Got rhythm

We are approaching the end of December, which (in the UK) means short days, cold weather and a ubiquitous festive season as the year comes to an end. While it seems in many ways a strange time to think about new beginnings (in the dead of winter, during the coldest, darkest days), a new year is often cause for resolution and reflection.

I once worked in a lab that was researching circadian rhythms, the twenty-four hour intrinsic cycles present in every one of our bodily cells, as the earth spins on its axis. I have thought quite a lot this year about the importance of rhythm for human beings, above and beyond that physiological clock. The power of daily habits, and the higher level weekly and monthly cadences required to really get things done. The magic of music, or the beautiful beat intrinsic to swimming, or running.

The turning of the seasons, and the passing of the years is the earth’s higher rhythm, and it feels just right. A year is short enough to grasp, but long enough to see change in yourself and in the world (whether you like it or not). As we hurtle around the sun, we dance to its cosmic beat.

Dog days of summer

A lot is made of the Like button, of the societal impact of the dopamine-inducing blue thumbs-up. But as a generally reserved social-media poster, and only sporadic “liker”, I am relatively indifferent.

Far more sinister, in my mind, is the infinite scroll, and its auto-play video cousin – on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and friends.

Not because of the clear connection with the culprits’ business models – where eyeballs and time spent drive ad impressions, which drive revenue. That much is understandable – these are publicly listed companies.

I think the problem I have is that it is playing on a particularly human vulnerability, evolving as we did in a world of scarcity, rather than abundance. Where evolutionary pressures favoured repetitive behaviours, as in general things would run out. Make hay while the sun shines, because at some point autumn will come.

But on the endless tracts of social media the sun is always shining, without respite. And instead of introducing patches of shade, where travellers might rest, or step away from their smartphones, our social media overlords have built a desert, where users stagger towards an imagined oasis that never comes.

Meanwhile the new demi-gods of TikTok have learned their predecessors’ worst habits, as video after snack-size video plays off into the distance.

We are in the dog days of the digital summer. The onus is on us as users to find shelter, or to escape the desert altogether.

Elephants

In February this year I read an article about Elephants. Not about the large mammals, but about a system of the same name, concocted by four friends ten years ago or so, and articulated by one of them in a blog post in 2013. It’s a collective system for planning, reviewing and improving one’s life. It piqued my interest, I shared it with a couple of friends, and we actually got round to giving it a try.

After struggling initially to find time to do the required kick-off (The Start), we are now three months in, and so I have had a bit of room for reflection.

The Start, where you spend quite a concentrated period of time with your fellow Elephants talking about your strengths and weaknesses, and hopes for the future, is worth doing regardless of whether you are interested in the long haul process. We spent a couple of days together, during which we were much more candid, vulnerable and open than we had been in the ten or more years we have known one another. And it has been a one-way door – we have been more open and honest ever since. It is funny that it took some random blog post on the internet to let us make that step. But whatever works.

The Start also includes a process of goal-setting, over quite hard to imagine timeframes (up to ten years!) Planning on that timescale isn’t something that I do naturally, so I found it quite difficult. But it was useful to see what I eventually came up with, and to highlight things I should maybe think a little more about.

With our (iterative) goals in hand, we are now in business-as-usual Elephants.

The Weekly Reporting was something which we didn’t necessarily commit to, but which I have managed to keep up. It is now part of my weekly ritual, and I am happy for it. It gives me an opportunity to check in with myself, to reflect back on the week that was, and how I felt about it. I am not sure it always makes interesting reading for my fellow Elephants, but it is always interesting writing for me.

And we have also had our first Quarterly Review, which first and foremost was a great excuse to see my friends after a busy summer. It also highlighted how long ago The Start felt, how much can happen in three months of time. Which is helpful as we look ahead to the next three months or so, as we continue with our Elephants into 2020. We’re not necessarily following the system to the letter, but we have made it work for us so far, and I am glad we are doing it.

Perspective

Two things that made me think today.

The quoted tweet is from 2015. What was a hilarious punchline four years ago looks like it may become our reality by the end of the year (give or take a ball pool). Certainly disquieting, in terms of where we are. But it is also kind of amazing – anything is possible, in the words of Kevin Garnett.

The second is this article by Tanner Green (hat tip to Matt Clifford), which sketches out a potential table of contents for an imagined history of our time, from 2004 until 2020, which Tanner anticipates will be a type of turning point. It is the coming of age story of my generation. Speculative for sure, and US-centric – I think the primary challenge is knowing which proposed chapters will stand the test of time, and which will simply be quirks of history. And the latter sections have quite a few question marks (“The Trials of Donald Trump, 2018-202? (? pages)”). But always sobering to try and see today through tomorrow’s eyes.

Time is money

Time is money. Kind of.

Spending time is like spending money. You should think carefully about what you spend it on, particularly if you don’t have much.

Saving time is like saving money. It gives you a little more to spend in the future (please do remember to spend it).

Investing time is like investing money. You do it in the hope of future benefits (it doesn’t always pay off, and that is OK).

You can’t borrow time like you can borrow money, though. So do make the most of what you have right now.

Don’t go passing time, you wouldn’t do that with money. Don’t waste it. Spend it.