Category Archives: Missives from modernity

Big data, 8-bit style

His job was related to big data and data extrapolation. The first two first words simply meant he worked with computers, while the second pair was a bit of clever marketing speak to indicate that he worked with forecasting whilst at the same time clearly not saying he worked with forecasting. Which, in short, meant he got invited to a lot of forecasting events, where everyone talked about different ways of predicting the future, possibly using computers in some way. For those not savvy to the distinction between extrapolation and forecasting, he was indistinguishable from those busy attempting to predict the future

The reason for insisting that he was not, in fact, in the prediction business was that his big data did not work. Trends that had looked the same for decades suddenly changed, while temporary movements became permanent fixtures of the data landscape. This was true only so long you did not apply this analytical heuristic, however; it almost seemed as if looking at the data changed it by means of some unclear causation. Given the data, it made no sense whatsoever, yet there it was. And it was his job to find something useful to do with this tangled mess of all the things. Somehow

Rather than digging in and galaxy braining the data, he had opted for another method of dealing with the pervasive random fluctuations. Whenever he needed to perform some public function relating to his job, he consulted the I Ching. Not because it worked (although it had a better success rate than most of the algorithms in use), but because it too was something depicted as a predictive tool when it explicitly and specifically was not

In his heart of heart, he suspected many of his conference peers and network buddies performed similar extracurricular activities, but that admitting this would demolish the prediction business as we know it

This was the only prediction he made with a statistically significant degree of certainty

The bottom line

They were, unequivocally, backed into a corner. Some would equivocate and say a more apt metaphor was that they were about to go careening of a cliff, but that implied the possibility of stopping. Which, after today’s announcement, was the one thing they could not do. They had explicitly promised not to do it, ever

Thing is. Being a massive global social network imposes certain limits to growth. There are only so many people in the world, and the recent proclamation to become ever larger and expand forever – well, the maths didn’t check out. Eventually, the world would run out of people, and then the company – solely and completely geared towards eternal expansion – would fall apart

Unequivocally

Thus, the discovery of an alien civilization with the capacity to communicate with humanity came as a big boon. To be sure, it was a momentous occasion in the grand history of humanity and its place in the universe, but – more importantly – it also meant that the company could keep expanding, and would thus survive

Which was the most important thing. No two ways about it

A lot to think about

He was, to put it politely, in a hurry. Not to worry, though, he was also very close to where he was going. All he needed to do was to find a parking spot, and then he’d be all set. There should be one somewhere around – aha, there’s one!

In fact, there was a whole row of them. An entire sidewalk’s worth. A worrying plethora in this sea of scarcity. Something had to be up. But what?

Then he saw them. The signs. They explained in extensive detail when parking was allowed, and when the full force of the municipal government would come crashing down upon those who broke its sacred commandments. Better pay attention, lest one makes a mistake

He began to read

After reaching the fifth sign – parking was allowed on even-numbered dates, but only if they were not a Sunday, but only during the summer months of the year (weeks 23-25 excluded), unless a special occasion dictated otherwise, with reservation for local variations – he gave up and moved on. Surely, somewhere, there had to be a parking spot that was not also a logic puzzle

They came, they saw, they conspired

Some time ago, we found out that the rumors of a complex, multi-layered, long-term global conspiracy to take over the world were in fact true. They had been at it for centuries, ever so slowly inserting themselves into various centers of power, some obsolete, some emerging, some so boring you wouldn’t even think of them as such. In short, they were all over the place, and they endeavored to make it theirs. If rumors and analytical indicators were anything to go by, they were pretty efficient at it.

We did what any rational municipal planning body would have done. We hired them to solve our complex, multi-layered, long-term local problems. There were necessary construction projects that had stalled since time immemorial, structural issues which required some serious out of the box thinking to solve or bypass, and on the whole a vast range of problems which we simply could not solve left to our own devices. While the solutions they proposed sometimes made little short-term sense, they overall tended to make such retroactive sense that having done otherwise seems nonsensical or ideological to an extreme degree.

