Dominion Rd.

Chapter One

Stretching over 7.3 kilometres from the city centre way into the suburbs, it is the city’s longest street. Like a human artery serving the heart with fresh oxygen, Dominion Road pumps into the city a constant influx of cars and trucks. Especially during rush hour, the sometimes only two lane road gets packed to its maximum. It is not a particularly beautiful road, over congested and lined up with simple colonial buildings of a maximum of three storeys. From a city planning perspective an absolute nightmare.

He always wanted to run down that road. Certainly not because he was craving the poisonous amount of CO2 he would inhale in the process, or the satisfaction he would feel afterwards and the fitness he would gain, but for an entirely different reason.

Tying up the laces of his trainers, taking a last sip of cold water and putting on his headphones, he gets going. The elevator is crammed as usual. He squeezes inside just before the door closes.

Elevators have always had of a funny sensation to him. A random collection of people being forced into a small space, deliberately avoiding glances, all feeling slightly uncomfortable and only waiting for their escape. Sometimes, he wonders what would happen, if he ever got stuck in an elevator. Would he panic, exhibiting symptoms of claustrophobia or stay calm and try to resolve the situation? And more interestingly so, how would the interaction between the other people change, suddenly not being forced together for a few minutes, but potentially a few hours?

Approaching the ground floor, the elevator, a slightly older model, that always makes a small jump, like a hiccup, every time it stops, comes to its destined halt and the door opens with a high pitched “ting”. He is keen to get out and start his run, which feels more like a journey to him. Overtaking the old lady that blocks the sliding doors, he finally arrives outside, breathing in the fresh air. It is winter, luckily the temperatures rarely plunge below 10 degrees, but it rains on a regular basis. It is meant to stay dry for the next few hours, but most likely this won’t be the case. Due to the city’s location on a peninsula, exposed to the Hauraki Golf that brings in chilly winds and rain from the Pacific the weather can change within minutes.

The first few hundred meters are relatively uneventful. A familiar neighbourhood to him, which he walks every day, either when coming back from work or the occasional grocery shopping. But somehow, this time he is more aware of his surroundings, as if he’d be seeing them for the last time. The street goes slightly uphill, his breath begins to accelerate slightly and he feels his leg muscles tensing. He keeps up the pace, knowing that once he has crossed the motorway bridge, he will be in unfamiliar running territory. Usually, he runs near the harbour and in the surrounding upscale neighbourhoods that overlook the bay, but he has saved this one for the very last.

Once over the motorway, he needs to reorient himself. He knows, somewhere nearby the first stretch of Dominion Rd. begins. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find. He turns down Newton Rd passing a the yellow painted Golf warehouse and he finds himself on Ian McKinnon Drive that turns into Dominion Rd a few hundred meters later. The first stretch is a four lane road in good condition, with a cycling track on either side and surrounded by greenery. This part is truly not very pleasant, it feels like running next to a motorway. The previously fresh air has turned thick with exhaust gas and the constant noise of the cars passing by absorbs the sound of his trainers on the pavement.

To be continued…

 

©Packet of Crisps


 

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About that…11/08/16

Alright, we get it, most likely, after having read the title of this article, you were thinking: “Not that again”. We are all sick of it, luckily a great part of it will come to its destined end with the election on Tuesday. The atmosphere is heated, afterwards it will probably be even more so, not matter who wins, which means nobody will truly win this election.

After almost two years of constant press coverage and campaign events, we are finally there. Early voting has begun days ago and on Tuesday, 8th, finally the spectacle will reach its climax with the election of the 45th President of the United States. What can we takeaway from the seemingly endless election season?

Probably, most of all it will be Alec Baldwin’s Saturday Night Live imitation of Donald Trump, or the moment when Jimmy Fallon was allowed to touch and mess up Trump’s excellently positioned ‘hair’. Maybe, we will also think about Melania’s authentic RNC speech and indeed Hillary’s inability of putting the email affair to rest. If you ask me, it will probably be a mixture of all of these. Concerning policy, there wasn’t much. We know some things about immigration, health care reform and foreign affairs, but to be honest this election is certainly not about policy.

