Author: Jeff Hicks

Three Steps to Know Thyself

Inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple at Delphi is the Greek maxim, Gnothi Seauton. In English, that maxim means, ‘Know Thyself.’ It’s an aphorism used numerous times in the dialogues of Socrates by Plato.

I’ve encountered the phrase in other places. Years ago, as I was working my way through a master’s program in International Relations, I encountered the phrase in an academic text examining the intricacies of world governments, nations, and cultures. That maxim, ‘Know Thyself’ was a call to action by the author. He posited that before we can really understand others, we must first know ourselves.

So, what does it mean to know thyself? Sounds simple enough. At first thought, I’m sure most people think, ‘I know myself well–I’ve been living with myself for years!’

But on an existential level, do we really know ourselves? And is it fact that, as an end, it really justifies the means? Is there actual benefit in knowing myself or is it philosophical gas? And to what degree must I know myself before it’s determined that I’m eligible to understand others?

Those are all questions that became the foundation for my looking more closely at the issue. It’s my nature to question everything. Some of my questions, I’m certain, kept me out of Yale. But, I admit I must know the why’s and how’s before I accept most conclusions even on matters that others may find simple.

As I grew and matured, the questions became more complex as my horizons broadened. Wisdom gained from experience will do that. But it was in my formative years when my questions contained more depth, I began to analyze people and cultures. Ever since, it’s been a hobby of mine to try to understand the nature of individuals, groups, and nations.

But in that end, I’m always driven back to the original question, ‘how does one actually come to know himself or herself?’ What is the process? Does it happen quickly or does one have to labor through harrowing steps to reach that final stage of enlightenment?

In a general sense, I think the answer lies with the individual. We all process information differently and we see the world and our individual environments differently. So, it would follow that the process of coming to know oneself would depend on individual learning styles and understanding.

I’ve listed three things you could use to enhance the process. They worked for me and I think they will work for you–moving closer to that final goal encompassed in the phrase, ‘Know Thyself.’

Write Your Memoir

Years ago, I embarked on a project of story writing. The stories I wrote were true stories of my life written to my kids. I wanted them to know what life was like growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I wanted them to catch a glimpse of life growing up in Idaho. I had many mysterious and adventurous tales rattling around in my mind that needed life. So, I started the project, one story at a time. Soon, I had a large number of tales, so I set about connecting them in a logical, time-oriented format.

I found the process delightful as I discovered common themes throughout the story. My story project soon took shape as a mystery novel, an adventure novel, and a love story combined into one. And there were even elements of a ‘How-to’ story appearing here and there to add flavor and intrigue. All those genres were represented in a book that, as I wrote the final paragraph, had become a 130,000-word anthology of the first 20 years of my life.

I encourage you to do the same–write your story! Mention every important detail that molded you into what you are today. Discuss relationships, adventures, failures, quirky behaviors, goals, and anything that delves into your inner self. One way to do this is to start like I did. Write some stories. And then connect those stories into chapters. Transition them using simple techniques of ‘time and place’ descriptions. Get creative!

I’ve had some folks say, ‘I have a hard time remembering the details of my life. There’s no way I could write a memoir. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone what I did last year or twenty years ago!’

Memory is an interesting thing and sometimes, it is hard to recall the minutia of our lives. But often those are the very details that are most interesting. Here’s a method you might try in order to recall things more clearly. It’s a method I developed and used for my own memoir. It’s a simple game I call, ‘General-to-Specific.’ Here’s how it works.

Get a pen and paper and find a comfortable place to sit where it’s quiet and peaceful. After you get comfortable, close your eyes and mentally transport your mind back in time to a place and time you want to recall. In your mind, find the largest object in that time and place that had meaning to you. It might be a house you lived in, a car you drove, your favorite building, store, business, or amusement park.

After you mentally picture that large object in your mind, imagine yourself standing or sitting in or near that object. For example, if you chose a house you lived in, imagine yourself standing on the porch of that house. Then mentally look around and try to recall every detail that touched or related to that object. It might be people, trees, roads, cars, or other buildings. Then recall every single thing you experienced with that object in relation to the other things around it.

You might remember people’s faces, names, experiences you had, or things you witnessed. As soon as your memory files open-up, start writing down the things you recall. I found it easier to write single words or short phrases that described those memories. You just want to be able to jog your memory when you come back to those notes later.

The final step in the process is to write those memories into coherent strings of thought and form them into stories. Using this process, you might find the details of your life were more interesting than you thought. As you read and ponder on your finished memoir, you will notice general themes that define the real you.

Take a Personality Test

We’ve all seen numerous tests on social media that identify personality traits. Typically, those tests ask a barrage of questions, and based on the answers you give to those questions, a profile is identified describing your personality.

My favorite test is found using the URL www.16personalities.com. There, you will find a secured website where you can take a short test made up of general questions regarding psychological preferences of the world around you and how you make decisions.

The test and results are based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) developed primarily by Kathrine Cook Briggs and her daughter. MBTI is established from the conceptual theory proposed by Carl Jung who speculated there are four principle psychological functions through which human beings experience the world. They are ‘sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking.’ Typically, one of the four functions is dominant for most people most of the time.

Of course, no test can completely measure or define a person’s personality with all its depth and intricacies. But it’s a reliable guide.

After you discover your personality profile, peruse the related literature describing your profile. Doing that, you may identify interesting tidbits of new understanding about your thoughts, feelings, and actions related to your personality.

Construct Your Guiding Principles Statement

The last step in this exercise of coming to ‘know thyself’ is to formulate your own guiding principles statement. The benefits from this simple activity are huge. A personal guiding principles statement is a concise, descriptive statement containing your core values defining your purpose and existence.

Some basic questions you might ask yourself when you construct your guiding principles statement are: How do I view myself in relation to others? What key words would I use to describe my business dealings? Do I believe in a being or power higher than myself? How do I view the ethics of work, recreation, finances, economy, and patriotism?

As you ponder those questions, view yourself as you are now and then how you wish to become. Define yourself. Once you have done that, write a single sentence containing all the descriptive words that define who you are. And then memorize that statement.

Your guiding principles statement is important because it helps remind you in explicit terms the values most important to you. Those core values guide your life’s decisions and broadly determine who you are and what you will become.

Coming to ‘know thyself’ is a process of discovery. It can’t be done overnight. It takes time. It may take days or weeks of self-reflection and introspection using the three steps listed in this essay.

Once you truly come to ‘know thyself’ you can, according to the Greek philosophers, more productively address the greater good in your community by understanding others.

DEEPFAKES: The Counterfeit Media Craze

We have all witnessed manipulation, blackmail, and extortion. Why? Well, because we live on planet earth. That’s what humans do to each other. We have also seen people go to great lengths to embarrass or defame others. All these mean-spirited methods were conceived by evil, conspiring, and I might add – often highly intelligent human beings. Or maybe some jilted lover just wanted to get even. The latest ruse aimed at people is a relatively new technology called deepfakes or AI generated videos. Those are videos that depict real people doing and saying whatever the creator of the video chooses. Yes, you read it correctly. You can now make a video of another person saying and doing anything you want – in their own voice and explicit likeness!

A few years ago, I began following the news reports as they flooded the media outlets regarding this new technology. It was intriguing to me; I imagined all the possibilities of being able to exactly replicate the body movements and voices of virtually any person in existence to say and do anything. The possibilities seemed endless in my creative mind. But in my mind I also saw the other, horrible side of this technology. What if someone decided to create a deepfake of an enemy, an ex-spouse, revered religious leader, or politician; the star in a video depicting an embarrassing or illegal act?

‘Deepfake’ is a term coined in 2017 describing videos made by superimposing or combining existing images and videos onto source images and videos using machine learning technology. You might initially think, “Well, like other counterfeit media I’ve seen, I will be able to pick out the fake stuff without any problem.” Well, that may not be as easy at you think. According to a May/June 2019 Foreign Affairs article, “Intelligence agencies will face the Herculean task of exposing deepfakes. The technology, known as generative adversarial networks, pits two computer algorithms against each other, one generating images while the other attempts to spot fakes.” Because the algorithms learn by competing with each other, any deepfake detectors are unlikely to work for long before being outsmarted. In other words, it could be virtually impossible to detect a deepfake, even using available technology.

Recently, a South Korean news anchor began her show by going through the day’s headlines. It was the ‘normal’ list of stories for the end of the year – pandemic and COVID-19 updates. However, this particular show was far from normal. The news anchor had been replaced by a ‘deepfake’ version of herself – a computer generated copy that perfectly reflected her voice, gestures, and facial expressions. To viewers, what they saw was an exact AI version of the news anchor. At first glance, it was impossible to tell the real person from the fake.

Viewers had been informed before the show began that what they would see was not the ‘real’ version of their favorite news anchor. Some of their responses included, “I am worried how people will make a living in the future if AI replaces real people!” Another person remarked, “Is there a need for actual newscasters? AI programs might articulate words better than humans.”  Regardless of what people think about deepfake technology, the technology is here, and the ramifications are as open and broad as the imaginations of the creators of the videos.

Some watchdog groups are calling for technology companies or individuals who develop deepfake or AI-generated video apps to bear the responsibility of developing verification techniques and including them into the software. These additions to the software would include markers that alert a user that the media is synthetic and not real. Communications of the ACM, an online technology journal recently published an article, “What to do about Deepfakes.” The article stated, “Technical experts should develop and evaluate verification strategies, methods, and interfaces. The enormous potential of deepfakes to deceive viewers, harm subjects, and challenge the integrity of social institutions such as news reporting, elections, business, foreign affairs, and education, makes verification strategies an area of great importance.”

Unfortunately, in many democratic nations with free markets and freedom of speech and press rights, controlling deepfake technology will eventually fall on respective legislative bodies to pass laws regulating the creation and usage of such media. But don’t look for that to begin until the damage is well in progress and thousands of people’s reputations and dignity have been slammed and defamation lawsuits have flooded the court systems. And don’t look for developers to regulate themselves, as Communications of the ACM strongly suggests they should.  

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of deepfake technology, there are a few things you can do. Keep in mind, however, that if you have already participated in social media by sharing pictures, friend lists, and personal information, you are already at risk. Lock down your friend lists and make them invisible to others. Be very selective with whom you share pictures and personal information. Set up all security features on every social media platform you use. And report any suspicious activities or weird behaviors. Good luck; you’ll need it.

You want to know what deepfake technology looks like? Check out this video; it’s a deepfake.

  

Shure SM7B Microphone a Sure Thing

A lot of people ask me what kind of microphone I prefer. The short answer is always, “Well, it depends on what I’m recording.” And that’s a good answer, because it’s simple and true. But the fact is, I do have a preference.

Shure SM7B

When I was getting started in broadcasting, which included setting up my own recording studio for podcasts, I didn’t have a lot of money. But I knew I needed to maximize my return when it came to the mic I chose. So, I did some research and landed on the Shure SM7B.

That microphone works well for me and is superb for what I want to accomplish with its use. And my voice quality is enhanced with the SM7B. It’s versatile and covers a wide frequency range that’s perfect for podcasting and certain industrial gigs. Those who choose the SM7B should include a Cloudlifter in the string. The Cloudlifter provides up to +25dB of gain that works in partnernship with your preamp in boosting your mics’ signal for clean, transparent recordings. It actually works like a charm.

Cloudlifter

I know voice actors and broadcasters who literally never leave home without their SM7B. Whether they’re on the road with their own recording equipment or working out of a corporate studio, they’ve got their SM7B tucked into their gig bag ready to go.

I told a guy one time that I could pound nails with my SM7B. He gave me that look, knowing I was exaggerating. But the mic really is tough and durable. I like that. I’m always on the move; I take care of my stuff like it’s made of porcelain, but I really do like the fact my preferred microphone matches my style.

If you’re like me and need the best microphone for the money, look up Shure and see what they can do for you.