On The Frame Drift

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed – another thing I Noticed but do not yet have practice on. Also sorta Dangerous Technology socially, but the cost of failure is mostly the same as disagreeing with someone outright so probably not that dangerous)

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone and they just…say something or believe something that is wrong in some fundamental way? Perhaps it is a course of action that will likely destroy them – sometimes it’s just a belief that is clearly incorrect – other times it’s a preference that offends you. Regardless of the way they are Wrong, your first instinct might be to just tell them outright you think they’re wrong. This predictably hardens them on the Wrong belief and the things you are saying are suddenly weighted a lot less heavily by the person you’re talking to. Worse still, they probably are taking you less seriously on other matters, whether contentious or not. Overall, you’ve mostly cost yourself influence over something that probably doesn’t matter all that much. So most of the time, the right move is agreeing to disagree and maintaining harmony.

However…there are other moves available. If you’re fast enough or familiar enough with the belief in question, you can attempt a move I call frame drift. It’s fairly simple and to a degree obvious – rather than opposing the Wrong belief from the outset, you can opt to start within the frame the other person is providing. Actively listen to what they’re saying, agree with them. Highlight the really solid points of what they’re saying. If you can do this smoothly without the barest hesitation, it increases resonance. Don’t even let it into your voice what you’re about to do – people can hear a but a sentence away. As you continue discussing their idea, the initial resonance gives you room to ask questions. You can use this method to get them to defeat their own belief. If you ask the right questions and have them comfortable enough to give honest answers, you’re likely to get a drift in frame. The most important thing at this point is to not point out what you’ve done – in fact, if you really want to try to be clever, continue defending their initial position as they come up with their objections. You can completely reverse the effect you would have walked into if you had disagreed outright. Another way to approach frame drift is to just keep talking. Start with agreement, phase into drawbacks (but again, avoid things that sound like you’re saying “X is great, but Y” – aim more for “X is great and Y is a really good point. I think there are possible pitfalls around Z, so this might not be the best idea, but we might be able to work through that”), and leave the question open in a way that isn’t “So you should change your mind” but “So how do you think we should approach that so we can do the Wrong thing better?”

These approaches are of course easier said than done – even allowing yourself to S2 frame it as drifting someone’s frame is likely to screw up your paralinguistics and word choice. Being able to slip into the mindset of genuinely wanting the Wrong Thing to succeed and persist can be a hacky way to approach causing frame drift, though may lead to you hardening the belief or even shifting your own beliefs if you argue too well for the thing. Another option is framing it to yourself as wanting the best for the other person – the pitfall here is that you might come off as preachy/naggy and just open yourself to them hardening against you as a person. Really, though, the best way to execute this is likely to practice, knowing what you’re doing, and iterate forward on your ability to cause frame drift.

Overall, frame drift is a persuasive technique and a fairly obvious one, but generally errors made in executing it are in the feeling behind it. Conscious execution of persuasive techniques frequently just scan improperly and cause people to be more suspicious.   Still, this technique should be learnable with practice and a good enough understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Discussion questions: Do you think you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a frame drift? What did it feel like? Do you think this is an acceptable way to argue with people to bring them to your views? Why or why not?

On The Port Scan

(Epistemic Status: An attempt to explain a thing I’ve experienced but not actually really practiced offensively – dangerous technology (this has social costs for failure))

As discussed in On Conversational Flow and Resonance, resonance is a way to increase conversational flow. However, resonance can sometimes be a difficult thing to find if you just poke randomly. Using Script Breakers (can sometimes create resonance by causing people to reveal the things that interest them by not having the protection of a cached thought. Sometimes if you follow a Tangent Stack the right way, you will find your way to a deep, unexpected resonance. Overall, though? These approaches are close to random in terms of finding resonance. If you’re intending to talk for a few hours, it’s fine to meander a bit…but if you have only a short time to make sure someone feels like they are on the same wavelength as you, you have to do something more intentional and directed – that thing is what I call the port scan.

So, open ports in the traditional sense are places outside devices can access a computer. In the same sense, a person’s resonance can be accessed by scanning for the type of conversation they’re most open to. The direct way to do this is literally try a few styles, clearly trying to find someone’s levers. Things like flattery, trying a few ways of talking in succession, or even asking questions designed to increase closeness quickly. In some ways, this is why circling can be a little “creepy” out of context. Generally, if you are really overt about doing a port scan, it will not go well. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels transactional at best, scammy at worst – it seems like con artistry, in the literal sense of trying to create confidence when there’s no rational reason for it to be there.

However, a well done port scan is not obvious. There are several ways to approach this without playing your hand. The clearest to me is paying attention to who someone knows that you also know. Your mutuals give clear clues to the kinds of conversations a person finds enjoyable. With a bit of pre-research when meeting a new person, you can trivially steer a conversation to the kind of thing that resonates with the person you’re speaking with and have a very pleasant time building closeness in a short period through that sense of being on the same page. This would be the more premeditated port scan – you do it before the interaction even begins. But what about a situation where you don’t know who knows who – a stranger on the street, or perhaps someone important in the elevator? This is a bit harder – the skillset is more or less cold reading. You have to try things with evidence from the place, time, and person’s aesthetic choices to find a resonance, under even more time pressure than usual. The trick to making a port scan work here is to not allow the frame to ever linger on a wrong detail. If something doesn’t resonate, don’t allow focus to go to that. Keep going, try something else. People don’t tend to remember what they’re talking about – if you don’t give any signs that something awkward happened, the other person will not want to accept the burden of the awkwardness. This is why it’s a scan – you keep trying things until you find what’s open. There’s a tempo to this, though – when something works, drill down a bit on it, but don’t get caught on it because you might run out of tangents to keep the interaction going – find a few more things using the trust created by the initial resonance. Don’t immediately try another port when you have hit a closed port – de-escalate the interaction to small talk and try again. This is really not a recommended approach for someone you will be seeing repeatedly regardless of whether the interaction goes well or not – this is for a meeting where you do not have an expectation of being able to meet this person again. It’s still a very aggressive strategy – a failed or noticed port scan is very socially costly and will usually result in people not feeling comfortable around you. This is definitely socially dangerous technology and should be used carefully.

Overall, port scans are…not comfortable. They’re useful, and when they work, they feel amazing and give you a measure of control over the conversational flow – but when they backfire, there is a lot to clean up. It’s a bit aggressive towards the person you’re speaking with as well, so you want to make sure you are optimizing for goals that both of you would endorse. There are other ways to do port scans other than those outlined above, but I don’t have a full understanding of how they work. My advice for practicing this skill would be openly doing it on a friendly audience – don’t try to be subtle, tell them what you’re trying to do. You won’t get real feedback, but this can at least help you with tempo with the right person.   The port scan is dangerous technology but is also a likely key to more powerful social interaction in situations with status differentials.

Discussion questions: Have you ever been port scanned? Did you notice it after the fact, or during? How did it make you feel? Have you ever done anything like a port scan to increase the resonance of an interaction? Do you think that this is an ethical tool to use when talking to people?

On Skill Development and Attention – Using All Your Processing

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed – this is why I like starting things for like a month and then drop them when I have to get actually good at them.)

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re trying to learn something new. Whether you’ve signed up for a class or are practicing something you’ve just read about, what is going through your head? Are you thinking about what you’ll have for dinner, or how cute that barista was, or any of the other countless trivialities that fill your life? If so, are you performing well at the thing you’re learning? I would predict not – very little is likely sticking. You probably are picking up a little bit, just by doing something over and over, or having an instructor guiding you – you aren’t going to come away having learned nothing, you just might not have learned a lot. Odds are, if you keep doing the task, you’ll get better at a steady, but very slow rate.

However, some of you out there might actually be fully present when you’re learning new things. As you imagine yourself picking something up, are you focused fully on what you’re doing? Paying attention to the keys of your piano, to the movements of a new dance, to the reasons you used that particular command in your script? Then you likely will understand the concept of using all your processing.

One dimension of skill development is the compression of physical and mental motion. As you get better at something, you are thinking less about the basic motions and instead using a combination of the basic motions as a building block for more complex motions. At certain levels of compression, instead of increasing single thread complexity, you can use the freed up processing to do another task at the same time, or even just keep the cognitive effort unused – i.e. merely operating at 20% or so capacity when using a very well understood skill on a basic task involving said skill. This is, in fact, how the majority of people do things. Using all your processing, all the time, is exhausting. It is inefficient. It is like using a world destroying laser to kill an ant at sufficient levels of skill. When you are using a skill for practical reasons and have defined the scope of the task at hand, it’s generally a good move to use just enough mental effort to accomplish the task.

However, humans are in fact cognitively lazy and largely run on habit. Learning new skills, combining skills, and improving skills are in fact causes to use all your processing – and some people do not approach new things this way. This type of person is like the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare – they pick things up slowly and steadily, not overly exerting themselves mentally to learn a new talent, but using a lot of time investment to get the idea. It’s easy to go into a class on a concept intending to just go through the motions and hope the technical bits just osmose through. To an extent, they do – the tortoise is still going in at 40% or so. They save some willpower or effort from needing to change the way they do things, and they do still learn. The drawback is that skill acquisition does become a relatively high time cost endeavor, so the consideration when learning something new is how much time will need to be invested for this to be worthwhile. Tortoises also tend to learn fewer skills over time – but they tend to be better at sticking with things because it’s not as tiring. Overall, I think schools and classes are probably optimized for tortoise types.

