Breakfast Notes #11 (Metaverse, Sunzi, Snakes and Ladders)
Good morning everyone.
Here is a quote by Shane Parrish that made me think this week.
We tend to undervalue the elementary ideas and overvalue the complicated ones.
I think many complicated ideas are byproducts of bs word salads or lazy thinking.
The Perils of Metaverse
I am an unabashed techno-optimist. I believe that with sufficiently advanced technologies, we can effectively mitigate the problems of global hunger, climate change and income inequality.
But not all technologies are created equal.
When Mark Zuckerberg introduced his idea of the Metaverse to much fanfare and controversy, I felt a quaint sense of disquiet bubbling in my heart.
We all understand the convenience and joys of our ever-connected world. The access to billions of videos on YouTube, the luxury of affordable food delivery, and the pleasure of online shopping. All along, we were well aware of the promises of the internet. For much of the early 2010s, we believed that such new technology was essentially a free lunch. We believed that the virtual world was a minor complement to the real world.
But, it was only in the past four years that we began to see the real costs of adopting such technology. Eating together while checking our Instagram or Tik-Tok feeds was not more of everything but less of our human experience. We became what Sherry Turkle calls, 'Alone Together.'
I think Zuckerberg’s view of the Metaverse has only served to amplify the connectedness of this digital age and further blur the line between virtual and actual reality. For many, this presents a new frontier of human possibilities. The application of augmented and virtual reality technologies will disrupt industries globally and bring product visualisation to a whole new level.
By 2030, you can likely see the world from the perspective of an astronaut on the moon; you can see how a new sofa will fit right into your living room and even have holograms for FaceTime.
But, as the number of people we can interact with online multiplies exponentially, I worry that the scope of vital social interactions will diminish. We have begun reducing people to their online representations, and we now consider people our friends because we mediate their milestones through our screens.
We text them 'happy birthday', rather than celebrate them with a meal.
We like their posts rather than indulge in meandering conversations over coffee.
We zoom into meetings half-heartedly rather than talk passionately about our projects.
The next step into the metaverse might be to reduce people to their online avatars.
COVID-19 has forced me to realise how much I have taken social interactions for granted but, as things normalise, I already find myself getting lazy, defaulting to convenient virtual substitutes over inconvenient and rich real-world socialisation.
I worry that rather than 'expressing ourselves in new joyful and immersive ways' in an 'embodied internet', we end up with a much bigger phone screen.
In Praise of Sunzi
I recently began reading China's Institute of Military Sciences' commentary on The Art of War.
I am now convinced that The Art of War is the classic that everyone must-read. I will lay out three reasons you should read it and hope I convince you to pick it up.
- Practicality. The Art of War applies to any facet of life that has the potential for conflict. If one reflects on the Art of War in romance, business and friendship, one finds efficacy.
- Short and Sweet. A simple paperback is only 68 pages, On War by Von Clausewitz spans at least 400+ pages. In this day and age, ain't nobody got time for that.
- Aphorisms (worthy) of love and hate. Suzi puts forth what sounds like platitude and makes himself look like Captain Obvious. In Chapter Five, he says, "Water runs downhill", but then he follows up with, 'the onrush of a conquering force must be the same.' Suddenly, you are introduced to the economy of force; just as a river flowing with a cliff forms a relentless waterfall, a leader must seek advantage in the ecology. This is a deviation from the indiscriminate application of brute force, which was characteristic of earlier times. Thus, in times of conflict, one's disposition must be to look at the environment for advantages and not immediately inwards for more strength.
I find it mindblowing that Sunzi could present timeless principles regarding War in a time where tanks, guns and ammunition were not yet invented.
- The litmus test of Classics. Do they hold wisdom for whoever inhabits in the current age?
Visualisation Of The Week
This is a photograph of a man wearing a hat in a small clothing store in the 1960s. Among the garments hung up for sale are shirts and dark-coloured pants.
This photograph shows a group of villagers in 1890 Singapore posing for a photograph in their traditional ethnic attire on a field of coconut trees. Everyone in this photo has now died.
The Best Policy Message of 2021
This week, I heard the best example of policy communications in 2021.
In 1 minute and 30 seconds, Minister Ong Ye Kung summed up the possible policy trajectories by introducing the Omicron variant in Singapore's path towards normalcy.
He said that the 'Covid-19 situation in Singapore could be compared to a game of snakes and ladders, thus spelling out the three different possible paths.
- If it is more infectious and harmful than other existing variants, with low vaccine efficacy against it, the country would have landed on a snake. Restrictions would be re-imposed, and we will have to toil our way back to current norms.
- If the variant proves to be milder but more infectious, it could dominate the Delta variant, Singapore would have landed on a ladder. This means we can accelerate the lifting of restrictions and hasten our push to a COVID-19 endemic reality.
- If the variant proves to be nothing exceptional, we just take the next step forward and 'continue our current path to transit to living with Covid-19 as a resilient nation.'
“We don't know what’s the next throw of the dice and which square we will land in. We can only know in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we will take a prudent approach.'
The brilliance of his analogy lies in its simplicity, clarity and consistency. Everyone knows how the snakes and ladders game is played, they can articulate the rules clearly, and within the game, there are no instances where the rules are circumvented. In using this analogy, he made the government's attitude towards Omicron clear for Singaporeans to understand.
The analogy is a skilful craft of policy communications that deserves greater praise. It coherently communicates the policy intent and distils complex policy strategies into a simple mental model for citizens to internalise.
May the sun shine upon your face,