Healthy Rebellion: Power Athlete Symposium, 2019

What is the downside of walking around with the world in our pockets?

On Day 3 of the Power Athlete Symposium, Robb Wolfe and Power Athlete founder John Welborn found their way into a discussion on how we consume information. “No longer is knowledge something you actively have to search for,” said John. He noted that information is passively flowing toward and through us via social media. All of our primary sources of information have been curated.

The problem with having access to a world of information – in the form of super-computers in our pockets – is that we are under a constant barrage of attention theft.

Curated media sources (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and countless others) are all jockeying for one thing: user attention. Once they have your attention, they can monetize it. It’s capitalism at its finest. The problem with this sort of capitalism it that it has been disguised as “news.”

Anyone can publish “news” on a social media outlet or blog post. Posts that do well are prioritized and put in front of more eyes than others. What does it mean to do well? Engage. That’s it. The posts that do well engage a user and hold their attention. Algorithms within these platforms ensure that those posts cross-pollinate with hubs of similar content and pretty soon, a blog post with a catchy title might engage millions of citizens.

Fact or not, that “news” survives through a process called memetics. Remember that knowledge can be fickle – at one point, many leading scientists “knew” that the world was flat. Common knowledge and accurate information are two different things.

If a consumer is not careful, they can interact with and adopt memetic knowledge that is not accurate, developing flawed internal models, mindsets based on incomplete understanding, or hateful relationships to other communities of people.

Worse still, many platforms have conflict-based algorithms. Anger is amazing at stimulating engagement.

Robb Wolfe warned that the search bar might soon be a thing of the past. Sellers don’t want you to be able to go find just anything, they want to curate your experience.

Google and Amazon will likely be the next purveyors of social communities. Imagine a fully curated life.

What’s the solution? Healthy Rebellion.

Raph Ruiz opened his presentation with a tongue-in-cheek identification of the paradoxes in strength and health: the early bird gets the worm but you have to sleep 8 hours per night; fruit is obviously good for you but it has sugar and sugar will kill you; squat with your toes forward, always, except sometimes not; and knowledge is power, unless the knowledge was built on a faulty model.

Instead of passive acceptance of what is dropped in our laps, we ought to be conscious consumers of information. The truths of the world are usually only 100% true for certain people in certain situations. The only capital-T Truth of any situation is that there will be variables. One will have to be prepared to adapt.

Raph went on to discuss his extremely well-considered approach to strength and conditioning, noting that the quality of interaction with athletes has ripple effects on their lives – both positive and negative. So it is always best to be thoughtful. Be aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it. Have a plan, but adapt it for the individual.

A side conversation with Cali Hinzman, where we briefly got into the subject of mentorship, shook the boat even further.

Mentorship is invaluable, necessary for us all. Mentor-selection can be complicated, however – if you select the wrong mentor, would this not be a way of curating information in a user-specific way, with no guarantees that the information is correct?

Here too, one must be a conscious consumer.

In the mentor-mentee relationship, there should be open dialogue, optimistic assumptions, clarity of purpose and language. There should be humility. There should be trust. In the presence of those qualities, mentor relationships can be some of the most valuable elements within one’s development.

That same logic should be applied to other sources of information. In the constant assault of attention-seeking tech platforms, each one of those elements is challenged.

  • You can select a mentor, but you cannot always select the information that comes across your feed
  • Optimistic assumptions are not prioritized in the algorithms, which favor any sort of engagement, including that which is conflict-dependent
  • There is rarely a clarity of purpose and the language is ultimately meant to sell you something
  • There is no humility in internet capitalism
  • The only thing to trust is that, more often than not, companies are fueled by profit, not purpose

This is not meant to be negative, or even judgmental. The purpose of these acknowledgements is to gain insight into how we receive and interact with information.

Healthy Rebellion

Healthy Rebellion, as I have come to see it, includes non-obstinate analysis of unsolicited information. Rebel against the concept of passive consumption and mindless living.

You should not turn a shoulder to your Twitter feed with skepticism and pessimism, but engage with it using thoughtful analysis.

A few rules of thumb for thoughtful analysis.

  • Engage optimistically, but with caution. If information is coming at you without asking for it, ask why.
  • Consider the source. If you read a post saying that gummy bears will boost testosterone, then consider the author(s) and the publication. Is this someone to trust?
  • Dig deeper. If the source is not fully reputable – or even if they are – check their sources. Remember that an article in even the most reputable publication should cite the science which inspired it. If an article makes a bold scientific claim but cannot cite a peer-reviewed academic journal article, keep digging.
  • Check yourself. Be aware of confirmation bias (link to citation here, get it?). We all fall victim to believing that which best aligns with our already held beliefs. This is why these information funnels got so powerful in the first place – we are obsessed with the idea that the world will confirm that we are correct about how and what we believe. All humans seek validation.

The key is to not accept a dogma, but equip yourself with understanding and be thoughtful with your engagement. Healthy Rebellion is a process. Those looking for a quick fix were at the wrong conference.

Healthy Debate

While John was talking to Robb about a wide range of ideas, he came back to a unique and necessary one – modern people don’t debate enough. Debate, which differs from argument or conflict, is an exercise is rhetoric.

John was a rhetoric major at Cal, where he was a standout player before embarking on a 10-year career in the NFL. There, students engaged in conversation. The real kind. Which is not an exercise in defending your opinion, but understanding an idea.

Often, he says he and his classmates were asked to assume the opposite perspective to the one they held and argue on its behalf. If you were pro-choice, you would have to debate on behalf of pro-life ideals. Deep understanding of an idea is the only way to come to a thoughtful conclusion – even if the ultimate outcome is dismantling the opposite position.

In that way, one would come to a thoughtful conclusion based on understanding. And if that alone is not a convincing reason for healthy rebellion, consider that the opposite model would yield an ignorant conclusion based somewhere outside of fact.

We cannot be afraid of confrontation for the sake of understanding. This too has become a modern concern. If someone were adamantly against our current president, fine, but not doing the work to understand him is ignorant and polarizing. The odds that the elected president is 100% wrong on all his positions is statistically unlikely. Working toward understanding is the only way.

Again, even if that more full understanding leads to a dismantling of his position and the search for other options.

There is no right or wrong position with this sort of information gathering, only uninformed ones.

John concluded with a bit of motivation. He said that in order to become true difference-makers, true agents of change, we should remember that Knowledge is Power.

And thoughtful consumption of information leads to the most powerful sort of knowledge.