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what if we... more?
I was gonna ask if you like the Lord of the Rings movies but of course you do, you’re not a monster, what a ridiculous question.
LotR has great examples of one of my favorite genres of photograph: behind the scenes pictures of practical effects.
Look at that, they made him look tiny by filming a weird wagon from a specific angle. Cool.
Oh yeah, the spinning hallway in inception. That was nifty.
Star Wars stuff was tiny. Ha.
Practical effects like this are interesting, and I’m sure there are entire conventions dedicated to geeking out over the craft—but their purpose isn’t to be interesting conversation fodder, their purpose is to add something to a story, to further the goals of the movie, to immerse the audiences in something seemingly impossible and yet clearly visible. The market of people interested in seeing the world of The Lord of the Rings come to life is much much larger than the market of people interested in watching craftsmen plan and tinker and build.
Hanging around the parts of the internet that I do, I often get a feeling like I’m hanging around at a practical effects convention.
There is really-truly-actually magic in the air, you can see it on people’s faces and in everything they present. Genius is present in these halls, all kinds of techniques and paradigms and neat tricks to make shit happen, to get things running smoothly, to outcompete all the magicians of yesteryear.
But… I’m not really seeing many movies being made, so to speak.
A couple concrete examples:
Back in my day (like 2 years ago) my Twitter-neighborhood was really into Robert Kegan and his developmental psychology—and peripherally into other theorists in the developmental psychology space as well. Everyone had some thoughts on how useful it was, how many practical applications there were, especially for forming and communicating within communities and organizations, as well as for understanding society at large and certain social interactions in particular.
Which is fine, as far as it goes. But no one did much with it.
People talked and talked about it, invited other people to reading groups and little workshops to explain the ins and outs of one developmental psych model or other, and there seemed to be an implicit consensus that getting people sold on the intellectual details would “work.” Work towards what, or in what way—I never got clear on that. There just seemed to be some kind of “collective awakening” ethos, where once enough people intellectually understood the models, more people would… magically progress to higher levels of development, or something.
This is an area where we shine pretty damn bright, on technical and paradigmatic levels.
There’s a lot of amazing stuff floating around our Twittersphere; every zoom call I have with someone brings an uncanny level of clarity on some major issue or other, and potential paths to addressing it. The ways people are hungry and searching and building paths to healing around here are powerful and inspiring.
And, uh, a little unfocused and incoherent, kinda. Maybe.
Again, there’s this sense of being at a hobbyist convention. Everyone has amazing technique, and deeply interesting views that they’re operating from. Even hanging out in the bar next to the convention to chat feels life-changing; scrolling through pictures of the work they’ve been doing, listening to their stories and explanations of the mechanics, it’s awe-inspiring. But it feels a lot like technique-for-technique’s-sake nerdery, without a project to anchor it and give it focus.
I feel shaky on this point—after all, why should we have to have a project for self-therapy beyond helping people feel how they want to feel?—but my intuition is pretty loud and clear that there is something real behind my unease, even if this explanation isn’t precisely pinning it down. In some sense or other, much of this amazing work feels like ungrounded hobbyist stuff, sometimes tipping over into the dilettante-ish.
“Focus your time and energy on what you want to see more of”
Visa’s locally famous maxim, an excellent rephrasing of the perennial insight that our thoughts, actions, and attitudes matter, and that they drive outcomes in often-unexpected ways.
This is one of those core insights that feels consistently under-utilized. I’m accusing myself here as much as anyone—probably more than most. It’s not that people don’t know this, take it seriously, and incorporate it into our actions; it feels more like we’ve discovered fire, and we’re using it to make more charcoal for our art projects. —Like, that’s fine, as far as it goes, there’s not a problem with making more charcoal. But is that really the best use we can think of for fire?
More importantly though, I get the really really really strong impression that this insight is talked about 10x more than it is used for anything in particular. Again, this feeling of being at a hobbyist convention. Everyone can list the ways that this insight is powerful, is core to everything we do, needs to be incorporated into everything we work towards—but no one is really using it as more than conversation-fodder.
That’s not fair, it’s not that we’re not using it—it’s that we use it tentatively, experimentally, and in miniature. We’ve got Thor’s hammer and we’re using it as a paperweight—while giving lectures over dinner about the awe-inspiring power of Mjölnir.
Closing out on the way this image presents in my head:
I see a huge, gorgeous theater, with a big stage. The lights dim, the curtain pulls back, and…
There’s a crowd of people chatting back and forth. A couple of actors talking about their craft, how they find their character. The director sitting on the edge of the stage, chatting with the front row about how he gets the best performance out of his actors. The set designer, struggling to be heard, showing off some of the details of how she put together different areas of the set, and how they function within the play.
It’s all interesting, sure. Glad to see all the talent that goes into a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. But are they going to actually… put on the play, at any point? And if not, what are they doing here? What are they all coming together for, if not to put on a play? When is all that talent going to put itself to work?
If you like me, but not like, that much, the occasional retweet makes a great stocking stuffer.