Venkatesh Rao @vgr Tweets are 90% vacuous views, apathetically held. Mediocritopian. Oct. 04, 2018 6 min read

1/ Lemme do a 1-slide presentation since I'm feeling job sick. Title: How to Actually Manage Attention Without Smashing Your Phone and Retreating to a Log Cabin

2/ Premise: FOMO is good. Being plugged in is good. There is valuable info at all levels from twitter gossip to philosophy books. You should stay plugged in. You can manage anxiety and beat the House without resorting to shaming social platforms into managing attention for you.

3/ Inspiration from 2 sources

a) Quote "small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas" ( = y axis)

b) Richard Hamming idea in of scheduling "Great Thoughts" calendar time in You and Your Research  http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html 

4/ What the "unplug for self-care" crowd doesn't get is that you are part of a giant social computer computing the future. The level and latency at which you consume information and bet on it determines your "job" in the social computer. Your shitposting and FOMO are functional.

5/ The reason the unplugging doesn't work for most people is not that the Evil Platform Companies are trying to hack your attention and turn you into a helpless addict (though they are) but because you rationally realize YOU NEED A JOB IN THE SOCIAL COMPUTER.

6/ If you don't manage your information economy career, you will default to the lowest level job in the social computer: processing very low-latency information with small-minded cognition (bottom left) for small bets. It's the equivalent of low-level bug reporting/testing.

7/ The way to manage your attention is not to "unplug" or do some sort of bullshit Classical Liberal virtue signaling crap of "I only read ancient greek authors" but to be sensitive to your mind quality and consciously target the zone, moving fluidly between small/great mind.

8/ There are THREE ways to fail at this.

a) Thinking you can be Great Minded all the time.

b) Trying to be Great Minded on low latency information diet (upper left red box)

c) Trying to consume high-latency information diet without aspiring to more than small-minded thoughts

9/ The first failure mode manifests as trying to consume only information at your target level. Like only reading Economist and journal papers and trying to produce in institutional modes. This will fail. You need some information diet input from ALL levels to work at ANY level

10/ The second failure mode manifests as saving ALL your time for Great Thoughts. Even Hamming only saved Friday afternoons for Great Thoughts.

Give yourself permission to inhabit any mind level from small-minded shitposter to philosophy book reader/writer

11/ The final failure mode is trying to keep up with information at all latencies. Reading every trending tweet and every bestselling big history book and everything in between, but ALL at the same low level (ie as people gossip or play-by-play event tracking). Unsustainable.

12/ Each failure mode is an information diet that leads to patterns of betting that fail to deliver a positive return long-term. It's not addictive FOMOing that kills you, but not being able to translate the information consumption choices you're making into winning bets.

13/ The stable consumption/production positions are along what I've labeled the turnpike (a term borrowed from economics). You can move up and down along the turnpike. Get off the turnpike and your bad returns will start to kill you.

14/ The challenge in executing this turnpike roadmap strategy is that your mind-level chooses you rather than you choosing mind-level. If you choose to be small minded today, that's good. If you find you are always small minded and can't ever break up into mediocre, that's bad

15/ This is a bit like weight training. You have to increase the weights slowly and perhaps train your attention to exhaustion a bit. If you're in small mind zone and can only consume/produce tweets, try an essay. See how far you get. Strength-train attention from 10s to 10min.

16/ Note that this atrophying of attention and latency limits will happen REGARDLESS of whether evil designers are trying to hack your attention and keep you phase-locked into their preferred 10s latency information loop. Their designs are in fact the LOAD you're training against

17/ The fact of the matter is that information distribution has become free/cheap, so the firehose is going to have flows at all timescales and abstraction levels no matter what designers want or don't want. It's the information firehose that's creating this environment.

18/ Blaming/shaming platform UX designers is giving them way too much credit. There's just too much actual information being put out there at too high a rate, and you do in fact have meaningful access to almost all of it.

19/ There is of course a time, place, and role for unplugging from information flows entirely, and doing whatever low/zero information refractory period activity you prefer to recover, from domestic blissing to meditation. Not shown on graph.

20/ But while that has a role to play in mental health, make no mistake: you do need a job in the giant social computer, and that involves consuming and acting on information at all levels on the turnpike, in a temporally constrained way.

21/ The idea of a profane/secular "temporal" plane and a sacred/religious timeless/eternal plane is a medieval idea invented to justify the power of powerful intercessionary religious orgs. Don't reproduce that bad pattern.

22/ LONG before the digital media companies tried to pwn your attention by overloading it at difficult latency ranges, religious institutions tried to pwn you by suckering you into checking out of "temporal" matters by labeling them sinful/profane or whatever. This is utter bs.

23/ That is in fact the original attention hack: powerful religious leaders telling smart people to check out and unplug from information flows. That way, they get the power.

24/ If you think about it, it is very shady indeed that you're supposed to meditation on low-actionable-information information streams like a flickering candle. Good start. But if you stay there, you're playing someone else's game.

25/ If you are a genius who rises to Level 25 Omega Super Adept in a monastery in the mountains, who knows everything there is to know about candle flames, that's kinda... very convenient for the Pope and the King. Smart person out of the way in a log cabin learning Candleology.

26/ A real adept oughta be able to meditate on the angriest, most toxic twitter stream, consume the bile, and turn it into nectar... actionable insight you can bet on in the real world.

27/ A real adept ought to have strength-trained attention so they can spend an hour either reading a tweetstream or a once-in-a-generation history-disrupting philosophy book. No hack designer should be able to lock them down in the 0.1-10 second range.

28/ So stop blaming the media platforms for your own wallowing in small-minded twitter gossip about people. Strength train to the point where you decide whether to be there or elsewhere.

29/ I will now indulge my OCD to get this thread to 30 tweets...

30/ Stop trying to manage your attention and manage your attention Neo. You're in the Matrix now. Some rules can be bent, others can be broken.


You can follow @vgr.



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