Let your work speak for you

I think it’s troubling that in the midst of a conversation, a person can somehow solidify their ideas as a viewpoint. That the idea can harden and we view that person through the lens of that particular idea. They wander through ideas and hit upon a snag of an idea and for whatever reason, start defending a position or attacking another position or just inhabiting that position temporarily. But we don’t let them off. We see them as that. Of course, it’s because we bring our bias to ideas and interactions, but it’s also because we bring our humanity into it. It’s not like a person has much time to sit alone in a room contemplating what their philosophy is, or even have time to reflect, in the moment, on how traumatic or meaningful moments in their lives shape them and their ideas. Let alone, shaping the philosophy that accompanies the beliefs they harbor deep within. But we fix people in their positions, and define them by that.

Even now, in this blog post, I write as if I happened upon a set of ideas that make sense to me, solidified. But the truth is, tomorrow or next year, my thoughts on this or any issue will have morphed sometimes incomprehensibly. They’d even be possibly unrecognizable to my current self. I cannot write or speak to all times.

And yet, we do know of certain works or arts or designs that are “timeless” in a sense. They speak beyond their time into the minds of today, and we assume they will continue to hold that kind of sway on the minds of the future. A Porsche. Shakespeare’s plays. The Eames chair. These are works that people spent years creating and they stood the test of time.

I’m starting to feel this way about how I would approach my existence as a whole. Isn’t it awesome that we know the Eames chair and yet 90 percent of people who know about the Eames chair have no idea who Charles and Ray Eames are? That their personal lives have no bearing on the appreciation of the object itself? We don’t need to know the life story of this American married couple to enjoy the chair.

In 2018, we increasingly live in a time where this is not allowed nor possible. Celebrity has been democratized. Everyone may not be famous, but everyone now has a way to feel famous, in some manner. It’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, et al. Everyone is a small celebrity (with a path to medium-sized celebrity). It’s the decline of privacy. And not privacy in the sense that “oh, this or that company has access to my data” but rather the privacy of our lives. The attitude that I have to (aka want to aka dopamine) share my photos, thoughts, and words is the complete opposite of an attitude where my work speaks for itself.

And maybe it’s nostalgia, but I miss this. Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but I don’t think so. There are a handful of people today who live their lives completely privately and yet still produce work that is enjoyed by millions of people.

This brings me back to the first paragraph. This idea of a solidified viewpoint in the midst of conversation. If one’s work can speak to one’s essence, than what does that say about fleeting conversations, texts, social media, and all that cyber decoration on character? For me, I think it means beating back a slow retreat from all of that jazz. If I’m serious about my writing, this blog and my published works should speak to the ideas and thoughts that I most care about, and I would hope tell people who I am long after I’m dead.

The problem is, of course, writing something that’s actually worth reading, since most of what I write is shit.

Why I think Crazy Rich Asians is important

I’ve read a ton of posts about Crazy Rich Asians, ranging from the derisive to the supportive, but I felt that most of the articles I’ve read seemed to miss the real importance of the movie.

The storyline has Rachel, a Chinese American, dating an Asian man from the Asian continent. Just on the face of it, we have already flipped the trope that Asian women tend to date white men and/or that they can’t date (or won’t date) Asian men who are raised in Asia. This is allegedly because Asian men raised with Asian values are more chauvinistic or traditional, and this doesn’t gel with the values learned by a woman raised and educated in America. And, as the title suggests this guy, Nick Young is “crazy rich.” The great thing about making this character rich is that it extends a metaphor that I think speaks to something that has been happening for the last decade for Asian Americans: they are slowly being eclipsed and outshone by Asians in Asia. It doesn’t surprise me that the biggest film since the Joy Luck Club is actually the reverse of it. Where JLC was a story of immigrants coming to America, CRA is a story of an Asian American going to Asia. So although the movie seems like just a romcom with Asianness sprinkled on top, it’s actually more incisive than it seems. And I think this is why the film has more staying power than Hollywood might have originally thought.

