The Road to Anticertainty

Sometime in 2016 or 2017, I was sitting in an office somewhere on the outskirts of Seoul feeling generally dissatisfied with the trajectory of my career and life in general. My role was ostensibly in business development, but it was difficult to perceive any actual value in what I was doing. Even more concerning was the sinking feeling that I wasn’t picking up any useful experience or skills that would help me move to a better role elsewhere. My overall outlook wasn’t helped by the fact that our team was continually mired in political squabbles from which we emerged in an ever more disadvantaged position. There appeared to be no relief in sight to our organizational drift and general lack of productivity. 

This demoralizing scene also featured a few curious experienced hires who were brought in as executives. Since they were expats like myself, we had the bond of a common culture as we attempted to accomplish something worthwhile in the office and occasionally unwound with occasional alcohol-fueled happy hours that stretched late into the evening. However, despite the camaraderie of these fellow foreigners, there was something disconcerting about their presence. In particular, for all their experience and apparent expertise, they rarely seemed to have any notable insight to share about anything. I didn’t fully doubt their abilities, but the whole situation was disorienting, as if I was in the middle of a game with rules I didn’t fully understand. It was against this backdrop that the first thread leading in the direction of this website began to materialize.

The most reasonable course of action in that situation probably would have been to switch teams or begin looking for a new job to further my career in a more accommodating environment, but I decided to start learning Python. Like many other decisions in my life, the decision to take up programming was motivated by a desire to escape rather than to get anywhere in particular. Relying on escape as a motivator has a couple of convenient pros and several significant cons. On the one hand, you can be very quick off the line. When your only goal is to run away, any direction looks good. The cons appear shortly thereafter, however, when you realize you have no idea where you’re going. In my mind I probably imagined my future self seated in a café in some place like Bali performing yet-to-be determined tasks on my computer while raking in significant sums of money. How Python fit into the plan was not fully defined other than I recognized that a successful programmer could presumably have a remote position and still make decent money.

My journey to become a programmer went about as you would expect considering the lack of planning. The ambition to learn Python began to wane when I realized I was unsure whether I really wanted to put myself in position to be hired for traditional dev jobs. I recalled my hours of research on internet forums perusing threads debating the merits of various programming languages, and how any time someone posed a question about which language was best, the first question anyone asked was: “what do you want to do with it?” I never did fully figure out my own answer to that question. However, I was not prepared to abandon programming altogether. I shifted my sights toward a personal website that could perform great feats of some kind, and so my attention was drawn to web development.

Alas, it was this shift in attention to web development that led to me discovering React, and React is where my programming ambitions came to die, at least for the foreseeable future. I admit I was a bit surprised at the complete and utter extent of my failure here. React is one of the most popular libraries (or frameworks?) around. It has a vast and supportive community. It has an invitingly accommodating-looking tutorial that ushers you through the basic steps to get started. Nevertheless, even with the benefit of all of those resources sitting there in tantalizing fashion just a Google search away, I found React to be deceptively and almost impenetrably complicated with regard to getting anything up and running. After several starts and stops, I had nothing to show for my hours and hours spent attempting to wring even the most basic UI out of my React efforts, and my website project went on indefinite hiatus.

With the programming journey having run its course, the second thread that led to this current website emerged one evening in late summer 2020. I was sitting at home scrolling through reddit when I came across a video stream. The stream was part of the RPAN platform that reddit had rolled out and which gained popularity during the pandemic. The person I was watching was streaming live from Seoul not too far from me. He was from Norway. Either that or Hungary. He was a student studying in Seoul, and there he was walking around and talking to whoever cared to listen. I was one of those people. This particular type of streaming was new to me and strangely fascinating. Within the next few days, I had started streaming.

Something about streaming was immediately appealing and almost addicting to me. It was a great excuse to go outside and walk around. It was a way to interact with people I would never otherwise meet or even be aware of in my lifetime. During my early days of streaming, Korea’s lack of quarantine or lockdown restrictions meant I had viewers tagging along just to virtually get out of their house. I enjoyed the connection. I seemed to have no problem talking for hours on end about nothing in particular. People were free to come and go as they pleased, and if they found something I was talking about interesting and chose to comment, then that was the beginning of a discussion between people thousands of miles away that could only have happened through that medium.

The effects of the pandemic eventually subsided, and perhaps the opening up of society contributed to RPAN’s downfall. The service was first deprioritized and then it was eliminated altogether. My outlet was gone. I missed having a reason — any reason at all — to express my thoughts somewhere. With that in mind, my thoughts returned to a website. Having accepted that my earlier emphasis on the “building” aspect of creating a website may have been misguided, I decided to focus more on the creative component and the sharing of ideas. I was just about ready to go.

The third and final thread becoming entwined with the creation of this website is one that has been building since my early days on the internet. Every once in a while I would come across some obscure website or YouTube channel, some of which had very few visitors, and they each struck me as the purest representation of one individual’s quirky vision and way of thinking. There was a strange sense of intimacy when stumbling into these secluded corners of the internet. In a world increasingly defined by scale and optimization and data and efficiency, I found the idea encouraging that somewhere out there, these small independent beacons of creativity continued to shine.

My internet travels also consisted of stops at equally intriguing, more ideological sites like TheLastPsychiatrist, Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias. These sites stood out to me for being driven forth by their philosophical and psychological ambitions rather than a primarily business or entertainment-oriented motive. Ultimately, the conviction and knowledge base behind these latter sites surpasses anything I can muster. However, they served as another reminder that if you have a domain, you have a voice, and with that, you can do pretty much whatever you want.

My only hope at this point is to create something here that is at times thoughtful and at times entertaining. To the extent that things become serious, I can only hope I don’t take myself too seriously in the process. The real underlying theme here is how little I feel I know about anything, how uncertain I am about everything, and how ultimately fascinating the world around us is.

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