3_TRENDS_Vol.12: Alex Morris: Assisted Socializing, Memory Management + Professional Amateurs
3_TRENDS is an interview series with the world's leading cultural researchers and thinkers, sharing their favorite overlooked trends.
Alex Morris (AM) is the author of The Strategy and Planning Scrapbook and the resulting newsletter: STRAT_SCRAPS. Alex describes himself as a shoplifter of knowledge. He is currently a Strategy Director at AnalogFolk and is a mixed media artist, recently launching an online shop where he and his three siblings sell art they made during quarantine.
MK: Alex, what’s on your mind?
AM: I’m really interested in looking at the different ways we hang out with one another. This has been an especially interesting year for the topic, but even before the pandemic there were shifts in how we socialize with one another.
I heard somewhere that if you’re a man and need to have a serious conversation with another man, the best settings are sitting at the bar or sitting in a car – because it’s easier to open up when you’re not toe-to-toe.
Despite the adage almost certainly being from an era where men weren’t allowed to be vulnerable – there is some truth to this, and we’re applying the knowledge en masse:
It has less to do with facing one another and more to do with having a focal point.
I’ve noticed a number of different activities trend in recent years that all seem to have the common benefit of acting as a focal point. It would seem like we all have social anxiety now (speaking as someone who does, this isn’t to make light of it).
Sure there has always been pool, darts and trivia. But those were things you were involved in. Not things you did randomly. But they served the purpose of allowing for gaps in conversation.
Now, most bars, weddings, and get togethers have a social device built in. Throwing weapons, shuffleboard (tables or courts), bowling, bocce, pinball, ping pong. Zoos have even been cashing in offering “after hours” events with booze.
I’m curious though if there’s a cost.
Was sitting down and facing one another a skill that served us beyond happy hour?
I think all of our parents would say yes. For me, the jury is still out.
MK: In Jon Taffer’s show Bar Rescue, the equally gravelly as bombastic restaurateur redesigns dilapidated bars, re-positioning them for success. It’s mindless TV, but at its core, it’s a show about how to effectively engineer social interaction.
From the volume of music at date spots to provoke leaning in to hear one another (manufactured intimacy), to displaying the drinkware shape next to cocktails so men don’t feel emasculated when theirs comes out in a hurricane glass (machismo insurance)... Assisted Socializing is embedded pretty much everywhere within our third places. We just may not always recognize it.
But, to your point, now it feels as if there’s a new reliance upon this help. We’re reaching for it.
I’m physically and emotionally sick of drinking being the focal point for socializing — the lubricant or disinhibitor required to “have a good time.” I await the day where I don’t get a glance when I order a club soda at a Tuesday outing. I’m not wasting a good night’s sleep for this and, genuinely, I’ll feel just as happy sober.
Assisted Socializing is coming to a head. MEL Magazine recently published, “For the Modern Man, A New Friend is Just a Podcast Away” and Luke Winkie writes,
“Consistently unable to establish new friendships in the wild, we’ve taken to each other’s hobbyist podcasts to truly connect — and to show all the love and affection we never could off-air.”
Effort is misplaced into the excuses for affection. Meanwhile views to the subreddit r/Lonely are up +50% since September.
SNL also just did a bit on this too: “Man Park.”
“It’s like a dog park, but for guys in relationships so they can make friends and have an outlet besides their girlfriends and wives.”
The top comment reads: “I feel simultaneously offended, heard, and excited by this possibility.”
It shouldn’t be a controversial take, but the dudes aren’t alright.
AM: I’ve been thinking a lot about how documentation impacts memory.
I’ve never really had any recollection of my childhood. I remember broad truths. I spent summers as a kid in New Mexico. I remember a few intense arguments between my parents. I remember when our cats brought home fleas.
My memory really starts around the same time I started high school. Which was the same year Facebook opened up to non-college students.
I have pictures, therefore I have memories.
Meanwhile, my daughter has been on this earth for 14 months and I have 2,337 photos of her on my phone. That’s roughly 6 photos a day, for every day of her life.
