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Ask HN: What are unintended consequences of new tech you've noticed?
267 points by coloneltcb on Oct 25, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 361 comments
3 times in SF this week, a Cruise AV has driven past my car and triggered my automatic windshield wipers, even though it was totally dry out. (probably the LIDAR interacting with wipers' infrared sensors).

Got me thinking about what unintended consequences can spring up because of new technologies. Anyone have other examples, current or historic?

My favourite one that surprised me and continues to surprise people: kids that have grown up with smartphones and iPads from birth are computer illiterate.

People see their 5 year old using an iPad and the knee-jerk cliche thought/assumption us the classic "oh wow these kids just get technology!" (recall all the "I need my kid to program the VCR" type stuff from the 80s/90s - it is the same thing of older people assuming current children innately understand the current tech)

Yet while today's kids may know how to stab at a screen to get videos of Peppa pig to play, there are people starting to come through to their mid and late teens who don't know how to use a mouse and keyboard with any level of dexterity, or don't know what a "file" is or what folders/directories are etc because that is all hidden away on an iPad. As a result they struggle to do even the most basic tasks that we all take for granted... and they don't get taught because everyone thinks they already know it having grown up with an iPad in their pram.

I chuckle to my self sometimes when I see a toddler walk up to a TV or video advert and try touching it a few times, then walk away confused because what they thought was a touch screen isn't doing anything when they touch it.


I chuckle to my self sometimes when I see a toddler walk up to a TV or video advert and try touching it a few times, then walk away confused because what they thought was a touch screen isn't doing anything when they touch it.

I also chuckled when my 2yo did this, but stopped chuckling when he actually got it to switch channels. Turns out our tv has small near invisible touch controls beneath the screen and we just didn’t know.

of course, he wouldn’t stop messing with the tv after discovering this, and found a control combination (undocumented) to put the tv in demo mode: superbright, oversaturated and automatically forgetting its settings after a while.

I was not amused.


Some related threads from a few weeks ago about rising computer illiteracy among kids:



I really have noticed that elderly people who have no computer experience have a better grasp of computing concepts than most kids. They understand physical media stores sounds and pictures, so it easy to explain that pictures and music lives on their sd card, like a phonograph or roll of film, except much more. They understand that you need an internet connection to communicate, like how you need your phone hooked up to make phone calls, since they have all had to deal with the phone company to get their phone working. And it is really simple to explain that a wifi router is just extending the internet into your living room. They understand sending an email and attaching a picture to it (use the paper clip and pick the picture). I was even able to explain the file system to someone, by saying that instead of just printing out his letters, he can store them inside a "folder", and print them out later as many times as he wants.

These concepts seem utterly lost on so many kids. They will send you a series of screenshots of a website instead of just sending the url. They are constantly losing data. They can not tell you where their data "lives"; whether it is in their iCloud or their phone or whatever.

It's not that horrible, but I am disappointed because I honestly thought that by now we would all be more computer literate. Isn't this what schools are supposed to teach?

It seems like when you grow up with some important but finicky technology, it tends to sow a certain amount of knowledge in the populace. I notice there tends to be a lot more car and mechanic knowledge in the older generations than say those in their early 40s and below. To drive a car it seems like you had to do a lot more troubleshooting on your own (didn't have a mobile phone to call the car shop). Same thing for those that were young in the 1990s and had a computer.

Yup, my bro in law panicked when he realized this - even school assignments are on a touch and record based interface so no interaction- and got my nephew a low powered windows 10 machine(dual core i3 from 2013 so the thing CHUGS) and gives him "assignments" to make something creative with 3D printing or just type a story out in MS Word

The idea is to get him comfortable with older computing paradigms and make him appreciate "new" software via exposing him to low powered hardware and how difficult it is to use comparatively.

He tried doing a raspberry pi computer for the kid but said it was too underpowered to do anything meaningful+setup was a hassle

The funniest related instance I've encountered was:

> at work with a 20 year old intern in the stock room

> clock on the wall above the door

> intern asks "Hey, do you know what time it is?"

> I look at the clock and say, "5:30pm"

> intern says "Thanks, my phone was dead"

I was in shock for the rest of the day a person less than a decade younger than me doesn't know how to read an analog clock.

Somebody with a wristwatch can develop a superior sense of timing when working. It is quick and distraction free.

Wristwatches are underrated. In the trades a $20 watch could pay you $x000 a year if it saved some minutes each day.

In EMT training, they had to repeatedly tell us all to get watches with a second hand. It felt like the stone ages.

Not sure if this is different from growing up mechanically illiterate: a whole new generation growing up not knowing what a spark plug or timing belt is.

Engines are finally entering their appliance phase, just in time to be replaced by electric motors.

It’s okay for computers to become appliances too.

Not exactly. Being able to use a keyboard or a mouse is different. By comparison, is not being able to drive a car.

I sure know nothing about engine but can drive.

A computer illiterate needs the minimum of being able to maneuver it.

Files might disappear, they are an abstraction after all.

Surely “mouse” is not a particularly modern artifact. Remember Scotty from Star Trek trying to talk into one?

Mouse was because you couldn’t manipulate directly, iPad you can. Keyboard is because you can’t talk to it. But now one can.

As for not driving a car... why would you need to know how once it can drive itself better? The car’s purpose is to get you from A to B, not to be driven.

Clearly we are on an appliance trajectory there as well. Knowing how to drive is a skill that only a few generations may ever need.

I absolutely agree, the problem is that we are not there yet.

While I can see mouse being pointless, voice recognition is slow, problematic (can you imagine saying something private by voice, like firing someone?) and prone to error. Keyboard usage is still very necessary for any profession that need to be efficient at using a computing device.

And for multi language speakers (using 2 terms from different languages in the same sentence for example), voice recognition is very behind. Not to mention is very behind on non-english languages (this is based solely on my experience with italian though, no objective data)

Some skills require a working knowledge. Race car driving. Off roading . Driving rescue vehicles etc. these are all skills where simply getting from point A to B is insufficient. Also, some skills once in decline do make a comeback. Beekeeping, soap, candle making find a niche in a “craft” market because people value quality. Just a thought.

A mouse is actually useful. Best for looking at is large and at eye level. Best for manipulating is smaller and at elbow level. Having several buttons is also useful. It matters if you're doing it all day.

For all the things youth don't know one thing they do know is that youtube will fill in the gaps.

YouTube is not useful when you need muscle memory. You can learn how to type on a keyboard with YouTube, but you will still be useless.

True enough. Youtube can show you how to do a thing but it won't do it for you.

My mother is a perfect example of this. She is fascinated that my 6-year old nephew just gets the iPad, he's unafraid to use it and can do so much! At his age I edited the startup of MS-DOS to free up RAM for playing games. Times have changed indeed.

I'm curious if, and exactly when, this might lead to sweet consulting gigs for the then elderly, computer savvy generation that I consider myself part of, similar to old COBOL devs called back from retirement.

It seems that the ressources for people who actually want to learn computers are excellent and are getting better all the time, so maybe there will always be enough well trained people coming up to solve all problems.

Not a parent yet, but I certainly don’t plan on giving my kid a touch device... certainly not with internet access. I grew up using the internet as a 90s kid. Today, the internet is even more messed up.

Our 5yo has an iPod Touch to play music. But she also has a Linux PC (she enjoys typing things and playing gcompris). But probably our best purchase is a Micro:Bit. Her programs are still simple, but it’s clear how much she enjoys being creative and that she can make the Micro:Bit do what she wants.

We are not forcing her to use tech in any way. The Linux PC and Micro:Bit are just there and it’s up to her own curiosity to explore them when she feels like it.

I think the problem is that TV and iPads are convenient for parents. You can put your kid behind one, and they’ll occupy themselves for hours. Whereas with real computers, Micro:Bits, or even Lego, you have to help them understand.

My kids (9 and 6) started with touch devices but are increasingly preferring an actual PC. I just bought a Dell G3 gaming laptop (in addition to the Lenovo PC we already owned) so that I didn't have to give up my MacBook every time they wants to play Garry's Mod.

For first-person "builder" games (current favorite is "Scrap Mechanic") WASD+mouse-look is a lot easier for them than tapping and dragging on a touch screen. Also: larger displays.

Forget mouse+keyboard dexterity...most other kids don't seem to even know about the Esc, Enter, Space, and Shift keys.

> I chuckle to my self sometimes when I see a toddler walk up to a TV or video advert and try touching it a few times, then walk away confused because what they thought was a touch screen isn't doing anything when they touch it.

I've seen in shopping mall little girl standing in front of aquarium, trying to move around fishes with her finger...

I see this observation on HN pretty often, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. Do later generations know fewer things, or just different things?

That seems like the wrong question.

