In a recent New Yorker article Yuval Harari commented on the prospect of the possible nefarious uses of AI by governments, corporations or others to intrude on personal freedoms.
“Harari argues that, though there’s no sure prophylactic against such future intrusions, people who are alert to the workings of their minds will be better able to protect themselves. Harari recently told a Ukrainian reporter, “Freedom depends to a large extent on how much you know yourself, and you need to know yourself better than, say, the government or the corporations that try to manipulate you.” In this context, to think clearly—to snorkel in the pool, back and forth—is a form of social action.”
Makes sense to me. Not hard to do, just sit down (perhaps on a cushion) and shut up.
Indecision is a funny thing. In my case, once it sets in, it doesn’t leave me alone. Tomorrow is @winterbiketoworkday. I really want to participate, but like so many things worth doing, it’s hard. I’ve got hockey tonight so I won’t get home until midnight – in bed until 12:30. Riding to work tomorrow – really doing it right and riding the WHOLE way on the snow – means getting up and out early. Probably 4:30 or 5 or so. It will be dark then. Weather says temps will be around -15C with the windchill to the -20’s. Then there’s the trail conditions. Probably pretty soft right now (as I write this it’s only 0C) but maybe they’ll freeze and firm up overnight – but if they don’t, likely some walking will be involved.
What’s the point? Seems foolish sometimes to ponder doing these things. Subjecting one’s self to the cold and the effort for a 15k bike ride. Then I think about people who are going to ride 1000km across Alaska in far worse – and I’M hesitating to go out for 15k? I could not do it at all. I could do it part way – drive half the distance to where the trail becomes paved – and plowed – and ride from there. That almost seems more chickenshit than not going at all. I tend to be an ‘all or nothing’ kind of guy. To a fault. I have problems with moderation – with doing things ‘halfway’. Maybe I should work on that. Or maybe I shouldn’t.
Maybe I should just do it. Maybe the problem is I feel like there has to be some ‘reason’ to do it. Some justification for the lunacy it represents. I’m looking for the ‘why’. I don’t know if there is a ‘why’. Maybe I have to get out there to find it. Or maybe it doesn’t exist. So for the rest of the day I’ll be tormented by the question – go or no go – and surrounding all that is the constant buzz of do I wear this or wear that? Do I bring X? Will that be warm enough? Too much? Should I put myself into sleep deficit for a bike ride to work simply because someone somewhere declared it the day to do so? Where are my gloves anyway? Not those – the WARM ones? The answers to all of these questions don’t matter at all. I will either go or not go and that will be that.
David Cain: You have employees everywhere, but the United States is probably your most profitable venture so far. What’s been your secret to success in the US?
The Man: I love America. As much as I dislike the phrase “Perfect Storm”, it’s like all the right factors came together in one place. The big one is the hyper-normal level of consumerism and its relationship to self-esteem. I know you did a piece on that. [Here – Ed.] People in the US, more than anywhere else, respond to personal inadequacy by buying stuff or trying to get in a better position to buy stuff later. This is great, because buying stuff eventually creates disappointment, which creates more buying.
I also love its strange breed of future-focused happiness. Almost every young American thinks he’ll be rich at some point. Later is when life will be great. No matter what their salary, very few people think they make quite enough money now. So they’re willing to put up with “just ok” or even “not quite ok” for many years.
There is also, in the working world, this wonderful shaming of any hint of Bohemianism. Can you imagine an American taking a two-hour lunch, with wine, like they do in Europe? Nobody does it, nobody. Work is a virtue, no matter what the work is or what they produce. They are grateful for two weeks of vacation a year. Two weeks out of fifty-two! The culture does most of the work for me. Some people don’t even take those two weeks, because they’re afraid their colleagues will think they aren’t serious about working at all. Stopping to smell flowers is suspicious behavior there, unless you’re retired.
Despite that, there is a permeating sense of entitlement here, as if things should not only be good all the time, it should be easy to keep them good. Do you think the citizens of the world’s richest nation actually want fairness across the board? They think they’re getting the short end of the stick, can you believe that? If they only knew.
The latest episode of Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast is pretty good. The guest, Tiffany Shlain, has written about about unplugging from screens one day a week in a practice that is sort of a modern day throwback to the notion of a weekly ‘sabbath’ or ‘Shabbat’. Some really interesting discussion ensues.
They talk about the notion that people don’t know how to just sit with themselves anymore – or that it’s become thought of as a bad thing to ‘sit idly’. I feel the generations my kids belong to will especially have no concept of this, or construe it mostly as ‘wasting time’ having been exposed/connected to tech their entire lives.
The reality is that in many cases time spent in self reflection, or simply being present in the moment with others without the distractions of tech, is time better spent but we’re not taught that anymore and indeed, most tech companies/platforms are trying to encourage the very opposite.
I couldn’t ride to to work today because, family stuff. I was struck by just how much of a hurry everyone else driving seemed to be in to get to their destination, especially given it was probably a job they complained incessantly about. I felt no such urgency.
Instead I mentally swiped left through these scenes from my commute home yesterday, a day when everything, everywhere just seemed right. The air, the temperature, the radiantly clear sky. The subtle breeze and intensely bright, warm sunlight. I’m sure my nature homies John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey or mix master H.D. Thoreau all have quotes that could aptly accompany these images, but I’m not well-read enough and my memory reservoir not deep enough to call any up.
Instead, I’ll borrow the words of my internet brother-from-another-mother, Slim Wonder and simply say I took the long way yesterday and here’s what I happened upon “getting around to getting home.” Don’t be in too much of a hurry, kids.