Intuition: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Enough with all the advice

I misplace stuff a lot.

When I was younger, my grandfather used to tell me to always triple check the place I first thought my things should be. “It’s almost always there!” he would say. Most of the time, he was right. I’ve gotten into the habit, but I’m not perfect.

I misplaced my wallet yesterday, and I turned my whole apartment upside down. Predictably, the wallet was in the drawer, where I expected, tucked under a package of markers I recently ordered so I could write on my walls.

Man, what a waste of time.

I often think about how I mistrust my own intuition. I know what I need to do, just like I knew the location of my wallet, and yet I search for all the other places it might be or all the other things I might do.

Searching is particularly problematic when you have access to tools like Google. My apartment is small (I live in New York), but the internet’s enormous. I’ve wasted a lot of time in there, searching for answers I already Know.

And that’s just outbound. I’m inundated by inbound advice telling me what I should do and who I should be. I should be fit; I should meditate, I should read ten pages a day, I should eat kale, I should adopt this leadership style or that one, I should build my startup this way, I should get married before 30.

That’s a lot of Shoulds.

I’m worried the Shoulds may drown out the Knowings. It’s hard to listen to the voice telling me the wallet’s in the drawer if I have a hundred other voices in my apartment telling me otherwise.

It’s easy to forget how much Knowing is programmed into our DNA. You do not have to teach a golden retriever how they should drink water, eat food, or play with their friends. It’s innate.

So much of our brilliance is innate. It’s the Shoulds that dumb us down.

I often forget I have a subconscious. When the little voice in my head tells me something; it’s not random, it’s coming from a whole deep sea of context that just wasn’t surfaced alongside it.

When some random voice on the internet tells me I should do something, it’s coming from a whole bunch of context that isn’t applicable to me.

Advice is dangerous for this reason; it’s inherently susceptible to survivorship bias and almost always relevant only given a set of conditions that don’t hold true for everyone.

The map is not the territory. Shoulds are abstractions of Knowings, and they are abstracted from territories different than your own.

For a long time, people told me I Should quit cigarettes.

It wasn’t until I observed closely the way that cigarettes actually make me feel that I was able to quit. Close monitoring of the bullshit stories I told myself (it’s for digestion, stress, pleasure!) and the visceral reality of the sickness I felt every time I finished one were what ultimately led me to stop.

Change happens from a place of Knowing.

When I think about the best work I’ve done in my life, it was always a result of Flow. There’s no room for chatter when you’re fully immersed in an activity. There are no Shoulds, only Knowings. 

All of the most valuable things I’ve learned I’ve taught myself.

To this day I still have the instinct that the treasure, what one needs to know for a profession, is necessarily what lies outside the corpus, as far away from the center as possible. But there is something central in following one’s own direction in the selection of readings: what I was given to study in school I have forgotten; what I decided to read on my own, I still remember.” - Nassim Taleb


I’m not sure if all Shoulds are faulty, or only most of them. People who know you and your context may occasionally dish some good advice. Perhaps Shoulds can trigger or reinforce preexisting Knowings.

Either way, after years of trying lots of Shoulds with no luck, I feel compelled to approach them differently. I declare Shoulds guilty until proven innocent, and Knowings innocent until proven guilty.

Of course, you should do whatever you want! Or maybe, whatever you Know.

Love,
Dan 

white bottle with cup

Balancing Serendipity & Intention During Quarantine

Chaos and order in isolation

I was at a Zoom dinner the other night and one of the questions presented to the group was "what have you learned from quarantine?"

A surprising number of people remarked on their newfound ability to be intentional. 

I've felt the same way. 

I live in New York, and with all its volatility and randomness, I'm rarely able to establish a steady routine. I'll stay out till 4 am on a Wednesday night and my sleep won't return to normal for many days. (Sometimes worth it.) It’s easy to get distracted by visiting friends, last-minute opportunities, or neighborhood run-ins.

Quarantine provides a vacuum in which we can be intentional with our routines and time allocation. There's very little volatility during a lockdown. 

I've been getting better sleep. I'm waking up every morning at 7 am like clockwork. I don't set an alarm anymore. I'm writing 1000 words a day, easily. I'm getting an immense amount of deep work done. I’ve learned quite clearly who the people are I intend to spend time with and the people I don't, independent of geography. 

There's lots of time and space to be intentional in isolation and there's a lot to learn from the experience.

And yet, I miss serendipity. Yesterday I woke up with my calendar packed. Back to back calls and todos. I knew exactly how my day would go. Besides some nuance in conversation, there would be no surprises. I wouldn't be scratching any lottery tickets today, I thought. 

