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Welcome to a special edition of The Knowledge Project, I'm your host, Shane Parrish, I'm the curator behind Farnam Street, which is an online intellectual hub of interestingness covering topics like human misjudgment, decision making strategy and philosophy. The knowledge project allows me to interview amazing people from around the world to deconstruct why they're good at what they do. It's more conversation than prescription, and this is a special episode. Call it an in between. Is it on this episode, Jaff, Anello and I, who started writing for Furnham Street last November, have a fascinating conversation around a piece of content on Farnam Street recently discussing whether we're too busy to pay attention to life, whether we're too busy to live to find the piece of content.
Just Google Farnam Street and too busy to live because this is a bit of an experiment. I want to know your feedback. Do you want to see more of these Twitter with hashtag TCAP and let me know what you think piece. Before I get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor. This podcast is supported by Slark, a messaging app bringing all your team's communications into one place. Slack integrates with other tools and services you already use, like Google Drive, Dropbox and more.
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One of the most recent popular person, Farnam Street, was talking about Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman and the concept of whether we're too busy to pay attention to life.
What did you think? I liked it a lot. I thought that, you know, it's a it's a very interesting concept because modern life is very different than the probably the world that we evolved in. And, you know, I have found myself thinking about it a lot because what we have now that you probably never had in the past, in the distant past, is that you could keep your brain engaged consistently throughout the whole day with no brakes if you wanted to.
And most people in a lot of people do.
You know, you can start your day and literally I think there's a lot of people construct their day is that they wake up the phone, the phone wakes them up. You know, you have an alarm on your phone.
First thing you do is check your email. First thing you do is check your email, your text messages, you check your text messages. I don't really use social media very much. I mean, we have a you know, we have our Twitter accounts and and and I and I do some stuff with that, but I'm pretty infrequent on it.
And I only follow, like 20 people on Twitter who are pretty well curated to people I'm interested to hear from. But I don't use Facebook and Instagram stuff. But I know people who you know, the first thing that to do when they wake up is they check their email, they check their text messages, they check their Instagram account, they check their Facebook like they literally go from A to Z and all the social media just to get caught up on I don't know what happened overnight.
And then then they get their day started.
Where does that need come from, do you think, like this need to be up to date on everything that happened?
I think that the success of these companies is because we have a biological need to stay in touch.
Were it, wouldn't it be unoriginal for me to say that we're a social species? So those things are deeply part of us. And I think that most of these services have evolved in a very natural selection type of way so that the the only ones that are left and that are thriving are the most addictive ones that play on some of our deepest desires and provide our brain with the most. You know, and I don't know how much I trust brain studies.
I mean, I think that science has a long way to go.
But I think it would be I think it's probably true that when we're check when you check your Facebook account regularly that you're getting a hit of whatever trend Rugg.
Yeah, that is relative to the dopamine. You know, again, I don't want to I think some of that stuff gets a little silenzi or it's not real.
But but I believe it enough to say that I understand that it's like a drug like like an actual drug for the brain.
We can even stand in line anymore, like even at a coffee shop.
Well, I will give you an example. So we're recording this in Austin, Texas, and we both flew in here. And one thing that I make a point of noticing now is when the plane touches down. Look, just you just look around immediately. It literally before before you even to access to the gate, people will have their phones out. And I was sitting next to this girl on the way in here and.
You know, I think within a minute or two she had checked her text messages and I was you know, I wasn't like reading them, but I kind of I could notice what she was doing basically right next to me or text messages, her email, her Instagram account, her Facebook account, and another social media thing that it was like Snapchat and something that I didn't recognize because I've kind of there's so many things I tried to keep up with all of them.
But I just the point was that she had checked like six different services in a period of like a minute or two. And then she just turned her phone off and put it in her pocket like it was almost in.
What I thought of immediately was it reminded me of someone who has been stuck in a restaurant all night. And the soon as they get outside, they pull out a cigarette and smoke because they've just been cooped up the whole time. Yeah. And then they release that need immediately, you know. And I think that now I see people do that with their phones or whatever it is like they have this pent up connected need to connect. And when they you know, when they're able to they they take it.
