Ep. 203: Taming Meetings, YouTube’s Potential, Kids and Smartphones | Deep Questions Podcast
Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 203: Taming Meetings, YouTube’s Potential, Kids and Smartphones | Deep Questions Podcast".
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Cal's intro (00:00)
I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 203. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ, but joined by my producer Jesse. Jesse, it took me, what, six months to stop calling you my professor? It's muscle memory. You said it a few times, that was pretty funny. It was actually pretty common. We used this muscle memory during the semester. I'm around to the professors, but now I feel like I have that in. Speaking of the Deep Work HQ, I've been thinking about it recently. We've talked about this before, but now I want to get serious. Maybe get some serious feedback about it because we're coming up to the point where we sign the new lease, etc. etc. And as Jesse will attest, we have yet to do work on any part of this HQ, except the studio. You're a busy guy. You got a lot of stuff going on. It would be fun. I am a busy guy. But the studio, we put a lot, we're always working on the studio. We're always adding new technology. We always have people coming in and out, be it sound technicians or FCC experts, shout out to Albert Power Company. We're always working on things. We have video people, etc. The rest of the HQ is dismal. And I think it's time that we actually make this into something better. We've talked about this before, but we've never had a good idea. You've been here now for a while. What are we going to do? We got a large room, a common space room that has bookshelves that I'm about to ransack for my new library study at home. And we have a standalone office that right now is storage. We have a bunch of old lights in there and piles of books. First thing we need is, yeah, we need to get books to fill that and we need a clean lady. We do need a cleaning service. We should have a cleaning lady like once a month. The people next door have one. Yeah. So we should get in on that. Yeah. And I also want to get on this is this is riveting for the audience. I also want to get in on the big water bottles that goes into the bubbler water dispenser thing. Because the water is like really medley here and not good. I do want to get into that. But I got to figure it out. I'm thinking about, maybe we have other writers right here. I don't know. I was thinking about making the conference, putting like a giant table in the middle of the common space, like a library table. Or maybe it should be like couches and chairs. And I don't know, man. I'm a person furniture throw it back at the truck. Just haul it over. Well, anyways, one way or the other. I'm inspired by getting my my study and my home back in the shape. I'm inspired to get the HQ into some sort of shape. That's exciting. Yeah. Give me some sort of shape. I think having some of my writer friends be able to like reserve time and come out here and get away from their home and write that could be cool. Yeah, that would be really cool, actually. Yeah. We can even get some other podcasters in here. We like when we're not using it. I don't want this all to go to waste. I have big plans, but no time. All right. Well, anyways, we got a good show. Got I'm looking here. I'm looking through the script. We got some good questions. We got some good calls. We'll get through a lot here. I want to start with a brief news reaction. As usual, I'm less interested in the details of the news as much as using this as a hook to get into a maybe a slightly larger discussion of some bigger points going on with tech and culture.
Cal Reacts Journalists and Twitter (03:30)
But I wanted to start with an article that a listener sent me that came from Pew Research. So it's an article from June 27th. So quite recent. For those who are watching on YouTube, youtube.com/countingportmedia, you can see the article, those who are listening at home, I'll narrate it. The title of this article is Twitter is the go to social media site for US journalists, but not for the public. And if we look at it, it's based off of a survey. So a recent Pew Research Center survey of people from the news industry. So we have reporters, editors, and others working in the news industry. I want to hone in on one particular chart, which you should be seeing. I'm going to scroll this up now. There we go. So you should be seeing this chart if you're watching online. Basically, if you're listening, here's what it is. It's two bar graphs. On the left, it shows for each of these common social media style sites, what percentage of US journalists say they use that most or second most in their job. And then on the right, it is what percentage of US adults say they use that platform, particular platform regularly to get new. So we're comparing the platforms that journalists use regularly when they're top two sites they use in their job versus the websites that the average US adult uses to get news. That's the comparison being shown here. Left is journalist, right is adults. The big thing you'll notice, and this is from the headline, is that for the journalist, Twitter dominates. 69% of the journalist surveyed say Twitter is their top one or two platforms they use for their job. You look next to it, you look at US adults, and you see Twitter is 13%. 13% regularly, you set to get news. So there is a major difference between the digital world in which journalists live versus the digital world in which most US adults live. Journalists are very Twitter focused. That is where they find news. That is where news is discussed. The average American adult is not. Now this matters for a couple reasons. One, as we've covered numerous times on this show, there is a real effect, a real filter effect of what you see and how it is portrayed based on the particular platform you look at. So Twitter creates its own ecosystem of what's important and what's not important. How we should feel about this, how we shouldn't feel about this. And it's a very emotionally salient ecosystem. So it not only pushes things to the forefront as being important, but it does so with great emotional gusto. So if you're a journalist who lives in this world, you are being exposed to these huge, seemingly huge upswellings of emotion and commitment and engagement and activism, which may actually be largely artifice or at the very least largely separate from what the population as a whole believes. This is why as we covered in previous shows, we're beginning to see some of the major news companies pushing their staff away from Twitter because of this effect. New York Times being the most prominent example of them telling their reporters, please stop using Twitter. This is not helping the quality of our reporting. The other issue with Twitter, it's not captured directly, but it's implied by this graph, is that the reaction to what you do as an individual who posts on Twitter can be quite strong. We talked about this in a previous episode. Feedback is something we're wired to take seriously. So if you're a journalist who uses Twitter as your primary tool, like 69% of US journalists do, you're constantly working with this digital sort of Damocles hanging over your head. What if I say the wrong thing and really upset the crowd on Twitter? What if I miss out a particular caveat or don't mention this other factor that could be happening and I really get swarmed on by other people? This is anxiety producing. This is nerve-wracking and it really can push coverage in certain directions. Certain issues are never talked about or other issues are drowned in all sorts of defensive maneuvering. So there is all of these negative side effects, both what you see and how you worry about people seeing you if Twitter is the main thing you use. Most people don't use it. Journalists do. So it's an interesting separation. There is, however, something new I want to remark about new to this show that I think is significant. I don't quite understand this well, but I want to put a preliminary stake in the ground here. Let's look at the right side of this chart. So the sites that US adults in general use to get news, look at number two, YouTube. It's the second most used site by US adults to obtain news. So what's going on with that? Well, I think what this might be reflecting is generational. There is, I think, for the younger adult generations, what I guess you might call Gen Z and the younger millennials, a shift towards YouTube being a replacement for what my generation would have used cable for. That YouTube has become your source of television style entertainment. And so why are you getting a lot of news from YouTube? Because that's where I watch shows, putting quotation marks around them because they look very different than they did before. But if I want news, maybe I'm looking at breaking points or Kyle Kielinski, or if I'm on the other side of the political spectrum, Ben Shapiro or what have you, but this is actually where I think a whole generation is going for relatively reasonably produced video content. Now, I think this is really significant. I think it's really significant because it is a different game than is being played by the real flashy players in the online digital attention economy. We're looking now at the war between TikTok and Facebook and this Instagram and this Twitter. And these are the platforms that are getting a lot of attention now, but they're playing a different game. Those platforms are playing what I think of as being the more short term game of how do we get maximum engagement from people today? How do we get you to put your eyeballs on this app as long as possible? And so Facebook adds this feature and then TikTok tries something different and then Instagram tries to pivot and let's try to use reels here to be more TikTok like, it's just fighting short term to get people to glue their eyes to these screens and they're using user generated content. Most of it's not super high quality. Fine. YouTube, I think, is playing a longer game. It is looking at what happened when the web came along and it completely disrupted and democratized the production and publication of text. You used to have to be a newspaper or a magazine or a book publisher to have any sort of mass audience for text. The website anyone could do this now. YouTube is doing this with video and I think it's a really important shift. It's going to change long term how we consume and produce video content away from the TV and towards these new mediums that YouTube is experimenting with. And I don't think the game is how do I do this addictive TikTok style experience that's going to get you glued to this as much as possible. I mean, maybe they care about that in the short term, but the long term impact, I think, of democratizing video is going to be a complete change of that landscape. So we see hints of that in 22% of US adults getting their news from YouTube. That's because YouTube is their TV. That is their cable TV. They don't go to CNN. They go to a YouTube channel of someone they trust. They want to know about, let's say, the latest COVID news. Instead of going to Fox News or MSNBC, they will switch to something like John Campbell's YouTube page, a former nurse and instructor of nurse who has a YouTube page where every other day or maybe even every day, he literally just takes the statistics of what's going on in UK in particular with COVID numbers. And he goes through them and the camera shows him the paper and he just ticks things off with his pen and just let's go through the numbers and see what's happening. 2.5 million subscribers. He had more people watching those videos than are watching the morning show on CNN. So this, I think, is interesting. And where is this all going to lead? Well, I honestly think the red herring in this conversation, the red herring is the highly engaging, addictive TikTok style user generated, go straight into my brain stem type quick, quick 15 second content. What I think is going to emerge from the YouTube world is this medium level production value. Like, I think this is what's going to be important. This is what is going to disrupt the television in particular, the cable television landscape, which is hundreds of billions of dollars of economy. What's going to disrupt this is people creating videos, but not creating videos quickly with their phone to go to TikTok, but people who have some production value that they have a set, they have some good lights, they have some people working on it. It's still a fraction of the cost of producing a half hour standard terrestrial linear cable programming, but it's good enough production values. We saw that happen in the blogging revolution. It was individual bloggers that gave way towards content sites. You get the like buzz feeds and the slates and the Vox that actually were replicating newspaper magazine quality, but at a fraction of the production cost. We're seeing that in audio. What's happening in podcast? We're seeing this large industry eating into and about the conquer radio, but what are the shows that are doing this? Well, they have radio style production values. There's a reason why we're in this studio, why we have all this equipment over here. It's a lot cheaper than running an NPR affiliate, but when you cross that uncanny valley into production values that are close enough to professional, that's when these democratized channels for media production become important. That I think is the important thing happening in YouTube. It's not my picture I took with my smartphone, but the breaking point set where they have a pretty good lighting grid. They're using a $60,000 4K camera, three camera system with a tri-caster so that you can actually display their show on a 4K large screen television and it looks the same resolution style as what's coming out of the TV studios. $60,000 is a lot, but it's a fraction of what it pays to cost to do a traditional cable show. So anyways, there's this underlying trend I think is important. YouTube is becoming the new TV for a bigger generation. This is driving a crossing of the uncanny valley more and more democratically distributed produced video content is beginning to approximate the production values of low in television. That I think those are the moves I think that really disrupt the media landscape. So there's a whole engagement more happening with social media platforms. Let's put that aside for now. This I think is a trend that is also it's also worth keeping an eye on. I mean, Jesse, that's why we're doing video. I don't really know. We don't really know what exactly we're trying to accomplish by having the reasonably lit studio, a pretty good camera system, some good audio. But as you heard me say all along is I just had this instinct. I think we should be there. I think things are happening. I can't point to, oh, we're trying to do X, what this person's doing and we can be there in six months, but I think a couple years from now, there's some importance to being early on this. It's the same deal that you talked about originally when you provided the justification for the YouTube channel and having core ideas, those types of like you're reading lists, you can get specific content where you went to the podcast and go to minute 32, whatever to see. I'll talk about books, whereas now you can just send them the video. It's like easy. You can share. Yeah. And there's something about visual. Why do people watch video of podcast? I had this conversation with a friend of mine. We went out to lunch and he's my age. So he's like, I don't understand why anyone would have a video of a podcast. He's like, when are people, when are they listening to it? And I was like, no, people like to watch it. It's funny. I actually figured out when they do one of my buddies, Aton, who I hadn't seen in a while, he watched it in the gym. So he has it on the gym and then interesting, like on a big TV and then, when he sent me a picture, he's like, is that you? And I was like, it is me. So then he watched it when he works out. Yeah, I'm a lot of people do that. It's like people use to put TV on so why not? I think the sports radio people figured that out, right? Especially the early Dan Patrick, Colin Coward, like they figured out people like to see you, even if it's just they're in their studio with their fancy mic and they're just sitting there talking something about it is just that was really compelling. There's the, you know, the sports junkies is a morning sports show here in DC. They have they're now televised on the NBC's network, right? It's just four guys around the table talking, but that is like compelling television. There's something don't underestimate, you know, our attraction to the visual. So I don't think the models there yet, like the obviously the monetization model is coming there for podcast. I mean, the ad rates are good. Really good shows are getting bought up in the networks for real money. You know, people are making more on podcasts than they would have made in low end TV. So like the model is there for podcasting YouTube, not really. I mean, there's like the super like professional YouTubers trying to do the Mr. B style and millions and millions of viewers and trying to that that game. But I think there's another video game that hasn't emerged yet. We're like high quality video approximating cable where the revenue is not from some incredibly low CPM automated YouTube ad but from something else. And maybe there's nothing to do with YouTube. It's on private apps or networks. I don't know, but I mean, I think there's something. Well, even on Tyler Cohen's podcast recently, he was talking to Horowitz and what's the partner's name? He's talking to the partner and they were talking about how Andreessen, yeah, Andreessen, market was in recent. Yeah. And he was talking about how the economic model for podcast actually isn't there yet. He's like, it's starting to get there, but it's still, he was explaining it. He did a much better job of explaining it than I did, but it was pretty cool to listen to. There's, I know two people, not well, but just like have cross paths with them or talk with them who in the last year or two are, have done seven figure deals for podcasting. I mean, the interesting thing about that is like in writing, for example, which has been around forever, seven figure deals are very, very hard and they're very, very rare. Right. I mean, the level of success you have to have in the world of writing in terms of where you rank among other writers to do seven figure deals is like really at the tippy top. These guys doing seven figure deals for podcast are not at that super elite level. It's not like, okay, these are the names. I mean, if you're doing a seven figure deal for a book, people know who you are. These are not podcasters who people like, oh yeah, I know that show. So there's something interesting going on. I think it's a highly monetizable world. It's the, and Jordan Harbinger and I talked about this when we did this last summer. I don't know, I had them on the show a while ago and we got deep into the economics of podcasting. And we tried to get into this and I was arguing that the peak of, you can make a good living is actually way broader on that than another thing. He kind of disagreed. But anyway, something's interesting going on. When I know two people who's, if I grab someone on the street and say their name, they don't know who they are, but are doing these seven figure deals, something's interesting going on because in almost every other media, if you're doing seven figure deals, at the very least, you're a popular host of a radio show. You have a pretty good prime time, maybe early prime time cable news show. Your book is at the front of the bookstore at the airport and podcasting is bringing people to that level. It's similar to like internet marketing, how people kill it on the internet. You can compare that to a brick and mortar business and some of these internet marketers, or you would see this simple website in it, generates millions, millions of dollars a month. You've told me about some of that world, the numbers are crazy. Forget seven, eight figures or more. It's really hard to figure it out, but even the seven figure ones or whatever, that's doable. It's interesting. I love this trend. So I think audio is getting there. Text never got there. The upper limit for monetizing democratized text after the worldwide web came along, the upper limit there was the ceiling was relatively low. Andrew Sullivan could get high six figures for the daily dish, but it was a huge pain. It was a huge pain technically. I think some people now with substac can do high six figures, but that's a ceiling for people who are at the very top of the game, the very top of their pyramid. Audio seems to be better. I could replace my Georgetown salary with what we're doing right now, which is a half day a week. That's like something's happening there. We see these people doing seven figure stuff. Video, I think it's going to maybe have an even bigger ceiling. I don't think it's figured it out yet. Obviously, YouTube ads is not what is going to monetize video in a meaningful way. It's just the numbers aren't there. It only rewards virality and certain types of content that serves to the algorithm. I think there's going to be monetization that gets free from the algorithm. That's kind of what Mark was talking about. Right. I can't really explain it well, but I'd have to listen again, but he was talking about some stuff. This was on Tyler Cowan's podcast kind of recently. I just listened over the last week. And Driesin and Horawitz were both. It was just Mark. Just Mark and Driesin. Yeah. Well, on the show, interesting. He reads a lot too. You probably get a lot of them. Never met him. You guys, I could tell you guys would be able to talk about a lot of stuff. Yeah. Well, speaking of talking about stuff, let's do a couple ads. That's what actually allows us to keep speaking of monetization. Let's do a couple ads here, and then we can get into some questions. Let's start with Grammarly. One of the oldest sponsors of this show, I think they might have been, I think they might have been the original ad read on deep questions. I'm not sure, but if they weren't, they were one of the first test ad reads we did to prove that we actually had an audience who cared about these things. So you've heard me talk about Grammarly for a while. I'm a fan because I'm a fan of writing, clear communication, whether you are sending an email or a report going to a client or a cover letter for a job application, clear communication is absolutely vital. If you can communicate confidently, competently, and clearly, it just reflects an organized, competent, clear thinking mind. It makes you a much more powerful, puts you in a much more powerful position in the job market. Grammarly can help you do that. It's an all-in-one writing tool that helps you turn out clear, concise communication quicker than ever. Now, when you use Grammarly and its premium product Grammarly Premium, you get access to some pretty cutting edge tools.
