What I read/ listened to/ watched — week 3
So, this is week three of my new experiment (part of an event wider experiment) where I try to stop mindlessly consuming content and actually start engaging with the stuff I read/watch/listen to. I have found recently that the more I try to get through my “feeds” (Twitter, Insta, email, etc) the less I actually meaningfully engage with and the less I remember. It got so bad that I started retweeting articles I’d already shared a couple of days before. I also realised that I did not learn anything from the stuff I was reading and was not able to apply anything to my daily life or my inner, more spiritual workings.
So I deleted Twitter off my phone, set up a minimal RSS reader (god, I miss Google Reader) and started this weekly round up. Got a bit anxious in week 2 because I felt it probably should be about quantity of stuff being read/watched/listened to and then I immediately checked myself and realised that quantity was completely NOT the point. It helped that by some divine symmetry, that week a favourite newsletter of mine carried a link to an article about self quantification/tracking and it also discussed at length the phenomenon of speed reading (apparently people on Reddit are battling it out on the amount of books they are able to read per week; insane, I know).
Anyway, here goes with Week 3. A pretty good week for reading, not so great for watching and monotonously steady for listening.
For starters, I am on my third re-watch of the Drive to Survive. I was never a big F1 fan and only started getting back into the sport when Drive to Survive started airing (not unlike half of the planet). I initially binged it and then rewatched some of the key episodes, but now I just watch it as a TV spectacle, trying to catch the editing tricks used to create drama and intensity. If the rumours are true and there is an upcoming Drive to Survive for tennis, I am going to be all over that.
I continued with Prime’s LOTR: Rings of Power and am sad to say it’s slowing down a bit and they’re starting to drag their feet, but continues to be quite fun to watch (I especially like the Dwarf characters, not only for their Scottish accent but also because their mythology strikes me as the most compelling; accent-wise there might just be an entire PhD in looking at why certain “tribes” have certain accents in LOTR and other phantasy series — the Dwarves, broody, angry, gingers, sound Scottish, the Orcs sometimes sound Russian or German, the Elves - Mid-Atlantic). BTW, if you don’t know what the Mid-Atlantic accent is, this is a good primer.
We’re slowly working our way through the Paul Newman Joanne Woodward documentary and, in honour, of Joanne I watched Rachel, Rachel which ended up being a big of a gem, although I started off strange. I have written my own stories about “old maid” characters and overbearing mothers and I find that dynamic to be incredibly powerful, for personal reasons too. “Rachel, Rachel” is a wonderfully understated analysis of childhood trauma defining who we are but also (spoiler) how one can work one’s way out of that box.
I also started watching Yellowstone, as foreshadowed in last week’s round-up, and will most likely continue. It’s like Succession with cowboys and what’s not to like about that.
Listening-wise, it’s been a bit of a blah week. My Heidi Fleiss podcast — Heidiworld, continues in the same weird vein. I’m almost at the end of it and don’t feel I’ve learnt much. The producer and presenter is dead set on drowning any meaningful reflection in a barrage of celebrity names and details. My regular listens (The Rest is Politics, Oh, God What Now! and The Bunker) all covered the Queen and Liz Truss so I basically used them as background noise to chores. I did listen to a Culture Bunker which is The Bunker’s episode on …well, clearly culture, and they were covering the re-mastered Beatles album, Revolver. This apparently had taken a cue from the now famous The Beatles: Get Back documentary produced by Peter Jackson where a lot of audio manipulation and tweakage (you can tell I’m not an audio professional, can’t you?) was used to enhance and sometimes even re-create missing audio from the studio. For the re-mastered Revolver album, the producers used machine learning to reconstruct sounds which had been lost in the original recording or through the process of copying masters. I’m not a music buff, but all of that sounded interesting. The interviewing style ruined it a tad because the interviewer insisted on calling the technology used AI and that has been a constant on this week’s listening where anytime any kind of Machine Learning has been applied to anything, people have insisted on calling it AI. I get why that’s the case but I can see clickbait headlines already looming where, if we insist on calling any algorithm AI, we will soon find ourselves overwhelmed by “sentient machines” without there actually being any.
On the drive back from Wiltshire, we listening to Marc Maron interviewing Robert Eggers, director of The Witch, The Lighthouse and The Northman, all of which I have watched and liked in that exact order. I don’t know if the conversation was in any way enlightening.
Reading-wise it has been a bit of un unexpected triumph of a week. I was in Paris on Wednesday and Thursday, speaking at a strategy conference and on my way back picked up some random magazines from the Eurostar newsstand and in this month’s Vanity Fair came across a profile of writer/ artist Eve Babitz. I had never heard of Eve and the article, contrasting her to Joan Didion was an absolute revelation, in its analysis of two styles of feminine power and the intense rivalry that created. I have always worshipped Joan Didion, because her writing is so pristine and wonderful and it was incredible to have some of my awe “challenged” by what I believe are very spot-on interpretations from Eve Babitz, a woman who was the antithesis of Joan but at the same time equally liberated, equally smart and equally powerful in her own way. I was particularly struck by a letter Eve had written to Joan Didion stating, nay, accusing Joan of cultivating a certain type of image — that of the frail, uber feminine woman, in order to detract from the fact that she was in fact, an incredibly masculine intellect and that her prose was successful because it sounded like it had been written by a man. If you read one thing this week, let it be that article.
I also read a really good piece on Quiet Quitting which you can find here. I know the phenomenon of Quiet Quitting is all the hype now, but I cannot help agreeing with the author of that article that this is not something new and that since the invention of “bullshit jobs”, as D. Graeber puts it, a fair few people have checked out of their workplaces mentally and focused all their energies on anything else from their families to side hustles or just building muscle in the gym. The article however proposes a compelling link between the type of work one does and the likelihood of that work becoming something you want to get away from. This paragraph really chimed with me
“He argued that when we ask workers to use the muscle between their ears more so than the muscles in their arms, legs, or back, workers will scrutinize the nature of their jobs more rigorously. They can’t dissociate themselves from the work of their brain to nearly the extent they can with physical work. With physical work, they do the work. With knowledge work, they are the work.”
There was a LOT of coverage of the Queen’s lying in state ceremony and I found it all a bit overwhelming to follow BUT I did find THIS article about how to design the perfect queue and it struck me how ALL of the recommendations in that article can apply to UX design. And I guess that is not a crazy thing to say because designing interfaces for technology have very similar goals to designing queues: it’s all about reducing wait time, limiting frustration, creating “by-pass” experiences when there is not way to mitigate for delays (e.g. Google’s dinosaur game you can play when you’re offline) and allowing people to feel in control by giving them exact details about how long they need to wait.
Finally, I was overjoyed to find a short story by Ben Lerner in the New Yorker and read through that in an afternoon. If you’ve never read Ben Learner I highly recommend him, he was almost a big a revelation to me as Virginie Despentes.
And that, my friends, was the most relevant stuff I consumed alongside some delicious figs and plums as the most majestic season for fruit has arrived.