Delete yo’ self: Aziz Ansari’s unconnected life

This recent GQ interview with Aziz Ansari highlight’s the comedian’s unconventional approach to the Information Age. The interviewer seems incredulous as he comprehends just how much of an outlier Ansari is:

I heard you deleted the Internet from your phone. And that you deleted Twitter and Instagram and e-mail. No way that’s true, right?

It is! Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things. What happens is, eventually you forget about it. You don’t care anymore. When I first took the browser off my phone, I’m like, [gasp] How am I gonna look stuff up? But most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything.

What about important news and politics?

I was reading all this Trump stuff, and it doesn’t feel like we’re reading news for the reason we used to, which was to get a better sense of what’s going on in the world and to enrich yourself by being aware. It seems like we’re reading wrestling rumors. It’s like reading about what happened on Monday Night Raw. When you take a step back, it all just seems so sensationalized. Trump’s gonna get impeached! No, he’s not. None of that shit’s happening. But you are going to read all the articles. So if you take yourself out of it, you’re not infected with this toxicity all the time. Also, guess what? Everything is fine! I’m not out of the loop on anything. Like, if something real is going down, I’ll find out about it.

Yeah, but take yesterday’s insane breaking story, for example.

Wait, tell me what it is. I don’t even know if I know what it is.

You didn’t hear about Pence stepping down?

Mike Pence stepped down yesterday?!

Dude! Yes. Mike Pence is no longer the vice president. He resigned because of the Russia investigation.

Wait, wait, wait. That really happened?!

No. It didn’t.

Okay, see! [laughs]

But that could happen! And you could have missed it.

No, see, I would have found out now—like, now. I would have found out, and then I’d be like, Wow, that’s crazy.

But you’re choosing to be uninformed.

I’m not choosing ignorance. I’m choosing to not watch wrestling.

Ansari’s career seems to be on a roll. Bringing Tom Haverford to the world through one of my all time favorite shows, Parks And Recreation, is a heck of an accomplishment on its own. But he also created, writes, and stars in his own critically acclaimed TV show, Master Of None. He’s producing quality and quantity at a high level. And he’s not paying attention at all to the constant flow of “new things” most of us fill our time with.

I’m guessing the most prolific creators and most productive knowledge workers take an Ansari-like approach to their time and attention. They at least carve out distraction-free days, times, and places to get things done or just to have moments of calm and quiet. One of author Jonathan Franzen’s rules for writers: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

How much of significance would you really miss if you deleted even a few of those internet portals that consume your attention?

And how much could you learn and grow and produce and connect authentically if you freed up some of your head space from the attention suck of your flickering devices?

Do you even remember what it feels like to be bored? Can you, as Ansari suggested, “just sit and be in your own head for a minute”?

Can you engage in a long and winding conversation with a fellow human being without glancing at a screen or flinching at that buzzing notification in your pocket?

I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone a year ago. I don’t miss them. At all. I used to open The New York Times and The Washington Post every morning to check the headlines. I haven’t done that in a year. (I still have a Twitter problem. It’s my internet version of “treat yo’ self”. I’m no Aziz Ansari. Yet. I still have some Tom Haverford in me.)

Delete yo’ self (forgive me) from those things that suck your time and attention—basically your life—without offering worthwhile value or meaning in return.

Ten years later: iPhone’s impact

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Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone on this day ten years ago during his 2007 Macworld keynote.

I remember watching the recorded keynote later at home on my beloved first Mac (the adorable white iMac G4*). I sat enthralled watching Jobs masterfully and with obvious glee unveil the never-before-seen features of this new device. I gasped along with the audience at touchscreen scrolling and pinch-to-zoom. I recognized immediately that this device was indeed the breakthrough device Jobs was pitching it to be.

The video of that keynote is worth rewatching even if you’ve seen it before, and it’s definitely worth seeing if you’ve never seen it. It’s embedded here along with a fascinating oral history of what led to the moment.

That moment is a turning point in technology, but also, in many ways, in our culture. We take it for granted now that a powerful computer with access to all the world’s knowledge and all of our most treasured photos and favorite songs can fit in your pocket. Before January 9, 2007 that possibility would have seemed far fetched. 

But Jobs’s keynote was remarkable as a form of presentation art as well. That moment was peak-Steve Jobs. The preparation for and execution of that keynote has become legendary. Jobs was in his element. He knew he had the substance—a once-in-a-generation product that he knew would change everything**—and he brought all the powers of his charismatic style to the moment.