Cal talks about Grammarly and Betterhelp (23:45)
It doesn't just fix your grammar mistakes, which by the way, you have to do. You cannot have grammar mistakes in your writing, but it can do much more. When you try to nail that perfect cold pitch, you can use Grammarly's free tone detector to make sure you're making the right impression. Let's say you have an idea that you're trying to get out clearly. This is the whole challenge for me when I do my writing, especially New Yorker writing. It's all about I have this idea and how do I get that out clearly. This is a place where Grammarly can help by doing clarity, focused, sentence, rewrites. You said this, redo the sentence this way, same meeting, much clear. If you use Grammarly Premium, so the upsell premium product, they'll also do tone transformations. These are kind of cool. Your tone is this. You want the tone to be like this. Let's show you how to make changes to do that. Grammarly is free to download as a desktop app. It works where you do wherever you write on your computer. Grammarly can be there to help you. To get to the point faster and accomplish more with Grammarly, go to Grammarly.com/deep to sign up for a free account. When you're ready to upgrade to Grammarly Premium, you'll get 20% off for being my listener, but you have to use that slash deep. That's 20% off at g-r-a-m-m-a-r-l-y dot com slash deep. Now word from another sponsor, better help. Think for a second about how much you care about taking care of your car, right? Imagine you had the same car for your entire life. You would put a lot of effort in, let's keep this thing running. Let's keep the oil changed. When the timing belt is getting old, we want to replace them. Well, we're stuck with our same brains for our whole life, so why aren't we treating them the same way? How you care for your mind will affect how you experience your life. So it's important to invest time and care into keeping our minds healthy. There are plenty of ways to do this. You can challenge your mind by learning a new language. You can take naps. You can, of course, listen to the deep questions podcast. But you should add to the list, better help online therapy. We live as always in challenging uneven times. I talk to a lot of people who are struggling in the mental department. Maybe it's anxiety. Maybe it's depression. Maybe it's a sense of pervasive overload. Therapy can help. Therapists are in a lot of demand right now. The one that happens to be down the street might not have any slots open. This is where it's great to have an option like Better Help. It is an online therapy tool that will allow you to connect with therapists without actually having to be right there. It does not have to be someone who is local. So when you use Better Help online therapy, you get video, phone, and even live chat only sessions. You don't even have to use the camera if you do not want to actually be seen by the other person, whatever makes you comfortable. It's much more affordable than in-person therapy. It gives you access to many more potential practitioners than doing traditional therapy where you're limited to your local neighborhood. You can be matched with the therapist in under 48 hours. Our listeners get 10% off their first month at BetterHelp.com/deepquestions. If you go to BetterHelp.com/deepquestions one word, you'll get 10% off your first month. That's BetterHELP.com/deepquestions. All right, let's do some questions of our own. Some deep questions of our own, Jesse. I have two in a row that are about children. So I figure we'll do, we'll start off our questions today with a child question block.
When should kids get smartphones? (27:54)
Our first one comes from Sarah. Sarah says, "I'm particularly fascinated in digital minimalism from a parent's perspective. I'm really concerned about how my children, the oldest of which is currently nine. Sarah, by the way, my oldest is also nine. So this is relevant. I'm particularly concerned about how my children will navigate the digital world as they reach the age when they and their peers are likely to first obtain smartphones. Here in the UK where we live, this is generally as they start secondary school at age 11. Equally concerned how they will navigate adolescents in the digital world we live now. I'd really appreciate any information or advice you may have directed towards parents on this topic." Well, Sarah, I do have some thoughts. These are the thoughts that makes me very unpopular among a lot of young adolescents, but I will give them to you nonetheless. Here's my TLDR summary of digital engagement and kids. I would worry about giving unrestricted smartphone access to anyone under the age of, let's say, 16 or 17. In other words, 16 or 17 is probably the appropriate earliest age to give unrestricted smartphone access to a kid, certainly not 11. There's a couple issues here that are relevant. I believe the evidence is becoming increasingly clear that social media use during early adolescence and during puberty or pre-pubody is really potentially psychologically correct damaging. Now, your kid might be fine, but there's a big chance that they won't be. This is a danger zone, early adolescent girls in particular who do heavy social media use. There's some real scary signals there, but forget the debates about the research literature. Social psycholitature is very difficult. It's very difficult to get clear signals on anything. Just look at the target audience itself and see what they self-report. I hear this again and again from young adolescents. This is a source of anxiety. This is a source of feelings of self-harm. This is ruining my life. All occasions pointing towards heavy social media use on their phone. There's other issues with unrestricted smartphone use as well. Excessive video game playing is a big deal. These games are very addictive, especially those that are massively multiplayer online style games. Give, for example, a young adolescent male, unrestricted access to games on their phone. You might get six, seven plus hours of playing. They'll play them into the night. They'll show addictive tendencies where they can act out with anger or rage if the screen is trying to be taken away from them. Their brains are not ready for that. I think that is really damaging. The other issue is pornography. You give unrestricted smartphone use to a 12 or 13 year old. You are going to potentially generate some real issues with their developing sexuality. You might also develop some real issues in how they actually relate to or treat with respect or not the opposite sex. These are real issues. And we shrug our shoulders at it and say, "Yeah, but the other kids are doing it." And I don't think that's a strong enough rationale. I don't think that's a strong enough rationale. So what should you do instead? At the appropriate age, get them a phone with text messaging, but does not have the standard OS that can run social media apps and unrestricted web browsing. Get them a dumber phone, a feature phone that has text messaging. Sure, that's useful. That's very useful. Text me when you're done with practice and you want to be picked up. Let me text my friend and say, "I'm coming over now." I think that's fine. I'm completely fine with that modern convenience. When I was in high school, it was all about pay phones. We had calling card numbers. We had memorized and corridors and you would try to call and hope that your parent was there. And if not, you waited. And that's not great from a convenience standpoint. So texting is fine, but not unrestricted access to the web or standard apps. What you also have to do instead is help encourage and guide your child so that they can find a social community aimed at some sort of common objective or goal, whether this is a theater troupe or a sports group or a band or a small fledgling teenage company or they're in the first robotics club and in some sort of, you know, a STEM style gathering, whatever it is, but something that they can be with other people and build up their skills and feel the sting of defeat and enjoy the camaraderie of success when they do well and let this be the core of their social experience. If you have successfully a group like this, but you don't use social media, you'll be fine. You're like, "Yeah, I have my buddies from the track team and, you know, they kind of rag on me because I'm not on TikTok or whatever or I'm not on Snapchat or whatever, but like we have this bond and we do these things and it's just like a quirk and you will be fine." What you would want to avoid, of course, is someone whose entire social identity is based just off of this digital world. That's no good. And if you're in that situation and take away that digital world, you're isolated, yeah, so we need alternatives. And I think that's really the key to making it palatable for a 12, 13, 14, 15, maybe 16-year-old not to have access to these phones is that they are entrenched in things that matter to them, to connect them to other people and give them meaning and forward drive. That's what we're wired for. That can satisfy it. They will survive without it. The only other point I want to say, Sarah, is I picked up a strong current during my digital minimalism book tour. I picked up a strong current from contemporary adolescents of a backlash against these companies. In the last few years, I've seen this major social media backlash. This is media backlash against social media. Mark Zuckerberg has been transformed into a, you know, devil style character, Twitter is raked through the coals. This is all out there in the zeitgeist. I don't think these these apps have the same atmosphere of countercultural cool that they used to. Now the countercultural move is perhaps to say, I don't use any of these things. Forget you, Mark Zuckerberg. I'm not going to use your app. Forget you, bite dance. Good for you for getting a billion users to TikTok in only four years. I don't want to be a part of your attention mining factory. There is a growing countercultural street cred in being someone who knows what you're about and you're 14 and you're not on those things and you're killing it somewhere else and people like you. That thread was definitely one that was growing and I think it's getting easier and easier to be one of those younger people who doesn't use these services. It's not seen as square, I think, as much as it might be seen as forward looking. So this is all going to get easier, Sarah. So resist getting them a phone for now. Hopefully by the time your nine year old is 11, it'll be considered quite standard the fact that you are not giving them a smartphone and even if it's not, you should resist. I have a quick two questions actually. So in terms of getting the appropriate phone for just text messaging, when do you think that should be? I mean, I guess it's regional. So around here, I don't know, it could be pretty