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What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away | The New Yorker
"During the first few days of my Internet decluttering, I found myself compulsively checking my unchanged in-box and already-read text messages, and scanning the same headlines over and over—attempting, as if bewitched, to see new information there. I took my dog out for longer walks, initially trying to use them for some productive purpose: spying on neighbors, planning my week. Soon I acquiesced to a dull, pleasant blankness. One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. I didn’t want to learn how to fix or build anything, or start a book club. I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless, three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky.

“Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” Jenny Odell writes, in her new book, “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” (Melville House). Odell, a multidisciplinary artist who teaches at Stanford, is perhaps best known for a pamphlet called “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch,” which she put together while in residence at the Museum of Capitalism, in Oakland. Odell investigated the origins of a blandly stylish watch that was being offered for free (plus shipping) on Instagram, and found a mirrored fun house of digital storefronts that looked as though they had been generated by algorithm. The retailers advertised themselves as brands that had physical origins in glitzy Miami Beach or hip San Francisco but were, in fact, placeless nodes in a vast web of scammy global wholesalers, behind which a human presence could hardly be discerned.

Like Newport, Odell thinks that we should spend less time on the Internet. Unlike him, she wants readers to question the very idea of productivity. Life is “more than an instrument and therefore something that cannot be optimized,” she writes. To find the physical world sufficiently absorbing, to conceive of the self as something that “exceeds algorithmic description”—these are not only “ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.” Odell details, with earnest wonder, moments in her life when she was reoriented toward these values. After the 2016 election, she began feeding peanuts to two crows on her balcony, and found comfort in the fact that “these essentially wild animals recognized me, that I had some place in their universe.” She also developed a fascination, via Google Maps, with the creek behind her old kindergarten, and she went to see it with a friend. She followed the creek bed, which, she learned, runs beneath Cupertino’s shopping centers and Apple’s headquarters. The creek became a reminder that under the “streamlined world of products, results, experiences, reviews” there is a “giant rock whose other lifeforms operate according to an ancient, oozing, almost chthonic logic.”

Odell elegantly aligns the crisis in our natural world and the crisis in our minds: what has happened to the natural world is happening to us, she contends, and it’s happening on the same soon-to-be-irreparable scale. She sees “little difference between habitat restoration in the traditional sense and restoring habitats for human thought”; both are endangered by “the logic of capitalist productivity.” She believes that, by constantly disclosing our needs and desires to tech companies that sift through our selfhood in search of profit opportunities, we are neglecting, even losing, our mysterious, murky depths—the parts of us that don’t serve an ulterior purpose but exist merely to exist. The “best, most alive parts” of ourselves are being “paved over by a ruthless logic of use.”

“Digital Minimalism” and “How to Do Nothing” could both be categorized as highbrow how-to—an artist and a computer scientist, both of them in their thirties, wrestling with the same timely prompt. (At one point, Odell writes, she thought of her book as activism disguised as self-help.) Rather than a philosophy of technology use, Odell offers a philosophy of modern life, which she calls “manifest dismantling,” and which she intends as the opposite of Manifest Destiny. It involves rejecting the sort of progress that centers on isolated striving, and emphasizing, instead, caregiving, maintenance, and the interdependence of things. Odell grew up in the Bay Area, and her work is full of unabashed hippie moments that might provoke cynicism. But, for me—and, I suspect, for others who have come of age alongside the Internet and have coped with the pace and the precariousness of contemporary living with a mixture of ambient fatalism and flares of impetuous tenderness—she struck a hopeful nerve of possibility that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Odell writes about the first electronic bulletin-board system, which was set up, in Berkeley, in 1972, as a “communal memory bank.” She contrasts it with Nextdoor, a notoriously paranoid neighborhood-based social platform that was recently valued at $1.5 billion, inferring that the profit motive had perverted what can be a healthy civic impulse. Newport, who does not have any social-media accounts of his own, generally treats social media’s current profit model as an unfortunate inevitability. Odell believes that there is another way. She cites, for example, the indie platform Mastodon, which is crowdfunded and decentralized. (It is made up of independently operated nodes, called “instances,” on which users can post short messages, or “toots.”) To make money from something—a forest, a sense of self—is often to destroy it. Odell brings up a famous redwood in Oakland called Old Survivor, which is estimated to be almost five hundred years old. Unlike all the other trees of its kind in the area, it was never cut down, because it was runty and twisted and situated on a rocky slope; it appeared unprofitable to loggers. The tree, she writes, is an image of “resistance-in-place,” of something that has escaped capitalist appropriation. As Odell sees it, the only way forward is to be like Old Survivor. We have to be able to do nothing—to merely bear witness, to stay in place, to create shelter for one another—to endure."



