Study Hacks Blog

Mike Trout Doesn’t Care About His Online Brand. He Just Made $430 Million.

March 20th, 2019 · 22 comments
Photo of Mike Trout from 2013 by Keith Allison.

Mike Trout, the center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels, is finalizing a $430 million contract extension with his team. This is the largest deal in the history of professional sports.

One of the surprising elements of Trout’s story is that he’s reached these unprecedented heights while remaining, to quote Tom Boswell from today’s Washington Post, “a quiet, understated player, who has never tried to brand himself.”

I got in some hot water a few years ago for writing a New York Times op-ed in which I argued that young people needed to spend less energy desperately trying to build their online presence, and more energy quietly developing unambiguously valuable skills. (I even wrote a book about this.)

Trout represents this philosophy pushed to an extreme. When you average 9.0 WAR over six seasons, you don’t have to worry about your Instagram followers.

Trout’s talent, of course, approaches mythological levels, which made his commitment to fundamentals a safe bet. But as with any good myth, it conveys a deeper truth. In almost any professional endeavor, developing unambiguously rare and valuable skills trumps an amorphous commitment to cultivating followers or strengthening an online brand (with a small number of well-publicized exceptions).

It also helps if you can turn on a major league fastball thrown down and in.

Digital Minimalism and Ancestral Health (Or, Would Grok Tweet?)

March 16th, 2019 · 25 comments

The ancestral health movement argues that over long periods of time, evolution adapts species to their environments. It follows that when it comes to human well-being, we should pay attention to how we ate and behaved throughout the vast majority of our evolutionary history.

Like most lifestyle movements, ancestral health has spawned its share of hucksters and extremists, but the underlying logic seems self-evident, and the success stories can be compelling.

After recent appearances on Paleo Magazine Radio and Mark Hyman’s podcast, and my embrace of Mark Sisson’s advice to help stay lean and energized on book tour, I’ve begun to think more about the natural intersection of digital minimalism and ancestral health.

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On Heidegger and Email

March 11th, 2019 · 24 comments
The hut near the edge of the Black Forest where Martin Heidegger developed his philosophy of Being.

I was in California last week promoting Digital Minimalism. One of the books I brought to keep me company was Sarah Bakewell’s insightful, and surprisingly entertaining, At The Existentialist Cafe.

In the third chapter, I came across a nice piece of focus porn concerning the philosopher Martin Heidegger.

During Heidegger’s first academic appointment, which was at the University of Marburg, his wife Elfride used an inheritance to buy some land near the Black Forest town of Todtnauberg. The plot overlooked “the grand horseshoe sweep of village and valley.”

As Bakewell elaborates:

“[Elfride] designed a wood-shingled hut to be built on the site, wedged into the hillside…Heidegger spent much time working there alone. The landscape criss-crossed by paths to help him think…in evenings or out of season it was silent and tranquil…when alone there, Heidegger would ski, walk, light a fire, cook simple meals, talk to the peasant neighbors, and settle for long hours at his desk, where…his writing took on the calm rhythm of a man chopping wood in a forest.”

Heidegger, of course, went on to become a controversial figure due to his later involvement with the Nazi party, but it’s hard to overstate the intellectual impact of his book Being and Time, which was written during this Marburg period, and helped shatter the rapidly ossifying structures of German phenomenology, ushering in a torrent of philosophical innovation.

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Digital Minimalism for Parents

March 1st, 2019 · 24 comments

One of the more interesting things about being on the road promoting Digital Minimalism is encountering readers and learning how they’re making use of these ideas.

One such group that’s particularly interesting to me is digital minimalist parents. I’m a parent, but the oldest of my three boys is only six, so I haven’t yet directly grappled with the serious issues surrounding kids in an age of smartphones, making me eager to hear from those who are waging this battle now.

As I’ve talked with more of these parents, a consistent reality has emerged:

  • Smartphones and social media are a major problem for adolescents. To ignore it with a “kids these days” shoulder shrug is becoming increasingly unacceptable. (For more on this, see my somewhat infamous interview with GQ where I speculatively compare teenage smartphone use to teenage smoking.) 
  • Any successful attempt to instill in your kids a healthier relationship with technology has to start with modeling this relationship in your own life.

This latter point is one that we parents sometimes don’t want to hear, but it keeps coming up in my conversations: if you carry your phone with you at all times, checking it constantly, it’s difficult to convince your kids not to do the same, no matter how many rules you set or warnings you deliver.

