Last week, we wrote about the importance of looking within to answer the question, “What are you optimizing for?” In a delightful turn—and reason #2,573 why I love the internet—Medium featured a piece on its homepage this week, “We’re Optimizing Ourselves to Death” by Zander Nethercutt.
Here’s what I love about Nethercutt’s piece. When read alongside Neil postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (cartoon version by Stuart McMillen here), a new theory takes shape that neither George Orwell nor Aldous Huxley predicted. We don’t live in Orwell’s dystopia of banned books and thought crimes. And we don’t live in Huxley’s hedonopia (it’s not a word, but maybe it should be) where everybody is so addicted to Netflix and Fortnite that nobody bothers to work or participate in society.
When we get home from work in Nethercutt’s world, the real world, we’re all so exhausted it’s like we’re living with perpetually strained brains. So we turn our brains off by watching Netflix, and in this way, our world rhymes with Huxley’s. But where does the distinction between numbing ourselves with entertainment and putting our feet up after a hard day’s work lie?
Robert Greene, one of my favorite writers, did a podcast, “Alive Time vs. Dead Time” in which he spoke plainly when asked about his schedule. He writes for three to four hours a day, then his brain is tired, and he enjoys “mindless tv.” What I love about Greene here is that he doesn’t posture or virtue signal about the necessity of working ourselves to death. He works a relatively short day—does Good Work—and rests. While we’re all busy living in Nethercutt’s world, Greene’s found a different way to live.
I don’t know Greene, but I have a hunch that he’s proud of his work. In Huxley’s world, I imagine we wouldn’t be so proud of our work—entertainment would be less about rest and more about escape. Which leads me to two questions to end this week’s newsletter. First, are you proud of the work you do at the end of the day? Second, is the time you spend after work—whether it’s family, friends, Fortnite, whatever —worth the work? If the answers to both are yes, then you live in a world not of Orwell, Huxley, or Nethercutt.
The one thing the worlds of Orwell, Huxley, and Nethercutt have in common is that I don’t want to live in those worlds. I want to live in the fourth world.
Next week, we’ll talk about where to look within and share a few tools for figuring out who you are and what you want. Only when you’ve done that can you get down to business doing Good Work that’s either worth hanging your brain up for or Good Work so good it turns your brain on when you get home.