Outrage

Outrage is sexy. It sells newspapers and attracts online clicks. If you want to raise a ruckus, get outraged, because people go gaga over people going gaga.

Of course, that’s all the value one can get from outrage. Although entertaining to watch and speculate over and gossip about, outrage very, very seldom changes anything, and can even make a bad situation worse by injecting anger into the mix.

On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior. By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue. We’re saying, “How horrible this situation is, and how capable I am of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!”

Whether we actually happen to be right or wrong is irrelevant, because the sense of injustice we revel in is actually a self-esteem boost, gained by climbing atop rabble and rubble. It makes us feel taller to indignantly puff ourselves up with outrage.

The share-rate of rage-inducing news can be attributed to the flood of ‘hurts so good’ chemicals that accompany righteous anger. Getting hooked on this feeling is all too common, and causes us to seek it out. The need to be angry or upset in order to feel good is a sad state of affairs. Look around: there’s no shortage of business models predicated on saturating people with these chemicals, keeping them hooked on an anger-induced high.

To avoid this type of addiction, it’s best to avoid delving into scandals and fabricated, bias-heavy news items and storylines. Instead, decide where and how you can actually make a difference.

This move is guaranteed to pour water over the rage-high we might otherwise get hooked on, because it requires us to think rationally — not emotionally — and requires us to determine which problems we will participate in solving and which are just fun to get upset about.

If you want to be involved in something scandalous, do something other than sitting around and seething, while spreading the same venom to others.

Anger without action leaves us feeling as though we’ve accomplished something when we haven’t. This results in fewer solutions, not more, because the desire to solve the problem is washed away by the feeling of satisfaction we get from being incensed. Resentment without an effort to rectify accomplishes exactly nothing, and makes us part of the problem we’re so angry about.

In short: if you’re not willing to lift a finger to solve a problem, you’ve lost the right to complain about it. By complaining more selectively, we’ll spend more time solving problems and sharing solutions, and less time perpetuating outrage-addiction.

This post is an excerpt from my book, Considerations.

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Fiction and What Comes Next

I daydream quite a lot about pie-in-the-sky efforts, like a guaranteed universal minimum income and solar roads and post-scarcity social models.

As a result, I end up talking about them a whole lot and bringing up some of the more unlikely ones in my fictional work so that I can show how they might happen, what they might look like in practice, and what the repercussions might be.

One thing I love about fiction is that you can speculate, while nonfiction requires that everything be tethered to reality.

Of course, fiction is quite often realistic. When I say ‘reality’ in the above context, what I really mean is ‘reality that seems likely.’ And unfortunately, anything beyond the imaginable norms come across as incredibly unlikely. Silly, even.

Try and wrap your head around the social upheavals that would take place in a post-scarcity world, for instance. The concept is that everyone has everything they need to survive (food, shelter, and other necessities). Our entire societal structure and governmental system and economic theory is based around scarcity, and as such would no longer be relevant in the same way it is today. We’d need new philosophies and laws and social structures and approaches to research and development and even little things, like figuring out who maintains the roads (if anyone…robots? Who would build and maintain them? Reprogram them if they were hacked?).

The point is that it’s hard to imagine seismic shifts in how we operate, and that’s why some concepts, though they may solve many of the problems we cope with day-to-day, seem incredibly unlikely. They’re just too different, and require too many changes, and we seldom see shifts that dramatic in a single lifetime.

And that’s a fair argument, though I would make two counter-arguments.

1. Fiction is one way we prepare ourselves for such changes. Fiction allows us to imagine ‘what would happen if…’ before we pull the trigger, and allows us to refine our approaches based on possible outcomes (Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are a great example of this, as they seem so iron-clad, but he himself showed many possible ways around them in his writings).

2. I think we’re doing an overall great job iterating, truth be told. As humans. Collectively, looking at the big picture, and despite all the horrible stuff that’s occurred as a byproduct or direct result of our biological, technological, and social evolution, we’re moving forward. Learning from our mistakes. It may not look like it sometimes (because it’s more profitable to sell panic than peace, and because the more we learn, the more details we see, and the more flaws we’re capable of seeing in our own development), but that’s how it looks from my standpoint. That being said, I also think there’s little more terrifying than being stuck in an ever-present ‘now.’

That would mean never changing beyond what we’re able to imagine based on our day-to-day activities. New social structures could never emerge, because they don’t jive with what we can imagine based on our experiences at the office and politics as normal. We can’t develop and produce solar roads, because then we’d have to change the laws, the production equipment, potentially the cars themselves, the energy grid; too many changes. No way, no how.