The change sparked by the iPhone is remarkable, and its influence on its competitors and on technology and culture at large is undeniable. The world viewed through the prism of the iPhone generation looks different now than it did ten years ago. Better in many ways. Worse in some. 

It was a triumph of engineering and design. And a triumph of imagination. 

What could appear—what can even you bring to life—that might alter the way we can improve the human experience over the next ten years?

Think different, indeed.  

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*I still have this Mac tucked away on a little used desk in my home. I don’t power it on. But it’s still beautiful to look at.

**January 9, 2007 was also the day that Apple officially dropped the word “Computer” from the name of the company. Jobs knew Apple would never be the same after that day, too. It went from being an iconic, but second-tier computer maker to the most valuable and influential company in the world. 

My next computer: iPad Pro

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I’ve been an iPad guy since the first version was announced in 2010. I loved it immediately and used it mostly for reading, but also for writing.

It was just supplemental, though, to my iPhone and the two iMacs I had—one at the office and the other at home.

The home iMac is old now and sits unused. I use my iPad mini for most of my computer tasks away from the office. It’s a great device for reading, and it’s so good as my presentation device. I use the iOS Keynote app and a VGA adapter to connect the iPad to a projector, and I use my iPhone as the remote. It’s a lightweight, minimal, and rock solid presentation setup.

The iPad mini is also the device that I do a lot of writing on. But that’s where the mini falls short for me. The screen is just too small. I pair the iPad with an external Bluetooth keyboard, but the canvas I’m writing on seems too constricting. The screen is too small for me to write comfortably. Inserting a cursor in the right location and highlighting text can be frustrating. I find myself writing less away from my office iMac just because it’s not as enjoyable to write on the tiny iPad mini screen.

I was intrigued when Apple introduced the new, very lightweight Macbook last year. The form factor is gorgeous. The screen looks impressive, and I was eager to try the new keyboard design. But the computer seemed a bit underpowered. However, I imagined its second iteration might be my dream writing machine.

When Apple introduced the 12.9 inch iPad Pro last fall, it seemed almost comically large to me. “Who is going to want that?” I wondered.

Now, I want that.

I keep hearing about people who have replaced their laptop (or even their desktop) with this new iPad. Federico Vittici, Jason Snell, CGP Grey and Myke Hurley, Serenity Caldwell… All are iPad-Pro-as-laptop-replacement evangelists. 

And now, even Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft’s former head of its Windows division, has written that the iPad Pro has become his primary computer.

I appreciate the simple elegance of iOS versus OS X. There’s less to fiddle and fuss with. There’s less distraction and a more focused environment. It’s a truly modern and mature operating system. 

And now, with the most powerful computing power ever in an iOS device and a screen bigger than the entry level Mac laptops, the iPad Pro may be my ultimate computing device so far. It’s at the top of my wish list. 

 

Tesla Model 3 unveiled

Elon Musk is taking us tantalizingly closer to a world of electric cars. He revealed Tesla’s mass market Model 3 last night.*

The Model 3 is Tesla’s attempt to put a long-range fully electric car within reach of the average consumer. The starting price is set at $35,000, and this model has a driving range of at least 215 miles beteween charges. It will be the safest car in its class. It also happens to accelerate from 0-60 miles per hour in six seconds. (Musk smiled as he said: “At Tesla, we don’t make slow cars.”)

In the near future we will look back on the age when combustion engines powered our vehicles as a quaintly primitive phase in our progress, an age when spewing toxic gases to propel us somehow seemed perfectly reasonable.

Late 2017 is when the Model 3 is set to begin shipping. I’m already imagining having one plugged in in my garage. (And I may need that much time to clean my garage.)

The future can’t get here fast enough. Hurray for the audaciously impatient Elon Musk and the Tesla team for expediting it.

*I watched the presentation video and appreciated the brisk format, but it was a bit unpolished. Musk is not a master presenter just yet. However it’s always good to see a transformational leader speak for himself and make the public case directly. (Steve Jobs set unrealistically high expectations for the CEO genius/compelling speaker combination.)

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Every poet in your pocket: Our obsession with glowing glass rectangles

This has been in my favorite tweets list since last year:Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 11.19.39 AM

It’s easy to castigate the obsession most people have with their phones. 

