‘Liminal Spaces’ Redux

Several weeks back, I wrote about the idea of Liminal Spaces – specifically, the idea that I was in a period of transition in my life. In this, I talked about being clearly at the end of one phase of my life – entering my thirties, putting a deposit on a house, completing a year of full-time work in a job that’s aligned with my skillset and interests. It marked the end of my twenties, a period of uncertainty and tumult at times. However, what came next was uncertain. Some weeks later, it still largely is.

In the middle portion of that piece, I wrote about being comfortable, but also being somewhat lonely at being a person who operates between scenes, social groups and ideas. Where my thinking has grown since then is being more accepting of the fact that I am someone who is always going to search out novel and interesting intellectual experiences, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. In itself, accepting this fact is a sign of increased confidence and certainty within myself.

Upon further reflection, a few lines in particular stick out that I’d like to explore further, both within this piece and in future writing. One of these is the below:

“It would seem that on some level, I enjoy being in, or at least operating within, the liminal space between two different broader groups, whether professional, personal, cultural or otherwise.”

This is interesting, as we live in a society that is become ever more specialized and fragmented. Subcultures are becoming ever more niche, and more and more, large swathes of society have no meaningful connection or commonality with one another. To actively try and go against this, or to at least seek out the connections, the commonalities, the plurality puts me in an interesting position. This ‘interesting position’ is something I make reference to earlier in this paragraph:

While it (systems analysis) is an enjoyable, challenging and rewarding job, it is also not always easy to define or obvious to show its importance and value’

While I enjoy working within these spaces and identifying ways seemingly disparate groups can productively work together, it’s not always intuitive for others to see the value. Thus, it can be difficult to get others on board with what I’m doing or thinking. Getting others on board with novel or unusual approaches to solving problems is a challenge at the best of times, especially if it involves getting groups of people to work together that are not inclined or incentivised to do so. Group norms and dynamics are powerful, and a perceived outsider challenging these, even in a benign or positive way can cause issues.

Of course, it’s one thing to take this approach in my professional life. What about in other areas of my life? As I mentioned in my previous post, growing up having being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at eight years old informed a lot of this approach. I wrote toward the end of my previous article,

“I had to figure out a way to, if not fit in, at least function in groups I did not always belong to. I became very good at finding a niche between social groups, even if I did not necessarily closely belong to one particular group. This has brought about a proactive nature and independence, but also at times a sense of isolation”

Essentially, it was a means of adapting to my situation, even if at times I overfit this pattern of behaviour to my own detriment, something I’m working to undo now. At some level, I will always be, in some sense, operating in a ‘liminal space’, whether it be by choice such as in my chosen career, imposed by circumstance, such as going through life stages, or as a consequence of being outside ‘normal’ social bounds. The question I am grappling with now is, how can I avoid the pattern of overfitting, and become comfortable being fully within a group, with people, within interdependent relationships?   

This piece and my original Liminal Spaces piece barely scratches the surface of my thoughts on the idea of liminal spaces in society, both physical and virtual, as well as liminality, the feeling of uncertainty or being out of place due to physical environment or circumstances. Going forward, I plan on exploring this idea extensively not only on this blog, but also through a future edition of an Interintellect Salon which I host, on my Twitter and even perhaps through fictional writing. Liminality and liminal spaces, the more I dig into it, the more I find – ironically, finding meaning in a somewhat vague and uncertain concept. Something I appear to enjoy doing on some level, evidently.

The Proliferation of Dark Forest communities

The Internet’s dark forests, sometimes referred to as the cozy web, are the parts of the Internet that are outside of the mainstream social media websites. At least, out of the public view of people who frequent these websites. A common factor of the dark forests that are increasingly being inhabited are that are curated, gated communities. Instead of maximizing for reach, these communities are instead focusing on bringing likeminded people together in more intellectually and emotionally tolerant communities than are otherwise found on places like Facebook or Twitter. Examples of the dark forests of the Internet include newsletters, private Discord servers, group chats, message boards and more. Within these communities, communication becomes less high-stake than on public channels. There’s room for people to make mistakes, have misunderstandings and have a shared context, as happens with interactions in real life.