About what is it then? Honestly, I do not even know anymore, sometimes I think it’s only about protest votes and scepticism towards Washington and the establishment that is  apparently entirely detached from the daily lives of the normal people. Then, I believe it is a representation of the US elections having more and more turned into a reality TV show, throwing actual policy discussions out of the window and replacing them with simple-minded phrases. Or it could also be about the era of post-truth, as referred to by the Economist, arguing that the campaign was primarily based on false facts, which was embraced by a great part of the electorate.

As I said, I do not really know, but we do know for a fact, the process was messy and produced irreconcilable differences, which will make it difficult for either party to govern effectively and bring the country back together. It has always been a given that no matter who wins, the losing party will accept the defeat and send his or her best wishes to the new President, reaching out from a partisan climate back to compromise across the aisle, on which  America’s system of checks and balances so heavily relies. This is not a given this time, “(…) keeping us in suspense” as one candidate has candidly stated several times.

How can we fix it? Will the system repair itself or will we enter a long period of political gridlock and disruption, where compromise and collaboration is impossible?

According to The Economist, a quarter of the population born since 1980 believes that democracy is a bad form of government, an historically all-time high for the world’s oldest democracy. No matter the political positions and diverse criticism this nation has faced from within and abroad, I believe the country was at no time more divided and torn apart than at this very moment. Considering that this nation is built on plurality and diversity and held together by openness and individual freedom this is a hard pill to swallow. Referred to as a “promised land”, a “beacon of freedom”, the “land of unlimited opportunity”, the US were always a place people sought when they needed refuge from the turmoil in their own countries or when they wanted to make it big in life. This applied back then for adventurers, who made their claim at the Klondike during the Gold Rush, as well as startups that aim to conquer the US market today.

Do all these facts not apply anymore? Are the US in decline and have to be restored to their former glory and made great again as one candidate puts it? Or do we need more of the same, we had in the last eight years? Indeed, we are again on unstable ground here, so let’s circle around that political discussion and look at some hard facts. Unemployment is down and steady at 4.6% and real median income has been growing by more than 7% in the last 4 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016, FRED Economic Data, 2016). Thus, the general assumption would be, the current state is not too bad after all. But with one important exception, not all people, especially the small people are feeling it. Their living reality doesn’t have much to do with Washington, they are bitter and they do not feel represented by their politicians.

It appears that feelings play a key role here, the way you see your country develop, the way you see your life develop and you simply feel that this is not the direction you want to be heading and that is fair enough. But what is interesting here, we do not look at competing policy approaches here, but emotions. Strikingly, a great part of our decision, for which candidate we make a cross at the ballot is influenced by levels of sympathy and feelings and this tendency is especially evident in this year’s election. As Packet of Crisps is written from a European perspective and we Europeans have the tendency to point our finger across the pond, although we face a similar situation in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and many others. Populism, anti-migrant and anti-refugee messages dominate the political discourse, paralyzing us and creating a political climate that is not solution-oriented, but conflict-producing.

So, on November, the 8th, we might again be reminded of how fragile the system of democracy really is. It needs to be constantly defended, reformed and debated. Political leaders and representatives need to be held accountable for their actions and when collaboration is needed, bipartisanship is to be sought. How do we get back to this environment, that is so much more productive than the current state? We will have to see what happens after the election, but if we are not capable of tackling this, if the general public stays as responsive to populism as it is currently the case, many Western nations will not be able to confront the challenges we are facing and we will not be able to truly make our countries great(er) again.

 Sources:

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/07/voting-irrational-emotions-politics-ideology

©Packet of Crisps

A Minority Report Reality

From time to time, I contemplate about what our near-time future might look like. Just think about the progress we have achieved in the last 20 years. It is simply mind-blowing. For instance, we did not have smartphones, not even flatscreens or mp3 players in the early 1990s. The phones we were using back then were clunky devices, that did not even have a coloured display and their features did not go beyond calling and texting.