It’s rare to see anyone alone in a waiting mode—standing in line or waiting on an appointment, for example—who isn’t staring at a phone. If they were reading a book or newspaper, it would seem just fine, even a worthwhile use of their time.

John Adams advised his son, John Quincy, to carry a book with him wherever he went so he would always have a “poet in his pocket” to make good use of any down time.

All of the information the world has collected is right there, in your pocket. Every poet in your pocket! Holy smoke, why not avail yourself of this modern marvel?

And social connections are no less real because the messages from friends and family are digital.

But what about when you’re with others? When is it okay to take your attention away from those physically present and instead focus on your phone?

If it’s clear that you’re prioritizing whoever or whatever is on your device over someone who is right in front of you, you’re probably coming across as rude, and you’re missing a chance for connection in the here and now.

You need to know your own boundaries and draw a line where your devices are distracting versus adding value. If it’s keeping you from being present, from seeing what’s right in front of you, from making connections in real time, put it in your pocket.

My kids won’t know a world without the internet. Their generation won’t have to struggle with making sense of this like mine is.

Imagine what will be the challenge for them, though. What’s after glowing glass rectangles?

The tools we now have to improve our lives certainly can have detrimental consequences along with their incredible opportunities. But the tools are ours. We get to decide how our devices will be used.

As awesome as it is to have so much information and communication power at our fingertips, it’s also awesome to fully inhabit the here and now, to master the present moment and the people who share it with us. 

The gift of a blank brain

Author Michael Harris on living in the Internet age and the prevalent tendency to check your phone as soon as you wake up:

“When you wake up, you have this gift of a blank brain. You could fill it with anything. But for most of us, we have this kind of panic. Instead of wondering what should I do, we wonder what did I miss. It’s almost like our unconsciousness is a kind of failure and we can’t believe we’ve been offline for eight hours,” he says. It is habits like this that are insidious, not the internet itself. It is a personal thing.

This is not exclusive to the Internet era. Many of us used to wake up and immediately trudge to the front door to retrieve the daily newspaper to start our day.

But it’s exponentially easier to distract ourselves now, and content is infinite. The newspaper only took so long to thumb through.

I typically do a quick scan of a handful of apps when I wake up. A morning routine devoid of external inputs, though, at least in those first minutes of consciousness, could build some space for my brain to embrace a bit of blankness, to allow possibilities to percolate that would otherwise be swamped by those external inputs.

Those days where I make time for even ten minutes of meditation first thing in the morning are marked by a calmer, more solid beginning.

Embrace the gift of a blank brain more often. Sit with the quiet. Be patient. Listen, not to the noise piped in from the connected world, but to your own inner voice or just to your breath. 

On wearable technology and the world as it might be

Ben Thompson has a great post today about wearable technology in light of Apple’s upcoming new device: How Apple Will Make the Wearable Market

Thompson lately has been putting out a consistent stream of thoughtful analysis of Apple especially and of the direction of technology in general. In his most recent post about the Apple Watch he points out that most critics base their pessimism on how new technology will fare in the world as it is rather than looking imaginatively at the world as it might be.

He offers this:

For all of the changes that have been wrought by technology, a huge amount of our daily existence really hasn’t changed in a very long time. Consider keys: in my bag I have several pieces of metal, hopefully unique, that unlock doors or start up machines that run on controlled explosions. It’s positively barbaric! Money has improved a bit – cash is certainly a very old concept, although credit cards are more modern – but the idea that we physically hand someone access to a huge amount of money (i.e. our credit cards) without even thinking about it is odd. We operate lights with switches, print disposable tickets for everything from airplanes to concerts, and pack identification from a whole host of authorities, including the government and workplace.

It’s increasingly plausible to envision a future where all of these examples and a whole host of others in our physical environment are fundamentally transformed by software: locks that only unlock for me, payment systems that keep my money under my control, and in general an adaptation to my presence whether that be at home, at the concert hall, or at work.

He then goes on to explore how wearable devices can take a central role in such a future. And Apple is differentiating their device by making it desirable, aesthetically and emotionally, as well as remarkably useful. It’s not just a smart watch, there is also a good bit of art to their watch.

Apple’s focus on fashion is part of the plan to make their watch a cultural hit and not just a geek fetish. And widespread adoption would be necessary for all the parts to come together to make wearable technology more than just a fad for technology enthusiasts.

