Hello! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very special "Ponder" edition, as we sip tea and explore a few fun, intractable topics together.

This week's topics include tea triggers, equality philosophies, authentic human connection, free will thought experiments, and harmonic punk rock. Enjoy!

Source: Giphy

Did you miss a recent digest? Read recent digests 64, 63 (or dive into the full archive).

"I love my computer | For all you give to me | Predictable errors and no identity | And it's never been quite so easy | I've never been quite so happy | All I need to do is click on you | And we'll be joined | In the most soul-less way | And we'll never | Ever ruin each other's day | 'cause when I'm through I just click | And you just go away" ~ Bad Religion
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (AKA I have a lot to learn from you)

Pat, replying to TechCrunch: We finally started taking screen time seriously in 2018

There are a couple of specific things that I think help me. First, we should be super deliberate and exclusive with badge and push notifications. There are very few apps that any of us have that should be able to continuously demand our immediate attention the way push notifications lets them. By default I turn off all notifications and then turn them on for things I know I actually need. My Gmail app does not have push notification privileges, for instance, because 98% of the emails I get are not so important that I require knowing about them right away. I have a couple of apps that really help to have immediate knowledge of for work but that’s it. Put some thought into it, err on the side of no notifications and experiment with that for a week or two to see if you’re missing anything.

Same thing with app installation. We probably don’t need Facebook on our phones or Instagram. That’s a personal decision but it’s worked out well for me. My main important use case for Facebook, it turned out, was a family group chat. I’ve effectively brought them over to iMessage where there are no distractions, just our conversation, and it’s been good. So now I don’t have Facebook or Messenger on my phone. They send pictures to the family that they want to share and then it’s not permanently in the grips of the Zuckadook. Everyone feels better because we now look at our weird uncle’s Facebook posts a lot less, you know?

Similar to Moment, I also try to replace bad smartphone usage with more productive stuff. So I don’t have Instagram on my phone. Instead, I put a lot of effort into finding a good budgeting app (I chose PocketGuard), put that on my front page, and now I have a little game to click that can positively impact my life. I check it several times a day and I’ve saved money as a result. Exercise apps are high up for me too. I don’t want to give the impression that my phone is a perfectly waste less space though. I have to keep some bad apps — hello Twitter — on there for work and Twitter is one of my most used apps as a result. A lot of scrolling and scrolling and sometimes feeling bad. But it’s on there after a lot of thought that it ultimately helps me be productive at work and, maybe more importantly, it’s not permanent. I can and should periodically reevaluate. Maybe a breakup is in order there too.

Anyway, I think being super mindful about what’s on your phone is smart and good. Everyone will do it in a different way but being deliberate about what your do is a good first step for everyone. 

Zack, replying to Experiment of the Week - Silence (Part 2):

What you said about working on silence really resonated with me.  For the last few weeks, I've worked on both making my phone work for me and being in the moment more.  That means things like using the no-notifications setting more, silencing some friends' text convos, etc.  (I've never had Facebook on my phone, though I do have IG.  Had Twitter, removed it months ago, recently put it back on to test something.)  I've also tried to be more in the moment more of everyday activities, like washing the dishes or watching something on TV.  In the past, I would have TV or music on in the background or reading material for commercial breaks.  But then there is a lot of switching cost to that, so I'm working on enjoying the focus of whatever I'm doing.  Sweeping the floor without music will be the next task.  This blog post has been super useful for me taming my phone.  I also never read my phone in bed (haven't for awhile) and plug it in far away.  

I can't tell if the calm is from decreasing phone use or if decreasing phone use and calm are related to a latent factor.  (Observational data with humans, amirite?)  Either way, it feels good to be in more control of my phone.  I still let it nag me sometimes and need to work on removing it more, but overall I control it much more than I did a few weeks ago.


Hypothesis: Using a trigger of 'tea time' can help me more frequently execute my desired evening routine (i.e., journaling and meditation before bed).

Genesis: My performance on evening routine execution has been *abysmal* since moving to NYC. I want to improve my performance rate by installing a new process. This worked for a period in Los Angeles early in 2018, and I forget how I became detached from it.

Specific Action(s): Thirty minutes before desired bed time, make a mug of hot tea.