As technological development is further accelerating, we can assume that the next 20 years can bring at least a similar magnitude of innovations, most likely more than that.  So, what are the repercussions of technological advancement on our daily lives, how will the ways we live change and what can we derive from the last wave of new technologies?

Arguably, we can already say, since the invention of the automobile our lives were increasingly touched by rapid technological advancement, but I believe that the latest surge in new technologies includes another component, we have not seen so far. Technology becomes personal. What do I mean by that?

ring-1240493My reasoning is the following: The recent technological advancements (we are talking about the last 10 years here) over proportionally affected our lives by not only making them more dynamic and more interconnected, but also personal. Let’s take our mobile phones as an example. They used to be mere communication devices. Today, a great portion of our lives has moved online. Via our mobile phones, we access social media, follow the news and track our health and fitness. They are not only mobile, but true smart-phones. We trust them with our most personal details, we log in to our online banking account, we pay with them and we let them track our location and daily movements. I argue, because of these developments, the mobile devices we use have become an extension of our own self. They became personal.

A recent innovation that enjoys increasing popularity exemplifies this development. Whether you are a sports enthusiasts or an early adopter, smart watches, although still heavily debated, what impact they will have in our lives and whether they will persist in their current form, are the strongest argument for a new type of technology, I refer to as “personal tech”. Watches are more than fashion accessories; they are small devices we tie onto our wrist. They are not like our mobile phones, that although by having them in our pockets are fairly close to our body (some sceptics argue too close, so their radiation is negatively affecting our fertility levels and our ability to procreate, but that is a different story). A watch is far more personal, it is an extension of ourselves.

Now, it gets interesting, if this item, most of us wear on a daily basis, as natural as anything else, becomes ‘smart’, the boundaries between human and technology might blur. This leads me to the movie “Minority Report”, directed by Steven Spielberg. In the film, although almost 15 years old, we are presented with a dystopian future with a component of Orwell’s Big Brother. Everybody’s movements are tracked through retina scanners in public places, personalised advertisements accompany us through our daily commute and cars obviously can drive themselves. Ironically, a great portion of that reality is already present today. Although, we do not have retina scanners at every street corner just yet, what we do have is facial recognition technology that can already identify your face with a 95% accuracy (to be fair, this is only true in a controlled environment) (MIT Technology Review, 2016).

In terms of personalised advertisements, just open up google search or social media and you will find targeted advertising messages fitted to your past searches, likes and interests. Although, so far, this does not happen in out-of-home advertising, the technology is already there. Soon it will be the case, that you enter a supermarket and will be prompted with targeted special offers fitting your personal shopping profile. And, well, self-driving cars, I think we don’t have to talk about that one. Whether it is the all-new Mercedes E-class that probably has more technological gimmicks than your own computer and can drive in (semi) auto-pilot at up to 130 mph speed or Uber, that is testing its first fleet of driverless cars in Pittsburgh in the long-term freeing itself from their self-employment vs. employee issues. We can definitely say, the technological advancements showcased in a 2002 movie will become an everyday reality in the next 5 years.

So, what does that mean for our relationship with the technology we use on a daily basis. inside-a-computer-1538262

In order to understand that a bit more, let us have a closer look at how our relationship to technology has evolved over the last decades. In the 70s, you almost needed an IT degree to be able to operate a computer. In the 80s this changed with the first PCs and Macs being introduced, but still then, the user had to know an awful lot about the machine, he was sitting in front of. When I talk to my dad, he still remembers working on his own computer, exchanging and fixing things, whereas nowadays we are not even capable of exchanging the hard drive in our laptops (in some cases the manufacturers do not even allow us to, even if we could).

Indeed, this development has led to the broad user base of PCs and mobile phones. Anybody can use them, but only very few know, how they actually work. So the question is who has emancipated from whom?

