That’s a problem

How much energy do we need? Just to give everyone in the world the per-capita energy consumption of Europe (which is only half that of the US), we would need to more than triple world energy production

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/devanney-on-the-nuclear-flop

The nature of the problem: Insufficient total, global energy.

How insufficient? Even if the United States magically cut its energy use in half, and then magically distributed that saved energy to some other countries… the world would still be far short of the energy we need to lift everyone up to even the EU’s per-capita energy level. When you factor in continued population growth, the problem—the amount of new energy we need to find—only gets bigger.

Set aside what you know about how, or where, we might get additional energy. The problem currently faced by the human race is not: How do we reduce our per-capita energy consumption? The problem is not: How do we change equal units of energy from old sources to new, or even renewable, sources.

The problem we face is…

How do we INCREASE the available energy for the entire planet by a factor of 4, or possibly even 5?

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Right or wrong

Then the only proper response for me to make is this: You are much mistaken, my friend, if you think that any man worth his salt cares about the risk of death and doesn’t concentrate on this alone: whether what he’s doing is right or wrong, and his behavior a good man’s or a bad one’s.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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Digital minimalism

To be a digital minimalist, in other words, means you accept the idea that new communication technologies have the potential to massively improve your life, but also recognize that realizing this potential is hard work.

~ Cal Newport, from https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2016/12/18/on-digital-minimalism/

That’s the most succinct description I can recall ever seeing.

“Realizing this potential is hard work,” is a sublime understatement. Tracy asked me for a password to something and we ended up in a deep rabbit hole of having to also share the security questions, and it’s tied to my cell phone and actually I don’t know what the password is because I forgot to store it (in my little password management tool) even though my browser had it remembered so I’d been logging in for . . . Complicated.

Obviously in the case of the password, it was worth the effort. But then, next minute, we’re faced with the newest social service, and this software and that software and on and on. Choosing the default of engaging with each thing is an already-lost war.

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Deeply held beliefs

This book is complicated and ambitious. But there’s one thread in particular that I think is worth underscoring. Crawford notes that the real problem with the current distracted state of our culture is not the prevalence of new distracting technologies. These are simply a reaction to a more fundamental reality: “[W]e are agnostic on the question of what is worth paying attention to — that is, what to value.” In the absence of strongly-held answers to this question our attention remains adrift and unclaimed — we cannot, therefore, be surprised that app-peddlers and sticky websites swooped in to aggressively feast on this abundant resource.

~ Cal Newport, from https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2016/07/15/from-descartes-to-pokemon-matthew-crawfords-quest-to-reclaim-our-attention/

Turns out Crawford was interviewed by Brett McKay, another person I’ve often quoted here. I’ve not yet listened but the episode is Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.

Originally I thought “social media” itself was the problem. Eventually it became clear to me that social media is the symptom. People want to be fed saccharine lives through their phones because they’ve never been taught that they need to consciously make decisions about what’s important to them.

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Epidemiology and economics

It is increasingly clear that neither of these assumptions is correct. Despite the claims of epidemiologists, our best efforts have never been able to reduce the number of newly reported COVID-19 cases for the world as a whole for any significant period of time. In fact, the latest week seems to be the highest week so far.

~ Gail Tverberg from, https://ourfiniteworld.com/2020/09/23/reaching-the-end-of-early-stimulus-whats-ahead/

It’s not meant as a doom-and-gloom quote. The article goes on to talk about how our economies really work and what’s really going on.

I’ve a tag for Tverberg for a reason. You should read everything she’s ever written—which would be hard because you’d have to also wade through the amazing, museum-piece that is The Oil Drum. I use that site as a litmus test for anyone who ever mentions “energy”—”Have you heard of The Oil Drum site?” If they have, then I’m really listening.

