With great excitement and eager to reach out to the world anew, I had just launched my new Facebook account. This certainly is not the first time that I’ve launched an on-line communications tool but it is the first time that I began to wonder about the new tools by which we measure ourselves. There in the left column I had one star out of five for post quality and zero interactions. Granted, I had just launched the page and so no one knew about it, but these messages did stick in my mind as I turned off my computer and headed out for a walk in the equally uninspiring mud that covers the country roads after this winter of ample snow. Looking down my path, I repeated those disturbing terms – one star for post quality, zero interactions – and began to identify with the horse droppings on the path ahead. Don’t get me wrong – I do love social media for the way that it helps me to meet people who I would otherwise never know (you perhaps!), but the whole business of measurement on the Internet seems to be going into overdrive so that it can be counterproductive.
To my right and left there were in fact very beautiful experiences to be had. Tiny villages dating back to Viking times dotted the landscape. Several of the rust-red cottages showed evidence of being originals dating back many hundreds of years. It wasn’t hard to imagine looking into a window and seeing a woman sitting at a weaving loom from which a new pattern that people everywhere would admire and replicate for generations to come was emerging. My thoughts became entwined in this image. How had this woman created her pattern? Surely not by wandering around the village and asking the neighbors what they liked to look at (i.e. how many stars and interactions might my idea generate?). Her inspiration would most likely have been the shy emergence of nature in the early spring and that irresistible sense of anticipation that goes hand-in-hand with it. As for the pattern, was it beautiful simply because many people would eventually like it or did it have its own inherent beauty? Was it worth something in and of itself? Was this woman worth something, whatever the future success of her brainchild, the pattern?
As I turned the corner on the road leading down to the small early medieval village of Lambarudd, my thoughts came to a head: of course she is worth something and so is her pattern, because this capacity to make something out of nothing and believe in it enough to create it is the way that humanity moves forward. At middle age, and having experienced plenty of ups and downs, I have enough skin on my nose to know this and to handle the starting stats on my Facebook page with a bit of perspective. Yet if we look at the increasing psychological ill-health of youngsters (a major focus of research at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute), in particular Facebook-obsessed teenagers, we find that younger generations don’t consider their ‘patterns’ and, by association, themselves worth anything because the Facebook and other social media gods have come up with a random rating system that is misleading. Looking upwards, I took a deep breath and exhaled my irritation. Hanging above me on an old telephone line was an assortment of sneakers that had been tied together and thrown up in the air. Are we creating a society in which youngsters are hanging up their sneakers and great ideas because the bar is just too high?
“Lambarudd” read the letters etched into the wooden signpost at the side of the road. Here I was surrounded by what was most likely the origin of a commonly used word. For those of you who do not know it, “lamb” is a word that originates from the many small Scandinavian villages that survived by tending these woolly animals. Lambarudd was the plainest place on earth and its people had given the world a very important word. As I stood there on this small muddy peninsula of cottages jutting out into Lake Mälar, I appreciated being here. That is, not because the world flocks here or because it has a great Facebook page or highly visited site on the Internet, but because it has a strong inherent sense of self-worth.
Concerning how the great new ideas of the future will emerge, I recommend reading Ambassador Matthew Barzun’s Blog Om Sweden entry about TED talk and the science of motivation. “Autonomy, mastery and purpose” rather than carrots and sticks seem to be the way that we are going to meet our future challenges.
Concerning lamb, check out The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook for your Easter celebration.