They take a quick hit and some and in some sense, it's not as much anymore because you can get Wi-Fi in a lot of planes.
But if you don't if they're charging for it, you don't pay for whatever. You've been disconnected for a couple of hours.
And so we can't even do that. Right. Like a couple hours is just so much now. It's like we're enabled to be bored or unable to be bored.
Well, I would agree with that totally. I mean, I think that that's that's kind of what I was saying before, was that it's just you can now I don't think that in the even in the recent past, you can go through a whole day being with your being engaged the way that you can't now unless you are. You were an extremely busy person, the average person in the world, you know, and we forget to like the majority of people used to work on farms.
And you would be you would be sort of your brain is just doing very different things now than it would have been when we were the world was agricultural and even before that, when the world was. You know, more of a hunter gatherer. I think that affects are learning to you and our ability to concentrate for long periods of time. And all of this stuff is just a byproduct of that. Like I notice even in line at the supermarket, if people don't pull out their phones and distract themselves, their immediate response to having more than two people in front of them is like almost disgust.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I don't it's you know, there have been a lot of articles written now by people who, um, you know, who basically say, I know I'm addicted. You know, it reminds me of Alcoholics Anonymous or something where the the journalist starts by saying, I know I have a problem, this connectivity problem, and I'm going to take 30 days to be clean and sober, basically. And it always reminds me of someone who was like, well, I know I have a smoking problem, but like, I'm going to try to stop smoking for a month.
And then and then they write this exposé about their time without social media or whatever. And, uh, and there's two things that seem to happen with all of these people.
One is they find when they detach that they get a lot of those powers back that they missed.
So they're like, well, I can focus more and I don't feel so jittery all day and so on.
But the second thing, which is almost which is maybe even more telling, is that in all cases they go back to it. They go back to the life.
Yeah. What do you think that is? Well, we we miss it. I think that people are very unwilling now to dare to be different.
So if you are truly disconnected from those things, we have to understand is there's a there network tools. So when you turn your network off, their network has some homeostasis. Right. So if you and there's going to be a homeostatic response. So if you let's just say that you're someone who is a very active texter, a very active Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever, and you just decide, I can't do this anymore.
I'm destroying my ability to focus and be bored and so on.
Well, in the first day, after you turn those things off immediately, people like like I sent you this thing and you didn't respond and like, why are you are you mad at me? And you know what it is? It's just it's just the homeostatic response. It's like you've disrupted the system and the system notices.
So I think that it's one thing for a journalist to be able to say, I'm writing a story about it so you can tell the network like, you know, I'm going to be turning it off for a while, but on a day to day basis, you can't get away with that.
And I think that part of that has to do with her ability or fear of culturally. It's almost unacceptable to say, I don't know and I don't know. Give me an answer to a question about what's going on in the world, or it can be a question about deep learning or your job or how to apply something. But we just have this inability to appear misinformed. And so I think that manifests itself in these sound bite type opinions where we're reading the Twitter feed and then we talk about it at the water cooler.
And sure, we're informed because we read one hundred and forty four characters and we know exactly what's going on. Right.
Like we're not doing the deep thinking that we used to do. And these subjects are so transitory. I mean, they pass so quickly.
Yeah, I almost feel like people like feel that they don't have an excuse to not know anymore because it's because because the information is so ubiquitous for you to say, well, I don't know anything about that. People are like, do you live under a rock?
You know, if if someone says, what do you think about Trump's X, Y, Z? You know, like, I don't really know much about it.
I mean, you probably heard about it, but you just say, I'm not an expert and I don't know, I just you know, I don't I don't have anything useful to offer on that topic that people are like, yeah, but the you know, I'm talking about like I almost can't accept that.
If you say I don't know, you get a lot of weird looks because you're expected to know something about it because it's so it's there. It's available. It's so easily available.
And I think a lot of people have a trouble differentiating between knowing like the surface thing and actually knowing, like in a deep sense.
And one of my my favorite story about the difference between those two things is from Charlie Munger when he's talking about the physicist Max Planck going around giving this complicated lecture in the in the early 20th century. And and he had given this lecture so many times that he eventually who knows if this story is apocryphal or not, but he eventually said to his chauffeur, you know, like, I want you to give the speech.
