What I’m Reading (Mar. 21)

In this week’s literary voyage, navigating the treacherous waters of government surveillance, the depths of human behavior, where the Shirky principle holds sway, the tempest of emotional and practical conversations, and confront the storm clouds looming over whether renewables shall be our salvation or the harbingers of a gridlocked fate.,

The surveillance state has been achieved not through some conspiratorial government agency and plan but because we willingly carry around our geolocation and so much more in the guise of our cell phones.

“He was looking for phones belonging to Grindr users who spent their daytime hours at government office buildings. If the device spent most workdays at the Pentagon, the FBI headquarters, or the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency building at Fort Belvoir, for example, there was a good chance its owner worked for one of those agencies. Then he started looking at the movement of those phones through the Grindr data. When they weren’t at their offices, where did they go? A small number of them had lingered at highway rest stops in the DC area at the same time and in proximity to other Grindr users—sometimes during the workday and sometimes while in transit between government facilities. For other Grindr users, he could infer where they lived, see where they traveled, even guess at whom they were dating.”

From Wired, How the Pentagon Learned to Use Targeted Ads to Find Its Targets—and Vladimir Putin


Another generalization about our human behavior.

“The Shirky principle is the adage that “institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

For example, the Shirky principle means that a government agency that’s meant to address a certain societal issue may hinder attempts by others to address the issue, in order to ensure that the agency remains relevant.

This principle can …involve entities other than institutions (e.g., individuals), and various patterns of behavior (e.g., unintentionally focusing on an outdated solution vs. intentionally interfering with competition).”

From Substack Effectiviology, The Shirky Principle: Institutions Try to Preserve the Problem to Which They Are the Solution


When I read this, there was an aha moment as I better understood something my wife had been saying to me for years.

“In his new book, Supercommunicators, the journalist Charles Duhigg writes that one of the most common sources of conflicts in relationships is when partners don’t agree on the type of conversation they’re having. Some conversations are practical: Let’s solve a problem together. Others are emotional: Let’s talk about and understand our feelings. Many fights mistake practical for emotional conversations, and vice versa.”

It seems to me that we also do this in public disagreement, and it would be wise to recognize the difference. From The Atlantic, How Happy Couples Argue


The move to alternative energy moves with spurts and stalls. Our technological abilities are often mismatched with our aspirational goals. For example,

“…the grid—in the U.S.,200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines that span mountains, plains and rivers, and another five million miles of cables delivering electricity to our homes. That grid was designed for a few fossil fuel power plants that can be brought online at the flip of a switch. A low-carbon future looks very different—thousands of solar and wind farms flicking on and off as nature allows. Now the question is: Can we reinvent some of the biggest infrastructure humanity has ever built—before it breaks us?”

From Anthropocene, a deep dive into Will renewables break the power grid or save it