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003: Craig Mod - I Want My Attention Back! • Hurry Slowly
"Did you know that the mere presence of a smartphone near you is slowly draining away your cognitive energy and attention? (Even if it’s tucked away in a desk drawer or a bag.) Like it or not, the persistent use of technology is changing the quality of our attention. And not in a good way.

In this episode, I talk with writer, designer and technologist Craig Mod — who’s done numerous experiments in reclaiming his attention — about how we can break out of this toxic cycle of smartphone and social media addiction and regain control of our powers of concentration.

Key takeaways from the interview:

• How Facebook and other social media apps are lulling us into “attention slavery”

• Why interrupting your workflow to post on social media — and sharing pithy thoughts or ideas — shuts down your creative process

• How short digital detox retreats and/or meditation sessions can “defrag your mind” so that you can deploy your attention more consciously and more powerfully

• Why mapping your ideas in large offline spaces — e.g. on a whiteboard or blackboard — gives you “permission” to get messy and evolve your thinking in a way that’s impossible on a screen

• How changing the quality of your attention can change your relationship to everything — art, conversations, creativity, and business"

"Favorite Quotes

“If there was a meter of 1 to 10 of how present you are or how much you can manipulate your own attention — how confident you are that you could, say, read a book for three hours without an interruption, without feeling pulled to something else. I would say the baseline pre-smartphone was a 4 or 3. Now, it’s a 1.”

“I think that a life in which you are never present, in which you have no control over your attention, in which you’re constantly being pulled in different directions, is kind of sad — because there is this incredible gift of consciousness. And when that consciousness is deployed smartly, it’s amazing the things that can be built out of it.”


Here’s a shortlist of things Craig and I talked about in the course of the conversation, including where you can go on a meditation retreat. You should be aware that vipassana retreats are offered free of charge, and are open to anyone.

Craig’s piece on attention from Backchannel magazine

Vipassana meditation retreat locations

Craig’s article on post-100 hours of meditation

Film director Krzysztof Kieslowski

Writer and technologist Kevin Kelly

The Large Hadron Collider at Cern "
attention  craigmod  zoominginandout  ideas  thinking  focus  meditation  technology  blackboards  messiness  presence  writing  relationships  conversation  art  creativity  digitaldetox  maps  mapping  brainstorming  socialmedia  internet  web  online  retreats  jocelynglei  howwethink  howewrite  concentration  interruption  kevinkelly  vipassana  krzysztofkieslowski  largehadroncollider  cern 
november 2017 by robertogreco
avoiding the high-brow freak show | sara hendren
"Oliver Sacks is probably the only author many people have read about disability at length. Sacks wrote many books with such a keen eye for description and also a literate, humanitarian lens—he was able to link together ideas in natural history, the sciences, and the humanities with sincerity and warmth, and always with people at the center. But which people? The subjects of the book, or the reader who is “reading” herself, her own experiences, as she takes in these stories? In any good book, many characters are involved: author, characters, reader. But there’s some particular tricky territory in disability narratives.

It’s challenging to write about this subject for a mainstream audience, perhaps because there are so many well-rehearsed pitfall tropes in characterizing bodily and developmental differences. Descriptions of physicality, speech, or idiosyncratic movement can slide so easily into spectacle. And revealing the ways that disabled people* cope, make sense, and create joy and humor in their lives can collapse into inspiration, easily won.

I’m thinking about Sacks as I write my own words, interpreting my own many encounters with disabled people in a way that both engages readers for whom the subject is ostensibly new, and that also does justice to the integrity and singularity of those people involved. I’m trying to write about disability and its reach into the wider human experience, that is, without making individual people into metaphors. Now: those ideas might be laudable—interdependent life, a critique of individualism, all bodies and lived experiences as endless variation, necessarily incomplete in their own ways—but they are ideas nonetheless. How to make this tradeoff? How to help the uninitiated reader by saying See, see here, your life is caught up in these stakes too, but without flattening the individual subjects on whom those ideas are based?

