Humanity is vast
December 10, 2018
It's become fashionable to bash high tech for its lack of local engagement. To wit, Satya Nadella just got off the interview circuit, announcing that Microsoft would donate $500 million to affordable housing.
Putting aside whether that's a good idea, I've been thinking about the other angle: the effects of "working for the Internet", whiling away one's days in the nowhere of Internet-first commerce. It's at once worldly and parochial: understanding the intricacies of nation-level behavioral trends on the Internet, while barely knowing your neighbors' names, or the location of city hall. I need a local community to be happy—I suspect many people do—I only realized it when I stumbled upon a new living arrangement, and realized how happy it made me.
Despite its downsides, working for the Internet imparts a perspective that's hard to get any other way—an appreciation for humanity's vastness. Whether you're into beach volleyball, taxidermy, or Baha'i spirituality, there are online communities for these things as large as midsize European countries. This whole line of thinking started when Caroline and I were in China, and she said something like, "I don't think jewelery is as popular as it used to be". At this point, I wouldn't even pretend to know; I spent 3 years building mobile analytics infrastructure, only to learn Yahoo Fantasy Sports, something I've never even considered downloading, was a major part of 10 million peoples' week. It was like this every day: whether Candy Crush Saga, Pokemon Go, or something else, each day I learned there was something in the world millions, in some cases tens or hundreds of millions of people used, and I didn't know the first thing about it—any of it.
When you live in this world, "one in a million" happens hundreds of times each day. You appreciate how hard of problems fraud and abuse are, and how no human system, whether for censorship, enforcing good behavior, or protecting copyright, can handle such inhuman scale. But mostly, you become more aware of what a tiny speck of dust you are, and how little anything you do really matters, in the grand scheme of things.