The topic was computer literacy and knowing different, non-computer things is irrelevant and knowing stuff about Fortnite, while computer-related, is not literacy.

Yeah, also while in the past Fortnite might have been replaced by Counterstrike - that allowed players to run dedicated servers, it was itself a Half Life mod etc. so there was just more opportunities to learn technical skills.

Now it seems it's all about consuming services in walled gardens - no learning required, or even allowed.

Same thing happened with cars. Nobody knows how to work on them anymore because they became easier to use and more reliable.

Good, looks like training my 1 year old to use a controller instead of a tablet was a good idea LOL

Internet usage starts with users querying information they want, and services learning/adapting to deliver information in a format/context based on their activity. This has created some stellar search tools, a personalized network of services and communities available to people, and made the internet a paradise for new content from all over the world.

Despite that all the information in the world is available to us, we only seek out what we want to see/hear/read and then get fed new information based on those queries. It doesn't lead to free exchange of ideas and values, it has created polarized societies where we are digitally segregated by our own sense of identity and community.

People talk a lot about the political side of this, the "echo chambers" online. But I think it's worse than that. We see racial segregation on Twitter, feedback loops of content on YouTube that reinforce themselves, news outlets tailoring their content for users that reach them from their own site and optimizing for usage metrics that feed usage metrics... and we all are in love with it.

It reminds me of Farenheit 451 in the sense that this almost-dystopia wasn't created by some fascist dictator or single-party state; we built it ourselves. We wanted it.

That's not to say there isn't beauty on the internet, and we live in an era where more people talk and share and love and fight more than ever with language and ideas. It's just a strange departure from where most futurists thought we were going to be.

> We wanted it.

I'm not entirely convinced this is accurate. It definitely is in part, but not in whole. We wanted these better search tools and we like recommendation systems. But I know a lot of people are frustrated with algorithms like YouTube's recommendation system trapping them. (e.g. watch one Joe Rogan video and you get firehosed with more JRE videos). The thing is we also don't notice that this reinforcement also pushes us away from one another. But the solution sounds very similar to the solution to the complaint. People are complaining about being walled in by the algorithm (I for one am one of those people). People are asking for new suggestions. As in new topics, not just other youtubers doing the same thing. I think the difference is that it has become so obvious now that we're noticing and saying "wait, that'd too far."

What is the alternative? Our brains simply cannot cope with an endless sea of fresh faces, each of them requiring an acuqaintance effort, only to disappear in the mass of unfamiliar faces within minutes. The known-host / fresh-guest model lessens the burden, as the host becomes a known quantity after a while. With their temperament, leanings, quirks, idiosyncrasies and all that. Conversely, I've observed myself following a certain guest through a string of hosts, which ended up working well as a host discovery mechanism, better than browsing through random youtube recommendations. Note to self: patent this.

I would love, so much, for Youtube to just stop targeting recommendations. At least then I'd see new things once in a while...

Ivr seen what YouTube recommends for my partner and I definitely don't want that in my feed. I'm not sure that what YT is doing now is the best, but it's better than nothing. At least I get recommendations for topics in intery in, not just whatever the latest insta trend is

ive started to use freetube on desktop and newpipe on mobile. they are not great for discovery at all but at least I can watch the odd [insert-channel-i-dont-really-like-here] video every once in a blue moon without then being harassed for weeks/months/years after to watch more from the same channel

I've always opened youtube in a new private window to do that, especially for sports that I'm interested in but I don't want to get spoilers for later.

I think it works because I don't see those topics in my feeds.

Things like my twitter feed are curated though and I selected the people who curate my stuff. So if it was some kind of echo chamber, i totally willingly chose to do that.

But does Youtube's recommendation system trap you any more than old media? I remember having much the same feeling with library books. I've read 10 pages of this author's thoughts and I really want to pick up something else - but I don't have time to go to the library this week, so I guess I'm stuck reading the other 290 pages.

> I don't have time to go to the library this week ...

That's a very different situation though.

This is as if you went to the library and the librarian only showed you other books by that author and the books that might be (poorly) related to the one you just read.

Like books with similar words in the title or books that people grabbed after that one.

YouTube is pure trash for discovery 90% of the time because the algorithm is tuned for addiction : you are fed content that is designed to keep you hooked and it will always, always bias towards that because that's the business decision.

I'd love to see a recommendation engine that intentionally surfaced "similar but different in key ways"

YouTube would decide that since you engage with that book, you want more books from that author and put those books at the top of the catalog for you.

It's almost as if... shiny new technology can't solve the human condition. Have you tried turning it off, and on again?

I mean we've had the technology to solve the human condition since what, the 40s?

now I’m curious

Nuclear weapons.

I saw an interesting argument that we've always had the so called filter bubbles before the internet, it's only more noticeable NOW, because of public spaces like twitter.

There’s a classic theory in communication science by the German researcher Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann called the “spiral of silence”[1]. It basically says that people have an idea of the general public opinion on a topic, and in case their own opinion differs too much, they will stay silent in order not to be excluded from the group. This was classically seen with the negative result that the publicly acceptable opinion may not be the same as the majority opinion, as more and more people stay silent in a kind of spiral.

What we’re seeing today in online spaces is the possibility of people connecting online, forming their own bubbles of people with their own spirals – it has become much easier to sidestep the “general” spiral of silence.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence

The other side of this coin is the Preference Cascade, a concept from economics [0] wherein people formerly in a Spiral of Silence discover that their supposedly unpopular opinions actually have a reservoir of public support. After publicly remaining silent or falsifying their preferences, they suddenly switch to expressing their true preferences. This can make public opinion seem quite volatile.

[0]Tmur Kuran https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674707580

> It doesn't lead to free exchange of ideas and values, it has created polarized societies

Technology created polarized society? Before internet search, we were better educated and understood each other better?

Newspapers were at least, historically at least in the 20th century, were expected to inform and keep a separation between opinion and news. They clearly had a political slant, but they couldn't just ignore facts that they found inconvenient, or only mention them in hit pieces meant to discredit them. Exceptions to this, like Yellow Journalism and Hearst's use of his papers for personal and political ends were at least considered failures of journalism in hindsight.

In the Soviet Union they kept a tight control on the media, and Pravda was controlled by the ruling party to amplify it's message as a tool of propaganda. It would ignore inconvenient facts and stories based on their propaganda value, or if something inconvenient was too well known to ignore it would mention it only to discredit it.

Today many people get most of their news from sites like Breitbart or RawStory. Doing this is voluntarily signing up for Pravda like propaganda. Yes, we have a free society and you aren't restricted to a single source of news like Pravda, but if people intentionally and voluntarily limit themselves to a site that is manipulating stories in the same way as Pravda and for the same motivations, we just have two groups of oppositely propagandized people, and of course that will increase polarization. There is no expectation that these sites would uphold journalistic standards, be generally honest beyond when it is convenient, and their bias is considered a feature.

> They clearly had a political slant, but they couldn't just ignore facts that they found inconvenient, or only mention them in hit pieces meant to discredit them.

Newspapers ignored inconvenienent facts all the time, probably for all of human history. Even when they don't completely ignore some facts, they often choose to make a big deal of some facts and not of others.

Some examples of the former would be the missing reporting on the US atrocities in South America, except maybe the Contra deal. The 100 catholic priests murdered in SA by US or US-supported troops were never mentioned, but the Soviet murder of 1 priest was an international scandal (as well it should be, but the others should have been an even bigger scandal).

A very good example of the latter should be the COINTELPRO[1] revelation of the FBI actively seeking to blackmail and even assassinate members of civil rights groups, including an attempt to convince MLK to commit suicide, threatening to reveal his extra-marital affairs otherwise. This was reported to some extent, but then Watergate happened at around the same time, and, despite being much less worrying for normal people, it became one of the largest scandals in media, and COINTELPRO was forgotten from public discourse.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO

This is a bit like missing the distinction between, say, systemic if unintended background racism and ideological white supremacy.

There's the matter of both motive and degree. Of course newsprint journalism always had its issues (heh). Of course there's always been various struggles to rise to journalistic standards of objective reporting. And of course there's always been people with agendas who wanted to bend reporting a certain way.

It still wasn't anywhere near as common for outlets to aspire to be Pravda or for individuals to aspire to read from an outlet that was.

There are many differences.

For one, few in the Soviet Union trusted Pravda, whileoat people in the US trust the picture of the world that the newspapers present. So, while the US newspapers were overall far more correct than Pravda, they were nevertheless much more effective propaganda tools, when they did choose, intentionally or through deep-seated biases, to 'massage' the truth.