Some of you might wonder, whether this might be an issue. I believe it might not necessarily, but it can be and this is the exact reason, why extremely smart people such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk see the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), if done wrongly, as one of the greatest threats to mankind, where we could lose control over our lives and be controlled by the very technology we have created ourselves. This gives Kant’s enlightenment an entirely different connotation. One could fear through technology, we might fall back into our self-imposed nonage. I consider this to be a bit far-fetched, but if some of our leading minds are concerned about AI, shouldn’t we be? What is certainly the case is that most of the technology we use on a daily basis, we are not capable to understand anymore.

So, where does all of that leave us? Will we lose all of our privacy and enter a Big Brother future, where our identity is always visible and we cannot be anonymous even in a big crowd in the streets, will we enter a symbiosis with the technology we use and become part human, part technology? That remains to be seen, but if you ask me, I am more excited about it rather than scared and truly curious what stunning advancements, we will be able to achieve during my lifetime.

 ©Packet of Crisps

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601786/are-face-recognition-systems-accurate-depends-on-your-race/

http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/05/the-evolution-of-cell-phone-design-between-1983-2009/

http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html

Who are we? – And what the Maslow pyramid can tell us

The majority of you is presumably aware of the idea behind the pyramid of needs created by the Psychologist Abraham Maslow. However, for the sake of the argument and the complexity of topic, let us quickly go through it again. maslow-pyramid

The pyramid is set up of five layers. Starting with our physiological needs, such as food, water, sleep and shelter. Moving up one layer, we have security and safety. These two bottom layers are referred to as basic needs, followed by the third and fourth layers that include the need for belonging and esteem, which are summarised under the title psychological needs. To conclude, the third category, self-fulfilment needs describes our creative potential.

We can say, that by creating a pyramid with its different elements, Maslow has adequately and in a genuinely simple way described, what defines us as human beings. We need food and water to survive, social contact and human connection and once these are satisfied, we focus on ourselves as an individual, wondering who and what we want to be.

Before focusing on the highest component of the pyramid, we should explore the workings of the pyramid en detail and some possible misleading aspects that come as a result of its simplicity. First of all, its hierarchical structure. We assume that just as with any hierarchy, once we move up the ladder our needs change and we need to satisfy the lower components first in order to be able to move up to the top, but it is not that simple.

In some situations, we might forgo basic needs for the sake of higher needs. A good example is a soldier, who goes to war for his country, risking his life for some higher ideal, such as spreading democracy. We can debate whether these ideals are true and right, but to what they do lead is that someone is willing to die for them, although it is against our basic needs of survival and safety. One could even argue that by forgoing these simple needs for the purpose of self-actualisation makes these actions extremely powerful and presumably more effective.

Let us look at another example that is illuminating in this case and follows this exact line of argument.

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“Monks and nuns forgo to a certain level basic needs of human relationship to dedicate their main energy onto ‘higher’ needs”

Monks and nuns, at least this is what they have pledged, forgo to a certain level basic needs of human relationship by not being allowed to marry or live in a relationship and having sexual intercourse. The argument is that they can dedicate their main energy onto ‘higher’ needs in the study and the teachings of the religious texts. So it seems, although we are looking at a hierarchical structure it does not always apply and in the case of certain ways of life this is not only a temporary condition as it is usually for the soldier, but absolute over the entire course of your life, if you take the example of the monk.

This brings us to the primary question in this article. Who do we want to be and as what do we define ourselves? I think we can all agree that we do not define ourselves by what we eat and drink, although the French might disagree. It is not necessarily our basic needs that do set us apart and make us an individual, but rather the advanced needs of esteem and self-actualisation.

