Tag: society (page 2 of 18)

Is our society structured in a way which encourages people to make less than the greatest contribution they could?

Colin Percival is the founder of Tarsnap which is a somewhat-niche cryptographically-secure backup solution. In this post, he replies to a comment he saw that he’s potentially wasting his life on something less important than the world’s biggest problems.

His point, I think, is that starting your own business is the only way these days of being able to do the kind of deep work which people like him find fulfilling. So I guess the question is whether there’s an even better way of structuring society to enable even greater contribution?

First, to dispense with the philosophical argument: Yes, this is my life, and yes, I’m free to use — or waste — it however I please; but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking if this is how my time could be best spent. That applies doubly if the question is not merely about the choices I made but is rather a broader question: Is our society structured in a way which encourages people to make less than the greatest contribution they could?

[…]

In many ways, starting my own company has given me the sort of freedom which academics aspire to. Sure, I have customers to assist, servers to manage (not that they need much management), and business accounting to do; but professors equally have classes to teach, students to supervise, and committees to attend. When it comes to research, I can follow my interests without regard to the whims of granting agencies and tenure and promotion committees: I can do work like scrypt, which is now widely known but languished in obscurity for several years after I published it; and equally I can do work like kivaloo, which has been essentially ignored for close to a decade, with no sign of that ever changing.

[…]

Is there a hypothetical world where I would be an academic working on the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture right now? Sure. It’s probably a world where high-flying students are given, upon graduation, some sort of “mini-Genius Grant”. If I had been awarded a five-year $62,500/year grant with the sole condition of “do research”, I would almost certainly have persevered in academia and — despite working on the more interesting but longer-term questions — have had enough publications after those five years to obtain a continuing academic position. But that’s not how granting agencies work; they give out one or two year awards, with the understanding that those who are successful will apply for more funding later.

Source: On the use of a life | Daemonic Dispatches

Losing followers, making friends

There’s a lot going on in this article, which I’ve taken plenty of quotations from below. It’s worth taking some time over, especially if you haven’t read Thinking, Fast & Slow (or it’s been a while since you did!)

Social media inherited and weaponised the chronological weblog feed. Showing content based on user activity hooked us in for longer. When platforms discovered anger and anxiety boosts screen time, the battle for our minds was lost.

Till this point the fundamental purpose of software was to support the user’s objectives. Somewhere, someone decided the purpose of users is to support the firm’s objectives. This shift permeates through the Internet. It’s why basic software is subscription-led. It’s why there’s little functional difference between Windows’ telemetry and spyware. It’s why leaving social media is so hard.

Like chronological timelines, users grew to expect these patterns. Non-commercial platforms adopted them because users expect them. While not as optimized as their commercial counterparts, inherited anti-patterns can lead to inherited behaviours.

[…]

In his book Thinking Fast And Slow, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman describes two systems of thought…

[…]

System 1 appears to prioritise speed over accuracy, which makes sense for Lion-scale problems. System 1 even cheats to avoid using System 2. When faced with a difficult question, System 1 can substitute it and answer a simpler one. When someone responds to a point that was never made that could be a System 1 substitution.

[…]

10 Years ago my life was extremely online. I’ve been the asshole so many times I can’t even count. Was I an asshole? Sure, but the exploitation of mental state in public spaces has a role to play. It’s a strange game. The only way to win is not to play.

Commercial platforms are filled with traps, some inherited, many homegrown. Wrapping it in Zuck’s latest bullshit won’t lead to change. Even without inherited dark patterns, behaviours become ingrained. Platforms designed to avoid these patterns need to consider this if exposed to the Dark Forest.

For everything else it’s becoming easier to just stay away. There are so many private and semi-private spaces far from the madding crowd. You just need to look. I did. I lost followers, but made friends.

Source: Escaping The Web’s Dark Forest | by Steve Lord

Muting the American internet

This is a humorous article, but one with a point.

[W]e need a way to mute America. Why? Because America has no chill. America is exhausting. America is incapable of letting something be simply funny instead of a dread portent of their apocalyptic present. America is ruining the internet.

[…]

The greatest trick America’s ever pulled on the subjects of its various vassal states is making us feel like a participant in its grand experiment. After all, our fate is bound to the American empire’s whale fall. My generation in particular is the first pure batch of Yankee-Yobbo mutoids: as much Hank Hill as we are Hills Hoist (look it up!), as familiar with the Supreme Court Justices as we are with the judges on Master Chef, as comfortable in Frasier’s Seattle or Seinfeld’s Upper West Side as we are in Ramsay Street or Summer Bay.

[…]

I should not know who Pete Buttigieg is. In a just world, the name Bari Weiss would mean as much to me as Nordic runes. This goes for people who actually might read Nordic runes too. No Swede deserves to be burdened with this knowledge. No Brazilian should have to regularly encounter the phrase “Dimes Square.” To the rest of the vast and varied world, My Pillow Guy and Papa John should be NPCs from a Nintendo DS Zelda title, not men of flesh and bone, pillow and pizza. Ted Cruz should be the name of an Italian pornstar in a Love Boat porn parody. Instead, I’m cursed to know that he is a senator from Texas who once stood next to a butter sculpture of a dairy cow and declared that his daughter’s first words were “I like butter.”

Source: I Should Be Able to Mute America | Gawker