I have a policy about being aware.

This doesn’t mean being expert, or even having an above-average education about any particular thing.

But I find it takes incredibly little effort to achieve a base-level understanding of something, and that such understandings, in aggregate, can vastly expand the scope of one’s worldview.

This is a contrast to how I once saw things.

I had decided at some point that, because my attention is finite, and because there’s only so much time in the day, I would keep away from things I considered to be unimportant; pop culture and crafts seemingly unrelated to mine and fields of study that didn’t seem relevant to anything. I wasn’t disdainful of them, but I was willfully ignorant about them. I had decided what was important and what was unimportant, and redoubled my efforts, my focus, my energy on the former, while completely blotting out the latter.

The flaw with this perspective is that you can’t really know what’s important until you do some digging and learn a little more than you’ll come to know by happenstance.

Further, it’s unlikely you’ll comprehend the importance of a single nail until you see how it holds together two other, seemingly unrelated pieces of structural material. To decide that component is unimportant before you’ve seen it in action, and until you’ve seen it alongside, and working in cohesion with other seemingly unimportant things, is to sell that thing short.

I’m boggled by the utility and joy I find in things I once considered non-vital and therefore ignorable. I think it’s absolutely possible to live a good life and get a lot done by fixating completely on one thing, but I suspect that doing so renders one unlikely to become a completely round, fully fleshed out human being. I don’t mean that as a value-judgement, I mean it in the sense that one is less capable of being multi-dimensional when one’s focus is on a single-dimension of life.

If you spend your entire life seeing only red, you’ll become a master at discerning between the many tonalities and tints, the variety found within that limited range. But you’ll also be completely blind to a great deal of what happens in the non-red world around you.

Can you find joy in a world made of only red things? Certainly. Are you more likely to find things to be joyful about and fulfilled by if you’re working with a more diverse spectrum of colors? I think that’s likely.

This is an interesting topic to consider at this moment, when there are so many forces squabbling over our attention; particularly here in the US, where the election coverage has come to resemble that of a horse race.

What storylines, then, should one follow, when there are so many to choose from? And particularly when so many of them prove not to be terribly important beyond keeping up with the gossip of the day? Gossip which is highly discardable, and which will be replaced by a new collection tomorrow?

This is actually a wonderful example of how knowing a bit about a particular field can keep one from having to worry overmuch about the swirling, churning day-to-day happenings within that field.

The more you know about politics, and the media, the less you actually have to pay attention to each and every specific.

This may not be evident at first, because many politically adept people are being pulled into the cloud of activity surrounding this election.

But grazing on the subject allows you the freedom of not having to stuff yourself full on junk news all day, unsure of what you should be consuming and what you can safely leave on the plate.

An awareness of what’s real and what hokum, what’s clearly a message drummed-up by click-addicted networks and what’s actually relevant to one’s own political stakes and overall mental map of the election, allows one to ride the wave of such a craze without drowning in it.

A policy of awareness, I find, allows me to use my time and spend my attention much more intentionally, because I know enough about enough to spend those finite resources of mine in a way that will help me stay intellectually involved without being consumed.

This requires constant adjustment, of course, because you don’t know how much is the right amount to learn about a subject before either deciding to throw yourself at it and become more thoroughly educated, or to set it aside, aware of the outlines so you can slowly fill in the details in over time.

But it’s worth the effort.

Deciding to be aware is deciding to take responsibility for what you know and what you don’t know.

It’s recognizing that, when you encounter unfamiliar terrain, it’s within your power to map it out and become informed, adding that new map to your ever-expanding atlas of knowledge.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.

Let's Know Things


On this week’s episode of Let’s Know Things we talk about the burgeoning hands-free audio movement, the technologies that are depending on and amplifying this progression, and why it’s being promoted as a next-generation UI.

We also touch on podcasting technology, Nintendo Rumble Paks, and digital privacy.

The shownotes for this episode can be found here.


The Price of Things

How much would you pay to never have to wake up to an alarm?

