Preserved Stories Blog


Blurbs define us and tell us who we are

It’s great to have a Twitter account and a blog, because they offer a person a way to organize her or his thinking and learn from other people.

My topic concerns the nature of reality.

How do we make sense of reality?

We have available to us a wide range of academic, corporate, and political ways to make sense of our sense making.

We have many perspectives on reality to choose from.

Sometimes we don’t make the choice, however. Through the family we are born into and our formative early years, at times the choices are largely made for us.

However we may arrive at it, each of us has our own more or less unique, individual belief system – albeit influenced inevitably by other ones – regarding the sense-making project in which we as sentient beings in the universe collaborate.

The belief systems that I am wary of are ones that offer simple and emphatic solutions to the kinds of questions that everybody ponders from time to time such as: What is the meaning of life?

However, that’s just my opinion.

Systems of thought

With regard to belief systems, Jane Jacobs (1992), who was not an academic, is a handy reference. [The previous sentence features two great links.]

With regard to politics, Mariana Valverde (2012) offers a useful starting point – albeit from an academic perspective, with accompanying advantages and drawbacks – for reflections about sense making at the local political level. Valverde’s research has been helpful in enabling me to gain a better understanding of the Lakeshore communities on the northern shoreline of Lake Ontario where I live.

Mariana Valverde (2010) also offers a useful – albeit, again, academic – overview regarding the application of legal systems of thought in everyday life. Legal codes have a strong impact on every aspect of urban life. It’s helpful to understand how such codes work in practice.

With regard specifically to the advantages of academic research, my understanding of church conversions in Toronto has been helped tremendously by my access to such forms of research.

Erving Goffman offers a highly apt analysis of how systems of thought are represented – and negotiated – in everyday life.

Now, in a previous post regarding The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973 (Kathleen J. Frydl, 2013,) I’ve added updates to the post and have also shared comments about what I understand about how blurbs, which I see as an essential element of sense making, work.

Starting to write about blurbs at the latter post has prompted me to devote a separate post to the topic.

Addictions serve as metaphors

The August 5, 2013 post about Kathleen J. Frydl’s 2013 study discusses a range of views about the nature of a particular mental construct, namely addiction. Among the updates that I’ve added, to the post, are the following:

An August 15, 2013 Boston Globe article shares evidence that overeating may be addictive.

An August 7, 2013 Time article notes that the practice of mindfulness has utility in addressing addiction.

An August 28, 2013 CBC article is entitled: “Marijuana more risky for teens than previously thought.”

An August 29, 2013 Globe and Mail article refers to a poll that suggests that a majority of Canadians want to loosen marijuana laws.

A post or article serves as a blurb

As I’ve noted in the above-mentioned Drug Wars (2013) post, I like at times to share a wide range of updates because they underline the fact that any given article generally functions as a blurb.

Each such article or blurb represents a different way of approaching a given topic. Each article, on its own, represents a given point of view, and expresses as much as can be expressed in a finite amount of space. Occasionally, an update calls into question the direction of thinking set into place by a given blog post.

I like that process.

Reading a given article to some extent involves a process that accompanies the reading of a work of fiction, or the viewing of a fiction movie, known as the “voluntary suspension of disbelief.”

As you read the article or story, or watch the movie, for the duration that you’re encountering it, you will, to a greater or lesser extent, buy into it. You become immersed in the experience. In a sense you become a part of the world created by the writer or filmmaker, for the duration of the experience.

Each blurb points to a vast array of information, from which many potential selections can be made, with regard to which frame of reference will be favoured for the moment during which a given blurb is constructed. In a sense, with each blurb, a person must for a while engage in a “voluntary suspension of disbelief.”

Updates, we can say, often call into question, in subtle ways, the frame of reference associated with a previous article.

Sets of blurbs often congregate

A given person’s life experiences can often be expressed, at least in a rudimentary way, as a series of interconnected blurbs.

Each person makes sense of reality according to assumptions that are generally wired into place during the formative years. The assumptions can change to some extent over the years.

The assumptions are expressed in a finite series of interconnected blurbs, or mini-stories.

What is within a person’s inner circle or circuit of blurbs and what is outside is at times relatively easy to determine.

At other times, there’s no guarantee that a clear picture of what a set of blurbs communicates will emerge when you speak with a given person. In that case, the point of the exercise is to enjoy the exploration, solely for the enjoyment of it.

The latter experience is akin to the encounters a person can enjoy while on vacation far from one’s home.

Voice overs

Blurbs, like sound bites, have been getting shorter. The shorter they are, the more thought and research is generally devoted to the creation of them. That’s because, up to a point, the shorter the blurb, the greater its power and potential impact.

Political voice overs, as an August 23, 2013 CBC Radio podcast on The Current notes, offer a particularly effective venue for the creation and dissemination of political slogans and other blurbs – including visual displays – that serve to convey particular representations of reality, for particular purposes. It makes sense to devote a lot of resources, money, time, and talent to voice overs.

