SECDEF Panetta was just in London speaking at King’s College. He touched on many significant points for the trans-Atlantic relationship going forward into the rest of the 21st Century. However, in relation to my last blog post, he closed with a significant statement,
As I retire from my own career in public service, I recognize that there is a generational shift underway. There will probably not be another U.S. secretary of defense with direct memories of World War II. Many of those entering military service today — and many of the young students here in this audience — were born years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet across the generations, the transatlantic alliance remains the rock upon which we will build our future security and our future prosperity.
Generations are changing, and the rock upon which Churchill and the next generation built is not the same one that will be recognized tomorrow. It’s there as a foundation, but one that is a few stories below where we are today. It’s becoming abstract, a page in history, not something that was lived. And that is a significant cultural change.
Our decision making cannot take for granted something as significant as the Second World War, or even the Cold War, as living memory. Obviously, at the SECDEF level such a notion is not being taken for granted. But, still, the cultural shifts currently underway amount to a buried lede. A clear-eyed recognition of what is underway is important for decision makers at all levels, in my opinion, as this shift is something we must manage if we are to maintain a leadership role in the World.
History is dead; long live history.
Discussing Congressional politics over at Facebook I made the following comment.
The past is dead, and only exists on the pages of books. Chart a new course and new future.
I was questioned pointedly as to what I exactly mean in that statement; and rightfully so. Am I saying that that history gives us no lessons to learn from? Am I saying that we live in such unique times that all that’s come before is irrelevant? Not quite. I will use this blog to expand on my sentiment, and hopefully give some insight into what I consider the defining theme of the current Era.
We don’t live in the 20th Century any more. The themes we based our American Perspective on are geopolitically (and more) dead. There is no iron curtain, there is no soviet menace, there are no dominos to keep from falling. In the last decade or so we have not witnessed the end of history, what we have witnessed was the end of the 20th Century American paradigm.
America’s waffling in international affairs, our inability to articulate a strategy–especially grand strategy–comes not from lack of strategic ability, but from a lack of grand narrative. While it seems as if it were easy for us creating such a narrative in looking back, it was not an easy thing to clearly accept and define who we were (and who we should become) as a Nation from the start of the Cold War. Though we made the decisions, and we thus defined who we were going to be politically, socially, and on the world stage. Such decisions are made generationally and change with each subsequent generation.
My perspective differs greatly from those older than myself. I turned 18 in 2000, I will be 31 in a few weeks. Think about that for a minute. Much is said regarding the personality of Millennials, Generation Y, older Generation X, or whatever the nomenclature is for people around my age. But what is said is largely centered around the personality quirks of Americans 30 and younger. But, those quirks are based upon experience.
I’ve been in Europe for two years and three days. I’ve worked in NATO for this whole time. The impetus for NATO’s creation largely no longer exists, NATO has for the last few years been reinventing itself because of the loss of its impetus. But, beyond NATO all of the geopolitical realities of Europe are in flux. Additionally, the United States and our relationship to Europe is also undergoing change. While we were liberators in the 20th Century, the deeds done by the US are not a vibrant living memory any more. The monuments are here, the appreciation for what was done is still here. But, the men and women who did the liberation for the most part are not. As well, those who were liberated are not. The decisions made by US and European leaders are not being made in the Cold War paradigm either; decisions are not being made between people who were making decisions during the 20th Century.
Now, take this one step further–the average person. The average person not being either academically or personally steeped in the history of the Second World War or the Cold War, what do they think of the World in which we all live today? How do they self identify as a citizen of a nation? How do they understand the actions taken by other nations? Inherently, it will have to differ significantly from how those that lived through the Second World War and Cold war did (or do).
While I live in a World that results from theirs I cannot make decisions based upon what they did. I must inherently stand on my own and make decisions based on my own merit. This is the nucleus from which my generation of leaders will make decisions.
In all this, I am saying that for all intents and purposes, for those currently in power and for those who are coming to power: That history, which is arguably the greatest in all of America’s history, is not relevant in the sense that I cannot claim credit for it, nor should anyone give me that credit. My self and my nation are only as good as it’s current generation.
Perspective matters, as does how a people identify themselves and their nation. In the American experience I’ve noticed a predilection to point to our recent history as an exemplar of who we are. There is inherently nothing wrong with this, but there is some peril in doing so. The peril is in making decisions based on what once was. On living under the auspices of those no longer alive. A habitual form of ancestor worship in the worst sense.
America needs to come to terms that the 20th Century is over. The ways we did things then do not translate over very well into this 21st Century. Mark Twain talked about how history rhymes. And what we’re doing now is looking for that syllable that fits perfectly in relation to the previous stanza, and the whole World is too. Culturally, geopolitically, philosophically, and damn near everything is being defined for a new age. That, is the defining theme for today.
