[This post originally appeared 12/28, before the great crash.]
Holidays and thoughts.
What people need vs want
Need implies something that a person objectively needs in order to prosper. Obvious examples include food, shelter, and other ingredients to good health.
Want introduces a new layer of a person's agency and motivations. This layer can exist in combination with need or independent of it. (Sometimes, people decouple wants from needs, creating a dichotomy between the two where wants tend be frivolous while needs are, well, necessary.) For my purposes, the key to getting people to change behavior--especially for the purposes of sustainability--is to make change something they want and not merely need.
(thoughts spurred by sister's in-laws)
Appreciation of Platforms/Mechanisms vs Culture/Content
Computer science-oriented people tend to appreciate mechanisms over the role of culture and content. Tech companies often create platforms or structures that facilitate certain interactions and the creation of content; the platforms themselves are quite neutral entities. On the other hand, non-tech or logically minded people tend to place too much emphasis on the role of culture and content, often overlooking the role that a good structure, platform, or mechanism has in creating change or facilitating interaction.
In an indirect way, Linus Torvalds made note of this in a lecture he gave about Linux. I saw the lecture many months ago. He basically said that one of the Linux distros created content very well--an area that he personally overlooks. I obviously don't remember much about his lecture other than his aside on the role of content, which shed light on my increasing tendency as a computer science student to overlook the value of content since I was largely involved in designing structures and mechanisms that facilitate content.
Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics (Amazon Link)
This book critiques the pitfalls Neoclassical economics, especially the assumption of endless growth and infinite resources. It challenged a lot of my thinking, and it was a refreshing counterpoint to my econ background. Some areas of it I obviously disagree with it, but its voice is a deeply important one.
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
On Ecological Deficit and Surplus
It's clear that if trendlines persist--with 25 species going extinct everyday, with carbon dioxide accumulating, with landfill trash piling, with population overflowing, etc--that we will live in a drastically less ecologically vibrant planet with each passing year. That's just math. At some point there isn't much left to take away.
And it's hard to overstate the devastingly sad impact a world without intact natural areas and rich biodiversity will have on the human psyche over thousands of years.
One way to think of the dilemma is that certain nations are in ecological in deficit while others are in ecological surplus. Certain nations, like the US or Canada, are living in ecological deficit: we have used or are using our resources at too fast of a rate, and we must rely on nations that are in ecological surplus--generally poor nations that have not consumed their natural resources (or do not have restrictions on them) and do not consume enough by themselves to do so.
- a handwritten scrawl in Meme Wars, implying that an economic mindset predicated on endless growth will result in ecological destruction
You blame China. You blame India. You blame America. You blame the CEOs, the oil companies, the vague and incoherent ‘system,’ the international regulatory regimes, the hypocrisy of the left, the righteous of the right, the educators, the economy, your parents, your childhood, your job, your bank account, your mental health, your government, everyone and everything but yourself. Wake up! This is no joke. Ecocide is actually happening and your five planet-lifestyle is the primary cause of it. - Meme Wars
You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead, I Got Facebook. (Why we can't solve big problems - MIT Technology Review)
Society faces big challenges like climate change or traveling to mars, yet most tech companies tend to focus on trivial challenges. The only only tech company created in the modern era with grand aspirations is Google, which wants to liberate the worlds information. Compare this to Apple, IBM, or Microsoft, which wanted a personal computer in every home.
STOP SUCKING. BE BOLD.
Think like a Genius - Scientific American Mind
Geniuses tend to have a many interests and a common process of discovery.
We need to cultivate environments where geniuses thrive, since nearly all innovation comes from people in the top 1% of ability.
You are Not a Gadget - Jaron Lanier (Amazon Link)
Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, father of virtual reality technology, multi-talented instrumentalist, and dred-locked hippy. I'm still slowly reading through this book--but I have a lot of other books on my plate simultaneously.
A technical engineer is also social engineer. - Jaron Lanier
As I've written about in my own essays and on this blog, software engineers have the power to redesign how people interact with each other and the planet. Lanier summed up this sentiment more succinctly with the quote above.
The issue is that a great bulk of computer scientists tend toward the anti-social/autistic side of the spectrum, which colors the type of technologies they create. These suboptimal designs, which often have limited perspectives of personhood, often get "locked-in"--permanently imposing their narrow views of what it is to be human and realizing a lower, more limited form of our species. A good example of this is Facebook. Many kids are growing up letting their Facebook identities overdetermine their real identities.
I have discussed this basic hazard before, when I talked about how I was sometimes afraid to write down my thoughts because I might realize them in a lower form dependent on how I was able to express at the moment I wrote them.
Free Will - Sam Harris
Sam Harris argues that we don't have a free will. It's crazy how much I've forgotten about this book in just a week. I'll have to look over it again and update this post.