Culture Food Learning Technology

The mindset of innovation

Liked Better eats – Works in Progress by Nick Whitaker (

The kitchen of 2020 looks mostly the same as that of 1960. But what we do in it has changed dramatically, almost entirely for the better—due to a culture of culinary innovation.

The change has come in the form of things we cannot touch or feel, but nevertheless matter: new ideas, recipes, and techniques. And that tells an equally important story: of how intangible capital has grown in importance in our lives and the wider economy — a less visible, but just as valuable, form of technological advancement as the advancements in tangible capital we made in the half-century before.

Ooh I like this framework. It’s not just the physical technology that matters, but how people use it and what they use it for.

The central thesis of Anton Howes’s Arts and Minds, a history of the Royal Society of Arts, is that the Industrial Revolution was driven by a new “ideology of innovation.” This ideology held that everything could be improved by careful tinkering and experimentation. And this ideology spread from person to person. People become more inclined to experiment when they see others doing it and succeeding.

It’s interesting to contrast the movement of advancement in cooking with the recent reports of stagnation in scientific progress and the boringization of culture. How can this mindset from the realm of the home cook expand to other disciples?

Science Fiction

Want to read: The road not taken

Bookmarked The Road Not Taken – a short story by Harry Turtledove by Contributors to Wikimedia projects (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.)

“The Road Not Taken” is a science fiction short story by American writer Harry Turtledove, set in 2039, in which he presents a fictitious account of a first encounter between humanity and an alien race, the Roxolani.

Recommended by Ben

It’s a first contact story that suggests most species in the galaxy develop an anti-gravity/ftl technology incredibly early, and so they end up colonizing the stars without ever developing beyond 15th century tech

Getting Shit Done


Bookmarked Dailyish by Oliver Burkeman (

I once asked Jerry Seinfeld about the Seinfeld Technique, the amazing productivity secret that supposedly explains his prolific joke-writing and consequent global success. It goes like this: every day that you manage to spend at least some time on your most important creative work, you mark a big red X on your calendar. The goal is not to break the chain of Xs.

It turned out he’d suggested it, once, to some guy in a comedy club, then largely forgotten all about it. “It’s so dumb it doesn’t even seem to be worth talking about,” he told me.

I’ve come to believe that the every-single-day version of this advice (which novelists are especially guilty of dispensing) is actively terrible. You can guess why: an every-single-day rule is so rigid, so intolerant of the vagaries of life, that you’ll inevitably soon fall off the wagon. And once that’s happened, you lose all motivation to continue – so you end up doing less, in aggregate, than if you hadn’t been quite so exacting in your demands. Instead, I’m a proponent of Dan Harris’s excellent alternative, offered in the context of developing a meditation practice, but relevant to many other important goals in life: aim to do it dailyish.

History Society

Enduring Tradition as Satisfaction

Bookmarked The Convivial Society, No. 23 by L.M. Sacasas (TinyLetter)

A few years back, in a post that is no longer available as far as I can tell, Ross Andersen addressed the question of the pace of technological change. “I used to think this rapid pace of change was uncontroversially a good thing,” Andersen wrote, “but a few years ago, I read a long New Yorker piece about Paleolithic cave art that made me think twice.” He went on to explain how paleoanthropologists had concluded that cave paintings discovered in the mid-1990s, which closely resembled the most famous cave paintings found at Lascaux, in fact dated from nearly 15,000 years earlier.

Paleolithic cave art

“What emerged with that revelation was an image of Paleolithic artists transmitting their techniques from generation to generation for twenty-five millennia with almost no innovation or revolt. A profound conservatism in art, Curtis notes, is one of the hallmarks of a ‘classical civilization.’ For the conventions of cave painting to have endured four times as long as recorded history, the culture it served, he concludes, must have been ‘deeply satisfying’—and stable to a degree it is hard for modern humans to imagine.” — New Yorker

This is an interesting new perspective for me, with my fear of stagnation and lack of progress and growth. That things lasting without change isn’t a bad thing persay, that a consistency in culture could indicate satisfaction rather than incuriosity or repression. And, that “progress” is inherently rooted in dissatisfaction.

It is useful to consider how often it is the case that we turn to technology out of a sense of dissatisfaction… With what exactly are we dissatisfied? What precisely is the character of the discontent that we seek to overcome? …Even if our dissatisfaction is justified, are we justified in seeking to alleviate it by technical means?