To be sure, the risk of them inserting their own machinations into our everyday lives was an ever present constant. But listen. They solved traffic. They solved segregation. They solved homelessness. It would be something of a stretch to say that they solved ecology, but things used to be much, much worse in that regard. Everything is better now. Ever the very air is cleaner, somehow.

If this somehow furthers their plans for global domination – we’ll take it. We willingly understand and accept these new terms and conditions.

Algorithmic matchmaking

At first glance, the trend was as inexplicable as it was unexpected. For what seemed to be no discernable reason, hiking rates had hiked. More people than ever ventured out into the countryside to explore the nooks and crannies of nature – the mountaintops, the deep forests, the long treks only possible in wilderness conditions. Something had set all these people in motion, and no one knew what

At first, it was assumed it was the ancient allure of Nature, in all its splendor. The simplest answer usually being something akin to the truth, and all that. But when asked, hikers rarely made reference to this most natural of reasons. In fact, the responses didn’t seem to indicate any particular reason at all, on either individual or collective levels. The stated reasons were all over the place, ranging from budding but enthusiastic spirituality (which somehow did not make reference to nature), to a (seemingly very sudden) interest in exercise, to vague stories of very distant relatives once having occupied these lands. The sheer variation of flimsy responses became the subject of much speculation, before the real reason finally revealed itself by means of participatory observation

It turns out that uploading photos of oneself in outdoor situations into dating apps generated more matches than indoor equivalents. Moreover, the more outdoors the photos were, the more matches it generated. Thus, it became something of a race to the most remote locations, so as to be able to return home and tell the tale

Perhaps it could be said to be the ancient allure of Nature, after all

Relentlessly selfish altruism

“So what you are proposing is…?”

“Yes, that’s right. Free healthcare for everyone, no fuss, just go to the doctor and get it. No ifs, no buts, no pre-existing conditions, virtually no paperwork. Clean and simple”

“Isn’t this rather controversial, though?”

“There is no point beating around the bush, so we will just come out and say it. Yes, we are literal demons, whose main interaction with the moral realm is the possession of mortal bodies for the purposes of evil and/or chaos. Everyone knows this, so there is no reason to pretend otherwise”

“So, why this sudden unexpected proposal?”

“See, here’s the thing. When you are possessing a body, you get to feel everything it feels. It’s part of what makes a possession a possession. If it was only a matter of getting people to do what you want, it would be more akin to rhetoric, and for that we can simply outsource the process to other humans. No, when you possess someone you go all in, and get to experience every bruise, ache, forgotten sudden pain when walking in the wrong way, and so on and so on. Humans, as they grow older, also grow accustomed to an ever expanding repertoire of subtle pains. Jumping into it unawares, to put it simply, hurts”

“So the free healthcare…?”

“It is basically a workplace health and safety issue. By improving the general levels of health among the human population at large, we reduce the risk of suddenly possessing someone with preventable arthritis or broken bones that didn’t set right or whatever other ache people nurture over the years. Prevention is better than cure, especially if the cure is painful to undergo”

“But aren’t you worried that no one will show up to your clinics, given the risk that you will possess them?”

“There are two answers to this question. First, there are more of you than there are of us, so even if we wanted to we could not possess everyone. It’s like cars: some crash, most don’t. Second, hospitals are scary as hell, if you’ll pardon the pun. They are the least natural, most sterile environments in existence, and the possession ritual simply does not work there. You have to effort it, of course – simply calling somewhere a hospital won’t cut it – but if you bring the facility up to a certain scale, the magic simply fizzles out. It’s all germs and stethoscopes and science all the way down. Frankly, we scare our demon children by threatening to send them to these places”

“So this whole thing is actually motivated by rational, ruthless self interest?”

“Well, we are demons, after all. It just turns out that sometimes you have to think one step further to get what you want”

The job interview

“So tell us. Why did you apply for this job?”

“I am in need of money. Your advert said you needed someone to do something I can do, with the implication that I would receive money for doing it. This is the extent of my reasoning”

“So you are not excited about potential new experiences and potential to grow as a person or something like that?”