We can either be annoyed or frightened by this reality, or we can embrace it. But, by embracing it we have to let go of the past and not conflate what we do today with what was done in the past. What we do today defines what America is, not what our ancestors did. We’re only as good as we allow ourselves to be. The goodwill we earned as liberators and defenders of freedom has nearly run its course. It’s now up to the living to make new decisions predicated upon today’s realities that can either be as good or worse than our ancestors decisions.
Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say…
Part four: The People (or, attention is demanded, content is king, and it’s hard to smell roses).
Three people, at the very least, is required to manage a robust and content diverse social media profile. This requirement is temporality based, with one person focusing on new content, one for posting content and being the person behind the profile(s), and another for gathering and monitoring metrics derived from the effort.
The biggest driver behind this requirement is the amount of attention demanded in participating in social media. Many simply stop at posting content on social media. Where as doing so only counts (at most) for ~30% of what can/should be done on social media. For instance, the last two years have seen a major push by news organizations (namely newspapers) to make their content more social. Dependent upon the sentiment of the news stories or other variables (e.g., is there anything in the story that was incorrect, is there supplemental information that could be provided to audiences that didn’t otherwise fit into the news story, is there any sentiment worth underscoring) there can be a major benefit to engaging audiences discussing news of your organization. Such an effort can consume significant amounts of time, which in turn precludes the ability of a single person to additionally create content unique to the organization, or to run metrics which accurately capture and demonstrate what resulted from the effort.
An additional thing worth mentioning is regarding participation in social media. I only wish to touch on it briefly (Though, itself deserves a thousand words). The person actually participating in social media is a spokesperson on par with, and every bit important as a media spokesperson. The skill sets for each differ significantly, each demanding in their own ways. Increasingly a social media spokesperson is becoming as important as the traditional media spokesperson.
If roughly 30% of one’s time is consumed by sharing ‘new’ or original content (more on original content later), and roughly 30% is consumed by participating in commenting on news; the remaning 30-ish percent is spent engaging with audiences at the organization’s social media profiles. The effort spread across these three areas, is beyond any notion of ‘branding’. Instead this time is spent establishing the organization’s culture for the audience (I will expand upon this notion in greater detail in a later post).
Lastly, the social media spokesperson is not be a nine-to-five job. It really should be treated 24/7, especially if your organization spans across time zones and cultures. With a worldwide audience, part of your audience is awake and talking about things while you sleep. This is not to say that the spokesperson can’t sleep, or can’t take a break. Rather, this is to say that a shift in mindset as to what it means to be ‘at work’ is necessary. Just as those who use social media for personal reason post casually through-out the day and night, regardless if it is the weekend or not; so too must the spokesperson, only with more earnest goals and objectives for their effort. An additional remedy is to look at who the audience is, and with enough time and though, understanding the rhythm at which the conversation flows.
In consideration of the demands outlined above, another person must be dedicated to original content creation. It is very easy to be a content aggregator online (also known as sharing on facebook, or retweeting on twitter). To a certain extent it is necessary to share content relevant to, but not created by, your organization (George Takei has earned himself over 3 million followers by aggregating content created by others). However, sharing and retweeting of content not created by an organization cannot fully define what the organization is. Thus, original content is necessary, and should be produced in quantities that adequately compliments the shares and retweets.
Doing this is a fulltime job that can quickly demand a number of disparate skills. Graphics, videos, stories, and memes (of all varieties) are labor intensive and time sensitive. But, it is original content that anchors any message on social media to a desired course. Without original content an organization’s message is dependent on the whims of others that cannot be fully controlled, leaving an organization’s narrative ill defined.
Having a blend of shared and original content, and having participated in the discourse, an organization still needs to know what resulted from the effort. To adequately measure the effort a third person, not apart of creation or engagement, is necessary. The amount of data generated on social media is massive and available in near real-time. Pure numbers are easy–if you want to measure how many ‘likes’ you got in a given amount of time, it’s no problem to look at the graphs provided by facebook, or any third party service. But, as I said in my previous post, the true power of social media is ‘in between the lines’.
Of all the types of analysis there is for social media one continually defies any attempts to automate: sentiment analysis, especially when the discourse spans multiple languages. Sentiment analysis is vital since a profile can increase in popularity for bad reasons as easily as it can for good. If your organization wishes to be a strong advocate for something, the number of likes, shares, or retweets will not inform you if you have been successful in its advocation. Think of it this way: When do you personally talk about something with your friends, or with strangers? When you really like something, or when you really don’t? Across society it probably cuts close to 50/50 between those who tend to talk about a topic in a negatively and those who tend towards positive context. Thus any volume metric (numbers of things) does not give the full picture–deeper analysis is demanded. ‘Semantic based analysis’ (Not sure if that is a real term or not. But, it makes sense to term it as such, in my mind at least) is the only way to get a true sense of an organization’s accomplishments on social media.
