Nadia Asparouhova

I often scribble half-baked ideas, reactions to things I’ve read, or something useful I’ve heard. Sometimes they turn into longer blog posts or projects, but most of them sit in my notes app, unused.

I’ve decided to start publishing some of these as a faster way to get ideas out there. They’re updated monthly below. Topics loosely cover governance, how people organize, research culture, ethics, online interactions, and all other sorts of randomness.

When quoting a private conversation, I’ve defaulted to anonymity for obvious reasons, but if you see something you said that you’d like attributed to you, just let me know and I’ll add your name.

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(Please note: you are crawling my brain. These are rough notes, which means ideas are experimental and conviction level is highly variable!)

2018 Notes

Browse by year: 2020 - 2019 - 2018


Meaninglessness of war, power, etc: the scariest answer as to “why do we make war” is not any answer that can be articulated (ex. ppl are evil, conspiring, manipulative), but rather that there IS no answer (i.e. people do it bc they can). I think that prospect scares people so much that they instead funnel their faith into answers that feel more rational, something they can actually wrap their heads around and hope to change

Much like the “what if we’re all alone in the universe” q? Easier to assume there’s life out there, or that AI will eventually overtake us, than to face the scary reality that we might be it


Anachronistic imagery: we rarely use modern technology (phones, texting, etc) in novels/storytelling, maybe bc it destroys something about the message?


I like reading introductions/forewords to books but always feel conflicted as to whether I should read them before or after. I like the idea of having a “pure” reading experience, but sometimes the analysis really does help, too. Why aren’t they afterwords?


Critiquing others’ virtue signaling is basically the same underlying psychology as intrasexual competition. If you’re being too blatant about it, you’re gonna get shouted down. It’s how ppl keep each other in check and prevent anyone from being too individually focused or self-aggrandizing


In an solipsist view of the world (I am the only character in the play), “submitting” can only be understood in a self context, bc all other people are basically objects. Your job is to self-regulate, no one else will do it for you bc you’re the only player/character in control

In an holistic view of the world (I am yet another character in the play), submitting is always in the context of duality (control, or be controlled, by someone else). Even inanimate objects that tempt you, or your own desires, were created by other people and social norms before you


I think you have to love the subject of what you’re writing about. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their views, but you have to be truly fascinated by them, wanting to understand them instead of judging them or using them as a prop to further your political platform or position. If you hate what you’re writing about, it’ll poison the narrative, and the end result feels fake/hollow


A positive narrative around the female experience is essentially that everyone is competing for your time/attention: can be viewed as a position of power

I keep coming back to this being a parallel framing for data sovereignty. Consumers are commonly seen as victims, but alternative way of looking at it is that everyone’s vying for your information. This is an excellent position to be in. Companies should be bidding for your attention


Self-managing our intake of hedonistic pleasure is the solo version of interpersonal power play (Wir suchen nach Freude und vermeiden Leiden…)


Early adulthood: recognizing what other ppl did to you, that shaped who you are, and making sense of it

Later: recognizing what you’ve done to others, that reflects who you are, and accepting responsibility for it


The credit attribution problem doesn’t yet matter bc there isn’t much financial incentive to claim to be a maintainer. If it ever becomes super lucrative to be a maintainer, in an automated way, everyone is gonna game the hell out of that system. Open question is still whether we’d ever have to seriously worry about a world like that existing: alternative is to avoid automated credit attribution systems altogether and rely on good old-fashioned common sense as to who the core devs are (but then, without automation, will that ever be lucrative?). Basically, credit attribution matters if we’re moving towards systematization, but does/will the desire to systematize ever exist


In the most recent phase of “internet justice”, mob mentality sided unequivocally with the victim. You could take anyone down if you stoke the public’s sympathies. In this upcoming phase, the accused have realized that they, too, can win, if they win the hearts of the mob. For this reason, I think Kevin Spacey’s video deserves more attention/analysis, it’s a super interesting approach. He basically realized he didn’t have to take it rolling over. His video legitimized the power of the mob-as-jury. Now, both sides are openly appealing to the mob, trying to win favor with the “jury” as our de facto arbiter of internet justice. In a weird way, Kevin’s just playing by the rules we’d already set up


Going through very old tweets over the years and fascinated by how many people I interacted with, years before meeting them. It’s kinda like if your interactions in the physical world, like in a city, were recorded, how many forgotten times do you think you crossed paths with certain strangers before meeting them as friends


Good q to quickly understand how someone else thinks: At any given moment, do you believe that you are the most important part of the story, or is it your environment that defines your story?

i.e. Does the rest of the world exist to serve me and my needs and interests, or am I yet another character in a much bigger story, defined by my surroundings and everyone else? Is my present experience defined by me, or by my environment? Think this predicts a lot of differences in political views as well

(I guess this is solipsism vs…romanticism? What’s the opposite of solipsism? Romanticism still emphasizes the “hero” but it’s hero vs. environment, instead of nobody-but-the-hero)


I feel like normally we think of the value of old friendships as: they know YOU really well, but it’s also that you know THEM really well, and trust their opinion much much more. (Even if they express the same opinion that a stranger would’ve!)


Going through my Pocket list for the year, realizing that most of these articles don’t really matter, and only a couple of them were worth reading. Not sure I can always intuit the difference w/o benefit of hindsight, but it makes me feel ok w/ being pickier about what I choose to read


One way of measuring return on philanthropy: how much $$ you inspired other people to give (i.e. “follow-on funding”)


It’s funny, nobody takes you seriously as a writer until you do well. The same as being an aspiring founder, or an artist, or actor or comedian. Ppl assume you’re kinda just messing around for years, then everyone suddenly takes you seriously, but it’s like…what did you think that whole process was leading up to it? Feels like a different trajectory of expectations vs. say, being a doctor or an accountant. Doing the job isn’t enough - a practicing doctor is always a “real” doctor, but you’re not a “real” founder/artist/etc until you’re a successful one


All these creators are moving off of Patreon for political reasons, but for what? As soon as an alternative crowdfunding platform becomes too big, they’re gonna do the same thing. Nobody would’ve imagined that Tumblr would’ve banned nudity in its early days, but things change.

I mean I get why people are upset, and I don’t really know the answer to this problem, but it just seems sort of pointless. History is going to keep repeating itself unless we figure out how to get off the treadmill


Newsletters as an example of “read-only” curation - anyone can sign up, it’s technically publicly-available content, but the experience is very different from tweeting. Feels like a more intimate, semi-private space where you can be more vulnerable. Like being off in a corner chatting with friends vs. right in the middle of a venue. Anyone can walk up and join, but the people who do are probably more self-selecting

I guess even Twitter is a version of this, bc people who follow you have some vested interest in your work. Never just purely public-private, there are probably tiers of online intimacy


Online communities aren’t just where a group of people gather online. I think we tend to overlook communities that form around a single person. “Cults of personality”


We should be thinking of our individual selves as “communities”, where we are the epicenter of interest, managing what comes in/out and what’s tolerated


When you feel ostracized, first tendency might be to hang out with other ppl who are as or more weird than you are. It normalizes your inadequacies. But important to fight the instinct and actively seek out ppl who push you in a positive direction, even if it’s painful


Writing as a propioceptive fugue state: when you’re really in the zone, you can just look at / physically “feel” the thing that’s in front of you and describe what you see/touch


I wonder what the long-term cultural effects will be of legalizing marijuana, where now you have more hipster and fancy products for ingesting it? Like cigarettes, it was a great equalizer among social classes bc everyone ingested it in similar ways. Will we develop strong class associations with smoking a blunt or out of a bong? (To some extent there are already class/cultural associations with different delivery mechanisms, but I wonder if this will become even more pronounced) Ditto cigarettes vs. Juul. Will everyone migrate to the new fancy methods?

Ex. This kinda happened with Starbucks - used to be thought of as an “affordable luxury” that’s decently accessible, with every type of person standing in line for coffee, but with the rise of third wave coffee, I think coffee consumers have segregated themselves a bit further


The underclass required to maintain an aristocracy becomes self-defining, in that, it’s “necessary” to retain a whole staff for them (butlers, cooks, maids) but also, without the aristocracy you wouldn’t need those tasks either. Ditto to the patriarchy basically inventing housekeeping and childrearing tasks to keep women busy

There’s talk of services that will keep “newly out-of-work” ppl busy in a world with basic income and job automation, which is portrayed as a benevolent thing, but isn’t that basically the same pattern as aristocracy/patriarchy before it? So did democracy actually solve anything? Not to say one or either form is right or wrong, just that this seems to be the same permutation


Language as string theory? Instead of words as “fixed points”, each word hides a much longer tail of hidden associations and synonyms (strings instead of points). Have been trying to visualize this for years…


(from a convo with a friend) Thinking of online communities as academies. Ex. Harvard puts out a ton of research and other shiny brand things. You might read stuff that comes out of Harvard and enjoy it and benefit from it. But if you want to help make more of that content, you have to apply to Harvard. It’s a membership organization

I think this helps demonstrate the read-only aspect of communities. On the other hand, maybe not the best, given that exclusionary membership give universities an ivory tower reputation…


(from a convo with a friend) “Secular Bibles”: popular writing that is hard to read/parse, multiple meanings, which means people will take it apart and analyze/reinterpret it forever

I don’t know that this was actually his definition of a secular Bible, but I like thinking about that aspect. I think this is why some blogs become so popular. In a weird way, having somewhat rambly, illegible writing can make you all the more compelling


I think the problem is we only know how to value information goods that are “dead” but they behave differently from goods that are “live” and form part of our active knowledge/social infrastructure. Think lumber vs. trees

Like a bridge that nobody uses doesn’t really matter, I mean if you want to maintain it, great, but that shouldn’t factor into calculating total social cost


2019 goal: take the internet less seriously


Maybe it’s not that more eyeballs make impact in the form of direct contributions in open source, but just being present that matters

Users are useful bc creators need someone to perform for. ESR got it almost right, but ultimately wrong, in assuming that the value of users (i.e. lurkers) is to directly find bugs and contribute. Actual value is just their presence. Much like Jane Jacobs’ idea that streets are filled with people who serve as “watchers”, even if they’re not really using the streets for anything


(from a convo with a friend) How to keep people producing for an audience over time, without burning out: is there anything to learn from game design? Maybe find ways to reduce the social reward up front, instead give them the sine curve of learning <> mastery so they don’t glut out and get saturated too early


Risk taking and emotional accessibility (perhaps expressed as acumen, or discernment?) as two polar forces. If you’re high on one it’s harder to be high on the other


Canonical software philosophy debates (examples of others?)


