This teenage airhead in adult form wants to talk about her stepson’s generation’s devaluation of marriage with the earnestness of I’ve-just-got-to-say-something. Is there any consideration that perhaps she, a divorcee remarried to another divorcee, might not be the ideal candidate to hold court on such matters? Of course not. Remember, this is Regina George grown up. Did she at least have any theories, theories that surely cast herself as the bearer of wisdom the younger generation should hungrily consume? Actually, no. I spent the first six minutes of the conversation absorbing her punchline-free prattling, responding with, “Yea, but why don’t they value marriage?” and getting, “They just don’t” in return.

Growing tired of the dance and confident (always) that I could make this conversation more enjoyable for both parties, I began postulating answers to my question. Theses like the decline of religion and the rise of women were similarly met with shrugs. Opportunity cost, however, was received with the excitement of a child realizing his father’s guiding hand was no longer on the back of the bike. It was then I realized that her confusion about her stepson’s generation was not faux at all: she really didn’t know why they were the way they were, she really did want to know, and my premise that marriage has never been more costly allowed her a breakthrough that for so long had been out of her grasp.

It’s 1937. You grow up in a small Nebraskan town. You will die in a small Nebraskan town. The choices you’ll make in the intervening years will be necessarily limited by lack of options, irrespective of prosperity. You can be alone and bored as a bachelor or get married and be less alone and less bored. Even if you weren’t toiling on Maslov’s lower rungs (as our fictional Nebraskan is), you live in a society with fewer ways to express freedom – weekend jaunts to visit friends on the East Coast aren’t on the table because (a) you don’t have friends on the East Coast, and (b) there isn’t an airport infrastructure to accommodate this type of travel. Obviously, you get married.


How often does it occur that information provided you on the morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? … But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.

Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action-value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became the context for news. Everything became everyone’s business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right to reply.

We may say then that the contribution of the telgraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence. But this was not all: Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention. The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it.

The telegraph is suited only to flashing messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.

The telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headline – sensational, fragmented, impersonal. News took the form of slogans, to be noted with excitement, to be forgotten with dispatch. Its language was also entirely discontinuous. One message had no connection to that which preceded or followed it.

But what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience.


of boredom, of quiet: don’t ever check your phone on an elevator.

Breaking the Law

Being able to do the right thing is the ultimate privilege. Or so Clinton told himself whenever the guilt was most acute. His peers didn’t have his problems, couldn’t even imagine his problems, and would never suspect Clinton of being anything other than the well-bred, blue-eyed law school student he so adroitly played. He was those things – handsome and, indeed, a second-year at University of Chicago – but the debts were too much for Clinton to ever remain any narrow set of things. His classmates, with their optimism and just figure it out attitudes, couldn’t grasp that certain mistakes can’t be undone. And that if you corner yourself as tightly as Clinton had, you can only pick from bad options.

That’s what Clinton was currently doing with his latest scheme that would surely fail. It was only a question of when. Because if you can ride a scheme for long enough, the bust is survivable. You move on. You become a different set of things.

Your father is a great American success story. Your mother perhaps even more so. Though you, the member of the next generation that you are, a generation that’s so exhaustingly hyper-aware, might quip back that their success is the product of some form of oppression and privilege and that, in fact, they would be more successful living more fulfilling lives if they were not in America but in some Scandinavian country. I’ll freely concede all of these points since you’re, what, a few weeks old, and I will not debase myself by arguing with a baby.

But in my concession, I can’t help but point out that even in your “correctness” you still have a choice to focus on the quip in the first place; just because an observation is accurate doesn’t make it worthy of attention. Yes, it’s important to be living in reality, to not be deluded. Yes, positive change can start with proper identification of a suboptimal order. And sure, you get to feel smarter than everyone else by always pointing out what they overlook. Here you are a few weeks into existence getting to look down at me. Must be nice.


Do Cool Stuff

Somehow, someway I experience minimal material wanting or pressure. Oh sure, I’ll see a catchy advert and be momentarily tossed into a cycle of thinking how much better my life would be if I had, say, that freshest cell phone. But I’m good at catching myself and accepting that winning these mental battles is a necessary part of a modern existence bursting with advertising. It’s also bursting with nudges, big and small, conveying the message that my happiness is contingent on upping my neighbor purchase-wise. Again, I reject the proposal and experience zero jealousy as the girl-next-door piles up the latest and greatest.

But don’t see me as some moral hero totally divorced from the interpersonal competition; I’m simply competing on a different metric. I was in Milwaukee a few weeks ago at a nice dinner with some nice people. One of these people was regaling the crowd with tales of his adventures from three years in Shanghai. The more, more, more impulse flowed through me. He has done cooler stuff than me. I need to do some cooler stuff. Maybe I should move to Tokyo or Singapore.

I have very few goals in life. At the top of that short list is “Be Wise.” The high correlation coefficient (~.8) between age and wisdom can hide the fact that it’s experience, not time, “causing” wisdom. Thus, if one does not make wisdom-maximizing choices, he may well end up a sheltered 70-year-old bested by an unusually intrepid teenager.


generally do not.

No Lie No Movie

Something close to 100% of romantic comedies would be DOA without a protagonist telling a dumb lie. By dumb, I mean a lie that will clearly, obviously, certainly be revealed in time. A lie that people may bizarrely utter, but which they can quickly undo: Don’t know why I said that. Sorry. I am in a relationship. 

I can appreciate not revealing secrets under the belief that with more time together you’ll be insulated from the downside that’s present on date one – get a partner to the “sunk cost” phase for increased safety. But this doesn’t work with outright lies. Quite the opposite, actually. The more time that goes on, the more appalling the lie. So that whole year you were actually… is far more damning than So that whole week you were actually…

Stress and anxiety can be mighty tough opponents with no clear answers. That’s not the case in romantic comedy lies: as quickly as possible, tell the truth to both increase the chance of relationship success and of your own tranquility.


Congratulations! Not an easy thing to do. But if you are simply jumping from one “certain” view to another, I fear you haven’t learned the most important point: your certainty was clearly misguided before, not solely because the idea was wrong but because you are flawed and susceptible to a type of black/white thinking that places you and your ilk (you never truly have a unique thought) as wise carriers of truth in a world where such a thing doesn’t actually exist.

And yet you think you’ve done it again! Somehow admitting being so terribly wrong did so very little to deflate the confidence in your own thinking. Which, ok, I buy that your thinking can get better over time, that you are more likely to, say, fall for a sending-money-from-Africa-please-oh-please-help-me-out scam as a teen, but you didn’t fall for a scam or a dumb idea merely because you were young or naive or poorly read; no, you fell for it because there is something within you that craves knowing the “secret” truth, to having it all figured out, to being in on something big or cool or smart or whatever. Until you realize this and are actually humbled in way where you absorb some real complicity, you’ll bounce around always sure you are better than people who, deep down, aren’t thinking all that differently from you, despite wildly different conclusions. 



A Reason to Go Hard

If you want to rapidly increase wisdom, you must be willing to jump from one thing to something totally different. This only works, though, if you truly commit to the first thing before switching. For if the knowledge that you’ll never be anywhere for all that long leads to ambivalence, so many of the gains from doing a bunch of things is lost: you never, actually, did anything. Not all that well, at least.

There are benefits to long-term commitment, to being a “sticker.” A skilled “jumper” accepts this reality and attempts to close the gap by going so very hard while in any one thing. Instead of ambivalence, he realizes how fleeting it all is (by choice, sure), and doubles down efforts to suck as much value before it ends.

It’s much easier to live every day as if it’s your last if you know tomorrow will be totally different.