And so the chauffeur gives a speech on this complicated, detailed topic. And someone in the audience asked him, you know. Hey, you know, some some complicated tactical question, follow up question on a technical lecture, and he said he goes, I'm surprised such a smart person like you would ask a question like that.
And it's so easy, in fact, that I'm going to pass it over to my for so Monger tells that story as a way to say, are you Max Planck or are you the chauffeur? And ever since I heard that story, I've thought about it very regularly, because if you are an introspective person, you will realize, and I certainly did that a lot of the things that you think you know, you only know what the chauffeur level, you don't know at the Max Planck level.
We have a post on that called the two types of knowledge. And it actually talks about applying knowledge and chauffeur knowledge and goes into it.
It was from Rolf Dogpile book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, which, you know, there's some interesting thoughts in there and there's some interesting connotations about where he get the sources and all of that stuff.
But leaving all that aside, I think it's an interesting concept to distinguish between when you know something and when you don't and when you're fooling yourself.
And Feynman said, I mean, you know, the key is not easiest person to fool. He is not fooling yourself. You're the easiest person to fool.
And then mapping that kind of to our concept of circle of contact or circle of competence and how we go about making decisions and operating within those bands and then having strategies and ways to overcome.
I mean, there's no way that you can live a life in today's day and age and only make decisions in your circle of competence, only make the decisions where you have Planck knowledge.
You have to go outside of that. But the strategies you employ when you go outside of that are incredibly important. And those are kind of the tools that we we want people to build up.
But, you know, I wanted to come back to something you said you before you joined Farnam Street, you were working in an organization, an office culture.
How often did anybody in there actually say that? Three words.
I don't know. Words. Yeah, not that. I mean, you know what?
I think it has a lot to do with the person and their ego in the sense that, like, there are certain topics that everybody feels comfortable saying not everybody, but each individual person feels comfortable saying, I don't know. Like if if I were to ask you about, you know, gymnastics, you would have no problem saying, I don't know, because there are none of your ego is wrapped up in gymnastics. But when I was working in finance, you know, if you ask somebody a financial question, their ego is wrapped up in that because that's their profession.
So even though they may they may be at a very narrow operating in a very narrow area of finance. Let's say let's say you're an analyst focusing on, you know, Canadian insurance companies or something like that, which is a niche. And I ask you about a Coca-Cola company that may be outside that circle. Well, it's a financial question. And you feel like, you know, you work in the finance industry and you are a business person and you understand investments and so on.
And so you have that's in your that part of your ego is wrapped up in understanding things like that. So you feel like you have to answer that. And so you give me an answer about that.
Even if you know nothing about it, you go, oh, well, Coke is, you know, and if it's not the same as if I asked you about gymnastics because no one expects you to know anything. You don't you don't expect that of yourself.
So a lot of it, in my opinion, people are perfectly willing to say, I don't know if it's something that they don't. They have no, you know, no skin in the game on at all. But if if they do, then you get all these weird, nonsensical answers where people it's kind of related to their field of understanding.
But so do you think we've wrapped up our self-worth then in keeping up to date with our friends on Facebook and world news?
Up to the minute? Almost the second, right. I mean, there's this race to you.
Is that because we we have some sort of self-worth in terms of being up to date?
Or is it I guess I don't want to I don't want to make that stretch the analogy. I think the two things are different, the social media thing. I don't I don't think it's an ego thing so much as. We're wired to want to know things about other people in our network where we've been gossiping since we developed language, and it's no surprise that the most valuable social media tools are basically tools in which we gossip about one another.
And the problem that I have seen beyond, beyond the concept of being busy all the time and connected all the time, is that the tools we have now are also the biggest energy generators that have ever been invented. So something like Facebook, you know, I think is destructive to happiness in a big way because people are unable to see those things and not feel tremendously envious. And envy has been part of the human DNA for as long as we've been human.
