Enhancing relationships

HomeNet could be (and has been) interpreted as an indictment of the internet, or screens, or modern communications technology in general. In truth, it illustrates a much simpler truth about love and happiness: Technology that crowds out our real-life interaction with others will lower our well-being and thus must be managed with great care in our lives. In order to reap their full benefits, we should use digital tools in ways that enhance our relationships.

~ Arthur C. Brooks from, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/09/technology-happiness-communication-relationships/671586/

I’m reminded of some comments by Rafe Kelley.

If junk food is flavor divorced from nutrition, then pornography is sexuality divorced from the context of relationships. Video games are thrill divorced from physicality. And so you take these boys who have this inherent aggression and you let them play Fortnite, and they can play all day without any self-regulation from having the physical demands of actual rough and tumble play. The problem is that it so easily out-competes the actual thing that we need, which is the real physical play.

~ Rafe Kelley from a video short from an Instagram post, so I’ll just link you to his Evolve. Move. Play. project.

Brooks and Kelley are talking about different technologies, but I think they’re both pointing toward the “divorce” being the actual issue. The arrival in the living room (mentioned by Brooks) divorced [I’ll say] the mental stimulation from the other people in the house.


Unlearning how to pose

The old and the very young have always held sway for me because of bald and unerring candor, and the lack of affectation. They had either stopped posing or had not yet learned to pose.

~ Mylinh Shattan from, https://treehouseletter.com/2022/09/06/98853/

Intentional or not, I’m awarding style points for the innuendo which Shattan’s use of the word bald brings to that first sentence. Beyond that this piece is the epitome of fusing a personal story with an overview of a book. I’ve not done that often—if at all, sorry, I’m too lazy even to search—in short-form as she has.

But in classic “this stuff is me doing my personal reflection with the garage door up” style, it occurs to me that I do do it a lot in micro-form. Basically every one of these my missives combines something I found lying about, a bit of commentary about it, and then my personal thoughts or stories. Am I draw to other writing which is of similar form? Am I unintentionally writing within some genre whose name I know not? Am I crazy? Am I insane? (Am I the victim of evil doers out to destroy me? Perhaps. I don’t know what it is— a deep-fried feeling I guess.)


Mwah wah wa wah wah

Friends’ mouths vanished. I roamed shops and streets suddenly filled with featureless people, their speech now as indecipherable as that of Charlie Brown’s invisible schoolteacher: wah wah wah wah wah. Whenever I saw the masks and thought of all they had erased, I felt dismay.

~ Rachel Kolb from, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/09/covid-deaf-mask-lipreading-sign-language/671398/

I read lips quite well thanks to lifelong hearing impairment. When I was intensely working to learn and use French, it took me a while to realize that my subconscious lip reading was causing me trouble. Somehow, someone speaking French caused this subconscious stress from some part of my visual processing brain. I really don’t have words to describe it. I did not realize any of this, until I noticed I had developed a habit of not looking at people when they spoke French.

Obviously, masking affected people who rely to any extent on reading lips. But during our Era of the Masks I’ve been wondering how much the loss of visual information effects everyone. Everyone reads lips. And suddenly you’ve lost that visual comprehension component. Even if it’s subconscious, that’s going to effect us.


Forward is the best option

Because forward is the best option. Let’s go with one that makes the most sense–and if you don’t have a better plan, you should be responsible enough to back the one that’s most likely to work, even, especially, if you don’t like it.

~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2023/02/the-obligation-of-none-of-the-above/

For me, this “rhythms” with things like “having skin in the game” and with Theodore Roosevelt’s famous idea of “the man in the arena“. But I like Godin’s turn of phrasing better.

Skin-in-the-game and man-in-the-arena feel focused on requiring one to earn the right to participate in guiding the direction of things (a project, a company, a nation, the human race.) While Godin’s—in my opinion—suggests that the value of your contribution should be judged by how it moves things forward (including contributing to the discussion of what does “forward” mean.)



Any analysis of Haiti must state two facts. First, Haiti is the only country where slavery was defeated by a slave revolution. Second, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Now that I’ve stated these facts, I’d like to explore deeper. What do we know about Haiti’s poverty? How does this relate to its history? And why does it compare so unfavourably with the Dominican Republic?

~ Craig Palsson from, https://www.thefitzwilliam.com/p/hispaniolas-great-divergence

In recent years I’ve been trying to pay attention to when I’m geographical ignorant. (Tip: Check out Atlas Obscura.) Hispaniola has always interested me and I can recall—probably in junior high?—thinking, “wait wat? _Islands_ can be divided into multiple countries? How does that happen?” (Which of course makes no sense. People love to fight over things and draw borders.) Anyway. I’ve long known that Haiti and the Dominican Republic were neighbors, but I never took the time to dig into any history. The other day I spun off following a train of thought about the Vente de la Louisiane and it turns out that that story has it’s beginnings in Haiti.