> Newspapers were at least, historically at least in the 20th century, were expected to inform and keep a separation between opinion and news. They clearly had a political slant, but they couldn't just ignore facts that they found inconvenient, or only mention them in hit pieces meant to discredit them. Exceptions to this, like Yellow Journalism and Hearst's use of his papers for personal and political ends were at least considered failures of journalism in hindsight.

This is only partly true. One example that comes to mind, in the early 20th Century, Winston Churchill deliberately started a successful newspaper whose sole purpose was to disarm a general strike by workers who were underpaid. Not only did it suceed but Churchill bragged about it in Parliament to the opposition party after the strike had been defeated!

> In the Soviet Union they kept a tight control on the media, and Pravda was controlled by the ruling party to amplify it's message as a tool of propaganda. It would ignore inconvenient facts and stories based on their propaganda value, or if something inconvenient was too well known to ignore it would mention it only to discredit it.

I think it's worth mentioning here how most media companies are totally or partly controlled by the acting CEO of FOX News, Rupert Murdoch (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Murdoch). In the UK he controls almost all paper-based newspapers that the public read, in addition to most non-BBC channels. As a result, the papers have a staunch xenophobic, neoliberal attitude -- to the point of openly calling leading members of the opposition party in the UK "Maoist" (One newspaper in particular published 1500 words of fan fiction about the opposition party's socialist policies, mixed in with the ordinary news) and naming and shaming members of the UK high court for ruling that does not agree with the paper's stance. The papers have been known to publish outright lies about the European Union -- to the point the EU set up a website specifically to debunk the lies published in mainly Murdoch-controlled papers: https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/euromyths-a-z-index/

It is worth adding that the strike failed because a majority of the people involved could no longer feed themselves, rather than any moral imperative.

The difficulty is, it's often very difficult to find news from an organization who isn't "like Breitbart or RawStory", to some extent.

> Newspapers were at least, historically at least in the 20th century, were expected to inform and keep a separation between opinion and news. They clearly had a political slant, but they couldn't just ignore facts that they found inconvenient, or only mention them in hit pieces meant to discredit them. Exceptions to this, like Yellow Journalism and Hearst's use of his papers for personal and political ends were at least considered failures of journalism in hindsight.

This is part of the myth making that took hold after the New Deal, when the Establishment decided how things were going to be and made it so. If you have licensing powers over broadcast media you can use this to ensure that discussion stays inside the bounds of discourse you deem acceptable. Because these local media companies often had both broadcast and publishing arms they had a strong incentive not to piss off the regulators who could take away their broadcasting licenses.

This long period of manufactured consent lasted until the people who realised it was artificial retired or died and then technology allowed more diversity of opinion. Cable and talk radio allowed many, many more voices to be heard and expanded the Overton window, bringing the US back to normal politics where people really, really hate each other unless there’s an external enemy to hate more.

In the immediate post colonial period Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel. In 1856 Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner with a cane on the floor of Congress. Andrew Jackson was held in much the same esteem by large swathes of the US population as Trump is now. In the 1960s there were over 3,000 domestic bombings and riots and demonstrations aplenty.

The media being hyper partisan is not new. What’s new is how obvious it is. It took decades for Walter Duranty’s lies about the Holodmor, the Ukrainian Holocaust to be exposed, and the Pulitzer Prize Committee still hasn’t revoked it. This for a cover up of millions of deaths in the pages of the NYT.

The prestige press is no more unbiased than Mother Jones or Breitbart.


> For starters, it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes. Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”

> It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

This is a great point and pretty much mirrors my own views. I read the NYT but I'm under no pretense it's "neutral" or "fair and balanced". It is a highly partisan, albeit factual, news source that is selectively edited and clearly pushes a very specific worldview, through which every story is filtered. This worldview includes beliefs like: unions are always good, capitalism is at best suspect and makes a few rich, at worse a primary driver of inequality, all inequality is bad, middle-class wage stagnation is a huge problem, all government spending is good, regulation is the answer to any problem and any who oppose it are misguided/stupid, all law enforcement is racist/generally suspect, and my personal favorite, that some cabal of powerful people meet and regularly conspire to screw over ordinary "middle class Americans" (my wife and I call these hypothetical people "mustache twirlers", generally evil white men with white Persian lap cats and snifters of expensive cognac).

As a practical matter, I think the only thing a person can do is consciously seek out both sides of the story. Read a credible conservative daily (WSJ, Chicago Tribune) and a left-leaning Sunday paper (WaPo/NYT)/news magazine. Get both sides of the issue and see which you find more persuasive.

> a left-leaning Sunday paper (WaPo/NYT)/news magazine.

The fact that either the Washington Post or the New York Times is considered left-leaning is one of the problems in US media. They are both corporate rags pushing the neo-liberal plutocrat agenda. Try Jacobin or the London Review of Books as a somewhat left of center starters.

WaPo are NYT do not lean left in any way. They are neoliberal media and push a corporatist agenda. Look at how they treat Bernie Sanders, the first leftist to ever run for president of the USA in my lifetime.

More than one news source is smart.

The above description of the NYT, however, is (a) not only a conservative's idea of what an opposing partisan newspaper would look like, it's almost a parody of such an idea (b) only sustainable through the lens of confirmation bias.

Yep, I think you're making good points, but you missed my point. I said newspapers were 'expected' to present information to provide information to readers. Your criticisms can't even be applied to Breitbart, or Rawstory. They aren't trying, and there is no expectation that they are, to be presenting information to inform readers of what is happening in the world. They are explicitly biased and delivering propaganda, designed to agitate their readers into an emotional response. There is no expectation that they would not do this, people are going to these sites to reaffirm their stupid biases in service of some agenda which will never benefit them.

It's a huge difference. In one case you have a system meant to deliver information to inform, and which can be criticized if it fails to do so, which it often (or even mostly) failed at. Then there is these new media sources of 'information', which are not even trying, and nobody expects to try. One is a subversion of the standards which are explicitly expected, and the other is a system that has no standards whatsoever.

Wanting information to be free forced companies to rely on advertising and to spy on us.


Auditory: I can't tell you how accustomed to hearing stuff constantly everyone is. Cars (even just the tires on a busy street), Air Handling, Refrigerators, Beeping timers (ovens/microwaves/calendar reminders).

Visual: Web notifications, web advertisements, billboards, "news," spam phone calls/texts.

Social: Many people have an expectation that sending a message entitles them to an immediate response. In the age of quick answers from Google, people often forget about slowing down for the speed of thought.

Mental: We (humans) can only make so many decisions in a day yet we are overwhelmed with false dichotomies constantly in order to choose one or the other of basically the same thing.

> Visual

Or just the light pollution. I definitely think this has an affect on people. I used to live in AZ for awhile and the nights were so beautiful. I'd spend hours looking at the night sky. Now I'm in the PNW and almost never look up (something I've done pretty much my whole life). I'd think light pollution has similar effects as cloudy skies. I used to do some of my most creative thinking late at night staring at the stars. But maybe that's just a change in me. Maybe both.

I came across more bird scare devices [0] lately and most are at ~19-23kHz at -20~30dB (personal measures, device ranges differ). I can hear them and it hurts. Fortunarely they are mainly only deployed near entrances and do not have a broad field of effect. Would be interesting to know how many people do not hear this and feel kinda weird/sick while standing at those places for a longer period of time.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_scarer#Ultrasonic_scare...

I’d run across these all over Tokyo, practically unavoidable on most walks. The worst ones were when you’d be queuing for a ramen for upwards of 30 minutes but you’d be unable to do anything about it.

> Social: Many people have an expectation that sending a message entitles them to an immediate response.

This one honestly bothers me the most. “But I sent you a message! You didn’t respond, you could have been dead in a ditch!”.

Or, you know, I didn’t look at my messages for a few days. If you were worried you could have called any time.

Journey time calculations in Google maps, Uber etc. mean no one I know is ever on time.

If you need to be somewhere at 8:30 and the journey “takes 17 minutes”, one psychologically sets 8:13 as the deadline for leaving the house. You pick up your keys at 8:13, actually leave a few minutes later, hit traffic or take a wrong turn or two, and end up crossing the threshold at your destination fifteen minutes late.

It’s no big deal and quite a grumpy old man thing to say, and I also don’t know if tech is the root cause, but squeezing travel into unrealistically small and algorithmically created windows of time has killed most people’s sense of punctuality, including mine if I’m not careful.

Yeah I wish there was a "door-to-door" buffer that was enabled by default. I don't think a lot of people are ever taught the concept of backwards planning.

I'd guess it isn't because of specific services like Google, but the fact that you can now say "I'll be 5 mins late" while you're on the way. People used to not be contactable until the appointed time, now it feels like you're already there with them.

And this gets us back to the classic xkcd:


Google's estimation for my country is always less than what is achievable if you stick to the speed limit. I guess they calculate it based on other drivers.