I mean, it's just that's part of who we are. And I'm sure there is a evolutionary reason why that's true. I wouldn't pretend to be able to give you a good answer on that, but. You know, it was in the the old religious texts for a reason and so on, so and I think as much as there's value in the connectivity it gives us, that's a huge downside. And so, you know, when you combine the effect of being constantly connected and unable to be bored and struggling with focus with the N.V. generation, I think I don't know.
I just question whether the tools have been weighed. We weigh the pros and cons of the tools.
What do you think the solution is? I mean, we both heavily curate and reduce the influence others have on our lives.
But, yeah, I, I it's hard for me to say in this because I don't have any problem.
I didn't have any problem disconnecting from all of that.
So I had a Facebook account just I'm using I'm picking on Facebook and you know, I mean if anybody from Facebook ever listens to this, it's I'm just using as an example because you're the most popular. So you won the game.
But, you know, I got rid of I had my Facebook account when I was in high school and in college and then and then, you know, when I probably like right after I left college, I got rid of it. And at the time, there was that homeostatic response.
People are like, I don't know how to invite you to things like we used Facebook to organize things. And, you know, I'm like, you don't. I remember missing out early on on a few important events that people assumed I knew through Facebook, like people getting engaged or having kids and announcing they were pregnant or whatever, that the way that they would tell people is to put it on Facebook.
So there were a couple of those things early on that I missed out on because people didn't realize or forgot that I wouldn't find out through Facebook.
But then what I notice in a pretty short term, pretty short period of time, is that, you know, when there was an event person, one let me know directly, I was like a little bit of resentment, maybe like you're not on Facebook, so I have to tell you this directly.
But eventually everybody got used to it, you know, and and I haven't looked back and it's, you know, whatever, seven years later. And I have I haven't looked back at it. So and then as for the other networking tools, social media tools, I just didn't I was early enough that I just didn't pick them up.
But you used Twitter to.
I used to get information. It's hard to filter it, but so these tools can be valuable then.
It's not that they don't have value is just the person who put it as well. As Cal Newport wrote in his new book about deep work, he has something in there about that resonated with me that he put into words better than I had been able to myself before, which is that it's not that the tools don't have value is just that we're not weighing the pros and the cons as we would with any other tool.
Right. And I think Cal's exactly 100 percent right on this notion that it would be a mistake to say the tools have no value.
It would also be a mistake to say that the tools they have are perfect and that on balance, some of the tools may be worth less than zero, that they may be an average of detractor.
So I think it was impossible. I found for me personally is impossible to use something like Facebook in a balanced way, like I just wasn't. It was detracting so much.
You're all in or all of it. Yeah, I think I couldn't just use it in like a judicious way, so I had to get rid of it. And I didn't pick up Instagram or Snapchat any of those. I don't I can't say, but I suspect that I probably wouldn't get a whole lot out of those either.
Twitter is I can use Twitter in a very targeted way, which is I can follow exactly how I want to follow and, you know, click the links. I want to click in and save them to to read them later or whatever. And then if I have any things I want to tweet out on behalf of AVOs for Farnam Street and stuff through, you know, I'll do that.
But then I just turn it off like I don't, I resist the I don't have like I don't have Twitter the app installed on my phone so I don't go through it on my phone. I don't have it on my iPad. The only time I really use Twitter is on my actual on the computer. And so I'm limiting myself to when I'm able to access the tool I'm using, I'm trying to control my own impulses.
And so we take this to a different agreed to because we try to have an incredibly high signal to noise ratio on the stuff we do disseminate on all of these channels, including Facebook and Twitter. A lot of that, I think comes from our natural respect for readers. And we want people to have Farnam Street as part of their lives and not encroach too much on the nonsense aspect of it.
But I think these tools for me personally, I use them differently than you do. I think that they're useful for me to receive information, for me to curate. I don't read the newspapers anymore. It's a good way that information gets filtered. And I don't I don't follow a lot of people on Twitter. I think I have like sixty and not a lot of them are repeating the news. But when anything big happens, it always finds its way to me, no matter how much I try to avoid the news or I don't follow any of the news channels on Twitter.
And then the other thing is just using it and knowing why you're using it and cutting it off right here. Yeah, I follow the number of people on Twitter that I can go through in about ten minutes. The day speed. That's kind of the way that I do it. And it gives me ideas for posts and cross connections. But what I find the biggest problem for me personally is the the multitasking aspect of it. I'll be learning something.
