To Thrive in Modernity
Surveillance Capitalism, The Authority of Science, Margarita Selfies, and another Fast
Hello and thank you for being here! A bit of house-keeping:
First, I recently had an article published for Areo Magazine titled: Surveillance Capitalism and Its Challenges to Libertarianism. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but it basically looks at how smart technologies have grown to have a level of power and range that exceeds many governments even. I’ve always respected the self-reliant, libertarian ethos and have been wary of interventionism and nannyism. But technologies now hold powers we would not grant governments and, unlike governments, they often wield their power without the permission, input, or even awareness of us, its product.
More than anything my article is a critique of surveillance capitalism and a look at what everyone should know about Big Tech. In fact, it started out as a Stuff Everyone Should Know About The Information Economy before morphing into more of an argument. Check it out, if you’re into this sort of thing.
Also, my father, Dr. Griffin Trotter published a great scientific journal article this week titled, COVID-19 and the Authority of Science. It is dense and academic (my father suggested reading with a stiff drink), but I found it fascinating and the sort of education on the scientific process that I wish I’d had in school. It teaches the skills necessary to discern the valid from the bunk.
Finally, this coming weekend we’ll be doing another extended fast. More details at the end. Now, onward to today’s stuff!
FROM THE AGES
After the Spartans and their allies defeated the Persians in 479 BCE, the Spartans took control of the ornate tents where King Xerxes had stayed. The Spartan king Pausanias had Xerxes’ cooks prepare a typical meal that they would have made for their king. He also had his own cooks prepare a typical Spartan meal so they could be put side by side. The Persian chefs brought out an elaborate multi-course meal served on fine china. The Spartan meal was barley bread and pig-blood stew. The sight of the contrast between the two meals sent the Spartans into raucous laughter. Pausanias exclaimed:
“How far the Persians have traveled to rob us of our poverty!”
Source: Steven Pressfield, The Warrior Ethos
“There is nothing so helpless as the child of a rich man,” Grandfather liked to say. “The push and pull of the oceans, the sun rising and falling, the flow of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, none of that is enough for them.”
Source: Ethan Hawke, Rules For a Knight
A few weeks ago, my wife and I took our kids to the Texas Rangers game. I suspected that they would be too young (Ace is four and Brix is almost three), but a friend offered us a deal for cheap tickets so we went. We took our seats and got settled. As I tried to wrangle Brix and Ace peppered his mother with questions, a couple with frozen margaritas took their seats in front of us. They looked to be a few years younger than me—mid 20’s. The guy immediately turned his attention to the game, while his date began playing with her phone.
I couldn’t help noticing as she painstakingly worked to snap the perfect photo of her margarita—just her margarita—and then proceeded to subject the photo to an endless array of filters in her Snapchat app. After at least twenty-minutes of this, the photo was finally ready to be posted for the world: a filtered photo of a margarita and the word “Thriving” pasted across it.
Perhaps this young lady truly was “living her best life,” as the cool kids now say. Perhaps she had an intense love of photography and fonts that was only rivaled by her appreciation for ballpark frozen margaritas. And perhaps (probably) I should just mind my own business. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was witnessing something bizarre, yet depressingly typical—that this young lady was not actually thriving (was bored in fact), but felt compelled to make posts like this anytime she went anywhere or did anything that might be noteworthy enough to register on people’s social radar. Going to a Ranger game is supposed to be fun. Drinking margaritas is supposed to be fun. The occasion could be used to convince others that she was a happy person living a charmed life.
To some degree we all try to create a favorable image of ourselves. In fact, selecting a good identity or good ideals can be great motivation to maintain optimistic or resilient behavior. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with taking pictures and posting them on social media. But happy people don’t obsessively filter pictures of margaritas for 20 minutes. At least not usually. Something about modern technology, specifically the combination of smartphones and social media apps, seems to funnel young people towards this sort of inauthentic image curation. Sebastian Junger claims that humans need authenticity, competency, and connection to be fulfilled. These three essential qualities seem to be exactly what margarita filtering norms discourage.
In comparison to most of human history, almost all of us today live incomprehensibly lavish lives. Comfort, convenience, choices, and pleasures have expanded. But the missions and challenges that once clarified purpose, bonded groups, and fostered self-knowledge have largely gone away. We are now able to avoid the sort of hard experiences that bring meaning to our lives. Even more, we are filtered away from them by sophisticated marketing, abundant temptation, and brilliant technology. It takes a lot of intentionality and exploration in order to really thrive. Usually, it is the product of sacrificing for something that means more to you than the quick, easy pleasures we all crave.
This coming weekend, Justin, me, and most of the other IHD Seekers membership group will be doing an extended fast. Justin wrote about many of the reasons and methods for fasting before our last fast this past December, but suffice it to say that fasting and hunger, more generally, has been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time. We believe there are vital lessons to be learned from spending time in that uncomfortable state. The point isn’t to remove all pleasure from life. In fact, I’m already planning an order of Crumbl cookies to celebrate the end of the fast. It will be that much better for what I’ve just finished.
Thank you for reading! If you are interested in jumping along for the fast, we’d love to have you. You can join the IHD Seekers anytime for a community committed to helping each other pursue higher quality living. We will be pairing a self-inventory with the fast in hopes of using the experience as an opportunity for life reflection, rather than just a test of endurance. But, of course, it will be both.
Life is too short to be normal,
But why be normal? Very informative article regarding a couple subjects that should be looked at today. The "Surveillance Capitalism" article is very though provoking if one would consider why the communication/technology companies have had so little regulation.
Your Dad's article is on point. As just a dumb old guy I have little experience in using that information practically. But think about the last training article you read or information regarding a supplement. Then use your Dad's guide to testing those waters into account when weighing claims to the brightest shiny training program or supplement. Excellent