I keep circling around this review in the LRB of Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars and The Island of the Colorblind—analysis of which includes his book Awakenings and could also be applied to The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. Jenny Diski admires Sacks’s projects and his craft, but she also has this to say:
“A story needs a conclusion whereas a case-history may not have one. In fact, stories have all kinds of needs that a case-history will not supply, and Sacks is insistent that he is writing the stories of his patients, not their cases. This is not intended to fudge fact and fiction, but to enlarge patients into people.

On the other hand, he is describing people with more or less devastating illnesses— that is his raison d’être—and his explicit purpose is to generalize from these, usually unhappy, accidents of life and nature, to a greater understanding of the human condition. In Awakenings he states: ‘If we seek a “curt epitome” of the human condition—of long-standing sickness, suffering and sadness; of a sudden, complete, almost preternatural “awakening”; and, alas! of entanglements which may follow this “cure”—there is no better one than the story of these patients.’

He is offering life, death and the whole damn thing in the metaphor of his patients. And it is true that these patients and others show us what it is like, as he says, ‘to be human and stay human in the face of adversity’. But metaphors are not in fact descriptions of people in their totality. They are intentional, and consciously or unconsciously edited tropes, not complete, contained narratives.

I don’t know any kind of narrative, fictional or otherwise, that can present people in their totality, so perhaps it doesn’t matter, but Sacks is offering us people because of their sickness and the manner of their handling it. This is hardly an overturning of the medicalizing tendency of doctors. And when we read these stories, as we do, to tell us more about ourselves, we read them as exaggerations of what we are, as metaphors for what we are capable of. Their subjects may not be patients as freaks, but they are patients as emblems. They are, as it were, for our use and our wonderment. Around their illness, the thoughts of Leibniz, Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Proust are hoisted like scaffolding, as if to stiffen their reality into meaning.”

Stiffening their reality into meaning! It’s a cutting and exact criticism, especially when it seems that Sacks was utterly sincere in his search for human and humane connection—with these patients as clinical subjects and in his engagement with readers.

Diski hints at the pushback Sacks got from scholars in disability studies, too; scholar Tom Shakespeare took a swipe at him as “the man who mistook his patients for a career,” calling his body of work a “high-brow freak show.” And when I re-read Sacks’s New Yorker essay, excerpted from the Anthropologist book, on autistic self-advocate Temple Grandin, I see a little bit what Shakespeare meant. There is something of the microscope being employed in that encounter, and somehow we walk away fascinated but maybe less than conjoined to Grandin’s experience. It’s rich with connection and with pathos (in a good way!), but there’s distance in it too. So—it’s not perfect.

And yet: people read and loved that book, saw themselves in it. And Grandin went on to write several books in her own voice, to have a wide audience for her work and wisdom. The visibility of autistic self-advocacy has been greatly amplified since Sacks’s writing about it. (And yet—also—Diski says that Sacks has a way of making meaning out of disability that’s essentially a wonder at the human body via its ailments, as in “My God, we are extraordinary, look how interestingly wrong we can go.”) Is there a way to affirm the extraordinary without ending at: there but for the grace of god…? Without ending with gratitude that we don’t share someone’s plight? I want readers to come away uncertain: about where there’s joy and where there’s pain, about how they might make different choices, ordinary and extraordinary choices, if handed a different set of capacities in themselves or in their loved ones.

But can a writer really calibrate that level of nuance? Lately I’m thinking that I can only write what I can write, knowing that it will be incomplete and partial in its rendering.

I want a world full of disabled voices, people telling their stories in their own ways, with their own voices intact. But I also want a world of people to read about the collective stakes inherent in disability—and not just the rights issues that are being ignored, urgent as they are. I want people to see that spending time thinking about disability is an invitation to see the world differently, and to locate one’s own experiences differently. Not to erase the particularity of any one person’s very material experiences, but to help remedy the invisibility of disabled experience outside the inner circle of people who talk to one another, who know that these issues are important. And some audiences will need some interpretation, some cognitive-linguistic bridges to understand the import of disability—its wonder, its overlooked importance, and yes, even its lessons, if we may call them such. Lessons without moralizing, lessons without abstractions.

