New Forbes Blog, Economist Video

A quick heads-up on a couple of off-site items. First, I just signed on as a contributor at Forbes, and booted-up my new blog there, on technology issues. I’ve posted two pieces in two days (I don’t plan to maintain a daily-posting schedule, but I felt Steve Jobs’ passing deserves a reaction on any technology blog).

You’ll see some familiar ribbonfarm themes evolve in more focused ways on Forbes.  I am hoping to keep up a weekly schedule of posts there. They will be on the shorter side (for me). I’ll be aiming for 1000-1200 words at most, probably fewer.

Hope to see you in the comments there.

Second, the video of my talk on the Gervais Principle is now available on the Economist site. Now that I am writing in so many different places (here, the Tempo blog, the Be Slightly Evil list, occasional high-effort Quora answers, Information Week and now Forbes), I think I need to figure out some sort of roundup strategy. I’ll see what I can do. Perhaps a monthly roundup?

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. Venkat,

    Congratulations! It is nice to see your brain being recognized by one of the gold standards in economic thought!

    Art

  2. Really looking forward to the next installment of the Gervais Principle series. Can’t wait!

  3. Eric in Kansas says:

    Hey Venkat,
    Congratulations on your beachhead at Forbes!
    I was going to answer your ‘reaction to technology’ question there, until I saw that it would require me to establish an account with them. I have decided that I have too many passwords already, and I will simply not do anything that requires me to make one more.
    I was going to try to distill into my work history as a mechanical drafter into one sentence – something like this, but probably shorter:

    I started drafting with a pencil. It was a tedious, but pleasant activity that required just enough skill that it felt a little like art. The main trouble was that if you didn’t plan your layout and scale before starting to draw the first line, you would need to start over because the drawing would spill off the page. That problem disappeared when I started using AutoCad in 1987. In its place were the problems of learning the language of the programmers, so I could make the program do what I wanted. It was irritating, and I hate being told how to think, but I have experienced computer programs much worse in that regard than AutoCAD. I still believe that the mark of a good program is that a new user with a basic understanding of how to use a computer should be able to get elementary results from the program without having to consult a manual. This is how I learned MS Excel. I have been dabbling in SolidWorks for about a year now. There have been numerous instances where I have gotten so angry that if any of the programmers who wrote it were in the room, I would have inflicted bodily harm. They have gotten so many basic things obviously wrong that I can’t believe that they did beta testing. For instance there is no ‘undo’ button and ctrl-Z only works some of the time. But even so, SolidWorks is becoming the industry standard.

    So: ” Technology for me is either something I take for granted like the electric power grid, or an incredibly irritating monstrosity for doing things slightly faster and neater that are more satisfying to do by hand.”

    Thanks for listening.

    • My reaction to technology is “that the human is the horizon”. I call this the “technical condition” in analogy to the “human condition”.

      We are strongly delimited by ourselves, which has become part of our current depression about the lack of a future, the breakdown of a frontier, that we are not getting done big things anymore, while feeling the stress of globalization and mass-culture and living together with and depend on too many unwanted others. Maybe it’s ironic that the SPIEGEL called Jobs the “man who invented the future” given his passion for usability and narrow technology down to the appeal of beauty and need. So we live within post-historical boredom where no crisis makes any difference and doesn’t teach anything to anyone, but at least the surface is polished. Jobs is clearly Prometheus but does this alone still make a difference between the past and the future?

      I think Venkats buying decisions are totally sensible, the distinction between humanized media devices and those that retains a certain connection to the “gods” i.e. an abyssal non-human world without definite qualities.

      Just look at the very first Apple logo, showing Newton reading a book in an idyllic landscape. That’s the vision and short after the moment of its second fulfillment in the manner of Jobs with his iPad, Jobs-Newton died. In between a long and ironic play with the motive. The apple might have fallen on the head of Jobs-Newton but he did the only reasonable thing about it: eating the apple. The first bait has been conserved as an eternal witness. It is all circular, mythic, heroic and deeply emotional. Technology becomes confined within the eternal return of the human to itself. But isn’t Newton also the anti-romantic archetype who gave us a cold mechanical, inhuman world, which is one of the subjugation of the natural order, of progress and the great outdoors?

      • Interesting. I’d call it the ‘technological condition’ though, to avoid confusion. Is it really distinct, or more like an ‘extended human condition’? (a la McLuhan or Dawkins notions of extension)

        • Yes, but probably with a somewhat different optic. Among the most popular and persistent fantasies of the modern age is that of the rebellious machine, which becomes sentient and escapes the human horizon. Skynet, the Singularity or S.Lem’s “red” computer-philosopher GOLEM who reflects the difference between nature/evolution and ( technological ) self-determination are some of the examples.

          The dominant theme is that of alienation. Technology extends the “human condition” but at the prize of an ever greater alienation. Technology is our only great adventure but we are in danger of losing the thread.

          Then came the “AI winter” and this basically shaped my skeptical assessment that it might be incredibly hard to get rid of us, of our intentionality and account to understanding. The first thing that was done when playing with evolution was to write down goals and encode them into “fitness functions”. More open systems showed predator-prey cycles and the emergence of parasites and this was it. Either you get something of interest that is limited by your intention, or you get something boring or incomprehensible. Other technology enthusiasts might have made similar experiences with the farewell of the space age, which lead to the conclusion that home is still best – however we’d like to make a touristic excursion into outer space and post our pictures on Facebook.

          So not only is man extended by technology but technology also narrows down to us. You captured the uneasiness about the anti-philosophical self celebration of the human being quite well in your nicely written Jobs obituary. Not only shall we be slightly evil, but also slightly inhuman. We accept the gift of Prometheus but also make him clear that we are not entirely what we seem, although it is hard to explain what.

    • I find technology to be decidedly human. When technology, much like humans, fulfill their purpose and don’t make much fuss we take it for granted. It’s only when technology doesn’t work or doesn’t quite fit that we notice it. Also much like humans, we adapt to quirks and integrate them into our daily lives. Have you ever caught yourself doing a seemingly insane dance around deficiencies in software or hardware because that’s just what it takes to make it work? Worse, have you passed on your insane dance to others when they ask, “How do I…?” I know I have and I’m sure if anyone thinks about it, they will realize that they have too. It’s just like the guy who never refills the coffee pot, or has bad breath, or doesn’t wash their hands after using the restroom. We find a coping mechanism, habituate it, and pass it on to others expecting them to habituate it.

    • That’s a very good example. I had the same learning curve in drafting.

  4. Hi Venkat,

    Forbes needs an account to post comments, so I am writing here about the next gang of four.

    IMHO, interacting with strangers is already available. It’s called Twitter.

    Cheers,
    — Mahboob