I know this goes against the ethos of high-tech, but humans don't have an imperative to be as productive as possible. They don't have to make the most use of their time. They don't have to get as efficient as they could. These are metrics that work fine for our machines, our code. But humans are not machines. Sure, we shepherd the machines, and sure sometimes we are in rivalrous dynamics that increasing efficiency has a payoff, but it is never the goal in itself.
The real "currency" we have, if we are using the term in the sense of denoting essentialness, is our humanness, our mortality, our psyches, our connection with other people and seemingly mundane but meaningful parts of our lives. I mean, look how many of us started baking their breads and enjoying it. It is not a wise use of the "currency of time", but it is part of life very well spent, as our internal reward mechanisms have been telling us.
In James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games there one chapter on how the use of machines works both ways. It doesn't only shape the machine but it makes the person more 'machine-like'. In an attempt to operate a machine the person has itself to act mechanical and to comply with the interface of the machine rather than the other way around.
It's I think very evident in the way we communicate today or how everything becomes 'gamified' or even how dating works. Success today has to be defined in formal or quantifiable terms not because anyone actually consciously chose to do it, but because it's the only way you can put it in a computer, which actually was supposed to exist to empower people. It's pretty sad honestly.
I remember an article a while back where archaeologists examined the bones of pre-Columbian women in America. The bones showed the signs of long term debilitating, repetitive work from kneeling and grinding, by hand, corn into flour.
Just last night I watched an American Experience episode on the guy who revolutionized wheat farming. He spent his youth on a farm, harvesting corn by hand, estimating that he'd harvested 1 million ears per season by himself. He was amazed at how wonderful it was to get a machine that mechanized corn harvesting.
I'd much rather mow my lawn with a mower than a pair of scissors.
In the 1960s, my dad was writing a book. My mom would type up the drafts for him. Every new draft meant my mom would spend hours banging it out on the typewriter. Think how much easier that is today with our "dehumanizing" computers. Can you imagine today typing the whole thing over again because you made a misteak?
Machines have largely free'd us from dehumanizing labor, not caused it.
I think you didn't go far enough with the implications of Carse's statement. It's not just that a machine mows your lawn quicker, it's that you have a homogenous lawn in the first place because it is a thing that can mechanically mowed.
For example, why instead of a lawn do more people not have a wild garden, with uneven terrain? Why did everyone feel compelled to put a green square, empty plot of land in front of their houses? is there anything interesting or alive in it, or does it exist because it can be mechanically operated? Given that mowing the lawn is something 'you want to get over with', is it not more accurate to say the lawnmower needs you shoving it around in a system that efficiently maximises lawn-mower production?
To understand the implication of what Carse is saying is to understand that machines don't just enter your environment, they shape your entire perception in a way that makes it conducive to be further operated by machines.
Is living in estranged suburbs with lawns really positive for human flourishing, or is it in a sense the logic of the car and the lawnmower operating on people rather than the other way around?
Is all the corn really part of a diverse diet and ecosystem, or have we adopted the diet because it is the thing that can be mass-produced?
My lawn is mostly wild, I just mow it once a month or so to keep it from being an impenetrable tangle of blackberry pushes about 8 feet high. Cutting those bushes by hand is an exhausting process. I finally got a weed whacker and replaced the string on it with a blade, which knocks them down to a size where the mower can finish them off.
Much as I dislike gardening, I dislike being buried in blackberry bushes even more. I also keep the brush down around the house because it's a fire hazard, and it gives cover for mice to get in the house, and provides avenues for insects to get in the house.
Grass also does a good job of keeping the erosion of the hill I'm on down - blackberries don't. Keeping the grass from going to seed reduces my problems with being allergic to grass pollen.
So yes, there are reasons other than impressing the neighbors.
If I ever do sell the joint, however, I'll have to have it properly landscaped, as I'm sure that'll increase the value of the property far more than it would cost.
> We went to agriculture because otherwise we'd starve. (...) If you think their lives were better because of no machines, I frankly cannot understand that.