“The way I figure, a person who would genuinely be someone on the lookout for stimulating challenges that would place them in dynamic situations with prospects for personal as well as career advancement – would have already managed to do enough personal growth that stating such ambitions would be superfluous to the process of realizing them. Going through the motions of restating such sentiments would either be a disingenuous performance, or an indication that the process was still early days; neither of which is optimal. By merely stating that this is a straightforward potential employer-employee situation, on the other hand, I can move things forward to the point where we’ve established a mutual understanding of the rules of the game, and can get right to getting things done. It saves time and effort for everyone involved”

“Fuck it. You’re hired”

A programmatic response

Honored Sir

Over the last few months, we have received a considerable number of letters signed by you. While we are honored by the attention you have bestowed us and our activities, we are also ever so slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of correspondence. Responding to each and every letter on its own merits would require a substantial diversion of energy and effort, and so we have condensed the spirit of your overall messaging into a lean and efficient algorithm.

Seeing as it must take up a considerable amount of your time to compose these letters, we have no doubt that it will come as a relief to you that your input has been implemented in this lean and efficient manner. We look forward to seeing what marvelous projects you will embark on using your substantially increased cognitive surplus.

Sincerely,

The department of humanities

PS

What follows is the algorithm in its entirety, for your perusal:

10 PRINT “The humanities are bad, STEM is good”

20 GOTO 10

Rational countersurveillance

Suddenly, a mail arrived. It was from a company, detailing all the various ways they use and have been using data collected, past and present. Specifically, it detailed the ways in which this data had been collected: which vectors, which methods and, with surprising granularity, which apps. The mail also included a form contract which, when broken down to its base components, involved the following: a checkbox labelled “I approve the use of the methodologies described herein”, and a place where a signature could be conveniently written.

Reading through the list of surveillance methods, he began to notice something very irregular. For one, it went over in great detail everything gleaned about his life in personality through his smart phone usage. While on a general level he supposed this might be a good way to go about these things, it was ever so slightly compounded by the fact that he did not have a phone even remotely approaching the evolutionary tendency towards intelligence. Thus, the information gathered – and the conclusions made from it – painted a picture of a completely different person than himself. Combined with the fact that the general impression overall seemed to be so out of touch with reality as to constitute speculative fiction, he did the only rational thing he could think of:

He signed the form and sent it in.

The most secret society of them all

Since we have recently been asked about this a number of times from very different groups of people, it seems prudent to add an answer to this FAQ. The question in question is:

Why are your secret teachings – the most secret of all secret texts – for sale on Amazon and other online places of commerce?

There are many reasons for this, but the two most important reasons are logistics and the nature of epistemology in modern society. The logistical angle is quite straightforward. Passing secret texts around in secluded secrecy is quite time consuming and labor intensive, and some of our chapters found that they did little else than to find ways and means to discreetly transport things back and forth. Meanwhile, Amazon and those other stores already send packages to just about everywhere, so someone receiving yet another package is basically as mundane and ordinary as it ever could be. Basically, it means less work for us, with a slightly higher rate of anonymity for our members.

As to the nature of epistemology in modern society, it basically comes down to two things: no one believes anything anymore, and there is so much of everything that even those who believe don’t know what to believe in particular. As we learned in the early days of our movement, shouting out the revealed truth in the streets did not open the eyes and hearts of those who listened. Rather, they were quite annoyed by the whole ordeal, and wished to avoid further contact. The same principle also applies on a larger scale: the safest way to get someone to ignore what you have to say is to communicate it straightforwardly in a direct fashion. To outsiders, our teachings seem like so much mumbo-jumbo they’ve seen elsewhere, and they just can’t be bothered to care about it. Therefore, putting our teachings out there available for anyone to peruse ironically means that no one will actually make the effort to do so. Our secrets will, for all intents and purposes, remain secret.

There are other reasons, but they all more or less come back to these two main points. We hope that you are, if only ever so slightly, more enlightened by this answer.