So let’s look at the other aspects. Presumably, we can say that to a certain part we define
ourselves and are defined by the people we are surrounded by. Hence, there is a component of us as an individual that is externally determined. Although, we can choose our peer groups, what we cannot is our upbringing, the social context, we are raised in and the values we are taught. To a degree this might actually influence also our peers and friends we match with. So in practice we do not really have a choice, we match with whom we match. Of course, we are being a little extreme here. Our social context, values and contacts might evolve and change over time, but we can certainly assume after a certain age this is relatively set. It is commonly acknowledged that in western societies, this point arrives at the age of 25, after which our personality is shaped and we will only change if extreme circumstances require us to, as it involves self-doubt and a high degree of effort.

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“Just like Tom Hanks in Cast Away creates Wilson out of an old volleyball, we create a social environment around us”

We can therefore say that to a certain degree we are who we are through the people we hang around with. This eludes to human beings as social animals that need human connection for survival (*even monks do not entirely forgo this component, their community in the abbey is actually fairly strong and flourishing). For meditation purposes and other reasons, we might temporarily isolate ourselves from society, but in most cases this is not something that is ever lasting. Just like Tom Hanks in Cast Away creates Wilson out of an old volleyball, we create a social environment around us, not for mere amusement, but out of the fundamental need of belonging.

So, we have already unfolded one aspect that defines who we are, but generally we associate more with the question of who we are and it is certainly more multifaceted.

Another possible component, leaning towards the esteem layer, are our achievements. A great part of our life’s efforts go into attaining a certain goal and once we have achieved it, we usually find another. This keeps us going, growing and instils a certain drive in us.

We can even say a part of us is reflected in our achievements. For example, if we aim to become fluent in a foreign language, we invest a great deal of energy and time into it, until we have achieved it. During the process, we become more and more emotionally involved in the project. This is the case with anything. Your job, you education, your sports and other hobbies you might pursue. Thus, we can say, our personality is not only defined by who we are, but what we do, our actions. So, it does not only have a conceptual component, but also a very practice oriented one.

The next element of our personality is arguably more abstract. With the esteem layer, we have already moved beyond the basic psychological and physiological needs, now it gets truly interesting. Our esteem needs drive us to certain types of actions, whereas self-actualisation is the least tangible aspect. Usually it is difficult to measure or put into concrete terms. For esteem needs, we can easily do so, there are certain parameters on which we can measure our success, e.g. whether we can speak the foreign language not only in a social, but also in a professional environment, whether we play football well enough to join the national team. Especially in sports, we can easily quantify our achievements, for instance how many goals have we scored over the season versus the national average.

We would argue that the self-actualisation element is contributing to our personality in a different way. It first starts with actually asking the question itself. Self-actualisation about asking the precise questions we are tackling in this article. Who am I and who do I want to be? Only be asking these self-reflective questions, we can derive actions that get us to where and who we want to be.

This contemplation in a Kantian sense using reasoning and reflection ultimately makes us a more open, deliberate and well-crafted person. Only by possessing the necessary liberation from our other needs by having achieved them, we reach the desire to sharpen our personality and wonder actually who we are and who we want to be. We do not have a concrete answer to this question. Only you, yourself can ask the question and set yourself on the quest to answer it for you. And the answers are as diverse as mankind itself. Some of us might find purpose in building cars, others want to become authors, entrepreneurs or actors. But it is not only those type of answers that eventually determine the direction we go, it is also the necessary degree of calm confidence and self-acceptance that will ultimately enable you to find the answers you seek. Sometimes it is the case, that by not actively searching you will find what you seek.

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“The main objective is not to actually get there, but rather enjoy the road ahead”

We do believe that especially when it comes to questions of purpose, one should have a rough idea in mind, who you want to be and who you want to become, but the road towards it is not a straight one. It is rather curvy with various bends, intersections and ups and downs. The main objective is not to actually get there, but rather enjoy the road ahead and the development you will achieve during the experience. One might never get there, actually only very few people have, but this is not the point.

The point is the ride of living a conscious and deliberate life that embraces new opportunities and sees the bigger picture, that we are more than the sum of our actions and needs. The human personality is fairly deep and complex and we might never fully understand it, but this is what makes it, us, exciting and maybe this is the source for our stellar progress and presumably our survival skill to become a species that constantly evolves and never stagnates.

Image sources: Maslow pyramid – http://tinyurl.com/hvpmau4

©Packet of Crisps

A bittersweet feeling…

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“Although, we would consider ourselves far from retirement age, we can’t help, but dwell on past memories.”

Most of us know that moment. When we were kids sitting at the kitchen table with our grandparents and listening to their stories of the olden days, merely nodding approvingly from time to time, yearning it to be over that we get down to business and collect our Sunday pocket money. Amusingly, not many years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation, but in the shoes of our grandparents. Although, we would consider ourselves far from retirement age, quite the contrary actually, we can’t help, but dwell on past memories. Moments we have seemingly forgotten, but reappear, when we least expect them to.

So, it appears that the longing for passed moments is not exclusively reserved for the elderly, but is an overall human experience, not necessarily dependent on our current age.

Before we move any further, let us better understand the meaning behind nostalgia. In the title, we were already implying that it is a bittersweet feeling. Why bittersweet? Sweet, because it reminds us of happy and enjoyable moments in our past, but also bitter, because no matter what we try, we ultimately cannot get them back.

Thus, nostalgia is not only a positive or negative feeling, it rather lies in-between, integrating both components, which makes it inherently complex. We are capable of feeling nostalgic not only about our own past lives and experiences, but also as a whole society. We see that in the hippie revival parties that are celebrated primarily among the young, who were not even close to being born, when the movement actually took place. Similarly, the recent rise in professionally organised 1920s parties with authentic costumes, fake money and the fitting dancing style are aimed at reproducing the exact vibe of the roaring 20s for a target group that merely wants to experience, how it must have been like to party during these days.

We cherish everything with a retro touch, from bikes with old leather saddles to “granny fashion” and top notch smartphone audio systems that look like old radios from the 50s. Marketers put great effort into reproducing experiences and repackaging products with a retro design, whether that is a trending TV series that aims to authentically replicate the advertising industry in the 60s (Mad Men) or BMW having reanimated the Mini car brand.

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“We cherish everything with a retro touch, from bikes with old leather saddles to granny fashion”

To put some figures behind that, the vintage fashion & resale market alone generates annual, recurring revenues of USD 4 billion, which is only a tiny fraction of the entire industry (Association of Resale Professionals, 2016).

So let’s explore a bit more, why we appear to fancy these products and are sometimes even willing to pay a premium price for them?

The author believes, what ultimately makes these product offerings so attractive and successful in the market environment is twofold.

One, we are talking about a light version of nostalgia here, no the strong bittersweet feeling, but rather the positive component: Enjoying and reliving our memories in an easy way, supported by the products, we can buy. And second, we believe our society is increasingly becoming more nostalgic. Why is this the case?

For that explanation, we probably have to spend a few more sentences on. One reason is life expectancy continues to rise with current levels of life expectancy at an average for both genders at 78 years in the US. We simply have more time to feel nostalgic. But this does not explain, why we already tend to feel nostalgic at a young age. This has to do with another recent development. Due to our ever accelerating society, we experience more transitional moments in a shorter period of time for which 50 years ago an entire life would have been reserved.

For instance, in the 1950 it can be assumed that the majority of the population continued to live at the same place, where they were born. Today, the chances that one will move at least once over his lifetime outside of the community they were born in are above 50% . This fact applies especially for the Generation Y, which in search for self-realisation and job prospects is willing to move places several times, whereas its parent generation has primarily focused on building a steady life in one place.

With the constant moving come certain side effects. We have a life in one country, as well as in another, we have friends & family in one corner of the globe and another one, where we once used to live. We are confronted with a similar situation in our private lives. In the 1960s, a majority of the population married their first partner they have been together with. Nowadays, with divorce rates in the 50 percentages, a new concept has evolved that we spend a part of our life with one partner and another portion with another, evidently leading to more transitional moments, different lives we have been living and a wide range experiences we have been making. Whether this lifestyle is automatically richer and fuller can be debated, but it certainly makes it more complex in an emotional sense. This is exemplified in our yearning for retro products giving us the opportunity to relive a part of our lives that has ultimately been in the past. Due to our modern lifestyle, we accumulate more of these moments that can lead to nostalgic feelings. It also makes us think back to simpler, happier times, where semingly everything was in proper order, painting the past in brighter colours than they actually were.

