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THOUGHTS IN PROGRESS

People want to be lumped in with the group they belong to when it comes to positive deeds and qualities of their members. But they want others to see them as individuals when it comes to negative deeds and qualities. And, when they think about their opponents, they reverse these processes.

When you form an ideological group, the impact is greater than the sum of its parts. So, it is tempting to form a group, but if a significantly negative event were to be associated with the group, even the innocent members are negatively impacted by it.

In other words, under positive circumstances, you as an individual can gain more from forming a group than acting independently. But under negative circumstances, you as an individual can lose more from forming a group than acting independently. That is, the net gain of forming an ideological group is zero.

“Be yourself” implies that you should know who you are. When you are young, you don’t know who you are yet. So, you need to try acting like other people, like trying on a bunch of different jeans. Eventually, you will settle into one that feels right for you. I’m not sure if “be yourself” is a good piece of advice to young people. It’s an ideal incorrectly presented as a solution.

Someone who is tall, big, and strong is great when he is standing in front of you protecting you from enemies. But not so great if he turns around to confront you. You can’t conveniently love just one side of someone.

How to Make Art

Before you walk into a gallery, close your eyes for a minute and imagine that your net worth is about 25 million dollars, and have about 500k in liquid assets, and you make, say, a million dollars a year. Imagine a large apartment with a bunch of walls. They look cold and empty. Your rich friends are coming over for a Christmas party in a few weeks. You have a few hundred grand in cash that is earning virtually zero interest. What a waste; you need to do something with that money...

Open your eyes. Now you can see everything from the point of view of your audience. Now go back to your studio and start making some art.

(Not necessary if you are a musician, writer, or filmmaker.)

The Internet as a medium allows the media to construct a story out of real events, and disseminate it at an unprecedented speed in order to arouse the maximum possible emotions in the masses. Journalists craft these stories in such a way that the real events and people function merely as the targets at which the masses can release their own suppressed emotions. They only care about the facts that support their own narratives; the rest are ignored. They are just convenient devices with which the masses write their own narratives in order to justify releasing their anger and frustration, or to arouse a sense of unity/bonding (which allows them to exalt their own identity and power).

The people involved in these events are essentially used as “MacGuffins” in the sense that Alfred Hitchcock used the term. It’s “a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story”, especially at the beginning of the story, but the audience ultimately do not care about it and forget about it by the end of the story.

In the news media, the masses are the characters in their own narratives with the journalists using real humans as MacGuffins. The masses do not care to know the details of these people and their circumstances because they are just storytelling devices to be forgotten in the end. The masses need these devices to write their own narratives which give them an excuse to unite with their own feelings that are normally suppressed out of the need to conform to their day-to-day reality.

If you are ever involved in an incident that has the potential to become a powerful story for the masses, it would be wise to keep the media away from you as far as possible. You shouldn’t even seek sympathy because the media does not care whether your story is sad, angry, or happy. They are just looking to turn you into a MacGuffin. They’ll cherry-pick the facts and truths to fit the narrative they want, and discard you when the story loses traction.

DETROPIA is technically a documentary film but it succeeds in going beyond the genre/category. Typically in storytelling, it’s the plot that carries the story, but in this film it’s the cinematography, sound, and music that carries the story. These visual and audio elements were freed from the restrictions that the plot would otherwise enforce, and were collaged to achieve the maximum aesthetic impact as opposed to intellectual impact. This technique allows us to see the controversial topic with a certain sense of detachment. It makes us reflect on what it means to struggle in life. The politics is used merely as a storytelling device. The ultimate point of the film isn’t to educate or inform us. It gives us an aesthetic experience. The hypnotic and captivating sequences of this film make us want to watch it repeatedly, like a sublime piece of music.

Ultimately, I think the idea of saving energy would be too abstract for the average consumers. Even before hybrids, if people were actually interested in saving energy, they could have bought cars with lower horsepower that would have given them better mileage, but instead, they were drawn to cars with bigger horsepower that they don’t even need. It was the gas price that affected their behavior, not their desire to save energy. (There was an NPR podcast about this.)

I think in the end, it’s the price expectation that determines the energy usage, and people will end up adjusting their lives to consume as much energy as the price they are willing to pay for it. It’s like eating as much as we can eat without having to buy pants with a larger waist size. Our decisions on what to eat is not based on what we need to eat.

