Tayken on the Split: An Updated Perspective on Life, Media, & Humanity

Rebirth of the A/B Buzz

In late 2016 I stumbled onto an idea that has buzzed in my ear ever since. Like that persistent fly you swat at for hours as it repeatedly dares fate; predictably entering and exiting your field of attention until you’re left with no choice but to stop what you’re doing and dedicate all attention on an imminent entomological duel. My early musings, which are archived for posterity in a couple posts titled, Pivotal Refinement and The Split Test of Life, offer a reasonable backstory, but my thinking on the idea (and the world around it) has evolved considerably since.

After a recent dive into a new Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey looking at American trust, media and democracy, I was once again struck by the importance of A/B Testing as a unique tool (and perhaps antidote) with value stretching well beyond the binary bounds of the web. Over time, this approach not only yields superior online experiences, but when adapted for our daily lives, creates the potential for personal and cultural transformation. We are undeniably divided as people and the research continues to offer sobering reinforcements of this truth. We’re increasingly divided racially, politically, ideologically, and economically, and it’s my view that we can all take intentional measures (by way of the split test) to combat these growing disparities.

Practically Speaking

So what exactly does this look like in practice? Well, it’s incredibly subjective and context-specific, and therefor, can be as complex as it is simple. It’s as much a personal frame of mind as it is any specific action. It requires you to seek out alternatives, delve into the unfamiliar “other,” and relentlessly pursue the full potential swing of the human-experience pendulum as often as possible. Think mad, modern, social scientist of the human condition.

Seek out alternatives, delve into the unfamiliar “other,” and relentlessly pursue the full potential swing of the human-experience pendulum as often as possible. — Tweet This!

In a much oversimplified (yet still practical) form, it might look something like this: identify a personal routine (for me, I started with hot morning showers) and test a potential variant (I took cold showers at night instead).

As with most reasonable people, I had grown accustomed to taking soothing hot showers to ease me from my slumber, so for a month I channeled my inner Iceman and froze my balls off after the sun set. Not because I thought that cold showers were necessarily better (though research now suggests they might be), but because I didn’t know that they weren’t; a subtle but key distinction. I had only ever known option A (i.e. hot early showers), and as the name implies, A/B testing requires both a control and variation. By applying this simple concept of the split test to every aspect of our lives, you can begin to see how we might build a stronger collective capacity to empathize and accept the wide array of potential human experiences, most of which are vastly different than our own. Seems like a stretch, but a few cold evening showers (or your split test of choice) can quite literally change who you are and what you believe.

By applying this simple concept of the split test to every aspect of our lives, you can begin to see how we might build a stronger collective capacity to empathize and accept the wide array of potential human experiences, most of which are vastly different than our own. — Tweet This!

While this idea may seem simple on its surface, as we layer a variety of these probing tests into the fabric of our daily lives, it’s important to remain unemotional about the potential outcomes and instead focus on creating honest and distinct comparative experiences. Regardless of the degree to which you’ve become a creature of habit, there will always be an alternative to explore, and in doing so, a new side of others (and potentially yourself) to discover. This is Tayken on the Split at its core, but I’ve only recently come to realize the inherent value of this methodology in the modern age of social media and the attention economy. In fact, the experience of perspectives (especially via social media) that differ from our own may already be outside of our control.

Popping The Filter Bubble

As Tristan Harris has noted, and attempted to combat with his Time Well Spent initiative, we’re now playing a game of chess against algorithms that can see thousands of steps ahead of our own cognition, and unless we embrace the gift of agency and are willing to explore (or at least acknowledge) both sides of life’s proverbial coins, we’re likely destined to lose our grip on a reality which may already be out of reach. Rapid technological inflation has left unfamiliar voids at the heart of some of our most trusted institutions, and in a matter of just a few years, it seems that trust and truth have become far more optional than axiomatic, and the ultimate complexity of where we’ve found ourselves is evident in conversations across the country.

We’re playing chess against algorithms that can see thousands of steps ahead of our own cognition, and unless we embrace the gift of agency and are willing to explore both sides of life’s proverbial coins, we’re likely destined to lose our grip on a reality which may already be out of reach. — Tweet This!

We’ve entered a new age in which our brains (i.e. technology) may very well be outpacing our nature, and as spectacular as that notion may be, the end-game may not be one we humans get to be a part of. It seems that now more than ever, we need to look inward and decide what we honestly believe our fate to be. If you view the current state of our society (politics, media, discourse, education, etc.) to simply be working through a few growing pains, then perhaps you see no reason to change, but, if like me, you sense a less favorable wind pushing us towards the rocky shore, then a personal split-test-infused upgrade may be worth your consideration. It’s now, and forever, part of my standard operating system; a mental model running in the background and pushing me towards new experiences and an ever-evolving appreciation for differences.

Sure seems ironic that the split test, a powerful catalyst in advancing the technology that may ultimately destroy us, if deployed on a more human level, could be a tool which ultimately saves and unites us.

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