If we’re looking for silver linings around the pandemic, then one startlingly big one is the time people have had to reflect on their lives. When we’re busy, we’re forced to be pragmatic, and unfortunately that pragmatism can conflict with our core values.
This pragmatism has, certainly in my life, led to there being (small) disconnects between what I feel to be my values on the one hand, and my actions on the other. One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to take the time to write down what I believe, in the style of Buster Benson’s Codex Vitae.
He divides his beliefs into the following areas:
Internal mental space
Nature of reality
Rules to live by
…which may seem a little bit random, and reminds me somewhat of Jorge Luis Borges’ Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge (“those that from afar look like flies”). Having said that, starting with one’s inner ontology is probably the best place to start.
Why do all this? Well, if you know what you believe then it’s easier to draw lines, ‘red’ or otherwise, and know what you will and will not stand for. It’s a guide to life, which of course can change over time, but at least serves as a guide.
The reason I’ve never managed to get around to writing down my beliefs in a way similar to Buster is, I would say, twofold. First, I’m unwilling to write down my religious beliefs, such as they are. Second, all of this looks like a rather large undertaking.
Instead, I’m going to use the rather helpful time horizon that the pandemic provides to think about what I’d like the ‘new normal’ to look like, about what I’m going to accept and what I am not. These take the form of aphorisms or reminders to myself.
Life is too short to deal with adults who display little in the way of emotional intelligence.
Organisations are groups of people that can have a positive or negative effect on the world. Do not work with or for the latter.
Technology can free people or it can enslave them, so work to give as many people as much freedom as possible.
Removing ego from the equation gets things done.
Education is not the same as learning, nor are qualifications the same as real-world knowledge, skills and experience.
Happiness is not something that you can find, but rather it is something that you discover once you stop looking for it.
How you say or do something is as important as what you say or what you do.
We all will die and don’t know when, so act today in a way whereby people will remember you well.
You cannot control what other people say, do, or think.
Money can only buy choices, not happiness, time, or anything else that constitutes human flourishing.
Yours may be different, and these are just want came tumbling out this time around, but these are the ten that I’ve printed out and stuck to the back of my home office door.
When sitting down to put together this week’s round-up, which is coming to you slightly later than usual because of <gestures indeterminately> all this, I decided that I’d only focus on things that are positive; things that might either raise a smile or make you think “oh, interesting!”
The real advantage of going with a launcher like this instead of a more traditional one is simple: distraction reduction and productivity increases. Everything done while using this kind of setup is deliberate. There is no scrolling through pages upon pages of apps. There is no scrolling through Google Discover with story after story that you will probably never read. Instead between 3–7 app shortcuts are present, quick links to clock and calendar, and not much else. This setup requires you as the user to do an inventory of what apps you use the most. It really requires the user to rethink how they use their phone and what apps are the priority.
Cow face pose is the yoga name for that stretch where one hand reaches down your back, and the other hand reaches up. (There’s a corresponding thing you do with your legs, but forget it for now—we’re focusing on shoulders today.) If you can’t reach your hands together, it feels like a challenging or maybe impossible pose.
I was pretty shocked that I couldn’t barely do this with my right hand at the top and my left at the bottom. I was very shocked that I got nowhere near the other way around. It just goes to show that those people who work at home really need to work on back muscles and flexibility.
As someone who a) thinks Dr. Dre was an amazing producer, and b) read Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks to his children roughly 1 million times (enough to be able to, eventually, get through the entire book at a comically high rate of speed w/o any tongue twisting slip-ups), I thought Wes Tank’s video of himself rapping Fox in Socks over Dre’s beats was really fun and surprisingly well done.
One of the highlights of my kids being a bit younger than they are now was to read Dr. Suess to them. Fox in Socks was my absolute tongue-twisting favourite! So this blew me away, and then when I went through to YouTube, the algorithm recommended Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter star) rapping Blackalicious’ Alphabet Aerobics. Whoah.
Google is launching the free version of its Stadia game streaming service today. Anyone with a Gmail address can sign up, and Google is even providing a free two-month trial of Stadia Pro as part of the launch. It comes just two months after Google promised a free tier was imminent, and it will mean anyone can get access to nine titles, including GRID, Destiny 2: The Collection, and Thumper, free of charge.
Tom Warren (The Verge)
This is exactly the news I’ve been waiting for! Excellent.
Practicing simple creative acts on a regular basis can give you a psychological boost, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology. A 2010 review of more than 100 studies of art’s impact on health revealed that pursuits like music, writing, dance, painting, pottery, drawing, and photography improved medical outcomes, mental health, social networks, and positive identity. It was published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Gwen Moran (Fast Company)
I love all of the artists on Twitter and Instagram giving people daily challenges. My family have been following along with some of them!
[R]esearchers at Norway’s Vestre Viken Hospital Trust and the University of Bergen conducted a small study to quantify the auditory experience of dreamers. Why? Because they wanted to “assess the relevance of dreaming as a model for psychosis.” Throughout history, they write, psychologists have considered dreamstates to be a model for psychosis, yet people experiencing psychosis usually suffer from auditory hallucinations far more than visual ones. Basically, what the researchers determined is that the reason so little is known about auditory sensations while dreaming is because, well, nobody asks what people’s dreams sound like.
