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Mentioned in Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.


I sort of read this in two stages. First in July 2022, then I took a long break and then at the end in 2023. I didn’t really get what the author talked about in the first stage, but on the later read I understood it. Maybe the ladder part is easier to understand, maybe I just had more to connect this to.

So it took me some time to get into the book. It feels academic in style but is also very dry and witty.

As someone who works in the tech-industry, the idea that “tech” doesn’t solve everything and can make things worse is counter-intuitive. I love a good technological fix, enjoy logging data and value willpower. The idea that tech fixes sometimes simply address the symptoms and infuse economics thinking into areas where it doesn’t belong has been important.

I want to keep in mind how I can design not just for psychology and usuability but for politics, philosophy and theology.


  • Twitter, or Google, aren’t a “mirror”. This is a handy metaphor to rid yourself of responsibility, insisting to merely “reflecting” the user. Instead an “engine” is more apt. Twitter’s algorithm decides, on undisclosed metrics, when a topic Trends and when it doesn’t. That topic then is propelled to gather national and international attention.

A study by a team of Scandinavian researchers that aimed to review all academic articles about innovation published since the 1960s found that of all the studies under examination—thousands of them—only twenty-six articles addressed the negative or undesirable consequences of innovation. This is roughly 1 per 1,000 articles, a proportion that hasn’t changed since the 1960s. Overlooked statistics like this reveal the “pro-innovation bias” of most academic literature on the subject. Relates to AI Alignment MOC and Effective Altruism’s ideas on technological risks being neglected


question both the means and the ends of Silicon Valley’s latest quest to “solve problems.” — location: 161

quest to fit us all into a digital straightjacket by promoting efficiency, transparency, certitude, and perfection—and, by extension, eliminating their evil twins of friction, opacity, ambiguity, and imperfection—will prove to be prohibitively expensive in the long run. — location: 166

Imperfection, ambiguity, opacity, disorder, and the opportunity to err, to sin, to do the wrong thing: all of these are constitutive of human freedom, and any concentrated attempt to root them out will root out that freedom as well. — location: 172

public lives—much like in our computer systems—not all bugs are bugs; some bugs are features. — location: 188

Google relies on GPS-enabled Android phones to generate live information about traffic conditions: once you start using its map and disclose your location, Google knows where you are and how fast you are moving. — location: 265

Recasting all complex social situations either as neatly defined problems with definite, computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be easily optimized—if only the right algorithms are in place!—this quest is likely to have unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage than the problems they seek to address. — location: 276

Michael Dobbins has it right: solutionism presumes rather than investigates the problems that it is trying to solve, reaching “for the answer before the questions have been fully asked.” — location: 283

what many solutionists presume to be “problems” in need of solving are not problems at all; — location: 288

the inefficiency, ambiguity, and opacity—whether in politics or everyday life—that the newly empowered geeks and solutionists are rallying against are not in any sense problematic. Quite the opposite: these vices are often virtues in disguise. — location: 289

The Rhetoric of Reaction, Hirschman argued that all progressive reforms usually attract conservative criticisms that build on one of the following three themes: perversity (whereby the proposed intervention only worsens the problem at hand), futility (whereby the intervention yields no results whatsoever), and jeopardy (where the intervention threatens to undermine some previous, hard-earned accomplishment). — location: 295

Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.” — location: 332

Here is modernity in a nutshell: We are left with possibly better food but without the joy of cooking. — location: 370

For technology truly to augment reality, its designers and engineers should get a better idea of the complex practices that our reality is composed of. — location: 416

To reject solutionism is to transcend the narrow-minded rationalistic mind-set that recasts every instance of an efficiency deficit—like the lack of perfect, comprehensive instructions in the kitchen—as an obstacle that needs to be overcome. — location: 419

Instead of debating the merits of individual technologies and crafting appropriate policies and regulations, we have all but surrendered to catchall terms like “the Internet,” — location: 482

“All too many U.S. lawmakers are barely beyond the stage of thinking that the Internet is a collection of tubes; do we really want these guys to tell Facebook or any other social media company how to run its business?” — location: 486

“The Internet” is holy—so holy that it lies beyond the means of democratic representation. — location: 488

Once part of “the Internet,” any technology loses its history and intellectual autonomy. — location: 490

These are not “inherent” properties of “the Net”; these companies have chosen to do these things—perhaps for business reasons or out of sheer arrogance and self-confidence—but they could have easily chosen otherwise. — location: 529

As long as Internet-centrism rules supreme, our technological debate will remain lazy, shallow, and unproductive: — location: 544