Such semantic based analysis must include content outside pure social media (i.e. other mediums), and delve into news sources (including newspapers, televised news, magazines), blogs, and conceivably anywhere the organization might be discussed. Observing the effects in other mediums is vital, because such semantic analysis does not meet the criteria for Godel’s Completeness theorem, but does for his second Incompleteness Theorem–multiple cultures, multiple languages, spread across multiple (if not all) time zones add so many semantic variables that logical deduction, derived from number of likes, shares and the rest, is not possible. To verify the consistency, validness, and soundness of an organization’s use of social media the effects in mediums other than social media is demanded.
To be honest, even in my professional use of social media, I have not been able to follow the above guidelines exactly. But, from what I have been able to do as a part of a social media team, I have come to understand the necessity of all I said above. With social media being as new as it is, with new capabilities to measure an organization’s effects nearly every day, there is always more to be done. What constantly amazes me is how we as a species are able to do things of our own device and yet hardly understand what we’re doing at all–fascinating and troubling all at the same time.
Again, we’re well past a thousand words. So, I will leave this post where it is. More to come later next week. I think some of the comments got lost in the migration to Discus. Apologies for that, I promise I am reading the comments and will participate in them.
Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say…
Part One: The Grand Narrative Renaissance.
The writings of those in the business realm dominate what public affairs and social media professionals read in the military. What fortune 500 companies do in social media is looked to as a guide post, with metrics like number of followers becoming the sine qua non of success. Granted, number of likes or followers is a very easy metric to grasp when talking about how successfully a message has been promulgated, and in measuring a return on investment more broadly. But, such base metrics belie the deeper significance of what much of the World is doing by utilizing social media, and the feedback effects from the use of social media.
Any metric gleaned has second and third order effects which cannot be readily verified that are much more significant than what we are able to measure–one has to read between the lines to see the true power of social media. My theory for this importance is that we are moving beyond the post-modern paradigm. This is to say that I agree with the notion that grand narratives cannot be articulated which equally applies to every perception or perspective. However, the sum of all perspectives can add up to an ad-hoc grand-narrative that falls along the lines of demographics, even up to the level of the human condition.
The metrics we have available to us have already been able to hint at this being true. Take a look at what Facebook Stories has put together based on the location and friend data available from Facebook. The infographic they’ve put together has some interesting implications for the divide between geopolitical and societal interactions . The ability for us to freeze a moment in time, per say, and look at the sentiment of over one billion people and obverse the sentiment based on whatever analytical criteria one wishes matters and will have a feedback effect on future opinions, perceptions and, more generally, societies’ self understanding.
We have already seen the first instances of the change brought about by the ‘mass self awareness’ we have of our combined opinions. News aggregation services like the Huffington Post, which reports its news based on what other more precise news sources report is one clear example of us as a society paying attention to the whims, opinions, and beliefs espoused across social media. Such services represent the first steps towards the measuring of the meta-narrative, or societies self-made, ad-hoc grand-narrative.
I use the model of wave-particle duality as a metaphor for how organizations use social media. In my job I have had to give considerable thought to how an organization should use social media. The person sitting behind an organization’s profile is only a single person, but the content they add is on the behalf of an organization much larger than their-self. Perceptually, on observer of an organization’s profile views the content as representing all that the organization is. Though, it is really only one person, typing away, making sure the content is in adherence to policy and the like.
Additionally, organizations are constantly adding content both internally and externally. I view such content creation (as well as a single person maintaining a profile representing a large organization) as a wave function in a larger system. For instance, SHAPE is a part of NATO, in turn NATO is a part of a system of 28 Nations (which is also a part of geopolitics writ large). The job of the person posting content onto a social media page is to take the wave function (NATO–28 Nations–geopolitics) and collapse it down into a particle.
In other words, a single post onto a social media profile does not convey very much, but 100 posts can convey a lot of information. 100 posts stretched over time, takes on a form much like a wave does. Posts over time can convey not just what is explicitly stated, but also something much more broad.
Using social media to convey information from an organization to the public provides a bandwidth of information well beyond what a media spokesperson can provide in the amount of time that can be spent during a press conference. Press conferences rarely consume more than an hour, and the various topics discussed have to compete for that limited time. However, in social media, the only limit to the amount of time spent conveying a message is limited only by attention span, enabling a much greater amount of content to be provided by an organization. The information provided at this time can be viewed as a particle. Any subsequent information provided at a later time is an additional particle, with the sum of these particles being able to be analyzed as a whole–the whole is the wave of information, the narrative created through the use of social media.
Part Three: Reporters are only subject matter experts.
Additionally, social media allows an organization to speak directly with individuals en mass. Previous to social media, the only way to promulgate a message efficiently was to speak to a small group who would then speak to a larger group–this small group being the press. Now that social media exists the media is not as necessary to speak with large groups. The words ‘to’ and ‘with’ are italicized because not only has social media given individuals access to organizations like SHAPE, it has also allowed them to have conversations with SHAPE. The difference between someone being spoken ‘to’ and being a part of a conversation is signficiant. News was one way, with only very motivated individuals doing all that would be required to personally visit an organization in order to speak with it, or by lengthly correspondence.
