Creative Immiseration

“These tools represent the complete corporate capture of the imagination, that most private and unpredictable part of the human mind. Professional artists aren’t a cause for worry. They’ll likely soon lose interest in a tool that makes all the important decisions for them. The concern is for everyone else. When tinkerers and hobbyists, doodlers and scribblers—not to mention kids just starting to perceive and explore the world—have this kind of instant gratification at their disposal, their curiosity is hijacked and extracted. For all the surrealism of these tools’ outputs, there’s a banal uniformity to the results. When people’s imaginative energy is replaced by the drop-down menu “creativity” of big tech platforms, on a mass scale, we are facing a particularly dire form of immiseration.

By immiseration, I’m thinking of the late philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s coinage, “symbolic misery”—the disaffection produced by a life that has been packaged for, and sold to, us by commercial superpowers. When industrial technology is applied to aesthetics, “conditioning,” as Stiegler writes, “substitutes for experience.” That’s bad not just because of the dulling sameness of a world of infinite but meaningless variety (in shades of teal and orange). It’s bad because a person who lives in the malaise of symbolic misery is, like political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s lonely subject who has forgotten how to think, incapable of forming an inner life. Loneliness, Arendt writes, feels like “not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.” Art should be a bulwark against that loneliness, nourishing and cultivating our connections to each other and to ourselves—both for those who experience it and those who make it.”

-Annie Dorson, “AI is plundering the imagination and replacing it with a slot machine.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. October 27, 2022

Strikes me as another example of the two computing revolutions. One is to make things easy with a touch interface. The other requires having deep knowledge of a complicated topic, such as building machine learning models – not to mention having the resources to do so at the highest level.

The point I would make is that creativity by proxy is still creativity. You may not understand how the A.I. generates its content, but we still can have an aesthetic sense about what is good and what isn’t that the A.I. doesn’t provide.

Coin of My Realm: Meaning

I’ve been thinking on this tweet a bit lately. How do we determine what is the coin of our realm? What is important to us?

I wanted to expand on this tweet. Isn’t really “what others offer” is a question of what we value in ourselves, and in other people? Lets leave aside the fact that this is a transactional model of relationships. Instead, let’s focus on the value. If we really want to understand what we value, I think the real question comes down to time.

How do you spend your time? With whom do you spend it? Because, when it comes right down to it, the only thing each of us has of any value is who we are as people and how we spend our time. Everything else just expands our agency within that framework.

I have been spending a lot of my time lately doing writing, providing support via Discord & Telegram and doing some minor programming for a cryptocurrency called Ergo. I’ve learned a lot about:

  • How cryptocurrencies work
  • The psychology of people in the cryptocurrency space, which is indicative of people more generally
  • Learning to use new software tools

The last is an interesting development, I’ve never collaboratively worked on a project using git. I have use it to provide back-ups and versioning for my own work, such as configuration files, bash scripts and so forth. But, it’s a different experience to work collaboratively with someone else with it. The collaboration has value, independently of the code being created or the ideas behind it. This is something that is missed in the above tweet.

Things change so fast in the cryptocurrency space, and it is filled with people trying to make quick money. Or, “life changing money,” which normally means they can stop working and do whatever they dream of doing, perhaps driving cross country in a Lamborghini. Wen lambo? This is a question often asked, jokingly, but it is also serious.

Given the environment, integrity is very important because there is such a lack of it. Most people are hoping to strike it rich, which means there is a large pool of people that can be scammed.

Beyond the get rich environment, it is also interesting thing to note how little agency people have in the space. At the level of the cryptocurrency itself, there are wild price swings, and much of the variance is market manipulation. Imagine all the problems of the stock market, without most of the regulatory restrictions.

But, it is also clear that the restrictions that are in place are there to benefit certain people, just as much as they are to protect people involved. So, there’s a distrust of larger governance, particularly governance by a state.

In its place, in cryptocurrencies, you have governance by unelected bodies, software developers, investors and other interested parties. It’s never governance by people using the cryptocurrency, in any form whether it is democratic, the choosing of representatives, and so forth.

Best case, it’s a meritocracy. Often, these meritocracies have a benevolent dictator, and while they may wish for more user input, do not know how to move from where they are at to a system where people using the tool are deciding how it should be used and what capabilities to develop.

Without any kind of real governance and input into the decision-making processes necessary to be a functioning entity, discussion tends to devolve into who has the biggest microphone and who can shout down opposing points of view. You might say this is the defining feature of our times, when people have little agency over the things they care about.

One solution to this problem is to care about different things. If you limit what you care about to the things that you have agency over, then you don’t have to argue about it with other people. You can simply do the thing.

Of course, anything sufficiently large is going to require organization beyond mere individuals. But, moving our scope out that wide quickly limits our agency. Most of us scope our concerns so they are beyond any real action on our part. It’s why we develop what the Unabomber describes as surrogate activities, or things we do that serve as a substitute for real agency over things that matter. It’s why people decide to run marathons, climb corporate ladders, or whatever. We set goals such as these when life is unfulfilling.

Where can we find meaning? Where can we find agency? I think the answer to this question in our age is the same answer Voltaire gave in Candide: Il faut cultiver notre jardin, or tend your own garden. Narrow your concerns to a few people. People that show themselves to be unworthy of concern? Remove them from your garden. Spend your time and energy on projects you control and involve yourself in the lives of people you know around you.