I think, in many ways, any given ‘now’ is only as strong as its ability to help people see a potential ‘soon.’ And though not everything printed and sold or projected on a screen somewhere is gold, there are a whole lot of ideas out there, floating around. Books, movies, TV shows, online content, video games, graphic novels/comic books, board games: we’re awash with interesting fiction. And though the primary goal for many of the people involved with a piece of fiction’s creation may be entertainment and industry, the byproduct is that we’re all capable of imagining so much more than folks a generation or two before us.

We’re capable of stepping outside ourselves and wondering, what if? And though such thoughts are pie-in-the-sky, they’re also what enable us to take large steps, understanding ahead of time a little about what may await us on the other side.

A version of this post was originally published on Facebook and Tumblr, and can be commented upon and shared there, if you like.

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Free Speech and Labels

Remember:

1. The freedom of speech is only really necessary when someone is saying something you don’t agree with. If we all agreed on everything, or were only told things we already agreed with, no one would have to fight for free speech (and no one would be exposed to new perspectives, ever).

2. Violence against those who would express themselves is heinous and indefensible (note that as soon as the speech itself infringes upon others’ rights to express themselves, it’s no longer simply ‘speech,’ but something else entirely, yet it still doesn’t warrant violence).

3. An entire group of people is neither responsible for, nor need apologize for, the acts of an individual or group that’s technically affiliated with them in some way. If this was the case, we’d all be apologizing for things we don’t agree with and are philosophically unaffiliated with all the time, and civilization would cease to function. Blame the people who commit crimes, not those who also happen to be from the same country, follow the same religion, wear the same clothing, listen to the same music, play the same video games, are also left-handed, etc.

4. The press — even members of it we don’t agree with — is a valuable and powerful thing. If it wasn’t, those whose words and actions cannot survive in an open, informed society (villains of all flavors) wouldn’t try so hard to silence it. Keep that in mind, know that there are different ways to silence the press, and watch for such activities the future (and remember who is doing the silencing, and what it says about their words and actions).

Be safe and understanding and kind and brave out there.

This post was written in response to this. And was originally posted on Facebook and Tumblr (and can be commented upon/shared there, if you like).

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The Passage of Time

The way we experience time is the direct result of how we spend it.

That is to say, one hour in the hands of a person who uses it intentionally can seem like ages, each second noticed, held, weighed, and tasted before it flutters off to be replaced by another.

That same hour, used in a flurry by someone trying to cram too much into it, or who uses it in a scattered sort of way — spread too thin — will barely notice its passing. Every single day can seem like a non-event to this latter person, though not because they’re misusing their time, per se. It’s more that they’re trying to accomplish things in a disorganized, frantic way, rather than an intentional, organized fashion.

When I bring this up to some people, they tell me that they are very organized, thank you very much. They have pocket calendars and reminders on their phones. They’re GTDing and Inbox Zeroing and Pomodoroing and making use of every other clever time-optimizing trick they can find. They’re the most organized people they know; it’s time that’s the problem. Time doesn’t seem to want to fit into one of their boxes, which leaves them drained and unsatisfied most nights, struggling to get to sleep because their brains won’t slow down and their bodies are running on fumes.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. I consider myself to be a very ambitious person, and I do my best to surround myself with people who likewise want to get the most out of life.

That being said, I believe that most of us have been brought up with very harmful ideas of how we’re meant to achieve the things we want to achieve. We’re told that we have to wring ourselves dry of energy and balance in order to get what we want. We’re told that we have to fill ever moment of every day with frantic busywork, lest we fall behind someone else who’s willing to do more with that spare second they find themselves hoarding. We’re told that to be successful is to be perpetually goose-stepping faster than the person next to us, and that in order to be a winner, we have to light things on fire and blow things up, starting with our own health, relationships, and sanity.

I disagree.

This harmful extreme is common amongst some types of ambitious people, and it’s a cautionary tale for those who wish to pursue anything big, while at the same time assuring those who are less ambitious that there’s no need to take more control of their lives: down that path are sacrifices not worth making.

From what I’ve seen, though, one needn’t dynamite their lives in order to succeed. Some of the most wildly successful people I know take a more balanced approach, allowing them to pursue what makes them happy while maintaining a healthy body and successful relationships.

What this generally involves is a better use of one’s time. More specific and careful use. These people tend not to have the TV on while trying to write while talking to their assistant about another project. They write. Or they space out in front of the TV. Or they delegate. They do things intentionally and with focus. Every moment of every day, they’re completely engaged.

Beyond that, there aren’t a lot of commonalities in how they spend their time. Some of these people fill their days with work or familial responsibilities, while others take frequent off-grid retreats into the woods. Still others fill their lives with non-work-related social activities, or TV/video games/books/other forms of entertainment.

