Why is this 10,000 word Atul Gawande piece about medical software design the most compelling thing we read this week? Couldn’t entirely say, but Gawande really (slowly) gets to the core of what occupational burnout does to the best of us, particularly when systems that are unable to adapt conspire to destroy the will to live of the people using them, who can. Or, in other words, this is why we all hate our IT department.
Human beings do not only rebel. We also create. We force at least a certain amount of mutation, even when systems resist. Consider that, in recent years, one of the fastest-growing occupations in health care has been medical-scribe work, a field that hardly existed before electronic medical records. Medical scribes are trained assistants who work alongside physicians to take computer-related tasks off their hands. This fix is, admittedly, a little ridiculous. We replaced paper with computers because paper was inefficient. Now computers have become inefficient, so we’re hiring more humans. And it sort of works.
“As we boarded the black gull-wing Tesla Mr. Harari had rented for his visit, he brought up Aldous Huxley.” At the Times, Nellie Bowles wrestles with a question that, to us, wasn’t vexing enough to explore at this length – why do tech titans so revere the work of pop-philosopher-du-jour Yuval Noah Harari? To us: Harari is philosophy by way of compassionless efficiency sorting algorithm, and thinly argued claims of a near future where the majority of us sort ourselves out into a “useless class” reflect next to nothing of humanity in all its messy, lived-in, confounding glory. Thus, perfect for the Valley he flatters and bestows epoch-changing power on! He’s who you turn to when you either want to dominate, or give up hope. Fuck that. But we do hope he enjoyed watching Cobra Kai.
You want it darker: “Future Shock in the Countryside” is a bleak, ambitious piece from Darran Anderson, in which he takes an imagined aerial flight over the ruined rural landscapes of our planet, arguing that the devastation that’s coming for all of us is already there in plain sight, but so too are the tools to respond. Unlike Harari, Anderson lays all of this out to warn us and to search for hope, not to be praised for the lack of it. One wonders what Harari would make of the famous aphorism from Antonio Gramsci which Anderson ends this one on, written from his prison cell: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”
Our optimist philosopher of choice right now is Samin Nosrat – if you haven’t seen her Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, then get to it! Sure, it’s about food, but it’s got more genuine and smart understanding of humanity in every single frame than Harari does in the entirety of his work. We really liked Doreen St. Felix’s short appreciation of what makes Nosrat so great, in what she calls “a wistful picture of a kind of ecological harmony that’s nearly extinct.”
Also, we love the kind of wistful optimists that try to build utopian experimental cities in upstate Minnesota.
You’ll never forget the first time you hear the astounding compositions of the far-too-long-neglected Julius Eastman — there’s some radical, forceful magic in his “sprawling; seething but slow-shifting” music that’ll change something fundamental inside of you. This new BBC radio documentary about Eastman is worth listening to whether you’re new to the self-proclaimed Gay Guerilla or have been hunting down every rare thing you can find, because it seems to focus on trying to understand that hidden magic from the point of view of those who perform it, not just to tell the cut-out-and-keep story of a vexing genius life cut tragically short.
Because he misses when he used to be a radio DJ, Patrick has been making very long, strange mixes of mostly quiet, beautiful music to work to. Eli told him that he should actually tell people about them so they could listen to them too, so please enjoy! Consider it the official Buckslip soundtrack.
Speaking of unheralded geniuses of their form now enjoying overdue but rightful reverence, there’s a new posthumous collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin and she’d just love being written up by Vogue. We’re going to pick our way through these and cherish them so, so slowly.
Apparently life is a poorly written TV show because AI news anchors are a thing now and we all saw that coming.
And as long as we’re channeling our fears about the consequences of AI through humour (again), watching bot-training humans grapple with the difference between instruction and intention gives us no small amount of joy. Example: “Creatures bred for speed grow really tall and generate high velocities by falling over.” Or, you know, you could simply sate yourself with this gif.
To wit: Gifaanisqatsi. Gifaaaaanisqatsi.
“People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.” Of course, that’s just as true for the workplace productivity software at the top of this newsletter as it is for cutting edge AI.
Scott Galloway called HQ2 for NY or DC back in February, based on existing Bezos residences, and Bezos thought “why not both?” Galloway likened the corrupting forces of the process to those at play in Olympic bids, and there are clear parallels to the Sidewalk Labs development stories we’ve linked to in the past. Yet Amazon remains a unique bi-partisan force in these divided times, proving that recent PR backlashes at Facebook and Google may have less to do with a collective reckoning with surveillance capitalism and more to do with our selfish dissatisfaction with their diminishing utility / centrality in establishing our (brand) voice. Never mind stealing my personal data, no one wants to hang with the old guy biting the cool kid’s style.
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