🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 115
August 31st, 2023
Episode 115 — August 31st, 2023 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/115
Contributors to this issue: Neel Mehta, Boris Smus, MK, Ade Oshineye, Dimitri Glazkov, Erika Rice Scherpelz, Ben Mathes
Additional insights from: Gordon Brander, Stefano Mazzocchi, Justin Quimby, Alex Komoroske, Robinson Eaton, Spencer Pitman, Julka Almquist, Scott Schaffter, Lisie Lillianfeld, Samuel Arbesman, Dart Lindsley, Jon Lebensold
We’re a ragtag band of systems thinkers who have been dedicating our early mornings to finding new lenses to help you make sense of the complex world we live in. This newsletter is a collection of patterns we’ve noticed in recent weeks.
“You might be a big fish in a little pond / Doesn’t mean you’ve won / ‘Cause along may come a bigger one.”
🐟 Of tide pools and fish tanks
Is it better to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?
When our environment is small compared to us, we take up space — we wield influence and control. We can change things and protect those we care for. However, when we are the big fish in a small pond, we don’t have a lot of room to grow.
Conversely, when our environment is large compared to our relative size, much larger things surround us. If that environment is friendly, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow. We have lots of space and others to teach us. If the environment turns out to be hostile, apex predators can devour us.
Which situation is better depends on a mix of personal preferences and where we are in our career and life. But that simplistic analysis assumes we can accurately assess our own size and the size of the pond we’re in. What if we don’t have it right? A small fish in a big ocean that perceives itself as big might challenge an orca and get eaten.
Sometimes we feel like a big fish in a small pond, nominally in charge of a local domain. However, we may come to find that our decisions are always worked around or outright ignored. In this case, the pond we thought we were in is actually a tide pool— seemingly independent until the tide reveals its connection to larger forces.
Other times, we see ourselves as a small fish in a big pond. We see the environment before us, thinking we have room to grow and explore. It takes a while to realize that, like Nemo in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, we are being held back and cannot actually explore the whole world around us. This “holding back” might be the lack of real opportunities for scope or career growth. At other times, there might be someone who is explicitly holding us back.
Far too often, that someone is ourselves.
One hard question is, how do we validate our perceptions? How can any of us be confident that we know what we think we know? There are no shortcuts here. The above examples are great clues for specific situations, but another option is to ask a trusted confidant, someone who we trust to be candid with us (whether or not we want to hear it). Preferably, it’ll be someone who has been with us through many experiences but may have a different take on those experiences.
The first step in any situation is escaping the trap of mismatched perceptions. If we find ourselves in a bigger pond than expected, we could redefine the boundaries to recapture the power we feel we’ve lost. Alternatively, we could see this as an opportunity to switch to a focus on growth and understand the larger environment we’re operating in. If we find ourselves in a smaller pond, we can seek out a new pond or explore new opportunities to more directly influence things within our current domain.
Ultimately, Nemo found more growth opportunities in a fish tank than in the ocean. The best choice varies from person to person, but the key lies in accurately assessing our environment and making intentional decisions accordingly.
After all, there’s always a bigger fish.
Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.
🚏🌎 WordPress will let you register domains for 100 years
The blog hosting platform recently announced its “100-Year Plan,” which will secure a customer’s domain name for a century for a one-time payment of $38,000. In addition to distributed data centers and backups, the service comes with “enhanced ownership protocols” they say will make it easier to transfer websites between generations. WordPress CEO Matt Mullenweg envisioned it as “something you put in your will to make sure your website and story are accessible to future generations.”
🚏🍄 AI-generated mushroom foraging books are spreading on Amazon, and experts are worried
Amazon has been flooded with a well-documented barrage of AI-generated books, and most of them are mere nuisances, but mycologists are warning that AI-generated books on mushroom foraging for beginners could be dangerous to public health. If beginners are misled into thinking that a toxic mushroom is actually fine, it could be fatal. Researchers ran several high-ranking books’ manuscripts through AI text detectors and found a high likelihood of the text being AI-generated; to boot, the authors’ bios looked fabricated, and their pictures also appeared to be AI-generated, with some obvious artifacts.
🚏🎶 Spotify accidentally promoted “white noise” content in its push to boost podcasts
Spotify’s recent push toward “talking” content over music had the unusual side effect of elevating “white noise” podcasts that featured relaxing sounds, like crashing waves or falling rain, on loop; Spotify’s algorithm apparently classified these as spoken content and thus promoted them to users. A report estimated that white noise podcasters could make as much as $18,000 per month each from Spotify ads; the document also stated that Spotify could increase profits by $38 million by steering users away from these podcasts.
🚏🐄 Methane-eating bacteria could slow down global warming, a study found
A new study suggests that a strain of bacteria known as methanotrophs can efficiently convert methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into carbon dioxide and biomass, which could help slow down global warming. Methane is estimated to cause at least 25x as much warming per ton as CO2 and accounts for at least 30% of global heating, largely due to methane emissions from livestock. These bacteria could thus make a large positive impact, but the technology needs to be scaled up significantly before it can be practically useful.
📖⏳ Worth your time
Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.
Why Does Texting Feel Different from Talking? (PBS Otherwords) — Explores how people’s communication styles differ when they’re communicating synchronously (speaking) versus asynchronously (writing). Interestingly, a new style of “semi-synchronous” communication seems to be evolving: think of Zoom, Slack, or SMS, where there’s lag but still the expectation of a quick reply. Newly emerging paralinguistic features like emojis, SMS reactions, and voice memos are helping these channels feel more synchronous, and thus more rich and nuanced.
The Cult of the Founders (Crooked Timber) — Frames the well-known distinction between visionary and operator in terms of the contrast between prophets, who rip up the rulebooks and create an ecstatic cult, and priests, who are rule-following administrators skilled in the “routinization of charisma.”
Tools Are Literally Interpreted As an Extension of the Human Body (James Rosen-Birch) — Researchers found that the brain areas responsible for representing images of human hands are also involved in guiding how we use tools like forks and knives. In short, your brain treats tools as an extension of your hand; other objects like chairs don’t get this same treatment. This evolutionary trait seems to set us apart from non-human primates, and the finding could help with the development of neuroprosthetics and brain-driven interfaces.
Britain Is a Developing Country (Sam Bowman) — Presents data that shows that Britain’s GDP per capita and productivity are lagging behind those of its peer countries, then argues that “the UK is thinking like a frontier economy when it should be thinking like a developing country.” In the author’s eyes, the UK should focus on building up capital and using inputs (like land and labor) more effectively, rather than seeking technological innovation as true “frontier economies” like the US are doing.
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