Reading Thompson’s post reminded me how much my family enjoyed using Disney’s MagicBands when we visited Disney World more than a year ago. These colorful bracelets unlocked our hotel room door, served as our tickets to enter the parks, managed our Fast Passes for rides, and were used to pay for our meals and souvenirs at restaurants and stores throughout the Disney resorts.

As much as I love good technology, I’ve been reluctant to get excited about Apple Watch. I have been imagining its primary function was to enable notifications to work more seamlessly. It seems to be a notification delivery machine. Literally. And I am anti-notifications. The fewer interruptions, the better.

Yet, a watch that would connect with my life in an abundance of helpful ways, the way the Disney MagicBands did, would be one that would earn a central role in my life the way the iPhone has.

There’s a long way to go before the infrastructure is in place to create such a connected and wireless world. But selling lots of Apple Watches would push that vision forward faster.

It’s hard for me to vividly remember the pre-smartphone world. The iPhone was a niche product with no app store, weak processing power, super slow internet, and a high price tag when it was introduced in 2007. Those who, at the time, saw the world as it was, dismissed its chances. But look at the world as it is now.

Consider the world as it might be from this point on. How will wearable technology and the infrastructure interacting with it look five years from now?

Since reading Thompson’s post, I’ve been browsing the Apple Watch options online, the sizes and band choices, and imagining wearing a watch again for the first time since 2008. (My favorite at the moment: Apple Watch Sport, space gray, black band, 38mm.)

It may be a year or two before I pull the trigger. I’m not a knee-jerk early adopter. The sweet spot of form and function and a robust ecosystem for these devices is surely at least a couple of iterations away. But I think it’s coming.

Apple Watch Sport space gray

Offscreen Magazine: Analog treasures for digital denizens

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After being intrigued by a Shawn Blanc post about it, Offscreen Magazine, Issue 10, arrived in my mailbox yesterday. It’s a delight, a touchable treasure of insights about and for people whose work revolves around the internet. The creator, Kai Branch, decided he wanted to do more than push pixels and digital wares that seemed to have no meaningful shelf life. He wanted to make something real, that you could hold and share tangibly and that might have some staying power. From Offscreen’s “About” page:

Originally a web designer by trade, Kai Brach launched the first issue of Offscreen in early 2012. Feeling disconnected by the fast pace and the ephemeral nature of digital, after ten years of freelance work Kai wanted to create something more tangible. With Offscreen Magazine, he combines both his love for technology and the web, and the unique experience of printed magazines.

In the span of three months, Kai “converted” from a UI designer to an editorial art director, not only publishing and editing Offscreen but also designing the magazine from the ground up. As such, Offscreen is still a one-man operation, and a proudly authentic indie magazine supported by amazing contributors and curious readers. Kai hopes to reinvigorate printed magazines as a choice of media that provides a welcome break from our always-on society.

I’m impressed by the content in this magazine. And that it’s a one-man operation makes it even more impressive. There are insights on seemingly every page. It’s stuffed with meaty interviews with interesting people and is scattered throughout with thoughtful touches like this:

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THIS was on the page following the table of contents! (The obstacle is the way.)

And this…

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A wise insight from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield in the current issue of Offscreen Magazine

And it’s beautifully made and a pleasure to hold. Quality paper, crisp print. The size is just right, too. Clearly, a lot of thought and care has gone into making this magazine.

Those of us who share on the internet are regularly reminded how fleeting our creations are. Of course, there’s poetry in the impermanence. Online creations are like a mandala, a Buddhist sand painting that’s intentionally scattered after being painstakingly created as a reminder of the impermanence of all things.

But there’s a grace in great things, things you can hold and tuck under your arm and put on your shelf to enjoy again and again. A thoughtfully crafted thing has a beauty that endures and offers a distinctive pleasure that a flickering screen cannot adequately match.

What will my web site, for example, have to offer of value to anyone ten or twenty years from now? I suppose I could still be adding to it regularly. I envision making this as long-term a repository of my writing as is possible. And the intrinsic value of notching new posts every day has meaning for me whether anyone else reads or not.

But the web is like a river. You never surf the same web twice. It’s constantly changing. On the internet, everything flows and nothing abides for long. Such is life, of course.

