Welcome to The Filter Podcast. This episode introduces the podcast.
I’ve noticed that search engines, especially Google but also DuckDuckGo, seem to be optimizing for common types of queries, at the expense of less common ones. So if I want to find an Indian restaurant in a specific city, that works great. But if I want to find a restaurant with bench seating, that’s a much harder query to get answered. Google will fight you with your terms, replace with similar words, or ignore search terms, even if you use the plus operator, even if you put quotes around the term you don’t want dropped. Based on so much search data, Google’s algorithm now has a very strong opinion about what it thinks I want, and if the exact combination of words I’m looking for falls outside that scope, my query is internally munged to fit a more common pathway.
I’m going to call this the Expert Locksmith’s Dilemma, or just Locksmith’s Dilemma for short.
Suppose you decide to become a locksmith because you enjoy picking locks. It’s, challenging, fun, a nice mix of problem solving and manual dexterity, that ends with a nice endorphin rush when you “win”.
As a novice to journeyman locksmith, your job is a lot like how you imagined it to be. Maybe there’s more sitting in traffic than you expected, as you drive from one client to another, but there’s also lots of time spent puzzling out how to get people back into their cars and houses, fiddling with locks, learning new techniques and hardware, and getting to use cool tools like the Slim Jim (that long metal that slides into a car door to pop open the lock).
Maybe it’s time to clear out the canon. The old and the new standards. Adios Homer, auf Wiedersehen Vonnegut, fuck off Orwell, Ellison and Morrison. Don’t even mention Shakespeare. All gone. Let’s start from scratch, wipe the literary slate clean, start anew. Make room for new voices and new ideas. The conversation has gotten stale.
There’s such a detox transition when I stop using my phone for more than a couple hours. I crave the notification stimulation it provides, the quick and easy access to image sharing sites, streaming video, even just checking the time and weather. Each time I look at the phone, even if it is just to check the time, sets back my detoxing. Eventually, when I’ve gone long enough without looking, I get some peace from the withdrawl, the craving, the desire to use it to scratch some impossibly shallow yet powerfully magnetic existential itch. Give me infotainment, and give it to me now!
Techno-burnout. Neo-Amish. Anarcho Buddhist. Crypto survivalist. There doesn’t yet exist a label for the group I’m moving into, but I’m certain it’s a group and I’m sure I’m not the only one in it. We are the people who what to throw up when someone talks about adding internet connectivity to a toothbrush. We’re not luddites (in the old fashioned sense), we’ve just been embedded in tech so long that we can immediately see the downsides of any new product. We’re the people who’ve spent years in the trenches, the bleeding edges of tech, so much time that we’re shell shocked. We’ve seen too much, man.
Young men and doe-eyed civilians can still be enlisted in the glorious vision of a smart home that reacts to voice commands. All we see is getting locked in our own bathrooms because the SmartHomeAppTech company got hacked (maybe they have to pay ransom (in crypto, of course) to free all their customers and regain control of their cloud account). Or maybe SHAT ran out of cash and went out of business. Or maybe the credit card used to pay for SHAT’s month service expired and we forgot to update it. Or maybe an update to the software that ran our lightbulbs wasn’t compatible with SHAT v0.3.7. Or maybe our power went off and some junior developer thought the most secure thing to do in that case would be to use the final joule of reserve power to lock things down.
Everything takes longer, even when you take that into account. One of the iron-clad rules of the world. Taught to me by my ex.
What happens when all those lessons add up? Episode of Freakanomics Podcast this week takes on the “planning fallacy”, which is a weaker form of the rule I was gifted two decades ago. It says we suffer from an optimism bias, which leads to overestimation of how much we’ll get done and how long it will take. Apparently, this bias has some big upsides. Optimists live longer, are happier, and are generally, just, more optimistic.
So what happens if that optimism bias finally burns off? What if you’ve run through the cycle of over-predicting how well some new project will go so many times, that you no longer believe your own hype? What happens if your own reality distortion field suffers a breach?
Consume consume consume consume. Consume information. Consume food. Consume entertainment. Consume ideas, sensations, endless chasing of gratification of one kind or another. Consumes experiences, consume feelings, like the feeling of being in certain spaces. Cunsume alcohol and drugs, consume altered spaces. Consume extreme experiences, consume gadgets and novelty. Consume family and the experiences that are supposed to make you feel in certain ways. Consume news. Take it in, breath it in, uncritically like a sponge or aggressively like a philosopher consumes the words of her critics. Consume the stuff you need and consume the stuff you want, consume pleasurable experiences and consume challenging ones. Always needing to justify the latest consumption, never satisfied, never done. A robot, a zombie, driven forward by the desire to consume unthinking only justifying, only rationalizing. Even now as I twist open the bottle, needing but not needing, wanting by not wanting. Forever buffeted by the need to try something else, to do something else. Consuming safety and security, consuming comfort and love. Consuming status and consuming recognition. Needing it as much as the food and water, craving it to feel right, yet never satisfied when it comes, always in the wrong format or incorrect measure,- too much or too little. Not wanting to be left out but afraid to enter the conversation. Craving attention, needing its sanction. Compulsion the dominant emotion, every image sparking some other thing to be consumed, when all burnt out on desire to consume, desiring to want to consume, searching for something to get the juices of desire flowing again, needing to need, something. Satiated but never satisfied.
Craving the good experiences, fearing the bad. Afraid that the consumption will come to an end.
Not focused, not fully, on the object of consumption. Drawn to it, overwhelmed so much by expectation of consumption that the thing itself fades from view, disappears. Forever looking ahead, to the next consumption.
My environment encourages this, rewards it. Makes it more likely, harder to escape. Can I disintermediate? Find the degree of separation needed to no longer feel its magnetic pull, to be a part of the world but not trapped in it. Evaluate the hamster wheel without climbing up inside of it. Contribute to a broken society without drowning in it? Consume rationally, reasonably, without the acute need and desire, reset the endorphin levels to be turned on by sparser environments, more modest goals, lesser achievements, simpler and less figuratively expensive items. Can a brain fed on the stimulus equivalent of caviar smothered in duck fat baked into a Boston crime pie learn to content itself with broccoli, potatoes and unseasoned chicken?
We pretend that definitive, discrete, non-overlapping categories can be defined without ambiguity. We pretend we don’t have to talk about the meaning of words, that it’s self evident. We pretend that what we’ve built has a solid foundation, and isn’t just turtles all the way down.
Going the distance involves long periods of non-excitement.