The Practice of Being Gray

The End and Future of Deresolution

Illustration for The Gray Project by Ben Stafford

The year has [finally] come to an end. I won’t say the experiment panned out to be as transformational as I’d liked, but as a TL;DR “post-mortem” I’m glad I did it and I’ll claim an 80% success rate. Where do we go from here?

It’s time to get back into the game. Not because I need to, but because it’s kind of the right thing to do. Yeah… I’ll claim it — I said it’s the right thing to do, very existential. Just hear me out. The first reason is that I’ve learned a few lessons I hope to pass on — I have perspective and I believe there is some validity and the second, we have a responsibility to teach our kids how to be real, I mean seriously real. I don’t know how practical it is to teach total abstinence from technology (Teetotaling is a thing and people do it, I’m not knocking those folks) — I’d rather be a responsible wielder of a tool that builds up and leads through the lenses of discipline and responsibility. Before I get too far, let’s recap. At the beginning of 2017 (Read the original article here) I set out to disconnect from social media in order to be more intentional about my time (among other reasons). Essentially, a year to be more present. (I mean Aziz Ansari did it too — sooo, there must be something there right?)

Illustration for The Gray Project by Jason Craig

With all the goings-on in 2017 personally and professionally (and politically) it turned out to be a good time to take a big step back and breathe and honestly just try to be a little less narcissistic by better understanding myself, if that makes sense. Now, I’m gladly marching away from 2017 not just stronger and wiser but with more questions and a greater sense of awareness.

I took time to think back on the year and I realized, I accomplished quite a bit. And to be perfectly honest, I did a few things that are substantially insignificant and some that are going to have lasting impact on my future. This experiment landing somewhere in the middle.

2017 Recap

Here we go. 2017 in as few characters as possible.

  • Visited Austin for the first time
  • Austin City Limits Music Festival
  • ☝🏼 Saw Vulfpeck live
  • We’re about to have our second girl ✌🏼 👶
  • Trained for and completed a GoRuck Tough
  • Completed a Tough Mudder 5k
  • Did a ton of research and bought a new couch (👉🏼 Article FTW )
  • Moved (just a little one)
  • Turned 30
  • Bought a Casper Mattress
  • Helped build a fitness community (see F3)
  • Built a playlist for Audible Arrangements (Listen Here)
  • New Sneakers 👟 (https://www.vans.com/shop/ultrarange-rapidweld-black-black)

The real reason for this retrospective is to share insight on the project. In all honesty, I had to take some time on screen. I was running a small operation that required at least 1 - 3 posts a week to facilitate the growth of the organization. This resulted in real world connections and actual accomplishments for a community of people. So, even though it broke the rules, in my mind, it was justified.

Overall, the result was significantly less time spent on screen. period. The art of subtle discovery and surprise / delight of small talk became a thing again. I looked to automation for news. I focused on engaging with people who I’m closest to and care the most about, instead of struggling to maintain arbitrary relationships from years gone by. I still took photos of my food. I most definitely looked at Reddit on the toilet.

My take away was a more practical approach to using the tools. I plan to continuously give them credit for the positive impact that they hold but respect their addictive nature. And, ultimately, I hope to keep working towards finding methods of responsibility and self discipline.

The Gray Man Theory

Now that we’ve covered 2017, I want to focus on the future. This time it’s not just for me; but for anyone who might be reading this, I have a new challenge. The root of the idea started from coming across a Special Operations method for being tactically unnoticed in a crowd called The Gray Man Theory. (Aside: I don’t know much about the tactics — for our understanding and application we are more about the concept.)

Before you start googling, I want to emphasize — this is an adaptation of a philosophy and has nothing to do with “bug out bags” or concealed weapons.

Plainly put, the gray man should be invisible in plain sight. What does this have to do with the internet and deresolution? Everything.