Getting from 0 to 1 with work is easier bc you’re just experimenting with stuff, throwing shit on the wall and seeing what sticks, you have nothing to lose. Going from 1 to 2 feels extra hard bc you could just stay at 1. Whereas 0 is not an option bc nobody wants to stay at 0. But 1 is a perfectly viable option. It’s a safe base, whereas 2 feels like blowing things up


From a friend, re: why we should say more controversial stuff out loud: “If you’re researching and writing for the sake of uncovering good ideas, keeping the best ones held closely to your chest seems perverse”


“Read-only” democracy


I think a good self challenge is to try to avoid coded words so you’re forced to figure out how to say the thing you’re trying to say. Ex. Not using the terms introvert/extrovert actually made me more extroverted, I think, bc I wasn’t wrapped up in the identity of being “introverted”. Same as avoiding terms like privilege, etc. Find another way to say what you’re trying to say, it clarifies your thinking


Amplification vs. exploration: Usually I say that I prefer writing to talks/interviews bc I can think better through writing over speaking. But I think another big reason is bc people often want you to talk about stuff you’ve already done, which is not that interesting to me. Whereas with blog posts, it’s my blog, I don’t really care if you read it or not, I’m just putting stuff out there and hopefully connecting with a few ppl who feel the same way. To me, writing is pushing to the edges, exploring the limits of my identity and what I’m comfortable sharing in public. Whereas any other form of communicating ideas feels performative: I’m rehashing things I already know, and that you know me for. Also why I had to get off Medium (bc it made blogging feel performative)


Realizing that I love to be alone, like in a physically low-stimulation environment, but I still think of myself as socially oriented even in that context. I still like texting/FaceTiming friends. And: I only want to be alone to work on ideas that I eventually take back to others. Like, if I were just writing for the sake of writing and not publishing it out, I’d probably get pretty bored and antsy


Moving the internet to private chats and small, closed communities = taking the suburban planning approach to cities? (selling a utopian image of privilege/comfort/luxury, which actually looks more like isolation) If so…we all know how that turned out. Cities can’t be planned top-down


We reach into the annals of history to construct narratives that justify modern ideas. Ex. the hunter-gatherer narrative justifying 1950s suburbia, and with Greek and Roman times justifying the Enlightenment. Creating a new narrative requires tapping into something bigger and deeper than ourselves

Relatedly: technology is replacing biology as the source of these narratives


Theory: the loudest voices in a movement are often the worst perpetrators of the thing they’re speaking up against. Not true for everyone, and I don’t think it discredits their points either, but it’s a thing to keep in mind. The message can still be valid, but we don’t need to grant any assumptions, free passes, or reputational benefits onto the person promoting them


An often overlooked aspect of celebrity: feeling bewilderment that they became famous for something that is not actually their best work. It wasn’t what they wanted to contribute to the world, but it’s what the world wanted from them

Relatedly: I think it’d be cool to study microcelebrity as a way of understanding celebrity. Obviously not everything will translate between scales, but one thing it does offer is that microcelebrities are capable of being more open and honest about the rainbow of emotions they’re going through, which gives hints to what a celebrity might go through, but isn’t allowed to say publicly


Feeling shame (when it’s over something that happened to you) is a pretty good flag that something has transgressed your ethical boundaries. Like I think often when you feel shame, you question whether you did something wrong, or whether something was really that bad, or you try to hide it, but actually, the fact that shame was triggered at all seems to be a clear sign that whatever happened has nothing to do with you


A challenge that’s not widely discussed in public: if you’re seen as a minority group, it’s particularly difficult to express unconventional or nuanced political views in public bc of fear of being seen as “betraying your people”. At best, they’ll treat it as naivete, and at worst, treason. Furthermore, people often ascribe views to me based on how I look, without even asking what my views actually are. Of course, this happens to everyone, but I find it extra weird when they “assume good intentions”, so you’re not really incentivized to correct them. So much complexity gets lost


I think I don’t love the idea of having an alt bc it feels like you’re separating out this more intense, unspeakable part of you instead of doing the hard work to figure out how to incorporate it into your conscious self. If I can’t learn to say them under my main identity, I’m not ready to say them at all. How do you process that experimental self to make it coherent and legible and express those views through your public self? (I guess ppl with alts would say: that’s exactly what the alt is for! Alts as a dev branch that are eventually either discarded or merged into master; a sandbox for your identity)


Reading books that your friends have annotated is like an async book club


There should be a drunk text chat roulette, where ppl’s texts get routed to strangers who want to receive entertaining messages


A feminist interpretation of data privacy: my data (i.e. my body) belongs to me, is mine to choose when I do/don’t want to share it, and I can revoke that access whenever I like. When you access my data, it’s because I let you do it.

And much like with data ownership rights, giving someone rights over their bodies/data is more than simply switching access controls and permissions. It has the effect of fundamentally reshaping how the holder thinks about their place in the world: “I am steward of my own destiny. I decide who gets access, and I decide how much access to give. When you put this switch in my hands, you also gave me the autonomy to decide whether I want to flip it at all”

(Also why I can’t get behind the idea of getting paid by social companies or advertisers for our data. Compensation doesn’t change the underlying power structure, it’s a superficial solution)


Thinking: it’s a logical paradox to claim identity in an oppressed group while also claim you’re fighting for power, because power = the privilege of being “default status”, which is defined by a lack of labels. You can’t get there by doubling down on labels. Kinda like the SSC view that it’s not actually “Western culture” that everyone’s after, but “universal culture”

(Counterargument: some people simply don’t have the option of letting go of their identities, so maybe this position doesn’t work for everyone. On the other hand, while I can “blend in” on some aspects of my identity, I definitely can’t on others)


Life is pomegranates


If men’s best state is fraternal, women’s best state is a “dark forest” (as Liu Cixin conceived it)

Our typical notion of revolution is defined in masculine terms: overt displays of violence and vision. Whereas feminine subversion is about being so subtle that even you barely know you’re doing it. Maybe why we see iconic female COOs as a counterpart to male founders/CEOs (though I can think of a lot of other reasons for that…), it’s a role that’s all about precision

Relatedly: hacking is often intertwined with the notion of showmanship, but I think this is just one interpretation that’s been conflated with the definition itself. Is a good hacker someone who’s widely known for their cleverness, or someone who never shows their hand?


Feels like we should intentionally invert how we think/talk about the research process. Literature review shouldn’t be the starting point of brand-new research. Better to start with your own intuition and hypotheses, figure out what you think you’re seeing, etc - then see whether existing literature supports it, and use that to build out more of an argument. I know that sounds “biased” but I actually think the reverse is a bigger risk. Reading what others have done and how they’re thinking beforehand will bias your thinking and prevent you from forming new connections or insights.


The idea behind “counter-counter culture”, or why I like the term, is it implies that the process of switching between sides requires a degree of lossiness and transformation (i.e. entropy). Counter-counter culture is not simply mainstream culture, because the process of going counterculture, and then back again, implies that you changed and learned things along the way.

A counter-counter position looks like the original stance, but their underlying reasoning has gone through the wash a few times. You never come out the same


Adults can never write childhood books in a way that accurately reflects the next generation’s experience, because they’re not children anymore. So all children grow up reading snapshots of a generation behind them. It’s like seeing a star’s death from a gazillion years ago


Ok you know when someone asks you a hard personal q and you’re like, you tell me, and they’re like, I asked first! Your response should be something like, no, if you want to get valuable information out of me, you need to pony up collateral first. I don’t know why “I asked you first” is considered a valid argument bc it seems obvious to me that they should have to volunteer their personal info first if they want to get yours


Just because the internet isn’t a tool for democracy doesn’t make it a tool for oppression, either. Maybe it’s just a tool?


Maybe sci fi as a genre isn’t meant to be about “what will happen in the future” but rather “what will happen in the future, given our current trajectory/vantage point”. When reading sci fi I can’t help but analyze it for accuracy, ex. “is that really likely to happen” or “are they thinking hard enough about broader cultural shifts”, but maybe it’s ok to make these “anachronistic” errors, bc the point is to make a statement about today and our present cirucmstances, not actually predict the future


A major fear of mine is using intuition/”common sense” judgment to make assumptions that are actually only true about my tiny social bubble


Access to knowledge = access to opportunity, which is important to preserve, however the internet evolves. This is where I can’t get down with a world where everyone lives in their happy little clusters of private chats. Needs to look more like a city: access to endless opportunity, but everyone is judicious about where they allocate their limited attention. Private chats = rural, lack of opportunity


Voter registration (getting lots of “your people” out to register and vote) is no better than voter suppression IMO. It’s basically the same tactic of padding your numbers, just associated with different political parties. Not that I blame either side. They’re adaptive strategies to a fundamentally terrible system (voting)


I can’t unsee how crazy it is that citizenship is defined by geographic boundaries in a world where we clearly self-organize by other means (geography being one, but not the only!)


Online communities as cities: as a newcomer, you’re visiting as a tourist. If you really love being there, you can apply for residency or citizenship, but as a tourist you only have basic visitation rights

The internet is not inherently tyrannical: we’re just letting the tourists run the cities

If these communities are producing something that has value, by extension, getting access/membership to be able to produce it also has value!


Putting together a few things: if online communities are like cities that produce goods, that makes the balkanization of the internet seem even more plausible, bc if these “goods” are exportable and tradeable, other cities might want control over them, thus defense systems become necessary


If online communities are like cities, do they export goods? Knowledge, services, etc?


Does the expansion of one group’s rights always require minimizing or impeding upon someone else’s rights? Or maybe it just always requires behavior change from others, which isn’t necessarily “losing rights”

Hypothesis: we often say that people who oppose expanding others’ rights are afraid of losing their own power, but an alternate (or additional?) theory is that they just don’t want to have to change their day-to-day behavior and routines. Maybe it’s much lazier than we’re thinking


A question that I think isn’t asked enough: why hasn’t the open source model of production seemed to extend anywhere beyond software? Or has it? I’d argue it has for other forms of knowledge production (Q&A forums, social software), but maybe none of these are as coherent as software production.

But you read all this stuff from the early days where everyone was predicting that free and open source software was just the beginning, and that this heralded a new mode of economic production that would extend to all these other industries…and I don’t think that happened, at least not in its most literal interpretation. Is it actually non-replicable elsewhere (ex. bc developers are a special weird breed of people), or perhaps it’s about drawing parallels and uncovering new industries that we just haven’t named yet (ex. social media as a form of knowledge production)?


I’m convinced half the reason we’re addicted to music is bc we’re uncomfortable with silence


Design tradeoff bw wanting to make infrastructure not seen or heard, vs. if it’s running well, nobody pays attention to it

Is the design of infrastructure (or public goods more generally) different in that regard from private goods? Need people to know it exists so that they’re engaged in it. But if it’s working perfectly well, then nobody notices or cares about it, and then that incentivizes bad actors to try to get away with more stuff. (True for gov’t, too!)


Strange bedfellows: what are examples of political issues where some factions of the left and right are oddly aligned?


The negative space of a relationship seems at least as interesting as time actually spent together. Who are we when we are apart? How does knowing you change how I know myself?


