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What a thoughtful post! I'm not sure whether some or all of the questions are rhetorical, but I'll give answers, nonetheless.

1. Your mother rationally prioritized healthy eating. That's unfortunately a luxury for most.

2. Zillionaires spending money they don't need as an insurance policy against an apocalyptic event, however unlikely, is rational.

3. Health is better than ever for those who can afford it. There's a shameful ten year gap in life expectancy between the riches and poorest male 1%. That's an awful choice we as a country are making.

4. I suspect the move inland is relative value, i.e., still more house and space for your money inland than on the coast.

5. I think the evils of the smartphone were an unintended consequence. There are benefits as well to those who resist obsession.

6. We all want authenticity. To the extent AI interferes with authenticity, it will and should be shunned.

7. I'm 100% with you here. First album at the age of ten was Elton John "Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player." I played it over and over and communed with those songs.

I'm also 100% with you on your last three conclusions about values and wisdom of the humanities and personal and intimate interactions in real life in small groups. Nothing more precious or important to human flourishing.

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We don't have an authentic culture anymore.

From the day we're born we're inundated with commercials from bigger and bigger corporations telling us what we need to be happy

And these recommendations are always what will make them richer, not make society richer.

The only reason the USA spends so much on health care is it benefits large corporate entities

And that is the only goal, not to extend lives, but to make money for people who already have too much of it.

Studies have shown a single payer Healthcare system would save 10s of thousands of lives a year and reduce bankruptcy by a huge amount.

But the rich might have to pay more taxes so it will never happen.

You can't have an entire society based on greed and rent seeking and expect it to be Shangri la.

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1. Organic farming and back-to-the-land are luxury goods. They are the result of progress, not a retreat from it. If we all tried to live like that, most of us would starve.

2. The paranoia of billionaires is not relevant to the value of technology in the rest of our lives.

3. Things are changing faster than people can keep up. Doesn't mean the change is bad or they won't catch up, though that's not certain as the economic value of sheer muscle declines.

4. Peace and quiet are luxury goods. As suburbs densify, people move on to the towns in pursuit of it.

5. Is it destroying lives, or is it just making destroyed lives easier to count? Working 12 hours a day in a coal mine with pick and shovel destroyed a lot of lives.

6. Generative AI is a fraud. It is a pastiche generator, and not a particularly good one. AI hype has always been about what it will do tomorrow, not what it does now. Tomorrow never comes.

7. Technology has always democratized commodities at the expense of quality and reduced margins. It is the same in every field. For most people, cheap beats great.

1. You don't know which tech is progress until you try it and see the results. We dump lots of tech if it does not improve our lives. Case in point: NFTs.

2. All new tech is disruptive and painful at first. The benefits emerge later after people adjust to the tech and tech adjust to the people. The old stuff always looks great; the new stuff always looks scary.

3. Again, short term pain, long term gain. The older tech looks rosy now, but it hurt then, just as the new stuff does today. That's the pattern going back centuries.

4. Not sure that the economists, technocrats, or politicians are fond of twitter. The problem is more that no one controls the discourse anymore.

5. During a gold rush, everybody heads for the hills. This too will pass.

6. All those things have been made available to everyone, rather than to the elite few, thanks to technology. Without it most of us would be crawling back to our hovels after 12 hours of work with no books or music in sight. Don't bite the hand that feeds.

7. That will require quite an upgrade to the wisdom or ordinary people, but we can hope.

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I think you nailed it here! In 2019, I was living in NYC. I hung out with a lot of Burning Man type techies. I barely cooked, let alone grew my own food. I didn't plan on having a family-- in fact, I lived like I'd be young forever. I avoided physical media due to the space limitations of NY apartments. I was glued to Facebook because I was wildly popular and always getting party invites on there.

Now, only 5 years later, I live in South Dakota, grow my own veggies, and buy stuff like raw milk from a local farmer. Sometimes an entire day goes by without me looking at my phone. I can go months without using Facebook. My boyfriend and I are moving quickly towards marriage and children. I collect things like books, CDs, and DVDs. I find out about local events from flyers in venues downtown.

After 2020/2021, you couldn't pay me enough to go back to NYC and use Facebook every day again.

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We need to insist on the term "social progress," rather than progress. As John Dewey wrote in an essay defining "Progress" in 1916, "we have confused rapidity of change with [social] advance." 20 years later, Carl Becker wrote, “If progress means to go forward, [then] forward to what end, to the attainment of what object?” We still haven't answered that question a century later, instead blindly becoming devotees to "the religion of technology" (David F. Noble) under the umbrella of progress. This is an excellent and rare essay, not simply because I agree with it and progress rarely receives a critique, but because it takes leading indicators of "progress" and reveals the hollowness of the con and the hypocrisy within this unspoken technological ideology.