If you can get past the cheesiness of the film’s romantic aspects, and just pay attention to the tropes that it is attempting to reverse, it is groundbreaking. The set of characters themselves represent a wide range of Asian perspectives, from the groomsmen who each embrace their Asian affluence in their own unique way, to the older, more refined generation who are portrayed on a spectrum ranging from the cheeky Ken Jeong to the traditional Michelle Yeoh. The movie sets out to deliberately break stereotypes of what Asians are like.

When I was growing up, Bruce Lee was particularly important to me as an Asian figure who represented Asian values and behaviors. Doing it in an era when Asians were a marginalized and forgotten minority, he broke multiple molds, pioneered fitness and martial arts, and put Asians on the map. Since Bruce Lee, we have not had an international figure of such stature, even into 2018. No doubt, there are major figures from Michelle Yeoh to Jet Li to Jackie Chan, or even political figures like Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew. You could even count Jack Ma as the modern day frontrunner on this list. These individuals are all “greats” in their own respect, but even so, none have captured the global consciousness like Bruce Lee. Some may say, “Well, Bruce Lee is a singular figure, beyond race and field.” But my rebuttal is that while Bruce Lee rises above many limitations, the Caucasian entertainment class has continued to churn out men and women that capture audiences, have powerful voices, and enduring influence.

The above is unfortunate considering the continued, powerful, and massive influence of African Americans in all areas of entertainment, from sports to music to cinema. Even in the martial arts, with the exception of Manny Pacquiao and a handful of other Asians, Caucasians and African Americans have risen to dominate the various martial sports. But this also underlines an interesting thing about what it means to be Asian American. In Crazy Rich Asians, it’s worth noting that all of the characters are of Chinese descent. In truth, the movie should be called Crazy Rich Chinese. African Americans are a united culture and community, whereas Asian Americans are a disparate group of ethnicities with multiple histories, cultures, and paths to America. How much can a Vietnamese American refugee relate to a Japanese American whose parents were forced into internment camps? Or for that matter, how much can an American Born Chinese (ABC) relate to a native-born Chinese?

So this is the tall order that Crazy Rich Asians is taking on. It’s paradoxical. A multi-ethnic group now gathers like a moth to a flame around Crazy Rich Asians, and it’s my hope that it can be a face that launches a thousand ships. Despite CRA’s wild success, it is irrelevant if it is not followed up by more projects of its stature and vision. It should not be allowed to be just a blip in the history of Asian American entertainment like the Joy Luck Club, which everyone forgot about until Crazy Rich Asians reminded us of its existence. CRA needs to be the first domino.

Singapore? Singapore? Singapore!

And then there’s the issue of Singapore. I think what most articles from Singapore miss, in their complaints about the movie, ranging from the lack of racial transparency and a misrepresentation of Singapore as only affluent, is that we cannot expect this Hollywood movie to be a documentary. It never set out to do that. It’s one window. And the beauty of Kevin Kwan’s naming of the book is that it provokes people to take a peek into this window, a window that is no doubt a big part of not only Singaporean society, but also the greater Southeast Asian and Asian society. The first scene, where Michelle Yeoh arrives to take over a hotel once owned by affluent white British people is exactly what happened to Southeast Asia as affluent Asians (many Chinese) took over the assets that ruled Asia. Fiction is metaphorical and tends towards being more truthful than journalism, in essence. It doesn’t surprise me then that journalists complain about Crazy Rich Asians because they can only read the details, missing the larger point.