In practical terms speeding actually makes very little difference to your journey time.

Eg if you have a 100 mile drive on a 70mph road and you drive the entire way at 85mph your reward is saving about 10 minutes on a 1.5 hour trip.

The downside risk is getting charged for speeding and being delayed for much more than 10 minutes.

I've never though the cost/benefit shows it to be particularly worthwhile.

10 minutes a day on a commute to work and back is significant and, if you drop down a couple mph, is low risk. That’s almost an extra hour a week without giving up any valuable activity.

I could only see the cost/benefit looking not worthwhile if you already have a lot of free time. An adult commuting 90 minutes a day might only have 2-4 hours of free time per day during the workweek.

There is an increased risk of an accident with reduced reaction time and any accident may be worse with more velocity/energy at play.

Ask a paramedic whose worked in a big, commuter city about their experience.

Yes, this should also be considered although the rarity of a crash where the consequences will take longer to deal with means it isn’t meaningfully part of the time benefit calculation. Sorry to speak morbidly.

The effect also depends on the natural speed at which traffic flows and how the extra time is spent, as fatigue also increases crash risk.

There are exceptions to this though. If you're driving through Europe at night you can easily spend most of your trip on highways safely going 180kmh or faster, saving you many hours on longer trips.

You will most likely be partially liable for any accidents over 130kph because it is difficult for people to judge speeds over that amount.

This is why if you spend much time over that line, you will find that people will seemingly jump out from behind an LKW and cut you off. It's not because they're idiots or trying to intentionally crash, but rather they most likely completely misjudged your speed due to the innate human capacity for judging speed.

Therefore I've been told that while it's not against the StVO to drive over 130, doing so is a liability risk.

Just because you're driving fast doesn't mean you have to be driving dangerously, but of course there's going to be a significant correlation as idiots also like to drive fast.

I have no problem slowing down from 200 to 130 whenever I approach an entry ramp or pass a big truck, and I certainly aggressively avoid situations where I'd have to do so frequently.

Also, while going over 130 might strictly be a liability risk it does not mean that you're going to automatically be liable. See this case of a guy going 150, he didn't do anything wrong and wasn't held liable https://www.verkehrsrundschau.de/nachrichten/urteil-schnelle...

By Europe you are meaning Germany only, I believe, in most other European countries there is a speed limit of 130 km/h or 140 km/h, day or night doesn't matter:


Oh, I just ignore the speed limits when there's no traffic. With Waze and laserlicht I've never got a speeding ticket.

If you're driving through France or Spain after 1 AM you'll see see that everyone else tends to be speeding too.

To be precise it's 120 km/h in most, 130 km/h in some. At least in western/northern Europe (except Germany of course, with it's Authoban)

Yep, but it doesn't change the "base" point, which is, you cannot legally drive faster than 120/130/140 kmh (depending on the country) and certainly NOT 180 kmh in any European country BUT in Germany (and only on some - many - strerches of the Autobahn, in some other there is anyway a speed limit of 120/130/140 kmh):




180kmh at night is definitely not safe on a highway. Even with perfect visibility during daytime, anything above 150-160kmh is pushing it for most of the highways I've traveled in Europe.

How come? The roads themselves certainly aren't the limiting factor, often you could go even faster.

> anything above 150-160kmh is pushing it for most of the highways I've traveled in Europe

Anything above 150-160kmh is certainly pushing it for most cars, the highways themselves tend to be fine for even faster speeds. There's a vast difference between speeding in a WV Polo and a BMW 7series, it's downright terrifying to go 160 in the Polo but the BMW won't start shaking like that even at 260.

I drive between Barcelona and Berlin pretty regularly, sometimes I go all the way to Bucharest. There are definitely stretches of road on those routes where you can't go fast in low traffic conditions, but they're in the minority.

100 / 70 - 100 / 85 = .25 = 15 minutes.

For Austria at least, their car travel estimates are eerily accurate in my experience, including accounting for normal levels of traffic for that time of day/week. Traffic jams mess with it to some extent of course, as they appear and disperse relatively suddenly. And no, I don’t speed.

Their bike estimates are consistently wildly optimistic however. If it’s an easy route and I pedal flat out with no traffic and without hitting any red lights, I can get close to the estimated time.

OK, I don’t have a road racing bike or e-bike, and there are people who are more athletic than I am, but I’d say I’m fitter than the median. Their model seems to assume around 25km/h average speed, which isn’t really sustainable (Or safe) in everyday cycling with other road users about.

I recently rushed to catch public transport earlier than the one in the Google Maps trip and now all trips estimate my walking time as running time.

It does. Speed limit in my hometown is 30km/h but google always estimates it based on 60km/h that people actually go at.

Google also bikes a bicycle exceedingly fast in cities. Sometimes you have to double the estimate for it to be realistic.

The plus side is that I can kill time on my phone while I wait for late people to arrive.

Google should calibrate it by how long it takes to leave your house :)

Or cross reference calendar events with directions lookups and actual arrival times, and if you’re consistently late then overestimate the time.

My Uber estimates usually end up being half as long as the trip actually takes in NYC anyway.

Additionally those time estimates aren't always accurate. I used to do deliveries all over my county using gmaps, and it was usually 5 minutes off, even as much as 10 minutes off for some of the further destinations.

That's interesting, as for me it's eerily accurate and consistently gets it right within a minute or two for short journeys and within 5 to 10 mins for longer journeys (3± hrs). I guess it could be pretty location specific?

I always have to buffer it, but I never quite know how much to buffer. Usually I add 5-10 minutes to the number. Or round it up.

I feel exactly the opposite. Google's estimates are usually accurate down to a couple of minutes for me.

Motion-sensing automatic doors can be opened by deer, bears (which has led to some excitement in hotels and hospitals), and even birds. I've seen birds that can activate the doors in the hardware store near me, and that know where the birdseed is on the shelves in the garden department.

yup my favorite story of animals adapting to human environments is dogs riding subways in Russia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxJf2L2B5fY

Hilarious :)

Depression. People are spending the majority of their lives staring at a screen, and then wondering why they're depressed.

In the moment it might not feel lonely. Exchanging DMs and posting on Reddit / HN / social media might feel like real communication. But ultimately there's a sense of emptiness to it, and it can't substitute real flesh-to-flesh human connection.

But it feels like we're always expected to be on our "grind", always bettering ourselves in an increasingly competitive labor market, so it's harder to go offline and just enjoy life because there's always that lingering sense of guilt that one is being left behind in our collective arms race to...nowhere.

This is the exact position i am in right now. I crave the outside world and human contact like a drug. I am not clinically depressed, just in a state of constant longing for social interaction. I keep telling myself my work will allow me to one day enjoy the outside, ironic really.

If you don't have to have home Internet service and an Internet-connected phone for work... shut off those services.

It's fine. There's more stuff to do without the Internet than a person can reasonably do, anyway, even if you're pretty picky.

I find that advice hard to accept. I'm older so I spent plenty of time as an adult without the internet (unless you count BBSes). I use the internet to find things to do. Meetups to go to, events on facebook, events and parties friends invite me to, restaurants to go do, etc... I don't know how I would do it without the internet at this point. Maybe it used to be I'd look in the local paper like SF Weekly or LA Weekly but I live in a place that doesn't have those anymore and AFAIK even those are a pale version of what they were in the 80s and 90s

Well if it's helping you socialize, don't take that advice. Everyone's different. I'd ditch it if I could (for work reasons, for me and for my spouse, I cannot) but then texting is the most technological thing I really need to keep in touch these days, and maybe the occasional e-mail check-in or phone call, and entertainment and diversion's laughably abundant even without it so that's not a concern. If I were finding meetups and such on the Internet that'd be different.

Join some sort of a club. A bowling league. Some sort of scheduled team activity. The less competitive leagues will be filled with people looking to just socialize, unwind and have a few beers once a week.

This is one reason I changed careers from research to medicine. Now social interaction is built into my job, whether I want it or not, and I'm a much happier man for it. Sometimes all the grind does have a useful endpoint.

This is a real problem and , oddly the solution is to build even more immersive technologies that bring people closer together, thus making the jump from virtual life -> real life smoother. We can't expect to just tell people to "go out and meet people", because people's expectations have changed, and the street has no "mute" and "block" buttons.

> We can't expect to just tell people to "go out and meet people", because people's expectations have changed

And they can't/won't change again? That seems wrong.

I find it important to note that small communities where it is reasonable to know everyone and expect to be known are just as "real" as offline communites. I think there were a few years - at least for myself - where social media were mistaken and masqueraded as the same as small communities.


We've learned that better tools doesn't actually create more productivity. Lots of people talk about how they dread email. A singular mega tool like Facebook or Evernote isn't great. Lots of disparate little tools isn't much better.