This idea is nothing new. A distrust of the more public aspects of the Internet has been present among some people since its advent. In Japan, for instance, a lingering distrust of the Internet has been everpresent since it became adopted en masse. Long before the days of Telegram and Substack, a culture of anonymity on the Internet has been present. This has taken many different forms, from users not posting real names or photos of themselves, to the predominance of anonymous sites such as 2channel, the predecessor to 4chan.

What is relatively new, however, is the adjacent concept of lunarpunk. Lunarpunk came about as a response to solarpunk, an ethos that, at its best, emphasizes hope, positivity and public engagement with pressing issues. Recently, however, this idea has met criticism as being naïve, utopian and out of step with the realities of an increasingly hostile global economic, geopolitical and regulatory environment. Lunarpunks, by contrast, emphasize building in private, and generally hold a more skeptical view of things.

This idea is particularly prevalent in the context of web3 and in the Ethereum community, where there are ongoing debates about how to build crypto infrastructure. As lunar_mining argues in the article “Lunarpunk and the Dark Side of the Cycle”,

Solarpunk is crypto’s conscious mind. It is bright, self-confident, and future-oriented. Yet the counterpart to solarpunk faith is lunarpunk skepticism. Lunarpunks are the solar shadow-self. They are the unconscious of this cycle. While “solarpunks join DAOs” (Dylan-Ennis), lunarpunks are preparing for war, and building privacy-enhanced tooling to protect their communities.

The distinction between solarpunks and lunarpunks is reminiscent of the distinction between the dark forest and cozy web metaphors. Communities in the cozy web, while seeking likeminded communities, are generally not primarily focused with issues of censorship, government reproach or economic sanctions. For lunarpunks and dark forest communities, however, these issues are front of mind. Solarpunks seek to maximise transparency, whilst lunarpunks seek to maximise unknowability and anonymity. Movements such as lunarpunk and the web3 movement more generally may accelerate this trend of retreating toward the dark forests of the internet, as cryptography advances and decentralized, secure technologies scale and become more commonplace.

As the mainstream internet becomes increasingly saturated with noise, propaganda, censorship and hostility, it is likely the retreat to cozy web and dark forest online niches and communities will continue apace. Speaking from personal experience, since seeking out smaller, more intentional online spaces and forgoing the noise of mainstream online spaces, my experiences online have improved considerably. The range of issues I can discuss has expanded, not just because of the peace of mind of being in a more ‘private’ channel, but even being in a place where niche interests can be explored in the first place.

However, as many upsides as there are to moving more toward the dark forests of the internet, it can come at a cost as well. It is possible that eschewing the mainstream internet entirely can lead to being stuck in increasingly isolated echo chambers, without awareness of what is happening in the world around. By opting out entirely, this also means ceding the mainstream internet and subsequent culture entirely to bad-faith actors, exacerbating the issues already at hand.

Liminal Spaces

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of liminal spaces lately. A liminal space, whether it is physical or psychological, is a space that is on the precipice of, or in a transitory phase between one place or another. In media, these are often depicted as spaces such as hallways or empty buildings where no one is around. These places are real, but at the same time, without people being there, there is an unsettling, almost unrealistic or dream-like quality to them. These spaces often arouse feelings of being trapped or feeling claustrophobic. Feelings of nostalgia or a longing for the past also arise when thinking about these spaces.

For the majority of us, the last two years has been an extended exercise in living in a liminal space – both physically and psychologically. Whether it be through lockdowns that physically restrict our movement and shutter the routines and places we would otherwise engage in and visit, or the uncertainty of what may happen next. For many of us, it has meant uncertainty around personal and professional situations – when will I be able to see my loved ones and friends again? Will my job still be around when this is all over? This has been compounded by a removal of personal agency in many cases – coping mechanisms and problem solving techniques available in any other situation have been taken away, sometimes with devastating consequences.

One reason why I have been thinking about this idea of liminal spaces, aside from the above, is that I will soon be turning 30. This has coincided with being in a period of rapid change in many aspects of my life – such as being in a position to put a deposit down on my first property, longer-term career paths and aspirations, and even in the groups of people I am friends with, both online and offline.
With these changes, however, come times of being in ‘liminal space’ – such as waiting for loan approvals, responses to interviews and job application processing and more. Even with the most proactive and forward-planning approach possible, these moments of being stuck in liminal spaces cannot be avoided. On a more existential level, it is also coming to terms with the clear closure of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of the next. A chapter with an abundance of opportunity, freedom and excitement, but also on some level a lamentation of a loss of innocence and a certain carefree, laissez-faire approach to living. Whatever comes next, it feels as though the stakes are undoubtedly higher.

