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Micro-amusements

Hello friends! Greetings from a once-again snowy Boulder CO.   

Last week vs this week photo above 🙂 

No-phone update

Last week I mentioned a reader who reached out for an accountability partner.

Last night was her eighth straight no-phone-after 11pm night — she's doing it! 

If you're struggling with phone use and want to talk to someone about it, please reach out. Just reply to this email.

Format notes

After three months of sending out this newsletter I feel like I'm about to settle into a format that feels good. Given that this is Mindful Mondays, it's almost too much alliteration, but it is what it is.

Each week, three parts: a piece about Mindfulness, a Movie reference, and a...Micro-amusement.

Speaking of micro-amusements...

Mindfulness

The increasingly-elusive present moment

Have you ever had the experience of someone jamming their phone in your face to share something with you?

My friend was on his phone checking something logistical for a project we’re working on. Then he saw a meme he thought I needed to see.

I’m not sure it was worth sharing (so it’s not worth sharing here). 

The mid-grade cleverness (i.e. the meme was lame) isn’t why the experience is sticking with me. It’s that we were doing something else entirely when it came into his field.

The practice of mindfulness is to pay attention to each moment in our lives. When we’re meditating it’s glaringly obvious when our attention has wandered — once we realize it. In my own meditation practice I can be on a train of thought for several minutes before I become aware of wandeirng, then gently bring my attention back to my mantra.

(I’m okay with still having mind-drift because an early teacher was adamant that although we will judge our own practices, the only important thing is that we actually practiced.)

We practice mindfulness because it’s difficult to exist in the present moment; if it were easy, we wouldn’t need to practice.

But for ten years the present moment has been even more elusive.

Facebook was created in 2004; the iPhone in 2008.

Those years were still “the golden age of blogging”, the first time some self-publishing content creators began to recieve attention at the levels of traditional media. But even if you weren’t massively popular you could still, with minimum barrier to entry, publish online. The challenge was having anyone other than your mom read it regularly. (Hi mom :))

In other words: even if you took the time to write one, who was paying attention to your blog?

Cal Newport, a scholar whose work is increasingly dedicated to our disserving relationship with technology, points out that “By 2010...cultural [blog-related] energy had been redirected toward a new form of online expression that had become recently ascendent: social media.”

With the advent of social media (and particularly the shift to having access to it everywhere), our attention was redistributed:

Users could post whatever they wanted. By an unspoken social contract, they would pay some ​​​​​attention to the posts of their close neighbors in the network soc​ial graph (regardless of the quality of this content), and these neighbors would do the same. The result: everyone could almost immediately begin receiving attention from an audience — a deeply appealing promise that through most of modern history had been available only to relatively small number of professions (writers, preachers, media personalities, teachers).

This attention redistribution was the hidden revolution instigated by social media. It solved a remarkably big problem facing the social internet: how to move beyond efficiently spreading bytes over networks to also efficiently spreading attention. And by doing so, it completely transformed the cultural landscape.

What’s the cost?

The need to distract ourselves from ourselves may have always been there, but since 2010 we’ve had the chance to fulfill it all day every day. Our spread of attention across our social networks meant we could devote less of it more often. If you wanted to get a point across, you needed to do it quickly.

“Micro-attention” led to content that could be consumed in a glance; memes and emoji are the results.

Much of what’s being put out there is genius. Let’s pretend that everything we come across is somehow worthwhile.

The question I’ve been wrestling with lately is: Is it worth it?

Not too long ago I was with a group of friends lounging around a living room. People were dipping in and out of the conversation, alternating between the people in the room and the worlds on their phones, sometimes sharing interesting newfound information.

This is completely (incomprehensibly?) acceptable. There was nothing notable about what we were doing. And there was no noticeable net negative. Even with our phones, the conversation was flowing in a positive way.

But was it worth it? 

What would it be like if it were “just” a bunch of people in a room together with no external connections. No micro-amusements coming in on a regular basis.

Would the conversation be better? Would we have gone deeper into an important topic? Even if we hadn’t, would the lack of constant attention switching mean we would have been closer to paying attention to the present moment?

Would our collective Presence have been beneficial for the world?

I have a bias, but we’ll never know for sure. That’s not the world we live in, and we’ll probably never be there again.

If that seems remotely tragic to you, a mindfulness meditation practice might be in order.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Movie Moment

As I was writing the above I was reminded of John Sayles’ 1979 directorial debut, The Return of the Secaucus 7. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen it – to spell out the context, it was the pre-cell phone era – and I remember only one scene: three people finishing up a night of partying, hanging out on couches...talking.

If you're into throught-provoking dramas you might want to check out John Sayles' films. His best-known are Matewan and Eight Men Out. My favorites are Passion Fish (a friendship circle of women on the Louisiana bayou) and City of Hope (life and corruption in a small city similar to Hoboken NJ, where I used to live a few blocks from...John Sayles). 

Micro-amusement

A straight-up copy-and-paste from the blog Marginal Revolution. Not sure where these people are getting fancy toast for only $4, but other than that gaffe, this is a thought-provoking contrast of today with "decades" ago (say, February).

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World 2.0 — “There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen”

by  Tyler Cowen April 3, 2020 at 4:54 pm in HistoryWeb/Tech


This is from a very able and perceptive correspondent:

World 1.0World 2.0
110 successive months of job growth10 million jobless claims in 2 weeks
10 year bull market across sectorsWinners and losers with extreme outcome inequality
Full employment30% unemployment
Base rate thinkingFirst principles thinking
PhysicalDigital
Office by defaultRemote by default
Office for workOffice for connection, community, ecosystem, makerspaces
Suit, tie, wristwatch, business cardGood lighting, microphone, webcam, home office background
Commute + traffic jamsHome + family
Last mileOnly mile
RestaurantsGroceries + delivery
$4 toastSourdough starter
WalkscoreSpeedtest
CitiesInternet
$100k for collegeNot paying $100k for a webinar
CityCountryside
YIMBYNIMBY
Internal issuesExogenous shock
Lots of little problemsOne big problem
Stupid bullshitActual issues
Too much technologyToo little technology
ComplacencyAction
YearsDays
PolicyCapacity
IdeologyCompetence
Assume some government competenceAssume zero government competence
InstitutionsGhost ships
WHOWho?
Trusted institutionsTrusted people
GlobalizationDecoupling
Just-in-timeStockpile
Tail risk is kookyTail risk is mainstream
NATOAsia
Boomers most powerfulBoomers most vulnerable
Productivity growth collapseEconomic collapse
Social services DemocratUBI Communist
PropagandaPropaganda
Deficit hawksMMT
Corporate debtGovernment debt
TechlashTech a pillar of civilization and lifeline to billions
Break up AmazonDon’t break up Amazon!!!
Avoiding social issuesAvoiding layoffs
SportsEsports
Phone is a cigarettePhone is oxygen
Resource depletion$20 oil, $0.75 watt solar, <$100/kwh batteries
StasisChange
Low volatilityHigh volatility
DesignLogistics
ExtrovertIntrovert
OpenClosed
20th century21st century

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Until next Monday, please stay warm (or cool) and safe,

L.R.

L.R.