Wanting Less

Some highlights from the essay “How to Want Less” by Arthur C. Brooks in The Atlantic.

Homeostasis keeps us alive and healthy. But it also explains why drugs and alcohol work as they do, as opposed to how we wish they would…It’s why, when you achieve conventional, acquisitive success, you can never get enough. If you base your sense of self-worth on success—money, power, prestige—you will run from victory to victory, initially to keep feeling good, and then to avoid feeling awful.

My thought: Like the two factory theory of motivation and hygiene, success (especially monetarily) may help you be less dissatisfied (being impoverished is hard), but the absence of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction.

“The nature of [adaptation] condemns men to live on a hedonic treadmill,” the psychologists Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell wrote in 1971, “to seek new levels of stimulation merely to maintain old levels of subjective pleasure, to never achieve any kind of permanent happiness or satisfaction.”

Professional self-objectification is a tyranny every bit as nasty. You become a heartless taskmaster to yourself, seeing yourself as nothing more than Homo economicus. Love and fun are sacrificed for another day of work, in search of a positive internal answer to the question Am I successful yet? We become cardboard cutouts of real people.

We become cardboard cutouts of real people is an amazingly clear description of what the current form of meritocracy, conventional “acquisitive success,” and social media has wrought.

In truth, our formula, Satisfaction = getting what you want, leaves out one key component. To be more accurate, it should be: Satisfaction = what you have ÷ what you want

Our mental state rests in the balance between reality and expectation/desire.

It is the wanting, for which there is always more, that binds us to the Sisyphean futility of the hedonic treadmill.

And getting off is hard.

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

Revenge bedtime procrastination describes the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.”

Or, as described by Anne Helen Petersen:

You stay up binging a mediocre show. You can’t stop scrolling Instagram or Twitter or a dating app. You’re reading some overly-detailed breakdown of a sporting event, past or present or upcoming. You’re playing whatever dumb game you play on your phone.

We all want some me time.

When you stay up late talking with friends or dancing or playing D&D, you are procrastinating going to bed, but you are also making a pretty good deal with yourself: the fun I’m having now is worth whatever suffering I’ll endure later. But most of the activities performed while revenge procrastinating don’t really compensate for the exhaustion they cause. They might feel essential and non-negotiable in the moment, as some semblance of “alone time,” but they’re really a double fuck you: they kinda suck in the moment, and they really suck in the cascading after-effects. You might feel like you’re soothing yourself, but maybe you’re just….punishing yourself?

Don’t punish yourself.

In an ideal world, deliberation would easily trump the reflexive patterns of self-sabotage.

Alas, if simple clarity was that easy and powerful, then infinite scroll wouldn’t so easily fill the cracks of our days.

Eating the Red Pill

There is something to be said about a truly disastrous meal, a meal forever indelible in your memory because it’s so uniquely bad, it can only be deemed an achievement. The sort of meal where everyone involved was definitely trying to do something; it’s just not entirely clear what.

I’m not talking about a meal that’s poorly cooked, or a server who might be planning your murder—that sort of thing happens in the fat lump of the bell curve of bad. Instead, I’m talking about the long tail stuff – the sort of meals that make you feel as though the fabric of reality is unraveling. The ones that cause you to reassess the fundamentals of capitalism, and whether or not you’re living in a simulation in which someone failed to properly program this particular restaurant. The ones where you just know somebody’s going to lift a metal dome off a tray and reveal a single blue or red pill.

I’m talking about those meals.

This piece from The Everywhereist is perhaps the most enjoyable romp of a restaurant review since Peter Wells pilloried Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant back in 2012.

A Glimpse at the Coming Metaverse

Ben Thompson of Stratechery talking about why he’s becoming more bullish on virtual reality than augmented reality during an interview with Mark Zuckerberg about the Metaverse:

I do have to say, the last couple of years, particularly the COVID era, has changed my perspective a little bit as there does seem to be more and more of sort of a bifurcation between your online reality and your offline reality. It’s something I wrote about in the context of work, where people call it working from home, but I actually think that’s a misnomer: it’s actually working online, and you can work online from anywhere but when you go online, you’re in a different place cognitively speaking than you are when you’re at home or playing with your kids, or you’re seeing your friends or whatever it might be.

I get to work from home sometimes, but I think there is a key nuance here. One of the hardest things about working online from home is that the people around you don’t want or feel like you are somewhere else, cognitively speaking. Frankly, getting to that other cognitive place in the first place can be quite difficult when surrounded by the context of all the non-work things around you.

Does a future where you can slip further into the internet make it easier or harder to be productive online?

Well, it depends on how you define productivity. In the interview, Zuckerberg claims that fostering human connection is his life’s work. He then goes on to freely admit that ruining meaningful unadulterated human connection is a “killer use case”:

Although I do think that for augmented reality, for example, one of the killer use cases is basically going to be you’re going to have glasses and you’re going to have something like EMG on your wrist and you’re going to be able to have a message thread going on when you’re in the middle of a meeting or doing something else and no one else is even going to notice. Think about what we’ve had over the last couple of years during the pandemic where everyone’s been on Zoom, and one of the things that I’ve found very productive is you can have side channel conversations or chat threads going while you’re having the main meeting. I actually think that would be a pretty useful thing to be able to have in real life too where basically you’re having a physical conversation or you’re coming together, but you can also receive incoming messages without having to take out your phone or look at your watch and even respond quickly in a way that’s discreet and private. So I think that there are going to be those use cases. I think that there are going to be easier ways to get in and out of experiences where you’re experiencing that deep sense of presence.

The problem with social media on cell phones is that your kids, friends, and colleagues know you are being rude and self-absorbed when you ignore them. The problem–of course!–is not the behavior and our inability to be fully present in our interactions. The problem is being so transparent in informing others that they are insufficiently interesting to hold our full attention.

This is the promise of the coming metaverse.

Driving at Stable

A classic Jeff Bezos quotation:

I very frequently get the question: “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?” That’s a very interesting question.

I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two.

You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher.” Or, “I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little slower.” Impossible.

So we know the energy we put into these things today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

I recently attended a “leadership” seminar about (radiology) healthcare ecosystems and change. As with all virtual events since early 2020, discussion of the Covid-19 pandemic played an outsized role, and the nature of complexity and change were much pontificated about.

But no one over the course of two days–no one–mentioned the stability of the core mission. The strategic analyses–such as explicit or implicit utilization of SWOT–were happy to focus on anticipation and interception of perceived changes and threats, but no one spared a breath for what they thought wouldn’t change. We talked about trends in corporatization and productivity metrics, group consolidation, encroachment by midlevels and other specialties, downward reimbursement pressure, the push for 24/7 subspecialty staff coverage, lifestyle and burnout, and AI and data science.

To be sure, these and all other big changes are important, but you also can’t lose sight of the underlying purpose of the business in all the pivoting.

What can we say about medicine that is not going to change in 10 years? What is our stability north star?

(Yes this is a rhetorical question cop-out.)