Seven Questions About Progress

Ted Gioia (thanks again to Steve for letting me know about his blog on Substack) wrote a great post about Progress. How does technology impact human flourishing? What about health and culture? Read the post and let me know what you think. After posing his seven questions Gioia comes to these hypotheses:

  1. Progress should be about improving the quality of life and human flourishing. We make a grave error when we assume this is the same as new tech and economic cost-squeezing.
  2. There was a period when new tech improved the quality of life, but that time has now ended. In the last decade, we’ve seen new tech harming the people who use it the most—hence most so-called innovations are now anti-progress by any honest definition.
  3. There was a time when lowering costs improved quality of life—raising millions of people out of poverty all over the world. But in the last decade, cost-squeezing has led to very different results, and is increasingly linked to a collapse in the quality of products and services. Some people get richer from these cost efficiencies, and a larger group move into more intensely consumerist lifestyles—but none of these results (crappy products, super-rich elites, mass consumerist lifestyles, etc.) deserve to be called progress.
  4. The discourse on progress is controlled by technocrats, politicians and economists. But in the current moment, they are the wrong people to decide which metrics drive quality of life and human flourishing.
  5. Real wisdom on human flourishing is now more likely to come from the humanities, philosophy, creative and artistic spheres, and the spiritual realm, rather than technocrats and politicians. By destroying these disciplines, we actually reduce our chances at genuine advancement.
  6. Things like music, books, art, family, friends, the inner life, etc. will increasingly play a larger role in quality of life (and hence progress) than gadgets and devices.
  7. Over the next decade, the epicenter for meaningful progress will be the private lives of individuals and small communities. It will be driven by their wisdom, their core values, and the courage of their convictions—none of which will be supplied via virtual reality headsets or apps on their smartphones.

I Ask Seven Heretical Questions About Progress


This is a response to Steve’s comment about my sensitivity/allergy to some things I need to put inside or on my ear… 

I know very little about the subject but here is what I heave learned. 

Multiple doctors have told me that using something for many years does not make it less likely that we become sensitive to it. In fact, it makes it more likely! I am taking this to mean that the longer we live the more likely it is that we discover sensitivities to all kinds of things we touch on a daily basis. So, older = greater chance of having an allergic reaction. 😄

I never had any type of allergic reaction at all, until 1997. That Spring I spent seven weeks in Italy and for the first time I found it hard to breathe. My throat just seemed to close up. I remember going to a pharmacy and communicating through pantomime what I needed. I don’t remember what they gave me but it worked. It might have been an inhaler of some kind. I continued to have this problem even after returning to Santa Fe. Then I heard that eating local honey can help with Spring bloom allergies. It sounds equal parts crazy and kinda logical. Bees incorporate all kinds of pollen into their honey… perhaps that can have an effect. Perhaps the honey worked, or perhaps some allergies simply go away as suddenly as they appear, but I haven’t had anything like it since.

I have been using IEMs since 1994, when we started to wear them to record the live album. They never gave me any trouble. The first sign of a problem came when I started wearing Apple EarPods, that early generation of wired earphones. I would wear them constantly and made many extended phone calls with them. Sometimes I wore them for three or more hours at a time. Suddenly my ears were secreting liquid–I called them my weeping ears– and then they started to get infected. Just putting my IEMs into my ears was painful.

I learned–from a comment to this post–that I may have a reaction to the kind of plastic Apple uses for the EarPods. It seemed that many other people are allergic to it. I stopped wearing any Apple or Beats earbuds and all was well for a while. Looking back I think the culprit for the most recent flareup may have been the silicon ear tips that I found to be comfortable with my Audeze Euclid IEMs. I used the ear cream the ENT wrote me a prescription for exactly once and switched to the memory foam tips. Since then I haven’t had a problem. It’s infuriating that those little silicone tips were able to give me so much pain and worry. 

That seems to be the thing about allergies… in my experience, they may show up, they may stay a while and then they may, or may not, disappear again. But you are pretty much on your own, trying to figure out what it is, unless you want to take a serious allergy test. None of those tests look like a lot fun–Link to Wikipedia.

Toxic Endeavour

The process of recycling can actually make plastics more hazardous to human health, according to a recent Greenpeace report that calls on the United Nations to rule it out as a scalable fix for plastic pollution.

Released ahead of the second round of negotiations for the UN’s Global Plastics Treaty, which will begin on Monday, the report compiles the findings of several peer-reviewed studies from across the globe.

These suggest that recycled plastics often contain higher concentrations of toxic chemicals such as flame retardants, benzene and other carcinogens than virgin plastic. Recycled plastics also contain “numerous endocrine disruptors that can cause changes to the body’s natural hormone levels”, according to the Greenpeace report.

Recycled plastics often contain more toxic chemicals says Greenpeace

How many times have we heard this: let’s pretend an idea works so we can get another decade of business as usual and our shareholders get lots of value, no matter the long term cost. There is no quick fix. There may be a few exceptions to this rule but none I can think of right now. But, for some reason, the many quick fix solutions take up a huge amount of space in our time. If you believe advertising there is a quick fix for everything. 

I think, to believe in quick fixes is like looking at a ball rolling down a mountain and not realizing that before that could happen the ball was slowly pushed up the other side of the mountain. 


