“Flow” Quotes

Here’s the parts of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that I found most interesting. As always, if you like the quotes, please buy the book here.

“Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.” (2)

“Ask yourself whether you are happy,” said J.S. Mill, “and you cease to be so.”” (2)

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a  voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” (3)

“Getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful. But in the long run optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery – or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life – that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine.” (4)

“I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (4)

“Everything we experience – joy or pain, interest or boredom – is represented in the mind as information. If we are able to control this information, we can decide what our lives will be like.” (6)

“The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy – or attention – is invested in realist goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives.” (6)

“I shall argue that the primary reason it is so difficult to achieve happiness centers on the fact that, contrary to the myths mankind has developed to reassure itself, the universe was not created to answer our needs. Frustration is deeply woven into the fabric of life. And whenever some of our needs are temporarily met, we immediately start wishing for more.” (7)

“With affluence and power come escalating expectations, and as our level of wealth and comforts keep increasing, the sense of well-being we hoped to achieve keeps receding into the distance.” (10)

“The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens, they forfeit their chance of contentment.” (10)

“Religions are only temporarily successful attempts to cope with the lack of meaning in life; they are not permanent answers.” (14)

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances. This challenge is both easier and more difficult than it sounds: easier because the ability to do so is entirely within each person’s hands; difficult because it requires discipline and perseverance that are relatively rare in any era, and perhaps especially in the present. And before all else, achieving control over experience requires a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.” (16)

“It is important to realize that seeking pleasure is a reflex response built into our genes for the preservation of the species, not for the purpose of our own personal advantage. The pleasure we take in eating is an efficient way to ensure that the body will get the nourishment it needs. The pleasure of sexual intercourse is an equally practical method for the genes to program the body to reproduce and thereby to ensure the continuity of the genes.” (17)

“At certain times in history cultures have taken it for granted that a person wasn’t fully human unless he or she learned to master thoughts and feelings… people were held responsible for keeping a tight rein on their emotions. Anyone who indulged in self-pity, who let instinct rather than reflection dictate actions, forfeited the right to be accepted as a member of the community. In other historical periods, such as the one in which we are now living, the ability to control oneself is not held in high esteem. People who attempt it are thought to be faintly ridiculous, uptight, or not quite “with it.”” (23)

“Consciousness has developed the ability to override its genetic instructions and to set its own independent course of action.” (24)

“The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as ti takes to achieve a goal, and not longer.” (31)

“The outside event appears in consciousness purely as information, without necessarily having a positive or negative value attached to it. It is the self that interprets that raw information in the context of its own interests, and determines whether it is harmful or not.” (38)

“There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.” (43)

“A researcher found that very wealthy persons report being happy on the average 77 percent of the time, while persons of average wealth say they are happy only 62 percent of the time.” (45)

“The authors report that a person’s financial situation is one of the least important factors affecting overall satisfaction with life.” (45)

“The phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements cause a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.” (49)

“The challenges of competition can be stimulating and enjoyable. But when beating the opponent takes precedence in the mind over performing as well as possible, enjoyment tends to disappear. Competition is enjoyable only when it is a means to perfect one’s skills; when it becomes an end in itself, it ceases to be fun.” (50)

“One of the most universal and distinctive features of optimal experience takes place: people become so involved in what they are doing that the activity becomes spontaneous, almost automatic; they stop being aware of themselves as separate from the actions they are performing.” (53)

“A rock climber explains how it feels when he is scaling a mountain: “You are so involved in what you are doing that you aren’t thinking of yourself as separate from the immediate activity.. You don’t’ see yourself as separate from what you are doing.” (53)

“Enjoyable activities require a complete focusing of attention on the task at hand – thus leaving no room in the mind for irrelevant information.” (58)

“All I can remember is the last thirty seconds, and all I can think ahead is the next five minutes.” (58)

“What people enjoy is not the sense of being in control, but the sense of exercising control in difficult situations. It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines.” (61)

“When a person becomes so dependent on the ability to control an enjoyable activity that he cannot pay attention to anything else, then he loses the ultimate control: the freedom to determine the content of consciousness. Thus enjoyable activities that produce flow have a potentially negative aspect: while they are capable of improving the quality of existence by creating order in the mind, they can become addictive, at which point the self becomes captive of a certain kind of order, and is then unwilling to cope with the ambiguities of life.” (62)

“Loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of self, and certainly not a loss of consciousness, but rather, only a loss of consciousness of the self. What slips below the threshold of awareness is the concept of self, the information we use to represent to ourselves who we are. And being able to forget temporarily who we are seems to be very enjoyable. When not preoccupied with our selves, we actually have a chance to expand the concept of who we are. Loss of self-consciousness can lead to self-transcendence, to a feeling that the boundaries of our being have been pushed forward.” (64)

“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually beings to be intrinsically rewarding.” (68)

“The elders [of an Indian tribe in British Columbia] said, at times the world became too predictable and the challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning. So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 to 30 years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsamroot would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy. Incidentally, it also allowed exploited resources in one area to recover after years of harvesting.” (80)

“Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience.” (81)

“One of the most ironic paradoxes of our time is this great availability of leisure that somehow fails to be translated into enjoyment. Compared to people living only a few generations ago, we have enormously greater opportunities to have a good time, yet there is no indication that we actually enjoy life more than our ancestors did.” (83)

“When the now extinct natives of the Caribbean islands were put to work in the plantations of the conquering Spaniards, their lives became so painful and meaningless that they lost interest in survival, and eventually ceased reproducing. It is probably that many cultures disappeared in a similar fashion, because they were no longer able to provide the experience of enjoyment.” (85)

“People who can enjoy themselves in a variety of situations have the ability to screen out stimulation and to focus only on what they decide is relevant for the moment.” (87)

“The family context promoting optimal experience could be described as having five characteristics. The first one is clarity: the teenagers feel that they know what their parents expect from them – goals and feedback in the family interaction are unambiguous. The second is centering, or the children’s perception that their parents are interested in what they are doing in the present, in their concrete feelings and experiences, rather than being preoccupied with whether they will be getting into ago do college or obtaining a well-paying job. Next is the issue of choice: children feel that they have a variety of possibilities from which to choose, including that of breaking parental rules – as long as they are prepared to face the consequences. The fourth differentiating characteristic is commitment, or the trust that allows the child to feel comfortable enough to set aside the shield of his defenses, and become unselfconsciously involved in whatever he is interested in. And finally there is challenge, or the parents’ dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities for action to their children.” (88)

“When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces. When every aspiration is frustrated, a person still must seek a meaningful goal around which to organize the self. Then, even though that person is objectively a slave, subjectively he is free.” (92)

“What we found was that when people were pursuing leisure activities that were expensive in terms of the outside resources required – activities that demanded expensive equipment, or electricity, or other forms of energy measured in BTUs, such as power boating, driving, or watching television – they were significantly less happy than when involved in inexpensive leisure. People were happiest when they were just talking to one another, when they gardened, knitted, or were involved in a hobby; all of these activities require few material resources, but they demand a relatively high investment of psychic energy.” (99)

“Peasant women in Eastern Europe were not judged to be ready for marriage unless they had learned to cook a different soup for each day of the year.” (114)

“Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment: it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations. Entropy is the normal state of consciousness – a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.” (119)

“It is a common fate of many human institutions to begin as a response to some universal problem until, after many generations, the problems peculiar to the institutions themselves will take precedence over the original goal.” (138)

“If a person feels coerced to read a certain book, to follow a given course because that is supposed to be the way to do it, learning will go against the grain. But if the decision is to take that same route because of an inner feeling of rightness, the learning will be relatively effortless and enjoyable.” (139)

“Early hunter-gatherers in Africa and Australia spent only three to five hours each day on what we would call working – providing for food, shelter, clothing, and tools. They spent the rest of the day in conversation, resting, or dancing.” (143)

“The mystical heights of the Yu are not attained by some superhuman quantum jump, but simply by the gradual focusing of attention on the opportunities for action in one’s environment, which results in a perfection of skills that with time becomes so thoroughly automatic as to seem spontaneous and otherworldly.” (151)

“The performances of a great violinist or a great mathematician seem equally uncanny, even though they can be explained by the incremental honing of challenges and skills.” (151)

“The more a job inherently resembles a game – with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback – the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.” (152)

“The apathy of many of the people around us is not due to their being physically or mentally exhausted. The problem seems to lie more in the modern worker’s relation to his job, with the way he perceives his goals in relation to it.” (160)

“Instead of helping us reach our own goals, it is called upon to make someone else’s come true. The time channeled into such at ask is perceived as time subtracted from the total available for our life. Many people consider their jobs as something they have to do, a burden imposed from the outside, an effort that takes life away from the ledger of their existence. So even though the momentary on-the-job experience may be positive, they tend to discount it, because it does not contribute to their own long-range goals.” (160)

