I've always been amazed by dots. Actually by the dot. The mathematical conception of a dot. The "point" as the French put it. Can you imagine the dot ? Take your pen. Press it against a piece of paper. Here's your dot. But that thing is humongous. It's made up of billions of atoms. The abstract mathematical notion of a dot is so much more subtle and incredibly more elegant. It can hardly be fathomed. A dot is smaller than an atom actually, smaller than a gluon or any of these nanoscopic entities. But how much smaller ? Picture it. You have a blank space and somewhere there, a single trace of blackness. A single trace. One single trace. Not a dot more, not a dot less.
Isn't amazing that we use it to 'end' a sentence ? Why do we use a dot ? Wikipedia to the rescue !
The full stop symbol derives from Aristophanes of Byzantium who invented the system of punctuation where the height of placement of a dot on the line determined its meaning. The high dot (.) was called a "periodos" and indicated a finished thought or sentence, the middle dot (·) was called a "kolon" and indicated part of a complete thought, while the low dot (.) was called a "telia" and also indicated part of a complete thought.
The position of the dot indicates the completeness of a thought ! Then how much more amazing is it that we use it to separate the whole from the part in mathematics : 1.2 ! Amazing ! Good thing my mother doesn't read this blog ! Dots are not the standard way to end a thought however. Aristophanes' reach was not that great :
In some Asian languages, notably Chinese and Japanese, a small circle is used instead of a solid dot: "。". Notably, in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao usage, the full stop is written at center height instead of on the line. In the Devanagari script, used to write Hindi, Sanskrit and some other Indian languages, a vertical line ("।") is used to mark the end of a sentence. In Hindi, it is known as poorna viraam (full stop). Some Indian languages also use the full stop, such as Marathi. In Tamil it is known as "Mutrupulli", which means End Dot. In Sinhala, it is known as kundaliya:"෴ " ((U+0DF4) symbol "full stop").Period were later introduced into Sinhala script after the introduction of paper due to the influence of Western languages. Urdu uses ("۔") symbol. In Thai, no symbol corresponding to the full stop is used as terminal punctuation. A sentence is written without spaces, and a space is typically used to mark the end of a clause or sentence.
Then why this obsession with dots ? The dot has no area, no volume, no thickness. And no perimeter. So there's no line limiting it. How amazing is that ! A dot is limitless nothing-ness ! It is all yet it is not. The ultimate contradiction, the two extremes of the known (and unknown) merging in a single entity yet just lying there, eternally escaping our grasp. A chimera that'll always be beyond our reach ! But you're waiting to read about the next Twitter right ? Well, it has a lot to do with the dot.
Look at your browser right now. How many tabs are open ? A lot. Maybe several windows with several tabs each. If not now, it's usually like this. Why so many tabs though ? Though you know that you're not giving full attention to each and sort of skimming through each. Why so many tabs ?
- Because you can
- Because you need to
As a species, choosing is not out main strenght. We have trouble settling actually. Both physically and mentally. As long as we can keep all doors open, we will. And the formula to happiness is no mystery : Low expectations. In other terms : Choose & Settle for your choice ! This is synonymous of embracing our greatest fear : Uncertainty. The reason why we try to predict the future compulsively. Choosing = Embracing Uncertainty. And the single tab theory of happiness embraces uncertainty. In other terms : Not being afraid anymore to 'miss out' on what we could discover if we don't settle. If we don't choose. Masters of Uncertainty are masters of choice. They choose a path and follow it. A master of uncertainty is also a master of happiness. Why ?
Well consider this passage by Thomas Metzinger in The Edge's "Is the internet changing the way you think?". His piece is called "Public dreaming" and his claim is this :
The core of the problem is not cognitive style, but something else: attention management. The ability to attend to our environment, to our own feelings, and to those of others is a naturally evolved feature of the human brain. Attention is a finite commodity, and it is absolutely essential to living a good life. We need attention in order to truly listen to others and and even to ourselves. We need attention to truly enjoy sensory pleasures, as well as for efficient learning. We need it in order to be truly present during sex, or to be in love, or when we are just contemplating nature. Our brains can generate only a limited amount of this precious resource every day. Today, the advertisement and entertainment industries are attacking the very foundations of our capacity for experience, drawing us into the vast and confusing media jungle. They are trying to rob us of as much of our scarce resource as possible, and they are doing so in ever more persistent and intelligent ways. We know all that. But here is something we are just beginning to understand: that the Internet affects our sense of selfhood, and on a deep functional level.
Also in that same book is David Darlymple's idea of knowledge and focus. Knowledge is a lesser issue today. It's "out there", in the external connected cloud-based part of our brain. However, as knowledge is being outsourced out of us, focus is becoming more and more important :
How well an employee can focus might now be more important than how knowledgeable he is
The thing is however, we're not trying to fight this erosion of focus. Rather, our tools are adapting to it and profiting from its rise. Look at how the "Like" button has conquered the Internet. Anton Zeilinger writes that :
We should expect that our brain function will significantly be reduced in the coming decades to very simple decision making
Am I saying we're becoming dumber ? Rather that our decision matrix is becoming more and more binary. We expect the decision process to be as easy as a this "like" button. Complicated User Interfaces irritate us. Think of your behavior lately and tell me you haven't had any trouble focusing on a long piece of text or a book or a complicated Excel sheet. Right ? And this brings me to the next big thing. The next Twitter. It is one that will leverage, not our need to self-promote through bite-sized thoughts, but rather our urge to decide as fast as possible based on bite-sized data. One app that does this very well is "Thumb" which has been getting traction. But it's no more than a time-killer :
The killer apps to come are the decision and motivation aids such as :
- Trumpet from Hunybe Labs : A platform that tallies up your friends to help you decide
- Everest : Aplatform that actually plans the steps for you to accomplish your dreams, selling you the necessary material on the way of course :
So here it is:
- The Internet today is leading to a loss of attention and focus / Our tools and apps are leveraging rather then fighting this trend
- Loss of attention and focus means loss of selfhood
- Loss of selfhood means loss of happiness
Which brings me to my last point actually : Meditation. I've been thinking about it lately and the more I read, the more it looks like meditation is not a process through which you forget the self and "think of nothing" but rather an exercise where you focus very deeply on something. One thing actually. And increasing your focus helps you dive deeeper into yourself. So maybe we should dig there a bit. Maybe that "x" button in the upper right corner is the first step. Sitting on a compfortable chair and closing your eyes (or not) the second. And focusing on one dead simple idea until you feel uplifted the third. Tell me where you end up.