Tiny Ripples In The Ocean Of Algorithms
August 26, 2023
Ripples in swimming pool


A few weeks ago I wrote a social media post about ripples vs splashes. The inspiration for the post came from a familiar sight that I take for granted. It led to a question that I have often grappled with – how much effort does it take to change something?

This is what I wrote in the post

There’s an elderly gentleman in my condo who spends two hours in the swimming pool – one in the morning and one in the evening. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Regardless of rain or shine, whether there are other people in the pool or not, he continues to swim, slowly, deliberately, sincerely. When I see him single-mindedly doing his laps in the pool, I am impressed. 

Not at his speed (which is extremely slow) or his technique (which is far from perfect). But by his devotion to his practise.

He probably swims for exercise. It gets him out of his home and into fresh air and cool water. It helps him move his limbs and keep his body agile and alert. 

The most impressive thing is the ripples he creates in the pool.

On days when there is no one else, I see concentric rings of water around him as he goes about his laps from one end to the other. He doesn’t move faster or slower for any reason, he doesn’t compete with others or get distracted. He is firm in his resolve to do what he does every day.

It sounds boring, right? To do the same thing over and over? 

But this kind of devoted practice is precisely what we need to keep going – on days when things are difficult and at times when there are obstacles and at moments when you wonder if anything you do matters to anyone.

I’m lucky because I get to see this gentleman every day and the ripples in the pool remind me that as long as you do your part, there will be impact. The ripples may be small and seem inconsequential, but it makes a big difference to the one who is watching – in this case me.

There is a life lesson embedded in everyday life. If only we observe it closely.

This is what I did after I wrote the post

Ever since I wrote my book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After, I have been reading posts, watching video tutorials, and consuming information about how to get the word about my book out to readers. The goal was not so much to make profit (although I still haven’t recovered my financial investment in publishing my book), but to make sure it reaches the people who may benefit from my story.

There were things I was unwilling to do – sign up for advertisements, pay for reviews or hand out books for free. I wanted to develop an audience organically, to develop a supportive community of people inclined to introspection, self-improvement and paying it forward. Most of the strategies I came across involved creating a big splash at the time of a book launch to generate momentum for sales. These recommendations made me uncomfortable.

It didn’t take me  long to realise that it was easier to enroll into ‘get famous quick’ schemes that promised viral success than to keep plugging away at what I believed was the right way to generate interest in my writing. But this path was slow and uncertain. There were no easy to measure metrics for whether I was on the right track or shooting in the wind. But I kept at it. Like the gentleman in the pool. I did something every day.

I wrote articles about life, including my family life, work life and of course, the writing life. I posted small snippets of my work on social media but  more importantly, I shared my encounters with people, many of which were serendipitous and life-affirming. I received messages from readers, from listeners to my podcast and others who were not in my immediate sphere of influence. And that was enough to reassure me that this is exactly the kind of interaction I was looking for.

This is what happened afterwards

One day I decided that all the advice I had sought from people who had succeeded as authors (although offered in good faith) was not necessarily working for me. My path had to be custom-crafted for me. It took time and effort, trial and error but it was my path. And when it felt right, I knew it. There was a quiet confidence that underlined my activities and added power to my words. I felt energised and enthusiastic.

As luck would have it, I met a fellow avid reader (who has not read my book) who spoke about starting an in-person book club in Singapore. We decided to do it even though we knew that interest in face-to-face meetings would be lukewarm at best, given the general post-pandemic reluctance to meet in real life.

But we did it anyway. Last week was the first gathering of Browser’s Meet which turned out to be good fun with eight participants, men and women, who talked about books they are currently reading or have enjoyed in the past. 

One of our goals was for readers to discover new genres, authors, books which they might otherwise not encounter given the excessive dependence on and customization of our online feeds which are slaves to algorithms. And we were pleasantly surprised to see that there are small ways in which we can sidestep if not completely overcome the tyranny of the algorithms in our life. All we need to do is stay committed to the cause, keep trying and focus on the ripples.

Ripples take more effort but their effect spreads out in all directions and lasts longer than a giant splash that soaks but dries up equally fast.

What do you think works better – ripples or splashes?


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