How you spend your time is determined by you and what makes you happy. But what you get out of it, and the way in which you experience it, is based on whether or not you’re engaged and focused.

Burnout is common in a world where communication with anyone on the planet and complete access to any piece of information you might want to have is available all day, every day. This is a wonderful, nearly miraculous asset, so long as you can filter it to suit your needs.

Experiment frequently, expose yourself to new ideas and experiences, and figure out what makes you happy. Engage in more of those types of activities and make those types of lifestyle choices more frequently. Immerse yourself in them; don’t try to multitask or use tricks to fit more activity into a moment than that moment allows for.

We all have the same amount of time to spend each day. Assess how you’re spending yours, and be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

If you’re keen to read more essays like this one, consider signing up for my free newsletter. You can also see my work on my social media accounts, and sign up for Let’s Know Things, if you like knowing things.

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The Cost of Things

It’s amazing what we can get for twenty dollars these days. Sure, it sometimes seems like inflation just won’t quit, and the costs of living add up to a frightening sum, and a pack of gum could once be had for less than a dollar, but now costs several.

But this is mostly a slow-burn perspective; difficult to see clearly because it moves so steadily.

Our buying power for most things (in the developed and developing worlds) has been on an upward trend for generations, and our lack of appreciation for this fact stems not from a dearth of wielded purchasing power, but from the lack of synchronicity between that power and our expectations of how much power we should possess, as explained and reinforced by marketing messages. Demand isn’t created for a product or service unless you keep people aspirational, so it’s in the best interest of many to keep us wanting more than we have.

Beyond this dollars-and-cents cost for things, there are other, less obvious expenses. Price tags that we don’t tend to see unless we look closely, but which are worth acknowledging nonetheless.

Opportunity cost, for example, is what we give up in favor of what we choose to buy/consume/spend our time with. When I purchase a phone, for instance, the opportunity cost is every other phone on the market, and the possibility of not having a phone, and the software/networks/brand associations of those other phones and lifestyles. The cost of my phone, then, is not just the number on the click-to-buy button.

There’s also long-term monetary cost, which includes things like recurring payments and debt; not just for the item in question, but for interest accrued on other debt that you could have paid off instead of making your purchase (if I buy a phone instead of paying off debt, the cost of that phone goes up because of the extra debt accrued through my non-payment).

Or how about the resource and sustainability cost of our purchases? Smartphones are the end-result of a massive supply chain connecting all the components of the device, allowing them to be constructed by machines and people who must be paid and fed and housed and (in the case of the machines) maintained. These supply chains stretch far and wide, encompassing mines and roads and caravans of trucks and back-channel deals with politicians. This includes the technologies required to work with the materials and mold them into useful shapes, which makes use of scientific knowledge that’s been conceived and refined over many centuries — with the most core knowledge tracing back to the beginning of humankind, and the most small and specific going back only years or months. This all coalesces into something incredibly intuitive and valuable (aided by the millions of manpower hours that have gone into developing the software) and yet so common as to be barely noticeable.

Every single thing we buy has a price, and that price is typically far larger than we think while swiping our cards at the checkout terminal or one-click shopping online. This doesn’t make our purchases inherently harmful or wrong: if anything, it makes them all the more impressive for the chain of people and events and resources that have been linked up to make the end product available for common consumption!

But it’s valuable to understand that the simple act of buying a phone — or anything — has repercussions beyond the passive ‘buy and move on’ mentality we often adopt when procuring a new possession.

We consider how something will improve our lives, make us feel, improve the perception others have of us (and the perception we have of ourselves), and myriad other variables associated with the capitalistic exchange of value. It only seems prudent that we consider the bigger picture, the true cost of things, as well.

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Subtlety

It’s human nature to be reductionist.

By simplifying complex concepts, we’re more able to consider them quickly, share them with others, and move forward into a state of understanding from a state of ignorance. Our instincts are wired for this so that we might quickly assess which aspects of our environment could be dangerous or beneficial. The other parts of our brains aim for similar, metaphor-based comprehension. Symbolic grokking.

Unfortunately, when we lose details we also lose subtlety, and it’s within nuance that valuable fuzziness can be found. Lacking this fuzziness — this unclear, indistinct collection of ‘maybes’ and ‘sort ofs’ and ‘almosts’ — we’re forced to be more concrete in our thinking; more absolute. We’re more prone to deciding that things are absolutely a certain way, ignoring inconvenient grays in between the black and white.