So, what role does a reporter occupy now that organizations and individuals can easily interact with each other? The role of a subject matter expert. Back during the Joint Warfighter Conference last Spring, I had something of an epiphany. There was a reporter there who was Tweeting statements from a Keynote address. I disagreed with the characterization being given through the reporters Tweets. I came to find out that the reason the characterization seemed off, is that the reporter was new to defense issues. Learning this, I started to view each reporter and news source I valued differently. I came to understand that I liked the reporter because not of the access they might have had, or the way they wrote a story. But, because of the depth of understanding they were able to convey to me through their reporting.
In essence, I have come to view a reporter as a person who has a depth of knowledge concerning the subject they cover that enables them to breakdown a complex topic into a narrative that I am able to understand. To return to my wave-particle metaphor: They are able to make a wave into a particle.
When individuals have access to information and organizations that are of interest to them, what role can a reporter occupy other than being talented enough to explain complex subjects that an individual does not have the time to delve into themselves? Reporters are subject matter experts who have a tallent for cogently explaining complex things–in the a best case, that is.
**This blog is already over 1k words. I will follow up with parts Four, Five and the Conclusion later this week.
Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon, Naval Aviator, and Korean War Veteran.
“I have made certain achievements in my life and been recognized many times, but, there is no achievement I value more highly then when I received the wings of gold…”
Fair winds and following sea to a man who even before his death belonged to the ages.
I’m still really on the fence when it comes to reenlisting or not. It’s not from want of advice, I’ve had tons of really good advice coming from a lot of really good people. But, yeah, I still am not 100% sure if I want to stay in or not.
I mean, the Navy has been amazing to me, absolutely amazing. In four years I did what I expected to take 20. But, that’s the kicker, I did in four what I expected to take a career. So, now what?
Yesterday I was talking with a Sergeant that works with me, the conversation included the first talk of how what I do now can be transitioned over to someone else, it included the statement ‘it will take some of the pressure off you,’ and that one short comment actually did just that. Along with knowing the transition is slowly beginning, I also have sort of started feeling like a regular Sailor again–almost to the point where I expect people to call me YN2 again. So, this sense I’ve started to have has taken me to the point of wanting to stay in, of wanting to see what is next.
But, staying in means I cannot have as much of a voice in talking about what I think is wrong in the Navy, and I think there is a lot of things wrong in the Navy, a lot. It also means college is going to take a lot longer, and my education not as good as it could be. It means I will not be credentialed as quickly, as many have advised me to become.
But, I do have a plan.
Get through ‘A’ School, and through a duty station, probably in/around DC. Then apply for the sabbatical program in the Navy, and finish whatever schooling I have left.
But, even with this plan, I don’t want to leave SHAPE. I doubt that anyone who reads this blog dislikes my Boss, ADM Stavridis. But, I also doubt many people who read this blog have worked for him. Trust me, he’s even better to work for than his reputation lets on. I know that anywhere else I go in the Navy, the ideas will not be as good, the drive to bring good ideas forward will not be as earnest, and I will miss all of this so terribly much–Please, all of you out there, prove me wrong in that, let me know who next to go work for as a CTR, I beg you.
I don’t care that I will become just another CTR2 out there in the Fleet–in fact I miss the Fleet. But, I do care about not being around ideas. And that is why I want to get out, because in a very real sense, I know that in four years I’ve worked in that once-in-a-generation Command.
Anyway, we’ll see. Next week, I’ll have my mind made up. I’ve been on the fence regarding this for far too long. The Navy isn’t a bad gig, and I know you’ve just read 500 words worth of first-world problems. But, hey, problems are problems, right?
We’ve created all this connectivity, we’ve wired just about every aspect of our lives. The national discourse appears in thousands of blogs, news aggregators, social media profiles, and more. Google before you Tweet is the new think before you talk and foot notes have evolved into hyperlinks.
My life is largely consumed by being online, by blogging, linking, reading, summarizing, analyzing, and connecting online. My duties are wholly impossible without email and social media–and all of this is arbitrary and contrived. This venue for our discourse, the internet, is an invention that is not even a hundred years old. Its mass adoption has not even reached twenty years, a sizable portion of the World’s population is firewalled into their own mini-internets in places like China, and yet others do not even yet have electricity. This way we communicate is new, we created it and we don’t even understand what we’ve done. To try to start to understand what we’ve done is hard, very hard, it’s one of the most pervasive absurdities we live with, and it’s of our own divice.
But, we must understand it, as we are becoming as much apart of it as we are the designer. The way we use the internet affects how we think and view the world. The speed at which something is availed to all who can find it, the amount of data created (As much in two days, as was created in the whole of history up to 2003). The individual is a finite resource limited by time and the ability to properly digest the information availed to them.
The pressures inherent in a system like the society we’ve created for ourselves is significant, especially for those of us who are content producers (and we’re all content producers… Some of us just don’t make a living as such).