I realize now that this is why I love New York City. I can walk outside and stumble upon anything. The potentials are limitless. I might meet someone new who shares an insight that changes my perspective forever. Maybe I'll discover a hole in the wall, it'll become my neighborhood haunt, and the place I take my wife on our first date. That sort of thing. 

Density is very bad for pandemics but very good for the upside of randomness.

Of course, I’ve had some serendipity in my roaming of the internet, but it's not the same thing. I did stumble across a good quote today. It prompted this post: 

"Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you're going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute it. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient... but it's also not random. It's guided - by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it's worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries - the 'non-linear' ones - are highly likely to require wandering." - Jeff Bezos 

There's a balance to serendipity and intention. Chaos and order. Ying and yang. Now's a good time to assess it. I was previously a bit over-indexed on chaos, I must admit. 

When we return I think I'll continue to be intentional with my mornings and create an environment for serendipity in the afternoons.

A few hours of focused work will drive steady progress towards the places I know I'm going, and I'll leave the rest up to ‘chance’, making room for new places I couldn't have ever imagined.

Much love,
Dan

The Phone Free Home

crafting a creation-first environment via negativa

This month we briefly discussed abundance and, as it pertains to the world of information, the resulting paradigm shift from internet-augmented culture to internet-first culture.

While I mostly want to write about the societal shifts that are taking place as a result of rapidly accelerating technological advancement and abundance, I also want to provide some tangible strategies for dealing with them.

Let’s start with our phones.

I am certain that for most of us, creating a healthy relationship with our little supercomputer friends will be a central theme of the next decade.

Those of you who downloaded TikTok as the result of my last post will know that entertainment at our fingertips can be disastrously addictive and distracting.

It may have struck you, as it struck me, that TikTok is at least 2x as addictive as any social network that’s come before it. Accelerating addictiveness is one of the side effects of a word rapidly accelerating towards abundance.


We wouldn't want to stop it. It's the same process that cures diseases: technological progress. Technological progress means making things do more of what we want. When the thing we want is something we want to want, we consider technological progress good. If some new technique makes solar cells x% more efficient, that seems strictly better. When progress concentrates something we don't want to want—when it transforms opium into heroin—it seems bad. But it's the same process at work. [1]

No one doubts this process is accelerating, which means increasing numbers of things we like will be transformed into things we like too much. [2]

As far as I know there's no word for something we like too much. The closest is the colloquial sense of "addictive." That usage has become increasingly common during my lifetime. And it's clear why: there are an increasing number of things we need it for. At the extreme end of the spectrum are crack and meth. Food has been transformed by a combination of factory farming and innovations in food processing into something with way more immediate bang for the buck, and you can see the results in any town in America. Checkers and solitaire have been replaced by World of Warcraft and FarmVille. TV has become much more engaging, and even so it can't compete with Facebook.

The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.

- Paul Graham, The Acceleration of Addictivness


As Graham mentions, societies do tend to “develop antibodies to addictive new things,” but in the case of cigarettes, that took a hundred years, still isn’t quite done, and has killed more people than WWII along the way.

You can wait for society to figure this one out for you but you might be dead before that happens. I’m going to go ahead and figure it out now.

Here are the things I’ve experimented with:

  1. Locking my phone away via Kitchen Safe

  2. Using a dumbphone

  3. Setting my phone to greyscale

  4. Turning off notifications

  5. Phone-free environments

  6. Tech sabbaths

Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve finally found a simple, easy-to-stick-with habit that works remarkably well and might work for you too: a phone-free home.

Since I primarily work from home, this also means a phone-free work environment. In other words, I now only use my mobile device when I’m actually mobile.

This started as an experiment to curb my phone use specifically upon waking up and going to sleep, which are the two most detrimental use cases per my own observation, Oura ring data, and an overwhelming body of research.

It’s much easier to avoid phone use before sleep or after waking up when it’s already off, so I started keeping my phone off and by the door, to be turned on when I leave the house.

Then I noticed my productivity and flow skyrocket during the day.

It took me a while to figure out why: when I don’t use my phone, I naturally use my computer more, and on my computer, I have higher-input speeds (keyboard and mouse) which bias me toward creative activities and away from consumption.

The input speed is much slower on mobile devices (touch screen) and so I’m far more likely to end up mindlessly scrolling Instagram or reading The New York Times latest red bouncy ball.

What about phone calls and text messages? Route them through your computer.