Enjoying this magazine has sparked a bit of curiosity about making more permanent things. I don’t know if “Excellent Journey: The Book” is in my future, but it’s worthwhile to consider what I might create in a more fixed form. Seth Godin’s recent book along with this magazine are great examples reminding me of the value of the touchable and the beauty of old-fashioned words on paper.

The printed word will, I venture, have a much more enduring presence than, say, vinyl records, which seem more of a novelty for a narrow niche of aficionados. No technology is required to use a book. But, I think people eventually will treat paper books more like souvenirs of ideas and memories. Electronic reading will be fine for most occasions. Real books, though, will become more special, for selected experiences and more valued ideas, for gifts that endure, that touch and can be touched.

Daily apps: Useful and delightful

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My current iPhone home screen.

These are my most frequently used apps at the moment. I have six other screens of apps that mostly don’t get much use.

Those apps that merit inclusion on my home screen are ones that serve a regular useful purpose and are a delight to use. They do their jobs well.

Useful and delightful. A solid couple of traits to value and aspire to in more than just the apps on your devices.

Imagining a future on the frontier beyond Earth

This gorgeous short film by Erik Wernquist imagines humans exploring deep into our solar system. The images are stunning in their beauty and in the vision they offer of humans venturing to the frontier beyond our own planet. And there’s Carl Sagan’s voice and poetic words. So good.

 

Why should we even dream of such ventures? Because we are human, and we’ve been wandering and searching and exploring from the beginning. We journey. It’s what we do, and it’s how we are wired. And in journeying we find ourselves and attempt to make sense of our place.

The sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled… The open road still softly calls. –Carl Sagan

Imagine what it would take for even a small portion of this filmmaker’s vision to become a reality. Epic, gargantuan investments of brainpower and resources and will, right? But, remember, the previous generation sent men to the moon. That was back when computers filled rooms. They fit in our pockets now.

Can’t we fit dreams like this into our future and honor our nature as wanderers? If our physical survival doesn’t depend on it (and it might), at least the survival of our questing spirit and restless curiosity ultimately may be at stake.

This may be centuries away, but it’s on us to point ourselves in that direction.

via Kottke

A great podcast: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Podcasts have almost completely replaced the radio for occupying my driving time, and I often listen to podcasts on my daily walk. There are so many good podcasts to recommend – TED Radio Hour, Serial, The Tim Ferriss Show, Jeff Garlin’s By The Way.

But the most impressive and engrossing podcast I’ve encountered is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Carlin goes deep and produces what are in essence audiobooks about each historical topic he takes on. But he delivers these amazingly well researched stories in a conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting with a really interesting friend who knows everything about history AND who can tell a great tale.

His latest series on World War I is stunning for its detail and for its effectiveness in conveying the staggering tragedy of the first modern war. He doesn’t gloss over or minimize the stark, often shocking realities of what humans have done to each other throughout history, hence the name “Hardcore History”. His podcasts are not light entertainment. But they are remarkably good.

It’s easy to make a podcast now. You just need a microphone and a computer and you can talk your heart out and post it on iTunes. But what Carlin and the best podcasters create are works of art, carefully, painstakingly crafted with strong content and excellent production values.

Carlin goes deep into his subject, reading voluminously on the topic and laying out his narrative carefully before recording. What he delivers ends up sounding effortless. This level of commitment to quality content and production, though, makes a show like Hardcore History shine.

If you’ve got some time in the car ahead of you this holiday week, Hardcore History or any of the other podcasts I listed above are a great way to fill a few hours.

*My podcast app of choice, by the way, is Overcast for iOS.

Mindfulness in ten minutes: Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk and meditation app

My friend Jill came by my office yesterday. She reads this site and often sends me an encouraging message. I’m kind of freaked out when anyone lets me know they read this. It’s still in my head that I’m writing this just for my own benefit. Thanks to anyone who spares a moment for anything I’ve shared here.

Jill was telling me that she’s been using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app for a daily meditation practice. (And there, over on that Headspace link, you’ll find Hermione herself giving it a thumbs up. Brilliant!)

I’ve downloaded the app, and it’s impressively designed. I’m going to give it a go. Meditation has been on my to-do list for a while, but I just haven’t made it a habit. I’ve even got a couple of mindfulness books lined up in iBooks waiting on me. But this app just might be the tipping point for me. It literally talks you through the practice. I might have room for one more daily habit to track.

