Work and video games

I was reading “Escape to Another World” (highly recommended) and this part made me realize something:

How could society ever value time spent at games as it does time spent on “real” pursuits, on holidays with families or working in the back garden, to say nothing of time on the job? Yet it is possible that just as past generations did not simply normalise the ideal of time off but imbued it with virtue – barbecuing in the garden on weekends or piling the family into the car for a holiday – future generations might make hours spent each day on games something of an institution.

I think part of the challenge is that, historically, many of us pursue hobbies and other activities that are also related to craftsmanship. The world of full of people who, in their spare time, rebuild bikes or cars, or sew quilts, or bind books, or write open-source software, or pursue other kinds of hobbies that have virtues beyond the pleasure of the hobby itself (I am thinking of a book like Shop Class as Soul Craft, though if I recall correctly the idea of craftsmanship as a virtue of its own goes back to Plato). A friend of mine, for example, started up pottery classes; while she enjoys the process, she also gets bowls and mugs out of it. Video games seem have few or none of those secondary effects.

To be sure, a lot of playing video games has likely replaced watching TV, and watching TV has none of those salutary effects either. Still, one has to wonder if video games are also usurping more active forms of activity that also build other kinds of skills (as well as useful objects).

I say this as someone who wasted a fantastic amount of time on video games from ages 12 – 15 or so. Those are years I should’ve been building real skills and abilities (or even having real fun), and instead I spent a lot of them slaying imaginary monsters as a way of avoiding the real world. I can’t imagine being an adult and spending all that time on video games. We can never get back the time we waste, and wasted time compounds—as does invested time.

In my own life, the hobby time I’ve spent reading feeds directly into my professional life. The hobby time I spent working on newspapers in high school and college does too. Many people won’t have so direct a connection—but many do, and will.

To be sure, lots of people play recreational video games that don’t interfere with the rest of their lives. Playing video games as a way of consciously wasting time is fine, but when wasting time becomes a primary activity instead of a secondary or tertiary one it becomes a problem over time. It’s possible to waste a single day mucking around or playing a game or whatever—I have and chances are very high that so have you—but the pervasiveness of them seems new, as Avent writes.

It’s probably better to be the person writing the games than playing the games (and writing them can at times take on some game-like qualities). When you’re otherwise stuck, build skills. No one wants skills in video game playing, but lots of people want other skills that aren’t being built by battling digital orcs. The realest worry may be that many people who start the video game spiral won’t be able to get out.

Links: Wi-Fi kinda sucks, alcohol, coffee, and civilization, free speech and free lives, and more!

* “A deep dive into why Wi-Fi kind of sucks.” Ethernet is now oddly underrated, especially given how cheap cables are from Monoprice.

* How Alcohol and Caffeine Helped Create Civilization.

* “Trump has set the US up to botch a global health crisis.” Which should scare you. We dodged the Ebola bullet more narrowly than most people realize.

* “Middlebury’s Statement of Principle: Learning is possible only where free, reasoned and civil speech is respected.” Though lunatics make the news about academia with distressing frequency, most academics are actually reasonable. But “reasonable” is rarely newsworthy.

* Myths about military spending, from an unlikely source.

* Mike Carper on photography and the business in photography.

* “On Political Correctness: Power, class, and the new campus religion.” See also me on related themes: “The race to the bottom of victimhood and ‘social justice’ culture” and “How do you know when you’re being insensitive? How do you know when you’re funny?

* “In the Future, We’ll All Wear Spider Silk.” Very cool if / when it pans out. But I’ve been seeing similar articles for years; maybe spider silk is the cold fusion of fashion.

* Researchers replicate the Milgram Experiment. A timely piece.

* “What If Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?” Sounds stupid but isn’t.

Links: What’s up with Russia?,’s saga, Ikea, Linux laptops, Les Mis, and more!

* “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War,” from The New Yorker and a much better piece than you think; it’s also not just the usual.

* Comments from a female engineer on why she likes (liked?) Nastygal’s clothes, along with other insights about women and clothes.

* “The Weird Economics Of Ikea,” which are not particularly weird. See also me, “Does IKEA enable mobility?

* “How Victor Hugo came to write Les Misérables.”

* Why Dell’s gamble on Linux laptops has paid off. Linux seems to be getting easier on the desktop. If you’re a non-technical person using it, please leave a comment!

* Almost related to the above: Purism’s coreboot port is done. This is an important step in the company’s effort to ship a completely open source (and modern) laptop.

* “The case for going to bed at 2:30 am.”

* “Trouble at sea: what fossil fuels are doing to our oceans.”

* “In praise of cash;” seems like an obvious point to me.

