venkatesh_rao   15

A Big Little Idea Called Legibility
"The big mistake in this pattern of [the authoritarian high-modernist recipe for] failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as 'irrationality.' We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility."
"the all-seeing statist eye in the sky"
"The reason the formula is generally dangerous... is that it does not operate by a thoughtful consideration of local/global tradeoffs, but through the imposition of a singular view as 'best for all' in a pseudo-scientific sense."
venkatesh_rao  2010  2010s  james_c_scott  blog  organization  failure  reality  society  philosophy  order  utopia  power  nature  control  government  nomad  gypsy  mainstream  map  structure  germany  metaphor  simple  eye  psychology  anxiety  steven_johnson  brain  pattern  name  philippines  vision  reform  city  urban_planning  book  review  caste  architecture 
march 2017 by cluebucket
Welcome to the Future Nauseous
"Life as we live it has this familiar sense of being a static, continuous present. Our ongoing time travel (at a velocity of one second per second) never seems to take us to a foreign place. It is always 4 PM; it is always tea-time. … How, as a species, are we able to prepare for, create, and deal with, the future, while managing to effectively deny that it is happening at all? … I’ll call the “familiar sense of a static, continuous present” a Manufactured Normalcy Field … the Field for short. So we can divide the future into two useful pieces: things coming at us that have been integrated into the Field, and things that have not. The integration kicks in at some level of ubiquity. Gibson got that part right. … It isn’t that what is patchily distributed today will become widespread tomorrow. The mainstream never ends up looking like the edge of today. Not even close. The mainstream seeks placidity while the edge seeks stimulation. Instead, what is unevenly distributed are isolated windows into the un-normalized future that exist as weak spots in the Field. When the windows start to become larger and more common, economics kicks in and the Field maintenance industry quickly moves to create specialists, codified knowledge and normalcy-preserving design patterns. … The Field is manufactured out of the feasible-and-normalized. We call it the present, but it is not the same as the temporal concept. In fact, the labeling of the Field as the ‘present’ is itself part of the manufactured normalcy. The labeling serves to hide a complex construction process underneath an apparently familiar label that most of us think we experience but don’t really … What gets normalized first has very little to do with what is easier, and a lot to do with what is more attractive economically and politically. Humans have achieved some fantastic things like space travel. They have even done things initially thought to be infeasible (like heavier-than-air flight) but other parts of a very accessible future lie beyond the Manufactured Normalcy Field, seemingly beyond the reach of economic feasibility forever. … The future is a stream of bug reports in the normalcy-maintenance software that keeps getting patched, maintaining a hackstable present Field. … The Field stretches to accommodate the future, rather than moving to cover it. It stretches in its own design space: that of ever-expanding, reifying, conceptual metaphor. Expansion as a basic framing suggests an entirely different set of risks and concerns. We needn’t worry about acceleration. We need to worry about attenuation. We need not worry about not being able to “keep up” with a present that moves faster. We need to worry about the Field expanding to a breaking point and popping, like an over-inflated balloon. We need not worry about computers getting ever faster. We need to worry about the document metaphor breaking suddenly, leaving us unable to comprehend the Internet. … you do not understand your own present in any meaningful way. You are merely able to function within it. … We manage to function and comprehend reality in instrumental ways while falling behind in comprehending it in appreciative ways. So my update to Clarke would be this: any sufficiently advanced technology will seem like magic to all humans at all times. Some will merely live within a Field that allow them to function within specific advanced technology environments. … We build conceptual models of the world as it exists today, posit laws of transformation and change, simulate possible futures, and cherry-pick interesting and likely-sounding elements that appear robustly across many simulations and appear feasible. And then we stop. We do not transform the end-state conceptual models into the behavioral terms we use to actually engage and understand reality-in-use, as opposed to reality-in-contemplation. We forget to do the most important part of a futurist prediction: predicting how user experience might evolve to normalize the future-unfamiliar. Something similar happens with even the best of science fiction. There is a strangeness to the imagining that seems missing when the imagined futures finally arrive, pre-processed into the familiar. … We turn imagined behavioral differences that the future might bring into entertainment, but when it actually arrives, we make sure the behavioral differences are minimized. The Field creates a suspension of potential disbelief. So both futurism and science fiction are trapped in an always-unreal strange land that must always exist at a certain remove from the manufactured-to-be-familiar present. … There is one element of the future that does arrive on schedule, uncensored. This is its emotional quality. The pace of change is accelerating and we experience this as Field-stretching anxiety. … Increased anxiety is only one dimension of how we experience change. Another dimension is a constant sense of crisis (which has, incidentally, always prevailed in history). A third dimension is a constant feeling of chaos held at bay (another constant in history), just beyond the firewall of everyday routine (the Field is everyday routine). … We aren’t really tied to specific elements of today’s lifestyles. We are definitely open to change. But only change that comes to us via the Field. … The Field is distinct from reality. It can and does break down a couple of times in every human lifetime. We’re coming off a very long period — since World War II — of Field stability. Except for a few poor schmucks in places like Vietnam, the Field has been precariously preserved for most of us. When larger global Fields break, we experience “dark” ages. We literally cannot process change at all. We grope, waiting for an age when it will all make sense again. … we could be entering a Dark Age right now, because most of us don’t experience a global Field anymore. We live in tiny personal fields. We can only connect socially with people whose little-f fields are similar to ours. When individual fields also start popping, psychic chaos will start to loom. The scary possibility in the near future is not that we will see another radical break in the Field, but a permanent collapse of all fields, big and small. The result will be a state of constant psychological warfare between the present and the future, where reality changes far too fast for either a global Field or a personal one to keep up. Where adaptation-by-specialization turns into a crazed, continuous reinvention of oneself for survival. Where the reinvention is sufficient to sustain existence financially, but not sufficient to maintain continuity of present-experience. Instrumental metaphors will persist while appreciative ones will collapse entirely. … We aren’t being hit by Future Shock. We are going to be hit by Future Nausea. You’re not going to be knocked out cold. You’re just going to throw up in some existential sense of the word. I’d like to prepare. I wish some science fiction writers would write a few nauseating stories. Welcome to the Future Nauseous."
