June Update

This month’s update is a bit longer on account of a lot having happened and also some backlog from May that did not make it to the last update.

In the usual order, you will find: current affairs, house developments, books of the month, and thoughts on various topics (this month: economics, entrepreneurship, leadership, gen AI—as usual really).

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Let us start with some real talk:

  1. Have you ever felt like our friendship was one-sided, and if so, when?
  2. Is there something you’ve been holding back from telling me, but think I should know?
  3. Do you think there’s an aspect of my personality that pushes people away?
  4. Have you ever been hurt by something I said or did, and we never discussed it?
  5. Is there a part of your life you feel I don’t understand or acknowledge?

Please take five minutes to think about these, with regards to—and perhaps together with—the important people in your life. The exercise is instructive. (I would also be grateful if you would send some thoughts my way. No pressure.)

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By far, the most important thing on my mind in the last three months is the topic of (what I will call) representation. As in, I experience a great deal of low-key but continuous uncertainty and weakness from the absence of models and behaviors that I can relate to in my ambient cultural context.

There are a few specific circumstances that motivate this topic, which I will present later below. However, the way I commonly work is that I can only start seriously working on a psychological issue after I first elevate it to a more general level. This is what took me longer and why I only report on it now. The theory goes as follows.

People, in general, think and experience difficult or unpredictable, distressing things on a routine basis. These things can range from existential (“what if I get mobbed today?”) to trivial but painful (“I stubbed my toe”). Contrary to what intuition would have it, it is not ingenuity, wisdom or fortitude that help us weather these discomforts. Instead, it is the stories we tell ourselves, by transposing stories that we have heard and learned before.

For example, I do not handle my stubbed toe by rationalizing that the stimulus from the nerve endings will be normalized away by my brain in a few minutes. I handle it by remembering that I stubbed my toes many times before without long-term ill; or that the only person whom I know who actually broke her toe did so at full speed against a stone, which is a different situation from mine.

Likewise, I do not handle the fear of mobbing by rationalizing about crime statistics. Instead, I remember the story that my therapist told me that his patient with irrational fears at the start of a day was actually procrastinating on more routine responsibilities, and the story tells me my mobbing anxiety may be my subconscious trying to tell me something.

People deal with uncertainty, unpredictable and distressing things with stories; as Terry Pratchett would say, “using the power of narrativium”. And the main way we use stories is by re-telling stories that we have heard before; stories that we relate to—those where we recognize ourselves as characters.

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Some of my best friends in my area are parents and experience psychological hardship from the combined responsibility of a full-time job and hyperactive children. Paraphrasing them, “we love our children but it is really hard.” Their skin and hair health reveal that their body aged at least twelve years in the six years of this experience. I feel for them and wish them happiness; yet, I also observe that they overcome in stride. Their own parents have lived through this experience before them, and they benefit from that narrative. Their neighbors a couple doors down the street are living through this experience at the same time, and they also benefit from that narrative (and collaborate on parenting, to win back precious hours of alone time on both sides). Popular media and many stories have told of their hardship. They experience hardship, but it is respectable, well-understood and seen hardship. They can find some solace in knowing that their burden is and has been shared, innumerable times over.

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The essence of the theory is this: the more stories one has at their disposal, the least effort it takes to overcome situations. When someone’s life is analogous to main characters of the ambient culture, it takes less effort to step over minor and major hurdles, day in and day out. After all, if all the stories are true, what could truly go wrong? With just a little suspension of disbelief, only amazing things await.

This is where, coming back to the topic at the beginning, I can rephrase thus: I wish there were more stories about people like me. I feel that I lack narratives with characters that I relate to and that I can transpose on a daily basis, to weather my uncertainties and doubts.

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What would the stories even say?