And here is Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk advocating taking just ten minutes each day for intentional mindfulness (and there’s juggling, which is a fun bonus).

Imagining a better future

 

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I just started reading Zero to One, the new book by entrepreneur Peter Thiel. He opens the book with this contrarian question he asks in job interviews: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

He’s usually disappointed by the answers. He says a good answer takes this form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.” He goes on to say that good answers to the question can point us to the future:

“But what makes the future distinctive and important isn’t that it hasn’t happened yet, but rather that it will be a time when the world looks different from today. In this sense, if nothing about our society changes for the next 100 years, then the future is over 100 years away. If things change radically in the next decade, then the future is nearly at hand. No one can predict the future exactly, but we know two things: it’s going to be different, and it must be rooted in today’s world. Most answers to the contrarian question are different ways of seeing the present; good answers are as close as we can come to looking into the future.”

I was 5-years-old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I assumed we would all have flying cars and be living in a completely peaceful and prosperous Jetsons-like world by the time I was 50.

But progress in our time has been mostly iterative, fine-tuning of previous breakthroughs, not revolutionary. Cars are a little safer and more comfortable and a bit more energy efficient than when I was a kid, for example. Communication technology has been the exception.

I’m inspired by the possibility of what could be if we put our intellectual horsepower to work on asking better questions about the future.

What do we take for granted that needs challenging? What basic assumptions are just wrong? What could the world look like 50 years from now if we stretched our collective imagination for the best possible options for humanity and all life on this planet?

What is an important truth that most of us are just wrong about?

Seven weeks left in 2014: Habit List app

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I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the seven week mark today.

I’ve been diligent with most of my finish-the-year-strong habits – getting in my mile walk every day, sticking with the hundred push-ups plan, and posting to this site daily. (Not so solid with my reading habit, though. Commit to a book, man!)

I remembered a habit tracking app I used last year, Habit List, and re-downloaded it. I was delighted to find a new and better design than when I last used it. I’ve tried the very popular Lift app, but I’m not interested in the social component, and the app is just not focused enough for what I want in a habit tracker.

Jerry Seinfeld apparently kept a big calendar on his office wall and crossed off each day on the calendar when he wrote, a daily habit that was a high priority for his work. And he was obsessive enough to not want to break the streak, so the calendar with the red “X”s compelled him to write every day if only to keep the streak alive.

Habit List is that calendar, but on your phone, in your pocket. You load in the habits you want to keep consistently and how often you want to do them. Then you can easily track how you’re doing. I get a small but satisfying boost whenever I tap that I’ve completed that habit for the day and keep the streak going.

And I feel a little tug of uneasiness as long as a habit remains unchecked for the day. I came in from a trip late Sunday night and was tired. But I didn’t want to break my “mile walk” streak, so I put on a jacket and grabbed the leash and took Mosley on a brisk walk through the neighborhood, going just far enough to check off the mile habit for the day.

Remember, systems are better than goals. Do what it takes to consistently put your priorities in front of you, to shame yourself if you have to, in order to act like and become the person you want to be.

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Habit List app

Data, data everywhere…

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*From a Jeremy Waite tweet

And there are a lot of stars in the sky.

We are traveling in uncharted territory. The information age we are creating has us swamped with more to read and see and hear than humans have ever encountered. We are constantly consuming words and images and ideas. I find it a challenge to just sit or do anything not requiring complete attention without reaching for a device to beam some more info my way.

I am grateful to be living in the future. I live to learn and grow. But I’ve got to build in some quiet, some space carved out from the noise of the nonstop flow of information. Maybe meditation is the way to go. Or a daily walk sans earbuds.

What’s the balance between consuming and creating and just being? What systems and habits do I need to build into my daily life to better navigate through the sea of data we’re all swimming in while still living an authentic, present, fully human existence?

Claim your place on the internet

Everyone should claim their place on the internet. Go grab the URL of your choice for just a few bucks a year and own your online identity.* Why not? We are living in the future! The internet offers the chance to express and connect in a way humans have never been able to before. Don’t sit this out.

