It’s maybe a little bit weird to start writing again by pointing to a post by Jakob Greenfeld I disagree strongly with. It’s about a book called 4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. I’m not going to write a strong rebuttal about all of the claims in the post but rather focus on one important point and also add a few more general thoughts. But let’s start with a little context:
I do think embracing the limits of life to focus on what we can do is a good thing. I had written about the book myself a while ago. My main points were:
- “I have to play the hand that I was dealt and resources (and everything is a resource) are not available in endless supply. If you take these two things together, it makes sense to go for a satisficist way of life.” - Or: privilege is not evenly distributed, but you can still forge a life out of what you got (just not every life).
- “My here and now is not merely a transitory state in between the lacking status quo and an amazing future. Instead of improving things in the present moment, I would endure certain things simply because I defined my present situation as something that didn’t matter in the future.” Or: I am allowed to improve things in the here and now.
I think that Greenfeld’s post sees fallacies in Burkeman’s book where I see a not very generous reader. Greenfeld is a “hustle culture” kind of person whom I follow for useful notes on self help and productivity books but I do not always agree with him. One thing stood out as interesting to me in his post:
A cheap dinner with my parents is infinitely more meaningful than some networking dinner with strangers that costs me a fortune. In short, the amount of time/money you spend on something (and how much of it you possess) doesn’t dictate the meaning of anything.
This is a counterpoint against Burkeman’s claim that, because of the limited life span we possess, what we choose to spend our time on - and how much of it on what - becomes meaningful and defines our lives.
Greenfeld says that time = money. He then gives an example where spending relatively little money on an event doesn’t mean that that event couldn’t be more meaningful than another event that you spent more on. What Greenfeld has discovered is that you can’t compare single events like this but must compare topics: The question is how do you spend your time - over your lifetime? Comparing two singular events doesn’t make sense. But whether you spend your life mostly at networking dinners vs. mostly with your family does. This doesn’t mean that when you have disregarded an important aspect of your life that choosing to spend more time on it - even if at first it’s just a small amount - doesn’t feel meaningful. But the meaningfulness doesn’t come from it being a short event but rather from trying to rectify the neglect (or maybe exploring new frontiers).
I do think it can be worth it to read opposing opinions like this because it strengthens my viewpoint, it points to flaws in my approach or simply just widens my horizon. I am not convinced that what Greenfeld writes points out fallacies in Burkeman’s writing, but it still made me reconsider my own views, which is valuable.
The quoted passage for example made me think more deeply about my claim “everything is a resource” and how that relates to the sometimes very meaningful singular moments of life, as I’ve tried to untangle above. I think this passage especially hooked me for its relationship to my tendencies of sometimes living too much for a future that may never become a reality (it’s a risky investment strategy to always reinvest and never reap rewards). And that meaningful moments exist, reminds me how important it is to take advantage of choosing to be present for the things I am making my life about.
This post is also valuable because it’s an example of a person who is unwilling or maybe (as of yet) unable to recognize life’s limits. These people exist out there and they may not be easily convinced of the opposite. That’s useful to keep in mind. Greenfeld and I are holding different values that’s for sure and since values are personal one may be persuaded to think this is just a battle between differing subjective viewpoints. But the objective realities of life - e.g. that your lifetime is limited and being more productive doesn’t make life last longer or spending time fiddling with your productivity systems doesn’t make you enjoy the important moments more - do not care if you would like to forget about these facts (and rather work hard to grow your business or whatever). You will have to come to terms with them - if you like to contemplate these things, or not.
The post and its author is a useful counter example to my own life’s plan: A (relatively) small but reflected life in the here and now is more rewarding, more livable, more rational, more emotionally honest and also more ethically sound, than any sweeping pronouncements of a “big life"™ could ever be.
My mental model predicts that sooner or later everyone will have to open their eyes to the small life they are actually living and embrace it - or failing that will live with a lot of avoidable cognitive dissonance. Greenfeld suggests the opposite. We’ll see whose bet holds.
There is this weird dream logic inside me that wants to do everything I want to do in a progressively better way until it reaches an optimum which then also can be sustained.1 I imagine that, no matter what it is, if I would just start to try to achieve anything and keep iterating on it, that any improvements needed to reach a sustainable optimum would be in reach. Reached optima somehow would become free of effort. They would just happen. In this way I could at least potentially do an infinite amount of things.
Of course, this is not how it works. Everything has a cost and in reality life is quite limited. There is even a cost associated to making something cost less to do. Effortlessness does only exist in a certain, unrealistic, frame.
This implies that most if not all things I want to do are ongoing goals, not projects, which is true. Projects are only a step or part of an overarching ongoing goal to me. ↩︎
The problem with good free hobbyist websites is that some people misunderstand; just because these good things are free does not mean you are entitled to have everything on the web for free.simonmumbles.micro.blog
[@simonwoods](https://micro.blog/simonwoods) I would love for this fact to be more noticable again. Not only does it allow creators to earn a living but it also creates something valuable for the consumer: scarcity itself. If taken seriously, it restricts you, you'll have less choice, which I think is a good thing, because consumption decissions become important again.
[@matti](https://micro.blog/matti) Yes exactly. We don't have these expectations in the physical world and I've yet to see somebody justify how it is we change that for the web, you know?
I was going to answer to this ongoing conversation within the thread but ran out of space and I thought it is interesting enough to warrant a titled post1:
Simon’s observation is interesting to me because I think it relates to my point from the other day about social problems being naturally occurring emergent properties of the social.
The question of why do some people feel entitled to demand everything to be available for free on the web is, I think, mostly answered by the attitudes they hold2: Is it important to you (to acknowledge that you ought to pay for stuff and/or be fine with not having stuff), or not? And I think this is universal and holds actually true for physical stuff as well.
Given suitable conditions, the same demands will pop up in the physical world. Example: My partner works in a national park. In the customer service center of this park, they offer printed maps of the area for free. In other parks the same kind of maps cost money. Some People are upset by this state of affairs.3
If this behavioral pattern is not confined to the web, the question then becomes a question of how to change the attitudes of people - given, that we want to problematize this observation. Can we? And more importantly: at what cost? This question is interesting to me, because I think it relates to my point about social problems being emergent properties, that I mentioned earlier.
Attitudes and values are not one and the same. Values are part of the social and individuals might have an affirming or rejecting attitude towards those values. The way to get to an individual is through the social - you’ll have to be social to interact. This means that to change an individual’s attitude (or more efficient: make attitudes matter less) is a social problem - and, again, as I said in that other post: social problems are more social realities than problems, so changing attitudes can only be achieved by suppression4. Suppressing anything - even for a moment in history - takes lots of maintenance. To make it last, you have to establish structures within the social. So this social question becomes cultural - if you want to make it last.
I will stop here and ask, if the amount of resources needed to do this is worth it. And I’ll answer that it is not. Akin to locks keeping honest people honest, the real task is to get more people who are sitting on the fence (or peeking over it) on the “right” (“our”) side. As far as I can tell the best “above board” way to do this is to communicate clearly what is free and what is not and give people varied options to buy what needs to be bought.5 Giving reasons why to buy can help. Letting your personality shine through also helps.
In short: People behaving entitled and demanding things for free is not tied to the web only. These behaviors are the result of undesirable attitudes that are too hard and too expensive to change sustainably. Therefore the real task is - apart from understanding the initial problem better - not changing the attitudes but to offer the people which are close to doing the right thing options to follow through and not worry about the rest.
I want to thank Simon for giving me an opportunity to think out loud. This post took the above conversation as a starting point, but it is not an attempt to argue with Simon, show off, or troll. I just took our conversation and ran with it. So the “you” or the opposing voice in this post, does not refer to Simon. It does not presume that Simon hasn’t thought about these things as well, etc. This post is meant as an exploration, not an agitation. ↩︎
This is mostly an argument of plausibility: I do not claim to know exactly what attitudes they hold, but I do claim that this line of thinking makes their behavior plausible, therefore possible, explainable, understandable. ↩︎
I will admit that I was a little upset, too: Because it was inconsistent and hard to anticipate what to expect. And I like to be able to anticipate what comes next. It’s comforting, it makes me feel I’m in control. This could be another plausible set of attitudes - as opposed to not believing that paying for stuff is important - of why people are behaving this way. ↩︎
I’ll restate that suppression doesn’t need to be a negative thing. Think of it more like selective breeding. ↩︎
I’m excluding dark patterns here, that exploit human nature to get the desired result. Instead of persuasion these patterns rely on seduction. ↩︎
Problems with "the social" are emergent properties of the social1. Since they are properties, we're unlikely to fix them on a grander scale. You aren't so much "fixing" these problems, anyways: You suppress them (which isn't meant to suggest that that's always a bad thing). But suppression is work, takes infrastructure. The bigger the social structure you try to keep "in order" (like a gardener) the bigger the work. This is why suppression only works for self selected (or lucky), small groups with aligned interests and supporting structures (resources, established processes, a shared and actively maintained history2, …). Teams, clubs, activist and research groups, etc. have the best chances to successfully suppress some of the more nastier but nonetheless naturally occurring characteristics of the social. It really is a jungle out there.
