Review of

Rating: 5/5

One sentence: This blog creates many very interesting connections and new perspectives on old knowledge.

For the last two weeks, I have been reading a long-form blog with the tagline “experiments in refactored perception” written by Venkatesh Rao. I have gained quite a few insights and can highly recommend it. I have not read the entire blog, only the part of the archives named the Rust age that stretches from 2008-2012. Now more depth on various clusters of posts:

The Gervais Principle

The successor the Dilbert Principle, Venkatesh uses the series The Office to create a theory of management that falsifies more than half of the category. Creating three categories of people defined by how they see themselves, he also connects this with how much people buy into the cultural myths and the curse of development.

He differentiates and explains the different languages spoken such as Powertalk, Posturetalk, Straighttalk etc. This also has implications for the status game and explains why groups form and also why they split apart. This theory fits real-life data better than any other that I have come across. It isn’t even academic or unpractical so you can use it to inform your real-life status wrangling. Tip: It’s all about making sure your status is undefined, yet above a threshold level.

A Big Little Idea Called Legibility

How the desire for legibility has led to the failure of urban planning (urban sprawl), bad farming practices and ineffective government policy decisions. He applies these ideas in many of his other posts to great effect. The simplification that omits important details is a dangerous thing, especially in the blind hands of governments and large corporations.

The Art of Refactored Perception

How to think by perceiving thinking, and thinking-by-writing. How a scientific sensibility and needs to be complemented with the act of doing. He also explains why verbal cultures are not just way to memorize knowledge and the lost art of literacy. How to think like Hercule Poirot and seeking information from one data point. Also, how the hyperlink is a completely new medium and not just extended the text. Using your own processes to more densely compress reality and gain new insight.

Towards An Appreciative View of Technology

He explores glimpses of the cryptic God of technology and how technology is like nature. The massive story of container shipping and the hidden stories of our garbage also appear. He gives the outline of a less wrong story of how bronze was displaced, talks about how technology will always create more work for humans, finds the equivalent of Moore’s Law or the 19th Century and portrays fascinating insights on a future that is stable as a result of hacking. He finished with the idea of a canvas that expands faster than we can fill it and ends of the engineering and the theoretical most complicated artifact humanity can create.

Getting Ahead, Getting Along and Getting Away

This is the fundamental human condition and how these three drives (to one-up, help and escape from) shape our very being. Along the way, he makes interesting sallies such as finding your Evil Twin, bargaining by creating a story and how we can sometimes connect with strangers in ways we cannot with those we know. It’s not just text, he also has a very short picture story that touched a chord that I cannot verbalize, yet can identify deeply with. Very interesting.

The Mysteries of Money

This series proposes that the most basic lens of societies is money and all other things that find important such as markets, institutions or countries are all about money. Seeing flows of money as rivers or frozen lakes is a very effective metaphor and he also looks at how people relate to money with different metaphors. Then he dives into business including sales, marketing, the Gollumization of consumers and how Peak Attention will be our next economic boundary.

Overall, this collection of posts is dense (some requiring up to 3 passes to understand), informative, humorous (sometimes), far-reaching and mostly of better quality than many books. It is well worth the time to read this and refactor your perception on ‘most everything.

To happiness, and beyond!




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