In regard to my current career and future direction, the liminal space idea is also strangely fitting. In my current role as a system analyst, a large portion of my role involves working in the space between the frontline, business-focused and customer-facing portions of my organization and the more technical backline workers. In order for my work to be successful I need to find a way to align these two groups of stakeholders. While it is an enjoyable, challenging and rewarding job, it is also not always easy to define or obvious to show its importance and value. At times, I feel both a part of, and also in some way outside of, the organization that I work for while working in this role.
As I’ve reflected on this idea more, the paths going forward also have this theme. I currently work in government, but the roles that appeal to be going forward and the outside projects that I work on (some of which I’ve mentioned in previous posts) have the common theme of linking things together, e.g. Public sector work and private enterprise. It would seem that on some level, I enjoy being in, or at least operating within, the liminal space between two different broader groups, whether professional, personal, cultural or otherwise.

This may also be a natural consequence of my upbringing and growing up as someone on the Autism spectrum, in a time before there was a neurodiversity movement or other broader identity to latch on to. I had to figure out a way to, if not fit in, at least function in groups I did not always belong to. I became very good at finding a niche between social groups, even if I did not necessarily closely belong to one particular group. This has brought about a proactive nature and independence, but also at times a sense of isolation. We’re a social species, and an interdependent one at that. At some point, being loosely aligned with a number of groups becomes unenjoyable, and closer connections are sought after.

With the last days of my twenties occurring, it feels fitting that it also feels like the final part of the transition from being a young adult to a full-fledged man, someone who has fulfilled most of the appropriate milestones of an average person around this age. However, as anyone who has been through major life changes knows, the final stages of this process before the transition is ‘complete’ can be the most difficult and stressful of all. A change of circumstances means new behaviours, new habits, new expectations. It feels like being in a liminal space of past and future – what has happened before and what will happen in the future.

Web3, DAOs and Public Policy Innovation

In recent months, like many people, I have fallen down the web3 rabbit hole. Whatever one may think of its merits or lack thereof, there is an undeniable energy and enthusiasm in the space virtually unmatched in any other field or industry. As a public sector employee who has a keen interest in governance and how work in the public sector can be improved, I have been observing with interest, and more recently participating in a number of DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) and web3-based blockchain governance experiments.

Among the most interesting experiments in this space from a governance and public goods perspective is GitcoinDAO. GitcoinDAO’s mission is to help fund and support open-source public goods and the people who dedicate their time to creating and maintaining these goods. GitcoinDAO interests me as a public servant for a number of reasons. Firstly, the maintenance of open-source public goods is an area which, while very much a publicly-minded project, is a tricky one for any particular government to fund. As these goods are typically online, they are used by people across the world. Therefore, national governments are disincentivized to fund these, as they are not necessarily primarily for the benefit of their citizens, even if they will undoubtedly benefit from their sustained funding.

Other DAOs are providing experimentation on problems as varied as universal basic income and even the creation of entire new cities, such as UBI DAO and CityDAO respectively. While experiments with a Universal Basic Income are not new, DAOs provide a new way for these experiments to be funded and trialled. Innovative policy experiments which may not get initial voter support or buy-in could be trialled through a DAO and if proven successful be then taken up by government, this time with more buy-in from voters than previously.

At first sight, it can seem unclear what, if anything, government can learn from these experiments. After all, they’re operating in completely different circumstances and with widely varying, sometimes conflicting goals. However, scratching below the surface, I believe there are some principles and processes which could be used to benefit the work that traditional governments and bureaucracies do. The aforementioned DAOs and blockchain-based organisations are examples of what I see as governance and public policy incubators. These organisations, albeit on much smaller scales than that of a nation-state, innovate and experiment with governance and public policy choices. Forward-thinking government agencies could then implement the processes developed within DAOs as appropriate.

