Bastiaan Reinink

Mar 282015
 

Facebook, the Google products, LinkedIn, candy crush, a myriad of other things on the internet can be used without paying for them.

Paying attention to real life is heavily overrated anyway!

Paying attention to real life is heavily overrated anyway!

Still, it takes a lot of time, effort and money to program something that makes three similar pieces of candy disappear when they line up. That money has to come from somewhere and it’s not from the users.

Those search results or that cat video are a means to an end, a way of getting you to look in the direction the company wants you. So that next to the cat falling off of the table, they can put advertisement. And the more information you give them (by liking stuff, by doing more searches), the better they can profile you (they used to do that to serial killers…) and give you advertisements that have a higher chance of you actually clicking on them.

The way these businesses work is that they sell your attention to the highest bidder.

I don’t like it, but it’s reality. And I don’t dislike it enough to actually pay for my e-mail client or anything like that (instead I have a good add-blocker). Also, it’s not the main point of this post.

The main point is that they are in a continuous struggle to get as much of your attention as possible. This means funnier cat movies, more controversial stories, more addictive games. And with so much money riding on it you can be sure that they’ll find new an innovative ways of hijacking our attention centers. I know, because they most certainly got to me…

I wrote about this in two previous posts, the first on doing away with (internet) television series, the second about stopping myself from doing mindless surfing and checking my messages / mail a million times per day.

This behavior created short-term contentment, but it was the contentment of a heroine addict that just got his shot. It’s not that you feel good per-se, it’s that you stop feeling bad. And it most certainly doesn’t bring long-term happiness.

It’s been a month since I stopped watching series, a bit less since I put a serious clamp on my internet. The result so far: I’ve been bored!

I’m well aware of the irony: This blog is just one more of the things only seeking to grab your attention!
But actually, it’s a very good kind of bored. If there’s nothing to do, I’ll go to bed a lot earlier. As a result I get up earlier as well, meaning a slightly earlier tube which is less crowded, letting me arrive at work a bit more relaxed, which stays with me for most of the day (yes, that’s a lot of steps…).

Instead of random “entertainment”, I’ve been reading more (in the bed I get into early). Books can still be addictive, but they are much much easier to put away; books happen in the mind and don’t have the constant bombardment of moving images which our brains are primed to pay attention to. The result, I get tired and go to sleep.

Finally, I’ve been planning my evenings a lot more, making time to go to the gym and setting up time to hang out with friends. Things that really do make me happier.

Attention is the current economy’s scarce resource. Don’t spend it all in one place!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!

Mar 232015
 

When I first moved to London I absolutely loved it! Everything was new and there was always something to go see, do, experience!

I can resist anything but temptation! (Red apples are easy!)

I can resist anything but temptation! (Red apples are easy!)

As time wore on, the sense of joy dampened a bit, as I realized that, yes, there is always something to do, but you still have to travel there. And stuff is just less fun if you don’t have friends around to share it with. This became even more apparent when my girlfriend got an assignment in Edinburgh and I really was alone during most of the week.

The result is that I’ve been cocooning more and more, staying at home, not getting a lot of new input. And though at the moment that felt like what I wanted, I noticed that in the long run it made me feel worse. It wasn’t really what I wanted, but it was the easiest option.

Because instead of going out and doing something, I would binge-watch stupid television series (see this post on me saying goodbye to that). But even though I don’t sit staring at my laptop screen like a zombie anymore, I still spend a lot of time staring at a screen, mindlessly browsing, playing games on my laptop or telephone, incessantly checking whether I have new messages.

“Lead me not into temptation, for I know the way!”
I want to go out, or I want to do something that feels like a more sane way to entertain myself: Meeting with friends, going to the gym, going for a walk, cooking a good meal, reading, writing. Lots of things to do.

Yet, temptation lurks!

There are two ways of dealing with temptation. The first is willpower, the second is removing the temptation. Willpower unfortunately is a finite resource and so I’d rather not use it up on something trivial like not checking my mail. Removing temptation entirely would be difficult as well, as doing without e-mail entirely would make life a whole lot more difficult. So, instead I’ve decided to make things as hard as possible for myself:

  • Long ago I already switched off all forms of notification from my phone (if I’m slow to reply to your message, this might be why).
  • Removing all games from my phone.
  • Generally removing unused apps from my phone
  • Moving all apps that are in any way non-constructive further away from the starting page (what is left is the clock (for a wake-up alarm, though I want to get rid of this as well, in The Netherlands I already have an old-fashioned radio-alarm…), Google maps (I do get lost a lot), a memo writer (I have a poor memory) and the calendar (see previous).
  • Unfortunately it seems that removing GMail from my phone entirely might mean I lose all my contacts as well and it might make my phone misbehave. Instead I’ve had to settle for switching off the “syncing”, so that I actively have to make a choice to get my e-mail.
  • Removing all games from my laptop.
  • Installing an internet blocker on my laptop; I now actively have to chose to turn on the internet and I can do that for a limited amount of time (say 5 minutes)

I’m not sure how bad the withdrawal symptoms are going to be and whether this will actually work, but it’ll be an interesting experiment…


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!

Mar 202015
 

One of the things that comes by in my work with some regularity is that something needs to be optimized: “Draw a straight line through these points so that the summed distance of the points to the line is minimal”. In some cases you can use an explicit formula, but more often you have to set the computer to “trying” many different options.

I can see a higher happiness, but it's going to be a long climb up!

I can see a higher happiness, but it’s going to be a long climb up!

Of course this trying is done in a relatively smart way: “If the latest try is better than your previous try, push the line a bit further in the same direction and see if it improves even more. If not, move a bit backwards.”