Having lived as an Asian American man born and raised in America for most of my life, and then living in Singapore for the last three years, CRA really hits home for me. There is a certain humility that comes along with being a naive American inside of an affluent and powerful Asia that I know next to nothing about. In one year, Singapore has managed to insert itself into two significant narratives in America. First, the Trump-Kim Summit, which put Singapore on the diplomatic and journalistic map. And although the summit’s results are highly debatable, it is without a doubt that Singapore made its way into global consciousness. And once again, with this movie, Singapore is once again on the map. It’s been an impressive year for Singapore, diplomatically and creatively. Impressive for an unspectacular yet affluent island, which seems to make all the right moves. Does this signal a new moment for Singapore where it can step up alongside the Hong Kong of old? Definitely not. It’s another beast altogether. Is it now a diplomatic and creative hub? Or are these just anomalous moments, ones that won’t ultimately catapult Singapore into prominence? Who can know for sure? I have my doubts. But the larger potential for an Asian and Asian American creative collaboration? Maybe there’s something here.

As Crazy Rich Asians continues its run, I really do hope it breaks $300 million at the box office before it leaves theaters. Although some are saying it’s not representative of Asia or Singapore or Asian America, I think those criticisms really miss the point of the movie. The hope here is that this is the beginning of a proper International Asian and Asian American entertainment industry that isn’t just Hong Kong cinema or Hollywood. Indeed, Crazy Rich Asians is just a foot in the door.

P.S. Not to mention. What an all-star cast! With fresh stars from major TV shows from Humans, Fresh Off the Boat, Silicon Valley, and The Daily Show. Well done!

I love Supervillains

I love supervillains because they make stories interesting. If you have a shitty supervillain, you’re bound to have a shitty story with a hero that doesn’t amount to much. It’s the Joker that made Batman so great. It’s Thanos that made the Avengers so compelling. It’s Q that made Pickard so deep.

Lately, I find myself relating to villains in an odd way. Of course, the hero is the person that we all want to win, because of the values and humanity that we all hold dear. But villains, especially well written ones, fascinate me because they have a vision of the world that they want to exact. They are ambitious about making the world a better place and have provocative principles about how things could be.

For example, I recently went to see the Lion King musical with my family, and I was struck, upon a second viewing how the story played out. Mustafa, the monarch, is killed by his ambitious brother, who wants to assert a new society. Simba, after embracing a devil-may-care philosophy with his friends, Timon and Pumba, eventually returns to reassert the previous world order and monarchy. Scar’s project, although selfish and destructive, is an attempt at something new and ambitious.

This pattern is quite common across most of the supervillains that you will see. They challenge a status quo and the hero comes in to return things back to the way they were or should be. It’s classic Joseph Campbell stuff.

But what you have to admire about the supervillains is that they are attempting to change the world in the first place. Indeed, as a new friend of mine mentioned, the super villain is principled. By contrast, it’s not that the hero is principle-less, but that in order to be interesting, they must grapple with their own moral dilemma to decide what is right. The hero discovers what is right. The villain, on other hand, is blinded by what they think is right. They are thus driven, by any means necessary, to assert that on the world, at any cost.

This is what I really love about villains though, they have an idea or guiding principle that they attempt to assert on the world. It’s the villains that have grappled with the philosophical questions. It’s Hollywood that assigns a judgment call and dramatizes it. Those poor villains, they get a bad rap! Victims of Hollywood’s fake news. After all, history is written by the victors and in the movies, the victors are always the “good guys”. The superheroes are the writers of all these superhero movies. Supervillains would write different stories.

I hate that it’s difficult to make close friends in your 30’s

This year I turn 34. It’s almost ten years past the age of 25, the alleged age in which scientific studies tell us that we lose friends and are unable to make new friends.

In my experience, talking to and observing friends and acquaintances and testing out making new friends, I find that the study checks out. It really is hard to maintain adult friendships and to create new intimate ones.

There are few things I hate in this world, and this is one thing I hate. I hate that it’s so hard to make new close friends. I rail against it. And I try my best to beat back against the inevitable oceanic waves of peoples’ busyness, their incumbent social circles, and the work they already have to do to maintain their current relationships. I want the new interesting people I meet to become close friends.