Okay so say we balkanize the internet by cordoning off bad actors into their own state. However, all these ideas start to forment and they have real world consequences (like physical violence). Since we can’t take them down anymore online (we gave them their own island to live on by deplatforming, which means they’re out of our face, but also out of our purview), I wonder if we’ll start to wage “war” on each others’ states? Things like sabotage, hacking, ddosing, espionage. If so, who are the military forces/defense for each state? (Random: I wonder if Australia’s history can provide any learnings here)


It’s hard to learn how to say no to things, but the flip side of this is when you do learn how, you realize how powerful you are. Typically portrayed as a weakness but is actually a signal of untapped potential/strength


The five stages of layman crypto fanatics:

  1. Denial: “Bitcoin is stupid”
  2. Bargaining: “Bitcoin is stupid, but blockchain is cool”
  3. Obsession: “Oh my god everything can be fixed with blockchain”
  4. Depression: “Shit. I don’t actually know how to resolve any these edge cases or implementation details”
  5. Acceptance: “Crypto holds promise for the future, but I think we’re just too early”


Want: a survey that compares political attitudes of employees at different tech companies. “Tech workers” might have some political commonalities as a group, but I think they’re probably much more heterogeneous than we think (but could prob be sorted somewhat based on the companies they work at)


Beauty as that which interminably defies logic or explanation. Given that, a beautiful relationship is one which makes no sense


I assumed teenagers drink less bc we’ve all become more introverted/overstimulated and we want to do more low-key things, but I guess an alternate theory would be that they’re more cautious about what gets recorded and don’t want their embarrassing antics going up online? Is drinking less just a form of self-censorship?


Counterarguing with myself: I think my conflict over the moral responsibilities of service providers depends on how I evaluate their role. If I believe these companies are the new governments - which I kinda do - then why wouldn’t I support my government taking a stand against bad actors? I think my actual fear is “well where else would they go, we can’t just kick people off the internet”. Maybe the conflict here is that we only have one “mega-government” on the internet, and we just need to start making multiple governments? If people had other places to go, I don’t think it’d bother me so much. We’re in the Pangea stage of internet governance


Siloing bad actors into their own internet corner produces the same problematic effect as prisons - bad ideas foment when compressed together. Is there a way to break up bad actors instead so they can’t collude with each other? This would be a unique advantage of online vs. offline justice systems. (Or is it a unique disadvantage? Can you actually permanently break people up on the internet, ever? And if not, how does that change our notion of justice? Maybe this makes a stronger case for restorative justice, when “prison”/ostracization is not truly an option, or produces net-worse outcomes for the world?) And also, who decides whether you deserve it? I guess this by definition requires drawing out spheres of jurisdiction on the internet


Is hyper defense of free speech the same thing as hyper defense of PC culture? Bc the fundamental source of conflict on either side is someone saying we have to do this at all costs, even if it infringes upon others’ preferences and desires. Beyond being two sides of the same coin, maybe they’re two labels for the same thing, just differ based on politics. Kind of a good thing to check myself on


The granularity of your medium (should!) positively correlate to how controversial your content is:

It’s like adding fiber to your diet (make the content harder to consume) so you don’t eat sugar all the time


It’s kind of funny to see how bull/bearishness in crypto seems to correlate more to personal ideologies than to actual domain expertise (i.e. there can be two cryptographers who are pro/anti-blockchain and I can predict which is which based on their personal politics)


Theory: tech culture revolves around principles of openness and transparency simply bc they were early stage. Longer term, tech culture will survive around theories of careful or self-seeking membership. Early stage tech is always open, but as tech matures, efficiency at scale dictates that it must transition to a more closed model if it wants to survive

Startups went through something similar, where we incorrectly assumed that open entry was an inherent characteristic of startup culture. In practice we’ve seen a consolidation of power into a few monopolies, more acquisition outcomes, and people are way less starry-eyed about startup “disruption”. Most of the early land grabs have been taken, for now anyway


Divinity = ineffability, humanity = asymptotic quest to eff the ineffable


“Bureaucracy is protocol atrophied, while propriety is protocol reified” (from Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization)


We talk about federated communities based on specific interests: cats, fashion, whatever. But I think a well-designed internet, for broader communication anyway, will look more like neighborhoods. Bc that way you get the coordination benefits/shared infrastructure of mixed-interest groups, but ppl with one cluster of interests are likely to share or at least be tolerant of a different cluster of interests, so they’ll glom together into neighborhoods. Like, if you like yoga and tea, there’s no point in having a separate yoga community and a tea community, you should just have a “neighborhood” for people who like similar things. Identities are multifaceted!


How does leasing out of user-generated content work if it’s data that involves you, but you didn’t create? Ex. if someone posted a photo, could you take it down if you’re in it, or is it the photo taker/uploader’s right to control? I don’t understand how ownership rights are reconciled here without adjudication, it’d be different for every situation


(from a friend) “intellectual fantasy manic pixie dream girls”


Thinking…I don’t think it’s really that you do a thing to get reputation and then once you get it you’re bored. I think reputation is a red herring, it’s just a byproduct reward, the reason ppl/maintainers/whomever move on is simply bc they’re done exploring and learning about the thing, it’s no longer that interesting to them


Definition of a midlife crisis: realizing you’re too old to have a quarter life crisis


Man. People write books about all sorts of shit


Even if folk wisdom isn’t “rigorous” by scientific means, I think it’s just as rigorous from a market efficiency standpoint. Folk wisdom = public consensus at stable equilibrium


People always talk about hero death (when your heroes turn out to be fallible people) as this depressing thing, but I think it’s kind of wonderful, bc they’re like little bookmarks that signify your own personal growth. The rise and fall of heroes is also a nice reminder that life trajectories are so uneven and unpredictable, so stop caring about it so much and just have fun/do stuff you care about


Maybe “exit” will look less like moving the entire network off one platform to another place (FB -> Diaspora or whatever), but just moving people off in pieces. Goals have changed. The immortal technologies thing (KK’s idea that technology, once invented, never dies) applies to communities/networks, too. Ex. Metafilter still exists, obscure forums, game communities still exist. Some of these old communities continue to survive for decades, even if they’re small and forgotten by the public eye. Each of those networks is smaller and more scattered, but they’re probably more stable and permanent.


(from a friend) “Internet-first politics”: it’s not that you’re apolitical, just looking at politics on an internet scale vs. defined by geographic boundaries. Gives you way more freedom to think about designing politics from scratch b/c it’s borderless. (Which, IMO, is why you also see a richer set of political subcultures around internet-first politics)


“Romance” is just a gentler form of addiction. Figuring out how to master desire for approval in dating is a lot like learning to master desire for approval from social media. I don’t think that behavior is healthy in either situation; we can get addicted to the people we date, too. Both types of validation feel good (and are good!) in small doses, but left unchecked, condition us to think reactively / get in the way of doing novel, great things day-to-day


Developers have a lot of negotiating power now. If we start training lots of new devs, and the market is flooded with dev supply, will it tip the the negotiating hand back in favor of companies? Will the “developers have all the power” culture eventually become obsolete? (Maybe won’t affect some individuals…but will that be bad for developers as a whole)


(from a conversation) “Longevity as anti-future”, bc you’re prioritizing yourself over your children


We analyze historical periods and events, but what we should be doing is analyzing historical thoughts of individuals, and how they mingle together


Co-creation platforms for ppl to build projects/encourage each others’ projects don’t work unless there’s money, or some other equivalent form of scarcity introduced, to force people to make tradeoffs with their time/attention/etc. Money is collateral. Less about the actual amount of money involved (we see this with prizes, too), more that it signals something real beyond “in name only”


How do we know where to draw the line between shared/absolute truth and subjective truth? I think math/science is a shared truth bc it’s reproducible given the same set of circumstances, whereas subjective truths are not. But “absolute” truth is still being discovered, what we consider to be absolutely true (even in math/science) changes over time, so is absolute truth just consensus truth?

One way to think about organizing truths: baseline foundation of shared truth, with a thinner “bubble wrap” layer of subjective truths that we selectively subscribe to without being challenged by others (bc we can live them out peacefully with other people who also choose to subscribe to our subjective truths).


In sci fi, we often fantasize about enforcing justice on the hardware level (ex. a chip in our bodies that forces us to comply), but who decides what the actual punishment should be? Hardware solution is still just carrying out someone else’s orders. How do we actually mete it out fairly?


People who are anti-prison system are often also pro-deplatforming online, but aren’t those kinda the same type of punishment?


(from a conversation) “We’re more optimists than activists”


I’d been considering this idea that you can’t teach taste, but a friend unraveled this for me: they said it might not be that they’re not teachable, but a “parasitic meme” is getting in the way: there’s some other worldview that’s blocking their ability to see what you see and supplanting that space. I like this view a lot better!


(from a conversation) Open source, and knowledge production online more generally, looks more like a “repulsion market”: inverse of a two-sided market. At some point, the higher the consumer demand, the lower the producer incentive to respond


Crazy to think about how economies of scale eventually beat you doing the thing yourself (which seems deceptively like it’d be the more logical path) - ex. sewing machines, cooking/stoves, cloud computing. I wonder what else we’re doing today that we don’t yet recognize will eventually go in this direction. I think this is why I don’t really believe the world will ever fully decentralize. It just doesn’t make sense at scale, even if it intuitively feels like something we “should” be doing. (Doesn’t mean we can’t still make improvements in that direction, though!)


If technology never dies, discovering something new is the ultimate prize, because your discovery is irrevocably appended onto humanity’s history, which is why we are all so eager and naturally incentivized to find the next one. It’s a pretty amazing honor to have society review your contribution and agree it’s worth including in our shared narrative


(from a talk I went to) Do we want endpoints in religion (also true for work, I think)? What does the end look like? Is the work ever over? For some, the lack of an ending is precisely “what it means to be holy”. For others, it feels like a cruel joke


“Open” isn’t a good word for open source production, “distributed” is better bc it makes no judgment about the barrier to membership. Open implies open to all: it’s prescriptive. Distributed simply describes the organizational makeup of the producer network


New religion idea: only “the immaculate market” can collectively speak for God’s will (aka free markets + Quakers’ “that of God in everyone”, or perhaps free market version of monarchy, whose authority is derived from God)

Relatedly: is there a difference between “the market” and “the people”?


The “quantum-ness” of ideas: they aren’t actually these immutable building block concepts, even if they’ve been written down in history, but assemble and reassemble themselves subjectively based on current reality (bc of how we choose to interpret them, which differs based on a specific, unrepeatable arrangement of present circumstances)


Descriptive research sounds more simplistic than prescriptive research, but it’s actually really hard bc you have less permission to be subjective. You’re supposed to be a (more) neutral party


Should OSS developers “do what they want” on a project is not really about whether we think they should literally do what they want, but a conflict of rhetoric, which has been unfortunately weaponized in the wrong direction.