What I’ve found is that in addition to being overarchingly more present and productive, I fall into serendipitous non-technology driven flow-state, reading, writing, thinking, in conversation, because my phone isn’t present to distract me and I’m not going to just sit on my computer every minute I spend in my home.

I’ll admit two things make this a lot easier: Apple Watch and HomePod. I can receive phone calls on my Apple Watch so that if something is truly urgent I’ll know about it even if my phone and computer are still off, and periodically, I’ll tell Siri to read my text messages - but on my time, instead of through flow-state-interrupting notifications.

That leads me to what I believe will be the ultimate problem-solver as it pertains to smartphone addiction: wearables + audio.

Most of us really only want the utility from our phones, the ability to quickly look something up, text a friend, call an Uber, etcetera, and mindless consumption is simply a consequence of having the device on us so we can accomplish those jobs.

Imagine being a nicotine addict and forced to carry a pack of cigarettes attached to your water bottle. Very hard to break an addiction when temptation comes packaged with necessities.

As wearables and voice assistants get better, I believe we’ll increasingly be able to ditch the phones altogether and be more present in any environment, mobile or at home.

I frequently take walks with just my Apple Watch and Airpods and am able to listen to music, take phone calls, respond to messages, and all without any temptation to draw me out of the moment. The result is a lot more flow, and a lot less Screen Time.

I’m optimistic this is the future we’ll all live in at some point. Amazingly, you can opt to live in it now.

Till next week,
Dan

P.S. Apologies to all Android users. IDK how you do it.

The Rise of Internet-First Culture

IRL; an abbreviation for the phrase "in real life", which indicates that we’re talking about our normal, everyday life and not the digital lives we lead online.

In October of last year, I was hanging out with a few good friends at my apartment in Brooklyn. One made fun of another, as friends have done for many thousands of years, and the other responded tongue in cheek, “Ight, imma head out.”

At this moment, it struck me that somehow a joke which originated as a viral meme made its way, seamlessly, into the banter among a few over-30-year-old pals.

Of course, people have been making jokes referencing shared cultural understanding for a long time. Maybe in the 90s, you were making jokes about Britney Spears. 

The difference is that Britney Spears actually exists in reality, and “Ight imma head out” only exists online... that is, until the shared understanding made the jump from being a meme in multiple contexts on Instagram to being a joke among my friends IRL. Sponge Bob Squarepants and this string of text made its way from the internet to reality, instead of reality to the internet.

Welcome to internet-first culture.

In 2007, a group of choreographers and creatives conceived of Souja Boy's now-famous dance. It was deliberately created to go hand and hand with the lyrics and was popularized by the accompanying music video which was distributed on MTV (remember them?) and on youtube. Classic IRL cultural creation being mapped onto the internet. 


In 2019, Kyle Exum posted The TikTok Song. The lyrics are dedicated entirely to the TikTok zeitgeist. Several hours after he posted it, people were choreographing dances overlayed on top of his soundtrack. In the following days, the most viral of those videos made their way to the top of the sound's page and were being emulated by thousands of highschoolers all over the country.

Yesterday, I was eating a burrito bowl at Chipotle and saw a kid practicing the TikTok song's series of dance moves for his friends. I have no doubt school dances have been filled with the same cultural understanding I witnessed, much like we were "cranking that," circa 2008.

As I continued to observe the kid, I found it interesting that the dance cannot be reproduced as well IRL. TikTok creators will often slow down sound in order to better execute on dance moves, and then speed up the video when it's posted. This dance as seen online literally only exists online and is then mapped to reality. 

The TikTok song evolved in a matter of days from sound to dance to cultural phenomena, through a series of iterations and contributors completely distributed online. That's not "just a difference in the medium", it's a complete paradigm shift in culture.

Earlier this week I shared my predictions for the Plentiful 20s. One aspect of our acceleration towards abundance will be the transition from a culture augmented by the internet, to a culture driven by the internet. 

As shown by Kyle Exum's song, this culture moves quickly.

Turns out SpongeBob and it’s cultural meaning originated as something entirely different and went through the same rapid evolution:

Internet culture is always on and always changing. 

It was October when my friend got up to leave my apartment in jest. The joke was irrelevant two weeks later:


Historically, culture changes slowly. I wonder if our primitive wetware is equipped to handle a new world where it's always-evolving and quickly. 

I had two distinct feelings when I began using TikTok. First, I am old. Second, there's a tribe on TikTok and I'm definitely not a member. I had a visceral and instinctual desire to jump on board. Naturally, I want to belong. 