It's not like that. We were forced to start doing agriculture by competitive pressure; the people who did could conquer the people who didn't. Agriculture essentially gave us everything we consider achievements and civilization, so I'm glad that it happened, but there is a point made by some historians that the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture marked a significant quality-of-life decrease for individuals, and we've only rebounded from that in the last few centuries.
> Mechanized agriculture has virtually eliminated starvation.
+/- supply chains. As we're about to see with COVID-19, just because we can sow and reap efficiently, doesn't mean people won't starve.
Anyway, GP's point here isn't that cutting bushes by hand is somehow better - but that the reason most people worry about those bushes, or have a lawn in the first place, is technology. The point may not apply to houses on the countryside, which have to fight off the wilderness for practical reasons. But there's a curious co-dependency between lawnmowers and suburbs. The reason you need a lawnmower is to maintain your lawn. The reason you need to maintain your lawn as a flat sheet of grass is because your HOA wants to make the area look nice (to some standard of aesthetics). The reason they want that is because they can. The reason they can demand that is because cheap and available lawnmowers exist.
If I'm to believe Wikipedia, lawnmowers were created to help maintain sports grounds and large gardens. It seems reasonable to call the homogenized looks of modern suburbs to be in big part a side effect of that invention.
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn_mower#History
Starvation greatly limited the number of humans.
Me, I like consistent, varied, cheap food. I like living in a heated dwelling in winter. I like cotton undies. I like being dry in the rain. I like having teeth that last. I like having corrective lenses. I like disco music. I like my office. I like playing with my hot rod. I like knowing that the doc can likely patch me up if I get injured. I don't want to deal with horses. I like glass windows.
All this complaining about modern technology "dehumanizing" people makes me laugh. It's like complaining about a door ding in your Ferrari.
 - As it must. Technology that doesn't modify its surrounding context is just too hard. Humans have built roads since forever, so that they didn't have to build off-road vehicles. Bureaucracy has to fit everything into its square holes, because otherwise it would be impossible.
Yes, it may well be that pausing development where we are would be more comfortable for those of us currently alive. But some people find meaning in the advancement of the human condition. That takes real effort, and causes a lot of people short term pain. But permanently making the world a better place for all future generations is a goal worth achieving, IMO.
Cultivating human potential necessitates the leisure that technology gives us. And when actualized, human potential gives not just the world but the cosmos greater beauty. This makes it self-evidently worthwhile.
That we vastly over estimate how happy success will make us, and how miserable illness and failure will make us. That 6 months after winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic people self-report being equally happy with their lives compared to before. That people become happier when stuck with a thing they can't change, than they do with a thing they feel they can change. That we don't know this about ourselves makes us make choices that make us less happy overall. And that these are surprising results is the reason the talk is worth watching.
Thanks, I take no offence and I understand your intention here. It is important to understand that suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive, and for some people the intersection might be larger for where happiness intersects with suffering than for happiness or suffering by themselves.
Of course, as I've gotten rid of stuff I don't like and replaced it with stuff I do.
As a hunter-gatherer, though, I wouldn't have such options.
The idea that, if you were a hunter gatherer and didn't have options you would be less happy is the what the talk and the described research is calling false; instead we demonstrably adjust to become happy when faced with no options, which means people like what they have more than they predicted they would not just because they got to choose it, but even if they couldn't choose it.
farms are not shipping cheap crops to us at their expense. They are trading.
> reap the rewards of sweatshop labor in China
These "sweatshops" brought them out of poverty in rural areas - they would've been a subsistence farmer and had less wealth. It feels unfair for them to only be paid pennies for an object that retail for over 50-60 bucks, but that's still better than not having those pennies.
And eventually, as their wealth accrue and they invest it wisely, their productivity and standards of living grows, and they will no longer accept pennies. I don't see why that's so wrong, and the people complaining about this problem just conveniently ignores that almost all of their wealth of products and services comes from this process.