Jonah Lehrer’s book “Imagine” was on course to be one of the most important books of 2012. I personally had watched every YouTube video presentation of his, I had purchased the book for my father and for myself. I was on the cusp of recommending it far and wide to ears that could do well with such insights. Then, I read this,
When I asked about aspects of his interactions with Rosen, Lehrer provided a sketchy time frame and contradictory specifics—he first told me that he had personally exchanged emails with Rosen, then attributed this supposed email exchange to his literary agent—then further claimed that Dylan’s management had approved the chapter after being sent a copy of Imagine. He added that Dylan’s management didn’t want their cooperation sourced in the book. But when I contacted Dylan’s management, they told me that they were unfamiliar with Lehrer, had never read his book, there was no bobdylan.com headquarters, and, to the best of their recollection, no one there had screened outtakes from No Direction Home for Lehrer. Confronted with this, Lehrer admitted that he had invented it.
Having invented content as Lehrer did is not unique to 2012. Back in March This American Life had an episode titled Retraction where they devoted the episode to a follow on interview with Mike Daisey on why he “misled This American Life during the fact-checking process.” From the prolog,
Host Ira Glass tells listeners we can no longer stand behind the reporting in the recently aired episode “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.” He explains how Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked down Daisey’s interpreter in China — a woman named Cathy Lee — who disputes much of Daisey’s story. And Ira talks about how Mike Daisey lied to TAL during the fact-checking process, telling Ira and our producers that Cathy was not her real name and that she was unreachable. Ira also stresses that, without Cathy’s corroboration of the story, This American Life never should have run the story in the first place.
What Lehrer and Daisey have done is abhorrent, and there is no way to efficiently preempt the actions of these men, or others like them. It is not something new, as there have always been liars. Though there is much to be said of the ability to get the truth out, and to hold accountable such actions as the internet has allowed. The size of the information a single person contends with on a daily basis does as much to influence content producers to provide that killer metric, data point, anecdote to support their position, or elevate what they have to say above the background noise (think of how LCS, LPD 17, and the ZUMWALT were pitched).
For the average person, such instances count for mere annoyance. Just another huckster, a host for the modern day carnival side-show, parading themselves around and slinging faulty memes. However, when such work informs an opinion or world view that then informs policy makers, the issue counts for much more than mere annoyance. As happened with Greg Mortensen’s work having been cited in numerous reading lists, these instances count for much more than mere annoyance–they become a world view predicated upon lies.
It is a burden of our own creation in sifting through all the information available. At once we have created this amazing ability to tap into the ‘collective intelligence’ of those online towards improving the decision making process. The internet for all intents an purposes is not new (nor old), the shine and glint of it has worn off–it is not the next best thing, it is a ‘thing’ and so we must set about towards creating routine in its use.
We find ourselves with a mess. As Bruce Sterling has put it,
Then there is the colossally huge, searchable, public domain, which is now at your fingertips. There are methods to track where the eyeballs of the users are going. There are intellectual property problems in revenue, which interferes with scholarship as much as it aids it. There is a practice of ‘ragpicking’ with digital material – of loops, tracks, sampling. There are search engines, which are becoming major intellectual and public political actors. There is ‘collective intelligence’. Or, if you don’t want to dignify it with that term, you can just call it ‘internet meme ooze’. But it’s all over the place, just termite mounds of poorly organized and extremely potent knowledge, quantifiable, interchangeable data with newly networked relations. We cannot get rid of this stuff. It is our new burden, it is there as a fact on the ground, it is a fait accompli.
Many of us are just now coming to terms with how we can apply process to managing the ‘internet meme ooze’ in informing ourselves. Sterling also outlines the process in this ‘atemporal’ age,
‘Step one – write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already. Step two – write problem in my blog; study the commentory cross-linked to other guys. Step three – write my problem in Twitter in a hundred and forty characters. See if I can get it that small. See if it gets retweeted. Step four – open source the problem; supply some instructables to get me as far as I’ve been able to get, see if the community takes it any further. Step five – start a Ning social network about my problem, name the network after my problem, see if anybody accumulates around my problem. Step six – make a video of my problem. Youtube my video, see if it spreads virally, see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem. Step seven – create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. Create some gadget or application or product that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it. Step eight – exacerbate or intensify my problem with a work of interventionist tactical media. And step nine – find some kind of pretty illustrations from the Flickr ‘Looking into the Past’ photo pool.’
His description is a play off of how Richard Feynmann described intellectual labor,
Step one – write down the problem. Step two – think really hard. Step three – write down the solution.
Sterling has succinctly outlined how we’ve moved in our approach to informing our problem solving process. To date, we’ve cobbled together a sorts of additional steps, additional perspectives, additional subordinate processes to ensure nothing has been left out.
Increasingly we’ve had to add ‘glitter’ to attract attention to a problem, while adding the most peril–how do we attract attention without having to stretch the truth as many have done? All data generated, all content created, is a small fish in a large pond that is growing exponentially.
