Pulses of connection

Two parallel streams of thought, combined into one post.

Stream 1: Perception

aaFor the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring the concept of perception – how our brains choose to take specific sensory stimuli and perceive meaning from them. For instance, when I try to perceive my friend, Samantha, I recall the blueness of her eyes, the prosody of her voice, the way she moves her hands. In doing a similar exercise with my top fifty people, I realize that for over 40% of them, my primary perception of them is digital – the specific spelling mistakes they make, the way they use emojis, how quickly they respond to my IMs, whether they use capital letters or not, their name spelled out as I see the “H is typing…” on Whatsapp.


Stream 2: Transience of friendships

I’ve beaten myself up over being a fickle person, especially when it comes to friendships. People that were incredibly important 20 years ago are entirely forgotten now. Batches of friends have come and gone, each one more promising than the next, yet the story often ends the same way. I understand this logically. When we share a context like school or work, not only do we have a lot in common to bond over, we’re also co-located, which makes spending time together quite easy. Once the context changes (as it must), investment increases and return declines, and our internal capitalist walks away, letting the relationship die on the vine.

A new type of friendship

The merge of these two streams is the recognition of an entirely new type of friendship – i.e. relationships formed in the physical world but almost entirely transitioned to the digital world. Friends from prior places of work, or school, or a random meeting in a foreign country,  are now comfortably settled in a snug spot on Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp.

I have observed that I “text message” approximately 300 times a day. I call BS on phones leading to personal disconnection. I am connected all day, in the best way possible, with friends who would otherwise probably be non-friends because of lack of shared context. The ease of being able to have a pulse of connection in the middle of the day, after a stressful meeting, in the loo whilst taking a shit, in the Starbucks line, lights up my entire day.

Our conversations are deep and wide, funny and vulnerable. The 2D nature of this medium makes for more honest conversations, more silly conversations, more flexible conversations.

Here’s a sampling from my phone over the last month, just to make the point more obvious.

Conversation 1: Right after an insanely boring meeting

A: “Check this out ”


A: “Hilarious but also looks like an expensive prank”

B: “How much is a dildo?”

A: “I’m guessing like $20 for a cheap one. Even if they found a bulk deal for $8, that’s over $100 in dildos”

B: “They should donate them to prison”

A: “Haha great idea”

B: “Where else could dildos be donated?”

A: “Convent?”

A: “All girls school?”

B: “They make park benches from recycled plastic. Why not make one with dildos?”

A: “Oh man, that’d be fun to sit on.”

B: “Vatican?”

A: “Vatican people would probably be happier if they accepted a shipment of dildos every once in a while”

B: “Stick to plastic penii instead of small boy penii? Definitely”

A: Smile.

B: Smile.

Conversation 2: While waiting at the airport

P: “I want money. All the money.”

Q: “Ok 😊”

P: “But in the meantime, please suggest some good books.”

Q: “What type of books are you in the mood for?”

P: “Books that are jolts to the heart.”

Q: “Scary jolts or sad jolts?”

P: “There are other types of jolts too.”

Q: “Like romance? Puke”

Conversation 3: While folding laundry

A: “I feel like I’m drowning”

B: “Ugh, I’m sorry”


B: “When your mind is racing with thoughts and you feel like you’re drowning with sadness, there’s always a part of you that is observing you having this experience. This part of you is always quiet, always calm, just observing, not participating. It’ll remain alive as along as you do, and it will always be calm. Sometimes we have to reduce ourselves to this Observer to feel peace, to regroup, to find a way to wake up the next day and go at it again.”



A: “I don’t think I’ll ever be happy again”

B: “But can you find, create, and take notice of moments of joy?”

A: “Moments doing what?”

B: “Well…like watching Southern Charm, or eating cake”

A: Smile


Conversation 4: While doing groceries in a pissed off mood

A: “My manager just doesn’t understand how to work with a Creative”

B: “What’s a Creative?”

A: “You know…like me…I’m a Creative.”

B: “What do you create?”

A: “That’s not important – I connect dots”

B: “What type of dots?”

A: “Just random stuff…it’s about the creative process.”

B: “Can you help me understand this process?”

A: “It’s different for everyone – sort of hard to explain if you’re not a Creative.”

B: “Ok. Perhaps I can understand it in terms of inputs/outputs. What is the the end-product of this process? A poem, a story, an animation, a document, code?”

A: “You sound like my manager.”

B: “I’m sorry.”


A: “I should go.”

B: “Yeah, ok…hope you feel better.”

A: “Thanks.”

B’s inner rant on the drive home (guess what, B is me :-))

“When did Creative become a country, with citizenship restricted to rare unicorns that poop sparkles, and an immigration ban on the masses who are clearly too ordinary to understand a concept that can’t be described with any rational language.”

“Doesn’t creating an imaginary box, then labeling it with capital C Creative, then putting oneself in it fundamentally challenge the concept of creativity? Or have I been wrong this entire time that creativity denies and defies the existence of all boxes.”

“Even if I can be convinced to believe in the Creative, shouldn’t it be a requirement to create things if you are a Creative. Objects, physical or digital that others can interact with?”

“Is it pedestrian of me to think that Creativity without impact on the world is entirely narcissistic and a waste of human energy?”

Time for dinner.

Watch some Succession.

Let this day be over.

Phone buzzes.

oooh…Nadya just text, lemme see what’s up with her…



“That’s just the way he is”

Thursday is always a great day to have lunch with co-workers. There have been enough “eventful” meetings over the course of the week that we all need to re-group and blow off steam. Don, Vic and I find ourselves eating our salads together outside the cafeteria one such Thursday. The subject of a peer comes up (let’s call him Maggs). He is notorious for being difficult to work with – self-centered, unprincipled, a poor communicator and lacking in emotional awareness. Maggs also has a very high IQ. This is not the first conversation we have had about Maggs, nor will it be the last I suspect.

We spend the first twenty minutes talking about the specifics of the meeting and how poorly it went because Maggs was putting people down. A sense of camaraderie builds up over our shared angst about being in meetings with him.

And then Vic says “But you have to admit, he’s really smart. I know he’s smarter than me. I mean, that’s just the way he is. We just have to learn to work with it.”

We all pause – it is an unsettling thought. As fairly self-reflective and outcome-focused people, we ask ourselves if this is truly a deficiency in us – do we need to work on being more effective with exceptionally high-IQ people like Maggs? Are we “less-adult” because we don’t have the thick skins required to be in a tough real-world work environment? Or are we just less-smart and need to suspend disbelief when it comes to the Maggs of the world? Is the lesson learnt that we need to work on ourselves instead of being outraged by Maggs?

Don, the most masterful bullshit detector among us breaks the spiral thinking and blurts “What’s wrong with us that we have lowered our bar for acceptable behavior in the work place? By this token bullies in school should be a treasured asset – after all, they teach us the very tools needed to later work with the Maggs of the world”.

The conversation gets a new life – my mind feeds on it and works to deconstruct the assumptions that led us into our thought pattern and the implications of those assumptions in the larger context.

Assumption: IQ and decent human behavior are inversely correlated. Or perhaps if not correlated, a high IQ compensates for a low EQ because we assign a higher premium to IQ than EQ. In the technology industry (which may have some natural selection for introversion, high IQ and lower EQ), that’s definitely a palpable trend.

Implication: Before I get into it, let me assure you that I don’t believe that we are all born equal. Nor do I believe in workplaces being charitable organizations. I aspire to the Randian ideal. However all humans deserve honor and respect. Unless we’re actively championing this right, we are actively or passively (through inaction) allowing the few to violate the boundaries of the many. And given that we are all part of a larger whole, we are allowing a violation of our own boundaries. These negative forces end up defining the culture of our teams and communities – aggressive cultures that optimize for short term individual excellence over long term group dynamics, cultures that value awe-of-intelligence over human dignity and respect.

If an interaction feels wrong or hurtful, it is wrong and hurtful. And if you’re feeling it, I bet you most other people in the room are feeling it too. Don’t rationalize it away. Don’t attempt to take control of it by “learning” how to work with it. Don’t wear your ability to work with bullies as a badge of honor. Take action. Negative conditioning works as well with humans as it does with dogs. Become purposeful in either helping the bullies around you connect with the empathetic parts of themselves and relate better with others or make them irrelevant to your conversation and refuse any invitations to engage in their drama. I realize this is not easy.

Assumption: Maggs is who he is by cosmic design/genetic makeup and not purposeful choice e.g. like being blue eyed or left handed. Maggs as an entity is a constant, an unchangeable universal truth, as opposed to successive conscious and purposeful choices he makes because his life experience suggests that those behaviors will serve him well i.e. get him what he wants.

Implication: If we are already all that we were meant to be, there is no hope to grow. There is no sense of empowerment to choose who we want to be. It’s a life of intellectual, emotional and spiritual impotence. A life of victimhood. Victims don’t map the course of their lives. They endure a course set for them by circumstances, people and “external” factors. I recall that this lackluster approach to life is not how I felt when I was a child. Why not attempt to reclaim that youthful sense of adventure and apply it to our journey as humans?

It is in the act of flowing that water defines itself as a river and in the act of remaining still that it is recognized as a swamp. What acts will you perform tomorrow and how will they define you to the world?