On the Limits of Online Communities and Online Discussions

Woodpecker's first computer. At that time, internet discussions was not something to worry about, haha!

Woodpecker’s first computer. At that time, internet discussions was not something to worry about, haha!

Ah, the internet!
What a wonderful world, what a wonderful tool!

You can obtain basically any information anytime you want, you can watch movies and idle away whole days there. You can feel part of the crowd and of a community without ever leaving your sofa.

You can have hundreds of friends there.

And yet, something is missing.

I realized that very clearly the other day when having some discussions on various internet channels.

Basically, I think there are two types of discussions in general:

(1) A “rational” discussion / talk

That is you and your counterparts exchange information and facts on a given topic. Often a topic where nobody or at least some participants do not have too much knowledge about at this point of time. And they are happy to receive additional information within the “discussion”.
Example: Discussion how to live more frugally. How to save petrol, where to buy cheap etc.
Here, mere facts are exchanged that will not involve the deeper and complex levels of your and the other’s personality.
It is pure rational exchange. And writing is a perfect tool for rational exchange. Thus, this is where the internet excels and should be used for.

But there is also the second type of discussion / talk:

(2) An “emotional” or “personal” discussion / talk

This is a discussion where typically at least one (mostly even all) participants have their feelings, their values, their concept of life, their view on the world involved. That is, you are not exchanging pure facts but also opinions. You are always in danger of questioning the others concept of life without knowing. And you are in danger of being attacked in your concept of life as well – often without the intention of the counterpart!

Example: “A discussion on how to react e.g. to islamist terrorism”. Or: “Is our society and economic system fair?” Bam! Here you go, immediately the ground will turn into a battlefield, with your opinions coming out of the barracks and deploying to the trenches, ready to defend you so-loved (and of course so correct (irony!) ) view of the world and your (of course universally valid (irony!) ) experiences.

Needless to say this is a difficult setting for a discussion.
But it still can be done, you just need a lot more information exchange between participants.
Something that writing cannot deliver.

Importance of body language

When I first hear the famous saying “80% of information between two people talking is exchanged via body language” years ago I thought this is crap. But actually, if you think about it, it is true! If you include the tone of your voice, the looks, the pitch, the movements etc., there is a hell of a lot of information transmitted next to the mere words. And exactly here lays the shortfall of online communication.

Example: You say something which you are convinced of to a person in a face to face setting and you notice she is hurt by what you said. You don’t know why she is hurt, but as you realize (and if you are not a complete idiot), within seconds, you will slow down your attack, you will check back why the other person was hurt, and in doing so, she might reveal the reasons and experience behind her reaction which in turn will lead you to better understand her position. You might then start a second attempt on what you were going to say, but rephrase it, maybe weaken it, taking her feelings into account. This all happens at a high pace and typically more or less naturally. That way you can discuss even very personal and emotional topics face to face if you have a minimum level of empathy and compassion (and I firmly belief everyone has that).

Not so in an online discussion.
You write something, then you wait without being able to observe. You maybe log off or preparing your next blow. The other person might be hurt or upset as well but you will not be able to notice. The only thing you see later is that she writes back in an angry or aggressive tone. You get angry too. But as it is practically impossible to accurately transport a “feeling” without it looking quite stupid or being unprecise (unless you are a poet maybe), you just shoot back and so forth.

Result:

I think I was involved in many “opinion”-based discussions in the internet, unless I noticed at some point that more or less never there was a real mutual understanding or progress evolving out of them.
Almost always, it was a mere mutual bombardment with facts, rhetoric blows and not seldom outright manipulation. A set of two or more (it gets worse with the number of participants) monologues instead of a real discussion. And I admit I played my part and did not do better than others.
In the end, the likely outcome is not a synthesis of opinions, but mostly a truce between participants when everybody realizes this is not leading anywhere.
And, also not seldom the outcome was even more negative: One of the participants left the discussion or the community for good.

Conclusion:

A discussion in the internet on personal or emotional topics does not make sense.

In fact it does often more harm than benefit.

But the thing is, discussions / talks about personal and emotional topics are the real interesting ones!
They are the real spice of life and of communication, they are where you can cross the bridge and really establish contact to the deeper levels of another person. They are what holds friends, lovers and real communities together.
But not online!

