Return to Menlo Park

Sigh... I've been wrong about Facebook 1.5 times so far. The first time, with the advent of Google+, I predicted that a social network that begins with circles would triumph over one that seeks to make everything you say or do available to all of humanity. I said Google+ would kill Facebook. Yes I did.

While Facebook continues to do everything it can to drive people away, and some reports hold that as the Olds gather the younger folks are moving on - I think it can safely be said that whatever kills Facebook, it will not be the astonishing success of G+ anytime soon.

The second time, a little over a year ago now, was when I left. Never to return. I resented the time sink it had become, and the interactions with strangers that had an intensity and anger they would never exhibit in person. I hope. If I got into frequent angry confrontations at my local pub, at some point I would stop going into that establishment.

I would engage with a friend on a topic, and find myself confronting suddenly the person's drunk uncle (how is druncle not a word?) accusing me of furthering a socialist plot to destroy America. And I spent far too much time engaging these trolls.

Seriously, druncle. This should be a word.

I left, with a flourish, around New Year's 2013. To be honest, I did not miss Facebook. At all. What I missed was a cousin's health challenge, which was announced and discussed only on Facebook. What I missed were grief-laden notes posted to a friend's page who died suddenly last Fall. I realized then I was missing important updates about people close to me - or perhaps more to the point, people who were not close enough for me to learn these updates any other way.

There is a circle (pardon me) of people about whom I care - but with whom I do not interact on a frequent enough basis to be on their notification list. With Facebook, people have apparently found that announcing updates to their lives on their page means a "notification" list is unnecessary.

If tragedy or bliss strikes your life, it is just easier to post a quick note to your Wall, and let the word spread. In leaving Facebook, at least for my network, I had departed the commons.

So I am back. But I have a much smaller friend list so far. And I am, primarily, lurking. I only have the iPad app, and it does not draw my time as it once did (writing this blog is the most I've thought about Facebook in over a year). I do not post updates nor food porn nor do I engage in political conversations as I did before. This is not where I live, it's where I go to learn about my family and some friends. I'll check in once or twice a day, for a few minutes. My profile remains sparse, I don't "like" corporations, and my profile picture is a photo of two of my three children. The other one hasn't noticed yet.

Exception - One conservative brother-in-law manages to get under my skin on occasion, and we poke at each other almost as sport. When a friend of his barged into one conversation with a familiar refrain, though, I just blocked the gentleman. I've learned that much.

I don't miss Facebook, and now I don't have to miss family news. I am planning to hit an age more closely associated with a speed limit this year, and I sense more of these updates will begin to appear across my network.

So Facebook - it was still mostly you. But it was also a lot me. Let's just be acquaintances.

The Expertise Strikes Back

The unmatched vineyards at A. Rafanelli  .jpg

The unmatched vineyards at A. Rafanelli


Tom Nichols writes of the death of expertise in a recent, well-received blog. When he first tweeted a reference to the topic, as he was writing it, I immediately thought he was referring to Cognitive Resource Theory (CRT) - the finding that expertise is essential in high-stress decision environments, but less so in low-stress decision environments, where we may be better served to listen to intelligent voices with little experience in the specific field. If you need novel solutions, those with high experience are not your sources - they will rely on what has worked in the past. But in a high-stress environment, the smart guy in the back of the room with no experience may not be the most welcome voice. Left unstudied by CRT: high-stress situations where novelty is needed. The Apollo 13 scenario applies here, put the experts into a constrained environment to obtain novel solutions to an otherwise familiar problem. The experts must be jostled out of their comfortable assumptions in order to consider novelty. Never underestimate this.

Turns out - life is about more than one theory.

Anyway, Tom wasn't referring to either of those.