There are, of course, other ways to do things. When developing skills, some people are more like the Hare in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare – they pick things up incredibly fast, but eventually want to take a nap halfway through. They’re very good at using all their processing at first – giving 100% in the first few lessons, whether self directed or other directed. The skill gain rate really is incredible – people will doubt a hare really is doing the thing for the first time because they go from bad at the thing to kind of ok at the thing extremely quickly. The hare understands things the first time they hear them and the second time they do them. The hare is engaged with their task, and in turn the task engages them. However…that’s just the first lesson. The second or third lesson or so, it’s less of a novel experience, and while using all your processing can get you the gist of a thing very quickly, it sometimes misses the technical details. Skill development can’t be short circuited so easily and when you do lesson one at 100% capacity, doing the next few lessons at a lower capacity actually makes you way worse at the thing. The hare starts to get lazy and it shows; suddenly the social and intellectual rewards from the new skill are not so easy to get, which causes the hare to lose interest. Hares tend to have a lot of things they are kind of sort of ok at, but never really got deep enough into to really know their stuff. As you might have guessed, I’m kind of a hare type. It’s really hard to master my focus to the degree that I can always bring all of my processing to a task, which in turn means I miss out on the much more steady, consistent reward curve of the tortoise. Which, in turn, makes it an uphill battle to learn something new to a level of competence I can actually consider useable in the real world. The hare is flashy, but not particularly good at things. The trade off for the hare is the ability to use willpower instead of time to pick up skills – skill acquisition isn’t going to take a long time, but it is going to be an ongoing willpower drain to keep pushing at full processing to get to the intrinsic rewards of skill acquisition – in a sense, it makes it almost seem like waste to start learning a skill.

Of course, there are those rare people who I call lions, completely leaving the frame of the Tortoise and the Hare. They are lions because they are the kings and queens of doing things and being competent. They are able to use all their processing, exactly when they need to, and it seems almost effortless. This kind of person just seems talented at everything. They seem like they are naturally better than everyone else – like they won the genetic lottery or something. This might be part of it, but the real secret to a lion’s success is in fact attention and focus. They only really need two metacognitive talents to achieve the level of competence they do – focus and discernment. The ability to wield their focus like a laser, narrowly drilling down on the task at hand. The ability to discern when this is necessary, when they can pull back to recharge a bit. The hare struggles because they only know how to go all or nothing. The tortoise struggles because they don’t know how to go all in. The lion succeeds because they can access the spectrum of cognitive effort. The lion’s tradeoff is largely choice – it’s not about how long it takes to pick something up, or how much effort it will take – it’s about what is actually worth doing that’s in line with their goals. The lion can learn to do anything, but there’s a whole wide world of things out there to do.

Using all your processing is largely the focus half of the lion’s skills – it’s exhausting at first, but it’s a trainable skill. The mental motion for using all your processing is similar to meditation. It’s use the skill or the task at hand as your focus and not letting anything outside the container of that skill intrude. It’s removing distractions but paying attention to what others are doing (if in a group), paying attention to what feels “off” (in yourself or others), and existing as an instrument for the skill you are trying to pick up. Consider both the motions as well as the concepts when you are learning. This is likely to be a little tiring, so I’d advise against signing up for a 3 hour workshop on underwater basketweaving and expecting you’ll be able to use all your processing the entire time. It’s important to be forgiving to yourself when your attention wanders. Still, even in short bursts, this sort of focus can be helpful.

 

As you improve at the skill you’re using all your processing to learn, you don’t want to get complacent like the hare – you’ll want to do some practice using less processing to make sure the basic motions of the skill compress properly, but you want to make sure you stage back up to full processing to start to blend things or add complexity – you want to master more advanced uses of the skill. Another use for using all your processing is to practice multiple compressed, complementary skills in tandem – multitasking is the art of splitting your attention across multiple disparate tasks at once; you don’t want to do this. You instead should do something called polytasking – the art of doing multiple complementary tasks together so as to maintain flow. Synthesis as opposed to haphazard combination.