Specific Outcome(s): Execution rates of 1) PM Journaling; 2) PM Meditation; 3) Bed time.

Results from Prior Week's Experiment, Silence (Part 2): Breathing and / or reading as a substitute for phone screen time was delightful! I definitely felt the anxiety flow through me during moments and minutes of silence, anxiety directing me to check my phone just in case. Instead, simply 'surfing' my anxiety, riding it out, helped me better explore and understand it, and appreciate its fundamentally impermanent nature. Definitely not 100% on this, but this is absolutely an experiment I want to continue iterating on.

ARTICLE - The New Yorker: The Philosopher Redefining Equality by Nathan Heller - Nathan's (long) and illuminating portrait of philosopher Elizabeth Anderson and her intriguing ideas on equality and freedom. I deeply admire Elizabeth's focus on flexibility and process, bowing to the importance of specific context, rather than focusing on achieving rigid ideological outcomes regardless of circumstances. Elizabeth's warm embrace of disagreement in learning is heartening, and her concept of "private government" resonated deeply with my lived experience working in private hierarchies.

One-Sentence Takeaway: The requirements for securing equality and freedom vary significantly based on context, so embracing intellectual flexibility over rigid ideology can lead to greater success more often.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify an area of your life where a change of context (e.g., new city, new job, new significant other, etc.) required a change in how you achieved success there (e.g., when I moved to X, I had to do A instead of B to realize my [cattle herding] dreams). Check in and see if other aspects of your life could use some adaptation to changes in circumstances and context.

My highlights:
  • As a rule, it’s easy to complain about inequality, hard to settle on the type of equality we want. Do we want things to be equal where we start in life or where we land? When inequalities arise, what are the knobs that we adjust to get things back on track? Individually, people are unequal in countless ways, and together they join groups that resist blending. How do you build up a society that allows for such variety without... turning difference into a constraint? How do you move from a basic model of egalitarian variety, in which everybody gets a crack at being a star at something, to figuring out how to respond to a complex one, where people, with different allotments of talent and virtue, get unequal starts, and often meet with different constraints along the way?
  • The problem, she proposed, was that contemporary egalitarian thinkers had grown fixated on distribution: moving resources from lucky-seeming people to unlucky-seeming people, as if trying to spread the luck around. This was a weird and nebulous endeavor... Egalitarians should agree about clear cases of blameless misfortune: the quadriplegic child, the cognitively impaired adult, the teen-ager born into poverty with junkie parents. But Anderson balked there, too. By categorizing people as lucky or unlucky, she argued, these egalitarians set up a moralizing hierarchy... By letting the lucky class go on reaping the market’s chancy rewards while asking others to concede inferior status in order to receive a drip-drip-drip of redistributive aid, these egalitarians were actually entrenching people’s status as superior or subordinate. Generations of bleeding-heart theorists had been doing the wolf’s work in shepherds’ dress.
  • In Anderson’s view, the way forward was to shift from distributive equality to what she called relational, or democratic, equality: meeting as equals, regardless of where you were coming from or going to. This was, at heart, an exercise of freedom... To be truly free, in Anderson’s assessment, members of a society had to be able to function as human beings (requiring food, shelter, medical care), to participate in production (education, fair-value pay, entrepreneurial opportunity), to execute their role as citizens (freedom to speak and to vote), and to move through civil society (parks, restaurants, workplaces, markets, and all the rest). Egalitarians should focus policy attention on areas where that order had broken down... Anderson’s democratic model shifted the remit of egalitarianism from the idea of equalizing wealth to the idea that people should be equally free, regardless of their differences.
  • Recently, Anderson changed the way she assigns undergraduate essays: instead of requiring students to argue a position and fend off objections, doubling down on their original beliefs, she asks them to discuss their position with someone who disagrees, and to explain how and why, if at all, the discussion changed their views.
  • The challenge of pluralism is the challenge of modern society: maintaining equality amid difference in a culture given to constant and unpredictable change. It is the fashion in America these days to define political virtue by position... Anderson would resist this way of thinking, not least because it calls for intellectual convergence. It’s anti-pluralistic and tribalist. It celebrates ideology; it presumes that certain models have absolute, not situational, value. Rather than fighting for the ascendancy of certain positions, Anderson suggests, citizens should fight to bolster healthy institutions and systems—those which insure that all views and experiences will be heard. Today’s righteous projects, after all, will inevitably seem fatuous and blinkered from the vantage of another age.
  • "We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government." What else could you call the modern workplace, where superiors can issue changing orders, control attire, surveil correspondence, demand medical testing, define schedules, and monitor communication, such as social-media posts?
  • Andersonism holds that we don’t have to give up on market society if we can recognize and correct for its limitations—it may even be our best hope, because it’s friendlier to pluralism than most alternatives are. And we shouldn’t commit ourselves to an ideal system of any sort, whether socialist or libertarian, because a model set in motion like a Swiss watch will become a trap as soon as circumstances change. Instead, we must be flexible. We must remain alert. We must solve problems collaboratively, in the moment, using society’s ears and eyes and the best tools that we can find.

