Wednesday 6 December, 2023

Avian harvesters

Norfolk, on a winter’s morning

Quote of the Day

“I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.”

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Advent Calendar 2023 – Day 4 | Niel Gow’s Lament arranged by Seonaid Aitken


Fenella Humphreys is a gifted violinist who’s had the idea of doing a musical Advent Day calendar. Thanks to Sheila Hayman (Whom God Preserve) for the suggestion.

Long Read of the Day

Ben Thompson and ‘Regretful Accelerationism’

Really interesting reflective essay on the implications of what has happened to our culture by one of the sharpest observers of our networked world. Might be behind a paywall (I’m a subscriber to his newsletter), but here’s hoping it isn’t. If it is, see below.

Thompson’s conclusion:

To put it more bluntly, despite the fact my personal and professional life are centered on — and blessed by — the Internet, I’m increasingly skeptical that it can be, as it was in Ready Player One, portrayed as a distinct development from a world increasingly in turmoil. Correlation may not be causation, but sometimes it absolutely is.

In this I do, with reluctance, adopt an accelerationist view of progress; call it r/acc: regretful accelerationism. I suspect we humans do better with constraints; the Internet stripped away the constraint of physical distribution, and now AI is removing the constraint of needing to actually produce content. That this is spoiling the Internet is perhaps the best hope for finding our way back to what is real. Let the virtual world be one of customized content for every individual, with the assumption it is all made-up; some may lose themselves to the algorithm and AI friends, but perhaps more will realize that the only way to survive online is to pay it increasingly little heed.

As an experiment, I asked Claude, the LLM in which I have most confidence, to summarise the essay. Here’s what it came up with:

  1. The portrayal of virtual reality as an oasis in dystopian science fiction books and movies is a cliché. The idea that the online world is a place of escape and freedom while the physical world falls apart seems implausible.
  2. In reality, the physical world has a natural “benevolent monopoly” of interoperability and shared resources, while online worlds are more fragmented into walled gardens and proprietary ecosystems.
  3. The dominance of platforms like Google and Facebook in the 2000s was based on their superior ability to aggregate demand and marshal users’ attention. This gave them outsized power over other players in the digital economy.
  4. The rise of AI-generated content with near-zero marginal costs threatens to overwhelm platforms’ ability to maintain integrity and trust. Spam networks are already using AI tools at scale to game systems optimized for scarcity not abundance.
  5. Social media strips away constraints on anti-social behaviors, resulting in dynamics unlike anything in the real world. Taking social media seriously seems increasingly untenable.
  6. Thompson suggests the demise of the ad-supported model may restore healthier incentives and business models less prone to chasing virality. People may also learn to tune out the excesses of social media and online discourse.
  7. In conclusion, Thompson proposes that removing constraints like distribution costs and content creation costs may spoil the online world but also spur people to value the physical world and real human connections more. Less faith in virtual escapism could be a net positive.

If you’ve had a chance to read the essay you’ll be in a good position to assess how accurate this summary is.

My commonplace booklet

Digital nostalgia


Let’s just state the obvious here: Ayaneo says it’s “paying homage” to the Macintosh, which is a kind way of saying, “We copied the thing pretty much exactly.” This device is the spitting image of Apple’s ’80s-era computer, right down to the floppy drive and the rainbow sticker. (Ayaneo made the sticker a flag shape instead of an apple, though — there’s paying homage and then there’s paying lawyer fees, you know what I mean?) It’s smaller than a Macintosh, but it’s beige and rectangular and even has a black space where the old screen would have gone.

On the other hand…

This thing has five USB ports (one USB-C and four USB-A), plus HDMI, DisplayPort, a headphone jack, ethernet, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. You can get it with Windows 11 or buy the “bare” version and install Linux or SteamOS or whatever else your heart desires.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

The Political Ideologies of Silicon Valley

Terrific series of seminar papers from a seminar hosted by Johns Hopkins’ Center for Economy and Society and Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

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