Robert Scoble was pleasantly touched by an email from a stranger passing on information about a fire in the Paradise Valley area: "[H]e remembered that my mom lived in Emigrant, Montana. How did he know that? Cause I blogged about that a few weeks back." From that email, Robert infers that maybe Steve Gillmor's GestureLab and gesture concepts have legs.
I see that he enjoys personal, authentic information about Venture Capital, music, and that he already reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal so don’t bother sending him anything that already exists in those two publications." [Hyperlinks added ;-) ] - "Gesture Firestorm Hits," Scobleizer, August 1, 2006
Can algorithms fill this role? The real question: Why should they...
- When a human being can naturally grok the gestalt of a moment in its totality - without a single algorithm. (We could call it intuition, instinct, impulse, inclination, gut feel, being wholly present to another person.) Singularity, Turing machine or not, mark my words, machines will never ever grok the way humans can instantaneously.
- When the intention of the person-to-person reaching out is what typically matters in the first place; the gesture's secondary. (Spare me your algorithmically-generated gestures, I already get hordes of spam.)
What do I mean?
Gestures based on reads on my past - anyone's past, and that includes yesterday or five minutes ago - often feel as dissonant and anachronistic as seeing a Rolex on the wristband on a commoner in a Victorian-period comedy of manners film. Something just feels off.
I find myself bemused at best, unseen at worst, when people come up to me who've not talked with me in ages and proceed to act as if I'm stuck in some time machine. They bring up old topics (no, I don't expect even my friends to read my blog, simply ask: What are you into now?) and introduce me to others based on petrified and stagnant historical data.
Recent examples of algorithms gone awry. If you think algorithms are only a machine function, think again. Humans can easily go into full-blown if-then-else algorithmic-mode:
- The wish-fulfilling gesture robot scans my last few posts and concludes I adore vodka, wine, coffee. Very wrong on all three counts. I'm actually a water and tea gal. Better to be curious and ask me why I'm writing about those three. However, a perfect gesture would certainly be to invite me as your guest to Paris this fall.
- I doubt that I'm alone in the fact that the full expanse of my online life represents only a wee fraction of myself. Nothing I've written in over three years would lead you to believe I'm a huge fan of Gershwin and the flapper jazz culture of the 1920's. And more importantedly no algorithm could piece together why I am. Yet a human might grok it's so sheerly through resonance and intuition.
- I get tons of unsolicited PR emails written purportedly by human beings, quite often disguised as friendly 'gestures'. They scan my bio and perhaps the last few posts. Fair enough. The thing is most humans are astute enough to pick up the true intention behind gestures. I have received only one genuine unsolicited email of late from a intriguing woman that found me via a search on the term "renaissance." My email back to her since I was so floored by her perceptiveness and authenticity was basically, Who are you and how did you find me?
- "Would you like some of spinach-and-egg omelette I'm making?" my housemate would often ask in the morning. Typically my answer was "Sure." After about the seventh consecutive 'no' this May he stopped asking. On a July 4th outing to his cabin in the Sierras we visited his neighbor's goat and llama farm - I kid you not, the couple's name was MacDonald! They gave us farm fresh eggs from their chicken coup on our way out the door. The next morning I overhear an algorithm's gears churning as omelettes were frying. My other housemate is explaining to the guest-cook: "Evelyn doesn't eat eggs anymore."
IF Evelyn doesn't eat eggs in May AND Evelyn doesn't eat eggs in June AND
IF Evelyn says she cannot eat eggs from Safeway anymore but cannot exactly articulate why
THEN Evelyn doesn't eat eggs in July, or maybe ever again
PRINT GESTURE RESULT INTO ARRAY(1): Don't offend thus don't offer eggs to Evelyn
So I corrected the algorithm-writer and I ate eggs that morning because they were fresh and came from a small farm where the folks loved their animals such that I resonated with the whole place. (You might surmise currently today August 3rd that I am not eating industrial meat, fish, eggs; but it's the why that's the crucial question.)
Recent examples of instantaneous (that's nearly superfluous with grok) grokking:
- I met pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon briefly at BlogHer. She grokked me. (Grokking happens in a split-second.) She intuitively sensed a fellow lover of seasonal, locali food. She offered me her last copy of Edible San Francisco that I was perusely with obvious relish. We've theoretically never met before. I've never read her blog. She's never read mine. Yet Instant Recognition Happened. No algorithm required. Plus nearly no surprise - more akin to 'yeah I knew that' - when I read in the magazine's bio blurb that she is a lover of stone fruits too.
- I recently bought "Between Friends: M.F.K. Fisher and Me" (at Leigh's) about Jeannette's Ferrary's friendship with the legendary epicurean. Now, even though I had dinner with Susan Getgood Friday night she did not know this. She sent me this email Monday: "[T]he peach recipes reminded me of a book I just finished – My Life in France by Julia Child. If you haven’t, you should read it. Julia and her nephew co-writer really bring Paris of the late 40s and early 50s alive. A time remarkably close in many ways to salon culture. I ate it up like a peach." She's totally right of course. I would love this book. It was a valuable, considered recommendation.
- An attuned publicist sent me copy of Thich Nhat Hanh's new book, The Energy of Prayer. Now this was the very first unsolicited book outside the business book category I've ever received. It was like a timely blessing that dropped from Heaven. I felt someone knew. I continue to get tons of business books in the mail because I was really into business book reviews...in 2004. At a bookstore the other day, I flipped through The Long Tail yet I bought Madame Bouvary instead. Anyone that groks me today (and only today matters) could sense that. The gesture algorithms would lump into this conclusion: Nix sending Evelyn a business book to review. Evelyn is not doing biz books. Semicolon. End do-loop. Wrong again! It depends. I absolutely adore and HIGHLY recommend this recent purchase: former VP of Trend, Design and Product Devolopment at Target's book, The Trendmaster's Guide: Get a Juump on What Your Customers Wants Next.
Bonus: Friends don't hold friends hostage to the past.
Last time I met my ex-husband for coffee he gathered all he knew about me about him like trusty library reference materials. To him, I was still the person that had left an ambitious dot-com career, him, and Salt Lake City.
"So you're dating a Republican?" he peered at me quizzically like a play being performed without regard to memorized lines from the script. I felt like a snapshot. Not a live, evolving being. Whereas, said Republican (now ex-lover) is one of my closest friends and every time we meet I'm a fresh discovery he's eager to learn about. And vice-versa.
Recently I wrote this to a close friend: "Be careful (and I will too) with preconceptions and assumptions....it can kill the mystery of the other person. There's unfathomable depths to both of us, all of us. Trust me you have only stratched the surface of the Infinite expressing itself as Evelyn -- we're even a mystery unto ourselves. Let's stay curious explorers, k?"
Wordplay: GROK (Source:) To grok (pronounced GRAHK) something is to understand something so well that it is fully absorbed into oneself. In Robert Heinlein's science-fiction novel of 1961, Stranger in a Strange Land, the word is Martian and literally means "to drink" but metaphorically means "to take it all in," to understand fully, or to "be at one with." Today, grok sometimes is used to include acceptance as well as comprehension - to "dig" or appreciate as well as to know.
As one character from Heinlein's novel says:
'Grok' means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed - to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science - and it means as little to us (because we are from Earth) as color means to a blind man.
p.s. Grokking isn't Martian. In fact it's reverse: It's alien when Earthbound humans deny their inherent grok capacity. As my teacher said last night, "Truth is innate. There's nothing more natural for a human being than enlightenment; everything else feels quite unnatural." You protest: moi, enlightened? Fine, fine, you may have the dimmer switch turned a bit too far on your awareness of said enlightenment. Yet the light's equally available, and as close as the turning of a knob.
image Michelangelo of course. (You can Google him ;-)) I bought Il Gigante: Michelangelo, Florence, and the David 1492-1504 during same trip to Leigh's too.