There are examples of governments taking on board some of the processes and principles of decentralized organisations into their practice. One of the most notable examples of this is Taiwan, whose vTaiwan initiative takes advantage of participatory governance and the use of technology similar to what is happening in many DAOs.
In a similar vein, Estonia’s e-Estonia initiative has successfully digitalized virtually the entire bureaucratic infrastructure of the state. In their own words, e-Estonia is about creating a digital society. While not using blockchain specifically, it nonetheless relies on automated processes and reducing bureaucratic overhead, in a similar way to what DAOs aim to do.

Unlike many people who are involved with DAOs, I do not see it as a foregone conclusion or even particularly likely that DAOs will become the primary form of organization over traditional corporations or government services. Certainly in the short-to-medium term, at least, governments and traditional businesses and startups are here to stay. I believe that issues of scaling as well as the barriers to entry, not only technical but in terms of needing to be a part of the right networks or hold a specific token (which can be expensive) limit the extent to which DAOs will play a primary role in public and private sector governance. I believe, instead, that DAOs can be highly useful and powerful incubators of innovation and organization for smaller-scale operations, both civically and profit-minded.

While I don’t envision government bureaucracy replicating DAO structures any time soon, it is worth keeping an eye on them nonetheless to see when good ideas come from this space. In a time of ever-increasing innovation and change, any tool in a policymaker’s toolkit to help support good governance can only be beneficial.

A Personal Preview of 2022

For my last post of 2021, I thought I would talk a little bit about some of the intellectual themes I’ve gotten interested in during the year and intend to pursue through the next year. I’ll also cover a couple resolutions of sorts, or at least some behaviours or dispositions I’ll try and cultivate during 2022.

Intellectual Themes

For those who have been following my blog, Twitter or online presence in general, you may know that I began my first full-time job in government this year. My current role as a system analyst is a wide-ranging one, with a variety of technical, research and communication and organisational competencies required. It’s been a fun and challenging role so far and encompasses a number of my broader skills and interests, including research, governance and utilising technology in the public good. I see myself working within the public service or on projects and in organisations related to the public sector for the foreseeable future. Making this decision, as I mentioned in an earlier post (https://scottjdavies.com/2021/10/18/optionality-commitment-and-choosing-a-path/), also frees up a lot of cognitive bandwidth to think about other things.

Throughout 2021, like many people, I’ve also become keenly interested in web3. I’ve developed this interest for a different reason than most, though. As I’ve explored and participated in a number of web3 projects and DAOs, including Gitcoin, the Commons Stack and Verses, I’ve become more interested in the possibility of DAOs and the alternate governance structures they utilise to help inform how traditional government may work.
Closely related to this, I’ve been thinking about digital governance and public goods provision. How might the gap between policymaking, public service provision/procurement and the cutting edge of digital innovation in startups and technological enterprises be bridged? It’s a vital question that I think needs far more attention than it currently gets. From my vantage point, there are many people with knowledge and experience in either government or the private sector, but far less interest in meaningfully leveraging the best of both worlds to solve pressing challenges in governance. I want to make one of my professional goals in 2022 and beyond figuring out what I can do to bridge this gap, and how.

Among all this, I’ve also come across the Foresight Institute’s Existential Hope program. Existential Hope (https://www.existentialhope.com/about), succinctly put, is “generating common knowledge to catalyze cooperation towards beautiful futures“. It combines rational, measured techno-optimism, innovation and positive-sum thinking in order to think about and help create a more positive vision for the world. In a way, it provides an overarching framework for the work I’m doing in government, digital governance and public goods. I’m looking forward to working more closely with the Existential Hope program in 2022, including attending online meetups, hosting Interintellect Salons on the topic and more.

Behaviours and attitudes to cultivate

If there’s one real ‘resolution’ that I have for 2022, it is living unconditionally. Basically, this means not placing arbitrary conditions on how I need to live life, or on what I ‘should’ be doing. In others, it’s being less extrinsically motivated and more intrinsically motivated. It’s about removing mental blocks that suggest I ‘can’t’ do something for one arbitrary reason or another.

