On his podcast Deep Questions, Cal Newport said something that has gotten deep into my brain and utterly complicated my life. I notice, by the way, that the very best things tend not to make my life simpler — they make my life more interesting, complicated, and challenging. This is one of those things:
I think a lot of what we see on social media is basically what I call intellectual groupieism. Like, I don’t want to do the work, someone else tell me the cliffnotes. What are the basic ideas we all agree with, and more importantly, what’s good and what’s bad, and what do I do to make sure I do the good thing and not the bad thing? like great, I’m with it. And now I’m going to, with great fervor, push this philosophy, but there is nothing below it. You haven’t read any of the things, you haven’t done the hard reading, you haven’t confronted the criticism, you haven’t read the alternative and let that collide and then let your roots grow deep. On social media you are often just a groupie for intellectuals, and say, “I just trust you. Just give me the cliffnotes I need, because I just want to go around with your metaphorical jam band and make sure I have bootleg tapes from your concerts…” We don’t do this anymore – we don’t build philosophies from scratch, we don’t go to the sources. Social media says “don’t bother with that. In fact, if you do bother with it, we might yell at you, so just come on, we will just give you the cliff notes.
I live by rituals. I do so deliberately, knowing that if I don’t consciously impose rituals on myself then the attention economy will do so for me. There is no middle ground, no place for passivity. If I don’t practice discipline and ritual, I will be captured by the invisible manipulators of the attention economy who are intent on holding me hostage.
A staple of my daily ritual practice is my candle ritual. This ritual has become one of the most important in my day-to-day life, and I thought I would share it with you. I hope you find it as enriching and transformative as I have.
Last week, I wrote that the future of the world depends in no small part upon how we – the normal, everyday people who populate this globe, practice our capacity for presence and focus. We live in uncertain times, but we are not helpless. As I argued in my previous post, we begin changing the world by putting our own houses in order.
Our world is suffocated by addicting, irrelevant, glittering images: a perpetual cascade of memes, buzzfeed articles, emails, tweets, and status updates from friends. This is, as Cal Newport describes it in his book Deep Work, The Shallows.