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 042015
 

“No, I don’t have a TV…”

Constant action, cliff-hangers, escalation; they've gotten far too good at making series addictive!

Constant action, cliff-hangers, escalation; they’ve gotten far too good at making series addictive!

People usually look at me a bit weirdly when I mention this. I tend to look back smugly.

Because let’s face it, anything that’s on TV you wouldn’t want to watch! There is a choice between reality soaps filled with narcissists, the news filled with horrors or bad series filled with lame jokes. I really don’t feel I’m missing out.

Sure, once and awhile there will be a movie that would be nice to see, but there are other ways of getting a movie that only require access to the internet.

And ok, some of the series aren’t half bad. I have to admit that I enjoy of “Suits” and “Big Bang Theory”. Again, you don’t need a TV to watch those, a fast internet connection really is enough.

Do you know how much time you save from not watching TV? Time that can be spent on more constructive things, like cooking a nice dinner, having fun with friends or going to the gym. Much better, right?

Not that it’s bad to have the occasional night in which you pamper yourself with a bit of relaxation, involving a set of well-thought-through characters and interesting plot-twists. I need a bit of rest once and awhile. And so what if one episode turned into two. Or three. Or half a season?

Because life is stressful, right? Work is draining and friends can be tiring. It’s nice to fall onto the couch and not having to think for a while. You know what I mean.

And really, it is fine to sit back and relax. Once and awhile.

I don’t have a TV. And for quite a while I thought that meant I didn’t watch TV. But with my girlfriend off in a hotel room during weekdays (all to keep a client happy of course… (That could be misunderstood. She is doing an assignment far away and stays at a hotel so she doesn’t have to commute several hours every day. She doesn’t stay in the hotel room with the client. I think…)), it’s very easy to pick the easy option and let myself be entertained. Humans evolved to pay attention to moving stuff and look, there on the screen, stuff moves!

Two months ago my monthly experiment was to let others enjoy the process more. I realized that I do have quite a strong desire to see things happen “my way”. I caught myself quite a few times from forcing my opinion upon someone else, but I’m sure there were ample times where I didn’t catch myself. More practice needed…
For the last few weeks I’ve been spending more and more time with my least-favorite form of mass entertainment. It’s easy. It’s addictive!

I don’t like being addicted.

So I’ve deleted everything from my laptop that has anything to do with series and movies. When alone, I’m not going to indulge myself anymore (I have far less problems with watching an episode together, as then there is a much stronger drive to stop after one).

So, my monthly (and longer?) experiment: No more series!

I’ll use the time to go to gym, visit friends, cook nice things for myself, write, walk around. Anything but stare at moving pixels on a screen (technically writing for me would involve moving pixels on a screen as well, but you catch my drift…).

So, anybody in London who has free time during the evenings? I’ll cook you a nice dinner! :-)


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!