My previous post, which was about finding and committing to a path, touches on some of these themes as well. For the first time in possibly my entire adult life, I have a clear idea about where I’m going in life, what I’m willing to focus on and trade-off, and cultivating a positive mindset toward doing so. Instead of looking at my work and my personal life as separate entities, I now see how the two inform and are integrated into each other. Naively fixating on one aspect (usually work), hoping for other things to sort themselves out will be a thing of the past.

2022, like this year was, will be a year of considerable challenges and change for me. It will be the culmination and execution of a lot of preparation, thought and practice I have done in the last few years. I’m very excited about what this year will bring and I can’t wait to get started.

The Medicalization of Human Experience

I recently came across a thought-provoking article in The New Atlantis entitled ‘All Pathology, All the Time’ (https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/all-pathology-all-the-time.) The central argument of the article was that our society is becoming ever more medicalized, and more and more behaviours and emotional states were gaining a medical label of some sort. In essence, the threshold for the diagnosis of many disorders was being lowered. As a result of this creeping expansion of the definition of disorders, people who would previously not have been diagnosed with a condition now have a diagnosis and are subject to the medical management that comes with these diagnoses.

Illness, particularly mental illness is often a result of a multitude of factors. In the Western medical context, many illnesses are often reduced to an individual biological issue and treated accordingly. There are plenty of occasions where this is the correct way to deal with these illnesses. Sometimes, however, this approach is not sufficient and can at times exacerbate the issue someone is going through. As Suzanne O’Sullivan argued in her book “The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness” (https://undark.org/2021/10/08/book-review-the-mystery-illnesses-informed-by-culture/), this narrow conception of medical health often misses important cultural and environmental factors behind the illness. What may appear to be a mystery or unknown medical issue can, with the right social context and perspective, be more easily identifiable.

The medicalisation of an ever-increasing number of behaviours and emotional states, and the increasingly narrow methods of treating other disorders creates perverse consequences. For instance, it has the effect of narrowing the bounds of ‘normal’ behaviour, and also makes the treatment of issues an individual’s issue, ignoring the social context of such issues. These diagnoses and subsequent labelling can also have a perverse effect on how people interact with others and the world at large.

I have first-hand experience with these problems as someone who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at age eight. In the years since my diagnosis, the criteria for diagnosis of what is now Autism Spectrum Disorder has changed multiple times. With the changes in diagnosis comes changes in how people interact with those of us with this condition as well as how the medical profession views us. To be clear, these changes in interaction have generally been more positive than they were previously. One decisively negative aspect of these changes, however, has been the increasing tendency to reduce us to what the changing definition of these disorders describes us as, taking away our personal agency in the process.

This creates a conundrum for those of us who are trying to grapple with this complex condition and find ways of adapting and growing in a positive and healthy manner. Even if we work to overcome some of the more negative aspects of our condition if society at large views us through the narrow lens of a medical diagnosis, how are we to properly integrate into society, and fully develop socially? Without the space to grapple with complex and difficult emotions, social situations and setbacks without immediately seeking a therapeutic or medical solution, our self-esteem, freedom and agency are diminished.

In saying this, I am certainly not arguing that medication, therapy and the like have no use or place for physical and mental health. However, they are just tools among a large number of potential tools for solving health issues. An over-reliance on these tools whilst ignoring other potential fixes cannot continue in the manner it has been without more serious consequences down the road. A more balanced, holistic approach to physical and mental health, which sees people as active participants, not passive recipients in their recovery is needed to avert the issues of our current pathologisation of medical health.

Optionality, Commitment and Choosing A Path

Recently, I had a significant breakthrough in terms of my professional life and my overall direction.
There are several factors which led to this. Firstly, my first taste of finally being in full-time, stable employment, not having to worry about whether I was qualified for a job or not. I now had definitive proof I could in fact make it, which made me feel more confident in my current skillset and ability and not feel the need to keep upskilling indefinitely.
Beyond this, though, it was the culmination and bringing together of several strands of what had long been intellectual interests of mine. The role I’m currently in involves aspects of technology, systems and complexity thinking, economics and finance, as well as governance and public policy, all of which have been or are currently interests of mine. Granted, some of these aspects are only tangentially there in my current job. However, I do not believe it’s a coincidence that these themes have come together at once in the way they have.