And then my inclination when I'm learning or reading is like, oh, that's really cool.
I should tweet that out or I should. And that immediately takes me from the moment where I'm focusing and concentrating, and then it puts me in another space. And then that's as we know, the Internet is this big rabbit hole. So it's so easy.
So on that topic, something that I did recently that I recommend that everyone go through this exercise to see. So the next time that you're working on something or reading something, you have a pad next to you. But don't don't give yourself the ability to connect to the Internet. And as you're reading that thing or working on that thing, doesn't matter whether you're writing something during a presentation, doing a piece of work, reading a book, reading, it doesn't really matter any time when you need to be engaged.
When you think of something that you would do on the Internet, for example, you're doing a research project and you're like, oh, I want to look up this guy on Wikipedia or something.
Or like you said, I want to tweet that out or I want to send an email to somebody instead of doing the thing, write it down on the pad.
And do that for a couple of hours or whatever, how long it takes you and then and then when you're done, look at the pad, I guarantee you you will be you will look at the pad and be like, holy shit, I would have been distracted 20 times.
At least here at least I found that I would I would literally feel like a piece of a legal yellow legal pad, like from top to bottom with stuff. It would be like, look up X, look up. Why send chain email on this, like all these things one after another. And if I had indulged on each one of those things, I can't imagine that I would have ever gotten the thing done. It would have taken me at least twice as long to actually finish, even if I'm just working on a post for Farnam Street or whatever, you know, like.
So something that I do now is I'll write I'll write out the whole post without any links, without any anything I would need to look up or need to link to or whatever. I do it all at once at the end and I download all my thoughts first, because what I found is that if I do all of that stuff while I'm writing it, it just delays me so long because the Internet is just this is hyperlinking machine. The whole the Internet is built on the idea of hyperlinking.
That's the core of the idea, is that things, everything links to each other. And then Google built their search algorithm originally on this, things that are being linked to, you know, if it's something that has a lot of inbound links, it's going to end up at the top of the search rankings. And they've refined it since then. But they had this major insight about what a popular website was, is something that had been basically it was linked to most frequently.
And so, um, which is a great insight and made them a lot of money. And obviously I'm ridiculously oversimplifying Google. But the problem with that is that when you log on it, you can never it's like, you know, we like we have posts about on farmstay. Garrett Hardin said you can never merely do one thing. He has his first law of ecology. And I think that's like the first law of the Internet at this point, which is that you can never merely do one thing.
You can't use it like a sore or a hammer or some tool that in the past or you pick it up and you use the hammer and then you put it back down.
You have to you go on and you link and you can you blink and it just goes it literally is infinite. Yeah. You can go forever if you want to.
You could die linking. So that's a hard habit to break.
And the only way I found that I can do it for me, I'm not.
Some people are probably much better at this than I am, but I definitely have a monkey brain when it comes to this.
Well, do you think we can actually multitask? Do you think anybody can multitask?
I think they've pretty well proven that you can't multitask, that there's really no such thing as doing really doing, too.
I mean, at some point there's becomes a problem of definition what multitasking is, because that's what the neuroscientists are saying. Well, you're not actually doing two things at once.
And I can kind of see responsible people are like, well, I'm not saying literally doing two things at once, like in an existential sense.
I just mean that I can watch TV and, you know, like, you know, hang out with my kids at the same time. Yeah, you could say that's multitasking. So I think would you don't want to necessarily take the idea too far that multitasking is not real.
But I do believe the idea that if you are trying to watch TV and like, you know, write a paper at the same time, the paper probably is being sacrificed compared to what it would be otherwise, where you are totally focused.
And it's also popular now to, like, listen to music or something while you work.
And the most amusing one I had I heard about that was from Ryan Holladay, where he's like he would listen to the same song like a hundred times in a row while he was writing, which I would never do to myself because I love music. And he's like, I can't even listen to music anymore because I've ruined it, which is I thought was amusing and it works for him. That's fine. I just I would never want to do that to myself.
But basically the way most people do it is not like that.
