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Hello again lovely friends. I hope your week is going well. I returned from Japan to London via Korea; another remarkable place to which I hope someday to return. I am in equal measure annoyed I'd not made these visits sooner, and grateful to do them in the smartphone era.

Although the technology has many blindspots, it does the basics—like surviving other country's public transport systems—brilliantly. Give it another five years and it'll be excellent at edge-cases too, like, for example: catering for more than one dietary requirement or (true story) finding where to buy crutches in Seoul on a Sunday.
Lights of Shinjuku. Can't see 'em? Click to view in browser
ATTENTION: The busiest wards of central Tokyo, around Shinjuku and Shibuya, are a sensory assault. Seemingly every vertical surface is given over to a neon sign, backlit advertisement or giant screen and public address system. It's as if the Japanese reacted to Times Square or Piccadilly Circus by trying to create something even harder to ignore.

Unintentionally, though, the sheer scale and racket of it appears to have the opposite effect. The effect is overwhelming; desensitising; impossible to process. The same messages, arranged sequentially rather than in clamour, might just be digestible. Instead, they drown each other out, like multiple conversations in a crowded place.

I'm left pondering the peculiar tug-of-war this onslaught creates. At one end, brands vie for moments of our attention. At the other, we wrestle with our own attention so that we might achieve focus, and thereby some sense of accomplishment.

Information of any kind used to be quite sparse, whereas today information abounds. But our capacity for absorbing and processing this information is about the same as ever. This imbalance underpins the attention economy: the scarcity of our attention relative to the abundance of information makes it a resource of value in its own right.

This reminds me of Nir Eyal's first book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which proposes his four-part hook model of trigger, action, reward and investment to turn behaviours into habits. Many online brands, apps and so forth have come to adopt this thinking as their playbook of tactics.

With his second book, Eyal then appears to turn from hunter to gamekeeper. Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life proposes skills and tools to allow us to fight distraction and procrastination, commanding our attention judiciously and productively. Eyal spoke about this last week at the RSA. 🕵️
🧓 Japan's secret to living a longer life is gaining worldwide attention: iki means 'to live' and gai means 'reason', therefore ikigai is your reason to live. This ideology dates to the Heian period,but only in the past decade has it gained attention from millions around the world.

🖕 Consumers Are Becoming Wise to Your Nudge: a world saturated with behavioural interventions no longer resembles the one in which those interventions were first studied.

🎸 40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time: Rolling Stone celebrates punk-rock's moody younger sibling.

😔 The value of shame: Immanuel Kant's hydraulic model of moral education suggests that shame squashes down our vices, making space for virtue to rise up.

📝 Want Stronger Friendships? Pull Out Your Notepad: high-value friendships that don't run on autopilot need a dash of organisation.

🔥 What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? Jonathan Franzen argues that the climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.
Time isn't money: Anyone who has to fill in timesheets for their job will know how unfulfilling it is to track elapsed time as a unit of work. How long something took to do is not always a useful measure of the scale of the challenge we overcame. Rather, to work is to sell our own capacity for attention.

Many people are keen to increase their productivity by finding ways to make better use of the finite time we have. But there's a good argument to suggest that time management isn't the key to productivity; in fact it may be detrimental. Rather, managing our attention encourages us to focus on things that matter, negating how long any particular task takes.

There's a lot of bad science and urban myth around our capacity for attention; some of which is so culturally entrenched that we probably have all accepted some myths as scientifically-factual observations. So, in the spirit of understanding attention better, over the last couple of years I've become interested in the application of meditation practice to focus attention.

Many forms of meditation seek to develop a capability for paying attention: rather than trying to 'block out' the world around us, meditative practice often seeks the means to embrace it. By noticing how our mind wanders, we can learn to return our attention to the present. I wonder if this offers us a means to tackle the imbalance of information availability versus capacity. 🧘
Finally: Inc takes on Annoying Buzzwords You Use Without Thinking by offering plain-English alternatives. 🐝

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