We've learned that data is unreliable. The highest click through rates come from nudity, or totally gross things like gore and trypophobia triggering holes. The highest CTR on text comes from well, clickbait. At this point everyone realizes this but some still don't notice that data-driven decisions optimizes for weird things.

IOT doesn't scale as well as we thought, because hardware doesn't scale at the rate of web software that we're used to. So hardware companies do more poorly than expected. Replace "hardware" with anything else that's hard to upgrade, and you get software-other hybrids like Uber and WeWork which didn't scale as well as anticipated.

> We've learned that better tools doesn't actually create more productivity. Lots of people talk about how they dread email. A singular mega tool like Facebook or Evernote isn't great. Lots of disparate little tools isn't much better.

I'm struggling to figure out what you mean by this.

Obviously it's not literally true (I've saved my colleagues thousands of hours with some of the tools I've made), but I can't figure out what else you could mean.

I think it's more like some people walk in the office, comment and tag on Trello, reply emails, deal with messages on Slack, convert and forward files on Dropbox. Then it's lunch.

After lunch, they reply to some more emails, take a meeting on Zoom (waiting half an hour for that one guy to fix his microphone). Then they have 1 hour of work before the evening scrum stand-up, which is done on Slack or Zoom because half the team is remote.

But the CEO doesn't use Slack and his inbox is always full, so we forward him a report on WhatsApp, which has to be converted to PDF, which he then manually puts in his Prezi presentation for a client meeting tonight.

This doesn't match any officd I've worked in, nor any office anyone I know has worked in.

Then you're an exceptional person among exceptional people. While it's a no-brainer that tech tools bring us utility, there is a nontrivial time, thought, and effort cost to engaging with nearly any tool. Sometimes that cost outweighs the advantage of the tool or feeds behaviors that are counterproductive. A great example of this. The younger half of my ad agency is on Slack. The older half tried it but it just wouldn't take. The young people are productive together, but their habitual Slacking becomes a distraction when they have teams with more seniors than juniors. The tool unintentionally created a divide. Every solution has costs and benefits like anything else. Iatrogenesis. I've definitely seen offices get so overtooled that they resemble what the above person was saying.

I think of it as a type of supply-side vs demand-side economics.

I think most employers assumed that employees with a 2x faster computer would send 2x the emails (or whatever task) in the same amount of time. In reality, they might send the same number of emails in half the time, then go home early.

In my experience, hardware scales exponentially. Until business figures out a "need" for all the extra data they have they tend to under value IOT and use it counter productively - like monitoring employees in draconian ways.

There are lots of efficiencies that only show up once you monitor equipment for a couple of years but project leads don't really have that kind of time to show benefits

Not exactly the same kind of thing, maybe, but I love London's accidental solar furnace.

"This London skyscraper can melt cars and set buildings on fire"


As tech gets more and more advanced and we get higher and higher levels of abstraction, I've noticed more and more programmers just don't understand _what_ their code is doing. There can be a lack of understanding of how calls translate to system calls and machine instruction. The abstraction is good, it allows you to do more and do it quickly. But when you don't understand what the abstraction is, then you are programming by coincidence and errors are more confusing than they should be.

I should write a medium article on the questions we asked during interviewing and what the success rate was for each question (spoiler: it was depressing).

I'd be interested in that!

Do it! Perhaps give us a preview?

I think that's more of an emergent behavior of modern languages being much more accessible to the "masses". If you can write enterprise code in C, it's likely you're an experienced developer. The same isn't true for Python since it's relatively easy to be able to write something useful.

'I'm being tracked' paranoia.

I have to force myself to stop thinking about the ways may daily activities can be tracked. I find myself feeling increasingly paranoid, especially when reminded that my actions are available to faceless people and how they help to train systems that then exploit my 'humanness'. In fact, I imagine they will get so good that they not only exploit me, but use that very humanness to veil the fact they are exploiting me!

Now, back to re-watching Silicon Valley before the season premier.

Yes! I hate being tracked watching videos. I have a self identity I want to put forward. I hate being judged differently based on what I watch. For this reason there are plenty of shows I don't watch via streaming. If I really want to watch I'll find another way. If it's youtube I'll do it not logged in (it's possible it's still attributed to me but I doubt it).

It's illegal for a video rental company to share your watch list. I'm not sure that covers Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Youtube, etc.. I suspect they don't share the list though, they just put you in categories and sell marketing to those categories. That still bugs me since I'm being judged.

OSes and stores spying on app usage is the same. I've never checked out any of the more risque games or VR apps because I'll be tracked.

> (it's possible it's still attributed to me but I doubt it).

It's still attributed to you.

can you prove that or is it just another conspiracy theory?

They fingerprint your browser, IP address and usage history. I can bring back my entire YouTube recommendations (many completely unrelated subjects) even in a private browsing window by watching just one or two videos (I guess it isn't sure at first whether I'm the same person or someone else, but one or two videos, combined with IP address is enough for them to be reasonably confident it's me and bring back my previous recommendations).

I'm not using the same IP address nor the same browser. I've never seen my recommendations being remotely similar. When I view logged out via another browser in private mode all I get are the generic "popular in your region" videos.

I also never notice the videos I'm watching logged out affecting my recommendations when logged in. That doesn't mean I'm not being tracked but without actual proof I'll continue to consider it mostly a conspiracy theory.

It's in their terms and conditions.

> When you're signed out, we associate that data with a cookie or other similar unique identifier.

Other identifiers include your ip address, operating system, browser and browser settings.

One of the big things for me is the demise of trustworthiness in just about everything. Extremely cheap phone calls plus Caller ID spoofing has made the telephone almost useless (raise your hand if you only answer callers in your contact list!), email has never been trustworthy, and the internet has made it possible for hoaxes to spread farther and faster than ever.

This is a good article on that topic: https://www.wired.com/story/internet-made-dupes-cynics-of-us...

> The internet is increasingly a low-trust society—one where an assumption of pervasive fraud is simply built into the way many things function.

There's an app for that: Truecaller. It crowdsources who is calling.

There was a news story recently about a journalist who got outed by Truecaller, ended up putting her at risk, I’ll try and find it

Edit: https://privacyinternational.org/case-study/2997/betrayed-ap...

Why would I hand over my contact info to some app?

Because everyone else has done it for you. It's no worse than LinkedIn but actually useful.

And adds all your contacts with a misclick.

I have a small device in my pocket that provides access to nearly the sum total of human knowledge. I use it to get into pointless arguments with people I don't know and look at pictures of cats. (I wish I could claim that as original but it is something I read on the Internet. Between cats. :-/ )

My favorite argument: the internet has far less of humanity's knowledge on it than most people believe. There are so many major gaps.

Not only does expertise and apprenticeship for many trades and crafts still exist almost exclusively offline, but also the documentation of accomplishments and the state of the art for so many fields.

Google Books, the greatest library in the history of mankind is collecting dust behind a locked door due to copyright. The failure of Google Books (an ambitious, incredible attempt) is imo one of the biggest tragedies of the information age.

Lol, I've been telling my kids for years, "I hold in my hand the accumulated knowledge of mankind."

Try telling a kid you're older than Google.

Well, you hold access to it, not the knowledge itself.

You don't have a copy of wikipedia on your phone?

Wikipedia doesn't include everything, but I get your point.

Are you absolutely sure those arguments are pointless

magnificent bait

Something I've noticed a huge amount over the last couple of years in particular - no one has any change for the homeless / those on the streets / those collecting for charity. Contactless has been a 'thing' for a while now, but it really seemed to kick up a gear when phones and watches had wallets and the buses and a decent amount of restaurants went 'card only'.

The charity people here border on harassment, have card readers, physically try to stop you or block you, and apparently none of what you donate actually goes to the charity, it's mostly paid out in commissions to rent seekers.

Are you talking about the charity people with clipboards in SF? They're seriously the most aggressive people I've ever seen. I'm surprised they have card readers now. I think they used to just write your credit card details on a piece of paper.

> I think they used to just write your credit card details on a piece of paper.

Why would you allow anyone to do that? :O

Why would you give your credit card to a random, uncredentialed person on the street just because they claim to help animals?

I'm try to respectfully decline them, but if they try to passive aggressively guilt me, I teeter on the cusp of countering by attacking back and trying to crack their self esteem.

I haven't done it yet and wouldn't be proud of myself, but it would feel good.

I've seen the ones here do shit like yelling these animals are starving and abused while you go home to your luxury apartment, keep on ignoring their cries-esque stuff

"All those animals would be dead in 15 years time anyways"

Tell them you plan on eating animal flesh when you get home.

We call them chuggers in the UK although I haven't seen so many lately.

Basically the same ones, yeah. Donating through them harms whatever cause you're trying to help.

