Hi <<First Name>>,
I read a couple of really great books this month. I also came across a couple of others I’d recommend skimming through. I’m almost certain you won’t have heard of them, which makes me even more excited to share them with you:
No Place to Go by Lezlie Lowe
This is a book about public bathrooms. It’s an important and inconvenient topic, one that none of us want to talk about, but that all of us have had to reckon with at some point in our lives. One of my favorite things about working remote is never needing to share a bathroom with a colleague (strangely enough, a topic I covered for Lifehacker). But it’s often more significant than that; for example, just a couple of months ago, Amazon’s drivers peeing in water bottles made the news, as did UPS’s. I’m certain Uber and Lyft drivers face a similar challenge. These are the essential workers, who did the hard work to get a lot of us through the pandemic. Amazon needs to take some responsibility, certainly, but shouldn’t some of our taxes be going to building these bathrooms? Author Lezlie Lowe unpacks the history of the bathroom, how it was designed, and the cultural and political challenges of deploying and maintaining more of these. This was a great read. (Not everyone will like the bathroom puns and toilet humor, but for the most part I found it funny.)
On privacy: It became not only desirable to be alone on the can, but necessary for anyone who wanted to stay on the right side of morality. People who did not practise solo toileting were regarded as lacking in decency. And that went double for women. An inescapable physical function became shameful. It's difficult to overstate the impact this prudery had on Western culture. It's front and centre today in our toilet humour, and in the epic number of euphemisms we employ to talk about excreting. A notion grew along with the status-symbol toilet: sharing a bathroom with those outside your family was something to avoid. It's even come to the point, today, that we don't want to smell, hear, or feel any evidence, such as warm toilet seats, of those who’ve gone before us. Bathrooms remain one of our central taboos. So, by early in Queen Victoria's reign, private pooing had become a mark of prestige. The masses, of course, wanted it. And George Jennings would give it to them.
Alexander Kira, on technology: The Cornell University professor led a study from 1958 to 1965 to delve into how people actually used the bathroom. From faucets to farts, showers to the squat position, Kira wanted to scrap bathrooms - private and public - and rebuild them completely from the user’s perspective. He set himself no easy task - how does one change something no one's willing to talk about? 'While we can create new technologies to satisfy our demands,' Kira wrote, 'we can also ignore particular technologies and allow them to lie idle for years.' He makes a good point: the toilet hasn’t changed its essential design since George Washington was commissioned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
On San Franciscos’ Pit Stop staffed toilet program: It appears other people are now using these toilets, too. Staffing toilets through the Pit Stop program has seen usage surge. At one location near the San Francisco Civic Center, the number of monthly flushes went from about five hundred to nearly six thousand. These staffed toilets are not used only by homeless people with limited access to indoor bathrooms, but also by tourists, families with young children, and other people with unconventional bathroom needs (Gordon’s example is Uber drivers).
(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love by Brooke Erin Duffy
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for Marker about how YouTube and Patreon weren’t paying their creators enough. The original title is in the URL; “If you can’t afford to do it for free, don’t be a creator.” Drawing from interviews, and a wide range of papers, publications, and blog posts, author Brooke Erin Duffy very clearly defines and articulates what creators have been experiencing in this very difficult and tumultuous working situation. It’s a great mix of psychology, finance, and sociology. All that said, it’s an academic book (published by Yale Press), so it gets a bit dense at times—but overall a really great read.
If you’re a creator or artist, this book would pair really well with a book I recommended last month, Make Your Art No Matter What by Beth Pickens, especially this quote: “[Artists] often internalize poisonous myths saturating the culture, such as: If you work a day job, you’re a lesser artist; if your art were good enough, you would've made it your full-time job; your creative practice is just a hobby; you should make or will never make money from your art. The reality is, whether your creative work has earned you a dime, it's an essential fact of your existence. And for most of us, earning a living is another essential fact.”
On doing what you love: Some commentators, such as New York Times writer Sheila Marikar, argue that these hybrid professional lives are pursued for creative rather than economic reasons. But my research shows that many slashies are not merely trying to escape the banality of their "day jobs"; rather, they are trying to earn incomes from their so-called passion projects in the midst of a labor market that is rife with uncertainty.
On the hope and promise of making money: Aspirational labor is a mode of (mostly) uncompensated, independent work that is propelled by the much-venerated ideal of getting paid to do what you love. As both a practice and a worker ideology, aspirational labor shifts content creators' focus from the present to the future, dangling the prospect of a career where labor and leisure coexist.
