Halo! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very very very special "One Year Anniversary" edition, because I sent my first TD Digest out a year ago to 125 brave souls. A year and 52 digests later, and I feel so fortunate that you continue to spend your time and energy reading what I have to offer here. Thank you for your thoughtful words of support, for contributing your perspective, and for sharing this with friends and loved ones. I am excited for the next year of TD Digest (or twenty) :D
Source: Giphy This week's topics include the impact of algorithms on our lives, living an examined life, the power of empathy, nutrition science, and social media. Enjoy!
If you like this digest and know others who want to live an examined life, share this with them, go hiking in Yosemite, and / or grow a ridiculously silly mustache so you look even better dancing a jig.
"...the only thing there is to get from life is the growth that comes from experiencing it." ~ Michael Singer
TOPIC OF INTEREST - MENTAL HEALTH OF YOUTUBE INFLUENCERS
TL;DR: The natural experiment of YouTube stars is yielding early insight into the impact of running our lives based on algorithms designed by tech companies. Over the last month, I've stumbled upon four articles (see below) highlighting the negative mental health implications of YouTube personalities trying to keep up with YouTube's algorithms. This is a sad story, and also not surprising. As the Center for Humane Technology has repeatedly pointed out, the tech companies building these platforms and algorithms do not have incentives directly aligned with ours. YouTube, understandably, is optimizing for metrics like engagement and monetization, *not* the personal happiness of its users or content creators. This concept is not limited to mass media - even meditation apps like Headspace and Calm do not have directly aligned incentives, as they have businesses to run and investors to please (in addition to other stakeholders like employees, suppliers, partners, and, yes, us customers). Once we accept that the algorithms are not necessarily designed with our best interests at heart, that gets me excited to then explore how to customize and personalize each of these experiences for my best interests, not theirs. And in that openness of curious exploration lies our freedom :D
Note #2: Per the New Yorker article linked later in this digest, “We’re being hypnotized little by little by technicians we can’t see, for purposes we don’t know.”
BEST OF WHAT I CONSUMED THIS WEEK
BOOK - The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer (My full Kindle notes) (Thank you Mani for sharing!) - A wonderfully mind-expanding read that was perfect for the recent trip to Yosemite. I frame this as a 'woo-woo' version of advocating for the very clinically effective CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), like Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism. Similar to how I felt reading The Power of Now (see below), ~70% feels like gooey schlock, but the other ~30% might radically update how you experience the world (I'll leave it to you to decide which is which ;D).
Your consciousness is actually experiencing your mental model of reality, not reality itself.
You’re ready to grow when you finally realize that the “I” who is always talking inside will never be content.
How would you feel if someone outside really started talking to you the way your inner voice does? How would you relate to a person who opened their mouth to say everything your mental voice says? After a very short period of time, you would tell them to leave and never come back.
The natural ups and downs of life can either generate personal growth or create personal fears. Which of these dominates is completely dependent upon how we view change. Change can be viewed as either exciting or frightening, but regardless of how we view it, we must all face the fact that change is the very nature of life.
It turns out that the life of protecting yourself from your problem becomes a perfect reflection of the problem itself. You didn’t solve anything. If you don’t solve the root cause of the problem, but instead, attempt to protect yourself from the problem, it ends up running your life. You end up so psychologically fixated on the problem that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You actually feel that because you’ve minimized the pain of the problem, you’ve solved the problem. But it is not solved. All you did was devote your life to avoiding it. It is now the center of your universe. It’s all there is.
...when your mind starts telling you what you have to do to make everything inside okay, don’t buy into what it’s telling you. The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything. And that’s the only time everything will be okay.
Spiritual growth exists in that moment when you are consciously willing to pay the price of freedom. You must be willing at all times, in all circumstances, to remain conscious in the face of pain and to work with your heart by relaxing and remaining open.
Your views, your opinions, your preferences, your concepts, your goals, and your beliefs are all ways of bringing the infinite universe down to the finite where you can feel a sense of control... You must now struggle day and night to make the world fit your model, and you label everything that doesn’t fit as wrong, bad, or unfair.
...the fear will fade once you understand that the only thing there is to get from life is the growth that comes from experiencing it. Life itself is your career, and your interaction with life is your most meaningful relationship. Everything else you’re doing is just focusing on a tiny subset of life in the attempt to give life some meaning. What actually gives life meaning is the willingness to live it.
BOOK - How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (My full Kindle notes) (Thank you Stefan for sharing!) - Timeless wisdom on relationships and emotional intelligence condensed into thirty actionable principles. Simple and incredibly effective, a reminder that knowing what to do isn't the hard part, it's all about the actual execution (per Derek Sivers, "If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.") Unsurprisingly, the silver bullet secrets here are empathy and taking the other person's perspective.
Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! That is fine. I am all in favor of it. But why not begin on yourself? From a purely selfish standpoint, that is a lot more profitable than trying to improve others—yes, and a lot less dangerous.
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness.
If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are. That determines your character. That is the most significant thing about you.
Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips. You will be surprised how they will set small flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit.
...the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.
Experts agree on ~80% of nutrition recommendations (e.g., eat real food, mostly vegetables), and the remaining ~20% is somewhat fuzzy; intelligent people can disagree (primarily because of research / data limitations that likely won't be resolved soon).
Whatever the population generalizations might be from the research, nutrition is always an N=1 experience. It is up to each of us to learn from the best expertise, but that only serves to inform personal experiments so that we can learn from our lived experience.
The best diet is the one that you will adhere to as a long-term lifestyle, not bounce back-and-forth to temporarily.
I believe in a 'willpower / behavior change' opportunity cost. There is only so much learning and experimentation we can do at one time. Given that, my general recommendation is that we incorporate the 80% of nutrition expertise that is simple and uncontroversial, and spend the rest of our willpower / behavior change budget on the more often ignored pillars of well-being like sleep and mental health.
ARTICLE - New Yorker: The Deliberate Awfulness of Social Media by Mark O'Connell - More technophobia related to social media! Get excited :D Mark's article provides an overview of Jaron Lanier's book “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" and James Bridle’s book “New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future,” (Note: Bridle also wrote the wonderful blog post “Something Is Wrong on the Internet"). I don't have an opinion on the slippery slope forecast elements presented here, but I definitely agree with the present day analysis.
...the nexus of consumer technologies and submerged algorithms, which forms so large a part of contemporary reality, is deliberately engineered to get us hooked. “We’re being hypnotized little by little by technicians we can’t see, for purposes we don’t know,” [Jaron] writes.
The problem is the business model based on the manipulation of individual behavior. Social-media platforms know what you’re seeing, and they know how you acted in the immediate aftermath of seeing it, and they can decide what you will see next in order to further determine how you act—a feedback loop that gets progressively tighter until it becomes a binding force on an individual’s free will.
"We find ourselves today connected to vast repositories of knowledge and yet we have not learned to think. In fact, the opposite is true: that which was intended to enlighten the world in practice darkens it. The abundance of information and the plurality of worldviews now accessible to us through the internet are not producing a coherent consensus reality, but one riven by fundamentalist insistence on simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. It is on this contradiction that the idea of a new dark age turns: an age in which the value we have placed upon knowledge is destroyed by the abundance of that profitable commodity, and in which we look about ourselves in search of new ways to understand the world."
...it’s difficult not to read this as a metaphor for a much broader truth: we are all of us increasingly negotiating a world that makes sense only from the point of view of machines. For some of us—Amazon workers, Uber drivers—it’s less a metaphor than a literal reality.