Apart from my current job, these interests, though I did not realize until recently, also drove a lot of the side projects I worked on and was gravitated to. Even things such as topics I liked to discuss over at the Interintellect or with random people on Twitter tended to lean toward the subjects I mentioned before. It only makes sense, then, that I would lean toward these subjects and the patterns of thinking and action associated with those who take a keen interest in them, both in and out of my career.

While keeping your options open and exploring your interests is worthwhile, there comes a time where options can’t be preserved any longer and choices must be made. This necessitates lost opportunities, sacrifices and ‘missing out’, a perennial fear particularly among millennials. The pressure to constantly strive and chase after the latest high-status career or job title, no matter whether it’s a personal fit or not, seems to get stronger all the time. Optimization and optionality, paired together, can also be a means of procrastination and avoiding responsibility and commitment. I know this first-hand, as it has been a large driver of my previous behaviour. The fear of making a wrong or suboptimal choice led to indecision, analysis paralysis and ironically, missing out on far more than if I had just making a choice. By contrast, with picking an option, even if it may not be optimal, comes the chance for contentment, stability and the opening of new opportunities, within a more established and clearer frame.

I feel much more relaxed about the future since discarding career optionality for a clearer path. I now know what my strengths are, what are the weaknesses I need to work on and which skills can ultimately not be prioritized. Having made peace with closing off a large number of potential paths, I can now focus on the one I have committed to. With this, I can now also forgo what has been at times an almost relentless drive of self-improvement, optimization and upskilling in order to feel like I’m keeping up.
Along with this, I can finally place more energy into my oft-neglected social and personal life. Living in a more deliberate, balanced manner can only be a good thing for me in the long run.

Quick Thoughts on web3 and DAOs

Like so many others this year, I have found myself taking a far closer interest in cryptocurrency and related fields such as decentralized finance (DeFi), non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as well as the nascent Web3, or decentralized web movement, including decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs).
Unsurprisingly, as the number of acronyms even my opening paragraph hints at, the learning curve in this space is steep. Very steep. There are an astronomical number of projects, initiatives and concepts to be across, and the number grows seemingly by the hour. Even for people who are used to self-learning and taking the initiative when learning new things, it can be unforgiving to find your footing in the space.
However, that is part of the appeal for me. I always enjoy an intellectual challenge, and coming to grips with such a fast-moving field is certainly a challenge that appeals to me.

I will admit to being a sceptic of many aspects of cryptocurrency in the past. Like many, I briefly engaged with cryptocurrency during the 2017 boom. However, back then I treated it essentially like a gambling exercise, only looking to see if I could make a quick buck. I had little interest in the underlying technology and its use cases.
This time around, however, I approached the space in a vastly different way. Before making any investments, I spoke to a number of people experienced in the space to learn things from them. I did my due diligence to figure out what are legitimate projects and what are just scams or a quick moneymaking scheme, and overall I put more of a focus of being a participant rather than a spectator or speculator.

This leads me to looking into DAOs. There are DAOs for almost any conceivable function. However, the DAOs I sought out focused on education, onboarding new people into the space and that were trying to make entering the space a less daunting experience. I’m a strong believer in the power of education to help people realize their potential, utilize their skills and talents and as a means of empowerment. As such, one of the DAOs I am contributing to is called Crypto, Culture and Society, which focuses on the effects of the growth of cryptocurrency and web3 on society and culture. For all the great things about this space, it sometimes shirks at responsibly acting towards newer entrants in particular. This is partly the reality of the incentives of a rapidly growing, new system. There’s lots of quick money to be made, and with that, an abundance of people willing to scam and shortchange newer entrants. However, I believe if that cryptocurrency and web3 is to succeed, a more responsible self-governance and education is needed, lest this becomes imposed through heavy-handed and stifling regulation.

One of the great things about web3 is that you don’t have to have a tech background to get involved. There’s a place for almost anyone – marketers, community leads, writers, editors are among many of the sought out skills for DAOs and web3 projects. As the space grows as quickly as it has been, the demand for these skills grows accordingly. The main thing that’s needed is initiative and a drive to get involved.

On the Optimization and Quantification of Life – Assorted Pre-Salon Thoughts

This post is a preview of sorts to my Interintellect Salon on the 31st of July. This isn’t going to be a particularly in-depth post, it’s mostly to give some of my initial thoughts on the topic and to provide some more context to people who may be interested in the Salon but are on the fence about attending.

