Interrogating Our Stuckness

Welcome back, friends and family. Here’s Digitally Literate, issue #338.

This week I helped publish the following:

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Bill Nye Goes Sneaker Shopping

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Complex’s Joe La Puma go sneaker shopping with stars. I love seeing what people value in the treads for their feet.

This latest episode includes Nye’s viewpoint on the science involved in every pair of kicks.

We Are Not Living in a Simulation, We Are Living In the Past

L. M. Sacasas with an essay on the premise that life online is lived in the past.

The essay is organized into seven points.

  • On the internet, we are always living in the past – There is no present online, there is only recreation and memorialization of events of the past.
  • On the internet, all actions are inscriptions. We steadily create digital versions of events to create documented reservoirs legible to humans and machines.
  • On the internet, there is no present, only variously organized fragments of the past – We spend time, and effort looking busy by endlessly re-interpreting, reshuffling, recombining, and rearranging the past.
  • On the internet, fighting about what has happened is far easier than imagining what could happen – We fight about the past, and because our fights are documented online, there is no resolution…only more conflict and overwhelming/silencing/canceling others.
  • On the internet, action doesn’t build the future, it only feeds the digital archives of the past – I’ve written about this as digital breadcrumbs as we look to the trail we’ve created, as opposed to looking forward.
  • Because on the internet we live in the past, the future is not lived, it is programmed – As we spend time documenting and digitizing our past, these data points are scooped up, aggregated, and form the structure that dictates future actions.
  • On the internet, the past is a black hole sucking the future into itself – Our capacity to live in the present and imagine the future deteriorates as attention, energy, and creativity are devoured.

Two things are sticking out for me. First, I’m thinking about some of the focus in last week’s issue of DL in which we discussed reading and time for reflection and how this impact the way we think, interact and make sense of the world.

Second, it makes me wonder why I continue to write this newsletter. ┐_(ツ)_┌━☆゚.*・。゚

How the Internet Became a Doom Loop

In a recent issue of Charlie Warzel’s newsletter, he expands on the Sacasas post from above. Warzel is trying to move on from the tired trope of “social media is making everything worse” and instead identifies how the Internet has become a doom loop.

Because we believe that we need to live in the past and document everything digitally, there is a feeling of helplessness as we ignore individual and collective agency.

Warzel ends with a guiding question, as informed by Sacasas.

How do we train our attention on our present and future, when so much of our life is spent ensconced in dispatches from the recent past?

The misperception that equality is zero-sum

Is equality inherently a zero-sum game? A new Science Advances paper examines the persistent and pernicious misbelief that equality itself is inherently zero-sum.

Across nine studies, the authors examine the reactions of advantaged group members to equality-enhancing policies and find that they consistently and incorrectly assume that increasing equality harms their group.

These misperceptions persist even after interventions and prevail even as it incurs societal costs that harm everyone.

School Surveillance Will Never Protect Kids From Shootings

Chris Gilliard on the failures of school surveillance systems, no matter how expansive, intricate or hyped they become.

As these acts of violence impact our schools and other social spaces, they increase calls for more data, and more extensive surveillance, and move us toward a more dystopian future.

The ReAwaken America Tour Is the Start of QAnon 2.0

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed QAnon here in DL. For those of you just joining us, QAnon, is a conspiracy theory originating in forum posts on the website 4chan in October 2017 that believed that U.S. Pres. Donald Trump was waging a secret war against a cabal of satanic cannibalistic pedophiles within Hollywood, the Democratic Party, and the so-called “deep state” within the United States government.

A lot has happened since the December 20, 2020 disappearance of Q.

One of the things to pay attention to is the distinction being made between woke and being awake. Woke is an adjective meaning, among other things, alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. The word awake is becoming a far-right, 4Chan, and QAnon-friendly code for anti-woke.

How to be a techno-optimist

Over the past year, I’ve been thinking more about optimism as I approach my work. I hinted at this somewhat in a recent research presentation and subsequent discussion on Bryan Alexander’s Future Trends Forum.

Technology is not inherently good or bad. But, how should we think about these changes from a techno-optimist’s perspective?

  • First, optimists believe that the good outweighs the bad…and the distance between good and bad depends on how optimistic you are.
  • Second, optimists believe in an affirmation of improvement, that is that things are always getting better.
  • Third, optimists (and pessimists, for that matter) believe that we can actually measure good as a value to track. We can notice and name good as it relates to technological improvement.

Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.

Frank Herbert

I really enjoyed this Absurd Trolley Problem game this week. Friends on Facebook also shared Nicky Case’s games as well as this game for AI ethics.

Say hey at or on the social network of your choice.


  1. Aaron Davis
    July 19, 2022 at 7:27 am

    Ian, I was left thinking about L. M. Sacasas’ argument that life online is lived in the past.
    On the one hand, I am left thinking about my breadcrumbs as possibly leading to slow hunches. The thought that ideas for the future are produced from pieces over time.
    On the flipside of this, I was also left thinking about the way in which we have become content machines.
    Like yourself, this all makes me wonder about why I do what I do? Why make it public? And why publish my newsletter? I think that I actually like the habit and find it a useful exercise in regards to taking stock of things, but maybe I am just fooling myself. I have long given up on taking much notice of the ‘clicks’. In general, I only POSSE now days when I feel there is purpose.
    Anyway, I best get back to the past.

    • wiobyrne
      July 20, 2022 at 4:22 pm

      Definitely agree with your thinking Aaron. I hope you and those around you are well.

      I think there is a need to listen and pay attention to what we (and others) are doing. Then, and only then can we pay attention to trends and think about the future. For now…it’s off to the future Marty…I mean the past. 🙂

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