*Yes, “disabled people,” not “differently abled” or even always “people with disabilities.” There’s no one right answer or moniker, but soon I’ll write a short piece on why “disabled people” is a preferred term among many activists."

[See also this response from Alan Jacobs: ]
sarahendren  oliversacks  disability  2017  diversity  morality  moralizing  difference  humanism  individualism  interdependence  variation  jennydiski  conclusions  case-histories  sickness  sadness  suffering  life  death  storytelling  narrative  tomshakespeare  templegrandin  pathos  correction  autism  self-advocacy  meaning  meaningmaking  uncertainty  joy  pain  grace  writing  howewrite  voice  invisibility  visibility  erasure  experience  alanjacobs  disabilities 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Casey Gollan on Twitter: "Will never get over how Robert Bringhurst blockquotes the biggest ever truthbomb right at the beginning of The Elements of Typographic Style"
"—Everything written symbols can say has already passed by. They are like tracks left by animals. That is why the masters of meditation refuse to accept that writings are final. The aim is to reach true being by means of those tracks, those letters, those signs — but reality itself is not a sign, and it leaves no tracks. It doesn’t come to us by way of letters or words. We can go toward it, by following those words and letters back to what they came from. But so long as we are preoccupied with symbols, theories, and opinions, we fail to reach the principle.

—But when we give up symbols and opinions, aren’t we left in the utter nothingness of being?


- Kimura Kyūho, Kenjutsu Fushigi Hen [On the Mysteries of Swordsmanship], 1768
robertbringhurst  writing  symbols  theories  howewrite  meditation  kimurakyūho  finality  tracks  tracking  signs  reality  letters  words  canon  principles  principle  opinions  nothingness  being 
january 2017 by robertogreco
How to Write a History of Writing Software - The Atlantic
"Isaac Asimov, John Updike, and John Hersey changed their writing habits to adapt to word processors, according to the first literary historian of the technology."

"There are three things I really like about that story and why I feel like it’s the best candidate for quote-unquote “first.”

One, it defamiliarizes our sense of what word processing is. It’s not a typewriter connected to a TV set. The key thing turns out to be the magnetic storage layer. The other thing thing I like about it is—there’s a term I use in the book, “suspended encryption.” That captures that dynamic of word processing: You’re writing, but there’s a kind of suspended animation to it. The text remains in its fluid, malleable state, until such time as you commit it to hard copy.

The other thing I like about the story is that it captures that gendered dynamic, that social dimension of writing. It’s not just the author alone at his typewriter. It’s really a collaborative process, there is a gender dimension to it, and there’s something very human about it, I think."

"Meyer: There is a material history you can read from a typewriter. I think you mention the example of Lawrence Rainey, a scholar of T.S. Eliot, being able to decode The Waste Land’s compositional history by looking at his typewriter. And I remember there being anxiety around writing software, and the future of that kind of scholarship. Did writing this history make you buy into the anxiety that we won’t be able to preserve contemporary literary work?

Kirschenbaum: So much of writing now, and that includes literary writing, that includes novels and poetry that will become culturally resonant and important—all of this happens now digitally. And that was something that I was interesting in writing about, writing the book. What I found is that there were often very surprising examples of evidence remaining, even from these early days of word processing history.

There’s a kind of paradox at the heart of this. As you know, we’ve all lost files, or had important stuff disappear into the [digital] ether, so there’s all that volatility and fragility we associate with the computer. But it’s also a remarkably resilient medium. And there are some writers who are using the actual track-changes feature or some other kind of versioning system to preserve their own literary manuscripts literally keystroke by keystroke."

"Meyer: You talk a little bit about looking at different paths for word processing after Word. You go into “austerityware,” which is your phrase for software like WriteRoom, which tries to cut down on distractions. Is there any prognosticating you feel like you could do about what’s catching on next?