In this regard, I much enjoyed working with Construction Site Superintendent Andy Iadinardi on the voice over for a six-minute electronic portfolio that I directed for him in 2011.

Steven Toepell, who did the video and sound editing for the project, advised us that, in his experience, the voice over for such a production needs to be scripted and rehearsed, rather than leaving the matter to a one-shot take where you work with whatever you get the first time you record the track.

Brands and branding are synonymous with blurbs and the creation of them.

Blurbs have real-life consequences

As a study of military history suggests, blurbs and brands have real-world, real-life consequences.

By way of example, a particular set of blurbs typically constitutes the underlying rhetoric of genocide, as James A. Tyner (2012) has posited with regard to the concept of the “geographical imagination.”

Exploration of sense-making processes is not necessarily going to generate a lot of income for you, as an August 28, 2013 Globe and Mail article underlines.

An August 2013 CTV Toronto news report echoes the same theme. According to the report, liberal arts graduates will have a hard time finding work, and their income is likely to be less than that of high school graduates.

According to the latter reports, which functions as blurbs, it’s wise to steer clear of the study of psychology, humanities, social sciences, and education as there are better things to do with your time in the event you are just starting out in life.

You can figure out how blurbs and stories work without reference to the latter often income-reducing disciplines. Generation of income is in itself a powerful form of sense making.

How much we make, our earning potential if we are students just starting out in life, and our socioeconomic status are key parts of the interconnected set of blurbs that define who we are.

These factors also influence the kinds of blurbs we encounter, and what purpose they serve in our lives. There are many ways to understand blurbs, in the event that you find it necessary to avoid courses in psychology and sociology.

Every person’s blurbs, whatever a person’s income level or education, are of value.

Update: A July 11, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Dire jobs prospects for youth can’t be solved with education alone: More flexibility needed in guiding young workers toward careers, experts say.” [End of update]

The metaphor of the brain as frontier

One way to understand how we make sense of things is to read blurbs related to neuroscience research.

Reading neuroscience is also a way to begin to understand the potential value of what are often defined, as in a blurb referred to earlier, as economically unproductive pursuits such as philosophy and the study of how language works.

One can add that a journalistic perspective is one among many, with its characteristic advantages and disadvantages. Often the job of a columnist is to get readers riled up so that they create an economically productive level of controversy.

A number of other articles add to the discussion:

An August 29, 2013 Globe and Mail article about education is entitled “Rethinking university to prepare for an uncertain future.”

An August 29, 2013 Globe and Mail article about education is entitled: “Canadian-born educator Red Burns was ‘godmother of Silicon Alley.'”

Conversations take a variety of forms

Blurbs are interactive by their nature.

They depend upon a narrator or narrators interacting with a listener or listeners.

In that context, I very much like the idea of a Jane’s Walk as a conversation. [The previous sentence features two great links.]

In a conversation, through the process of turn taking, the roles of narrator and listener are interchangeable. That’s in contrast to a lecture, where the flow of information doesn’t involve much in the way of turn taking.

It’s useful to explore what we mean when we speak of a conversation. We say, for example, that a Jane’s Walk is in the nature of a conversation, but what does that mean?

In some cases, a conversation involves people feeling each other out, to ensure that a given conversation stays within a mutually agreed definition of reality. Such a conversation tends to reinforce blurbs that are already in place.

In other cases, a conversation involves the exchange of new information, of a diversity of ways of looking at things. In such a conversation, the contents of each conversationalist’s blurbs are subject to change – in subtle and mutually enriching ways.

Self-talk and blurbs

In self-talk, the conversation occurs in a person’s mind. One talks, and one listens. Research indicates that self-talk can have a powerful impact on a person’s emotional state and consequently on a person’s behaviour. Research over many decades also indicates that self-talk is amenable to change through a systematic process of cognitive restructuring.

A person’s self-talk and accompanying blurbs can readily change, to a considerable degree, over the course of a lifetime. By way of an anecdotal example, my day to day self-talk and blurbs underwent a dramatic change starting in July 1987 as a result of experiences described in an online video from a couple of years ago.

Similarly, starting in 2004, I set up a daily practice, at the beginner level, of mindfulness meditation.

This has, again, influenced the tenor of my self-talk – and, in fact, the salience of self-talk as an element of daily life. Self-talk and blurbs play a decidedly less prominent role in my day to day life than was the case before I began to follow a daily practice of mindfulness meditation.

It has also dramatically altered the manner in which I respond to blurbs that I encounter, in conversations and interactions with other people, in my day to day life.  I would describe it as a process that features development of a quality of equanimity, over an extended period of time.

What is relevant, with regard to this ongoing process, is that the practice of mindfulness does not involve academic study, nor does it involve reading.

Academic study and reading have their values, but other means of relating to reality also exist, and can be highly effective in particular circumstances.

Update

A Sept. 27, 2015 NPR article is entitled: “Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs?”

 

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