Suppose you are holding a ball in your hand inside a moving train. From your frame of reference, the ball is static. But from somebody else’s perspective, one who looks at you from outside the train, it’s a completely different picture. They see what you cannot see. Advice helps us realise that the ball, along with you, is moving at the speed of the train.
I’ve spent a lot more time on Twitter recently, where my feed seems to be equal parts anger and indignation (especially at Andrew Adonis) on the one hand, and jokes, funny anecdotes, and re-posted TikToks on the other.
In amongst all of that, and via Other Sources™, I’ve also found the following, some of which I think will resonate with you. Let me know on Twitter, Mastodon, or in the comments if that’s the case!
So, what happens now that we’re all doing school and work from home?
Well, for one thing, schools are going to be under even more pressure to buy surveillance software — to prevent cheating, obviously, but also to fulfill all sorts of regulations and expectations about “compliance.” Are students really enrolled? Are they actually taking classes? Are they doing the work? Are they logging into the learning management system? Are they showing up to Zoom? Are they really learning anything? How are they feeling? Are they “at risk”? What are teachers doing? Are they holding class regularly? How quickly do they respond to students’ messages in the learning management system?
Audrey Watters (Hack Education)
Good stuff, as always, by Audrey Watters, who has been warning about this stuff for a decade.
Of course this government are failing to deal with a pandemic. At the fag end of neoliberalism, they don’t exist to do much more than transfer public assets into private hands. What we’re living through is exactly what would happen if we’d elected a firm of bailiffs to cure polio. That’s not to say that they won’t use this crisis, as they would any other, to advance a profoundly reactionary agenda. The austerity they’ll tell us they need to introduce to pay for this will make the last decade seem like Christmas at Elton John’s house.
There’s an old joke about a guy going to hell. The Devil shows him round all the rooms where people are being tortured in a variety of brutal ways. Eventually, they come to a room where everybody is standing knee-deep in shit and drinking cups of tea. The guy chooses this as the place to spend eternity, and the Devil shouts “Tea break’s over lads, back on your heads!” That, I suppose, is how I feel when I hear people crowing about how the government are being forced to implement socialist policies. Pretty soon, we’ll all be back on our heads.
Frankie Boyle (The Overtake)
As comedy has become more political over the last decade, one of the most biting commentators has been the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle. I highly recommend following him on Twitter.
A few keen readers have turned to essay collections, short stories or diaries, which are less demanding on the memory and attention, but video games may also offer a way back into reading during these difficult times. Here are 12 interesting puzzle and adventure games that play with words, text and narratives in innovative ways, which may well guide you back into a reading frame of mind.
Keith Stuart (The Guardian)
I hadn’t heard of any of the games on this list (mobile/console/PC) and I think this is a great idea. Also check out the Family Video Game Database.
The company is not your family. Some of the people in the company are your friends in the current context. It’s like your dorm in college. Hopefully some of them will still be your friends after. But don’t stay because you’re comfortable.
When picking a job, yes, your manager matters. But if you have an amazing manager at a shit company you’ll still have a shit time. In some ways, it’ll actually be worse. If they’re good at their job (including retaining you), they’ll keep you at a bad company for too long. And then they’ll leave, because they’re smart and competent.
Chief of Stuff (Chief’s newsletter)
Most of this advice is focused on the tech sector, but I wanted to highlight the above, about ‘friends’ at work and the relative importance of having a good boss.
“You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on,” supposedly said Heraclitus. Time is like a river. If you’re too busy to enjoy life—too busy to spend time with friends and family, too busy to learn how to paint or play the guitar, too busy to go on that hike, too busy to cook something nice for yourself—these moments will be gone, and you will never get that time back.
You may think it’s too late. It’s not. Like many people, I personally experience time anxiety—the recurring thought that it’s too late to start or accomplish something new—but the reality is you probably still have many years in front of you. Defining what “time well spent” means to you and making space for these moments is one of the greatest gifts you can make to your future self.
Anne-Laure Le Cunff (Ness Labs)
Quality not quantity. Absolutely, and the best way to do that is to be in control of every area of your life, not beholden to someone else’s clock.
Labour officials ran a secret operation to deceive Jeremy Corbyn at last year’s general election, micro-targeting Facebook adverts at the leader and his closest aides to convince them the party was running the campaign they demanded.
Campaign chiefs at Labour HQ hoodwinked their own leader because they disapproved of some of Corbyn’s left-wing messages.
They convinced him they were following his campaign plans by spending just £5,000 on adverts solely designed to be seen by Corbyn, his aides and their favourite journalists, while pouring far more money into adverts with a different message for ordinary voters.
Tim Shipman (The Times)
This article by the political editor of The Times is behind a paywall. However, the above is all you need to get the gist of the story, which reminds me of a story about the CEO of AT&T, the mobile phone network.
