James K Nelson

Class bias

So I did it. I used the "c" word. Class. That funny old-fashioned idea that your options in life were mostly, if not completely, dictated by the family – the class – that you were born into. That relic of the past that thankfully, in our modern egalitarian society, no longer holds you down.

For in this enlightened day and age, you're free to move up.

You're free to move up – even if you're born at the bottom, born to a poor family with no assets or education. You're free to earn yourself a scholarship to a good university. And even if you can't, you're free to work as many jobs as you need to put yourself through.

You're even free to apply to your dream job. And they're free to reject you in favor of a candidate with a higher GPA. Who went to a better school. Whose tuition and board were fully paid for by her wealthy family. Who is better than you.

Not from a higher class, mind you. Because we live in a meritocracy. She can't be higher class, because we don't have class in this society. She's just better. Plain and simple.

But not to fear. The wonderful thing about a meritocracy is that you're free to make yourself better too! You're free to rent a tiny apartment, so that you might find some meager savings to invest. You're free to spend your weekends and evenings learning new skills and growing your network, slowly working your way up the ranks, until one day, you find yourself sharing meals with those who never had to.

"Oh, but I worked damn hard to get where I am. I deserve my position, and if those lazy fuckers worked as hard as I do then they wouldn't have anything to complain about."

Sure, buddy. It's not like those lazy fuckers hadn't been working at your daddy's company for decades before he parachuted your childish ass into that cushy role above them.

"Besides, it's not like people can't build themselves a better life. Yeah, sure, it takes sacrifice. But you just need to want it enough. I mean, look at me."

Sure, miss. I wish I could sacrifice some time to start a side business while studying at Yale – with money from your wealthy family friends, I might add.

"And the thing is, when you actually look into it, most billionaires have a rags to riches story. That's the thing, the rich are rich because they've worked for it. They deserve it. It's just how it is".

No, it's not how it is. I refuse to accept it, and fuck whoever suggested it.

They’re not better because their parents could afford to send them to Yale. They’re not better because their family had the connections to fund their business idea at the ripe old age of 18. They’re not better because they’d been taught enough about the world to apply to Goldman Sachs straight out of uni, or because they can now afford to take an NGO's low salary and actually do something meaningful with their life.

They’re not better because their class bias only lets them see those who've worked hard and succeeded. They’re just blind – blind to all of us who've worked hard and failed.

They’re not better than us. They’re just from a different class. And the last thing they want is for us to stop bullying each other over superficial differences in identity and remember it.

Losing my marble

Much to its dismay, the little glass globe found itself in flight.

Now to be fair, flight is not a particularly remarkable state for a marble in the employ of a little boy. In fact, in a marble’s line of work, hurtling towards hard surfaces is par for the course.

The problem was that this time, the hard surface was bigger than it. And heavier than it. And well, actually, a concrete slab. A very stubborn concrete slab, that didn’t feel particularly like moving today, thank you very much. And besides, even if it did, it was quite incapable of doing so, for it was a concrete slab.

The marble hit the slab and – much as marbles hitting concrete slabs tend to do – shattered into little pieces.

At which point the little boy, after throwing the marble as hard as he could at the concrete slab, burst into tears. And not in surprise or shock, mind you, for the little boy was quite aware of how marbles colliding with concrete slabs tends to behave.

But the little boy loved that marble. It was his favorite.

As he cried, he wondered why he’d decided to throw his favorite marble at a concrete slab.

When you grow up

If you just put your mind to it, you can be anything that you want to be. That’s what they told us. If you just believe in yourself, you can be an astronaut. You can all be astronauts.

Fucking liars.

Or maybe they were just naive. After all, they didn’t grow up having their dreams crushed by the internet. They didn’t grow up googling for “Australian astronauts”, just to find out that there’d only been 3 in 30 years, 3 out of 20 million Australians.

No, not everyone can be an astronaut when they grow up.

But I could be. Because I believed in myself, and that meant I could be anything that I wanted to be. Sure, I wasn’t going to become an astronaut by joining NASA. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. So maybe I could build my own spaceship? I mean, spaceships can’t be that expensive, right? No more than a Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates could afford?

