Jaron Lanier said something interesting about optimism

A few years ago I read Jaron Lanier’s book “You are Not a Gadget,” and I felt like I was listening to someone with a rich understanding of technology take a fairly critical view of it – a position not as many people were arguing at the time. Lanier is fully entrenched in Silicon Valley and big-tech, but he is also a thoughtful voice who often questions the less scrupulous ways internet technology is “helping” us. When Google and Facebook let their profits take precedence over their ethics, Lanier counters with accessible arguments of why the ethics matter more. In a recent interview with Kara Swisher on the “Too Embarrassed to Ask” podcast, Jaron said something that jumped out at me for the way it subverted common thinking about criticism, and its relationship to optimism & pessimism. When criticism is poorly expressed, it’s just complaining, or being mean, or being …

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Bright Sided

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Barbara Ehrenreich. Picador, 2010. Twenty seconds before I sat with this book for the first time and saw the opening chapter’s title, ‘Smile or Die,’ an acquaintance walked by and saw me in my harried, just come in from the cold state, and said – “Hey, man, Smile!” So the context I’m working from is one where I have a very immediate sense that Ehrenreich is looking at real attitudes that exist everywhere around me: Smiling is Happy. Happy is Good. Good is Mandatory.  I was attracted to ‘Bright Sided’ because I knew it would take on ‘positive psychology,’ and propose that ‘thinking good thoughts’ is more delusional than anything else. As I’ve written before, I have personally benefited from learning about positive psychology – the ‘What Went Well’ exercise had a tangible effect on my life.  Ehrenreich believes that focusing on what’s good and going well is selling ourselves …

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