At a time when AT&T were known for patchy coverage, technicians mapped where the CEO frequently went (home, work, golf club, etc.) and ensured that those locations had full signal. Incredible.
Poverty isn’t natural or inevitable. It is an artifact of the very same policies that have been designed to syphon the lion’s share of global income into the pockets of the rich. Poverty is, at base, a problem of distribution.
Jason Hickel (New Internationalist)
There’s some amazing data in this article, along with some decent suggestions on how we can make society work for the many, and not just the few. Also see this: wealth shown to scale.
Possessed of no such capacity for superior force, fairytale characters are given tasks that are often unfair verging on impossible, imposed by the more powerful—climb the glass mountain, sort the heap of mixed grain before morning, gather a feather from the tail of the firebird. They are often mastered by alliances with other overlooked and undervalued players—particularly old women (who often turn out to be possessed of supernatural powers) and small animals, the ants who sort the grain, the bees who find the princess who ate the honey, the birds who sing out warnings. Those tasks and ordeals and quests mirror the difficulty of the task of becoming faced by the young in real life and the powers that most of us have, alliance, persistence, resistance, innovation. Or the power to be kind and the power to listen—to name two powers that pertain to storytelling and to the characters these particular stories tell of.
Rebecca Solnit (Literary Hub)
What was it Einstein said? “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
The term ‘commons’ came into widespread use, and is still studied by most college students today, thanks to an essay by a previously little-known American academic, Garrett Hardin, called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968). His basic claim: common property such as public land or waterways will be spoiled if left to the use of individuals motivated by self-interest. One problem with his theory, as he later admitted himself: it was mostly wrong.
Our real problem, instead, might be called ‘the tragedy of the private’. From dust bowls in the 1930s to the escalating climate crisis today, from online misinformation to a failing public health infrastructure, it is the insatiable private that often despoils the common goods necessary for our collective survival and prosperity. Who, in this system based on the private, holds accountable the fossil fuel industry for pushing us to the brink of extinction? What happens to the land and mountaintops and oceans forever ravaged by violent extraction for private gain? What will we do when private wealth has finally destroyed our democracy?
Dirk Philipsen (Aeon)
Good to see more pushback on the notion of ‘the tragedy of the commons’. What we need to do is, instead of metaphorically allowing everyone to graze their own cows on the common, we need to socialise all the cows.
So said Albarran Cabrera, except I added a cheeky question mark.
I have a theory. Not a grand, unifying theory of everything, but a theory nonetheless. I reckon that, despite common wisdom attributing the decline of comments on blogs to social media, it’s at least also because of something else.
Here’s an obvious point: there’s more people online now than there were ten years ago. As a result, there’s more stuff being produced and shared and, because of that, there’s more to miss out on. This is known as the Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO).
While I don’t think anyone realistically thinks it’s possible to keep up with everything produced online every day, I think people do have an expectation that they can keep up with what their online friends are doing and thinking. As the number of people we’re following in different places grows and grows, we don’t have much time to share meaningfully. Hence the rise of the retweet button.
Back in 2006, in the mists of internet time, Kathy Sierra wrote a great post entitled The myth of “keeping up”. Remember that this was before people were really using social networks such as Twitter. She talks about what we’re experiencing as ‘information anxiety’ and has some tips to combat it, which I think are still relevant:
Find the best aggregators
Cut the redundancy!
Unsubscribe to as many things as possible
Recognise that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes
Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from OUTSIDE your main field of interest
Be a LOT more realistic about what you’re likely to get to, and throw the rest out.
In any thing you need to learn, find a person who can tell you what is:
Need to know
Nice to know
Edge case, only if it applies to you specifically
The interesting thing is that, done well, social media can actually be a massive force for good. It used to be set up for that, coming on the back of RSS. Now, it’s set up to drag you into arguments about politics and the kind of “black holes” of gossip and celebrity entertainment that Kathy mentions.
One of the problems is that we have a cult of ‘busy’ which people mis-attribute to a Protestant work ethic instead of rapacious late-stage capitalism. I’ve recently finished 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary where he makes this startlingly obvious, but nevertheless profound point:
Because one’s bank account and one’s friendships can now be managed through identical machinic operations and gestures, there is a growing homogenization of what used to be entirely unrelated areas of experience.
[S]ince no moment, place, or situation now exists in which one can not shop, consume, or exploit networked resources, there is a relentless incursion of the non-time of 24/7 into every aspect of social or personal life.
In other words, you’re busy because of your smartphone, the apps you decide to install upon it, and the notifications that you then receive.
The solution to FOMO is to know who you are, what you care about, and the difference you’re trying to make in the world. As Gandhi famously said:
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
I’ve recently fallen into the trap of replying to work emails on my days off. It’s a slippery slope, as it sets up an expectation.