Not to disparage our 20’s but I do think that the 20’s are a time when we are in a specific place in our development. Our careers are just taking shape. Our senses of what we like in life and in people are just gaining steam. University ending, first jobs testing out, first independent travels to other cities and countries, etc. In my 30’s, I feel a stronger sense of who I am, more reflection into where I’m going, the people I like, and inevitably less time. My rationale is, if I know myself so well, if I am a more solid person, than don’t I want to seek out people and connect with more people intimately on that basis? And connect to people older and in a similar place to where I am?

It boggles my mind that more people don’t feel this way. After all, although I get a lot out of coffee chats and dinners with interesting people, my most rewarding conversations are the ongoing ones that I have with close friends, where we mull over ideas and themes over the course of months instead of minutes and between their ups and downs of life instead of between our sips and tips at a coffe table. These are the conversations that seep into my being and change the way I actually think about life and the world. How challenging can ideas and feelings really be when they are experienced in sound bytes? What I want are close relationships that threaten, challenge, and comfort me in deeper and deeper ways. Knowing about a person doesn’t add much value to either person, but developing a lasting growing friendship is priceless.

The irony here in 2018 is that it’s now so easy to click a button and get a new Facebook friend, but it’s comparatively that much harder to make a close friend.

So then the question is how to do that? Ultimately, it does boil down to methodology. Maybe it’s doing walks instead of coffee, or exercising together instead of dinners. Maybe it is asking more challenging questions like these instead of what do you do and where are you from. But I do think it also boils down to one’s own willingness and persistence, actively keeping up with people that you want to hang out with and pursuing them until there’s experiences and break throughs that make the relationship something you are both invested in and cultivating. It’s a hard ask in this bustling and busy world, but I think it’s worth it. We have to lobby against our own programming.

Finding your home in the maelstrom

A few days ago, I wrote about the power of unfinished thoughts, and I thought I’d elaborate on this idea. In that article, I talked about why it’s powerful to entertain such ideas, because eventually they lead somewhere fascinating.

But what kind of mind does it take to be at that edge? It’s hard to say. The edge of certain ideas is not a safe place. There is a certain apprehension and if I’m being honest, there is anxiety.

Let’s think about one case. When a team is faced with a problem to solve, prior to solving the problem, there is an open space where a brainstorm ensues. For some people, that brainstorm is alien. Even culturally, some people cannot stand that open space, it intimidates their minds or freezes them in their tracks like deers in headlights. For these types of people, they require a closed space to make progress, a space where they are fully aware of the limitations and rules, and can only build with the sand you give them to play with. Ultimately, they don’t allow themselves to have an imagination.

If the above sense is a framework that you buy into, then I think it’s worth considering my central idea: that it takes a subtle bravery and comfortableness to exist in an unknown space. You have to be willing to entertain mostly dumb and crazy thoughts. And you have to be able to allow them to see the light of scrutiny and risk looking like a fool in the process. The bravery is whether or not you are okay with it, whether or not you find your home in it.

I don’t think this practice comes naturally. This is something that is trained over years of work or upbringing. And the paradox is that it is hard to measure whether or not a person is “good” at this. You could be comfortable with chaos but still come up with shit ideas. Vice versa, you could hate the hazy space but still manage brilliant ideas. It depends on the personality and culture, but I find the people who are most interesting are the ones that are able to inhabit that space, indeed, they seek it out, and wade through and into great conversations.

The sheer power of unfinished thoughts

I think one of the most difficult things, as far as thinking goes, is giving oneself the license to think one’s most powerful and impactful thoughts. We tend towards obsessing too much over what everybody else is thinking and understanding that thinking than striking out on our own, unfettered by the limitations of our fellow beings.

This is why I love unfinished thoughts or half-assed thoughts. There is a certain power in letting oneself go and swimming through ideas rather than attempting to piece them together. I think it’s at the edge of one’s own thoughts and logical frameworks that we get a chance to surf on ideas. And at this edge, at the tip of those waves, ideas look messy, stupid and certainly unrefined. And this is where I want to broadcast my thoughts and ideas, sometimes, because there is a space here to be wrong or innovative or stupid. A comedian has to try a million jokes before he finds a few hundred that he can turn into a Netflix Special.

