Filtered for turns of phrase and structures of feeling

15.41, Friday 11 Aug 2023


Display fascination.

On the development of screen-based interfaces by the US air force.

Developing the display presented many problems. Some of them were unexpected. Already in 1978, the Wright-Patterson team reported discovering what it called “display fascination” to a DARPA conference on biocybernetics. Extensive testing and a body of anecdotal evi dence showed that “crew members often become enthralled or ‘drawn into’ their display,”” so that it becomes difficult for them to interrupt or change the focus of their attention. The lure of the display could potentially present problems during operations. The air force was worried that it took test pilots consistently longer to redirect their attention from the display to the real world than from the real world back to the display. It was as if the operators would default into the machine.

Display fascination!

I wonder if this could be quantified? Like, this phone screen is 2532x1170 pixels and 460 dpi and 2000 nits and has 1.7 intrinsic display fascination.

(I say intrinsic because like if an app is flashing with the frequency mix of a flickering fire then it’s going to grab your attention whatever. But the quality of the screen itself is going to have some display fascination, because it’s the Californian sun out of place and compelling in suburban south London, or because it’s the bulb pointed straight at your face in the interrogator’s chair.)

Would you pay more for a smartphone without intrinsic display fascination? Or less? Is that the appeal/challenge of e-ink?


On the feeling of August and the 1990s.

In theory this is a hymn to August and Everything After, 1993 debut album by Counting Crows…

It’s not just that it’s all bangers and no skips, although it is that. It’s a vibe, but a perfect album is always a vibe. Perfect is a particular flavor, like sad or divorced or extremely online.

…but mainly it’s about the 90s.

Summer seems like it will go on forever, and then it doesn’t. August is the meds wearing off, the bottom of the afternoon, the text and the email you let go unanswered. It feels like waiting for something to happen, and it feels like everything that was going to happen already has.


There was a sort of Sunday night feeling to the ’90s, a sense of killing time in the waiting room.

It’s true. And the 2020s is different isn’t it. We’ve been through the vibe shift.

Kim Stanley Robinson put it another way:

every historical period has its own “structure of feeling.” How everything seemed in the nineteen-sixties, the way the Victorians understood one another …

… The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era.

Anyway. I’ve previously written about KSR’s amazing essay so I won’t go into it more.

But I wonder how, looking back, assuming we are allowed that privilege, we will understand the structure of feeling of the 20s? I imagine that we’ll see we had/have a deep assumption of The End unevenly alloyed with an desperate hopefulness that Something Will Turn Up. Kinda, permeating all: you gotta be in it to win it.


Trembling hand.

There’s a concept in game theory known as the trembling hand: There are branches of the game tree that, under an optimal strategy, one should theoretically never get to; but with some probability, your all-too-human opponent’s hand trembles, they take a wrong action, and you’re suddenly in a totally unmapped part of the game.

You never know, right, you never know. It’s not going to be LK-99 but perhaps it’ll be something else. Fate has a trembling hand. We hope.


There’s is a lot to say about The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed (The Atlantic, 2018) by Alexis Madrigal,

The whole idea of retail gets inverted in his videos. What he actually sells in his stores is secondary to how he does it. … What Ganon does is pick suppliers he’ll never know to ship products he’ll never touch. All his effort goes into creating ads to capture prospective customers, and then optimizing a digital environment that encourages them to buy whatever piece of crap he’s put in front of them.

but it holds a place in my notes because of this this unsurpassed turn of phrase:

It’s as if he squirts hot dogs on his ketchup and mustard.

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