Let us take the example of physical exercise. Characters in the good stories could easily get visually overstimulated, and might not fare well in a gym during regular busy hours. The characters in the stories could have PTSD-related issues with organized sports and not be able to engage authentically in a team without impairment from serious trust issues; the story could have them be introduced to the team by a mentor and psychologically protected for a year of two, the time to acclimatize. The characters could also easily get bored of repetitive input, such that they could not bear any significant time cycling, running, walking nor any type of continuous indoors cardio exercises alone. Any attempt to combine with music or audio learning (e.g. podcasts, audiobooks) would also make them run into the issue of over-stimulation, already mentioned above. Maybe the stories could even show how a character from an economic middle class chooses to forego the expense of owning a car and instead invests that budget into the services of a personal trainer, giving them the appearance of belonging to the upper class, but without the car nor the social credentials.

The stories could show their characters refusing to visit dedicated sporting venues in the same way that they refuse to attend service at churches, fearing the numbing influence of group behavior on their psyche and/or emotional safety. Instead, the characters could perhaps adopt a part-time job at an airport as a luggage handler, mixing the benefits of hauling heavy things back and forth and nurturing their love for air traffic.

But these stories are not written yet—or I have not found them. I wish they existed, and I wish I could learn what physical exercise their characters actually practice.

On a related note, I love my Dance Dance Revolution pad, but my friends find it “weird”. I wish I had more stories to share of folk like me who like DDR.

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Here is a thing that happened. Last year, I spent some quality time with a friend abroad. Our connection started seven years ago and was, at the time, primarily driven by lust. It turned out this is a perfectly decent person, with a honest, relatable job, and a healthy dose of passion towards contributing to his local community. I love the time we spend together, I love what I learn about what he does, and I love learning about his life through his eyes. And, truth be told, there is something distinctly pleasant about feeling desired—at the very least, it makes me feel desirable. Or so I thought! Something happened that gave me pause. We were comparing notes about odd outfits and he suggested I try out some high heel, knee-high leather boots that he owns, primarily designed for women. So I did, to humor him. This is how I finally understood that his primary turn on is seeing feminine behaviors and poses in other men. I also simultaneously learned about myself that seeing another man being turned on by feminine behavior and appearance turns me off, very much.

This situation led to discomfort: while I like to feel desired, I cannot like being desired for my feminine sides, because seeing that in the eyes of others is not attractive to me. After that experience, my eyes started to open to other situations with analogous principles. My discomfort increased slowly, gradually, and it has become hard(er) to ignore.

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What would the stories say? In a similar situation, the characters in the stories I’d like to read who both try out their long boots, take pictures in silly positions, discuss the practicalities of walking or dancing with them, and then take them off before heading out for a walk. Neither the boots nor the female appearance would bring in lust into the scene. Instead, later in the story, the shadowy appearance of a bearded man, illuminated by the moon and the harbor lights, looking in the distance, would simply evoke serene romantic longings.

Sadly, the stories I do know with characters who try long boots do not overlap with the other stories with characters who look at ships in the distance at night. Their characters have little in common with each other, much less with me.

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Here is another thing that happened. A couple years ago, I used to attend social functions more frequently. When the occasions called for extra effort on appearance, I chose outfits and make-up that are “gender-bending.” I like to provoke, and I had found prior that a bit of gender bending is effective. It turned out, in practice, in some social circles where I paraded thus, that gender bending did not provoke. Instead, I saw quite a bit of interest and in some cases even desire in the eyes of others. I was initially curious and did some exploring, but soon enough I started to realize that this interest and desire was expressed towards the more feminine character I was displaying, not towards me as an individual. When the costume and make up wore off, much less of that attention remained. This was worrying.

What would the stories say? I want the characters in my stories to know how to draw attention but without being ostentatious about it.

Segue: In fact, I have a bit of experience with this: back when I was teaching, in addition to wearing regular (and quite normative) clothes, I did wear a little bit of eyeliner. It was very subtle; but it was enough to make the students pay extra attention as to why/how I looked just so different. By the time they realized what was up, they had paid extra attention to class and I had enhanced my teaching.

This is what I would like stories to be about: characters who temporary play with appearances as a way to create a temporary state in their connection with others, whereby reaching a goal, then being respected/visible/desired for their cunning strategy, not the appearance they chose. Do these stories even exist?

