I watched The Social Dilemma last night, and today I came across the following passage in a book I’ve been reading.
We need a serviceable definition of what we mean by “drug”. A drug is something that causes unexamined, obsessive, and habitual behavior. You don’t examine obsessive behavior; you just do it. You let nothing get in the way of your gratification. This is the kind of life that we are being sold at every level. To watch, to consume, and to watch and consume yet more. The psychedelic option is off in a tiny corner, never mentioned; yet it represents the only counterflow directed against a tendency to leave people in designer states of consciousness. Not their own designs, but the designs of Madison Avenue, of the Pentagon, of the Fortune 500 corporations. This isn’t just metaphor; it is really happening to us.
Looking down on Los Angeles from an airliner, I never fail to notice that it is like looking at a printed circuit: all those curved driveways and cul de sacs with the same little modules installed along each one. As long as the Reader’s Digest stays subscribed to and the TV stays on, these modules are all interchangeable parts within a very large machine. This is the nightmarish reality that Marshall McLuhan and Wyndham Lewis and others foresaw: the creation of the public as herd. The public has no history and no future, the public lives in a golden moment created by a credit system which binds them ineluctably to a web of illusions that is never critiqued. This is the ultimate consequence of having broken off the symbiotic relationship with the Gaian matrix of the planet. This is the consequence of lack of partnership; this is the legacy of imbalance between the sexes; this is the terminal phase of a long descent into meaninglessness and toxic existential confusion.
It pretty much sums up where I think we are right now, even though it was written in 1992 when the public Internet didn’t even exist, let alone social media! I think I’ve come to terms with living in a post-truth world, and descending into toxic existential confusion is just what we need to reach the bottom.
I realise that I’ve not yet written about this. How to be happy. This blog originally started with a different title and theme around 12 years ago, and after its original purpose and objective had been achieved (getting a PhD) there wasn’t much of a reason to write afterwards.
In addition, the ‘old internet’ where people’s default was to be anonymous was slowly being replaced by forcing us all to be real i.e. use our real identity online. I believe this was in no small part driven by social media companies and in particular Facebook, where it became policy (and part of their T&Cs) that people must use their real names when signing up. Bollocks to that! The internet was supposed to be an escape from RL (real life), not the extension of it. Quite unimaginable in the age of social media (yes, you may have a user name or ‘brand’ that’s different to your real name, but in most cases your true name was publicly connected with it. The only person that I still don’t know the real name of is the artist Banksy).
How to be happy
First of all: The question mark is missing – it really should read ‘How to be happy?’, as it continues to be a mystery. There are certain things that very briefly induce a state of happiness and / or bliss; recently in my case these have included:
compose a mini-riff on a cheap keyboard that I bought in Lidl
design a few T-shirts and merchandise on RedBubble
having a lie-in and not setting the alarm (not had this in years!)
meeting with some work colleagues for my first-ever Karaoke
All the above have in common that they transcend everyday life and / or add a new (fresh) experience, thus lightening the general duties that I have in terms of economics (paying the bills, keeping a roof above my head, etc.). My general duties (bringing home the bacon) are by no means horrific, but they are often tedious and repetitive, ploughing the same type of soil, following the same well-worn, well-lit and comfortable path.
Comfort is comforting, but it does not induce bliss or provide permanent happiness. I had a friend who was at the top of her game at age 30 and wildly successful (in terms of what Western society values), and once she had it all, she asked ‘What next?’, ‘Is this it?’. Her drive and desire were still there, but she didn’t know where to put them, having reached all material goals.
There are of course many stories like this, including a good number of celebrities and actual rich and / or famous people. Must be especially cruel when you reach your zenith at age 10 (like Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin).
In summary, the path to happiness – as far as I can tell from my reasonable experience (I’m about halfway through life) – is to aim for some sort of discomfort within comfort, where ‘discomfort’ simply means being elevated above the mundane by doing something new, fresh, different, even painful. Given our brain’s plasticity, it quite concretely means forging new paths and new networks within the brain (this cannot happen when you do the same thing day in, day out).
The challenge, I have found, lies in the fact that the older you get, the less NEW there is to explore or forge – at least in your immediate environment (unless you’d intentionally leave jobs, relationships, country, etc. just to get some excitement back. Yes, I’ve done that too..). You also tend to get a little bit lazy comfortable in your comfort, especially if you worked hard for it. Comfortably numb.
Happiness is at the top of the mountain you’ve yet to climb, while comfort is at its basecamp (it is cosy and warm, there is a fire). It’s bloody hard to leave basecamp. Bloody hard.
I’ve long stopped using it to socialise or have fun, find like-minded people, or anything like that. 20 years ago I met a young guy called Hank on IRC, he was Dutch, I didn’t know anything about him or ever saw a photo, all I knew was we were into the same music, and chatting to him made my heart quicken. I didn’t want to meet him in real life – the internet was an escape from real life, it was anonymous and free. It was wonderful.
