summing up 94

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Some excerpts from recent Alan Kay emails

Socrates didn't charge for "education" because when you are in business, the "customer starts to become right". Whereas in education, the customer is generally "not right". Marketeers are catering to what people want, educators are trying to deal with what they think people need (and this is often not at all what they want).

Another perspective is to note that one of the human genetic "built-ins" is "hunting and gathering" – this requires resources to "be around", and is essentially incremental in nature. It is not too much of an exaggeration to point out that most businesses are very like hunting-and-gathering processes, and think of their surrounds as resources put there by god or nature for them. Most don't think of the resources in our centuries as actually part of a human-made garden via inventions and cooperation, and that the garden has to be maintained and renewed.

these thoughts are a pure gold mine. a fundamental problem for most businesses is that one cannot innovate under business objectives and one cannot accomplish business objectives under innovation. ideally, you need both, but not at the same time.

How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day, by Tristan Harris

When we talk about technology, we tend to talk about it as this blue sky opportunity. It could go any direction. And I want to get serious for a moment and tell you why it's going in a very specific direction. Because it's not evolving randomly. There's a hidden goal driving the direction of all of the technology we make, and that goal is the race for our attention. Because every new site or app has to compete for one thing, which is our attention, and there's only so much of it. And the best way to get people's attention is to know how someone's mind works.

A simple example is YouTube. YouTube wants to maximize how much time you spend. And so what do they do? They autoplay the next video. And let's say that works really well. They're getting a little bit more of people's time. Well, if you're Netflix, you look at that and say, well, that's shrinking my market share, so I'm going to autoplay the next episode. But then if you're Facebook, you say, that's shrinking all of my market share, so now I have to autoplay all the videos in the newsfeed before waiting for you to click play. So the internet is not evolving at random. The reason it feels like it's sucking us in the way it is is because of this race for attention. We know where this is going. Technology is not neutral, and it becomes this race to the bottom of the brain stem of who can go lower to get it.

we always seem to have the notion that technology is always good. but that is simply not the case. every technology is always both a burden and a blessing. not either or, but this and that.

The world is not a desktop, by Mark Weiser

The idea, as near as I can tell, is that the ideal computer should be like a human being, only more obedient. Anything so insidiously appealing should immediately give pause. Why should a computer be anything like a human being? Are airplanes like birds, typewriters like pens, alphabets like mouths, cars like horses? Are human interactions so free of trouble, misunderstanding, and ambiguity that they represent a desirable computer interface goal? Further, it takes a lot of time and attention to build and maintain a smoothly running team of people, even a pair of people. A computer I need to talk to, give commands to, or have a relationship with (much less be intimate with), is a computer that is too much the center of attention.

in a world where computers increasingly become human, they inevitably will become the center of attention. the exact opposite of what they should be: invisible and helping to focus our attention to ourselves and the people we live with.