I tried this week to stay positive and digest Trey’s spirited philosophy and enthusiastic approach to his profession.  Here’s my attempt to glean something from his numerous videos, blog posts, podcasts and tweets — online artefacts through which his legacy lives on.

By all accounts, Trey was the quintessential Southern gentleman who was passionate about social media, generous with his insights and an influential leader in the online community.

Trey had a respectable 111,000 Twitter followers, he had a blog and an online radio show and was active on Google Plus, Facebook and Linkedin. He was credited with starting or helping start ten Social Media Clubs:  eight in the southeastern United States, one in the United Kingdom, and one in Australia. He also co-founded Like Minds (a social media conference that launched in England and had events planned this year in Milan and Dubai) and the Social Story conference.

In his presentation at Social Slam 2011 in April he said:

“Never before have we had so many ways to make contact with strangers and nurture them into advocates. There is a three-fold human hunger fueling this explosive growth of social media and it is creating the age of opportunity for those willing to embrace it. No 1. We all want to be heard/seen, No 2. We all want to be understood and No 3. We all want to know our lives count.

Trey related how he came to this “beautiful” understanding when he met Amanda, a 11-year-old, at a disability school. Amanda was diagnosed as non-communicative, non-verbal which meant whatever she felt inside — her thoughts, her hopes, whenever she was hungry or afraid — she couldn’t verbalize. One day, Amanda was learning to use an adaptive communications device and she pushed a button and the computer said: “I have something to tell you.” He replied: “Okay, Amanda what do you have to tell me?” Amanda looked down at the device, then up at him again to make sure he was listening, she then pushed a button that said: “I love you.”

“Obviously this was an incredibly rich moment for me to hear her expression of affection,” he relates. “But what was more profound, was what I saw in her face — her entire countenance changed; everything about her being completely changed when she realized, for the first time, somebody else understood what she was feeling. What has this got to do with social media? How ever you are using Facebook, all of us have a bit of Amanda in us. We all have a yearning for somebody to see, someone to hear us and someone to understand us…”

Trey was a consultant for politicians and often times, he said he was faced with a client who was obsessed with  “getting the message out”. Trey’s take was to flip it and get the message IN.

Politicians, he said,  needed to say, ‘I see you and I hear you now.’ They needed to follow people back on Twitter and listen to what they said.  In one example, Trey relates how one politician took his advice, absorbed all the anger and animosity online, accepted and acknowledged his followers’ gripes and, over time, those hate tweets dissipated into friendlier banter.

Trey believed there’s “a world out there engaging on social media, just hoping someone would notice them.” All we need to do is listen.

“Who am I now; why am I here (existentially AND on social media); what do I have to offer are great starting points for engagement.”

Trey often quoted Zig Ziglar on this: “You can have everything in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want. It’s not about you, it’s about them.”

Towards the end, Trey distilled the core of his understanding in a devoted exploration of the idea of the social story.

“The story is more powerful than the brand,” Tom Peters.

Trey believed today’s online yearnings are just a reflection  and amplification of  what storytellers have been doing throughout the ages.

“The Storyteller sees Story as a gift that has been given and grows in value as it is given away. He sees the relationship with his Audience as one of doing everything for their benefit. He is totally focused on their experience right now. He sees to minimize himself so that Story and the Audience would have the pre-eminence. When you boil it all down, the Storyteller simple sees the world differently. And there in lies the huge opportunity for us today to challenge the assumptions about the way things are, the way things should be and the way things can be.”

Two books he cited that shaped his thinking were Annette Simmons’ The Story Factor and Doug Lipman’s The Storytelling Coach.

An excerpt from the first chapter of  The Story Factor distillates the idea of the story as core:

“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith – faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell. It is faith that moves mountains, not facts. Facts do not give birth to faith. Faith needs a story to sustain it – a meaningful story that inspires belief in you and renews hope that your ideas, do indeed, offer what you promise. Genuine influence goes deeper than getting people to do what you want them to do. It means people pick up where you left off because they believe. Faith can overcome any obstacle, achieve any goal. Money, power, authority, political advantage, and brute force have all, at one time or another, been overcome by faith.

