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Long Walks—Weekly Wisdom

Also, telling ghost stories, and how the internet is turning into TV or maybe it is getting better.

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I am traveling yet again. Typing this out on a train. So this will be a short one.


What we lost

So I am on a religious pilgrimage and have to walk a lot.

Don’t worry this is not about religion.

I had to walk a lot because of administrative decision way above my pay grade. It made me think of all the previous times I took the same journey and took the easy way. I was afraid of taking the harder way, thinking it would tire me. It did but not all that much.

I am much older and not in my peak condition. And yet, I did not have as much trouble. My muscles are sore and I have mild fatigue, but nothing a little caffeine can’t solve. It lead me to what I lost when taking the easy way.

I saved a lot of time and energy, which allowed me to engage in other spiritual activities. However convenience came with a price. I was deprived of the appreciation you earn when you take the longer way.

What else have we lost with our modern conveniences? May be we should take the longer path once in a while. Just to know.


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🗣Some Quotes and Notes

Analog Scaries

I am reading through The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It is shocking how relevant it is, even over 30 years later. Then this essay popped in my feed. It is a repost of an old NYT column by Gaiman. It is a perfect encapsulation of why we tell ghost stories even in our post-industrial mechanized world. And why we should keep doing it.

As Alice said, there’s plenty of room. Technology does nothing to dispel the shadows at the edge of things. The ghost-story world still hovers at the limits of vision, making things stranger, darker, more magical, just as it always has

— Neil Gaiman, Ghosts in the Machines

Idiot Slab

In the early days of the internet, I was quite hopeful. I have written about it as such. I believed that the web would be a democratizing force that would free us from the gatekept world of broadcast media, mainly TV. I hoped it would usher in a new age of intellectualism that would free us from the celebrity-worshipping trash ‘idiot boxes’.

We all know how wrong I was. Celebrity culture is amplified and distributed. The broadcast media has given way to filter bubbles and micro-influencers. Drew Austin argues that TikTok is the beginning of this. However, I’d say the internet became TV when Facebook switched to programmatic sorting of the feed. You did not get the feed as it was, but what the black-box algorithm decided what you should see.

We may train the TikTok algorithm to give us what we like, but the algorithm also trains us to expect its identifiable categories of output.

TikTok’s content and form both reflect something that is increasingly true about the internet: It is becoming more like TV.

— Drew Austin, Channel surfing

Counterpoint

It is wonderful that I read both the previous piece and this one the same week. Ted Gioia argues that the internet is become less like TV. Not in those words, but to the same affect. Engagement is down across all social media platforms. Contrary to popular belief, people are watching less and less TikTok. Maybe people have developed a callouses against the algorithmic manipulation. Or they just desire something a lot more substantial.

The cOnTeNt that gets the highest engagement nowadays are long-form videos and podcasts. As a person who has 50 hours of podcasts lined up everyday, including up to five-hour long interviews, I’d say his assessment is more accurate.

This is the banal truth that tech futurists never anticipated. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the power-hungry computer HAL 9000 tries to take over a spacecraft and kill the astronauts. But Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick got it all wrong. We now know that AI prefers to sell us garbage we don’t need and force us to watch stupid 10-second videos.

There are plenty of HAL equivalents operating today, and they will let us live, just so long as we get TikTok engagement numbers back up.

— Ted Gioia, Has the Internet Reached Peak Clickability?


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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