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Rabbit Holes 🕳 #18
From slouching towards utopia to AI envisioning cities in 2100, the tyranny of time, and the disappearance of color
Rabbit Holes 🕳
Five perspective-shifting 🤯 ideas that I’ve come across lately:
🤔 Slouching Towards Utopia?
Reading Nathan Baschez’ book review of Slouching Towards Utopia emphasizes a feeling and point that Nathan had when reading the book, and that I have, reading his book review: “something new is around the corner”.
“Slouching Towards Utopia […] does what all the best nonfiction books do: change the way you understand the world around you.”
“For me [Nathan Baschez], the most important thing the book did was help me understand a feeling I’ve had since around 2010—this turns out to be an important year for DeLong—that human progress is faltering. In this time, stock valuations went wild, but real GDP growth stagnated. One big social revolt after another has unfolded, in every part of the globe, with no signs of stopping. Depopulation is coming for many of the world’s largest economies. Climate change is no longer theoretical. It’s to the point where Timothée Chalamet is promoting his movies by saying stuff like “societal collapse is in the air.”
“Slouching Towards Utopia explains why the rate of progress shot dramatically upward 152 years ago (an oddly specific number, I know, but DeLong claims human history changed dramatically around the year 1870), and then began to slow down and enter uncertain territory around 2010. He calls this span of time from 1870 to 2010 “the long twentieth century.”
“Three big forces came online around 1870 to produce incredible growth that reshaped the world and created the anthropocene. They are:
Industrial research labs
The modern corporation
Without organized research programs, innovation came accidentally and inefficiently. Without corporations to deploy the new technology at scale, inventions remained a curiosity or a proof of concept. And without global trade and communication, they would only have local impact.”
“[…] my favorite thing about Slouching Towards Utopia was that it helped me frame the fuzzy feelings I had about how the world seems to be struggling: the market is the engine of economic progress, but we are increasingly unable to point it towards humane ends.”
“The thing I’m thinking about now is perhaps something new is around the corner. Perhaps we are in a new version of the period of time just before 1870, where all the ingredients were in place for a completely transformed world, but they just needed to be put together.”
“It makes me think about the internet, and how young it is. It makes me think of new forms of human organization and culture that are just beginning to emerge. […] To me the most exciting thing is not any single innovation, it’s the meta-innovations like ‘the modern corporation’ and ‘the industrial research lab’ from 1870 that are the keys to unlocking many other innovations.”
“Are we on the cusp of discovering new structures like these that could take us even further? What would happen if we deliberately tried to find them?”
🌆 What Our Cities Might Look Like in 2100
“A picture is worth a thousand words”, which is why I wanted to share with you these mind-blowing AI-generated images of how our cities might look like in the future if we’d keep business-as-usual.
“Green energy experts at USwitch have used artificial intelligence (AI) to visualize what the world could look like in 2100. The team used Midjourney, an AI software that creates images from text descriptions, to visually depict the best- and worst-case scenarios for how 20 famous places across the globe could look in the next 80 years. These places included Amsterdam, London, New York, Tokyo, Toronto and more.”
“The USwitch team collaborated with Professor Sam Fankhauser, Research Director of Oxford University Net Zero, to analyze emission data from various industries to understand how all countries can reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
[…] They also used the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to identify how climate change will impact each country. From these findings, it was found that some of the top threats to famous cities include extreme levels of pollution, severe floods and increasing temperatures that consequently give rise to wildfires or droughts.”
🕒 The Tyranny Of Time
This links well to last week’s ‘Rapid-Growth-Capitalism-Time’.
With time and the clock, humans aim to rule over nature and drive efficiency gains. But this devotion to time has deattached us from the actual rhythms of nature.
“[Kevin] Birth is one of a growing chorus of philosophers, social scientists, authors and artists who, for various reasons, are arguing that we need to urgently reassess our relationship with the clock. The clock, they say, does not measure time; it produces it.”
“‘Coordinated time is a mathematical construct, not the measure of a specific phenomenon,’ Birth wrote in his book ‘Objects of Time.’ That mathematical construct has been shaped over centuries by science, yes, but also power, religion, capitalism and colonialism. The clock is extremely useful as a social tool that helps us coordinate ourselves around the things we care about, but it is also deeply politically charged. And like anything political, it benefits some, marginalizes others and blinds us from a true understanding of what is really going on.”
“The more we synchronize ourselves with the time in clocks, the more we fall out of sync with our own bodies and the world around us.”
“In the natural world, the movement of ‘hours’ or ‘weeks’ do not matter. Thus the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the sudden extinction of species that have lived on Earth for millions of years, the rapid spread of viruses, the pollution of our soil and water — the true impact of all of this is beyond our realm of understanding because of our devotion to a scale of time and activity relevant to nothing except humans.”
“For thousands of years, most human societies have accepted and moved in harmony with the irregular rhythms of nature, using the sun, moon and stars to understand the passage of time. One of the most common early timekeeping devices, sundials (or shadow clocks), reflected this: The hours of the day were not of fixed 60-minute lengths, but variable. Hours were longer or shorter as they waxed and waned in accordance with the Earth’s orbit, making the days feel shorter in the winter and longer in the summer. These clocks didn’t determine the hours, minutes and seconds themselves, they simply mirrored their surrounding environment and told you where you were within the cyclical rhythms of nature.”
“But since the 14th century, we’ve gradually been turning our backs on nature and calculating our sense of time via manmade devices.”
🤳 Normal People Don’t Post On Social Media
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🍭 Is Color Disappearing From The World?
This one links back to my ‘Visualizing Minimalist Design’ post and thereby further underlines the case I made back then: Design has become mass user-centered, driven by rules of optimization and efficiency.
“In showrooms and living rooms, and on highways and runways, the message is clear: color is out. In our age of minimalism and monochrome, a neutral palette seems to have infiltrated all corners of design—but what does it all mean?”
“But is color actually disappearing? According to anthropologist Dr. Nicole Truesdell, it really depends on where you look, because color is still thriving outside of the Western countries […].”
“Riccardo Falcinelli, an Italian designer and author of ‘Chromorama,’ a bible on the history of color, thinks the main reason for the West’s move towards the gray is for some silence from ‘visual noise’—the brightened barrage of marketing that fights for our attention through packaging, billboards, and screens. ‘A colorful world is no longer something new. It’s something commercial,’ he says. ‘In the same way that we criticize consumerism, we criticize too many colors.’
“Segalovich has looked specifically at how this minimalist and colorless design style shows up in coffee shops. On her TikTok, she shows images of the colorful coffee shops created by locals for their own community that are less common now, often replaced by coffee shops that function more as glorified co-working spaces. ‘All of this goes along with an obsession with streamlining: cutting the ‘unnecessary’ color and ornament for an aesthetic of optimization. There’s this idea that the most minimal thing will deliver the most benefits the quickest,’ she says.”
“The more muted tones are also a reflection of the state of the world right now. On top of the climate emergency, the cost of living is incredibly high, politics across Europe are shifting to the right, and there is a war in Ukraine with a growing nuclear threat. ‘This is not a magenta period,’ says Falcinelli. ‘If you go on Netflix, there’s a lot of black and dark colors on the posters. A lot of the series take place during the night or while it is raining. I think it is not just a matter of style. We are living in a period of crisis, not a Technicolor period. While if you looked at the Hollywood posters of the ’50s you had a lot of colors. It was a much more optimistic period postwar.’”
That’s for this week!