🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 73
October 27th, 2022
Episode 73 — October 27th, 2022 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/73
Contributors to this issue: Neel Mehta, Boris Smus, Dimitri Glazkov, Spencer Pitman, Scott Schaffter, Erika Rice Scherpelz, Justin Quimby
Additional insights from: Ade Oshineye, Gordon Brander, a.r. Routh, Stefano Mazzocchi, Ben Mathes, Alex Komoroske, Robinson Eaton, Julka Almquist, 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.
“The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong.”
— Philip Roth
😫🌱 Embrace the suck
The titular phrase is well-known in the military. The idea is that “We cannot control everything that happens to us. But we can control how we react to it. We can choose to reframe it and actually learn something from the pain.” This is our take on how that learning comes about.
We do not have full control over how we experience things — especially when it comes to violent, threatening situations which steal away our agency. However, we do have some control over what we choose to learn from a situation. To see how, we can break down the stages of our reaction to a situation:
Anticipation: Do we move toward the situation or run away?
Experience: In the moment, do we bring a positive or negative attitude?
Satisfaction: Do we grow to cherish the experience over time or look back with regret?
It may seem like we want to aim for all positives: “loved the idea of it, loved every minute of it, still smiling when thinking about it”. Comfortable, type I fun like this can be a very pleasant place to spend time, but when we think about learning, we may find that other places on the spectrum have more to teach us. Comfort tends to have a perspective-confirming effect and learning comes from having your perspective and assumptions challenged.
The most effective learning brings an element of surprise; the unexpected helps make things stick. The most effective learning may come when we expected one thing – positive or negative – and experienced the opposite. This includes experiences that made us uncomfortable at first but which we came to appreciate, either in the moment or in retrospect: the child who grows up to love broccoli, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, the surprising satisfaction of reliably shipping the same product instead of trying to build something new every few months. There are infinite variations on the story of the positive transformative experience.
By default, we learn the most in the middle – when life doesn't meet our expectations. However, that may not be where the highest potential for learning lies. In the middle, we were able to adapt because learning required only reasonable tweaks to our existing mental models. The highest potential for learning will hide in the least pleasant corner where we “hated coming into it, hated being in it, and kept hating it ever since” (type III+ fun). This is where we weren’t able to relate to the environment in a productive way.
It is in these situations we have the most to learn and the greatest need to update our models of the environment. Suckiness is a signal. It tells us that there might be gems of wisdom and insight to be discovered – or, at least, some feelings we need to deal with. This will feel counterintuitive: my bad experience is the one I stand the most to learn from? Can’t I just shove it down into the back corner of my memory and never think about it again?
To countervail, we can develop a habit of looking at our sucky experiences with curiosity: what within me reacted so negatively to this? Am I protecting something (identity, body, assumptions)? Why? Is there something to learn about this part of me, something that would help me see this past experience or my reaction to it in a different light? Usually by leaning into the spikes like this we can learn from them.
We can’t always sit on the edge of learning. Sometimes it is critical to avoid the suck, recharge, and optimize for ease and breath. But for ardent growth, “the only easy day was yesterday.”
Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.
🚏♨️ Demand for energy-efficient heat pumps is exploding in Germany
Heat pumps are greener and more efficient alternatives to the standard method of heating houses, which is natural-gas-powered boilers. But heat pumps have higher upfront costs, which has long limited their uptake. However, Europe’s broader turn toward renewables (thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) has made the heat pump market red-hot. In August alone, 148,000 Germans applied for government funding for installing heat pumps; Germany saw 150,000 applications over the entirety of 2021.
🚏🍕 Anti-vaxxers are using emojis to evade bans on Facebook
Facebook officially prohibits people from spreading misinformation about COVID-19, which means anti-vax discussions are banned. But anti-vax groups have found ways to evade moderators by speaking in coded, emoji-heavy language. They replace “taking the vaccine” with phrases like “eating the pizza” or getting a “🍔” or “🍑”; they say family members that supposedly died had “eaten the cake.” As old tactics are discovered (like substituting “🥕” for “vaccine”), the groups quickly move on to new symbols.
🚏🧓 Nearly one-quarter of the US’s Congress is over 70
According to a recent report, 23% of lawmakers in the US’s Senate and House of Representatives are over 70 — almost triple the 8% rate from just 20 years ago. What’s more, just 4% of Congress members since 2000 have been under age 40, even though nearly half of the US is under 40.
🚏🐠 Researchers can make sustainable LEDs by microwaving fish scales
A recently-discovered form of carbon is the carbon nano-onion (CNO), made of concentric shells of carbon atoms. CNOs make for great LEDs and have many biomedical applications, but current CNO manufacturing methods are expensive, complicated, and slow. Researchers, however, have found a new method of constructing CNOs by simply microwaving fish scales for ten seconds; this new method is greener, simpler, faster, and more efficient than the conventional one.
🚏💾 You can now search through 91 million vintage files from CDs and floppy disks
A new archival project showcases millions of retro files pulled from CD-ROMs and floppy disks from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s. The original files — including documents, games, videos, software, music, and more — have been uploaded to the Internet Archive over the last few decades, but the new site has converted many of the obsolete file formats to ones you can preview directly from a modern web browser. It also exposes a powerful search interface.
📖⏳ Worth your time
Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.
Upside Decay (Brian Lui) — Asks why many large organizations, including Meta and China, experience “upside decay”: they start missing out on the low-probability, high-reward events that can really propel them forward. This is often caused by cultures that optimize for the short term and adopt “mercantilist” thinking; by antagonizing weak ties and taking a zero-sum approach, they make nobody want to engage in positive-sum interactions with them.
Sound (Bartosz Ciechanowski) — A beautifully-illustrated and interactive deep dive into sound, from the physics of sound production to the math of waves, tones, springs, and pressure. Also explains famous phenomena like the Doppler shift and mathematical tools like Fourier transforms.
Failure to Cope “Under Capitalism” (Gawker) — Criticizes how often we blame the system (“capitalism”) for our problems rather than looking inward. Pushing off our problems onto capitalism — thereby justifying our actions by saying that capitalism made us do it — is a form of learned helplessness that “excuses us both from revolutionary action and from an attempt at a life with honor within it.” We must instead mount “an imperfect struggle to live well and love a world badly in need of repair.”
Instagram, TikTok, and the Three Trends (Stratechery) — Ben Thompson describes the current transition from social media, where you consume content from your friends (Instagram), to “algorithmic media,” where you consume extremely engaging content created by others (TikTok), to a speculative near future where AI-generated content is the most engaging.
What Killed the Crabs? (Unpop Science) — Responds to cryptic news articles that said that the Alaska snow crab season was canceled because one billion crabs mysteriously “disappeared.” Argues that this wasn’t a random event — melting sea ice has made young crabs more vulnerable to predators, and fishers have aggressively started trawling the newly ice-free areas. Criticizes the fishing industry for “exploit[ing] climate change to raid the snow crab ice refuge.”
Book Podcast for your shelf
An evergreen book that will help you dip your toes into systems thinking.
This week, we recommend Work for Humans by Dart Lindsley - yes, we realize it's not a book, but a great podcast.
Dart’s podcast brings together a rich set of mental models from across a wide array of domains and uses them to explore our concept of work. The fundamental premise being explored is the shift from labor as an input to production to potentially being viewed as a customer. This paradigm has profound implications around how we shape, design, and think about work.
What we’ve found particularly interesting, however, is simply the ability to look for adjacent domains of work and bring them into a space you are exploring. How often have you considered the view of the world’s leading art expert on your new web application? Do you look at ecology to explore your car design? Expanding your set of models and perspectives can greatly expand your understanding of what is possible and help spark novel ideas.
🕵️♀️📆 Lens of the week
Introducing new ways to see the world and new tools to add to your mental arsenal.
This week’s lens: Responsibility Laundering (CYA)
Frequently a good way to motivate change in a stuck human system is to take a strong point of view and hold it with almost comical lightness. If your bias is toward moving, and you can make a clear suggestion without caring much if it gets accepted in your proposed form, your suggestion becomes a coordination point that can grease the wheels and get a group from stalled to acting relatively quickly.
The opposite of this is Responsibility Laundering. It's the tendency to disempower a team or introduce friction by insisting that either more data or more approval is needed before a decision can be made. In its virtuous form it can be an excellent instrument to slow a team down that is suffering from tunnel vision or target fixation. Its vicious form shows up as endless bureaucracy and opaque ownership or custody over a decision. Watch carefully for the latter as it can grind a program’s progress to an utter halt.
🔮📬 Postcard from the future
A ‘what if’ piece of speculative fiction about a possible future that could result from the systemic forces changing our world.
// With impending climate change, what will we hunt in the future?
// 2043 - A cramped control cabin in Montana
A tired man slumps in their chair, and flips a transmit switch for their throat mike - “This is Starbuck, checking in. Boomer, you copy? Over.”
Hundreds of miles away, an equally tired figure in an office chair in front of a bank of displays, reaches out to hit transmit for their headset - “Starbuck, Boomer here – read you loud and clear. Status?”
Starbuck - “Nothing but gray here. Nothing on the scope or on the Mark 1 eyeballs. Anything reported in?”
Boomer - “Nope. All spotters are reporting Grey.”
Starbuck - “That’s no good. I’ve got 4 collectors idling and tanks are at 16%. Frak!”
Boomer sees a flashing light in their peripheral vision and their pupils dilate - “Starbuck, hold on…”
Mapple - “Priority Override! Priority Override! Big break at 44.59, 104.71! Partner AI is projecting at least 7 hours of harvesting, maybe into tomorrow. Sensor steam uplink commencing.”
Boomer - “Mapple, your data is confirmed! [General broadcast] All units. All units - it’s feeding time! Converge on Mapple’s location. Deployment pattern Theta - First come, first served. Good hunting!”
Boomer watched the rapidly shifting positions of dozens of units move on the map. They raised their cup and took a sip. Tension slipped from their shoulders. It had been quite the dry spell.
Boomer looks a hand-written timeline and sighs:
2028 - More than 40% of households get power from solar farms, due to fallout from the Russian / Iran / Nato conflict triggering $150 barrels of oil
2037 - Miami floods due to climate change
2038 - Emergency UN session approves Thomas Midgley’s plan to seed clouds to cool the planet
2039 - Riots as governments officially confirm that cloud seeding ingredients block key wavelengths used by solar collectors
2042 - US congress passes laws regulating companies towing floating solar collectors to capture breaks in cloud cover in uninhabited land
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