Again: You have to get up from the sofa and meet people in person. And then start a talk about the great things in life, emotions, personal issues, opinions. Just do yourself and others a favour and don’t try to do this type of discussions online.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

Ps. Any experience, advise that you have and like to share? Leave a comment!

 

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The Middle-Way – Reloaded

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike last week-end. For me, a good means to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today ;-)

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike with a good friend last week-end. For me, also a way to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today 😉

I am convinced that life is very much about finding the middle-way.

I think for some time Woodpecker was carried away a bit by the early retirement idea and focussed too much on money. Making money, investing and saving more. And then more.

In principle the beginning of this thought is fine (spend less for useless consumption and then invest), but there is a big danger here:

Without noticing you replace the work – consume – treadmill with another treadmill: The money-saving and -accumulating treadmill.
Funnily enough, the better your investments work, the more money you are accumulating, the more you get dragged into this mill. Money works like a drug, and you have to be damn carefull not to lose control over and become a slave of it.

Money has to be your horse and not your rider.

The same holds for your job and early retirement. Looking to retire earlier than the average chap is fine, but there is a danger as well:

That you postpone your happiness to an uncertain future day. That you start slaving away in the hope of better times then. And therefore you are not much different from the normal chap again, only your horizon is different.

Working 50hrs a week and 50 weeks a year is crap for sure, but if you go for the right dose and attitude, a job can also be fun and even fulfilling to a certain extend.

So let’s find a compromise between the frugal-extreme-early-retiree and the stupid work-consumption-slave.

Let’s come back to the middle-way!

The middle way should be somewhat like this:

Job

  • Accept your job and your employer for what they are. In the end you are not forced to work there, so don’t complain if things at work are not always what you like them to be.
  • If the job really is horrible at the moment, take a long time-out (like I did in summer). This will help you to think things through and make a decision. In my case the decision was to return to the very same job but to change some things there. Which I did and am now much more happy at work, while still working for the same boss and in the same environment.
  • Things can be changed. Every good coach will tell you that many people are unhappy with their job, but most can get happy at the same employer, by either changing the department, having another boss or just adopt another attitude. Often it is not necessary to change the employee. Nor does retirement necessarily bring happiness.
  • Remember you have full power over some things: How you perceive things, how you interpret them, how you react and how you treat others.
  • You have no power (or very little) over: How other perceive things, how others react, how others interpret things.
  • You have partial power over: How people treat you. Because this is a function of (a) how you treat them and (b) how you behave.
  • Spend a lot of time on net-working. Your network and your ties will make you invulnerable over time. Career-Builders do exactly the same. They spend only (personal estimate of Woodpecker Consultants Limited) 30% of their time on work and 70% on networking.  A somehow similar ratio should apply to you. But with a different goal: To have fun with others while at work and to feel save and secure when being away again for a long time.
  • Don’t care too much about the daily tides of office politics. This day people say this and tomorrow something else. Be friendly to people and don’t take rumours too serious. Most of them are pure speculation as people are bored by their job.
  • Do not forget to laugh and enjoy life, especially when at work. Most people will value some good moods even in stressful times.
  • No blackberry, no email checking and no phone calls out of office or during holidays. Many interested groups will try to convince you otherwise, but separating job and spare time is important for health and happiness.

Time

  • Your most valuable and scarce resource. Appreciate it.
  • Continue to max out free time. Go for some home office to reduce commuting, take days off instead of extra pay, leave early, take sabbaticals.
  • Some people really enjoy working even more than free time. But most people would prefer working rather less than more. Do not try to cheat yourself about this.
  • Anyway, you will spend enough time at the job. Downshifting will cost you some career, but that’s worth it.
  • No need to force early retirement in my opinion. A job can provide also nice things if done the middle-way, especially the company of friendly colleagues and common endeavors can be great fun.
  • Spend a lot of time with friends, family but also alone. Learn to enjoy time on your own and with little diversion. As this is the moments you are closest to yourself.