“Whether a job has variety or not ultimately depends  more on a person’s approach to it than on actual working conditions.” (161)

“The quality of life depends on two factors: how we experience work, and our relations with other people.” (164)

“We also value privacy and often wish to be left alone. Yet it frequently turns out that as soon as we are, we begin to grow depressed.” (164)

“The worst moods are reported when one is alone and there is nothing that needs to be done.” (168)

“Worries about one’s love life, health, investments, family, and job are always hovering at the periphery of attention, waiting until there is nothing pressing that demands concentration. As soon as the mind is ready to relax, zap! The potential problems that were waiting in the wings take over.” (169)

“The frequency of murder is much higher among family members than among unrelated people.” (177)

“If a person is unwilling to adjust personal goals when starting a relationship, then a lot of what subsequently happens in that relationship will produce disorder in the person’s consciousness, because novel patterns of interaction will conflict with old patterns of expectation.” (177)
“Unconditional acceptance is especially important to children. If parents threaten to withdraw their love from a child when he fails to measure up, the child’s natural playfulness will be gradually replaced by chronic anxiety.” (184)

“Early emotional security may well be one of the conditions that helps develop an autotelic personality in children.” (184)

“Many men wake up to the fact that the family, like any other joint enterprise, needs constant investments of psychic energy to assure its existence.” (185)

“Individuals who survived severe physical ordeals-polar explorers wandering alone in the Arctic, concentration camp inmates-one common attitude shared by such people was the implicit belief that their destiny was in their hands.” (203)

“They are not self centered; their energy is typically not bent on dominating their environment as much as on finding a way to function within it harmoniously.” (203)

“People who know how to transform stress into enjoyable challenge spend very little time thinking about themselves. They are not expending all their energy trying to satisfy what they believe to be their needs, or worrying about socially conditioned desires. Instead their attention is alert, constantly processing information from their surroundings.” (204)

“Achieving this unity with one’s surroundings is not only an important component of enjoyable flow experiences but is also a central mechanism by which adversity is conquered.” (205)

“Transformations require that a person be prepared to perceive unexpected opportunities.” (207)

“If the artist holds on to a preconceived notion of what the painting should look like, without responding to the possibilities suggested by the forms developing before her, the painting is likely to be trite.” (208)

“The “autotelic self” is one that easily translates potential threats into enjoyable challenges, and therefore maintains its inner harmony.” (209)

“Without constant attention to feedback I would soon become detached from the system of action, cease to develop skills, and become less effective.” (210)

“Even the most highly respected physicist, artist, or politician becomes a hollow bore and cease to enjoy life if all he can interested himself in is his limited role in the universe.” (212)

“Being in control of the mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.” (213)

“If we enjoyed work and friendships, and faced every challenge as an opportunity to develop new skills, we would be getting rewards out of living that are outside the realm of ordinary life. Yet even this would not be enough to assure us of optimal experience. As long as enjoyment follows piecemeal from activities not linked to one another in a meaningful way, one is still vulnerable to the vagaries of chaos.” (214)

“Purpose, resolution, and harmony unify life and give it meaning by transforming it into a seamless flow experience.” (218)

“Authentic projects describe the theme of a person who realizes that choices are free, and makes a personal decision based on a rational evaluation of his experience. It does not matter what the choice is, as long as it is an expression of what the person genuinely feels and believes. Inauthentic projects are those a person chooses because everybody else is doing, and therefore there is no alternative. Authentic projects tend to be intrinsically motivated, chosen for what they are worth in themselves; inauthentic ones are motivated by external forces.” (231)

“To find purpose in suffering one must interpret it as a possible challenge.” (233)

“Antonio was so sickly as a child that for years his mother is said to have dressed him in his best clothes every evening and laid him out to sleep in a coffin, expecting him to be dead by morning.” (234)

If you liked the quotes, please buy the book.

“The Progress Paradox” Quotes

Here’s the quotes I found most interesting from The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook. If you like the quotes, please buy the book here.

