Crossing the river

Already lost to me is the LinkedIn post that brought this to my attention, but searching for that story, I found an article that told some more of the background.

The link between the original post and the classic non-fiction work “Gödel Escher Bach” is the icing on the cake.

You’re familiar with the concept of the puzzle where a man has to cross a river with various things: perhaps a goat, a wolf and a cabbage; but only a certain number of items will fit in the boat.

Watching the different AI’s variously make a mess of this puzzle when asked to solve a much simpler version sparked no small amount of joy.

anhedonia and digital dopamine

i recently signed up to try the Opal app for which I’d seen many ads on my Instagram feed. The app essentially puts your own smartphone into parental guidance mode, and lets you lock yourself out of social media (or any other) apps for blocks of time. I had found that I was spending more time scrolling on Instagram than I wanted to, and this seemed like a good way to slow down and think more deliberately about how I’m spending my time.

Today a friend linked to an article – the state of the culture in 2024 – its thesis was that increasingly fragmented attention spans have led to something called anhedonia (the inability to enjoy an experience designed for pleasure) that seems to have been caused by the level of lock-in that we have to our devices, and to our social media apps in particular.


Jamberoo lookout - February 2024.

Spent some time this week slowed down and trying to reset. It was good going to a retreat centre for a couple of nights to spend some slow time. I probably rate myself a B- for my efforts at slowing down; what should have been a season of silence and solitude was interrupted with podcasts and even pushing through for one work email in particular.

Learned some good lessons about what to do, and what not to do, when slowing down, so that’s a win.

If you haven’t tried being silent for half an hour, it is a fascinating exercise. The things you notice over that period of time. Try it!

book: Fahrenheit 451

Reading a blog post from danah boyd I realised I’d never read Fahrenheit 451, so I borrowed the audiobook from my local library using Libby and worked through it during my holiday downtime (mostly dog-walking) over the last couple of days.

The irony of listening to an audiobook while hearing about a world constantly distracted by screens and in-ear audio (and this written in the early 1950s) was not lost on me. The depiction of a world where people stay in a numbed state all the time, entertained by, but separated by, their ever-present sources of entertainment was a reminder to keep engaging with people in real life (even as that becomes more challenging).


I’m currently in the middle of some annual leave, in the perhaps unwise situation of having a work meeting in the middle of my leave. It’s a familiar journey from being in the midst of work-mindset to being able to relax, but I find myself trying to score the level of relaxation that I’m achieving, rather than being able to switch off entirely from the work mindset so that I’m able to “make the most of the downtime”, whatever that looks like.

A range of AI resources

So many different websites and newsletters jumping on “generative AI’shype cycle at the moment. A course I completed recently made a range of resources available and I wanted to put them in one place.

The intriguing sounding “Hugging Face” shows a range of different approaches to high-speed use of AI tech, along with the kind of tech that is often called AI but doesn’t strictly qualify. Elsewhere, Fairlearn seeks to ensure that upcoming AI systems have greater transparency, to limit the harm that may come from training new systems on biased data sets.

There were reflections on how to use analytics to enhance business, more specifically what to do to improve your experiments, and then how to build a culture of experimentation in your organisation. To make the most of the benefits of experimentation, it will involve making changes to the structure of the organisation, not just to try out the occasional experiment.

What does this look like in practice? A long 2015 article on the Disney theme park MagicBand project shows the breadth of changes involved in rolling out a significant consumer-facing technology project.

There were other resources too: some that could help someone think through a business model – Lean Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas, the various design thinking models and whether they have a measurable impact – event a way to assess the innovation value chain to examine the benefits of innovation more closely.

And some broader resources – the Stanford AI Index Report 2023, a website dedicated to the work of AI pioneer Professor John McCarthy, an outline of how to map out a digital transformation journey or digital partnering, and even a white paper on the metaverse and the NSW government.

Convergence of digital marketing approaches

I woke up early today to dial into a webinar for a product that claimed to be able to revolutionise my productivity. It’s the season for such things, the Christmas to New Year lull, where approaches to work are up for review more than at other times of year.

It was a ninety minute webinar with a nominal sign-up fee, and I should have been able to tell immediately when there was an up-sell at the checkout to attend an additional “VIP session” that it would be a particular kind of session, but I pressed on (without the upsell) as sometimes there is a benefit just to carving out some focused time.

Predictably it was a slow start, with the “type where you are dialling in from in the chat”, kind of zoom webinar. I was gratified to hear my location read out in the chat: this was actually a live session, as far as anyone can tell, not just a pre-recorded session being passed off as live.

There was some useful content about an hour in, but that’s when my AirPod battery dropped out, and that broke the spell as they toured through another software platform to help with the personal goal setting and tactics that exists, in various forms, across a range of products.

The secret sauce this time was in a further upsell, to buy a year of online community and coaching for a larger slice of money, that comes with the software package as well. Buying all these things, if you do the work, is an investment in yourself not an expense. All the usual phrases from this kind of self-help product.

And I really wish them well; they’re helping a number of people, there is a level of enthusiasm around these things, but the search for a silver bullet, when the same people in the call have any number of not-completed information products in their email.

When my AirPod batteries ran out, I think I saw the framework even more clearly: keep building a marketing list with free content, hit them with a series of promotional emails around the webinar, create the FOMO, add some additional products you haven’t sold for a while to create an offer that’s worth some thousands of dollars, round down to a price ending in $97, and create some artificial urgency with a deadline of a day or two.

There is less and less new “under the sun” here; the long-tail of work done by Product Launch Formula increasingly making the experience of learning online products almost homogenous.

Whether it’s an Instagram reel that re-markets across other social channels, the automatic sign-up box, the 5-10% off first sale, the drip feed of freemium content that slowly up-sells to a paid product offering to a subscription to a masterclass, it matters less and less what the actual product is.

And all of this means that the marketing team that creates that funnel and integration is increasingly pushing a commodity; APIs talking to each other, making more and more similar content.

My device-time is increasingly spent watching short, shallow, amusing videos, interspersed with ads for products of dubious quality, which, if fleetingly engaged with, will then follow me around for a day or two until growing weary and looking for someone else to bother.

I’m not working as much in this space, so I haven’t been trialling chatGPT, but its media cycles are predictable. As the output from digital workers becomes more and more creating grist for the mill, do we really need the spark of human creativity? Does the algorithm, as we keep feeding it from an increasing array of sensors on our devices, triaged against ever growing datasets, know best which levers to pull so as to engage the wheels of commerce?

Or is this just another chapter of dystopian sky-falling prediction that will show itself to be misguided ten years hence?

Maybe this whole pattern of thinking is just an indication I need some downtime and then to get back to thinking about the Great Commission.