Jokes of the Future
A reflection on our centralized stupidities.
You know that old movie. The one where half the plot would be ridiculous if it were filmed today because now we have cellphones. Since I’ve been eating myself silly over the past few conference, wedding, birthday & Father’s Day meals, I reflected this morning over known unknowns. Three of my six sons (counting nephews and fiances) are trying to lose weight. We gave them all kinds of advice, very little of which found any common ground other than “don’t eat.” So what do we actually know, and what could we actually fix?
The original title of this set of concepts was Edukleptocracy. This is around my suspicion and prejudice against experts. While the massive biography of Mark Twain still sits unopened on my shelf, I presume that the great writer did not amass any sort of advanced degrees. I never hear it mentioned that Dostoyevsky was highly educated, and in either case I don’t care. I simply presume that everyone who excels takes it upon themselves to be dedicated if not obsessed with knowing some universal truth and this is something best taught by that muse, not by institutions. I think on the other hand that institutions are best suited to put a nice jacket around our middle-of-the-bell-curve ordinary Joes. Essentially their treatment effects formalize the processes and terminology of what any of us could eventually learn. Specialized intelligence is thus a simple function of discipline and efficiency. Those of us who are brainy could all do it. If this is not the case then it complicates the premises of democracy as a means towards raising all boats. IE self-rule in an increasingly complicated world is not as straightforward as it should be.
Higher education is ridiculously expensive and inefficient, due to the primary reason that all us middle-class Joes believe our offspring are better than average. So I am skeptical of the positive impact of knowledge explosion. As they say, undergraduate ed just teaches us how to learn as adults, not like children. Unfortunately that’s a lot of learning and teaching and I am gradually becoming convinced a good chunk of us are teaching and learning marginal stuff. This is not anti-intellectual so much as a critique of how the very structure of institutions of higher ed are not dynamic enough. One day in the future, we’ll look back and chuckle at how simply it was reformed and how thick we were in not admitting it sooner. This is a steady theme here in the Stoic Observatory, which is why I call these dark ages.
If all of the above seems overcomplicated and qualified then consider it a generalized application of the principle we learned during the atomic age. Our most brilliant people invented the most awe-inspiring technology, but we only weaponized it. There is essentially nothing democratic in America’s use of atomic energy. Everything that is supposed to help us comes with the warning Don’t Try This At Home. So what the hell is our education for?
Toilet Chemistry Computer
I have had H. pylori for a decade. I got rid of it about 3 weeks ago. I can already sense a difference. We’ve only known about this gut flora for 40 odd years. I’m saying that its riddance has taken care of my undiagnosed lactose intolerance and lowered my blood sugar. It has also changed the consistency of my stool. When I originally discovered this strange infection it owed to a comprehensive physical I asked for when I turned 50. Dr. Tanaka who was a good 30 years my senior at that time put me through a set of examinations I had never had before. It felt like I had been transported back in time to one of the finest physicians in WW2. I’ve also had that sense with an older Chinese woman who worked the tooth scaler in my mouth like a master woodcutter. I could feel their confidence and expertise radiate through me as if I were a lump of clay with great potential if I would only sit still and listen when they finished.
These days it cost X dollars (my Quest Diagnostics receipt is not handy) to diagnose the urea in my breath, which I have been told is much more reliable than Tanaka’s stool sample testing. Amazon sells ultrasonic plaque cavitation devices retail, and Apple promises to be able to check my blood oxygen and blood sugar levels non-invasively over the next few iterations of their electronic watch. I stopped using ketosis strips 18 months ago but I still have a supply.
I expect in the future my toilet will recognize me and some basic client-server interface will be setup on my wifi to keep my doctor and his intelligence systems aware. As those samples aggregate to the millions some things that older physicians can intuit will be backed by data, if only we manage to keep the likes of Elizabeth Holmes at bay.
It turns out that my doctor frightened me with some facts about prostate cancer. He may or may not be perfectly right but he was perfectly honest. Today it’s a coin toss if the early indication is correct, and if it’s too late whether our best treatments actually help. For the time being my PSA numbers are where they should be. Something I can only guess about the accuracy about Dr. Tanaka’s finger.
Everybody can load software onto their computers but it takes a special kind of competence to put together a secure private network insuring that all of your pals stay upgraded and clean. My own pals and I collectively have over 100 years of IT experience and we still can’t figure out how to assemble a minimally expensive music sharing service. Some of the blockchain tech out there as well as some cloud stuff out there could easily pull Spotify’s valuation down a peg or two, but the business models and the legal capture have us all at a disadvantage today.
Part of the difficulty with open source software is the ragged complexity of its installation and maintenance. There are services that do well for a single function simple application. Mac heads love homebrew for this reason. Beyond single applications toward networked ones software like Zerotier start to make sense. Managing apps over such networks is tougher. I’d imagine there are some Dark Web fixes, but I’d rather not deal with such devils. Maybe I could get out to SchmooCon and find someone to trust. But for the majority of us, we’re stuck practically renting the entirety of our compute hardware, especially smartphone kids. Don’t get me started.
One day we should be able to buy reasonably easy and trustworthy systems that are minimally intrusive and not just another economic scheme to convert our frustrated attention into expensive real-estate for startup CEOs. This is the promise of decentralized information technology and open source standards. Yet here we are in 2022 and the overwhelming majority of us are still using Microsoft Windows, three decades after the introduction of Linux.
Freeman Dyson was one of our greatest minds, but I’ve only read one of his books entitled Infinite in All Directions. Some years later he was interviewed by Wired Magazine and described a world very different from the one we are addicted to. The key difference in this world was the decentralization of energy and chemical production. It started with one simple premise I think remains very true to human nature - an evolutionary observation that we would prefer to live in small villages rather than in big cities.
The joke of the future is that given bioengineering and local pocket nukes, we wouldn’t have traffic jams or overcrowding. The transportation industry would be halved because we wouldn’t be distributing petroleum products for energy by truck and rail. Every village could grow their own biofuels for things electricity is not suited for, like heating. Then again, when you halve the transportation industry, you don’t need so much fuel in the first place.
The alienation of cities would be reduced given that people could have more choices to live where they choose. No longer would one have to choose between neighborhoods where police are overextended vs calm. No longer would there need to be special environmental zoning controls on centralized power plants and refineries.
In many ways these benefits are self-evident in the way certain people with virtually infinite budgets for their lifestyles setup their living arrangements. Why exactly is Beverly Hills a better place to live than Compton? Why exactly are the boonies not admirable? Why not live on Lake Tahoe? What exactly must we rely on that is structurally centralized and cannot be decentralized? This is a very large and open-ended area for consideration, and I do put a lot of store in it. Know that I don’t give a lot of credibility to conspiracy theories, but it could be said that there is a conspiracy towards centralization and monopoly power which is nothing more than the lazy and self-serving thinking of the Genius class. We can do better because by and large the ultra-wealthy do not constrain the wealthy.
“You can and should do this at home” is to me the siren call of democracy and self-determination. I think all of us science-minded folks figured it out early. For me it was building a crystal radio. For you it might have been assembling a Visible V8, or maybe doing Bernoulli’s experiment with a candle and inverted mason jar in water. Maybe it was building a scale model, or figuring out how to poach an egg or dress a chicken.
12 years and 17 million views later, our public schools are pretty much the same, but the time now spent on cellphones for those children has accelerated. What content have we made for them that helps? Or are we in the present too fixed in place and afraid of becoming a joke?