It’s here to stay—and we’d better work around it, discover its real nature, accept its features as given, learn its lessons, and refurbish our world accordingly. If it sounds like a religion, it’s because it is. — location: 583

Google’s Eric Schmidt, for example, says that “policymakers should work with the grain of the Internet rather than against it,” — location: 585

How did we reach a point where “the Internet” is presumed to develop according to laws as firm and natural as those of gravity? — location: 610

likely to be campaign-and issue-driven films in the tradition of Super Size Me or An Inconvenient Truth. — location: 666

some films have significant start-up costs (think drama documentaries or history movies) or involve considerable legal risks that may be hard to price and account for. — location: 669

Both of these arguments show the danger of viewing the nimble and crowd-powered Kickstarter as an alternative (rather than a supplement!) to the behemoth that is the BBC, — location: 673

to claim that Apple—one of Zittrain’s culprits—is bad for innovation because it’s bad for “the Internet” is like claiming that “the Internet” is bad for innovation because it’s bad for the telephone. — location: 743

it might have been bad for the telephone—but when did the preservation of the telephone become a lofty social goal? — location: 744

there is a reason why real clubs don’t preach the ideology of radical openness: it spoils the clubbing experience. — location: 769

to believe one is living in truly exceptional times—an intellectual fallacy I call “epochalism.” — location: 799

“The Internet” is not a cause of networked knowledge; it is its consequence—an insight lost on most Internet theorists. — location: 847

“the Internet” can always be invoked to provide a quick and easy (and invariably wrong) explanation. — location: 866

Only by papering over and suppressing such history can we see “the Internet” as unique and exotic. — location: 965

any declaration of yet another technological revolution must meet two criteria: first, it needs to be cognizant of what has happened and been said before, so that the trend it’s claiming as unique is in fact unique; second, it ought to master the contemporary landscape in its entirety—it can’t just cherry-pick facts to suit its thesis. — location: 971

very few of the contemporary declarations about the profound revolutionary impact of “the Internet” would survive close scrutiny. — location: 974

subtle accounts that seek to acknowledge important changes without falling into the epochalist mode are very hard to find in Internet studies. — location: 1016

label old activities as new, — location: 1019

historian Marshall Poe puts it: “It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the Internet is a post office, newsstand, video store, shopping mall, game arcade, reference room, record outlet, adult book shop and casino rolled into one. Let’s be honest: that’s amazing. But it’s amazing in the same way a dishwasher is amazing—it enables you to do something you have always done a little easier than before.” — location: 1045

instead of placing technology outside society, we can study how technology and society shaped each other, — location: 1142

“the Internet”—which is really an account of the presumed social effects of “Internet culture” — location: 1148

The post office was conceived of as a monopoly, and it’s been extremely successful in its mission. — location: 1227

That monopoly, however, was conducive to free expression because of the policies Congress adopted, which subsidized the circulation of newspapers irrespective of their viewpoint and spread postal service throughout the country.” — location: 1229

stop conflating physical networks with the ideologies that run through them. — location: 1365

We should not be presenting those ideologies as inevitable and natural products of these physical networks — location: 1366

we need to learn how to engage in narrow, empirically grounded arguments about the individual technologies and platforms that compose “the Internet.” — location: 1368

many of his other concerns—especially the possibility that citizens might draw incorrect inferences from the political information they encounter online—do overlap with those related to highlighting and shading, even though he never actually uses those terms. — location: 1494

This, I argue, is the root of the delusion: “the Internet” that can be all but shattered by a trivial change on a website in Argentina is not worth defending; it’s a myth—and quite a damaging myth at that. — location: 1559

When Transparency Hurts — location: 1561

“the ‘right’ varieties of transparency are valued because they are believed to contribute, for example, to effective, accountable, and legitimate government and to promoting fairness in society.” This means, among other things, that there are also “wrong” varieties of transparency, which might lead to populism, thwart deliberation, and increase discrimination. — location: 1568

2008 study compared levels of dissent voiced before and after the new transparency requirements and found that “Fed policymakers appear to have responded to the decision to publish meeting transcripts by voicing less dissent” — location: 1581

may actually undermine honest debate about policy. — location: 1584

In O’Neill’s view, fostering trust is a much more important public objective than fostering transparency, — location: 1603

we should do it not because we value transparency (or, for that matter, opacity) as such but because transparency promotes or undermines other, higher goods. — location: 1610

transparency theory takes the form of a classic, linear model of communication that posits a simple process of information transmission from a source to an intended audience via the medium of a message.” — location: 1702