I misplaced a word - at the expense of more local options in need of food. Either way I'd hope that'd be assumed, but I fixed it to not leave it to chance.
> These "sweatshops" brought them out of poverty in rural areas - they would've been a subsistence farmer and had less wealth. It feels unfair for them to only be paid pennies for an object that retail for over 50-60 bucks, but that's still better than not having those pennies.
Make no mistake, they're still in poverty. Go ahead, trade with them. I doubt you would. Your life is almost guaranteed to be far better. It wasn't the sweatshops that brought them out of poverty. What brought workers out of poverty in the 1st world was unions and workers rights - not the jobs themselves.
> And eventually, as their wealth accrue and they invest it wisely, their productivity and standards of living grows, and they will no longer accept pennies. I don't see why that's so wrong, and the people complaining about this problem just conveniently ignores that almost all of their wealth of products and services comes from this process.
This assumes endless growth - an ideal, and assumes that everyone shares in that wealth equally. We know that is definitely not true. Eventually if everyone says "we shall all be paid as our 1st world counterparts", the cost of goods increases, less people buy, and the wealth vanishes, largely because it has been centralized.
This attitude also ignores the impending doom of climate change. People think everything is fine until it's not. It's foolish to think there will not be war, disease, famine in the 21st century. And technology will make it deadlier than ever.
Technology has also saved us from environmental disasters. Whaling was stopped when oil was found. The denuding of trees from the landscape stopped when coal was discovered. (It's still going on in the Amazon, sadly.)
> Technology can be dehumanizing, or very humanizing. It's up to us to curate it properly. Endless advancement in the name of technology will simply destroy the human race.
Whaling largely stopped because of regulation and social factors, not technology, just like cutting down trees - it can be sustainable if you simply do not cut down all the trees in an area, replant, etc. This is an example of curation of technology.
In general, and simplifying the dynamics a bit, I'd say this: what happens in a society is constrained to what makes economic sense. You can attempt change (e.g. get whaling banned), but you will not succeed when the economic pressures go strongly against you (e.g. there's no substitute for whale oil and demand is large, so regulations will not happen because of a combination of lobbying and international competition). Your society is always limited to what economics allow, and the way you reshape that economic landscape is through technology. You find substitute for whaling oil. Or a better fuel than wood. Or (upcoming invention) develop lab-grown meat that's competitive to regular one - I bet that vegans will think it was their activism that achieved a future without factory farming, but the way I see it, once we crack lab-grown meat, factory farming will be gone in a blink of an eye.
Another example I like: there were many attempts at reforming the Catholic church in the past, but the one that succeeded happened after the printing press was invented, which let reformatist ideas spread far and wide before the church could contain them.
Europe has lawn mowers too, but people still don't live in soulless unwalkable dystopian suburbs as Americans. It has to do with a lot more than automation. It's partially crimes, partially race relations, inequality, crime, a cultural desire for large living space deriving from manifest destiny and the dream of the wild west, extreme individualism, sparse population etc.
I watch the robins foraging for worms on mine. I can look out the window and see fat bumblebees lazily weave among the patches of clover in the late morning. In the afternoon, I get to see my child scrambling across it looking for dandelion flowers to make a bouquet.
If it were a wild garden, we'd have none of that, and I'd have much worse insect (ticks, mosquitoes) and deer problems.
I enjoy the sight of my small mini-field. The wilderness brings me disease and pestilence, which I'd prefer to keep at a distance from where my family rests their heads.
I'll take the mower, thank you.
> The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of tick-borne diseases is increasing at a record pace while the geographic range of ticks continues to expand. Lyme disease is the most commonly known tick-borne disease, but other diseases, such as ehrlichiosis and STARI, have been discovered and the list of tick-related illnesses continues to grow.
This is a bit like Fussell's observation that glass or mirrored surfaces signal wealth because they imply you don't clean your own house.
Solution: make the computer better. On another note, what do we as a society want?