That’s what I’d do! I’d start a business and get super filthy rich and build a spaceship. I’d lift myself up by my bootstraps, from the dregs of society to the one-in-a-billion who can direct others to build spaceships. I was going to make it. Because I believed in myself. And because I knew how to build apps. I’d be on top of the world just as soon as I launched my app.

I still haven’t launched my app.

But you know, I did got offered a job writing software to control satellites. That’s pretty cool. Or it was until they asked me to take a huge pay cut. So I turned them down. Because when you grow up, you need to pay the goddamn bills.

Just a short note today that I’m going to try switching to posting a weekly paragraph for a while. I’m hoping that this will give me more time to improve the site and app itself, bringing forward the time at which other people – with ideas more interesting than my own – will be able to start posting.

After all, my goal isn’t for this to be my daily paragraph. I want it to be the daily paragraph.

Cherry-flavored denial

There’s this question that I used to get asked a lot. And when I first heard it, it struck me as kind of odd. Of course we have four seasons in Australia. The tilt in the earth’s axis isn’t unique to Japan, you know? What, do you think I’m an alien?

Actually, that’s what they call us foreigners here. Aliens. But I digress.

Japanese culture has an awareness and fascination with the seasons that was something new to me. And other than funny questions directed at foreigners, the first thing that really drove this point home for me was the convenience store beer fridges. Like clockwork, each time the season changed, there’d be new beers in the fridge. Starting with the summer editions, then the cans decorated with dying leaves, followed by the winter editions, and finally, the spring editions – covered in cherry blossoms. Because nothing sells beer like floral patterns.

Seriously though. In Japan, one of the year’s prime events is hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. On the surface, it’s an occasion to take some time out of daily life to appreciate nature in all it’s beauty. More practically, it’s an excuse to get together with friends, consume copious amounts of alcohol, say things that a more sober you might regret – and all while maybe spending a few moments appreciating nature in it’s beauty.

But whatever the reason, hanami is an event. It’s on the street, it’s in the news, it’s on your calendar. And that calendar is moving forward every year.

To put some numbers on this, in the decade covering 1991-2000, the average date at which the Japan Meteorological Agency announced the first bloom of Tokyo’s cherry blossoms was the 27th of March. And yes, the national weather agency really does announce the start of cherry blossom season. It’s important business, okay?

Fast forward to the decade of 2001-2010, and first bloom was now happening almost a week earlier, averaging in at the 22nd of March. Which moved back to the 21st of March within 2011-2020.

But this year? In 2021? The first bloom started back on the 14th of March – the earliest ever. Not that being the earliest ever is particularly unusual right now, because the sakura have bloomed earlier than “expected” for 8 years in a row. Honestly, it’d be weirder if they came on time.

And yet. Despite the Japanese people’s keen awareness of the changing seasons – from the “does Australia have four seasons too?” questions right down to the national forecaster announcing the first bloom of the cherry blossoms – there’s still little action on climate change.

But thankfully, it’s not like there’s no action. Because Japan has started building hydrogen tankers! Technologically advanced behemoths tasked with shipping liquified hydrogen – a clean-burning fuel stored at near-absolute-zero temperatures – across the oceans. From home. From Australia. Where they’ll create the hydrogen by burning that marvellous brown mineral that we all know and love. It’s a win-win, you see. Japan saves face by burning “clean” fuel, while Australia – who couldn’t care less what the world thinks – makes a dirty buck.

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that despite what the Americans and Europeans may think, we in the western pacific certainly can think outside the box. That, and hanami is for saying things that you might regret…

I like walking in the rain. Because the thing about the rain is that we can’t control it. If it’s raining, it’s raining, and there’s no switch that can be flipped to make it sunny again.

Even if humanity has harnessed the power of the atom, even if we’ve gone to the moon, even if we can beam information across the planet to satisfy our every thirst for knowledge… we still get wet. Rich and poor alike.

The weather is the great equalizer. So I like walking in the rain.

“Do you need a bag?”, the checkout lady asked politely.

