Category Archives: Philosophy

Offline does not exist

We were driving in our car the other day and there was a commercial on the radio saying something about discounts available both online and offline. It was then that our daughter asked: “but, mom, offline doesn’t exist, does it?”…

Yeah… Almost, kiddo, almost.

Aside from putting a large smile on my face, this comment of hers made me wonder about the future.

Are we truly moving to “offline doesn’t exist” kind of story?

Looking at myself: I do 90% (if not 99%) of my purchases online. I largely work remotely. Provided that I live a bit in the middle of nowhere, far away from where I grew up, I mostly communicate with my mom and close friends via Skype, Whatsapp and all the other online communication means. 

Even though I am not a digital native and I am a millennial, not a GenZeer, my online life is at least as large as (if not larger than) the offline one. That’s crazy if I think about it, but it is what it is. 

Our online life matters. Alarmingly more and more compared to the offline one.

It is a normal practice that one checks out what Google “Allmighty” knows about a job candidate, a potential business connection, acquaintance, date, etc. Even those who tend to avoid social networks still leave some digital traces. Of course, for those actually active online, such traces are plenty, very informative and… they better be managed really well (but that is another discussion. I have an online reputation management service, by the way, so reach out if that is of an interest).

Every public comment one makes, every ”like” one presses, every picture, description, engagement, e-ve-ry-thing is there to stay: cached and easily discoverable if needed. Thus, a stupid, thoughtless comment might cost one a job; a provocative picture from student times can lead to some other undesired consequences… In other words, the online can have very tangible effects on the offline. 

But all of that is known and those who care about their image take the online one at least as seriously as the offline one.

The question now is: does the Online still require the Offline at all? Or will offline soon cease to exist?

It is a mad-mad world… of art…

Usually, I write about art for Artlaw.club platform, but there my articles tackle art law or art market-related topics. This time I just want to write a philosophical, “thinking-out-loud” discussion piece. (Besides, with less of an article-straightness and more of a blog-post frivolity.) 

So… Art. 

I guess everyone by now knows of Maurizio Cattelan’s “banana duct-taped to the wall” (a.k.a. “Comedian”).

It triggered David Datuna’s performance “Hungry artist”, countless marketing responses from all over the world, and numerous memes on the Internet. The hype will pass in a while, but as it was with Banksy’s shredding intervention at Sotheby’s auction (“Love is in the bin”), this “artwork” (quotes intentional) will enter art history as “the memory of the year 2019”. Now, this makes me wonder about several things. 

To begin with, does this all mean that the art world is doomed?

Many of the big works that everyone knows about are hype type of works. It is about being provocative, causing some sort of commotion and then fetching big buck for something, which frequently lacks both the looks and the substance. Not that it hasn’t happened before. After all, there has been Manzoni’s “Artist’s shit” in a can, Duchamp’s “Fountain” (upturned urinal), even Warhol’s “Campbell soup” cans. Outrageous? Well, something so “classic” for us nowadays as impressionist works was also once perceived as outrageous. Cubism?… Same story! But then again, cubism is not a duct-taped banana. Neither is (arguably, perhaps, yet looked in the context) even a urinal as an artwork… 

While many modern artworks make me question whether I would ever consider them as such, or whether I would even notice them had there not been a plaque next to them, I am still convinced that “the banana” is not a healthy trend (despite its nutritious qualities). 

What is the point of putting an effort to create something, of putting thought into an art piece, when one can just “hype it out” and get away with it? Yes-yes, I know… Warhol! (“Art is everything one can get away with”) But… seriously?! 

And, of course, Cattelan is known for his “funny, prankster” type of works, as some other artists also are, but… Come on!

In one of my articles for Artlaw.club I made a point that I don’t believe that the art market is in a bubble (mainly for the sake that there is no such thing as the homogenous art market; there are many segments and despite globalization, still a lot of regionality in the market for such a statement. If you care to read in more detail — here is the link to that article — https://artlaw.club/en/artfinance/is-the-art-market-bubbling-or-just-casually-simmering). However, I think, and in fact, I hope that this particular segment — “hype for the hype’s sake” — is in a bubble. Should be.