“Story is your path to creating faith. Telling a meaningful story means inspiring your listeners — co-workers, leaders, subordinates, family, or a bunch of strangers — to reach the same conclusions you have reached and decide for themselves to believe what you say and do what you want them to do. People value their own conclusions more highly than yours. They will only have faith in a story that has become real for them personally. Once people make your story, their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith. Future influence will require very little follow-up energy from you and may even expand as people recall and re-tell your story to others.”

This animation suggests the extreme way in which we are immersed in Information over Story: Red Riding Hood as told via infographics by Tomas Nilsson:

Slagsmålsklubben – Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

In this tweet exchange with Jay Baer, Trey was asked whether social media would be helped or hurt by widespread corporate adoption?

His reply: “Intriguing question. Humanity will be helped by wholesale adoption of a ‘social media’ mentality—’My neighbor 1st’ mentality. Don’t know that we need to shield social media. Also don’t know if corporate America can handle social media. Besides, social media will probably get better as more and more people and organizations get on board.”

On the impact of stories on social media, Trey concluded:

“Social media helps shine a spotlight on old-fashioned humanity — we make meaning through stories. A storyteller doesn’t have a ‘point to make,’ nor is he focused on ‘ROI,’ or even his own end-game: he focuses on audience. The storyteller lives to help the audience create their own experience; that IS the reward and that’s enough. Social media swings wide the doorway to co-created experiences that can be easily shared with others.”

Trey Pennington exemplified the life of the selfless storyteller. He gave meaning to many people’s lives, despite his tragic end. Who doesn’t need a little validation in their life every now and then?

Maybe we all need to hear to each other’s story too. So what’s your story? Tell me, I’m listening.

Trey Pennington shared TJ Thyne’s fable called Validation on his June 13, 2010 blog post.

“Last night, the web saved my life”

Eight years ago, my web exploits took an interesting turn. I was informed that a website I helped design had saved a life.

It was the kind of news that profoundly focuses your life and makes you take stock.  All those weary, long, late nights of  trial-and-error hand-coding of  HTML pages, testing and re-testing for browser compatibility and griping about the workarounds for Internet Explorer pixel quirks just floated away.

help key

It was as if the Great Documenter had pulled out the file of My Entire Life and stamped it VALID in big, red letters.

But more on my own tale later. The burning question you may be asking is how could a mere website possibly save anyone’s life?

Bev Holzrichter received her own validation of the web’s value  in 2005.

The 56-year-old horse breeder was helping her mare Sierra give birth at KB Hilltop Stables in  Charlotte, Iowa. She was alone and her husband wasn’t due back for three days.

Just after the delivery, another mare named Nifty tried to enter the barn and Sierra protectively lashed out kicking Bev  three times, knocking her to the floor of the barn.

The entire incident, however, did not go unnoticed. Bev had installed webcams in the barn in 2000 and the live video feed was being streamed to hundreds of viewers who loved to watch the foaling  season online.

Passive viewers turned active rescuers as soon as they saw Bev fall.  A friend Bev knew through her website, Wendi Wiener in California, got on the chat room and message board attached to the site and told people in Iowa to call 911.

According to CNN,  concerned viewers  as far away as Germany, the UK and France had phoned the Charlotte Rescue Squad. “When the emergency services arrived 45 minutes later, they were very confused about why they had received calls from all over the world about me,” related Bev.

She was quoted as saying:  “I don’t know what would have happened if it wasn’t for the webcam. I damaged my knee and my leg very badly. My temperature had dropped and I was in body shock by the time help arrived.

“The Internet is my hero. We hear so many bad news stories about the Internet and about webcams but this has such a happy ending. Those people watching are the ones who helped me. If it wasn’t for the technology of the webcam, I’m not sure when I would have been found or what would have happened to me.”

Aid worker Dan Woolley found himself in a similar predicament under the rubble of the recent Haiti quake.

Alone in the darkness with blood streaming from his head and leg, Dan remembered he had an app for that.

“I had an app that had pre-downloaded all this information about treating wounds. So I looked up excessive bleeding and I looked up compound fracture,” he told CNN.

The application on his iPhone is filled with information about first aid and CPR from the American Heart Association. “So I knew I wasn’t making mistakes. That gave me confidence to treat my wounds properly.”

A father of two boys, Dan used his shirt to bandage his leg,  tied his belt around the wound and firmly pressed a sock  to his head to stop the bleeding. Concerned he might be in shock, Dan said the app warned him not to fall sleep. So he set his phone alarm to go off every 20 minutes.