early. Around here, I know nine and 10 year olds where they don't give them a phone yet, but they give them these watches and the watches allows them, there's three numbers programmed into it that they can call. So typically they're parents. And then you can do text messaging on the phone. But I think it's pre-programmed text, like a mom I wait, or you talk into it or something like this. But again, you can only talk to a small number of people on it. And it can also be a GPS tracker that your parents can use. And like around here, these watches will sometimes be used to allow, like to give more freedom to like a nine and 10 year old, like you can walk to school and back or go to the stores because like if you have some issue, you can just like press the button and it'll call me and I can come get you or something like that. So there's these transitional things that I think are good in these close and city environments where people are otherwise worried to have their kids be completely free. I don't know, I mean to me, text message available phone, I mean I'm thinking middle school. I don't know if that sounds reasonable to you. I mean the kids you coach are older, right? They're high school. So they're all plugged into the matrix, right? One other question though, in terms of computers, like getting kids on computers and doing that sort of thing, is there a crossover? Yeah, but I think the next question is going to be relevant to this. I think it's good for kids to have access to computers, but it should be in public. Here is the family computer. It's in the middle of everything. As we go about our business, you know, preparing dinner that we see what you're doing. Don't have a computer in the room, at least until you know, you're 17 and you're a hacker and you're going to go to MIT the next year and like fine, you can go do your computer hacking, but you're 12, 13, 14 years old. Yeah, you want to go on like the Minecraft form or whatever and that's fine, but I'm going to, it's out here. I'm going to see what you're up to. Yeah, that's a good idea. All right, so here's a relevant related question. This is from Sam. Sam says, what is the appropriate age to get my child started with learning to code? My boys are eight and four.
What age should my kids start coding? (37:50)
I want them to develop skills that can give them a great career. Sam, eight is not too early. I mean, if we're talking fundamentally, where do you have to be to potentially learn to code, you have to be comfortable working your way around the computer and computer interfaces and you have to obviously be a fluent reader and writer because code is words. You got to understand how to do words. I believe I started coding when I was probably six or seven if I had to remember. I mean, I don't know exactly. I just know when we moved from one place to another, I moved after second grade from Houston to New Jersey and I remember in Houston messing around some with coding on my mom's computer. But really when I was seven and eight and third grade is when I probably got more serious about it. So if they're interested, they can get their way around a computer. They can read. It's not too early. Here's my hot take on teaching kids to code where I differ from other people. I'm not a big believer in these dumb down tools to help give you a quote unquote coding mindset that will then set you up to learn a programming language later on a big believer of start with a real language. Do simple stuff at first, but start with the real language and in your quest to want to do cooler things with that language, that is what will stretch you to learn more and more. So I was doing this some with my nine-year-old he was interested in coding at the time. So I set him up with Python and we use and I would recommend using something like Replit, R-E-P-L-I-T. I think people, I'm saying that wrong, so my pronunciation is wrong, but it is a web-based coding environment. It costs a little bit of money, but you can just select whatever language you want to use and all the compiling and everything is happening and interpreting is happening on their servers. So you don't have to configure your computer and download the latest version of Python and find a development environment. You just go to R-E-P-L-I-T. I want to do Python, all the libraries are there, whatever language you want to do. It's also a Google Doc Style Shared Document Paradigm, so while your kid is on there, you can be on a different computer sharing the same document, seeing what they're doing and helping them edit it. So just use something like that. Start simple. I taught my kid with some, give him a book, showed him some basic stuff, and he was doing relatively simple text-based games with some inputs and conditionals, so it would present the question and you could type in your response and then based on what you said, it would print out what happened next, so he was sort of working on some basic conditional text-based game logic. He kind of lost interest, but it was not a far step from there if he was really into it, into building out maybe more of an engine for those type of games, then moving on the graphics, maybe using something like Pi Games. You would be surprised by how young people can master relatively complex syntax and procedure, just they memorize and learn it pretty quickly. So use real languages. They don't need blocks that they hook together and try to get the programmatic mindset, just use languages. At least that's the way. That's the way I did it. You know, I don't code much anymore, Jesse, but I used to be kind of a coding nerd. I can imagine coding nerd. I knew a lot of languages. Do you miss it? No. So I was a bit of a computer guy, but I was also a guitar guy, so I was also in bands, and then I was a sports guy as well, like a track athlete in the high school. I put on a lot of hats. I moved between a lot of circles, but I always liked coding and making video games. I just learned a lot of languages. I started with basic, and then you get some C, and then you start writing more inline assembler. And then when I was in early high school, you can, it's not too hard to learn how to hack the assembler language that runs on the Texas instrument graphing calculators. So if you can, if you can write in the underlying assembly language on those calculators, you can touch the graphic memory directly and actually do. So if you ever played like the actual real non-text-based games in your graphing calculator, that's programming directly in assembler language. And so I programmed a game back then called punt return, my big contribution to the world of programs. And so it's a graphing calculator game in which you were a football player doing a punt return. And so you were kind of on the bottom of the screen, but you would see the football field, the yard markers kind of scrolling past, and the fenders would come on the screen, and you would have to maneuver your way around them. And if you could get past enough the fenders, you'd get the touchdown. So that was my big, that's my big contribution to the world of programs. But then I went, so I went, the undergrad was doing computer science, doing research, systemsy type research, and so doing some coding and stuff like that. And then when I got the MIT, I just decided, I don't want to program, and I joined the theory group, and that was it. And I stopped programming. So we got the MIT, joined the theory group, and that was the end of my programming days. And so now I'm really out of shape. I don't know the model. I mean, I do, that's not sure. I programmed some games for my kids and Python and stuff like that. But I'm no coder. So the theory group in terms of computer science, is that like, if you're a mathematician going into like applied math? Yeah, I mean, they do have applied, it has a porous boundary with the applied mathematics group at MIT. But it's in a lot of the financial guys use applied math and like stocks and stuff. Yeah, so there's an applied math. If you look at, and I did recently, it was for my book for various reasons, I was looking at recent hires in the applied math department at MIT. And some of those recent hires are doing things that could just as easily be within the theory group in the computer science department. So there is a porous border. The theory group at MIT was so cool, because there was so many, so many world-class famous minds that were all just on the same floor. I talked about on the show sometimes, but it was still really cool thinking back. Like, here's multiple MacArthur Genius Grant winners, multiple Turing Award winners, the people who invented all the things. Here's the guy who invented public key cryptography. He's the R and RSA. Here's the guy who became an MIT professor at 18, because he beautiful minds style proved this big thing about rigid geometry, you know, when he was a teenager. Here's a person who invented that. Here's the person who innovated all the quantum complexity theory. It was really cool. Really cool, really interesting, really intimidating, because it really concentrates just the superstars. And MIT's style of hiring is, we'll wait till you're famous somewhere else. You know, it was like, yeah, you talk about this. Yeah. Like the Lakers were in the 2000s or something. We'll wait till you're famous somewhere else, and then we'll bring you over here. So it's just all superstars, just everyone balls. I told you about that book about Ed Thorpe I'm reading. And when he was at MIT back in the 60s, he, Claude Shannon was there. Oh, Shannon's a cool guy. And then they actually started becoming friends because Ed was doing all this like card counting stuff. And he wrote that book, and then they were building this like machine to like predict roulette. Like late at night, it's pretty cool. I got to read this book. Yeah, Shannon's a cool guy. Shannon was a grad student at the time, because then he went on the bell ladder. No, they were on the same age. He was teaching, I think. Oh, he was doing some teaching right there. Yeah, he was teaching there. Okay. Yeah. Shannon's an interesting character. For his master's thesis, he basically invented digital electronics. That was his master's thesis. So it was saying in the book, I was talking about how he had these shoes that he would like put on and like he could walk on water in his neighbors, like, who is this guy? He's a weird guy. So I'll shout out to my friend Jimmy Sonny's book, Mind at Play. It's fantastic. Shannon biography. Mind at Play. Sonny has a new book out about the PayPal Malphia called the founders. I also recommend that. But Mind at Play. I like that book, some of Shannon fan. All right, let's do some more questions. I got one here from Patrick, not about children. I figure we get a quick one in here. Patrick says, what are your suggestions to widen the vocabulary of a non native English speaker for scientific writing?
