Does minimalism really make us any happier? ⊗ Logistics Landscapes ⊗ How scifi imagined the 2020s ⊗ World on fire won’t shock us much longer — No.109

This week → Does minimalism really make us any happier? ⊗ Logistics Landscapes ⊗ How scific imagined the 2020s ⊗ The world on fire won’t shock us for much longer ⊗ Blackrock

A year ago → Welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism.

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We are forever being urged to declutter and simplify our lives. But does minimalism really make us any happier?

If you aren’t interested in minimalism, do open the article anyway and jump to the end, beginning at Steve Jobs, which is very good on how simplicity can obfuscate superstructure, the idea of the “second body,” and the supply chain, which also connects to the next article.

Before that part though, and it’s not the topic of the article per se—which is more oriented to minimalism as a reaction to our times—but it makes me think of the difference between minimalism and simplifying. The “socially mediated” minimalists are almost another kind of consumerists. They seem to think that they need to scrap everything and buy simple, clean things. They don’t dream about more stuff but many of them do dream of better stuff which also fits in a certain aspirational view of what they want to become. How about learning some of the lessons of minimalism, i.e. let go of consumerism, but then follow that up by simplifying, instead of a great reckoning of throwing things away and replacing them with fewer, new minimalist looking things? (The article is an excerpt of Kyle Chayka’s book, which I’m looking forward to reading.)

We are addicted to accumulation. The minimalist lifestyle seems like a conscientious way of approaching the world now that we have realised that materialism, accelerating since the industrial revolution, is literally destroying the planet. […]

Minimalism, I came to think, is not necessarily a voluntary personal choice, but an inevitable societal and cultural shift responding to the experience of living through the 2000s. […]

The iPhone’s function depends on an enormous, complex, ugly superstructure of satellites and undersea cables that certainly are not designed in pristine whiteness. Minimalist design encourages us to forget everything a product relies on and imagine, in this case, that the internet consists of carefully shaped glass and steel alone. […]

The phrase describes the alienated presence that we feel when we are aware of both our individual physical bodies and our collective causation of environmental damage and climate change. While we calmly walk down the street, watch a film or go food shopping, we are also the source of pollution drifting across the Pacific or a tsunami in Indonesia. The second body is the source of an unplaceable anxiety: the problems are undeniably our fault, even though it feels as if we cannot do anything about them because of the sheer difference in scale. […]

It is easy to feel like a minimalist when you can order food, summon a car or rent a room using a single brick of steel and silicon. But in reality, it is the opposite. We are taking advantage of a maximalist assemblage. Just because something looks simple does not mean it is; the aesthetics of simplicity cloak artifice, or even unsustainable excess.

More → When it comes to the “minimalist look,” it reminded me of another Chayka piece from 2016, also worth a read; Welcome to AirSpace.

A Tour of Some Logistics Landscapes

Ingrid Burrington going from satellites’ “view from nowhere” to the streets of New York City in a tour of the logistics that surround us. The piece is filled with bits of information bringing some understanding of the scale and complexity of global logistics, as well as multiple insights into the assumptions, values, and goals that shape these overlaid networks. Also includes: Amazon, warehouse workers’ safety, gentrification, destination dispatch elevators (I had no idea about these!), and provides useful context for smart cities.

But just as neoliberalism is more than a set of economic policies, logistics is more than an abstract term for ordering things: It’s a form of management, a security imperative, a world-making process unto itself. Not all systems are logistical, but to assume a logistics lens on the world tends to systematize it — making it mappable, standardized, subject to control, and predicated on perpetual growth almost always in need of optimization. […]

Today, over 2.5 million miles of pipeline run through the United States, and thanks to them, billions of objects exist. From cars and nail polish and sweaters to computers and toothpaste and pavement, petroleum leaches into almost every conceivable industrial product. […]

[T]his is what the logistics lens does: It prioritizes continuous flow, presumes infrastructural necessity, and can’t really imagine anything outside itself rendering it unnecessary. […]

In the world of warehouse logistics, as at the level of the pipeline, it’s the human bodies of organized labor that provide the most friction. […]

The lifestyle brands of gentrification are, at the heart of their cold, dead hearts, logistics brands. […]

This is not to say that all pursuit of orderly or efficient systems is inherently unhealthy or a path toward dehumanization. But within the networks that make up the logistics self/city/nation/planet, that pursuit of order and efficiency is deemed more important than and comes at the expense of the dignity and wellbeing of living things.