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Brilliant—when we optimize for meaningless metrics, we get much worse than meaningless results. The culture at a large has pursued dopamine highs and short term gains with relentless efficiency for so long that the cracks are now, as you point out so eloquently, undeniable. It seems we've needed to touch the stove to learn what we actually want to value. I'm glad you see the next wave coming, and can't wait to read more.

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Jan 22·edited Jan 23

I read John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends in school 30+ years ago. The one concept that stuck with me through years is his concept of “high tech / high touch”—the idea that as technological capabilities grow at an exponential rate, people will crave more natural, “hands-on” experiences. The future was never going to be monochrome jump suits and minimalism—it’s seeking out our own human experiences in a largely artificial world. Organic farming, ax throwing, tiny houses, craft cocktails, etc—as less of our day-to-day professional work is tangible, the more we seek it out on our own.

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Let the good times roll....right off a cliff. Hey, Ted, I just moved to that sweet town Sebastopol you speak of. Residents are mostly white people in their golden years but I see a growing trend of gender and racially diverse young adults trying to make a go here. It's a microcosm of so called woke progress where the well-to-do do well. People who own property are either ultra-rich or bought years ago or inherited the land. Rentals are scare and expensive making the issue of homelessness and housing unsolvable. The official push for electric vehicles is outnumbered by the ownership of workhorse gas trucks and SUVs and most families have one or more of each. Local family businesses are promoting organic farming cooperatives and ranching but still the city supports 7 grocery stores. The fact that food banks and volunteer efforts abound is a testament to the generosity of the population. We're surrounded by a healthy network of state, county and city parks and open space year round due to our great weather. There is a definite community feel but the economic divide is palpable. The city council is running at a deficit. The fire department had to merge and depends heavily on volunteer firefighters. Most jobs are service oriented and pay poorly. My kids are grown so I don't know much about the school system here but the library just voted to put in surveillance cameras. Sigh.

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I hate to sound flippant but somehow this reminded me of the old Bufferin advertising catchphrase: "Why trade a headache for a stomach ache?" The promise was that buffered aspirin would not upset your stomach. Even as a kid this stuck with me and as time passed I learned to regard new situations with the same balance - what's the profit here? Does it outweigh the potential loss? With Bufferin the unstated potential loss was the increased cost over generic aspirin.

The mate and I live on a farm in rural NC. We produce a lot of our food including meats cured with traditional methods - no nitrates. Only one or two trips to town a week. We can't say we planned it, we drifted into this after observing the soulless lifestyles of corporate careerists. We both had jobs at major educational institutions but after a couple decades of the lying, the back-stabbing, and the pitiless politics, we got out. We decided that trading our souls for a paycheck was a bad bargain.

So if there is a new awakening in American culture, I would welcome it. It would mean a few more friends in our community. Thanks for this wonderful essay, Ted!

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Interesting questions but doesn't the answer for many of them boil down to, "it's good to have room for diversity, and people should not all be doing the same thing, but that doesn't mean you would want the counter-culture to become the culture." (and it's tough for me to say that because I like the counter-culture).

A world in which some people are growing apples and other people are building silicon valley is probably better than one in which everyone is growing apples (or everyone is learning to code).

The experience of being deeply invested in a creative field (in your case Jazz) is fantastic but it's also good that the world allow people the ability to easily have access to a little Jazz.

I feel like the world has changed in ways that make it more difficult to build an idiosyncratic life, but (a) I'm not sure you can blame that on "progress" without some strawmanning going on and (b) my perspective is shaped by the fact that my parents (and myself to a lesser degree) were able to build an idiosyncratic life, so I know what that path looks like, and I'm certainly underestimating the number of people who would not have been able to do that in, say, 1980, but can do so now.

[Edit]: I'd add that, in several cases you're comparing "consider an example of how the path less traveled succeeded" with "consider the average outcome from the conventional path." Which isn't an apples-to-apples (sorry) comparison. It's a good way to push back on the idea that the conventional path is the only one available, but it's stacking the deck.

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Ivan Illich talked about two technological watersheds in things like medicine. The first is when exploding tech starts to radically improve our lives (e.g., vaccines, antibiotics). The second is when technological iatrogenics begin to impose net negative costs on humanity.

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"Real wisdom on human flourishing is now more likely to come from the humanities, philosophy, and the spiritual realms than technocrats and politicians. By destroying these disciplines, we actually reduce our chances at genuine advancement."

I hope you are referring to the classical forms of these disciplines. In today's schools and universities these are no longer areas of disciplined logical thought, challenging discourse and self-learning. They are methods of indoctrination to ensure those at the top of the pyramid get to continue enforcing their vision of the idea of 'progress'.

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Mere innovation is not the same thing as progress. Key point. The vast majority of innovation ends in failure.

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I am a techie (72 year old physcist and engineering Ph.D. still working in the field) as well as a practicing techno-Amish. I use tech where it adds value to my life and don't where it does not. I had a large CD collection - I ripped it all to 256K MP3's 30+ years ago. I still listen to those recordings - which are now in my iPhone as well as on my computer. I have added to the collection, but it is enough for me - mostly classical, some ragtime, some folk, klezmer, strauss, .. But I don't listen to radio, podcasts, or watch TV, movies, and the like unless I absolutely have to (such as lectures or presentations). I resist giving the medium control over my time, I can control my reading, scanning, skip forward, go back, recheck, etc. I don't effectively have that with audio / video content.

I like the IP telephony apps. My wife spends hours a week talking to her mother and friends in Ukraine, which was very expensive in the telephone days. And they frequently do video calls, which was not available 30 years ago. Another advance. And I find texting to be very useful as it allows asynchronous communications.

But I have turned anti-social in a way, I am deluged in spam calls and e-mails and do not respond. I do computer security and assume that the calls / messages are malicious. A social-technical regression.

I largely restricted my kids media access / consumption when they were growing up - and very definitely got them hooked on reading. They do a moderate amount of video gaming now, but they are definitely readers - they walked off with my SF/Fantasy library when they moved out. Yes I let them watch, but I would meter access. At the time, VHS tapes and DVD's, which I could borrow from the library as well as rent.

I will probably start using the LLM's in the near future since the token count is getting large enough that I can feed in a large article or group of articles and then use it for summarizing / cross checking / rephrasing. LMM's will be used to increase my spam - thanks. But the spam / fake call level is already so high I have had to disregard unsolicited contacts. We will see if I can get a paranoid LLM Jeves agent to serve as a filter against the idiots, fools, and agents that are spaming me. My own guess that in my case, the AI/LLM will be an asset, but that many to most will find it a negative.

I like my plug-in prius hybrid. With my driving pattern, I am averaging 80+ mpg, which I will be able to afford even when I stop working. A nice technology. 50 years ago I was averaging 15 mpg. Pure electric is not for me - I can make Utah to see a daughter in a day's drive, 800+ miles, which I could not do in an electric vehicle giving charging times. - Significant advance.

I don't see that the social networking world adds significant value - and largely don't participate (I haven't updated my Linked-in profile in close to a decade and use it to check up on old contacts only).

Looking at the issues associated with social networks, I would judge them to be a regression as well.

Foodwise, we dropped out of the prepared food market. We do buy some pasta, frozen and fresh meat and vegetables, and canned / bottled tomatoes, olives, sardines, ... Beyond that, it is all cook from scratch. And we grow and can a lot ourselves. Stuff that is not up to our standard gets mixed in with the food for the chickens. Slower, but also cheaper than the prepared / processed food. And, it turns out, a lot healthier.

You don't have to live entirely in the public culture. You can't fully avoid it, but you can be rather out of phase with it. My daughter shocked her high school English class by reciting Kipling's IF as her favorite poem, it isn't taught anymore. The kids took my Kipling collection with them when they moved out.

My general advise is that if a product is or enables a status game, it is generally a regression and should be avoided until you can find a way of using it that is not part of the general status games. Outside of the status game issues, consider the costs and benefits and choose accordingly.

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I've been asking myself the same questions since 2008, which is why I find myself here.

To your hypotheses:

1. I wish you'd submitted this piece and dared the editor to object. We must start putting anyone talking about progress on the spot: progress towards WHAT? Progress towards total emiseration of all but the 1%? Or progress towards a peaceful and healing planet where we honor the dignity of all life?

2. I see 2 & maybe 3 as related to Doctorow's enshittification theory, which extends waaay beyond platforms to almost anything Big Tech and VC/PE/Financial Mobs touch. (Capture required actors with by any means, acquire and kill off all competition, and finally, enshittify the product in order to extract every last available dollar for the rentier, something like a coke-addled caporegime desperately snorting the last bit from the cracks between the table leaves before they arrive to blow his head off.) (Now that they've successfully enshittified health care, will someone please come and blow their heads off? Please?)

On the rest, hard agree but with less optimism.

I worked for an AI company briefly and it still gives me nightmares. Generative AI sucks - now. No way could it write this post - now. It can't even come up with a decent joke - now. But that is highly likely to change. Big business can be shamed now, for the next short while, maybe, but it will keep trying until the outrage fades.

What happens when we rapidly move from a highly addictive digital world to one where any digital information is suspect? When communities either succumb to misinformation or make the shift to only believing what we can smell or touch? Are there artist and philosophers who can save us? How will more than a few thousand people hear any one of them if we can't trust anything digitally?

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Re question #5: I’m reading Ted’s question about our damaging addiction to smartphones on my smartphone.

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