If you are finding that all the weights and exercise equipment is still sold out, but you want to get your workout in, while improving your winter wood-cutting form, might I recommend Chopfit. Yes, this is real. And yes, you, too, could spend $140 on a FOUR POUND fake axe to swing in the comfort of your home. At $35 per-pound, this may be one of the most ridiculous pieces of “exercise” equipment you could purchase.
I will watch the video—at least twice—any time Danny Macaskill goes back home to Scotland. In his newest video he takes an e-bike to uninhabited Inchkeith Island for some electrified trials riding. Macaskill is used to doing these tricks on bikes that weigh 20 - 30 pounds, so to watch him throw 50(!) pounds of bike around with the same apparent level of ease is truly impressive.
Quarantine is the first time in probably 7 years that I’ve truly missed having a video game console beyond my iPhone. Reader Chelsea told me all about the unbelievable cuteness of Animal Crossing and I wished for a Switch so I could play along. I’ve revisited a few of the more meditative iOS games I love: Alto’s Odyssey, Mini Metro, and my absolute favorite Threes. What iOS games lack in complex animations, they often make up for in intuitive controls or beautiful, simple visuals.
I’ve been thinking about limitations a lot lately. What we are allowed, or in many cases limited from doing in order to #flattenthecurve. I do not know if it helped me entirely, but reframing those limitations as constraints and working to live within them and do what I can within them has helped some.
Working within constraints led to some of the most important video games of all time. Robin Sloan—who you might remember from previous issues of Bird Mail—is currently making his own video game, the primary constraint being his skill, or lack thereof. You can follow along here. This bit from his “reasons” for making a video game resonated deeply with me (emphasis mine).
Just like books, video games have been formative aesthetic experiences for me, particularly in my youth. For me, media-making has always proceeded like this: I encounter something meaningful; I decide I want to produce my own version of that something; I learn how to do it. So it’s all reverb, really: impulse reflected back from material, transformed but recognizable. The material is me.
That reverb Sloan writes about is the same reason I write Bird Mail for all of you. I believe whole-heartedly in the power of the newsletter: to deliver something more than just marketing drivel to your inbox, to deliver valuable knowledge, joyous information that teaches you about something or someone new, or simply something that makes you laugh. After years of reading newsletters, I wanted to try my hand at my own newsletter. Thus, Bird Mail. The constraints of email are well known at this point, and that’s exactly what I love about it. There is only so much that can be done in this space with words and links and the occasional image, but I want Bird Mail to continue to be a bright spot in your inbox each time you see it.
I was reading Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds from James Clear’s newsletter today and I wanted to apply some of his thoughts to our current situation.
However, truth and accuracy are not the only things that matter to the human mind. Humans also seem to have a deep desire to belong.
For so many people in this time of too much COVID news and misinformation from an orange buffoon with too much power, there is more concern in remaining with a tribe than there is with knowing the truth or accurate information.
Collectively, from the beginning of this outbreak, we (the rest of the world) have been starved for accurate information. Most—at least I hope most—people are looking for the true numbers of infected, what best can be done to prevent the spread, and how to help. Accuracy is up in the air because so many things are being covered up by China and the POTUS.
This desire to belong, to one political party or another, is unquestionably clouding so many people’s ability to care about truth and accuracy. More concerned with being part of the “right” tribe has been such a big focus in politics for the past 3.5 years for one party in particular, and it has divided the country, and no doubt, will cost a number of people their lives.
Understanding the truth of a situation is important, but so is remaining part of a tribe. While these two desires often work well together, they occasionally come into conflict.
In many circumstances, social connection is actually more helpful to your daily life than understanding the truth of a particular fact or idea.
Right now, understanding the truth, or perhaps the Truth, of the situation is of utmost importance. Our daily lives and the social connections that are bound to them have changes dramatically, and in this case, knowing the truth of what we can to do #flattenthecurve is key to making sure we still have a tribe left at the end of (waves hands about wildly) all this.
We don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.
I have thought about this a lot recently in relation to COVID and our current political predicament. I remember hearing a long time ago, in the early days of the Trump presidency (and maybe even during his candidacy) that Trump uses the ad hominem attack “Loser” often. The worst thing you can be in his eyes, and the eyes of those who follow him, is a loser. A loser is someone who asks for the facts, who trusts the media, who cares about others beyond those who look like themselves, the list goes on. A loser is anyone who isn’t Trump or his cronies or the people blindly following the jingoistic hate that he so wildly spews. There are so many people out there who desperately do not want to be losers. They will hang on to their pride, resisting the programs that will give them food or healthcare—because welfare is for losers—or continue putting the lives of those around them in very-real-danger—because Corona is a liberal media hoax—all for the sake of not being a loser.
