Issue № 42

Acoustic ecology

I love a scenic overlook, but give me a few minutes and I’ll be sitting with my eyes closed listening to the scenic overlook. I once dove in the ocean at the edge of the continental shelf—it’s a long story—but the sense of lack of place when you gaze into the abyss is unsettling. Sitting and listening to a vast landscape is the closest I’ve ever come to that. (And without feeling like complete panic is right behind the veneer of my thoughts.)

The World Soundscape Project worked from the basis that any given soundscape (or sonic environment) is a representation of how that environment is perceived by listeners within it. Soundscapes are themselves influenced by human behaviours. As a combination of all sound within a particular location, soundscapes may therefore comprise natural sounds as well as those from social and technological sources. As these sounds change, so does the ecology of the soundscape.

~ Neil Clarke from,

Soundscapes are amazing. I’ve always been fascinated by sound, and how our aural sense is a very old sense; it is connected to a much older part of our brain. Sound is very important to our sense of being. We hear in the womb, and at twilight our hearing recedes last to gracefully ring down the final curtain.

Common sense

But I am still optimist enough to credit life with invincibility, I am still ready to bet that the non-human otherness at the root of man’s being will ultimately triumph over the all too human selves who frame the ideologies and engineer the collective suicides. For our survival, if we do survive, we shall be less beholden to our common sense […] that to our caterpillar- and cicadea-sense, to intelligence, in other words, as it operates on the organic level.

~ Aldous Huxley

Mind your attention

I’m sold on the idea that mindfulness is the key which unlocks everything else. I get chuffed when something grabs my attention. I’m fine with noticing; It’s good that I notice emergency vehicles. But realizing I’ve blown the last 5 minutes doom-scrolling in Instagram? Not cool.

There’s a reason for this. Our experiences in the digital realm are usually very novel—and this novelty leads to the release of dopamine in our brain. Dopamine doesn’t lead us to feel happy and satisfied in and of itself—it leads us to feel as though pleasure is right around the corner, so it keeps us wanting more. The more novel an app, the more we get hooked—we feel a constant rush and keep using the app until we remember to stop. (Here’s looking at you, TikTok.)

~ Chris Bailey from,

This is a longer than usual article from Bailey and it’s stuffed full of insight. One item of note is he frequently gets very intentional about testing things to their logical conclusion. This article comes from him trying to live his life without a smart phone. His conclusion (and I agree) is that smart phones are awesome. Unfortunately, there’s some bad opportunities mixed in too. (Ocean and surfing, yay! Sharks, not so much.) Want to see how addicted you are to your phone? Try this.

Common mistakes

Four common mistakes that help you hide— Busy is the same as brave. A mentor is going to change your life. Waiting to get picked is the next step. There is a secret, and you will soon learn it.

~ Seth Godin

A vision of humanity post-labor

If you spend much time (as I do) with your head shoved into a computer, you can’t avoid the whole “artificial intelligence armageddon-is-coming” (or is already here!) bruh-ha-hah. What’s always fascinated me—I’ve always irritated everyone even as a precocious little tike—is what happens when people no longer need to do any work?

Everyone’s always pushed back when I ask that question. For forty years (and why is there no U in forty?!) I’ve conceded that, yes, today there’s an enormous amount of work that needs to be done and people do that work. But I keep waiving my arms and asking: But the current amount of work is not always going to be the case. What happens when people no longer need to do much, if any, work?

The final point to make here is to emphasise that such a post-work world is indeed viable. Perhaps a better way of phrasing it is a post-labour world. Work is an essential part of the human condition; not only is it logistically necessary for social life, but it also provides us with purpose and a sense of self-respect. The thrust of post-labour thinking is not that this must be done away with, but that we can retrieve precisely these positive features—purpose, fulfillment, social value—from the tyranny of wage-labour, in which those are so often undercut by arsehole bosses, terrible working-conditions, and an alienation from the purpose of the work. A post-labour world just means that those types of self-directed activities we usually relegate to hobbies become the fount of meaningful social activity […]

~ Trey Taylor from,

I particularly like Taylor’s use of the distinction between labor and work. There’s a lot of work I want to always be able to do, as he points out, because I derive meaning from doing so. There’s also some labor that I continue to do, which I’m happily looking to offload.

Nothing is infinite. (Not AI’s intelligence. Not our time, nor any software AI’s time. Not our energy, nor AI’s energy. Not resources, not willpower, etc.) Therefore we (people, AIs, animals, all “agents”, everyone and everything) will always need to negotiate to get what we want. Some things the robots or AIs will do, and some things they won’t want to do.

Maybe a better question is: As the quantity of labor that humans must do falls, where is the new equilibrium? Will the decreasing (vastly decreasing, if I’m right) amount of labor that humans must do be valued sufficiently highly so that people can still obtain sufficient resources to pursue meaningful lives?


The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.

~ Amos Tversky

Changes ahead

I’m trying to sort out a problem concerning my slipbox: It’s not quite working the way everyone else claims it should. I’ve written a lot about my slipbox. Over the past 2+ years it’s grown to be about 1,000 slips (aka 3×5 cards) Plus the 1,200+ slips containing my collection of quotes.

I occasionally get a flash of inspiration and I sense the awesome power . . . and then it doesn’t happen again regularly. The problem has to do with how I’m putting things into the slipbox. This is a crucial point and (as far as I can find) it’s not often mentioned nor clearly explained. Everyone—including me—goes off into the weeds talking about how slips each get a unique address, how the addresses are fractal, etc. That’s classic systems-building nerd digression.

No the problem I have is, holding a slip with some idea on it, where do I put it? Literally, where is the specific spot in the collection of slips? …between which two existing slips do I place it?

What’s happened to me, is my slipbox is like a lawn: It has a wide collection of short blades of grass. It has few tall plants. There’s an amazing index of people, but each person usually has just one connection to something else in the slipbox. (For example: A podcast guest is usually only connected to the one slip for that conversation’s recording.) While I have hundreds of slips for my recorded conversations, they have almost no connections leading off from them. Again, I’ve a collection of ~100 slips for essays, books and other things I’ve put “into” the slipbox, and those cards have no other connections.

What I’ve built is what I build best: A large categorical archive. A library organized by thinking like a librarian. I’ve organized by topic or category. Here again, there’s a systems-building nerd digression into how you do that. But alas, it’s all just navel gazing structure for structure’s sake. Building a library is not sufficient. A good slipbox can be my library and enable me to find specific things. But a good slipbox is supposed to also let me do more. (It’s supposed to let me have a conversation with my previous thinking. It’s supposed to let my brain have ideas, while the slipbox let’s me explore all the ideas I’ve had.)

Instead of organizing by topic and subtopic, it is much more effective to organize by context. Specifically, the context in which it will be used. The primary question when deciding where to put something becomes “In which context will I want to stumble upon this again?”

In other words, instead of filing things away according to where they came from, you file them according to where they’re going. This is the essential difference between organizing like a librarian and organizing like a writer.


A writer asks “In which circumstances will I want to stumble upon this note?” They will file it under a paper they are writing, a conference they are speaking at, or an ongoing collaboration with a colleague. These are concrete, near-term deliverables and not abstract categories.

~ Tiago Forte from,

After much thought—weeks of thinking, finding the above article, reading, more thinking… I’ve decided I have two problems. The second problem is the one I mentioned at the top: Where exactly do I put this specific slip? I’ve been fixated on this problem for a while, and the solution is above.

But the first problem is that I’m not generating enough slips. (Yes, I have 2,000+ slips in the slipbox. Yes, I’m serious about not generating enough slips.) I’m not capturing what slipbox builders call “literature notes” or “reading notes.” I’m not grabbing my pen and writing stuff down, right in the moment, as I’m thinking about something. I believe this started on day one, when I felt like I didn’t know where I would put such a slip (ie, the second problem) and off I went not making enough notes.

So my new focus is to jot stuff down more. Generate more literature or reading notes. At which point I should quickly get comfortable figuring out where to put stuff into the slipbox.

Until next time, thanks for reading.



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