My timeline got absolutely imploded by the news that Sam Altman has been fired by the board of OpenAI. I’ve got so many priors and biases and you probably can guess at some of them. Others I hope I’ve played a little closer to the chest. I do not know what happened.
I do think we’d know more about what the fuck was going if we had the kind of reporting that was a little more shoot from the hip and a little less tsk tsk regime. I’ve never missed Valleywag more.
I do think it’s been an impossibly weird week and everyone is as reactive as it is possible to be. Silicon Valley has always had factions and drama and the Federal government breathing down its neck. So this feels like a little bit of the same cycle of power and drama that we’ve always had. No one is ever an angel and the devils are often unexpected. It’s best not to make a martyr out of mercenaries. Just don’t be too sure you know what army you’ve been drafted into.
Our home in Montana is county land off of a dirt road. Our USPS mail box requires a half mile trek to get there and back. It is the perfect amount of walk at sunset when you want to take a short break and stretch your legs.
I had some skincare waiting for me so the anticipation added a pleasant boost to my already happy mood. It was golden hour as the sun set in the west. The Spanish Peaks were washed in light and clouds were orange. As far as being content with the human experience, it’s hard to get much better than that for me.
It’s nice to feel joy when everything is uncertain. Not that life ever offers much certainty, but it’s easy to feel grim when the problems facing my country and the planet seem insurmountable.
A beautiful sunset in the west could just as easily be read as sad metaphor. A lot feels like it’s going wrong if you read the news or spend time on social media. American decline, global warming, conflicts and strained spheres of influence all paint dire picture.
But that’s all outside my locus of control. The things I can do for myself are broad and life affirming. I enjoy a walk in the quiet beauty of nature because I’ve been graced with building a life where sunset in the west is a good thing.
Given the tenor of the last week, I have had World War Two on my mind. One of my favorite science fiction authors Philip K. Dick has a novel about a timeline where the Nazis got the atomic bomb first and nuked Washington D.C. It was turned into an Amazon Prime prestige drama called Man in The High Castle. I recommend it.
The more history marches on, the more human nature remains the same. An alternative history is an intriguing sub-genre in science fiction especially because it is so believable. Long Island being the home of the American Reich is an extremely believable outcome if a few key moments in our history had gone a different way.
You can imagine a technology tree unfolding had different people with different circumstances got to a breakthrough first. You can imagine sunnier scenarios. “For All Mankind” is a show that imagines what a more competitive space race between the Soviet Union and America might have given us
A multiverse approach is all that makes sense to me when I see history. You imagine outcomes as inexorable and subject to much larger outcomes than anything any one of us could do on our own.
But you also recognize your own agency. We can exert our own gravitational force on those around us and in turn they impact a wider world. We can help people resist the worst in each other but consistently choosing to see the best in each other is not always easy to do.
I think that’s why it’s important to not assign yourself too much power in the scope of life but also know that you can make a difference. “But there for the grace of God go I.”
I imagine this is why forgiveness and grace are so crucial to human life. Not all of us are handed much in life but we do have each other. We can actively create the outcomes in history we want to see. It just starts at a nexus of control of your own life.
There are few pleasures in life as gratifying as having a good conversation with someone. I recorded a podcast with one of my absolute favorite Twitter mutuals and LP in chaotic.capital this morning. I don’t want to ruin the surprise (click here if you do) but it was a very good time and a very good conversation. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
I’ve had the good fortune to be in a few deep dive podcasts recently if you want a preview of the kind that of thinking and conversations that bring me joy.
One of the most challenging aspects of doing the earliest stage investing in technology, and startups in general, is that we simply have no idea what the future will bring us. We have our best guesses.
And it’s through conversations with others do we get to improve our best guesses. Sharing insights and history helps us refine our process and worldview such that our knowledge broadens and deepens.
In conversation we share what’s worked for us and what we’ve seen across our own experiences. A good conversation is a pleasure unto itself but it’s also a window into the world of someone else. And I cannot imagine a more joyful way of improving yourself.
Rounding the bend into a thousand posts is teaching me some lessons in humility and frailty. I am reaching to get words word as my mind is slow.
I am not reacting to something in an average way and it’s been a struggle to keep going over the laser week or two. I’ve put one foot in front of the other but I can see that I only slept for a couple hours last night. Ironic to be considering averages when one’s own responses are so slowed.
