Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Just sharing a link today: an “oldie” but a goodie — Nicholas Carr’s 2008 article in The Atlantic“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

The simple answer is, in a word, “yes.”

(Why the pancakes? Read the article!)

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from Seth Godin’s blog: “The Simple Power of One A Day”

Seth Godin does it again in this short article, “The Simple Power of One A Day:”

There are at least 200 working days a year. If you commit to doing a simple marketing item just once each day, at the end of the year you’ve built a mountain. Here are some things you might try (don’t do them all, just one of these once a day would change things for you):

  • Send a handwritten and personal thank you note to a customer
  • Write a blog post about how someone is using your product or service
  • Research and post a short article about how something in your industry works
  • Introduce one colleague to another in a significant way that benefits both of them
  • Read the first three chapters of a business or other how-to book
  • Record a video that teaches your customers how to do something
  • Teach at least one of your employees a new skill
  • Go for a ten minute walk and come back with at least five written ideas on how to improve what you offer the world
  • Change something on your website and record how it changes interactions
  • Help a non-profit in a signficant way (make a fundraising call, do outreach)
  • Write or substiantially edit a Wikipedia article
  • Find out something you didn’t know about one of your employees or customers or co-workers

Enough molehills is all you need to have a mountain.

He’s speaking of business and marketing, but the concept applies to any endeavor in life:

Are you working on a writing project? Write just one page a day (250 words or so) and in 200 working days you’ll have a 200 page manuscript.

Are you trying to declutter your home of extra gunk? Discard just one thing a day and in 200 working days you’ll have 200 fewer needless items.

Are you trying to save money for a small purchase? Set aside just one dollar a day and in 200 days you’ll have $200 to spend.

You get the idea.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And it ends when you add all those millions of single steps together.

 

Principle 7: Collaboration

Balance prudent self-reliance with healthy, interdependent relationships.

Some time ago, I came across a book called The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century[1](written by two psychiatrists). A quote from the book:

“Being neighborly used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbor means not bothering them.”

I think this anti-social attitude has infected much of the technologically advanced world, not just America. We leave people alone because we think that’s what they want, yet loneliness has become a hallmark complaint of modern men and women. We dare not show our faces on our neighbors’ front porches…

…yet we scrawl updates on the walls of their facebook pages, we tweet until our smart phones are hoarse, we forward emails to all our contacts. It’s paradoxical. We have an explosion of online social networks, endless opportunities to “connect,” but how many of us scroll through our computer screens, feverishly hitting the delete button, just looking for something—anything—from someone we actually know or that we actually want to spend time reading?[2]

It’s good lift up our eyes, away from our screens, and be really physically present to other human beings.

illustration from the front cover of O Come Ye Back to Ireland, painted by Christine Breen

Susan K. Rowland, in her book Make Room for God, discusses at length Sarah Lanier’s[3] comparison of “hot-climate” and “cold-climate” cultures:

“Hot-climate cultures are communal, group-oriented, inclusive and spontaneous. Cold-climate cultures are more individualistic, privacy-oriented and interested in structure and productivity.”

My parents grew up in England—which has elements of both hot- and cold-climate cultures—but cultures definitely collided when she encountered the true hot-climate culture of southern California in the 1960s. She and my dad had just moved to America with their infant daughter (me). After several months of dealing with the apparently certifiably insane population of La Mesa on the odd side of town, they moved into a new place. My mom, expecting the worst, battened down the hatches, unwilling to interact with more of these crazy Americans.

To no avail: one morning there was a knock on the sliding door of the kitchen. In walked her new neighbors with freshly baked goods and coffee. Long story short—these two or three families spent the next five years raising their small children together, and even though they now live across the continent from one another, they are friends to this day.

What does any of this have to do with simplicity?

Living and working in close proximity to other people, and building intentional community with them, simplifies things because you can pool resources of time and energy, tools and materials, emotional strength and physical skills.

“Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood, 1546)

Cocooning with just our nuclear family on the back deck while the front porch remains unused isolates and limits us. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel—you can ask your neighbor if you can borrow his wheel. And, even though we are sturdy, self-reliant Americans, we don’t have to do everything alone in this increasingly cold-climate culture:

  • The Amish and other “plain living” subcultures excel at the principle of collaboration, with their barn-raisings and other community activities.[4] [5]
  • Busy yuppies Niall Williams and Christine Breen experience the beauty of community and collaboration when they move from Manhattan to rural Ireland and work side-by-side with their neighbors on their farm.[6]
  • In The Way (2010, Directed by Emilio Estevez), a man grieves the death of his son, and also honors his son’s memory, by walking the historic “el camino de Santiago” (“the way of St. James) in France and Spain. On the journey he discovers the beauty of community and collaboration.

I’ll finish with a little anecdote from my own neighborhood. A friend who lives nearby was over at my house putting the finishing touches on some electrical work he had very kindly done for me.

As he was leaving, he said, “I think I’ll take my ladder home with me today, because I’ll need it for a project I have to do at my house.”

“Okay,” I said.

Then, after a moment’s thought, I said, “I think that ladder might be mine.”

“Hm,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”

We went to look at the ladder. It had been back and forth between his house and my house so often in recent months that neither of us could remember whose ladder it actually was!

He took it and used it for whatever it was he was working on, and I think it’s in my garage at the moment.

“Any culture emphasizing productivity cannot allow us to spend much time socializing.” (Susan K. Rowland Make Room for God)


[1] The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz (2009).

[2] Social Clear Cutting: Can Our Social Media Behaviors Destroy Our Social Environment?” This is a very good post by author Kristen Lamb. She writes passionately about the need to forge real connections with other people. Her target audience is other authors attempting to construct social platforms to promote their creative work, but her articles and books (We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer) still speak to anyone disillusioned by online social media and searching for rewarding interactions online.

[3] Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures by Sarah Lanier (2000)

[4] Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender (1989)

[6] O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen (1987)

Principle 6: Vigilance

My Teetering Inbox

Pay attention to what is happening in your life. Maintain focus on what is truly important.

It was January 2009, and simple living had come off the rails:

Sunday, our day of rest (ha!) began with driving my 6th-grader to an 8:30 am volleyball practice, returning home to drive my teenagers to church to sing in the choir at 9:30, getting myself ready for church, driving to pick up my 6th-grader from volleyball so she could get ready for church, then going to church with her at 11:30. Somewhere in there the teenagers reappeared, having apparently wheedled a ride home, so at least I didn’t have to go back to church a third time: all those trips back and forth were giving me highway hypnosis, and it wasn’t even noon yet…

I was also working full time, trying to go to an early morning exercise class three times a week, one of my daughters was an altar server at church, I was spending my lunch hours trying to do the errands and other household business.

Every time I began one task, it was impossible to focus because I felt like I had a chorus of hooligans behind me shouting out all the items on my to-do list. For every task I said “yes” to I seemingly had several dozen equally important tasks I had to say “no” to.

…this maelstrom I found myself in proved that in modern America, you have to fight to keep things simple. “Stuff” is always creeping in, piling up on my desk and on my bedside table, adding itself mysteriously to my schedule and my to-do list, insinuating its way almost imperceptibly into my life and into my family, until a week like that comes along and slaps me awake.

If I may be permitted to paraphrase Wendell Phillips, the price of simplicity is, truly, eternal vigilance[1] because “entropy increases.”[2]

(To read the entire post, go here: “Simple Living in a Complicated World.”)

Emergencies and special circumstance arise and overwhelm us, and we must deal with them, but being chronically overwhelmed is not good for us. The key to dealing with incremental overload is vigilance. Other words and phrases for this concept include mindfulness, watchfulness, paying attention, attentiveness, intentionality, or, as Thoreau put it in Walden, living “deliberately.”

Without vigilance, you go through life on autopilot and eventually start to wonder what happened…

Behold my wonderful desk:

Behold the same desk about a week later:

Stuff creep!

To avoid creeping stuff and the unsightly, teetering, Dr. Suess-like piles of things all over your house, you could employ one or more of the numerous personal productivity systems out there, in print and on the internet, including:

Getting Things Done by David Allen. He recommends regular “reviews,” in which you take care of all loose ends daily, weekly, monthly, and so on.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Peopleby Stephen R. Covey. He suggests we categorize our various tasks into four quadrants: urgent & important; urgent & unimportant; non-urgent and unimportant; non-urgent and important.

Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. She blogs at SimpleMom.net. And no, I did not misspell her first name. It really is spelled “Tsh.” 🙂

 The Power of Lessby Leo Babauta. Leo is a minimalist. He suggests we make a “short list” of 5 essential things that we want to do daily or at least regularly. He also blogs at ZenHabits.net.

Keep this in mind, though: any personal productivity system, by its very nature, buys into the myth that maximum “productivity” and “getting things done” are one of the highest and loftiest goals to which a person may aspire. Susan K. Rowland, in her book Make Room for God: Clearing Out the Clutterchallenges this modern truism:

I believe our Western (American) culture keeps us from developing spiritually…This is not surprising. We live in a fallen world. Our particular culture seems to worship the god of productivity. It is isolationist and consumerist. [We] believe a whole set of cultural tenets: Good people get a lot done. God expects us to work hard in this life. Everyone else is doing fine, and I am not if I can’t do what they are doing. These beliefs are actually part of our cultural “religion,” which many of us accept unquestioningly and unconsciously. They are not true…

When dutifully doing things becomes the focus of our lives, we will never fulfill [our] true purpose or our deepest longings. We will never come to the end of our to-do lists. The world will never excuse us from one task or duty. We will never get to the really important things in life unless we intentionally carve out time for them.

Our essential selves, our purpose in life, our relationships…have too long been put aside and belittled by this culture that worships accomplishment.

So here’s the question: what’s at the top of your to-do list?


[1] “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, and writer. A contemporary of Henry David Thoreau.

[2] The Second Law of Thermodynamics.