Shovel Shit Every Once in a While – 7 Takeaways No. 51 – November 28, 2021

Shoveling Poop

1. "shovel shit every once in a while"

We should shovel shit every once in a while to remind ourselves who we’d be if we weren’t who we are. – Cole Schafer – (Blog)

There are a couple of ways this can be interpreted. My take is simply this: regardless of where you are and what you have, take time to truly appreciate the path that led you here.

Do this: Be grateful.

2. "If you want to freeze culture, the first step is to reduce it to data."

Yesterday Once More – Grafton Tanner – (Real Life website)

Absolutely fascinating piece about how algorithms and recommendation engines — tasked with analyzing people’s tastes and behaviors — are now responsible for dramatically influencing, and homogenizing them.

A culture that thinks like an algorithm also “projects a future that is like the past"

The article continues on to discuss the effect of nostalgia on the process as well — right down to racism and other biases.

Predictive algorithms don’t really predict anything; they just make certain kinds of pasts repeatedly reappear.

As I said, fascinating.

Do this: looks closely at the recommendations you’re offered. Maybe step outside the box every so often.

3. "’an astronomically high dose’ of opioids"

Her husband died by suicide. She sued his pain doctors — a rare challenge over an opioid dose reduction – Andrew Joseph – (STAT website)

This is something my wife and I have commented on frequently: in the efforts to reduce the opiod addiction epidemic the pendulum has swung too far the other way. People in legitimate need of pain management are being denied the medication they need. This is both an exceptional case, but also illustrates a situation that is far too common.

It’s something we both worry about should we ever need aggressive pain management.

Do this: have the conversation with your own doctor, if needed, and support those affected if at all possible.

4. "false rumours tend to ‘mutate’ . . . just like a virus"

Ways to make social media less ‘viral’(*) – Madhumita Murgia – (Financial Times)

It feels somewhat ironic to compare false information about a virus to the virus itself, but it makes sense. One of the techniques used to slow false information is to throttle the velocity of information spread with techniques like asking people if they’ve read the article they’re about to share, limiting the size of groups, and more. I look at it as a way to alter the "R number" of the misinformation virus.

Even just requiring them to pause and think of something to write, makes them less likely to share misinformation.

We have a lot to learn about viruses. Both kinds.

Do this: think before you share.

5. "Black Friday long ago ceased being just a day; it’s now more of a vibe"

The Atlantic Daily: To Shop or Not to Shop? – Caroline Mimbs Nyce – (The Atlantic)

Of course last week was Thanksgiving here in the US, followed by so-called "Black Friday". What started as a single day of sales — often deep discounts — as well as conflict as shoppers mobbed various stores in search of those deals, has morphed into something else. The statement above caught my eye as it sums it up well — "Black Friday" has become a multi-day vibe. The essay (an interview with The Atlantic’s "in-house consumerism maven, Amanda Mull") goes on to describe why it exists, and what the retailers are attempting to accomplish with that vibe.

Do this: Make "small business Saturday" more than a one-day vibe and shop local when you can.

6. ". . . news turned into sugar for the mind."

News in the Age of Abundance – David Perell – (Blog)

This is a rather lengthy piece, but well worth the time.

Marketers promoted the benefits of cereal with slogans like “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Similarly, news organizations position themselves as an irreplaceable daily habit and with slogans like “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” While the Romans believed it was healthiest to eat only one meal per day and our ancestors only heard about major events, but we have been trained to be constant consumers, so we eat too much food and read too much news.

Perell first deconstructs the history of news beginning with newspapers, moving on to television, and of course ending up with the internet. He then tackles why there’s so much "news" and some of the problems resulting. He concludes with "Healthy News Consumption Is Possible" — two concrete steps you can take to improve your news diet.

Do this: pay attention to the news you consume and ask — will it really matter in a year?

7. "If–if–Omicron moves even faster than its predecessors . . ."

We Know Almost Nothing About the Omicron Variant – Katherine J. Wu – (The Atlantic)

I include this simply for the "we know almost nothing" aspect of the story. I expect there will be many, many news stories about Omicron in the coming days. That’s as it should be. The problem — almost dovetailing on the previous takeaway — is how inaccurate, incomplete, and sensational those stories are likely to be.

But it’s way too early to know if that’ll be the case. What’s known so far absolutely warrants attention—not panic.

Do this: pay attention, vet your news sources properly, maintain perspective, and don’t panic.

What I’m Reading

In progress (also on GoodReads):


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*: Financial Times is one of my better resources, but has a hard paywall. Drop me a line if this article is of interest, and I can share a limited number of free-to-read links.

2 thoughts on “Shovel Shit Every Once in a While – 7 Takeaways No. 51 – November 28, 2021”

  1. Caroline missed an opportunity to educate her readers. “Black Friday”, before all the big sales promotions, was on average literally the day of the year when retailers were sure to be “in the black”. Even small family owned retailers often lost money all year just to be able to be in business for the sales from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

    All the sales promotions became the way that retailers started trying to one-up each other to get customers into their stores for the most important time of the year.

    Amanda points her suggestions at “the most affluent Americans”. The media has inundated us with news about the people making more than $400,000 a year, yet I know plenty of people living very comfortably on less than $40,000 a year who are still drawn in by the ads to buy things they don’t need. My local Goodwill and other thrift stores routinely turn away donations of things nobody really wants.

    Granted, we have some supply chain and delivery issues at the moment, but, if too many people, including “average” people cut back too much on their consumerism, the entire economy would break. Some would argue the economy is already broken.

  2. David Perell’s blog – “News in the Age of Abundance” is interesting, but perhaps this blog suffers from exactly what he discusses. David Perell promotes an online course he teaches on how to write, and this blog post, while well organized, is itself used along with a video on how he collected notes and wrote the article to promote his 5-week writing course.

    The “Build Back Better” plan includes significant tax incentives for smaller news publications. In cities large enough to support it, local news outlets are cropping up to report on local events and politics. (Ex. At the same time, consolidation of larger newspapers continues to take its toll on news reporting. I have subscribed to The Chicago Tribune for over 30 years and I have seen the quality of news reporting continuously decline. Closing of their news bureaus across the city and in Springfield have impeded their ability to cover the news. The latest purchase by Alden Global Capital only caused another decline in the quality of news coverage.

    I grew up in a household with subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. My 8th grade social studies class included reading articles from the New York Times every week and learning to use and interpret the news. My own children never had that type of introduction to news, though now as adults, I often share articles I find interesting and relevant with them. I agree with David that we need to consume news selectively, but I’m not sure where or how most people can learn that selectivity.


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