RW52 - The Algorithm

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Aging to the point of becoming invisible to young people (Aging)
  • Missing the boat on style for young people (Aging)
  • The SnapChat-way of not archiving might be generational (Technology)
  • Augmented reality changing out primary way of interaction (Technology)
  • Virtual Reality and augmented reality depicted in movies (Technology)
  • Gamification of every-day life with the help of AR (Technology)
  • SnapChat spectacles (Technology)
  • The outlook of making a living as a story-teller (Podcasting)

The show title refers to the algorithm that decides how many points you will be rewarded for each interaction with other people.

Sponsor: Audible (RW52)

The Long Winters always tried to listen to something together on the tour bus instead of every one of them consuming their own media using headphones. They would listen to comedy records or audio books which brought them together in mutual admiration of another work.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Aging to the point of becoming invisible to young people (RW52)

The avatar that Dan uses for John in Messages is the one where he is all clean cut wearing a blue shirt and a tie, but in Skype, it is the goofy one with the Orange background where John has three shirts on, cool glasses, a forward hairstyle and no beard. Dan would have guessed that John was in his twenties on that picture, but John was probably 36 years old.

John has aged a lot in the last 10 years! On pictures when his daughter was born he had just the tiniest, faintest little bit of grey in his beard. It wasn't even grey, but mostly blond. During the last 5 years his beard has gone almost completely white, so much so that a panhandler the other day addressed him as Grandpa! Up until a few years ago he was not somebody who was said that age is just a number, but having friends of all ages felt like a human being in the world. Nobody was going to say that he was too old for something. Now at 48 John started just barely accepting the proposition that he is starting to become a little bit invisible to young people, although he is not 100% sure about it. He is convinced that if he rolls into a young person scene today, their instinct is going to be ”This guy is wearing a cool hat!” and not ”Who’s dad is here to pick them up?”

Because John went into Kindergarten already when he was 4, he was always the youngest kid in his class up until college. Because he took a year off and didn’t go to college right away, he was finally the same age as everybody else who had graduated in 1987 while he had graduated in 1986. Dan remembers the age when kids from 0-13 suddenly started treating him like he was an adult. It really weirded him out! There was another change when Dan all of a sudden reached the dad-age group.

When John was 22, he would meet 30-year old Rock musicians who were still out in the scene, struggling to make their way, and he would think ”What’s up old man? Why are you not moving on to something else?” When John was 30 himself, all of his peers like the kids in Death Cab were 23. It was weird that most of the guys who run his label and most of the guys from Harvey Danger were all much younger than he was. Everybody he knew in Seattle at the time was in their early 20s and he didn't hook up with the much younger next generation of musicians until people in his music scene started quitting. He was accepted because he was immature. Still, people his own age were reluctant to defer to him because he had adopted a little bit of an old man thing. He would say things like ”The thing about the Earth is that it is made up of land and water!”, and they’d go ”Ohhhh, I never thought about it that way!” John has always been one of the older guys ever since then. The guys in Nada Surf were older and John Vanderslice is older, but most of his peers were younger and still are. They are now arriving at 40.

John just had lunch with his Dim Summit pals. They would sit around, have too much Dim Sum and talk about how they are all 50 years old and none of them are rich yet. Their guest today was former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn who is older than they are. Mike was not sure whether he wants to run for office again or whether he wants to be part of a think tank. He has got a podcast himself and he is trying to navigate his way. In that group John is with his peers, but for example the majority of his podcast listeners are younger. Even Instagram is now trying to show John the metrics and the majority of his Instagram followers are in the 18-25 year old bracket. What do those kids make of him posting pictures of Gina Lollobrigida (find on Instagram!)? Maybe John is a lovable old teddy bear? He can adjust to the prospect of being a sex symbol to young people. Dan and John continue to talk about different occurrences connected to their age. In Hollywood it is normal as a 20-something year old woman to look for a guy who is 53 years old. John might only now be stepping into the range when he is going to be attractive to the 20-something people. Maybe he has been in a limbo state where he has actually been too young? Now he is going to be the right age where he starts to be appreciated.