This is how I imagined the situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4CizzE-zZo

There are some places like Subway that I used to tip the change from a cash payment. But now they all use credit cards and have no "tip dialog".

Restaurants usually have a "tip screen". But now I'm unsure where the tip goes (after the whole Doordash expose)

The most amazing thing I saw when walking around London was a busker near a tube station who had one of those Square-branded contactless card readers to accept donations.

I carry cash specifically for largesse/almsgiving and basically nothing else.

Having been almost 100% cashless for the last decade it's only a matter of time before homeless people use contactless payments as an attempt to defeat my excuses.

You're going to have to start saying "I don't have that app"


Maybe that isn't such a bad thing, you can get a receipt for your charitable contribution that you can write-off.

I'm miserable and all the tech that has "enabled me to do anything" has made everything seem arbitrary. If you can do anything, why do anything?

I used to own music. Now I have all the music, but also none of it.

I ditched streaming services a while ago, because I was fed up with the lousy curation of their catalogues and the tendency for albums to randomly disappear and reappear based on licensing disagreements.

Now I'm back to a ~25K track FLAC library and a small collection of LPs for fun. It's backed up to a NAS, to a cloud storage account and to a portable drive I keep in my locker at work. Nobody gets to take the music from me.

I've moved to purchasing music only on Bandcamp, where I get the option of downloading every purchase in the format of my choice (and offers artists an 85/15 profit split!).

And, after one adverse incident, I am very diligent about exercising that download option. Turns out, artists can withdraw themselves and their music from the platform at any time, which leaves customers without access... mostly. For some reason, I still have access to that music on my phone, though I haven't tested whether that's only thanks to the local cache.

I do the same thing, download as FLAC and store locally.

There are two options for artists/labels on Bandcamp if they want to remove an album from sale, for whatever reason.

One is to deactivate the album, which removes it from public view, but keeps it in the backend, so people who bought it still have it in their collections.

The other is the "nuclear option" of completely deleting the album everywhere, which also takes it away from the people who bought it.

While I can understand why they need to have the latter option, probably for legal reasons, I do find it troubling that something I've bought can just be arbitrarily taken away from me.

It really should be impossible to completely delete content from Bandcamp, without contacting them first. It should not be an option directly in the artist/label control panel.


That quote is about real property, that is, land. Not your vinyl collection.

And as bad as property is, rents—the current model—is certainly worse.

I know what it's about :) it was mostly a joke based on the thought of the large multinationals using proudhonist language.

But rent isn't, lol

This perspective is interesting. Explain

Completely opposite of the nations foundations, I had no idea the concept of property being theft was actually entertained as a feasible concept

"America's Founders understood clearly that private property is the foundation not only of prosperity but of freedom itself. Thus, through the common law, state law, and the Constitution, they protected property rights"


The concept of private property advocated by America's Founders is mostly based on Lockean ideas of "labor mixed with natural resources creates property". But as Benjamin Tucker pointed out, that doesn't justify absentee ownership (either as landlord or as employer), since you're no longer there actually mixing your labor. And landlords and employers are exactly the roles who Proudhon and other anarchists see as illegitimate, not the small farmer who tills his own land.

Of course, as large absentee owners themselves, the Founders were only too happy to let that consequence of Lockean theory slide, just as they were able to write "all men are created equal" while keeping men in slavery. But that merely shows that Upton Sinclair's quote, cliché as it may have become, still holds an inescapable truth.

Slavery has always existed and does to this day. We are all slaves to the banks who create currency out of thin air and loan it to others. The irony of calling the US a free country with the number of incarcerated is obvious.

The fact remains property is required to exercise any right. I wish the US would go back to only landowners being able to vote. Would realign society IMO

So you think the evils of the US come from the poor having too much power?

No, I think we incentivize poor people to not work. ( I have been poor and the benefits you get are better than many jobs right now)

I also believe the corporations having rights of a human without the punishment is a problem on that side. If a corporation breaks the law they should put the C level and the board in jail just like they would any other person.

Things are imbalanced on both sides and the concept the US is not a Republic but is a Democracy is being sold so propaganda machines can manipulate the public.

Term limits on congress, remove the ability of congress to vote themselves raises and get bribes via lobbying. Eliminate the poor from being able to vote themselves other peoples money... things like this would set is off to a better direction.

1. Property is theft is an anarchist position. While libertarians (as you cite the Cato Institute) and anarchists have an overlap of some positions, they are greatly at odds in others.

2. Whenever somebody starts telling me what the Founding Fathers thought I expect some BS which is only there to support their opinion and is so lopsided that it might as well be called a lie.

To say property is theft is an oxymoron. Theft requires ownership.

Folks who say this assume they have a right to someone else's labor aka slavery

Completely nonsense in a modern society.

> Folks who say this assume they have a right to someone else's labor aka slavery

If you read the article I posted, you'd see that your cursory objection is thoroughly false:

> Proudhon was clear that his opposition to property did not extend to exclusive possession of labor-made wealth.

All wealth comes from labor.

Yes, the summary is missing one word: own labor.

Fair, What if I work and I give my kids the fruits of my labor and they rent it out to you. Should I not benefit from the fruits of my labor ?

What kind of fruits are we talking about? Most can't really be rented out for a long time.

I grew up far away from anywhere and I've had the complete opposite experience - tech has enabled me to do everything I ever wanted, I have a life that most are envious of and I have independence and autonomy in ways that were unimaginable 30 years ago - autonomy that I built myself. Try wanting something, and seeing if you can work hard to get it. It might just make that misery disappear, quite quickly.

Uhhh, can you elaborate on this? Tech has enabled you to do anything?

There is so much tech in life, it’s hard to know where to even begin. Seems like every time you want to do something it starts with a google search on the best way to do it. If you don’t, you risk wasting a lot of time or money, and then people will call you an idiot for not googling it first, and sometimes the person calling you an idiot is your own self.

Life has become nothing but a series of google searches and finding the best tech for the job, while finding the most efficient way to pay bills.

I think this is an example of where books are powerful. A (good) book on a subject is far superior than pages of different articles that anyone could write. With a book you know that time and effort has gone into it. If you want to learn about something, invest in the right book.

So how do you find "the right book" these days?

Spend a few dozen hours finding and vetting "best" lists, deeply evaluating their quality. Read Web forums. Construct spreadsheets with meta-rankings derived from the lists and posts you've found. Form strong opinions about the correct ranking of the books. Argue on Web forums about the books. Post your own best list. Argue about it with people who are clearly idiots if they can't see your list is correct.

... uh, what was I doing again?

I've found one good tactic to be the 'reading lists' that some of the arts/science subreddits have in their wikis/sidebars. It's a good way to find solid entry points to a given topic that are at least respected by a good number of people who know what they're talking about.




I'm guessing you want me to say Google. But I'd actually use Amazon. Or even just walking into a good book store and reading a few! What have you got to lose?

I was thinking that when buying books, people often take notice of recommendations from Amazon or random sites through Google or discussion sites like this one, but a recommendation from someone I know or interact with is preferable when I can get it. And it's not necessarily preferable because of a higher quality recommendation: a recommendation from a person implies some degree of meaningful interaction with them that contributes to an overall sense of.. meaningful-ness even if the book turns out to be awful. Plus if it turns out to be awful, I can discuss it with that person further and possibly get a better recommendation. Plus whether or not it's awful, I can talk with them about it after reading it for additional meaningful interaction.

I think that kind of loss of meaningful interaction is a pretty small thing, but it can add up over time and have a greater impact with high usage of services like Google that automate things that previously generally involved more human interaction. And sure, no one's forcing anyone to use Google or Amazon instead of talking to people, but it's a fairly subtle opportunity cost that comes with using those services. And those kinds of services are convenient and useful enough that it's quite easy to make a habit of using them, and habits aren't easy to change.

Well, pre-internet, my city had three bookstores. None of the people working there read anything besides the popular trash; they couldn't tell you who wrote The Metamorphosis without looking it up. The store selection was based on catalogue recommendations by the publishers.

I think many easily turned to the web for recommendations because as wholesome these kind & knowledgeable book and movie human recommenders are, they simply weren't available to a lot of us.

> But I'd actually use Amazon.

Amazon book recommendations and keyword search are garbage. Sometimes even a direct search for title and author name will put the result halfway down the list. The two good things Amazon has going for it are the huge catalog (great for finding the right ISBN), and reviews dating back to the 1990s. Makes it easier to decide whether or not to purchase the book from a more ethical retailer.

Out of all the online bookstores, Thriftbooks has the best recommendations in my experience.

The best ways to find good books are still bibliographies and large public and university libraries - browse the shelves, ask the librarians. Online library catalogues usually beat online retailer catalogs for keyword searches.

