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David Graeber was Right…—Weekly Wisdom

…about bullshit jobs! Also, the habit of reading, the UX of children, the habit of reading, and what is the real name of Greece anyway.

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Something I learned

Exonyms and Endonyms

I always wondered why we called it Yunaan in Urdu when the country’s name is Greece. Well its not Greece either. Its real name can be transliterated to Helenn. “Yunaan” and “Greece” are exonyms; a name used by external peoples. They are quite common.

In the video, TikTok creator Cedrusk explains the origin of the exonym Yunaan. Spoilers: It involves the Ionians.

Somethings to read and listen

  • Lex Fridman Interview with Robert Crews: The above clip is a great sample of what you will get out of the whole conversation. The professor is trying very hard to avoid a huge part of what his subject stood for. However it is still a very good discussion on aspects of global politics that are missing from English-language media.
  • The UX on this Small Child Is Terrible: One of the funniest and nerdiest work on Parenthood ever. As another VP of Reproduction in a Household, I can attest that most of the bugs presented in the Small Child UX are true.

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Some Quotes and Notes

Graeber was an Oracle

Recently, a ‘wEb ThReE’ game is Axii Infinity has become quite popular in Philippines. The game allows players to earn NFTs, and hence real money from the game. The game is, as expected, really dull. Author Paul Butler illustrates how this represents the epitome of Bullshit Jobs, as defined by the late David Graeber..

In a crypto economy crowded with vapourware and alpha-stage software, Axie Infinity stands out. Not only has it amassed a large base of users, the in-game economy has actually provided a real-world income stream to working-class Filipinos impacted by the pandemic. Some spend hours each day playing the game, and then sell the in-game currency they earn to pay their real-world bills. That’s obviously a good thing for them, but it also appears to be a near-Platonic example of Graeber’s definition of a bullshit job.

Ultimately, in-game labour is just a re-branding of gameplay designed to be dull enough that rich players will pay to outsource it to poor players. In spite of being presented as the future of work by some venture capitalists, the incentives just don’t make sense. Floors don’t have to be swept in the metaverse unless they’re designed to need sweeping.

— Paul Butler, “Play-to-earn” and Bullshit Jobs

Also recommended is the original Graeber essay.

The Paradox of the Internet

We are reading less and less because of the internet. As a privileged man with plenty of opportunities, this doesn’t disadvantage me. However it creates a disadvantage for the worst off people. Or at least that’s what Ben Wajdi posits.

The way I see it now, is that the excess of these “informational floods” will only make the top one percent shrink in numbers, and grow in assets owned. For those in the Bottom Billion, most people won’t use the internet to climb the socioeconomic ladder; the amount of stories and “TikTok influencers” occupying their time and attentions won’t leave them a moment for that.

That’s the paradox: the internet is here thanks to governments. Its structure resembles a democracy—to some extent. Yet it is often threatened by governments (under totalitarian regimes), and indirectly leads to more inequality (as those who will reap its benefits are few individuals and corporations).

— Ben Wajdi, Is internet addiction eradicating the habit of reading?

The Art of Reading

The previous essay reminded me of this passage from Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book.

Thus we can roughly define what we mean by the art of reading as follows: the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations.

— Mortimer J Adler, How to Read a Book


Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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