Missing the boat on style for young people (RW52)

Around the age of 22, John thought that he had missed the boat of being able to have an ear-ring. One of the kids in his High School was the first kid who wasn’t Punk Rock and who got his ear pierced with a lightning bolt. He was just a normal guy who was trying to be a little bit racy. John obviously thought that was a dumb affectation, but he also thought that black Levi’s were a dumb affectation. There was a brief window around the age of 18 or 19 where he was thinking about getting his ears pierced with gold Adam and he Ants-style pirate hoops, which was a style briefly, but not for very long. For a couple of weeks he thought he could pull it off, but he didn’t do it and at the age of 22 he thought that he was too old to get ear-rings. Had he gotten them, it would have set his life on a different course.

At the time, John felt the same way about dying his hair. Kurt Cobaine clearly dyed his hair and John saw Ken Stringfella walking down Broadway with red Manic Panic in his hair at the age of 25. John thought that was little kid’s stuff, so why would he do that? He felt like he had missed the boat and now it would be unseemly, like Elton John showing up one day with a full wig. He owned it and he expected us all to believe it! John has planted his flag and made a stand of being himself on the top of The San Juan hill and having done so he can’t augment at all, because it would betray his whole life’s work. Dan got rid of his beard eventually because it was so much grey in it. He is a slim enough guy that his beard was not camouflaging a whole world of meatbeard anyway. If John would lose his beard, he would have to contend with his face being back out there and his face was the problem in the first place. There is just no way for him to go and he is not going to start wearing a goatee, although Dan is convinced John could do it, just imagine Lebowski with John’s face! It doesn’t require a ton of imagination, but it is not where John wants to live. He has to resist walking around in a bathrobe, not indulge in it.

The SnapChat-way of not archiving might be generational (RW52)

John was thinking the other day that he learned all this stuff about guitars and cars that he thought would be useful information for the rest of his life, but it turned out that nobody cares about these things anymore!

John is right up the age where people start to surrender. They got their life where it is comfortable and they don’t want to figure out how to use the latest thing. Surrendering is what for example happens to parents who are too busy to figure out what SnapChat is. While ruminating on SnapChat and its success with people, John realized that archiving your life might also be an artifact. We all grew up in a time where you didn’t have to. John’s dad didn’t archive his life, he threw away all the stuff that was coming in that he didn’t need, but there were people who were going to safe those tickets from the opera the night they met their future wife. Maybe that is going to end up as a trait of an old person as well? The whole notion of saving all your emails or photos might just be some weird dumb crotchety hoarder mentality! It might not just be a question of some people being hoarders while some people living and moving through time without accumulating a bunch of barnacles, but it might be generational! Why do you have those old picture? Live in the moment! Get on with it!

Stuff survives when it is captured, but capturing things is in and of itself unhip. People who are transacting the vast majority of their friend/social stuff via SnapChat are leaving nothing behind but shadows. There is no way to go back to refer to it, which feel liberating and contemporary to them. John is sitting right now in a room that has so many corduroy vests from Levi’s Sta-Prest suits in it that he could open a store that just sells Levi’s corduroys and that always made sense to him! You would wear vintage clothes and harken back. John is not stuck in time, but he always saw the value and thought it was interesting and clever. To harken back also gave him a sense of rootedness.

John happened to talk to a younger person who was reading Hemingway and she asked if people back then didn’t realize that you shouldn’t drink when you are pregnant. People actually didn’t know that until the late 1980s! To say that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol had negative health consequences at all was really controversial science until John was in High School. There was a time in the late 1980s when the anti-cigarette lobby still seemed like a bunch of crackpots and the cigarette people were like ”What is all this hullabaloo? There is no evidence that cigarettes are bad for you! It is like taking medicine!”

Having lived through that type of thing gives an interesting perspective on a lot of the panic that we are feeling about the new administration and why we see it as the end of the world. In the long scope of things we have been making a lot of progress. John’s dad was 87 when he died and he didn’t know how to use email very well, but he used it. The world has changed quite a bit, but we still keep pictures of ourselves from childhood, although his dad's were all in black & white while John’s were in color. Have we now turned the corner into a radically different architecture of imagination where people of the next generation will feel like pictures will just weigh them down? Why would they want to look at themselves as a kid?

