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Are Time and Wealth Weightless?

· Reading,Social Media,Jaron Lanier,Sam Harris,AI

In episode #136 of the Making Sense podcast, Digital Humanism, the ever fascinating Jaron Lanier explains to Sam Harris the idea that, with the flattening of information by social media, people treat information as if it's 'weightless'.

And it occurs to me that this is equally true of 'wealth', and perhaps also of 'time'. In fact, we mean the 'use of' information, wealth and time.

Let me explain what Jaron Lanier meant. Information is not 'weightless'. It is meaningless or dangerous unless the trouble has been taken to turn it into ‘understanding’, which takes concentrated effort. The material the person is faced with should be doubted. The motivations of the originator must be questioned. Reading and thinking around the subject has to take place, to gain nuance and context. Hard questions informed by that learning must be asked of the 'information'. All attempts must be made to disprove it.

Effort has to be exerted to properly ground information, otherwise you can't use it and you end up spouting a lot of spurious crap. And people should learn to ignore their phones and read books! Or at least Wikipedia articles. And I mean the whole damn article, not just a paragraph.

This incidentally, happens to be the scientific method.

Sam talked about the notion that the super-intelligent AGI, if it arrives, will be able to ‘pull wealth out of the ether.’ That might be an exact quote. The implication is that this will be an unalloyed good. But will it really be that?

Lottery winners, mistaking showing off and pleasure for happiness, often squander their sudden wealth and know forever thereafter that they wasted their great opportunity. Control over great resources can cause great harm - look at the oil, cigarette, and sugar industries.

In the same way that information is not weightless, but requires a commitment of time, effort, and thinking, neither are financial resources weightless. Wealth is worthless and even dangerous unless the owner has taken the trouble to learn how to constructively and safely deploy it. It takes work to learn that wealth is a proxy for freedom and the ability to create things of value to add to the world.

And lastly, 'time'. People put decades into a job hoping to one day retire and get their time back, but when they reach this point they usually have no idea what to do with that time. They decide to return to work in the same role. Or, believing that their life must now become an endless vacation, they watch television for the next thirty years.

My work colleagues already spend a stressful 40-45 hours per week, and yet they seek out opportunities for overtime. They value their time, which is limited and always growing less, so little that they happily sell it for money. They have so little idea of how to use their leisure time that they eagerly exchange it for currency which they anyway don’t know what to do with.

I find this interesting, that there is no free lunch. There is this correlation between power and responsibility. The availability of ever more 'information', 'wealth', and 'time', requires - of course - a greater investment of effort on everyone's part. These benefits have to be digested. And what happens if you don't put in that effort to digest...?

Without self-propelled research, you are delegating your thinking to other people. People who have an agenda to push. If you hop on to their band wagon you become a 'useful idiot' for them. And by 'research', I don't mean clicking on the next video clip that the YouTube algorithm feeds you.

Without asking 'What is wealth?' you will keep spending your scarce income on crap that enriches other people.

Without valuing your time, you will gladly hand over this very scarce resource to your employer in exchange for nothing of value.

Or I can point seemingly at almost anything in the British or American news these days...