Seems like you're stuck in the first step. The second is to realize none of that tech really fits your needs exactly, and to take advantage of that wealth of information to build something that does.

That sounds like a big quality of life improvement to me, not a disadvantage. Search engines make it much easier to know where to begin with things - including non-tech things.

So life was better before google—when there was still the risk of wasting time and money, and only limited means of research?

And people around you had relevance. Your librarian was relevant as a gatekeeper of information. Now we are isolated and even if we do get the best information, we are somehow not satisfied. People are becoming dumber as information is becoming more available, a paradox.

Meanwhile, we are centralizing these institutions and therefore power brokers are being more disparate from the powerless, using the technologies that were supposed to give voices to the masses. Now the masses can enforce you to only speak in lock step with them.

Vonnegut wrote about how various technologies have removed the community value of moderate talents by enabling the best of the best to reach everyone with ease, all the time, any time. Being an OK musician, for instance, has gone from having pretty good social value and maybe even non-negligible economic value, to very little.

That effect has broadened to new areas and increased in degree, with the rise of ubiquitous mobile Internet.

It was probably better because at least you were doing the best you could with what you had. There was much self discovery just by living your life.

Also the constant comparison... and constant advertisements convincing you how you should be. We used to be able to just live and commercials were contained in commercial breaks and billboards. Now the content we consume is mixed with commercials in imperceptable manners.

> Now the content we consume is mixed with commercials in imperceptable manners.

Product placement goes back to the 19th century. Remember the candy brand in E.T.? It was chosen because the company paid $1M to get them eaten by the short green man. Then there was payola, wherein the music you heard was actually a commercial paid by the record company.

You are describing a serious psychological issue. I urge you to seek treatment with psychologist or psychiatrist.

Well I think the comment is just pointing out how the ability of tech that can do anything makes the act of doing anything mundane... Which is sad, but may not be a serious psychological issue

I'm not sure why you're being downvoted.

Being miserable because "there's no point in doing anything" is definitely a sign of depression if it's persistent and starts interfering with your life.

Not saying technology does or doesn't factor in here.

Optimising for "engagement". I don't think, at least to start with, that Machiavellian intentions were behind it. But it turned out that optimising for the thing that got the most likes, the most retweets, the most emotional reactions, and the most views from people was a shit way of deciding what information should propagate the furthest.

That is a paperclip maximiser. I don't think we, collectively, have fully come to terms with how damaging it is.

There was a great series of talks a few years ago called “is anything worth maximizing?”. Unfortunately, the videos seem to be down, but his medium post is still up: https://medium.com/what-to-build/is-anything-worth-maximizin...

The weaknesses of the phone system are being exploited and exposed. Telemarketers have learned they can just put whatever they want on their caller ID with zero verification, including the phone numbers of random local individuals. If the FCC and/or the phone companies don't start forwarding originator information so spammers can effectively be blocked by any user, the phone system will (and deserves to) fail. At least among my friend group, most of us don't have each other's numbers, we communicate on chat apps.

It's gotten worse lately. I'm seeing calls allegedly from Citi, Capital One, etc., that have the identical credit card scam spiel. They go nowhere (but get recorded), since I've used Asterisk to put a CAPTCHA in the way. My "landline" (actually VoIP now) stays blissfully quiet. If it actually rings, I know it's a human...

Do you have a link or guide on where to start with this? It sounds like something that would be really useful!

The world's tourist must-see spots are seeing an unmanagable spike in foot traffic.

As an expat all of my life, I’ve really noticed this in the last 5 years. It’s also extremely hypocritical because I find myself walking around in places I have lived before, or been to many times, and feeling angry at the “tourists” ruining it.

As someone who lives in a pop tourist place, my reaction is less about being angry, it s more ‘what the hell are they all doing here’. It feels like those lines outside shops on black friday that i used to see on US TV. How can it be ‘cool’ to travel when everybody’s doing it?

I grew up in West LA, which is now overrun with tourists, largely Asian. So I feel it both in places that I have a reason to be in, but also in places which I feel I'm more entitled to than others.

Cheaper air travel and the Airbnb effect. Without Airbnb especially there would have been a cap as set by the city using the total number of hotel rooms.

Social media plays a huge role in compelling more people to travel, since advertising done by your peers has a much higher success rate.

I've heard this topic come up before. I belive it is interesting and valuable to think about.

I don't have much to contribite of the top of my head, but I did stumble across this blog a while back (it might have actually been from here on HN, don't remember) that explores this very topic.

It's even named after it :) maybe other will enjoy it. I like the author's writing style, usually a pleasure to read.


Hey, glad you like my writing!

There he is!

Historically, misinformation spread due to lack of reliable communications technology (news took a while to travel around the world). Now, misplaced trust in media and abuse of technology spread misinformation.

I was just thinking about this the other day, in the context of ancient texts referring to things being written down. You come across phrases in ancient accounts like "it is written ....", and in a world where almost all information and news came from word of mouth and rumors, something being written down made it inherently more credible.

Today everything is written down, much if not most of the information we receive is via written documents, especially online. There is a level of bias and intentional misleading that is often hard to believe. Hearing something from a well informed friend seems far more credible than a news story now, since you can't depend on journalists to research and relate the available information without intentionally withholding, minimizing, or amplifying to create a narrative that is in line with what they want people to believe.

I'm not screaming 'fake news' here. An example would be an NPR story that claimed a certain person, previously employed in a professional field, was 'unable to find work' for 6 years. Clearly the person had struggled with substance abuse, but that was never mentioned, and the narrative was 'In This Economy' despite the fact that if you show up drunk to job interviews that is an essential fact in a human interest story about a person being unable to find work. The journalist and/or their editors wanted to write a story about how hard it is to find a job 'in this economy', so they hid facts that didn't reinforce that narrative.

Well, "it is written" was also a statement about the credibility due to an inherent bias towards the educated. Yes, you can't necessarily trust a journalist...but you certainly can't trust a friend's opinion either; they aren't even expected to be well informed.

I said "a well informed friend". Certainly it is a tautology that a 'well informed friend' can be expected to be 'well informed', no?

The platform economics of streaming services incentivizes musicians to release a larger quantity of short, catchier singles that work well in playlists, instead of putting out a sonically diverse album.

At the same time it's never been easier for producers of niche art to find their audience and capitalize on it, simply because the cost of production and distribution is nearing zero and there are basically no more gatekeepers (in the traditional sense).

This. Erosion of quality in any kind of art. It's cheaper to do 3d movies than animate. It's easier to sell simpler ideas than a complicated story with a deeper meaning. You also see this in music with stuff like autotune.

Interest-driven communities online paired with censorship lead people to increasingly radical points of view. Before social media, people were forced to interact and get along with people with varying points of view. Now, we choose to isolate ourselves into groups of like-minded individuals where dissent is silenced, leading people to believe that extremism is normal.

So the world was free of bigotry prior to social media?

Does it matter what one is extreme about? Shouldn’t we be extreme on certain issues, like the difference between food and cyanide?

It's a matter of scale; before social media, small groups would be isolated due to difficulty in "finding" each other. Now it's just a quick google search away.

The other part of that "scale" is that these fringe views are presented with the same facade of authority as a more mainstream view. Generally speaking, something like Google will present the search results in a non-biased way... so googling for "flat earth" will bring up links, just as "moon landing" would. So to a naive viewer, "Google" is approving of the idea of a "flat earth", if that makes sense...

I was just thinking on the tube how Steve Jobs wanted to put a computer on everyone's desks, but he ended up putting one in everyone's hands and now we're all crooked and staring down like Quasimodo.

Semi-related to the Cruise AV, but should we be worried about a sudden increase in LIDAR everywhere from the perspective of protecting eyesight? I understand there are regulations and such to limit the "power" of the light, so just looking for more info.

There's already been one allegation that a vehicle-mounted LiDAR unit has damaged a camera [1].

[1]: https://arstechnica.com/cars/2019/01/man-says-ces-lidars-las...

If the vendors are complying with known safe-power limits (sub mW laser power), it should be fine.

One should primarily be concerned with laser powers that unintentionally exceed design power, or if they're ultra-fast lasers, with the peak power.

Do those limits take into account multiple sources hitting your eye at once? Maybe with laser pulses the odds of that happening for any length of time is nil

For me, tech has turned into a crutch when I don't know what to do. I've caught myself in the middle of automatic behavior and it's a bit scary - opening Reddit or HN, closing it because I've already read everything on the front page, then opening it again a few seconds later without even thinking about it.

I wonder what I would be doing without it. Creating art? Going out? I'd have to do something. It's something I want to explore more. Maybe I'll schedule just an hour each day where every device is turned off.