John doesn’t even have enough of an entrée into the SnapChat-generation’s way of thinking to know whether or not he is developing an accurate enough picture, or whether everyone listening to this program who is 24 will tell him that they still keep photographs and they are on SnapChat just to send boob-pictures that they don’t want to see again while they have a separate category for pictures they care about. John definitely feels that people are rewiring their minds in a way that is going to make the generational divide much starker. Other 48-year olds who very contentedly pasture on Facebook sending each other links to fake news are on the Internet, but they are so far out of where the electricity on the Internet is!

Dan remembers that the first time he was using SnapChat, none of it worked the way he expected. Now he is used to it, but there is something about it that makes at least people who consider themselves computer-savvy suddenly feel completely incompetent, like the way Dan’s mom must feel when she recently got a new iPhone and had to move her SIM-card before she could give the old one away.

Augmented reality changing out primary way of interaction (RW52)

John talked to a couple of guys who are working in the VR-world and one of them said that they are not really doing VR, but Extended Reality. They were in their 30s, so they were not young people, and they don’t use the term ”Augmented Reality” anymore. Extended Reality is the new term that is being pushed by Microsoft as their grande/ventie nomenclature. It threw John again into the world of contemplating Augmented Reality. He won’t be able to get into a car anymore besides the fact that there will be self-driving cars. If he doesn’t stay really limber, he also won’t be able to fully experience the world of other human beings as it is happening, because when true AR goes out of beta you will not just be looking at 3D-videos of yourself flying over Iceland, but you are truly going to walk down the street with Google Glass on with this additional layer.

SnapChat filters are fun for now, but it is a very short leap to a time where people living within an AR universe are going to be modifying themselves via filter in realtime. You are going to walk up to your friend who has antlers, a funny nose and stars around their head. If you are not in that world, they will just look like a normal person wearing Google glass. Inside that world you are essentially looking at people representing themselves as avatars with all the other layers of data around it. You will have a fundamentally different experience! It won’t be long until people who will have grown up in that world will be totally impatient with you if you are not experiencing their avatar as their primary interface. It will be something you do with your grandma: Sit in a chair and let her look at your real face. Most people in John’s generation will experience that primarily as a novelty, the same way that putting antlers on him and a cute button nose in SnapChat is like LOL.

John’s daughter also finds it funny and if you could let her be a little bear or a little dear she would be signed on. She’ll be the generation that demands and pushes it. It will be their way of seeing, it will be our new value-add. John is not ready to be one of the grandparents who will tell his grandkid to "Take these off and let me look at you!” or to be in that space just bumbling around. LOL, I have antlers on! Back to the steam plant! John might not even be welcome in this world. It might be like a bunch of 50-year-olds at an EDM concert or at whatever the contemporary rave space is. If you go to a true young people concert, you will see that weird Burning Man guy in there who will never die.

John went to a Miley Cyrus concert and he was such a granddad! He was the only person who wasn’t working in security or lighting that was over 28. It was foreseeable because this was a concert with a young crowd, but it will be very different when everybody at a Miley Cyrus concert will primarily be experiencing the show through their AR lens and John will be sitting in the audience wondering why everybody is waving their hands and what just happened? The TV-series Black Mirror is on point with what John is saying about where people of all kinds will meet in a virtual space, but Dan finds it less appealing than an augmented real world, because he likes the idea of staying in the real world. True VR is just masturbatory and everybody ultimately knows that it is a masturbation environment.

The true evolution of it is that I only know you as the little deer face and why would I want to see your dumb regular face? You are so cute in the deer face land! The Black Mirror John remembers is the one where everyone is running around with each others social media rating on their phones. Google Glass was such a shameful thing, but they were just a little bit ahead of the curve. Some kind of shield like it will be the interface until we can put the additional layer directly into our retinas, which we might already have the technology to do. People who will be willing to have surgical augmentation for the digital realm will be the generational shift. The dystopian version of it are websites like Cloudscore that everybody was afraid of a couple of years ago. There might be an element of that and it is hard to know which way it is going to go.