There's more novelty, like they're just, you know, if your brain is hearing the music and and processing it and enjoying it and you're also trying to focus on whatever the work is. And I think that one of those things is probably being sacrificed. So, you know, basically what I find for myself as I have in order for me to do my best work by far, I have to do one thing at a time pretty much.
And I've learned to batch things into groups like. So in the next hour, I will do all the stuff I need to get done on the Internet, you know, all the linking, all the emails I need to send and respond to and all of that or whatever, which is going to vary by person. Some people have a lot of email and a lot of networking to do and depending on your job, and I'm fortunate enough that I can, you know, put that into certain parts of the day and leave it there.
So outside of multitasking in the sense of it's hit on productivity and our ability to learn.
And there's also kind of the thing that we come back to in the original post, which is that we're missing out on life through all of this busyness.
And a perfect example is when you. When you walk into the lobby of a famous hotel, instead of admiring it, people immediately pull out their cameras and they start taking pictures instead of being in the moment, they want to take a picture of the moment and share the moment with somebody else.
Like, look, I was here. It's it's not quite like a one upmanship sort of thing, but it's like, oh, I was here. That's great.
But you're not actually experiencing.
Yeah, it's it's an interesting question. I mean, some people would argue that, you know. I don't know, I just I have this I have this pet peeve about that, where it's like if you get so busy documenting everything that how could that be?
How could that be the same as experiencing it? And obviously, like the textbook example right now, it seems to piss everybody off and yet everybody keeps doing it is when I go to concerts, they take out their phone and they're recording the concert. And literally you go to work.
You know, I went to see Pearl Jam last year and like, you know, a hundred hundred thousand people, all with their phones out recording thing. And it's just like, I don't understand how that's compatible with, like, optimally enjoying the thing.
But what I guess I understand this point is that some people just don't feel that. They feel that they haven't experienced the thing until they documented.
But we're not recording it for ourselves, are we?
Like, how often do you think those people go back and then. Well, sometimes they do. What I've noticed is people will do that and then they want to watch it with someone else, like, hey, watch this video sharing an experience.
Yeah. So it's the sharing the experience. So some of it I think is what you're saying, where like you're trying to impress other people. And basically it's the flip side where I was talking about before, where Facebook being this huge envy generator. People know that they're generating envy in others and they feel that they have to keep up with that cycle.
Like if if if I'm on Facebook and I'm constantly seeing things posted by other people about the vacations they've been on and whatever, well, then I feel like in order for me to keep up with that and feel good about myself, I have to also do that.
So it's another way of keeping up with the Joneses kind of thing. When one car on the street is new, everybody gets a new car within a certain period of time.
You have to document your trip to Barbados because you've seen your friends documenting their trips to Machu Picchu and to whatever.
And I think it would be it's almost like your trip didn't happen if you don't if you don't die. That's my point. I think that there's like an almost gotten to the point for a lot of people where they don't feel that the experience has happened and it's been documented. And and that's not a totally brand new thing. I mean, that's been around a while, at least as long as photography has been around and people, you know, showing each other pictures of their trips or writing each other letters about it.
So I'm not I'm not necessarily throwing out the whole idea.
I'm just it's just, you know, I love I love the concept that that bad ideas are good ideas born bad.
And I think that we're at that point with a lot of this stuff where what it started as a cool idea, which is being able to document something and show it to other people later, has gone to this fever pitch element where you can no longer experience it without documenting it. And and that leads to these absurdities, like people taking pictures of all their food and ridiculous stuff that most people I think even if you're listening to this, I'm guaranteeing a lot of people will be nodding their heads like that is ridiculous.
And then they'll do it, you know, like so go ahead and do it. This is funny because wait for dinner tonight.
Jeff and I are going to dinner and I'm going to take a picture of every course. Right. There you go.
So if you're sincere about trying to detach from it, you don't have to come up with some sort of strategy to mentally come to terms with the fact that you don't need to do a lot of people do this stuff, but that you don't need to and that you don't need to get fulfillment from other people. You can enjoy things without other people, sort of.
But how do you go cold turkey?
