Minority Report for real, the politics of productivity, robotic funeral priests, premium mediocrity, and more.
Happy Tuesday! I took a day delay (a daylay? no, that sounds dirty) for Labor day (a labordaylay? eh). Anyhow, here's a song I'm in love with by Mulatu Astatke. It's Tezeta (Nostalgia). It's different from the typical electronica stuff I provide but boy do I love it so so much--I just feel better when I listen to it. Anyways, on to the dystopia!
Let's just describe Palantir's security: "Palantir’s defence systems include advanced biometrics and walls impenetrable to radio waves, phone signal or internet. Its data storage is blockchained: it cannot be accessed by merely sophisticated hacking, it requires digital pass codes held by dozens of independent parties, whose identities are themselves protected by blockchain." Is this not the most dystopian cyberpunk shit you've ever heard or what? If it weren't so badass the 12-year-old part of me would be screaming "COOOOOOOL". (Actually it is, but my adult self's disillusionment is even louder.) Anyways, Palantir is now selling their 'crime prediction' techniques used in Iraq to the LAPD (and probably other police forces). This is "military-grade surveillance technology" used against civilians.
Venkatesh Rao runs a newsletter called "Breaking Smart", which I highly recommend. Here's a web-version of his latest issue where he talks about organizational schemes, from personal organizational workflows (like Getting Things Done) to urban design, and their ability to give political power to those who dictate the organization. His usage of organization is broad, but perfectly applicable. For example, when it comes to my personal organization, intense organization gives power to my conscious mind to handle the interesting nuances in the organized content versus the actual structure of the organization. However, it reduces my ability to be inspired or find insights within the structure of the system itself. If I am completely disorganized, then the relationship between my conscious and unconscious mind changes--my unconscious mind is more likely to rule and work intuitively, while my conscious mind may be unhappy with the fact that I still haven't responded to weeks of Glitchet emails (sorry).
But let's take it up a level: who organizes your Facebook feed? You certainly don't (at least never completely), so that demands the question--who has the political power over your feed? Naturally, it's advertisers, your friends, the unending demand of the stream, ultimately filtered through Facebook. Sure, you technically can exert control over your Facebook experience by using AdBlock, unfollowing your most annoying "friends", and sorting by Most Recent (which Facebook seems to change back on you consistently), but the effort involved implies the existence of an influence that must exist in order to have the desire to subvert it--and how strangely subversive taking control of your feed can feel! Anyway, this is all just to make a point: if you didn't design a system yourself, it probably isn't set up with your best interests in mind.
Here's an oldie--did you know that the Unabomber was part of an unknowing military-oriented experiment by Henry "Harry" Murray? It was used to study Harvard undergraduates and test "the suitability of offer candidates for the navy." Unfortunately, that bit's buried deep inside this fascinating longread on the development of an extremist intellectually-driven terrorist (and only vaguely touched upon), but that's pretty fascinating and I had no idea.
Here's a great longread on the idea of "premium mediocrity". For example--Chipotle is premium mediocre. As is "fancy lettuce". Or "Netflix and chill". Or France, as a country (Switzerland is the actual premium European country, according to Rao). Its primary target is the service-oriented, rent-don't-own, millennial class (of which I am a part) that is "optimistically prepared for success by at least being in the right place at the right time, at least for a little while, even if you have no idea how to make anything happen during your window of opportunity". Going to a city and hoping something good happens rather than staying in a small town where you know nothing will happen. In typical Venkatesh Rao fashion (who also wrote the previous Politics of Productivity), he ties this concept into social consumption as a way to signal upward-reaching aspirations while navigating the tension of unstoppable pressure forcing us downwards. "At least pretending to appreciate wine and cheese is necessary to not fall through the cracks . . . ultimately a rational adaptive response to the challenge of scoring a middle-class life lottery ticket in the new economy". Wow. Ouch. That's a little too close to home. Anyhow, yeah, this is a great read. Thanks to Alexander for forwarding this one!
(Is Glitchet premium mediocre? ...Sigh, maybe. After all, a premium publication wouldn't even let you read it without paying for it. And it'd create its own content. And it might actually give a shit about keeping it together in these messages. I just don't think I'm a premium type of person. At least not in the mainstream. You're all premium to me. We're premium together. Premies? Wait, no, that's something else.)
Shit. I didn't know they could automate that. It makes sense, though--a ritual with clear steps and things to say and do can clearly be automated, I just didn't think we would do it for death. A darkly dystopian thought: in the future, robot priests will be the priests only for the poor because they're simply cheaper than real priests. (And possibly even more enlightened..?) I'm also really digging the live-streaming option for your equally poor friends and family who can't afford to make it to the funeral.
Feeling overwhelmed by the sneaking tendrils of the extreme hyper-connectivity of our world? (It sneaks into your eyes; it sneaks into your ears; it sneaks into your dreams.) Here's a nice little guide to disconnecting. OK, kind of. Motherboard then goes on to promote a bunch of their own stuff, which is a reasonable thing for a media company to do, I guess. So here's my guide to disconnecting:
Go somewhere outside. Try to make it somewhere beautiful, or someplace in public where you won't seem like a total weirdo if you're just watching stuff. Like a park, I guess? If you can, leave your phone. Otherwise, turn it off when you arrive. Know that you'll have to make the conscious decision to turn it on, to plug back in. Look around. See the world moving. Watch a leaf tremble on the tree, or in stark winter, note the incredible stillness of the branches. Take some breaths. Remember that this is the reality before you, and while a nuclear holocaust may be coming, the past is a hallucination and the future is a fantasy. If you want to worry about something, make the choice to decide to worry about it--don't let the world run your brain. Go home. Is it quiet? (I don't know if you live alone or not.) If it is, enjoy the silence. If not, enjoy the noise, even if the noise wants to annoy you or take your time or energy. Moments pass in perfection; notice what begs you to forget this. Forgive that part of yourself, even just for a moment and try to enjoy the fact that your life is even happening at all. Read a book. If you must fact-check, use your screens deliberately and judiciously. Enjoy the is-ness. After a while, it might even make you laugh.