Much of my struggle is probably just some better living through chemistry problems. A new addition to the biohacking routine went awry. I’m struggling with the heat wave and the air quality of summer in the mountain west. The long days of bright lights slowly unspooling my sanity as I wait for cooler less cruel months to come. Just breathe in and out and try to eat and sleep.
It’s our autonomy of mind that is threatened by this unholy troika of smartphones, social media and linguistic weaponization, and there is no more important struggle today than to defend ourselves against that threat.
Humans have nervous systems that are easily hijacked. You give us something to imitate and within a few weeks we’ve learned a new way to get a social advantage. And so we have massive social cataclysms as the rules change. And the rules are changing fast.
Obviously this has anyone older than forty asking if the western world under attack. Is questioning liberalism actually the psy-op? Are we fighting amongst ourselves? Do you even know what memetic agents you are infected by?
I sure don’t what brain works in carrying but I don’t think animated porn is for me. But I also got taken in by lots of questionable narratives on modern medicine, fertility and children too. Untangling yourself from the desires you were given is exhausting. Good luck unpacking who jacked your frame!
The rising volume on complaints about the mainstream media has struck me as a little bit silly as I’ve been entrenched in skepticism of institutional authority my whole life. Thinking the news had a bias isn’t new and conspiracy is practically an American art form. So be careful out there.
When I was a kid in the late nineties we still had the national broadcast evening news as the center of discourse. I was considered a bit odd for being interested in news at a young age but my hippie parent had a healthy skepticism for institutional authority so they encouraged it.
I remember before the mass adoption of social media and self publishing, if you wanted an alternative perspective you had to turn to AM radio. If you were lucky you lived in a college town and had access to library cooperatives and computer labs. If you were very lucky like me, your parents had invested in personal computers and internet access early on so you could mix formal libraries with early choose your own adventure newsgroups online.
Thanks to the confluence of the above factors I read Adbusters, went to the local anarchist book cooperative and listened to Art Bell late at night. I was practically stewed in every early conspiracy and counter culture narrative that had any amount of reach. If a zine cared or an indie publisher could cobble together a story I read it. This lead to a general fascination with media and how Americans decided on what was credible and what viewpoints were discouraged.
I was a curious child. My family welcomed skeptics and mystics. This is perhaps what happens when you take children on meditation retreats. I got inoculated to a lot of crazies, cults and whackadoodles because America has always been where utopians gather. Our evangelical cultures have led to uniquely American interpretations of our Gods. And I loved nothing more than watching these subcultures flourish.
My family bought a cable news package and I watched CNN and Fox News battle it out. I read Naomi Klein and Marshal McLuhan. I convinced my mother to get me a subscription to the Economist when I was fifteen. Embarrassingly I used their motto in a year book quote. I talked my way into a job famed talk radio juggernaut 77WABC when still technically in high school.
If there is one thing I learned from this lifelong obsession with who controls what we think, it’s that we rely on the same simple narratives over and over again. The conspiracies of yesterday are the facts of today. We change our minds. We recycle the same prophecy. If you start seeing a lot of chatter about aliens remember we’ve had this news cycle before.
Most of my social circle is caught up in various internecine dramas. This is really saying something as I have a lot of people in a lot of different demographics across every continent except Antarctica. Which is a pity as I’d love a friend down there.
I am convinced that everyone is losing their fucking minds because we are in the middle of what I believe will end up being recognized as an information war. Maybe one day we persecute memetic crimes against humanity at The Hague.
I realize this sounds modestly hysterical but really you probably don’t appreciate how much your opinions are being courted to different interests groups. It’s not even particularly menacing. We want others to see our humanity and we leverage every tool we have from Twitter to the New York Times.
And it’s important that we fight these wars. You are probably right about a lot of things and I am wrong about them. It’s important that you and I provide participation and consensus to the rest of society so we can come to some form of agreement. If you think something should change own up to it.
I genuinely think it’s a mistake for anyone to pull away from these obligations to society and by extension political and social opinion. I have watched Silicon Valley pull back from participation in its own self advocacy in the wake of the American media coming down so hard on it. I think this is a mistake.
I believe that the technology industry and startups in particular owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to remain engaged. I promise it’s not that hard to speak to the media or the general public. If you are a founder or someone participating in this community and need help just send me a DM on Twitter. Consider me a diplomat to the fourth estate.
My day has been a little off as I’m nursing my husband through some surgery. Through frankly he’s recovering so well it’s mostly just keeping him company while I do my regular workday. But I have consumed some good content in the process of keeping him company and making sure ice packs are rotated & medicine is taken.
