No internet, no laughing

Klosterman writes about starting his career as a writer without the internet.

It allowed me to have an experience that is not exactly unique, but that will never again be replicated: I started my professional career in a world where there was (essentially) no Internet at all, and I’ll end my professional career in a world where the Internet will be (essentially) the only thing that exists.

Not that I want to go back, but I’m glad I have some memory of a time without the internet. I’m also happy I could see it evolve to what we have today.

I read But What if We’re Wrong on a Kindle on the iPhone app. Highlights and notes are available at all times. I could switch to different books. I could switch and text friends for a few minutes. I could switch and watch the TED talk on the multiverse. I could switch and decide what food to order for 20 minutes.


Klosterman points out the rate of change for different activities. TV viewing in 2016 is totally different than 1996. Further back, TV viewing in 1976 is also very different from 1996. He contrasts that with the experience of going to a theater, which hasn’t changed all that much in the same span.

The movies themselves have changed. I walked by a Jurassic Park 20th anniversary poster a few years ago. That didn’t seem right but of course it was. Then I thought about 1993. Star Wars wasn’t even 20 yet.

Then I started thinking through other things on this 20 years back, 20 years forward scale.

Food: Yesterday I scrolled through options on Seamless for 20 minutes. If I was heading out, I’d probably do the same but on Yelp. In 1996 I feel like you went to like 5 places and those were your places. I was also ten so this exercise might not be perfect. In 2036 I’ll look up etiquette for tipping the robot car.

Talking to friends: Yesterday I texted friends in New York, Florida, California, and my brother in Washington. In 1996 this experience would be somewhat replicable with a desktop computer. Again, I was ten and had no access to the internet. But instant messaging existed so this is a surprisingly static experience. Text isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so 2036 might look kind of the same.

Talking to friends, pt II: In 1996, I could call them but it’d cost a lot of money. Klosterman talks about this:

as a college student in the early nineties, I knew of several long-term romantic relationships that were severed simply because the involved parties attended different schools and could not afford to make long-distance calls, even once a week. In 1994, the idea of a sixty-minute phone call from Michigan to Texas costing less than mailing a physical letter the same distance was still unimaginable.

Yesterday, as mentioned, I texted my friends and didn’t call. Because nobody calls anymore. Our hand computers happen to have phone apps. I don’t think this will change much by 2036.

Talking to friends, pt III: I do have a few video chats through FaceTime or Hangouts every week. If we’re going to take the time to set up a call, we may as well sort of look at each other’s faces. I don’t have a good sense of if I do this more or less frequently than others.

VR is advancing. In 2036 I guess I would put VR glasses on to talk to them. But I’ll probably still text first to tell them I was calling.

No laughing allowed

Just a short note because this seems like it should be a widely known thing but I asked a few friends and got plenty of huh I guess that is true:

When the rom-com series Catastrophe debuted on Amazon, a close friend tried to explain why the program seemed unusually true to him. “This is the first show I can ever remember,” he said, “where the characters laugh at each other’s jokes in a non-obnoxious way.”

Other characters just don’t laugh. Klosterman says it’s an “unspoken, internal rule”. No laughing, even if Joey has a turkey on his head.

If you enjoyed some of the ideas here, it’s probably worth checking out the rest of But What if We’re Wrong.

Klosterman did the rounds on different podcasts around the book’s release.

Simulation or multiverse? Doesn’t matter

Chuck Klosterman talks about consciousness and our place in the uni…multiverse. He explains the multiverse and has answers from Brian Greene, an expert in the topic. (Who has a TED talk about the multiverse.)

After a few more pages, another big idea doesn’t matter again. He describes traveling at the speed of light but manages to make it seem slow. It would take lifetimes to get to the edge of the galaxy. Forget about the edge of the universe. Even if we confirmed we were in a multiverse it wouldn’t matter.

Ok, another idea: what if we’re in a computer simulation? This was popularized by The New York Times in 2007 and it comes up once in a while when people like Elon Musk are asked about it. Musk talked about the advance from two rectangles and a dot to online multiplayer games in 40 years:

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.

“Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.”

So what if we’re right about this? You might be able to stop at “So what.” Multiverse or computer simulation, we still couldn’t interact outside of it. It doesn’t affect day to day life.

Such a realization wouldn’t be like Jim Carrey’s character’s recognition of his plight in The Truman Show, because there would be no physical boundary to hit; it would be more like playing Donkey Kong and suddenly seeing Mario turn toward the front of the monitor in order to say, “I know what’s going on here.”

He can’t step out. We can’t stick a crane game arm in there to pull Mario into reality. If we verified that we live in The Sims 28728, the person playing can’t pull us out and into base reality.

So it might not matter. And that’s okay because it’s still fun to think about. Klosterman establishes that and describes some approaches to life, including testing boundaries like it’s GTA.

Klosterman seems to be a magnitude smarter than me. And he interviewed people he’d describe as a magnitude smarter than himself. And he contests that even they probably don’t have it all sorted out.

And that’s fine and leaves some fun things to think through. But What if We’re Wrong has Klosterman guiding readers through these topics. Whether it’s all real or not, I enjoyed the journey.

We’re probably wrong and that’s okay

In But What if We’re Wrong, Chuck Klosterman looks at the present as if it were the distant past.

In one chapter, he tries sorting out which modern writers will stand the test of time.

You need to write about important things without actually writing about them. I realize this sounds like advice from a fortune cookie.

He uses 9/11 as an example of an important thing. Down the line, though, whatever stands as representative of 9/11 probably won’t be something written directly about it.

One thing that’s stuck with me from listening to Serial is how poor memory is. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you details about 5 Thursdays ago. Klosterman brings up the inaccuracy of same-day eyewitness statements. Stretched over centuries, recorded history can’t be very accurate. It’s also missing a lot of pages altogether.

So maybe the past doesn’t matter, because we don’t really know what it was like. What about the future?

Well with computers we’re able to have accurate records of everything. True, but it really means everything. Who’s gonna go through that? It’s not like people hit up day to day. It’s usually a deep dive into one topic.

On a time scale of centuries, many things end up being winner-take-all. We can debate a Mount Rushmore of basketball players, but 500 years from now it’ll probably just be Michael Jordan in one full body mountain sculpture.

One takeaway from But What if We’re Wrong is that a lot of things won’t matter in the far future. Books take years to write. Most won’t be remembered a century from now, much less five centuries from now. Writers can only add a few pages to a book every day.

On an individual level, anything we do in a day or even in a year probably won’t matter in the (very) long run. It’s grim or freeing, or both.

Chances are, aiming to be remembered in the far future isn’t a great goal. Especially because the people who remember you don’t care in the first place:

To matter forever, you need to matter to those who don’t care. And if that strikes you as sad, be sad.

Basketball nerds can debate whoever else is in the top-4 with him, but Jordan will be in there. Of those 4, he’s the one with a global brand. There’s a culture with a foundation built around the popularity of his shoes.

A lot of the kids standing in those lines never watched a single game he was in live. They can’t care about Jordan as much as a Bulls fan in the 90s1. Their emotions aren’t tied to how well Jordan performs in a playoff game.

So the past doesn’t matter and now maybe the future doesn’t matter either. Bringing me to where we’ve always been and always are: the present.

For me, being present was the important thing this book was about that it wasn’t really about. I’m guessing it’s not even on the list of top 1,000 points Klosterman was aiming to make. I only made the connection because it’s top of mind for me right now. I started meditating recently, beginning my transition into the lifestream. Maybe it’s the way out of the simulation.

  1. I may have just talked myself out of this. It might be LeBron. More people worldwide have probably followed his hero’s journey. In a 24-hour news cycle. So it’s gonna be Jordan, unless it’s LeBron. It just won’t be Kobe. You can’t go long thinking about Kobe and where he ranks without thinking about Jordan.