Moore’s Flaw and the Slow-Slow, Quick-Quick-Slow of Accelerated Living
The flaw in Moore’s prediction of exponential processing is of the teeming, anthropocene, culture-carrying protein-computer variety.
The lights dim. Anticipation hangs in the air with motes of dust for company. Musicians stir in the darkness. The air vibrates. Movement. One foot slides across the wooden dance floor, stirring ancient layers of wax upon wax. Time is marked. Suddenly, in a surge of light and colour — the dance erupts. Two figures locked in a fluid embrace swirl and arch through space, each the counterweight in the momentum of the other. Transactions of energy between the dancers increase and amplify in a fiercely controlled exchange of mass, density, and flow.
Slow. Slow. Quick-quick. Slow.
Welcome to the dance of our accelerated lives
There are many arcs on many charts depicting the exponential trajectory of accelerated and accelerating technologies and their processing through the space of our human existence. They trace clear journeys upward to greatness over time. They do so wrapped in voices trumpeting them as the slingshots of some great singularity.
But the one thing often lacking in these charts is the nature of the centrifuge at work within them — some representation of the dynamic tension that exists between humanity and the developing technologies that accelerate our lives and how humanity operates as a foundational part of technologies success — and the role of people as the counterpoint, the exceptional testing edge of any technology rushing towards its often remarkably self-interested greatness.
Humanity is the forge in which technologies, even the most exceptional ones, are honed to greatness. Without the human texture and colour of excitement, urgency, desire, vanity, indifference, reticence, fear, mistrust, and manipulation folding layer upon layer upon layer until the technologies are samurai-sharp and capable of extraordinary things, technology’s acceleration would be distorted and dysfunctional at best and utterly obsolescent at worse.
This is a call for humanity to be given its rightful position in the pantheon of tech greatness. Do they owe it all to humanity? No. But it has no purpose without us. Technologists and rationalists must recognise to a far greater extent how the nature of being human shapes their successes. We are the whetstone of their technological blade. But that requires them to first recognise that for all of their destructive creativity and disruption, they are a linear model bunch.
Speak to a futurist or someone knee-deep in the innovation technology space and all is perfectly clear and straight forwards.
Right now, the perceived exponential abilities of technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Distributed Ledgers and Machine Learning to be our computational saviors from the sticky environmental and social issues we face means that accelerated tech can speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil, see-no-evil [unless you churlishly consider the seduction, entrapment, and hyper-commoditisation of every human being into being the product for sale in every Unicorn tech company somewhat distasteful?]
But still — Shock. Horror! Probe !! — though fetishized in the media scrum of influencer chatter as Immutable Truth [technology news as a looking glass mirror for windswept and brilliant humanity] and journalism as Cultural Propaganda [if you’re not into it, you’re not ‘in’] — not everyone IS into accelerated everything. This is where some of the stitching between the accelerated logic of the technologists and rationalists and the fabric of our humanity starts to come slightly undone.
Conjugate the herd
If you are one of those people who think it’s all getting a little too fast, as McGilchrist points out in The Master and its Emmissary, tough bananas — we are living in an age of Left-brain tyranny and reason rules. Everything has a formula, everything can be measured, everything can be pimped, punked, and adapted to go faster/stronger/smarter/longer/cheaper — humans included. They can read dreams now. [it is still possible to hear this kind of staggeringly naïve over-statement emanate from highly rational human beings when viewing a few neuro-images of brain activity in a sleeping person. That’s like saying I’ve captured the source code of elite human performance because I took a photograph of Lewis Hamilton’s car.]
If we were to be really pedantic about it, the accelerated human is currently mostly a social construct.
As professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones pointed out in their recent piece 8 Things Technology won't Change’, Human evolution hasn’t accelerated in the last 20 years. In fact, we are remarkably similar to the human beings who walked the earth 10,000 years ago.
The increasingly sophisticated tools and technologies that augment us certainly accelerate our ability to do more things more quickly — but they do not really affect us fundamentally as creatures.
Our physical and mental faculties and capabilities are still broadly the same as they were 10 years ago and that’s after some hyper-intense acceleration in the frameworks of our lives [Let’s not forget that the human brain is still more powerful than any computer currently in existence by orders of magnitude].
More pointedly, the needle of our primal physical needs and desires dial is still hovering somewhere near Neanderthal Meets Erectus with a little flower giving, tree heart carving, and mi casa su casa domestic settlement thrown in for good measure. In this environment and context does technology accelerate us, or in fact create a reversal in the sophistication of our concepts of sexuality and the transactions of desire?
Love and Sex have been accelerated by technology in ways previously unimaginable. But there is such a thing as specification overload.
For some, Tinder is effectively like putting an M3 racing turbo-charger on a Citroen 2CV. The technology upgrade simply ‘overwhelms’ the host. And the outcomes are not always benign.
For example, at its most basic level, distilling the millennia-old nature of human courting and our not-always-pain-free paths to sexual congress into an algorithm built for our time-poor lives seems like an obvious win for technology.
But in behavioural terms, though it may accelerate us towards our needs being more immediately met [God help us that our fabulous evolving selves might ever have to wait for anything] there is also a concern that it may damage even further the interpersonal skills we require to function as human beings — a further diminishment of human empathy and connection already affecting younger generations growing up ‘social’.
Some think the liberation from the overly complex social dance of previous generations a blessing, an emancipation from its seemingly ‘old-fashioned’ courting rituals and sets of unwritten rules. But the underlying implication of developing a swipe-for-sex mindset is hardly liberating. In the instance of dating apps, technology is accelerating a digital cattle-market trading mentality as normal — one where people learn emotionally stunted strategies [ghosting as standard] and borderline abusive behaviours to coerce and persuade people towards the ‘goal.’
In that ‘goal’ even darker truths can lurk. As far back as 2015, a Vice Report pointed to the rise of a new kind of sexual offender lurking within the funhouse of apps like Tinder. Online dating-related rape had already risen by more than 450% in six years. Hardly an acceleration worth celebrating.
There is a big question-mark against what exactly these dating algorithms are accelerating us towards: the next evolutionary level of love? sex? relationships? The higher ground of our creature selves?
Or simply a whole new level of dystopian dissatisfaction, populated with even greater disappointments and even greater isolation?
There is one human trait that, for better or worse, we can rely on to keep some dissent alive, even in the face of messianic tech positivity! Contrarianism and its accompanying counter cultures still manage to keep us a few steps at least from plunging headlong into group think tyranny and one-size-fits-all living.
The Slow Everything movement — food, furniture, architecture, exercise, and travel — is one obvious expression of humanity’s need to create friction against what prevails and as a more specific example of our need to offset the speed of life.
It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better.
Carl Honore - In Praise of Slow
Slow everything is not simply a state of mind. It is becoming a commercial reality and a saleable trend. Slow Food is now a staple in just about every layer of the food lover’s cake bar the super low-end consumer struggling with the more pressing issues of food volume/cost and feeding a family on a decreasing budget. The concept of Slow Travel post-pandemic is generating competitive energy in the travel sector. It’s real and, unsurprisingly, directly attached to people’s need to disconnect from the ‘surge law’ we all seem to be having to exist in if we’re a hyper-connected, in-flow, on-the-go 21st-century citizen.
Progress is a seductive thing, but it is only truly valuable as a boon for humanity for as long as it is possible to explicitly measure its impact in ways humans can comprehend. Some would contend that we can only ever truly understand progress retrospectively, where empirical data exists on both the short-term and long-term impacts and effects on society of the ‘progress’ in question. If we do it in the moment, we are simply reporting a trend, and that will most likely involve bias, in this instance either messianic bias of the technophile or the luddite bias of the technophobe.
The technophile, as we know, will champion anything that technology does. Their focus is on the impact of the function and capability of the technology on human performance, not on the nature and the impact of the technology on human wellbeing. So everything goes.
I call this the Just because you can doesn’t mean they will affect. Just because something can be accelerated doesn’t, therefore, mean that a person can either comprehend or appreciate that acceleration, not to mention find it desirable, let alone embrace and deploy it in their lives.