That Netflix Special is a distillation of a comedian’s best jokes after a long period of trial and error. Some jokes are seeds, which eventually become full on trees, a full 5-minute bit. Other jokes are dead on arrival, never able to see the light of day again. This is part and parcel of the journey of a comedian.

The same is true for thinkers. Great thinking teeters precariously at the edge. It seems weird, it seems offbeat. Sometimes it even comes off as offensive. Indeed, sometimes it isn’t taken seriously for decades or centuries. And there are times when these half-baked ideas are only the beginning of great thoughts, lighting a candle that goes out before it casts any shadows. And once in awhile, you have that wild thought that strikes out and grasps the heart of a matter by the balls. And all that surfing, turned out to be worth it.

The case for science non-fiction

The thing I love about science fiction is that it is a great storehouse for ideas spanning physics to philosophy. Because it is customarily about the future, especially the very far future, it pushes the reader to think about what caricatures and elements of society will change in the long term, and what kind of outsized impacts they will have on we, as humans. Of course, science fiction itself is a caricature, it takes potentials and then it follows them to their logical conclusions.

That’s why Black Mirror has so much power. It takes things that we know so well in our evolving technological life and then allows them to be expressed completely. You can watch everything you did today? What if you could watch everything everyone experienced for years past? What if you could rank people? What would that mean if we stretched that out to an entire society that could rank you? This is the Black Mirror formula, and hit or miss, it provides a powerful narrative and a number of caricatures that become a mirror for us to look at ourselves today. So if you’re reading the Left Hand of Darkness, 1984, Brave New World or watching Star Trek, Interstellar, or Dr. Who, the reality is these novels and films actually point at what is happening currently in the society.

But ultimately, I think science fiction becomes impotent if it wants to change society.

Science fiction is impotent because it is entertainment, and entertainment does not enter the center of the discourse as much as it would like, rather it is a reflection of ongoing discourse. It turns what we are processing in the zeitgeist of the society into a tangible and narrative form. In other words, entertainment becomes a manifestation of the society’s subconscious. For example, 3 Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, which recently won a litany of awards, puts the concerns and manifestations of the #metoo movement into a relatable story. But the movie didn’t inspire the movement. After all, that isn’t really the job of art. Indeed, science fiction is a place for reflection, not change.

For that reason, I’d like to propose that we need a new genre, I like to think of it as Science Non-Fiction, but it can be called whatever. The main impetus here being that there needs to be a genre of writing that is a call to action based along similar philosophical and literary lines as science fiction. Where science fiction is a reflector, science non-fiction can be an actor. With science fiction, it asks the reader to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained and enter a hypothetical world for humans.

Science non-fiction therefore does the opposite, it asks the reader to consider the current human world and imagine its potential future in earnest. No doubt this genre already exists in the writings of futurists. Michio Kaku is one such person who is well known for applying scientific discoveries to understanding the future of humanity. But I think now is no greater time than any to reconsider this as a mainstream approach to how we view society, media, and even our individual actions as humans. We need to consider it as a serious genre of literature. We need a methodology of projecting ourselves into the very far future based on our current knowledge and technology and a forum to discuss those ideas.


Footnote: Within the science fiction community, there is that oft-repeated idea that scientists like Stephen Hawking and tech founders like Elon Musk look to science fiction for inspiration. We can be sure that the reverse is true, that science fiction writers take their inspiration from scientists. After all, many science fiction writers, from Asimov to Arthur C. Clarke were friends with scientists. Even Fred Hoyle, the writer, was actually a celebrated astronomer. But are we sure that science fiction actually inspires science? No doubt, science fiction offers warnings as well as hopeful futures, but let’s be honest science and technology follow science and technology. They exist in ecosystems of their own design and science fiction has the privilege of reflecting that. But it doesn’t actually inspire science fiction. It’s only incidentally so.

 

 

Turning premises into stories

Aspiring to be a science fiction writer coming from a background as a tech journalist is daunting for me. With tech news, you follow your nose into startup methodologies, product interfaces, and the latest trend of what everyone is talking about. The stories tend to write themselves because all it takes is a press release or an interview for the punchline to become readily apparent. Although it’s very difficult to become a Pullitzer-prize winning journalist, which requires an investigative eye and a true panache for the craft of writing, just doing journalism is not nearly as hard as crafting stories out of thin air.

But the trouble for me has never been the lack of ideas and premises. Indeed, little and big conversations play a strong part in randomly inspiring new ideas and worlds that I love to think about. Language is also something that I love to play with. I used to write poetry and essays during the university years and that has poured out into a love of language. The twists and turns of words continue to weave around my head.

The difficulty has been writing and imagining characters that speak to me, as if from an unknown universe that really does exist. Characters don’t yet call to me. They don’t talk to me as if they were real. And they don’t know my name. They feel rather like objects I need to chisel at slowly over time. That tells me I essentially don’t know what makes a character tick.

But I would like them to. I find myself flipping through pages of notes and drawings of worlds, fantasies, and menageries of ideas. I find myself staring at blank pages. I find myself looking into the abyss. But characters do not crawl out of these crevasses. And I think this is my greatest fault as a writer. It would be my greatest regret to wake up at 80, and having not written a story that spoke out to me and made me feel confident that a reader would come along and be captured and compelled by that character.

The irony is characters are filled with struggle and here I am struggling to write them. I am my own most boring character. And I beat on into the night.

The law of diminishing returns of network effects

As a16z’s Anu Hariharan summarizes in her All About Network Effects deck, a “network effect occurs when a product or a service becomes more valuable to its users as more people use it.” The deck goes on, in brilliant fashion, to show us how the economics of network effects play out in social networks and two-sided marketplaces from Facebook to Airbnb.

I think in 2017, were witnessing two phenomenon with respect to network effects: 1) platforms are subject to a law of diminishing returns, 2) this has lead to noise. The result of these two phenomenon is obvious: 3) people want to retreat to smaller communities over time and 4) its harder to find new signals, aka its harder to become famous.

Diminishing Returns for Users

On Investopedia, the law of diminishing returns states that “an increasing number of new employees causes the marginal product of another employee to be smaller than the marginal product of the previous employee at some point.” With more employees, the output of the group becomes less per employee. Let’s extrapolate this to the a16z thesis and user platforms.

With network effects, the platform becomes more valuable (to users) as more users come to the platform. But with diminishing returns the output becomes less when the platform cannot appropriately utilize the producers (or employees). This is interesting when you consider that in social networks like Facebook, all of the users are also producers of content. Therefore, the user who benefits from network effects is also subject to the law of diminishing returns. In sum, Facebook users will all eventually hit a saturation point in their usage where the amount of friends (and updates) they get experience diminishing returns for them.

I can personally feel this in my usage of social media. As I added more people to my friend circle and followed more people in the timeline, the usefulness of Facebook diminished. As more people came onto my timeline, even though Facebook was algorithmically surfacing the appropriate people to me, it still felt noisy. What am I getting from my friends? Their updates and pictures all blur together into a collage of memories and thoughts that my two hundred thousand year old brain infrastructure can barely keep up with. It’s no wonder that young adults using social media are more likely to experience depression.

Users have too many friends and they get less out of Facebook than they give to it. Their experience results in a net negative experience.

Signal, Noise, Fame, Chatter

With more crowds, and more noise, we now have an environment where it’s harder than ever to get a coherent message across or even to just be famous. Its an odd paradox. Weve reached a saturation point for noise, where now if you want to be famous you have to have a brand or brand association as a jumping off point. With too much noise, people now want curation and expertise. Gone is that brief era where people could pierce through the chatter. And even if you have, the chatter will instantaneously augment it to its own emergent ends. It is so noisy that its hard to even hear signals, let alone ones own signal.