I’m interviewed a fair bit these days, which is a lot of fun: I truly enjoy discussing travel and my work, and other topics that interest me. But the more I think about all the subtleties of my work, and of life as a whole, the more I find myself affixing addendums to my answers, distorting the clarity that one might expect to find when an ‘expert’ talks about their field.

No longer do I feel comfortable being prescriptive in an absolute sense. For every bit of advice I give, I find myself saying things like “Well, that’s how I do it,” and “At least, that’s what works for me and what I’m hoping to achieve.” A simple question about social media usage can spiral into a complex answer about personal preferences, professional background, intentions and goals, how habits might fit into your life (and ideal lifestyle), and myriad other facets that seem necessary to bring up, if I’m to give a complete answer.

Of course, in many cases, the interviewers are probably just looking for some basic tips, not a philosophical rumination. But such tips, lacking context, seem to be the root of a problem that you find throughout prescriptive works these days. It’s all about pro-tip lists and one-size-fits-all strategies that, if you think about it, couldn’t possibly work for every single person who thinks to give them a shot. If we’re all approaching social media marketing the same way, does anyone really benefit? Aren’t we diluting the pool while also making use of tactics that lead us all down the same path, toward the same (undifferentiated, non-personalized) goals?

My struggle of late has been reaching a balance between these two extremes: explaining in detail every last facet of a concept, and being so reductionist as to be delivering little more than words without merit. Not just in interviews and the professional realm, but across the board. In lifestyle, relationships, work, and play.

That’s what clear communication is, at its most essential: honing in on the core of complex concepts, and conveying them in an accessible way that doesn’t water down their message, meaning, or profundity. And it’s no surprise, then, that the vast majority of people are absolutely terrible at this. It’s far easier to just speak or write some impressive-sounding words and be done with it. To regurgitate phrases that we associate with meaning, and arrange them in such a way that they appear to be relevant.

That’s the easier path, but I’m going to keep working hard to express the details.

Because for me the most meaningful bits have also been the most subtle. The most valuable concepts I’ve been exposed to are the ones that I first encountered as tiny, barely recognizable seeds, but which have since bloomed into the most vital aspects of my life.

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Ambassadorship

The following is an excerpted chapter from my new book, Considerations. The book is made up of over 50 concise essays of this flavor on various topics.


We all serve as ambassadors for something, and in most cases we don’t even realize it.

“Why do you use that brand of computer?” someone might ask. Or, “What’s your city like?”

Whether you want the responsibility or not, you’re an ambassador for everything you do, have done, and believe. This may not be your perception of yourself and your relationship to these things, but to someone who is not you, the specifics matter very little. As someone who knows more than they do about a particular topic, belief, place, or whatever else, you’re the go-to person for expert information.

Remember that you needn’t share anything with people who ask about your choices or history or anything else. You aren’t a missionary, and if you opt out of proselytizing for whatever reason, you’re still in the right. If you carry a set of moral beliefs and don’t share them with others, you’re not doing an injustice to those moral beliefs. If you use a certain brand of phone and fail to tell those who use a different brand about why they’ve chosen an inferior path, you’re not failing to live up to the standards of your chosen brand.

But if you do choose to share, be careful how you approach it. To be an ambassador is to be a representative for this thing you’re championing, and that means your lifestyle, your actions, the words you use to describe it, all impact how everyone else sees this faith, product, or idea. If it’s a religion you’re sharing, you become an example of what people who follow this religion are like. If it’s a brand of clothing you wear, you are now the type of person who wears that type of clothing — at least to the people who see you wearing it.

I feel this ambassadorship weighing on my shoulders when I travel outside the US, because I know anything I do may be interpreted as ‘something an American did.’ Not just an action that I took as an individual, but an example of some greater cultural trait; some ‘American thing’ that expresses a more expansive norm.

Consequently, I go out of my way even more than usual to be kind and help people and be a good visitor wherever I end up. I like the idea that people might encounter me and extrapolate a larger impression — of my culture, my system of beliefs, of the brands I choose to associate myself with — in a good way. I hope people are better off for having met me, and as a result, might be more open to the things and people and ideas that I think are important.

This is not always possible, of course, but it’s an excellent course of action for someone who takes their ambassadorship seriously, whatever they might be representing, consciously or otherwise.

It’s important to note, too, especially if you walk an unconventional trail, or have blazed your own, people will sometimes want to have you as a guide. They’ll hope that, beyond just representing something, you might point them in the right direction, and help them navigate a trail you’ve created, or guide them down a path you’ve already walked.

Again, you don’t have to share anything. You can live your life and allow others to live theirs, unencumbered by active ambassadorship.

