Newsletter: The History of Nostalgia, The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed, new tunes from Yasmine Hamdan and more

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Schreiber’s Hummingbird, from Birds of the Tropics series (N38) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes (1889) : The MET

Arts and Culture

Maria Loh On Lives Of Artists

We may live in the age of selfie but we’ve always been self-absorbed. Maria Loh, author of Still Lives: Death, Desire, and the Portrait of the Old Masteroutlines five books which address the history of the curated self with an emphasis on artists who painted their own portraits to cement their legacy.

“Art was a form of visual philosophy written with brushes and chisels rather than with pen and ink”

fivebooks.com

+ Before the self-portrait, the rise of ownership of mirrors in the 15th century gave people their first feeling of individuality.

Look back with danger

Nostalgia didn’t always have a positive tone. In fact, before the 20th century, the word was used in the pejorative sense.

Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”.

the_tls.co

Philosophy & Productivity

The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed

It’s crazy to think that a hundred years after the Adamson Act passed, we’re still working the same eight-hour shifts designed for railroad workers. Given that most of us work in front of computers and our best ideas come when we step outside it, how can we free up more time to think? Writes Morgan Housel:

“Tell your boss you found a trick that will make you more creative and productive, and they ask what you’re waiting for. Tell them that your trick is taking a 90-minute walk in the middle of the day, and they says no, you need to work.”

collaborativefund.com

Platonically irrational

We think modernity is superior to the past. But we too can be intellectually overconfident. “When Kahneman writes that we are ‘blind to our blindness’, he is reviving the Socratic idea that wisdom consists in seeing one’s blindness: knowing what you do not know.” Within all facts and reasoning, there’s still a little room for doubt.

This is only a preliminary step in Plato’s dialogues – a (good-natured) reaching after fact and reason should and does occur – but an initial tolerance of uncertainty is a capacity without which individuals and societies cannot adequately self-correct and improve. 

aeon.com

Social Media & Technology

Notes From An Emergency

The internet companies are not only American-based, but their manifest destiny also makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.

“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security. But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

idlewords.com

The Library of Congress Wants to Destroy Your Old CDs (for Science)

CDs were once expensive, plastic things. But they were built really cheap. I just tried popping on an old Chemical Brothers mix, and it didn’t even play. Blame the sharpie.

It’s also better not to muck up the top of your CDs with labels—the adhesive creates chemical reactions that quickly eat up data—or even permanent markers. “The moment you start to write on that top layer, you’re setting yourself up for degradation.”

theatlantic.com

Digging in the Crates

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Shanti Celeste is an up and coming house producer from Bristol, England. Her latest 2-track EP features the jungle healer ‘Make Time,’ combining a rich collection of synths and electronic breaks. A real treat.

Listen

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Yasmine Hamdan is a Parisian-based electronic musician who grew up in war-torn Lebanon. While’s she gained a reputation in the Middle East as an underground artist, her latest solo record Al Jamilat plans to unleash her to a broader audience. The track ‘La Ba’den’ offers dreamy electronic Arab vibes. Compelling stuff.

Listen

Thought of the Week

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


For more interesting reads and new music, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or the Twitter feed. You can also subscribe to the blogs: wellsbaum.blog and bombtune.comIf you dig the blogs and want to support them, make a donation, buy a book, or email this post to a friend.

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Draining the knowledge worker

The 8-hour workday goes back to the Industrial Revolution. We used to put in 10 hour days before the unions demanded reduction and the Adamson Act got passed.

But now we’ve moved on from hand work to head work, which is mentally draining.

We are told to think all the time, pushing on the brain like we used to push on a machine. It’s draining, made worse by the lack of time we get to step away.

Writes Morgan Housel:

“Tell your boss you found a trick that will make you more creative and productive, and they ask what you’re waiting for. Tell them that your trick is taking a 90-minute walk in the middle of the day, and they says no, you need to work.”

Rest almost never happens in knowledge-based jobs. Vacation is only granted maximum two weeks a year. We can’t even take walks. We run our brains into inanition.