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Here is another thing that happened. For context, many of my dearest friends and I enjoy spending time together “grooming” each other to alleviate intellectual and emotional bumps. Picture two baboons picking each other’s flies: this is what we do with undesired thoughts and feelings.

two baboons grooming each other

Source: Wikipedia.

I value these friendships immensely, and I am grateful for the time we spend grooming in this way. Yet, over the years, three different things have become increasingly clear.

One is that I have developed more experience doing this than many of my peers. While there still much that I do not know how to deal with (I am not a trained/licensed therapist), for routine topics I have collected a lot of reusable, applicable principles and stories. My friends and my community know this, they know that I like sharing this skill, and so doing this becomes part of our connection.

The second thing is that this skill is fundamentally gendered: women (gender-performing) are much better at this than men on average, and everyone knows this. Well, I did not know this, but now I do. There may be a way to perform this grooming in a way that is fundamentally masculine, but I do not know it. The way I know how to do it leans more on the feminine side, and this was not exactly intentional.

This brings me to the last thing that became clear: I like the benefits of mutual grooming, and I like to be of service to my friends, but I draw the line at people finding me “interesting” or attractive because I am good at it. I now understand that the part that is interesting/attractive about it is the feminine part, and seeing that in the eyes of others does not work for me. I do not like my relationships to be built up from that.

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What would the stories say? In the stories I would like to read, either the social grooming would be just not gendered at all; or, relatable characters would be practicing the masculine version of it in a way that I could learn from.

Where are those stories? Sadly, I only know those stories where the grooming is predominantly done by women, and the other stories where men simply do not do it at all, and encounter all kinds of distress as a result.

Would you like to be inspired by the story of a character with severe toothache and who also simply does not visit their dentist yearly? No? Well, similarly, I do not feel too inspired by the routine stories of men who struggle while opting out of psychological and emotional grooming.

Additionally, in the stories I’d like to hear from, the grooming would be a thing people do occasionally, perhaps once per week or per month, as one of the many other activities they share the rest of the time. It would not define their relationships. Here’s a relatable character schedule: Monday investing into work, Tuesday into projects, Wednesday into ambitions, Thursday into responsibilities, Friday into fun, Saturday into meditation and reflection, and Sunday into a little bit of social grooming (not necessarily in that order).

Do you know of characters like that?

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Here is another thing that happened. I used to watch a lot of movies. Like, an at-least-one-per-day lot. After years in childhood absorbing culture from books, I realized that written language and stories from centuries past are not as effective teachers of how to behave like a normal human today as (good) movies can be. And so I started loading up on movies to learn instead. For a couple of years. And yet… I was not fully successful. One thing that I continue to be curious about is how men connect to each other 1) emotionally 2) well 3) while actually having a life going on. This is not commonly portrayed.

There are, certainly, stories of men who connect emotionally and dysfunctionally. Then there are all the stories where they connect well but with no interesting emotional bond. Finally, there are “the gay stories” where the characters do not appear to do much in their life other than the relationship displayed in the story.

I wish for stories where the good connections happen, do not incur bad things, and where they are just a part of a wider character development arc. Where are those stories?

I watched hundreds of movies, perhaps thousands! And I only found one or two that were relatable in that way (e.g. The Man with the Answers). And they were not even that relatable.

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Related; today’s conversation with ChatGPT:

Q: what is the phenomenon when someone feels bad because their identity is not sufficiently represented in the culture around them?

A: The phenomenon where someone feels bad because their identity is not sufficiently represented in the culture around them is often referred to as “cultural invisibility” or “cultural underrepresentation.” This can lead to feelings of alienation, marginalization, and a lack of belonging.