I am convinced that while the hype is certainly one of the ways how to attract the attention of a large audience unless this attention is then directed to a worthwhile cause, it does no good. Actually, it even does wrong. It is a bit like you have terrorists waving an Islam flag and the masses now associate all Muslims with terrorists. Same thing! If the hype is considered to be art — that downgrades art.

In the end, even worthy artworks will face the danger of being treated with an eyeball-roll and an “oh yeah, that art-thing” kind of an attitude. 

That hurts art. Full-stop.

Another important thing here is, of course, the price. Perhaps, it is even THE main thing in the whole story. That makes me recall Banksy again and his print inscribed with a phrase: “I Can’t Believe You, Morons, Actually Buy This Shit”… People, we are talking $120,000 ($150,000 for the third edition)! To note, that’s the price not even for the “artwork”, it is basically for the certificate of authenticity, signed by Cattelan. I am perfectly aware of the prices routinely being paid in the art market, where many transactions are questionable at best. In the way things are now, it resembles a ridiculous money-throwing game the rich are playing with no added value to anything, but some egos and private bank accounts.

All in all, I just find it a pity that on one hand, as I said, art gets downgraded by such hype things, and on the other, that it is hype for the sake of hype, meaning the lost opportunity to actually bring any message whatsoever.

Now the question to ponder about is: should art be bigger than itself and be used as a vehicle of change, as a way to communicate an important message or support a cause? Or… is art just anything one can get away with?

What do you think?

Don’t mistake possibilities for probabilities

Anything is possible — that’s inspiring and in a way assuring phrase. Indeed, anything can become possible with the right targeted effort and… with the right conditions. Now, this is a tricky one. The right conditions can be just there or they can be created. How probable is that both the effort and conditions will materialize is a completely different question.

To give some examples, it is perfectly possible for me to learn Chinese. If someone else has ever succeeded in doing so, why wouldn’t I? Well, what is the probability that I will learn Chinese? Pretty low. It is not one of my goals nor even dreams. Therefore, despite the theoretical possibility, it will remain impossible for me, or better — it is improbable.

It is theoretically possible for me to become an athlete. Even now in my thirties, if I put all my efforts into reaching this goal, I am convinced I will get myself there. At the expense of what? Pretty much everything I guess, so the probability of this event is likewise pretty low.

If I would put percentages, practically everything where there is at least a tiny chance of occurrence is possible. There are examples of successes that defy all odds. Like a million to one, and still… a possibility is a possibility. However, the probability is a likelihood of occurrence, which can easily be close to zero for this or that reason.

This difference sounds pretty obvious, yet the problem arises when a person mistakes a possibility for probability. If someone says: “It is impossible!”, what is meant on many counts is not that it is impossible, but rather that: “It is improbable!”. Slight nuance, but a huge difference in meaning.

In his book “Principles” Ray Dalio explicitly stressed: “anything is possible. It’s probabilities that matter.” and I cannot agree more.

The price of getting what you want…

There is a phrase which is literally haunting me recently.

I was following a course on writing and, when studying about Neil Gaiman, I came across a quote from one of his books:

But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.”

Reminiscent of the classic “be careful what you wish for”, Gaiman’s version makes the idea sound much more powerful. Imagine that your dreams of, say, ten years ago suddenly realized? It could very well be that some of your wishes you still cherish and long for, but in ten years people tend to change. At least I did. Ten years ago I had a different life, different wishes, different dreams, and desires. Lots of things changed since then and by “lots of things” I mean — everything!

It could be that you cannot relate to the ten-year span. Take 20. Or 15. Maybe 30. You see, the number does not really matter. The truth is, that we tend to change, so do our dreams. Sometimes we realize that we have misunderstood ourselves; sometimes we better understand the price we need to pay, the opportunity costs if you will.

Be careful what you wish for.