A. Society wants to survive for as long as it can.
Many decisions don't make much sense. Shouldn't reproduction be considered a crime as optimal population stands at 2-4 billion. If climate change progresses, we would all be dead sooner than later. And more people means more need for energy and construction and everything that accelerates climate change. We defy natural selection as well which we shouldn't given we don't need many people to begin with. Unemployment and automation - you wouldn't have to face that if there were only productive people. Only like 1% of people produce content on the internet, 99% are consumers. If we have less baggage, we would be able to do much more research and don't worry about trivial problems as those are solved through automation. There will be no need for UBI as low skilled folks don't exist. If someone doesn't want to help society survive for longer, they aren't needed.
That's not how the current world works so I am guessing A is partially false.
B. Society wants to survive as long as it can while enjoying hedonism to the fullest.
Might be true. I can't quantify the balance.
C. Survival is a zero sum game and there are many smaller societies coexisting like a network. Competition results in opposite ends for everyone.
This would explain the irrational wars.
Kobe(RIP) on having time for friends:
“I have "like minds." You know, I've been fortunate to play in Los Angeles, where there are a lot of people like me. Actors. Musicians. Businessmen. Obsessives. People who feel like God put them on earth to do whatever it is that they do. Now, do we have time to build great relationships? Do we have time to build great friendships? No. Do we have time to socialize and to hangout aimlessly? No. Do we want to do that? No. We want to work. I enjoy working.”
He was the top or close to the top of a zero-sum system. There can only be a limited number of hyper-popular NBA players deified in our collective consciousness. Of course he is going to be biased on his work/life satisfaction. The relevant bit is, we are not Kobe. I am not Kobe. You are not Kobe. We never will be Kobe. Now, what is meaningful for us to do?
Imagine being a bright, capable mind, and a hard worker. You've decided to focus on a particular career which makes use of some of your skills, allows you a platform for recognition, and pays the bills. Say programming, or a dancer, or a top-tier professional athlete.
Imagine that you still spend your free time satiating your intellectual curiosity in other ways, learning about all the things you didn't have time to devote your life to.
Now imagine that you decide to share your own thoughts and opinions about say, cooking, or politics, or whatever, and you get shot down because a programmer's unique life skills isn't transferable to cooking or politics.
> whatever wisdom they gathered through their exceptionally unique life situation is not going to be transferable to the life of 99.999..% of the world
You can say this about literally any profession when you include the scope of the entire world and the people in it. And this is why we share our knowledge and wisdom with others, because we each only have a few pieces of the puzzle. Kobe shared his point of view so that others might gain some insight into the mind of a hard-working athlete, not so that someone might dismiss his thoughts based on his career (even though you try to claim it's not about his career, you start with the phrase "A popular basketball player", so it's fairly transparent what your meaning is).
Also, it is not the uniqueness of his skills that makes his wisdom questionably applicable on this matter. It is the totality of his life circumstances being radically different. Having enormous financial, social and athletic capital makes his situation very very divergent from practically everyone else’s. And it is not his wisdom about romantic relationships, how to be a father etc we’re questioning, it is about working at the expense of a balanced life, from a person who has a very special kind of work.
So you admit, you're making an appeal to (lack of) authority. And it is based on his profession, or you wouldn't have brought up his profession while attempting to discredit his thoughts.
If you feel like you can identify with Kobe Bryant to the point of finding his work/life advice useful, go ahead. I don't. I find it misleading. I find it harmful. He is far from being the top thinker on this matter. He is not Bertrand Russel talking "In Praise of Idleness". He is irrelevant.
Reread the quote again. He wasn't giving advice. He was explaining his own mentality. You jumped the gun and started criticizing him as if he is proselytizing on the streets.
If there are any criticisms to be had about what Kobe said, they could be made in good faith without an unnecessary mention of his career as a limiting factor of his experience.
