Push notification and the Beginner’s Mind

Push notification and the fabric it creates are about what comes next. Not what we know, but what we’re about to know. The next step, the one we’re about to take, the moment when the foot is in the air and hasn’t yet figured out exactly where to land. It’s like putting english on a tennis return, or the release of the ball in a pitch, the moment when you commit to whatever the strategy is.

Sometimes it’s about gathering every possible piece of information and then acting with that full authority. Other times it’s about keeping the beginner’s mind, clear of opinion and calculation. What matters is the context — who or what or why we are following. Realtime is not just the up-to-date quality but the metadata that surrounds each object: why do we find this person interesting, what does this information suggest will come next, and so on. Only when we can be reasonably satisfied of the quality of our pipeline can we begin to trust it.

The idea is to establish a wrapper for as wide a swath of input as to create value for all possible objects as they appear. The high value targets are easy to model, relatively speaking. This guy has a track record of being right about things well before the crowd. This guy is funny, this guy is rich (indication of success), this guy is rich (indication of cloistered but networked), this guy is rich but I knew him when he wasn’t.

The problem with these “positive” indicators is that they don’t necessarily coincide with the moment of decision. These objects are imbued with connection, leverage, privilege, comfort, tradition, etc. All things that are valuable except at the moment when the alchemy of the stream is calculated. Alchemy that comes from the mixture of less obviously credible sources, the guy who’s not rich but is funny, the guy who is so reliably wrong that he is a leading indicator of what will work, a thousand wrinkles in the fabric of our social universes.

I’m describing our social cloud, that layer of friendship, acquaintance, irritation, relative, associate, colleague, and downright annoying. Enemies not so much, because of the politics of not mutually following, blocking, lurking around celebrity, and so on. This cloud is a living breathing thing, what JP and others call the Hive Mind. It works at such a speed (as quickly as we can make it go) that the decisions we make about what we think about something are virtually chemical in nature, somewhere just before the brain sends the action to the spinal chord, the moment of the foot in the air.

This is the appeal of the realtime bus, the intersection of who we are as emulated and informed by our cloud, and what we are hearing with our beginner’s mind. Let me be clear: I don’t know what the beginner’s mind is, only what I think it suggests. I have not practiced, may be be misusing this, may be completely on target, doesn’t matter. The intersection of who and what, that matters.

Push notification is what comes out the other end of that calculation. The iPad has established this layer as the central interface of the social intersection. On the desk or laptop, we feel at home in a console, a collection of windows (cough) of multiple cooperating or not processes. The metaphor is to pull information from various sources and push our responses out onto that thoroughfare. We call this thoroughfare the Web, and we love the feeling of control the PC provides.

But then mobile came and shifted the desktop from office or home or TV to right here right now, wherever you go there you are. And the center of the domain shifted from the desktop or the server or the network to the inside of your brain. It no longer is what you knew, it’s all that plus what you are about to know. All of a sudden you’re an airport traffic controller and you can’t fall asleep on the job.

Initially we rebelled against this idea. C’mon, how can you just sit there like Scoble and watch 200,000 tweets stream by? Well, examine why Scoble does it. He’s got the best job in the world, Chief Shiny Objects Officer. He and Rocky roam the virtual world looking for the Next Best App, and test the limits of this insane rush they’re trying to call Big Data. We pay him well for it with our attention, because better him than us to explore out where there’s no frontier.

But what he reports back is that things are not as bad as we might think. He’s like the astronaut landed on a new planet who tentatively removes his helmet to take that first breath of air. When Scoble doesn’t fall over, we breath a sigh of relief and go on with trying to make this work for us. Because Scoble is infected with the possibility of the future, and I for one am inspired by that as well.

Meanwhile, the iPad. While it is comforting to visit the desktop from time to time, the lure of the iPad is profound. The lure of our kids having a better life, etc. Where’s my flying car? Right here, pal. And here and here and here. An app for that, and this, and hold on a minute, how do we manage this cornucopia of delights? Push notification is how. It works because the thing we had on our PCs called multitasking is just an illusion.

There is no such thing as time slicing, or if there is please send me the push notification as soon as possible. In reality we’re doing as many things as possible one thing at a time, so that with enough frames we get the illusion of smooth motion. The persistence of motion relies on our brains smoothing the granular iterations of changes into a smoothly blurred series of dissolves rather than the jump cuts they actually are.

So it is with push, where our brains dissolve smoothly between what we knew last and what we now know. Let’s say I’m reading Techmeme and I see that the biggest story today is something about Facebook and privacy. The newest story (right hand column) is something about the hot bubble market. It being Sunday, the weekend equivalent of fires and mudslides flesh out the rest. So I go to my Reading List and pick one of the stories I saw pushed to me during the week or some time I was too busy to stop what I was doing. Invariably something will eventually be pushed from email, Twitter, etc. that will rise above whatever I’m doing. A four finger swipe returns me when I’m done.

Lurking in just this short description are a number of strategies that emerge for coping with this new landscape. To illustrate just one, the Reading List in Safari becomes an important staging area, suggesting the need to iCloud-enable it so I can switch to and from the iPhone. Since the Reading List deletes the page from the list once you’ve retrieved it, you either need to swipe back to it and reregister it on the Reading List or finish it before closing that tab, or risk having it hidden behind a back arrow once you’ve used up Safari’s tabs.

Since pushes inevitably overflow the buffer of previous alerts, you learn to prioritize the processing of less time sensitive streams in bulk sessions. I’ll typically wait until the subject header of an incoming email alert doesn’t keep me in the loop, then open that one and read back in the email queue to catch up. Same for Twitter which keeps its own buffer of web page citation if I’m checker boarding back and forth with Safari. On the iPad, I can watch the push stream with the tablet asleep, then pick one item and go directly there via the security code requestor. Calls are immediately redialed.

Even these nascent tools suggest where this will go rapidly. Social filtering, presence mixed with social authority, the ability to configure rule sets for what reaches you immediately and how others are staged for you in buffers on different surfaces. And as these filters are built out historically and across our social groups and cloud, the views into that data will be increasingly valuable to us both personally and in our business. This is the real Big Data, big in its social implications and concise in its personal context. How corporations can use this will be up to us, or put another way, licensed to those who we trust to use this data in our best interests.

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