The Internet of Beefs

You’ve heard me talk about crash-only programming, right? It’s a programming paradigm for critical infrastructure systems, where there is — by design — no graceful way to shut down. A program can only crash and try to recover from a crashed state, which might well be impossible. I came up with a term for the human version: beef-only thinking.

A beef-only thinker is someone you cannot simply talk to. Anything that is not an expression of pure, unqualified support for whatever they are doing or saying is received as a mark of disrespect, and a provocation to conflict. From there, you can only crash into honor-based conflict mode, or back away and disengage.

The connection to crash-only programming is more than cosmetic, but it will take some set-up before I can establish the conceptual bridge.

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MJD 58,855

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Captain's Log

When I was a kid, several of my friends owned a kind of toy remote control car with only one control: forward/backward. These cars had three wheels, and the third rear wheel was a caster. The car went forward in a straight line, but backwards in a circle. You steered by backing up to reorient, then going forward again. The caster was either left or right-handed, so backing up always turned you in a consistent direction. To go the other way, you’d have to back up more than 180 degrees.

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MJD 58,854

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Captain's Log

To be present in a seat in a movie theater is to pay attention to a movie for a couple of hours, tuning out the few distractions, and giving in to the carefully crafted temptation to escapism. To be present, outside of a vehicle, in the middle of a busy, high-speed intersection, is to pay attention to half a dozen largely unrelated things every second, with the set of things changing every few seconds, while everybody gets mad at you.

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MJD 58,851

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Captain's Log

I’m starting a new experiment: blog entries in a blogchain without a declared theme or proper headlines. The blogchain itself is called Captain’s Log, since I don’t want to be too Dada about this, and a Star Trek reference sounds like fun without being thematically confining. But I won’t use that phrase within post titles. Entries will be titled MJD xxxx, where MJD stands for Modified Julian Date, and xxxx is the day number in that scheme. I thought of using the Star Trek star date convention, but turns out that’s not actually very coherent. My other too-clever idea was to follow a naming convention based on a) writing a post b) computing a hash from the text to serve as a title, as a cleverly self-referential True Name. This seemed too much work so I’m going with an uncommon date-based convention that only specialists like astronomers will be able to read intuitively.

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Complete 2019 Roundup

This has been a year of significant changes here at ribbonfarm, much of it deliberately conceived as part of a cunning grand plan, and executed flawlessly via my mediocre stroke-of-genius invention, the blogchain (an indefinitely extended, unplanned, improvised, series format). The pivot came with a new tagline: constructions in magical thinking, and a peppy new masthead. With this, we embark on the as-yet-unnamed 3rd era of Ribbonfarm (the first era, 2007-12, was the Rust Age, and the second era, 2013-18, was the Snowflake Age; new readers may want to get oriented on this page).

On to the roundup, 2019 highlights commentary, and 2020 outlook.

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Domestic Cozy: 10

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Domestic Cozy

There is an interesting emerging relationship, I think, between domestic cozy and the slightly older “trad” turn in contemporary youth culture (which I think began at the height of the recession with burned-out Millennials), complete with tendencies towards religion, social conservatism, and traditional gender roles. The term tradwife, in particular, which I first encountered a few years ago, appears to be slowly trending, after a bit of a peak in 2018. On Twitter, it’s now turned into a term of art, used ironically or unironically, generically or with fully loaded memetic potency, and with or without connotations of vaguely alt-right sympathies.

In 2019, I suspect, the trad turn broke out of the subcultural wilderness, lost its original edge-political connotations, and went mainstream.

As Gen-Z starts to establish households, I suspect trad patterns are going to spread via some sort of Fifth Wave feminism following the #MeToo era, which appears to have consolidated its claim to being the Fourth Wave (I’m going to lazily risk linking a Vox explainer for those not familiar with the wave-theoretic history of feminism; if you have alternative links, please post in the comments).

I suspect Fifth Wave feminism is going to be based on some sort of post-#MeToo reconstructed notion of domesticity that attempts to reclaim the domestic arena as a feminine-centric space, but without giving up the political and economic agency gains of the four waves of public-arena feminism. There are very strong economic tailwinds favoring such a development.

To a degree, domestic cozy is Zoomers and younger Millennials playing “house” in ways that are indicative of the patterns of adult domesticity they will be adopting soon. This New Domesticity in the US is shaping up to be 80% Fifth-Wave Feminist households, 10% non-traditional (LGBTQ+) households, and 10% HouseBro households (a category that doesn’t seem to exist yet, but is bound to emerge based on the Dirac equation of anti-archetypes). I’m still puzzling over what to make of this development. I think it will get underway in earnest in a couple of years.

