Mere Images of Truth—Weekly Wisdom 24th August, 2021

Also, the value of action and the epidemic of audience capture.

Hello Everyone

Welcome Subscribers: new and old, to Weekly Wisdom. Your weekly dose of highlights, quotes and notes from my notebook. If you would like to receive this in your inbox, subscribe now.

I am thankful for all of you who have forwarded this to your friends. The latest growth has been quite encouraging. This week I’d like to share:

  • There is no Right Side of History: There is a great amount of handwringing to be on the right side of history. This a naive point of view, as I explained in this essay.
  • Empty Platitudes Plastered on Important Men: This week I shared a lot about the ‘evils’ of photography. One aspect of this that I explored a few months ago, were the images of important men(real or fictional) with completely unrelated captions attached. Appealing to Authority is a very widespread fallacy.

On to the Main Event.

This week’s quotes & notes.

Thinking About Doing

When I launched my blog, I was following exactly this advice from famed physicist Richard Feynman. Same for when I decided to focus on my fitness. I chose the first available option and started doing it. When the option doesn’t work out you can always change your path. Acting is almost always better than not acting.

Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.

—Richard Feynman, Feynman Lectures on Physics(via James Clear)

Emphasis mine.

Audience Capture

“Audience Capture” is a great term to describe what has happened to the Media, especially on the editorial/opinion side. When a media company or personality is beholden to the whims of their audience, then truth suffers. A lot of this is being driven by subscription model of news. Why would you state uncomfortable truth to an audience that controls your livelihood? Jonah Perretti, CEO of BuzzFeed points out why New York Times, while being a great success story for the subscription model, suffers from this phenomenon.

“A subscription business model leads towards being a paper for a particular group and a particular audience and not for the broadest public,” Peretti said. He’s alluding, in part, to the theory that the Times’s subscriber base wants to read a certain kind of news and opinion — middle/left of center, critical of Donald Trump, etc. — and that straying from that can cost it subscribers. But he’s also simply arguing that the act of requiring readers to pay to read cuts the Times off from a big audience.

Jonah Perretti interview with Peter Kafka in Recode

Certifying Experience

Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth.

—Susan Sontag, On Photography(Essay: In Plato’s Cave)

This is the opening line of Susan Sontag’s essay collection, On Photography. Unlike other collections, it is has a unity of purpose; It is a polemic against the institution of photography. And it is just as relevant today as it was 35 years ago when it was originally published. We live in a world transformed by photography. Restaurant’s make menu decisions based on photogenic virality rather than taste. Nature reserves and parks are filled who care not about nature or beauty, but to get the best pic they can. Whether we #prayforafghansitan or #gettingvaxed, all of it is just an excuse to post a vanity photo. Our own internal world has not escaped this transformation. We are depressed and anxious because we can never live up to the expectations set for us. Expectations that come from curated and sanitized photographs of others. We can’t enjoy our own experiences, because we are too busy taking pictures.

A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it-by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.

The knowledge gained through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist. It will be a knowledge at bargain prices—a semblance of knowledge, a semblance of wisdom;

—Susan Sontag, On Photography(Essay: In Plato’s Cave)

Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. If you want to read the archive, check it out here. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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