How and why to embrace the power of ignorance

While many people know all about consumer products, reality TV stars and pop music, 20% of Americans can't name a single branch of government. 70% can't name a single living scientist. And half of Americans can't name a single Supreme Court Justice.

In the 20th Century and before, knowledge was rare and hard to get. If you didn't read books, seek out information and actively learn, you simply didn't have knowledge. You were generally ignorant.

The absence of good information was no information.

We live in a different world now.

Now, social media, advertising and ubiquitous media push information at us from every direction. It's not information that serves us. It serves the pushers. Just showing up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok means that the information starts flowing. Browsing the web gives you not only what you're searching for, but advertising galore. Same with TV. Driving down the street exposes you to an ever growing amount of advertising content.

Our motivations for seeking knowledge are being hacked in an increasingly asymmetrical battle over our attention. Billions of dollars per year are being poured into science and engineering designed to exploit our brains to make us crave the next nugget of useless content. Year after year, the machines get better at using us. We're the targets of a global effort to grab our attention, and we're often not even aware that it's happening. Even on TV, news has been replaced with polarizing, grand-standing talking heads who grab attention by vilifying those "other people," leading viewers to see politics as good guys vs. bad guys and have no useful information about policy or platform.

Today, the absence of good information results in you learning bad information automatically and by default.

If we do nothing, our heads will be filled with junk content. The amount of time we spend being spoon-fed garbage information will grow. That's why so many people today know all about the TikTok "influencer" of the moment, but can't find China on a map.

We live in a theoretical information utopia. We can read just about any book, take any of thousands of university courses from Harvard and MIT and others, learn how to do anything on YouTube, use Google Search to find out just about anything.

A million years of ignorance caused by the scarcity of information is over. Now, the main barrier to good knowledge is a media and advertising landscape that overwhelms us and consumes our time and attention with bad knowledge.

It's time to realize that blocking junk content, avoiding the algorithms that seek to hook you, is something of an art and a skill to cultivate.

In other words, we have to cultivate ignorance on a wide range of pointless subjects in order to be knowledgeable about useful and interesting subjects.

So how do we remain ignorant of useless information?

Here are my 16 powerful approaches to avoiding, resisting and blocking junk knowledge (link goes to the paid version of my email newsletter, Mike's List)

What you need to know about the amazing, surprising future of remote work

While exploring Mayan ruins and lost cities in the jungles of Guatemala, I emerged from a dense forest one day in search of something truly elusive: a Wi-Fi network.

The year was 2006. I was with my wife and two sons on the trip of a lifetime, going from one Mayan site to another across five countries over six weeks. I wasn’t on vacation. I worked during the entire trip. At the time, I was writing a weekly opinion column for Computerworld, with consulting work on the side.

I decided as an experiment to tell neither my editor nor my clients that I would be traveling. I wanted to conduct an experiment — to see if they would even notice that I was abroad. (Spoiler: They didn’t.)

With a deadline imminent, I really needed that internet connection. After trudging through a forest from the village where we were staying to a small town rumored to have a hotel, I found it: a run-down building with “Hotel” hand-painted on it, with a metal table and two chairs beside the structure more or less in the dirt road. More importantly, I checked my phone and there it was: Wi-Fi! (In that place in those days, Wi-Fi was rare, but if you could find it, there was never a password involved.) I sat down, logged in, sent my column and breathed a sigh of relief.

Sweltering in the Central American humidity and swatting away mosquitos, I didn’t know at the time that I was living in the future.

Why Amazon’s home robot sounds like a terrible idea

Amazon’s working on a robot.

Details about Amazon's home robot project leaked recently. What we learned is that the project, code-named Vesta, is in the "late-prototype stage."

The robot will be "powered" by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant and will feature cameras, a screen and a small compartment for carrying things. It might also come with a camera on the end of a retractable pole for helping users find stuff under the bed.

The company has more than 800 employees working on it.

The publication Insider has seen an internal Vesta document and has spoken to six anonymous sources directly involved in the program.

The robot may cost more than $1,000. Amazon is reportedly considering rolling it out, so to speak, in a limited, invitation-only beta.

The robot is being developed in Amazon's Silicon Valley R&D organization, called Lab126, which also developed the Kindle line, Amazon Echo and other successful Amazon consumer products, plus the Fire Phone.

The Fire Phone was a horrible product and a bad idea. And the company is haunted by its failure.

Amazon staff are reportedly worried about its prospects for success. Sources complained about "shifting strategies and delayed launch dates" and wondered whether Vesta will be a hit.

They’re right to be nervous. Here’s why Amazon’s Vesta is very unlikely to be successful.

The security risk nobody talks about: big data monopolies

The rise of the cloud didn’t free us from concerns over who stores our data. Where matters, and major cloud providers and big data monopolies host a huge percentage of the world’s data. Thousands of organizations that store and manage personal, business and government data use big-name cloud providers. Smartphone platform companies house and process terabytes of the data that flows through mobile networks. Social networks house and control the data on billions of people worldwide — certainly the personal data of effectively all employees in your company.

And, that creates challenges, too. For example, cyber criminals and state-sponsored threat actors find data held in a central hub a tempting target. It’s time for a wider conversation among security specialists and industry leaders about how to better protect this data. Let’s take a look at the risks and challenges of a big data monopoly.

NFT-based virtual shoe deal lets you buy sneakers that don't exist

An "NFT-based fashion brand" called CryptoKickers, which claims to design "Footwear for the New World," signed NBA basketball player Wilson Chandler to the first-ever  "virtual shoe deal." The partnership yesterday "released" 21 pairs of "Wilson Chandler 1s" virtual sneakers that you can buy for around $44 a pair.

Even before the NBA tie-in, CryptoKickers sold more than 300 pairs of virtual shoes at prices exceeding $3,000. 

My God, this is dumb.