Venkatesh_Rao  2012  future  technology  change  time  culture  language  metaphor  normal  weird  strange  futurism  user_experience  UX 
july 2012 by Preoccupations
Towards an Appreciative View of Technology
"We reserve for overtly showy things like cathedrals the kind of awe that should really be extended (multiplied several times) to apparently mundane things like shipping containers. We cannot make sense of the modern human condition until we begin to understand that interchangeable parts for everyday machines are actually a far greater achievement than more narrowly humanist expressions of who we are."
aesthetics  technology  Venkatesh_Rao  2012 
july 2012 by Preoccupations
The Mysteries of Money
"businesses, markets, products, even society, culture and civilization itself: these are all clumsy constructs that revolve around money. Money is the most basic stuff in this universe of consensual fictions that we call civilized life. … It is the fabric of social reality — stuff that is real because we collectively believe in it — the way space-time is the fabric of physical reality."
Venkatesh_Rao  money  2012 
july 2012 by Preoccupations
Acting Dead, Trading Up and Leaving the Middle Class
"A big personal realization for me in recent months has been the futility of spending a lot of time thinking about how to save money/getting things for free. Life is too short."
free_riding  free  money  sociology  history  venkatesh_rao 
december 2011 by porejide
The Calculus of Grit
"If you run into an obstacle, it is far more likely that it represents a weakness rather than a meaningful real-world challenge to be overcome, as a learning experience. Don’t try to go over or through. It makes far more sense to go around. Hack and work around. Don’t persevere out of a foolhardy superhuman sense of valor."
venkatesh_rao  productivity  motivation  grit  psychology  introspection 
september 2011 by porejide
Intellectual Gluttony
"The dangerous, mind-freezing approach to reading has a very good word to describe it: erudition. My biggest fear is that I might one day become erudite. Somebody who reads and collects knowledge for the hell of it, rather than with interesting and specific questions and unknowns driving the reading.... One of the best defenses is to always start all your intellectual journeys with very small questions, growing them into big, ambitious, projects."
venkatesh_rao  creativity  learning  reading  ambition  anxiety  questions 
july 2011 by porejide
Venkatesh Rao's answer to What are some tips for advanced writers? - Quora
" The HUGE difference between everyday writing that everybody does and serious writing is the proportion that is re-writing. I'd estimate that for non-writers, rewriting accounts for maybe 10-20% of their writing.  For serious writers, it accounts for anywhere between 50-90% depending on how critical the particular piece is.... [O]ne of my litmus tests for whether you have advanced writing skills is whether you can write an interesting and original and personal essay discussing why you like 4-5 of your favorite Shakespeare verses."
writing  venkatesh_rao  litmus  thinking  david_foster_wallace  shakespeare  thomas_friedman 
july 2011 by porejide
Venkatesh Rao's answer to History: What is the most important human decision ever made? - Quora
"To the extent that we feel that we do shape history through our deliberate and intentional actions that have forseeable consequences, this what-if question about big decisions is a useful one. Sure, it might turn out that history is mostly driven by unobservable/uncontrollable butterfly effects/Black Swans, but we can model this generically as just general unpredictability of the world. If you don't believe something like this, all decision-making is pointless. "
venkatesh_rao  decisions  history  uncertainty  determinism 
july 2011 by porejide
Venkatesh Rao's answer to What careers or industries are the most meritocratic? - Quora
"the moment you get to team sports with spectators, effectiveness and merit start to diverge. Ask any cricket, baseball or basketball fan, and they'll be happy to talk for hours about how the players who quietly go about doing what it takes to win games are rarely the more numbers-talented celebrities who are in it for personal glory, record-breaking and visible "merit" collection."
venkatesh_rao  meritocracy  philosophy  career  sports 
july 2011 by porejide

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