“Take Care Of Your Little Notebook”

I’ve started keeping a pocket notebook. It’s not much – a point or a few about the day, usually about the boys or something I read.

I’ve started keeping a pocket notebook. It’s not much – a point or a few about the day, usually about the boys or something I read. Today included a Hemingway quote (or “Hemmingway” as I wrote. Ah well.).

I’m hoping the notebook will help me in a few ways:

  • Reflecting on the day and remembering the good things without having to Tweet or Facebook them
  • Getting back into the habit of writing more often
  • Providing myself a journal during my children’s formative years

I’ve always enjoyed notebooks. I have piles of them with a few pages written in here and there – parts of stories, meeting notes, grocery lists, contact information, dimensions of something. I’ve never been good about keeping up with any one notebook, either falling out of any habit in use or moving on to another shiny new book or for whatever reason.

I’ve been reading Austin Kleon’s blog again lately. It’s an old favorite that always inspires me but then I dismiss my own abilities when it comes to art or penmanship. But also a feeling that I don’t have a lot to say. Which isn’t true. More than a decade of social media use, seventeen (more or less) years of blogging, daily conversations with my wife and children, those are all thoughts and sayings and sharing that have moments worth chronicling in a way a bit more permanent and accessible than digitally.

Charles Simic wrote in The New York Review in 2011 to “Take Care Of Your Little Notebook“:

Inevitably, anyone, including its owner, perusing through one of these notebooks years or even months later, is going to be puzzled or embarrassed by many of the entries, surprised by others he has forgotten (like a glorious meal in a restaurant for which he took the trouble to itemize the dishes and their ingredients), and impressed by an occasional striking passage, which, lacking the quotation marks, he is not sure whether to attribute to himself or to someone far cleverer, funnier and more articulate, whom he happened to be reading at the time.

Same of course is true of a blog or social media postings, but paper just FEELS more lasting.

It’s also something that gets the eyes off the screen (I say as I thumb this out on my phone at 12:10 am – coffee after dinner was a bad idea). It helps commit things to memory a little bit better. And it’s a practice that I hope my boys will pick up because I want to encourage their imagination and reflecting on the world and their day. Which is all the more reason for me to strive harder to be consistent with it.

Here’s an ad are you lonely?

Random links for random times.

1. “I don’t recall exactly when my phone became such a festival of stress and psychological trauma, but here we are.”

We are reaching a point of no return, when it comes to information collection, if we have not already gone beyond it. Cameras and screens, microphones and speakers. Capture your face and your voice and your friends’ faces and voices and where you are and what’s in your email and where you were when you sent it and… What did you say? Click, here’s an ad. And where did you go? Click, here’s an ad. Who were you with? Here’s an ad. What did you read here’s an ad how do you feel here’s an ad are you lonely here’s an ad are you lonely here’s an ad are you lonely?

But Mat Honan says the Google Pixel 3 is still a very good phone.

2. Can how you use your phone determine your state of mind? There’s an app for that.

Once a patient installs Mindstrong’s app, it monitors things like the way the person types, taps, and scrolls while using other apps. This data is encrypted and analyzed remotely using machine learning, and the results are shared with the patient and the patient’s medical provider.

The seemingly mundane minutiae of how you interact with your phone offers surprisingly important clues to your mental health, according to Mindstrong’s research—revealing, for example, a relapse of depression.

3. As Sears files for bankruptcy there are a lot of reflections on the company’s impact on American life. One that’s stood out is Louis Hyman’s Twitter thread on how radical the Sears catalog was in the era of Jim Crow:

Every time a black southerner went to the local store they were confronted with forced deference to white customers who would be served first…

The stores were not self-service, so the black customers would have to wait. And then would have to ask the proprietor to give them goods (often on credit because…sharecropping). The landlord often owned the store. In every way shopping reinforced hierarchy. Until #Sears…

The catalog undid the power of the storekeeper, and by extension the landlord. Black families could buy without asking permission. Without waiting. Without being watched. With national (cheap) prices!

4. “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it” – Hannah Arendt

Be Welcoming Vs Welcomed

At its core, by seeking large groups to be identified with and by, we as individuals have stopped looking for ways to be more welcoming and instead sought more ways to be welcomed.

People love their choirs. We tend to find our people, our tribes, the folks that align with what we identify ourselves by the most, and we hold on to it tight. Those tribes lead to an us vs. them mentality that the drives too many aspects in someone’s life: where to shop, where to consume news, who to call a friend, who to date, who to marry.

This is nothing new. “Identity politics” has been a part of the human fabric since the dawn of man. Sometimes the identity is self-embraced by how one defines themself and all the virtues they determine that contains — I am Catholic, I am vegetarian, I am pro-life. Other times the identity is how one defines others and the negative perception one accounts to those identities — you are foreign, you are Republican, you are anti-choice. Often they go hand in hand. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

Kenney the Elder defines the problem directly:

Yet if the end state is really a condition between us and them? Who are us?

Shaun’s entire piece is worth a read with a cup of a beverage of your choosing. In a lot of ways I share his concerns, it’s a reflection of conversations we’ve shared time and again. The public sphere has shifted and as someone who’s engaged in often spirited but well respected debate for most of my life, it’s disappointing to see what used to be robust conversations on matters of importance distilled into mocks, memes, or “owning” one side or the other. Again, from Shaun:

In short, we have become a vulgar, boring people… and you can see it every day on social media, legacy media, commercials, entertainment, sports, etc. Our loneliness isn’t the problem — we’re just not interesting anymore (neither to ourselves or to one another).

So we have to manufacture virtue rather than work on becoming better, more interesting people. Turns out, virtue can’t be purchased. So we opt for wit, humor, condescension and the like rather than insight, relevance, and dialogue.

What’s worse, the manufacturing occurs when we stop letting our ideas and our virtues define our groups and instead allow our groups to define our ideas and virtues. Especially when those ideas and virtues are dictated by personalities more than actual intellectual ideas.

In another way, it’s a matter of values over labels. For example, believing in and engaging in Christian values is different than saying you’re a Christian.

As Bryan Caplan says:

The best way to guard against this laxity is to define your large, selective groups in purely intellectual terms. Identify with liberalism or conservatism, not liberals or conservatives. This is the kernel of truth behind the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Once you insist that “No true libertarian believes in immigration restrictions,” you’ll feel little temptation to ignore, minimize, or justify libertarians who believe in immigration restrictions. And this is precisely how you should feel.

At its core, by seeking large groups to be identified with and by, we as individuals have stopped looking for ways to be more welcoming and instead sought more ways to be welcomed.

It’s a distinction with a difference. You don’t win hearts and minds by “owning the Libs” or seek to understand someone by responding to reasonable discourse with an animated gif of a disappointed Picard. You do get high fives from your tribe, though.

We seek out and embrace large, unselective group identities to be part of something that reinforces what we want to believe about ourselves. In turn, we narrowly define ourselves not just by who we believe we are, but we also define those who are not us and prove unwelcoming to their ideas and experiences, even if they’re unrelated to our group identity.

We start to see the world in black and white terms. Us versus them. We become narrow, in turn, becoming boring.

We need to resist allowing the halo effect to limit how we experience the world and the fantastic people in it. We need to welcome different ideas and disagreement as an opportunity to learn, not just about the values but about the person who holds them.

This doesn’t mean don’t stand for anything. Absolutely have a take. And, yes, there are going to be bad people out there who are not worth your time.

But start from a place of understanding that often we disagree not because of some moral lacking but because of life experiences that have helped shape who we are. And those experiences can be fascinating.