Mental Pivot #77: Sharing, Hermeneutics, Time Trap
The joy of sharing with others, philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer and the art of understanding, and how the billable hour warps our perception of time.
There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with”
—Seneca (Letters from a Stoic)
I still thrill at the staff selections on display in small independent bookstores and the handwritten book recommendation placards that stores place on the shelves. You never know what new gem you’ll find while browsing.
I still enjoy the serendipity of receiving an unexpected book recommendation from a friend. I “discovered” many of my all-time favorite reads this way—authors like the page-turning historian Candice Millard (from a distant relative), the melancholy of Emily St. John Mandel’s fiction (from a friend), and the gut-wrenching memoirs of Jung Chang (from a reader of this newsletter).
Humans are curation machines. We love sharing our favorite things with others. It’s core impetus behind this newsletter: to share the best things I’ve read from the past week on the topics I enjoy.
To that end, I’ve codified the letter into the following three categories:
Thinking Tools: Articles that challenge my thinking, inspire personal productivity, improve my decision-making, and give me better models for understanding the world.
Reading Enrichment: The rest of my favorite articles from the past week that don’t fit into the first category. Topics often focus on technology, interesting people, long form pieces, culture, and social trends. Some weeks the spectrum of topics is broad, and others not so much.
Odds & Ends: A mix of online tools, websites, collections, infographics, reports, and other finds that don’t really fit into the other parts of the letter.
I hope you find something appealing and unexpected in the newsletter every week. More importantly, I hope you too, dear reader, are actively engaged in sharing your favorite things with others.
Note: The newsletter will be taking an extended break after next week’s edition. Like last summer, I’ll be taking 6-8 weeks off. I plan to resume publication in late July or early August.
Now onto this week's recommendations…
The Art of Understanding: Wrapped inside this critique of social media are thoughts on hermeneutics and the ideas of philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. “In any form of communication, there is so much more to translate than mere words. That is what hermeneutics is about at its core: transposing one universe of norms, prejudices, and experience to a different sphere of understanding. This necessitates rendering a clear picture of “the other” through the impediments of our own prejudices and traditions. Such a task requires patience, self-reflection, and a respect for truth.” Ultimately, understanding does not imply agreement or condonation, but rather a good faith effort to see things from another person’s perspective.
The Billable Hour Is a Trap: Tim Harford considers the attitude of different professions towards time. Citing the work of Cathleen Kaveny, he notes that “if you bill £1,000 an hour, as some senior lawyers do, then any particular six-minute increment of time is available to be turned into £100. Can you really afford an hour in the gym? Can you really afford to call your mother or read a bedtime story to your child? The point is not that lawyers never call their mothers. It’s that the whole framework of the billable hour makes it feel naggingly expensive to do anything non-billable.”
The Craft of Writing Effectively: Although this 80-minute lecture by Larry McEnerney is focused on academic writing, its lessons are valuable for other forms of writing and communication. Per McEnerney, writing effectively is about making your work valuable. Writing can be persuasive, organized, and clear, but if it’s not valuable, it’s ultimately useless (by my standards, good fiction is extremely valuable and is easily accommodated by McEnerney’s framework). Most of us are taught to focus on formal elements of writing, structure and prose. But McEnerney emphasizes the primacy of the reader: “writing is not about conveying your ideas, it’s about changing the ideas of the reader.”
My Summary of Tyler Cowen’s Approach to Leading an Intellectually Fulfilling Life: David Gasca reflects on the lessons learned from listening to 100 hours of Tyler Cowen’s popular podcast series, Conversations with Tyler. Cowen, a well-known economist, polymath, and blogger, stands as an inspiration for lifelong learners. Some specific lessons for fostering intellectual curiosity: seeking diverse experiences, maximizing the marginal benefits of those experiences, engaging with a broad range of mediums (e.g., books, travel, people, etc.), and learning alongside others.
Zettelkasten, Linking Your Thinking, and Nick Milo’s Search for Ground: Bob Doto examines two popular note-taking systems and gives careful consideration to their respective purposes (an important characteristic that is frequently overlooked). His analysis concludes that Zettelkasten is best suited as a writing tool, while Linking Your Thinking (LYT) is a more comprehensive “life operating system”. I appreciate the context provided in this article (i.e., the why), since most writers on this topic are fixated on the nuts and bolts (i.e., the how).
Influencers and Anti-Fans: “The anti-fan is distinguished by a deep knowledge of—and profound investment in—the objects of their disaffection. The targets of anti-fans’ ire run the gamut: politicians, actors, singers, athletes, and even animated animals have developed anti-fandoms.” A reminder of the problems of parasocial relationships and the fact that you can always find the full spectrum of responses—both good and bad—to any phenomenon on the internet.
The People Who Hate People: The theories of overpopulation alarmists like Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich (author of 1968’s The Population Bomb) have been largely debunked. Yet, “antihuman” thinking persists—often in the guise of NIMBY policies. Jerusalem Demsas pushes back in her piece for The Atlantic: “Overpopulation concern-mongers not only underestimate the ability of people to help solve the problem of climate change; they also fail to accept that neither resources nor human needs are fixed.”
The Problem with Blaming Robots for Taking Our Jobs: Jane Hu looks at two recently published books that look at the ongoing debate about automation’s threat to the labor market and the so-called “productivity paradox” (the idea that massive investments in information technology have failed to increase recent worker productivity).
TikTok Boom: Scott Galloway profiles the apex social media platform, TikTok, which now commands more attention per user than Facebook and Instagram combined and boasts a staggering 1.6 billion monthly active users. Of particular interest are TikTok’s strategic advantage vis a vis competitors like Netflix, television, and the traditional film industry. One example: Top media firms spend $115B annually in content creation; TikTok’s crowd-sourced content production costs are effectively zero.
Odds & Ends
Podyssey is a podcast discovery app (iOS and Android). If you’re looking for new listening ideas, this is a great tool. The app includes charts with top episodes, recommendations, and an active and enthusiastic community. If you’re interested in “shows like X” (e.g., “shows like S Town”), Podyssey has you covered with their curated lists of similar podcasts.
In a similar vein, Rephonic’s Podcast Audience Graph is a podcast discovery tool that analyzes 2.8 million connections between podcasts based on the “Listeners also subscribed to” section of Apple Podcasts. Enter the name of a program and the tool shows you the associated subscriptions. For example, fans of Paul Cooper’s excellent Fall of Civilizations podcast can find related programming via the graph based on listener data.
Refind is a content discovery tool that sends curated articles to your email inbox or via mobile app (iOS and Android). Focus your attention on what’s really relevant to you.
The Sample: A newsletter discovery tool. Based on your interests and feedback, The Sample sends a new newsletter recommendation to your inbox on a daily or weekly basis.
Thank you for subscribing to the Mental Pivot Newsletter. If you’re enjoying it, be sure to share it with your friends and spread the word.
I want to be able to deliver a top-notch newsletter to all of you. To that end, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s working, what doesn’t, and things you’d like to see more of. You can reach me by replying directly to this email or by adding a comment on Substack.
If this newsletter was forwarded to you, visit this link to subscribe.