But if you do choose to help others along the way when they ask for such help, it can be immensely valuable for everyone involved. The interaction will be valuable for you, because you’ll live in a world in which more people understand your perspective, and it will be valuable for them because they may be able to go further, faster, as a result of your assistance.

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Order Considerations

My new nonfiction book, Considerations, is now available as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook through various online and in-person booksellers.

Snag yourself the ebook:

Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Gumroad.

Or perhaps the paperback:

Amazon

Or maybe even the audiobook:

Amazon/Audible

Or ask your favorite independent bookstore to order you a copy, if they don’t have one in stock.

About the book:

Few of us take the time to consider. We act according to data acquired by viewing the world from a single perspective: our own. As a result, we don’t always think to ask certain questions that, when answered, may benefit us greatly. We don’t do important things because we never think them worth doing. We don’t assess unfamiliar facets of life, even though such scrutiny might change everything about how we live.

A well-curated collection of perspectives is one of the most valuable assets a person can possess, and the ability to filter those perspectives — to figure out which of them has value for us as individuals, and which are not relevant to our unique beliefs and goals — is vital.

Considerations is about asking questions, attaining new perspectives, figuring out what you believe, and determining how these beliefs can help guide your actions. The book is formatted as a series of over fifty short essays which are intended to spark ideas, questions, and thoughtfulness in those who read them.

30 Days of Doing

It’s important that we know ourselves and have an idea of which direction we want to go, and it’s vital that we act in such a way that we move in the right direction while continuously calibrating to ensure we’re hitting the mark most accurately, and not missing out on indications that we might be walking the wrong path.

30 Days of Doing was written alongside Considerations as a companion piece: the latter focused on asking the right questions and achieving new perspectives, while the former is about making course-adjustments a normal part of your day, and experimenting with your life to get the most out of the time you have.

This work is presented as a 30-day email series, and once purchased (for $2.99), you’ll receive a new email each day for a month. Each email presents a concept and action; something you can do immediately, or an experiment worth scheduling at some point in the future. Each piece is actionable, though, and intended to help spark some new way of seeing the world, or means of determining which path is most ideal for you and what you want out of life.

To subscribe to 30 Days of Doing, click here.

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Getting Lost

There’s a game I play with myself when I want to explore a city but don’t have a particular destination in mind.

I start walking and I follow the signals and signs provided along the way. I turn left and cross the street because the little glowing walking man indicates that I should. If I encounter an intersection without stoplights, I keep going straight, but at the next such intersection I go right, and at the next I turn left, and continue to circulate between the options at each new opportunity. When I see a coffee shop I’d like to try, or a museum I’d like to explore, or a shop I’d like to peruse, or a park where I’d like to sit and write for a bit, I pull myself from the game, starting again when I’m back on the street.

This is a great way to find new areas of a familiar city, or to push yourself out the door in an unfamiliar place; it’s easy to be overwhelmed by options, and this game gives you permission to just go. To discover without planning. To allow chance and circumstance to take the wheel for a while.

It also allows you to get lost. One of the more valuable ways to learn a city — to learn not just the colors and smells and pace and noises, but also how to read them, analyze them, and use them to get where you want to go — is to get lost, then figure out how to get back to your starting position.

It’s difficult to achieve true randomness. Generally when we head off in a ‘random’ direction, what we’re really doing is taking one side street from our usual route to a familiar part of town, or heading in the exact opposite direction from our default path, avoiding anything familiar at all. These can both be useful methods, but the former lacks the potential for extreme new-ness, while the latter eliminates your ability to see the familiar from a different perspective: a landmark from your usual route, viewed from across the street, for example.

After years of playing this game, I’ve found that the feeling of being ‘lost’ slowly becomes less of a scary jump into the unknown, and more an intentional reaching out into the world, looking for novel stimuli and finding it. Bringing it home to study in private. Wondering if it’s worth working in to your normal routine. Wondering if that normal routine should be shifted in some meaningful way.

That may mean identifying a better way to work. It may mean finding a coffee shop you like better than the one you usually visit. Or it may mean reinforcing that the commute you currently make and coffee you currently drink are still the best available options, based on what you’re looking for.

Consider how getting lost can be about more than just learning your environment. How it can be a means of pulling yourself out of your norms, habits, self-perceptions, and into a space where you’re less certain and more able to explore. More capable of taking a wrong turn and not worrying about it. More able to explore your myriad options and wonder whether this job, this lifestyle, this relationship, this responsibility, this goal, this whatever, is actually what’s best for you and your happiness.

Upon returning ‘home’ to your norm from some great adventure, whether external or internal, you might realize that you’re more at home elsewhere. It could be that getting lost is the only way to find your way back to a home — a more ideal life — you didn’t even know existed.

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