If I am having that feeling at 25 years old, with no reasonable justification to actually create viral videos, I can't help but think how many 13-year-olds feel excluded for not having become TikTok famous yet.

Comparing our private lives to other peoples’ highlight reels, being always-on and always reachable, and being excluded from only-now-visible tribes has created palpable stress among Gen Z & Millennials. Many point to these societal changes as accountable for the rise in teenage suicides, anxiety and depression.

Already, brands are cashing in on the zeitgeist. In late 2018 Recess launched it's "Antidote to Modern Times." "We all have too many tabs in our browsers and our minds," and their $8 hemp-infused seltzer will keep you calm amidst the internet angst.

Recess found remarkable product-zeitgeist fit, raised $50M and was arguably the most successful new consumer brand of 2019.

Interestingly enough, Recess is an internet-first company. It doesn't take but a few minutes of scrolling through their Instagram feed to understand what that means. 

A friend of mine recently described his experience consuming the product as akin to “drinking a meme.”

A few months after launching Recess, they took their brand, designed for creative millennial internet culture, and manifested it into “Recess IRL.” 

Now you can actually enter the meme

I'm not sure there's a better indicator of the rise of internet-first culture than this place existing and this acronym being an increasingly necessary part of our lexicon.


How long until internet culture is just culture? Will our physical spaces be more reflective of our digital-lives than they are of our real ones?

Till next week,
Dan

The Plentiful 20s

Simple Living in A Noisy World

Many share the feeling that the world is getting stranger. There’s a fundamental shift taking place. We haven’t been able to zoom out far enough yet to see it clearly, but we know and can feel it’s happening.

Some will argue we’ve always felt a tectonic shift right around the corner, and this generation’s no different in overestimating future magnitude of change. If I had to make a single prediction for this decade it’s this: those people are wrong and this time’s different.

Already, we’re drowning in noise, complexity, and optionality in a way we never have before. An endless well of information at our fingertips has made cohesive narratives that are both true and useful exceedingly difficult to find. Our trust in big media and social networks decay daily. Progressively complex global systems hold hidden black swan risk. Our markets and technologies are changing so rapidly, young professionals must continually reinvent themselves in order to keep up. Personal lifestyles are now more often on open display than not, and children are being raised to compare their behind-the-scenes reality to other people’s highlight reels. Times are a-changing.

For thousands of years, humans have made sense of the world through religion, community, media, and government. Americans are abandoning religion faster today than ever before. Our president routinely lies without remorse. Local communities are being upended by creative class millennials who are moving to large cities to be among their professional peers. Truth is increasingly difficult to discern in the midst of sophisticated misinformation campaigns driven by black-box machine learning algorithms. Main Street has been replaced by Amazon and Walmart. Sense-making isn’t as easy as turning on the TV anymore. Times are complexing.

Here’s the good news: these are all symptoms of a world rapidly accelerating towards abundance. Two hundred and thirty thousand people come out of abject poverty every day as we get wealthier and war, famine, and disease, the primary causes of human suffering, are well on their way to being totally eradicated. The story of the last 300 years is one of capitalism, science, democracy, and humanitarian values proving themselves as reliable systems for improving the human condition. The data speaks for itself. Things are getting a lot better, really quickly.


It can be hard to look past overwhelmingly negative click-bait and fearmongering headlines and stay focused on this larger picture. While we’re busy debating inconsequential nuances of the tax code - or worse, what Trump tweeted this morning while taking his morning bathroom break - we miss the signals of the tidal shift that will take place as we transition from a scarcity-driven existence to an abundant world.

You can feel it, can’t you? Sheer more-ness. It’s everywhere. Over the last two years, I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to the resulting complexity & noise. I’ve found myself longing for simpler living. Weekly I daydream of throwing everything away and beginning my Waldon Pond lifestyle somewhere in deep Vermont.

But, I love my friends, my work, my city and the wonders of the internet and I’m unwilling to leave these things behind for a cabin in the woods, nor do I think that would be a healthy choice at an individual or societal level.

Still, I know I need less. I’m just not sure what less means…

So here’s a little corner of the internet where we can explore that. In the following months & years, we’ll dive deep into the delicate balance of simple living, without sacrificing the distinct advantages of modernity. We’ll draw from ancient wisdom and cutting edge science to attempt to answer the question that has been keeping me up at night: “how do we reduce noise, complexity, and confusion in the context of abundance?”

So cheers to the new year & the plentiful 20s
And to you, finding signal amidst the noise

Till next week,
Dan

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