"My Newport-inspired Internet cleanse happened to coincide with a handful of other events that made me feel raw and unmanageable. It was the end of winter, with its sudden thaws and strange fluctuations—the type of weather where a day of sunshine feels like a stranger being kind to you when you cry. I had just finished writing a book that had involved going through a lot of my past. The hours per day that I had spent converting my experience into something of professional and financial value were now empty, and I was cognizant of how little time I had spent caring for the people and things around me. I began thinking about my selfhood as a meadow of wildflowers that had been paved over by the Internet. I started frantically buying houseplants.

I also found myself feeling more grateful for my phone than ever. I had become more conscious of why I use technology, and how it meets my needs, as Newport recommended. It’s not nothing that I can text my friends whenever I think about them, or get on Viber and talk to my grandmother in the Philippines, or sit on the B54 bus and distract myself from the standstill traffic by looking up the Fermi paradox and listening to any A Tribe Called Quest song that I want to hear. All these capacities still feel like the stuff of science fiction, and none of them involve Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. It occurred to me that two of the most straightforwardly beloved digital technologies—podcasts and group texts—push against the attention economy’s worst characteristics. Podcasts often demand sustained listening, across hours and weeks, to a few human voices. Group texts are effectively the last noncommercialized social spaces on many millennials’ phones.

On the first day of April, I took stock of my digital experiment. I had not become a different, better person. I had not acquired any high-value leisure activities. But I had felt a sort of persistent ache and wonder that pulled me back to a year that I spent in the Peace Corps, wandering in the dust at the foot of sky-high birch trees, terrified and thrilled at the sensation of being unknowable, mysterious to myself, unseen. I watered my plants, and I loosened my StayFocusd settings, back to forty-five daily minutes. I considered my Freedom parameters, which I had already learned to break, and let them be."
jiatolentino  2019  internet  attention  jennyodell  capitalism  work  busyness  resistance  socialmedia  instagram  twitter  facebook  infooverload  performance  web  online  nature  nextdoor  advertising  thoreau  philosophy  care  caring  maintenance  silence  happiness  anxiety  leisurearts  artleisure  commodification  technology  selfhood  identity  sms  texting  viber  podcasts  grouptexts  digitalminimalism  refusal  calnewport  mobile  phones  smartphones  screentime  ralphwaldoemerson  separatism  interdependence 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Want to Create Things That Matter? Be Lazy. - 99U
"The late Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, was one the most brilliant minds of twentieth century science. To his colleagues at Cornell, however, he seemed lazy. As Feynman admitted in a 1981 interview: “I’m actively irresponsible; I tell everybody I don’t do anything; if anyone asks me to be on a committee…’no’ I tell them.”

The acclaimed post-modern science fiction author Neal Stephenson also comes across as lazy. In an essay titled “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” Stephenson explains that he’s not that interested in spending time interacting with readers. Stephenson has no public e-mail address and asks that you don’t invite him to attend conferences or attempt to engage him in social media conversation. If you insist on trying to book him for an appearance, he warns “I almost never accept these and when I do, I charge a lot of money, I demand expensive travel arrangements, and I perform no prep work—I just show up and wing it.”

I’ve spent the past decade researching and writing about elite performers in creative fields. In this time, I’ve noticed that examples like Feynman and Stephenson are common. That is, many people who excel in producing things that matter have work habits that seem downright lazy by the standards in their field.

At first, this may just seem to be just another quirk of the high-performing set, but I argue that it’s worth diving deeper into this paradox as the underlying explanation provides useful insight for anyone looking to spend less time spinning their wheels and more time producing results the world cares about.

***

The key to explaining this lazy producer paradox is to introduce a more refined understanding of “work.” For many ambitious people, work is defined to be any activity that can potentially benefit you professionally. For most fields, of course, there are an endless number of things that satisfy this definition—from professors joining endless committees to writers maintaining exhausting social media presences. It’s due in large part to this generic notion of work that we spawned the culture of busyness that afflicts us today, where the measure of your success becomes synonymous with the measure of your exhaustion. This understanding of “work,” however, is flawed. It’s more useful to divide this activity into two distinct types of effort, deep and shallow:

1. Deep Work: Cognitively demanding tasks that require you to focus without distraction and apply hard to replicate skills.

