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.
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.
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.
One of the more interesting things about being on the road promoting Digital Minimalismis 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.
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.
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…)
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.
How to Be a Digital Minimalist — The Rules (The Times of London). A sharp piece in The Times of London. Calls my new book an: “eloquent, powerful wail of despair against the ‘attention merchants’, but also an enjoyably practical guide to cutting back on screen time.”
Cal Newport Has an Answer for Digital Burnout (The Ezra Klein Show). My recent interview on the new book with Ezra Klein. For those eager for more podcast content from me, worry not, I am doing a lot of podcast interviews that will begin releasing next week.
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).
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?
I'm a computer science professor who writes about the intersection of technology and society. I’m particularly interested in the impact of new technologies on our ability to perform productive work and lead satisfying lives. If you’re new to my writing, a good place to start is the about page. You can access over a decade's worth of posts in the blog archive.
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