This is the core of any addictive processes. Hyperstimulus (e.g. cocaine) will wreak havoc on your utility function to the point one narrows and narrows on that one local goal maximization at the expense of total life satisfaction.
But the problem is bigger than the reward mechanisms. People were not able to say “I bet bread baking will make me satisfied” and go ahead and do it. Only after necessity pushed them to participate in doing it, they were able to realize its value. They had to gather this participatory knowledge before making any prediction on its utility. This inherent information asymmetry makes broadening the utility maximization framework very very hard for an individual.
This is not true for the market; market optimizes the shit out of what they will take out of the worker and the consumer, because market’s objective function is clear. And by them I mean us because it is us who made the market and who treat that objective function of the market is good enough to be objective function of all humanness. It is not, and that is why I’m against using the language of market (currency, utility, productivity etc) in general for all human activity and why I find it inherently dehumanizing; it simply cannot capture all that is human and that is valuable.
These are some of the problems with utility I took away from your comment:
1. Short term utility maximisation does not necessarily align with long term utility maximisation.
2. The utility is difficult to define because we don't know what can contribute to it and how much those components would contribute.
3. The utility, even if defined, can only be partially observed.
While these are certainly valid and interesting observations, that doesn't mean there isn't a latent utility that describes your lifetime's value. If you live a thousand lives and had access to a device to measure the (latent) utility, surely you could it to rank lives as more meaningful or valuable than others.
Looking at it this way, the problems you raise could be seen as opportunities: how should we align short term utility with long term utility? How can we find out which utility components there are and how much they would contribute? And how can we make the utility observable, so that it can be maximised?
Interestingly, attempting to maximise the utility may itself lower the utility as a result of spending time on the maximisation task and the dehumanisation of life as a result of its formalisation.
I would actually love to have a formalized utility framework. I think cognitive science is attempting at this from first principles.
I also think the sense of your use of the word utility here sufficiently encapsulates what I want it to mean. And I think we as humanity have been actually working on these problems for such a long time, though without the formalization as we aspire to. Fairy tales, myths, religions, other wisdom traditions, philosophy schools, states, nations, they’ve been all trying to formulate some part of this utility maximization problem, albeit with abstract, indirect, symbolical etc language, and many many digressions in between.
The name of the game is wisdom; what is meaningful, what should we be doing in life, how not to get stuck in local maxima of our meaning making (i.e. bullshit ourselves).
But right now we have a discontinuity; we have long lost authority of religion, after WWII we’ve lost trust in power of the state, now we are only left with the market to make sense of our lives. For all the fantastic attributes it has, market can’t solve our general utility maximization problem, and that is why I was aversive to use it as a tool anymore.
As for your point on latent utility, I had dreamed about this too, but maximizing with imperfect information is an inseparable part of the game. Like you allude, there needs to be regularization to our maximization endeavors, simply because there might be inherent limits to its computability. There is certain information you will have only after participated in a situation e.g. choosing to be a parent, having a terminal illness etc, which also drastically changes your utility function. Or there are very weird components of the function like the nature of consciousness, problem of free-will etc. that again drastically changes the computation. Or mini-enlightenments after mystical experiences (e.g. psychedelic use) seem to change the utility function itself to approximate reality “better”, which would make that person’s prior computations faulty. In other words, what are trying to do is to actually approximate to that ideal latent utility function by getting more and more wise. And we might have exhausted what market can offer in this regard anymore.
There's a strong argument that not aiming at immediate productivity produces better productivity long-term (e.g. fundamental science, pure mathematics), but that still holds productivity as the primary value.
But what value survival if we lose our humanity?
A resolution is that our intuitions of morality support probabilitistic long-term survival, even if it doesn't seem so in the short-term, shaped as they are by evolution.
I’m sorry if others have tried to force their version of humanity on you, but what’s de-humanizing to one is the humanity of another.
The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien."
You can't deny that there are many things we have to do in modern society that we would rather not do (e.g., taxes). If we can minimize or remove doing these things, then we can spend more time doing the things we enjoy.