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average American lifespan was forty-one years; now it is seventy-seven years.” (xiv)

“Unipolar depression, the condition in which a person simply always feels blue, is today ten times as prevalent as it was half a century ago.” (xvi)

“Perhaps, at some structural level, for every old problem solved, a new problem will always be created, meaning we should not expect a better life to improve happiness.” (xvii)

“It is a prediction that ever more millions will expect both pleasant living standards and a broad sense that their lives possess purpose.” (xix)

“Ultimately we should be glad society is creating the leisure and prosperity that allows people by the millions to feel depressed, for it’s better to be prosperous, free, and unhappy than other possibilities.” (xix)

“New psychological research suggests it is in your self interest to be forgiving, grateful, and optimistic – that these presumptively altruistic qualities are actually essential to personal well-being.” (xix)

“For at least a century, Western life has been dominated by a revolution of rising expectations: Each generation expected more than its antecedent. Now most Americans and Europeans already have what they need, in addition to considerable piles of stuff they don’t need.” (33)

“Americans and Western Europeans live in mainly favorable conditions, yet are experiencing a sense of letdown, as many no longer can dream that the years to come will bring them significantly more than they already possess.” (33)

“Since smoking suppresses the appetite, it is likely there is a relationship between the decline in cigarette use and the rise in overweight Americans.” (51)

“Having a child before age twenty is closely associated with ending up impoverished.” (54)

“Statistics show that in order to avoid becoming poor in the United States, you must do three things: graduate from high school, marry after the age of twenty, and marry before having your first child.” (54)

“According to the WHO, four times as many people globally died in traffic accidents than in any form of combat – 1.3 million traffic deaths versus 300,000 deaths from war. That car crashes currently pose a greater threat to the citizens of earth than combat is surely progress in the right direction.” (72)

“What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.” (77)

“For essentially all of human history until the last few generations, the typical person’s lot has been unceasing toil, meager living circumstances, uncertainty about food, rudimentary health care, limited education, little travel or entertainment; all followed by early death.” (82)

“Typically, regardless of how much money an American today earns, he or she estimates that twice as much is required to “live well.”” (84)

“The sense that new problems always arise to replace the old is one reason people are reluctant to believe life is getting better, and there is a certain logic to this position.” (85)

“The mobility of the private car has the paradoxical effect of lengthening how far people go rather than saving them time.” (90)

“The more television a person watches, the more likely he or she is to overestimate the prevalence of crime, or to believe that crime is rising even if it is actually in decline.” (112)

“As ever more material things become available and fail to make us happy, material abundance may even have the perverse effect of instilling unhappiness – because it will never be possible to have everything that economics can create.” (124)

“If you don’t have the things of the world you are unhappy, but having the things of the world may do no service to your well-being.” (125)

“The average American gave $953 to charity in 2002, versus $15 on average in Japan.” (131)

“Once focused on wants our thoughts can never be at peace, because wants can never be satisfied; not even a billionaire will ever have everything. Wants, by definition, are impossible to satisfy, thought you may placate them now and then. Seeking to placate the pang of want through acquisition can become like habituation to a drug – you need to keep buying more and more to get the same high, and the high wears off faster all the time.” (137)

“A person’s sense that he or she must have ever more possessions, because others expect him or her to have ever more possessions, can make Americans and Europeans feel discontent even as they become more materially comfortable.” (140)

“You would not want to live in a society where physicians and cab drivers earn the same – particularly, you would not want to get sick in such a society.” (153)

“Any free-market system inevitably will have unequal results because individuals have unequal talents, exert unequal effort, and experience unequal luck.” (154)

“Comedian Henry Youngman once quipped, “What good is happiness? It can’t buy money?” (161)

“Happy people commit fewer crimes, donate more to charity, perform more volunteer work, are more likely to aid strangers, and exhibit other traits of virtuous citizenship.” (166)

“Researches find a higher sense of well being among the old than the young. The minds of the young are full of all the things they want to achieve and have not, whereas most of the elderly have either achieved what they wanted or made peace with the fact that they never will,” Edward Diener explains.” (169)

“A person needs food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and transportation; once attained, these needs are fulfilled. Wants, by contrast, can never be satisfied. The more you want, the more likely you are to feel disgruntled; the more you acquire, the more likely you are to feel controlled by your own possessions.” (171)

“As incomes rise, people stop thinking, “Does my house meet my needs?” and instead, “Is my house nicer than the neighbor’s?” (173)

“A person with middling but rising income may be happier than a person with a high but stagnant income. A person with a small house who expects to move into a medium house may be happier than a person with a large house who knows it is the largest he will ever own.” (173)

“Parents and schools teach the concept of delayed gratification, of always looking ahead while keeping the nose to the grindstone. Many people learn this lesson so well that they can only look ahead, growing excessively concerned about future improvement.” (175)

““We are much better at preparing to live than at living,” the Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh has written.” (175)

“The human yearning for love and intimacy is part of our evolution – even that, chemically, the brain evolved a need for closeness as part of the stimuli that make it function correctly.” (178)

“Research has show that human beings are happiest around other people.” (179)

“Generally, psychological damage is thought to accumulate over a lifetime, growing more acute among the afflicted as they age. (181)

“if your life is centered in family, community, faith, or nation, and things aren’t going well for you, surely here will be some person or some part of an institution to whom you are connected for whom or where things are going well, or, at least, where the problems seem more important than yours. If, however, your life is centered on pure individualism and something goes poorly, there is no counterweight. You feel bad and nothing pulls no you in the other direction.” (182)

“Focus on raising self-esteem, which is supposed to make people feel good, results in them becoming depressed.” (183)

“Everyone has setbacks, or bad days, or simply periods of time when things are boring or crummy; don’t obsess because you’ll have better days.” (183)

“Depressed patients often blame their parents for their condition, but once recovered from depression, usually stop blaming parents and describe their former claims as a crutch.” (185)

“We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones,” pronounced Robert Wright.” (188)

“We are born with DNA coded for discontentment, because in our past, discontent was a survival strategy.” (189)

“In the year 1850, for example, the typical American was twice as likely to be the target of a lawsuit as the typical American today.” (191)

“Studies of rats show that, once they learn a fear, chemical pathways form in the brain that allow them to learn additional fears more quickly in the future. Essentially, stress and phobias can snowball, gathering up more of themselves and acquiring a momentum of their own.” (193)

“Today families are more time-stressed, but back then many parents felt it was inappropriate for children to dine with adults, and deliberately avoided family meals; the two factors roughly wash each other out.” (194)

“Those who watch television until lights out tend to have less deep sleep than those who engage in a quiet activity.” (197)

“In past generations, many social outcomes operated in similar fashion, beyond the average person’s control and, thus, no reflection upon him or her. Today freedom and choice in all things create a pressure that previously did not exist, and can make whatever does not work out in your life seem a reflection of you. This problem might be called “the choice penalty.”” (201)

“Positive psychology tells us we should be more grateful and more forgiving.” (227)

“That being forgiving is good for you, in addition to the person you forgive, is among the most compelling findings of positive psychology.” (229)

“Positive psychology finds that people who take a grateful attitude toward life, counting their blessings rather than inventorying their complaints, tend to be healthier, happier, and more successful than others.” (229)

“The willingness to forgive is essential to keeping a marriage together.” (231)

“As a group, senior citizens, not the attractive and energetic young, have the highest sense of well-being.” (235)

“If you’re fully aware of your disappointments but at the same time thankful for the good that has happened and for your chance to live, you may show higher indices of well-being.” (240)

“Forgiveness, gratitude, conviviality, and related mental states are active conditions that require effort to achieve. You can have these worldviews, but you’ve got to work at it. By contrast, nothing is easier to attain than a bitter outlook on life.” (244)

“There are people who would feel ill at ease, even angry, if the recriminations they nurse magically disappeared.” (245)

“Commentators have for centuries been supposing that the end of materialism was just around the corner, and all such forecasts have been wrong.” (247)

“That the global population is growing not because of more births, but because of fewer deaths, demonstrates how rapidly medical care has improved in the developing world.” (286)

“That Islam was once on top and now is not – that Islamic fortunes have declined so much that Western troops build airbases and barracks on Holy Land soil and Muslims lack the strength or will to order them to depart – constitutes “the roots of Muslim rage,” according to Bernard Lewis.” (297)

“All superpowers of the past have grown complacent and eventually lost ground.” (298)

““Jihad,” in Koranic usage and in most Islamic theology, means a person’s individual struggle to find the path toward God in a sinful world.” (300)

If you liked the quotes, please buy the book.

“Sonic Boom” Quotes

Here’s the quotes I found most interesting from Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed by Gregg Easterbrook. As always, if you like the quotes, please buy the book.

“Here’s the catch: just as favorable economic and social trends are likely to resume, many problems that have characterized recent  decades are likely to get worse, too. Job instability, economic insecurity, a sense of turmoil, the unfocused fear that even when things seem good a hammer is about to fall – these also are part of the larger trend, and no rising tide will wash them away.” (xii)

“Get used to a ceaseless, low-grade sense of economic emergency, even if all goods and services are in ample supply.” (xiii)

“China was breaking ground for the most expensive public-works project in world history – a $62 billion system of aqueducts to supply the populous part of the nation with fresh water for drinking and agriculture. Once completed, that system could be rendered worthless in mere minutes by precision-guided U.S. conventional weapons. That Beijing is investing such a huge amount in structure vulnerable to rapid destruction from the air shows that the government of China believes it will never go to war with the United states.” (9)

“It’s not just that lots of techno-stuff is being developed: the stuff is becoming practical and reliable faster, and falling in price faster. That means average people benefit faster – but also that accustomed ways of doing things, and of running the economy, are disordered faster.” (18)

“For the next half-century or so, until the human population stabilizes, running out of ideas will be a greater danger than running out of petroleum.” (22)

“Trying to dictate the outcomes of economic change is like trying to dictate the outcomes of biological evolution – tampering with one influence will change all others in so many unpredictable ways that the effort will just never work.” (34)

“Until such time as there may be post scarcity economics, economic change will bring an endless tumult of improved living standards wrapped with ribbons of stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction. Even in the boom years – and a lot of boom years are coming – we’re going to feel unhappy about the economy. We’ll feel unhappy because nothing will seem permanent. And nothing will be.” (34)

“The most basic reason job insecurity keeps rising is “churn” – the modern economy creates plenty of jobs but also destroys many, leaving everyone constantly uncertain.” (43)

“Like autoworkers, many in the media think, “if only change would stop, then we’d be fine. Change is not likely to stop, and probably cannot be stopped.” (44)

“Ideas – business innovations, inventions, movies – are rising in value compared to labor and resources, while ideas are becoming easier to produce for sale than was once the case, since it costs a lot less to manufacture an idea expressed as better software than an idea expressed as a better refrigerator. As ideas become worth more than resources or labor, pay premiums will rise for people who have marketable ideas. That is all but certain to mean excessive wealth at the top.” (49)

“Does it seem as though no matter how much you know and learn, you’ll never really be on top things? Guess what – you won’t.” (65)

“If you did nothing all day long except try to understand what was happening in the world economy, by the time you figured it out, things would have changed so much that your knowledge would no longer be valid. There’s a reason economists spend far more time studying the past than analyzing the present!” (65)

“At every moment, something happens somewhere; we check obsessively, looking for some larger trend of good or bad, but in most news there is no larger trend.” (66)

“Historically, innovation has produced recoveries, while protectionism has only ensured an industry’s doom.” (75)

“A dollar spent on research and innovation today may become a hundred dollars later, while a dollar cut from costs today will never be more than a dollar.” (82)

““To succeed in the globalized era, you can be the lowest-cost producer for an established product or you can have a fundamentally new innovation that disrupts the marketplace,” says Harry Rein, who once ran the venture division of General Electric. “How many American companies are going to be the lowest-cost producer? A few, but not many. That means disruptive innovation will be essential to future U.S. economic growth. And you’d better have a steady supply of disruptive ideas, because even many good ones won’t last long.” (115)

“IBM had one of the most important, most successful and most disruptive ideas in business history, the PC, and the idea lasted twenty-four years, until the company sold off the remains of that business. IBM disrupted a market, only to be counterattacked by more disruption.” (115)

“Generally, venture capitalists are fearful of the very first product in a new field, as the first often paves the way while the second or third makes the money.” (116)

““To me, the word pioneer sounds like the word poison,” says Michael Moritz of Sequoia.” (116)

““Investing in start-ups is like buying lottery tickets, and praising venture capitalists as business geniuses is like saying a lottery winner was a genius at selecting tickets,” says Jay Watkins, a California venture capitalist.” (117)

“Google, eBay, Webvan, Kozmo – they were all lottery tickets. The sense of accelerating disruptive change – that economic ideas can quickly become a big success and just as quickly a huge flop – is likely to get worse during the Sonic Boom, making economic decisions seem more like wagering and less like rational planning.” (118)

“Free-flowing information makes it easier for other businesses to find out what is being done successfully, and to imitate that success.” (128)

“Because valuable business ideas tend to originate in developed nations then be copied in developing nations, the increasing speed and ease of commoditization will tend to make American and European growth and employment even more turbulent – while broadly benefiting everyone, by driving down prices.” (128)

“A novel twist on an existing concept is the most common form of innovation.” (133)

“If the product is free, then it is impossible to undercut the price.” (133)

“Qingdao Refrigerator Collective, a classical old-Communist enterprise accomplished the trifecta of old Chinese economics: it had a monopoly, treated workers terribly and still managed to lose money.” (150)

“In practically all aspects of free economics, no one is in charge. That reality is central to understanding both why the global economy is getting so much more productive, and why the global economy is causing so much more anxiety.” (152)

“Slavoj Zizek, a Marxist philosopher from Ljubljana, recently noted, “Capitalism is the sole social organizing structure in world history hat is rendered stronger by its own instability. This is part of the genius of capitalism. Instability does not cause it to collapse.” (152)

“Experts in economics often seem to have so little to say about where the economy is headed – in contrast to, say, medicine, aeronautics or physics, where most specialists could present a reasonably accurate forecast of what’s likely to happen in the next decade or two.” (163)

“Since the mid 1970s, small business and start-up firms have created more net U.S. jobs than big business.” (164)

“Not too long ago, if you asked yourself, “Where is the economy?” you could answer, “There, at that factory.” That answer doesn’t apply today, and wont’ ever apply again. Not too long ago, if you asked yourself, “Where is the competition?” you could answer, “A hundred miles away, at that other factory.” That answer also doesn’t apply today, and won’t ever apply again.” (195)

“In every case, after the turmoil was over, people considered the new condition superior to the previous one – and then hoped to stop any further change.” (196)

“People have always extolled the past and feared the future. In nearly every case, the future has turned out the better place to be.” (196)

“Rather than finding a job, more and more Americans and Europeans will be expected to create a job.” (196)

“As the global economy becomes more volatile, the future may hold as much fear of falling down the economic ladder as promise of climbing up.” (198)

“Most things will get better for most people – but unless you live in a poor nation, don’t expect that to make you any happier.” (199)

“Nonspecific mild unease about life in general may be much of society’s fate for decades to come, if not indefinitely.” (200)

“The global Sonic Boom now beginning will cause the kind of clamor associated with actual sonic booms. Relatively small changes throughout the world will result in window-shaking that seems all out of proportion, just as with actual sonic booms. You won’t be able to yell at the pilot, because the Sonic Boom has no pilot. You won’t be able to complain about navigation, because no one has the slightest idea what destination the international economy is moving toward.
No matter how crazy and chaotic events become, probably things will turn out fine; probably with each passing year the world will, on balance, be a better place than at any point in the past. Whatever comes next, bear in mind the high-tech economic muddle of a Sonic Boom world is a thousand times preferable to military conflict, isolationism or authoritarianism. A chaotic, raucous, unpredictable, stress-inducing, free, prosperous, well-informed and smart future is coming. Just remember to cover your ears.” (210)

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“Trust Me, I’m Lying” Quotes

Here’s the quotes I found most interesting from “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” by Ryan Holiday. As always, if you find these quotes interesting, please buy the book.

“Not only is the web susceptible to spreading false information, but it can also be the source of it.” (27)

“Every decision a publisher makes is ruled by one dictum: traffic by any means.” (33)

“Established media doesn’t have this problem. They aren’t anxious for name recognition, because they already have it. Instead of bending the rules (and the truth) to get it, their main concern for their business model is to protect their reputations. This is a critical difference. Media was once about protecting a name; on the web it is about building one.” (35)

“Each blog is its own mini-Ponzi scheme, for which traffic growth is more important than solid financials, brand recognition more important than trust, and scale more important than business sense. Blogs are built so someone else will want it – one stupid buyer cashing out the previous ones – and millions of dollars are exchanged for essentially worthless assets.” (37)

“Influence is ultimately the goal of most blogs and blog publishers, because that influence can be sold to a larger media company.” (38)

“If something is a total bummer, people don’t share it.” (62)

“The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger.” (63)

“Regardless of the topic, the more an article makes someone feel good or bad, the more likely ti is to make the Most E-Mailed list. No marketer is ever going to push something with the stink of reasonableness, complexity, or mixed emotions.” (64)

“Rob Walker wrote for The Atlantic that a core principle of our new viral culture: “Humiliation should not be suppressed. It should be monetized.” Instead of being ashamed of this crappy television journalism, CNBC was able to make extra money from the millions of views it generated.” (67)

“Brian Moylan, a Gawker writer, once bragged, the key is to “get the whole story into the headline but leave out just enough that people will want to click.” (70)

“Adolph Ochs, like most great businessmen, understood that doing things differently was the way to great wealth.” (80)

“Outside of the subscription model, headlines are not intended to represent the contents of articles but to sell them – to win the fight for attention against an infinite number of other blogs or papers.” (92)

“Each headline competes with every other headline. ON a blog, every page is the front page.” (92)

“They aren’t going to write about you, your clients, or your story unless it can be turned into a headline that will drive traffic.” (93)

“Blogs are so afraid of silence that the flimsiest of evidence can confirm they’re on the right track. You can provide this by leaving fake comments to articles about you or your company from blocked IP addresses – good and bad to make it clear that there is a hot debate. Send fake emails to the reporter, positive and negative. This rare kind of feedback cements the impression that you or your company make for high-valence material, and the blog should be covering you.” (102)

“Small, short paragraphs (one to two sentences versus three to five) seem to encourage slightly higher reading rates, as does a bolded introduction or subheadline.” (110)

“You can give the same made-up exclusive to multiple blogs, and they’ll all fall over themselves to publish first. Throw in an arbitrary deadline, like “we’re going live with this on our website first thing in the morning,” and even the biggest blogs will forget fact-checking and make bold pronouncements on your behalf.” (115)

“The media doesn’t mind being played, because they get something out of it – namely pageviews, ratings, and readers.” (136)

“America spends more than fifty billion minutes a day on Facebook.” (141)

“Psychologists call this “narcotizing dysfunction,” when people come to mistake the busyness of the media with real knowledge, and confuse spending time consuming that with doing something.” (144)

“This is the exact reaction that web content is designed to produce. To keep you so cuaght up and consumed with the bubble that you don’t even realize you’re in one.” (144)

“May becomes is becomes has, I tell my clients. That is, on the first site the fact that someone “may” be doing something becomes the fact that they “are” doing something by the time it has made the rounds. The next time they mention your name, they look back and add the past tense to their last assertion, whether or not it actually happened.” (154)

“Being right is more important to the person being written about than the person writing. So who do you think blinks first?” (161)

“To not be petrified of a shakedown, a malicious lie, or an unscrupulous rival planting stories is to be unimportant. You only have nothing to fear if you’re a nobody. And even then, well, who knows?” (164)

“The pressure to “get something up” is inherently at odds with the desire to “get things right.”” (168)

“We no longer discuss if rumors are true, only that they are being talked about right now.” (170)

“The reality is that while the Internet allows content to be written iteratively, the audience does not read or consume it iteratively. Each member usually sees what he or she sees a single time – a snapshot of the process and makes his or her conclusions from that.” (183)

“The more extreme a headline, the longer participants spend processing it, and the more likely they are to believe it. The more times an unbelievable claim is seen, the more likely they are to believe it.” (185)

“The media and the public are supposed to be on the same side. The media, when it’s functioning properly, protects the public against marketers and their ceaseless attempts to trick people into buying things. I’ve come to realize that is not how it is today. Marketers and the media – me and the bloggers – we’re on the same team, and way too often you are played into watching with rapt attention as we deceive you. And you don’t even know that’s going on because the content you get has been dressed up and fed to you as news.” (194)

“Snark is profitable and easy for blogs. It’s the perfect device for people with nothing to say but who have to talk (blog) for a living.” (197)

“The proper response to fakeness is not to ineffectually lob rocks at palace windows but to coherently and ceaselessly articulate the problems with the dominant institutions. To stand for and not simply against. But blogger of this generation, of my generation, are not those types of people. They are not leaders. They lack the strength and energy to do anything about “the age of doublespeak and idiocy.” All that is left is derision.” (201)

“The people who thrive under snark are exactly those who we wish would go away, and the people we value most at cultural contributors lurk in the back of the room, hoping not to get noticed and hurt. Everything in-between may as well not exist. Snark encourages the fakeness and stupidity it is supposedly trying to rail against.” (205)

“The online media cycle is not a process for developing truth but for performing a kind of cultural catharsis. Blogs served the hidden function of dispensing public punishments.” (208)

“The news funnel:
All that happens -> All that’s known by the media -> all that is newsworthy -> all that is published as news -> all that spreads.

In other words, the media is a mechanism for systematically limiting the information seen by the public.” (218)

“We live in a media world that desperately needs context and authority but can’t find any because we destroyed the old markers and haven’t created reliable new ones. As a result, we couch new things in old terms that are really just husks of what they once were. Skepticism will never be enough to combat this. Not even enough to be a starting point.” (227)

“The central question for the Internet is not, Is this entertaining? but, Will this get attention? Will it spread?” (231)

“When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question: What do I plan to do with this information? Most readers have abandoned even pretending to consider this. I imagine it’s because they’re afraid of the answer: There isn’t a thing we can do with it. There is no practical purpose in our lives for most of what blogs produce other than distraction.” (234)

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