Like a painting that isn’t done yet, outline showing and colors overlapping, we are left to assume how the painting would be finished. The collaborative process we’ve thus far been able to create is not far removed from group finger-painting in Kindergarten.
Exacerbating our challenge is the that while we must contend with greater volumes of data we additionally have to deal with the rate at which that data and content is created. The time we have to cobble together a cohesive narrative shrinks with every year. Narratives that require context that can only be given with significant amounts of additional information.
In moving beyond this mess we find ourselves moving beyond a post-modern paradigm. Sterling calls this new paradigm ‘atemporality.’ For the simple reason that history is no longer so much written in ink on pages in books that do not change and cannot be edited once the ink dries. This narrative we collectively write by living life is being written, erased, and rewritten in real time as we post to social media outlets, write blogs, comment on news stories and the like.
As blogs correct the inaccuracies reported, or lies paraded as truth, the narrative shifts along with our world view. How we learn and view our world; how we treat information, knowledge and wisdom, is no longer challenged so much by a lack of perspective, as it is by the amount of perspectives. But, what Post-Modernists like Lyotard did not consider, is that the sum of cybernetics (the internet and computer technology) can contain the very meta-narrative they said could not exist–the zeitgeist.
Meta-narratives are more important than they’ve ever been. Increasingly it is the job of many of us to help understand that meta-narrative. The challenge inherent in this is in pulling apart knowledge and putting it back together–learning, unlearning, and relearning. The processes we’ve thus far adopted are not very efficient, however. As outlined by Sterling above, we’ve created numerous other steps that are not truly required to solve something. In terms of the meme on the right, we might not be truly illiterate, but we essentially are functionally illiterate, especially in terms of our organizations.
One does not have to look any further than to how we have decided to contain our information and convey it to others to see where we stop being literate–PowerPoint. As much as the cybernetics (the medium) is the zeitgeist (the message), we have chosen to contain our knowledge (the message) in PowerPoint (the medium). Additionally, one sees the same issue of adding ‘glitter’ into PowerPoint, and briefings in general to raise them above the background noise.
We may have come to the point to where we must allow things to be aesthetically bland, boring and uninteresting. It is all together too easy to apply a layer of glitter to a presentation to make it more appealing to an audience. In looking to brief others in the military it should be assumed that your captive audience already has an interest in the topic to be discussed, and that it is not necessary for us to concern ourselves with aesthetics since our content is informed, accurate and important. This is an advantage we enjoy inside our military, and it is folly of us not to take advantage of it.
Glitter is not left to aesthetics alone, additionally it can affect content as well. As Evgeny Morozov brilliantly writes in a recent article,
[O]ne can continue fooling the public with slick ahistorical jeremiads on geopolitics by serving them with the coarse but tasty sauce that is the Cyber-Whig theory of history. The recipe is simple. Find some peculiar global trend—the more arcane, the better. Draw a straight line connecting it to the world of apps, electric cars, and Bay Area venture capital. Mention robots, Japan, and cyberwar. Use shiny slides that contain incomprehensible but impressive maps and visualizations. Stir well. Serve on multiple platforms.
This points to the tendency of connecting dots which should not be connected. The zeitgeist can be seductive in that since so much information is contained with so many hyperlinks between them all, that everything is relevant to everything else, and that solutions must equally apply to all that is relevant; and is another aspect of Post-Modernism that falls short. But, just because you can see how all information, how all data is related, it does not mean that it matters.
Three steps. Write the problem down, think really hard, write down the solution. That’s all that is necessary, if you want to go full luddite, you could say that you really only need to do one thing–think.
For the military, it is time to look closely at how we communicate with each other. How many of us are like the type of person Morozov describes? How many of us make up for lack of content with aesthetics? When you’re preparing a brief, how do you communicate your message? It’s a well worn, and nearly trite, statement to say that since the money is leaving, we have to really start thinking–but, it’s also true.
Start reasoning, start communicating, and stop selling.
Every era has had something that service members came of age with. From the Dreadnaught era to the advent of submarines; the Sailors of the interwar period saw naval aviation come of age; Jets after the close of the second world war, guided missiles and nuclear propulsion.
For my generation, among the first of the 21st Century, we have seen the initial steps towards cyber capabilities and the mass adoption of unmanned systems. But, we’ve seen something more as well tangentially related to cyber: blogging and the online discourse writ large concerning the maritime services.
I am willing to say that at no other time has the discourse been as important for the maritime services as it is today. Certainly, it has never been more well appointed or contributed to. From those with an earnest interest in naval and maritime affairs, to deckplate Sailors and junior officers, to even the most senior admirals and generals. Their voices are present and count towards our understanding of ourselves, profession and the way forward for the Nation and Services.
For five years Information Dissemination has played a vital role in this discourse and enhanced discourse at USNI/USNI blog. To Raymond and the gang at Information Dissemination thanks for five years of great posts and for adding much appreciated voices to the dialog. Cheers!