As soon as faster computers are introduced into the market, app developers figure out how to make use of the increased speed. Likewise, as soon as more energy-efficient devices are introduced to the market, engineers will come up with ideas that would use up the saved energy. I believe what sets the waist size in this case is the consumer price expectations.

On another NPR podcast, I heard about the reason why controlling our own weight is so difficult: Because there is no immediate feedback. To control anything, we need to be able to see the cause and effect quickly and easily. The problem with saving energy is that we can see how we save money, but we can’t see what saving energy actually does. So, if we take money out of the equation, why we want to save energy becomes too abstract.

Controlling our own weight is hard because the feedback cycle is very slow, but at least the result is quite visible. This problem is even more difficult when it comes to eating healthy. We might not see the effect of it for decades, if ever. The ideology of saving energy is almost as abstract as that. So, if conserving our natural resources or protecting our environment is our ultimate concern/cause, we need to provide a better way to see the cause and effect for the individual consumers. And, we need to do so in a way that makes individual contribution public. Most people chose Prius over other hybrids because it clearly communicated their ideology to the public through their unique design.

“Quiet” by Susan Cain will probably go down in my personal history as one of the most pragmatically influential books I’ve read. With this book, Cain has launched a campaign to fight against the prejudice that is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even recognize it as a prejudice. Extraversion is considered so superior to introversion that the latter is pathologized in our culture. Not only in our corporate culture but even at schools, we are relentlessly pressured to socialize. If a kid would rather read a book by herself in the corner when other kids are playing together, she is considered antisocial. If you would rather go home and listen to music alone instead of going out drinking with your coworkers after work, you are considered antisocial too. But this particular interpretation of socialization is based on extraverts’ style of socializing, and our culture fails to see that introverts have a different way of socializing—it’s not that they hate people. Trying to cure them of their introversion will actually make them ill, like trying to “cure” gay people.

One highly successful introverted salesman interviewed in this book said: “I discovered early on that people don’t buy from me because they understand what I’m selling. They buy because they feel understood.” If you want people to feel understood, you need to listen, not talk. This is one of many advantages of introversion that we overlook in our culture because we so blindly worship extroverts. Introverts are forced to learn the ways of extroverts but most extroverts do not bother learning the ways of introverts because they think extroversion is superior. But when some extroverts do respect and appreciate the ways of introverts, tremendous successes can be achieved like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did.

The Kindle version of this book is only $2.99. I highly recommend it.

When trying to find what you love, if you focus on the end results, your options would be severely limited because you would think of the most obvious manifestations of what you love, like painting, novel, film, music, etc.. Focus on finding the PROCESS you love, a lot more options open up. Besides, just because you love the end results, it doesn’t mean you love the process. No matter what you choose to do, most of your time would be spent on the PROCESS. The end results would just give you fleeting happiness.

It would be interesting to measure the economic effect of bluntness. I would imagine that two people who are both naturally blunt conducting business together is more efficient than two people who are sensitive about each other’s feelings.  For the latter group, it is more time-consuming to negotiate anything. The idea would be to measure how long it takes for these two groups to negotiate contracts and get something done.

In Game Theory (I read somewhere), trusting a stranger by default is a more efficient way to succeed, but the caveat is that this is true only in a community of similarly trusting people. The trust-by-default strategy doesn’t work in a community where the majority distrust one another by default.

I think the same would hold true with bluntness; it would work only in a community of people who mutually respect/value bluntness. (The startup community is very much like this where they are constantly trying to circumvent people’s tendencies to lie to protect feelings in order to get at the truth about the market and their own ideas.)

I also heard that someone actually measured how long it takes to compose a typical business letter in Japanese versus English, and showed that it takes significantly more time to do so in Japanese (although this was before the advancement in character input technologies). This means the Japanese are inherently handicapped by their own language. If it takes 1.5 times longer, it literally means it costs 1.5 time more money to get the same task done just because of the inefficiency of the language. Collectively, it’s a massive amount of money being wasted for it.

I also think that women are handicapped in a similar way because they have been socialized to be more sensitive to other people’s feelings. When a woman is blunt, our society tends to see her as acting like a man.

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