"the social" as opposed to the "the cultural" puts the focus on the interactions of and within collectives of actors (whereas the cultural is more concerned with learned and taught behaviors); it's meant to suggest that these interactions lead to emergent properties, some good, some bad. And it emphasizes the universal validity of this, instead of claiming that this is only true in certain cultures. ↩︎
"a shared and actively maintained history" could also be a new history in the making. I realize that it could be read as xenophobic. What I meant is that you share and build a common mythology and a common set of values. This is where culture comes in. ↩︎
I am amazed that one of the most important, if not the single most important term in continental and especially German idealistic enlightened philosophy, “Mündigkeit” (maturity), has only a very short article on the German Wikipedia (no discussion page that would explain this either) and no article in English. The only other Wikipedia with an article on it is the Danish one.
I just donated to a personal blog writer I really like. Check out his very human blog, which actually cares about the state of the Internet: manuelmoreale.com 📝
Who we are is the most eloquent and unique story that we all write every single day.
There is a difference between commenting and quoting a post like this. Since that post was inspiration to a point (this) I wanted to make, I don’t think that a comment would have been appropriate. Looking at the comments other people actually made, they are engaging with the post more directly, by uttering e.g. approval (for example, @patrickrhone’s “Truth”)
There is also a difference in the way I engage with the post when quoting it: The engagement here is very indirect, the other person does not even necessarily notice that I took what they wrote and re-contextualized it for my own needs.
Similarly to Manuel Morale’s point about discovery and consumption, this might be an obvious difference. But I think commenting and quoting also is related to what Manuel has to say about the centralization of discovery and consumption (meaning the engagement with the discovered content):
One major change the web has experienced was the consolidation of discovery and consumption. Digg was—and still is—a place to discover new content but the consumption of that content takes place away outside of Digg. And the same was true for discussions around the content. Those used to happen in comment sections spread across the internet. But now, places like Twitter or Instagram are acting as places for both the discovery and the consumption of new content.
A platform that only allows comments about content linked from elsewhere on the web will not lead to this kind of centralization. A comment-only platform like this is also much less convenient to use to actually build upon other people’s content, which most often happens in the quoting (or linking) style instead the commenting-style of engagement.
Making it easier to quote other people’s content might on the other hand have consequences as regards to how we engage with the creators behind the content. Which brings me to another post of Manuel (The internet is not broken. People are.), which is that social media exposes a lot of people’s interest not in doing the thing for the love of the thing, but for the fame, which might be achieved through it (Something I have always appreciated about @merlinmann: He does the things because he loves doing them).
A commenter is not very likely to become famous through commenting. A quoter on the other hand produces first order content: This post here stands on its own, even though it is inspired by other content. Combined with the strong network effects of the big social media platforms, odds are that the wish for fame becomes more likely to surface - because fame itself is more probable in these conditions.
Therefore offering tools for quoting, for building upon other people’s content, is a double edged sword. If the social media platform is too big and quoting is too easy, there is an increased likelihood of a bloodless hunt for fame, in which first order creators become increasingly invisible to each other.
Just read @manton’s old post on the deliberate lack of Hashtags on here. I think the concept of emojiitags is a great idea not least because it’s kind of a more controlled way to tag a post with a certain topic.
This means users have the freedom to tag, but the platform has control over what a tag ca be. Bad actors may not invent new tags or reinvent slightly different tags that denote essentially the same topic only with a slight change of emphasis and all the other tricks of attention generation that free-form tagging lends itself to on social media.
Hashtags and Twitter trends go together.
Emojitags won’t solve this problem, I’m afraid. A limited and controlled topic dictionary doesn’t change that. If trends are not to be made invisible, then there is an incentive to appear in the discovery timeline for the trending tag.
And even if trends are not going to be made to stand out more: Trends are somewhat inevitable. E.g. the hockey tag :ice_hockey: shows what you would expect at the moment: A few posts on the Stanley Cup.
Another problem is that certain forms of content happen to be more successful. Just think of instagram, which is full of cute puppy videos (amongst other things) or tik tok, which has a crazy amount of dancing videos. What I’m trying to say: A platform has a ratcheting effect on content once one (or more) repeatable format(s) is (or are) found and found to be successful.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that. I think this is a somewhat predictable quality of social media platforms, when they grow big enough to sustain the complexities on which those emergent properties are dependent.
So what can platform owners do to mitigate the bad effects of growth?
The answer is probably that growth needs to be slow. And content needs to be actually policed. And discoverability needs to be somewhat limited. And content shouldn’t be sorted by likes or similar.
It seems that micro.blog already does most of these things.
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