One of the main reasons why I think this topic is a timely one, especially as we slowly return to normalcy after the past year and a half is that now is a good time to think about how society operates, what some of the shortfalls are and how we can rectify this.

While I will in parts of the Salon touch on the quantification of work and professional life, this has been discussed almost ad nauseum elsewhere, and is not the main focus of what I had in mind for this topic. Instead, focusing on areas such as personal lives, leisure time and even hobbies is more of interest to me. Incidentally, one of the things which sparked this idea for a Salon was watching the Euros recently and noticing the extent to which stats, even ones which had at best peripheral relevance to what was happening, being a centrepiece of the broadcast. Having not paid close attention to football for a few years before the last few months, the number of new metrics and stats measured struck me as being bizarre at first, but also a part of a broader trend the more I thought about it. While a seemingly inoccuous thought at first, it did soon prompt me to think further on the issue which eventually led to me coming up with the idea for this Salon.

Particularly in the online spaces where I frequent, I find a lot of people trying to relentlessly optimize and quantify even their hobbies and interests. To an extent, this is a natural response to broader societal trends. However, it seems not only to be expressed through actions, but also through a more pervasive worldview.

As well as this phenomenon, I want to explore the other downstream effects of the relentless push for optimization and quantification, and how it may affect aspects of our lives which we didn’t even think about, or in different ways than we usually conceptualise. This thinking is reflected in some of the posts I have shared to read before the Salon in the event page for the event.

Again, this post is far from a comprehensive summary of my thoughts on the issue, but just a way to air out some of my initial thoughts on the topic as I continue to prepare for the Salon. In the days leading up to the Salon on the 31st July, I’ll likely discuss this more on avenues such as Twitter, the I.I discord and elsewhere.

For those who are interested, the link to the online event is below. Tickets are $10, which is a great deal for a 3hour+ event. It starts at 8pm Adelaide time on the 31st July, which is around 11:30am in the UK and early morning in the US if you’re up for a late start. Hope to see you there!


High and Low Time Preferences

One of the big things I’ve been thinking about the past few months has been the concept of high and low time preferences. What are high and low time preferences? Put simply, it is a preference between short and long-term thinking, planning and decision making. It’s the difference between wanting quick gratification and results, and being able to think more systematically and broadly.

In particular, my focus in terms of time preference has been related to finances, investment and spending. This has coincided with having a new job which affords the ability to think longer term. For the first time, I am thinking seriously about learning about investing, creating an investment portfolio and thinking of my financial decisions on a timescale of years and decades as opposed to weeks and months. Of course, going from a situation where I have been forced to think mostly short-term to being able to think on a longer time scale has taken some adjustment.

It’s not been easy to make such an adjustment, beside the increased capacity to do so. At present, so much of our society is geared toward high time preferences, wanting to act immediately and attain immediate results. Think of our spending habits, for instance. Saving is not incentivised nearly as much as immediate spending and going into debt. There is a tremendous amount of social pressure to spend in a way that emphasises social status, no matter whether it’s affordable or not. Wanting to live frugally is often derided or seen as unusual.

In the political sphere, decision making, when it is actually done, is mostly reactionary, based on the topic du jour and the latest opinion polling. At most, planning is done based on the 3 or 4 year election cycle, and big decisions requiring thinking decades into the future is largely ignored. Similarly, our institutions largely fail to think long term and anticipate trends and changes, opting for just-in-time fixes over preventative measures and astute planning.

While I am thinking with a lower time preference in general than what I used to, I do of course acknowledge this isn’t always possible or ideal. Sometimes, decisions need to be made right now and action taken immediately. It’s not possible to live while solely focused on the future. As much as anything, thinking with a lower time preference helps to make me more aware of the tradeoffs I make with the decisions I make and reflect on the principles and thinking that led me to those decisions.

One of the questions that continually interests me and that I keep coming back to is – how do we as a society place more of a value on a low time preference, and to strike more of a balance between short term and long term thinking? It’s a very tough question to solve, but it is an essential issue to tackle to sustain ourselves on a longer time scale.

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