The same goes with social media, of course, except that it’s even more insidious, as an ‘action’ can just be liking or retweeting. It leads to slacktivism instead of making actual, meaningful change in the world.
People joke about life admin but one of those life admin tasks might be to write down (yes! with a pen and paper!) the things you’re trying to achieve with the ‘free’ apps that you’ve got installed. If you were being thorough, or teaching kids how to do this, perhaps you’d:
List all of the perceived benefits
List all of the perceived drawbacks
List all of the ways that the people making the free app can make money
Tim Ferriss recently reposted an interview he did with Seth Godin back in 2016 about how he (Seth) manages his life. It’s an object lesson in focus, and leading an intentional life without overly-quantifying it. I can’t help but think it’s all about focus. Oh, and he doesn’t use social media, other than auto-posting from his blog to Twitter.
For me, at least, because I spend so much time surrounded by technology, the decisions I make about tech are decisions I make about life. A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled Change your launcher, change your life where I explained that even just changing how you access apps can make a material difference to your life.
So, to come full circle, the best place to be is actually where you are right now, not somewhere else. If you’re fully present in the situation (Tim Ferriss suggests taking three breaths), then ask yourself some hard questions about what success looks like for you, and perhaps whether what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.
Today’s title comes courtesy of Nobel prize winner André Gide. For those with children reading this, you’ve probably got a wry smile on your face. Yep, today’s article is all about parenting.
I’d like to start with a couple of Lifehacker interviews: one with Mike Adamick, author of Raising Empowered Daughters, and the other is with Austin Kleon, best known for Steal Like An Artist. Adamick makes a really important point for those of us with daughters:
Kids, and I think especially girls, are expected to be these perfect little achievers as they get older. Good grades, good at sports, good friends. There’s so much pressure and I wanted her to know, and I think I make a compelling example, that everyone messes up all the time and it’s okay.
Towards the end of the interview, Adamick goes on to say:
You get to define what your circles look like, and you can do tremendous good in your social, work, and family circles by playing a more active role in helping our girls not have to navigate a sexist society and by helping our boys to access their full emotional selves, not just a one-size-fits-all masculinity that can so easily slide into anger and entitlement. We’re all in this together, and we have a lot more power than we imagine we do.
It’s hard to realise, as a straight white man that, despite your best intentions, you’re actually part of the problem, part of the patriarchy. All you can really do is go out of your way to try and square things up through actions, not just words. And that includes in your role as son and husband as much as parent.
Austin Kleon, being an author and artist, frames things in terms of children and his work. This image he shares (which I’ve included as the header for this article) absolutely slayed me. Although I try to explain to my own children what I’m doing when I’m using my laptop, I’m pretty sure they just see the very different things I’m doing as just ‘being on the computer’.
He gives the kind of advice that I sometimes give to soon-to-be fathers:
During a birthing class, my father-in-law, who was a veteran parent at that point, was asked if he had any advice for the rookie parents. He stood up and said, “You’re going to want to throw them out the window. And that’s okay! The important thing is that you don’t.”
Parenting is the hardest, but probably most rewarding, job in the world. You always feel like you could be doing better, and that you could be providing more for your offspring. The truth is, though, that they actually need to see you as a human being, as someone who experiences the ups and downs of life. The vicissitudes of emotional experience are what makes us human — and, perhaps most importantly, our children learn from us how to deal with that rollercoaster.
Parents Shouldn’t Spy on Their Kids(Nautilus) — “Adolescence is a critical time in kids’ lives, when they need privacy and a sense of individual space to develop their own identities. It can be almost unbearable for parents to watch their children pull away. But as tempting as it may be for parents to infiltrate the dark corners of their children’s personal lives, there’s good evidence that snooping does more harm than good.”
At an estimated read time of 70 minutes, though, this article is the longest I’ve seen on Medium! It includes a bunch of advice from ‘Coach Tony’, the CEO of Coach.me, about how he uses his iPhone, and perhaps how you should too:
The iPhone could be an incredible tool, but most people use their phone as a life-shortening distraction device.
However, if you take the time to follow the steps in this article you will be more productive, more focused, and — I’m not joking at all — live longer.
Practically every iPhone setup decision has tradeoffs. I will give you optimal defaults and then trust you to make an adult decision about whether that default is right for you.
As an aside, I appreciate the way he sets up different ways to read the post, from skimming the headlines through to reading the whole thing in-depth.
However, the problem is that for a post that the author describes as a ‘very very complete’ guide to configuring your iPhone to ‘work for you, not against you’, it doesn’t go into enough depth about privacy and security for my liking. I’m kind of tired of people thinking that using a password manager and increasing your lockscreen password length is enough.
