Takeaways from today’s Unfinished Live 2022 talks at The Shed

I virtually attended a conference today. Everything about the future of tech/engagement/IP/civil discourse/art/literature/hacking/etc. Cool stuff.

Here are some preliminary takeaways:

1. The role of red teams:
A red team is a group of people who play devil’s advocate in order to secure feedback. We all have blind spots. I’m autistic and we’re excellent at pointing out blindspots because we can see the whole chessboard. We see patterns other people don’t. We can forecast based on these patterns. Your blindspots are our home bases.

Here’s a sort of quote from one of the speakers:
“Everyone has blind spots. The question is what does this show me and what does it leave out. You always have to b aware that if you are using a scientific perspective that you are leaving things out. We need people to develop conflicting viewpoints. It’s not only hard, but hazardous. You put yourself in harm’s way if you live with conflicting viewpoint. You might even lose your mind for a while. This is how artists live. Everyone needs to develop this. Without it, we don’t have much of a chance.”

As a creative and a lawyer and someone who had a front row seat to the tech revolution of the late 90’s and 2000’s, I can see what others can’t. I have a multidisciplinary approach to contextualize history and what might come. This is invaluable. Put me at a table with entrepreneurs and my questions are precise, detailed and clarifying.

2. The noise of social media:
“The Internet is five giant website filled with screenshots from the other four.”

Yup.

I’ve stopped engaging with memes and tweets and Reddit screen caps for the most part. One in and of itself steals 15 second. But 100 steal 25 minutes minimum. Most of them are lackluster or repetitive. When we repost them, we’re not really being creative or informative. We’re signaling to like-minded folk.

You see one, you identify with it, you send it to someone else. It usually ends there. There’s no transformation. No addition to the discourse. Even cumulatively, as a body of work, there’s little expressive value to compendiums of these reposts.

We’re stealing each other’s focus, time, enegy, and dopamine over mostly irrelevant things. This is substituting for actual connection. And, sure, it’s great when the world is burning and we’re burned out. But the world was always burning. And we’re contributing to each other’s burnout by participating in this exchange and calling it community.

3. Writers as cognitive dissonance experts:
“Literature is one of the monastic arts. Literature is a study of shadows. It is a habit of shadows. If science studies the speed of light. Literature studies the speed of shadows.

We don’t have a good sense of the void. Of the length of our shadows as the light gets brighter and brighter.

You’re not going to publish a paper. We’re seeing things that are not within the scope of science or in the realm of reason. But reason is overvalued. It has older cousins. Literature is amid older cousin of science. And literature can deal with things that are manifestly wrong, that have ben disproven, but none the less have value.

We are concerned with the faraway past and the faraway future.”

–Benjamin Labatut

This resonated with me because I have different perspective on the world than neurotypical people. The things I see and point out tend to make me unpopular and also a sort of cult leader figure at the same time. The majority tend to be appalled at outsider comments. We’re here to hold up a mirror to society. To break not only idols but delusions and adherence to rational knowledge. We are necessary.

Want to know what it’s like to fight the rational world? Be autistic with all its co-morbidities. You will be told again and again by practitioners of applied science that what you are and everything you experience is “NOT POSSIBLE.” You will be misdiagnosed. Misunderstood. Called a heretic. A lunatic.

But what you are is a disrupter. And you are necessary. As necessary any creator.

4. The problem with nihilism:

“If you tear everything down without offering a plausible alternative, you create a power vacuum. And someone will always be ready to enter that vacuum.”

Pia Mancini

It’s easy to become disillusioned. People like to tear things down for their own ego and their righteousness, which in most cases is the same thing. But how do you build a thing up? Prudence is invaluable.

Pia also talked about something that we all know now…the optimism of technology without seeing the B side. The business model of Twitter was not there to allow for civic debate and discourse. Instead it rewards inflammatory language for going viral.

5. Lots of de-centering American values:
There were several speakers who talked about decentering American liberation values of free speech. I love this. Americans are very good at presuming that their way is the best way. The only way. As if our national religion weren’t capitalism. Here’s something. wrote a year ago on the topic:

If you’re American, at some point in your primary education you were probably introduced to the concept of the “marketplace of ideas.” Basically, you were told that in America we prize free speech so much that we protect it all and let the good ideas float to the top on merit and the untruths sink to the bottom.

So we protect all kinds of speech. Even the Holocaust deniers because we figure people are smart enough to discern truth from lies.

But when you think about it, OF COURSE Americans would believe in a capitalist structure when it comes to truth because that is our religious viewpoint. Capitalism and apple pie. We are individualists who put the onus on the individual to act righteously and sensibly. And when an individual doesn’t act that way, we hang them out to dry for their foolishness. We laugh at them and mock them. Because God favors the righteous and anyone who doesn’t win is a LOSER in God’s eyes.

Market theory assumes a lot, including that consumers have all the available information. But we know people act irrationally in markets. We know that markets in the real world have to be regulated because they are imperfect.

Same goes for speech. We know that people don’t have access to all the information. In fact, Republicans defund education for this specific purpose. So why would we believe that the truth will, on its own, rise above the lies?

I know everyone’s getting a kick out of hypocrites catching Covid. It’s cathartic. And it’s easy to say, “Fuck ‘em. If they’re selfish and stupid enough to use horse dewormer then they deserve to die.”

But that’s just more capitalist-minded, individualistic, Ayn Rand bullshit. If we are failing to win over hearts and minds with our messages, then we have to do better about 1. how and to whom we reach out and 2. regulating speech.

I’m no expert these things, but I have one idea. If Texas can pass a law that allows any private citizen to sue any abortion provider for $10k to get around Roe v. Wade right to privacy protection, why doesn’t New York pass a law that makes Covid misinformation illegal and allows any private citizen to sue any provider of misinformation related to Covid for $10k? And anyone who assists in the dissemination of misinformation?

6. Picking teams:
“We are in something akin to a feudal society where you pick your warlord to defend you from the bandits. But if the mercenaries choose to switch teams, your fortress becomes your prison.”

This was in reference to the protection of the private enterprise from other enterprises. Right now there’s not enough oversight on how our data is used or our security. We have Apple doing a better job than Android. And there’s a question of do we want to hand the reins to private enterprise or public institution to protect us from those who would most certainly hurt us. Lawrence Lessig was my intro to this concept with his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace back in 1999.

What a great conference. And…it was free.

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