In my college days, I played World of Warcraft too much. It got in the way of attending classes. Then my graphics card broke. So I started reading psychology textbooks totally unrelated to my classes.

Procrastinators gonna procrastinate. And time-wasters gonna waste time.

Your story is actually probably what the parent was trying to illustrate. Instead of wasting time with WoW, you "wasted" time with something more meaningful (all this being relative of course).

I'm not as quick to assume reading a textbook is inherantly more meaningful than playing WoW.

I suspect WoW might be like several other games in that the marginal benefit of continued play after an initial phase is small.

But if it's social/multiplayer and your group feels a personal connection while playing (maybe w/people you know IRL), you might get a greater benefit from the game.

Sure, perhaps not inherently. But do you think, looking across the world, that the median hour spent playing WoW is likely less meaningful than the median hour spent reading a textbook?

Hell yes. 90 hours of cumulative textbook reading time is pretty much an undergraduate degree. 90 hours of WoW is like.. getting to level 40

Hence my very last (caveat). I'm sure you understand my point though.

I feel the same way, I instinctually open my phone to ease even the slightest twinge of boredom.

I don't think it would be SO bad if the news wasn't so depressing and horrible.

There are at least 2 incredibly sad stories on the front page of Reddit at all times it seems.

I wish there was something positive to fill the gaps.

As I was reading your post, I was wondering why I rarely see anything depressing on Reddit. And then I remembered that I unsubscribed from r/news and r/worldnews :)

It’s called unsubscribing from those subreddits. Reddit is exactly what you want to make out of it.

I can easily spend 3+ hours a day on HN. I've banned myself 3 times. Started again recently to look for jobs. Time spent here is climbing. Will probably have to ban myself again soon. This account is greggman2 because one helpful way of banning myself is to set my noprocrast on and my minaway to some giant number and then set umatrix to block

Yishan Wong's response to that worry starts out:

> The pre-internet era was boring. Some may say that it was just as stimulating but in different, more "vibrant, outdoorsy" ways, but they are wrong. I have lived in both and the internet definitely makes life more interesting. In fact, combining the outdoors with the internet is one of life's greatest pleasures.


I'm not sure I'm convinced but it was an interesting very short essay.

I feel really relaxed and not bored at all when I go on vacation somewhere my phone gets little or no reception. It's amazing. There's so much to do without the Internet! Books are a thing, and there's more than enough top-notch fiction to last a lifetime, without re-reading. Writing is a thing. Sketching. Hell offline video games are a thing, for that matter, and you can mine the back catalogs of older consoles for (mostly) less money than something new, and have about the same amount of fun. You can keep yourself in more excellent video material than you can reasonably watch with a Netflix DVD subscription and a trip to the library every week, no Internet required (aside from managing your Netflix queue, I guess—do that on your library trips, when you pay your bills). Board games & tabletop games & card games rule. Inventing any of those is fun. Lawn games. Sports. Playing music. Listening to music. Building stuff in the garage. Programming in any language/ecosystem with decent offline documentation. Hardware stuff.

I only, only have Internet service because it lets me work from home and keeps my wife from having to stay at school until 7:00 4 nights a week for 9ish months a year (teacher) since friggin' everything they do is online now (Google, mostly). I mean I have a couple streaming services and such since we have to pay for Internet service anyway, but aside from those two (admittedly great) things that require it I wouldn't bother to pay for it.

That's the thing. That's never changed. Vacations have always been more fun. The change is that now, when you're doing boring mundane things, you can pull out your phone and have at least some modicum of entertainment.

I mean chillin’ in an Airbnb, not hiking or seeing the sights or whatever. Even that part’s better, without the Internet.

[EDIT] and yes I get the irony that AirBnB requires the Internet. Occasional Internet is handy to take care of necessities and create convenience. Constant Internet? I'm a skeptic.

This implies boredom is inherently bad. As a child, a lot of creative play came from boredom. Of course, we're all bound to lose some of that as we mature, but I can't help but feel that the availability of cheap distraction in the form of boundless information is allowing me to sabotage myself.

I think our relationship with boredom over the past 30 years mirrors that of hunger post-industrial revolution.

Humans evolved in environments where both calories and information were very sparse. Natural selection encouraged a continious psychological drive to seek those resources whenever and wherever possible. Over-consuming food or stimulus was such a rare condition that we have very few naturally in-built mental mechanisms to avoid it.

And then all of a sudden our environment drastically changed. Sometime in the 20th century the central risk related to food went from starvation to obesity. In the 21st century the central risk of stimulation has gone from mind-atrophying boredom to compulsive zombie-like wire-heading.

To resist obesity we had to re-evaluate our relationship with the feeling of hunger. Always giving into our base impulse would mean that we gorge on calorically dense, hyper-palatable, nutritionally poor food from morning to night. Modern people had to learn that feeling a little hungry sometimes is okay. It's necessary for a baseline level of healthy physiology, and actually not that unpleasant when you get used to it.

I think we have to re-learn the same lesson with boredom. The skeptics are right. The average level of moment-to-moment boredom in 1980 was extremely high, and well past the point of necessity or even marginal benefit. But virtually no one with a smartphone ever experiences anything like 1980 boredom on a daily basis. While a lot of boredom is bad, we have to learn that a little bit of boredom is necessary for healthy cognitive and emotional functioning.

It was boring. A lot of TV was watched. There were some video games too. You could program too. The only thing you could do outside of that would be to read or socialize. You could read a gauntlet of things that you can do today as well. But YouTube, podcasts, blogs are great.

> The only thing you could do outside of that would be to read or socialize.

Hike, play sports, build stuff with your hands, make art, write, go swimming, and a bunch of other things.

I don't recall being particularly bored growing up before the internet became a big deal. It's just that now I'm used to having online access to so many things, it's easier to be bored without access to that.

It's probably more likely that you just grew up and the things you found exciting then you don't find exciting now. Because you could just do those things now without going on the internet! They're separate things.

The best hack I’ve found is leaving the pdf of a book I’ve been meaning to read as the top tab in my phone’s web browser. Doesn’t work when when I reflex-tap into reddit, but if I reflex-tap into the browser looking for HN, I immediately get side-tracked into “oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to read this”.

I’d like to set up a service to which you send in a book, and it texts you one page at a time (you can ask it for the next page), and nags you if it’s been a few days without using it.

Too often the information junk food turns into an hour-long binge. I could have made real progress towards my goals in that time.

In general, a service which can slice up your goals into very small units of work or very small exercises, and harasses you for constant engagement could be a huge win. Don’t get rid of the anti-patterns, harness them for your own ends!!!

Another dark pattern: annoying pop-ups and click-to-dismisses.

What if you could add these to all of your info junk-food outlets, but instead of “subscribe to our newsletter”, it would be “are you sure you wouldn’t rather work towards accomplishing your goals?”

This is depressingly relatable. Sometimes when I'm walking back home, I end up checking Instagram, Reddit, work mail at every crosswalk while I'm waiting for the signal to turn green. And I'm not happy because either there's nothing new or because I realize what I'm doing and I tell myself "look what you've become, you're not even capable of waiting 30 seconds without pulling out your phone".

Would you be any happier if you were, instead, standing there staring at traffic waiting for the light to change?

Yes. You have two main options, among others.

1) choose to focus on the sensory input you’re receiving. The view of the scenery around you, the noise around you, the wind on your skin. Cars and their passengers can be interesting in their own right- people watching still exists.

2) meditate or think about something.

Those are substantially better than refreshing HN, Instagram, etc for the hundredth time that day.

Being bored is a choice. It takes work to not reflexively pull open Reddit. I still struggle with this from time to time.

I’ve started leaving my phone at home when I walk my dog to get coffee every morning. The first few days, maybe even weeks, it was actually pretty uncomfortable. (What does a normal person do at the crosswalk without a phone??) Now I kind of like it. I think about what I have to do for the day and mentally plan out how I’ll tackle it.

The only major downside is when I think of something I want to write down or look up.

Set up something else to do when you pull out your phone.

Set up Anki, lichess, etc. anything that is better than brain junk food.

It's really easy to break the social media habit by replacing it with something semi-useful.

I recommend reading "Digital Minimalism" by Cal Newport. It identifies this problem well and has a lot of practical suggestions for countering it. The one that worked for me was uninstalling twitter/reddit/HN apps and replacing them with using the browser. Doesnt sound like much but the added friction of typing out everything in the browser (I'm mostly on incognito) took my compulsive dopamine-fix phone-checking behavior down by a lot. For HN, I also try to rely on the "Hacker Newsletter" to counter any FOMO.

I do this a lot. It recently began to bother me. I started a list of things I have to do before I dick around on my phone: practice Japanese and meditate. I don't always remember, but when I do, I'm happier.

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