Outsiders and critics often think of YouTube and computer gaming as entertaining and quite superficial modes of cultural consumption. I have increasingly moved away from that point of view, and to pursue the argument I will note that lately my favorite YouTube video is Magnus Carlsen doing 100 chess endgames in 30 minutes. That is not recommended for most of you, but I believe that is part of the point. I now think of YouTube as a communications medium with (often, not always) high upfront “investment in context” costs. So if a lot of videos seem stupid to you, well sometimes they are but other times you don’t have enough context to understand them, or for that matter to condemn them for the right reasons. This “high upfront costs” model is consistent with the semi-addictive behavior exhibited by many loyal YouTube users. Once you start going down a rabbit hole, it can be hard to stop, and the “YouTube is superficial” models don’t really predict that kind of user behavior, rather they predict mere channel-surfing.
Did you know that Yonas, my Ethiopian contact in Lalibela, and recipient of royalties from my book Stubborn Attachments, loves YouTube videos on early Armenian church history? He seems to know all about that topic. A lot of those same videos would not make much sense to me. I could follow them, but they wouldn’t communicate much meaning, whereas the Ethiopian and Armenian Christian churches have a fair amount in common, including in their early histories.
Has the popularity of PewDiePie — 103 million subscribers — ever mystified you? I have in fact come to understand the material is brilliant, though not in a way I care about or wish to come to grasp in any kind of detailed way. For me the entry costs are just too high relative to the kind of payoff I would achieve. You really have to watch a lot of videos to get anywhere with grasping the contexts of his various jokes and remarks.
This also helps explain why there is no simple way to find “the best videos on YouTube.”
Perhaps computer games have some of the same properties. They have great meaning to those who know their ins and outs, but leave many others quite cold. Sometimes I hear people that things like “Twenty or thirty years from now, computer games will develop into great works of art.” I doubt that. To whatever extent computer games are/will be aesthetically notable, those properties are probably already in place, just with fairly high upfront context costs and thus inaccessible to someone such as I.
The high upfront costs, of course, mean a high degree of market segmentation and thus perhaps relatively high profits for suppliers, at least in the aggregate if not in every case.
Could it be that these top cultural forms of today have higher upfront costs than say appreciating 18th century Rococo painting?
In any case, trying to understand the cultural codes of 2020 is a truly difficult enterprise.
For this material, I wish to thank a related conversation with S.
Here is the mostly dull NYT list. Here is my personal list of recommendations for you, noting I have not been to all of the below, but I am in contact with many travelers and paw through a good deal of information:
1. Pakistan, and Pakistani Kashmir. Finally it is safe, and in some way it is easier to negotiate than India. The best dairy products I have eaten in my life, and probably it is the most populous country you have not yet seen, or maybe Nigeria, but that makes the list too. Islamabad is nicer than any city in India, and watch the painter trucks on the nearby highway.
2. Eastern Bali. Still mostly unspoilt, the perfect mix of exoticism and comfort. This island is much, much more than Elizabeth Gilbert, yoga, and hippie candles.
3. Lalibela, Ethiopia. Has some of my favorite churches, beautiful vistas and super-peaceful, and the high altitude of Lalibela and Addis means you don’t have to take anti-malarials. I know a good guide there, here are my Lalibela posts. the central bank forecasts 10.8% growth for the country for next year, so Lalibela is likely to change rapidly.
4. Lagos, Nigeria. A bit dangerous, but immense fun, wonderful music every night, and not nearly as bad as you might be thinking. Africa’s most dynamic city by far and a new modern civilization in the works. Here are my earlier Lagos posts, including travel tips.
5. Odisha [Orissa], India. Sometimes called India’s most underrated cuisine, that is enough reason to go and so now it is on my list for myself.
6. Sumatra, Indonesia. Surely a good place to understand the evolution of Islam, and supposedly to be Indonesia’s best food. I hope to get there soon. First-rate textiles and lake views, I hear.
7. Warsaw, Poland. No, not a fascist country (though objectionable in some regards), and rapidly becoming the center of opportunity for eastern Europe and a major player in the European Union. First-rate food and dishes you won’t get elsewhere, at least nothing close to comparable quality. Nice for walking, don’t expect too many intact old buildings, but isn’t it thrilling to see a major part of Europe growing at four percent?
8. Baku, Azerbaijan. The world’s best seaside promenade, and wonderful textiles and food, in the Iranian direction, here are my travel notes. Feels exotic, yet safe and orderly as well.
9. Macedonia, or anywhere off the beaten track in the former Yugoslavia. Then think about the history and politics of where you are at, and then think about it some more.
10. Quito, Ecuador. One of the world’s loveliest cities, including the church, wonderful potatoes and corn for vegetarians too. There are some iPhone snatchers, but overall safe to visit. Very good day trips as well, including to the “Indian market” at Otavalo and volcano Cotopaxi.
I thank you all for your pre-orders of my forthcoming book from Stripe Press, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals (did you notice how the title draws from Liberty Fund?), due out October 16. It is my most philosophic book, most heartfelt book, and least current affairsy book, at least in the last twenty years.
As I explained in an earlier post, all of my receipts from the book are going to Yonas (not his real name), a tour guide in Ethiopia, near Lalibela, who wishes to start a travel business. I met Yonas during my Ethiopia trip last May.
Yonas already has received one installment of the money, due to the great efficiency of Stripe Press and Stripe proper (it is, after all, a payments company). He has bought a plot of land and a house on that land with the money from the pre-orders to date, a modest house by your standards I can assure you but nonetheless a big step up for him. Of course I (and he) hope to sell more copies. Now that he has an effective means of storing and saving wealth, the next step is for him to expand the scope of his travel guide operations, and you can help him in that endeavor, while you at the same time foment enlightenment more generally.
Here is the Amazon link.
So I hope — for several reasons — that you buy and also gift copies of the book. You might have noticed in the post below that Chris Blattman is somewhat skeptical of cash transfers as a means of bettering the lot of the poor, at least relative to his earlier views. But this experiment differs in at least one critical way: Yonas is not randomly selected, rather he is the one person whom I thought would make the best use of the money.
Here it is:
One theme of Stubborn Attachments is that economic growth in the wealthier countries has positive spillover effects for poorer individuals around the world. If you think of the publication of this book as a form of economic growth/gdp enhancement, I want to boost its positive global effects. I also argue in Stubborn Attachments that we should be more charitable and altruistic at the margin. That includes me!
So having written Stubborn Attachments, I now wish to live the book, so to speak. I am donating the royalties from the book to a man I met in Ethiopia on a factfinding trip earlier this year, I shall call him Yonas [not his real name].
He is a man of modest means, but he aspires to open his own travel business. He has a young and growing family, and also a mother to support. He is also hoping to buy a larger house to accommodate his growing family. In his life, he faces stresses – financial and otherwise — that I have never had to confront. When I visited his home, his wife had just had a new baby girl, but Yonas’s income depends on the vicissitudes of tourist demand, and by American standards it is in any case low.
I met Yonas when he served as my travel guide around Lalibela. I spent a full day with him, touring the underground, rock-hewn stone churches of that city. He struck me as reliable, conscientious, well-informed, and I was impressed by the quality of his English, which he had acquired on his own. He also took me by his village to meet his family, and they performed a coffee ceremony for me, cooking freshly ground coffee beans (it was delicious, something I had never imagined). Based on my impressions from that day, I believe an investment in Yonas will help his entire family and perhaps his broader community as well. Since then, he and I have kept in touch by email.
As another way of “living the content” of my book, I will be sending the funds via Stripe, Stripe Press being the publisher of this book. Stripe, a payments company, really has made it easy to send money across borders, thereby helping to knit the whole world together. I hope someday Yonas is able to apply for incorporation through Atlas, a Stripe service that helps entrepreneurs incorporate in Delaware, with his travel business, or with whatever else he may do.
I suppose this means I will remain stubbornly attached to Yonas. And with the publication of this book, Stripe Press is now stubbornly attached to me.
Think of this book — due out in October — as my attempt to defend and explain why a free society is objectively better in terms of ethics, political philosophy, and economics. No punches are pulled, this is my account of what I strongly believe you should believe too. My bottom lines, so to speak.
But today I’d like to focus upon Yonas, in Ethiopia, rather than the content of the book. All of my share of the income from the book goes to him and his family, I get nothing. So if you order Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, you are very directly contributing to economic development and human betterment and the multiplication of possibilities. And perhaps you are also expressing some faith in the quality of my judgment as to who would put the money to good use.
I would like to see that you pre-order the book to make a difference for Yonas and his family. And the earlier you order, the more attention the book will receive, the greater the chance of reviews and a further print run and further sales, and so on.
You can pre-order here. By the way, what is your stubborn attachment?
I will compare to Ethiopian food in the United States, so I won’t be starting from scratch here.
The good news is that the product is tastier in Ethiopia. But the other good news is that the U.S. version of the cuisine is fairly similar, and it really does give you a pretty good idea of at least mainstream restaurant cuisine in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopians really do eat a lot of injera, made out of teff. Firfir dishes, which use injera soaked in spices, are far more common in Ethiopian cuisine in Ethiopia than in the U.S. equivalent. Overall, the quality, subtlety, and diversity of injera is higher in Ethiopia, as you might expect.
Bozena Shiro is another staple, present in both countries but again far more common in Ethiopia.
Doro Wat — chicken in the red sauce — is the dish that improves the most in Ethiopia. The sauce is richer and more subtle, more in the direction of a Mexican mole than just a mere curry.
I had two meals in private homes, one in a well-to-do apartment in Addis, the other in a rural village. Neither overturned the basic impressions I have been receiving from the restaurant food.
I ate kitfo [raw beef] once and did not get sick or even feel queasy.
The fresh honey is much better in Ethiopia than what you might get in a restaurant in America. And they pop fresh popcorn rather frequently.
Especially outside of Addis Ababa, prices are very cheap. I stayed in the nicest hotel at the number one tourist site, namely Lalibela, with its underground, rock-hewn churches. A single course at breakfast cost about a dollar and was enough for a meal. Presumably some other prices are cheaper yet.
This is a wonderful country for vegetarians and vegans. I am told that for the Christian religiously observant, about one-third of all days specify an abstention from meat. So virtually all restaurants have a wide selection of vegetarian food and it is no worse than the meat dishes, perhaps better on average.
As for foreign cuisines, I had the best outcome with Indian food, perhaps because many of the spices and cooking techniques are similar. There are Sudanese and Yemeni restaurants in Addis, Italian food is plentiful (it’s not always exactly Italian, but Castelli’s is amazing), and the Chinese meal I had was decent but not sufficiently Chinese.
4. How much does family structure matter for black boys? On interpreting the new Chetty-Hendren study.