A nine-square grid with different photos of Elon Musk and "lawful good," "chaotic neutral," and "lawful evil" etc. labels
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Welcome to the Chaotic Age

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Good morning! What once was random is now chaotic, but that’s not a bad thing. Or is it? Let’s dig in.

Isn’t it chaotic?

Technology used to make sense. Software attracted those who sought rationality and order. Harlan Stenn, a coder who helps the world’s computers run on time, explained the attraction this way to The New Yorker: “I got very clear yes-or-no information about whether something was going to do the right thing, and to me that was very peaceful and enjoyable.” One of the worst things you could say at Microsoft when Bill Gates ran the shop was that a person or an idea was “random,” Protocol's Owen Thomas writes.

That was great for boomers who grew up watching Spock scold Captain Kirk for being “highly illogical.” But Gen Xers and their younger cohorts are having their revenge. “Random” as a nerd insult has given way to “chaotic” as a term of high praise.

Go ahead, roll the dice. That’s a key lesson of Dungeons & Dragons, a cultural touchstone for Gen Xers like Elon Musk.

  • The internet changed the paradigm around technology to one of abundance. Suddenly there were more networks, more servers, and more code than any human could really grasp.
  • Netscape taught us that everything could permanently be in beta. Bugs are illogical — but so is waiting until you’ve squashed all of them to release software into the world.
  • The art of software development changed as it became networked. Instead of typing the exact lines of code printed in a computer magazine, you linked libraries and tapped into APIs you barely understood. “Move fast and break things,” Mark Zuckerberg said. So you brought the website down? No problem, just roll it back!
  • TikTok is hurting Facebook and Instagram because it’s less logical. Instead of seeing things your friends (and brands you wish could be your friends) post, TikTok serves up … sheer randomness. Oh, sure, there’s an “algorithm.” But maybe the appeal is just seeing something unexpected. At least chaos makes you feel alive.

So chaotic is … good, maybe? That’s another discovery D&D players made: You could be lawful good, like a paladin. That’s basically a cop with shiny armor, though.

  • The New York Times recently labeled Musk a “chaos agent.” His reaction: What, like that’s a bad thing?
  • Musk, like other ’90s startup founders, saw the internet as a chance to fix the broken artifacts of an irrational business world, whether it was classified ads or online banking. He briefly trained as an engineer, but his approach through much of his career hasn’t been to restore order. It’s been to throw more chaos at the problem, because, hey, it can’t be worse than the mess the boomers left us, right?
  • Now he’s playing chaos-agent-in-chief at Twitter. Imposing mass layoffs, demanding new features be programmed in a week, and making policy decisions on the fly in response to tweets may not be the most orderly approach to things. But it’s not like Jack Dorsey and the former Twitter board covered themselves in glory during their slightly less irrational stewardship of the company. (Side note: Former Twitter chairman Bret Taylor may be the closest thing we have to Spock, for whatever good that did him and the company.)

Chaos as a strategy may actually be a rational response to a world seemingly gone mad. Generation X has always seen the world from the lens of not having much to lose. “Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling,” antihero J.D. told Veronica in “Heathers.” So let’s get chaotic. It’s the least bad alternative. Is that so random?

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