(Dis)Connecting on Social Media

The above is interesting when you think about the unprecedented amount of connection that we experience today via social media and the internet. We are more aware of each other than ever before. We can react at fiber-optic speeds to events happening across the world. Yet we, via the plethora of potential cognitive biases from our post-primate brain, are more than ever beholden to our own ideas and prejudices. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it would have been difficult to predict that humans would enter a new polarized era in the late 2010s. With the biggest connections weve ever had, were also more disconnected than ever in other ways.

This calls into question what do we mean by a platform that becomes more useful to a user as more users enter it. What is “useful”? How do we measure the human value of a social media network? What is the difference between good information and bad information? Or too much information and too little information? What kinds of human beings is social media facilitating into being?

In this sense, the definition of useful, appears to be quite basic. Its about information moving faster from one spot in the world to another. And to be fair, politically speaking, that service should, according to certain human standards, be neutral. If the rulers of our internet world, from Mark Zuckerberg to Larry Page to Jeff Bezos, took an overt active role in politicizing their platforms to be “useful” in other ways, the long-term repurcussions of that would be potentially dictatorial in the long term. So we cant have that. But this leaves us with a platform of paradoxes.

It is no wonder then that people feel lonely when they use Facebook. Its ironic.

Intimacy in a Post-Social World

Many of us likely have a friend who has either deleted their Facebook account or gone off of it for deliberate extended periods of time. The diminishing returns are palpable. The oversaturation of social media noise makes (some of) us want to turn off completely. With social media as the dominant form, with its notification-checking and dopamine-inducing effects, it is harder for people to have intimate authentic exchanges. The world is not real unless its documented and uploaded to the cloud. It is the era of clouds. The clouds you upload to and the clouds you wade through.

The rise in offline groups, one-on-one messaging, private clubs (or networks) for millennials, etc. is only the beginning of a backlash to the cloudy world we live in. In a stressed out, overly-connected world, people dont want real connection and sometimes were unable to know what that is or even give ourselves those moments of quiet and boredom to find them. We can only react in conversation or tweet in frustration. But I think we’re seeing the beginnings of a movement in the opposite direction. People are fatigued as they hit their personal saturation point with the diminishing returns of their social networks.

The Service We Do for Future Humanity

Despite the diminishing returns, the paradoxical isolation, and how beholden we are to devices and internet accounts, there seems to be a small saving grace to all of this internet activity. History repeats itself, as we know. And as we manifest and project our old and new values into this technological ecosystem, it becomes a mirror for us. And it also becomes a mirror for the future humans. In 50 to 100 years and onwards, if we preserve all of our data, it will be the most rich picture of humanity we’ve ever created as an aggregate. And that set of rich data only gets better as the technology to record and preserve it gets better, while the need to record it exponentially increases.

The recording of every moment of every human, privacy notwithstanding, will redefine history as we know it. Think about it. When you read history books that cover events that happened just 100 years ago, we barely have any pictures of the people of that time, and only some recordings of what they thought. You go even further back and historical recordings are dominated by only the most significant voices of their times. Today, we have an unprecedented democratization of history. It’s possible that in the next 100 years, we will have a picture of every living human on the planet. I envy the humans of the future for the data we are giving them.

Why I love writing

My love of writing dates back to the times when I was a child and my mother forced me to keep a journal. To this day, I still have these notebooks, tomes of the 90’s, that have inscribed within them a curiosity I can still feel in my being today. I don’t remember why I loved writing. But I know why I love it today.

I love to daydream about premises and worlds when I’m idle or bored. In some ways, this is my mind’s natural state. When boredom creeps up on a moment, be it waiting in line or stuck without the internet, my mind will sink into a relaxed state and ideas will float up into view. Other times, a conversation or a speech, especially one I’m fully engaged in, will inspire a sudden flash of an idea, where two (or more) configurations merge in my mind. It could be one simple idea coming into contact with a complex world that is being discussed. Within that sudden merging, a fresh idea is born, and I must follow it. I have to write it down.

