Venkatesh Rao Profile picture
21 Feb, 9 tweets, 2 min read
“It’s never too late to start X” is awful advice. They always share some stupid outlier anecdote like “best-selling novelist who started writing at 75 and won Pulitzer at 80” and it’s always either a lie (oh you failed to mention she was an editor age 30-75) or a weird anomaly.
Look at anybody doing anything well, and chances are they started long ago. Usually under 40. If not, do a double-take: they’ll often have been doing something adjacent enough to learn it easily when they switch lanes.
Anything you ever think you might want to do sometime in your life, start at least dabbling in it the moment you think of it. However ineptly. You might learn simple things at hobby scale late in life but most interesting things take a decade or so of futzing around to get good.
Don’t let the one schmaltzy anecdote get you ignoring the numbers game. Learning curves are real. Brain plasticity isn’t infinite. Look around: most older people _aren’t_ weird exceptions. They learn to get mediocre at sudoku past 50 maybe, not concert-grade piano.
Various kinds of decline are real. But things you get going on before those kick in — the momentum can keep you going. So the trick is to start investing in multiple interests early, even if only at a low level of intensity/time. That, or lower your expectations for later years.
People who are very narrow in their interests when young might be more “successful” when old, but often end up bored and lonely once their career starts to taper. People with many interests, if they don’t dissipate into failure, tend to stay occupied and active.
It’s a bit like retirement portfolio diversification but for activities.
And don’t underestimate minimum viable level of competence required to enjoy an activity. Adult tastes for most things tend to mature past abilities. I’m an ok artist, but not good enough to enjoy my own work (either process or output) much unless I put in more years of practice.
This should probably go into my series on mediocrity. Easily my least popular (and most un-American) major view is the tautological one that the average person should not set life expectations based on a presumption of specialness. Lake Wobegon hates me. ribbonfarm.com/series/mediocr…

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More from @vgr

21 Feb
After accounting for downtime, context switching time, recovery time, maintenance time, leisure, chores, only about 3-4 hours a day are available to “do stuff.” Assuming 8h sleep, wakefulness is only about 25% efficient relative to any active life mission. Worse than IC engines.
I suspect a cartoonishly optimized life could hit maybe 60-70% for very tightly scoped life missions, like number theory or piano playing.
But 3-4h is still better than the effectively 0 hours median in pre-modern life. Life that’s basically all chores and it was a weird thing for life to have a purpose beyond “surviving.”
Read 4 tweets
20 Feb
I hadn’t seen this critique of superintelligence before. Interesting. It lands roughly where I did but via a different route (his term is much cleverer, “AI cosplay”). Ht @Aelkus idlewords.com/talks/superint…
Deleted previous version of the tweet where I mistakenly attributed it to Bret Victor rather than Maciej Cegłowski. That makes much more sense. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with what I thought was Victor. In my head “idlewords” somehow sounds close to “worrydream”
My diagnosis was always a kind of anti-projection.

a) You think in a totalizing (INTJish) way and are impressed by its power

b) You see a machine that thinks in analogous ways and looks like it lacks your limits

c) You extrapolate its future as you minus biological limits
Read 47 tweets
20 Feb
Anyone notice that’s there no respectable people left anymore?

We’re no longer a respected species! 🤣
Except me of course. I’m still respectable. It’s the rest of you who have let the species down.
I first noticed this when I realized “politics of respectability” didn’t automatically conjure up a default contemporary image in my head. Only images from like 1977.

Like, I think the Karen-class *thinks* they are respectable? That’s as close as we get in the US.
Read 6 tweets
17 Feb
Copyediting is getting harder and I’m getting sloppier. Mainly because I have the bad habit of going from blank page to hitting publish in a single day, often without a true break. So by the time I get to the last copy edit, I’m tired. Effect of aging fatigue and weaker eyesight.
I should probably get a night’s sleep before publishing and do copy edits first thing in the morning, and/or outsource to a copy editor. But habit of doing all writing last minute, single pass is really hard to break after ~13 years.
Open loops are my Achilles heel
Read 4 tweets
17 Feb
Randomly freaked myself out by thinking how a few decades after we are dead, everything we’ve ever experienced will be only comprehensible in a historical way. The way we comprehend say 1821. Living memory is only living for a while. Then it’s dead.
Everything you experience is a future black and white photo of people in silly clothes using primitive tech, figuratively speaking.
Memento Moro
Read 4 tweets
16 Feb
Are there examples of “viral fiction” besides that one cat-person short story?

Does virality meaningfully apply to fiction, as in rapid contagion (seems to me in general, fiction gets popular in a more slow-burn way based on people actually thinking before sharing/talking)
On supply side, there’s a certain “feel” to the writing when you sense viral potential developing. You get a bit high on cooking fumes while writing, so to speak. It feels like getting up to mischief rather than solemnly practicing a craft. Never felt this while trying fiction.
Fiction or nonfiction, you can always tell when the writer got high on the cooking fumes while writing. The text becomes visibly unbridled in its flow. Viral inside precedes viral outside. With fiction you see the signs sometimes with high-output genre writers.
Read 14 tweets

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