Jamie's Notes

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Media Diet: September 2020

Some things that I have been watching / reading lately to escape the real world.

Books:

Two Tribes, by Chris Beckett

Future historians take a look at the 21st century through the eyes of two diarists, who try to form a romantic relationship despite coming from very different social circumstances.

This was a fun read, and gave me some pause to think about the very different worlds we all live in.

Warning: contains Brexit

Exhalations, by Ted Chiang

Only just started this one, but so far so good.

TV

Home Before Dark

Great cast, great acting and a solid plot. I have a feeling that they’ll try and squeeze another series out of it, but this is one of those that would be best left where it is.

The Luminaries

We’ve watched the first three episodes and neither of us knows what to make of it so far. It’s beautifully presented, and the main cast is fabulous – it just doesn’t make any sense, yet. Plenty of good reviews, so we’ll persevere for a bit longer.

The West Wing

Saccharine political drama about a new Democratic administration. It’s brilliant. I watched it through four or five years ago but now feels like the right time to delve into fantasy politics. Imagine having people in charge that valued humanity and fairness. Hah.

The Social Dilemma

Much has been said about this documentary already. I’m reasonably well informed about the problems of social networks, but this powerfully demonstrated the enormous scale of the fuckery involved. It made me a bit angry, and I came out of it feeling more strongly that social networks cannot police themselves and need serious regulation.

Quotes

Picked these up as I was browsing over the past week or so. Apologies if I can’t remember the sources:

On bubbles

… in normal circumstances people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich, there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world, which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.

Albert Speer. Minister of Armaments for Adolf Hitler

Acedia

Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.

…Moving around is what we do as creatures, and for that we need horizons. Covid has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don’t notice them very often. We don’t know how the economy will look, how social life will go on, how our home routines will be changed, how work will be organized, how universities or the arts or local commerce will survive.

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building.

That’s what many of us are feeling. That’s today’s acedia.

The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world / CNN

That’s it. It’s cold out there, so wrap up warm. Hope your week to come is free of troubles.

Social media, where human feeling goes to die

Neil Steinberg, reflecting on an angry Twitter exchange about cake, sums up most of the problems with social media:

I did notice something though. When I was being jerkily defensive, the Block Club folks leapt to thrust and parry. When I paused, reconsidered, realized I was in the wrong and sincerely apologized, they just shrugged and ghosted me. That’s social media, where human feeling goes to die. It’s like, if you’re not being snarky, they can’t hear you.

Neil

His introductory words are ‘this grew surprisingly unpleasant’ – which seems to accurately and succinctly sum up the whole Web 2.0 endeavour.

Narrowing of perspective

In relative peace and prosperity we settle into micromanaging our lives with our fancy technologies and custom interest rates and eleven different kinds of milk, and this leads to a certain inwardness, an unchecked narrowing of perspective, the vague expectation that even if we don’t earn them and nurture them the truly essential amenities will endure forever as they are. We trust that someone else is looking after the civil liberties shop, so we don’t have to. Our military might is unmatched and in any case the madness is at least an ocean away. And then all of a sudden we look up from ordering paper towels online to find ourselves delivered right into the madness. And we wonder: How did this happen?

Ezra Baker in Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday

I wish I had the guts

From Derek Sivers, back in March this year:

You are the way you are because of what you’ve experienced.

Your country, family, town, random circumstances, and friends shaped the way you think. If you grew up on the other side of the world, you would have a different set of values and thought patterns.

But if you keep experiencing the same things, your mind keeps its same patterns. Same input, same response. Your brain, which was once curious and growing, gets fixed into deep habits. Your values and opinions harden and resist change. If you don’t flex, you lose your flexibility.

You only really learn when you’re surprised. Unless you’re surprised, everything is fitting into your existing thought patterns. So to get smarter, you need to get surprised, think in new ways, and deeply understand different perspectives.

With effort, you could do this from the comforts of home. But the most effective way to shake things up is to move across the world. Pick a place that’s most unlike what you know, and go.

I wish I had the guts.

Read the full post on Derek’s blog.