How can a non-native English speaker widen his vocabulary for scientific writing? (46:18)
Well, reading is probably the best way to do this. You want to read as much science related writing as you can. I would probably focus more on science journalism. So books written by good science journalists than I would actually scientific papers. A lot of scientific papers are written pretty poorly. You know, scientists have other things on their mind. You're actually going to to pick up probably better writing habits from science adjacent writing to reading a good science journal. So I'd read as much of that as possible and then write as much as possible specifically trying to deploy rhythms, turns of phrases, techniques that you're seeing again and again in these award caliber science journalism books, trying to deploy some of that in your own writing. That stretch is where you're going to get better. But it's all an exposier game, read, read, read, read, read right, right, right, right back and forth, back and forth, that's the feedback loop that's going to make you better. All right, let's do a call. I think we have a call here, Jesse, that it's going to set up an even bigger topic I want to discuss. Okay, sounds good. Hi, Cal. My name is Utu. I'm an engineering manager at that company. As an engineering manager, I have a lot of meetings and my calendar is always full. I'm having a hard time controlling this spiraling calendar.
Habit Tune-Up: Cal’s toolbox for taming meetings (47:42)
And I would like to ask you, what do you think I could do? I will have a lot of meetings. It is a part of my job. I cannot avoid. But right now I'm having full days back to back meetings and it is often the case that meetings will be scheduled right after one another. I do have a good scenario here that I control a lot of these meetings and when they happen and I can be scheduled and a lot of them, not all of them, of course, but a lot of them and I can't. So I do have some control over the duration of these calls. When do they happen? If they meet up against each other or not. So I would like to ask you, what is your suggestion on controlling this calendar? Should I have a little bit of time between every meeting? Should I schedule a lot of them together so that I have bigger blocks on other parts of my day or maybe other parts of my week and then I have some days full and others not? How would you handle a situation where your calendar is full and you need to have a lot of meetings but you can move them around a little bit? What you are taking this? Well, I mean, Victor, meeting overload is a perennial problem. I think it is a problem that is worse these days than it has ever been before. So it is a good excuse to talk about meetings. Now, probably the best advice here is to be really weird in an unsettling way but not a way that directly is going to get you fired and then people just aren't going to want you in the meetings. This is what I am going to suggest and I think this is going to be the solution to your problem, Victor. I want you to come into each of those meetings with a squid, a squid on your head. Don't really mention it, just you come in, you are in the meeting, maybe it smells a little bit weird and then just throughout the meeting keep breaking in the volunteer to say, "Can I tell you what I really hate? Squids." Just kind of keep bringing that up and then someone else will be talking and then just say, "B-D-I's, that devilish beak, Satan's spawn they are." Y-I, squids, we could do without. I'm telling you, do this enough, the squids on your head, maybe sometimes you come in with a fishing rod but you don't talk about it. Do this long enough and people are like, "Viktor, we're cool." We'll email you the notes, like don't worry about it. It's really going to, it's nothing, because it's unsettling but it's not like an HR violation, right? Like you're not coming in there and being like, "Let me tell you what I hate about people with red hair, it's squids." This doesn't work if your boss is a squid. Actually, no, okay, let's be more serious here. I want to use this as an excuse to go through my standard toolbox for taming meetings. There's multiple different tools that can be deployed to taming meetings in exactly victor situation, a situation where you can't just not go to meetings. And victor is really clear about this here. I can't not do these, I can't not do these, don't tell me to stop do these, I can't not do these, great. A lot of people are in that situation, be it in their office or over Zoom but it's lots of meetings. I have a toolbox, I'm going to give you this toolbox and you can pick and choose which of these things might work best. These are all things I've written about before but I'm going to bring them all together. I have four ideas to share. Idea number one, meeting buffers, so the meeting buffer method is all about working with your calendar in a slightly smarter way. And here's how it works. If you have to set up a meeting and you know how long that meeting is going to be, so often meetings have hard stop. It's one hour, that's the hard stop. Don't just block out that hour on your calendar, add 15 to 20 minutes to that block. So it's not just if the meeting is supposed to be from one to two, you have one to two 15 or one to two 20 actually blocked off on your calendar. And if your calendar is public, everyone sees that as what's blocked off. If it's not public, you just treat it like any other meeting. I'm next available at two 15. I'm next available at two 20. What you then do with this 15 to 20 minute buffer period is that is where you process everything that came up in that meeting to get it out of your mind, to take the small steps through the small tasks that could be done right away, to capture in whatever systems you use to longer term tasks. It is how you clear out the mental buffer before the next meeting. This is important because this is a, it's absence can create one of the real killer issues of a heavy meeting schedule, which is you get into a meeting, it generates new obligations and plans and things that's all up there is open loops. Then you go straight into the next meeting, you haven't dealt with those open loops yet. Now new ones are being generated is very stressful. Our minds hates it. We want to shut the door on one thing before we move to the other. Meeting buffers is going to make you feel 50% less anxious about a meeting filled day. Small hack goes a long way. All right. So what I'm going to do here is I go through these tools. Each one is going to get a little bit more aggressive, be a little bit more radical than the one that follows. So meeting buffers is number one. This now ratchet up the stakes here with tool number two, which is the one for you, one for me approach the meeting scheduling. Here's how it works. If I'm putting a meeting on my calendar, I need to then within one week of that date. So let's say five workdays schedule an equal amount of time that is protected time for me to just work without distraction. You want to put an hour long meeting on my calendar. For Monday, I'm going to find some time on Tuesday where I'm going to break schedule an hour long work block, deep work block for me. And I don't want to say deep work block. It could be whatever. It could be just get my act together, go through my inbox, just take a breather and try to organize everything that's going on. I don't care what you do in it, but it's a non meeting block. One to one ratio is the default application of this tool. Two hour meeting here, I have to find two hours later in the week that I protect. And when it's on my calendar, I treat it as a meeting with myself. That time is no longer available for other people to come and take it. Now, as other meetings fill into your calendar, you might have to try to fit these in elsewhere. But what you'll end up with is enforcing a predetermined ratio of meeting the non meeting time. And so I like the one to one ratio, one to one every minute in a meeting gets a minute of protected time. I like that ratio. You might use different ratios depending on what you do for a living. If you're an executive that is almost always in meetings, that's where most of your work happens. Maybe it's a two to one ratio. So for every meeting, you schedule half that length and undistracted time for yourself, somewhere else in your calendar. On the other hand, maybe if you're in a more concentration forward position, it's a one to two ratio. For every hour of meeting here, I'm going to find two hours somewhere else. But anyways, the key here is you're being intentional about what ratio you want your time to be collaborative versus individual concentration. You're taking advantage of the calendar and the social and professional convention around this time is blocked so it's not available to actually enforce that ratio. All right. Idea number three. Again, let's ratchet up a little bit. Wage war on quote unquote standing meetings. Now in academia, this is a killer. I think this is a killer in a lot of other places as well. It is people who have been assigned, okay, we're working on this obligation. Here is a project that me and Jesse and this other person have been assigned to work on. This is an open obligation. I'm stressed like how am I going to make progress on this? I don't listen to Cal Newport, so I don't do multi-scale planning. What is the easiest thing you can do in that moment to assuage your anxiety about making progress on