Of course, I think everyone should write. Even if you create a site that no one other than your mom ever visits, it’s worthwhile for your own benefit to have a platform to build your ideas and share your creations. The attempt to create something, to express yourself, will help you see and understand in ways that just thinking passively never can. And posting something publicly, that anyone in the world might come across, will focus your attention more finely and compel you to hone and craft your ideas with more care. Kind of like how you clean your house so much better when you’re expecting company, writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Young people, especially, who are just getting started on their careers, should be expected to have a thoughtful online presence. To heck with your resume, show me what you’ve done. If you want to go into marketing or advertising, for example, wouldn’t it be more impressive to show a prospective employer your blog filled with posts analyzing marketing and advertising instead of just your grades in classes. If you’re passionate about public health, why not chronicle what you’re learning about health policy. If you’re an artist, make and share your art.

The college students I work with are getting it. From a design student to a mass media student to a fashion merchandising student, they know that they should go ahead and start acting like and creating like they are who they want to be. Sarah, the fashion merchandising student, was in a college class I spoke to a few weeks ago. After my talk she came up and told me she’d been wanting to create a web site about her interest in fashion. The next week, she sent me a link to her new site, and it’s terrific. And it’s going to help her figure out what she really cares about and what’s worth sharing and how to express her ideas more effectively. And when she’s pursuing career opportunities she will have a tangible body of work to share, not just a resume. Or maybe her web site will become a career. It happens.

Write the internet you want to read.

But don’t see your online presence just as a means to an end, as a sort of obligatory extended resume. The best stuff on the internet is created as an end in itself, for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons. Write the internet you want to read. Craft and share work that delights you intrinsically without any expectation of a payoff and see if you don’t make better work than if you were trying to get some extrinsic reward.

You don’t need permission to do work you find meaningful, nor do you have to wait till you’ve earned a degree to get busy getting better at what you want to do. Even if no one pays you for it, ever, go make something and share it with the world.

 

*I use WordPress.com and pay them each year for my custom domain name. It’s a hassle-free, low-maintenance option that I’ve been happy with.

John Gruber tells the Daring Fireball story

Daring Fireball is a daily must-read for me. And John Gruber has one of the most consistently distinctive and quote-worthy takes on Apple and all things tech. I’m a fan and have a couple of Daring Fireball t-shirts I wear proudly. (I’m normally a plain-t kind of guy, so it’s a big deal for me to sport someone’s logo.)

Gruber has a great story about how he made his blog into his full-time career, and he told it on the XOXO Festival stage recently:

If you think you’ve missed the boat, that it’s too late for you to get in on the possibilities created by the internet, you are wrong. It’s still early. We are just at the edge of the frontier. But don’t wait around thinking about it. Claim your stake online now. Buy that domain name. Get started on WordPress or Squarespace or Tumblr. Make something you’re proud to share with the world. And keep doing it. And keep getting better.

iPhone 6 first impressions

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I received the new iPhone 6 on Friday and have been impressed with this latest and greatest iteration of the iPhone. The hardware design and build quality are as solid as any device I’ve used. It’s a delight to hold this phone. I much prefer the rounded edges of the 6 to the sharp corners of the 4 and 5. And it’s incredibly thin without making it feel fragile.

I’m loving the new screen size. 4.7″ is not too big. And the display quality is phenomenal! I’ve been ignoring my iPad mini, preferring for now to read on this device instead.

My old eyes are appreciating the new zoomed view option which shows less content, but it’s larger. Here’s my home screen:

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My wife prefers the standard view which shows more content a little smaller:

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This device is fast. Every task seems snappier. I haven’t experimented much with the camera yet, but it’s getting rave reviews.

I’m really liking Apple’s leather case. It’s sleek and adds very little heft but provides a good sense of grip. And it just feels nice. We will see how it holds up. I was anti case for my 3G and 4, but I’ve come to appreciate having a case just for improved grip.

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So far this new iPhone is exceeding my already high expectations. I composed this post on the phone instead of the iPad. I’m curious if the slightly larger and strikingly sharper display will continue to have me ignoring my non-retina iPad mini more often.

iPhone week and the fleeting allure of great gadgets

I’ve loved gadgets since I was a kid. There was my blue plastic cassette recorder I played with in the car on the way to Disney World. I remember recording McCartney’s Live and Let Die from the car radio. I also as a kid had a nifty solar-powered calculator and a classic record player and some excellent film cameras including a Polaroid and a Kodak “pocket camera”. I received a Nikon FM SLR for Christmas in 9th-grade and spent the rest of high school roaming the halls and sidelines as the yearbook photographer. I’ve got that camera packed away in a closet somewhere. And it still works great, but film seems ancient now.

