The Cactus And The Weasel

Isaiah Berlin’s division of thinkers into foxes and hedgehogs can be extended usefully by the addition of weasels and cacti — ignoble versions of foxes and hedgehogs respectively. “While foxes and hedgehogs are both capable of changing their minds in meaningful ways, weasels and cacti are not. They represent different forms of degeneracy, where a rich way of thinking collapses into an impoverished way of thinking” (6,543 words)

Deep Play

Thoughts on a new mom-and-pop template for economic development. Sustainable growth requires responsible institutions which constrain behaviour and look to the long-term — the “martinet moms”. But it also requires flashy adventurers focused on short-term gains, who drive innovation — the “deadbeat dads”. The best results come when both parents work together to manage the cycles of disruption and consolidation (3,500 words)

The Mother Of All Disruptions

Humans have relied on natural language for communication and thinking since the dawn of the species. But now there is a rival soft technology: computing. “The difference is that computing can as yet only handle the simpler cases covered by natural language. But it serves those cases much better than natural language”. Is this the biggest technological disruption in world history? Only electricity, as a replacement for fire, comes close (1,360 words)

Truth In Consulting

Consultants are people who understand work but don’t believe in it. They mostly work for clients who don’t really believe in consultants. “Most consulting is bullshit and acknowledged to be as such. Some of it is accidental bullshit offered by consultants who don’t know they are hawking bullshit. More than you might suspect is bullshit explicitly demanded by clients who get very upset if you are not willing to provide it” (3,200 words)

On Thinking Caps

“I’d like a literal thinking cap. A regular baseball hat, but with the look of an orange or yellow construction hard hat. It would say ‘Construction in Progress, Do Not Disturb’ on it. Having to actively keep up an ostentatious facade of activity just to signal that you are occupied can be very distracting. If I had a thinking cap, and such things were culturally normal, I’d probably be wearing it for more than half of my waking hours” (980 words)

The Quality Of Life

It’s about freedom, not things. “A deep truth about the human condition as captured in the Maslow hierarchy is that it is much easier for humans to help each other with acute needs at lower levels of the hierarchy. For all non-acute needs, and acute needs in the upper levels, the only defensible way to help others is to increase their freedom of action. Whether they choose to make themselves happy or miserable with that freedom is up to them” (4,900 words)

America’s Artificial Heartland

“The modern system of retail — distant large-scale production facilities coupled with local human-scale consumption environments — was the first piece of what I’ve come to think of as the ‘American cloud’: the vast industrial back end of our lives that we access via a theatre of manufactured experiences. If distant tea and coffee plantations were the first modern clouds, A&P stores and mail-order catalogues were the first browsers and apps” (3,900 words)

A Beginner’s Guide To Immortality

“Human life is like walking into a movie halfway through, and having to walk out again two minutes later. Your ability to derive satisfaction from your two-minute glimpse will depend partly on your ability to construct meaning out of it. One way to do this is to pretend to be immortal — to approach your limited two-minute glimpse of the movie as though you’ve been watching all along, and as though you might stick around to see how it all ends” (3,618 words)

The Locust Economy

Blog post. “Thinking about locusts and the behavior of customers around services like Groupon, I’ve become convinced that the phrase ‘sharing economy’ is mostly a case of putting lipstick on a pig. What we have here is a locust economy … Locust economies are built around three-way markets: an organiser who efficiently disseminates information about transient local resource surpluses; a locust species in dormant grasshopper mode; and a base for predation that exhibits a scarcity-abundance cycle” (3,562 words)

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