a project? You say, I know what we'll do. All right, Jesse. All right. So, we're going to be doing a standing meeting. Let's just get a meeting on repeat so we know at the very least every week, Tuesday at 2.30, that we get together on Zoom and we talk about this thing and now I can be like, "Who? This will be not forgotten because I trust meetings on my calendar." This can completely take over your calendar with all of these different standing meetings, one for everything you're working on, where the actual amount of useful collaboration that happens is often very little. Notice the meetings are forcing function for you to do something but it clogs up your calendar. It's a big source of calendar congestion. So wage war on them. Replace standing meetings with much more concrete processes for how you're going to make progress on this specific project. So, you don't say, let's just meet Tuesdays at 2.30. You say, "Well, okay, what is the next thing that needs to happen here? We need a draft of this client report with some commentary." Great. Jesse, you have the ball here. Write that report. You write that draft. Once you have a good draft, put it into this Google Doc in this folder, like a shared doc where we can see it. Send us a note to say it's ready. That will start a 24-hour timer for us to look at it. Get it done this week and look, I have a standing office hours on Fridays. That will be the time, like if I have any big questions or you have any big questions, it will meet me there. I don't know. I'm thinking about this out loud, but my point is specific and it's concrete. What is the next thing that has to happen for this project? Okay, who's doing it? How do they signal they're done? What happens after they're done? How do we get to the next step? So it's not just, let's meet again next Tuesday. It's, let's do this specific work and here's how it's going to unfold. So replacing standing meetings with concrete project-specific processes for how you're going to get to the next step is way more effective than, let's just get on Zoom every week and small talk for a while and then kind of make excuses for why we didn't get things done. All right, so the last thing I want to recommend for waging or tackling meetings, ratching up again is office hours plus reverse meetings. Office hours are great. Regular times that you are available, this time on these days, I'm always available. You can come into my office, my phone is on, I have a Zoom window open if you're in a hybrid environment. No appointment necessary, come grab me. That is great on its own. It allows for example small issues to be taken care of without having to have asynchronous back and forth conversations or whole dedicated meetings. Just stop by my office hours and we'll chat about it, right? That's great. But it can be used to implement this more aggressive notion that I call the reverse meetings concept. Subscribers to my newsletter have heard me talk about this. That chance for a plug by the way, if you don't subscribe to my newsletter, you should. Cal Newport.com, I've been writing that since 2007, roughly one article per week about all the types of stuff I talk about here. Plug ended. So the reverse meeting concept leverages office hours in a way that I think is quite powerful. Here's how it works. The standard way meetings unfold is I need your help. These three or four people's help on something I'm trying to work on. I need some input, I need to assign them some tasks. The standard thing to do is I'm going to organize an hour long meeting. So now six of us have to give up an hour of our time to come to this meeting so that I can make progress on this thing that I'm trying to work on. So that's six total man hours of time obligation generated by a meeting. Reverse meetings leverages office hours to significantly reduce that footprint. It says, "Okay, if I need help feedback or assignments from each of you five or six people to make progress on this meeting, I am going to go to each of your office hours one by one. I will come to you. I'm not going to force you all to come to me and take this time on your schedule. I'll come to you in time you've already put aside for types of quick discussions." And with each of you, "Hey, what do you think about this? Could you take this on?" Now let's say on average, I talk to each of you for 10 minutes. Now let's convene it for me because your office hours might be spread out. So I have to take three days and remember to go to talk to each of you. The onus is on me. I have to do more work. But let's look at the total man hour footprint of what just happened. Before we had six people spending an hour, six total hours of time being taken away from other types of pursuits. In this stand, in this setup, it is significantly less. There's me doing 10 minutes with five other people. So if we want to add that up, we do 50 minutes times two because it's the time I'm spending the time you're spending. An hour less than two hours. We're closer to an hour and a half total footprint. So we've reduced this footprint by a significant amount. We have also made the life easier for these other five people. Me coming to your office hours, we are already there taking calls and having people coming in and chatting with you for 10 minutes is a no op in terms of an impact on your schedule. It was time you'd already set a time for that. That's such a less of an injury to your schedule than you having to actually put aside a full hour that you've now lost outside of your office hours to doing this discussion. The only person who maybe has to do slightly more work in this is me because I have to coordinate and go to each of you and spread out my meeting over multiple days. But you know what? Good. It should be harder to call a meeting than it is. The person generating the meeting should do more work than the people who have to attend. So use office hours as the foundation for doing reverse meetings. There's so much that can get organized without having to actually put aside extra bespoke periods of conversation for each individual project that some conversation requires. So that's my toolkit. Meeting buffers, one to one ratio, one for you, one to me on your scheduling. Replace standing meetings with concrete progress and process and use office hours to switch from standard meetings to reverse meetings. All of those things will really help. There you go. It's a great thing about summer for professors, Jesse, is meetings go away. No more meetings, baby. No more meetings. No more meetings for you this fall either, right? Well, no, meetings. Some of us are not teaching. Oh, you still have meetings. Yeah. So summertime, summertime, I'm off the clock. You still have to go to the meetings. Well, but in like summertime, I'm not a professor. Oh, sorry. Yeah. So like in summertime, I pay my own way. I'm on a 10-month salary at Georgetown. Yeah. So I can do whatever. This fall, I'm on teaching leaves. I don't have to teach, which does save a lot of time, but it's not. It's also just normal. Academic life still happens. Some meetings and this and that. And I don't think they're going to put up with them rightly so. I think we're probably past that period where it's like, I'm just going to have to zoom into this faculty meeting because, you know, the virus or this or that. I think we're probably past those point now. Everyone's had COVID three times. I think like we're probably going to be back to, you got to come in. You know, the dean wants to meet with you. You're coming to meet with the dean. We're having a faculty meeting. You're coming in for the faculty meeting. And maybe not. I don't know. Academia is slow about that stuff. I think a lot of the other professors will probably push back too. So you wouldn't be alone? Yeah. Well, if anyone asks, I'm incredibly worried about, there's a promise for I could say I'm incredibly worried about picking up COVID so I can't come to the meetings, but we've been teaching in full classrooms for a long time at this point. So it's kind of hard to argue that like the thing I'm really worried about is the 20 minutes, this mean you in an office, not the 50 kids that I'm lecturing to. But it'll be good. I've missed the campus this night. So it'll be nice because I build days around it. Yeah, it's going to be a campaign too. Yeah, I can do some growing. I can work in their libraries. It's like a nice, yeah, nice change of environment. It's a sweet campus. It really is nice. Yeah. All right. Speaking of nice, if you are looking for a new doctor and you don't know where to look, who takes my insurance, who does people trust and you're not quite sure how to do this, you need Zach Doc. You've heard us talk about Zach Doc.com on this show on multiple occasions, ZOC, DOC. It's a free app that shows you doctors who are patient reviewed, take your insurance and are available when you need them. On Zach Doc, you can find every specialist under the sun, whether you're trying to straighten your teeth, fix an aching back or get that mole checked out or anything else Zach Doc has you covered. I now have two different doctors in my life to use Zach Doc, my primary care physician and my dentist, both use Zach Doc.com. So I think that is quite useful. So you go to zachdoc.com to find the doctor that's right for you. You can book your appointment right there, find times that work for your schedule, make sure they take your insurance, read those reviews, all of that is available on zachdoc.com.