Overall, using all your processing is a metacognitive skill that requires knowledge of how you use your focus and active decisionmaking on what is worth your focus. Using all your processing on a routine task is wasteful. Using all your processing on multitasking Is inefficient. Not using all your processing for learning new skills is slow. Not compressing the cognitive load of your skills is exhausting. This is largely an efficiency technique, but one that can pay big dividends on time spent.

Discussion questions: Are you a tortoise, hare, or lion? Which approach you think best – while the lion seems “superior” in some senses, they still are putting a lot of work into things that may not be strictly necessary, and missing out on experiences. What other approaches can be taken to skill development? How do you visualize your mental motion for using all your processing?

On Why I Like Fairy Tales

(Epistemic Status: Consider this a Gift from the holders of my pact)

I have previously spoken of the narrative structure of the fairy tale  – even used the conflict of the courts to express illegible social concepts. I have written short fiction about a poor, broken fae-touched woman granted the boon of Right Things. I have told you of the pacts I have made with those terrific, fantastic manifestations of nature.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned why I like fairy tales so much.

There is a narrative resonance in the fairy tale, deeper than any other narrative structure I’ve encountered. A combination of willingness to defy the natural order and a deep acceptance of the costs of doing that. An exploration of the paradox of the decision to upset the Way Things are Done and decide that you are special and Exempt, and the crushing realization that you’re special and Exempt right up until you aren’t. The exciting path one takes from agent of change to agent of the status quo. It’s a story of rising stars and second chances, but with a darkness I can’t help but be drawn to – a fatalism that echoes in the hollows of my mind. The constant awareness of how long the odds are…the seemingly endless reservoir of determination to try anyway.

The fact is, I’ve already thrown away my shot. The system was intended to work one way for me and somehow I got off the rails. If I had just kept putting out the butter and worn the cold iron – if I had focused on the path ahead and followed the advice about keeping my grades up, paying attention to scholarship opportunities…or maybe if I had learned a trade or held a proper job for awhile out of high school. I instead chose other things, and I paid the Price.

But the world dies without stories. If everyone follows the same cookie cutter path, following their prospects instead of their dreams, following the traditions to the letter, living conflict free lives, where are the stories that form the lifeblood of civilization? When inhuman forces pervade our entire society, the story of humanity becomes even stronger and more resonant – the need to hear the whispers of someone who defied the rules and made it anyway becomes desperate. However, this can never be easy – if it were easy, everyone would choose it, after all. It wouldn’t be a story, it would be the new normal. So the tales that take off, the memes that spread…among the circles of the twice exceptional, it’s the late bloomer who maybe fucked around a bit too much when the system was there to help and has to navigate significantly more hostile territory to use their gifts. It’s Maya Millennial, playing the desperate lottery of the big city to create a resonate story and keep hope and humanity alive. It’s the startup founder dropping out of college to make their next unicorn. It’s that cryptocurrency libertarian you made fun of in 2010 sitting on a pile of digital gold through pure dumb luck. These are the modern fairy tales that reassure us there are still ways to be human rather than processed.

A conflict is no fun if the heroine always wins though. A story loses it’s meaning if there’s never consequences for breaking the rules. A system cannot be upheld by unpunished rebellion. That undercurrent of fatalism…the certainty that the luck eventually runs out…this is also important to my aesthetic vision. The urgency and desperation lends a resonance to the fairy tale that I mirror when I author my own narratives. I like that my endless energy is tinged with this darkness, this deadness that courses through anyone who skirmishes with the fae. The fact is, I expect I will make it, but I will be changed for the effort. It won’t be me who makes it, but a version of myself who is processed after all. “You think yourself special because you’re human – I think you’re most special when you’re inhuman.” This is the paradox that runs through both the modern era and the typical fairy tale. One of the lies to get someone to trade away their life force to keep the traditions alive. The truth is neither the human nor the inhuman are special, they are both parts of the narrative arc, the process – once again, you are special and Exempt right up until you aren’t.

Fairy tales are about society – they teach you what is and isn’t acceptable, and when it is acceptable to defy those rules – because no society thrives without its Fools. In the past, you needed some explorers willing to die for innovation. Now, we need explorers willing to die for stories.

Overall, fairly tales feel both hopeful and fatalistic at the same time, which is much like how I view my own circumstances. I didn’t get the golden ticket of coding when it was hot – I didn’t leverage my intelligence to uphold our illusions of meritocracy – I didn’t learn to accept my place as worthless in an ever changing society – so I run up against the uncaring forces of (human) nature and see if I’m clever and resourceful enough to get ahead…knowing that the faeries find a way to get their Price, in the end.

Discussion questions: What narrative arcs resonate with you? How do you feel about the fairy tale as a narrative conceit? Do you think society is expressed in other stories?