I finally managed to push through some mysterious technical issue, and am now in the process of getting my modestly-named podcast listed through iTunes. Which is good, since I’ve almost got a couple episodes ready to go!
The first one should be up on Thursday, and the next one will be up the following week.
The paperback edition of my book is coming out in a couple days (in the US, that is– it came out in the UK a few days ago!) and I’m now doing lots of interviews with people for my next book, so this seems like a good time to dive into the podcasting world.
Here’s a teaser.
I figured I do a lot of interviews, and those are often with very articulate, fascinating, smart people who are very generous with their time; so why not share those with my readers?
Besides, I’m now starting a new book, and rather than keep it all under wraps until the very end, I figured I’d try flipping the process, share the interviews as I go along, and give readers a sense of how the project unfolds. (The blog does a little of that already, so this is really a step in a direction I’ve already taken, not a radical departure in my practice.)
I still need to get it registered with iTunes, etc., but I’ve got material for several more episodes. My plan is not necessarily to release every single week, but rather to organize them into thematic seasons.
is a research community that fosters collaboration across disciplines in order advance our understanding of the interplay between law, institutions and human behavior. The goal of the Institute is to build a richer understanding of the underlying behaviors at the heart of society’s most pressing problems and to improve our understanding of how law and other institutions facilitate or hinder those behaviors.
I came here last year to talk about rest and creativity, and this year am talking about my new work on shorter working hours and the future of work.
For me, the event is interesting precisely because I’m not a legal scholar, or biologist, or economist or public policy person; but lots of the issues they talk about turn out to touch on things that I’m interested in, and so for me it’s a chance to pick up some new ideas, and think about my work in a new light.
Though of course being in Squaw Valley doesn’t hurt. To me, this is the quintessential example of a place that supports deliberate rest: I have these intense intellectual exchanges, then can go for a long walk and let these fizzy ideas play on their own and turn into something while I admire the mountains. And even if I’m just going to the coffee shop in the condos across the street, I have a great view of the mountains, which I find helps stimulate divergent thinking.
Indeed, after dinner last night I was walking around, and stopped to make some notes about my talk by a fire pit.
I just hope the talk lives up to the place!
The only downside is that that it doesn’t happen during spring break, so my wife can’t make it, too.
There are people who treat conferences like a theatre. I once saw a very eminent scholar who writes on technology and social life arrive at a conference by limo a half hour before their talk, give their talk (it wasn’t that good), shake a couple hands, then leave. As a display of professional eminence it was interesting; but intellectually it was a lost opportunity.
But I’ve decided that if I’m going to travel to a conference, and the organizers think I have something worth listening to, that means that they probably have things worth my listening to. And at the very worst, there’s always a nice walk.
May 11, 2018 / askpang / Comments Off on ‘The anthropologist’s role is to take things that seem natural and point out that they’re not”
In These Times interviews LSE professor David Graeber, author of the new book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. As he explains it, “A bullshit job is a job that the person doing it believes is pointless, and if the job didn’t exist it would either make no difference whatsoever or it would make the world a better.”
His 2013 article about the phenomenon got a lot of attention, and it looks like the book could be really good.
And Graeber sees explaining the rise and spread of bullshit jobs as the first step toward making work better. As he says:
With bullshit jobs, there is the idea that if you’re not working hard at something you don’t enjoy, then you’re a bad person and don’t deserve public relief. Those deeply rooted beliefs are the strongest weapons capitalism has.
The anthropologist’s role is to take things that seem natural and point out that they’re not, that they’re social constructs and that we could easily do things another way. It’s inherently liberating.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, esports is becoming a big thing in the gaming world, and in sports more generally. It took off as a professional, corporate activity in Korea in the early 2000s, and recently has expanded to the U.S. (In fact, some teams playing in the U.S. are from Korea [insert bad immigrants taking our jobs joke here]). If you’r not familiar with it, this video provides a good introduction to the business:
For a long time, many companies would set up “team houses in which players both work and reside,” but as aXiomatic Gaming CEO Bruce Stein explains,
When we formed the idea of a training center, it got [the players] out of training and living in the same environment…. We felt that was a little stifling. It didn’t give them a separation between relaxation and work. And it wasn’t the ideal setup for training with the coaches and the analysts. So, we built a facility.
Given that aXiomatic Gaming’s owners include owners or partners in two basketball teams, two baseball team, and two hockey teams, it’s not a surprise that they wanted to.
The center is like any other professional sports facility: there are playing fields, a film room for reviewing games, and a kitchen and chef.
What do the players think?
“I think this facility is insane…. Six years ago I was scrimming [practicing] out of like this tiny dinky house in Diamond Bar [in Eastern Los Angeles County], the cheapest possible place you could fit five people.
The coaches like it too.
Overall it fosters a more structured and work-focused environment compared to esports houses.
“Players would just wake up at 10:28 for a 10:30 morning and just crawl out of their beds to it,” assistant coach Jun “Dodo” Kang said, speaking about how it was in the gaming house.
Coach Nu-ri “Cain” Jang said, via translation, that, “Having living and working space in the same place makes it too relaxed for the players. . . . Separating that just helps players focus on being professionals. Like, you’re waking up and actually going to work.”
Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, one of the Korean players, said the facility helps him stay more balanced.
We hear a lot about the benefits of being able to “blend” work and life, or professional and personal stuff, but there’s a big literature on the psychological and productivity benefits of work-life separation— of having really clear boundaries between work time and your work self, on one hand, and your personal life on the other.
For one thing, having time off is simply psychologically good for you. It gives you time to recover the mental and physical energy you spend at work. This is especially true for people who are in highly stressful jobs, or jobs that explode them to unpredictable, chaotic situations– ER nurses, doctors, and law enforcement are the obvious examples, but people who work in badly-managed offices can also benefit more from clear boundaries. Studies have found that people on zero-hour contracts, who can be ordered into the office on short notice, or are on call, have more trouble detaching from work, and their performance suffers over the long run. Having a physical distinction between work and home– like a training facility rather than a gamer house– goes a long way to enforcing those boundaries.
Predictable breaks and good boundaries between work and home life are good for short-term recovery, and for good long-term career development. There’s a reason people who discover what I call “deep play,” serious hobbies that are as engaging as their work, have more distinguished and longer careers than people who don’t: deep play gives them a degree of balance and control in their lives that they wouldn’t have otherwise. And people who are really ambitious, or get very involved in their work, need the benefits of breaks, and the structure of having them enforced by physical distance and time, even more than average workers. Your highest performers are also the ones most likely to burn out– and really cost your company– if you don’t get them out of the office on a regular basis.
Strong work-life boundaries also make it easier to enforce professional norms and get good performance. Like many people, I like the fact that work allows me to behave differently than I do in my private life; and that’s easier to maintain if those lives are actually separate. I know lots of employers like to talk about “bringing your best self to work,” but that assumes that your “best self” is the same whether you’re in the living room or the courtroom or operating room. One of the reason we find work and hobbies meaningful and rewarding is that those activities let us cultivate different best selves, or exercise parts of our selves in one context that we can’t in another.
The example of gamers moving to a training facility model is significant because these guys are the perfect workers of neoliberal corporate capitalism. They’re young men, unmarried, without families or even house plants. They have no lives, and it’s not clear that they really want them. They live and breathe their work. Most corporate sponsors (or employers) assume that to get the most of these people, you want to encourage those habits, and make it possible for work to overrun life.
But raw passion doesn’t make for world-class performance, and mere obsession can be beat by super-focused work. Combining great training and workplace with stronger work-life boundaries lets people work more intensively, at a higher level of performance– and that’s really what you want. You want them going home, so they can beat the guys who are sleeping under their desks.
The latest episode of the “Psychologists Off the Clock” podcast features a conversation between me and Brown University psychologist Yael Schonbrun, in which we talk about deliberate rest, the role of downtime in creative lives, and why young children are like vampires.
I’ve been doing a little more media recently, as I head toward the release of the paperback edition of REST (with a new foreword by Arianna Huffington) on June 12. I’ve also got a number of other things that are happening to mark the publication of the new edition, and to spread the word, so yesterday I spent a few hours cleaning up my backyard office, getting things together, and making lists of things I need to do before the book comes out.
Interestingly, it’ll be out in the United Kingdom several days earlier, as a retailer wanted to include it among some summer titles, and needed it sooner.
The Tracking Wonder podcast has an interview with me and Srini Pillay, a psychiatrist and author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try.
It was a good time, in part because the interview was somewhat more autobiographical than most, and because Srini is doing some pretty interesting stuff. I actually met him when I was in Utrecht for the Happinez festival (he was a fellow speaker), so it was cool to connect again and trade ideas.
Okay, first a caveat: I go to a few Oakland As games every season, but I’m not a baseball fanatic; I married into the game. My wife agreed to move with me to Chicago 20 years ago when I found an apartment within walking distance of Wrigley Field. Proposing to her also helped, but I’m not sure which was the more important factor.
So I’m not a baseball expert by any means, but I still found this article about how “The Rockies Believe They Have an Unbreakable Code,” and more generally how signaling is turning into a point of contention over who makes decisions about pitches, pretty interesting.
Last Sunday, the Washington Nationals broadcast noticed an unusual card sheathed in clear plastic on a wristband that was adorning the left arm of Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta…. The wrist card wasn’t just something the Rockies implemented Sunday. Iannetta has worn the card since the Rockies’ season began in Arizona….
While other teams might have already done something similar, this wristband — or, at least the scope of it — seemed to be unusual in nature. And with the amount of information available in today’s game, when it’s possible to know every batter’s performance against every pitch type in every count, I have wondered if teams would try and get more information to catchers and players on the field.
Mariners’ outfielders are carrying cards in their back pockets to help with positioning this season. In college baseball, the coaches — lacking the trust in their young battery — often call the vast majority of pitches, which can slow things down.
So what’s on the card?
