How to do Nothing by Jenny ODell
What is the attention economy?
The corporate capture and mining of our free time, attention, and care.
- Instagram and Facebook
- Also Dribbble (an Instagram for designers)
- Media powered by outrage and shock—this has downstream effects on academic research
- Candy Crush and FarmVille
- Autoplay on YouTube
The attention economy does not reward context
It rewards hysteria and fear. It foments an arms race of urgency that abuses our attention and leaves us no time to think. It rewards having a “take” after having read a single headline.
- This is the idea of “context collapse”
- In buying into social media, we are also willingly creating a cacophony for ourselves in which it is impossible to hear our own voices
- The cruel irony is that the platforms are profiting from a collapse of context that keeps us from being able to think straight. This is where the idea of “doing nothing” comes from: it means disengaging from one framework (the attention economy) not only to give myself time to think, but to do something else in another framework
- Repair- having recourse to periods of and spaces for “doing nothing”. Without these times we have no way to think, reflect, heal, and sustain ourselves—individually or collectively
- Instead of FOMO, think NOMO- necessity of missing out
- “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” —Audre Lorde
- It’s worth mentioning that even now, self care is being commercialized and being made into the attention economy (e.g. posts on IG lauding self-care with THIS product, GOOP)
- We absolutely require distance and time to be able to see the mechanisms we thoughtlessly submit to. More than that, we need distance and time to be functional enough to do or think anything meaningful at all.
- A sharpened ability to listen. This is less Deep Listening—which is important—and more so working to understand one another
- "Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything"
- The attention economy works to fill all silences with everything that could possibly be of interest to you: memes? Fries as a cheese conveyance? Hot women? What will make you click, let us seeeeee!
- “I think we also found the answer to the universe, which was, quite simply: just spend more time with your friends”
Margin is the ability to resist the attention economy and must be protected
The idea of /margin/ has to do with how much ability we have to politely withdraw or decline from the attention economy without suffering harm. For anyone who has even the tiniest margin, it’s important to put it to use opening up margins further down the line. Tiny spaces, by nature of giving us time to step back and think, can open up small spaces; small spaces can open up bigger spaces.
The final few paragraphs of the book. Beautiful. Peaceful. Worth remembering
If I had to give you an image of how I feel about the attention economy now, as opposed to in 2017, I’d ask you to imagine a tech conference. Like so many conferences, it would be in another city, perhaps another state. The subject of this conference would be persuasive design, with talks by the likes of the Time Well Spent people, about how horrible the attention economy is and how we can design our way around it and optimize our lives for something better. Initially I’d find these talks very interesting, and I would learn a lot about how I’m being manipulated by Facebook and Twitter. I would be shocked and angry. I would spend all day thinking about it.
But then, maybe on the second or third day, you would see me get up and go outside to get some fresh air. Then I’d wander a little bit farther, to the nearest park. Then—and I know this because it happens to me often—I’d hear a bird and go looking for it. If I found it, I would want to know what it was, and in order to look that up later I’d need to know not only what it looks like, but what it was doing, how it sounded, what it looked like when it flew…I’d have to look at the tree it was in.
I’d look at all the trees, at all the plants, trying to notice patterns. I would look at who was in the park and who wasn’t. I would want to be able to explain these patterns. I would wonder who first lived in what is now this city, and who lived here afterward before they got pushed out too. I would ask what this park almost got turned into and who stopped that from happening, who I have to thank. I would try to get a sense of the shape of the land—where am I in relation to the hills and the bodies of water? Really, these are all forms of the same question. They are ways of asking: Where and when am I, and how do I know that?
Before long, the conference would be over, and I would have missed most of it. A lot of things would have happened there that are important and useful. For my part, I wouldn’t have much to show for my “time well spent”—no pithy lines to tweet, no new connections, no new followers. I might only tell one or two other people about my observations and the things I learned. Otherwise, I’d simply store them away, like seeds that might grow some other day if I’m lucky.
Seen from the point of view of forward-pressing, productive time, this behavior would appear delinquent. I’d look like a dropout. But from the point of view of the Place, I’d look like someone who was finally paying it attention. And from the point of view of myself, the person actually experiencing my life, and to whom I will ultimately answer when I die—I would know that I spent that day on Earth. In moments like this, even the question itself of the attention economy fades away. If you asked me to answer it, I might say—without lifting my eyes from the things growing and creeping along the ground—“I would prefer not to.”
Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
The danger of “resulting”
It’s important to remember that in making bets, you have two separate components: the bet and the result. It’s important not to conflate the quality of the result with the quality of the bet. If you do that, you’re likely going to be tempted to change your betting style in the future incorrectly
- Pete Carrol, coach of the Seahawks, in the 2015 Super Bowl. He opted to throw at the 1-yard line on 2nd down, result was an interception by the Patriots and a loss. If they had made the catch, people would have lauded him. If it had been incomplete, they would have just moved onto 3rd down and that play would have been forgotten. But the result was bad, and thus people called the bet bad, which is the incorrect way to look at the situation
Poker involves hundreds of decisions in a single match
At the end, a player has to separate luck from skill, signal from noise, and guard against resulting. In game, they have to execute their best intentions within constraints of the speed expected by the table (you can’t just sit and think for 5 minutes on your turn)
-> Very similar to interviews: how can I incorporate this into interview practice? Looking back and dissecting past interviews to separate luck from skill
We believe that we’re rational and reason from first principles, but we don’t
Here’s how we think we form abstract beliefs:
- We hear something;
- We think about it and vet it, determining whether it is true or false; only after do that
- We form our belief
As it turns out, here’s how we actually form abstract beliefs:
- We hear something;
- We believe it to be true;
- Only sometimes later, if we have the time or inclination, we think about it and vet it
(As it were, I found myself just believing this, before catching myself and asking whether it was true or now. It passes muster, though, now that I think about it)
We should actually strive to be wrong; we learn faster that way
From this GQ interview of Annie Duke
She realized: “I’m going to be a faster learner if I’m not so afraid of being wrong. I’m actually going to learn more quickly because I’m going to be less likely to be swatting away information and trying to fend it off in defense of my own self narrative.”
