What I learned last week (#117): asking ‘what is this?’

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Quote that I was thinking about:

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Henry David Thoreau

Book excerpt connected to the quote above from The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd:

To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.

Patrick Kavanagh

Great challenges and great optimism:

Mostly about change and the vast opportunities that lay ahead. Inspiring and not at all doom-and-gloom.

That fractured landscape is not what was predicted—internet pioneers expected freedom and the wisdom of crowds, not that we would all be under the thumb of giant corporations profiting from a market in disinformation. What we invented was not what we hoped for. The internet became the stuff of our nightmares rather than of our dreams. We can still recover, but at least so far, Silicon Valley appears to be part of the problem more than it is part of the solution.


The harm of Google abusing its monopoly position will not show up first in harm to consumers, but in depressed profits, decreased R&D investment, and lower wages at the web companies to whom Google once directed traffic. For Amazon, it will show up in the increased fees and advertising costs required to show up in product search.

These harms to the supply side of marketplace platforms, with the majority of the gains being captured by the winner of the winner-takes-all model that Silicon Valley has encouraged, do eventually cascade to consumers. But because the pain is widely distributed and because the platforms are not required to report the information that would make it visible, the problem will not be obvious until much of the damage is irreversible.

When the “superstar firms” ruthlessly compete with smaller firms that come up with fresh ideas, not only starving them of talent but often introducing copycat products and services, there is decreased innovation from the market as a whole. Cities are dominated by a new class of highly paid big-company employees driving up housing costs and forcing out lower wage workers; wages and working conditions of workers in less profitable industries are squeezed to drive the growth of the giants. Their very jobs are made contingent and disposable, with inequality baked in from the beginning of their employment. Governments are starved of revenue by giant companies that have mastered the art of tax avoidance. The list is far longer than that.

Read The End of Silicon Valley as We Know It? on oreilly.com

People with opinions just go around bothering one another:

A great piece on thinking about one’s experience and the benefit of questioning it. It is specifically about how we interact online, but can be extended beyond that. Sorry for the long excerpt, but, this is a long article and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

This leads us to a more general observation: that when we go on Twitter or Reddit or most news sites, we enter a domain governed almost entirely by the currency of ideas. This commentator is saying this, sparking a whole set of reactions about that bone of contention. While obvious, this nonetheless deserves a moment of reflection. The bottomless feed of opinions hovers in a virtual world: you don’t, from the perspective of your online activity, engage with people in the flesh. You don’t engage with ambient sounds, with light breezes, with subtle smells. You engage just with what’s posted.

So while it’s true that on Twitter you find humour and revealing images and poignant observations, for the most part, the platform does seem to revolve around this currency of ideas: you enter into a world of opinions where an ‘us versus them’ mindset is the norm, not the exception.

Compared to online spaces that are dedicated towards a (genuine) community sharing a niche interest, in the case of platforms like Twitter, we find ourselves drawn to engage with a stream of opinions almost for its own sake.

That qualification is crucial. We need to read. We need to listen, to debate, to discuss, to mull things over; we need to form opinions on a whole range of issues to function and participate in society. But spaces that revolve around a stream of opinions that solicit us to habitually ‘check in’ with that stream for the sake of it don’t bring out the best in us. I have always liked the succinct way that the Buddha is said to have put it in the Sutta Nipata, that ‘people with opinions just go around bothering one another’.

Again, this is not to say we shouldn’t form opinions. Rather, it’s that when platforms like Twitter present themselves as ‘what’s happening right now’, we should question whether ‘what opinions are going around right now’ isn’t a better framing (and the opinions of a very small group of people, at that). With this questioning – with this reframing – we might opt to continue as before, albeit bringing awareness to the ‘egoic charge’ of what we’re engaging with and becoming more conscious about how and when we express our own opinions. In other cases, where the perceived egoic charge of a particular platform, debate, or influencer is particularly high – gauged by how much ‘being right’, ‘us versus them’ mindsets and hostility dominate the overall atmosphere – we may choose to redirect our time and energies towards other forms of exchange entirely.

Read What is this? The case for continually questioning our online experience on systems-souls-society.com

Think about how to get more feedback on your work:

One of the things about my most recent work with Automattic as a Happiness Engineer is how much critical feedback I get on my work on a regular basis. It is not always easy to take but it has helped immensely and I wish that I’d had more feedback sooner.

This is the hard part of feedback though and is helpful to think about in terms of being a giver of feedback:

Of course, not all feedback is good. Sometimes it’s just noise. Knowing when to ignore feedback that isn’t useful or is badly intentioned can be just as useful as knowing when to seek out the kind of feedback that is instructive. For example, feedback and opinions are not the same thing. Feedback is based on observation and reactions to your specific actions. It does not aim to tell you what you should be doing; it simply seeks to enlarge your perspective on what you are doing. Opinions are just someone sharing how they feel about a particular aspect of the world – they have nothing to do with you in particular.

Read What Information Do You Need in Order to Change? on fs.blog

I can’t imagine how long it took to make this video of stop-motion Lego cooking:

I especially like the grilling and chopping that starts around 3 mins in.

Stuff I wrote and drew about this week:

Other things I was reminded of, or thankful for, last week:

  • Did a big art studio session with the kids last week. Making something always seems to make me feel better. Got a couple of pieces I liked and the kids did some really cool work as well.
  • I mentioned this last week that I was thinking about giving this site a new coat of paint and work on a few things, and I started that this week. Switched to a new theme, Eksell by Anders Norén. Also reorganized the homepage and categories on the blog. Lots more to do but I like the way things are going.
  • The kids had their last day of school before the spring holiday while actual spring is taking its time to arrive. It was 14 degrees on Saturday and then it snowed on Sunday night. 🤷
  • Next up is writing a little book review, summarizing the design changes made to the site, and finishing the organization post I’ve been working on on-and-off.
Trail in the woods with the sun shining through the trees.
My morning walk. Spring is slowly coming along.

Last but not least, check out what I’m up to now.

Comments welcome!

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