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On Sam Harris and Stephen Fry’s Meditation Debate

February 19th, 2019 · 61 comments
Photo by Sam Harris.

A few weeks ago, on his podcast, Sam Harris interviewed the actor and comedian Stephen Fry. Early in the episode, the conversation took a long detour into the topic of mindfulness meditation.

Harris, of course, is a longtime proponent of this practice. He discusses it at length in his book, Waking Up, and now offers an app to help new adherents train the skill (I’ve heard it’s good).

What sparked the diversion in the first place is when, early in the conversation, Fry expressed skepticism about meditation. Roughly speaking, his argument was the following:

  • Typically when we find ourselves in a chronic state of ill health it’s because we’ve moved away from something natural that our bodies have evolved to expect.
  • Paleolithic man didn’t need gyms and diets because he naturally exercised and didn’t have access to an overabundance of bad food.
  • Mindfulness mediation, by contrast, doesn’t seem to be replicating something natural that we’ve lost, but is instead itself a relatively contrived and complicated activity.

Harris’s response was to compare meditation to reading. They’re both complicated (read: unnatural) activities, to be sure, but they’re both really important in helping our species thrive.

Fry, who is currently using and enjoying Harris’s meditation app, conceded, and the discussion shifted toward a new direction.

I wonder, however, whether Fry should have persisted. Rousseauian romanticism aside, there’s an important application of evolutionary psychology undergirding his instinctual concern.

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Minimalism Grows…

February 8th, 2019 · 33 comments
Me speaking about Digital Minimalism at Company HQ in New York City on Monday Night.

I only rarely write administrative posts, but because this is the launch week for my new book, I figured I’m due a break on this rule. With this in mind, I want to share a few more interesting pieces of news coverage on Digital Minimalism.

Before I do, two quick notes:

  • First, if you live in the Washington, DC area, come see me at Politics & Prose at 3:30 on Saturday. I’ll be taking questions and signing books.
  • Second, if you’re pretty sure you’re going to buy the book, but haven’t yet, I want to nudge you to do so soon. (For various technical reasons, sales made before Saturday night are very useful from a bestseller list perspective. Okay, last time I’ll mention that…)

On to the publicity updates:

Many of you have been asking me to create a running list of all of my podcast appearances, interviews, and articles. We’re working on it, stay tuned…

The Beginning of a Digital Revolution?

February 1st, 2019 · 33 comments

It’s hard for me to believe that we’re finally here, but my new book, Digital Minimalism, comes out on Tuesday.

The early buzz about the book has exceeded my expectations, which helps validate a trend that I’ve been noticing over the past year or so: people seem like they’re finally ready to consider serious changes to their relationship with digital tools.

To help get you as excited as I am, I’ve included below a sampling of some of the early press on the book.

(Also remember, as I detailed last week, if you pre-order a copy by Tuesday, you get some immediate bonuses, and if you pre-order a second copy, you get access to a private Q&A group. More details here…)

Digital Minimalism Buzz

The above is just the pre-publication coverage, with a lot more on the way. Stay tuned…

Adam Savage and the IRL Digital Revolution

January 29th, 2019 · 19 comments

Myth Confirmed

I recently started re-watching old Mythbusters episodes with my two oldest boys — and we’re having a blast.

The original series, which ran on the Discovery Channel from 2006 to 2016, was hosted by special effects engineers Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. Curious about what happened to Jamie and Adam after the series ended, I did a little poking around and discovered that among many other things, Adam became involved in the maker website Tested.com, which was rebranded as “Adam Savage’s Tested.”

This site hosts videos which are primarily a mix of high tech product reviews and instructions for maker projects. My oldest son and I, for example, got a kick out of watching a tutorial where Adam modified an off-the-shelf Nerf gun into a 1000-shot blaster (see above).

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve recently begun reading the questions submitted by members of the Digital Minimalist Book Club.

An issue that arises frequently in these queries is the ambiguous tension between the digital and the analog. I’ve been writing recently about the damage caused when low quality digital distraction push more meaningful and satisfying analog activities out of your life.

As I detail in Digital Minimalism, for example, one of the most commonly reported experiences from last year’s 1,600 person digital declutter experiment was the surprising joy of rediscovering leisure activities that used to be unexceptional, like reading random library books, knitting, or building something with your hands. Participants were often shocked to realize the degree to which these simple but fulfilling pasttimes had been pushed aside by mindless streaming and outraged commenting.

These observations seems to pit the analog against the digital. So how, then, do we think about Adam Savage’s Tested?

My conclusion: with great appreciation.

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