This book is complicated and ambitious. But there’s one thread in particular that I think is worth underscoring. Crawford notes that the real problem with the current distracted state of our culture is not the prevalence of new distracting technologies. These are simply a reaction to a more fundamental reality:
“[W]e are agnostic on the question of what is worth paying attention to — that is, what to value.”
In the absence of strongly-held answers to this question our attention remains adrift and unclaimed — we cannot, therefore, be surprised that app-peddlers and sticky websites swooped in to aggressively feast on this abundant resource.~ Cal Newport, from https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2016/07/15/from-descartes-to-pokemon-matthew-crawfords-quest-to-reclaim-our-attention/
Turns out Crawford was interviewed by Brett McKay, another person I’ve often quoted here. I’ve not yet listened but the episode is Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.
Originally I thought “social media” itself was the problem. Eventually it became clear to me that social media is the symptom. People want to be fed saccharine lives through their phones because they’ve never been taught that they need to consciously make decisions about what’s important to them.
Being asked to generate this kind of realistic solution requires letting go of the childlike fantasy in which one can have all upside and no downside. It requires really digging into an issue, developing a depth of understanding that goes beyond drive-by feedback. As the officer quoted above observed, by mandating that any critique be coupled with a counterproposal, Ike’s policy “made for more careful scrutiny and analysis.”~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/sunday-firesides-never-criticize-without-offering-an-alternative/
Not long ago I thought that this arrangement—requiring realistic solutions be provided when criticizing current ones—was unhealthy. I thought that it also led to people generally not speaking up when they saw a problem. But I now see that there are two different scenarios: raising issues and providing criticism.
“Always bring me problems,” is an important policy. It encourages people on a team to speak up when they see something they believe is a problem. The team then benefits from everyone’s perspectives, a culture of openness and honesty is created, and even when mistaken less-experienced people learn from their practice at assessment of problems. This is a different scenario than the one of criticism.
One of the hallmarks of constructive criticism is that it provide alternatives. In this scenario it is not sufficient to simply point out flaws or problems. To encourage deeper understanding each person must be challenged to find an alternate proposal. Doing so requires each person to understand the goal and the realities which constrain the possible courses of action. This type of constructive collaboration, where criticism is of the idea and not of the person, is where teams can really multiply the impact of the individuals’ efforts.
To put it as a spin on acting improvisation: Where improv instructs us to avoid, “no,” preferring, “yes, and….” Constructive criticism requires, “no, and….”
If you’d like to retain and secure more of the information you consume instead of letting noteworthy knowledge pass right through you, here’s the best way to do so: share it with someone else. The secret of why this method works is in the number of times it forces you to reiterate, and thus solidify the memory of, a piece of information.~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-best-way-to-retain-what-you-read/
McKay goes on to make several good points, but one in particular jumps out: That by sharing I am giving a gift to other people, and the anticipation of that—noting something now, that I’m planning to share with others later—is inherently pleasant and that pleasure also helps reinforce my memory.
I had never realized that aspect of blogging; this pleasurable feature, well in advance of the actual writing and sharing of things. But upon reflection this morning, I can assure you that it is a significant effect. I’m often caught yammering on about how everyone should have a place where they write in public, and henceforth I’m adding this pleasurable anticipation of sharing effect to my already long list of benefits to writing.
The Lesson: This first insight is in truly learning that social media is much more of a mindless habit — and a very strongly ingrained one — than a pleasurable or fulfilling activity. We do it out of compulsion rather than intention.~ Brett McKay, from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/4-lessons-from-a-4-week-social-media-fast/
Back when we invented all this online bru-ha-ha, they were called “social networks.” I think we should still be using the word network rather than media, because then it would remain clear: A healthy community necessarily has a network of people, but a network of people is not sufficient to create a healthy community.
I’ve read far too many stories put out by “prestige” news organizations that merely amount to: “This prominent person tweeted this. These random people responded with these tweets. This person made a meme out of it.” This is literally the entire content of the article. It is paragraphs of text devoid of meaning and significance. Just hype masquerading as journalism. But consume enough of it and it can shape your world view, where you feel like something is happening, but nothing actually is.