It’s not that they should do support, feel obligated to help new developers, etc, and if they don’t, they’re on bad behavior. I think it’s really just that core developers should be allowed to prioritize writing code and maintaining the heart of the project. “Do what you want” is a euphemism for “you should keep writing code bc that’s what you like to do, and people doing what they like to do is ultimately what will sustain the project, if there are no other other incentives at play”. Does that make sense? In other words: “do what you want” isn’t an excuse to be a terrible person (and if people use it that way, I think that’s also bad): it’s actually a roundabout way of trying to “professionalize” and make the project sustainable.


How I’m thinking about ideal data management in a distributed future: ‪public data (e.g. social media UGC) = publicly owned and managed‬. ‪Private data (e.g. health records) = user owned and “leased” to others‬. Or should none of it be publicly owned, and all of it should be user owned? I guess the point is public data at least has the potential to be collectively managed, whereas I definitely would never want my private data to be (I think I’d actually prefer central ownership to distributed). But then, who (ideally) owns the technology that lets me self-manage my data? Does it matter?


It’s odd that from a UX perspective, the application layer seems like the obvious place for customization, and yet the backend is the part that gets customized. Meaning: you’d expect that we’d have a fairly standard toolkit for users to customize and repackage to their liking. Yet right now, the application stack is super customizable for developers, and the end-user side is what gets locked up and commodified. I guess bc it’s where all the money is. Ok, so taking that as step further: if money leads to commoditization and ownership, if we do a good job flipping the layers and monetizing protocols, will protocols get locked up the way the application layer has? In other words, if crypto succeeds, will we be lamenting the walled gardens of the protocol layer, 15-20 years from now? And does that mean decentralized orgs are fundamentally at odds with monetary incentives?


Would be cool to do a meta study of the evolution of tech culture critique over time, because I feel like it’s so closely tied to historical events. What were people saying about the social effects of technology right after the atom bomb, or during the Cold War, or after the 2016 presidential election, etc? And even beyond history, what are the different critique styles or themes, and how did they evolve from one to another? Ex. the tech culture critics of the early 2000s feel distinctly dated to me now, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.


What we currently think of as network goods, like Uber or AirBnB, don’t produce assets. There’s a central platform connecting Person A to Person B, and then they transfer what are essentially private goods between them. Whereas with other types of networks, like open source or arguably social media, an asset is collectively created and managed (i.e. a body of knowledge), which we don’t currently know how to price. I can price an Uber ride bc the network didn’t create that ride, Uber just facilitated a transaction between two individuals (driver/rider). Does that make sense? Whereas with e.g. open source, the good we consume is produced by a network. But most public goods are produced by government, or sometimes a private firm, and neither of those are networks. The government is an agent acting on our behalf, but it’s not a network in itself.


We live in a nesting doll of filter bubbles. Like, the filter bubble problem is discussed re: let’s say far left vs far right US politics, but both of those sides are completely ignorant of some other corner of the internet where people are fighting over a whole other set of issues. Maybe the best case for not paying attention to social media, or really the news, at all. Although, counterargument is that you don’t need to pay attention all the news, but you should pay attention to news that’s relevant to your corner of the world. I guess my point is that it’s senseless to shame anyone for “being in a filter bubble”, because no matter how well-informed we think we are, there is inevitably other “important” news that you’ve never heard of and aren’t paying attention to. Inside your bubble, certain political issues seem enormous, but they’re actually tiny compared to the world’s issues at large.


Kind of incredible how we’ve been able to unlock teenagers’ potential via the internet. Seems almost barbaric that we expected them to get mindless summer jobs while I was growing up. Kids are super engaged and energetic at their age, we should give them all the opportunity we can to contribute to society.


Attention economics looks at attention on the individual level: “I’m choosing how to allocate attention based on my personal cost/benefit.” Whereas, e.g. maintainers and other coordinator roles are evaluating how to allocate attention on behalf of a commons. I think?


Equity for nannies: they do serious work and don’t get paid much for it. How to incentive-align their “investment” into the child and help them partake in the upside?


Have we actually learned anything in nutrition, or do the trends just change every 20-30 years? Why is nutrition more subject to pseudoscience than other fields? Is it that we’re objectively thinking about “progress” in nutrition all wrong, or is the field set up with the wrong incentives for attracting talent and producing knowledge, etc. I feel like there’s some massive blind spot in how we understand nutrition research looming just out of sight, like somehow we’ve conceived of the problem, or its success metrics, all wrong. Are there other sciences like nutrition or exercise that don’t seem to have clear upward progress trajectories? (Also: am I being overly cynical about the progress of nutrition research?)


It’s not death itself that people necessarily fear, it’s also the unpredictability of death. Knowing when you’ll die means you can plan your life. Not knowing introduces uncertainty. (I imagine many people don’t want to know exactly when and how they’ll die, but most people imagine themselves dying at old age, instead of randomly in middle age, and I think it’s that uncertainty that scares people.)


Patent-style mechanisms don’t work for OSS software bc it requires maintenance and upkeep. You don’t just need to reward the creator, but fund ongoing maintenance


Crypto doesn’t iterate off the latest in open source, instead they go wayyy back into historic governance examples like ancient Rome etc. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and they just like fancy old metaphors. Or maybe it’s a strategic way of establishing legitimacy? Or, maybe it’s just reflective of the zeitgeist yearning after the tactile, and reading about super old ideas feels more comforting than iterating off new ideas? Seems illogical at first glance though, right? Makes me think about how progress doesn’t actually follow a linear chain of ideas plotted against time, but cherry-picks from different points of history. It’d be cool to backtrace the technology culture of crypto, like ink dye on money. e.g. maybe they use these 90s-style governance mechanisms bc of cypherpunk roots?


Cooperative governance doesn’t necessarily reduce factions, ex. people sticking special interests into budgets and laws before they pass. Maybe I need to go back to the drawing board. I guess the answer is you still need to limit (or shard) total population size to facilitate meaningful cooperative solutions


Something I’m thinking about: there’s no point in designing governance until you have something that needs governing. By extension: it’s impossible to hedge today against adverse social problems in the future, because we don’t actually know what the future looks like, and sometimes unexpectedly good (and bad!) things come out of change. You can only fix the problems that are happening right now.

I think I mean this more philosophically than tactically. If you can conceive of a social problem right now, by definition that problem exists in the present. Like, if you’re concerned about future equality of stakeholders of your platform, it’s because that’s a future thing that matters today (which may still be worth addressing!), not because it’s a thing that matters in the future. So there’s no point in designing against it for the future because future conditions are unknowable. Does that make sense? I feel like this just makes life sooo much easier to think about.


Has anybody explored a polycentric approach to nutrition? Like the idea that different diets simply work for different people, and there is no “one true” answer? (I haven’t googled this at all, so I assume it exists)

I mean this in a slightly different sense from, say, blood type diets or other “customized” approaches. But more like a framework for figuring out and experimenting which foods/diet work for you, instead of assuming we can find one true answer. I guess that’s sort of the Eastern approach to medicine?


I think we continue to underestimate how much the internet has forced us to make tradeoffs with our attention: content, people, etc, bc you’re being exposed to the firehose of literally all amazing things in the world. People feel this guilt about not keeping in better touch with friends they genuinely like, but I think we’re making the same attention tradeoff as we do when deciding what to read or watch. There’s just so much out there. Eventually I think ephemeral friendships will be treated more like an acceptable social norm (not that they’ll replace a few, deeper friendships, but just that we’ll be ok with a longer tail of casual friendships)


Maybe monogamy came about for very practical reasons. I don’t mean the societal organization, but assuming we need long-term companionship, it’s simply easier to convince one person to double down on that journey with you than two or more. In other words, relationships serve the same companionship purpose as friendships, but it’s just lower-cost to commit to multiple friendships, so instead we’ve assumed monogamy is an inherent part of dating or of our psyche, whereas it’s really just reflective of a higher cost of commitment. (Which doesn’t make it any less real, just maybe for different reasons than we currently talk about? I feel like the common analysis is either patriarchal/societal or biological/evolutionary)


I really hate group identities, but I think my tribe of people is just obsessive people


Trying to learn how to prioritize my reading so I don’t drown in content: “This piece might be interesting, but is it the MOST interesting thing I could be reading?” If not, archive it.


For some industries, we talk about tech platforms as turning the prior status quo into monopolies (comms via FB, shopping via Amazon), yet for other industries, we talk about tech platforms as breaking up the status quo (music via Spotify, movies via Netflix, arguably games and Steam). Bc they’re tearing down former strongholds (record labels, movie producers, etc)…but if they do well, they’re still replacing those things with monopolies? Are they just at a more nascent stage than FB/Amazon/etc, and eventually we’ll hate them too? Or are we giving them a free pass bc the old way of doing things was so comparatively terrible to creators? Basically I’m not sure whether to root for Spotify/Netflix/etc (even Patreon?) bc they’re helping more creators thrive, or whether we’re hurtling towards some awful future where all independent artists have to go through one company to be heard.


What does a decentralized corrective justice system look like? I think we’re already experimenting with forms of this (ex. deplatforming), but we don’t talk about it in a thoughtful holistic way, which is dangerous bc we mete out punishment in these sort of wild and unpredictable ways. Should be an essential part of designing community governance


Are people attracted to vastly different types of music bc our brains are living on different wavelengths, or is it because we’ve been socialized into that music by our peer groups…and/or, are different peer groups reflective of the different brain wavelengths reflected in our musical taste? I’m generally weirded out by the idea that two people could listen to the same song and have completely different experiences of it. Music hits us at a visceral level, like natural imagery (a sunset, a mountain summit), but whereas the visceral appreciation of natural imagery seems fairly universal, we’re all having completely different visceral reactions to music?


Sometimes direct reflection can be helpful to find answers to hard long-term existential questions, but I think I’m learning it’s just as useful to let those problems run in background process over a longer period of time, then review what my subconscious came up with later


Evaluation criteria for whether an emerging trend is interesting: it’s not enough to say, “Can you find examples of people/companies/etc doing this untraditional thing?” but “Are the BEST people/companies/etc doing this untraditional thing?” (‘Best’ being a subjective assessment, not based on external success metrics)


Progress on a global civilization level is hampered by the fact that every individual (per-human) instance needs to progress through its own journey from scratch (starting from birth to death). I guess that’s sad, but I actually find it to be a sort of lovely, amusing, existential tragicomedy. For all the progress we make together, our limiting reagent will always be what we call “people problems”, which are really just problems experienced at the local (not global) level. People keep thinking we can cheat this somehow, but I think it’s very hard to accelerate. Bc that kind of wisdom is only stored “locally” and isn’t transferable between people after they die. You can’t read or be told something that changes you (it only changes you if you’re ready to see it!), you have to actually go through a set of experiences to obtain that wisdom. (Side note: if people were to live forever, or even for much longer, it would probably greatly accelerate human progress for this reason. Maybe it already has!)


