Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#22: Taking the Long View

I have been thinking about East of Eden since I finished it, not too long ago. And Lee, as a character and presumably a sort of surrogate for the author, is full of some really fascinating asides. He talks about how much he loves bookshops throughout the novel, and even leaves to go open his own (returning shortly after). When he mentions this to Adam, he lays out the rest of his life in front of him.

I want to open a bookstore in Chinatown in San Francisco. I would live in the back, and my days would be full of discussions and arguments. I would like to have in stock some of those dragon-carved blocks of ink from the dynasty of Snug. The boxes are worm-bored, and the ink is made from fir smoke…

…I would like to have my little bookshop at last. I would like to die there.

When I look at my life, I feel as if I can barely see six months ahead. Maybe I have some plans for the next year. But even stretching out best laid plans a few years out in front of me feels blurry and unstable. Nevermind being able to succinctly describe what I’d like to die doing.

I think that one of the knock-on effects of our collapsing attention spans is the inability to take the long view. There are a growing number of self-help books, and anti-self-help-books and don’t-call-it-self-help books that you can shell out $30 for so they can tell you as much. Embrace minimalism, find focus, and clear your mind of distractions to catch up with the pace of modernity.

The knack—the trick at the center

Which is the subject of a growing number of self-help books designed to embrace minimalism, and shed distractions, and find focus, and generally race to catch up with the pace of modernity.

It is difficult to find the courage and clarity needed to just slow down. T ounderstand that you can’t get to everything you want and that a singula rpursuit informed by passion is far more satisifying than trying to do it all. And I appreciate Lee in East of Eden because I think he echoes the author, who, at another point in the novel finds his own diagnosis.

The split second has been growing more and more important to us. And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split hundredth, until one day, although I don’t believe it, we’ll say, “Oh, the hell with it. What’s wrong with an hour?” But it isn’t silly, this preoccupation with small time units. One thing late or early can disrupt everything around it, and the disturbance runs outward in bands like the waves from a dropped stone in a quiet pool.

How can I say goodbye to these small time units?

In her newsletter, Molly White has been delivering a near-flawless streak of new entires over the last couple of months. One of those was about Chris Dixon’s hot of the presses Web3 book “Read Write Own.” Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think the book is going to be worth my time, filled mostly with the hollow promises that characterize Web3 and crypto in general.

One aspect of Web3 that always pisses me off is its overlooking of simple, reliable technologies that are already serving the needs of millions of people, because they lack the flashiness of whatever VC happens to be obsessed with. Which White points out:

It’s profoundly weird to read RSS’s obituary as a person who checks her very-much-still-alive feed reader several times a day to get everything from cryptocurrency news to dinner ideas, and who rarely encounters a website that doesn’t provide a functional feed.a And does Dixon somehow not know that much of the thriving podcasting industry is built on RSS, or that many other apps and websites build features on top of RSS without their users ever even knowing it?

But of course, RSS is unlikely to attract billions in investment. After all, it’s pretty much done. There’s no room for lofty pretensions of what it almost definitely will not become.

Lisa Barrett on how emotions are made:

Emotions do not shine forth from the face nor from the maelstrom of your body’s inner core. They don’t issue from a specific part of the brain. No scientific innovation will miraculously reveal a biological fingerprint of any emotion. That’s because our emotions aren’t built-in, waiting to be revealed. They are made. By us. We don’t recognize emotions or identify emotions: we construct our own emotional experiences, and our perceptions of others’ emotions, on the spot, as needed, through a complex interplay of systems. Human beings are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits buried deep within animalistic parts of our highly evolved brain: we are architects of our own experience.