We feel fresh after vacation because we get to step outside the routine. Our operations only become clearer when we stop doing them and hit pause to reflect.

We can’t gain perspective and think creatively when we’re stuck in the day to day, moment to moment, grind. We need some time to be in solitude and think more deeply about our roles.

“the secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”

Make time to relax, unwind, and ponder. It may be the most important shift we do all day.

In that dream of mine 


Whether through religion, materialism, or video games, the pursuit of fantasy is an inalienable right. We earn points in repeating rewarding behaviors: praying, shopping, or playing Half-Life.

Says Yuval Noah Harariof, the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:

“The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.”

We’ll always be chasing the butterfly in our mind’s eye.

Put some pep in your step

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If you want something done, it’s better to ask someone who’s already in motion. That, or ask someone with a sense of purpose.

It’s the lull and lack of desire that puts people to sleep.

Case and point are the DMV. Both the customer and employees expect slow service. The DMV has developed a reputation as backward, government operated red tape, quite the opposite of a busy shop or restaurant where busyness necessitates speed without hurting the quality of the product. Starbucks is the paragon of a mediocre cup of coffee delivered in a timely manner.

Speed doesn’t guarantee customer happiness nor cleanliness. McDonald’s once used powdered milk. But there’s no doubt that a little hustle produces a dose of flow.

It’s the slow, methodical, non-autotelic folks that just role with the motions.

A robot is as the robot does. Ship faster, or at least act like it.

Do small things, slowly

Take your time. (Image via Ray Hennessy)

The hare makes mistakes for speeding through the process. The tortoise doesn’t finish things frequently enough.

But who do you think makes the better end-product? Someone who ships quickly or someone who pokes away at their work? Author Malcolm Gladwell thinks that it takes at least two years to write a proper book, recommending that writers even shelve their manuscript for six months and come back to it to make more edits.

“We need to be a little bit more tortoise-y and a little less hare-ish.”

— Malcolm Gladwell, On Speed And Power

When it comes to code, it may be beneficial to move fast and break things. You can always release a software patch to resolve an issue. But there should be ever more reward for postponing gratification to make deeper work that results in greater quality.

If you do small things, slowly, they’ll add up to something timeless. The rapid pace of production tends to burn out just as quickly.

Doubting our own self-doubt

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Image via Ben White

The only way to allay doubt is to do. We must face our biggest fears. Perhaps the only thing holding back J.K. Rowling from success was her fear of public speaking — she did it anyway.

It’s most often the exact thing we’re scared of is exactly the thing we should be doing. It takes courage to persist with tension that wants us to simply give up.

Accept doubt for what it is – it’s there to make you practice and force your confidence. It takes some getting used to.

The trick is not to get rid of the doubt but rather play with it, feel its presence and relax into it. The approach is a bit delusional but no more faulty than doubt in the first place.

Life on fast-forward

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The internet complicates what it means to be productive. We trap ourselves in email and unlimited social media browsing. We eat lunch at our desks to justify your busyness when “we should go for a walk, to the coffee shop, just to get away. Even Victorian factories had some kind of rest breaks,” says workplace psychologist Michael Guttridge.

Studies repeatedly show the dangers of multitasking and continuous partial attention. By doing more, we’re immersing ourselves less. More than five minutes of Twitter a day won’t make you any better of a Tweeter, observes Seth Godin. Fast-forwarding through movies, podcasts, and books won’t allow you to go deeper into the experience. More information just makes your brain fatter.

In a world of limited attention, it pays to be bored. The brain needs time to switch off, wander, and disconnect from the 24/7 neuron-inducing chemical factory. If everything is meaningful, nothing is worth doing.

Combines


Nothing goes to waste. It all cross-pollinates.

Picasso’s sculpture work bled into his paintings, as did his work in theater.

What we want to pursue are our interests, not what they should amount to. Seek a lifestyle rather than a categorization.

“Work as hard as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do!”

— Richard Feynman

‘Sleep is the cousin of death’

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“I never sleep because sleep is the cousin of death,” spits Nas in his Illmatic track ‘N.Y. State of Mind.’