As the authors of this study stated, cold ‘could play a role in reducing the prevalence of harmful misfolded proteins, which are thought to play a role in the development of a number of conditions associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s…. [cold] is one of the most effective mechanisms known to prolong longevity across many different species.’

For over half a century, scientists have known that cold activates longevity. They just didn’t know how or why.  In this study (which began with worms), researchers noticed that the lower the temperature, the fewer misfolded proteins in the worms’ cells. They then investigated human cells where they found that reducing the temperature to 36ºC triggered exactly the same cell-clearing mechanism as it had in worms.


36ºC is just about a single degree below normal body temperature. You don’t have to move to Minnesota, Canada, or Scandinavia to achieve that, unless you want to. A cold shower should accomplish that as well.  Embrace the cold and look forward to the joy of getting warm afterwards. 

The Rise of Bullies

It’s been very interesting to watch how people react to the pandemic in general and to mask-wearing in particular. This year has shown us a lot about people. There is the amazing and selfless care that so many nurses and doctors continue to give. Too many of them pay for that with their lives. There is also the careless and egotistical behavior of those who endanger others on purpose.

We don’t wear a mask only to protect ourselves; we also wear it to protect others, in case we are unaware of being infected. People in Asia have been doing this for decades. If you’ve ever visited Japan or Hong Kong, you will have noticed people wearing masks in public, especially on crowded trains. Most of these mask-wearers either have a cold or another infection and wear the mask so that they don’t spread their illness.

Somehow we have allowed people to hold the belief that wearing a mask is equivalent to being afraid. Wearing a mask whenever I go outside does not mean I fear the virus; it means that I want to protect you as much as myself. I also want to protect some of the people closest to me, one of whom has diabetes and another, asthma. If I myself get the virus don’t bother with ventilation…just give me morphine until I die and then throw me in a dumpster. It’s not me that I am worried about.

Experts continue to tell us that if everyone were to wear a mask in public the virus would be gone within five to eight weeks. Just imagine… the pandemic could have been over months ago if everyone had actually done this!

The other day, I was grocery shopping when I saw a young man approach the store without a mask. A person working for the store, counting the people entering the store and checking for masks, asked the guy whether he had a mask. He pulled a bandana over his mouth and nose and was let into the store. Immediately upon entering he removed the bandana and started walking up and down the aisles of the store at a fast pace, mumbling to himself. The young man appeared to be homeless. He continued to run-walk around the store mumbling threats. Eventually, I saw him escorted from the store by a security guard.

I realized that what I was witnessing was an act of bullying. This person, most likely homeless, probably feeling powerless, entered a store that required the wearing of masks and proceeded to run around without a mask, talking and spreading potentially infectious droplets of his saliva.

This pandemic is offering bullies a golden opportunity through which they can flaunt their disdain for masks and watch people shy away from them. The sense of power! I am fearless! No, perhaps you are stupid, you act like a bully, and you are endangering yourself and others… all in order to give yourself a little jolt of power.

I think bullies have always been around, but they didn’t have the massive opportunities they have right now. Yelling at people who speak a different language, beating up a Japanese musician in the subway in Manhattan because he looked Chinese, marching around with weapons, not wearing masks… it’s a golden age for bullies.

My thoughts return to the homeless man in the grocery store. Bullies tend to be people who feel powerless. One aspect of bullying is called Radfahren in German. I don’t know whether the expression is used all over the country but I have often heard it used in Köln. The word literally means bicycling. This particular meaning derives from the position of the cyclist in the saddle kicking down into the pedals. Radfahrer bend their backs to receive the kicks from people or institutions above them and in turn they kick down to someone they perceive as less powerful than themselves. And perhaps this is what we are really learning now. Too many people feel helpless, powerless, uncertain, and not in control of their lives, and some of them derive a false sense of power from bullying others.

Our world is evolving rapidly and not everyone can keep up with the changes. People feel left behind, excluded and ignored. Inclusivity also means including the bullies and, perhaps in time, they will cease to be bullies. Bullies, like racists, aren’t born; they are created by society.


It seems that I am allergic to Apple plastic. To be more specific, my ears get infected from Apple earbuds. And that’s too bad because I find that Apple EarPods, AirPods, and the new PowerbeatsPro have really decent microphones, certainly much better than any other headset I have tried.

I first discovered my affliction in 2017 and in the fall of that year I had to go to different doctors several times before I was able to figure it out. It got so bad, at one point, that it was super painful to wear my IEMs during soundcheck and concert.

That I spend quite a while on the phone each day may have something to do with it, but it’s certainly strange that my ears are only affected by Apple products. It has to be the plastic, I figure. It also has nothing to do with Bluetooth, because the wired EarPods make a mess of my ears as well, and a Bluetooth headset by a different brand does not bother me.

I hoped the rubber tips of the new Powerbeats Pro would mean that my ears would like them. I wore them for a couple of hours the first day I had them… and they affected my ears badly. It must be that the plastic touches my outer ear… it’s the plastic, damn it. Has to be. I gave away the Powerbeats Pro and the new owner LOVES them. Of course, because they sound pretty good, Bluetooth works flawlessly, and the mic is great!

I wear my IEMs on tour around 2-3 hours per day but they must be made from a different kind of plastic because I have never had a problem. I also often wear Shure 535s for hours without a problem.

I have, so far, only found one other person that is affected by Apple earbuds, and couldn’t find anything relevant on the internet. (sigh)