Money

  • Of course abstain from needless consumerism. All still applies regarding efficient spending and harden yourself against the temptations of money spending in the hope of that making you happy.
  • But remember also, that some of the great things in life do cost money. It is not true that all great things are for free. Travelling, sailing, mountain sport, going out and having a beer with friend every now and then in Woodpeckers case, can all be done at higher or at lower costs, but all of this requires some money.
  • Be prepared to spend it for those things and activities you really like. Do not stay away from those things you love only to save harder for the future early retirement. Life is here and now.

Friends & Family

  • The more, the better. Always work on expanding your social network. We humans are heard animals. Without contact and appreciation, we are nothing.
  • A colleague from London – why are they all so money-focussed there? – once kept on pushing me that in the end everything is always and only about money.  “Everything has a price”. I asked him in return if he would be happy to be sitting on the moon. With all the money and all goods and leisure he could imagine, but completely on his own. For some minutes that kept him silent…until he washed this disturbing thought away… 🙂
  • Conflicts are part of life. You cannot avoid a clash sometimes if you want to walk upright. If you always avoid conflict, you will cripple your own interests or the interests of others and your relationships will become complicated. Thus conflicts have the benefit that positions are made clear.
  • However, never burn a bridge. Always be ready to forgive and to revive lost contacts. Woodpecker himself just has revived two great friendships from his youth time that lay buried over 15 years. And now is alive and kicking on a very satisfying level.
  • Always prioritize friends and family over work. When someone really needs help, you are there, no matter what you boss is saying.
  • Try to make some of your colleagues your friends. But avoid that all your friends are colleagues. You might want to separate your private and your work life from time to time, thus you need the two worlds.
  • Be never stingy to your friends. Don’t bother them to much with your savings and frugal living ideas. Explain what you think but do not evangelize.
  • Remember that investing into human relationships bears the greatest dividend of everything.
  • For the younger readers: Treat relationships you made early in life with special care. They gain in value over the years. At Woodpeckers age, friends from 25 years ago are already valuable beyond belief…and I guess this process will continue.

Bodily and Mental Health

  • Do regular sports. Sport greatly enhances your self-confidence, makes you relaxed, more attractive and thus increases quality a lot.
  • If possible walk or ride the bike to work. Studies show that while commuting in the car makes people the more unhappy the longer the ride, the opposite is true if they commute by bike or walk.
  • Spend much time out-doors and non sitting.
  • Spend time in an environment that brings you into contact with your “tribal” energy or even has a “mythical” effect on you. The energy that lies below pure functioning but at the core of your being. For Woodpecker that is the mountains or the open sea. A good hike or sailing day leaves me highly satisfied mentally and physically and effectively clears the head of spinning thoughts. It connects me with what and who I am.
    Find out what works for you and establish the connection regularly.
  • Important and often neglected:
    Even if you are not into religion, spend a few thoughts every now and then on the great questions of life. Death, life, consciousness, meaning, ethics, the origin of life and space, etc. These are parts of our lives and will get you away from the trivial world of materialism towards the great miracle and the amazing wonder of life.
  • Keep always in mind that life is not endless and that on the one side you are an insignificant particle living on another insignificant particle. And on the other side you are a wonder, a miracle and a being much more sophisticated and fascinating than all the galaxies in the universe. And so are your fellow humans.
  • Understand that all is connected. That we all are parts in the chain that leads from blur prehistoric times into a blur infinite future. You carry the light of humanity for this second only to hand it over soon. Preserve it well and understand that you are part of this stream.

Wow, that was a long post.

Well, so be it.

Cheers and enjoy this day,

Woodpecker

Always keep in touch with the old boys (or girls)

A beautiful autumn weekend for an old boys hiking tour in and around the city of Regensburg. Here: The upper Danube close to Weltenburg.

A beautiful autumn weekend for an old boys hiking tour plus a city trip to Regensburg. Here: The upper Danube close to Weltenburg.

Back from a weekend with Woodpecker’s old boys.

The VERY old boys in fact – some of whom I know for almost 25 years now. OMG!
And a first common weekend in this group since about ten years ago when this group drifted apart for jobs/family/relocation and other reasons.

What can I say?

Everyone of you who is (slowly) approaching the age of 40 as Woodpecker does, and certainly everybody older, will know that this kind of weekends virtually always are among the most fantastic things you can spend your time with. Continue reading

Art of Happy Living: Always Prioritize Care for your Social Contacts

Hamburg Landungsbrücken (old terminals), Elbe River in the evening. These nordic guys are good at building networks.

Hamburg Landungsbrücken (old terminals), Elbe River in the evening. These nordic guys are good at building ships as well as networks.

One of the most important factors to happiness obviously is prospering social contacts.

Social contact and social approval are among the most basic needs of humans, and arguably many people seem to spend a lot of money and effort to achieve it in an indirect way.

They do this by buying or gaining symbols of status to impress others and thus to get access to certain social groups or to earn their recognition. Most do this even unconsciously, but proof to this thesis is the fact that most of these people would get very uneasy should they come to a situation where actually nobody would see their efforts and the material results of them.
E.g. imagine the high performing and hard-working career focussed modern professional, going to his extravagant holidays on the Maldives or buying the new BWM SUV, without being allowed to tell ANYBODY about it, without taking ANY photos, without sending ANY message or Facebook entry from his trip. Without being able to boast to ANYONE after the vacation. Imagine he would get pale again the instant he is back at home, so that nobody could admire his taint. Imagine him not being allowed to park his ridiculously expensive new car in front of the office etc. That WOULD take away significantly from the experience of many status focussed people, wouldn’t it? Thus a huge part of accumulating stuff is simply to impress others, yet to gain social recognition.

Actually, there is nothing wrong in gaining social recognition, this is simply part of life and a basic human need.

However, any trained downshifter sees that spending on impressive stuff is a too laborious and inefficient way to improve social connection. A unintelligent way forcing you back in the rat race and the thread mill.

Good thing is that there is another, more natural, fully free and a million times more effective way to satisfy your need for social ties:

Simply go out and meet people – and keep the contact alive!

Currently staying in Hamburg at Mrs. Woodpecker’s family, I have to admire once more how good all of them are in connecting to each other, in introducing others and bringing in friends and extremely distant relatives into their ever-growing network.

What I found difficult in the beginning, the sheer amount of gatherings, having food or coffee together, visiting this and that persons, going to family events, casual meetings, etc., all of this after some years now form the picture of a perfectly functioning and very well cared of “analog” social network that probably never can be reached by any Facebook community or similar.

Example:

Mrs Woodpecker’s family is pretty widespread, and as they obviously were always good at keeping contact, they still know each other even to the very far ends of their (endlessly complicated) family tree. There are family gatherings annually and lists of family members counting to the hundreds throughout the world. Some of them migrated to places like the US, UK, Sweden, Argentina, New Zealand, and everybody is still in contact. It is family law that any member of the family can show up at the place of any other member on short notice and is always invited to stay at their place – even if they never have met before!

And the amazing thing: This law is really practised!

Lying on the holiday route towards the South, Woodpeckers in Munich in fact hosted three different groups of family at their home within the very month of July!

Obviously we always try to offer the full program, a nice city tour through Munich, some secret beer gardens, a trip to the mountains and so on. And always guests are leaving with a warm invitation to their places, be it Berlin, Stockholm, Hamburg, a country house Southern France, a private boat on the Baltic Sea or wherever.

And while most of these guys are neither particularly rich nor glamorous, everybody brings in his share, so that an amazing variety of locations, potential common activities and interesting people build up.

A very nice habit.

Actually, if you have a too small family (like the one from Mr. Woodpeckers side), the same principle will fit for your circle of friends:

Establish a “my home is your home” atmosphere, invite them, offer your help and support wherever you can, at all costs keep the contact and find time to see them regularly, and the rest will follow.

Over time you will pile up invitations to interesting places, request for common holiday trips and excursions, as well as insider access to good housing or business opportunities or even to job offers.

Maybe this is the deeper meaning of what eastern religions call “Karma”, and western call “the imperative of being good to your next”:

If you are good, kind and giving to others, over time all of this will return to you.

Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a month, but as a steady flow of nice little gestures and gratitude toward you in a year, in two or in ten!

