Curiosity builds on itself — each new thing you learn about has all sorts of different parts and connections, which you then want to learn more about. Pretty soon you’re interested in more and more and more, until almost everything seems interesting. And when that’s the case, learning becomes really easy — you want to learn about almost everything, since it all seems really interesting. I’m convinced that the people we call smart are just people who somehow got a head start on this process. I fell like the only thing I’ve really done is followed my curiosity wherever it led, even if that meant crazy things like leaving school or not taking a “real” job.
Some thoughts on Frank Herbert’s “Dune”
Last night I finished reading Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction classic Dune. Below are some of my thoughts on the book:
In many ways, Dune is a book about resistance. Resistance against economic cartels, political coups, arranged relationships, cultural and religious traditions and planetary occupation - Paul-Muad’Dib, Lady Jessica, Stilgar and many others continually meet and push-back against these obstacles. I’m still on the fence about whether the influence of Paul and Kynes as outsiders to Fremen life operate as adopters of the desert culture who help the people with their long-sought goal of making Arrakis livable or whether their influence is a form of cultural and interplanetary imperialism. For the moment, I think I side with the former based on the results of these interactions - at the conclusion ofDune (I haven’t read the sequals) their actions further the explicit goals of the Fremen - to give control of Arrakis (and the invaluable spice it produces) to the people that live there.
Reading Dune today must be different than in 1965. Reading the book in 2012, its themes of insurgency, resistance and control of geographic resources strongly echo recent political and economic events in the Middle East. It’s impossible not to read the spice Melange as petroleum oil - a limited resource essential to the economic stability and power of larger, powerful and influential groups. The Fremen jihad against imperial (literally) outsiders evokes a cultural and historical cache including the mujaheddin resistance to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, as well as the more recent insurgencies U.S. troops continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Herbert had no way of knowing the political and economic future, but his book continues to offer an useful comment them through Paul’s conflicted views on the tenuous balance between emancipatory resistance and the uncontrolled mob.
Why do so many sci-fi stories involved interplanetary interactions where each planet has it’s own government? In many cases (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) planets are governed by one planetary group or body and participate in one or many larger interstellar government structures (think the Federation, Old Republic, Empire.) In many ways Herbert exposes this trope with his portrayal of the Fremen resistance, but its hard to imagine any planet with a large population being effectively governed on the planetary level in a way that doesn’t reduce to harsh authoritarianism.
This isn’t some standard polemic about “those stupid walled-garden networks are bad!” I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They’re amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.
— Anil Dash from "The Web we Lost"
The three-legged chow that walks on my street every day doesn’t know the number three or have any sense that anything is wrong with her at all (and as I write, the dog is sixteen and still fit). It’s not that a dog accepts the cards it’s been dealt; it’s not aware that there are cards. James Thurber called the desire for this condition ‘the Dog Wish,’ the ‘strange and involved compulsion to be as happy and carefree as a dog.’ This is a dog’s blessing, a dim-wittedness one can envy.
The point of all this is that it is not the existence of knowledge but the convergence and cross-pollination of knowledge that drives progress.
Now, the challenge with the internet is that it’s a medium increasingly well-tailored for helping us find more of what we know we’re looking for, but increasingly poorly suited to helping us discover what we don’t yet know exists and thus don’t yet care to be interested in.
This creates a kind of “filter bubble” - to use internet activist Eli Pariser’s term - that only deepens our existing interests rather than broadening our intellectual horizons and filling our mental libraries with precisely the kind of diverse pieces that we can then combine into new ideas.
This long essay from 2010 by preeminant William Faulkner Noel Polk reflecting on the past, his relationship with his home state of Mississippi and his father is stellar.
My war, finally, then, certainly: it of course always had been, it and all its afterglow, and I never feel that it is mine more bitterly, and bemusedly too, than when I travel and meet people who type me because I am a Mississippian. I’m bemused because I know better; bitter because I know our accusers have so often had ample reason to think of all Mississippians that way, given how often we shoot ourselves in our social and cultural and political feet; and over the years when candidates for jobs came to my campus for interviews and were still surprised that we had sidewalks and McDonald’s and Porsches and BMWs, and reported, with some shock, how many of their friends and family had questioned their intelligence, not to say sanity, by presuming to seek employment in savage, redneck, racist Mississippi. It was my war, my history, most galling of all in my recognition that I was going to be tarred with it no matter what I said or did or was or tried to be: I was redneck, racist, ignoramus.
Atlanta to Georgia: “It’s time to break up.”
No one can deny we’ve had a long run. You were one of the original 13 colonies, and while I was started more than 50 years later at the intersection of some of your railroads, we’ve been inseparable ever since. Sure, I got burned when you tried to secede with the confederacy, but those things happen and I was happy to start over again while taking in many seeking refuge after that messy ordeal.
From there we grew together, you and I, through dark times and prosperity, through depressions and growth. But after World War 2, I started noticing something was wrong. More of my people started moving from me to you. At first I thought this was normal and fair - people move after all! When we added interstates across both of us, I had some complaints, but surely it would just be a better way to have your people and mine enjoy both of us more, but sadly that hasn’t been the case.
In the 70s when MARTA was created and later when the airport began to boom, I looked to you for support, and instead was spurned. I had become a refuge for people treated with disdain and sometimes violence with you, but I continued to be happy to take them in. While we had our differences, I was shocked to find you actively working against the initiatives and investment that I needed to grow. You were proud to brag about the economic growth I brought to you, and I thought I was happy to share, but it seemed like the seeds of discontent were planted and at times I felt we were going in two different directions.
It turns out those feelings were correct. Even though we’ve shared so much (1996 Olympics!?) - whenever I try to improve myself, I’m now met with resistance from you. When I try to improve my transportation - I’m blocked. I hoped that we could get on the same page, but it appears that you’re only happy to use me - letting people work at the business I’ve brought in, only to send that money and opportunity out to your suburbs, while leaving many of the people in me underrepresented and sometimes in dire need.
I hoped we could come to an understanding - to realize that our fates and futures are linked, but it may be better if we go our own ways - you can keep being a largely agrarian state, sure the suburbanites will be jobless without me, but they didn’t want to help me, so why should I care if I stop helping them. I’ll continue to be a huge city full of culture, but I will only become more hollow and more neglected than before. It seems like that’s what you’ve always wanted, so even though It’s the worse thing for both of us, it seems like our only option.
If you decide you want to work together, if it seems like you realize how much I help you, and how much you help me, maybe we’ll be able to work things out, but until then I think this is best for both of us.
Don’t call, I won’t answer and if you see me hanging out with other states, please don’t interrupt us. Maybe they will be more interested in supporting me than you have ever been.
People will tell you that you can’t do things because they think they can’t do them either.
— Somebody, but I forgot.
- Keep good company
- Notice the ordinary
- Preserve the ephemeral
- Design not for the elite but for the masses
- Explain it to a child
- Get lost in the content
- Get to the heart of the matter
- Never tolerate “O.K. anything.”
- Remember your responsibility as a storyteller
- Zoom out
- Prototype it
- Make design your life… and life, your design.
- Leave something behind.