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt noted that the domestic sphere, historically, was a fully constrained zone of non-stop labor, where nobody, not even the master of the house, enjoyed any freedom. It was only by venturing out in public that even the master could enjoy a measure of freedom and agency. At home, there was a defined role with duties for everyone. And if you never really left the domestic sphere, you were basically never really free.

Starting in the late 19th century, as Arendt observed, increasing availability of technological conveniences made the domestic arena primarily a zone of intimacy and leisure rather than non-stop labor. Consumer products and domestic automation slowly began replacing housewifery, slavery, and servant-work. Childcare increasingly became the business of schools and television. Entertainment media — board games, the phonograph, the radio, television, effective contraception, video games — injected increasing amounts of leisure activity where there was once only labor. Shopping began to replace cooking as the prototypical housewife responsibility.

The story of feminism along the way has been one of pendulum swings (so the wave theory makes sense). In the West (and to a lesser extent outside the West), early feminists tried to cash out the technological convenience dividend, by breaking out of domesticity between the world wars. They enjoyed a peak of public life participation leading up to World War 2, but then ran into the feminine mystique era in the post-WW2 decades, which was an earlier trad turn between the first two waves of feminism. I personally attribute it to a sort of Parkinson’s Law kicking in for newly leisure-rich home economies, with domestic “work” expanding to occupy the leisure available.

Though it’s a tempting hypothesis, I don’t think we’re at the threshold of Feminine Mystique 2.0, and Betty Friedan need not roll in her grave.

I suspect what’s actually happening is that a set of economic factors — inequality and high housing and childcare costs being the big ones — have made it financially advantageous for a certain segment of middle-class households to return to a pattern of domestic organization built around housewifery. Pamela Hobart has a thoughtful take on this surprising development. It’s a huge narrative violation that feminists are going to have to grapple with. Elizabeth Warren’s actually appears to have seen this coming with her 2004 book, the Two-Income Trap (that’s another Voxsplainer link, sorry), co-authored with her daughter, making it a two-generational view.

A big part of what’s happened, I think, is that the gains in domestic convenience have hit diminishing returns, while both the financial and cognitive costs of running a “normal” household have risen dramatically. It’s now turned into a sort of high-stakes budgeting rocket science.

On the labor-demand side, new gadgets add far less marginal convenience compared to refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, and vacuums (the Big Five from the early consumer revolution). And on the consumption side, shopping has gone from being a pleasant social routine at the local mall and grocery store to a very demanding budgeting and purchasing optimization activity that is approximately as complex as being COO of a small business. And it is done largely at home, online, with social aspects increasingly limited to online communities built around consumption, such as Yelp reviews.

A good household manager — and it is almost always a woman taking this role on, whether or not they adopt the tradwife identity — can effectively double the household income simply through canny shopping, deal-stalking, and maintaining strong awareness of consumption trends. And as housing becomes less affordable, all other areas of consumption require all the optimization they can get. Women who are good at this are probably responsible for holding major cities together, by figuring out ways for households to continue existing in increasingly unaffordable urban cores.

(I’m neither condoning, nor criticizing this emergent role, merely observing that it has emerged as a function of necessity, with mostly women filling it).

In a way, the trajectory observed by Arendt is reversing itself. Homes are once again becoming entirely constrained spaces, where leisure and intimacy have a diminishing role to play, and there’s a lot more work for everybody to do. It’s just that instead of making their own soap, tradwives now have to find the coupons and deals that buy the desired soap at the available income. It’s almost as much work.

These economic forces, of course, are affecting non-traditional households too, including groups of friends living together.

The Venmo public feed (Your Source for Domestic Cozy Voyeurism) is a striking window into the emerging patterns of New Domesticity. It’s no longer just people paying each other to split restaurant checks. They are paying each other for rent, household expenses, transportation, cleaning services, and all sorts of other things. Commercial transactions with service workers are mixed in with an endlessly varied stream of friend-to-friend transactions. An entire future is taking shape there. The Venmo economy of today is going to be the mainstream economy of 2024.

Disassembling the Empathy Machine

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this talk, Bryan Lehrer talks about the idea of VR as an “empathy machine”.

Making Meaning

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this talk, Matt Maier talks about the new religion he’s trying to create, and the systematic approach to making meaning he’s developed (talk ends at about the 15:30 mark, and the rest of the video is pitches for the workshop sessions and Q&A)

The Ovaltine Moment

This entry is part 15 of 18 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this talk Jay Bushman talks about futuristic transmedia storytelling attempts and the moment they tend to fall apart, which he calls the ovaltine moment, when the bubble bursts and the excitement fades into disappointment.

Automontage

This entry is part 14 of 18 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this talk, Chenoe Hart explores space in VR and AR from an architecture perspective and why there are no easy answers.