In academic and psychological contexts, this experience can be described using terms like “minority stress,” “identity threat,” or “symbolic annihilation.” Here are brief explanations of these terms:

  1. Cultural Invisibility/Underrepresentation: This term highlights the lack of representation of certain identities in the dominant culture, media, and societal narratives. It can affect individuals who do not see their identities, experiences, and histories reflected or valued.
  2. Minority Stress: This refers to the unique stress experienced by individuals who belong to marginalized groups due to their minority status. It encompasses the challenges of dealing with prejudice, discrimination, and the internalization of negative societal attitudes.
  3. Identity Threat: This occurs when individuals perceive that their social identity is being devalued or threatened by the broader society. It can lead to negative emotional responses and a decrease in well-being.
  4. Symbolic Annihilation: This concept, introduced by media scholar George Gerbner, describes the absence, trivialization, or condemnation of certain groups in the media. When people do not see themselves represented, or are only represented in negative ways, it can contribute to a sense of nonexistence or lack of importance.

These experiences can have significant psychological and emotional impacts on individuals, leading to lower self-esteem, feelings of exclusion, and a sense of disconnection from the broader society. Addressing cultural invisibility involves promoting diverse and inclusive representation in all areas of society, including media, education, politics, and public discourse.

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Earlier this year, the editors of The Points Mag surveyed a bunch of people about what they think men are for. In Manhood, they reported their findings. As a thought exercise, I thought of answering the survey myself.

What, if any, is your most “masculine” trait?

Being resourceful with my friends and family. My sense of professionalism.

How did you learn what it meant to be a man?

I can’t say I learned much from my family. I knew very early on when looking at the men from my family that my reaction was “not like that”. I also refused to learn anything about manhood from the experience of being punched or otherwise bullied at school (nor from the models provided by those doing the punching). There are men in my life I look up to, but I am in a continuous state of doubt about whether I admire them for their performance of masculinity or simply because they are good people.

What would you say is the biggest challenge or hurdle that men face today?

I do not believe there is a common shared challenge or hurdle that “men” face, as a group. Everyone has their own life with their own vagaries. Meanwhile, I do believe there is an ambient social malaise where it has become less acceptable for people (any gender) to express opinions in public of what masculinity and femininity are about. Both men and women suffer from the loss of these conversations, albeit for different reasons.

What are men to blame for?

For as long as social norms ascribe physical and moral violence to masculinity (including unintended violence from careless action, given that carelessness is also a normative-masculine trait), “men”—and those who aspire to follow these norms—will continue to be mainly responsible for the hurts resulting from this violence. In my ideal world, violence should not be part of gender norms (nor carelessness); the next least worst thing would be for violence to be equally expected in all gender norms.

Is there anything you think only men can understand?

Society is harsh towards people who do not perform gender properly. The pains inflicted to those who fail to perform masculinity are different from those inflicted to those who fail to perform femininity. I believe only men can understand the pain and shame that results from the punishments for unmanliness.

What are men for?

The same as what all people are for: to love and make beautiful things together.

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This is the point where we switch gears and move on to a different chapter.

Let us start with these diagrams:

The first diagram shows an estimate (courtesy of Garmin) of my “sleep quality” over the period from February 12, 2024, to March 10. The second diagram shows an estimate of my “daily energy” (daily min/max) over the same period. All of this was poor, consistently. It is a wonder that I could function at all.

Now, consider the same diagrams over the period from June 4 to July 1:

Yes, it happened! At last. Sleeping in my own bed since June 19.

I also feel a mental fog is lifting. This came as a surprise. A few months ago I was just feeling old and/or tired. I felt I needed a year more of leave from work to have a chance to recover. Since last week, I just feel more energy for pretty much everything. (The length of this update should be a hint. Lol.)

Unfortunately, it will cost me a few more weeks before everything is unpacked and I can truly feel at ease. At least, the most important bits are in place now.

There are three specific things I would like to share.

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This is a ventilation unit. In American English, it is also known as “energy recovery ventilation”. The weather is still mild, so I cannot comment on the energy recovery yet, but the impact is already clear: the air is good.

In practice, this means I can close my doors and windows at night and sleep in complete darkness, without ever asphyxiating (unlike how I used to). Highly recommend.

Pros:

  • better health (airways).
  • better health (sleep).
  • did I mention it already? better health (mental energy).