2. Shallow Work: Logistical style tasks that do not require intense focus or the application of hard to replicate skills.

For example: solving a hard theorem is deep work, while chiming in on the latest departmental e-mail chain is shallow; writing a chapter of your novel is deep work, while tweeting about a novel you like is shallow. The shallow activities are not intrinsically bad, but they’re not skilled labor, and therefore offer (at best) a small positive contribution to your efforts to produce value.

If we rethink the laziness shown in our above examples through this lens, we realize what Feynman and Stephenson are really doing is eliminating large amounts of shallow work from their schedule to maintain a priority on deep work. By doing so, they’re taking advantage of the following crucial but overlooked reality: deep work is what produces things that matter in the world.

Richard Feynman, for example, could be lazy about many of the standard obligations of academics because he used that time to instead focus deeply on the ground-breaking ideas that made him famous. As he clarified in the interview mentioned above, “to do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time…it needs lots of concentration.”

Neal Stephenson justifies his snubbing of his readers for similar reasons. As he explained in his Bad Correspondent essay:

“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.”

Both Feynman and Stephenson are making a case for prioritizing depth over shallowness. They recognize that deep work is what produces things that “will be around for a long time.” Whereas shallow work is an activity that can impede more important deep efforts and therefore cause more net harm than good. It might slightly help your writing career in the moment to be retweeted, but the long term impact of a distracting Twitter habit could be the difference between a struggling novelist and an award-winning star like Stephenson.

***

What’s the lesson to take away here? If you’re driven to produce things that matter, then you need to put deep work at the center of your professional life. To do so will probably require that you become lazier in the Feynman and Stephenson sense of the term: that is, you must treat with sluggish wariness efforts that keep you away from depth, regardless of how many small benefits they promise. Few people, of course, can completely eliminate shallow work from their professional lives, nor would they want to if they could. But shifting your general mindset toward one that embraces depth and shuns shallowness can make a big difference in the amount of value you produce.

To put it another way: become hard to reach, avoid new tech tools, be slow to answer e-mails, become blissfully ignorant of memes, turn down coffee requests, refuse to “hop on” calls, and spend whole days outside working in a single idea—these are exactly the type of lazy behaviors that can change the world."
creativity  productivity  focus  depth  2016  calnewport  via:austinkleon  richardfeynman  nealstephenson  howwework  work 
september 2016 by robertogreco
Why telling kids to dream big is a big con – Leslie Garrett – Aeon
"Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of How to Raise an Adult (2015) and a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, routinely counselled students whose dreams were less lofty than what their parents expected – students who wanted to be nurses, not doctors, or high‑school teachers, not university professors. ‘I sat with those students and listened to them going through the motions of doing the work in the fields they felt were legitimate or expected or required, and I was interested in what this human in front of me actually wanted to do with their life, and how can I support them in listening to that voice in their own head?’

The problem, she says, isn’t telling kids you can be anything, it’s our narrow idea of what ‘anything’ is. ‘We’re equating it with prestige, power, title, money, certain sectors. If we could shift, over the next decade, toward high achievement being the equivalent of knowing your skills and your values and your passion, and living accordingly, imagine what a different world we’d be living in.’

Cleantis says the issues must be reframed: our dreams are more often about what we hope to feel than what we want to do. ‘There’s a kind of unspoken narrative: if I become this, if I do this, if I achieve this, then I will be loved, I will have self-acceptance,’ she says. By deconstructing what we hope to achieve emotionally, ‘it’s possible to find other ways of achieving that.’

Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You (2012) and a computer science researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, adds that we have got the passion/purpose equation backwards. ‘It misrepresents how people actually end up passionate about their work,’ he says. ‘It assumes that people must have a pre-existing passion, and the only challenge is identifying it and raising the courage to pursue it. But this is nonsense.’ Passion doesn’t lead to purpose but rather, the other way around. People who get really good at something that’s useful and that the world values become passionate about what they’re doing. Finding a great career is a matter of picking something that feels useful and interesting. Not only will you find great meaning in the honing of the craft itself, but having a hard-won skill puts you in a position to dictate how your professional life unfolds.

