An Age of Anxiety

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Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

I’ve been in Bangkok for a while and for no conscious reason decided to take along an old copy of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, which rather charmingly has a paper till receipt inside dated the 10th March 1993 (it’s hard to even read this now it’s so faded). This is certainly when I bought the book, although whether I actually read it then is debateable. Anyway, it’s a really great book and if you’ve not read it you should.

The above is from the opening pages and remember this was written in 1974. There’s also a lovely bit about romantic versus classical thinking, which partly explains Brexit (OK, I may be stretching this way too far). The romantic model is also about feelings and may possibly explain why identity and nostalgia can trump econimics. The classic model is all about rational arguments about measurement, money, GDP and money. One can be proven, the other cannot and the two cannot be resolved.

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Quote of the Week

Awareness is revolutionary – Sangharakshita

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Is Facebook like a disease?

I knew I’d read something else rather relevant to the whole Facebook fiasco – the thought that the decline of Facebook could act like the spread of a virus (the explosion of inactive or deleted accounts being akin to the growth curve of a pandemic). Here’s the article in the Guardian newspaper from 2014:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/22/facebook-princeton-researchers-infectious-disease
And here’s the study from Princeton (Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics) that the article quotes:
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1401.4208v1.pdf

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From my archive… July 2012

At the heart of Facebook’s success is a deep and longstanding human desire to connect with other human beings. People like Facebook because it makes finding new friends, or looking up old ones, easy. It’s also a fast and convenient way to stay in touch and share everything from party invitations to baby photos.

Facebook also knows an extraordinary amount about the minutiae of its users’ lives, which is why it targets advertising so effectively. The sheer number of Facebook users and the time users spend on the site each day means Facebook has become a de facto homepage for many people.

But what might go wrong for Facebook in the future?

The first problem the company faces is operational: scaling up a small start-up into a giant corporation. Second is regulation, and this could be tricky. If Facebook continues to be successful it will, at some point, start to resemble a monopoly in the eyes of the US regulators and provoke an anti-trust case. It happened to Microsoft and it could easily happen to Google and/or Facebook.

The third problem is privacy. To date Facebook has been very clever about mapping the connections between people and what interests them and then selling this information to third parties. Much of the time Facebook users have little or no idea that this is happening and those that do know don’t seem to care. But this could change.

The network effects that made Facebook so large so fast could act in reverse if users start to feel exploited financially or no longer trust what is increasingly seen as a rather arrogant and potentially autistic company. As the company grows larger, there will be inevitable tensions between attracting users and getting them to part with their data. The company’s devotion to online openness, or lack of privacy, may cause problems in the real world.

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Stat of the Week

This screamed out at me while reading the Weekend FT on a plane. “The so called Milton Hersley School Trust has an eye-popping $12 billion in assets.”

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Instant stupidity

Really? Anything? In 5 minutes? So string theory then? Quantum physics? Brain surgery? Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? Joyce’s Ulysses? Gimme a break. This is a key problem with the internet. Information is now essentially free to create and distribute. There are no longer any barriers or filters, which means that anyone can create content, including people that really shouldn’t. But the real problem isn’t the people creating this kind of nonsense (literally non-sense), it’s the people that willingly consume it without thinking. And we wonder how we created Trump.

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Quote of the week

Was just reminded of something I said a few years ago, which I have no recollection of whatsoever: If computers ever become self-aware, I very much doubt they’ll want to work in insurance.

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Delete Facebook

The response from Facebook (or rather the complete lack of a response) in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is woeful. Only one thing to do. This btw, is from the Guardian and pretty much sums up Zuck’s attitude don’t you think?

Oh, one other thing. Eton. I think the school bears some responsibility for Alexander Nix. Something I wrote last year below…

Another consideration is that, by default, any narrow focus on academic subjects gives certain supposedly intelligent students tacit permission to behave like complete psychopaths at school and later within society at large.

If the system doesn’t value or measure morality or good character then it turns a blind eye to people that don’t have any and who, quite frankly, shouldn’t be let into or out of school in the first place. Under the current system, all that counts is that students pass their exams. What many schools want are kids that achieve high scores, thereby making their own rankings look good. From there ‘successful’ students can move seamlessly into a handful of top universities and thereafter into a select group of organisations. At this point their confidence most likely solidifies into arrogance and their brains go to their heads. Have you met any modest CEOs recently?

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Am I the weak signal?

Just about to do a talk on weak signals. But I’ve had a thought. What if I am the weak signal? What if I am the canary in the cage?

Looking back at what I’ve written about the economy, Europe, the internet, smart phones, social media and even Russia over the last 13 years I have been right far more than I’ve been wrong. Usually I’ve been 5-10 years ahead of other people too.

My next book was going to be about thinking, but maybe that’s precisely what I need to stop doing. I need to disconnect. I think I’m descending into madness, which I hope is just me and not everyone else in 5-10 years time. Seems I’m not alone though.

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