I get similar such flashes when I’m reading books, watching movies, or even during mundane activities like eating or staring out a car. The quest then is to have a mind that is constantly engaged yet sufficiently bored to stumble upon flashes that can turn into stories or articles like this. Simultaneously, to have a mind that is alert and aware enough to remember these flashes as they pass through me.

Sometimes ideas come to me while I’m writing and they make it to the page. Other times, the ideas float through my mind just enough for me to be mildly excited about them but not enough to remember them. The difficulty then is writing a piece that truly speaks to the moment while also being true to the thrust of the central idea. I must capture the essence. Although I am now writing about writing, am I really touching on what is most important about it for myself and for everyone? Does it not only capture this moment but all moments? Does the writing speak to universals? If the answer is yes, the writing becomes accessible to more people.

Another reason why I love writing is that it’s a vehicle for learning. As studies have shown, writing is a way for a person to master a subject. Just like teaching allows you to learn a subject better, so too does writing. No wonder school is full of essay writing, the perfect way for someone to communicate their understanding. I have an unquenchable thirst for learning. From philosophy to history to technology to the arts, I want to learn how all of these things work and there isn’t enough time in the day to tackle them. But the temporary configuration of neurons that these ideas and knowledge create in my mind is delightful. Transmuting that configuration into creation and reflection via writing is ultimately satisfying. Oftentimes, it’s the practice of taking an idea from this abstract world of neurons and hazy images and imprinting into reality. In a sense, writing makes ideas real.

I discover myself when I write. I find out who I am as words distill my thoughts into solid form. In a vivid sense, writing is about self-discovery and ultimately about self-actualization.

Writing for me is also about legacy. It is like an epitaph. The majority of written material created by humans is done by people long dead. But their writing breaths on into the imperceptible grand flow of human knowledge and the human experience. Writing from great people, or the accounts of them, add contours to how we experience our days and nights. It is an expression that comes out of that mysterious configuration. I do hope one day my writing can be significant enough or true enough that it can touch someone and even many people.

Sometimes I have this problem when I write where I don’t write that flash idea with enough precision and completeness that when I return to my notes later, I can’t quite make out what I meant. A conversation with my memories and my old self ensues. Sometimes, tragically, I must abandon that idea altogether and move on. As a result, I attempt to be as complete as possible going forward. But as you can see from this, my ideas are very precious to me. They distill and capture a moment of inspiration. For I see new fresh ideas as gifts that come to me from an unknown place. It gives me an intimate vision of the zeitgeist of neurons as they fire in formation in my brain, a configuration I know not where it comes from. Therefore, precision is central.

This speaks to a paradox of writing. The flashes and configurations that happen in my mind, no matter how I struggle to encapsulate them to you, dear reader, I cannot have one hundred percent certitude that you will grok my ideas. It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the process. It’s impossible for my configuration of neurons to appear in similar formation in your brain. It doesn’t matter how precise or eloquent I am.

An interesting future issue for writing is whether it will continue to be a medium for creation and transference of ideas in the years and centuries to come. It has enabled the writers of the past to communicate with readers of the future. But if new mediums and technologies come that can pierce through the barrier of reader and writer, between past and present, between here and there, than writing as a medium might finally lose its power. If I can create a device that transfers my entire configuration mapped perfectly onto your brain, with its ideas and images, why do I need to go through the intermediary of pen and paper or keyboard?

But this begs the question, do I write to create a complete transference? I write everyday, but .00001% of all humans read my writing. I don’t write for you or for the future, ultimately, I write for myself. Writing, no matter the mediums of the future, will remain resilient for humans because of the interplay between self, abstraction, and reality. It’s the process. That is the metaphysics of writing.  As my ideas make it to the page, they achieve a particular solidity. They are trapped in language. Before that, they are a jumble of images, non-linear coda, and dream-like phantoms. As the ideas become real, they take on a life of their own. In that sense, writing thus becomes an allegory for the universe and creation. It is an act that is a microcosm, a little universe. It is divine.