Freeway merging (Ricky Weekly #43)

This is where I share 3 things every week with my friends and anyone else interested.

A picture from my life:

This is me and my co-founder David celebrating one month anniversary of our 8th app in ~4 months. Sorry it’s a shitty picture because it’s mostly David’s face 😝 and I didn’t capture the food we ordered for each other, but a big shout out to my partner in crime for pushing me to be a little bit better everyday!

Thing on my mind:

It feels like a small miracle every time a car merges on to the freeway. At some point, one of the cars has to speed up or slow down before running out of room. We can’t see or talk to the other cars to coordinate, and yet somehow 99.99% of the time we merge successfully. I’ve been telling my friends this story for years to share that while I think humans are generally terrible and only self-interested, from that self-interest we managed to build a functioning society and some really incredible things.

I was thinking about this again recently with the BLM protests. I suspect some people went protesting because they they needed to feel less guilty more than they actually cared about the issue, or they wanted to post something to their IG in order to signal to everyone that they’re on the right side of history. Similarly, the corporations came out in support of BLM this time because it was harder to stay silent this time, even though we haven’t heard from any of them the last seven years since the movement started in 2013. The employees also put more pressure on their leadership this time, and I suspect some of them simply didn’t want to feel embarrassed working at a company that didn’t say anything. It’s a cynical view, but the result of all this selfish activity is that we are hopefully going to see some real change, and that’s great!

Even something as small as friendships is largely built with selfish motives. I’ve been paying attention to when I reach out to friends or when my friends reach out to me, and I’ve found that we usually only reach out when we need something from each other, otherwise we don’t really think about each other. But our needs become convenient excuses to also catch up and do some socializing, which does end up making the friendships stronger.

My confirmation bias has led me to see so many examples of self-interest working out for the collective whole that I’ve come to expect it, so when it doesn’t work out as beautifully like right now with our failing response to Covid-19, it’s disappointing. Self-interest is apparently not enough to wear masks and stay home. When experts said masks don’t really protect you but they protect other people, or that we should stay home to make sure hospitals have enough space for people who can’t, the self-interested response meant that people just didn’t wear masks or stay home because they don’t really care about other people. Now that we’ve politicized Covid-19 and made it about my tribe vs your tribe and my ideology vs your ideology, our self-interest is making it even harder for us to come together for an effective response. It feels like we need to get to a point where everyone has a loved one who has suffered or died from Covid-19 for self-preservation to really kick in, and that’s depressing. Our cars are crashing into each other now.

Piece of content I recommend:

Did MySpace Kill the Potential for Customization on Social Media? by Ernie Smith

It is the prevailing wisdom that Facebook beat Myspace because it was standardized and clean, even though there was a multitude of other factors. Tumblr struck a better balance by letting you customize your space for people who visit directly while also enabling other users to consume from a standardized dashboard if they preferred that. Social media companies today have chosen to optimize for engagement in the walled garden over the feeling of user ownership. Some people think crypto is the answer to that, but I don’t think people care as much about owning their data than feeling like they have enough freedom to customize their corner of the Internet. I also just wanted to recommend this because Ernie is a dope writer.

How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio (h/t to Wil)

I watched this a second time recently and felt like I learned a lot about how the economy works and what to expect in the coming recession.


As always, you can find out what I’m thinking in more real-time on Twitter and my essays are on my website. My latest essay is called From Socialcam to TikTok: How we figured out video social in a decade