Almost Nothing Goes Precisely According To Plan – 7 Takeaways No. 143

Cancelled plan and spilled coffee.
(Image: & Leo Notenboom)

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1. “Social media is just one form of communication”

Yet Another Study Shows No Link At All Between Social Media And Teen Anxiety And Depression – Mike Masnick – (TechDirt)

This is a controversial and worrying topic. Honestly, if I were a parent of a teenager right now, I’m not sure who I’d believe. The research here seems pretty clear, but I’m sure it’ll be argued that it fails in some way.

The takeaway got me, though, because it parallels one of my own thoughts from many years ago. People were complaining at the time that they had to “do” too much email — it was taking up too much of their time. My reframe is simply this: email is just a tool, like any other. It can be used well, it can be used poorly. Personally, I find it incredibly connecting and it’s an important part of many of my relationships, both personal and business related. Or, to put it another way, “it’s just one form of communication”.

To me, it seems wise to focus a little less on the tools involved, and more on the underlying issues that may be there regardless of how we communicate.

Do this: Talk to your kids. Use your tools wisely and teach them to do the same.

2. “The news is always trying to scare you”

Alain de Botton in quotes: “The news promotes a toxic society of envy” – Marta Bausells – (The Guardian)

A very interesting series of quotes by the writer Alain de Botton, all focused on media and its impact on today’s society.

The media is the new church
“The old way in which we used to know what was important was, argued De Botton, “by opening a book that hadn’t changed in hundreds of years”. Religions used to dominate western imaginations, and the media has replaced them.”

What I find fascinating is that the Guardian article was posted nine years ago, and continues to ring true today. Perhaps more true that ever.

Do this: Pay attention to how you use the media.

3. “Air travel has become the nexus of a bunch of different plagues”

The Erratic Flight Patterns Edition – Ted (T.M.) Brown – (Why is this interesting? newsletter)

There’s been a rise of what I’ll call “incidents” on aircraft in the last couple of years. This essay examines the potential causes, and the increased publicity they generate as people whip out their phones to record the latest on-board tantrum. (Chartr also has a piece on this in a recent newsletter.)

They theorize one big cause to be COVID-19, of course.

The out of focus end to the crisis was also relative and disjointed, and only added to the personal and ambient anxiety we all felt.

I feel that. There’s no “end”, it seems, as we now read headlines of a rise in infections, admonitions to get boosters vaccines that won’t be out for another month or so. Is there any wonder the anxiety level remains high? And that that might spill over in odd ways when placing a bunch of people in cramped quarters?

Do this: Stay calm. As best you can. Especially when flying.

4. “Exercise your brain”

The Profile Dossier: Daniel Amen, the Psychiatrist Offering Practical Tools for a Healthier Brain – Polina Pompliano – (The Profile newsletter)

The takeaway comes from Pompliano’s own “takeaways” section, which I always find valuable. This caught my eye:

Remember that if you get proficient at something and you continue doing it 15 minutes a day, it doesn’t count as “learning something new.”

Once you get good at something, it no longer counts as “exercise”. My mind immediately relates this also to one of the most misinterpreted and controversial ideas in recent memory. The “10,000 hour rule” says the way to become an expert at something is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Besides conflating correlation and causation, most people miss the word “deliberate“. That, to me, means focused attention on increasing and improving your skill. That’s different from just doing something repeatedly after you’ve become good enough.

Do this: Stretch yourself daily.

5. “Life is too short to remain unhappy.”

The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself in a Relationship – John P. Weiss – (ebook: What Life Should Be About: Elegant Essays on the Things That Matter)

As the essay title indicates, this is primarily about relationships. It begins by recounting an incident where the then Officer Weiss and his partner responded to yet another domestic violence call.

The meat of the article is an interesting discussion of narcissism and selfishness — something Weiss sees as being on the rise. It’s hard to argue with that.

Two extremely important qualities to look for in a partner are kindness and empathy.

The heck with partners, those are qualities worth embodying and seeking in all our relationships.

Do this: Be kind. (PS: I’m enjoying the book. Highly recommended.)

6. “Almost nothing goes precisely according to plan”

“Be Ready for Anything” – David Epstein – (Range Widely newsletter)

Epstein relies on sports-related anecdotes to illustrate a point I’ve long considered important: flexibility. In my work, in my volunteer efforts … heck, just in my day-to-day, the ability to turn on a dime has served me exceptionally well.

Epstein also cites “Sod’s law”, an extension of Murphy’s:

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the most inopportune moment.

Indeed. Expecting that, and being prepared to adjust accordingly, is a critical life skill.

Do this: Be flexible.

7. “Chatbots are the nuclear weapons of the bullshit wars.”

How plausible sentence generators are changing the bullshit wars – Cory Doctorow – (Pluralistic blog)

Doctorow tells the story of “accidentally” giving a chatbot a rough draft of a complaint letter to an airline that had wronged him. He got a revised version back.

Now, my letter was a little scary – but this version was bowel-looseningly terrifying.

The chatbot had used some kind of large language model (LLM, or less accurately, AI) to “punch up” the letter. Doctorow isn’t impressed with most LLMs, but had this to say about this situation:

these kinds of lawyer letters aren’t good writing; they’re a highly specific form of bad writing.

The ramifications are interesting. What was once something only an expensive lawyer would generate could be generated for free. The result is that the value of such a thing will eventually go down, as will its impact. Much like the most inconvenient approach to reaching out to your government representatives is more likely to gain a response than some automated fax-bot, LLMs will change the value of many, many things. It’s a fascinating analysis.

Do this: Pay attention to value.

More random links & thoughts


Why is this interesting? – “A daily newsletter for the intellectually omnivorous, from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy.” Topics tend to span quite the range. This week’s item on air travel comes from here.

I’m building and keeping a list on the sources page. (It’s growing nicely.)

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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