We’re made increasingly miserable because connect-the-world imperialists are unleashing machine learning on our most vulnerable and base impulses. A constant loop of refinement that prods our psyche for weak spots, and then exploits them with maximal efficiency. All in the service of selling ads for cars, shampoo, or political discord.
~ David Hansson
Sometimes it’s nice to stop worrying about the existential threat of the rise of the machines…
…and to instead worry about the existential threat of people doing stupid things.
When people in the workplace confront shift, rift, zooming, and all of the other challenges that make up business life, there is one thread that runs through all of the choices that they make: Either they’re torchbearers, or they’re not.
~ Seth Godin
Something I talk often about is goal visualization. I’m a firm believer in the idea that “close” and “almost” do not pass muster. When I’m working, and when I’m helping others work, I visualize the goal: We need a door in this wall. It has to be this high, and wide enough for furniture to pass through. And the more specific the goal, the better. The door itself need not be insulated, but it should match the decor of the rooms on either side. It needs an easy to use, single-handle latch/door knob combination. When work begins, I then use the goal as a decision razor: For every choice—every choice, no exceptions—does this option or solution move me towards the goal? Is this a detour that moves me farther from the goal, but then makes it much easier later. [Otherwise known as front-loading work.] Along the way I visualize the state of the world at each step; We’ll knock a hole in the wall on Tuesday—wait, we have a dinner party on Friday… can we be done by Friday?
I’m not only imagining the goal. I’m imagining every single step along the way. What can go wrong? What can go better-than-expected, and what if anything should we do with that gain? And why did we choose this path? …maybe we should re-assess that decision and go this other way, now that we have this new intel having come this far? How important is this goal? …is this a goal to reach at all costs? …can we move the goal now that we have new knowledge? Can we shift some of the work into a next segment of work, shifting our current goal onto an intermediate point along the way to the ultimate goal.
The beautiful and imperishable comes into existence due to the suffering of individual perishable creatures who themselves are not beautiful, and must be reshaped to form a template from which the beautiful is printed (forged, extracted, converted). This is the terrible law of the universe. This is the basic law; it is a fact… Absolute suffering leads to — is the means to — absolute beauty.”
~ Philip K. Dick
For me, Dick’s writing is uniquely situated. I first found it as a part of my plain-vanilla interest in science fiction. It then appeared—both in the sense that I found it next, and in the sense that the movies were created next—in some popular science incarnations in movies. I fell [and remain] deeply in lust with Blade Runner(*). …and afterwards discovered Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This is hinted at in Popova’s short brain pickings post too, but there’s something fascinating to me about how Dick went “’round the bend.”
* By the way, the second movie… words fail me. I love it so much, I feel like I’m cheating on the original.
What I like about that phrase, “I hate the person who invented Mondays,” is that it reveals the absurdity of one of our very human habits. We have a tendency to find some part of our environment to scold — a person or thing — whenever we run into some kind of problem in our lives. Something unpleasant happens unexpectedly, and the emotion of blame arises. We search for a source to our suffering, and fix our dislike on it and align ourselves against it, as if our sheer, bitter ill-will can transmute a part of life we hate into something we like.
~ David Cain
It’s important for me to distinguish between cause and blame. Cause—it seems to me—is something I can work at picking apart. It’s unlikely I’d have a full understanding of cause-and-effect in any random situation, (“why exactly did that guy just spill his beer on me,” is pretty complicated after all,) but picking at the threads of the seemingly unknowable knot-that-is-the-cause… That tends to lead me to a more thoughtful view of the world. And a more thoughtful view invariably leads me to a more optimistic view of the world.
Here’s a tangential thought as an example: Is it “Western Civilization” that is taking over the world? Or is it “Best Civilization” is taking over, and the areas we label “western” have just gotten to the ideas [all, some, or just one in particular under discussion] first? If I ditch, “who’s to blame,” for the specific changes in civilization which I dislike [think: social media] and instead ask, “what is causing that change?”… well, that changes my view of things significantly.
Epistemic status: fiction
~ Scott Alexander
What a delightful read by the fire on a quiet Saturday morning, until it hit me that—
Well, you’ll get no spoilers from me.
So it stands to reason that if you want a clean house (or anything else) you have to a) put in the effort to get it there — completely there — and then b) police it for little broken windows. Things sitting out. Tasks that have been ignored once. Duties that have been ducked once. Promises that have been broken once. Twice is too late; you have to start again.
~ David Cain
The broken window theory is, in fact, very much open to debate. But setting that aside for a moment.
I definitely have a habit of chasing things down to their root cause on the first instance of trouble. I’m not anywhere close to perfect! But my first instinct is to stop what I’m doing and figure out what that thing just happened. I’m an imaginer of processes. I go around trying to find one solution which fixes two things, or better yet, fixes two things by fixing one and eliminating a second.
Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!
~ Anne Amnesia
This is a long read… wait, ok no, this is not a long read. That was just me being pessimistic and assuming people can’t read. Sorry.
This is an excellent read from a point of view very different from my own. I mean that literally: A view from a very different place than I am accustomed. I am just old enough to remember the AIDS epidemic. But I am also white and middle-class and was dutifully sheltered from it all by my pie-slice of society.
Marketing is not about trickery or even insincerity. It’s about spreading ideas that you believe in, sharing ideas you’re passionate about… and doing it with authenticity. Marketing is about treating prospects and customers with respect, and realizing that it’s easier to grow the amount of business you do with happy people than it is to find new strangers to accost.
~ Seth Godin
I am not a marketer. I mean, sure, at some bedrock level one could argue that everyone is a marketer. But just generally, I don’t think of myself as a marketer. A large part of that is because I’ve always perceived marketing as a basically sleazy operation.
But now I see that marketing… actual marketing as opposed to the sewage I am most often exposed to… is really a good thing.