~ Brett McKay
A large part of my personal change has been driven by my changing what information I consume. There are very few things, people, or places which are able to “insert” information in front of me. The vast majority of information sources—and I’m using information here in the broadest sense—are all set up so that I access them. I access them the way I get water from the sink tap. I go to it. I act to begin the flow. I choose how much and at what rate it flows.
There’s no longer any hype coming out of my sink taps.
Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.”
C. S. Lewis wrote the Screwtape Letters from the point of view of a senior-level demon named Screwtape providing instructions to his direct-reports (ie, demons doing actual work) on how to be great demons. The quote above is a wonderful glimpse into just how visionary Screwtape really is.
Consequently, we are surrounded by a jarring cacophony of comments, feedback, and opinions — little of which has been vetted, researched, or thoughtfully considered prior to being released. Instead it is the product of emotional responses and knee-jerk reactions. It is the product of our id, rather than our ego.
~ Brett McKay
Once I realized the full breadth of what was being created, I went through a long phase of revulsion which validated his analysis.
It was important that I went to that depth of derision to understand the nature of our current, Western society. In the end, I came out the other side with a renewed appreciation for technology, society, and people. The old, great stuff is still out there, more readily-avilable than ever, and new, great stuff is still being produced. (See, for example, this.) I now appreciate the new, good stuff even more because I see the full breadth of what is being done, created and shared.
These people are, effectively, hiding behind a wall. They are passing up more difficult work for the easy work — sharing or “liking” photos, retweeting, commenting on someone’s wall. These are activities which can serve a purpose, but they are poor substitutes for the real thing. It’s like saying Splenda is the same thing as sugar, tofu is the same thing as real meat, or Red Lobster is a good place for…a red lobster. It’s not the same thing. Not even close.
~ Brett McKay
There is a fine line between using social media (and other technology conveniences) to increase the number of people I can keep up with. Dunbar’s Number is often pegged at about 100 or a bit more. I definitely agree that there’s a trade off between how many people I can maintain relationships with and the quality of each relationship. I find the hardest part is when a relationship gets asymetric — when the other person isn’t able to commit as much time — eventually it’s time for me to stop putting in the effort; Eventually it’s time for me to stop trying, and instead to let another person settle into the social space in my universe.
One of the most unfortunate tendencies of an adolescent culture is the impulse to fit everything into black and white narratives. Narratives themselves aren’t the issue; in fact, psychologists say that being able to view your life as a story is a key component to mental health and happiness. And as we’ll come to see, being able to imagine yourself as an actor in that story – a kind of hero’s journey – is one of the most important ways of achieving an awesome adulthood. No, it’s not narratives per se that are problematic, but ones that are overly simplistic and one-dimensional.
~ Brett McKay
The entire piece is good, and it goes in a certain direction: It’s attempting to provide guidance and direction to young men as they transition (or try to transition… or try to NOT transition…) from childhood to adulthood.
The take-away for me was a meta-lesson that applies from the adult point of view: I should not judge young men-to-be by my adult standards. Adolescents who are trying to create their story– trying to navigate their journey– are going to do things and act certain ways. That’s not a problem, nor is anything wrong. It’s part of a natural and normal story arc. The question and judgement from me should be, can I help? Can I be of guidance? Can I at least be an example, either through my level of adulting, or through my overt efforts at reaching higher levels of adulting?
If one believes in objective order and value, then the failure to feel the proper sentiment in the face of a particular stimulus cannot be justified on the basis of mere personal preference, casually categorized under the rubric of “to each their own”; rather, it must be frankly countenanced as a deficiency in one’s human make-up. As Lewis confesses, “I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself — just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind.”~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/men-without-chests/
…from C.S. Lewis‘s, 1934 The Abolition of Man.
The more I read, the more I find I want to explore and continue learning.