The ‘perceivable’ benefits need to be obvious. As progress becomes ever more nuanced and invisible, there will be a less clamorous call for it. It is a simple ramp. As we progress towards greater equity of existence, the things that fuel that progress become less and less critical and therefore desirable to our humanity and existence.
Let’s take Smart Phone Upgrade slow-down for example — there is an underlying trend of a slowdown in people’s wish to keep upgrading smartphones with every ever-smaller and ever-more-nuanced upgrade regardless of its exponential capability and functionality gain. Contrary to the technologists' mantra, perception [a compound assessment of what is in front of us made up of emotional, rational, functional, material, physical, circumstantial, contextual, environmental, and temporal data, and evidence] is everything.
What’s quite ironic is the role deceleration is playing in accelerated smartphone living. Using software updates to reduce the performance of smartphones to drive upgrades is the perfect example of the Quick Quick Slow tension at work in a narrow product category.
Elevated perceptions of our own fabulousness are, as always, honed by experience and economies. As the sector matures, people have had enough time and experience to alight on a phone that works for them — which means they’re not buying the upgrade cycles handset manufacturers are trying to sell them. [Not such a bad idea given Apple, Samsung, and Huawei have all overseen a 52% increase in the cost of a phone in 3 years. Accelerated living is a rather expensive pastime both existentially and financially.] Reticence becomes as accountable a tension as obsolescence inside the value and capability universe of the product. Multiply that inner tension by the product, the system running it, and the person using it. Now interrelate and integrate that sum game with all of the other dynamics and tensions the user is also juggling. Only then might we have some small understanding of what formula the average person is computing for themselves and those around them every day.
Perception v Banality
If I barely use the computing power of the smartphone I have, when someone promises me greater functionality and capacity, it is of decreasing value to me, especially practically. I will not pay an increasing premium every year for the all-singing all-dancing super slick new Smart Phone du jour — or perhaps not as a phone at least.
Also, a glitch for me in accelerating technologies is in their sometimes tendency to change function upstream — in this instance, the shift from being a smartphone to being a piece of social jewelry beyond function — much like the luxury watch did when watches were the status symbol of choice.
It could be said there is a premium value in the way technology accelerates itself beyond its own base function to become something ‘other’ — transcending the role of a mere smartphone to become a totem of aspirational living and prosperity.
Love an ‘Other’
Transcendent technologies are a dreamy thing. That they can shape-shift out of one sector into another demonstrates a fluidity of purpose in the things people create. About that Aspiration thing: The more Aspiration someone has in the tank the more oomph in accelerated living and doing might be desired
This equates to compound acceleration. As technologies accelerate around us [functionally and practically] we also accelerate with them [emotionally and existentially].
In some ways the accelerating burn-rate between Right Here, Right Now and my desired rung on the existential, social and material ladder is all fine — until I look up again. When I do, and in doing so take stock of my actual desires versus what the technology is selling me, the answer is not always more please, as some technophiles would have us believe.
And so to the idea we set out in the title. Firstly, the flaw is nothing to do with the math, theory, or exponential capability and integrity of the projected impact it provides. A simple peek at this video shows very clearly that computational math is pretty on the money.
The flaw in Moore’s Law as pursued by technologists is human. People simply do not accelerate as fast as technology. So when we apply the rule, it must be done through a lens of the banalities and caprices of humanity. Our spirits are irrational, random, volatile, and imperfect. We are, in those terms at least, the antithesis of the highly controlled science and maths of Moore’s Law. Now I’m sure that some really smart person out there will use a big data argument to show that the math of human response over time demonstrates that even our most random and volatile human caprices travel a predictable and linear curve trajectory. If so, please send it to me and I’ll retract my observation.
But while we’re in the world of Moore’s everything, let’s just look at some of the issues and benefits. There is the massive issue of overreach which will create some interesting and negative tensions inside the high church of Accelerated Living.
Someone has to help the arch rationalists understand that simply accelerating humans run the danger of accelerating them away from what inspires, enriches, secures, and binds them. It seems that whenever we look toward the engineered and highly controlled realm of innovation, we still leave out the human lever.
