First, I note today with some humor that the digital scratch pad I use to rough-write these posts, and which I intended to save with the filename, “blog” is actually saved with the much more appropriate name, “bog” instead. This is the very essence of what Bob Ross called “happy accidents”.
Here’s an interesting essayrant on The Future of Interactive Design. by a former Apple UI guy named Bret Victor. The video he’s discussing is no longer available on his page, but I think its this one. I remember seeing it and thinking some of the same things, albeit way less cogently. But that’s not why I brought it up.
I brought it up because right near the top of the piece, he says the following thing (italics his):
“This matters, because visions matter. Visions give people a direction and inspire people to act, and a group of inspired people is the most powerful force in the world. If you’re a young person setting off to realize a vision, or an old person setting off to fund one, I really want it to be something worthwhile. Something that genuinely improves how we interact.”
That’s a bit of a thing, isnt it? It’s hard to see through the overwhelming miasma of doom that is pumped daily into our eyeballs through the attention harvesters. And that stream of negative reenforcement will eventually break down hopefull visions until all we are left with is the grindstone of despair. If we’re all just well and truly fucked, then what’s the point?
Don’t mistake my criticism of constant pessimism as an abdication of clarity. I am well aware of the fact that we are indeed well and truly fucked right now. But in order to extricate ourselves from the death-spiral it’s going to take some imagination, and if everyone succumbs to nihilism, then imagining a better world is going to be unlikely, and creating one even less so.
At the very least, its useful (not to mention spiritually re-envigorating) to include positive news in your intake. It will give you a much broader picture of the actual state of things. There are in fact people who are already working to realize hopeful visions of the future, and they are using optimism to fuel those ideas.
The goal of Son, and increasingly most large financiers in private equity and venture capital, is to find big markets and then dump capital into one player in such a market who can underprice until he becomes the dominant remaining actor. In this manner, financiers can help kill all competition, with the idea of profiting later on via the surviving monopoly.
Grasham’s Law, by the way, states that “bad money drives out good”.
Its one thing to argue the pros and cons of capitalism, but its another thing entirely to say that what passes for capitalism today isn’t a horrendous, shambling, ghoul of a thing, crushing everything in it’s path and trailing an expanding wake of despair while a tiny group of (largely white) dudes harass it forward with diamond cattle prods, hosing each other down with champagne, and high-fiving all the way.
You would think we’d learned some lessons after the sub-prime mortgage meltdown., but clearly we have not. The thing we’re calling capitalism today is really something more like financialism. It’s just money manipulating more money without even a nod to the quaint concept of goods and services.
There were two noteable events last week that have something to say about the span of history that we inhabit.
The first, a march to protest inaction in the face of climate change, demonstrated that a lot of people all over the world are ready for someone to step up and do somthing before the apocalypse renders the point moot. The second, a small crowd outside of Area 51, proved that there are people willing to carry an internet joke all the way to its ridiculous conclusion.
These two overlapping events are somehow supremely au courant. They are freighted with importance but I can’t put my finger on exactly how and why outside of a sort of system-level knowledge that their juxtaposition means something. And I don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative meaning either.
On the one hand, both of these events are group actions created and organized using free online tools that are available to anyone with internet access. On the other hand both of these gatherings hint at something that looks very much like the fraying of civilization. I know, that’s hyperbolae. And yes this is a very incomplete thought, but something about those two things, their concurrence, their similarities, and their obvious disparities feels like a moment. The desperate attempt address a possible species-level threat juxtaposed with a joyfully nihilistic pursuit of nonsense, all crowd-sourced, all given media attention. It’s like a tableaux that simultaneously depicts everything good and bad about what the internet has brought us.
I spend time a fair bit of time tuning my feeds. It’s a regular ritual with an irregular schedule. The trigger is when I notice that I’m willfully skipping stuff in the feed more than a couple of times. That’s usually the catalyst that sets me about burning the dead wood, and replacing it with new growth. It’s an inexact science but it means that I am constantly tuning my feeds to make sure they are useful to me. If something is not providing me with pleasure or practical use then I don’t need to make time for it.
Its easy to fall into a regular media habit, and even easier to find yourself floating in a filter bubble. If you let the feeds do the work they will maximize for the extraction, and monetization of your attention. You may get lucky and get something out of the transaction, but its just as likely that you won’t, and entirely possible that what you do get out of it will be a net negative to your overall intellectual, spiritual, and physical health. So its important to me that I maintain control of the inputs. I tune them to maximize for usefulness and net positive effect on my life. You should too. The feeds are built to harvest your attention, and your biology is wired to prioritize fear, and anger and give them that same attention. Left alone, your media inputs will scare you, piss you off, and tell you only what you want to hear. And that’s a recipe for ignorance.
So tune your feeds. Make them work for you because you’re already working for them.
A bit of 50/50 today. And I think I’ll lead with the darkness so we can end in the light.
20 Minutes into the Future is a newsletter billed as “A critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today and what actions we can take for a better tomorrow.” If you’re ok with blithely ignoring the disturbing effects spreading out in the wake of of big technology’s inexorable path then this is probably not your cup of tea. The short burst is that they are impacting real people in the real world in ways that leap right from the pages of every dystopian science fiction novel written in the last hundred years. This week’s dispatch contained a couple noteable quotes:
The first is Grey’s Law which states that “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”
The second is from Aldous Huxley (of course):
“In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or the propaganda might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies — the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
Hard to believe that guy never experienced a twitter feed.
In any case, moving on to the light.
I added Sean Carrol’s excellent Mindscape Podcast to my list. Its a long, informative, deep-dive-format and so far it’s been worth the time. The most recent episode features Ramez Naam and presents an intelligent, and optimistic vision of the renewable energy future. I suspect the profit motives for doom-saying outweigh those for positivity, so it’s always suprising when someone puts an optimistic spin on anything these days. The podcast is great, and this episode in particular is useful in that it details a lot of positive things that get overlooked by the anxiety-driven attention machine. There is encouraging data here, and reasons to be optimistic about the future, and I am increasingly drawn to this approach. I believe that intention influencees action, and that intention springs from belief in a certain outcome. If you spend all day swimming in an ocean of apocalyptic prophesy you’re certainly not going to bother with a positive outlook, and lacking that you’ll be incapable of movement towards a positive future. And that stasis coincidentally benefits the business that’s feeding you the dark warnings 24/7/365. Maybe I’m just a sucker for contrarians in general, but I am actively seeking out voices that seek solutions to the problems we all face and spending less time with those that just wring their hands and wail while collecting money like paid mourners at a funeral.