“What?”

“Do you need a bag?”

To which I just stared with a puzzled face.

“Bag!”, she replied loudly in English, pointing at the bag she was holding.

To which I meekly nodded my head.

She put the sushi in the bag, I paid and walked to a park, I sat down and ate it. The sushi was delicious, yet still the worst I’d ever had.

Reverse Culture Shock

In Tokyo, it rains. It rains with such frequency that when you do the math, it turns out that there are actually more umbrellas than there are people. There’s umbrellas in the train stations, hanging around in the alleys, browsing the shops, going for walks. If aliens were to land in Tokyo, they’d probably greet the umbrellas as the obvious overlords of the place.

In Perth, it rains too. But you wouldn’t guess it after asking my dear family “do we have an umbrella?”

“A what?”

“An umbrella. Because it’s raining and I want to walk to the shop.”

“No. Why would we have an umbrella.”

Maybe I should have explained that they keep you dry in the rain, but instead I thought to contribute to the household, and inquired where in the neighborhood I might purchase one of these handy devices.

“What? You can’t buy one. Just drive there like a normal person.”

You see, even if it rains in Perth, you never actually get rained on. It’s bizarre how it works like that.

They say the dinosaurs didn’t really go extinct. They became birds, they say. Birds, those majestic creatures that go wherever they want, looking down on us from above as they wonder why we work so hard.

Birds. Those creatures whose most populous variety – by far – is the chicken. An animal bred and engineered by us to grow so fast that it becomes unable to support it’s own weight in a manner of weeks. Fat, caged, delicious, lunch.

They say the dinosaurs didn’t really go extinct. They just became our lunch.

I wonder if in a few million years, crows will be breeding and eating us?

Welp. I missed a post yesterday. It just completely slipped my mind.

It was the first time, but it was bound to happen eventually. Still, knowing that didn’t lessen the shock when I realized early in the morning. And to make matters worse, I’ve had writers block all day today, which doesn’t make the task of getting up and keeping writing any easier.

Still, even if I don’t have anything worth writing today, I’m writing all the same. Because the thing is, if I wait until I have something worth writing, it could be days, weeks, months. But if I write every day regardless? Occasionally, I’ll accidentally write something worth reading.

Maybe not today, but that’s kinda the point.

I think it’s something about the cursor. It gets stuck between the letters in a word, and makes you question everything that you’ve ever been taught. Everything that’s good and… classy.

Like the word “high”, for example.

When you see the word “high” in a sentence, you question nothing. But write it out in a block of code, and stick a cursor halfway between? Now it looks like it should be pronounced “hig-hhh”, with the hhh coming through your throat like you’re German, or angry, or both.

Which is ironic given the word’s usage.

High style. High society. High class.

Hig-hhhhhh.

I grew up in a city of cars, with a 2 hour walk to the closest train station. I learned to drive at 18, bought my first car at 20, and drove most days of the week for years. Yet, I'm much happier without a car. In hindsight, car culture feels like a jail that I didn't realize I was born into.

Luckily, all it takes to leave is a one-way flight.

In my adopted city, I don’t need to own a car. I can walk to one of three different train stations within 10 minutes, hop on the train, and be where I want to be – usually – in about 30 minutes. There's always the option to take a taxi, but they're often no faster than the train. And if I really feel like driving, maybe to get out to the distant mountains, there are more car rental shops within walking distance than there are train stations.

Which is not to say that nobody owns a car within this city. Many people do. They're incredibly useful tools. The thing is, at least where I live, they’re optional. You can choose to live without one, and many people actually do. Because in a city designed for people, life can actually be better that way.

Have you ever marveled at the absurdity of putting dinosaurs who’ve never used a computer in charge of a nation’s cyber security? Seriously, these fuckers look like they’d have trouble securing a fax machine, let alone a country’s cyberspace.

But wait a minute… cyber? We haven’t used that term for decades, plural. The next thing you know, we’ll have a minister for the information superhighway.

This whole thing really isn’t funny though. You know, the thing where a couple weeks ago, hackers got damn close to messing with the chemicals in a major city’s water supply.

It sounds like a Black Mirror episode, but it’s not. It’s real, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, and I have no idea what to do about it other than to make bad jokes and start prepping for the fall of civilization.

Or maybe I should invest in bottled water companies. After all, today’s (near) catastrophe is tomorrow’s opportunity!

They say that if your taxi driver is talking about how you gotta buy in to the stock market, it's probably time to get out of the stock market.

So let me tell you a little story. One day last week, I met six different people, and each and every one decided to talk with me about the stock market. Including the bartender. None of the six had ever talked about it with me before.

This means that it's time to get into the stock market, right?

Locked down in Tokyo

Tokyo. A city with tens of millions of people. And yet, nobody has the patience for strangers.

If you ask me though? It's a good thing. I certainly don't want hundreds of passersby each day trying to practice English with me. Besides, in Tokyo there are the accepted ways to meet new people; bars, events, work. Within the desert of human interaction, there are social oases.

But with COVID? Those oases have all dried up. Bars close at 8pm. Events don't open at all. Work happens in your shoebox apartment. Now you can never even leave your office.

I imagine a real desert would be kinder. At least out there, you wouldn't be confronted with the existence of others, so close but so far, each time you need to leave the house for food. Each time you decide to brave the pollen-smothered sun.

It's funny. Japan has the distinction that despite being in the middle of a raging pandemic, despite the rapidly aging population, it recorded a large drop in its mortality rate last year.

Yet, the suicide rate has gone up, especially amongst the youth. Which begs the question.

Is it really an achievement that less people are dying, if more people want to?

Despite COVID, or maybe because of it, the rich are getting richer. In fact, according to recent data, U.S. billionaires alone have seen a wealth increase of $1.3 trillion over the last year.

This makes me wonder. Are the rich getting richer in absolute terms? Or just comparative ones?

To put it another way, is the value of their assets growing? Or is the value of currency – a dollar, a yen, or a euro – shrinking?

Is the value of the world’s stocks, housing and bitcoin growing? Or is the value of your food, wages and rent decreasing?

Is the value of the economy as a whole and the companies within it rapidly expanding during a decade-defining global pandemic? Or… is something else happening?

Are the wealthy really getting wealthier? Or are they just becoming far, far more powerful?

Wealth and Power

Last week, I went for a walk past Hama Rikyu Gardens. And just in case you've never heard of Hama Rikyu Gardens before, let me give you a little intro. To start with, it's a garden (duh). It's located on a 250,216 m² artificial island, first constructed for the imperial family in the 1600s. It was built with hands and god-damn shovels. And it got me thinking.

Who in today's world could convince enough people to work for enough hours to quarry that sand and stone by hand, cart it to the coast by hand, build a huge artificial island by hand, and then build a beautiful park as the cherry on top? Like, literally. There are cherry blossom trees on it.

Xi Jinping probably could. Putin probably could too – look, the workers don't have to be happy about it. I figure Bezos could if he suddenly decided he'd rather have a hand-made garden island instead of one of the world's largest companies. Hell, Musk probably could too, all it’d take is convincing a bunch of wealthy chumps that funding his garden island would somehow save the planet.

But President Biden? Probably not. Your wealthy uncle? It's unlikely. Internet celebrities? Tell 'em they're dreaming.

It's funny. 4 billion of us own a magical glass window to all the information the world has ever known, and a billion of us own a vehicle that can tirelessly take us wherever we need to go. If you’re reading this, then you probably have more wealth than history's greatest kings could ever have dreamed of. But power? It’s something else entirely, and it's as rare today as it ever has been.

Puppies Are Shit

Imagine that I were to say to you that "puppies are shit"; they ate my lego when I was a kid. Obviously, I'm not telling you that all puppies are shit – just the ones that ate my lego. But I am telling you that I think that puppies are shit – after all, that's exactly what I said. I could have said instead that they're cute little balls of cuddles that sometimes do shitty things like eating my lego. But I didn't. I said that they're shit. They're lego-destroying monsters. Still, some of them I assume are good puppies.