It goes both ways

Still, I try to lean into the benefits of travel. And I, personally, also feel that I’m offering something important while traveling: representation. Black people do travel (and ski and horseback ride and swim and hike)! Some people’s only impressions of Black Americans come from TV shows and media, which are rife with stereotypes. The beauty is, the broadening of horizons go both ways when people travel and cultures collide.

~ Christine Pride from, https://cupofjo.com/2022/07/06/traveling-while-black/

I’ve come to say that I travel so that when I return I can see my home in a new way. I travel to broaden my horizons. I definitely do not travel hoping to broaden other’s horizons. After all, travelers who come bearing gifts rightly raise suspicion.


You don’t say

I first discovered sarcasm as a freshman in college, which I realize makes me a bit of a late bloomer as far as teenagers go. There were certain classmates who seemed to always come across as clever and funny no matter the topic. Over time I noticed there was a simple formula to their contributions and it was pretty easy to mimic.

~ Andrew Bosworth from, https://liveboz.substack.com/p/on-sarcasm

One could say (anyone who knows me surely would) that I can be a tad sarcastic. I used to be sarcastic, not just to a fault, but well into the realm of, s’rsly bro’, stahp. Of course I got various amounts of pushback over many years against my being so sarcastic. I received a ton of positive reinforcement in the form of attention, too. Still, no one ever made the point clearly: The sarcasm I was deploying didn’t add anything.

Reading Bosworth’s short piece made wonder: The point he makes is so clear, and yet I never heard it put as such. So how did I move away from being entirely sarcastic (“snarky” to put a fine point on it)? Well, I didn’t move away from it. Over time, with increasing regularity I moved towards engaging creatively with others; Writing, building things with technology, moving in parkour spaces, etc. The more creative I was, the more fun I had while experiencing the virtuous cycle of positive reinforcement from others. I still delight in sarcasm’s occasional use. But now I find [hope? *grins nervously*] that when I use sarcasm it brings some insight.


Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush—head of military research during WW2, author of “As We May Think” and “Science, the Endless Frontier”—wrote a memoir late in life, Pieces of the Action. It was out of print and hard to obtain for a long time, but Stripe Press has brought it back in a new edition with a foreword from Ben Reinhardt. […] Here are some of my favorite quotes from the original edition:

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/vannevar-bush-memoir-highlights

There’s a sort of incredulous-eyes, slight shaking of the head, expression that I make when I want to emphasize just how amazing I find it to be when I gape into the maw of All Human Knowledge. Sometimes I find something like this which is so blindingly important to so much of the society and culture upon which I find myself standing, that I’m drawn up short. I feel like I’ve heard the name “Vannevar Bush” but I couldn’t have told you a thing about that person. Then I look at the hundreds of unread books, and the hundreds of digital, read-later things I’ve collected, and I smile, because I think I get it.

I smile when I manage to remember that there’s no goal. The point isn’t to accomplish anything in particular (fix something big in the world, follow every thread of interest, learn the question whose answer is 42.) The point isn’t even to enjoy the ride. The point is, how you answer the question life asks you.



Longing for the past is generally referred to as nostalgia – a gentle, tender feeling that might make these stories seem like nothing more than harmless sentimentality. But it is crucial to distinguish between wistful memories of grandma’s kitchen and belief in a prior state of cultural perfection.

~ Alan Jay Levinovitz from, https://aeon.co/essays/nostalgia-exerts-a-strong-allure-and-extracts-a-steep-price

You may or may not like that particular essay; There are 2,000 others to choose from over on Aeon. I was poking around, found this one, and pinned it for later reading. Figuring out how to pin things for later reading is a huge force multiplier. When I want to read good stuff, I never spend time looking for good stuff. I just go to the pile of good stuff—twitch at the 700+ items, veer back over into “that’s an embarrassment of riches, long live the open Internet—and start reading. Hmmm… nostalgia?

I remember, back in The Day, when I used to really enjoy reading— wait, no. That’s today, and without the 20-minute car ride to the Hall of Books.


Step 2

People – especially really smart people – have a tendency to attempt solving big problems (like earning a profit) without first solving more basic ones (like how you’ll get there). This is why the “Step 1, Step 3” joke resonates. And it’s why understanding the hierarchy of earning profit is so important.

~ Morgan Housel from, https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/the-hierarchy-of-earning-profit/

Oh, crikey! That’d be me. I too–frequently get frustrated when my “awesome idea” isn’t received the way I’d like it to be. I think it’s exactly the same step–two problem that Housel points out. I’m jumping over step 2. But in cases where I try to figure out step 2… *crickets* It occurs to me that there’s another way to address the issue: Stop chasing ideas that solve a problem that I have, and instead try to chase an idea that solves a problem someone else has.