Coworking spaces = centralized approach to remote work. Cafes = decentralized approach (Or maybe it’s that offices = centralized, coworking spaces = decentralized in a federated sense, and cafes = distributed)


I know we keep trying to save journalism, but is there a world where news itself just becomes obsolete, because demand for it has sufficiently decreased? People will always find ways of figuring out “the latest” that’s happened re: critical news (like a natural disaster), but will intense monitoring of global news die out, giving way to local knowledge + consumption of books? Maybe combined with a rising interest in history (increased value placed upon digesting the knowledge we’ve produced)? There would still be watchdogs on specific news topics, but seems like a natural adaptation to attention as a limited resource. It used to be that we ALL had to pay attention to the news. Now, only some of who care need to specialize on certain topics to keep the rest of us informed. Efficient allocation of global resources


Giving someone your phone number or last name IRL these days feels like giving someone your social security number. They can unlock so much about your online identity with that information. I kind of hate how de-anonymizing it is, but it’s also this reminder of how much the tables have turned in the last 20 years. My online behavior is both the most public thing about me (in a literal sense), but also the thing I want to keep most private in my one-off, in-person interactions.


People are talking about how manipulating video is the next frontier after photoshopping images, and how it’s going to seriously distort reality and cause pandemonium. Is that really true, though? Photoshopping meant we had to question the veracity of photos, but I feel like “the crowd” has been a pretty good distributed fact-check. Maybe there are more rumors floating around for individuals who can’t be bothered to dig more deeply, but I don’t think anyone is believing in fake photos or videos on a societal level


A possible success metric for microgrants: will it help keep them “active” in whatever it is they care about? Like yes, you want the project to be feasible etc, but it’s also about encouraging someone to keep experimenting. (Thinking about the “Big Science vs. Little Science” paper that suggested small grants help keep people “active” in research)


I don’t understand how people can be disdainful of Malthusian growth, but also believe in tragedy of the commons? Aren’t these similar models, with similar underlying assumptions? Maybe has to do with the “campaigns” associated with each model (Malthusian + overpopulation, environmental issues, etc seems easier to debunk, but tragedy of the commons is invoked in casual conversation and harder to clearly disprove)


A political party that only focuses on meta coordination problems (ex. fixing the voting system), with the belief that these are the highest-leverage ways to advance human civilization


Instead of looking to metaphors (biology, religion, foreign life) to understand how and why humans think as we do, we should look at output (laws, markets, languages, books, software!): the artifacts we’ve collectively produced, and try to reverse-engineer our origins. (Does AI count as metaphor or artifact?)


Erowid, but for our daily subjective reality. Ex. how do different people process audio or visual cues


There’s a paradox where advocating for a thing ultimately causes momentum towards change to stagnate (i.e. asymptotically approach inadequate equilibrium). Ex. “ban guns” advocacy has basically reached stasis at “thoughts and prayers”, so that we’ve become comfortable with the ban-guns position, while also simultaneously not feeling compelled to take action. The danger of scaling activism is that it just stagnates. If change is the goal, is activism only effective in short bursts, with a clear goal in mind (a la Alinksky)? What does it take to push advocacy to the next level and actually effect change?


Economics is like infosec. Your job is to imagine worst-case scenarios and design against them to reduce bad behavior (while also accepting that bad behavior is part of the game)


New social networks (like Mastodon) should use the auction property tax concept to encourage namespace squatters to post content. If you don’t post content regularly, you lose your namespace


Another way of thinking about the maintainer problem: usually I think of it in terms of a difference in intrinsic vs. extrinsic motives for contributing code vs. coordination work. Another way to frame it is that in an open source project, code skills are in excess supply but coordinator skills are in short supply. Lots of ppl want to write code, not as many ppl want to maintain it. So it makes sense you’d have to pay to bring in those skills


Satoshi is the Deep Throat of our generation


What are examples of games where there’s an official set of rules, but the actual game is a second-order level of social engineering? Ex. Blackjack is the game, but card counting is the game where you make money. StarCraft (or any sports betting) is the game, but skillfully throwing the game without detection can make you make money. (What are, uh, less illegal examples? Stock markets and shorts? Hidden role games are sort of like this, except the social engineering is still part of the official game, even if not in the actual rules)


Project idea: meta-analysis of mentorship program design and how they do/don’t succeed at attracting quality talent (I’m sure this already exists, I would like to read about it!). I think there are some interesting underlying mechanics here (ex. self-selection, “naming the thing” often attracts the wrong people: some social phenomena function better as dark matter) that would be fun to identify and explore


Is there a danger in relying so heavily on economic game theory when scale isn’t factored in? Meaning, we have different behavior/psychology when 3 people are involved vs. 3 million, so looking at “games” might oversimplify the outcome

Relatedly: it’s funny that a common critique of Ostrom is “but does it scale”, and yet I don’t hear that critique of Hardin? Ostrom used fisheries, Hardin used cattle herders. Kinda the same thing?


“Prioritize interoperability over scale” is like looking at the negative space/connective tissue of governance, instead of governing the actual nodes themselves. If that makes sense. Everyone’s trying to control the nodes; instead, control the negative space between them, and let the nodes take care of themselves


Riffing on earlier thoughts…effective giving isn’t just about the redistribution of capital, but the redistribution of opportunity. The most effective philanthropists don’t just write checks, but use their influence to open doors (and they work hard on recipients’ behalf!).

I wonder if there’s a takeaway from this: like, if you’re just giving away money, you should spend as little time on it (as in figuring out where to give) as possible. Give to the person behind you. Whatever. Whereas if you’re giving away social capital, you should invest in a more rigorous process


How much are strangers you meet IRL entitled to know about your life? And are they entitled to know the truth? (Lying as opposed to omission)


A historical goal of tourism, I think, was context switching: to lose and find oneself in a different world. But bc we live so much of our lives online now, I kinda feel like you can have that tourism wherever you physically live. Ex. talking to a stranger without telling them your whole life story feels more normal now than it used to (we used to do that online instead). Tourism is decoupled from geographic location, it’s really just a state of mind…?


Are there optimal time frames for nostalgia? Ex. right out of school, I used to feel weird about being on a college campus, but now I love it. I used to think rewatching a Nickelodeon show was nostalgic, but now it just makes me feel kinda old. Nostalgia isn’t a static experience


What if not relying on expertise were a constraint of governance design? Ex. You can’t have a system that requires ppl to be able to self-assess value, bc most ppl can’t do that well, so they’d end up hiring someone or using an app or whatever, which necessitates a middleman layer for assessing value, which eventually becomes problematic.

How could you design a system where we assume zero knowledge for each actor involved? How would they change or look different In other words: “I know nothing and I don’t need to in order to participate in this system and receive a fair outcome”


From a group convo: “sports are already decentralized”, bc people know the rules of the game in their head, and then they play mini games all over the world. Have heard similar points about language, dating norms, etc. They evolve naturally, without any formal decision making (any formal recognition is just codifying existing norms) There are already so many examples of decentralized governance systems at scale, we should look outside of official politics/gov’t to understand how people self-govern.

And really, I think formal governance should only ever exist to codify norms that we’ve already arrived at organically. But I feel like we usually talk about it the other way around: designing governance systems as a means of encouraging ppl to do certain things, instead of reflecting who we already are. (Maybe I’m being defeatist? Government designed to shape our processes can be a good thing, but government designed to shape our values is dangerous. Is there a difference?)


Interoperability matters more than scale re: global vs. local reputation systems, bc global systems get slow and inaccurate and stodgy. But are local systems actually transferrable to global ones? Ex. we’re worse judges of our friends vs strangers. Does vouching for a friend mean you’d want strangers to vouch for them?


Compersion, but for seeing other people iterate on your ideas


As a researcher, is it better to be indefinitely salaried or give yourself 2-3 years? Timeboxing could be a good forcing function, increase labor liquidity for more senior roles


Looking through my (or anyone else’s!) “following” list is like sorting through layers of geological sediment re: personal history and relationships


We lack an accountability system for our online world (nicer way of saying a corrective justice system, but that’s kind of what is missing). We have a few subpar approaches to taking corrective action right now: either mob rule or central platform rule. Who should decide who gets “digital punishment”, who enforces those decisions, and by what process? Who’s the judicial authority that we appeal to? I think it’d be particularly fun to figure out how to design a self-governing system here.


What’s the rationale for a wealthy person spending their time “arranging money” for projects vs. financing it themselves? I think a few reasons. One, if others are willing to fund it, it’s good social proof. Two, it leverages your dollars better. But mostly I think it points to the fact that true wealth is about influence, your ability to unlock doors for others. Money helps somewhat with this, but it’s not the best measure of wealth. This is actually a nice thought, I think: that “proof of wealth” is not zero-sum (as it’s often derided), but by definition, the extent to which you can move and amplify others


“Data as labor” is a concept that makes me vaguely uncomfortable, despite good intentions. Labor for whom? Why not labor for ourselves? Labor is a contract with someone else. I’d rather focus on enabling people to do more things for themselves, instead of for companies


Sometimes I think it’s more helpful to think about mundane vs. disaster scenarios, because that’s where things get tricky. Ex. digital scarcity seems like an obvious way to address revenge porn. If someone else posts a compromising photo, you could claim ownership of it and have it taken down. But would we really want everyone controlling what we can/can’t have day-to-day? Ex. a beautiful photo of a sunset that you’re not allowed to screenshot or share bc it’s not “yours”. Seems like the opposite direction of where we should be moving


Beauty as a property rights problem - seems to be assumed that consumers have ownership, but when rights are assigned to the ‘producer’, it drastically changes the power dynamics


From a friend: “Decentralization doesn’t have to be the answer or a panacea, but just a new ‘fabric’, or set of conditions, for operating in”


It seems that some midsized tech companies are going through a reverse innovator’s dilemma: they only pursue innovation/brand-new ideas and features, at the expense of keeping up with their core product. Ignoring the fundamentals to chase down new ideas that nobody really wants. Maybe startups are especially afraid of becoming stodgy old companies, so they overcompensate? Is this unique to tech, vs. other industries?


Increasing importance of subscription models rather than paying for software once up front. Software can’t be a thing you pay for one time bc it needs continuous improvement, and that’s one reason why we see subscription and revshare models doing so well for digital content, software, etc now (see Microsoft, Netflix). Well- that and, obviously, companies needing to justify their ongoing existence (like lightbulbs and razors)


I wonder whether similarly to how women entering the workforce, having more agency, etc kinda messed with the institution of marriage, whether people working longer and doing more things they truly love will mess the institution of death. Where suddenly, we’re all so happy doing what we love that we now desperately don’t want to die, and the inevitable experience of quickly-approaching death makes us miserable


“Reverse tragedy of the commons”: where you know a commons is safe bc there are other ppl with a far greater stake than you who will be motivated to solve a problem first (ex. threat of regulation in a new space: smaller companies don’t need to worry as much bc bigger companies with more resources will fight it first)

What is this concept called? Pretty sure I’ve seen it somewhere…Would be cool to think about how to design systems that encourage this phenomenon (i.e. cooperative rather than zero-sum governance)


(from a convo with coworkers) How to align token holder interests so they don’t pull out too fast. Would vesting be useful for miners? My theory was that miners face a different kind of incentive problem, more like the investor in a startup, rather than the employee. The cost lies more in the activation energy. So their checks and balances should look more like partnerships and lock-in.


Crypto governance debate (on- vs. off-chain) feels similar to the “is technology a tool to augment or replace human capacity” (augmented vs. artificial intelligence) that dominated convos about early computer design


(from a convo with friends about BINA48) What would robots have nightmares about? Sci fi often portrays robots as aspiring to be human, but isn’t that really human-centric? What would a human-robot culture look like if we treated robots as a highly capable, but separate species, vs. assuming their aspirations are to be like humans (or that they even have any aspirations at all). (IIRC I think Embassytown might’ve been an example of this portrayal…)


Where people sit in a room at an event (front to back) is like chromatography for personality types


“Concept stores”, but for libraries and bookstores. Ex. a friend told me about a bookstore they went to in Japan that only sells one featured book at a time, and then sells other things related to the themes/characters/etc around the book. Why aren’t there more privately curated, but open-to-the-public libraries?


(From a convo with a friend) How she distinguishes between keeping a community welcoming without bending over backwards: “All people, but not all behavior is welcomed”


Advice from a friend: Solve the hardest problems first, which solves other problems for everyone else along the way. Example is the ADA (turns out other people needed accessible ramps, too)


Dual parenting as a failed coordination game: need to split duties between two ppl but not doing so deliberately leads to stress, failed outcomes


Reading about “recursive publics”. But what public isn’t recursive? Maybe it’s not that we need this concept of a recursive public, but rather I’d suggest that “a heathy public works recursively”. It’s not a different kind of public, but a way of describing how the public should work when it’s functioning well


Theory: success is mostly figuring out the right people to spend your time with


Semantic relationship synesthesia (and hyperlinking as the visual of that?). One word cascades into a “directory” of associated meanings, some or all of which may be hyper-specific to the person who articulated it, so that any sentence can be constructed and re-constructed into a combination of meanings (regardless of the articulated one) which deviate from the original. Understanding others (and yourself) means uncovering the hidden associations


Q that a friend asks others to understand their creative process better: “How do you get inspired by stuff?”


Self-reinforcing reputation systems through the lens of sexual misconduct. Ppl often denounce the informal “whisper system” as having been ineffective at weeding out bad actors, because bad behavior becomes an open secret. But once these things were highly publicized, it seemed to start working. Why did the “reputation system” work well in the latter case, but not in the former? I guess bc there wasn’t any accountabilility to close the loop? Or is this just an example of a step change in cultural norms?


Whether we use contributors or activity as a measure of whether a project is doing well, either seems to prove de facto that software is not zero marginal cost (if it scaled costlessly, why would we use ongoing contributions as a measure of its health?)


I am intrinsically motivated to do research (I want to know the answer), but only extrinsically motivated to publish (I know that documenting my findings is how I grow reputation, and therefore justify my salary).

Maybe similar to OSS: developers are intrinsically motivated to write something they want, but only extrinsically motivated to publish/maintain (?)


Thinking: Researchers who become dismissive of newcomers’ ideas are suffering from cognitive overload. You receive so much inbound with people’s “groundbreaking” new ideas that you’re forced to pattern-match (“ah, it’s another XYZ approach”) and give them fairly generic advice. That pins them against your average/mediocrity bar that you’ve set for them. And they go run off and either take what you said to heart (yikes) or go off repeating your mediocre advice to everyone else.

Implication being that there’s a maximum amount of inbound/noise that a single high-signal node can handle before they start optimizing for their own time/needs instead, giving shitty feedback that eventually ripples throughout the entire field and makes everybody shitty and mediocre. In other words, there’s a maximum number of collaborators, both tightly and loosely networked, that you want before the high-signal node starts spewing out crap and making everyone around them dumb again. Too few, and you don’t get any collaborative benefits. Too many, and the field is spoiled. What’s the optimal number of collaborators? (and obviously this is true not just for research but any other field of experts)


Mind is blown that there is no Netflix/Spotify for research (journal subscriptions, etc). Only SciHub?!

If you take the very long view, are paywalled journal articles going to die out anyway? Would it be like building Blockbuster? But even if papers are open access moving forward, there’s plenty that will still be historically paywalled, right?

It just seems crazy in the meantime though. Is it that it’s that prohibitively expensive? How much does access cost a university, per user?


Protecting against malevolent miners by forming strategic partnerships with big players is like building up a project’s defensibility via military base. You’re basically starting a new country and you need a defense system to go with it


(from a friend) aspire to be a “landless aristocrat”


Theory: in open source projects, governance matters most when financial interests are involved (true for big corporate foundations, also true for crypto stuff, but not true for ex. tiny npm modules)

Without external influence of money, project communities can be trusted to self-organize (is that true, though? scale is prob another factor here, bc communities also need governance for efficiency/coordination purposes). Maybe not about money, but presence of divergent interests? I guess that was basically Ostrom’s theory


Maintainers should treat user-evangelists like they do developer-contributors. Give them the tools to make their contributions additive/free to you. Ex. creating a dedicated support channel and letting users run it themselves


Can researchers ever be openly political? They’re more like judges - need to be neutral and truth-seeking (although in reality, no one ever is)


I wonder if one reason researchers tend to cluster together within their discipline, instead of being more interdisciplinary, is bc you have such a deep knowledge of your own field that it’s hard to talk to others about it with the same level of nuance (maybe true for experts in general, ex. medical students tending to marry each other bc nobody else understands your crazy doctor life)


(from a friend) “We are different and we might disagree on stuff, but you’re still within my Goldilocks zone”


Communities can have heterogeneity and diversity, as long as they’re still high context and high trust (that often comes from ppl being similar to each other, but similar values and superficial differences works just fine too)


With Uber out of the picture, Tesla has taken its place as the new media whipping boy. We always need a tech villain in the media. (If Tesla were knocked out somehow, who would take its place? Not biggest tech cos which are on a different level of media scrutiny, but among companies that are oversized startups)


The act of dating is like reincarnation via multiple relationships until you reach enlightenment?


So, in open source, “users” are useful to an open source project bc they can also serve as evangelists, even if they never directly interact with the project. Any one user might not mean much, but in aggregate, they’re the engine of a project (bc they boost popularity and adoption)

Similar case for social amplification of the news. It’s easy to deride people who post about the news all the time bc they’re not engaging in meaningful civic participation, but in aggregate, they are actually the news “engine” that ensures headlines get paid attention to

But there’s a trade-off in incentives between my time as an individual vs. the cost of participating in this cycle. This makes it a sort of commons-type problem to resolve: it’s in the collective best interest that I participate in the news cycle, but it’s in my personal worst interest to do so, so I don’t

There’s no short-term danger in avoiding the news cycle bc there are plenty of ppl who will still do it for you, but in the long term, does this create a stratification/caste system where “low cognition” ppl mindlessly contribute their time to news cycle engine, and “high cognition” ppl opt out to focus their time elsewhere? Although, also, you don’t have to fully opt in or out to the news cycle. Maybe you lend your voice when it’s convenient/relevant and ignore the topics that aren’t, which ensures equitable distribution of the collective signal boosting burden


Onion model of an open source project isn’t quite right…more like a “spider” model, with maintainers as central hub, and each spoke following its own onion model


(from a convo with a friend) “He’s very good at resting” - Resting as something you’re actively good at (that means not playing on your phone or even meditating, but literally just sitting there and resting). Been trying to incorporate moments of resting throughout the day. I want to be good at resting!


Rewrite democratic principles according to software principles. NOT: using software to enforce existing principles. But using observations of software principles to rethink how we self-organize in government.


How do you know when your brain’s dependencies are outdated? We operate based on the values/tastes/preferences we assume we have, maybe they worked for years and years, and they inform the actions you take daily without thinking. You’ll even feel like you’re truly “being yourself” but they produce actions that don’t feel quite right. At some point they become outdated and you have to update your underlying system. By definition, can you only recognize your dependencies are outdated once it’s already happened, or can you anticipate beforehand? (Maybe this is an equivalent analogy to hitting a “local maximum”)


Part of the problem with measuring financial value based on contributions themselves is that whether a contribution gets accepted is often tied to social merit, not the intrinsic value of the contribution.

So basically, there might be an even “worthier”/more valuable contribution that doesn’t get accepted bc of preexisting social norms. If you only give $$ to the contributions that get accepted, isn’t this some version of “wealth begets more wealth”?

(Although, I don’t really know how you’d overcome that bias, either. And in some sense, maybe “usefulness to project” is the right way to evaluate. Maybe figuring out how to follow the social and technical norms of a project is part of the process of attaining value)


Idea for structuring foundation board elections: board seats are forever, but anyone can propose an election for the upcoming year. (Basically, if you’re doing a good job as a leader, and you’re well-respected, why not stay on for a very long time? Reduces switching/onboarding costs. But, there should be an easy process for turning you over if/when people start to feel differently, and you don’t step down on your own)


What are examples of companies who have gone through organizational trauma? Examples:

Who else?

“Organizational trauma” = a huge event that the company went through, which marked the end/beginning of a cultural period, and the memory (and fear) of which still impacts how they make decisions today


From Call to Commitment, on why the “new guard” eventually becomes the “old guard” (p.53):

“The young have not proved more pioneering than those who have gone before them until they have been tested. Strangely enough, we often find that those who protest change the most are those who were most attracted by the adventurousness of the group.”

“It is easy for one generation to overthrow the structures of another and to think itself bold and adventurous. But the test comes in whether we can part with the structure we ourselves have created, for new forms, like the old, can come to represent safeness and security.”


(from a conversation with fellow researchers)

Essential q: “Who are you trying to impress?”

I like this question better than the “average of the 5 ppl you spend the most time with” as a means of measuring your quality barometer. A person, or the idea of a person, can motivate you for years and years, even if you don’t talk to them anymore, even if you’ve never met them, even if they don’t know they’re influencing you.

Example of this: Stewart Brand asked three friends for their photos to keep by his desk while writing “How Buildings Learn”. Less about checking in with them, but thinking “what would impress them” was enough to motivate


Common approach to measuring social influence is based on who’s following you (a la PageRank/measuring links), but it’s actually your regular interactions that say more. Who follows you is a static measure, who you interact with is a dynamic measure.

Meaning: it’s not enough if someone influential on Twitter simply follows you. It’s more interesting to look at whether you two regularly interact. And similarly, it’s not enough if someone is, say, listed a contributor to an open source project. Maybe they got a patch merged once, but they’re not known/influential in the project. You want to see who’s regularly talking to each other.

IMO this is another data point in favor of an “open production” model being different from digital goods in closed production settings. You can’t really look at these things in terms of fixed-state activity


Research suggests high context matters in open source:

So using that as a basis, how do we design online products and platforms to retain high-context situations?

Ex. in a social media context, emphasize small group interactions and filtering out unwanted interactions. In fundraising context, raise $$ from people/companies who already use and know you


Digital goods with open production models:

Both factor into open source software (and other forms of knowledge curation) not being perfectly scalable vs. other digital goods


Without a verifiable “proof of personhood” (meaning both identity and reputation), online voting is worthless. Without knowing what the total population looks like, we don’t know who matters more/less. I guess the point of democratic voting is that everyone’s vote matters equally, IMO not as true for decentralized communities. As we try to rethink voting from the ground up today, it seems like we’d want to weight some people’s votes more heavily than others, especially depending on the topic


Ongoing list of open questions about how reputation is measured. Some of these are notes from conversations, others are just musings…

Does reputation degrade over time? What would an inflation schedule for reputation look like?

In open source, some ppl perceived as “high reputation” aren’t the most active maintainers today, bc they did a bunch of work in the past and then kinda cash in and sit on their reputations. So if “work done” is the input for measuring reputation, you’re not gonna see the ppl on top that you expect. And maybe that’s a good thing! Ex. a project author who still weighs in on the project but doesn’t actively work on it anymore, should they be able to do that, or should they cede control?

Is reputation transferrable, or tied inextricably to your identity?

Why do we value reputation? As a promise of how we expect you to act on the future. Reputation is speculation. Another way of asking this is, what is the difference between identity and reputation? Identity is a snapshot of who you are today. Reputation is who we expect you to be in the future. But both are based on past behavior? Reputation isn’t inherently interesting if we don’t think that past behavior transfers to your future behavior. Maybe it’s: “history”=past (training data), “identity”=today (present state), “reputation”=tomorrow (future state)

Quality of your reputation depends not just on the size of your following, but its quality. “Inbound links” from a few high-signal people is worth more than many “links” from low-signal people

Is reputation (and by extension, power) a zero sum game? Is there a finite number of high-reputation people who can occupy the same problem space? Seems like it is zero-sum within a specific niche, but not generally? (This is why academic researchers get more and more niche, to remain a big fish in a small pond, and thus attract funding. Also ditto nonprofits, targeting specialized funders)

Reputation begets reputation, much like wealth: if you already have a huge following, anything you share out will have higher “returns” on your reputation than if you don’t have a following

Do you “spend” your reputation to vouch for others, and if so, does this also work like wealth? (If you have a lot of reputation amassed, you can spend a bit to gain more, if it goes poorly, you haven’t lost much. If you don’t have a lot of reputation, you vouching for someone is a riskier stake)

What are the best universal reputation systems we have today? Most reputation systems don’t transfer (ex. GitHub or Stack Overflow). Twitter, and maybe also reddit, feel more universal. (And maybe Instagram?) Meaning, yes, there are clearly distinct crowds on the same platform, but if you have a strong reputation among “entertainment Twitter”, it still transfers somewhat if you’re trying to interact with someone from “tech Twitter”. Or whatever. It also seems to be an identity that follows you around on the internet more. Whereas, ex. your GitHub social currency doesn’t mean much on Instagram. Is Twitter the closest thing we have to a universal reputation system? Why is it so different? (Maybe bc, like reddit, there are so many use cases within the same platform, and unlike reddit, identity matters more?)


(notes from a dinner with other non-academia researchers)

Measuring progress in research:

“I want to generate insights for this field that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Did I have thoughts that wouldn’t have gotten thought if I weren’t in this field?”

(this reminds me of success metrics in VC!)

Start with a question, then figure out how you’re going to approach the question. Have a “toolset” of research methods (ex. literature review, quantitative analysis, expert interviews), and pick the right one for the problem

Use a portfolio approach for methods: ex. Running pilots with a completion goal

How much should you cater to your direct research community/beneficiaries vs. the broader general public?

“Psychological safety” is important to being able to do good research: mobility, steady income, being able to switch tracks in case you lose funding, what would you do next. Yet a lot of us find ourselves in “lucky” situations. Are there ways to systematize these norms?

“Essential questions”: core questions to a field that are very important but broad enough to be accessible (ex. “What is the role of government”). Good questions to rally around for more generalized discussions


Quote from UX research presentation: “Some of this might be new, other parts will not be a surprise to you, but that’s often the point of research, to help validate the things we were noticing”


Book club as a podcast: one episode per chapter, discussed with 1-2 friends, as you all go through reading the book. One season per book


Three iterations of reputation systems:

External certifying authorities- ex. Universities or expert boards. Problematic bc control is centralized

Meritocracy - also problematic bc it’s still easily gameable. If your reputation is determined by your actions, you can always game those actions.

Networks (emerging)- reputation based on network consensus (which also requires an immutable identity! I think?). If enough people agree you are who you say you are, and that you did what you say you did, and you’re the right person for whatever’s required, you’re verified. Downside: Reputation networks are gameable too, in that, if you captivate an audience, you’re hard to topple (networks = easy long-term gains, meritocracy = easy short-term gains?)


Ze Frank has this video about how when people have ideas, they’re afraid it’ll be their last really good idea, so they tend to hold on to them in their head, and not share them (it’s like “brain crack” - “I know I’m smart bc I thought of this cool thing, I can hold on to this idea that I’m smarter/awesome bc it’s still in my head, I haven’t put it out there to have anyone argue with me, or customers react to it, etc”)


Reputation as enforcement mechanism for enabling recursive governance? If you can somehow make reputation immutable, then people wouldn’t want to risk their reputation on stupid things. Laws enforce themselves bc you don’t want to permanently damage your reputation. The system doesn’t need to monitor you; you monitor yourself and your own behavior based on social norms. The law theoretically should reflect social norms today, but even better to remove one step and make the law == social norms (Goal is to trigger self-regulation instead of relying on external mechanisms)


One of the best things about Twitter is that your social circles can evolve with your interests. You can follow/unfollow people whose feeds you might not resonate with anymore. Whereas FB is like a mausoleum of people you used to know that are constantly being shoved in your face like “remember this? look at it”

Conversely, it’s also really nice to see little social peer “clusters” pop up among the people you follow on Twitter. You might follow all of them, but you can see diff peer groups naturally cluster around different tweets.


(from a convo with a friend)

What is the difference between being a hobbyist vs. a scholar? IMO, that one gets paid full-time and the other doesn’t. Not necessarily about a difference in quality or rigor (although there often is - but there are also hobbyist bloggers who take their research really seriously and apply lots of rigor, and professional researchers who don’t). It’s like a hobbyist software developer vs. professional developer. One is paid and the other isn’t, but an arbitrary title says nothing of the quality of their work.

Therefore: you shouldn’t feel bad being a non-professionally trained anything. A self-taught software developer doesn’t feel bad for not taking CS courses. Why would a researcher feel bad not having a PhD? Does it actually matter whether you’re a “hobbyist” or not? A professional researcher gets paid FT to do what they love, that’s the most important part.


There’s an unspoken rule that you can’t be a self-aware contrarian, or else it invites mocking and derision for being “better” than everyone else. Ex. nobody else WANTS to call themselves a hipster, they’ll only do so if mocking themselves or others, even if they actually are. I dunno exactly how this applies to neoliberalism but I suspect it’s why the “brand” is so intertwined with being a harmless, optimistic, somewhat awkward but cheerful nerd


Dunno how to phrase this, but: I wonder whether the historical focus on “make great ideas happen by building startups” was influenced by a masculine-dominant industry (“making things is the way you express your good ideas”).

Either way, I feel like the longer historical narrative/arc is that startups were this one crude tool we had for making good ideas happen, and now slowly we’re seeing a much richer ecosystem form, where you can capitalize on having good ideas, and reap the reputational rewards, in faster and more agile ways. Over time, we’re increasing the speed at which good ideas can come to life, and which we can quickly learn/discern who does/doesn’t have good ideas.

When you look at it that way, building a company is this extremely risky, slow, sluggish, difficult way of doing it, that requires you to be locked up in a long timeline. (Although the rewards can be correspondingly higher than smaller, more iterative ways)


Cities and their neighborhoods are a good physical model for scalable online communities. Each neighborhood is its own “pod” with its own shops, services, etc but you can easily get to another neighborhood if needed, and everyone has a broader interest in city-level needs. Also, preserving mobility between neighborhoods is important!


Reputation is that which cannot be bought or sold.

Follow-up thought: This is also true for reputation networks. The highest quality networks are those which are earned and non-transferable. The lowest quality are ones that are completely open, second order are those which you pay for (money as a crude metric for success/ability), and best are those that are organically formed based on demonstrated merit (and/or, to enter that network, you have to be referred in and prove yourself). That doesn’t mean all the other networks are bad - just that this principle plays itself out on a network level, not just individually.


App that just scrolls endless boring Lorem ipsum with occasional puppy images. Like prayer beads, fidget spinner, or nicotine patch to replace your social media addiction


Maintainers continue to maintain bc of obligation to community which is also another way of saying high-context incentives


Naming things is hard, not just figuring out the name itself, but bc of the timing. Sometimes it’s the wrong time to propose a new name, it won’t stick


Creative process is mostly miserable bc you have ideas that are insanely important to you but no one else cares about. But over time you come to realize this is a blessing and a sign that you’re into something good. (Or you don’t and you get depressed)


It seems that with any extremely close relationship, we’re constantly navigating this struggle, and perhaps experiencing grief, each time as we learn that no person can possibly live up to the standard we’ve created. Sometimes people deal with this by only playing in the shallows: casual acquaintances, superficial connections. Other people dive too deep: expecting the impossible from those around them, demanding that they change. Ultimately, we have to learn to respect the other person’s agency, allow them to breathe and be the person they truly are, not the identity we insist on imposing onto them. We are all actually alone on this journey, after all.


How does our behavior change when we presume an environment of abundance instead of scarcity? (SV tech is a good example of this vs. other professional cities/industries)


Existential fiction featuring a trophy wife protagonist as Gregor Samsa


What’s the right balance between giving ppl opportunity, vs. handouts? Serious question. If you focus on removing barriers to entry so, e.g. a developer can “just code” or a founder can focus on “just building their product”, the counterargument seems to use the same logic, which is “a really good developer/founder/etc will find ways around those obstacles on their own”. How much do we expect people to specialize vs. generalize?

For the record, I gravitate towards the former, but I can’t decide why it feels intuitively different from handouts or preferential treatment or quotas or whatever else. I guess bc you’re not giving them the reward, just reducing their obstacles? Is that the dividing line?


(from a friend) Being a server is fun for him, bc your job is just to care. It’s so easy to go slightly beyond the average and make other people ridiculously happy. “Your product is your personality”


How crypto companies might look different from traditional startups:


Context collapse is just another term for high discount rate. When you think your actions don’t matter long term, you’re more willing to act in ways that are reckless and damaging


Distributed programming languages as an analogy for running societies at scale?


Theory: Work is for doubling down on your very best skills. Hobbies are for doing things you’re naturally bad at (but enjoy the process of getting better at), it’s like cross-training for your brain, so you get better at your weakest skills


I think the busiest people make a point not to overschedule their lives bc it’s the only control they have left. Being constantly overscheduled makes you feel out of control, being spontaneous and refusing to overly schedule social stuff gives you control again.


