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October 18, 2023
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It’s okay to not have an opinion about things.
It can be awkward, though, and sometimes people will find it offensive if they share their opinion and you fail to confirm the rightness of their perspective, or if you decline to present your own doctrinal counter-belief that they can then push back against.
That awkwardness is partly the consequence of the desire many of us feel to categorize the world around us: if you don’t share your opinion about the talking point of the day, how will I know which team you’re on, and thus, whether you’re friend or foe?
But it’s also (increasingly) the consequence of incentives baked into the channels we use to communicate with each other.
Social networks make money on the back of the content we produce (almost always without compensation) for them, and many publications and shows are sustained by the enthusiastic love-sharing and sneerful hate-sharing of their articles and broadcasts, online and offline.
The coin of the realm, then, both of the spaces we occupy and the groups of which we’re a part (or would like to affiliate ourselves with) is demonstrating who/what we’re for, who/what we’re against, and then taking up the flag/logo/bumpersticker slogans of that team, increasing the perceptual mass of their rallying cries and symbols across public discourse.
There are potentially social benefits to this for us (we’re vocally reinforcing our commitment to a group we’d like to be seen as being a part of) alongside those aforementioned financial benefits for entities that transmit these signals, amplifying those that are most likely to create a stir (and thus, stimulate the production of still-more monetizable content).
None of which is inherently positive or negative: this is a neutral thing we do as social creatures (and users of services) that’s been amped-up by the tools we most commonly leverage to interact with each other in the modern world.
But it’s also something we can opt-out of, to some degree at least, if we don’t have something valuable to contribute to the conversation, or if we’re still sorting out what we believe (or if we’ve decided to sit this one out for whatever reason).
Discourse on complex subjects is only as valuable as the content of that discourse.
All too often, discussions about controversial topics collapse into two or more sides shouting past each other while gobs of (often well-meaning) people gum-up communication channels with un-interrogated opinions based on superficial understandings of the subject in question.
We may thus, counterintuitively, be less likely to improve our understanding of something by participating in the scrum many social spaces are optimized to become.
Even in relatively calm, non-melee moments these spaces can be more noise than signal, and because much of what’s transmitted is optimized to spark more conversion, not for elucidation, we’re more likely to fill up on informational junk food rather than intellectually healthful reportage, facts, and good-faith arguments.
None of which means we should avoid the news and other sources of information, or try to remain outside the world, never forming opinions about things.
I would argue we should actually focus on the opposite: understanding what’s happening in the world around us to the best of our ability, because that empowers us to make informed decisions and to thus be more valuable, deliberate members of human civilization (and arguably the broader, non-human ecosystems of which we’re a part, as well).
Unfortunately, many of our easiest-access informational sources and discussion hubs can be barriers to achieving that end, rather than bridges, because they motivate megaphoning of knee-jerk takes and reactions, leaving less room for more intentional and careful analyses, insights, and impressions.
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Interesting & Useful
“The first Quonset huts were manufactured in 1941 when the United States Navy needed an all-purpose, lightweight building that could be shipped anywhere and assembled without skilled labor.”
“Photographer Jef Janis won first place with a mind-boggling image of the Aero-Acoustic Propulsion Laboratory (AAPL). Located at Glenn Research Center, AAPL is a world-class facility for conducting aero-propulsion noise reduction research.”
“Considered the first cocktail book ever written, it nonetheless includes the steps to make a non-alcoholic “delicious lemonade,” by whipping together gelatinous calves-feet jelly, raw eggs, water, and the requisite lemons and sugar.”
It’s been a really rough week for many people for typical, human-scale reasons, and for those tied to truly horrible international happenings.
If you need to step away from the news, do so; if you want to follow closely and do your best to understand this moment we’re living through, do so.
Either way, please keep tabs on how you’re being affected and do what you can to maintain your health and equilibrium.
Also: one more reminder that you don’t have to shout into the electronic ether just because everyone else seems to be (and because the apps all want us to).
There are many compelling incentives for broadcasting on these platforms, but most of them are not aligned with the dissemination of useful information and productive discourse.
How are you doing these days? What have you been up to, of late? Drop me a note and tell me what’s up or share a quick hello. You can reply directly to this newsletter—I respond to every message I receive :)
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