SWAN of the Week, No. 121

Happy Friday!

This week I had the opportunity to speak to Arik Hanson’s strategic communications class at the University of St. Thomas, where the class knew more about TikTok than every “marketing expert” put together. That school has some bright kids asking smart questions, and they reminded me that rewatching Black Mirror would probably be a fun exercise.

Speaking of Netflix, I’ve really been enjoying season two of Abstract: The Art of Design. I rewatched the scene where artist Olafur Eliasson starts a doodle of nothing at all multiple times (and made my kids watch it!). He is talking about the “exercise of the fantasy and to see things that are invisible” while his marker is making wide circles and nonsensical swirls. He then says he’s going to draw a cat and proceeds to make a cat out of the doodle. He adds eyes and a nose and a mouth to the doodle, and sure enough, it’s a cat.

Eliasson says, “When I talk to kids about drawing a cat it’s not about [drawing] the cat. I really try to emphasize that It’s about ‘do you have the fantasy to see the cat?’” Really powerful. You can see a cat in anything, if you’re creative enough. I want my kids to grow up being able to think this way. It’s extremely freeing and important.

Unrelated, I think, this week I finished the book “The Sociopath Next Door” (affiliate link) by Martha Stout. Although we often think of sociopaths as disturbing and violent criminals, the book’s author makes the case that up to four percent of people have an undected mental disorder that features no conscience – the ability to feel shame, guilt or remorse.

That’s a huge percentage — as high as people with colon cancer or eating disorders! — and could explain the handful of super controlling and manipulative people you’ve come across in your lifetime. I can’t remember why this book on everyday sociopaths was on my reading list, but it was a fast read, and I enjoyed considering the origins of conscience and trappings of narcissism while still in the mental brain-space of finishing Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland” last week (more on that here).

But what Stout doesn’t explore in the text is how sociopathic behavior manifests in online forums, social media comments and Twitter. I strongly believe that a majority of trolling and triggering behavior we see in social media today comes from severely disturbed individuals who are able to act out their anger or surface urges to harm others with little accountability or recourse.

And although it’s fun sport to blame bots, the truth is a lot of this negativity is getting worse as some people in the older generations start finding their voices in social media. The same generations who once told my age group that everything we post online would hurt our ability to get a job or a date when we grew up is now posting false, racist and aggressive comments on Facebook comments – under their real names! I’m not trying to demean an entire generation, to be clear. There are bad actors across the ages. But there’s something going on here I’m thinking a lot about these days

For those of us with a conscience, let’s try to be kind to one another. Even to the sociopaths.

See you on the internet!


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