Kirschenbaum: I do think we’re seeing this interesting return to what instructors of writing for a long time have called free writing, which is just about the uninhibited process of getting stuff out there, doing that sort of initial quick and dirty draft. What’s interesting to me is that there are now particular tools and platforms that are emerging with that precise model of writing in mind.

The one that’s gotten the most attention is the one I write about at the end of the book. At the time I was writing, it was called the Hemingwrite, but now it’s called Freewrite. It’s essentially a very lightweight, very portable keyboard, with a small screen and portable memory. It reminds me of the way a lot of writers talk about their fountain pens—these exquisitely crafted and engineers fine instruments for writing. The Freewrite aspires to bring that same level of craft and deliberation to the fabrication of a purpose-built writing instrument.

So, you know, in a sense, I think we’re going to see more and more of those special-purpose writing platforms. I think writing might move away from the general-purpose computer—we’ll still do lots of writing of all sorts at our regular laptop, but it might be your email, your social media. For dedicated long-form writing, I think there may be more and more alternatives."

"Meyer: One thing I love about the book are all the office pictures—the pictures from ’80s offices, especially. There is a sense looking at the images that the desks are retrofitted writers’s desks, rather than the kind of generic surface-with-a-laptop setup that I think a lot of people work at now.

Kirschenbaum: The visual history of all of this is really interesting. One of the hard thing was trying to figure out is, what is a literary history of word processing, how do you go about researching it? Maybe by going to the archives, but you also do it by looking at the way in which computers really were represented in the kind of imagery I was looking at earlier. You look at the old office photographs. You see a picture of Amy Tan sitting with a laptop and you try to figure out what kind of laptop it is, and lastly you do it by talking to people. It was the oral histories I did that were the best research for the book."
robinsonmeyer  wordprocessing  software  history  isaacasimov  johnupdike  writing  howewrite  computing  matthewkirschenbaum  lendeighton  ellenorhandley  johnhersey  jerrypournelle  sciencefiction  scifi  thomaspynchon  gorevidal  charlesbukowski  rcrumb  tseliot  lawrencerainey  trackchanges  typing  typewriters  freewrite  writeroom  hamingwrite  evekosofskysedgwick  howwework  howwewrite  amytan 
june 2016 by robertogreco
Laila Lalami explains how to procrastinate (hint: you're off to a good start) - LA Times
"So you see, I do not lack for discipline. But I still need to waste a lot of time.

I’m genuinely surprised that I get anything done at all. In the last 10 years, I have somehow managed to publish three novels, in addition to dozens of stories, columns, reviews and essays. I have no explanation for this, except that perhaps the procrastination is not an impediment to my writing process, but an intimate part of it.

Just because I’m scrolling through a feed or reading the newspaper or idly jumping from website to website doesn’t mean that my brain shuts off. It’s still trying to flesh out characters, create scenes, work out plot points, or think of a better way to structure a paragraph.

Writing a novel is like living in a house full of ghosts — even when you ignore them, they’re still there, waiting to talk to you. They have all the time in the world. No matter how much you avoid them, the time comes when you have to confront them. Hear them out. See what they have to say. Over time, their features become clearer, their voices stronger, their histories richer, their lives fuller.

And so, once I have exhausted myself with avoidance, I must face the inevitable. Get it down on the page, I tell myself. You can always revise it later.

It’s only when I’m facing the blank screen that all my procrastination doesn’t seem like such a waste of time. I already have a rough idea what the widowed mother will say to her son-in-law when he asks about the will, what the necklace she will wear to the funeral means to her, and what it will take for her to finally lose her temper. When I’m revising, the time I’ve wasted away from the novel might help me figure out that the argument at the gravesite must be cut and moved to the kitchen instead. Little details that I might not have noticed if I had dutifully sat at my desk all day long suddenly stick out, begging to be explored.

So I’ve come to accept that there is no cure for me. I’ll do anything to avoid working on my novel. Even writing a column on procrastination."
lailalalami  writing  howewrite  procrastination  2016  time  productivity  discipline 
june 2016 by robertogreco

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