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Effective Living » Articles » Effective Living Newsletter issue #1

Effective Living Newsletter issue #1

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the very first Effective Living newsletter. I’m Tom North.

I hope you’ve all had good weeks, and that you feel better than I do as I’m writing this – hunched over on a packed train on the way back from a wedding.

What I’m writing

This week I posted three new articles to the site. The first is about how I built up my own writing habit. Hopefully it will will help others who are also starting out with a blog, newsletter, or other publication. If you’re interested in habit formation more generally, there’s plenty that you can apply to other areas.

The second article was inspired by a wonderful walk I took through a part of East London I wasn’t familiar with. The 90-minute walk seemed to last for hours. It reminded me that in order to make our lives feel longer, we could all do with sprinkling a few more new experiences into our daily routines.

The third was the easiest to write, because it was my personal thoughts on how I’ll fail at making this website a success. It’s a warning to myself that I’ll try to revisit every now and then as a reminder not to fall into these predictable traps. It should also prove a useful exercise that everyone starting a new venture or new project can practice. If we can at least avoid the obvious pitfalls, that’s a good start!

What I’m reading

I finished Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom, who is my favourite living philosopher. I’ve been meaning to read it for a long time because it’s about a hugely important topic: the risks we run by creating superintelligent machines. I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. Bostrom is usually a joy to read, and includes a fair amount of humour. But this book was difficult in parts, and lacked some of the vividness of, for example, his *Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.*

Nonetheless, if you’re interested in one of the most important topics of our time, it clearly outlines the scale and nature of the risks, and some possible mitigations. I particularly enjoyed the analogy between humans and horses. In a world where artificial intelligence makes us obsolete for work, could we become like horses? The horse population in the United States declined from 26 million in the 1920s, to 2 million in the 1950s, then back to 10 million when the book was written. The population rebounded because they gained a new purpose: a novelty leisure pursuit.

What I’m listening to

This week I listened to this excellent 80,000 Hours podcast with Cal Newport, where he discussed his book, A World Without Email. Newport suspects we could be missing out on trillions of dollars worth of value through people not working as productively as they might. I suspect a lot of that value wouldn’t necessarily be going to people who need more, but it’s an interesting idea.

If Newport is even in the right ballpark, and we could harness that value for positive ends, it could be transformative. As a productivity nerd, I’m biased, but it’s not unreasonable that even a moderate increase in productivity amongst knowledge workers a) could be achieved and b) could give us the power to do a lot of social good.

I’m also a couple of years behind in listening to George The Poet’s podcast, but it’s great: really fresh, powerful, and moving.

What I’m doing

I switched my language learning from Spanish to Portuguese, in preparation for visiting Portugal later in the month. It will be really interesting to see how much I can learn in less than a month by using spaced repetition on Anki. That said, it will be confounded as an experiment by the similarities between Portuguese and Spanish.

I also visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. It was a great place to spend an hour and a half, and set in lovely gardens. It also served as a reminder of the David Epstein book Range, which I finished a few weeks ago. Epstein argues that specialising early isn’t always necessary – or even advisable – to achieve great things. William Morris exemplified this in his work life, taking on lots of different art forms. He also became a social reformer much later in life, using the platform he’d built elsewhere to campaign for better rights for workers.

That’s all for this week – all the best for the week ahead.


P.S. If you have a friend who might be interested in this newsletter, please point them to this page.