For high school graduation my parents gave me a gorgeous Seiko watch that I had first eyed in a full page magazine ad. That watch was with me throughout college. I lost it somehow a few years later when I was working in D.C. I last remember having it as I was taking my parents and grandmother on a White House tour. Later, after coming up empty with the lost-and-found desk at the White House, I couldn’t help but imagine President Reagan wearing it, proudly admiring my Seiko on his wrist, claiming finders keepers.

One of my favorite gadgets of the pre-iPhone era was the Palm V. It was a svelte little electronic organizer with lovely lines that just felt great to use. I went through a few different Palm devices until the iPhone appeared.

My first Apple device, though, was the distinctive iMac G4 with the white base and the screen on a movable arm. It’s such an appealing design we still keep it on a desk in our home even though it’s not been turned on in years. That Mac led us to the iPod (3rd generation) which eventually put us on the iPhone path.

I’ve been an iPhone user since 2008. I stood in line for hours during the opening week of the 3G release. Bless my sweet wife who waited patiently in the mall with our two young kids. She had no idea it would take so long or cost so much. I loved that phone. I was in awe of what it could do, especially compared to any other device I had ever owned. It did feel magical.

I’ve upgraded every couple of years since then. The iPhone 4 supplanted the 3G as my favorite device ever, and my iPhone 5 has been a solid improvement over the 4.

And now I’ve already preordered the iPhone 6. I went with the 4.7” screen with 64 GB of storage in “space gray”. The 6 Plus is way too big for my tastes. I’m even leery of the screen size of the smaller 6 and worried that it may be too unwieldy compared to the 5. My wife, especially, was fond of the size of the iPhone 5.

I think we’re both going to be fine with the new size, and we will probably wonder why we were even hesitant about it. I’m thrilled with the increase in storage, though. My wife’s 32 GB iPhone 5 stays full with photos and videos. My current phone only has 16 GB, not nearly enough. Fortunately, Dropbox and iCloud have enabled me to keep most of my stuff in the cloud and off my device until I need it.

I realize these devices are frivolous and inessential and have incredibly short reigns as our most cutting edge gadgets. And yet they’re amazing. My phone is one of the few things I have with me almost all the time. It’s in my pocket or on my desk or in my hand or on my nightstand while I sleep. It’s my window to the world and to the people I love. It’s my journal and calendar and to-do list and the first thing I reach for when a creative spark strikes. And it’s an amazing camera that’s helping me chronicle and remember my family’s big and small moments.

I’m not obsessed with my phone, and I don’t let it distract me from being present with the real live people I’m around every day. I keep it on mute and keep it out of sight when I’m in conversation.

I don’t have many material desires. But I do appreciate the grace of great things, and I do love having the most current computer technology. As brilliantly designed as these devices are, though, it’s stunning how fleeting their utility is. My old-school safety razor, for example, will be just as handsome and useful fifty years from now. My chef’s knife and cast iron skillet could be used someday by my future grandchildren. But the new iPhone that’s arriving at my door on Friday will be out of date a year from now when the next one is released.

I don’t mind, though. Such is the way of technology. The allure of having the best right now, especially for something that has such a prominent role in everyday routines, is worth it for me. This pocketable, best-in-its-class gadget regularly, consistently provides moments of delight and utility in a way that no other thing could. A mere thing, thoughtfully designed and well executed, can add genuine value and enhance the enjoyment of my days. I’m looking forward to seeing the UPS truck on Friday.

Just getting started

Kevin Kelly has a post on Medium today that is a terrific kick in the pants for anyone who’s thinking all the good ideas have already been taken.

I’ve pondered before that things are just now getting good, that we are just getting started on our greatness.

Kelly posits the same thought, especially related to the internet and the snowball of technology our generation is starting to get rolling:

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute. This is the time that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh to have been alive and well back then!”

We are living in a golden age of human history. It’s easy to be distracted by bad news and worries about the future. But we’ve got it so good compared to every generation prior to this one. The challenge before us is to imagine without limits the possibilities of what we can do and who we can become?

If not now, when? If not you, who?

Be audacious. Dream big. And take action. Let’s get something started that will make the wonders of this moment seem like a mere stepping stone to the glorious age to come.