Dan turned the alarm off once the battery was down to 20 percent. By then, he had trained his body not to sleep for long periods, drifting off only to wake up within minutes.

After more than 60 hours, Dan was pulled from the under ruins of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince. The iPhone and the app he downloaded, he said “was like a high-tech version of a Swiss Army knife that enabled me to treat my own injuries, track time, stay awake and stay alive.”

Watch the video of Dan relating the incident to CNN.

Actress Demi Moore and husband Ashton Kutcher are the celebrated Twitter couple of the web. In April 2009, Demi received a tweet from a woman named sandieguy: “I’m just wondering if anyone cares that I’m gonna kill myself now.”

Then a short while later: “Getting a knife, a big one that is sharp. Going to cut my arm down the whole arm so it doesn’t waste time.”

Demi replied: “Hope you are joking,” sharing the scenario with her then nearly 400,000 followers.Some of her followers then contacted the authorities.

As San Jose Police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez told E! News:  “At 4:37 this morning, the San Jose Police Department received a call from a citizen requesting that we check on the welfare of a 41-year-old female. The caller indicated that she had been sending out messages on Twitter. Officers were sent to the address. There were no injuries but officers determined that the woman fit the criteria to be brought in for psychiatric evaluation, which she is currently undergoing.”

An hour later,  Demi tweeted: “Everyone I was very torn about responding or retweeting that woman’s post but felt uncomfortable just letting it go.”  She also posted: “Thanks everyone for reaching out to the San Jose PD I am told they are aware and no need to call anymore. I do not know this woman.”

A few hours later, the celebrity tweeted a confirmation of the events’ validity. “It is my understanding that the situation was not a joke and that through the collective efforts here, action was taken to provide help.”

Husband Asthon chimed in: “wifey reported a suicide attempt based on a at reply tweet she got and saved someones life. the woman is in the hospital now.”

That story was not too dissimilar to my own.

Ten years ago, I had helped activist Ivy Josiah and her team design and develop a website for the Women’s Aid Organisation.  I never met the team physically but trained two enthusiastic advocates for the organisation remotely via email and Yahoo Messenger.

As part of the design, we placed the WAO’s email and phone number on every page of the website. After the hand-off, WAO continued to have dedicated personnel to keep the site updated.

In 2002,  as Ivy later related to me, a distraught mother in Damansara had hung up on her son in the UK. Concerned, the son trawled the Internet to find some organisation to help him. He reached the WAO website and called the organisation’s hotline.

That led to a nearby WAO rep visiting the home of the mother and finding her on the floor after ingesting some pills. The WAO rep then counselled her and took her to the nearest clinic, as reported by P Angelina in The Star.

saving a life

I rarely spoke of my role in this incident to anyone for years. It was the kind of story that you hold dear to your heart and didn’t require repeating, except to your closest of friends.

In the last year or so, as a digital media advocate, I felt a need to share this story publicly.  With all the tech-bashing on Facebook and other social networks, it was necessary to point out that the web is not all that bad.

It is in fact a profound agent of change and we are all in it shaping that change with every tweet,  status update, blog post, comment, uploaded photo or video.

To lay blame on the web for our own human failures is to trivialize this greatest of all human resources.

What we do online today matters. It may affect us tomorrow in ways we may never dream of.

The web may even, one day, save your life.

Kevin Kelly: The next 5,000 days of the web

Futurist Kevin Kelly sits in a red chair and like a latter-day Nostradamus reminds us of why we should be in awe of what has happened in the last 5,000 days of the web and what we should look forward to in the next 5,000 days.

Kelly says that the internet was first a database of computers, then a database of web pages and links, and now it is a database of individual pieces or granules of information.

And we continue to feed the web by acting as the eyes and ears of this global brain by taking photos, recording video and making observations of every facet of the earth.

“There are an approximate 55 trillion links to web pages which is about as many synapses in the human brain, and 1 quintillion transistors is almost the same as the amount of neurons in your brain. The size of the web is almost equivalent to your brain except your brain isn’t doubling in power every two years.”

Kelly estimates the total processing power of the web would exceed humanity’s by 2040, not unlike the estimates of the coming Singularity predicted by Ray Kurzweil

Three consequences of this: We are going to embody it, restructure its architecture and then be completely co-dependent on it.