Actually I’d not recommend to think of social contacts in monetary terms, but anyway they have one thing in common with investments:

Social Networks pay a constant dividend.

And due to the laws of interest, the gains from both a good investment and a good social network, if reinvested continuously, grow enormous over time!

Thus family and long-term friends will over time be the very most important assets in your social portfolio. Treat them well and you will flourish for sure!

Prioritize them over your Job your Career and also over making money if in doubt and you will not regret it.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Refurbishments for Free?! Team up with neighbors and Landy…

Flowers at Woodpeckers. Ha! Last year ;) This year is far behind.

Flowers at Woodpeckers.
Ha! Last year ;). This year nature is far behind.

Finally, even at winter struck middle Europe, spring arrived last week. With summerly temperatures and people flocking outside to have fun under the blue skies or do some work in the garden / at the house.

Spring is there, time to share!
And to team up with your neighbors…

Bustling with energy, Woodpecker and family started / accomplished a few projects – as always not without trying to find frugal and efficient solutions, and to improve social interaction ;).

1. Expand the terrace – for free!

The terrace in Woodpecker clan’s house is way to small to cater for our increased family size and increasingly frequent grill events with friends and family.
However, Woodpecker rents out the house and cannot force the landlord to do anything, so this is the deal we struck with the landlord (call him Landy):

He is paying and providing all the necessary material. We do the choice together, but the bill is his. In return, Woodpecker, Family&Friends will do the construction work.
Actually, this is a perfect win-win situation: Landy will get a new terrace relatively cheap while pleasing his renters. Woodpeckers will get a new terrace without any increase in rent, while pleasing Landy.

Did that kind of deal a few times by now, for a new parquet floor, new carpets, and minor improvements. By now Landy outright loves us as “the best renters he ever had” and we are enjoying a quite favourable rental in return. I mean, the guy is as much an economist than me, but then – as most people – he is not without reciprocity.

Woodpecker on top gets some very welcome and nice diversion from his often-good-fun but low-physical-activity office job. Plus improved relationship with a very practical hands-on neighbor who volunteered helping in construction.
This guy in return gets some nice steaks and frequently lends out one of the few electric tools of Woodpecker’s.

2. Refurbish the balcony balustrade – for free!

This was more than necessary, as the balcony really started to look ugly with all the wood starting to rot after years of neglecting. However, no way to force Landy to do anything on his own, as all is still functional.
So we struck the same deal as above.

Tried to do the Tom Sawyer trick with some passing passers-by. Had good laughs with most of them, but unfortunately none volunteered.
However, the kids and me still had fun painting on a bright sunny Saturday. The little boy now can climb the ladder at age 1 ;).

3. Clean the lawn of moss and plant some stuff

Of course we don’t have a scarifier. Didn’t know what the hell this is only 5 years ago! (…a bloody noisy machine ripping out tons of moss from filthy un-british lawns in a huge cloud of dust and pollen)
But guess what? Another neighbor has, along with all kind of spades, picks etc.
Lended all out in return for some eggs they happened to need for pancakes.

4. Received some fire wood for free

While working all day outdoors, our other (elderly) neighbor came around to greet and to get rid of some fire wood he had produced from cutting his fruit trees.
Very welcome, bring it in!
As the guy had nothing else to do, he even sawed all the stuff in handy pieces for us.

Well, actually he owed Woodpecker, as I repaired his WWI style fuse system some months ago – actually after two hours searching for the f**** fuse box. This guy had simply had glued a wallpaper over it twenty years ago!!! Good old fuses seem to last longer than today…;) 😉

5. Got invited to a cycling tour by the guy who gave me the scarifier

Fun thing is, people quite enjoy helping others! In today’s world too few people seem to ask, so go ahead and give them the pleasure.

6. Had a grill party to celebrate at Woodpeckers

Live long and prosper!

Again with a family that just moved in the neighbourhood – with kids matching the age of the Woodpecker boys. Walked up the other day, said Hello and invited them. Sure they were happy to come around. Zero petrol wasted, only quite some beers and steaks.

All in all a funny weekend.

Practically zero costs, but a lot of things achieved and a lot of sun soaked up!