In an article on the exponential acceleration of everything, Michael Simmons of the Learning how to Learn group, cited Matt Ridley’s theory of Time eroding advantage and counter-innovation as an expected outcome:
“One of the peculiar features of history is that time always erodes advantage. Every invention sooner or later leads to a counter-invention. Every success contains the seeds of its own overthrow. Every hegemony comes to an end. Evolutionary history is no different. Progress and success are always relative… In history and in evolution, progress is always a futile, Sisyphean struggle to stay in the same relative place by getting ever better at things.”
— Matt Ridley
I use this primarily as an example of what I call progress blindness. At no point does Michael or Matt consider that counter-invention might be some form of deceleration.
The idea of a relentless pursuit of getting better at things seems to me just one aspect of our existence and it is a functional one. A Doing one not a Being one.
Relentless increments of functional better don’t exist in a bubble. They exist within a construct that is not only experiential and mechanical but existential and human.
Strategies for managing high clock speeds in low clock speed industries and relentlessly compounding knowledge and experience are all well and good — but they run the danger of being trapped inside a myopic construct that demands that a one-dimensional, exponential acceleration curve is ‘it’ — the only possible answer. But I find them slightly claustrophobic — restrictive linear modal responses in what should be a more expansive existence that embraces both lateral and linear inputs and potential outcomes.
Another example to hold up is this — most smart folks believe that rapid innovation not only creates efficiency but also in doing so increases competition. Competition, before it even begins to manufacture its link to competitive advantage, profitability, success, and recognition, begins in the accrual space in our head. It is transactional. The promises of technology, like all extrinsic incentives, only last as long as the gain. If we accept that, in human terms, the gain is most often perceived, and we agree that there is a natural fault line in our ability to continue to perceive and value ever increasing subtleties and nuances of better the real competition lies not just in the technologies ability to accelerate past its competitors to attract and secure our interest but also in the technologies ability to sustain its meaning to us in ways we continue to find tangible and compelling.
This requires an ability to focus not only on increased competition, in regard to commerce enterprise and business, but increased competition emotionally, structurally, existentially, and, ultimately, metaphysically, as we project our existence beyond the material physical plane we currently inhabit.
Interestingly, even accelerated technologies should be able to accelerate our deceleration. Given the success of Mindfulness Apps, I am certain that there is a way to accelerate deceleration through smartly applied software programmes and systems.
The greatest counter-invention to the technologically powered norm we find ourselves in currently might well be to just Stop.
Perhaps, in the rush of all of this accelerated living, we might pause to consider a few things. Perhaps we might accept and consider two truths and a theory and see where they take us:
Truth 1: Our Accelerating world is accelerating mental health issues exponentially
Truth 2: People are not linear modal solely rational creatures
Theory: Instead of just building planned obsolescence into technology perhaps we should build sublime tension and friction of the human and not mechanical variety into it? Perhaps the true innovation is to build both human point and counterpoint into each product, system, platform, and device as a truer reflection of the ‘dance’ between user and technology.
If you want to understand the future, don’t ask a futurist. They have a tendency to see futuristic technologies and competencies as the subject of our human destiny. This is the flaw in their thinking. We are the subject of our destiny. And currently, we have a quick-quick-slow approach to our accelerated world. Perhaps it’s time someone built more of the truth of us into the accelerating tools they create.
As someone recently pointed out, if we acknowledge that in the way data mining and the findings of forensic behavioural scrutinies are currently monetised and sold, we are after all the product — then this particular product needs a little more slow, slow with its quick, please.
About the Author
Julian Borra is a creative writer working in the commercial communications industry, with a particular passion for using creativity to make complex things simple, most particularly in the sustainability, tech, and science spaces. Long term projects include shaping a more inclusive and aspirational sustainability conversation, most particularly through his work with Peggy Liu on her China Dream project, as well as his continuing works as the Lead Creative Strategist on Socialising the Genome, a Wellcome Connecting Science & Genomics England Initiative, now entering its next major phase of works centred on Engaging the Disengaged to create a fairer, more inclusive healthcare future.
Julian also writes the odd book, having co-authored Liferider, a NYT Bestseller, with Laird Hamilton, legendary big-wave surfer, and waterman amongst other things.
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