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On the Rise of Digital Addiction Activism

January 13th, 2018 · 15 comments

The First Stirrings of a New Activism

The investment funds run by Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System hold a combined $2 billion in Apple stock. This ensured the business community took notice when earlier this week, these investors sent a letter to Apple expressing concern about the impact of the tech giant’s products on young people.

To quote the letter:

“More than 10 years after the iPhone’s release, it is a cliché to point out the ubiquity of Apple’s devices among children and teenagers, as well as the attendant growth in social media use by this group. What is less well known is that there is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences.”

The investors go on to make several recommendations, including the convening of a committee of experts to study the issue, the introduction of better parental controls, and the funding of more research.

This letter received significant coverage this week so I don’t want to belabor its points or overhype its significance ($2 billion doesn’t provide that much leverage against a $900 billion Apple market cap).

But I’ve been asked about it quite a bit, so I thought I would share a few initial reactions…

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Tycho Brahe’s Cognitive Kingdom

December 31st, 2017 · 12 comments

Deep (Work) History

Recently, I’ve been reading through the first volume of Simon and Schusters’ magisterial 1954 four-volume essay collection, The World of Mathematics (edited by James Newman). In a chapter on Napier’s discovery of logarithms, written by Herbert Turnbull, I came across a neat story about the great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe that I hadn’t hear before.

I thought I would share it.

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The End of Facebook’s Ubiquity?

December 21st, 2017 · 29 comments

A Self-Defeating Statement

Last week, Facebook posted an essay on their company blog titled: “Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?” The statement confronts this blunt prompt, admitting that social media can be harmful, and then exploring uses that research indicates are more positive.

Here’s the relevant summary of their survey:

“In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward…On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.”

From a social perspective, Facebook should be applauded for finally admitting that their product can cause harm (even if they were essentially forced into this defensive crouch by multiple recent high level defectors).

From a business perspective, however, I think this strategy may mark the beginning of the end of this social network’s ubiquity.

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BuJoPro: Thoughts on Adapting Bullet Journal to a Hyper-Connected World

December 15th, 2017 · 30 comments

Analog Productivity

Bullet Journal (BuJo for short) is a personal productivity system invented by a product designer named Ryder Carroll. You can find a detailed introduction to BuJo on its official web site, but I can provide you the short summary here.

The system lives entirely within an old-fashioned paper notebook. Each day you dedicate a page of the notebook to a daily log in which you create a bulleted list of tasks and events. As the day unfolds, you use shorthand marks to indicate a task is complete or needs to be migrated to a different day.

You can also take brief notes about the day, and, if needed, hijack multiple pages for more extensive musing. The next daily log can live on the next available page. (This idea that you format notebook pages on demand instead of in advance is fundamental to BuJo.)

There are some standard pages most BuJo notebooks include in addition to the daily log entries. An index at the front of the notebook is used to keep track of how the pages are being used. You grow the index as you fill the notebook. Each month also gets its own monthly overview and task list that are used to inform how you schedule individual days. And so on.

A good way to think about BuJo is basically a less-rigid version of the Franklin Planner system.

BuJo for the Overloaded

A lot of readers have asked me about BuJo so I thought I would share some thoughts.

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Jocko Willink On the Power of Discipline

December 11th, 2017 · 31 comments

On Doing Less to Get More

Jocko Willink is an intimidating looking man (see above). He’s also intimidatingly impressive. He’s a former Navy Seal who was awarded a Bronze and Silver Star in Iraq while leading Task Force Bruiser: the most decorated special forces unit in that war. He recently wrote a business bestseller called Extreme Ownership and now does leadership consulting.

He has a new book out and its title caught my attention: Discipline Equals Freedom.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I did listen to Jocko’s interview with the always-sharp Ryan Michler. Here’s how Jocko explained his book’s theme early in the discussion:

“If you want freedom, then you need to have discipline…the more discipline you have in your life the more you’ll be able to do what you want. That’s not true initially; initially the discipline might be things you don’t want to do at the time, but the more you do things that you don’t want to do, the more you do the right things, the better off you’ll be and the more freedom you’ll have…”

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On the Complicated Economics of Attention Capital

November 30th, 2017 · 30 comments

A Serious Consideration

In recent years, I’ve occasionally tackled an intriguing question: are distracting technologies partially to blame for our economy’s sluggish productivity numbers?

I’m often tentative about addressing this topic because I’m not an economist, and serious economists seem to have other explanations in mind (c.f., this column or this book).

This is why I was pleased when many of you forwarded me an article titled: “Is the economy suffering from the crisis of attention?” It’s written by Dan Nixon, a (serious) economist at the Bank of England.

In this article, Nixon explores the question I asked above. In doing so, he outlines two main “channels” through which the new technologies of the Network Age might impact economic productivity indicators:

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The Woodworker Who Quit Email

November 21st, 2017 · 32 comments

The Disconnected Craftsman

Christopher Schwarz is a master furniture maker. In addition to working on commissioned pieces in his Kentucky storefront, he’s the editor of a press that publishes books on hand tool woodworking. In his spare time, he researchers traditional woodworking techniques.

In short, Schwarz is a classic craftsman. If you want to ask him about his trade, however, you’ll have a hard time getting in touch. In 2015, he stopped using (public) email. And he has no intention of going back.

As Schwarz elaborated in a recent essay, this decision upset some customers, some of whom tried to find ways around his no email policy by tracking down his personal address, or using the customer service address for his publishing company.

Here’s Schwarz’s blunt response to these efforts:

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The da Vinci Pause

November 18th, 2017 · 24 comments

Leonardo’s Life Hack

Last month, Walter Isaacson released his big new biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I haven’t read it yet (though it’s inevitable I will). In the meantime, I listened to Brett McKay’s sharp podcast interview with Isaacson.

As the conversation winds down, McKay poses an intriguing question:

“[Leonardo] da Vinci lived 500 years ago, Twitter didn’t exit, Instagram didn’t exist, all these digital things that are distracting us, that make it hard to really observe, didn’t exist. So based on your research and writing on da Vinci: what can we learn from him about staying focused and observing intensely on things even in this crazy digital world that we live in?”

Isaacson, who spent years immersed in over 7000 pages of da Vinci’s brilliant, but also scattered and frenetic notebooks, dismissed the premise: “Yeah, he had distractions too.”

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