Cons:

  • it is a bit noisy.
  • there is too much magic in the electronics of the thing. I wish I knew why it decides to blow harder sometimes. It feels like the thing has a life of its own and I do not like that I do not fully understand it.

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Moving on.

This is a heat pump. With just a bit of tubes visible. There are tubes everywhere: big tubes all over my home, but foremost a massive, massive big tube underground, under the front of my house.

Picture in your mind the proverbial boy, holding a large fish in his hands, very proud of what he just pulled out of the water. This is how I feel: my well is a hundred-and-twenty-eight-meters-deep! I tell you! So big! So proud.

(And the real impressive thing about this is that the hole was made in less than four hours. The Dutch are really good at driving poles in sand.)

Pros:

  • I am not burning natural gas any more!
  • The thing barely uses any energy at all.
  • It cools the house down in summer just as well as it heats it up in winter. (Actually, for super basic reasons, it needs to cool the house down in summer to be able to heat it up in winter. It just “moves” the heat back and forth. Win-win for me.)

Cons:

  • So. Much. Electronics. I barely understand how it works, let alone understand how to make it do anything specific. It already took me embarrassingly long to barely learn how to nudge it in the right direction (in this case start cooling when it was necessary).
  • It is so complex it takes a team to maintain it and keep it working over time. The price of its maintenance contract is eye-watering.

Actually, as much as I love the tech, this is by far the main reason it is doomed to fail as a general-purpose solution—or to become a decent solution for the general public. It is just too complicated. We need something that is just as good, with the hole in the ground, but no electronics whatsoever. Only then it will make sense.

(One quick search later:) Actually, it looks like something like that has been invented already: Earth coupling. I will investigate more. Maybe we need to adjust our collective energy transition plans.

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And here is another thing:

These are what are commonly called “smart bulbs”.

I chose this technology because I did previously have issues remembering to switch off my lights when I left the house (e.g when traveling) and I wanted a way to switch them off at a distance.

Technically, they are light bulbs with some simple electronics inside that connect them to a wireless network using a standard protocol (Zigbee). I like this tech a lot. It is somewhat simple, I feel I understand it, and it is connected to a very open ecosystem of software and hardware tooling.

Pros:

  • just considering lights and remote control, they do the job well.
  • it is not as expensive as it used to be. Certainly cheaper than the value provided (to me).

Cons:

  • holy cow, the Zigbee ecosystem is a mess. Like, there are So Many Products that want to “own” the Zigbee network and become the center of your attention. And virtually NONE of it is remotely good. This is—by far—worse than “Desktop Linux in the 1990s” and trust me, I know, I was there.

What I learned: thirty years ago, people started thinking about home automation. We are still so far from a seamless experience. (This is true not only of Zigbee. The other related techs are a mess too.) And the obstacles are not even technical—most of it is misaligned incentives, weird supply chains that result in unreliable/incomplete protocol implementations, politics, and conflict between projects.

One could think there would be business opportunities? Sadly, that industry space is also crowded and has razor thin economic margins. We are likely bound to decades of continued automation misery.

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Now moving on to our usual programming.

This month’s book reads:

Rich Dad Poor Dad — Robert T. Kiyosaki
I read this because other books and things I was reading often referred to it. In hindsight, I understand why it is popular. The main thing it has going for itself is how it pushes the reader to reflect on how their upbringing shaped their relationship to money. Based on my modest experience so far, I would say the remaining how-to advice is thin as best, poor otherwise. The advice to challenge one’s mindset about money, however, is good. I had already been primed on this topic when I read The Psychology of Money last February. A much better book in my opinion. If you want to approach this topic, don’t read Rich Dad Poor Dad and read that other book instead. Or, if you do not have time, read How Running A Business Changes The Way You Think by Patrick McKenzie.
The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World — Alan Downs
This came up in my reading list after I had started to shape up my thoughts on the topics covered earlier. I had heard of this book before and wanted to check if it would help. On the one hand, no, reading this book did not help with my concerns. On the other hand, it is actually a pretty decent book. It contains useful insights, and it rephrases certain cultural pains into more positive narratives. I would even recommend it to non-gay people to generate more empathy and acceptance.