If your avatar is a little sparkly deer, you will connect to all the other sparkly deers in the world and have a global friend group with other people who think they are sparkly deers. Maybe the Furries are way ahead of us on this one! Then you and the other sparkly deers will have a beef with the members of the raccoon clan and pretty soon it will be war all against all. It is going to be war in meatspace as the deer and the raccoons battle it out. John always wanted to make a science fiction movie about neighborhood stick-fights, except that people just identify as whatever they want. All the religious fanatics will be there in their differently colored jumpsuits with their half-moon logo on the back or the star of David or the Christian or the Orthodox cross, but there will also be all those teams of people with the Nike swoosh or a Christmas tree or whatever they think they are fighting for, like the Apple-logo! They are going to have battles in an arena. When everybody is wearing AR, it could as well be deer vs raccoons.

There is not going to be a complete VR scenario where you are lying in your bed with a sleeve over your body to feel sensations, all having imaginary sex with each other. You will be able to buy that experience, but you will also be able to change your settings to have your wife be a 1950s Gina Lollobrigida. You might also be able to see your daughter as a cat.

On the other hand, John cannot control the picture that Dan has for him in his contact list, even if it might bother him that this is the image that Dan is always seeing when John texts or calls him. It might not be the one John might want or he might not care. Dan can see John however he wants. If you get tired of your avatar on Twitter and you change it, what if no-one else ever saw it, but they just saw whatever version of John they had put on there 5 years ago? It goes in both directions: you will be able to change the way you see other people and the way you interact with the world. The workaround could be that you could have your settings allowing people to tweak you or you could have your settings so they can’t, which would be another social divider because you don’t want to interact with people like that. It is going to be very stressful within a marriage when you want open settings a while, but the wife is like: No!

The question is how interesting actors and movies will continue to be to us, because from the moment you are able to modify your own avatar and have your real-life scenarios be tweaked, who will still care about Gwyneth Paltrow? We will not be as interested in watching dramatized stories, because right now those people are stand-ins for us and we wish we were karate-chopping secret agents. It will be very interesting to see who is living primarily in a world with minor modifications and who is living primarily in the modified world with minor interactions. For a very long time there will be an actual world that we have to live in an interact with.

Virtual Reality and augmented reality depicted in movies (RW52)

The concept of the movie ”Surrogates” is that people have remotely controlled androids called the surrogates which are idealized forms of themselves. The android would be just like you, but in your idealized version of you in your prime, physically fit, young. The filthy home-bound real human is sitting in some lazy-boy recliner remote-controlling this android and they don’t transfer pain, but only the good feelings.

The movie ”Wall-E” describes complete Virtual Reality with everybody living as pudgy consumers on a spaceship.

Maybe the movie Elysium is closer to what the truth of those scenarios would be, where a supra-class lives literally above while everybody else just toils below. People still exist bodily.

In the Matrix scenario we are all encased in Jell-O in a pod and we are wholly living in a dream state, but why bother creating that infrastructure and making ourselves that vulnerable? We don’t have super high-speed Maglev trains although it is a great idea and would be awesome, because the vulnerability of someone in a Maglev train is different from the vulnerability of being in an airplane. If you go 700 mph across the country in a Maglev train, one screw-up and you are just vaporized. It is just on pylons soaring across the country and all you have to do is stand on a field and shoot it with a gun. The vacuum would be broken and the whole thing would explode! How far would you have to go to be willing to just be encased in Jell-O and be maintained by robots or a slave-class?

Gamification of every-day life with the help of AR (RW52)

It would be much easier to put goggles on everybody and have them continue to do things in the world, but have them experience it differently. Everybody would be a form of people in the movie ”Shallow How”. It doesn’t matter what shape your body is when you are lying there having sex with somebody. Sex is a lot better if everybody is chubby, frankly! Nobody wants a bunch of skinny people having sex, because it sounds like a bunch of silverware rattling in a drawer. If you had goggles on that made everyone look like a 21-year old Scarlet Johansson and a 21-year old Ryan Gosling, why wouldn’t you just put those goggles on and have sex with your normal friends? It is a lot cheaper and a lot more in-between.

You would still go to work, but instead of assembling roll-aids in a wrapper, it would be turned into a game. Every time you completed one of your manufacturing tasks, you would get a little coin that would go ”Pling! 100 points” John spends a lot of time playing Solitaire and he could just as easily be making something with his hands. If it was characterized as a mind-engaging little points game rather than having to make these things until the end of the day, if it was gamified in VR? That is where it is going to go! If you work as a cashier in a candy store and some person comes in and asks for some candy and tells you to step on it, you are only going to make 20 points if you respond rudely, but if you respond nicely, you will get 100 points. The Algorithm will decide how many points you are going to get!

