Strippers, Spinach, and Sensory Perception
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More Unsure What You're Missing
Until I tried on a friend's eyeglasses when I was 10 years old, I thought I had perfect vision. I just assumed everyone saw blurry circles in the distance and that movie screens were low resolution.
This is a simple example of a "concept-sized hole". In effect, you don't know what you don't know, and because you don't know about it, there's no easy way for you to figure it out.
There are a bunch of other perceptual concept-sized holes:
- ~2% of people don't have a visual imagination. They assume that "using your mind's eye" is a metaphorical way of talking.
- Some people have no sense of smell. This guy on Quora explains how neither he nor anyone else in his life had any idea he couldn't smell for the first 20 years of his life.
- ~12% of people dream in black and white. Maybe you're one of them, and are just now realising that everyone else is dreaming in color.
But what Scott Alexander draws attention to in his wonderful essay are other, non-perceptual holes that we might have in our lives. What are the ideas or concepts that we don't even know that we don't understand?
For example, if you've never done consistent meditation, you might not even realize what a calm mind feels like. Or if you've never been part of a true community, you might not even realize that your friend circle doesn't qualify as a community.
What other concept-sized holes are you living with? How would you even know?
More Veggies, More Emails
"Scientists have taught spinach to send emails" is easily the top contender for headline of the year. The EuroNews article went viral recently, and you might have already seen it.
The short version: no, obviously spinach cannot send emails.
But the reality is still pretty wild. Though the story just went viral, the study was actually conducted in 2016. At the time, scientists at MIT used nanotechnology to transform spinach into a sensor that can detect explosive materials.
When the plant detected nitroaromatics (commonly found in explosives) in groundwater, carbon nanotubes within their leaves would emit a signal. That signal then gets read by a camera, which then sends the email alert to the scientists.
Apparently this is part of a field called "plant nanobiotics", which has the broader vision of creating plants that can image objects in their environment, serve as light sources, and also function as self-powered ground water sensors.
More Awed by Chinese Tech Giants
China has 9 of the top 20 largest tech companies in the world. I've recently been learning more about them and have been awestruck by their scale.
Tencent is perhaps my favorite. You might know their most popular product, WeChat, which has 1.2 billion users. The average WeChat user spends more daily time in just WeChat than Americans spend on all social media platforms, combined.
WeChat has grown to become a combination of Facebook, Nintendo, Shopify, Netflix, Spotify, Slack, and Paypal all merged into one mega-company.
As Packy McCormick has pointed out though, Tencent has evolved from a social networking + mobile payments into a full fledged investment conglomerate. As of December 2020, their investments are now worth more than $200 billion USD. Through its holdings, it's the biggest gaming company in the world. It owns 10% of Snap , 6% of Spotify, and 5% of Tesla.
Tencent has evolved from a tech company to a private equity firm. They've moved from a product-company to a capital-allocation company. Perhaps instead of trying to swallow up other social networks, Facebook should focus on investing in companies in different industries as a way to unlock growth without facing regulatory pressure.
More Appreciative of the Stripper Hustle
The pandemic has been hard on a lot of small businesses. But, for obvious reasons, among the hardest hit are strippers and sex workers. How are they making a living in our socially distanced times?
Well, many of them have taken to OnlyFans, a website where individuals can pay for access to photos/videos/chat with the woman of their choice. This might sound like a small niche service, but OnlyFans is paying out $300 million every month to creators on its platform. It's big business.
Less big, but more interesting, is the story of this 24 year old Houston sex worker. She's started charging to play video games, including the wholesome and popular Animal Crossing, with fans. Fans pay her $20 for a half hour, not including all the tips and bonuses they give her. Sometimes she's dressed in the usual stripper gear while they play, but often she's dressed normally and simply acting like your friend.
As society continues to get more atomized, I think it's likely paying for simple social interaction becomes more normalized. As usual, Japan might be showing a vision of the future here.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” - Francis Bacon
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