What he may have overlooked is that sleep, and indeed rest can make you even more productive.

It’s a canard to think that all successful people do is just work. It’s more complicated than that. Scientists Charles Darwin and writer Ernest Hemingway excelled at relaxing. They put in a few deliberate hours of effortful work and just as equally, took their foot off the gas to do other stuff: socialize, spend time with family, walk. They were wise slackers.

24/7 connectivity exacerbates our always work-leisure problem. Like a doctor, we make ourselves available to everything from the trite to the important, treating work and freedom as continuous instead of mutually exclusive.

Integrating task and play backfires. Availability is a game of neediness, we want to show people what we’re up to but then get sucked into the abyss of distraction. We are addicted to the endless stream impressions to alleviate the anxiety in our heads.

What if our productivity depends on the ability to chill out? What if we could practice more deliberately so we could slow down afterward. The work is vital; to master it, we need to free the mind from labor’s oppressive demands.

Read Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too

Pockets of attention

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Issac Asimov used to spend four hours a day writing. He wrote nearly five hundred books in his lifetime. Warren Buffet says he spends hours a day reading in his office.

What does this say?

There’s a time for consuming and a time for producing.

Those that will thrive in the 21st century are those who can toggle between the rapid digital pace yet still create little pockets of attention for themselves to write a blog post or read a book. Single-tasking intends to go deeper.

Attention is scarce. But the abundance of information is also helpful. It feeds you with ideas and makes you realize there’s so much to learn and so much more to do. But without moments, even half-hour, of single-tasking it’s almost impossible to obtain the deep insight you’re looking for. For that, you need to chew on something for a while.

The ability to weave in and out of pockets of concentration, to get some stimulation and then come back to your work is the key, per say.

 

Incomplete paths

Image by Averie Woodard
Sometimes the path to discovery begins with a roadblock.

We end up going a different direction because our daily route is under construction.

Suddenly, that simple redirection refocuses our attention. Our surroundings appear new again. We’re woke.

It doesn’t take much to release the shackles of inattention and break free of our conscious automaton.

The second we think we’ve explored everything is also the moment our environment expands into more depth.

Routine is just a gesture to a ‘directed’ pathway that is the least straightforward. 

The roads we walk are as boundless as the desert. 

 

Lacing the blogs 

Image via Mikhail Pavstyuk

I see blogs as projects for unique avenues of thinking.

This blog is my thinking blog. It focuses on what I’m reading and chewing on. It’s a collection provocative ideas and observations.

My music blog bombtune.com is like my music shelf. It’s an ongoing library of new music finds from the current year. The post art is just as significant as the music. I like to dig around on the artist sites and social networks to select images of the musician. The stream — whether it’s from Bandcamp or SoundCloud, contains the song/album art.

My fadesin.com blog focuses on creative ways to respond to prompts. WordPress does a great job in galvanizing its community by inspiring people to show their angle on a variety of topics and photography challenges. For the latter, rummage through my Google Photos to see what works.

Meanwhile, my Tumblr blog is more or less an aggregator. I cross-post there but also play natively within the platform by posting quotes and resharing cool GIFs from others. I also use my Instagram to dice up the array of posting.

Nevertheless, all of feeds tie together. They are ways of seeing, of which nothing becomes clear until I write it down and publish it.

“Blogs are like ham­mers. They are tools for building stuff.”

— Hugh MacLeod

Blogs permit me to show my work. The writing can be repetitive and thematic, which often means I’m trying to nail down the nugget or UBI (unifying big idea) of my approach. But at the end of the day, I want to say ‘this is what I made today.’

In short, blogging is another way to connect the dots on screen.

“Trial and error is freedom.”

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“The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of the pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise. And you find gold, so to speak, effortlessly, just as in rational but undirected trial-and-error-based research. It is exactly like options, trial and error, not getting stuck, bifurcating when necessary but keeping a sense of broad freedom and opportunism.

Trial and error is freedom.”

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder