Medley 256: Followers, Nutrition, Perfectionism, Flynn Effect, Influence, Writing, Lifespan...

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

Nothing new this week, so let's dive straight into the Medley!

The Worlds of Social Media, Internet Fame, and Guilt

🧠 One thing our brains haven't fully adapted to is how powerful social media can extend our thoughts, even when we don't intend it to.

πŸŽ“ I had a tweet earlier this week that was just a random thought I had before going to bed: that none of my friends I've discussed it with expect their kids to go to a normal university like they exist today. When I woke up, the tweet had taken off, and by the end of the day over 1,500,000 people had seen it.

πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž It sparked a longer conversation with a friend about the upsides and downsides of being an "online personality." It gives you incredible leverage and business opportunities. But it also brings a lot of anxiety and social risk. And I'm not always sure it's worth it.

✍🏼 I have a lot of respect for what Pieter Levels wrote in his piece on "Why I'm Unreachable." One thing he points out is:

"It's hard to imagine what happens when you get internet famous but imagine when 50 people per day try to send you a message 1) asking you to work with them, 2) promote them or their app, 3) write giant multi-page dumps of their life stories irrelevant to you, 4) get angry with you because they used your site and didn't like it, 5) send you death threats, 6) stalk you."

πŸ‘‹ I've had my fair share of weird experiences from writing on my site the last 6 years. Sometimes they're innocuous: someone recognizes me and says hi, or someone emails me about a very specific question on something I wrote.

😳 Sometimes they're weirder, like the time someone looked up what apartment building I lived in and asked me how I liked it, or the time someone texted me a short novel's worth of questions about their sex life then started yelling at me when I asked them to go away.

πŸ“ˆ And my audience is quite small by comparison to many influencers, and it seems to skew relatively intelligent and professional. I imagine that as your audience broadens, and you get more people further away from you professionally engaging with your stuff, the number of people with low self awareness and high confidence that they deserve your time only increases.

πŸ™β€β™‚οΈ But the weirdness that comes from some degree of internet fame isn't even the worst part. To me it's the guilt. I feel a certain amount of guilt about not responding to everyone who reaches out to me. And that inbound can be so overwhelming sometimes that it affects my desire to respond to anything anywhere, leading me to let texts from friends build up for days or even weeks.

❓ So I'm not sure that building online influence is a good goal. It's certainly a great tool to have, but at what cost?

πŸ’­ What else could you build in the time you spend building an audience, and would the other thing you build have the power to destroy you the way an audience would?

πŸ’° Are you idolizing people with audiences making money because that's a great way to work, or simply because their fortunes are the most visible?

😐 And how much of yourself will you have to sacrifice in the name of accruing followers?

❌ As tempting as it is to build an audience, I'm not sure it's the best use of most of our time. Including mine. I like writing this newsletter with no deliberate intention to grow it and no pull towards the marketing tactics I know would work to inflate it. And maybe in line with that, I should try to be a little more unreachable as well.

The World of Intelligence and Diet

πŸ’‘ The Flynn Effect prompts an interesting question: why are we getting smarter?

🍎 One thing this article points out is that nutritional and environmental improvements are likely a big factor:

"More likely, multiple factors are at play, including improvements in Nutrition; expansion of formal schooling; increases in average educational attainment; environmental improvements such as a reduction in lead exposure; and shrinking family size, which allows more focus on the education of each child. An ongoing debate exists about whether or not the increase in the average reflects a disproportionate increase in IQ levels at the bottom end of the distribution."

πŸ§’ I think it's obvious that properly fed children's brains would develop better than malnourished children. Which could suggest that what we feed and how we care for the health of our kids affects how smart they grow up to be.

πŸ₯— The problem is how much of our idea of "healthy" is negatively influenced by companies hawking oat-flavored vegetable oil (among other terrible products) as healthy. And how much of that is likely going to make it into parents, and schools, food choices.

⬇️ Our expected lifespan has been going down in large part due to poor diet and metabolic disease. I suspect we could see a reversal of the Flynn Effect too if our diets keep getting worse.

The World of Writing

πŸ‘ Nick Yoder had a great idea this week: score articles based on "doneness" to get over perfectionism.

1️⃣0️⃣ The tendency is to try to get everything to a 10 before we hit publish, but by marking pieces with a 1-10 scale you can quickly signal how seriously someone should take the piece.

πŸ—ž I think it's brilliant. Slate Star Codex used to do something similar with an "epistemic certainty" rating at the top of articles, and Justin Mares will sometimes write articles in all lowercase as a solution.

End Note

As always, if you're enjoying the Medley, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up. I try to make it one of the best emails you get each week, and I hope you're enjoying it.

And should you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Have a great week,
Nat

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