For example, Coach Tony talks about basically going all-in on Google Cloud. When people point out the privacy concerns of doing this, he basically uses the tinfoil hat defence in response:
Moving to the Google cloud does trade privacy for productivity. Google will use your data to advertise to you. However, this is a productivity article. If you wish it were a privacy article, then use Protonmail. Last, it’s not consistent that I have you turn off Apple’s ad tracking while then making yourself fully available to Google’s ad tracking. This is a tradeoff. You can turn off Apple’s tracking with zero downside, so do it. With Google, I think it’s worthwhile to use their services and then fight ads in other places. The Reader feature in Safari basically hides most Google ads that you’d see on your phone. On your computer, try an ad blocker.
It’s all very well saying that it’s a productivity article rather than a privacy article. But it’s 2018, you need to do both. Don’t recommend things to people that give them gains in one area but causes them new problems in others.
That being said, I appreciate Coach Tony’s focus on what I would call ‘notification literacy’. Perhaps read his article, ignore the bits where he suggests compromising your privacy, and follow his advice on configuring your device for a calmer existence.
This post by Daniel Gross, partner in a well-known startup accelerator is written for an audience of people in tech looking to build their next company. However, I think there’s more widely-applicable takeaways from it.
Gross mentions the following:
If you want to make something grand, don’t start with grand ambitions
Focus on the repeat offenders
Tell your friends what you’re doing
Make sure you enjoy thinking about it
Get in the habit of simplifying
Validate your market
Launch uncomfortably quickly
To explain and unpack, point two is getting at those things that you think about every so often, those things you’re curious about. Points six and seven are, of course, focused on putting products in a marketplace, but I think there’s a way to think about this from a different perspective.
Take someone who’s looking for the next thing to do. Perhaps they’re dissatisfied with their current line of work, and so want to pursue opportunities in a different sector. It’s useful for them to look at what’s ‘normal’ (for example, teachers and lawyers work long hours). Once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s worth just getting started. Go and do something to set yourself on the road.
If there’s anything you remember from the post, let it be these two words: perpetual motion. Just Do It. Make little steps every day. One day that’ll add up to the next Google, Apple or Facebook.
…or, indeed, a role that you much prefer to the one you’re performing now!
Last weekend, and on the day before The Guardian changed to a new, smaller format, Tim Lott, one of my favourite columnists, wrote his last article.
It contains “a few principles worth thinking about if you hope for a functional family life”. There’s some gems in the short article.
Be kind. If there is a simple secret to relationships, it is probably this. However, not too kind. You can do as much damage by being overindulgent as by being neglectful. Your children are your children, not your friends. Their positive judgment of you is good to have, but it is not a necessity.
Given our recurring conversations about whether or not to move to a bigger house, I found this reassuring:
Maintain intimacy. There are a number of practical methods for doing this. Don’t buy a big house. People are always trying to extend the size of their living spaces, but smaller spaces bring people together.
And then, as a parent of two strong-minded, wilful, but ultimately pleasant children, this also reassured me:
Finally, and perhaps most importantly – you’re not as powerful as you think. And you are going to fail as a parent – everyone does – but less than you imagine. Children are independent beings and make their own choices and interpretations. There’s culture, there’s nature, there’s nurture and there’s how each individual child chooses to interpret what’s coming at them. That last part, you have no control over. So don’t beat yourself up too much – or pat yourself on the back too much, either. You’re a fragile link in a long chain of causality.
Good advice in this article for people who (like me) are asked regularly whether someone can ‘pick your brain’.
If you decide you do want to give advice, do it on your terms. If they ask to meet for coffee and you don’t have time, send an email instead. If they ask a question that requires a novel-length answer, address one part of it, or send them some helpful links. Don’t fear being explicit that you didn’t have time to answer in full by saying something like: “Thank you for reaching out. Your question requires an answer that I unfortunately do not have time to fully address due to my work. However, you might find the following books/links/thinkers/YouTube videos helpful.”
Given I live in the back of beyond, most of my initial meetings are online, which makes life easier. I give people 30 minutes for free, and then that sometimes leads to them asking me to put together a proposal for them.
What I particularly like about this article is that it encourages readers to find ways to give back to their sector / profession:
Once you’ve created boundaries around when and where you’ll provide help on demand, you can begin looking for other, more expansive avenues for giving back. This can include devoting your time speaking on panels, at schools/universities, on podcasts, or at workshops for free if it’s a cause or audience that would benefit from your knowledge. Though beware of the requests that can often follow on from such engagements, and refer to the third step when answering them.
One thing that’s not mentioned in this article that I’ve found can work is if you offer a ‘critical friend’ service. This is basically billing them for a day’s work at your regular rate, from which they can draw down time for advice when they need it.