Kino Lorber

Go to this YouTube channel: Kino Lorber, click Playlists and then view the Free Documentaries (80 feature-length films) or the Free Movies on Demand playlist (145 films.) Kino Lorber is an international film distribution company; I thought it was a person when I first heard mention of this.

Now try this experiment: Pick a documentary (try Filmworker if you know who Stanley Kubrick is, M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity if you have eyes, or Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil if painting is more your thing.) Watch the movie. Then reflect on the experience of watching a feature–length documentary, versus say, modern “serial” shows. I’ve relearned just how bad modern entertainment can be, when I reminded myself just how good film can be. (Surprise bonus-round: Watch The Atomic Café and be gobsmacked, horrified, and… some-other-feeling-I-can’t-quite-find-the-right-word-for in repeated cycles.)



What follows is an attempt to consider some of the aspects and implications of techno-optimism. It is an attitude that has become somewhat taken for granted, which is precisely why it is important to consider what it is and how it functions.

~ “Z.M.L” from, https://librarianshipwreck.wordpress.com/2021/06/10/theses-on-techno-optimism/

This is an interesting thesis. I generally don’t like creating new labels for things. But “techno-optimism” just weaseled into my vocabulary.


Basic values

There are some consistencies in what we all value. For example, most of us tend to prioritize caring for others more highly than dominating and controlling others—the latter two “are among the least important values to most people in most societies.”

~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/there-are-just-10-basic-values/

I really enjoy sipping a cup of tea and taking a stroll through the gardens of others’ minds. Seeing the topiaries they’ve created never ceases to amaze me. Integration of knowledge is a hard problem (the hardest of all as a mere mortal?) Being able to see how someone has organized their thinking helps me examine how I’ve organized my thinking. Certainly, there are gardens I don’t bother visiting. But generally, being open and curious has led me to countless conversations of both the actual kind and the kind to which Niccolò Machiavelli refers.


An addition to your knowledge

If you come across any special trait of meanness or stupidity […] you must be careful not to let it annoy or distress you, but to look upon it merely as an addition to your knowledge—a new fact to be considered in studying the character of humanity. Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer


On empathy

This was a particularly interesting (and difficult) post to research and write. There is a wealth of literature about empathy, and I found a lot of it surprising. I feel kind of like the kid who opened up the back of dad’s watch to see how it works and now is sitting amidst a cubic yard of springs and gears wondering how to put it all back together.

~ David Gross from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/SMziBSCT9fiz5yG3L/notes-on-empathy


At 19,000 words and 77 minutes of reading, this is a small book. If you click through, you’ll quickly discover that it is also one of 50–or–so, similarly–sized “posts” by Gross on lesswrong.com. Fortunately, he didn’t let his “wondering how to put it all back together” stop him from taking it all apart. Entirely apart, dissected from every direction, and including diagrams.

Even if this topic, author, and specific linked-article aren’t of interest, I encourage you to click over to Lesswrong. It is a magnificent web site, beautifully simple to behold, and easy to read for hours on end. It is one of the very few websites on the Internet that I don’t instinctively glip to my browser’s show-reader-view. Lesswrong is jammed full of useful features for a reader. Lesswrong is quite literally what Wikipedia should be in terms of user experience and appearance.


It matters that I am my work

[The common refrain is t]hat what you do for work doesn’t define you. That the health, hobbies, and relationships you cultivate outside the office are more important. That you’re a human being, and not a human doing, damnit.

It’s the kind of thing that sounds great in the abstract. Yet, no matter how often we rehearse it cognitively and rhetorically, it never entirely resonates viscerally.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/you-are-kind-of-your-job/

I define “work” as: The things I do so that I can trade the results with others. We can all trade in many ways, but a common way to trade is to use money as a way of storing and exchanging value. I don’t think I’m veering off into economics. That definition is critical. There are an enormous number of things which I do that, by that definition are not what I’d consider “work.” How much work one does in terms of hours-spent is going to vary tremendously (and it’s going to vary for countless reasons). There are 168 hours in a 7-day week. If one works 50 hours a week, that’s fully 30% of your total time. Conversely, if one works 5 hours, it’s 3%.

Let’s take it as true that what one does for work matters. That it matters in a real way, which affects your physical and mental health. I do believe that one is able to outgrow this need for meaningful work; I do think one can grow from our inherent nature of a being in need of meaningful doing, to become simply a human being as Mckay (and many others through history) has pointed out.

As one works less, doesn’t it become increasingly important that each moment of work be good work? A couple good hours a week used to make those 50-hours-a-week good. Where’s the “good work” balance for 5-hours-a-week? This inherent need to do work that matters gets stronger as one’s trading-with-others needs diminish. This seems to me, to suggest that the necessity of shifting to the “human simply being” becomes more urgent.


Harmony and understanding

People are wise beings; they possess the ability to live according to the dictates of their intellect, and sooner or later, they will evolve from a state of violence to a state of complete harmony and understanding. And every act of violence makes this time more distant from today.

~ Leo Tolstoy