On branding: In stark contrast to the perspective that these contest participants were cultural dupes, unaware that their unpaid labor was being extracted for brand-building value, I found that most were keenly aware of their role in helping the Dove brand sustain its luster. More important to them, however, were the personal and professional benefits of the contest. Indeed, a number of the video creators participated in the promotion expressly to further their professional ambitions: they emphasized the potential to build their portfolios, add footage to their demo reels, and/or garner constructive criticism and feedback.
The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova
The Biggest Bluff explores author Maria Konnikova’s two years of learning poker, a journey she started after a spurt of bad luck. She ended up playing professionally and winning over $300,000 in big tournaments. This was a good read — it was fun living vicariously through her journey, and seeing how she applies these lessons to the rest of her life. I first read Konnikova’s The Confidence Game a few years ago, and mentioned it in the April 2018 Best of Books newsletter, and I liked this one even more. I originally recommended this in last July’s newsletter (wow!), so I figured it was worth signal boosting again.
Her mentor Erik Seidel, on measuring progress: Erik has been clear from the beginning: certain markers have to be met before I can move forward in my poker journey. If I’m to work with him, I can't skip steps.
Seidel, on learning how to lose: "When things go wrong, other people see it as unfairness that's always surrounding them," he tells me. They take it personally. They don’t know how to lose, how to learn from losing. They look for something or someone to blame. They don't step back to analyze their own decisions, their own play, where they may have gone wrong themselves. It's a really big handicap in life to think that way. All of us can step into that sometimes, but it’s important to know the difference. It’s like that great Kipling quote: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…’”
On an open mind: Earlier that year, he says, he was talking to one of the most successful high-stakes players currently on the circuit. That player was offering a very specific opinion on how a certain hand should be played. Erik listened quietly and then told him one phrase: "Less certainty. More inquiry.”
On noise: Most real-world environments are what Hogarth calls “wicked": there's a mismatch between action and feedback because of external noise.
On thought process: “We’ve talked about this," Erik says. "You have to have a clear thought process for every single hand. What do I know? What have I seen? How will that help me make an informed judgment about this hand?"
On perception: A good commander never cares what others are thinking. Perception matters only insofar as you're using it strategically to shape your image for future actions.
On fear: "The point is, you can't play based on how it will look. Not playing scared is not the same thing as being aggressive. It means not making decisions because you’re afraid. It’s not about being passive or aggro. You can be way too aggro and still scared. And being passive can be strong."
I skimmed through half of Gabriele Oettingen’s Rethinking Positive Thinking. It’s a great dive into mental contrasting, a new way of thinking about motivation. Long story short, in addition to wishing and setting a desired outcome, you need to imagine the obstacles and build a plan for solving them. Oettingen writes some great applications and walks the reader through specific techniques, which is where the real value is. It’s positioned as a mainstream book, but a lot of pages are dedicated to explaining experiments. Even though I’d recommend skipping the first half and the details of experiments, I felt like I got more than what I paid for. This book would definitely be worth checking out if you feel stuck or dissatisfied with your sense of motivation. For a sample, check out her WOOP method.
Also, I skimmed through the first half of K Allado-McDowell’s Pharmako-AI, which is one of the first books a human wrote with GPT-3. I thought the premise was interesting, but much of the book was too abstract for my very literal brain. Frankly it felt like reading George W.S. Trow’s Within the Context of No Context; I’ve read other people’s appreciation for it, but did not appreciate it myself. (I’ve also tinkered with GPT-3 before.)
This blog post I published about Kanye West’s new album launch gained a surprising amount of traction at Twitter. I also wrote about parasocial relationships, which I think have grown more prominent in more of our lives during the pandemic. I syndicated it at Medium’s OneZero publication, in case you want to read it there. I publish twice a week at my blog (Monday and Thursday 7am eastern), so there are plenty of other posts I wrote in July that you may like.
I’m working with a publisher on a revised edition of my book, with a new title, Creative Doing. The page just went live here. It still needs a cover. But, it’d be great to hear what you think of it! If you bought a copy of the original, entitled There Is No Right Way to Do This, I’m working with the publisher on a plan to get this one in your hands without an additional cost.
If you liked this newsletter, you can recommend it.
I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.
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