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Things That Actually Matter - 7 Takeaways No. 139
Productivity, AI, Luck, Suicide, Happiness, Information Preservation, Priorities
1. “The present moment becomes the waiting room for the future”
Make Better Use of Your Days – Ben Cohen – (The Deep Sphere)
A very philosophical, yet relatively short, exploration of the trappings of our modern day. Perhaps most prominent are the push for productivity and the decline of religion.
I believe the faults of our culture stem from attempting to escape from a spiritual chasm. An inherent part of being a human is to experience sorrows: anxieties, fears, grievances, and mortality. For millenniums, religion was the source of power and truth that shined upon the melancholic sides of life; now, a hollow idol stands in its place.
I wouldn’t call it an easy read, but I found it very thought-provoking.
Do this: Be present.
2. “What sort of answers would people be likely to produce?”
AI and the automation of work – Benedict Evans – (Benedict’s Newsletter)
That takeaway might be the best encapsulation of how ChatGPT and other large language models really work. They don’t “answer questions”, they tell us what kinds of answers people would give. The ability to do so is based on all the information the LLM was trained on. And, as we know, people are often wrong.
The essay also does a good job of discussing the impact on work, addressing the classic fear that this new technology will put us all out of a job.
New technology generally makes it cheaper and easier to do something, but that might mean you do the same with fewer people, or you might do much more with the same people. It also tends to mean that you change what you do.
Like any new technology over the past few centuries, the concept isn’t job loss, but rather potential disruption and change. (Over a longer timeframe than the worrying prognosticators would believe.)
Do this: Always be prepared for change.
3. “Being in the room pays off”
Career Advice That Doesn’t Suck – Sahil Bloom – (Curiosity Chronicle newsletter)
Much of the advice is likely to be what you’ve heard before. It’s still good as a refresher. One that caught my eye was this:
Showing up early and staying late is a free way to materially increase your luck surface area.
In my experience, the most interesting side conversations and opportunities came up before meetings started or after they ended.
The overall concept is to increase your “luck surface area”, a topic that resonates with me. But applying it to meetings is new. And I realized something: I’m the guy that shows up early, even to the online/Zoom meetings. Why? To chat with the folks as they arrive. And, indeed, it not only deepens the connection, but provides more opportunities for serendipity.
Do this: Be in the room.
4. “More Americans died by suicide last year than any year on record”
The Weight Of The Unspoken Word – Ken White – (The Popehat Report)
This got my attention for several reasons, that takeaway above being only one. The author normally writes about other topics — technology and law. But it turns out he has experience, some of which came to the surface with the death of Sinéad O’Connor.
So when someone like Sinéad O’Connor dies without explanation and without “signs of foul play,” the media implies, but doesn’t ask.
How the press deals with suicide is tricky. The unspoken words, while typically appropriately left unspoken, still speak volumes.
Do this: If you suffer from depression, “It can get better, but you have to ask for help.”
5. “The greyer the world gets, the brighter it becomes”
While this article dates to 2010, I still run into this analysis from time to time to this day. Apparently it continues to hold true, even through COVID and <waves around at everything>.
The principle is simple. Rather than being a long slow decline from youth to death, happiness, by several objective measures, bottoms out in midlife and then climbs once again as we age. Of course, there are exceptions, but on average, this seems to hold quite true. It’s encouraging.
Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.
One of my pet peeves in tech is that people expect a decline, and in expecting making it a self-fulfilling prediction. It need not be that way, both in tech, and in life.
Do this: Raise your expectations.
6. “Our history is at risk”
In The Age Of Culling – Ernie Smith – (Tedium)
This essay discusses the recent move by online publisher CNET to remove large amounts of its older content from online access. It talks about how many organizations fall into this trap of deleting older content. We can’t rely on services like archive.org to save us.
The Internet Archive is there to clean up your mess, not excuse your failings.
The essay focuses primarily on news organizations with information having historical significance. I’d claim it extends to almost all online publishers, including myself. With a desire to keep Google thinking I’m more relevant, I nearly fell into the trap earlier this year. I’ll also admit it’s not a simple problem to solve. There’s an incremental cost to keeping all that old stuff online, but it can still have value.
Do this: Support your local library, archives, and help preserve online sources of information.
7. “Live, Love, Pasta.”
Things That Actually Matter in This World – John P. Weiss – (Blog)
I know I’ve been drawn to topics in recent weeks that some may consider maudlin and perhaps even somewhat uncomfortable. Facing death, particularly that of beloved family members, does that to a guy. When the world throws related ideas in my path, I pay attention.
In this essay, the author portrays an acquaintance facing stage three pancreatic cancer. He discusses the resulting transformation as that person focuses on what truly matters.
Worry less about your imperfections, and focus more on loving your family and friends. You’re not a horrible human being. You’re beautiful and flawed and complicated and scared just like the rest of us.
It’s a beautiful reminder of what really matters.
Do this: Worry less. Love more.
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More random links & thoughts
What’s the Point of It All? The Quest for a Purposeful God – Chaos or cosmos?
The atomic bomb marker inside your body – Some of us have more than others.
The Case of the 500-mile email – Fun for the geeks. Spoiler: speed of light is involved.
Saturday Letters by John P. Weiss. “… a writer, artist, and former police chief with twenty-six years of law enforcement experience.” I’m not sure how I came across him, but his weekly essays have been particularly thought-provoking. This week’s “Live, Love, Pasta.” takeaway comes from his most recent post.
I’m building and keeping a list on the sources page.
What I’m Reading
Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It – Ethan Kross (audio)
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor – Hank Green
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity – Ryan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman