Category: Good articles

More about quitting social media

The WSJ weekend opinion section has an interview with a guy who wants us to quit social media. Of course there are many of these pieces. This one caught my eye because it’s a profile of a self-improvement guru who seems to be writing from an angle I need to explore.

The author is Cal Newport.

Though in his day job Mr. Newport writes technical works like the 2018 paper “Fault-Tolerant Consensus With an Abstract MAC Layer,” he’s been at the self-improvement game for a while. He started out writing books about how students could stand out in high school and college. His career followed his interests as he progressed from graduate student to professor and wondered why some people thrive professionally and others don’t. That led to his career-advice books, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “Deep Work.”

The latter takes aim at another technology that corrodes the ability to focus: corporate email. “We sort of gambled on this idea that the key to productivity is going to be faster and more flexible communication,” Mr. Newport says. “At any moment we can have fast and flexible communication with anyone on earth.” Yet productivity has hardly budged. “It’s actually probably going down.”

I just put library holds on the two books cited above. Here’s more from the WSJ:

[Newport] sometimes cites an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. “Let me tell you why my TV series in the ’90s was so good,” the comedian said. “In most TV series, 50% of the time is spent working on the show; 50% of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We”—he and Larry David—“spent 99% of our time writing. Me and Larry. The door was closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”

To have an excellent career, Mr. Newport argues, you need periods of uninterrupted concentration to produce work of unambiguous value. Many jobs lack a clear measure of value, so that employees treat “busyness as a proxy for productivity” and let email distract them from real work.



I read my first snippets of Michel Houellebecq’s writing on a ferry between Bellingham, Wash., and Juneau, Alaska. It was two decades ago, and I was with my family. I sat on the deck of the boat, under an awning, as the fjords of the Inside Passage slipped past me.

Houellebecq was a new voice, and I was reading an excerpt from Extension du domaine de la lutte (published in English as “Whatever”) in Granta magazine.

He’s got a new novel out. He also recently published this apologia for the current president of the United States. The headline is perhaps deliberately trolling, but there isn’t a single American writer of his stature who would be brave enough, or foolhardy or foolish enough, to write this.

Clutter, burnout

I’m starting to feel resonance everywhere.



The other night I went to a 40th birthday party. The honoree, a well-liked owner of a business downtown, told me he was feeling old and unaccomplished.

We’re all alike.