Those people don’t need to be “insightful”. Gardens need shade as well as fruit, and every tree and plant can bring something different to the ecosystem. But, we need to thoughtfully engage with the question: what is the garden for? Is it to grow the biggest, best vegetables? Or, maybe there’s something bigger to be found there, such as meaning and agency.

Blog Diet: A Starter List For Your RSS Reader (Updated Spring 2022) by Warren Ellis

“People keep asking me where I find stuff, or where to start with an RSS reader.

I exported my subscriptions, and damn, there are a LOT of dead blogs out there. I’m actually shocked at how much of my list is now gone. (And how many sites have shut off their RSS!) Here is a selection of blogs from the list of ones I think are still active. Like I say, it’s just a bit of my active subscriptions list, but maybe you’ll find something you want to follow.”

-Warren Ellis, “Blog Diet: A Starter List For Your RSS Reader (Updated Spring 2022).” warrenellis.ltd. April 22, 2022.

Here’s a list of “best” free RSS Readers for 2022. I’ve talked about RSS Readers a bit here in the past and suggested some places to start. I’m used Nextcloud News, newsboat, and flym. I like newsboat quite a bit, but I find I don’t check it as much as if it is in a mobile app. YMMV.

Oh, You Think You Use a Notebook?

“This year (2022) is going to see my journal/log’s 10th anniversary and 100th notebook. After many attempts to write this up, I’m just going to disgorge it all. This article is long and rambling and I make no apology for it. Feel free to skip around to any part of it which you find interesting.”

-Dave Gauer, “My Notebook System.” ratfactor.com. February 27, 2022.

I’ve been trying to work on a balance between digital capture – which I use for Zuihitsu, Words & Phrases, GoodReads for Books, Letterboxd for movies, and so forth – and an analog bullet list to be organized with my calendar, things to get done, etc. I’m not really where I want to be on all of it. I thought this post had some interesting ideas and wanted to bookmark it..

Email & Tool Choice

Like everyone, I get more email than I really want. Most of it is newsletters. I usually use Thunderbird for email. It incorporates most of my email into one interface. It uses IMAP to pull the information from the email providers’ servers, so I don’t have to use some janky, javascript laden website for email. It also has a calendar integrated in with it using WebDAV, which is nice.

But, when I start getting to around 50 emails in my Inbox, I start getting a little twitchy. It’s too much. I know most people have thousands of emails in their Inbox, I am not them. And, the way I keep from becoming them is my secret weapon, Mutt. For reasons I don’t quite understand, I’ll see an email in Thunderbird and think, “Oh, I might want to read that later.” When I see the same email in Mutt, I’ll want to delete or file it it – and almost everything else too.

The Convivial Society Newsletter in Mutt

As you can see from the above, the newsletter is still readable. But, it adds more work because HTML is not what Mutt is best at displaying. And while I think The Convivial Society is great and would like to read every issue, Mutt asks a simple question: if not now, when? Which means you become much more likely to delete it. It’s also much easier to delete email in Mutt, just hit the D button, and it deletes the email and takes you to the next one. It can take you less than a minute to delete 100 emails.

Reflecting on this fact makes me once again think about how the tools we use influence our behavior. If you are using web email or even a computer application like Thunderbird, their user interface invites you to procrastinate and the emails pile up. Mutt, with its focus on free text, cuts through that dynamic. I’ve also noticed something similar on WordPress, where there is a significant difference in the kinds of posts I write using the WordPress web interface versus the kind of post I’ll write when I’m using emacs and org2blog.

So, moral of the story, be careful about the tools you use, and there may be advantages of using a less feature-rich application than may be apparent at first blush.

Importing Excellence

“If you want to know what it is that your own country produces that is genuinely excellent, look for what the most obsessively discerning residents of London and Tokyo choose to import. Look for the choices of the otaku, the fanatic of pure information.”

—William Gibson in the introduction to Paul Smith, “You Can Find Inspiration in Everything.” London: Violette Editions, 2002.

Highlights of Kevin Kelly’s Unsolicited Advice

“* Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more…

* The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested…

* To make something good, just do it. To make something great, just re-do it, re-do it, re-do it. The secret to making fine things is in remaking them…

* To make mistakes is human. To own your mistakes is divine. Nothing elevates a person higher than quickly admitting and taking personal responsibility for the mistakes you make and then fixing them fairly. If you mess up, fess up. It’s astounding how powerful this ownership is…

* If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting…

* Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat…

* Hatred is a curse that does not affect the hated. It only poisons the hater. Release a grudge as if it was a poison…

* For every dollar you spend purchasing something substantial, expect to pay a dollar in repairs, maintenance, or disposal by the end of its life…

* Anything real begins with the fiction of what could be. Imagination is therefore the most potent force in the universe, and a skill you can get better at. It’s the one skill in life that benefits from ignoring what everyone else knows…

* When crisis and disaster strike, don’t waste them. No problems, no progress…

* When you get an invitation to do something in the future, ask yourself: would you accept this if it was scheduled for tomorrow? Not too many promises will pass that immediacy filter…

* Rule of 7 in research. You can find out anything if you are willing to go seven levels. If the first source you ask doesn’t know, ask them who you should ask next, and so on down the line. If you are willing to go to the 7th source, you’ll almost always get your answer…

* How to apologize: Quickly, specifically, sincerely.

* When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them which can soften the conflict…

* Buying tools: Start by buying the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job, buy the very best you can afford…

* The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.”

-Kevin Kelly, “68 Bits of of Unsolicited Advice.The Technium. April 28, 2020.