list it or let it be

Uh, hello there blog. No post in over a year! However, 5 drafts are waiting  in the admin dashboard as I noted to my amusement. None of which shall be completed today. Although, todays topic does have to do with those drafts, on a meta level. Obviously a meta level. Continuing in the tradition of this blog I shall seek to elevate snippets of self-observations into writing. Both to sharpen my thoughts by means of the burning glass that the process of writing is, and to hopefully share some thought provoking, well, thoughts…

I like making lists. And maps. And more lists. In recent years I grew into the habit of emailing todos and thoughts to myself right away (tried all the productivity tools and always returned to email). To avoid forgetting it and to release mental storage space. The latter feels almost as cleansing and satisfying as ensuring all updates are installed on my operating systems, emptying the virtual bin or knowing that nothing of value is stored only local. When I assume things are valuable to others I have an urge to share it, make it accessible and enable others to build on it. All of which turn out to be useful traits sometimes.

Occasionally though, I encounter estrangement or even opposition with regards to my desire to collect and share stuff. One such situation was, when I asked a friend for recommendations of nice cafès in Munich. Happy about the locations I received, I put them into a google map and shared that back to her. The reaction was not positive at all. Dragging these privately shared tips into public daylight seem to feel similar to revealing secrets to an unauthorized audience. Back then I assigned that reaction more to her character than to wrongdoing on my part. Now, months later I understand its meaning better…

Lists can also make one feel overwhelmed and unable to pick the right thing to start with. Their entries can appear cold and lifeless. The ideas I email to myself might lose their spark if I let them hang in the inbox for too long. I might repeatedly look at them, not quite knowing what to do with it. In that sense, listing things can indeed also drain them of their energy.

See, if I can’t pick from some list of nice cafès to meet a friend, I would ask my competent local friends beforehand. And now it becomes a story. Later in the cafè I can share from who and why I got the recommendation for this location. And in future references back to this event, the recommender will be woven into the narrative. It was not just a pick from a map, it was a personal tip, contextualized by a relationship and a timing. Same with listing ideas. I could also just trust that the good ones come back by themselves, without having to nail them to some list. Some will be lost, but others get a chance to rearise from an experience or from some trail of thought. They will be soaked in the motivation, energy and story of now. Instead of being a frozen item that looks a lot like any other todo. The trajectory of the experience starts deeper and gains more momentum by being woven into the contextual and emotional narrative of the moment.

Remembering someone by a random stimulus and then writing them, can feel more authentic than to use the occasion of facebooks birthday reminder to say hi once per year. The story of how I came to remember you becomes a lively thread to start an encounter with. I guess the difference is, if a stimulus originated in some automated system, in some infrastructure – or if it was born in the moment, tied to some story or some symbol. The latter we are much more likely to pour our heart in. Nevertheless, listing stuff, deploying automated infrastructure very much has its place.

A thought experiment on that note. What would it look like, to take the drive to list stuff and create shared infrastructure to an extreme? In the very moment someone in your shared flat WhatsApp-Group writes that we are out of toilet paper, you set up a special app-thingy that manages basic shared flat requirements from now on. No more communication about it will be necessary. In the moment someone asks about who might want to join going to the cinema, you set up a super convenient system for planning cinema visits. No more communication about it will be necessary. And so on: in the moment someone shares their sorrows with you, you recommend a psychologist. No more need to talk about personal problems with each other. Sounds efficient but horrible? Yes, it does indeed. Over time it would strip away anything we like to talk about when we “talk to each other”. Would we find yet new topics to converse about that can’t (yet) be optimized away? I sure think so. Human conversations over the millennia always took place on top of the current infrastructure and in the field of tension towards the next level of infrastructure, no? And of course, conversation only to a small degree is meant to convey pure information. It is a means to build trust, spend time, build models of each other in ourselves and so on. It could be a thrilling inquiry to scan human conversations over the millenia for topics that have something timeless that can’t be optimized away.

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Benjamin Aaron Degenhart

Currently pursuing a Masters in Computational Science and Engineering at TU Munich.

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