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Authors at the Water Cooler: The Masochist's Inbox

we fetishize the pain of never reaching inbox zero because it proves to ourselves that we still matter

The problem, of course, is that email didn’t live up to its billing as a productivity silver bullet. The quick phone call, it turns out, cannot always be replaced with a single quick message, but instead often requires dozens of ambiguous digital notes passed back and forth to replicate the interactive nature of conversation.

-- A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (affiliate link)

A single email exchange never ends, it is merely paused.

Once most people believe that one ought to be able to answer forty emails in the space of an hour, your continued employment may become dependent on being able to do so, regardless of your feelings on the matter.

-- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (affiliate link)

We expect each other and ourselves to be prompt at maintaining n conversation threads, ongoing, ongoing, ongoing.

In a situation where every waking moment has become the time in which we make our living, and when we submit even our leisure for numerical evaluation via likes on Facebook and Instagram, constantly checking on its performance like one checks a stock, monitoring the ongoing development of our personal brand, time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on “nothing.” It provides no return on investment; it is simply too expensive. This is a cruel confluence of time and space: just as we lose noncommercial spaces, we also see all of our own time and our actions as potentially commercial.

-- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (affiliate link)

Without strict delineations, boundaries for finite response windows (to stimuli), we will take the low road, and absorb it's costs.

We fetishize the pain of never reaching inbox zero because it proves to ourselves that we still matter. If others say that they need us, we are willing to suffer to walk that ideal.

Authors at the Water Cooler: The Tricks Our Eyes Play About Space

eyes tell lies about the spheres in the skies

If we had eyes that could see magnetic fields, Jupiter would look five times larger than the full Moon in the sky. Spacecraft that visit Jupiter must be designed to remain unaffected by this powerful force. As the English physicist Michael Faraday demonstrated in the 1800s, if you pass a wire across a magnetic field you generate a voltage difference along the wire’s length. For this reason, fast-moving metal space probes will have electrical currents induced within them. Meanwhile, these currents generate magnetic fields of their own that interact with the ambient magnetic field in ways that retard the space probe’s motion.

-- Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (affiliate link)
Maybe they’re doing what some of our own planet-hunters typically do: monitoring stars to see if they jiggle at regular intervals. A star’s periodic jiggle betrays the existence of an orbiting planet that may be too dim to see directly. Contrary to what most people suppose, a planet does not orbit its host star. Instead, both the planet and its host star revolve around their common center of mass. The more massive the planet, the larger the star’s response must be, and the more measurable the jiggle gets when you analyze the star’s light. Unfortunately for planet-hunting aliens, Earth is puny, so the Sun barely budges, which would further challenge alien engineers.

-- Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (affiliate link)
Although we first noticed a daily rotation by observing stars, it is not a property of the stars at all, but of the Earth, and of the observers who rotate with it. It is a classic example of the deceptiveness of the senses: the Earth looks and feels as though it is at rest beneath our feet, even though it is really rotating. As for the celestial sphere, despite being visible in broad daylight (as the sky), it does not exist at all.

-- The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World (affiliate link)

A few days ago I wrote about the limits of empirical thinking, how it is of utmost importance to not be too heavily swayed by what you see being the truth. Using the scientific method, we can leverage our senses and our senseless to understand the truth of the universe.

Authors at the Water Cooler: Empiricism is Bad
i have to see it to believe it

Authors at the Water Cooler: The Act of Journaling

To keep a journal you must own it

When I was twenty or so, I tried several times to keep a diary, but I just couldn’t do it. So many things were happening around me back then that I could barely keep up with them, let alone stand still and write them all down in a notebook. And most of these things weren’t the kind that made me think, Oh, I’ve got to write this down. It was all I could do to open my eyes in the strong headwind, catch my breath, and forge ahead.

-- Men Without Women: Stories (affiliate link)

I've met many people who have started and stopped their practice of journaling. Some quit due to inconvience, others because they are afraid they have nothing to say. The only way to make it stick is to find the addiction. The need to write has to become like the urgency of breath. If you can't find the rights words, make them up.

Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.

-- The Diary of a Young Girl (affiliate link)

She was wrong! Millions of people have cried, and have vowed to become better people because they read her work.

Most twentysomethings can’t write the last sentence of their lives, but when pressed, they usually can identify things they want in their thirties or forties or sixties—or things they don’t want—and work backward from there. This is how you have your own multigenerational epic with a happy ending. This is how you live your life in real time.

-- The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now (affiliate link)

Again, you don't need to be definitive with writing. There is no conclusion to thought, merely the next thought. Writing is that. But on paper!

Authors at the Water Cooler: We Inherited Music

what if it turns out music is writing the musician?

The musician’s power of expression is founded upon a prior obedience. To what? To her teacher, perhaps, but this isn’t the main thing—there is such a thing as the self-taught musician. Her obedience rather is to the mechanical realities of her instrument, which in turn answer to certain natural necessities of music that can be expressed mathematically.

