You Are Looking At The Problem

A long time ago, a friend of mine told me the story of how she was staying over on another friend’s boat down in Florida. She had been having a lot of problems, bumping up against the world so to speak. Things weren’t going her way at the time, and the harder she tried the worse it seemed to get.

She woke up one morning and went into the bathroom. On the medicine cabinet mirror, there was a small sign that said: “You are looking at the problem.”

The insight that note provided actually allowed her to turn her life around. She realized that, for so many things, she herself was the only thing standing in the way. She realized that acceptance is the key to happiness in this world.

I took her lesson to heart, and here is the sticker I have had on my dressing mirror for many, many years:

You can see that someone has crossed out “problem” and written “answer” in its place. That was my daughter, who happened upon the sticker one day and thought it too depressing.

I have kept the edit, because I actually think they are both right. In so many cases, I am both the problem and the answer. I’m the problem, because I get in my way, or don’t accept the world as it is, or try to power-drive the people around me, or try to live as if things can be perfect. I am the answer because all by myself, if I want to see change I need to cultivate the capacity of willingness — willingness to accept, willingness to put in the effort needed, willingness to forgive.

I am thankful for this little scrap of wisdom I get to see every morning as I get dressed. And thankful to my friend and to my daughter for teaching me.

The NFL’s Panopticon

The NFL has built a perfect version of the Panopticon.

What is that, you ask? I have long been fascinated with the Panopticon. In an essay about four years ago I described it:

In 1787, one of the great thinkers of English history, Jeremy Bentham, proposed a new design for a prison. He called the design the Panopticon. The idea was simple: from one point in the center of the building, a single guard could see any inmate at any time. All of the inmates knew this, but could not tell when, or whether, they were being observed. The concept was intended to promote the moral development of the prisoners, as the constant possibility of scrutiny would serve to make them less likely to behave badly. The Panopticon was a leap forward in its day. Designed to replace the infamous Botany Bay, it was among the first prisons to incorporate the idea of rehabilitation rather than punishment. Instead of being seen as beasts, prisoners were now assumed to be able to regulate their own behavior. Bentham’s design would have provided the motivation for them to do so.

The NFL has created its own Panopticon by instituting a new system where fans can discreetly send text messages to a central location during a game in order to report unruly and obnoxious fans. Now, when you are at an NFL game, you must always assume you are being watched and that your actions may at any time be reported.

That sounds scary, but why? It’s my belief that one of the reasons people behave so poorly in public is that they have no sense that anyone else might actually care or call them on it. The NFL’s system creates a feedback mechanism where one didn’t exist before.

What’s interesting to me is how long it has taken for this to come about — and what the possibilities are for the future. Where else might a system like this be instituted?

Even more interesting: Where might the Panopticon grow organically, without an institution having to build it? Neighborhoods? Shops? Dog parks?

The NFL's Panopticon

The NFL has built a perfect version of the Panopticon.

What is that, you ask? I have long been fascinated with the Panopticon. In an essay about four years ago I described it:

In 1787, one of the great thinkers of English history, Jeremy Bentham, proposed a new design for a prison. He called the design the Panopticon. The idea was simple: from one point in the center of the building, a single guard could see any inmate at any time. All of the inmates knew this, but could not tell when, or whether, they were being observed. The concept was intended to promote the moral development of the prisoners, as the constant possibility of scrutiny would serve to make them less likely to behave badly. The Panopticon was a leap forward in its day. Designed to replace the infamous Botany Bay, it was among the first prisons to incorporate the idea of rehabilitation rather than punishment. Instead of being seen as beasts, prisoners were now assumed to be able to regulate their own behavior. Bentham’s design would have provided the motivation for them to do so.

The NFL has created its own Panopticon by instituting a new system where fans can discreetly send text messages to a central location during a game in order to report unruly and obnoxious fans. Now, when you are at an NFL game, you must always assume you are being watched and that your actions may at any time be reported.

That sounds scary, but why? It’s my belief that one of the reasons people behave so poorly in public is that they have no sense that anyone else might actually care or call them on it. The NFL’s system creates a feedback mechanism where one didn’t exist before.

What’s interesting to me is how long it has taken for this to come about — and what the possibilities are for the future. Where else might a system like this be instituted?

Even more interesting: Where might the Panopticon grow organically, without an institution having to build it? Neighborhoods? Shops? Dog parks?

Another Episode In The Death Of Trust In Journalism

Lots of people like to talk about the death of media 1.0. But I like to think of it as the death of journalism as a fancy profession. Here’s another example.

Former MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams has created a new PR venture called Abrams Research. Nothing new there. But this one has a twist. For a fee, he will gather up a group of other journalists who’ll critique your work and offer advice for an hourly fee. Meanwhile, of course, he’s still “chief legal correspondent” for NBC News.

The spectacle of a former news exec bundling the advice of other news pros has a lot of people “creeped out.” His partner, former HuffPo blogger Rachel Sklar says “I give advice to people all the time privately — and I seek it. . . . [W]hat is not to trust about having a conference calls with three twentysomething[s] . . . to get a grip on social networking?”

Well, maybe it’s because these three twentysomethings are also passing themselves off as news people.

Maybe you remember the liberal media uproar when Armstrong Williams was discovered to be paid by the government to write nice things about them. To their credit, the liberal side of things is pretty scandalized about this, too.

Meanwhile, Dan Abrams says they have lots of rules and such to make sure there won’t be any ethical lapses.

This sounds like a good way to create good PR strategies – but the problem actually comes on the supply side. You can’t really be a Journalist and also sell PR advice. It happens all the time, I know, and that’s the point: journalism as a profession is dying out.

With citizen journalism – like what we are doing right now – on the rise, old-fashioned journalists aren’t able to hide behind phony professionalism or ethics codes anymore. But we do need a new set of rules of the road – how do you know whether to trust me? How do you know I am not right now selling advice to my vast throng of readers?