Illustration for The Gray Project by Tyler Pate

Every professional/business owner knows how important it is to have a tightly managed online persona — and every instagram mom has the compulsion to present a very curated picture of their entire lives with the world. Somewhere in this mix is a healthy and unhealthy level of engagement and information being shared. Fortunately, we still have a chance to determine that balance for ourselves. This means setting up systems for ourselves and others in our lives, things like making rules (for everyone) around phones at the dinner table.

Going gray in real life requires awareness of oneself and acumen in the midst of an ever changing environment. In a lot of cases they “the companies” know us “the users” better than we know ourselves and the deeply psychological strategies being applied are not intended to encourage responsible consumption. Your eyes on their applications translate to dollars. And the longer eyes are on screens the more dollars are in pockets.

To start, we need to relearn two skills: Awareness and Acumen.

  • Awareness: Begin by knowing your patterns. Build your knowledge base by asking some questions, How frequently am I using the tools and what else is going on while I’m engaged? How is this tool helping / hurting my personal relationships? What methods are they employing to keep my attention? and lastly, what tools can I [realistically] live without?
  • Acumen: Make good judgements and decisions. In the midst of gaining awareness, act on the information in an appropriate way. Look for methods of accountability in order to maintain discipline and responsibility.

Call a spade, a spade.

The Problem: We have started to lose moments to our technology and have also lost discretion as to what information about ourselves and our families that we freely give away.

They’re small and they vanish in a blink. Nobody can deny it. But we don’t have consensus on is what happens later? Losing micro moments doesn’t immediately result in a swath of negative results…yet. But we’ve gotta get real. The ripple effect will have to have lasting consequences. And what about personal privacy risk? (This is a part of why I chose the Gray Man Theory, for it’s approach to the obfuscation of personal identity. Be in the crowd with a reduced risk.)

To back this up, Chamath Palihapitiya (former Exec at Facebook) recently spoke at the Standford Graduate School of Business and stated “…It is time for [social media companies] to do some soul searching…” in regard to the exploitation of consumer behavior in an internet consumer business. As a former executive of Facebook, Palihapitiya states “…it literally is at a point now where we have created tools that are ripping a part the social fabric of how society works, that is truly where we are… if we feed the beast, the beast will consume you. If we push back, we still have a chance to reign it in… It is a point in time where people need a hard break from these tools… the short term dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works…” To further reinforce these ideals of consequence Palihapitiya says that we have “…no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, and mistruth… its not American problem, this is a global problem.” Lastly, Palihapitiya observes how this is effecting not only our own lives but in how we operating in relation to one another “… it [social media] is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

Chamath Palihapitiya, Founder and CEO Social Capital, on Money as an Instrument of Change

Fear vs. Commitment

Illustration for The Gray Project by Jacob Waites

The Solution: It’s not studied or proven what is being suggested will work for everyone, but it is a simple way forward. Commit to a day. Commit to an hour. Commit to a month. And, consistently, go Gray.

Don’t focus on the real tactical application of what it means to be fully Gray but rather how we can use the ideals to be better stewards of our presence.

We are going to have to fight to take back our moments — protect who we are, our relationships, and our information. It’s easy to let things like FOMO detract from our ability to “connect and accomplish” — in this TedxUNC talk, student speaker, Bobby Mook asks three important plaguing questions that we face:

  1. Will I be remembered?
  2. Will anything I accomplish be important to anyone?
  3. Am I loved?

All culminating into one bigger question — Am I significant?

The resolution and truth is that this fear will never fade, because it is essential to our humanity. Learn from it and understand how we can use it to make better decisions. And, in turn, be a positive influence to those around us.

Cut The Mustard

Now, everybody gets to exercise accountablity, build awareness, and start making their own rules.

  1. go to GrayProject.co
  2. fill in your commitment
  3. tweet it
  4. pin it to your profile for accountability

Resources

The Light Phone
https://www.thelightphone.com/

Current American Views on Mobile Etiquette (PEW 2015)
http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/26/americans-views-on-mobile-etiquette/

Art of Manliness: The Complete Guide to Breaking Your Smartphone Habit
https://www.artofmanliness.com/2016/02/22/break-smartphone-habit/