The Bullshit Waste Cascade

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Watching once sort-of-reputable Rasmussen fall into the fever swamps of anti-vax bullshit is sad, but not surprising. I understand from some people I know that they’ve had weird biases for some time, if only for “marketing” purposes. Still, now their once good-ish name is now pretty much going to be used for whatever fantasies or con-jobs their leadership wants.

This has made me reflect on the damaging nature of Bullshit writ broad (in which I include disinformation and propaganda for “writ large.”). See, when we have people spewing things with no concern – or outright enmity towards – truth, it cascades downward. Having worked in many an organization as a Project Manager, you get very familiar with “cascade” effects of bad things, where one pebble starts an avalanche.

We’ve got a pretty bad Bullshit cascade going on in the world.

The basic Bullshit machine we see in assorted PR firms, hack pollsters, and what seems to be over half of political consultants is damaging enough. We have people buying dangerous products, getting wrong information, voting for grifters, authoritarian government manipulation, and more. But that’s the initial damage from Bullshit – the start of even worse.

As Bullshit spreads (and it certainly seems we’re good at spreading it these days) it worms it’s way into peoples minds. Truth fractures, lies become regarded as sacred, and people believe. The damage of Bullshit is long-term, and that may or may not be intentional, but it has to be kept in mind. In fact the unintentional Enduring Bullshit is probably even more damaging as we might not notice it – as I often see in various medical scams.

(For that matter, think of Bullshit as a kind of cultural equivalent of long COVID, if you want to get more depressed.)

Bullshit that endures seems to mate with other Bullshit. When you’re busy avoiding facts and truth after all, why not double up – weather you’re a propagandist or someone trying not to admit they’re wrong. Bullshit is used to justify or cross-fertilize Bullshit, like viruses combining. Soon you’re wondering how people merged 5G conspiracy theories with anti-vax conspiracy theories and aliens (something I’ve seen myself).

The systemic damage is bad, but remember that Bullshit consumes resources. The people who are busy creating Bullshit could be doing something more productive. The people fighting Bullshit would probably like to not have to, thank you. People bamboozled by Bullshit proceed to do bad things, wasting their time, hurting others, and creating more work for cleanup. The damage spreads throughout societies – and the planet.

Finally there is something that I think gets ignored about Bullshit but really needs our attention in these times – that Bullshit machines get people interested in doing more Bullshit. The people who pivot from Yoga to conspiracy theories to sell supplements. The folks who yes-and conspiracy theorists to sell their books or just get clicks (who are also crossbreeding Bullshit). It seems the more Bullshitters out there the more people see it as a life and career option.

If you ever felt like the age of the internet crossed with mass media is a lot of people lying to themselves and each other, yeah, you understand what I mean. Some bad things and bad people cascade throughout media, culture, and keep setting off more and more problems. Plenty of people look at them and think “I want a piece of that.”

Meanwhile humanity has a lot of crises to deal with, and the Great Bullshit Engine keeps going and maybe even expanding. Things are indeed more messed up than we may think because of these Bullshit effects.

If we’re going to try to dig out from the world’s problems, we’ll have to confront Bullshit, correct the damage, prevent Bullshit, and discourage it. It may help to realize just how bad the damage it causes is.

Steven Savage

Living In The Future We Were Sold

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

We’re living in the future, and it’s lousy.

So-called AI is just Ultra-Clippy being shoehorned into everything that will temporarily goose stock prices. We’ve got computerized cars that allow us to bluescreen while driving, and universal automated cars are many dreams and lawsuits away. Phones gave us something like Star Trek gadgets, but we’re using them to become depressed by doomscrolling. I could make a comment on the Cybertruck, but honestly, that seems pointless.

We’ve got a lot of things that we think are futuristic, and a lot of them are lame, terrible, pointless, or have side effects. Plus you know, we’ve got climate change, Nazis, and pandemics as well.

The future isn’t what it used to be? No, the problem is we’re living in the future we were sold.

A lot of our futuristic ideas derive from popular culture, but that popular culture has nothing to do with what we can, should, or even may want to do. A lot of or popular culture is what people could sell us or what worked in media of the time. It has nothing to do with the possible or the necessary.

