Utopia's Infinite To-Do List

In Ada Palmer's very unique and excellent series Terra Incognita, the Utopians all wear dark vizors for a futeristic, space helmet vibe.

I enjoyed this passage, where one of the non-Utopian characters, Madame, is trying on Utopian Mushi's vizor:

Madame blew on the inside of the vizor before trying it... “It’s normal!” She exclaimed as the vizor settled in place. ... “The world’s unchanged!” She gazed about at arm, walls, ceiling. “I expected everything would look like [utopia was already here].”

Mushi squinted against the bare air’s unfamiliar cold. “We would hardly work so hard for our utopias if we let ourselves live in the illusion that they are already real.”

She smiled at that. “What are all these floating tags on things?”

“Select one to zoom in. They’re things you can fix or improve: stains or damage, litter, blank walls waiting for art, subjects for research, mysteries, hazards to life or health, clumsy technology waiting for a better alternative.”

She lifted a cup from the nursery table, examining whatever suggestions the vizor made for its improvement. “You see this all the time?”

“Unless I’m watching a movie or something.”

“It would drive me insane. Do all Utopians see this?”

“Almost all. It’s our Infinite To-Do List. It staves off complacency. It’s not easy to maintain a race of vokers in such a comfortable world.”

Madame’s eyes fell on Mushi, dazzled by the calls for medical research and coat improvements which, as she describes it, glittered in the air like fireflies flashing their quick prayers for attention.

Noticing Pain

This reminded me of the part in Ray Dalio's Principles where he mentions -- almost as a throwaway line during a broader discussion of habits -- that his most useful personal habit is reflexively reflecting on any pain he experiences.

When I first read this it seemed almost impossible. Pain happens all the time, is Dalio really reflecting on it anytime it comes up? Since then I’ve tried sort of haphazardly to apply it, and have come to see how it could be powerful.

For example, the other day I was making dinner for the kids and realized I had no idea how much to make. For some reason I thought of Dalio and how this was technically “pain”, and was thinking about what a habit of “reflecting” on it would mean.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized, with this mindset, me not knowing how much food to make (and recognizing it) was really a good thing, because — although I might make too much or not enough this time — now I know how much to use, and don’t need to ever make that mistake again.

I'm still working on cultivating it in myself (another issue: what level of pain am I supposed to be noticing? Are dinner portions getting into diminishing returns?) but a Utopian style infinite todo list helmet would definitely make this easier.