I try. I have always tried. However, having heard that phrase of Gaiman I suddenly felt a cold shiver down my spine. There are things I wanted, which by no means would I want now. They would cost me too much. I would even accept never to have things that I do want at this moment if the price for them is… having those old dreams realize.

“The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.” — a scary thought.

On the other hand, would that mean that we should not dream at all out of the fear of dreaming “wrong”? I don’t think so either. I believe in the power of dreams, and in the power of dreaming. I wouldn’t want to forgo it. However, some of our dreams take hold of us and we give them all our energy. Those dreams can become our obsessions and that is where the trouble might be lurking. Even though it is impossible to predict what kind of people we will become in the future, what would our situations be, and what new dreams will arise in us, we are able to learn to understand ourselves now, in this very moment. We are able to understand what is it we are actually dreaming of. Moreover, with some reflection, we are also perfectly capable of understanding the opportunity costs.

In my work as a mediator and as a personal buddy (“wise friend for rent”) I have seen many situations when a person thinks s/he wants something, but s/he actually hasn’t reflected on that wish good enough. By “good enough” I mean understanding (1) why? and (2) what is s/he willing to pay?

You might have heard of the psychological exercise the “five why’s”. In essence for any dream or ardent wish, you have to ask yourself “why?” five times (or at least as many as needed to get to the core).

Let’s take the following hypothetical example: I want to travel around the world.

  • because I like exploring new cultures and new places;
  • because it enriches my life with experiences;
  • because I see differences and reflect on them, and that makes me question things I am accustomed to;
  • because in that way I can improve my life;
  • because I believe in progress and making progress makes me happy.

Note that for every subsequent answer there are also options other than traveling around the world. Basically every “because” comes with a set of assumptions. You assume that traveling around the world would allow you to explore new cultures for example. Maybe it will, but that largely depends on the way you intend to travel and things you are planning to do while traveling. However, maybe your underlying wish of exploring new cultures could be realized by being active in the local expat community. It might very well be that traveling around the world still is the right way for you. Nevertheless, it is good to understand that there are also other ways to cater to your underlying needs. Be it as it may, every dream comes with a price; and before vesting too much energy in that dream, it is best to understand its price.

Unconscious habits passed through generations

One of my habits which my husband finds annoying is that I never finish my tea. Usually, I would leave a teabag in to get my tea strong enough, yet by the moment I reach the very bottom of the cup, those last drops are already way too strong and no longer tasty. So I leave them. It actually never occurred to me that it was something weird. Moreover, before recently I had no idea why do I actually do it like I do. It dawned on me, when my mother was visiting us recently and I made her a cup of tea. The puzzle pieces fell in place… 

There is a story I heard in several iterations, where a kid is asking her mother why does she always cut off the ends of the sausage before baking. The mother couldn’t answer anything else, but that her own mother was doing it like that as well. So the kid goes to her granny, who is likewise ignorant of the reasons and encourages to ask the great-granny. The old lady three generations up replies with the question: ”Oh, you are not still frying on that small pan, do you?”.

That story and revelation about my tea drinking habit origins made me think about habits in general, or better about unconscious habits passed through generations. The way we do laundry, brush our teeth, fold clothes, or boil eggs (I had a separate post on the last one – check it out here: Understanding people and what hard-boiled eggs have to do with it ) is something we probably do without much thinking. We learned it by mimicking our parents, who probably learned it from theirs and so on. Nevertheless, the “pan” we use might already be significantly different. I wonder how many other habits have we acquired unconsciously? What if we ask a question of whether they are still relevant? What if we ask the proverbial “why”? What if the underlying assumptions no longer hold? 

Another facet is, of course, to which extent should we go in our questioning spree? The beauty of a habit is that it saves us, let’s call it, brain battery. If we would do absolutely all things consciously by the end of the day we would probably just be depleted. Nevertheless, some degree (and I am still convinced that higher is better than lower) of consciousness and inquisitiveness is good to have. At least then we would be able to spot the “changed pan” situations and make timely changes.

What do you think? Do you have habits it is time to question?