AI? It’s easier to just have Hunky Space Captain talk to the computer, because no one wants to watch someone scroll on a monitor. Besides, it sounds cool. Also if you’re bored eventually the computer can try to murder people as part of the plot, a real horror film twist. But do we need it?

Automated cars are a dream, especially if you’ve ever driven . . . well, anywhere. It’s a dream that’s cool and convenient and doesn’t have messy people, and looks awesome in films. It doesn’t deal with the reality that driving needs a moral actor to make decisions, even if you’re paying them by the mile. Also it doesn’t deal with outages, software updates, and crashes.

Then there’s our phones, our pocket computers. This is a totally understandable dream of course, going back to hand-held sci-fi gizmos and communicators. It’s just we never asked how we’d misuse them, as if people won’t find some weird use for technology five seconds after inventing it.

All of these are things we’ve seen in pop culture media since the 60’s (and I’d argue a lot of what we’re living in is very 80’s). But it’s not stuff from speculative fiction or deep analysis or asking hard questions of what we want and need in the future. It’s stuff that was fun to put into movies, tv, and comics.

That’s it. For many of us, the future we envision is something that was marketable.

So of course all the backfire we’re experiencing is a surprise. We weren’t buying a warning, we were buying a cool experience.

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam,” said Fredrick Pohl. Indeed it should. It’s just sometimes the warnings don’t sell – and other times people think the warning is cool (see many a stylish dystopia with lots of leather for no reason).

So much of the future that people want – or are trying to sell us at least – seems to just be whatever was laying around in pop culture for a while. It doesn’t have anything to do with speculation, or possibility, or what we need. It’s what many of us assume the future is supposed to be because we bought it.

But what is the future we really want and need? The struggle is to find that, and perhaps in this time where the future we bought is failing us, we have a chance to find it.

Steven Savage

The Future Was Never What It Was

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

“The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be” has been a saying for a while. In a time of resource-sucking hallucinating AIs, climate change, and ad-saturated social media, the saying seems more relevant. We’re not getting the future we expected, want, or needed.

As I muse over this, I think the problem is that we had expectations as opposed to asking what we really needed. We wanted a future that was past and present.

Let’s take the Cybertruck, which is one man’s vision of a futuristic vehicle. The Cybertruck – for whatever valid critiques may be made of it – a deliberate creation, from its tech to the low-poly appearance. It’s something out of past science fiction, shoehorned poorly into current technology The thing is it turns out what we want isn’t, well, that vision or its janky implementation.

Or Microsoft’s Recall feature, which records what you’re doing for some kind of recovery purpose, all while basically being a security nightmare. A cybersecurity writer noted that maybe this is just what you get when an aging group of leaders keeps forgetting things. Is it evil opportunism, or just people thinking of a future that solves only something they might think of?

I could of course go on, from wasteful AI today to cuecat in the past and so on. A whole lot of people are inventing, selling, and sometimes just lying about how they’re making the future we want or expect. Which really means what too many people wan tis a future based on old videogames and movies and current ill-thought-out-needs.

We’re not humanity wants or needs because it really seems we’re not trained to think about that.

We look at what we want, and assume it’s for everyone. We look at our childhood media fixation and figure it’s how it should be. Even when people are lying their butts off trying to make “number go up” they’re justifying it with such explanations. I’m pretty sure enough supposed “leaders” of the tech world have been justifying things so long they actually believe it.

I’d feel kind of better knowing I’ve been lied to more, but am really starting to feel a little too much kool-aid has been drunk. A lot of that kool-aid came from 80’s direct-to-video.

And right now people’s egos and money are on the line in these various bad tech decisions, so they’re not going to reverse without some pretty hard bumps. Delusion, short-sightedness, and personal income and reputation are pretty compelling. Besides The Market doesn’t reward you for insight and the news doesn’t fawn over you for saying what a dumbass you were.

I’m starting to think being able to make the future (and make it better) is sort of its own skillset. Clearly a business degree doesn’t help you. But neither does a writing degree as you might just create a new mental straightjacket. Designing a future that works doesn’t necessarily come from pushing around numbers and making pretty words.

But it’s a skill we desperately need right now, and maybe recognizing it is a start.

Steven Savage