I’ve got another post rattling around my brain for Memorial Day. But, I don’t want to clutter that post with some other sentiments I also wish to share over this Memorial Day weekend.
We honor the fallen over Memorial Day. The evocative photos that are typically shown are those of Arlington, or the Cemeteries here in Belgium. My Shipmates and I are spending the weekend doing what should be done to honor those who have gone before us and given that last full measure of devotion to their Nation. But, all too often, and far too easily, the next to last measure of devotion isn’t given the proper amount of remembrance–integrity.
My good friend Scott Shipman, shared a recording on facebook from C-SPAN of Col. John Boyd speaking before the House Armed Services Committee in 1991 on the effectiveness of our Armed Forces in that war. His timing is particularly poignant, as it made my sentiments here come to the forefront of my thinking on this Memorial Day Weekend.
You meet them often; those among us who are scrupulous in their integrity. They generally go about their duties without much fanfare; they do not necessarily draw attention to themselves and just accomplish the tasks their Nation has laid out before them. Many of them do not have awards for Valor, they do not have stories from our recent wars in which they accomplished something great. They are our unsung heros who do their duty and hold to a higher degree of integrity that most are capable of.
I’ve known a few such women and men in my career, both officer and enlisted. When I’ve seen them do something that was emblematic of having integrity, I’ve not pointed out to them what they’ve done–there’s no point in that, as they do comport themselves as such for recognition. But, I would watch it all unfold, and smile to myself, and feel proud to wear the cloth of the Nation as they do.
On this memorial day, think of them as well. They may not have given that last full measure, but they do their duty in a way that is just as important and worth honoring.
I began writing this during the 11th hour of Joint Warfighter, feeling like I had something of an information hangover. Coffee was having no effect. Concepts and ideas were jumbled into an atemporal mess in my mind–it has been a long couple of conferences.
After the last session a woman walked past me and remarked that the panel was uninformative. I’ve now heard this sentiment twice in the last two days. In terms of this, I can agree that perhaps the actual information given by panelists might not be new, novel, or insightful. But, at best such a reality is decided on a case-by-case basis, since those in the audience have each been privy to different types, amounts, and quality of data. What was not profound to you, could have very well been profound to someone else. In short, the fact that you might not have found anything new in the discussion is irrelevant. But, it does point my thinking towards a new paradigm for conferences is needed.
There is little information that will be given to you in person that could not have been read elsewhere. The volume of data and information availed online is huge–you want to know about the Navy, you can learn most everything online. You can be given nuance from blogs and context from history. However, it is in person is where you learn about what people are thinking, and what they haven’t decided on. You see the person and all those subconscious things that denote what they’re really thinking.
That is the power of panels, that is why it is worth traveling so very far and spending so much: Experience. My Boss says that nothing supplants meeting someone in person, and he’s right. You can share emotion via the Internet, but you cannot truly experience emotion with someone, not even the subtle emotion felt when one is posed with a difficult question–as is often done in panels.
The division between audience and panel needs to be broken down. I struggle to articulate how to do this short of some hippie-esq ‘let’s-circle-our-chairs-and-hold-hands’ nonsense. But, the answer must be in there somewhere between the connectivity enabled by the Internet and being there in person.
AirSea Battle is in trouble. I don’t really know what it is, and even with engaging with the panel today, I still don’t think there is anyone out there who has the whole story. But. What truly troubles me, is that from the question I asked today.
I asked how AirSea Battle Strategy (anyone know what the word ‘battle’ is doing in a strategy?) would affect the tactical level. From what I remember of the answer, almost nothing will change except that there will be more jointness (termed ‘interoperability’ if I remember correctly) and tactical units will be smaller and enabled to mass quickly if a concentration of forces are needed.
Additionally, the design for AirSea is such that it will be layered over the tactical and operational COCOM level. This is where I really get lost–and I need your help to make sense of.
Wasn’t one of the greatest critiques of COIN that it wasn’t a true strategy, but rather a collection of tactics jumbled together and called strategy? If we are overlaying this strategy on top our existing operational and tactical paradigms, aren’t we doing the same thing COIN is accused of? What I understand of strategy is that it is the larger goals and combination of ends, ways and means towards reaching those goals. In attempting to draft a strategy that does not perturb current tactical paradigms, are we creating a strategy that changes nothing?
I really hope we aren’t, but I will need to be convinced we aren’t.
Another thing is that the crowd drawn to such Conferences are more industry than strategist. The questions routinely posed to the panels concerned acquisition more than they did anything else. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’m not a contractor and so I am more I am more interested in strategy and tactics. What’s more is that because of the majority of the questions it is now hard for me to separate the future tools for implementing AirSea from the strategy itself.
Is AirSea a collection of new capabilities rather than a strategy in its own right?