So, where does all this leave us? Will we become a society that is partly stuck in our past experiences and overly confused to move on?

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“No matter, whether dark or bright experiences, they should not be erased from our memory”

In a certain way, we have always been that way. Our past stories as an individual and a society define, who we are and cannot simply be eradicated. Germany, for instance, has a continuing debate whether, the younger generation should still be educated with such great emphasis on the holocaust, which is apparently instilling a culture of guilt. Indeed, balance is the right approach here. No matter whether dark or bright experiences, they should not be erased from our memory, but neither should they define our future decisions and prevent us from evolving beyond our past. They should be seen as what they are; past memories, which are sometimes bright or darker, and we can dive into them from time to time, we can buy products to cherish that sweet feeling of nostalgia and see the lines between past, present and future blur.

Utltimately, we believe that the different phases, we find ourselves in are not meant to be emotional baggage, but make us a better, well-rounded and wiser individual, enabling us to draw from a diverse collection of experiences at a young age.

If we made you nostalgic now, check out these retro & nostalgia brands approved by Packet of Crisps:

©Packet of Crisps 

The conflict between authenticity and preparation

Problem statement: In the recent political discourse strong contrasts between authenticity and preparation are drawn with two ends of the spectrum currently dominating the centre stage seemingly arguing that the two are conflicting one another. – Does preparation go at the expense of authenticity?

Main arguments                                                                                                                            

  • Authenticity and preparation are complimentary to each other with good preparation enabling the communicator to show his true self
  • Preparation should not be misunderstood as learning things by heart, but rather equip you with the necessary skill set to perform in a volatile environment
  • Authenticity adds the unique spice to your communication establishing a direct link with the audience

Currently, we find ourselves in the midst of the heated election season with the 2nd Presidential debate about to take place today. Thus, I want to explore one particular aspect that has resurfaced throughout and has become one of the contrasting points of the two candidates: The possible conflict between authenticity and preparation.

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We have two candidates that do not only radically differ in their policy proposals, but also in their approach on campaigning. One candidate seems to prefer to speak his mind, without much preparation, degrading preparation as inauthentic. The other candidate appears to be the exact opposite putting high emphasis on prep-debates, an orchestrated message and rehearsed arguments that may lead, as some argue, to staged appearances.

Evidently, we are presented with two extremes here, but the question remains. Can one be authentic, while still being strongly prepared and vice versa? This issue is not only relevant for the aspiring politicians among us, but anybody who aims to communicate and connect with people. To shed some more light on this matter, let’s have a look at  the terminology of the two concepts.

Starting with the expression “authentic”. What do we commonly understand from this? One could argue a person is authentic, when he or she is being herself. So what does it mean ‘being yourself’? Being yourself, simply being you and not something or somebody else that is not true to your natural self. It seems to be interlinked with your personality, what defines you as a person, which is reflected by your norms and values. Arguably the human self is much more multidimensional. We fulfil different roles and behave differently in the varying social contexts, we find ourselves in. However, authenticity means that we have the ability to connect with the audience by giving them an inside view of who we are as a person.

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“Authenticity means that we have the ability to connect with the audience by giving them an inside view of who we are as a person”

This special characteristic of authenticity makes it a powerful tool to connect with people and can be one of the components that make a person charismatic.

For the Trump campaign, one of their main tactics to display authenticity is their distinctive, simple language. This is not a mere coincidence, but deliberate and calculated. If you analyse the Republican nominee’s communication style, you will notice, he primarily uses image drawing devices, such as ‘wall’, ‘crooked Hillary’ and ‘Lyin Ted’. Words with a clear and simple meaning that are easily imprinted in our memory, while the democratic nominee comes of as detatched with a relatively operational and ‘nitty gritty’ message that does not easily ignite emotions among her supporters.