How Science Fiction Imagined the 2020s

When I was a kid, “dans les années 2000” (“in the 2000s”) was shorthand for “in the future,” and many scifi novels were set somewhere in there, often in the 2020s. In a few years I’ll have lived as long in this millennia as in the previous, some days it feels like the future hasn’t arrived, and on others like multiple futures are happening all the time, at high speed. Tim Maughan (may I again recommend his excellent Infinite Detail?) looks at some of the classics from Gibson, Sterling, Rucker, King, James, Butler, and even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to see what they got right.

Islands in the Net isn’t about the never-ending conflict between Islamic terrorism and Western governments that we’re constantly being told we’re fighting, but instead a war between developing nations and globalization itself. […]

From the real-world 2020s, where it feels like injustices are exposed on a daily basis, but where our hope for justice is lost in the signal-to-noise ratio of the infinite scroll, this idea now feels naive. […]

Infertility may not be the driver, but these days there’s often a distinct feeling that people are channeling some latent paternal love into pets rather than children. And indeed, the economic pressures and anxieties about the future are discouraging many millennials from having kids.

More → For more author on author writing, also checkout this interview of Kim Stanley Robinson by Eliot Peper.

Pictures of the world on fire won’t shock us for much longer

On Twitter Jay quoted the highlighted bit below and yes, I am disturbed by it. Mark O’Connell on how real and how pressing climate collapse suddenly is, and how we might stop being shocked all too soon.

It also made me think of what life is basically like now: a calm foreground with an inferno on the horizon. […]

Yet the most disturbing thing about the images of the fires is not that they might signal the end of the world, but that they might signal how the world will continue. That we might just get used to large parts of the planet being on fire, and even larger parts of it being underwater. And more disturbing still, that we might harden our hearts against the people who live and die in the floods and the fires.

BlackRock C.E.O. Larry Fink: Climate Crisis Will Reshape Finance

Taking these letters with a huge grain of salt and low expectations but, at the very least, even if it ends up being empty handwaving, it shows that the message is coming through enough for them to feel they need to respond. Now, on to actually changing things around yeah?

“Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance. The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.” […]

“This dynamic will accelerate as the next generation takes the helm of government and business. As trillions of dollars shift to millennials over the next few decades, as they become C.E.O.s and C.I.O.s, as they become the policymakers and heads of state, they will further reshape the world’s approach to sustainability.”

More → Btw, Microsoft came up with a big climate plan… but they won’t stop working with oil companies.

Let’s All Read More Fiction

Just a very short piece announcing that The Atlantic will publish more fiction. Their reasons for it and these couple of quotes are worth a look.

Contemplative reading might be viewed as a minor act of rebellion in the internet age. At a time when every available surface is saturated in information, it sometimes seems as though facts are absorbed osmotically, even accidentally, just by moving through space and time. And although the internet is not the perfect opposite of the novel, as some people have argued, it makes fairly efficient work of splintering attention and devouring time. Literary reading—of fiction and of poetry, the kind of reading that commands moral and emotional reflection—is far too easily set aside. […]

[Alice Munro:] “A story is not a path you traverse, but a large house to explore. After you inhabit a story for a while, and you peer through the windows of that house, the world outside looks different.”


Header image: That mythical picture of Steve Jobs in his living room, mentioned in the minimalism piece.

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