Life is in some ways similar, except that minimizing some distance, we try to maximize happiness. And the formula is comparable as well: “If what you just did improves your happiness, do more of it. If it didn’t improve your happiness, do less of it.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), the mathematical optimization process is much simpler than life; I have a starting point and the slope of my line and those are the only two things I can change. Reality in comparison would be trying to do the same when the points are moving, have different weights and your line is wiggling on its own accord. Because though happiness is just a single value, it’s influenced by such different inputs as the amount of ice-cream you eat, whether your boss respects you and how many days you still need to work before you can buy a new television that is bigger than your neighbor’s.

One more insight: Optimal is not the same as perfect. You want to find something that is “good enough” within a reasonable amount of time; further work may find a better solution, but the time that takes could perhaps be used in a better way…
One thing you can observe when having the computer do optimization, is that it gets “stuck” in a “local optimum”. If you change the line just a little bit in any direction, the result gets worse. But if you take a step back and you move it by a lot, you suddenly do end up with something better.

People get stuck too. A job that is no more than “ok”, or a relationship that is well past its prime. A small change isn’t going to make things better, only a big (bold) step can get you out of the rut and into a better place.

A few things to take away from this:

  • Happiness is a moving target; to stay on target you have to move (change) at the same pace as the world. To become happier, you have to change a bit faster.
  • Optimization is generally done in small steps. Change something a bit and see if it gets better. If the steps are small then making one in the wrong direction isn’t a problem, in fact it gives you valuable information on which way not to move.
  • Sometimes you do need to make a big step, to get out of your rut and to really get to a better place.
  • If you leap, don’t expect to land in the sweet spot immediately. You’ll need a lot more small steps to transform the new-found freedom into genuine happiness.

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!

Mar 162015
 

During some mindless surfing I came across an interesting question: “What in your current life would make your 8-year-old self cry?”

Neither cardboard nor lego will make a functioning space ship. I know. I tried...

Neither cardboard nor lego will make a functioning space ship. I know. I tried…

After a minute of thinking I came up with: “not being an astronaut”. The idea of going where no-one had gone before, to see things no living human had ever seen drew me immensely. However, I don’t think I actually would have cried had I known that right now I’m not an astronaut; as far as I can remember I wasn’t particularly sentimental back then.

The more interesting thing is that this is the only thing I can remember where I actively thought about the future. And in a perfunctory way at that; those pesky grown-ups keep asking what I wanted to be when I was bigger and at some point it’s easier to just answer something so you can get back to playing with your new legos (this would inevitably be asked by well-meaning aunts during my birthday; didn’t they understand that there are more important things in life, like this brand new forklift that is begging to be put together?!).

I do remember one more thing I decided when I was a kid: That I’d never become as “boring” as all those adults, who did nothing but sit around and talk, instead of running around, playing games and having fun! Guess what I do most nowadays… Though, I do still play lots of games! :-)
Back then life didn’t reach much further than what you were doing right then. Maybe there was a bit of dread about going to school the day after, perhaps even a fleeting thought of something as far away as a month if it was particularly juicy like new toys for your birthday. But that was it!

And now? I find myself thinking of what needs to be done (shopping, laundry, replying to e-mails), what work will bring me tomorrow, what I’ll do over the weekend, what I’ll do over the next weekend, when I’m seeing my parents again, where I’d like to spend my vacation… A never-ending litany of tomorrows and “some-days”.

Of course this comes with being a responsible and sane adult. Thinking about the future helps to prepare for it (up to a point), making life then just a little bit easier. The question is, how much does that cost in enjoyment now?

He wouldn’t cry, but I don’t think my 8-year-old self would approve…

What would your 8-year old self think of your life now?


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!

Mar 112015
 

Travel is one of the most wonderful things you can do with your time. No matter whether it’s a weekend away in the next town over, or a few months on the other side of the world.

The monkeys far away are so much better than the gorillas at home...

The monkeys far away are so much better than the gorillas at home…

I know there are some who are not particularly fond of traveling, but for most of the people I’ve met in life vacation is one of the highlights of their year. Dozens of times I’ve heard: “It’s so beautiful there, the people so friendly. I could live there!”

The interesting thing is, it doesn’t seem to matter where “there” is; Italy, South Africa, Peru (my own pick), Vietnam, Australia, even the USA! Any place is better than “here”?

I don’t think that’s actually the case; from experience I know that when you live in a place for a while you start to see the downsides to it (in Lima you are immediately (and genuinely) somebody’s best friend, but after a day or two you may very well have been forgotten again; in London there is always something cool to do, but it’s draining at the same time).

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” (Terry Pratchet)
More than that though I think it’s not so much the place that people fall in love with, but the feeling. Specifically, the feeling of freedom. When you’re traveling there is nobody to tell you what to do (when writing this down I realize this most strongly holds for my own backpacking style of traveling; when doing a group tour you do follow a pre-set itinerary, but within those boundaries you still get to decide what you do). There is no boss, no house-work, no cooking, no social calls, no nothing, except what you make up yourself. And all the time that saves, you fill with reading, seeing beautiful things, eating out and other ways of enjoying yourself.

Unfortunately, traveling is expensive. Or better put, there is no way of gaining an income (it’s definitely possible to spend significantly less per month while traveling than when living in Western Europe).

That however is not the only thing. Taking a break from work and social obligations is absolutely great. Doing without them for the rest of life is less so; friends and family are important, “being constructive” adds to a sense of well-being.

Deep down we all know this. Because no matter how great the trip was, it’s always nice to arrive back home!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!