BLOG POST - Medium:  Connection Is a Core Human Need, But We Are Terrible at It by Brianna Wiest - Brianna's work reminds us of the importance of authenticity and vulnerability in our connections with others. Simply showing up is hard enough, but we have to show up the right way to fully realize our need for connection. After all, if we show up as a made-up version of ourselves, we will reject any acceptance we receive anyway, because it was acceptance of someone who was not really us.

One-Sentence Takeaway: We must both show up for others and show up authentically to realize our core human need for connection.

Answering The Drucker Question: Ask yourself if you show up in different ways based on specific contexts (e.g., I used to have my 'game face' for showing up to work). Write down how you think you show up differently, and why. Then simply check in on whether those deltas from the 'authentic' you positively impact your contexts and your needs (They absolutely can! Just check in and ask :D).

Complement with Solitude and Leadership

My highlights:
  • We’ve developed a world designed to create more connection than ever before, yet somehow, much of the digital age has severed connection or fostered inauthentic connection—which does not work. You cannot feign oneness. It is not something you intellectualize. It’s something you feel.
  • People who have authentic connections over social media report having a largely positive view and experience of it. People who use it as a genuine way to stay in touch with others don’t report the same levels of anxiety and depression associated with its use. The reason people try to fake their way into being liked is that they confuse attention for connection—and they are not the same thing.
  • We do not connect with others by trying to earn approval, awe, compliments, appreciation, envy, or superiority. Most people believe a connection is something they earn by being “good enough” when it is really something they develop by being willing enough.
  • [Healing from trauma] is our own willingness to try again, be vulnerable again, show up for others, reach out, and make ourselves an active part of our communities and families and friend groups.
  • In the process of restoring a connection with others, we can realize that we actually create a connection with ourselves. In being seen and loved for who we are, how we think, and what we feel, we learn it’s okay to be as we are.

VIDEO - Wireless Philosophy: The Problem of Free Will by Richard Holton - Richard's fun thought experiment helps to push our thinking on the existence and qualities of free will. I fancy myself a Practical Soft Determinist (i.e., a Hard Determinist dressed up as Soft to keep society afloat... even though this was all pre-determined anyway ;D). Richard's 'Frustrator' concept raises some intriguing questions - Are human beings 'frustrators'? Is determinism dependent on foreknowledge? I (am not smart enough and) did not dedicate enough thoughtful time to thinking about these questions, so I am curious to get your hot takes and learn from your perspective!!

One-Sentence Takeaway: Free will is still heavily debated among philosophers, with many fun nuances to explore.

Answering The Drucker Question: Do nothing! Or react to the 'Do nothing' sentence and do something. Or don't. It's all pre-determined anyway :D


- Bad Religion - Bad Religion was one of my go-to punk rock bands during the angsty teenage years, harmonically riffing on myriad social issues. I had *completely* forgotten about them until I randomly re-listened to the music from the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater soundtracks, which sent me down a Bad Religion rabbit hole of delight.

One-Sentence Takeaway: If you create twenty-plus albums over forty years, you'll inevitably bring something awesome into the world.

Answering The Drucker Question: Listen to a few tracks and enjoy :D

My favorite songs, in no particular order (Note: Favorites are based purely on musical experience, i.e., are message-agnostic):
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