A Short Step From Absorbed Reading To Ruin – 7 Takeaways No. 153

A 16:9 photorealistic image depicting the concept of changing attention spans in the modern era. The image should show a person surrounded by various sources of modern distraction like smartphones, social media, and multiple digital screens displaying different content. The person appears to be multitasking, engaging with these devices, symbolizing the modern era of constant distraction. The background should reflect a busy, contemporary setting, possibly an urban environment or a tech-filled room, to emphasize the challenge of maintaining concentration amidst a plethora of digital stimuli. This scene represents the debate over whether shorter attention spans are a recent and negative trend or a complex evolution of human behavior.
(Image: DALL-E 3)

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1. “How do I convince people of this thing?”

How to Convince the Unconvinced – Seth Godin – (YouTube)

When asked about convincing parents about the value of college, Godin emphasizes the importance of “enrollment” as a concept. I would probably term it “buy-in”, which I think is perhaps a more familiar term for the concept.

As I interpret it, it’s starting from a common point, a common goal. In this scenario, perhaps it’s finding the closest point at which all parties agree — perhaps the desire for their kids to have a successful life — and getting buy-in that figuring out how to achieve that is a worthwhile discussion to have.

Obviously, this applies to much more than arguing the merits of what happens after high school. Without some kind of agreement that a discussion is worth having, the discussion that follows anyway is pointless.

Do this: Get buy-in.

2. “When we stop asking questions, curiosity dies.”

A Room With An Impossible View (Redux) – Mike Sowden – (Everything Is Amazing newsletter)

“The room” is what’s called a Ames Room, specifically designed to create some fairly amazing optical illusions. The essay discusses several, and includes some entertaining YouTube videos with examples.

.. optical illusions teach us to hold our certainties gently – and to always be humble enough to admit the possibility (maybe not the likelihood, but the possibility) that there’s something much more interesting to learn in every situation, no matter how “obvious” and “real” it appears.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately how rational individuals in centuries past would arrive at conclusions that make zero sense today. Most often it’s because they had no framework for the explanations we take for granted today, and yet still needed to explain things somehow. Optical illusions are similar. Our brain is telling us something that’s very clear. Yet using the additional framework uncovered by looking at things a little differently, it becomes very clearly wrong.

Do this: Keep questioning.

3. “There’s no system that will live life on your behalf.”

A cupboard of tools – Oliver Burkeman – (The Imperfectionist newsletter)

Burkeman has a personal revelation that I might take on. Specifically, that the tools we use come and go, and that there’s no single tool that will solve our problems long term. In his case, he starts by talking about productivity tools. He then expands to include most of the latest, and prior, solutions including certain diets, meditation, exercise regimens, and more.

you need no longer feel overwhelmed by the vast array of techniques, systems and philosophies that crowd the internet and the shelves of bookshops, promising ways to improve your life, because you’re not trying to discover the “right” one. Instead, you get to pick from them all, as you see fit, for whatever purposes you deem them useful – and only for as long as they actually serve to improve your experience of being alive.

Do this: Play with your tools.

4. “I choose to believe that people are fundamentally good”

Confession: I don’t consume any news – Leyla Kazim – (A Day Well Spent newsletter)

The author shares her rationale behind not consuming any news at all. I’ll admit, sometimes it’s tempting. Quoting another writer, Shalom Auslander:

… it’s not that I don’t care about these issues. I care, in some cases quite deeply. I simply don’t possess your ability to wallow in the cesspool of relentless media which our daily lives have become.

The problem is that the media gives us what we “want”, where “want” is measured in reactions and clicks and subscriptions. In other words, the media measures what we want by where we love to spend our attention.

Do this: Choose better.

5. “A short step from absorbed reading to ruin”

The big idea: are our short attention spans really getting shorter? – Emma Smith – (The Guardian)

The quote above is a characterization of some sentiment when books, and novels in particular, became popular among the masses. The concern was that spending all your time reading novels would disconnect you from the real world outside. Apparently, women and children were thought to be particularly susceptible.

It reminded me that while every change is new, change itself is ever-present, and not always the evil it’s first thought to be.

Every new technology, from the earliest books to portable timepieces, via reading glasses and trains, has changed our forms of apprehension and engagement with the world

It’s not an argument for (or against) changes to our attention span. It’s an argument for not panicking, and perhaps being more accepting of the fact that any change looks awful at first.

Do this: Don’t panic.

6. This beastly election! Beastly!

It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis – (ebook)

The full quote:

Oh, my dears, this beastly election! Beastly! Seems as if it’s breaking up every town, every home.

I’m about 25% through this book, and it’s sobering because it was published in 1935, nearly 90 years ago. And yet, every step along the way feels hauntingly familiar. While the English can be slightly difficult to parse, because of the age, the events taking place seem all too real and contemporary.

Do this: Remember that it can happen here.

7. “The human mind is filled with perceptive holes”

The human mind is filled with perceptive holes – Steve Trash – (Thinking is Power)

A fascinating juxtaposition of magicians versus skeptics, and how they’re really on the same team. One shows us how we’ve intentionally allowed ourselves to be fooled, and the other seeks to show us when we don’t even realize it.

Our minds are making assumptions, we’re disregarding facts that are uncomfortable or don’t already fit our worldview, or we’re making value judgments based on nothing more than whether we had a similar experience recently

While the bottom line remains the cognitive biases we have, and allow to be exploited, I found this an interesting and unusual presentation. (Did you know your mind is more like Swiss Cheese?)

Do this: Enjoy magic the magic you see, beware of the magic you don’t notice.

More random links & thoughts


Full list on the sources page.

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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