Watch the video on TED.com
or YouTube.

VS Ramachandran: Self-awareness, the Last Frontier

From The Edge:

qualia (QUAIL-yuh or QUAL-yuh singular: quale, QUAL-ee or -ay): Often referred to a “raw feels”, qualia are those subjective, qualitative properties of mental states such as sensations and emotions—the “what it is like” to see red, feel pain, be angry. Such mental states are thought to have intrinsic qualitative features by which we identify them through introspection.

Neuroscientist VS Ramachandran sheds light, by way of analogy and intriguing true cases, on self-awareness and a new term for me – qualia:

One of the last remaining problems in science is the riddle of consciousness. The human brain—a mere lump of jelly inside your cranial vault—can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space and grapple with concepts such as zero and infinity. Even more remarkably it can ask disquieting questions about the meaning of its own existence. “Who am I?” is arguably the most fundamental of all questions.

It really breaks down into two problems — the problem of qualia and the problem of the self. My colleagues, the late Francis Crick and Christof Koch have done a valuable service in pointing out that consciousness might be an empirical rather than philosophical problem, and have offered some ingenious suggestions.

But I would disagree with their position that the qualia problem is simpler and should be addressed first before we tackle the “Self.” I think the very opposite is true. I have every confidence that the problem of self will be solved within the lifetimes of most readers of this essay. But not qualia.

The qualia problem is well known. Assume I am an intellectually highly advanced, color-blind Martian. I study your brain and completely figure out down to every last detail what happens in your brain—all the physico-chemical events — when you see red light of wavelength 600 and say “red”. You know that my scientific description, although complete from my point of view, leaves out something ineffable and essentially non-communicable, namely your actual experience of redness.

There is no way you can communicate the ineffable quality of redness to me short of hooking up your brain directly to mine without air waves intervening (Bill Hirstein and I call this the qualia-cable; it will work only if my color blindness is caused by missing receptor pigments in my eye, with brain circuitry for color being intact.) We can define qualia as that aspect of your experience that is left out by me — the color-blind Martian. I believe this problem will never be solved or will turn out (from an empirical standpoint) to be a pseudo-problem. Qualia and so-called “purely physical” events may be like two sides of a Moebius strip that look utterly different from our ant-like perspective but are in reality a single surface.

So to understand qualia, we may need to transcend our ant-like view, as Einstein did in a different context. But how to go about it is anybody’s guess.

The problem of self, on the other hand, is an empirical one that can be solved — or at least explored to its very limit — by science. If and when we do it will be a turning point in the history of science. Neurological conditions have shown that the self is not the monolithic entity it believes itself to be. It seems to consist of many components each of which can be studied individually, and the notion of one unitary self may well be an illusion. (But if so we need to ask how the illusion arises; was it an adaptation acquired through natural selection?)

Consider the following disorders which illustrate different aspects of self.

Out of body experiences: patients with right fronto-parietal strokes report floating out into space watching their body down below — undoubtedly contributing to the myth of disembodied souls. Left hemisphere strokes result in the feeling of a mysterious presence — a phantom twin — hovering behind the patient’s left shoulder.

Apotemnophilia: An otherwise completely normal person develops an intense desire to have his arm or leg amputated. The right parietal (a part of it known as SPL) normally contains a complete internal image of the body. We showed recently that in these patients the part of the map corresponding to the affected limb is congenitally missing, leading to alienation of the limb.

The patients are sometimes sexually attracted to amputees. We postulate that in “normal” individuals there is a genetically specified homunculus in S2 that serves as a template acting on limbic and visual areas to determine aesthetic preference for ones own body type. Hence pigs are attracted to pigs not people. (Which is not to deny an additional role for olfactory and visual imprinting) But if the image in S2 is missing a limb this may translate into an aesthetic preference toward an amputee – mediated by reverse projections that are known to connect the (“emotional”) amygdala to every stage in the visual hierarchy.

Transsexuality: A woman claims that for as far back as she can remember she felt she was a man trapped in a woman’s body—even experiencing phantom penises and erections. Our ordinary notion of every person having a single sexual identity (or self) is called into question. It turns out there are at least four distinct aspects of sexuality; your external anatomy, your internal brain-based body image, your sexual orientation and your sexual identity—who you think others think of you as. Normally these are harmonized in fetal development but if they get uncoupled you become a transsexual person. (It is important to note there is nothing “abnormal” about them, any more than you would regard being gay as abnormal.)