Iannetta said the information is mostly related to controlling the running game, and he explained some of the mechanics of the process. “It’s just a random three-digit number that corresponds to a sign and then we have 10 different cards with random numbers,” Iannetta said. “As soon as they [the MASN broadcast] zoomed in… we heard about it and switched cards immediately. We switched to a different card with a whole new set of numbers. There’s no way to memorize it. There’s a random-number generator spitting out a corresponding number [for the cards], and the coaches have the same cards.”
So the signals are no longer part of a language that each team possesses, or that evolves between specific pitchers and catchers; it’s now more like coded signals in the military.
What’s also interesting about this, though, is that it foreshadows a change in who control the calls, the catcher or the coaches.
In college, the coaches already do so, mainly to keep the game moving. But in major league baseball, there’s a potential competition between two very different kinds of expertise.
On one hand, the catcher possesses a lot of on-the-ground knowledge. They know how confident each hitter is when they come to the plate, can observe how forcefully they’re hitting, whether they’re in the zone or distracted, etc. They also know their pitcher’s performance. “On any given night,” the article says, “the pitcher is going to have a different feel, a different comfort level, with certain pitches that will be unique to that contest.” Put that together, and a good catcher can really shape the play.
On the other hand, coaches now have a staggering amount of data about players, and there’s a temptation to use that to shape the game by allowing coaches to call more of the pitches.
But as the signaling system gets more complex, and you can change it up more often, there’s an opportunity to either use it to deliver more information to catchers, or to displace the knowledge of catchers entirely and rely on big data.
What’s important here is that it’s not that one form of knowledge or expertise is necessarily superior to another; they’re probably best seen as incommensurate, as forms of knowledge that are so different it’s like comparing apples and manta rays. But you can imagine coaches deciding that they want more control over the game, or thinking that big data will let them use less experienced catchers, or simply being super-impressed at the statistics and all the cool things you can do with it. In order words, adopting what looks like a data-intensive and rational system for reasons that actually aren’t that rational.
The experiment with so-called universal basic income has captured global attention as a potentially promising way to restore economic security at a time of worry about inequality and automation…. [However the] Finnish government has opted not to continue financing it past this year, a reflection of public discomfort with the idea of dispensing government largess free of requirements that its recipients seek work.
There are UBI experiments going on in other parts of the world, but the fact that Finns are skeptical of the no-strings-attached approach to basic income, that suggests that other countries with less social cohesion and trust in government will find UBI to be a steep climb. Further, as the article notes,
This may be the main reason that basic income has lost momentum in Finland: It is effectively redundant.
Health care is furnished by the state. University education is free. Jobless people draw generous unemployment benefits and have access to some of the most effective training programs on earth.
“In a sense,” said Mr. Hiilamo, the social policy professor, “Finland already has basic income.”
I find the idea of a basic income intriguing, but I’m not really sure what to make of it. My concern isn’t that giving Those People money will just lead them to waste it; the studies I’ve seen suggest that on the whole, people in UBI experiments are more thoughtful stewards of that money than the Rich Kids of Instagram. But the idea that UBI can be used to bribe people into accepting the robot revolution, or that people will trade cash for the dismantling of the state (which is what people like Milton Friedman and Charles Murray have envisioned when they advocate UBI, as I understand it), don’t fill me with confidence that it would be good policy.
Hours of caffeine-fueled work with breaks only long enough to change locations overtake the normal flow of student life. There is little time for socializing and even less time for sleep.
Is this the right approach, though? What if rest is actually the key to productivity?
That is Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s theory in his book “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.” Pang, a sociologist and historian, states that the technological age’s promise of less work through more efficiency has actually been replaced by the nightmare of never leaving work behind.
This is especially true for college students. Most work is done in dorms, apartments and coffee shops. There is almost no physical or temporal separation between work and the rest of life.
Under the guise of convenience and comfort, working from any place and at any time has caused students to work long, distracted hours. These hours often replace healthy sleep schedules and free time….
It seems counterintuitive to spend valuable work time relaxing to gain more creativity or presence, but research supports the claim that people’s rest is valuable to their productivity.
However, rest can be more than just a tool to increase productivity. It can also be a part of enjoying life as it happens instead of always looking to the next goal or accomplishment.
Feeling that there is more to life than tests or one’s GPA and enjoying the journey itself as much as one’s successes can lead to more life satisfaction. This exam season, don’t forget to rest up.
Of course, lots of people who discover deliberate rest do so later in life, after they’ve spent years burning the midnight oil or taking up assignments at the last minute, hoping that the pressure of a looming deadline will drive inspiration (this is how I worked). But not everyone is quite so stubborn: Cal Newport in his book Deep Work talks about how Theodore Roosevelt did well in college by avoiding overwork:
Roosevelt explained that he would spend “no more than a quarter of the typical day studying,” Newport writes, which typically amounted to only a couple of hours…. The future president would begin every day by mapping out his schedule from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., making note of the day’s classes, daily athletic training, and lunch. The fragmented time that remained would be dedicated to studying, meaning that Roosevelt had an entire evening each day to pursue his many interests.
In other words, Roosevelt worked intensely, but for limited hours each day, and interspersed his focused work with long periods of serious leisure– and it paid off. “Despite spending significantly less time on his classwork than his fellow students, he still managed to achieve honors in five of his seven first-year classes.”