Latest Commonplace Additions


Social media is hyperactive

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The terms social network and social media are used interchangeably now, but they shouldn’t be. A social network is an idle, inactive system – a Rolodex of contacts, a notebook of sales targets, a yearbook of possible soul mates. But social media is active – hyperactive, really – spewing material across those networks instead of leaving them alone until needed.

Ian Bogost, 10 Nov 2022

From the essay The Age of Social Media Is Ending


The post-materialist turn in global politics

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The cultural backlash theory comes from the political scientists Pippa Norris and Ron Inglehart. Inglehart, who died last year, is famous for tracking the post-materialist turn in global politics. Starting around the 1970s, generations raised in relative affluence began to care less about traditional economic issues and more about questions of personal autonomy and social values. The core fights of politics turned away from the distribution of money to the preservation of the environment and women’s bodily autonomy and marriage equality.

These changes were generational, and they’ve moved steadily from the margins of politics to the center. That’s led to a backlash among those opposed to, or simply disoriented by, the speed at which social mores are shifting, and the rise, in countries all over the world, of a post-materialist right. That’s led to a slew of right-wing parties that care more about culture and identity than tax cuts and deregulation.

Ezra Klein, 12 Nov 2022

From the opinion Three Theories That Explain This Strange Moment


But above all, try something

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The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932

From the speech FDR Address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia


Muddled thinking and self-deception

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Mr. Campion was shocked. There are some people to whom muddled thinking and self-deception are the two most unforgivable crimes in the world.

Margery Allingham, 1938

From the novel The Fashion in Shrouds


Change is the one constant when it comes to culture

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Change, after all, is the one constant when it comes to culture. All peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life.

Wade Davis, 6 Aug 2020

From the article The Unraveling of America


When racial or religious lines are drawn by the State

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When racial or religious lines are drawn by the State, the multi-racial, multi-religious communities that our Constitution seeks to weld together as one become separatist; antagonisms that relate to race or to religion, rather than to political issues, are generated; communities seek not the best representative, but the best racial or religious partisan.

William O. Douglas, 1964

From the decision Wright v. Rockefeller


Very large social units are imaginary

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Very large social units are always, in a sense, imaginary. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, there is always a fundamental distinction between the way one relates to friends, family, neighbourhood, people and places that we actually know directly, and the way one relates to empires, nations and metropolises, phenomena that exist largely, or at least most of the time, in our heads.

David Graeber and David Wengrow, 2021

From the book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity


Many humans just don't like their families

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There is an obvious objection to evolutionary models which assume that our strongest social ties are based on close biological kinship: many humans just don’t like their families very much. And this appears to be just as true of present-day hunter-gatherers as anybody else. Many seem to find the prospect of living their entire lives surrounded by close relatives so unpleasant that they will travel very long distances just to get away from them.

David Graeber and David Wengrow, 2021

From the book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity


I love and admire my species

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I grow little of the food I eat, and of the little I do grow I did not breed or perfect the seeds.

I do not make any of my own clothing.

I speak a language I did not invent or refine.

I did not discover the mathematics I use.

I am protected by freedoms and laws I did not conceive of or legislate, and do not enforce or adjudicate.

I am moved by music I did not create myself.

When I needed medical attention, I was helpless to help myself survive.

I did not invent the transistor, the microprocessor, object oriented programming, or most of the technology I work with.

I love and admire my species, living and dead, and am totally dependent on them for my life and well being.

Steve Jobs, 2 Sep 2010

From the letter Email from and to Steve Jobs, Dated September 2, 2010


To distract the watchdog of the mind

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Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.

Marshall McLuhan

From the book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man


My brain felt hungry

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That’s how my brain felt to me, too. Hungry. Needy. Itchy. Once it wanted information. But then it was distraction. And then, with social media, validation. A drumbeat of: You exist. You are seen.

Ezra Klein, 07 Aug 2022

From the essay I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message


The system-vs-goals model

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If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

[O]ne should have a system instead of a goal. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavours. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.

Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

Scott Adams, 2014

From the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life


Continually debating people and never winning

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If your view of the world is that people use reason for their important decisions, you are setting yourself up for a life of frustration and confusion. You’ll find yourself continually debating people and never winning except in your own mind. Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational.

Scott Adams, 2014

From the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life


A continuous effort to make sense of things

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Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.

Robert Darnton, 21 Dec 2000

From the article Extraordinary Commonplaces


Individualized lifestyles deeply brutalizing to the human spirit

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Most primates, including humans, are intensely social, and there are very few instances of lone primates surviving in the wild. A modern soldier returning from combat – or a survivor of Sarajevo – goes from the kind of close-knit group that humans evolved for, back into a society where most people work outside the home, children are educated by strangers, families are isolated from wider communities, and personal gain almost completely eclipses collective good. Even if he or she is part of a family, that is not the same as belonging to a group that shares resources and experiences almost everything collectively. Whatever the technological advances of modern society – and they’re nearly miraculous – the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


Social resilience

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Recent studies of something called “social resilience” have identified resource sharing and egalitarian wealth distribution as major components of a society’s ability to recover from hardship.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


The group of people that you would both help feed and help defend

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Two of the behaviors that set early humans apart were the systematic sharing of food and altruistic group defense. Other primates did very little of either but, increasingly, hominids did, and those behaviors set them on an evolutionary path that produced the modern world. The earliest and most basic definition of community – of tribe – would be the group of people that you would both help feed and help defend. A society that doesn’t offer its members the chance to act selflessly in these ways isn’t a society in any tribal sense of the word; it’s just a political entity that, lacking enemies, will probably fall apart on its own.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


Ceremonies are designed to

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In all cultures, ceremonies are designed to communicate the experience of one group of people to the wider community. When people bury loved ones, when they wed, when they graduate from college, the respective ceremonies communicate something essential to the people who are watching.

Sebastian Junger, 2016

From the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible

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Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.

Alan Kay

From the remarks Parc discussions with Alan Kay


Mastery of Inner and Outer Worlds

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Mastery of the inner world, with a relative contempt for the outer, must inevitably lead to great catastrophe. Mastery of the outer world, to the exclusion of the inner, delivers us over to the demonic forces of the latter, and keeps us barbaric despite all outward forms of culture.

Carl Jung, 1962

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