Bianca's Digital Garden


Search IconIcon to open search

Breaking Smart - Literature Notes

Last updated Aug 15, 2023

# Notes

#literaturenotes See Sources/Breaking Smart - Newsletter

# Against Waldenponding 1

==philosophy of relating to technology== I call Waldenponding (after ==Thoreau’s Walden Pond experiment== on which Walden is based). The crude caricature is “smash your smart phone and go live in a log cabin to reclaim your attention and your life from being hacked by evil social media platforms.”

If FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, is the basic fear exploited by third parties that want to drown you in information, the basic fear exploited by people telling you to unplug and retreat is ==FOBO: Fear Of Being Ordinary.==

Waldenponding, I strongly suspect, is ==driven more by FOBO and ego-attachment== than by any real fear of having your mind, productive potential, and rewards destroyed by “hacked attention.”

Inspiration from 2 sources: The famous quote ==“small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas”== ( = y axis) and Richard Hamming’s idea of scheduling ==“Great Thoughts”== calendar time in You and Your Research

you are part of a ==Giant Social Computer in the Cloud (GSCITC)== computing the future. ==The level and latency at which you consume information and act on it determines your “job” in the social computer.== Your shitposting and FOMO are functional.

Premise: ==FOMO is good.== Being plugged in is good. There is valuable info at all levels from twitter gossip to philosophy books. You should stay plugged in.

If you don’t manage your information economy career, you will default to the lowest-level job in the social computer: ==processing very low-latency information with small-minded cognition (bottom left) for small bets.== It’s the equivalent of low-level bug reporting/testing.

The way to manage your attention is to ==be sensitive to your current mind size (small to great)== and ==consciously target the zone you want to be in,== moving fluidly between small/great mind.

There are ==THREE ways to fail== at this: a) Thinking you can be Great Minded all the time. b) Trying to be Great Minded purely on a low-latency information diet (upper-left red box) c) Trying to consume a high-latency information diet without aspiring to more than small-minded thoughts (lower-right red box)

Each failure mode is an information diet that leads to patterns of betting that fail to deliver a positive return long-term. It’s not addictive FOMOing that kills you, but not being able to translate the information consumption/production choices you’re making into winning bets.

The first failure mode manifests as trying to consume only information at your target level. This will fail. ==You need some information diet input from ALL levels to work at ANY level==

==Trying to “float” your attention at a focused point on the turnpike== rather than distributing attention all along it is the other way to ==fail==

The danger in executing this turnpike roadmap strategy is that ==your mind-level might choose you rather than you choosing your mind-level.==

The second failure mode manifests as ==trying to have Great Thoughts on a diet of pure low-latency live information== (upper-left red box).

The final failure mode is trying to ==keep up with all the information at all latencies at a small-minded level== (lower-right red box).

Higher latency requires ==higher abstraction levels/bigger minds== to extract value.

This is a bit like ==weight training.== You have to increase the weights slowly and perhaps ==train your attention to exhaustion== a bit. If you’re in small mind zone and can only consume/produce tweets, try an essay. See how far you get. Strength-train attention from 10s to 10min. You can and should go the other way as well. If you can only read big philosophy books by dead people and processing the chaotic churn of a Toxic Day on Twitter is too much for you, try handling it for 15 minutes, then an hour. Try posting instead of just reading. This is like ==low-weights/high-volume endurance training.== Harder than it looks.

this ==atrophying of attention and latency limits== will happen REGARDLESS of whether evil designers are trying to hack your attention and keep you phase-locked into their preferred 10s latency information loop. ==Their designs are in fact the LOAD you’re training against==

information distribution has become free/cheap, so the firehose is going to have flows at all timescales, time constants, and abstraction levels no matter what designers and advertisers want or don’t want. ==It’s the information firehose itself that’s creating this environment not evil designers.==

==the original attention hack: powerful religious leaders== telling smart people to check out and unplug from information flows. That way, they get the power

This game is based on the opposite fear to FOMO which I call FOBO. If FOMO is Fear of Missing Out, FOBO is Fear Of Being Ordinary.

When you are plugged into the GSCITC, ==you are part of a great computational fluidization of human cognition.== You’re just ==one instance== in a liquid cloud of human intelligence, your thoughts entangled with those of others in a giant ongoing computation.

This fluidization is a different eme rgent social phenomenon from the homogenization achieved by Organization Man corporations. ==Instead of being a faceless interchangeable part, you are a unique entangled particle in a quantum soup.==

The cost though is that even if your contributions are unique and your personal payoff makes it worthwhile if you do it right, ==the one thing the liquid cloud can’t offer you is individual recognition.==

The GSCITC is not a homogenizer of effort or imagination, but ==it IS a homogenizer of egos and identities. ==What you do counts. Who you are doesn’t. You are an ordinary part of an extraordinary process.

This is the heart of FOBO. Fear of Being Ordinary. ==Fear of being just another entangled particle in the GSCITC.== Fear of your ego dissolving into the collective ego. Fear of having “nothing to show” for playing a part, despite it being sustainable.

A real adept oughta be able to meditate on the angriest, most toxic twitter stream, consume the bile, and turn it into nectar: ==actionable insight you can bet on in the real world.==

==A real adept ought to have strength-trained attention== so they can spend an hour either reading a tweetstream or a once-in-a-generation history-disrupting philosophy book.

We are all now part of a powerful global social computer in the cloud that is possibly ==the only mechanism we have available to tackle the big problems of the world that industrial age mechanisms are failing to cope with.== We might as well get good at it. Do your part. Stay as plugged in as you can.

# Against Waldenponding 2

never trust anything that can make its own meaning if you can see where it keeps its soul.

“soul” loosely as a ==metaphor for meaning-making ability.==

Unlike intelligence, a soul (metaphoric or literal) ==isn’t supposed to take on such a tangible form factor==

Meaning-making entities – humans, and organizations – can only be trusted if they don’t seem to know for sure where their soul is.

Believe it or not, this nebulous philosophical allegory is central to the seemingly mundane question of ==how much time you should be spending staring at the screens of digital devices.== Interestingly though, it is NOT our digital devices that are the untrustworthy horcruxes in this story. ==The true horcruxes are the objects that waldenponders believe are more deserving of your attention: the Walden ponds.==

you aren’t an NPC – non-playing/playable character – in the battle for your own attention. You have tools ranging from ad blockers to cognitive reframes. If you’re letting your attention get “hacked”, it’s because you’re choosing to. ==If you think the only kind of agency you have is the agency to uncritically withdraw to save your soul, you’ve been pwned, but it isn’t by the tech platforms.==

==Waldenponding = primitivist, fetishistic fear of screens as demonic objects.== A way of relating to digital devices that seems shaped by a fearmongering vision of them as soul-sucking pumps, and their designers as Dark Lords who are far too powerful for you, mere mortal, to actively resist. Your only reliable weapon, they say, is the off switch.

==demonization of digital devices== – perfectly ordinary objects governed by the laws of physics and designed by mere humans – is something like a magic trick, where the magician wants to misdirect your attention. While you’re busy worrying about the evil rectangles of light stealing your soul, you are missing the real danger: the horcruxes they are tempting you to create and trust with legibilized, dead bits of your soul.

Waldenponding is a search for meaning that is ==circumscribed by the what you might call the spiritual gravity field of an object or behavior held up as ineffably sacred.== The associated literal pattern of religiosity is idolatry. Today, the ==“idol”== in question is generally characterized by negative definition as ==“almost anything other than the profane digital device screen."== It can take a variety of forms: the in-person conversation, the board game, the hike in the woods, the session of manual labor, the construction project, the family dinner, the paper book. All are excellent things, to be valued for what they literally are. But as suggested repositories for bits of your soul, they are incredibly dangerous.

the loci at the hearts of the narratives are more than mere motifs or synecdoches for larger spiritual quests. They serve as ==physically embodied focal points around which the quests themselves revolve,== like strange attractors. Though the protagonists may, through the narrative, explore the universe in much more expansive ways, you can see where they keep bits of their souls locked down; the zone that keeps drawing them back; the idol that prevents them from wandering too far.

Each in its natural form is a perfectly fine thing. ==It is only when transformed into sacralized fragments of “soul” that they turn into dangerous Dark Magic objects. Waldenponding is dangerous because it encourages you to do exactly that.== The effect is particularly insidious because it is presented as a way to do the opposite.

Horcrux tests: ==do you know where it keeps its brain?== And ==Does it seem to embody a “soul” in more tangible form than you’d expect== from our everyday casual-spiritual sense of the term?

Same tests applied to devices: ==Do you know where it keeps its intelligence? And Is it a legible piece of soul?==

First horcrux answer: Nope! ==Each object/activity pair is usually portrayed by waldenponders as a client device connected to a vast cloud of inherited cultural intelligence.== And they are right! Each of these objects/behavior is a classic horcrux candidate because it is ==old enough for illegible, unplottable patterns of cultural intelligence to have formed around it. You cannot probe this intelligence, only surrender to it through ceremonial, mythologized behaviors==

Second horcrux answer: Yep! Waldenponders talk of these things as tangible embodiments and reliable catalysts of ineffable states of mind. They are ==secular equivalents of temples.==

Answers: yes (it’s in ram, data center, etc.) and no (==While there is definitely a soul to digital life, it definitely does not have an exact address or form or a predictable way to find it.== The locus of “soul” in digital media is so nebulous, our entire experience of online life is necessarily built around search functions. Every day you must head out and look for a fresh glimpse of it, expecting it in unexpected places.)

Technology is about constantly creating new vistas of experience, new unpaved territories for us to explore with cowpaths that then get paved. Some present tougher growth challenges for humans than others, but ==no particular type or generation of technology has a monopoly on soul-destruction, preservation, or enrichment.==

==To live richly is to trust your soul to the universe at large, and the experiences it offers that we build technology to access more of.== The opposite of keeping your soul in a known safe space is constantly looking for signs of it in the ==stream of experiences that constitute life itself,== and ==digital life== is a particularly rich new part of that stream. Our challenge is not to keep returning to a sense of the sacred in the same predictable place, but to ==keep rediscovering that predictable sense of the sacred in new places.==

if you ==consistently approach rather than retreat from the universe,== soul-enriching stuff will dominate.

If you waldenpond…then nothing will happen