But imagine now that you're talking with a man. Like a puppy, this man belongs to a group with its fair share of assholes. Still, when you tell your friend that "men are shit", you're not saying that all men are shit, and it's only fair to expect him to understand that. It's only fair to expect him to be calm, rational, and reasonable as you tell him that men are shit.

Seriously. If he were a truly rational man, then instead of being angry at you for lumping him in with a bunch of dickheads, he'd sit there, listen, and try to understand. He'd direct the anger he feels at the assholes who wronged you; the wankers who gave men like him a bad name in the first place.

And indeed, if I were truly a rational man, then if someone were to tell me that "men are shit", I would probably say "I know, and I'm sorry". Math says that with 4 billion of us, we certainly have our fair share of assholes. Hell, I'm probably one of them.

But what I'm not is a truly rational man. None of us are. We're human like the rest of you. So please stop telling us that men are shit. It doesn't help. It just hurts.

A recent episode of Last Week Tonight had a quote about COVID-19 which really jumped out at me:

One estimate for the cost of global prevention runs between $22 and $31 billion dollars a year but… the cost of COVID-19 in the U.S. alone is estimated to be over $16 trillion.

So to put it mildly, it's fucking worth it.

Wow. The cost of COVID-19 is roughly 1000 times greater than the cost of prevention? That's absurd. But even so, it’s not the part that stood out to me on my first watch through. I can't do mental math that fast, not while watching that brooding mountain (snap off my toes, you big, unwashed buffalo).

No, the bit that stood out to me is the "it's fucking worth it". Because it's missing an important qualifier.

Who is it worth it for?

Sure, when looking at the $16 trillion cost to the U.S. as whole, then almost any price of prevention would be worth it. But the thing is, throughout this pandemic, the rich have actually become richer. Far richer. In fact, according to The Guardian, the wealth of ten billionaires alone has increased by 400 billion dollars during this pandemic. 

And what's more, it's the billionaires that control the government's purse strings. Because according to this recent study, "business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

If it actually made sense for those in power to deal with COVID, then they would.

But for the super wealthy? Today’s global catastrophes are tomorrow’s global opportunities. And nobody becomes that wealthy by letting good opportunity go to waste.

Language has a funny way of dragging the past kicking and screaming into the present. Which is an odd thing to say, really, because time drags everything with it, willing or unwilling. But… have you ever noticed how some words fade into uncouthness, while still demanding use in surprisingly common situations?

Like, have you ever caught yourself saying the word “supermarket”, and wondered how on earth this anachronism of a word managed to ride the English language unchallenged into the 21st century? I mean, imagine how the word would sound with an extra space. “I’m just heading down to the super market to pick up some milk”. It sounds like you’re in some kind of 70s sci-fi horror film.

Today, while I was waiting for the train, someone walked behind me right as the train arrived, right as I was standing at the edge of the platform. The thought crossed my mind, all it would take for this person to kill me would be a small nudge. An accidental slip. And yet, they didn’t do it. Why?

Why is it that in a world where strangers can push you in front of trains, drive into you with cars, drop things on you from bridges and buildings, and ruin your day in an assortment of other ways, why is it that they don’t?

When I was growing up, I was taught that humans are evil at their heart. I was taught that we’re rotten at our core — that’s what The Bible says, you know.

But you know what? The Bible is fucking wrong. Humans are — as a rule — kind, caring, and beautiful. And anyone who thinks otherwise can go ask someone at a train station why they’re not pushing passersby in front of trains.

How many hours in a day?

You've seen the title, and you're probably wondering what the catch is. You don't write a full paragraph (or more) about the good news that yes, in fact, there really are only 24 hours in a day. So what gives? Well, since you asked...

Say that on your birthday, you just happened to be in New Zealand at midnight. The timezone is UTC+13, thanks to daylight savings time. You hop on a plane, and fly to American Samoa the long way around – first passing over Australia, then Africa and South America, before finally landing at Pago Pago International Airport at 23:59. It's still your birthday, but now in the timezone UTC-11.

All up, your flight was 48 hours long – and so was your birthday!

Speaking of which, have you ever gotten annoying happy birthday emails from companies trying to sell you shit the day before or after your birthday? It's probably because they don't know what timezone you're in. So here's a neat little trick: just do a round-the-world trip from New Zealand to American Samoa on your birthday! Now the emails will always arrive on time! Problem solved.

I finally watched The Social Dilemma last night, and it was, I thought, a very thorough exploration of the issues with social media. At times, it felt like the producers had read my mind and turned it into a film. Like when this quote appeared on screen:

“There are only two industries that call their customers 'users': illegal drugs and software” – Edward Tufte

I wrote about this just a few weeks ago. Calling people users grinds my gears. That’s why on this site, you’re a member – not a user.

Then, they started talking about how big tech tries to model our behavior, how we’re just math to them. Which it just so happens I’d written the very morning before I watched it.

Of course, The Social Dilemma does most of these topics more justice than I’ll ever be able to do in my one or more daily paragraphs. So if you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend you give it a watch, all the way to the credits, because they’ve got some great rules on how to avoid being sold into the attention economy yourself at the end.

The book I keep closest

For the past 5 years, the book that has usually been closest to me is a textbook from my statistics days called "The Analysis of Time Series". I guess I've always had a hunch that time series are important. They appear everywhere. The stock markets are a time series, the universe is a time series. But to me, the most important time series is, well, us. Our brain. It’s a series of inputs and outputs that change over time.

The thing about time series being that you can model them. You can predict how one input will affect future outputs.

Take the profession of teaching, for example. From a mathematical perspective, teaching is the task of finding and applying inputs – words and visual aids – that will effectively change all future outputs. It’s changing people’s brains by talking with them.

Or take the profession of brainwashing, for example. It’s the same damn thing, just with (typically) less useful changes in the output, and less finesse applied on the inputs.

It’s easy to see that with the right mathematical tools, the behavior of human beings can be modeled. And wouldn’t you know it, there are entire departments dedicated to finding efficient ways to predict how the content you’re fed will affect your future actions.

There are entire departments dedicated to finding ways to tweak your thoughts and actions. And then we wonder how modern life got so stressful.

It’s now been one month since I started writing these daily paragraphs, and one of the biggest surprises for me is that I’ve managed to pull it off at all. I honestly didn’t expect that I’d actually be able to publish something – however low the quality – for 31 days in a row.

Now that I have though, I think it’s the perfect time to take a short break.

Thanks for reading along so far! I’ll be back with more daily paragraphs in a week’s time – I hope to see you then!

I think I’ve finally figured it out. I think I’ve finally realized what this appsite is missing.

The Daily Paragraph is missing a way to interact with the authors.

So what exactly should this mechanism look like?

Well for starters, it should not look like a “like” button. Healthy communication requires more finesse than that single syllable can provide. Especially in a medium where non-verbal communication is off limits. And especially when many things worth writing are not things that you’d want people to “like”. Hell, the original “like” button wasn’t designed for communication in the first place; it was designed to track you and gather your personal information. Yet despite this, or maybe because of this, liking has become the default way to communicate on the internet. This needs to change.

So should the communication mechanism look like a “comment” button instead? I’d argue against it. Comment buttons are the opposite of like buttons; they raises the barrier to communication so high as to make you think twice – at least for genuine communication. Because the thing is, comment buttons aren’t really for communication with the author at all. They’re for performance. It’s like they were designed for narcissists and bullies… yes, I understand the irony of me writing this. Takes one to know one, I guess. But I digress.

So what this appsite is missing is not a like button, nor a comment button. But what it is missing is a way for you to share a little bit of your day with the author that shared with you. A way to interact without making a performance of it. A way to communicate like humans again.

What The Daily Paragraph is missing is a “mail” button. So I guess I better start building it.

I’ll probably charge for stamps.

I feel like I’ve been writing too much lately. I feel like if I aim to do something every day, it’s important to have days where I don’t do a particularly good job at it. I don’t want to end up in a position where without realizing it, I’ve raised my standards to the point that, on a bad day, I can’t meet them. So this is all that I’m writing today. It’s not that special, and that’s exactly the point.

A few people have asked me about this site, wondering “what’s the point? what will it achieve?” And while it’s hard to say how deep this rabbit hole will eventually go, what I can tell you is what I’m working towards.

My project here is to give people – to give you – all the good that the internet has to offer, without the faustian bargain that usually comes with it. To connect you with fascinating people and ideas, and then to get out of the way. To take back the power to decide where your attention goes. To treat you as a partner - not a product.

I can’t do this by myself though, and part of treating you as a partner is that I need your help. So if you have stories to share, if you know someone whose stories you’d like to hear, or if you would like to write code with me, then please send me an email at james@thedailyparagraph.com!

Let’s take back the internet from the advertisers.

People in Tech

For the past month, I’ve been using this website to rant about tech companies. But throughout it all, there’s something that I’ve avoided talking about: companies aren’t automatons. They don’t just do what they do of their own accord.

In the real world, companies are made of people. And usually good people. It’s cliche, but people in tech mostly do want to make the world a better place.

So how is it that these same people end up spending their lives enriching the likes of Zuckerberg and Bezos?

This is a tricky question, and I doubt there’s a simple answer for it. But there’s one thing that I do know: Nobody takes a job at Facebook because they want to make the world angry. Nobody takes a job at Amazon because they want to put its suppliers out of businesses. Nobody joins Twitter to distract people.

Putting my rants aside for a moment, I have to admit that on occasions, big tech companies actually do provide a lot of value. And while everyone has their reasons for taking a job, for the most part, it’s because they see the positives. They start out wanting to help.

They want to help — that is — until an asshole like me comes along and asks them to answer for the rest of their company’s crimes, putting them on the defensive, making an enemy of the very people who can effect change.

So how do we fix tech without alienating the people in it? I’m honestly not sure. Ranting on the internet sure won’t help, but joining big tech doesn’t seem to work either. There’s one thing that’s certain though: whatever happens, the people in tech will still need to pay the bills. And if we can give them a way to do that while helping others, I think a lot of them would take us up on the offer.

Did you know that the most valuable company in the history of the world made it’s money not by selling software, not by selling electric cars, not by doing anything tech related, and indeed, not by doing anything that we’d spare a thought for in the modern world at all.

The richest company in the history of the world got that way by selling spices – and at prices that’d make you blush. But they weren’t a farming company. They were a colonial company; a private navy. They plundered the eastern world, and made bank in the process.

Luckily, colonialism is over now. I know, because I bought a jar of spices on the weekend, and the remarkable thing is how thoroughly unremarkable it was to do so. You know, because it’s not colonialism if it’s legal.

In math and engineering, there’s a thing called a forcing function, which is often used to describe the inputs to a system. When you take away the input, you get what’s called a transient state, before eventually, a steady state.

Imagine for a moment that you close your eyes, put in your ear plugs, and enter your sensory deprivation chamber (why do you have a sensory deprivation chamber?) What you’ve done, in mathematical terms, is taken away your forcing function; you’ve taken away your inputs. And the question is, what happens then? What’s your transient state? What’s your steady state?

I find this to be a fascinating question, not so much because of any particular answer, but because of the implications of every answer.

The very fact your thoughts change when you take away your inputs, implies that your inputs change your thoughts. Or thinking of the inputs as a forcing function to a differential equation, the environment forces your thoughts; it drives them. Your senses keep you moving in concert with the outside world.

Take away the stimulus from your senses though, and your thoughts enter a transient state; a state that depends only on your own inner world.

If you stayed in this state forever, you’d end up in a steady state, which… you probably don’t want. But if you re-apply the forcing function again at a later time, there’s — mathematically speaking — a chance that you’ll end up responding to the inputs in a different way than you did before.

If you want proof for all of this, you can go study up on differential equations.

But if that sounds like a lot of work to you, the thing is, all I’m really trying to say is, if you take a break, you’ll sometimes solve a problem faster than if you just keep at it for hours on end. And there just so happens to be math that proves it!