Bringing now our understanding of the term back to the original question, the possible conflict between authenticity and preparation, we need to understand the possible reasons, how preparation can stop ourselves from being our true self.

Preparation is generally referred to as the process of ‘getting ready for something’, which involves familiarising ourselves with new content and new situations to be ready when the moment comes that we have to perform. Often, we prepare ourselves to be able to compete against somebody else, for instance an athlete trains to improve his physical performance to excel during the competition to beat is opponent(s), similarly an artist rehearses before the show to be able to excel during the main event.

Hence, preparation includes a rational component of improving our skill-set to increase our performance, but equally serves on a psychological level, by creating a feeling of calm confidence.

“So what are the possible reasons that this apparently logical process could harm the level of authenticity we express with our audience?”

First, great amounts of preparation can lead to less spontaneity and open-mindedness. Due to a long preparation phase, we have a clear idea of what a certain issue is about, making us forget about the broader context and why the issue arouse in the first place. Second, by preparing for a certain situation it might be that we have pre-formulated points in mind we want to make no matter how the situation turns out. This applies particularly on the debating stage, when you know you have got this great point, you want to make, but it does not really fit the situation and you make it anyway. Third, you mistakenly interpret preparation with learning things by heart instead of understanding the concepts underlying it.By learning things by heart, all you do is reproducing somebody else’s thoughts or you might have pre-fabricated lines you have created beforehand and are repeated during the main event at exactly the same manner, leaving the audience in disbelief that you just came up it.

We can see that there are at least 3 reasons, how extensive preparation could conflict authenticity. Possibly, if these three points apply one has not fully grasped the concept of effective preparation. The objective of preparation is about ‘getting ready for the big event’, that you have the necessary practised skill set to react effectively and with minimal effort in an unpredictable environment. As a politician on the debate stage is able to rehearse the actual debate setting and the possible questions he might face, he can never entirely predict how the situation is going to turn out as there are many more variables involved. Equally, an athlete practices and improves his skill set to be able to confront new, unexpected challenges during the competition. This competent, reactive capability is one of the core pillars of preparation. So where does all of this leave us?

Do we actually have a conflict between authenticity and preparation?

I believe we have to see this differently. Effective preparation, which mainly includes improving our skill-set, enables us to be authentic in a competitive situation. Only by having prepared for the event, we free the necessary brain power to be able to focus on connecting with the audience and being authentic.

A good allegory in this context is cooking. You start with the basics, how you make the
sauce, get your meat exactly medium and once you have recooked a couple meals from various cooking books, you have mastered the skills needed and you can now focus on giving your dish a personal touch. And just like with creating a great dish, the difference between your dish does not lie in, how well you have cooked the meal itself, that is a given. The true component that sets your dish apart and makes it a creation is the part of your personality that is reflected through the unique combination you made.

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“Once you have mastered the basics, you can focus on blending it with your own personality and create your unique voice”

This is the reason, why effective, authentic communication is primarily a craft that comes with practice, but once you have climbed that threshold you can focus on blending it with your own personality and create your unique voice.

Hence, authenticity and the right preparation rather go hand in hand in effectively communicating and resonating with your audience. You need that necessary amount of preparation to be free enough to be authentic and your natural self. We see this at its extreme in politics, but in any environment where we aim to get people on board, competence paired with authenticity will give you the necessary edge to succeed Where does this leave us for the upcoming debate? Will we see a more constrained version of Donald Trump after polls have indicated that he lost the last debate? How will Hillary Clinton perform with her first win behind her, but still without the necessary excitement among her supporters she strongly needs? We will know shortly.

Packet of Crisps will keep you posted via social media on recent developments and we’ll be back in full swing with our next post, next week Sunday, 6pm.

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