-- The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (affiliate link)

When a musician strums a guitar, or strikes a drum, they attune to the instrument as it is in reality, they constrain their creativity to the instrument's real physical properties. The forging of sound is in reality riding the stream of sounds, reacting to the tones and intonations of vibrations of air. Predicting how to change these air vibrations to match your intention as an artist, your goals, is what it means to create in a world that waits for you to be clever.

To be sure, if one inquires historically, one finds that cultural forms are products of human will as exercised in the past; someone had to invent the mixolydian scale. But from the standpoint of any particular individual in the present, they are experienced as a horizon of possibility that has already been set (they are an “inheritance,” to anticipate the theme of Part III).

-- The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (affiliate link)

What happens when constraints are loosened? What happens when a musician leverages a new technique on an instrument many hundreds of years old? Are they finding something new? Or are they merely discovering the next logical step?

Much like the glamorous, long-haired heavy-metal guitarists whom I worshipped as a youth, the most compelling virtuosos are often boring nerds who sat in their room for ten hours a day, practising their scales.*

-- Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen (affiliate link)
If there is one thing I have learned through my long music career, it's to choose the style you want to get exceptionally good at and don't lose focus.

-- Music Habits - The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production: Finish Songs Fast, Beat Procrastination and Find Your Creative Flow (affiliate link)

Unfortunately, reality rarely gives up its nuance so easily. We as creators must attune to the constraints of our art form, attune to the constraints of our audience, attune to the constraints of our goals. Focus! Focus!

To say what needs to be said, we need to listen to what we have, and what we're missing.

Authors at the Water Cooler: Why Did We Bother Coming in to Work?

"Take Me to Work" - Hozier Remix

The modern workplace is an unnatural environment for a human creature. Factory workers stand in a fixed spot performing repetitive tasks for hours upon hours, day after day. Knowledge workers sit at their desks under harsh fluorescent lights, paying sustained, focused attention to intricate (and often mind-numbing) details. Everyone has to wake up early, show up on time, do what they’re told, and submit to a system of rewards and punishments.

-- The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life (affiliate link)

Do you like what you do? Rather, do you feel that what you do daily is something you chose? Or at the bare minimum, did you choose not to choose?

A company man is someone who feels that he has something huge to lose if he doesn’t behave as a company man—that is, he has skin in the game. In return, the firm is bound by a pact to keep the company man on the books as long as feasible, that is, until mandatory retirement, after which he would go play golf with a comfortable pension, with former coworkers as partners.

-- Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (affiliate link)

An employee is—by design—more valuable inside a firm than outside of it; that is, more valuable to the employer than the marketplace.

-- Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (affiliate link)

Many  (white collar) employees at one point or another are kept on payroll not because their absence has a noticeable impact on the degradation of the company product, but because the company needs to world build the lore of itself to convince itself of its own value. In this relationship, the employee is merely a target dummy, a object to be the subject of someone else's (though you're never quite told who's) vision of the company.

a boss and his employee
How much of a worker’s hourly activity during the day actually accomplishes anything worthwhile? Managers trade war stories about wall-to-wall meetings as badges of honor, in spite of the fact that endless meetings are almost universally derided as pointless. Line level employees spend time at the water cooler, the cafeteria, the bathroom, the smoking area, and just about anywhere else that allows them to snatch back a few minutes of their lives. People waste time, chat, read articles on the internet, instant message each other, and generally find any and all possible ways to do everything but work when they’re at work. But as long as they’re in the office, it’s still considered work. The cult of hours is the modern corporate incarnation of the Protestant work ethic, a principle in which hard work and frugality are viewed as the soul’s salvation. The general idea of the Protestant work ethic is, “If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing good.” In the corporate world, it translates to, “If you’re not enjoying yourself, it must be good. And if you’re at work, you’re not enjoying yourself, so showing up is good.”

-- Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor (affiliate link)

Because of this, the modern office operates somewhere between an adult daycare and a church. You're required to go, to be visible to your fellow churchgoers, required to sit in your pew, to stand when you're told to, to go to the bathroom when your boss says its appropriate, and conduct your daily prayer of standup.

Or at the bare minimum, did you choose not to choose?
For a worker in an organisation, job security depends not only on internal politics but also, and more ominously, on the company’s ability to remain profitable in a marketplace in which few producers can defend their competitive position or pricing power for long.

-- Status Anxiety (Vintage International) (affiliate link)

The underlying irony of it all? The church of the office is duotheistic: it worships itself (politics, self-image, narrative and company values) and it worships the market (how the world perceives and uses your company output).

Many employees find in hindsight that they were hired by the first god, and fired by the second.

Authors at the Water Color: Avoiding Emotions Triggers Emotion

you cant run away forever!