When John was in elementary school, it was very easy to motivate him. His 3rd grade teacher did it and fucked him up for the rest of his life: He motivated them by giving them virtual money instead of grades. Every homework assignment for example was 25 cents. John was so motivated! At the end of the year, he should have given John his $150, but he failed to do it and John lost faith in all adults.

SnapChat spectacles (RW52)

John once met the woman who designed the SnapChat Spectacles and as someone who is in the glasses game, the craziest thing for him is making a frame that looks pretty good on everyone, which is pretty hard to do! The Wayfarers and the Aviators look pretty good on everyone, but not everybody can wear them. Those Snap Specs are weird, because a round lens doesn’t typically look good on everyone, but John thinks they are cool looking glasses.

When he first encountered the glasses, John was really confused why they were just little video cameras and why they didn’t have a backward-facing component where the lenses would actually show you those filters. The facial recognition and these filters are SnapChat's bread and butter! Why didn’t they go that extra step and got into the business of putting their filters on the world outside? You can’t even replay the videos in the lenses where it would kind of belong! It is a big money-making world over there in Miami and John wants this to be the space in which he gets really rich, but he is just punditing. You can put a prescription in the SnapChat Spectacles for extra cash, but John can also just as well use his phone if he wants to make a snap. He is not living in this world so much that it would be worth taking them with him when he leaves the house.

John hasn’t made any snaps lately because he was having a disagreement with the app. When he was taking snaps, he was doing 5 or 6 a day, telling little stories. John is an old fogey, so he was using SnapChat primarily as a broadcast medium rather than interacting with specific people. A lot of people would do this really weird thing and tag John on the video they were just making, like ”I’m watching the game!” It would show up in John’s private messages, but when he looked at it, it was just ”LOL, my cat is chasing a ball!” John doesn’t know those people, so why is he looking at a video of them? The app is not set up to go out and find interesting people. John loved the Vine-star girl who did the ”Is the outside right? Check! Fresh inside? Yes!” (this Vine) so much that he watched it 100 times and followed her SnapChat, but she does 800 snaps a day like ”Waaaah, I’m making a smoothie” and John was out! He doesn’t want to be in this person’s life, but he just liked that one Vine she did.

What made SnapChat such a game-changer was that everything that came before was made to stick around, whereas SnapChat obviously is not meant to be like that. It is meant to be seen once and then go away, which is a very foreign concept for people of a certain age and beyond. Why would you go through the trouble to make something that doesn’t continue on?

The outlook of making a living as a story-teller (RW52)

If it weren’t for Merlin, John wouldn’t have found his way into podcasting. He was very suspicious of Twitter and was a late adopter, but Hodgman and Coulton hectoring him caused him to start doing that. Would he have made 4 more Long Winters records if he hadn’t gone into social media? John Vanderslice is a peer of about the same age and was making records contemporaneous with John, but he hasn’t made a record in just as long a time as John hasn’t. The Wrens famously haven’t made a record in that time. Others have! Dave Bazan and Death Cab have continued to make albums. Would John have? Or what would he have done? He is not really suited to get a job. But if the podcast market gets so saturated that people just don’t have 1,5 hours a day to listen to Dan and John talk about whatever is on their minds? John has no way of prognosticating even 10 years from now.

Dan and John have a very unstable way of making a living, which is not unlike many other people in that space, like developers who learned Visual Basic or Fortran. You even need to continue taking legal education, but John doesn’t see that there isn’t going to be a market for lawyers for the foreseeable future. 40 years from now there are still going to be plenty of lawyers! Doctors will have have to understand digital technology and nano-technology a lot faster than the rest of us. John and Dan, who are just personalities for sale, will in some place be the last to know when the culture moves on. John will be telling his stories over here while the big crowds will be congregating around somebody else who is probably not SnapChatting, but do some next version of what people find entertaining. One of the big advantages of podcasting is that storytelling is eternal. It was one of the first things we did as human beings and will probably be one of the last things we do. John just doesn’t know the form that storytelling is going to take. Maybe it will go back to Plato’s cave and will just be shadow-dancing. John will be pretty good at that, too!

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