A patient with a phantom arm simply watches a student volunteer’s arm being touched. Astonishingly the patient feels the touch in his phantom. The barrier between him and others has been dissolved.

Cotards syndrome: the patient claims he is dead and rejects all evidence to the contrary.

Capgras delusion: the patient claims that his mother looks like his mother but is in fact an impostor. Other patients claim that they inhabit a house that’s a duplicate of their real house. Bill Hirstein and I (and Haydn Ellis and Andrew Young) have shown that this highly specific delusion arises because the visual area in the brain is disconnected from emotional areas. So when our patient David sees his mother he recognizes her — along with the penumbra of memories linked to her. But no emotions and no jolt of familiarity is evoked so he rationalizes away his curious predicament saying she is an impostor. It is important to note that these patients are usually intelligent and mentally stable in most other respects. It is the selective nature of the delusion that makes it surprising and worth studying.

David also had difficulty abstracting across successive encounters of a new person seen in different contexts to create an enduring identity for that person. Without the flash of recognition he ought to have experienced in the second, third or n’th exposure, he couldn’t bind the experiences together into a single person. Even more remarkably David sometimes duplicated his own self! He would often refer to “The other David who is on vacation.” It was as if even successive episodes of his own self were not bound together the way they are in you and me.

This is not to be confused with MPD (“multiple personality disorder”) seen in psychiatric contexts. MPD is often a dubious diagnosis made for medico-legal and insurance purposes and tends to fluctuate from moment to moment. (I have often been tempted to send two bills to an MPD patient to see if he pays both.) Patients like David, on the other hand, may give us genuine insight into the neural basis of selfhood.

• In another disorder the patient, with damage to the anterior cingulate develops “akinetic mutism”. He lies in bed fully awake and alert but cannot talk or walk — indeed doesn’t interact in any way with people or things around him. Sometimes such patients wake up (when given certain drugs) and will say “I knew what was going on around me but I simply had no desire to do anything”. It was if he had selective loss of one major attribute of the self — free will.

• Even odder is a phenomenon called “The telephone syndrome”. The patient (I’ll call him John) will display akinetic mutism — no visual consciousness — when seeing his (say) father in person. But if he receives a phone call from his father he suddenly becomes conscious and starts conversing with him normally. (S. Sriram and Orrin Devinsky, personal communication.) It’s as if there are two Johns — the visual John who is only partially conscious and the auditory John (with his own self) who talks over the phone. This implies a degree of segregation of selves — all the way from sensory areas to motor output — that no one would have suspected…

The purported “unity” or internal consistency of self is also a myth. Most patients with left arm paralysis caused by right hemisphere stroke complain about it as, indeed, they should. But a subset of patients who have additional damage to the “body image” representation in the right SPL (and possibly insula) claim that their paralyzed left arm doesn’t belong to them.

The patient may assert that it belongs to his father or spouse. (As if he had a selective “Capgras” for his arm). Such syndromes challenge even basic assumptions such as “I am anchored in this body” or “This is my arm”. They suggest that “belongingness” is a primal brain function hardwired through natural selection because of its obvious selective advantage to our hominoid ancestors. It makes one wonder if someone with this disorder would deny ownership of (or damage to) the left fender of his car and ascribe it to his mother’s car.

There appears to be almost no limit to this. An intelligent and lucid patient I saw recently claimed that her own left arm was not paralyzed and that the lifeless left arm on her lap belonged to her father who was “hiding under the table”. Yet when I asked her to touch her nose with her left hand she used her intact right hand to grab and raise the paralyzed hand—using the latter as a “tool” to touch her nose!

Clearly somebody in there knew that her left arm was paralyzed and that the arm on her lap was her own, but “she” — the person I was talking to — didn’t know. I then lifted her “father’s hand” up toward her, drawing attention to the fact that it was attached to her shoulder. She agreed and yet continued to assert it belonged to her father. The contradiction didn’t bother her.