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Barely noticeable

The authors note that a core resource of the digital economy is the data produced by users of services like Facebook and Google, which can then be used to train machine learning algorithms to do valuable things like precisely targeting advertisements or more accurately processing natural language. The current market treats data as capital: the “natural exhaust from consumption to be collected by firms” for use in training their AI-driven golden gooses. Lanier and company suggest an alternative: data as labor. Put simply, if a major platform monopoly wants your data to help build a multi-billion dollar empire, they must pay you for it. Offering a free service in return is not enough.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2018/01/17/on-seriously-rethinking-the-digital-economy/

Well, that would change everything.

Imagine I changed the sidewalk in front of my house to have plates that moved slightly as one walks across it. I’ve rigged the plates to absorb some of the motion created during walking to generate electricity to offset my electric bill. Let’s assume further that the movement of the plates is barely noticeable. Perhaps something seems a bit “off” when you walk past my house, but nothing bad happens to you; you don’t fall and you don’t get tired, but you do work just a little harder when walking past my house.

What happens when we scale up that “harmless” little modification to include everyone, walking everywhere?

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The great ability

Depending on how willing a person is to take this experiment seriously, they will at some point discover why human beings have made such a big deal of the Great Ability. To the degree you can meet experience exactly as it is, without resentment, it ceases to cause you suffering and drive your behavior.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/09/the-inner-superpower-that-makes-us-human/

Unless you live under a rock—or “lived” under a rock since you’re not now under a rock; Welcome to the Internet! :)

Unless you live under a rock you’ve heard about “mindfulness practice” and “meditation” and probably “Metta” and maybe “one-point” and “zen” for sure. Cain hits it right out of the part, without even swinging, just by setting it out clearly. Every single time I realize I’m not currently exercising the great ability, I immediately pull myself back to it.

Now if only I could realize it more frequently.

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As SLow aS Possible

St Burchardi church, in the eastern German city of Halberstadt, has played host to the performance since 5 September 02001 (the late composer’s 89th birthday), when it kicked off with 17 months of silence. Cage originally wrote ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) in 01985. Its maiden performance by organist Gerd Zacher lasted 29 minutes, but Cage didn’t specify a maximum, so in accordance with the piece’s title, musical scholars and scholarly musicians since decided to stage a multi-century version, approximating the lifespan of an organ.

~ Stuart Candy from, blog.longnow.org/02008/10/02/as-slow-as-possible/

Ok, but exactly how slow are they playing it? …the halfway mark is in 02319.

02319!

Partly I’m sharing this because it’s just really cool. But also because I like the mission of the Long Now Foundation; I agree [with them] that one of the key ingredients to solving mankind’s challenges is for individuals to be good at thinking long-term. Evolution has given us brains that are crazy-good at short-term—particularly acute, fight/flight type threats real or perceived—problem solving. But to figure out a good course of action day to day that leads to own’s own flourishing over your life is really hard. To begin to mix in what’s good for humanity is whatever-is-larger-than-really level of hard.

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Most people are not yet born

[…] recognize that at least in terms of sheer numbers, the current population is easily outweighed by all those who will come after us. In a calculation made by writer Richard Fisher, around 100 billion people have lived and died in the past 50,000 years. But they, together with the 7.7 billion people currently alive, are far outweighed by the estimated 6.75 trillion people who will be born over the next 50,000 years, if this century’s birth rate is maintained (see graphic below). Even in just the next millennium, more than 135 billion people are likely to be born. 

~ Roman Krznaric from, https://blog.longnow.org/02020/07/20/six-ways-to-think-long-term-a-cognitive-toolkit-for-good-ancestors/

50,000 years is, of course, somewhat arbitrary. But it’s a good estimate of the span so far of recognizably-like-current-us human history. It’s obvious that today, most people are already dead. It’s those trillion yet to come that warp the brain and create perspective.

This article from The Long Now Foundation has 6 good examples of explicit ways to think long-term, rather than short-term.

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Our responsibility

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.

~ Richard Feynman

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