(Epistemic status: Metapost)
(Epistemic status: Mostly endorsed – does have the qualia of feeling like hitting the insight button without strictly suggesting a course of action)
Have you ever felt disappointed or fearful when someone finishes your sentences? How about when someone makes it clear they expected a certain behavior from you? Have you felt good or accomplished when you have done something (ideally positive) that surprised someone? I don’t think these are universal qualia – but I think for those that do get these things, there is an implicit paradigm at play. Prediction feels bad because it is a vector of control.
On the flip side, if the above questions didn’t resonate – if the idea of someone having those experiences is kind of weird, you might be running a different paradigm – a paradigm in which prediction feels good because it increases ability to reliably trade decision theoretically, and general be an agent people can cooperate with.
Both these paradigms hold true to some extent. The more predictable you are, the easier it is to constrain your action space – this is part of why predictability is a valued trait in corporations. The more predictable you are, the easier it is to interact with you and make positive sum trades – this is part of why predictability is a valued trait in communities.
Overall, I think that there is a tradeoff between consistency and agency, but that some consistency is important for coordination. Being highly predictable likely ends up being a prison of habits and a series of easy levers for people to control one with. Being unpredictable makes it difficult to make credible commitments with other people.
Discussion Questions: Do you model predictability as control or cooperation? Have you made tradeoffs between coordination and agency as corrections for previous experiences? Are there complex strategies this model suggests to you?
(Epistemic status: Complaining about western civilization.)
Think about your typical day.
You wake up, you get ready for work. If you’re in one of the tech hub cities, maybe you call an Uber. You talk to the driver, or not – it doesn’t really matter, you both are just trying to get to a place. You go to a Starbucks or other coffee shop, have the socially mandated small talk while you order your overpriced coffee. You start work, interacting with people mostly on a meeting basis – you have to account for all those hours, after all, and talking to anyone on company time is thievery. You finish your day, and maybe you’ve scheduled dinner with someone for networking reasons. You’ll be sure to talk for exactly the allotted two hours or whatever and part ways – after all, people have busy lives. Honestly, after one hour you’re pretty sure there’s not a lot more to say, but you allocated two hours to this and you’ll darn well use them. You head home, spend the socially mandated togetherness time with your roommates/family. You maybe relax a bit doing something else, and then finally go to bed. The day went well – everything was just as scheduled.
Of course, this doesn’t really describe anyone’s life exactly – it is meant to highlight a certain outlook that I’ve seen in myself and others in the name of being a productive member of society. There’s a sense in which every minute of our time needs to be legible, accountable, and productive in some way to be valid. Scheduling and sectioning off our days such that we accomplish tasks is a vital productivity skill. In terms of conceptual interactions, much of our world is task objects – things that are meant to be done; they are outcome oriented, constrained by time, meant to be forgotten once they’re complete.
On the other hand, the way we relate to people is supposed to be different. With people, relationships are intended to be continuous, unbounded, and generally exploratory. Getting closer to someone, in some senses, is removing constraints rather than adding them. Conceptually, this is what make a person object. Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly unusual to treat our relationships in this fashion – frequently, we end up relegated the people around us to being task objects. We constrain our time with them, we bind them in specifications and legibility, and we consider the goal of interaction to be accomplishment.
In modern society, the response to increasing complexity has largely been increasing legibility and specifications and spending more and more of our time on task objects, because there is supposedly more work to be done than there are hours in the day. Constraining our interpersonal time to task objects is an attempt to reduce the complexity of our lives (the complexity which is artificially increased by modern societal norms). This is part of why it’s difficult to find real friends anymore.
I don’t have a good recommendation for countering this trend – it’s difficult to break out of the task mindset. Every attempt to allow people to be person objects tends to start feeling like I’m “wasting time.” I suspect that past a certain point, the curve starts to be in favor of person objects, but there’s a dip when you’re making the transition over.
Overall, modern society has damaged our ability to relate to each other by turning time and attention into products rather than experiences. We are trained to think in terms of tasks, not people, and this is an unnatural state. Undoing that training is a difficult task, but recognition of the division is one of the first steps to resolving it.
Discussion questions: Do you notice yourself treating people as tasks? What does this dichotomy suggest in terms of actions for you? How would you approach reconciling the need to produce and the need to socialize?