Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Madness of Crowds


I need a vacation. Been a hectic week and it doesn't seem to clear at all next week.

For some reason, I unwisely filled up my schedule last week with lots of assignments. I wanted to do more for the company where I currently ply my trade.

Meanwhile, I just had the urge to start something new. So I started a crowd-funding website for poor people undergoing treatment - currently at proposal stage, touched base with many international comics publishers (one, two, many), hoping to grab some titles and publish it here, started selling the third title under Maple Comics - Taubat Si Tanggang, initiated some comics projects, said yes to a book project and started consulting for something.

I used to be able to do more than this. At one point, I had 10 projects running at the same time. My current health means this is my limit. I have reached a stage in my life when I would need a team to do everything.

I didn't feel the energy drain until I faced so many people at the KL International Book Fair today. I don't like being around many people. My communication is personalised, targeted, focused. I don't do so well when it comes to so many faces. I feel like I have to morph and shift every time I talk to a different person.

I understand that different people communicate in different ways and so they would need different forms of communication. Every time I talk to people, I automatically gauge their disposition, level of knowledge, exposure, and the really crazy social dynamics.

When you talk to a person in a crowd, how they respond to any given information or stimulus depends on their own personality and how they relate to the others around them. As I do my own assessment, so would they. What they say and how they react depends very much on how they anticipate others would react if they say this or that.

I do a short-hand for this with simulations. I imagine myself to be in their shoes, and then try to feel and think how they would.

For example, when you approach someone within a crowd of, say, four. You ask him or her, "Where is the toilet?". Now, he/she would be mindful of the other three. How he/she responds depends very much on what kind of outcome he/she desires from the group. There is also his/her own level of knowledge - whether or not he/she knows where the toilet is.

Social dynamics is by far the most maddening and complex and ultimately determinant component. If he/she were to simply be helpful, it could mean that he/she wishes for the group or the audience to think of her in a certain way. Same goes with mocking the person asking for the info. If her/his group he/she belongs to wishes to share in a tribal/herd bonding by nominating a common enemy or target of scorn, there are several ways this could go down.

I simulate all of this in my head like how people divide the bill at restaurants. It is extremely taxing and exhausting to do more than five simulations at the same time. Imagine this, times a few hundred or a few thousand. Because when I see a sea of faces, I don't see a sea of faces. I see many different individuals.

In a crowd, I create stories for each one. I imagine each person going home, sitting alone on the toilet or in their bedroom, and when all the doors and windows are closed, what do they think about? How would they think?

So when facing lots of people, I get lost in simulations.

Over the years, I have developed coping mechanisms. I realise that I do this mainly because of insecurities about my intelligence. I feel the compulsion to do it because it makes me feel smart, which I don't need. Another reason is paranoia and the desire to control variables in my environment. People are the biggest variables. Without people, a stadium is just a building. Filled with people, it is a bowl filled with emotion, it is an event.

Still - it can be very unhealthy and this weekend, I already feel the strain.

However, these are extremely useful tools when analysing group dynamics, relationships and correlations.

The trick is - balance and automation. Nowadays, I run on autopilot with simulations and I pick and choose which analysis I need to do. Otherwise, I'd be a schizophrenic within months.

For the rest, I would just have to accept and let go. I'd have to accept that humans will be humans, with their silly little games and silly politics even among themselves. And let go, which is still the most difficult thing to learn.

Anyway, knowing is half the battle. Coooobraaaa!