* “Japan Gets Schooled: Why the Country’s Universities Are Failing.” The comments about the humanities and liberal arts are especially interesting from a Western perspective:

Although Japanese students rank among the top in the OECD for math and science, liberal arts and humanities are languishing. Yet they are critical to the growing creative industries of the future. The government is aware of this challenge.

Links: Oceans, coffee, teachers, facts, incompetence, pens, and more!

* “Scientists have detected a major change to the Earth’s oceans.” And it’s a change that’s been long predicted.

* “The Coffee Shaman: Meet the man responsible for third-wave coffee—and the Frappuccino.” I love those coffee shops, although since I work at home I use them in part to escape.

* “Stop Humiliating Teachers,” a lovely piece though unlikely to happen.

* “Why facts don’t change our mind.

* “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?“, a salient question for obvious reasons.

* “From work to income to health to social mobility, the year 2000 marked the beginning of what has become a distressing era for the United States.” Maybe.

* “A weapon for readers.” You may have seen this weapon deployed here. My favorite weapon right now is this one.

* The great American streetcar myth.

* Is our view of romantic love too narrow? Philosopher Carrie Jenkins makes the case for polyamory.

* “On Meaning, Identity Politics and Bias in the Academy — An Interview with Clay Routledge.” Also about the many odd intellectual currents on campus at the moment.

* On To the House of the Sun.

* “The ‘Civilized’ World Looked On and Did Nothing,” a timely reminder.

Links: College and speech, subways, textbooks, the manipulated citizen, and more!

* “Don’t Blame Politics for the Crisis at American Colleges: Campus life has been increasingly riled by controversies over perceived offenses. An administrative culture is partly responsible.” Still, one has to ask: is there a crisis? If so, what is it, and for whom is it a crisis?

* All aboard: the Second Avenue Subway is here. See also: Why does infrastructure cost so damn much in the U.S.?

* In keeping with the above: “Considerations on cost disease.” A much more vital essay than its title, maybe, suggests.

* A useful reminder: “Ordinary Americans Carried Out Inhumane Acts For Trump.”

* I Helped Create the Milo Trolling Playbook. You Should Stop Playing Right Into It. From Ryan Holiday of Trust Me, I’m Lying fame. We are easily manipulated, myself likely included.

* To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics.

* “Garry Kasparov, a top Putin critic, on how to oppose Trump: ‘making him look like a loser is crucial.'”

* Stan Smith knows you think he’s just a sneaker, a very weird and fascinating story.

* “Love is like cocaine.”

* Why great critics make disastrous judgments.

* “Top Hat Raises $22.5 Million to Go After Pearson, McGraw-Hill.” Good.

“How to build an autocracy”

How to build an autocracy” appears in this month’s Atlantic and may turn out to be the most important article of 2017. It’s so important that I’m putting it in a standalone post rather than including it as an item amid others in a link list. One hopes that the future David Frum imagines in it doesn’t come to pass.

But if it doesn’t, it won’t because individual people choose not to let it come to pass. Knowledge is one step in that process. Action is another.

We seem to have collectively forgotten history. We’ve seen authoritarianism before. What’s odd is seeing it again—although Richard Rorty may have predicted it twenty years ago; until the last election I complacently thought, “It can’t happen here.” I was wrong.

Links: Feminist sympathizes with “men’s rights,” Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hollywood, clothes and costs, and more

* “How this feminist found herself sympathising with the men’s rights movement.”

* At least one smart, well-informed person, Radley Balko, thinks “In Gorsuch, Trump gave Democrats a gift. They should take it.” I don’t know enough to have an opinion but generally like Balko’s skepticism towards the consolidation of government power over individuals and also like his book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. Most of the discussion I’ve seen so far has been unenlightening.

* Scott Alexander on Eichmann in Jerusalem; I find the sections on bureaucratic and societal resistance most interesting. When I was younger I thought the “what” and “why” about a thing were the most interesting parts, but now I see that the “how” is at least as important.

* “Pants For the Cost of A Postage Stamp: A Conversation with Jacob Yazejian, Used Clothing Exporter.” This is an example of the “how” question being explained.

* “How Immigration Uncertainty Threatens America’s Tech Dominance.” Well-known to people in the field and not known at all among voters.

* America needs to abandon its reverence for bachelor’s degrees.

* “Why Hollywood as We Know It Is Already Over,” although I have been reading similar-ish articles for ~10 years.

* “The psychology of why 94 deaths from terrorism are scarier than 301,797 deaths from guns.”

* Things you don’t expect to read in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “‘I Have Multiple Loves:’ Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory.”

* Evan McMullins is trying to save democracy.

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