dreams of electric sheep

Who is yasu0?


Who is yasu0? That is a good question. What does the camera see when it looks in a mirror? A lifeless mechanism. At the center, a dark and empty aperture. Nothing interesting there. Much better to turn the lens outwards and try to capture some action, the scenery, something.

This is my attempt to make sense of the world around me and to write down my notes and observations. I hope it will be compelling to someone other than me. And even if it isn't, then perhaps someone will at least know that I tried.

I should rather leave my age, location, and other biographical details vague or unspecified. But you will no doubt be able to ballpark them from the details that I will provide.

My father and mother were both working class. I attended public schools in different places. I was regarded alternately, by my teachers, to be academically sub-par, mediocre, or mildly gifted. But from the age of around ten onward I had developed a fascination with reading which lasted into early adulthood.

My first exposure to computers came with 8-bit micros then a 16-bit Japanese console and, finally, with a Pentium on which I first learned to program in my late teens. From there it was a downhill slope.

It would not be long until I was exposed to the corrupting influence of the nascent - newly privatized Internet, hacker zines, free software, esoteric mathematical concepts, and computer-science.

My academic career ended, aged 16, around 10th grade with an expulsion and the end of compulsory schooling. A result of poor attendance, fighting, and general bad behavior. I will skip over the details but let's just say that I emerged from school semi-qualified: holding a high school diploma with the bare minimum of credits. A couple of good teachers, my strong showing in math and science, and my ability to sustain a mediocre performance for a couple of other key subjects are the only reasons I managed to scrape through.

After school, there would have been a temptation for me to fall in with other listless and disaffected young men seeking stimulation in a world with apparently little to offer. Luckily, without money, and living in relative isolation I managed to avoid a lot of those distractions. I bounced around between menial kitchen or unskilled laboring jobs or futile attempts at entering higher education. I used my interest in computer programming to pass the time. I became increasingly bookish.

For a while there, I tried to avoid serious employment, working instead as a freelancer and for a local web-design agency. Never paying for Internet access, hardware, or hosting services, which were either easily accessed without payment or gifted by some benefactor for services rendered. But eventually the financial constraints of the real world drew me into serial employment as a programmer or security researcher or something like that.

I wouldn't say that things stabilized, but having a job, reliable income, and no costly vices allowed me some measure of freedom to pursue my own interests. And occasionally even provided the privilege of having some fuck you money when the conditions of employment had become burdensome to the point of impacting my sanity.

My income, however, did not keep pace with the rising costs of rent and other living expenses. I developed some expensive substance habits. Compounding debts. No doubt that my overall level of motivation, general demeanor and work-ethic were not making me a desirable catch for employers. And on a couple of occasions I had to say fuck you without having any fuck you money saved up.

A few stints of being broke, homeless, veering towards mental health crisis and street-sleeping, combined with poor choice of friends, led me towards some questionable career moves. And by questionable, I mean that my basic metabolic needs to maintain my core temperature and calorie intake induced me to accept working conditions that should otherwise be cues to move on at the earliest possible opportunity. Beggars cannot be choosers, as the saying goes.

Nevertheless, with sanity regained, I still found myself to be in possession of the complete set of skin-color, genitals, orientation, English language ability, visa status, marketable skills & experience, and all the other little things that employers tend to favor. And so eventually, with some luck and hard work - but mostly dumb luck, I managed to regain a foothold in the respectable world.

Once you have a foothold there, and the ability to maintain your sanity, it becomes possible to to start building up the resources you need to secure and advance your position in the long term. And that is where I find myself today. Writing to you from a position of relative security from which I can reflect upon the events happening around us.

So what is happening?

Software is eating the world. But not so much the real-world where low-cost, outsourced, human labor is still very much king.

No, rather the wired is making the biggest strides when it is expanding into the cracks in our social lives like insulating foam. It finds the places where social networks have been weakened by the more prosaic forces of modern post-industrial capitalism: job insecurity, labor mobility, longer working hours, reduced disposable income, and the privatization of public spaces. And then it rushes into those fractures, replacing flesh-and-blood communities with high-tech mass-surveillance and content optimized for engagement in the form of compulsive low-effort/high-stimulus junk-habits like doom-scrolling, liking, sharing, and commenting.

Online content is optimized for reflexive engagement. If engagement is reflexive, there is no time to consider how others will react to it. In that case it is highly likely to generate further reflexive and emotional reactions. This creates a positive feedback cycle for content platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, because this all results in more eyeball-hours, which means more ad placements, which means more profit. For the victims, stuck in this vast Skinner box, it means an endless assault on their attentional resources.

But what do we need attention for, anyway? Well, one thing we might want to use it for is figuring out how reliable is the information we're receiving so that we can respond appropriately to it. It's quite hard to do that if you're being bombarded with content which is optimized for it's distraction value. Usually stuff which is not only wrong, but urgently and consequentially wrong, so much so that we are moved to respond immediately. After all, somebody on the internet needs correcting!

Or maybe you can avoid this negative (usually political) engagement and go into the business of mindless affirmation and validation. This is where we get in to the murky world of the influencer. It used to be that people with major narcissism would have to leave the house to obtain narcissistic supply and validation. They would have to suit up and go to work or go to cocktail parties where they can feed off of the admiration of others. Now they can stay in their own solipsistic bubble, posing for selfies to post on Instagram.

Of course, there is no shortage of people who find their lives unsatisfactory but who have not yet been able to develop a narcissistic personality structure stable enough to survive contact with reality. There are plenty of possible reasons for this but lack of money is a pretty good one. Invalidating and abusing personal relations, or a demeaning job are other pretty good barriers. Of course, character traits such as empathy, basic human decency, possession of some sort of moral core, these are also countervailing forces which can inhibit the formation of a grandiose false self. But they can all be overcome by the right environmental conditions. The grandiose false-self, after all, is primarily a defensive structure, urged in to existence by necessity.

Such people are accutely vulnerable to, and admiring of, the narcissist's grandiosity and glib, superficial charm, and they can now be connected to narcissistic manipulators in great numbers via Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms designed for connecting frauds and manipulators with willing and self-selecting victims and enablers. Furthermore the platforms provide various monetization tools which enable the charlatans to extract not only narcissistic supply, but cash, goods, and services. This plunder can then be incorporated into new content to project an even more inflated and grandiose vision of the narcissists distorted inner-world, and this inevitably succeeds in attracting more victims.

If this sounds similar to the more traditional forms of capital accumulation then you have been paying attention. If we could take Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, we could see the same dynamic at play in a succession of historical epochs, albeit in a slightly less refined form. From pompous aristocrats and British East-India Company merchants, to 80's celebrities and televangelists. The only thing that tech has achieved here is the creation of a new, more pervasive, more streamlined, mass-market, fully-automated, content-optimized, version of the nightmare. Tech is an accelerant. It has altered the course of societal or structural narcissism in similar ways that the development of desktop publishing changed small businesses, or in the way that a can of gasoline changes an apartment fire.