FF Daily #543: Parasites of the mind

December 8, 2021: Are you a victim of thinkism? Does Twitter have a business? Knowledge versus googling

Founding Fuel

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Good morning,

How can we live a balanced life? How is our leisure time best spent? This is a question Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent a lifetime researching and attempts to answer in his book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness.

He writes, “instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.

“This vicarious participation is able to mask, at least temporarily, the underlying emptiness of wasted time. But it is a very pale substitute for attention invested in real challenges. The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere. Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide for enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality. Mass leisure, mass culture, and even high culture when only attended to passively and for extrinsic reasons—such as the wish to flaunt one’s status—are parasites of the mind. They absorb psychic energy without providing substantive strength in return. They leave us more exhausted, more disheartened than we were before.

“Unless a person takes charge of them, both work and free time are likely to be disappointing. Most jobs and many leisure activities—especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media—are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks. But like everything else, work and leisure can be appropriated for our needs. People who learn to enjoy their work, who do not waste their free time, end up feeling that their lives as a whole have become much more worthwhile. ‘The future,’ wrote C. K. Brightbill, ‘will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely.’”

In this issue

  • Are you a victim of thinkism?
  • Does Twitter have a business?
  • Knowledge versus googling

Have a great day!

Are you a victim of thinkism? 

We live in an age that adores intelligence. We assume, for most part justifiably, that some of the biggest problems facing humanity were solved by intelligence. In a short but powerful piece, Kevin Kelly calls this phenomenon thinkism and argues that it’s a fallacy to believe that  “problems can be solved by greater intelligence alone.”

He writes, “IQ is overrated in science. The most innovative theories and experiments are not necessarily coming from the smartest people. Often the most imaginative succeed when the smartest don’t. Sometimes those that are most persistent win; they keep doing the experiment until it works. On the other hand we all know really smart people who do dumb things. Intelligence is needed [but] is not sufficient by itself.

“Artificial intelligence is on its way to become a commodity. You’ll be able to buy as much IQ as you want, or can afford. We’ll soon apply large doses of intelligence to all kinds of tasks. The temptation will be to believe that greater intelligence will solve all our future problems. (This is one of the expectations of the Singularity.) But no matter how much intelligence you have, this thinkism alone won’t solve problems by itself. Intelligence has to be combined with imagination, perseverance, intuition, and large quantities of data, experience, and conext to really be useful. It’s these other qualities that our humanness can supply.”

Dig deeper

Does Twitter have a business?

Now that the gushing over the elevation of Parag Agrawal as CEO of Twitter is done with, it’s time to take a look at what matters. Does Twitter have a business model? This is a question Ben Thompson tackles head-on. He argues that Jack Dorsey, the founder, had no choice but to step down in the face of shareholder activism that was quietly overlooked. He argues that Twitter is the textbook case of a perfect company. But it still hasn’t figured out how to make money and Agrawal has a tough job on hand.

“Twitter has long since penetrated the awareness of just about everyone on earth; the vast majority gave the platform a try and never came back, content to consume the tweets that show up everywhere from news articles to cable news. The core that remains, meanwhile, simultaneously bemoans that Twitter is terrible even as they can’t rip their eyes away, addicted as they are to that flow of information that is and will for the foreseeable future be unmatched by any other service.

“And yet, despite this impact and indispensability and impenetrable moat, Twitter makes an average of $22.75 per monetizable daily active user per year (and given that some of Twitter’s most hard core users use third-party Twitter clients, and thus aren’t monetizable, the revenue per addicted daily active user is even lower). That’s just under $2/month, an absolutely paltry sum.”

Thompson goes on to argue that if Twitter starts to charge users as opposed to depend on ad revenues, users may decline by 141 million. However, he points out “Twitter would only need to charge $4/month (including App Store fees) to exceed the $4.8 billion in revenue it made over the last twelve months.”

How will Agrawal reimagine Twitter is the big question.

Dig deeper

Knowledge versus googling

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