And this is how the world goes around:
Talk to people, team up, do things without calculating your gains and costs too strictly, and all will benefit and prosper!

Cheers and enjoy your day,

Woodpecker

A frugal Trip to the Mountains

View from our hut, 7:00 am. (Mountains "Wettersteingebirge", Bavaria)

View from our mountain hut, 7:00 am. (Mountains “Wettersteingebirge“, Bavaria)

Again Woodpecker had an excellent chance to see how disconnected money and fun often are in life:

A year is gone and so Woodpecker+old friend’s annual winter mountain tour returned.

This time to a mountain hut in the Wettersteingebirge, some mountains not too far from Munich.

We stayed there for 3 days, and boy, as always it was an absolutely  great time. This year’s hut was located in the middle of a ski-area, so we took advantage of a lift card to do a day of downhill skiing plus a day of our usual ski-touring activity (uphill climbing with skis).

Hope you have a good fire in the oven! The hut - with a cold night approaching.

Hope you have a good fire in the oven! The hut – with a cold night approaching.

The hut is owned by German alpine club and costs only 11 EUR per night for members (Membership 90 EUR p.a.). For this cheap a price you obviously have to bring your own food, cook yourself, heat the stove with fire wood and make some compromises on luxury. E.g. there are typically no showers. This time we had the extreme luxury of hot water, but typically you just pick freezing cold water from an external fountain, sometimes you even have to use gas-lamps as there is no electricity.

I told this to a non-frugal colleague and guess what his answer was?

“Well, interesting. However: without a shower? I wouldn’t do that, because you know, I really work hard enough and earn enough money to deserve my shower each day!”

Oh my god, how wrong he is!

He will never find out the pleasure of the crackling wood-fired stove after a day of physical work out on a ski touring through cold, untouched mountains covered by 2 meters of snow.

He will not smell the gemütlich fume of burning wood far away from any polluting cars.

Zugspitze

Germany’s highest peak – the Zugspitze – in the morning sun. (on the left)

He will not taste the fantastic flavour of some simple fried eggs in the clear, crisp and thin air of the Alps.

He will not enjoy the total silence under a deep black and star sprinkled sky when you step out of the hut at night to take a leak at minus 10 degrees Celsius.

He will not have the fun and good talks with random, but mostly interesting and open people who stay at the same hut.

He will not have the pleasure of waking up from dawn’s first light glancing into your window (that you hopefully shoveled free of snow the evening before), just to peer out and see the morning sun burning the mountain tops in fierce red.

And then – so much fun and stimulation for your senses for so little money!

Let’s compare:

Simple Mountain hut Decent Hotel
Cost for 2 nights p.Person 22 EUR 200 EUR
+ 4 great tasty meals 24 EUR 80 EUR
+ 2 bottles of wine 10 EUR 40 EUR
+ nice drinks 10 EUR (byo) 40 EUR (quickly adds!)
Skiing 0 EUR (touring) 70 EUR ski pass
Transport 15 EUR 15 EUR
Nature experience Incredible Fair
Health effect / Sports Great Fair
Shower Poor Great
Total Trip 3 days fun 81 EUR 445 EUR
Be careful not to sit below this!

Be careful not to sit below this!

I mean, there is nothing wrong with a nice comfortable hotel, and every now and then it’s fine to enjoy one if you wish – but five times the costs, only for a good shower with other things being equal or superior in the hut?!

I don’t know…

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Expand your Social Capital, or: More true Friends are always better

The view is great, but can't you enjoy it best when sharing with a friend?! (Alps, Kampenwand, close to Munich)

The view is great, but can’t you enjoy it best when sharing the moment with a friend?! (Alps, Kampenwand, close to Munich)

The new year is approaching, and while I don’t like the habit of New Year’s resolutions, there is one thing Woodpecker wants to focus on in 2013:

Expanding Social Capital

Well, Woodpecker, what’s that supposed to be? Social Capital?!? Can I eat this? Does it pay dividends?

OK, let me explain:
The more I think about the pros and cons of today’s society from a happiness point of view, the more I come to the conclusion that on the con side the major mistake of the last 20 years was the massive loss of social capital in favor of economic capital.

Continue reading