Notes and Review - Lost Daughter (Ferrante)

Rating: 5/5

One should never arrive in an unknown place at night, everything is undefined, every object is easily exaggerated.

This is a beautiful line. Every time I am booking a ticket to some new place, I remember this line. I remember the dread and uncertainty of arriving at night. Despite knowing that arriving at night is unwise, I arrived in Italy late one night in 2019. It was a timely reminder of my lack of wisdom; a line like this makes the lesson a memorable one. Seeing the confused characters in this book, my first instinct was to clamp down on their inability to decide and brand it rashly as immature indecisiveness; then, gradually, I would see the lens fog up and doubt creep in. Were they really indecisive, or do they appear unclear to us only in hindsight?

It was like a slight twinge that, as you keep thinking about it, becomes an unbearable pain. I was beginning to feel exasperated.

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The Unstoppable March of Technology

Every conversation that I have been in over the past 3 weeks outside the home has been about generative AI, and the vein of all these conversations is quite similar. Most of the people I met are optimistic about this new “technological advancement.”1 I met a few skeptics who believe that generative AI is adept at generating only a summary of what’s already out there and incapable of coming up with something original.2 I agree with those skeptics, based on the screenshots that abound on Twitter and my brief experience giving a handful of prompts to ChatGPT. The apparent inevitability of the “next thing” in technology is can not be understood as one that stems from rational thought: Rather, it is a cultural (almost religious) belief, and it pervades in the social psyche. For a while now, there has been this unstated acceptance that new technologies will come along, and those who don’t use them will be left behind in the dust. What if one were to ask the question, what if the dust is good enough? One wouldn’t even think of it; when has dust ever been “good enough”?. Is the cutting edge really something you want to be on? You better want to be there, or you will be left behind. Even if you are standing still on the travelator of technological advancements, you will be pulled along, dragging and screaming, on the unstoppable march of technology.

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What To Do With All This Media Theory?

There has been a lot of media theory talk over the past year in the mainstream (newspapers, news websites, television) and on the intellectual sidelines (podcasts and blogs). The discourse is heavy on the origins and consequences of the continuing, effectively unstoppable, decay of communication over traditional media. (Savvy authors might use terms like “signal to noise ratio.”) However, all this discourse is suspiciously devoid of any advice for us, the spectators. Repeatedly, there is the defeatist assertion that most people will probably be addicted to their screens despite knowing how the screens manipulate them. I don’t think this defeatism is necessary. What should people do to avoid the consequences that authors are expounding on? Should they try to cut their information intake? Should they go “off the grid,” a concept that Opinion writers have made a cottage industry out of talking about?1 The discourse has no response. Here’s my non-defeatist take.

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Notes and Review - The Castle (Kafka)

This novel is humorous. The characters and their interactions, the presumptions that they make about each other based on trivial details, the protagonist’s (His name is K.) strange obsession over every single alphabet in the letters that he receives, characters that have a job which they do only when they want to. Everything in the novel is humorous. On the surface. Just underneath the surface, lurks the boundless struggle and omnipresent hopelessness of a life in the world that K. inhabits. (The world that he is in is eerily, and perhaps intentionally similar to our own.) This is not a dystopia; the bureaucratic hell that K. is subjected to is one that many are familiar with. The nightmare does not stop when you have procured every new document that the government has ever issued to its citizens; it continues, for the government takes great relish in moving the goalposts and confusing people; keeping them inside their Web browser until their citizens are exasperated enough to just close the tab and move on. The only difference between the citizens of our world and K. is that K. does not move on.

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Why Do You Read Entertainment Supplements?

The newspaper represents the canonical form of media. This medium is devoid of the strangeness inherent in 24-hour TV1, and has been around long enough for its form to reach a state of equilibrium; a state that can be understood. Of all the pages in a newspaper, I want to talk about the entertainment pages. What is the point of the entertainment supplement that accompanies newspapers? These supplements often start with a headline in which an actor is promoting a movie. The key however is that the actor says something unrelated; or “reveals” a secret about their work or life so that the reader is first trapped into reading the article. Eventually, the reader will find out that they are promoting a movie. I did not know this for a while; when watching television shows where guests would come on the show as “judges,” I was not able to recognize immediately that the people who came on the show were there only when they were promoting something. Once I realized that actors go on TV shows for only that reason, the connections were much easier to draw. Whenever a new movie comes out, the people associated with the movie try to get as much footage as they possibly can. This is simply the way marketing works; a banal truth. Is this media blitz anything except marketing? Why do the media organizations become tools in this marketing? Why do people fall for this not immediately obvious marketing ploy, despite years of formulaic use? Those are the questions I am going to attempt to answer in this post.

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10 Common Features of Communist Regimes

The primary source for this list is Dalrymple’s account of his visits to 5 Communist countries as described in his book The Wilder Shores of Marx (Dalrymple). Dalrymple visited these countries in the late 1980s, and several of these countries have since turned to democracy. The 2 other major sources that have influenced me would be movies about life in Eastern Europe during or right after the 2nd World War (such as Pianist (2002)) and Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. More recent sources include the Vox episode about Cuba released in 2015 and contemporary travel vlogs from North Korea. For lists such as this one, it is hard to pin point where exactly the idea originated from. I would say that the list is an amalgamation of the information provided by the sources I have mentioned and the impression they had on me about the life of ordinary people in the remaining Communist countries of the world. Other media has also influenced me, notably Casey Neistat’s reflections about his trip to Cuba, Conan’s hilarious series of shows from Cuba and the Korean drama Crash Landing on You, in which the protagonist is a North Korean army officer. (An upcoming review of McGregor’s The Party, an account of the governing system in China, will clarify why China did not conform to the typical Communist regime expectations either when Dalrymple visited the other states or today; its curious mix of capitalist economics with Communist ideology has borne the greatest success story in the past half century.)

(I structured this as a list after reading Dynomight’s post supporting lists as a tool for effective communication.)

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Losing Control of Our Screens and Data

After nearly a decade of using the internet daily, it is clear that users have little control over what is displayed on their screen. The control has been ceded to capitalists wishing to sell you something. I am not just talking about the algorithmic social media that is the rage these days. (TL;DR Tik Tok is becoming more popular than Instagram because their algorithm is better and Instagram is getting anxious about it.) I’m talking about advertisements. Newspapers, radio and television have never given the viewer any option about the advertising content that they hear/see. On those mediums, it was easier to distinguish between content and advertising. When the commercial break begins, I can mute the television. With newspapers, I can skim past pages that are advertisements. When an ad is disguised as a search result marked by a greyed out “Sponsored” label which is very small and designed to be hard to notice, the user has no choice but to engage with the ad as if it were a legitimate result.

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The Keyboard Logs

I have been experimenting with keyboards for the past several years and in February this year, I switched to a keyboard which I hope will be the last keyboard I ever buy. The whole point of switching keyboards all this while was to buy the right version of this keyboard, the Ergodox EZ. It is a split keyboard with an ortholinear layout. It is an expensive keyboard and can be customized to an (almost) limitless extent. It has several extra keys which can be programmed to do whatever you want them to such as function keys or macros. This post is a log of the keyboards I bought (and sold off) during this process.

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Book Review: Global Economic History (Allen)

Allen’s Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction is a 200-page masterpiece. It packs a huge amount of history. It looks far enough into the past to set the scene for the Industrial Revolution and the economic gains seen as a result of it. Then, Allen retreats into the fundamentals of economic development and goes over the main reasons some countries are perennially stuck in the “middle income trap.” He has some advice for such economies and what they might be able to do to get out of this trap. This book is solidly based in data. But Allen does not prioritize data over the story. Economics is the story of real people who live in each of these countries. Allen never loses sight of this, and always puts large economic shifts in context by stressing on how it impacts everyday life. This emphasis on personal experience makes the book a study in the government policies that work and the pitfalls to keep in mind.

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Using TikTok for 1 Month

TikTok is the most talked about social media platform now. Articles about the impact it is having are published regularly in mainstream publications. People are constantly writing editorials about what it is, how it became popular, how it is owned by a Chinese company (and thus, controlled by the Chinese government), etc. I had read enough of it that I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to be a viewer on TikTok for a week (originally) to understand what it is really like. I ended up being on it for about a month. This was because I was not completely convinced that I had used all the features in the product after a week. Then, I gradually realized what was really going on: TikTok is incredibly simple; it requires no interaction from the user except for scrolling down. It is built with a singular focus on convincing people to imitate the trend that is “going viral” at any given point. There are many moving elements around the screen, and some of them are integrations with other businesses, which TikTok or the creator possibly makes money from. I think that TikTok is popular today because it solved a content creator’s biggest problem: The requirement to be original. Nothing is original on TikTok. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. But these are not copies. They are participants in a trend.

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