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Human dampeners

February 24, 2017

The first time I went to Wellington I tagged on a visit to a speaking engagement in Brisbane around twenty odd years ago. I was still making my name then so I was on a two day trip in economy from the UK with one night in a hotel. I sort of knew about earthquakes in theory but was the first time I had experienced a minor quake and the first time I had seen a what to do in an earthquake warning on the door of a hotel room. Staying on Lampton Quay also makes you aware of the power of an earthquake, that shopping street having been the shore line before the 19th Century quake that raised up new land. Following the recent quake there is an increased awareness of the threat with some buildings evacuated and many now advertising their degree of earthquake readiness. That process involves various architectural features that dampen the effects of any shock. The illustration is a 730 ton tuned mass dampener in a building in Taipei that stabilises what is one of the world’s tallest buildings.

Now that was a rather rambling introduction to a point I want to make in the wider context of my various posts on the tyranny of the explicit (starting with a post of that name). In a world mediated by the explicit content and echo chamber effects of social media it is far too easy for tropes to promulgate within any inhibition or dampening effect. My own line definition of a dampener is a thing that has a restraining or subduing effect with the rather interesting illustration: “television and booze, those twin dampeners of the revolutionary spirit”; a modern take on Marx’s famous (and to my mind dubious as a universal statement) designation of religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. The one thing that people provide in a virtual environment is a dampening effect. it is oh so easy (as I know to my cost) for an exchange on social media to escalate into conflict oh so quickly. A conversation that would be inhibited in a person to person environment by the natural constraints of social interaction can break into open conflict in minutes. The explicit has more inherent ability to support aggression and misunderstanding that any physical environment where more clues are available for the exercise of human judgement.

So in any use of the virtual, we need to ensure that we have some mechanism to introduce human judgement as a dampener before the edifices of techno-fetishism break catastrophically under conditions of stress. Slowing down algorithmically promulgated prejudice and hate will need to be a key focus of the next decade if we are to survive. More on that in future posts as I develop my various polemics against the explicit into some practical ideas on resilience.

7 responses to “Human dampeners”

  1. Barrett says:

    Could not be more in agreement–but my sense is that we have well and truly opened Pandora’s box and it is hard to imagine how the consequences are dampened–at least in any near term. But I look forward to your practical ideas on resilience.

  2. JessieHenshaw says:

    Damping is usually a way to drain energy from things, suppressing excursions. A reverse kind of resilience would come from accumulating excess reserves of energy like our bodies have, that can be fed into heighened perception and agility when hitting a change in terrain.

    • davesnowden says:

      Draining energy away from excess propagation of algorithmically drive false news items was my sense here, but agree with wider point on resilience

      • JessieHenshaw says:

        We might take a disaster risk view toward both, asking where our present environment has systematic excess propagations (like of disruptive innovation) or systematic decreasing reserves for responding to problems (like disaster prone budget cutting for efficiency). That kind of practical circumspection is what I like to do, but I don’t find buyers… :-/

        • davesnowden says:

          Have you written that up in more detail? If so I am interested

          • Jessie Henshaw says:

            I guess it’s been written up in dozens of formats since I discovered that growth phases correspond to organizational development stages for complex systems. You might search there for “niche making” to bring up an interesting group of related posts. My most recent good paper is in E:CO purgatory of some kind I’m unclear about.

  3. Michael Hill says:

    In your thinking does this have to do with some of the Atomization or deconstruction of things, the confusion that if we can understand the discrete parts we understand the whole? When I ‘teach’ I often take the approach that I can at best create an environment for learning and set up some specific experiences, but that when (and if) the class takes off it is better to let them go, limiting intervention. To my thinking, when this happens they almost always self-correct and their own exploration of the topics presented often yields more insight then when I’m the ‘sage on the stage’. The reason I ask is now there’s a push to return to measurable outcomes and linking to Bloom’s taxonomy with the writing of specific objectives and measurable outcomes. The focus on explicit goals sets off my inherent skepticism, although I’m still researching Bloom and the various taxonomies ascribed to him.

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