I wonder if college campuses are a metaphor for what happened on the internet. Too many people smooshed into the same room, becoming aware of each other, then provokes outrage, but maybe we’ll actually just all settle down and be fine as we “grow up” together and learn to accept differences (or filter out into our own tribes). Maybe this current stage is just our collective adolescence, the internet’s “Culture Wars”. Maybe we don’t actually need to worry about outrage culture in the long run.


(from a convo with an HKS student) “Zuckerberg is the George Washington of Facebook”

Tech problems are the same as policy problems. It’s about governance, community, people. False dichotomy between “bringing tech to policy” or “bringing policy to tech”, though they have different norms/cultures. Belief for awhile within tech that they could do better than gov’t and avoid bureaucracy, but it turns out at a certain scale, all institutions have problems. There was nothing special about tech. (This is really scary and also true, I think! Tech isn’t actually immune to bureaucracy, it just managed to avoid these problems for 10-20 years bc it was so new). Zuck, as the “George Washington of Facebook”, has to figure this stuff out now just like anyone else.


Theory: black swan startup founders do best when they’re younger (need the wide-eyed optimism, bull-headedness and stamina to believe they can do anything), but black swan writers/researchers/academics do better when they’re older (need more life experience to articulate the world and form coherent theories)


Two kinds of leaders: those who work to become heroes, and those who work to become obsolete


If ancient Greece and Rome serve as the foundation of modern democracy, then software is the foundation of modern technocracy (government by experts, which is more feasible/democratic today than how the term has historically been used)

Software design principles also describe optimal paths for how people self-organize (which one is natural order: gov’t or software? Neither?)


Theory: you only need 1 or 2 competitors to keep an otherwise-monopoly in check. (Ex. Gitlab for GitHub, Lyft for Uber, Google Cloud and Azure for AWS). “Minimum viable competition”? Is that a thing?


Are we always looking for music no one’s ever heard of bc music is so personal and we don’t want to feel that emotional connection towards something that lots of other people also feel? “My emotions are unique”


Infinite use but finite production explains cognitive overload among creators in general (not just OSS devs but even people on a daily basis). Kinda parallels the dynamics of “there are only so many apps you want to own/use regularly”. Information overload


Strive for smaller populations of governance. Not reducing government itself, but the size of populations that can be governed

Membership between populations should be more fluid. Would market dynamics incentivize everyone to do better? Imagine if governments were on a marketplace and had to compete for citizens via their offerings, how would they perform? This is already theoretically somewhat true today, except it’s way/easier harder to leave/enter certain countries. Also, what would it look like to have a fully digital gov’t that competed in an open market along with physical ones? Could it do better?

I assume common critique would be that price goes up for the best governments. If we were able to keep cost of services low, could they compete on price? Would it converge into one monopolistic uber-government?

Curators create “spikes” of new governed populations by virtue of their leadership. They tell us what to pay attention to


Theory: JavaScript might have more staying power than other languages, despite its complexity, bc of the community, willingness to talk and share knowledge and educate. Proliferation of workshops, blog posts, videos, etc. Thesis is that human skills increasingly win over technical advantages in choosing what you want to learn.


Pet peeve: when people cite Linux as a sustainable model for open source. Linux is to open source what Facebook is to startups: fascinating stories, but extreme black swan events. Yet I’m surprised by how often Linux is cited in mainstream conversation. Maybe bc it’s the last big cultural signpost that open source has.

Who is today’s version of Linux/Linus Torvalds? What characteristics will they have? (Or has the game changed entirely, so that this question is irrelevant?)


Social media decentralized the concept of friendships (I guess this is true for dating, too) You used to only be able to make friends based on physical location/connections. And in the early days, internet friends were people you liked but didn’t really meet up with, they were their own separate world. But now you can actually make new, real friends that are location-agnostic. You don’t need updates from your purely physical friend world now. You want updates from your virtualized internet friend world that you hand-picked based on shared interests.


You don’t want to be a “values-driven” company to the point where it distracts from your company’s purpose. You should just be a company with basic standards of decency, excellence, professionalism.

Also, theory: you can only afford to be a mission-driven company in a space that doesn’t have monopolistic competitors. Mission-driven companies with network effects can also last forever…until they get out-innovated. So a friendly organic cosmetics company can theoretically exist in a world with P&G, bc consumers have choices, but couldn’t in a world where there’s only one main choice (ex. Facebook is an imminent threat). Also bc there’s nothing to really acquire in this case, vs. ex. Coca-Cola acquiring Honest Tea for its brand. But Uber wouldn’t acquire Lyft for its brand.


Manic pixie dream girl is the equivalent brand counterpart to fortune cookie pseudo-intellectual on Twitter


Why do wealth and interest in the environment seem to be correlated? John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, etc. (Part of this is just NIMBYism, though, i.e. protecting environment for its aesthetic value) And also developing countries that don’t prioritize the environment at all. Does that make the issue frivolous, or is it just a Maslow hierarchy thing?


Fears around privacy are actually fear of the consequences that come from others knowing your private information. (In other words, we don’t really value privacy for itself, only its implications, i.e. fear of negative repercussions)


For a long time, we assumed FB would just get out-innovated by the next platform, like Friendster or Myspace before it. (Or with GitHub, it’s the threat of SourceForge) But really, the platforms that were created in the last wave are here to stay. And if they’re here to stay, then instead we’re putting down roots. We were ok with it before when we felt like we could “exit” (switch to another platform). Once we realized we couldn’t anymore, now everyone’s freaking out. And in that sense, maybe regulation is the wrong answer to this question bc it legitimizes their power. Technically, we have the “right to fork” and build new platforms (much like revolting and starting a new country), but the energy required to change the system is much higher than it was previously. But still possible.


Problem with UBI: there seems to be this utopian assumption that UBI will give people the power to negotiate, walk away from bad opportunities, etc. UBI might prevent you from starving, but you’re still poor. People still want to save money. They still want to have extra cash. People will still want extra paid work over top of UBI bc most ppl want more $$, status and power. They will still want purpose in life. UBI provides basic services that a society should afford to all its citizens, and it gives opportunity to some ppl who will want to use it to take risks on new ideas. But lots of underestimated cultural externalities, including that it will highlight and exacerbate differences in aptitude. (Much like how the internet connected us a little too much by making us aware of the existence of ppl we don’t like)


Common wisdom is to list the things you’re grateful for (i.e. things others have done for you), but I suspect it also feels good to reflect upon the things you’ve done to cause gratitude in others (i.e. things you’ve done for others)


Why has interest in sensational media stories declined? (ex. cultural touchpoint stories about serial killers, kidnappings, etc) Maybe violence itself declined? But also, I guess sensationalized social media replaced it?


Closing of public spaces = this is something that government and digital platforms are both capable of


Thought experiment: what if monopolies aren’t bad? And the actual question is more “how does everyone get fairly heard” and other adaptations, but not actually breaking up monopolies entirely? Much like conservationism and the belief that we’re supposed to return back to some former state of nature that doesn’t actually exist. What if we’ve assumed this is all bad under classic economic conditions, but under post-capitalism it’s actually the new natural order of things?


Diets as correlated to politics. Vegetarianism (far left) is all about sacrificing bc you’re thinking of others. Paleo (libertarian) is about doing what’s right for you. Individual-centric


We pick different types of media to be obsessed with, ex. movies, TV, music, or books (and relatedly: knowledge). But people are rarely good at keeping up with all of these together, and people who are obsessed with one form vs. another tend to have their own set of behaviors and subculture. Maybe an obsession with ideas/reading is simply yet another form of media, not better or worse than TV (except it does feel more generative?)


“Free speech is not an value in itself, but a critical enabler of critical inquiry” (World After Capital)


Thinking about how many government services could be made digital. There are obvious tasks like registering a business, but other interesting services like emergency response or protection.


Scarcity and how it plays into funding behavior for creators. Patreon hasn’t really changed fundamental dynamics of how creators ask for money or get paid. There are an infinite number of people that you could donate to, that’s why it’s impossible to pick. Patreon, GoFundMe all have this problem.

What would a “reverse Patreon” look like, where patrons, rather than creators, to advertise that they’re funding XYZ opportunities? Patron-centric platform (more like AngelList) Companies don’t usually post on their websites that they’re looking for funding, it’s investors who make themselves known, so why do we expect creators to?

It’s on the source of limited capital - patrons - to hang a sign on the door and advertise that they’re spending. Bc they’re the source of scarcity. There are endless funding opportunities and that makes it stressful/impossible for a funder to distinguish (this is like Nick Szabo’s micropayments and mental transaction costs)


FB doesn’t want to be seen as a utility anymore, even though they are, bc it invites scrutiny. They’d rather be a media company etc. We’re treating lions like mice


Belief that “as long as you have basic infrastructure allowed, you can always set up a website and it won’t be that hard to get your ideas out” seems naive/short-sighted. If a website is up and nobody will index or link do it, does it really exist? Distribution is obviously what matters most. If that site were banned by all social media companies they wouldn’t be able to share their ideas, it’s just as bad as if you could only whisper about it at home.


Although it’s not being framed as such, this is maybe the first time we’re witnessing “libertarianism at scale” as an experiment (via private tech companies as platforms). Bc they’re private companies, but also, essential to the fabric of everyday lives, serving a purpose that gov’t normally would’ve, and also resisting regulation. Parallels with other large-scale historical attempts at new forms of gov’t? Also, for the first time, “the people” being governed is borderless, not tied to any one geography. FB’s constituency is not the United States, even if US regulators come after it, it’s the world.


(from a convo with a friend) “Culture as liturgy”. Why get rid of liturgy in religion? We embrace it everywhere else. It’s not outdated or old-fashioned, it what keeps us closer to God. The mall as an example of cultural liturgy. We’re all chasing novelty, but novelty doesn’t bring us closer to each other. We’re creatures of habit, we’re always remembering and trying to remember.

(Side note: maybe this explains the wave of 90s nostalgia and remakes. It’s not that we ran out of ideas, it that we’re looking for a cultural touchpoint for remembering together)


Mechanics of synesthesia: thinking about how it’s 2018, and remarking that the color of 2018 isn’t going to change much from 2017, because 7 and 8 are such similar colors (8 is just more purplish, but both are very dark).

However. In the number 2000, 2’s color is most prominent, so that the overall number takes on that color. But in 2017, the color of 7 is most prominent, and the overall number takes on that color. That suggests that perhaps the color of a number is intertwined with which aspect of that number I find most significant

So in 2000, the 2 is most important bc it’s telling you how many thousands you have. But in 2017, the 7 is most important bc it tells you which year it is.

To use another example, in the word Nadia, it’s purple overall, but that’s bc N is purple. But A is red (like 2), D is cyan (like 3), I is pale yellow (like 1). None of those colors are visible when we string them together into Nadia, except for N, which is purple. That makes sense bc your first initial is often used to signify your name.