Discover more from 🌀🗞 The FLUX Review
🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 119
September 28th, 2023
Episode 119 — September 28th, 2023 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/119
Contributors to this issue: Dimitri Glazkov, Gordon Brander, Alex Komoroske, Erika Rice Scherpelz, Boris Smus, Neel Mehta, MK
Additional insights from: Ade Oshineye, Stefano Mazzocchi, Ben Mathes, Justin Quimby, 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.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
― Yogi Berra
🌱 🌏 On cultivation
What is the antidote for an “I would simply” temptation, which overlooks intrinsic complexity for simplistic answers? An often successful — albeit slow — solution is to cultivate: do simple things, many times, with good taste. In contrast, “I would simply” style solutions tend to be grand in scope, but their actual implementation reveals the challenges of realizing the seemingly simple. When we cultivate, we intentionally guide the direction of an individual or an environment to bring out specific properties. Cultivation addresses the limitations of “I would simply” in multiple ways.
The most successful cultivation is simple. In contrast to “simply,” “simple” embraces the nature of what’s being cultivated rather than working against it. When we do simple things, we stay in our adjacent possible. Simple things gently push the boundary without disrupting it. They stretch it without breaking it. Simple changes allow a system to evolve gradually, filling in the gaps that appear as things shift around.
However, even the most perfectly directed simple things won’t add up to much, unless they are in the perfect direction (and they won’t all be). So we must do these simple things many times. We must rely on the power of r-selection, our millions of dandelions, in parallel and in series, so that these many simple steps can add up and go somewhere.
But where? This is where taste comes in. So far, we’ve been describing the characteristics of good ol’ evolution. What makes the difference between evolution and cultivation is the addition of a chosen fitness function to guide the outcomes in a certain direction. We do not need to know exactly where we are going, but we need to have a strong opinion of which direction is good. Most importantly, this opinion needs to be incredibly consistent. Taste doesn’t shift or move around. Taste is the needle of the compass.
It is those repeated nudges in even a somewhat aligned direction that allow cultivation to progress more quickly than a random walk.
Do simple things, many times, guided by good taste. It may seem straightforward, but in a world that favors the inspiring “ah ha!” moments, sticking with simple repetition and small improvements is certainly not easy. To be successful, we need to learn to love gardening for its own sake. And we need to hone our taste buds. Only then will we have the patience to wait for the results.
Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.
🚏🦅 The CIA is developing its own AI chatbot
The US’s Central Intelligence Agency is reportedly building its own ChatGPT-style chatbot to help its analysts comb through open-source intelligence and look for leads in their investigations. The tool, which will be available across 18 US intelligence agencies (including the NSA and FBI), will also let users trace the original source of the information they retrieve.
🚏🛍️ Indonesia will ban shopping on social media platforms
Indonesia’s ministry of trade announced that it’ll ban social media companies from engaging in e-commerce, saying that social media should only be used to “facilitate promotions” rather than “transactions.” Analysts see this as a huge blow to TikTok , which had been investing heavily in social commerce features; Indonesia is TikTok’s second-largest market, just behind the US. Meanwhile, the move is being seen as a boon to traditional e-commerce players like Singapore-based Shopee.
🚏🚰 A new biodegradable circuit board can dissolve in water
A German semiconductor manufacturer unveiled a printed circuit board base that’s built with natural fibers; it can be dissolved in hot water in as little as six minutes. (The company showed this off in a memorable demo where they dissolved a board in a frying pan.) The new board has a 60% lower carbon footprint than traditional PCBs, and because it dissolves so easily, it’s easy to retrieve the precious metals housed on it — thus increasing recyclability.
🚏🔥 Tinder will let people pay $500/mo to message people without matching
Tinder usually requires both parties to “match” with each other before it’ll let one of them initiate a conversation. But the newest tier of the dating app’s new “Select” product, which goes for a cool $500 per month, will let certain users send messages to people they haven’t matched with. (Tinder noted that the feature will require users to apply, and it “will only be offered to fewer than one percent of the app's user base.”) Wall Street was impressed with the announcement, with one firm naming Tinder’s parent company, the Match Group, as one of its top stock picks.
📖⏳ Worth your time
Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.
How I Updated My Views on Ranked Choice Voting (Lee Drutman) — Argues that the much-hyped RCV voting method isn’t necessarily the panacea advocates make it out to be: it’s helpful in wide-open primaries but far less so in situations where elections are starkly divided between two polarized parties. RCV is still a useful piece in a broader package of electoral reforms, but that nuanced argument is hard for advocates to make, because “everybody wants that ‘one weird trick’ that makes a hard problem seem easy.”
The Most Advanced Yet Acceptable Products Win (Every.to) — Explains the rule of thumb that new products must strike a balance between familiarity and novelty in order to succeed. Product categories often take a while to find their MAYA breakthrough, as we see in the massive popularity of ChatGPT versus the tepid response to OpenAI Playground.
Weaker Economic Growth May Explain Zero-Sum Thinking (John Burn-Murdoch) — Analyzes data that suggests that people who grow up in times of weaker economic growth are primed toward more zero-sum thinking: in a world of stagnant growth, it’s reasonable to believe that one group can only succeed at the expense of others. Zero-sum thinking reduces trust and collaboration, and it can manifest as NIMBYism, “populism, nativism, and conspiracy theories.”
Narva, Estonia: a Would-Be Arctic Crossroads on Europe’s Edge (Cryopolitics) — Examines Russian–Western relations as seen through the lens of the ancient city Narva, perched on the Estonian side of the river demarcating the Russian border.
🔍📆 Lens of the week
Introducing new ways to see the world and new tools to add to your mental arsenal.
This week’s lens: Chesterton’s fence.
Although the original formulation of this lens is so absolutist that it’s likely broken, we’d to offer a more nuanced and gentler variation.
Philosopher G. K. Chesterton presents us with a metaphor of a fence. Suppose we encounter a fence that is inconvenient to those who travel the road. Chesterton suggests that we resist the temptation to remove the fence until we understand its purpose. Why was the fence erected in the first place? Perhaps there’s a good reason that we don’t yet understand. Removing the fence has the first-order effect of making road travel more convenient, but it may unleash some unforeseen second-order effects. Before making any changes, Chesterton implores us to understand the nature of what exists now.
Given the complexity of today’s environment, this concept may seem quaint at best. At its worst, it is a source of stop energy. For instance, demanding full understanding of a large codebase prior to any change in a software project is a surefire way to stall it forever.
In its more nuanced form, we reframe the ultimatum as a question: if we see something that appears strange or nonsensical, yet clearly intentional and in good order, what might be the reason it’s still around? What holds it together or in place? What is the source of energy that keeps the fence intact?
Earnestly seeking answers to these questions increases the likelihood of uncovering hidden effects. A weird quirk of sharing weekly snippets within a team might seem like an unnecessary information burden for a new manager. Only after eliminating this practice would they realize how this habit fostered team cohesion.
The Chesterton’s fence lens can also serve as an onramp into systems thinking. Considering unintended consequences can initiate broader discussions about second-order effects, their characteristics, and how they relate to our immediate actions. As long as we don’t hold this lens so firmly that we can’t change anything, it can be a useful tool in our systems thinking toolbox.
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