#518 Getting to the Bottom of Things

Vis-a-Vis Staying on Top of Things

In our last +1, we talked about the humble algorithm and Professor Harari’s point that it is, arguably, the single most important concept in our world today.

We also did a quick audit of the algorithms in your life. (You get to work uninstalling a sub-optimal one and installing an optimal one in its place?!)

We briefly talked about some algorithms you may have regarding your smartphone usage—which makes me think of Yuval Noah Harari’s algorithm for smartphone usage.

His algorithm goes something like this: “If I am alive, I will not have a smartphone.”

Hah. Yep. That’s about right.

Get this: According to Wikipedia, “As of September 2017, he does not have a smartphone.”

No smart phone? Yah. No smartphone.

Harari must’ve gotten the memo from a fellow world-class thinker, the computer science legend Don Knuth who stopped using email in 1990 so he could “get to the bottom of things” rather than try “to be on top of things.”

Knuth wrote an EPIC post on the subject that’s well worth the few-minute read. (Check it out here.)

Here’s an excerpt:

“I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.

On the other hand, I need to communicate with thousands of people all over the world as I write my books. I also want to be responsive to the people who read those books and have questions or comments. My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode — like, one day every three months. So if you want to write to me about any topic, please use good ol‘ snail mail and send a letter to the following address:

Prof. Donald E. Knuth
Computer Science Department
Gates Building 4B
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-9045 USA.

THAT, my friends, is an epic demonstration of Deep Work Iconoclastic awesomeness.

It also leads us to Today’s +1.

We all have different roles to play in life and how much we need to “be on top of things” vis-a-vis “get to the bottom of things” and, therefore, we’ll each need to craft our own idiosyncratic, optimal relationship to email, smartphones and technology.

But… The question is: Are you deliberately crafting that strategy? Or are you just going with the flow of society and allowing your consciousness to get trampled on all day every day without a second (or third) thought?

This is a good time to remember our “Brief History of Lawns” in which we learned that caring about a patch of green grass in front of our house is neither natural, inevitable or immutable.

Well, guess what? Same thing with email, smartphones and tech.

We don’t need to become smashing Luddites about it, but let’s not become addicted users either.

My vote? Let’s become Optimizites—using technology in the BEST possible way to become our BEST possible selves.

How can you do that a little more today?

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