What will it be like for her to recollect childhood? My photos are far from Instagram curated, but I don’t take pictures of her when she’s screaming.
On a more extreme iteration of the theme – there has been research that VR can help us shift our perception of self. This has great promise to help people overcome bias. This is a technology that could feasibly be in the majority of households in the next few years.
How will immersion change our perception of self? Be it total immersion in your past self or in an artificial self for the purposes of entertainment.
I’m not against it. Just scared.
MK: I often find myself taking snaps of everyday life (the highs and lows) for the sole purpose of being able to one day re-immerse myself in that particular moment or state. I’m creating drop-points for future me to revisit.
To your point on selective documentation, Chris Dancy shares,
“[We’ve] got sunshine of the spotless mind. Because you can go on and edit memories selectively now on Facebook. It’s very, very dystopian at a level that I think we’re not being honest about. Much more dystopian than robots taking your job. You erasing your own memories because they’re uncomfortable, which you’re supposed to feel?”
When we document, we should strive to be unbiased.
Also, when it comes to immersion... There’s a wild Stanford study from 2009 which found children who used VR to “swim with whales” were unable to distinguish real vs. “falsely elicited” memories. In other words, when kids used VR, the VR immersion ingrained the the experience as something they actually did. Long-short:
VR can, in fact, create fake memories within children.
Programmed memory experiments sounds like some secretive, unethical 1970’s CIA shit. But, nah. DIY at-home today, baby.
AM: It’s hard to hear the phrase “democratization of creativity” and take it as a negative. But this trend has a dark side to it. The blurring of professional and amateur.
We live in a world where a crew of Nigerian teens called “The Critics” are making sci-fi films with hi-fidelity special effects. They’re self taught, but JJ Abrams is one of their biggest fans.
This is good.
But we also live in a world where Joe Rogan – a man who earned his fame by making people eat bugs – has a bigger audience and influence than CNN.
This is bad.
The distinction between professional and amateur is important.
Credentials are important.
Are these credentials flawed, inherently subject to bias and exclusionary? Yes.
But is this blurring between the two responsible for an unreasonable number of vaccination misinformation, and a world where 1-in-500 Americans have died from a plague that was entirely in our power to snuff out? Also, yes.
I do truly believe that merit should count above accreditation. But merit according to who?
Letting us pick our own experts as a society leaves us listening to the loudest voice, not the most correct or beneficial.
MK: You’ve described the “Death of the Expert” phenomenon the best I’ve heard it. When resonant opinions in culture trump qualifications, we’ve got ourselves a problem.
I want to approach this idea from another angle... Tangentially, in my eyes, at the root of this trend/tension (Professional vs. Amateur) is “Idea Endurance” — holding onto ideologies for dear life, dreading change. Change = Friction. We’re avoiding mental abrasion at. all. costs. God forbid we change our minds today.
We’re planting flags and adopting mob-mentality around nearly every opinion in culture. “Trivial Tribalism.”
Approaching religion or politics this way is somewhat justified. But sports also get the same treatment. Now, which direction you face in the shower or hang the toilet paper predictably elicits outrage. But, are we actually joking here?
(The Dress color may have been the earliest indicator that we’d soon adopt irrational fervor over nearly everything online.)
I think a lot of this endurance is driven by our digital footprints, public historical logs of all our thoughts and behaviors. Deviating from this script is cognitive dissonance. There’s momentum. So we double down. Radically.
Show me someone who’s admittedly changed their mind or proactively confessed a mistake online and I’ll show you bravery. This integrity feels extinct. So, to bring us back...
Pro Amateurs are sought after because they provide us the path of least resistance to validating our personal truths — the most comfortable reality in this metaverse of fact.
I find it unlikely a single source of the truth will congregate us all again. I’ve spoken about the Long Tail of Creators, but we also need to acknowledge what comes with it: the Long Tail of Experts. Truth exists on a spectrum. Personalized Principles. Customized Facts. Tailored Realities.
Being the pro amateur, or listening to one just feels too good.
Not for anything, we’re creating our own fact right here.