Think about it for a second, then actually try to put a number on it. How much would it be worth to you? How much money, which you could spend on absolutely anything else in the world, would you be willing to give up to sleep till whenever you like each day?

For some, it’ll be an immense amount. The chirp or clang of that alarm each morning is one of the key quality-of-life issues they cope with, and the idea that they could go without it — could sleep in till 7:30 or 8 or 9 or 11 — is an element in a particularly bizarre dream they can’t quite believe or fully immerse themselves in.

For others, it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s an occasional annoyance, but otherwise not something that bugs them too much. Maybe they’re up before the alarm most days and turn in early each night, anyway. Maybe they luxuriate in the quiet mornings or the sounds of a city coming alive.

When I first moved out to LA after school, I hadn’t thought about things like this; hadn’t considered much beyond the paycheck, the prestige. The ability to gain some real-world experience outside of the Midwest town I’d come to see as a bit of a small pond, professionally.

And so I woke up each morning at 5, delirious with the accumulated lost hours of sleep from the previous week, groggy-eyed and barely functioning, preparing myself to perk up and make things. There have been times in my life in which I was a morning person, but that year, working for that studio, I was not.

Not being asleep, I learned, does not make a person awake.

I decided to strike off on my own after a year of that, at least in part because I wanted control of my day.

Like many people, I never truly had a say in how I spent my time. The consequence of going to school, then work, and all that surrounds these frameworks, is that you’re shuffled from one activity to the next from an early age, accepting this pre-planned agenda as scientific fact, not subjective opinion. Like thermodynamic laws, that a person wakes up early, goes to a place, does things, and then returns home to prepare to do it all again, is the circadian rhythm adhered to throughout the world. As far as I knew, at least.

Entrepreneurship, to me, was a way out of that system.

This was a bit before the big wave of entrepreneurship; back when an entrepreneur was something you could tell people you were, and people would generally understand what you meant, but would not think it was a good idea. It was socially acceptable, but not cool.

Like any big lifestyle change, tearing myself away from the implied security of a steady paycheck was difficult and disorienting. I didn’t know if I’d be able to sustain it; I had only enough in the bank for about a month’s rent, sans other expenses. But I made it work.

Part of making it work was reassessing. Prioritizing.

I suddenly had the ability to shift my schedule around however I liked, yes. But I also had a less-reliable flow of income. I had different expenses. I had a million more things to do, and accomplishing them was on me; failure would be a mark on my name, personally.

I slept in a few times during that period, but seldom. More often, I woke up at 4 or 4:30, intending to get a jump on the day. To get some work done before my clients were awake, so I could churn through the ever-increasing pile of responsibilities unmolested, never having to pick up the phone and engage with someone who had changed their mind about the color of a logo last-second, or the direction of a website after two months of development.

The dream of no alarms remained just a dream until I left LA.

We don’t tend to view sleep as something that’s negotiable. We don’t tend to see it as something we buy and sell, though we do.

You can’t go into the store and purchase sleep, of course. Having a sleeping pill is not the same thing as having the time in which to sleep.

What many of us truly want when we slap a high price on being able to sleep, sans alarm, till whenever we get up each morning, is the time required to do so. The elbowing back of activities and responsibilities that might pull us from our beds prematurely.

This isn’t something you can purchase once you’ve earned the money, but it’s something you can invest your time in, beforehand. Before you’ve exchange that time, those precious hours, for that paycheck.

It’s silly, we’re trained to think, to desire a life in which you can sleep till you’re awake, work on only the things you’re really passionate about, eat only meals you yourself have prepared, have all the time in the world to work out more and meditate each afternoon and do some yoga in the park before grabbing an espresso at that little place on the corner, going at the exact right time; when it’s filled with smiling people, but you can still reliably find a table of your own, where you can sit and read and sip and be happy.

How much would you pay to never wake up to an alarm?

Or to enjoy that other lifestyle goal of yours, whatever it is, whenever you like?

Your answer, quite likely, will have to be in hours, not dollars. Will be as much about opportunities set aside or intentionally skipped as opportunities gained.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.