Like how do you go from somebody who's doing this and. Do you scale back? Do you stop? Do you? Well, that's like asking how do I quit smoking? I mean, I think everybody the answer when it comes to smoking is probably going to be the same answer when it comes to social media, which is that a lot of people will fail and won't be able to do it even with sincere intentions. Some people will be able to quit cold turkey and some people will be able to, you know, sort of back off slowly with the nicotine patch.
And I would almost guarantee you that that social media and networking tools are going to an email included are going to fall into that same bucket. So you have to you have to start by being honest with yourself, like, how bad is my problem and how much? You know, again, it's very, very AA.
But like, how much do I want to help?
Do I need, you know, and come up with a strategy that's going to.
But I think the first thing is, like, you have to understand that it's OK to detach a little bit, you know, like it's not, um, and that expect the response to come from the network or whatever and just prepare for it.
And it's doable.
I think it's doable. I'm not I still live a healthy social life and everything, even though I don't use all that stuff. It's worked out completely fine for me. People started telling me when they had babies and stuff. So you can, um, and no one expects me to post a picture of my vacations online. So I think you realize it's an illusion at some point.
These are tough questions that we're grappling with in terms of busyness and its impact on learning, its impact on productivity, its impact on your life. I think the answers and you know, what we buy is we buy the solution to this problem and we buy that through self-help books and we buy that through everything else, which are very prescriptive.
What we don't buy are this is a tough issue.
This is grappling for people to deal with and each person has to deal with it in a slightly different way. There's no formula that you can just follow and get the right answer. And it has to relate to the context of your life.
And that's part of the work of the thinking, right, is taking the ideas from other people, learning them and understanding them and understanding that when they apply and when they don't apply, and then further understanding when they apply to your life and how they impact your life. And it comes down to things like weighing the pros and cons to using these tools and just being aware of those cons because we don't think of it. Then we just think about the the pros or the ability to share and disseminate.
And I don't have to call somebody. I can just tweet somebody out, you know, I don't have to email somebody.
All of these things where we can do massive communications instead of one on one communications, make it easier on ourselves. But we also communicate more. We also share. So there's a cost to this, right. We're constantly on our phones, our devices.
Can I give a little analogy that I came to me recently, which is that, you know, there's this well known thing where people think that building a bigger, wider highway is going to alleviate traffic. And then what happens is they build the highway and they realize that the traffic is the same because people start taking more trips.
So this was a huge problem in New York City for a long time. They would think that they when they built the Henry Hudson Bridge or whatever, that it was going to alleviate traffic from the existing bridge. And it turned out that they had way more traffic afterwards. Both bridges were now. So I think when it comes to communications, there's something similar happening where people think that it makes communication easier. And thus I can you know, I can make it even simple.
I don't have to write these letters and I can it's so much easier, whatever.
But what happened is that that's the opposite. The traffic problem happened where communication just exploded.
Yeah. You almost want some friction, right? Like there's a natural stoppage.
I guess you like I used to have the firm St- email address up on the website and I had to take it down because I was just getting so many.
It was so easy for people to email me. And it's not like you're emailing me one or two sentences like these are seven, eight paragraphs or thirty page documents or so. What I've started asking people to do to add friction is, oh well, why don't you print that and mail it to me? And if it's worth your time to print mail to me, it's something I'll look at. And if it's not worth your time to print mail it to me, you were probably just communicating with me, not because you wanted to communicate with me, Persad, but because it was easy for you to do.
And the cost I knew was really low. But the cost on me is really high, so I can almost put those costs on somebody else. It's it's almost like a modern bureaucracy, right.
You think of it how the office culture works. It's not about doing the work. It's about forwarding an email and shifting it to somebody else.
And we spend all of this time, you know, just basically passing around emails. And we think that that is a priority for work.
Right. But it makes me wonder, like, who's actually doing work and all of these organizations.
Yeah, and that's that was my experience. You know, you asked me before, like, you know, working in the real world or whatever, um, is that what people call work was like, not really work?
It was. Sometimes it was, but of the 10 hours a day that we would spend in the office, you know, maybe two of them would be what you would call work, like actual writing a report or doing research or whatever.
