Under the auspices of Time Well Spent, Harris is leading a movement to change the fundamentals of software design. He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.”
While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.
The Binge Breaker
In 1992 Bill McKibben “spent many months of forty hour weeks” attempting to watch twenty-four hours of television as recorded on ninety-one cable stations in Virginia (at the time, the most in the world). He wrote up his findings in the book, “The Age of Missing Information.”
“We believe that we live in the ‘age of information.’” he writes. “That there has been an information ‘explosion,’ an information ‘revolution.’ While in a certain narrow sense this is the case, in many important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An Unenlightenment. An age of missing information.”
It’s important for us all to play and try new things. For both fun and to apply the things we learn to the main activities we perform each day.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Kurt Vonnegut Via.
For many of us, they are the last thing we look at before sleep each night, and the first thing we reach for upon waking. We use them to meet people, to communicate, to entertain ourselves, and to find our way around. We buy and sell things with them. We rely on them to document the places we go, the things we do and the company we keep; we count on them to fill the dead spaces, the still moments and silences that used to occupy so much of our lives.
For all its ubiquity, though, the smartphone is not a simple thing. We use it so often that we don’t see it clearly; it appeared in our lives so suddenly and totally that the scale and force of the changes it has occasioned have largely receded from conscious awareness. In order to truly take the measure of these changes, we need to take a step or two back, to the very last historical moment in which we negotiated the world without smartphone in hand.
It’s been transformative in many ways, but issues of overuse have gradually created the impression that the smartphone is creating more problems than it is solving. Just look at any dinner table at a restaurant in Taiwan as an example.
One of the more interesting stories coming from the experiences using the new Apple Watch LTE is the freedom of not having a phone with you, with all it’s attention sucking habits. People feel free. With the limited interaction afforded by the Apple Watch, Apple has recreated the basic flip phone of the past, but as jewelry on your wrist.
Research shows that technology has increased the “asshole problem,” as Sutton puts it, because people are much more likely to be mean if they don’t have to make eye contact.
This Stanford Professor Has a Theory on Why 2017 Is Filled With Jerks By Jessica Pressler
Add identity politics, tribalism and ideology and you have a reason to never engage in online discussion. Especially about politics.
It’s not often you see such a user hostile way of geo-blocking customers. Perhaps Reisenthel Accessories doesn’t understand the value a good customer experience helps them drive sales and increase their brand value.
Edit: Updated to include correct screenshot.
From the New York Times Weekend Briefing:
Western food companies are aggressively expanding in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that’s contributing to a new epidemic of chronic illnesses fed by soaring rates of obesity.
How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food
In an era of fake news and “Make America Great Again” propaganda this struck me as an unusually honest statement to come from an American news publication.
It almost feel like I’ve come full circle. I started studying Chinese at Tsing Hua University years ago, I started slowly with only a few classes a week and later left for an intensive program at Zhong Yang. So if the class gets approved I’ll be returning for 1 class a week as a sort of refresher course. It’s not a difficult class but it will give me an incentive to study and an opportunity for correction. It will be a nice change of pace too.
I’m back in Hsinchu for awhile to focus on a new project and do some necessary learning. It’s great to be wife family again.
Barry’s impact on the assembled Goddard employees was immediate; from the moment she arrived, she insisted on abandoning all electronic devices. “They were really flipped out about it,” says Barry. “The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from.
Lynda Barry at NASA: Drawing to Infinity and Beyond. Via RUK.
Thinking, particular creative thought requires disengagement. My best work, or really any work that requires thought at all, is generally done without a mobile phone or any screen. Later, after pen has hit paper, these ideas are ready to be solidified with some kind of device with a screen.
Community is critical for creative folks because creating the work is so inwardly focused. … Participating in a community becomes a way to let some sympathetic people into your process so you don’t go crazy, while still protecting the work in its unfinished and fragile state. I see community as people working parallel to one another, sharing information and resources freely with each other. This is how useful information spreads around and how creative people find new opportunities.
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that running has been life changing for me, I run as much for my mind as my body, but at 50 it has helped me get fit and be in good general health, perhaps more so than and other time in the past. I’m bounding up stairs while people half my age are groaning in agony.
Running is a great way to establish a daily routine, enforce discipline, overcome a bit of hardship, clear my mind and if the distance is just right, usually around 10k, a great chance to practice the kind of thinking I need to do good work. For 45m – an hour you can focus on 1 – 2 problems and almost always have a solution of some sort.
But as easy an activity that it appears, I seem to struggle more than many.
I’ve only been running for a few years and during that time have participated in numerous 10 – 21k races and 4 marathons. My times are always slow, but there has been steady improvement. Unfortunately, with each year brings a new injury to overcome. Like music or any discipline worth pursuing, accomplishment requires more than just putting in the time, it requires smart practice, and I guess I haven’t been smart enough.
My first injury was when I first started running (I had tried the coach to 5K earlier but didn’t stick with it past it’s completion). I prepared before each session by stretching and warming up, and my mileage wasn’t comparatively that much. One day after a particularly beautiful run through the PEI countryside I suffered a sharp pain in my back. All I could do was lay on the floor, sitting or standing was excruciating. Unfortunately I had a flight to Taiwan the next day – the most painful flight of my life. This began my education of how the muscles are connected through-out your body and the balancing act between strengthening your muscles and over-use. I was out for a few months, not because of my back but due to my glutes.
Another injury was in preparation for a marathon. My feet were painfully sore around my ankles which resulted in a pause in my training. During the race my legs were naturally sore but my feet were in such pain that when I crossed the finish line I needed a few minutes to compose myself, lest I cry in front of my son. I adjusted my training and tried new shoes, Hoka Clifton 3’s.
No major problems developed while I was training in China for the Xiamen marathon. I didn’t work on speed but mostly spent my time working on endurance and some hill repeats. I also made the occasional trip to the company health center to do some strength training. A company sponsored 10K showed some improvement but my left foot complained and I rested for a period. I ran the Xiamen marathon, slowly, but a new problem reemerged. While running in a marathon in Miaoli I suffered from severe dehydration brought on by excessive sweating. I hadn’t trained or run before in such high temperatures. I was close then to having severe problems but managed to crawl across the finish line. At Xiamen, water intake was a constant problem with dehydration and frequent toilet breaks an issue. My feet were problematic too.
I trained over the winter in PEI for a marathon in Thailand in June. I frequented the gym and other than the freezing cold suffered no real issues – but did start to notice some stiffness in my left leg below the knee. I had to cancel the run but I thought perhaps my problems were behind me.
This summer I began my training for a marathon in October anew. My mileage was to be the same but with a more gradual build and a longer run before the taper. I also incorporated more rigorous tempo runs for the first time. Gone also were the cushy Hoka and Saucony’s that I had worn out, and in were the more responsive Salomon’s. Immediately I had problems. The heat was killing me. I was suffering excessive sweating to the extreme. My sneakers were literally filling up with sweat and I looked more like I was out swimming than running. Over than being embarrassing it was affecting my performance. Some days I would lose 3 kilo’s in water weight and I wasn’t yet running more than 21k. I eventually tuned my hydration strategy and ended up carrying 3L of water on my back for long runs. But that stiffness on my left side persisted and with a visit to a physiotherapist discovered a number of issues including that my right side was far weaker than my left. Before I could start the new exercise regime in earnest, and after a long mid-week run I developed pain in my right foot. It has been severe enough that I haven’t run in 4 days, an eternity for me, and my initial arm chair diagnosis reveals that it’s likely a mild form of plantar fasciitis.
These kind of setbacks are common for many runners, though usually they are far more serious runners than I. Running started out as an easy quick way to get out the door and get some exercise. Get up, put on your shoes, stretch, warm-up and go. Now it requires a far greater commitment to total body fitness than I ever imagined. Where we live is a bit of a dead zone for organized fitness classes, trainers and such (Hsinchu is devoid of any quick transportation options). So this is going to require a bit more discipline and commitment on my part.
A life that doesn’t include hard-won accomplishment and triumph over obstacles may not be a satisfying one. There is something deeply fulfilling — even thrilling — in doing almost anything difficult extremely well. There is a joy and pride that come from pushing yourself to another level or across a new frontier. A life devoted only to the present — to feeling good in the now — is unlikely to deliver real fulfillment. The present moment by itself it too small, too hollow. We all need a future. Something beyond and greater than our own present gratification, at which to aim or feel we’ve contributed.
The Triple Package