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.

Make something wonderful

I’m a sucker for an Apple product announcement. Yesterday’s event inaugurated the Steve Jobs Theater at the new Apple campus. The theater looks stunningly gorgeous, as you would expect from the world’s most prominent design-centric company.

The products announced were almost overshadowed by the venue and by the touching tribute that opened the keynote. The first voice heard as the event began was that of Steve Jobs himself. It was a recording of what I’m assuming was an internal speech Jobs gave to Apple employees years ago. It’s worth watching just the first five minutes of the keynote to appreciate this moment.

Here’s the text of that opening message:

“There’s lots of ways to be, as a person. And some people express their deep appreciation in different ways. But one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there. And you never meet the people. You never shake their hands.You never hear their story or tell yours. But somehow in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love something’s transmitted there. And it’s a way of expressing to the rest of our species our deep appreciation.” –Steve Jobs

A lovely thought. To express your appreciation for all you’ve been given by others, “make something wonderful, and put it out there.”

Do your part for humanity. Make good art. Be a craftsman of your work. Give your full attention and your best effort to whatever has been entrusted to you.

Shine where you can. Be awesome.

It’s a small price to pay in gratitude to those who’ve given their best art, who’ve made something wonderful and put it out there for us.

Darwin’s plodding path to brilliance

I filed away this Farnam Street article and just now read it. It’s a great take on what made Charles Darwin such a transformational thinker.

In short, Darwin wasn’t gifted with an off-the-charts IQ. He was no Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. But he could focus intently on minute details and stick with an idea for a very long time. And he was relentless about fully considering any contrary evidence, any doubt or kernel of hesitation about his own ideas.

He clearly had what turned out to be a crucially valuable ability to sit with the discomfort of not knowing, of probing deeply into how he might be wrong.

Most of us are inclined to be content with our own opinions and never entertain contrary viewpoints. Blissful ignorance is a thing.

So much of current public discourse makes no pretense of genuinely trying to understand the opposing view.

Criticism is painful to absorb, and I know I don’t seek it out.

But Darwin squarely faced any sign that he might be in error. And with diligence and vigilance he sought to test and to prove and to meticulously weigh every argument that challenged his thesis. 

He could have published his landmark theory many years earlier than he did, but instead he patiently pursued the long game to be certain his idea had the full weight of the most compelling evidence. 

Talent tends to be overrated. Raw intellectual horsepower is a wonderful gift. But it is effort and persistence and a willingness to trudge through adversity and obstacles that just might vault you into a level of accomplishment that mere talent alone will not. 

On having the courage to look silly in pursuit of excellence

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.” –Lou Brock

via Shane Parrish

My ego puts me at a disadvantage.

If I don’t care that I might come across as weak or naive or silly, I’m open to possibilities and flexible and more willing to try something daring.

But if I’m worried about protecting my image, I’m significantly less likely to accomplish anything worthwhile.

There’s safety in sticking with conventional wisdom and not being an outlier. Of course, “caution is the devil.”

The author Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of Wilt Chamberlain’s free throw problem in his excellent podcast, Revisionist History. (What a great podcast series, by the way. Every episode is compelling.)

Chamberlain was one of the all-time great basketball players, dominant in every phase of the game except one—free throws. His teammate, Rick Barry, was one of the best free throw shooters, but he used an unconventional method, the granny shot, an underhanded and surer shot. 

Barry coached Chamberlain on the granny shot, and Chamberlain switched to it—for a while. But using the granny shot subjected the player to the chance of being ridiculed, by other players and by fans. When Chamberlain used the granny shot, his free throw percentage improved significantly. But he refused to stay with it, because as he later wrote in his autobiography, “I felt silly… like a sissy.”

Instead, his brilliant career was marred by his terrible 51 percent free throw percentage.

I’m a big fan of the high school football coach, Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, who is famous for defying the conventional wisdom about how to play football. He rarely punts on fourth down and almost always calls an onside kick when his team kicks off. And he’s remarkably successful, with six state championships and many appearances in the state playoffs. He was recently named USA Today coach of the year

When asked why more coaches don’t adopt his methods, he said “It’s simply risk aversion. People are scared they will have to suffer ridicule by fans, players and the media.”

If you don’t care about looking silly or making a fool of yourself, you’ll have so much room to grow and to fulfill your potential.

For me, I simply need to more regularly just say “I don’t know” rather than scrambling for any response to avoid looking clueless. So many of us feel like we will look bad if we don’t seem sure or confident. It’s acknowledging the not-knowing that often lights the way to breakthroughs.

Have the courage to look silly in the pursuit of excellence.

Do something amazing


I just discovered this message above the exit of my daughter’s middle school.

As you exit this week today, do something amazing before you go. 

Make a connection that you’ve been meaning to make. Be that person that lights up the room, that summons smiles even from strangers. 

Solve a problem. Get started on that big idea. Focus intently today, without distraction, for a solid hour or more and make something that delights you. 

Uncork your enthusiasm. Make room for wonder. 

Do something amazing.

Cal Newport: Quit social media

Cal Newport has a knack for counterintuitive insight.

His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was a compelling challenge to quit trying to find your elusive vocational passion and instead focus on obtaining the kind of mastery that leads to genuine career fulfillment. (Pick a career path you wouldn’t mind getting really good at and stick with it for a while.)

His most recent book, Deep Work, is a wake up call that most of us are doing work wrong. Busyness is not the same as effectiveness. He exhorts us to escape the trivial distractions that drain our time and attention and instead block out time and space for focused, deep work.

Now he’s shared his recent TEDx Talk that is a provocative encouragement to quit social media altogether.

He makes a solid argument. Social media is primarily entertainment. And it’s particularly, deviously addictive and distracting.

Weeks ago I deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone, and I don’t miss them. 

Tweetbot, though, is still on my home screen and is my most used app by far. Whenever I get even the slightest bit restless, it’s off to Twitter I go. I can disappear there for a long time, mindlessly scrolling, hypnotized by whatever others are tweeting at the moment, clicking links that lead me further into interesting if not important diversions.

I have unearthed some real insights this way, but most of my time browsing internet time-sinkholes is sadly unaccounted for by meaningful results. 

I’m not ready to delete my social media accounts. But I can put a hedge around my attention and structure my time more rigidly to get real work done. 

I’ve found that my best work comes after I’ve spent around 30-45 minutes ramping up my focus without taking breaks to check email or Twitter. It’s like I need that warm up time before flow sets in and then magic can happen. 

Two hours can fly by once I get in that zone. And that zone is a happy place to be and exponentially more productive and more fertile for breakthroughs than ten times as much time spent flitting about the internet. 

Quit social media? Maybe. 

But at least shrink its hold on your attention and on the little time you have to make something worthwhile each day.  

Mike Birbiglia’s excellent advice

The comedian and filmmaker offers his unsolicited advice, ostensibly to those who want a career as a performer. But these tips apply to anyone who wants to make something meaningful on their own terms.

Here’s his final tip:

6. CLEVERNESS IS OVERRATED, AND HEART IS UNDERRATED

Plus, there are fewer people competing for heart, so you have a better chance of getting noticed. Sometimes people say, “One thing you have to offer in your work is yourself.” I disagree. I think it’s the only thing.