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Quite a bit of interstitial learning as well.

On economics, I liked Nathan Goldwag’s reverse engineering of the Moral Economy of the Shire, where he reveals that Tolkien was writing about a highly stratified society with staggering wealth inequality. Choice quote:

We see a petty aristocrat like Frodo Baggins, and don’t see all the labor that goes into sustaining his lifestyle. We see a successful peasant family like the Gamgees, and don’t see all the trade-offs and compromises necessary to scrape out a living. We see the hierarchies of traditional rural society, and because it’s alien and exotic, we see it as natural and idyllic, instead of merely a different system for organizing labor and wealth.

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In Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage, Ranjan Roy muses how it is at all possible that DoorDash sells a pizza to the end customer for less than it pays the pizzeria to bake it. (Actual arbitrage and economic fun ensues.) The choice quote is found in the discussion below the article; Collin Wallace from EatGeek teaches us:

They are in the business of finance. In many ways, they are like payday lenders for restaurants and drivers. They give you the sensation of cash-flow, but at the expense of your long term future and financial stability. Once you “take out this loan” you will never pay it back and it will ultimately kill your business.

In the case of restaurants, these platforms slowly siphon off your customers and then charge you to have access to them. They are simultaneously selling these same customers to your competitor across the street, but, don’t worry, they are also selling their customers to you.

For drivers, they are banking on a workforce that is willing to mortgage their assets, like cars and time, well below market value, in exchange for money now. They know that most delivery drivers are simply not doing the math on the actual cost of providing delivery (time, gas, car maintenance, payroll taxes…etc). If they did, drivers would realize that they are actually the ones subsidizing the cost of delivery.

All this nurtures some intuition on my side that DoorDash (and Uber Eats, GrubHub etc, and to a large extent the gig economy at large) is a symptom of a sick economy, where money from the future is being spent today at a net negative value for society. “Markets remain irrational for longer than investors remain solvent” and all that, yet I still wonder how many underlying SaaS and their dependencies will follow when that ship finally sinks.

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On a more serious note, Bruce Schneier (yes, that one) came out to talk about how large tech companies are borrowing from our collective social future to finance their present profits. He makes two interesting points.

One is that these large corporations have built mechanisms to manipulate culture at scale, and are actually using these mechanisms to manipulate consumers into behaviors that are economically advantageous today, at the expense of social dysfunctions later.

The other point is that traditionally, the power to exert influence like that was the monopoly of the state, often democratically elected. This is not so anymore, and it might well cause social unrest. “Amidst a tug-of-war between the old state-centric world and the emerging capital-centric world, there is a growing radicalism fueled partly by frustration over social and personal needs going unmet under a transnational order that is maximized for profit rather than public good.” (An extra emphasis would be that the problem is exacerbated by the fact these corporations are fundamentally feudal, and history tells us that regular people get tired of the feudalism above them, eventually.)

(Most of the paragraphs in that article tell something important. My summary of these two points does not do them justice. The full thing is worth a read.)

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One possible antidote to this economic-political development is to gate keep access to social groups from corporations. What if “the world wide web” moved away from the public sphere (and thus away from global economic forces driven by a few large companies) and became a pool of resources only shared across vetted social links?

In Group chats rule the world, Sriram Krishnan posits that “most of the interesting conversations in tech now happen in private group chats.” My pet theory is that most of the conversations in the world, period, happen in private group chats. The next step from there is building a network of shared (and shareable) resources that look like web pages and hyperlinks “on top” of private group chats.

We can spitball this for a second: in the current public web, the hyperlinks between resources are HTTP URLs relative to “site addresses”—domain names—which are global and public. The economic system described by Bruce Schneier above exists because it is possible for the owner of a domain name to sell the eyeballs of future visitors to an advertiser today, without any oversight from the current and future visitors. What if that transaction was made impossible? What if the hyperlinks were relative to private group spaces instead, and data (“site”) navigation between private groups would require explicit approval from members on both sides? What if publishing new versions of a page was subject to local community guidelines? For example, policies that block certain types of advertisement or selling eyeballs to non-local entities?

The Internet has been like that before. It could become like that again. One can dream.

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Let us talk about business next. In this Instagram Reel which I will keep nameless, a popular author reveals that they derive a large advertisement-based income, in cahoots with Facebook, from plagiarism of someone else’s creative work. The original author gets nothing. That revelatory video, ironically, also becomes popular and generates even more advertisement income. Intellectual rights are trampled in impunity, and generative AI is not even involved.

What do we learn from this? One can choose to be offended, although I would point out that the author is allegedly a teenager and thus possibly not fully ethically mature yet. One could also argue that the original creator accepted this risk when they chose to publish on Reddit without a restrictive (re)distribution license for their work.

My take on this is thus: there is apparently unsatisfied demand for text delivery using engaging combinations of audio and video. People do not like written text anymore (visual only), and they do not really like audiobooks either (audio only). They want input that is both audio and video. There is actually research in this direction already: Young People prefer TV subtitles (BBC). Anecdotally, this is how I consume all my YouTube videos nowadays. The cynical take is that the youngsters cannot read any more or have the attention span of a goldfish, and only simultaneous visual and auditory input can reach their brain. My take, based partly on personal experience, is that it simply works better: better learning with less effort. As long as this fact is not yet commonly accepted, this particular teenager (and Facebook) will continue to be able to extract income from this niche.

In my ideal future, authors would produce content in the way that they are most productive at (usually, in writing, which is distinctly better for production) and readers would consume content in the way that works best for them, and the translation between the two would be fully automated and commoditized—making no one more rich in the process than the author. One can dream.

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In Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret: Founder Liquidity, Stefan Theard tells us about the myth that company founders “deserve” more shares of their business because they “take more risk”. Closer to the truth, tech founders transfer a lot of cash from their company funds to their private pockets, with support from their investors, to ensure that they do not operate their business under the influence of financial anxiety. Company founders do not, in fact, take much risk (when venture capital is involved). The real question, then, becomes why regular employees compensated using equity cannot also transfer some of that cash into their pockets too. As Stefan explains, it’s usually because they don’t know it’s an option or this option is hidden from them. If more people knew this was an option, they would demand to use that service as a matter of course, which would create competitive pressure across companies to offer this service in exchange for talent. So really, we should talk about it.

Such is the power of collective bargaining. One can dream.

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Moving on to this month’s dose of gen AI skepticism.

There’s a person whom I believe is called Nikhil Suresh, writing under the pseudonym Ludic, who posts boisterous, comical and inflammatory commentary on the tech industry over at mataroa.blog. In the past, they made their name known for pieces with evocative titles such as Leadership Is A Hell Of A Drug (a critique positing that most of corporate “leadership” is illegitimate) or Most Tech Jobs Are Jokes And I Am Not Laughing (a critique positing that the industry is rife with rent-extracting middlemen sitting between customers and tech talent). This month, something happened: they posted I Will Fucking Piledrive You If You Mention AI Again, and “the internet” erupted with indignation. Apparently, this struck a chord. I laughed, but the author reports that sadly other readers did not laugh as much and instead harassed them. My take: folk do not like feeling stupid, and they like even less when others point out they are stupid and laugh.

It’s not just some guy named Ludic. Allegedly, Rodney Brooks also thinks it’s a hype. And increasingly, serious investor money goes towards Sober AI (quoth Doug Breunig). In Umar Nasir’s view, we are near the top of the sigmoid curve. I just hope to spot the next slope not too far behind everyone else.

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At last, time to bring this month’s writing to a close. I feel better already. But I also acknowledge that this is a bit long, even by my own standards. Is it perhaps time to split these updates into one stream of more personal ramblings, and a separate stream of intellectual and enterprising discoveries? Or should I dare sending more frequent updates sometimes when content calls for it? Let me know which way you’d like it.

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