So next I thought - Oh, the corollary observation that relying upon experts is often a trap, as detailed in The Longitude Problem explanation, courtesy of Dave Snowden. Yeah, experts are sometimes the problem, particularly when you're facing problems of a complex nature; which describes most human social systems. The experts' cognitive and social biases may prevent an awareness of new ideas, much less a fair testing of them. Expertise's role in complicated matters is central. In complex matters, where novelty often is called for, it should be taken with heapings of salt.

Anyway, Tom wasn't referring to that either. Turns out, even my limited expertise in the area of, er, expertise, was blinding me from hearing him. I had to work through several patterns before I understood the angle on his headline. (How expertise matters less when everyone has a voice and believes their opinion is as informed as an expert's How some mooks believe expertise itself represents a sellout - e.g., if you spent 30 years at the National Security Agency, that amounts to an indictment, not a history of expertise that deserves attention.)

When I worked at a think tank, right out of a brief Air Force career in Intelligence, I had lots of scattered ideas and an agile mind - but no background in national security studies beyond eight years' operational experience of a very limited scope. In 'brainstorming' sessions, I would muse and ponder. For me, true brainstorming. It was fun, but I realized I was failing to read the room.

The problem was: I was sitting in a room with people who had published books on the topic being discussed. They were voicing deeply researched opinions, that I could understand fairly quickly, but from which I could not make a logical next step argument. I lacked awareness of the paths that had been carved, as if I were standing at the edge of the dark woods, 30 paces to the left of the trail, arguing: "Why haven't we looked for a path here, guys?" The conversation was a form of disruption, novelty (hopefully) emerged from conversational conflict. One real problem, by the way, is if you fail to rotate the players at that table - diversity and new members are needed to disrupt harmful patterns. If you attend a regularly scheduled staff meeting, you already know this. But at no time would it make sense to stand there saying things like: "You served in x's administration, and I disagree with those policies, so you are useless" or "My point of view is more valid from yours, because I have no knowledge of Containment Policy, and am therefore pure."

Put another way, while an appeal to authority is a losing debate style, it does not follow that appeal to ignorance is a successful one.

A friend and colleague - (now like a brother to me, in that we are extremely close and almost never communicate) - finally pulled me aside and told me of the library represented around the think tank's table. These were some of the leading minds in national security policy research, and here I was inventing some interpretive dances based on the bits I picked up in conversation. The patience of those men and women is something I am thankful for, many years too late.

Once upbraided by this episode, I did my research and learned where I could add value and be heard. The people who wail at Tom and others online would not do so at a cocktail party - social norms reinforce civility and hierarchy. The question, then, may not be whether expertise no longer matters, but whether we can expect civilizing social norms among a social-media mob. Even when searching for novel answers, understanding first who and what has gone before remains of highest value.

* Regarding the photo, why are there pomegranates in a vineyard...? Shall we just brainstorm, or ask a vintner?

What if there were only one regime for classified information?

Today, a security clearance from the Department of Defense still earns you a "Visitor, Escort Required" badge from the Department of Homeland Security. Or most intelligence agencies. The reverse is also true. The reasons why aren't important. The organizational histories are reasonable, there are no villians.

However, a systemic view of national security quickly points up the folly of the current patchwork regime, with its redundancy and lack of organizational trust. If we need to share information quickly across the system of national security, then it is time to consider the behaviors that are nothing more than dysfunctional at the system level.

The DoD Information Sharing Strategy speaks of sharing information with unexpected partners, driven by unanticipated events. Perhaps it is time to reconsider also the list of expected partners, due to events that are becoming increasingly anticipated.

What if Security reported to Operations?

What if? What if instead of business people being told to justify their plans to security, security had to advise the business regarding the operational impact of their new patches, firewall rules, badging policies, etc? What if instead of a security audit for operations, there were an operations audit for security?

What if the business people had the last word?  Security would make their case for new restrictions on information flow, advising on the risk rather than deciding to avoid it.  Business then, advised of the risk, can decide upon avoidance, mitigation, or acceptance based on the effect on operations. 

What if the relationship between Operations and Security were reversed? 

I'd like to see what would happen...