Newport’s recommendation begs examination of another aspect of the ‘you-can-be-anything’ framework: should we expect to pursue a passion within our career or is it wiser to try to satisfy it outside of one? Sure, it’s convenient (and nice!) to be paid for something we’d love to do anyway. But is it realistic?

Marty Nemko, a career counsellor in the San Francisco Bay Area and the public radio host of Work with Marty Nemko, offers up a resounding ‘no’. He’s all for people pursuing their dreams, as a hobby. ‘Do what you love,’ he says, ‘but don’t expect to get paid for it.’ Of course, he says, there will be those who can – and do – make it in fields that are highly competitive. Maybe your passion for computer programming, or for splicing atoms, brushes up against career fields that offer plenty of opportunity. But, if like many, making a career out of your passion is a long-shot, instead of giving it up, incorporate it into your free time.

Lythcott-Haims encouraged her students to look at three things: what am I good at; what am I passionate about; and what are my values? Then, she told them to ask: ‘How can I spend a meaningful part of my week – whether career or hobby – living at the intersection of those things?’

Maybe our parents and grandparents had it right when they pursued their passions and hobbies – which offered up meaning and mastery – in their free time. Like Krznaric’s father, who made music outside his job. Or like Nemko himself who gave up working as a professional pianist for psychology.

Krznaric suggests a slightly different model – that of the ‘wide achiever’ who does several jobs at the same time, such as someone who works as an accountant for three days a week and a photographer for two. It’s a smart approach in an unstable economy where, he says, ‘the average job lasts four years’. It also recognises that ‘who we are changes throughout our lives. We’re really bad judges of our future selves.’

‘You can be anything you want to be’ is pithy advice that isn’t helping most of the young launch careers or find satisfaction in life. If we really think about it, few of us mean it literally. Twenge has told her daughter that ‘when people say you can be anything, it’s not true. For example, you can’t be a dinosaur.’ Perhaps what we’re really trying to say to our children is that we trust in their ability to build a meaningful life.

‘[Adults] should say: be what you’re capable of,’ says Gwenyth, ‘not you could be anything. I’m not very good in dance. That’s like telling me I could be a professional dancer. No. No, I couldn’t be.’"
children  parenting  teaching  howweteach  julielythcott-haims  calnewport  lesliegarrett  careers  hobbies  passion  romankrznaric 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Dreaming about the future is bad for your career — Gigaom Research
"Dan goes on to make this a cautionary tale for business leaders. But I believe the issue isn’t just managers and leaders: it’s everybody. People are afraid of creativity in general, and especially in times of stress, where traditional approaches to problem are strongly favored, even when they don’t work.

And creative people are uniformly considered unsuitable leaders unless they couple that with high degrees of charisma, as I detailed in The cultural bias against creatives as leaders. In fact, this bias has been suggested as the root cause of why so many leaders fail, and why groups seem to resist change. We continue to select for leaders that are uncreative, who strongly favor tradition over innovation, and who inspire a culture that follows that lead.

The answer? Alas, I am not sure that there is one. Being a dreamer may be something like ‘following your passion’. As Cal Newport has observed, following your passion may be terrible job advice."



"So, before you can get a job where you get to dream about the future, you need to sharpen your skills and share a lot of dreams that matter to others. Share your dreams, hone them, but don’t be surprised if you are sidelined because of them. You may need to intentionally take on the techniques of charisma to be considered a leader if you lead with ideas instead of traditionalism.

Sagan is right, that we rely on those who can imagine new worlds, devices, tools, or practices, but many of those dreamers pay a high price, and many of those dreams never see the light of day."

[Update: see also:
http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2014/04/change-agents-and-the-hiring-dilemma.html

"Here’s a working hypothesis:
The organizations that most need change agents probably are the least likely to hire them because change agents typically make people with non-change orientations scared or nervous. If the people within were already oriented toward change and innovation, their organizations wouldn’t be the ones in the most need of change agents.

So a change- and innovation-oriented job candidate has a steep uphill battle to get considered and hired. The challenge is how to get people on hiring committees in non-change-oriented institutions to recognize the value of hiring for innovation, not replication…

Got any thoughts on this?"]
leadership  creativity  charisma  2014  bias  passion  cv  stoweboyd  carlsagan  danpontefract  calnewport  values  administration  management  careers  scottmccleod  schools  changeagents  change  hiring 
march 2014 by robertogreco

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