David Pescovitz (Boing boing)
This makes sense, if you think about it. The advice for doing online video is always that you get the audio right first. It would seem that it’s the same for dreaming: that we pay attention more to what we ‘hear’ than what we ‘see’.
Humans can’t stand being bored. Studies show we’ll do just about anything to avoid it, from compulsive smartphone scrolling right up to giving ourselves electric shocks. And as emotions go, boredom is incredibly good at parting us from our money – we’ll even try to buy our way out of the feeling with distractions like impulse shopping.
Erin Craig (BBC Travel)
The story in this article about a prisoner of war who dreamed up a daring escape is incredible, but does make the point that dreaming big when you’re locked down is a grat idea.
“What did you learn today,” is a fine question to ask. Particularly right this minute, when we have more time and less peace of mind than is usually the norm.
It’s way easier to get someone to watch–a YouTube comic, a Netflix show, a movie–than it is to encourage them to do something. But it’s the doing that allows us to become our best selves, and it’s the doing that creates our future.
It turns out that learning isn’t in nearly as much demand as it could be. Our culture and our systems don’t push us to learn. They push us to conform and to consume instead.
The good news is that each of us, without permission from anyone else, can change that.
A timely, inspirational post from the always readable (and listen-worthy) Seth Godin.
This column has been in the works for some time, but my hope is that launching it during the pandemic will help you leverage a contemplative mindset while you have the time to think about what matters most to you. I hope this column will enrich your life, and equip you to enrich the lives of the people you love and lead.
Arthur C. Brooks (The atlantic)
A really handy way of looking at things, and I’m hoping that further articles in the series are just as good.
Images by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck (they’re all over Giphy so I just went to the original source and used the hi-res versions)
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.
How Creative Commons drives collaboration(Vox) “Although traditional copyright protects creators from others redistributing or repurposing their works entirely, it also restricts access, for both viewers and makers.”
Why Being Bored Is Good(The Walrus) — “Boredom, especially the species of it that I am going to label “neoliberal,” depends for its force on the workings of an attention economy in which we are mostly willing participants.”
5: People having fun on the internet(Near Future Field Notes) — “The internet is still a really great place to explore. But you have to get back into Internet Nature instead of spending all your time in Internet Times Square wondering how everything got so loud and dehumanising.”
The Power of One Push-Up(The Atlantic) — “Essentially, these quick metrics serve as surrogates that correlate with all kinds of factors that determine a person’s overall health—which can otherwise be totally impractical, invasive, and expensive to measure directly. If we had to choose a single, simple, universal number to define health, any of these functional metrics might be a better contender than BMI.”
How Wechat censors images in private chats(BoingBoing) — “Wechat maintains a massive index of the MD5 hashes of every image that Chinese censors have prohibited. When a user sends another user an image that matches one of these hashes, it’s recognized and blocked at the server before it is transmitted to the recipient, with neither the recipient or the sender being informed that the censorship has taken place.”
It’s Never Too Late to Be Successful and Happy(Invincible Career) — “The “race” we are running is a one-person event. The most important comparison is to yourself. Are you doing better than you were last year? Are you a better person than you were yesterday? Are you learning and growing? Are you slowly figuring out what you really want, what makes you happy, and what fulfillment means for you?”
‘Blitzscaling’ Is Choking Innovation—and Wasting Money(WIRED) — “If we learned anything from the dotcom bubble at the turn of the century, it’s that in an environment of abundant capital, money does not necessarily bestow competitive advantage. In fact, spending too much, to soon on unproven business models only heightens the risk that a company’s race for global domination can become a race to oblivion.”
This chart, via Psychology Today, is pretty unequivocal. It shows the activities correlated with happiness (green) and unhappiness (red) in American teenagers:
I discussed this with our eleven year-old son, who pretty much just nodded his head. I’m not sure he knew what to say, given that most of the things he enjoys doing in his free time are red on that chart!
Take a look at the bottom of the chart: Listening to music shows the strongest correlation with unhappiness. That may seem strange at first, but consider how most teens listen to music these days: On their phones, with earbuds firmly in place. Although listening to music is not screen time per se, it is a phone activity for the vast majority of teens. Teens who spend hours listening to music are often shutting out the world, effectively isolating themselves in a cocoon of sound.
This stuff isn’t rocket science, I guess:
There’s another way to look at this chart – with the exception of sleep, activities that usually involve being with other people are the most strongly correlated with happiness, and those that involve being alone are the most strongly correlated with unhappiness. That might be why listening to music, which most teens do alone, is linked to unhappiness, while going to music concerts, which is done with other people, is linked to happiness. It’s not the music that’s linked to unhappiness; it’s the way it’s enjoyed. There are a few gray areas here. Talking on a cell phone and using video chat are linked to less happiness – perhaps because talking on the phone, although social connection, is not as satisfying as actually being with others, or because they are a phone activities even though they are not, strictly speaking, screen time. Working, usually done with others, is a wash, perhaps because most of the jobs teens have are not particularly fulfilling.
I might pin this up in the house somewhere for future reference…