Inequality, Surveillance and Everything

A tweetstorm summary of Session 3 of the Breaking Smart workshop, based on essays 9-13.

Promethean Legend150ppi

1/ A lot of smart people believe that humans don’t change. Lots of technology is based on this idea.

2/ But people change, then forget they changed and act like they always behaved a certain way and could never change again.

3/ This has a subtle consequence: technology is path-dependent in the short term, but not in the long term.

4/ How, when, where and through whom a technology achieves its maximal impact are path dependent, that it will is not.

5/ Once a technology has transition in path-dependent way from weird to normal, it will seem inevitable.

6/ Luddites aren’t against technology per se, but want to limit impact to preserve a way of life.

7/ They fail because they mistakenly assume the values underlying their way of life is universal.

8/ Conflict is analyzed in zero-sum ways through dominant ideologies with unchanged sense of proportions.

9/ For example, both capitalists and progressives analyze ridesharing with cars center-stage. Smartphone seems like rounding error.

10/ But technology changes sense of proportions, as McLuhan said. From a phone-centric view, cars are the rounding error.

11/ It becomes clear that consumer surplus and spillover from ridesharing, attributable to smartphones, are ~90% of impact.

12/ Surplus and spillover cause more surplus and spillover, and what Buckminster Fuller called ephemeralization: more for less.

13/ Once this virtuous cycle gathers momentum, we are in the non-path-dependent phase: there is a right side of history.

14/ Both “return to traditional values” and “Next Big Thing” are due to misunderstandings of the virtuous cycle.

15/ These deterministic visions are both varieties of pastoralism. Everything unexpected, not in the vision, looks profane.

16/ Pastoralism is where yearning for jetpacks and flying cars comes from. Real aerospace impact was MORE powerful and world-changing.

17/ Getting attached to such visions is really authoritarianism in disguise: utopia for you is dystopia for others.

18/ Why? Because you assume humans don’t change and impose one “universal” set of “human values” on all, like original Luddites.

19/ Promethean view: human pluralism eventually expands to accommodate the full potential of technological capabilities.

20/ This is the principle of generative pluralism, and fixes incomplete social determinism and technological determinism views.

21/ Technology evolution is not deterministic at all, because new information is entering society as new lived values.

22/ Technology evolution is in fact the expression of real human agency. Pastoralism turns loss of agency into a self fulfilling prophecy.

23/ For Prometheans there is serendipity: magnified agency. Universe makes you a superhero.

24/ This analysis is only right to the extent it feels wrong: real progress feels like sliding into profanity.

25/ McLuhan again: we see the future in the rearview mirror and drive backwards into future. Forward is backward. Backward is forward.

26/ Our confused urgency around “inequality, surveillance and everything” actually indicates progress.

27/ The key is to resist politician’s syllogism: we must do something/this is something/we must do this. This is pastoralism.

28/ Instead: the best way through it is through it. The obstacle is the way. Finnish “sisu”: head directly into adversity, not around.

29/ We have the mechanisms we need: liberal democracy, markets, innovation, safety nets for real pain, but not for pastoral yearning.