I watched John Mulaney standup special Baby J which was surprisingly good. My main takeaway was “being liked is a cage” but also you’ve got to watch out for how selfish everyone is in the process of managing their own traumas and addictions.
Mulaney is a fascinating example of someone going from beloved to fuck up as soon as it was clear he was a human and capable of sinning and hurting himself and others.
He got a good dose of being condemned while being shitheel as an addict. Who he really hurt other than himself I can’t say. But he was problematic says many inches of gossip writing and critical reviews. Wrong speak and shame and condemnation is so interesting as a social engagement issue for culture. It’s never really about them. We can all be assholes and unlikable in the process of being hurt and healing our hurts.
I suppose this is why I believe it’s better to never take anything personally and be sure you take care of yourself if you find yourself reacting strongly to a person’s frailty. The ones who love you will forgive you if you need to reorient yourself into doing what’s right for you so long as you don’t hurt anyone in the process. And oftentimes even if you do.
The follow up movie we watched was also about wrong think. But instead of it being about the addiction and selfishness of a celebrity it was about the selfishness of trying to decide what’s right for an entire nation. We watched the Tetris movie.
Which is quite a dramatization of how totalizing even the most glorious of ambitions can be in the hands of hands of normal frail humans. Yes I think wrong think comedians and communists are related and I swear I still think Bari Weiss is kind of an asshole. Most of the comedians asking for forgiveness for wrong think aren’t actually that funny to begin with. Back to Tetris
I found myself inspired by the frustrations that come from human nature & self dealing while glorifying ambitious end goals for social good. The collective good can often be patently false if someone ambitious enough gets perverted. Maybe I’m just being that asshole capitalist but I think nepotism and corruption come in many forms. And it’s easier to spot it in British billionaires and communists bureaucracies. But we’ve got plenty of right speak and “for your own good” pleas right here in America.
It’s inspired me to look harder into how we are perversely seeking control and benefits for large corporations and political parties in our current race to regulate new technologies like crypto and artificial intelligence. If you want a hint as to where I’m worried look no further than Gary Gensler and reinforcement learning for artificial intelligence alignment. And yes I’m making bets to that effect.
Being valuable for your data has always been a bit of weird feeling for individuals. Because you on your own may have experienced quite varied mileage on being remunerated for your skills, contributions and other ineffable qualities.
We value athletes and business executives and the extremely beautiful and the particularly intelligent and getting paid to be any combination of that is bound up in dumb luck and how you compete in an economy with other humans.
Individually we are all quite unique. But the ways in which we are packaged, marketed, sold and controlled by our social, national and family contracts and norms can make it feel like we are put in boxes. Demographics.
Some professions are very refined at saying what facet of a person is worth something to another person responsible for selling, let’s say, designer clothing or commodity groceries or financial services. We call that cost of acquisition.
The adage in my age of the internet was always “if you don’t pay for the product then you are the product.” And that insight has tainted social media from the start. Even if it was a great deal for all the free users of the social website who didn’t mind using something for free because they couldn’t monetize their attributes at that scale. Generally unless you were in a small class of power users social media didn’t make you money and you weren’t that valuable.
And since you were the product being marketed and sold, other people who market and sold other things (advertising if you will) generally found it was in the best interest of a social media business to make sure there was plenty of flavors of you the user (perhaps SKUs or stock keeping units) on hand so if an advertiser wants to buy access to say a late thirties professional woman with a high net worth, she is online and can be shown an advertisement.
It helps to have active users like that readily available so she might be enticed to buy a $5 sparking water laced with drugs and sugar substitutes. Yes I went to Whole Foods today.
So it’s a mystery to me why you would implode the vast and intertwined delicate tapestry of entrenched network effects so that you can instead deliver less access to the network whose major value is keeping specific demographics on a website for extended periods happy and engaged. But I am not Elon Musk.
As the age of artificial intelligence trained on reams of user data (available via API or application programming interfaces) gets going the owners of the social web are scared they are getting screwed. Reddit shut down access which is a real blow to Google whose best type of search for niche answers has been amending “Reddit” at the end of a query.
If Elon Musk is selling a dopamine drip of content and access then shutting off the tap is a baffling decision. And I’ll admit I got off the internet today because the strain of whatever is actually happening at Twitter (rumor is server issues and back end chaos and unpaid bills) meant none of my tweets would send.
I quite hope this will be better tomorrow as I rather liked the old system of my data and attention for access to the great wide open feeds. And I actually paid $8 for my account. Can’t imagine what everyone else is experiencing.