The flawless and perfect communication process assumed by cybernetics simply doesn’t exist. — location: 1709

information reductionism — location: 1710

we will end up with extremely confused policy making that treats contingent and fluid phenomena (which, of course, might be worth defending) as permanent and natural fixtures of the environment. — location: 1797

Take maps that visualize crime statistics across different neighborhoods; — location: 1885

11 percent of respondents claimed to have seen an incident but chose not to report it, worried that higher crime statistics for their neighborhood would significantly reduce the value of their properties. — location: 1890

The point here, as with most open-government schemes, is not that information shouldn’t be collected or distributed; rather, it needs to be collected and distributed in full awareness of the social and cultural complexity of the institutional environment in which it is gathered. — location: 1904

The Pirate movement emerged in Sweden — location: 1922

amorphous banner of “Internet freedom,” which takes one rather ambiguous term—“the Internet”—and marries it to an ill-defined term like “freedom.” — location: 1925

It’s the flourishing of humans—not of “the Internet”—that should preoccupy the Pirates. — location: 1936

Polish dissident Adam Michnik was onto something when he defined democracy as “eternal imperfection, a mixture of sinfulness, saintliness, and monkey business.” Try marketing a hair dryer with that slogan. — location: 2202

If disappointment with politics is to become more visible—which it might, given the changes in the information environment—then we desperately need to find new ways to have citizens appreciate its imperfections. — location: 2204

“What we despise as political ‘mediocrity’ is simply the collection of compromises that we force politicians to make on our behalf.” — location: 2215

mediocrity of politics is to accept that the citizen, unlike the consumer, is not always right: — location: 2216

citizens need to accept a certain humility and be prepared to make sacrifices, if only out of solidarity with others. — location: 2218

Most public institutions should not be held to the same standards as their private counterparts simply because their mission is to provide goods and services that markets cannot or should not provide. — location: 2220

“The fundamental danger is that consumerism may foster privatized and resentful citizens whose expectations of government can never be met, and cannot develop the concern for the public good that must be the foundation of democratic engagement and support for public services.” — location: 2223

Ordinary Vices, in which she argued that a war on hypocrisy is a futile and counterproductive endeavor, for hypocrisy is a structural condition that makes liberalism possible. The liberal reformers, she argued, should stop fixating on hypocrisy and go after other problems—most of all, cruelty. — location: 2297

“The paradox of liberal democracy is that it encourages hypocrisy because the politics of persuasion require … a certain amount of dissimulation on the part of all speakers. — location: 2299

not at all clear that zealous candor would serve liberal politics particularly well.” — location: 2302

proposing that some types of political hypocrisy are even desirable and worth encouraging. — location: 2306

it’s not that there’s more hypocrisy today; it’s just that, with twenty-four-hour political exposure in the media, it’s much easier to find. — location: 2307

Last time I checked, much of this proverbial “Internet” was built by for-profit companies with the explicit objective of making money, not defending human rights. — location: 2349

technology was more than just a collection of artifacts and systems; it could also be a style of thought — location: 2561

its fundamental assumption “is that disagreements occur not because people are bound to differ but because they are misinformed.” — location: 2580

Google’s insistence on the supposed neutrality and objectivity of its algorithms. — location: 2635

A study by a team of Scandinavian researchers that aimed to review all academic articles about innovation published since the 1960s found that of all the studies under examination—thousands of them—only twenty-six articles addressed the negative or undesirable consequences of innovation. This is roughly 1 per 1,000 articles, a proportion that hasn’t changed since the 1960s. Overlooked statistics like this reveal the “pro-innovation bias” of most academic literature on the subject. — location: 3087

As long as you make this decision yourself—and don’t have it made for you—there is no problem with delegating at least some enforcement to technology. Things get really tricky when a third party—a company or a regulator—does such register shifting for you. — location: 3598

Berlin’s built environment lends itself to the kind of Deweyan moral environment that makes moral citizenship possible. — location: 3658

bad laws are never in short supply, and even good laws tend to become outdated as practice informs our theory. — location: 3686

Laws that are enforced by appealing to our moral or prudential registers leave just enough space for friction; friction breeds tension, tension creates conflict, and conflict produces change. In contrast, when laws are enforced through the technological register, there’s little space for friction and tension—and quite likely for change. — location: 3720

Logically, if violation of the underlying criminal statute is rendered impossible, those who believe the statute unjust have no means to protest it. — location: 3744

Once again, “the Internet” is the consequence—rarely the cause—of the world we inhabit. — location: 3780

The charm of exclusionary vibes lies precisely in the fact that they are circumventable, making otherwise impossible conversations, conversions, and insights happen. — location: 3855

Of course, much of this is already illegal, but such illegality is beside the point; the really pertinent question is whether such regimes can be circumvented. — location: 3859

No repentance without sin

Tuomi’s conclusion? “Strictly speaking there is no such Law. Most discussions that quote Moore’s Law are historically inaccurate and extend its scope far beyond available empirical evidence,” — location: 3956

To question Moore’s law, then, is not to deny that important changes have happened over the last five decades but only to see how well those changes fit a singular pattern that a “law” predicts. — location: 3969

Instead of postulating that technology speaks to us through Moore’s law, why not study who else—perhaps Intel?—might be doing the talking. That this “what technology wants” kind of discourse allows technology companies to present their business strategies as a natural unfolding of history is not something we should treat lightly. Technology wants nothing—and neither does “the Internet.” — location: 3979

Most perceptively, Nietzsche understood that quantifiable information might be nothing but low-hanging fruit that is easy to pick but often thwarts more ambitious, more sustained efforts at understanding. — location: 4394


Attempts at quantification are quite often attempts at simplification—and simplification is anything but apolitical, especially when competing interpretations of a problem are discarded in favor of something measurable and manageable. — location: 4440

“And we have to address these dissatisfactions,” he notes, “not by discarding the measures we have and seeking to find newer and better ones, for these, too, will also eventually turn out not to do what we want and eventually need to be renounced, nor by assuming that what we are after lies ‘beyond’ measuring.” Instead, argues Crease, “we … need to keep reminding ourselves of the human purposes that led us to create [the measurement] in the first place—and where, if at all, it interferes with any of these purposes.” — location: 4459

Nutrition literacy cannot be reduced to a simple formula; it requires exercising critical thinking—and various self-tracking schemes, in a very perverse way, seek to free us from thinking about food altogether. — location: 4550

It seems naïve to believe that the problem of climate change can be solved if each of us spends a minute less in the shower; the solution might require both more substantial sacrifices and perhaps even stepping out of the shower and fighting that fight somewhere else. — location: 4707

The problem with “information diet” rhetoric is that it recasts the citizen as a passive consumer who cannot be expected to dabble in complex matters of media reform and government policy. — location: 5089

Gamification taps into the same do-gooder mentality that Slovenian philosopher-cum-entertainer Slavoj Žižek identifies in various charity programs that encourage citizens to support a fight against hunger in Africa by buying fancier coffee at Starbucks. — location: 5345

when all other instruments of policy have been tried, gamification, whatever its ethical problems, offers the prospect of easy—even pleasant—fixes. — location: 5371

but in politics people have more than expectations—they also have duties and obligations, which occasionally spoil all the fun. — location: 5377

As political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse argue, “The route to enhancing meaningful civic life is not badgering people to become engaged because politics is fun and easy; it is asking people to become engaged because politics is dreary and difficult.” — location: 5386

The problem is that the laws of economics are not always good at accounting for the complexities of human behavior. — location: 5410

When citizens are offered cash for blood donations, fewer people donate blood. — location: 5412

As psychologist Barry Schwartz puts it, “Western society’s enthusiastic embrace of the view that self-interest simply is what motivates human behavior has led us to create social structures that cater to self-interest.” — location: 5424

Once they are removed, their effectiveness ends. Incentives treat symptoms and not causes; they are a superficial fix. — location: 5447

In other words, we need to develop a better way of evaluating, comparing, and discriminating across technological fixes—rather than repeating the same tiring message that social fixes are always better. — location: 5783

The Caterpillar’s designers see friction—not efficiency or ease of use—as a productive resource that, properly deployed, can highlight complex issues that are very hard to see in a frictionless world. — location: 5830

“Because to thrive, culture requires deliberation and rationale.” If, after extensive deliberation, we cannot find a rationale, then perhaps we shouldn’t be pursuing that activity in the first place. — location: 5946

think about reform, not just individual sacrifice. — location: 5970

one way to make design more self-conscious and more sensitive to critiques of solutionism is to replace its fetish for psychology (and, increasingly, neuroscience) with a fetish for philosophy—both moral and political. — location: 6016

reminiscent of Bogost’s shit-crayons metaphor: yes, some of us might find ingenious engineering solutions to resist insidious marketing, but in all this celebration of modern technology, shouldn’t we also do something about the marketing itself? — location: 6059

for the last hundred years or so virtually every generation has felt like it was on the edge of a technological revolution—be it the telegraph age, the radio age, the plastic age, the nuclear age, or the television age—maintaining — location: 6342