And the rest of the time would be chatting and emailing and walking around the office and things. And and then, you know, the person will report that they're working 60 hours a week or whatever. And then and I want to say, like, well, you're at the office 60 hours a week, but are you actually working six?
So and I'm not blaming any of the individuals. It's just that's the culture now, just the way it is. And, you know, it just expands and expands.
And time is not work, right? Time is not.
So what's the principle that like, I don't know, it was named after the like the the work will expand to fit the time allotted Perkinson, wasn't it. Yeah. Yeah.
So and that's kind of how it is now at the communications infrastructure being what it is. It's like I think there's like a sub version of that where it's like communications will expand to fill the time allotted.
I mean, you could literally you wanted to spend your entire time just to communicate in a sub tangent on this is I've noticed a trend that probably everybody else has already noticed.
And I'm slow to this, but it's the person in the the office environment that creates a half assed draft that is not well thought out, attaches it to an email to like twenty or thirty people and was like, oh, I did all the work on this.
What are your thoughts? And then they've basically shifted all of that work.
So my my father runs an accounting firm and does wealth management.
He calls his office tennis where it's like you do it and then you just you head into a person's court and then they hit it back. And, you know, that's what it is. It's like tennis.
And but it creates an obligation on the receiver's part to feel like to do work and a lot of work. And the person who is doing the work already, like the initial person who did the work, they're basically half asking it to like some sort of bare minimum because now they're passing their work on to other people.
And some people do this in a really shrewd way, which is like, oh, your experience is so much greater than mine. I think it had a lot of value and insight into this particular thing. But at the end of the day, they're not doing the thinking. They're not doing they're not getting it to the quality it should be before doing that. And then they're not thinking about when they send it out and the impact it has on other people and their jobs.
And it is kind of like office tennis and it's shifting the burden to somebody else, which is so easy to do.
And that's why we fought emails and we say, like, you know, these quick, what do you think?
Or for your situational awareness or FOIA and all of these things, we're not actually thinking, well, what is the cost of the person to read this and understand it? Can I summarize it for them? If you're passing something to your boss, which is, you know, something value add is literally just a you know, a one or two sentence. Here's the gist of it. You can get the context below. But if you know that, I'm giving you the gist of it.
I've just saved you some time and made you aware of the situation. But we don't do that.
We're just. Well, so it's going to so it's not natural to do that because like you said, it costs me nothing. So my incentive is to just get it off my plate in the most frictionless way possible and then you deal with it.
And so in an organization, it would take someone is going to have to come down from high and say, look, we're going to improve our email culture and our communications culture. And so far it's been going the other way where, you know, the companies are just encouraging more and more email and the tools for communication. I mean, you know, any time I know a lot of companies are implementing like or have already implemented like instant messaging capabilities and not you know, it's come a long way from AOL Instant Messenger, but there's sophisticated corporate tools, supposedly.
But, you know, the people who have to use them are now the people who work there are now expected to use them. And that intrudes upon any time that they may have spent actually focusing on something and working. Because when I am window pops up, it's like it's like email, but worse. And now it's even more frictionless. So it's kind of goes back to we were talking about before where it's like the tools have been. We've only looked at one side of the ledger, which is all the frictionless nature of it.
But we've been very hesitant to look at the other side, which is, well, what are we losing? And it goes back to that quote by Herbert Simon. We said, you know, what does information consume? It consumes the attention of its recipient. And so in a world rich in information, there's a poverty of attention. I'm paraphrasing, but that's basically what he said.
And that was more the more prophetic than he thought it would be when he said it, you know, fifty years ago or whatever. So I think that's where we're at. And I think that as a person, you have to come up with strategies to fight it. And if you're running an organization, don't expect it to happen. It's on its own. It's going to someone's going to have to, you know, kind of come down from high and say, we're going to do this better and and, you know, put some carrot and stick into it.
Like, you have to punish people who are not following it.
So. Listen, this has been a fascinating conversation, and I think we're going to end it here. This is a bit of an experiment. The first time Jeff and I have done a one on one.
We'd love to hear your feedback with some level of irony.
You can tweet to us, tag the knowledge project and let us know what you think of this. Thank you.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up.
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