‘Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it’

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Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you.

Yuval Noah Harari21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Beware that one of technology’s biggest threat is that it undermines your will so you will no longer want what you want.  But you can reverse the stakes and like a hammer, use it as a tool for building the life you want.

‘Awakening is not a thing…It is not something to be attained’

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Awakening is not a thing. It is not a goal, not a concept. It is not something to be attained. It is a metamorphosis. If the caterpillar thinks about the butterfly it is to become, saying ‘And then I shall have wings and antennae,’ there will never be a butterfly. The caterpillar must accept its own disappearance in its transformation. When the marvelous butterfly takes wing, nothing of the caterpillar remains.

— Alejandro Jodorowsky, Where the Bird Sings Best

Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage”

It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.” The professional hockey player starts out a little bit better than his peers. And that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a bit bigger, and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity, which makes the initially small difference bigger still—and on and on until the hockey player is a genuine outlier. But he didn’t start out an outlier. He started out just a little bit better. Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

The reading brain in a digital world

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf book cover

How often do you print something out just so you can take the time to read it with more focus?

In an interview with The Verge, UCLA neuroscientist and author of the forthcoming book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, Maryanne Wolf explains what tech does to the reading brain.

This is a question that requires a very careful attempt at explanation. It’s not zero-sum, but we have grown used to skimming. People like you and me who spend six to 12 hours a day on a screen are led to use the skimming mode even when we know we should use a more concentrated, focused mode of reading.

It’s an idea I call “cognitive patience.” I believe we are all becoming unable to take the time to be patient because skimming has bled over into most of our reading.

The consequences of skimming:

Skimming has led, I believe, to a tendency to go to the sources that seem the simplest, most reduced, most familiar, and least cognitively challenging. I think that leads people to accept truly false news without examining it, without being analytical. One of my major worries is that when you lose the novel, you lose the ability to go into another person’s perspective. My biggest worry now is that a lot of what we’re seeing in society today — this vulnerability to demagoguery in all its forms — of one unanticipated and never intended consequence of a mode of reading that doesn’t allow critical analysis and empathy.

A fascinating read throughout. But books are not the only medium with an attention problem.

The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

Livaria Lello is the name of the notable bookstore in Porto, Portugal that inspired JK Rowling in writing the Harry Potter series. 

Known as a reader and writer hangout since its inception in 1906, the bookstore includes the fantastical twisting stairwell reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.   

Mechanical paper tech

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These popup contraptions are extraordinary, to say the least.

Created by artist Kelli Anderson, This Book Is a Planetarium book contains interactive constructions of a planetarium, a musical instrument, a speaker and more.

Writes the artist on her blog:

I published a pop-up book of mechanical paper tech.
Expanding out of This Book is a Planetarium’s pages, you’ll find: a stringed instrument, a perpetual calendar, a decoder ring, a spiralgraph drawing generator, a smartphone speaker, and—yes—a constellation-projecting planetarium. With a little tinkering, turning, and futzing: the resulting paper objects actually work! (despite of being made from “almost nothing.”)

The book was designed to showcase the potential of the material world—while making a case for the inherent educational value of lo-fi experiences.

In their clunky way of functioning, the past’s technology served this unacknowledged secondary function to humanity: These objects helped us glimpse—and therefore connect to —the magic of the physical world. By being glitchy and fussy (and by sometimes requiring manual tinkering or duct tape), lo-fi contraptions more transparently revealed the underlying laws of the world to us.

You can find out more about the book here.

Stand out of our light

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Huxley predicted that the deliberate flood of information, perhaps a more lethal strategy than Orwellian censorship, would dent our interest in reading books, having active opinions, and therefore make us passive.

The internet, of course, puts information distribution on hyper-speed, skipping from one issue to the next. People consume and quickly forget what’s important, all the while externalizing everything onto the screen. We have lost our ability to pay attention, not just because of tweeting politicians but because of screaming merchants.

There’s yet another book dissecting this very topic of how technology hijacks the brain. Author James Williams of Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy writes: 

“The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time. We therefore have an obligation to rewire this system of intelligent, adversarial persuasion before it rewires us.”

The former Google strategist has witnessed the intentional creation of distractive technologies that overpower human will so we no longer “want what we want to want.”

The Financial Times book review writes:

In an attempt to invent new linguistic concepts, the author plays with three types of attentional light: spotlight, starlight and daylight, pertaining to doing, being and knowing.

In this respect, Williams admires the free-speaking Greek philosopher Diogenes. One day, while sunning himself in Corinth, he was visited by Alexander the Great, who promised to grant him any wish. The cranky Diogenes replied: “Stand out of my light!” Williams wants a handful of West Coast tech executives to stop blocking out our human light, too.

Perhaps if we regain our detachment from irreality we’ll be able to look back and pinpoint attention distortion with fresh eyes.

The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

The Italian photographer Massimo Listri’s new book The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries showcases 55 of the most gorgeous libraries across the globe dating as far back to 766.

Featured libraries include the Sainte-Geneviève library in Paris, France, the all-white  Mafra Palace library in Portugal (my favorite), and Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland which houses Book of Kells and Book of Durrow.

While mostly in Europe, Listri also captures the Library of Alexandria, once the largest library in the world to the camel bookmobiles seen in Kenya.

Sainte-Geneviève library, Paris, France
Sainte-Geneviève library, Paris, France
Vatican Apostolic Library, Rome, Italy
Vatican Apostolic Library, Rome, Italy
The Mafra Palace library, Mafra, Portugal
The Mafra Palace library, Mafra, Portugal
Rijksmuseum research library, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Rijksmuseum research library, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

See more images at Quartzy.

‘Think of drawing verbs instead of nouns’

A sure way to keep from making static, lifeless drawings is to think of drawing verbs instead of nouns. Basically, a noun names a person, place, or thing; a verb asserts, or expresses action, a state of being, or an occurrence. 

I speak often of shifting mental gears and here is another place to do it. The tendency to copy what is before us without taking time (or effort) to ferret out what is happening action-wise is almost overwhelming. 

Walt StanchfieldDrawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes

‘Space is closer than the sea’

Space is about 100 kilometers away. That’s far away—I wouldn’t want to climb a ladder to get there—but it isn’t that far away. If you’re in Sacramento, Seattle, Canberra, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Phnom Penh, Cairo, Beijing, central Japan, central Sri Lanka, or Portland, space is closer than the sea.

Randall MunroeWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions  

Happy Bullet Journal Day!

The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future

If you look around Pinterest and Facebook groups, you’ll see that bullet journalling is all the rage but what most people don’t know is that Ryder Carroll is the originator of the Bullet Journal Method.

Today marks five years since Carroll introduced bulletjournal.com to the world, helping millions of people like myself organize and prioritize the right stuff in our personal and work lives in the face of the dopamine homing missiles of the distraction age.

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I’m happy to share with you that he’s giving away two free chapters from his new book (Amazon) which is out now.

You can download them for free here.

If you want to learn more about “intentional living” with the Bullet Journal Method, I encourage you to watch the video below:

gif via Sharpie

Amusing ourselves to death

amusing ourselves to death

“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Originally published in 1985, this book sounds strangely familiar today. For more on the rampant artifice and spin, read this piece from Vox