Cal talks about Eightsleep and Zocdoc (01:04:45)
So go to zachdoc.com/deep and download the Zach Doc app for free, then start your search for a top-rated doctor today. Many are available within 24 hours. Trying to think what would be the hardest quip here would be. Let's say you got a doctor named Tom Knox. I got my Doc Tom Knox and Zach Doc.com. Trying to think what would be the most challenging possible to read here. My Doc Tom Knox on zachdoc.com. I'll bring it on a dot matrix. That's like a Bill Burr I had right there. Yeah. I think Bill Burr would then pair the company and we really go after the company. I heard him on Tim Ferriss' television show. Tim Ferriss has a television show. It's like on DirecTV. I did not know that. Yeah. I saw that he's recently on an episode again. He's been on it before. So that Bill Burr episode of Tim Ferriss is the audio from Tim's television show Fearless. You can watch it on YouTube. Oh. Okay. So if like an audience and it looks like a... He did that show like several years ago. So maybe reposting a lot of those. So you think this is a repost? It's got to be because I think because he's been... I mean I've listened to a bunch of those first ones. I think the Fearless he did like three or four years ago. Yeah. So what we're trying to say here is that Bill Burr support Zach Doc.com in particular his Doc Tom Knox that Bill Burr found on Zach Doc.com. So that's z-o-c-d-o-c.com/deep. Zach Doc.com/deep. I almost got it perfect Jesse. I made one mistake. One mistake but pretty good. Let's also talk about eight sleep listeners from last week. No. Eight sleep is the ultimate game changer for good sleep because it allows you to control the temperature of your sleeping environment. You put on the eight sleep pod cover and you can adjust the temperature of your mattress from being as cool as 55 degrees to as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Clinical data shows that eight sleep users experience up to 19% increase in recovery, a 32% improvement in sleep quality and 34% more deep sleep. I am a... I need coldness to sleep. So I am a big eight sleep fan. If I can make my mattress cool, I am happy. As I threatened last week, I'm going to start wearing my eight sleep pro pod cover to the podcast draped around me set the 55 degrees so I can be cool. I'm going to bring it to my classroom at Georgetown as well. Heat is not something I love so I am a fan of eight sleep. So go to eightsleep.com/deep to redeem exclusive 4th of July savings and start sleeping cool this summer. Eight sleep currently ships within the US, Canada and the UK as well as select countries in the EU and Australia. That's eightsleep.com/deep. All right. What do we got here? Do a couple more questions. I always check out our time. Let's do a couple more questions here. This one comes from Maria. Maria says, "My goal is to read more." I replace checking my phone with reading books. However, with more technical books, it's hard to jump in and out.
What should I read while waiting in line? (01:08:30)
So I find I struggle to make progress. If I only have five to ten minutes, such as waiting in a line, it takes some time to remember where I left off conceptually and I have to reread a couple paragraphs before I know what specific point is discussed and by the time I have caught up, I need to put the book down. Well, Maria, I like that you are using a higher quality cognitive alternative to just looking at your phone when you're bored in line. Reading is a great option. The solution to your particular issue with this strategy is don't read highly technical books in this context. Different activities are better suited for different situations. So if you're reading in line novels as well as episodic or biographical nonfiction, this is really good for jumping in and out. I usually have some sort of biographical or episodic nonfiction I'm listening to on Audible so I can turn that on when I need to go whatever, put my laundry in. One of these quick five to ten minute things. I mean, I find business biographies, for example, where it's the story of whatever. Universal's rise or the CBS's moment of success during the early 2000s. Those are really well suited to jumping in and out because when I say episodic, I mean they're talking about this show, they're talking about this thing that happened, they're talking about that thing that happened. As sort of individual stories, you can come in and out, you don't have to keep up with highly technical things. Novels can be the same way. It's jump back in into the action. It's interesting to tell you you jump back out. If you're reading in line, you might also consider our good friends over at Mouse Books. This is a product that I like quite a bit. I've known Brian and Dave in particular for a long time now. Mouse Books produce these pocket size condensed or abridged versions of famous books or short stories. They look like a Field Note Snowbook. If that's useful, I think they might use the same printer who does the Field Note Snowbooks. Anyway, it's a little bit smaller than a standard smartphone. The idea is you can have that in your pocket wherever you have your phone. In any instance, when you would pull out your phone, you'd pull out a mouse book instead. I think that's a cool way to have some more air-you-dite exposure to the world of literature and philosophy while you're waiting in line. Anyway, it's good for you. The reason why I don't want you to look at your phone in that situation is not that it's just by default bad. It's not the phone that is bad. It is these attention economy companies that dwell on your phone and can play your brain stim like a harpsichord, the TikToks of the world, the Instagrams of the world, the Twitters of the world. That just gets its hooks into your brain. That's what I want you to get away from being the default. If you're taking out your phone to work on a whirl, I don't think that's so bad. If you're slack jawed, the drool coming down the side as you're on TikTok videos, not good for you. Let's do one more thing. Let's interfere with the call, Jesse. There's one I thought was potentially interesting. Sounds good. Hi, Joe.
Focusing And Attention Abilities Discussion
Are some people not wired to focus? (01:11:38)
Hi, Cal. It's Hattie from Toronto, Canada. Thank you for all your hard work. I really appreciate it. The question I wanted to ask today is given most people's inability to change the way they think and do things and take on high quality leisure and focus time, I've realized more recently after doing the Clifton strength test that not everybody possesses the skills to focus, think big picture, consume high quality content, really think about everything that you talk about. I'm starting to think that there are characteristics that make people more able to adjust to your way of thinking to really get an edge on everybody else. And so I was just wondering, do you have any advice for helping people who don't naturally gravitate towards focused work to do more of it, to consume better media, to get less distracted? Because I think it comes easier to some than it does to others. Thank you so much, Cal. Bye-bye. Well, Hattie, it's a good question. I agree with parts of your premise and I vehemently disagree with other parts of your premise. So I think this will be productive to discuss. A quick aside, the Clifton strength finders is interesting. It's an interesting backstory, interesting backstory there. So it was Don Clifton, this would have been much earlier in the 20th century, was really an innovator in using quantitative data to make predictions or assessment. So his strengths finders was a good example. You take this test and the numbers are crunched and they can tell you what your strengths were. They're also really ahead of the game on employee satisfaction. We run this survey by your employees and it crunches down to a number and we can figure out who is unhappy, who is. They could do this with customer satisfaction really well. Let's give this standard survey. We crunched numbers and get a score that tells us are your customers happy? Did this latest change make them more happy or not? So Don Clifton was really ahead on that. Our families had lots of interesting intersections with that, the Clifton family. Really quick aside. So Don Clifton starts this company, survey research international, SRI based out of Nebraska. In the late 1980s they buy a market research company in Houston, Texas where my dad was one of the partners and then soon after SRI bought Gallup and they took my dad from the market research firm in Houston and put him in charge of the Gallup poll. And so I grew up surrounded by the Clifton legacy, Don, Son, Jim Clifton until recently was the CEO of the company. They took the name Gallup but it used to be SRI and so I've run into the Clifton quite a bit and grew up hearing about all these Clifton products. They're very interesting. Don Clifton was really ahead of the game. All right. That's an aside. I want to push back on your premise that well, you know, some people just aren't suited to focusing or consuming high quality information or doing high quality leisure. I don't agree with that. I think that's like saying, look, some people just aren't suited for eating good food and exercising. Like they just need to eat junk food and they can't really exercise. That's not a fundamental attribute of a person. You can move your diet towards better food. You can start exercising. You can get in better shape. You can eat better food. Anyone has access to that. So I don't think that there is a fundamental necessary precondition aptitude to be able to do focus or to consume higher quality information or to do more higher quality leisure. You do however have to get in cognitive shape to do so. So if I look at you and you mainly eat terrible food and you never exercise, if you went out and said, here's what I did, Cal. I tried to go for a jog and it was terrible. I barely got very far before I was completely winded and I felt really bad and I tried to eat some, you know, broccoli, rob and it just is like, I don't know. I had a hard time preparing it. I'm just not meant to be in shape or eat good food. Like nonsense. You just started. You have to start training. You know, you're going to have to start with walking and then go from walking to jogging and give it six months of regular work and you'll be much better shape for running. Again, as we'd like to come back to again and again, if Alexander Sarsgaard can get into Viking shape in six months, you can get into the ability to run a mile in six months. That is our touchstone for a lot of things. Same thing with food. You got to start eating a little bit better, making more things at home, getting more used to it. We're used to that in the world of fitness. We're used to that in the world of health. Well, we should translate that comfort, that idea that we're comfortable with to the world of cognitive pursuits as well. Yes, if you're slack jawed with the jewel looking at TikTok most of the time, you're not going to do well when you pick up a book. If you're captain, email and slack, when you say, now it's time for me to go do deep work and figure out a big new philosophical concept, it's not going to go well. But you know what, if you do the cognitive equivalent of Sarsgaard's Viking training, you will get better at that. We've talked about what that could be, but you need to embrace boredom. So on a semi regular basis, have brief exposures to boredom. You're waiting in line, you do nothing once a week, do a longer exposure, like a walk with nothing in your ears. That gets you more comfortable with the idea that sometimes you don't get stimuli when you're bored. Then you can begin doing direct stretch training on your concentration ability. Do intervals. Here's my watch 10 minutes, no distraction or I have to reset the watch. Once you're comfortable working hard for 10, make it 15. You can slowly start pushing that up. Do productive meditation sections. One problem in my head, work on it while walking. When my attention wanders, notice and bring it back. Notice and bring it back. The walks can start small. The problems you're working on your head can start easy. Expand and increase as you get more comfortable. You can do these things. You know what's going to happen over time? You're going to be more comfortable reading books, watching a harder movie and not having to look at a tablet, thinking about a hard business problem, writing something for 90 minutes at a time without having to jump to the cognitive crutch of looking at email and looking at slack. You will get in better shape. And I think everyone should get in that shape. Just like no one should just be eating junk food and never move, you should not be in a cognitive situation in which you rarely challenge your mind or have any freedom from constant, highly optimized distraction. Now what about the types of aptitudes that are pointed out in things like the Clifton Strength Finders test? I think we're talking about something different there. You do a Strength Finders test. You might find I'm really well suited to coordinating teams is maybe more my strength than it is trying to come up with original strategy. Well that's useful for shaping which direction you go in your career. But it doesn't mean you can't have a floor of cognitive comfort. I can concentrate when I need to. I can consume higher quality leisure. Everyone can have that floor. The strengths might tell you what general direction you might want to go in your career. The other thing people talk about is, you know, hey look, maybe I'm not super brainiac. I'm not one of those MIT theory group professors that can and this is a true story, move things with their mind. Just stare at something and make it move. That's how smart they are. That might be true. But those type of fundamental abilities, this sort of raw horsepower you might be born with, that's only relevant in terms of the ceiling you can hit. And again, we're comfortable with this when it comes to fitness. You're not going to tell me don't get in better shape and start jogging because you know what? You're never going to be on the Olympic team. Like your genes aren't going to allow you to actually run a fast enough mile to be on the Olympics. I say that's fine. I don't need to compete with Olympic athletes. I need to be able to run a mile without throwing up. That's different. So same thing. You don't need to be able to move things with your mind like some MacArthur award winning MIT professor in order to be able to focus on a business problem for an hour and to be able to go on a long walk without any distraction. You can be in good shape without having to be elite. So that's what I'm going to come down on here, Adi. It's yes, maybe we have different aptitudes that we should keep in mind when we do our lifestyle center career planning and try to think what we want our life to be like, what type of things we want to work on. But everyone should have a base level and everyone can accomplish a base level of cognitive fitness. Just like you should with your physical health, your mind needs to have a declaration of freedom from the slack job distraction and the easy diversion of email and slack, the slack job distraction of a tick tock or of an Instagram. You should be comfortable being alone with your own thoughts. You should be comfortable, constrains, something kind of difficult. You should be comfortable with self-reflection. Board them shouldn't scare you. Everyone should be able to get there. Just like everyone should be able to go on a light jog without dry heaving when it's over. So Adi, I get the spirit of your question, but I'm going to push back on some of the specifics. Embracing boarding really works. Yeah. Like, I heard you say that several years ago before I even knew you and I started doing it. Did you notice the difference? Huge. Yeah. Now I do it and I see people they can't do it. They don't even know what that means. Yeah. Well, for you, it must be really useful. You might must notice that when you're doing even just casual athletic pursuits, right? Yeah. Like, what about golf? If you're comfortable, just let me just stay with what's going on in this game and not let my attention wander. Really? I'm assuming the players who look at their phone all the time in between holes. I don't even bring my phone. Yeah. They get distracted all the time. Like it's got the number of bad shots you make. Your bad shot rate has to go up quite a bit, right? If you're constantly... It's got on to it. Because I mean, say somebody hits a bad shot, then their reaction would be to look at their phone so they get bad news and that's like hitting two bad shots. Yeah. And then they're not there for the next shot. It's a spiral. Yeah. Sometimes you could have somebody say you're going to partner a van or whatever and they're on their phone the whole time. It's like they're not in the game. They're not there. Yeah. Yeah. Also, it feels bad. It's this weird trade-off. Like the state of constant distraction, it's appealing in the moment in the sense of it's... I don't know, numbing. But it's not the same type of satisfaction of man is beautiful out here. And I'm just enjoying it. And I'm walking across the course and the sun is starting to go down and your mind is kind of clear and present. Like that's way more satisfying. Well, it's like you said, like way back in the day, how the financials for these people is like 20x what oil exploration is. I mean, it's designed to do that and it's working. Yeah. Yeah, they're really good. I've been going deep. I'm right. They're really good at it. I know I was riding right before this episode and I have to run now to keep riding, I have a deadline and I don't like to give details of articles before they're out. But I'm working on an article right now and I have to go kind of deep into TikTok and their algorithm and it's rise the same. Let me just say this. Here's my summary. They're good at it. Like they're good at it. Just like, you know, what's that chicken everyone likes or whatever? The... I don't know the brands very well. Check for that. Check for that. Like they're really good at cooking things. We're like, man, this is really good. I really like eating this. Right? Like they're good at it. There's a reason why there's always a line there. Yeah. You know, they're good at it. McDonald's fries. Like they're really good at it. You're like, I'm just going to keep eating these. I could eat a bucket of these things. TikTok is really good at just next thing, next thing, next thing, you know. But it's just a different feel. It's like eating the McDonald's flies. You eat the bucket. Like in the moment, you're like, I kind of am glad I'm doing this. Then when you're done, you're not happy with the world. I think it's the same thing. You come off of like all the scrolling. Like I kind of numb myself. I'm unhappy. It's just... It doesn't. It doesn't. It's distraction snacking. It doesn't serve what you really need. It doesn't serve the real meal that the brain actually desires. So there you go. I don't care what the strength finder says. Stop looking at your phone so much. All right. Well, speaking of stopping and working on deeper things, I got to go right. So let's wrap up this episode. Thank you everyone who listened. If you like what you saw, you will like backwards. If you like what you heard, you will like what you see at our YouTube channel, youtube.com/Cal NewportMedia. Full videos of full episodes as well as highlighted clips are available there. We'll be back next week with a new episode in TELDIN. As always, stay deep.