Convincing someone to change their mind is really the process of convincing them to change their tribe. If they abandon their beliefs, they run the risk of losing social ties.
Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.
The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.
Here Clear offers us some hope. And in this time of quarantine, social distance, and distant socializing, I think there might be some opportunity for this. I do have some fear that we all might have become too insular for us to step outside of our bubbles and work to change the minds of someone who thinks differently, especially during this time when tensions are so high. No doubt, changing someone’s mind, even by inviting them in and giving them a new tribe, is a lot of work, socially and emotionally.
This is perhaps where our newly-forced forms of connection might be able to help us. Sometimes the physical awkwardness of meeting and talking about these hard topics can make you feel trapped because your only out is walking out. Now, if things get too tense, drop the Google Hangout and blame it on your bad internet connection. Give everyone a minute to cool off and jump back in.
In conversation, people have to carefully consider their status and appearance. They want to save face and avoid looking stupid.
Bring some levity to this insane situation we’re all in and work toward bringing someone into your fold. It’s a lot harder to feel like you need to preserve your status when you’re sitting, trapped, on your living room floor with a quarantine cocktail and your pajamas on.
One day in the future, when we are all mercifully freed from the confines of our shelters-in-place, we can do the work of physically bringing them into our tribes and cement that changed mind for the better.
File under things worth believing in: Plain Text.
Jeff Huang uses a single, plain text file for all of his productivity.
I’ve tried adopting this, with the slight modification to Taskpaper format—mostly for the cool tagging features—and this gives me exactly what I need in a digital productivity system. I still use paper for capturing and brain dumps and even short lists of what must be done today, but having this single text file as a running record is incredibly helpful.
I’ve broken mine into sections (Projects in Taskpaper parlance) with an Inbox at the top, month projects with nested day projects under each, and an archive at the bottom. Taskpaper’s ability to collapse and search or filter for specifc tags is just enough to show me only what I need to see at a given time without being too fiddly and getting into things like Omnifocus’s perspectives (which while great, cost me a lot of time in the past).
The beauty of plain text is its ability to be exactly what you need it to be. As your needs change, your file changes.
…there’s a difference between hearing about it and experiencing it.
There’s no excuse for being uninformed when it matters, there’s also no good reason for being inexperienced.
There’s often a piece of glass between us and the world as it’s delivered to us. That glass magnifies the awareness, but it doesn’t have the same impact as experience does. It can’t.
Our awareness has been stretched wider than ever in history, but often at the cost of taking away a lifetime of experiences.
— Seth Godin
Like so many people on the internet, I am trying to figure out ways to limit the power this little brick of glass, metal, and light in my pocket has over my life. As someone who enjoys collecting and sharing knowledge, I sometimes struggle with drawing the line between where I should focus my attention—on the real world or the digital one—at any given time.
I’ve largely left social media, though I still feel the tug of Instagram more than I’d like. I am deleting apps from my phone left and right. In some cases I found ways to do the same actions from my computer when I’m home, or better yet, not do them at all.
While all of this helps in one way or another, it is still easy to become overwhelmed and drown in the infinite river of the internet, thinking that I’m doing yourself a favor by learning—AKA becoming aware—of all these new things. They’re shiny and exciting and they can maybe be used in conversation to teach someone else something, or make me sound more interesting.
The infinite internet is a constant pull, a tidal wave of overwhelming information, and distraction. Seth Godin offers simple advice, “Find your footing and do your work. It’s a choice.” That work he’s talking about, is making sure that your life is filled with experiences and not merely awareness.
It is hard enough turning away from the allure of the ever-growing internet and all the things I can learn from it, but/and now I must attempt to find the experiences I should be devoting my life to having. As with the internet, there are an infinite number of paths, and so many of them seem grand.
I want to have an answer for you, dear reader (and more importantly, for myself). But I do not. At least not right now. I have a list of experiences I want to have, and some experiences that I’ve ruled out, but how to choose the rest of them while avoiding getting sucked down the rabbit holes of merely being aware is something I must figure out. Perhaps learning out in the open, showing my work if you will, can help someone else struggling with this too.
Craig Mod continues to be one of the most important thinkers that I read. In the ongoing battle to be less drawn into my phone, this framing is helpful. If you’re not getting both Ridgeline and Roden Explorers in your inbox, you’re really missing out.
A smartphone excels, above all, at teleportation. It takes you from where you are, and places you elsewhere. If not physically, certainly mentally. This is great when you’re where you don’t want to be — on a packed commute for example. You can listen to a podcast, read an article, and be far, far “away” from a squished train. The issue is when this teleportation superpower intrudes on moments when you want to be present.