While I was told that AirSea was not to have any major impact on the tactical level, there is one area in which I do see it having a major impact. AirSea seems to support the notion of acquiring 5+ generation fighters, new comms gear, and making everything stealth. The fielding of such gear will necessarily drive the need for new tactics, and operational models. From what I understand of the F-22, the logistics and maintenance requirement are quite different from having 15s, 16s and 18s downrange. In addition, if the services are to specialize further in niche but vital capabilities, interoperability is going to demand another round of relocating units CONUS for training purposes. If the Army has an Electronic Warfare requirement for a mission the Navy will have to fill that role. But, odds are that EW Squadron is in Northern Virginia, but the Combat Brigade is located in North Carolina or Georgia. For these two units to train together to be fully interoperable, they will need to train together almost constantly. I struggle to see how this will be cost effective, in the age of austerity with sequestration looming.
There is way too much that has gone unsaid regarding AirSea. I appreciate OPSEC needs as much as the next guy. But, AirSea is starting to be discussed widely across strategy and military focused blogs. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations are appearing together to present this strategy to the American People, and the message is thus far garbled. As we’re in the opening stages of the messaging campaign, I can appreciate that there is tweaking that will be done to it towards answering the myriad of questions we all have regarding AirSea. But, it will be a struggle. My sense is that many bloggers, strategists, and journalists are suspect of AirSea. After nearly ten years of coin being vigorously debated, any new strategy will have an uphill battle.
I saw a lot of GOFO’s over the course of Joint Warfighter. Just about as many as are at SHAPE. But, what is important is that I got to listen to them, at some length. General Allen, COMISAF, VTC’d in for an hour (and it was roughly 2100L AFG). Despite weather delays GEN Dempsey was present for an hour. I don’t know how much experience everyone has will trying to get on a GOFO’s schedule. But, average availability is around 15 minutes. An hour is an insane amount of time.
GENs Cartwright, Allen, and Dempsey all spoke without the use of PowerPoint or notes. They were able to navigate through multiple topics, ensuring that key messages were hit and came across as relaxed. They were all polished and impressive. GEN Cartwright had the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor was particularly poignant.
I asked a lot of questions, and the way I worded a lot of questions was not readily understood. I’m pretty sure I had to rephrase every question I asked. It sucks when you’ve got a minute or seven standing behind the mic, listening to the other questions being asked, answers that touch upon the one you’re about to ask, and you’re thinking of a myriad of permutations of how you could ask your question. It’s like roulette, you don’t know when the moderator is going to call on you, and where ever your mind is at when you’re asked is the question that comes out.
*Remember, identify your self and your affiliation.*
One question got me asked if I wanted to work on the Joint Staff, and the answer to that is still an emphatic yes (if you want to see how that went down, watch the video. I won’t elaborate further).
During one such evening, at the USNI Member Event, I turned a corner, and Mary stopped me and introduced me to John Nagl. Yes, that John Nagl. Amazing, right? I love the Naval Institute… For more than just this one instance.
In 2007 I attended my first conference. It was Joint Warfighter, and the day I attended ADM Stavridis gave the keynote at Lunch.
I became aware of the conference while I was underway, and emailed the Institute asking how I could pay for the lunches. I was told that the Institute saves a few tickets for Enlisted members, and that I needn’t worry about paying to attend the luncheon keynote. Because of this, I became aware of ADM Stavridis, and sought out everything I could find of his writing. Eventually I found him on facebook as well, and in 2010 this all came together in enabling me to come work for him at SHAPE. It is directly because of the Naval Institute that I am who I am today.
The last keynote of the Conference was from Google’s Chief Technology Advocate. He presented a number of fascinating things Google does as “hobbies”. Google is all about gathering real world information and organizing and availing that information through the internet. I consider this a noble and laudable goal. What’s more is that they are doing an exceptional job at all of it.
However, such a goal is fraught with challenges and disturbing implications. Arthur C. Clark has some very good words to this point
The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.
Google gets this, and they are actively engaged in finding the right answers to such dilemmas. They seek out expert advice from guys like GEN Colin Powell. They seek to understand the implications of the capabilities and technologies they develop–they seek to build wisdom as much as they compile information.
I think it is important for this conversation to take place, as well as for it to be transparent and done in public. If Google can develop technologies that have significant security implications, it does us no good to bury this fact, as it denies us the ability to develop the wisdom required to understand our new abilities. Further more, if Google can do it, then eventually anyone could do it, being quiet about it won’t prevent this from happening.
All Around It was an excellent conference, I was especially pleased to see so many of our Allies stationed at Allied Command Transformation in attendance. Seeing French, British, German, and Spanish uniforms in the crowd made me feel a little bit like I was back home at SHAPE. Going forward, I think it would be a good thing to try to engage with our Allies more in such conferences. With more focus on Asia being demanded, deepening engagement and ties with our European Allies in other ways is important. An easy, and smart way to do this is with conferences like Joint Warfighter. Plus, JCWC has a nice ring to it (Joint-Combined Warfighter Conference).
- On Midrats 26 April 15 – Episode 277: Manpower, Modernization, and Motivation – an Hour with VADM Moran
- A Call to Write
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer