A brief plug for a brief book:

Pico Iyer is one of my favorite essayists on travel and so I was delighted to see him release ‘The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere’.

Despite what the title might lead you to believe, it’s not an anti-travel tract as much as a pitch for how inner-travel can restore value and balance to your life.

Tell me if this description of modern life rings a bell for you, too:

With machines coming to seem part of our nervous systems, while increasing their speed every season, we’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off—our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk

Iyer later goes on to to explain his inverted reframing of that modern dilemma:

In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

It is fitting that ‘The Art of Stillness’ is more about the reader taking a journey with Iyer rather than his attempt to reach any particular ideological destination.

I enjoyed the trip and think you might as well.

The one thing technology doesn’t provide us with is a sense of how to make the best use of technology.
Pico Iyer
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

Gabe Weatherhead’s Macdrifter just published a short piece called The Annual Internet Service Value Test. In it, Gabe lists his yearly costs of using various internet services like Dropbox and Evernote and then goes through each, line by line, to decide whether or not that service is still of value to him.

Clearly, having a regular accountability process like this is helpful to rein in expenses (especially now that an increasing number of companies are essentially renting us their products instead of selling them 1 ). Subscriptions are a business model which seem to be growing in popularity and one which encourages us to put more of our spending on autopilot, potentially creating a large outlay of unnecessary recurring purchases which we’ve accrued in small, almost imperceptible increments. I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon so, as a sort of financial self-defense practice, I think Gabe’s advice is an especially good idea.

Here’s another: Do the same thing for how you spend your time.

Both time and money are important and finding the right balance between the two can be challenging. For me, at least, it’s always been much easier to change the ways I spend my money than my time and, by extension, easier to commit to projects or “social obligations” than to withdraw from them.

So for each, you might try asking yourself “What is the value in this?” or “Is this duplicating something I’m already getting somewhere else?”. If the answer isn’t clear to you–or if it leaves you feeling a bit phony when you hear yourself justify the expense–perhaps it’s time to hit the “CANCEL” button and get that time back for something more beneficial.

  1. J’accuse, Microsoft and Adobe… []
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I wrote this piece for The Atlantic about Abbey Road Studios and what lessons from its history might still be useful to creative people today.

I’ll reprint the full version here soon but, until then, check it out at the link above.

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If you haven’t read Zadie Smith’s recent essay for the New York Review of Books, ‘Find Your Beach’, I think you should give it a look:

In it, Smith captures the lonely, Janus-like nature of the American self-creation myth – and that it’s often both false and effective. She focuses in particular upon the hyper-distilled version found in daily Manhattan life:

Here the focus is narrow, almost obsessive. Everything that is not absolutely necessary to your happiness has been removed from the visual horizon. The dream is not only of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it is conceived as a peculiar form of duty.

As a former New Yorker, so much of this essay feels real and spot-on to me… and it has an additional virtue: It’s funny.

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