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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces




I have a couple of friends who (like my other friend below, who is also not made up) are very irritated by the non-stop AI/GPT coverage. I’m really intrigued by the hard and somewhat arbitrary line between those — like me, I admit — who are just endlessly fascinated by all its developments, and those who can’t bear or understand any part of it.

One said, paraphrasing, that it was really the ridiculous level of hype and investment that could go on important things: local university AI labs, and smart cities, and stupid business plans, and bad social media algorithms, and endless snake oil, and so on. That makes complete sense to me! I’ve just, over time, complete compartmentalized that apart from what I see as the compelling, transformative parts. I have much training in this, having lived through the dotcom boom, the blogging boom, the twitter revolution boom, and the crypto boom: constantly panning for gold in Eldorado’s rivers of shit.

The other was more intriguing: they just couldn’t bear the discourse, because they had ideas on it, and they needed to focus on other things. It was too attractive a solution, but fixing it was not their job, their job was elsewhere. This, too, I sympathize with: whatever this is, it still needs to fit in with all the other work we do, and just because it’s cat-nip for a certain kind of brain, doesn’t mean those brains couldn’t also be put to work attending to other pressing challenges.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but when I first saw things that I had a baroque interest in suddenly turn into the wider world’s obsession and most lucrative industries — primarily computers and nerd culture — I believed that i had seen them first out of some profound predictive insight. It was only after a while that I realized that, no, I was just part of cohort of privileged people whose tastes were aligned, and who would then, over time, go on to pursue those tastes, with plenty of investment and support from other, near identical, people. Who they would then sell all this stuff to. I wasn’t different: I was just the same as every other white boy.

I don’t want to exaggerate this — you can whip up a culture out of nothing but the collective delusions of a privileged class, but it’s near impossible to craft it and maintain it without some connection to reality. Marvel movies exist because a middle-class generation of my age liked those comics, and went into the film business with that sensibility. But Stan Lee had to have built that on some fundamental narrative truths.

Separating that true component, the point at which the spirit of the age touches the eternal verities, from all the bullshit, is a skill. It’s a less marketable skill than you think, because, once again, you’re just one person recognizing the popular delusions of your own cohort: and the real money is in the popularity, not separating the delusions fro the ground. I have to keep remembering this: we don’t prophesy, we herd. We make the future, but we make it out of the things close at hand, using the opportunities and wealth the past handed us.

(542 words)

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.