Her ability to hold mutually inconsistent beliefs seems bizarre to us but in fact we all do this from time to time. I have known many an eminent theoretical physicist who prays to a personal God; an old guy watching him from somewhere up there in the sky. I might mention that I have long known that prayer was a placebo; but upon learning recently of a study that showed that a drug works even when you know it is a placebo, I immediately started praying. There are two Ramachandrans — one an arch skeptic and the other a devout believer. Fortunately I enjoy this ambiguous state of mind, unlike Darwin who was tormented by it. It is not unlike my enjoyment of an Escher engraving…


VS Ramachandran at TED talks on YouTube.

Tanya Vlach: The human camera

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Tanya Vlach lost her left eye in a car accident three years ago. Now, as part of an artistic experiment, she’d like to wear a video camera – behind her fake eyeball.

Vlach, with the help of enthusiastic strangers who responded to a call for engineers on her blog, hopes a tiny recording lens can be developed to help her launch various art projects, from filming documentaries to live Web casting through her eye.

Meanwhile, another one-eyed filmmaker in Toronto named Rob Spence has announced that he’s enlisted inventor Steve Mann, an expert in “wearable technology,” to also enter the race for the world’s first recording eyeball.

Both Vlach’s and Spence’s cyborgian art projects speak to the growing acceptance of transhumanism – a broad term used to describe the community of inventors, academics and enthusiasts who, among other things, encourage the ethical use of technology in bodies to expand human capabilities.

Remember Professor Kevin “Mr Cyborg” Warwick of Reading University talking about his man-machine interface experiment?

He embedded a radio receiver and several chips under the skin inside his left elbow. The chips allowed sensors around his department to detect his presence and open doors, switch on lights and have a synthesised voice say: “Welcome Professor Warwick.”

His secretary could locate him simply by looking at a computer screen, a useful tool to find the constantly moving Warwick.

Warwick may have started an odd trend.

Tanya Vlach’s experiment sounds more exciting, in a kind of ghoulish way.

One wonders when we will have the memory implants similar to those seen in the Omar Naim/Robin Williams movie The Final Cut

MORE: Humans hope high tech can improve their bodies

Tanya Vlach’s blog

Rob Spence’s blog

Kevin Warwick’s website

Jill Bolte Taylor: Brain scientist describes her stroke

Brain scientist and stroke victim Jill Bolte Taylor describes the profound connectedness she felt when she survived a brain haemorrhage.

Download MP4, download via iTunes.

Kevin Kelly’s Better than free

Intriguing perspective by Kevin Kelly on Copyland, and finding value in free:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet.

This super-distribution system has become the foundation of our economy and wealth. The instant reduplication of data, ideas, and media underpins all the major economic sectors in our economy, particularly those involved with exports — that is, those industries where the US has a competitive advantage. Our wealth sits upon a very large device that copies promiscuously and constantly.

Yet the previous round of wealth in this economy was built on selling precious copies, so the free flow of free copies tends to undermine the established order. If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?

I have an answer. The simplest way I can put it is thus:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.
When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can’t be copied?


It’s not the mountain, it’s the climb

From Soul Prints:

“It’s not the mountain, it’s the climb”

A true-life epic does not exhaust itself in grand finales or in what psychologist Abraham Maslow called peak experiences. It arises from the details of daily living. Most of life, after all, is a plateau and not a peak.

We are taught not to explore plateaus but to scale mountains, aiming only for the top. We become so focused on the summit that we no longer experience the echo of each footstep along the way. We laud this type of living, calling it strategic, effective and goal-oriented. We ignore the precious and profound pleasure of the climb.

To make matters worse, we focus not on reaching the top of our own private mountain — everyone can and should have a personal Sinai – but on reaching the top of the mountain.

When the urge to compete motivates your climb, then your story by definition is determined only in relationship to somebody else’s story. It is the word ‘only’ that makes that situation so problematic.

Who remembers the runner-up for the Oscar, the underbidder on the contract, the loser in congressional campaign? Competition both focuses us on a story not our own– and even without our own story it focuses us only on the result.

Process becomes a necessary evil, a means that has no value toward an end that has supreme meaning.

…When we tell our children’s stories, we tell of their successes and first place finishes. We rarely acknowledge their near misses and surely try to exorcise their failures and defeats. What makes this custom so pernicious is that children’s academic and competitive public achievements are all that are celebrated.

When was the last time you heard someone say: ‘My child had a bad fall off his bike. He’s had to do therapy for the last six months and he had done a wonderful job.’? Yet falls and recovery are what life is all about…

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