Today the internet is shit, and dead to me. I don’t use it that much, other than for functional stuff like banking, booking flights, and so on. It’s quite cool in a way because most of the nonsense that comes with it these days (such as the aforementioned harassment, trolling, being manipulated, developing mental health problems etc.) passes me by, and I’m able to just choose its useful parts, which perhaps isn’t as easy for people who grew up with it and know no different.
The one downside is that I’m no longer able to connect, reach out, and find like-minded people online, to exchange ideas about things I truly care about or have an opinion on (believe me, I have MANY opinions!). I used to love healthy, democratic debate – yes, largely anonymously, but mostly honest and respectful. I still to this day love anonymous text and discussion such as on reddit, although I stopped participating a long, long time ago (two of my favourite subs are Foreveralone and Deadbedrooms.).
The things I don’t write about (because the internet is shit):
In no particular order, here are some of the topics that you will never see me talk about, or share an opinion on:
What I think about safe spaces
What I think about LGBTQQIA (or LGBTQQIA+)
What I think about inclusivity
What I think about feelings and offending feelings
What I think about incels / the black pill / red pillers / PUAs
What I think about the Tories
What I think about the rich and privileged
What I think about Brexit voters
What I think about the alt-right
What I think about social media
What I think about surveillance capitalism
What I think about porn
What I think about drugs
What I think about Ed Sheeran
Yes, Ed Sheeran. I don’t even want to talk about Ed fucking Sheeran. That’s how bad it is.
I came across a critical analysis of the modern internet recently, specifically how its algorithms today already shape and influence human behaviour, society, and the way the world is going.
It confirms my suspicion that we already are in the matrix in some way. It’s not that computers / robots / AI have ‘taken over’ as a discrete, external entity from us (as e.g. in Terminator) but instead the influence is much more subtle and insidious.
Three ways in which the machines are in control
1. The smartphone reduces your Real Life (RL) experience
A smartphone just sucks someone into a small screen, where all their attention is focused. Have you seen people at a bus stop or on public transport recently? They just look into the palm of their hand.
If all that time is now spent on screens, it is not spent in the real (3-dimensional) world involving all of your senses.
I don’t know if the increase in mental health issues amongst young people is correlated with that, but arguably if you spend less time practising ‘being yourself’ in the real world you may find it more difficult. For that reason alone you should reduce your screen time and
Don’t let the machines reduce your RL experience. The real (3D) world is messy but it involves ALL your senses!
2. The algorithms reduce your understanding that other views exist
One of the beauties of the algorithms running the internet is that they’re so subtle. While most people are aware of some degree of personalisation (e.g. you see content similar to what you’ve previously liked / bought), on a meta-level they still think everyone roughly shares the same reality (e.g. 62% of people in the UK don’t realise their social networks can affect the news they see – more on that later). This is the so-called filter bubble, according to Wikipedia
a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history.
In addition, confirmation bias means we favour information which confirms previously existing beliefs or biases, and filter out the rest. Our existing beliefs also affect how we process and interpret new information (i.e. we slant it towards what we already believe).
The algorithms (especially on social media) fuel our (very human) confirmation biases, so we think everyone thinks like us / agrees with us. All we see every day is confirmation of our own views. We do NOT really understand any more in a deep way that other views and realities exist.
And that apparently is only a harmless example. This kind of stuff imprints on your baby’s memory. Thanks to algorithms and machine learning, baby will get served up more of the same stuff. You, on the other hand, don’t even know it’s going on in the first place.
I believe we can and should live with our machines, peacefully, but that it is us who calls the shots. I’d like to see some kind of digital enlightenment where we’re much more aware (enlightened) about some of the stuff that really goes on underneath!
It is shocking to think that, in 2018 in the UK, according to new research:
62% don’t realise their social networks can affect the news they see
45% of people are unaware that information they enter on
websites and social media can help target ads
83% are unaware information can be collected about them that other people have shared
When filling in my tax return this week, I noticed HMRC provided download times for slow connections including 56k modem speed (download time 3.4 minutes for a 1340 KB file!).
While this made sense to me (I used a 56k modem to connect to the Internet in the 90s), I wondered what younger self-employed (or otherwise tax returners) would make of it – do they know what a 56k modem is? Would they google it?
I thought I’d provide some answers all in one place 🙂 .
What is a 56k modem?
A 56k modem was a tool to connect to the Internet in the late 90s. The biggest modem maker in the world at the time was US Robotics. Below is a photo of a 56k modem – it’s the one I had in fact.
How fast is 56k dial up Internet?
56k dial-up Internet was quite slow. It took AGES to even view images.
I’ve tried finding an example – here’s a simulator that shows you an image being loaded on a 56k connection. I’d say it’s pretty accurate (although images tended to not be that big back then!).
When did the 56k modem come out?
The Internet says that the 56k modem came out in 1998; I’ve found a story on the Independent from 1997 announcing the imminent arrival of 56k modems:
These new modems certainly sound tempting. They can download data from the Internet at a rate of 56,000 bits per second (56Kbps).
I got mine in 98. I think I had a 33.6k modem for a little while before that (with a 486 computer).
Below is what the Windows 95 operating system looked like – you had to set up your modem and dial-up network connection manually.