- Uncertainty isn’t always bad—in fact it sometimes works in your favor. This kind of ties to the point in the book that we’re rarely ever 100% right or wrong in our bets, instead we’re varying percentage levels of “certain” (e.g. I’m about 60% certain on this, so I’d better make sure my risk / downside in this bet reflects that). This point is that sometimes things break your way when you’re not prepared, and sometimes they don’t go your way even if you’ve been preparing for months. That’s important to remember that the outcome—or /result/ —is separate from your decision
- One reason it’s hard to change our identity: beliefs are a form of identity
- There’s beliefs as an epistemological system: what do I know? What is true of the world? e.g. if I were to jump into a cage full of hungry lions, from what I believe of the world, what might happen to me?
- But there’s also beliefs as a form of expression. These are messy: think about political parties—why would my feelings about estate tax have any bearing on what I feel about climate change?
- Changing beliefs can sometimes result in social isolation, which makes it hard to be in the practice of changing beliefs
- We should lose the all-or-nothing mindset
- When Trump won the election, people were stunned how “wrong” the polls were. But they weren’t: they gave him a 35% chance at winning. As humans we tend to think in black-and-white, so we rounded 35 down to 0. But if I gave you a gun with 100 chambers and 35 were loaded with bullets, would you be willing to play Russian Roulette?
- In this grey spectrum mindset, you’re rarely unequivocally 100% “right” or “wrong”, you’re at varying levels of certain, and that helps us stay more open-minded
- It also helps us be decisive: instead of waiting for 100% sure, maybe 60% sure is enough to do something
- One way to kick ourselves back into interrogating our beliefs: ask “Want to bet?”
- Think about what happens when you say something like “Citizen Kane won an Oscar, of course” and they ask “wanna bet?” You immediately think:
- Oh shit, how do I know this? Where did I get this information from?
- Who did I get it from? What is the quality of my sources? How up to date is that information? Who is this person who just asked me to bet? What is their level of expertise?
- What do they know that I don’t? What am I missing?
Why science improves so quickly
In published papers, we share methods of gathering and analyzing data, the data itself, and our confidence in the data. This allows the premises of the experiment to be replicated and checked. It also performs a very helpful function of indicating our confidence in the results (via p-values—defined in the book as “the probability one would expect to get the result that was actually observed (akin to declaring your confidence on a scale of 0-10)” and confidence intervals”
-> Look up p-values and confidence intervals
We examine ourselves like scientists, really naive scientists
“Self-serving bias” is the term for how we typically examine and mine our past experiences for lessons: we take credit for the good stuff (“skill”) and blame the bad stuff on external factors (“luck”)
We study our outcomes like scientists, but like naive scientists, because we look for a plausible reason that ALSO fits our wishes: “it is usually a reason that flatters us, puts us in a good light” (as an example of this, in a study of auto accidents, in 75% of the accounts, the victims blamed someone else. Most remarkably, in /single-vehicle accidents/, 37% of the drivers found a way to blame someone else)
Duke calls this inability to tease apart skill and luck—or in the example above, our inability to attribute it properly—a “fielding error”. In the filtering we do in our minds, we incorrectly decide that an outcome was because of luck or skill. The risks of this are twofold:
- Blaming bad outcomes on luck means we miss opportunities to examine our decisions and make more accurate future bets to improve
- Perhaps less intuitively, taking credit for good outcomes means we will often reinforce decisions that shouldn’t be reinforced—we’re attributing lucky situations that broke our way to our own skill and actions, and so double down on bets that maybe shouldn’t have worked
Resulting, revisited. Post-hoc analysis runs the risk of fielding errors: attributing bad outcomes to luck and good outcomes to skills, which leads us to change our betting style in the future (aka "resulting")
The best way to cut down on this is to deconstruct decisions before an outcome is known: attorneys evaluate trial strategy before the verdict comes n. Sales teams evaluate strategy before learning whether they’ve closed the sale.
Make it a habit when seeking advice to give the details without revealing the outcome
Is it possible to use this when talking about interviews? Should I give the outcome first for positive stories and hide the outcome for negative stories (e.g. weaknesses)?
Various examples / analogies
- CIA instituted Red Teams; State Department created a Dissent Channel; the term “devil’s advocate” comes from a Catholic Church practice to hire someone to present arguments /against/ sainthood during the canonization process
- Great ways to help us check groupthink and biases and ultimately, come to the best decision by thinking in bets
- Good phrase to remember: “Do you want to just let it all out, or are you thinking of what to do next?”
- Another good one for redirecting people to think about what is in their control: “it must be hard to [situation here (e.g. have a teacher like that, have all these kooky people in your life stirring up drama)]. Do you think there’s anything you can do to [make that better (e.g. improve your grades, have less drama)} in the future?”