on friction, and the best and worst in all things

Hello, readers.

sisyphus_charcoal_concept_sketch01It’s hard to get started, and once you get going, it’s hard to stop. This is as true of writing, beginning an excercise regimen,1, or collecting bulk metadata. Also pushing a really big rock up a hill. But, anyway, enough of Sisyphus.

Here’s some food for thought in the form of a thought about friction which, strictly speaking, you can’t eat and so I’m not entirely sure why we metaphor our thoughts, or minds, as things with teeth. Though, well, I do like the image.2

Ben Thompson, writer of the Stratechery blog, wrote about his idea of FRICTION, or, more specifically, the current decline of it in so many areas of life. Mostly brought about by The Internet.

The Internet being a force for change on the scale of The Industrial Revolution, what rolled out changes over centuries and also war and trouble and people having hot water and cars and stuff.

His focus, in the article:

(1) How a frictionless Apple App Store actully makes it hard for developers to develop sustainable business because, whereas, at one time, it was really hard to get your product out there and so only a few did and those few garnered the bulk of the attention of consumers, now, the barrier to entry being low, there’s so much more competition that it’s harder for any app to stand out.

(2) How, while the bulk collection of meta-data may not be an entirely new tool in the law enforcement toolbox, the frictionless ease of such data collection brought about by moore’s law and ubiquitous cell networks has so increased the scale of such activities that it is worrisome.

(3) How the occasionally frictionlessness of the contemporary job market, allows some lucky folk, like Ben Thompson, to pick up and leave their home and work from anywhere, at the same time it allows some less lucky folk to be left unemployed at home as their employer, and their job, picks up and goes elsewhere.

Ben’s conclusion resonated with my paradoxical heart which, generally and simultaneously, sees the best and worst in all things.

Count me with those who believe the Internet is on par with the industrial revolution, the full impact of which stretched over centuries. And it wasn’t all good. Like today, the industrial revolution included a period of time that saw many lose their jobs and a massive surge in inequality. It also lifted millions of others out of sustenance farming. Then again, it also propagated slavery, particularly in North America. The industrial revolution led to new monetary systems, and it created robber barons. Modern democracies sprouted from the industrial revolution, and so did fascism and communism. The quality of life of millions and millions was unimaginably improved, and millions and millions died in two unimaginably terrible wars.

Change is guaranteed, but the type of change is not; never is that more true than today. See, friction makes everything harder, both the good we can do, but also the unimaginably terrible. In our zeal to reduce friction and our eagerness to celebrate the good, we ought not lose sight of the potential bad.

We are creating the future, and “better” does not win by default.

True facts.

Happy Wednesday, readers.


  1. As, I suppose, the lady in the gym today might attest that I am []

easier, not better. also happiness headbands.

Hello, readers.

We often confuse easier/cheaper/faster with better. We often confuse hard/expensive/slow with better, as well. We are, generally, confused about how to better. Happily, very soon, we will all be capable of wearing headbands that will let us know when we’re happy and that should take care of that.

Here are some good things to read.

The Bad Economics of Bad Coffee

But you get my point. For just the cost of the Keurig machine itself, you could have a cup of really good coffee every weekday morning for a year (260 days) and still have 46 cups leftover. Or, if you bought Seattle’s Best Coffee for about $6/bag, you could make over 440 cups of coffee, and you’d be even better off.

I was an undercover Uber driver

With the lower fares, drivers need to drive more to make the same amount. Anybody at any job would be pissed if their boss declared that they would now be working longer hours for no extra money. But for Uber drivers, who bear the entire cost of maintaining the cars, more driving also means more expenses.

This is often overlooked, because driving a car you own feels like it has no cost. But it’s not free — there’s gas, but also the less visible cost of just owning a car and driving it to death. I’m surprised to find, after running the numbers (you can check my math online), that the cost of driving my car for Uber came to a surprising 51 cents per paid mile. My expenses and depreciation ate 19 percent of my pay.

What would you pay to be happy?

When the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham suggested that maximising happiness was the job of government, he inspired a quest to measure happiness that continues today. Until recently, the only effective tool for that – as the political scientist Will Davies explains in a forceful new book, The Happiness Industry – has been money. The value of an object is determined by how much people are prepared to pay for it. The unpleasantness of a job – grave-digging or rubbish collection – can be measured in how much people need to be paid per hour to do it. Governments use these “happiness-measuring” principles.

When the US courts were trying to assess what the oil companies should pay for the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, which contaminated a swathe of Alaska, they asked a sample of US households what they would be “willing to pay” for the accident not to have occurred. The answer – an average $31 a household – was used to help calculate Exxon’s ultimate fine. The neo-liberal economists who have driven conservative political philosophy for 50 years like the simplicity of reducing human feeling to monetary considerations. But the method was clumsy when used to measure abstractions such as emotion. However, with the rise of the science of behavioural psychology, another tool came forward. Economists, anthropologists and psychologists joined forces in the 1990s, spurred on by the interest of business and politics.

Sometimes I wonder if the march of history is a march towards convenience and efficiency? And if this march, by definition, might be inhuman? A march towards our own obsolescence, to humans doing as little as possible, but then I think, no, that’s just confused thought, because the same march that takes us to doing less in some areas tends to take us to doing more in others, such as travel through space. Space travel not being terribly possible if one is spending most of their time attempting not to die from the bitter winter wind.

Happy Tuesday, readers.

Spend your attention with care.