Kino knew who was knocking. The knocking wanted him to get out of bed and open the door. Forcefully, persistently. The person didn’t have the strength to open the door from the outside. The door had to be opened by Kino’s own hand, from the inside. It struck him that this visit was exactly what he’d been hoping for, yet, at the same time, what he’d been fearing above all. The ambiguous ambiguity was precisely this, holding on to an empty space between two extremes. “You were hurt, a little, weren’t you?” his wife had asked. “I’m human, after all. I was hurt,” he’d replied. But that wasn’t true. Half of it, at least, was a lie. I wasn’t hurt enough when I should have been, Kino admitted to himself. When I should have felt real pain, I stifled it. I didn’t want to take it on, so I avoided facing up to it. Which is why my heart is so empty now. The snakes have grabbed that spot and are trying to hide their coldly beating hearts there. “This was a comfortable place not just for me but for anybody,” Kamita had said. Kino finally understood what he meant.

-- Men Without Women: Stories (affiliate link)

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt no anger or bitterness toward his wife, or the colleague she was sleeping with. The betrayal had been a shock, for sure, but, as time passed, he began to feel as if it couldn’t have been helped, as if this had been his fate all along. In his life, after all, he had achieved nothing, had been totally unproductive. He couldn’t make anyone else happy, and, of course, couldn’t make himself happy. Happiness? He wasn’t even sure what that meant. He didn’t have a clear sense, either, of emotions like pain or anger, disappointment or resignation, and how they were supposed to feel. The most he could do was create a place where his heart—devoid now of any depth or weight—could be tethered, to keep it from wandering aimlessly. This little bar, Kino, tucked into a backstreet, became that place. And it became, too—not by design, exactly—a strangely comfortable space.

-- Men Without Women: Stories (affiliate link)

If Kino had dealt with his feelings of anger and grief from infidelity off the jump, he would have felt the pain and moved on. Instead, by supressing it, he ended up feeling the pain much further down the road and has lost the time he could've felt similar.

Thorfinn went through something similar in Vinland Saga, after losing the object of his hatred, his purpose for being. But he realized the only way to address this empty feeling was to fill it with something else. With a goal. With care.

Kino was robbed not only happiness, hatred and sadness, but his ability to care.

Usually, such moments are short-lived, as the mind quickly resumes its noise-making activity that we call thinking. Love, joy, and peace cannot flourish until you have freed yourself from mind dominance. But they are not what I would call emotions. They lie beyond the emotions, on a much deeper level. So you need to become fully conscious of your emotions and be able to feel them before you can feel that which lies beyond them. Emotion literally means “disturbance.” The word comes from the Latin emovere, meaning “to disturb.”

-- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (affiliate link)

At the bottom of the pool, where the surface is disturbed, lie the next step you need to take. Making calm intentional decisions is like waiting until the surface of the water settles before reaching in. If you can't see, you won't be able to hit your target.

“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.”

-- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (affiliate link)

At the same time, waiting and watching emotions to give them time to dispel is not the same as ignoring them, as Kino did. You can actually use the disturbance itself to teach you about the true nature of why you are feeling what you are feeling. Injustice triggers anger, success triggers pride, the unknown triggers fear. These are helpful signals as to what is really going on.

Authors at the Water Cooler: Empiricism is Bad

i have to see it to believe it

All knowledge, progress included, comes from conjecture which comes from theory. Empiricism as a measure stick for progress quite literally puts the cart before the horse.

Empiricism is the idea that knowledge comes to us through the senses. Now, that’s completely false: all knowledge is conjectural. It first comes from within and is intended to solve problems, not to summarize data. But this idea that experience has authority, and that only experience has authority—false though it is—was a wonderful defense against previous forms of authority, which were not only invalid but stultifying. But in the twentieth century, a horrible thing happened, which is that people started taking empiricism seriously—not just as a defense, but as being literally true—and that almost killed certain sciences. Even within physics; it greatly impeded progress in quantum theory.

-- Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity (affiliate link)

The problem with relying on what you see is that what you see isn't truly what is, but your individual take on what is.

Everything is connected to everything else, and you cant see everything at once!

Instrumentalism, even aside from the philosophical enormity of reducing science to a collection of statements about human experiences, does not make sense in its own terms. For there is no such thing as a purely predictive, explanationless theory. One cannot make even the simplest prediction without invoking quite a sophisticated explanatory framework.

-- The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World (affiliate link)

This does not mean we do not test our assumptions, and edit our conclusions when we come face to face with reality. Reality is the cart, the arbiter. Ideas, creativity and guessing is he who goes first into Plato's cave.

To avoid the various foolish opinions to which mankind are prone, no superhuman genius is required. A few simple rules will keep you, not from all error, but from silly error. If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself. Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted. He did not do so because he thought he knew. Thinking that you know when in fact you don’t is a fatal mistake, to which we are all prone.

-- Essays in Skepticism (affiliate link)