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Archive for June, 2010

Marcel Proust, Ladies and Gentlemen

A best friend – she’s about to start getting her counseling degree in marriage and family therapy – and I were recently discussing relationships gone wrong. We concluded that people often exist to you in the way you experienced them, even if that’s not truly the person they are.

She just read this quote in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way and found it highly relevant to our conversation:

We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds, those ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end, they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice, it is our own ideas of him which we recognize and to which we listen…In this way we are able to pack a person full of the attributes we so desire- we fall in love with our own creation.

I think that we do this subconsciously.  Deep down, we know what we want, and we fill certain people with those ideas, even if we can’t always put it into words what those ideas are.

Here is another good, quick read about how subconscious forces play a role in our relationships (and the decay of them.) In the article, Srinivasan Pillay writes:

A recent study in the journal Psychological Science has shown that the earliest signs of “relationship decay” may be entirely outside of our conscious awareness. We may either be unaware, unable or even unwilling to report these feelings when they first begin to manifest.

The study also found that if your subconscious reaction to your partner was positive, then you were likely to stay together, whereas if it was negative, you were likely to break up. The interesting finding here is that staying together or breaking up had little to do with conscious reports of how the relationship was going. The subconscious reactions were more powerful in determining whether you stay with someone or leave than reporting that you felt satisfied with the relationship, or even acknowledging being engaged in a hostile conflict.

Pretty interesting stuff for us psych nerds to think about with regards to past and present relationships. Keep checking out the “Living” tab of Huffington Post for interesting applications of psychological science to everyday life. There’s a great social networking aspect (with recent upgrades) to the site too! Happy over-analyzing and sharing!

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Two Wednesdays ago, I headed over to Ogilvy PR Worldwide in DC to hear Jared Cohen, a member of the State Department’s Policy and Planning Staff, discuss social media and 21st century Statecraft. You can hear the speech/read the transcript for yourself here. Or, you can check-out my takeaways below.

Like many people, I use Facebook and Twitter as fun tools to keep in touch with my best friends and share articles of interest. But the impact of these tools can be much stronger in other contexts. Digital connections empower groups of people, both good and evil. For example, Afghanistan prisoners have used cell phones to coordinate an uprising from inside their jail cells. On the other hand, digital technology has given voices to those silenced by political oppression or chaos in the wake of a natural disaster.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at social media’s recent role in helping out Haiti or think back to the June 2009 election protests in Iran. Cohen recognized that Twitter was acting as an important medium through which Iranians could voice discontent and organize protests. Thus, he contacted Twitter to ask them to delay scheduled maintenance of its global network during the protests. Check out this video to remember how social media connected the world to this event in a way never seen before.

The world’s governments also recognize the power that comes from being connected. Corrupt governments fear the empowerment of their citizens, so they rely on censorship to maintain control. But people will always find a way to communicate, even if it’s by good-old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Since communication is inevitable in today’s world, Cohen takes a “technopragmatist” approach to the internet and its related technologies:

The reality is whether we like it or not from a policy standpoint…all these tools are being put out on the public domain. From a government standpoint, we have two options: We can fear we can’t control it and not try to influence it. And by the way, if we don’t try to influence it, all that does is give greater space to hostile actors who seek to use technology for nefarious purposes. Or we ca recognize that the 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak, recognize we can’t control it, but we can influence it and there is no better time to influence it when access is where it is today.

Cohen plans to influence the use of technology by reaching out to the experts of innovations and local contexts, private sector companies and civil society organizations, respectively. By melding their knowledge together, he thinks they can unlock the power of digital communications and social media in a positive way.

Next week, I’ll be attending a conversation with Knight Fellows at the International Center for Journalists.  The International Center for Journalists, a non-profit, professional organization, promotes quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial in improving the human condition.  The Knight Fellows are working on new mobile and online technologies in an attempt to deliver the work of professional and citizen journalists to the remote and underserved communities of the world. By getting these remote communities connected, they will give them the power to participate in the world’s conversations.

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