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💥Thought Shrapnel newsletter #445
Notification literacy, handwriting, and meetings.
Note: for eagle-eyed subscribers, just in case you’re curious, it turns out I sent out two issues with the number #443 so I’ve renamed them (and this one)!
Hope you’re well. Did you know about Substack Notes? Well now you do. It’s like a social network for people who like reading and writing, which is pretty awesome. To use it, it might be worth getting the Substack app.
Let’s have a poll, just for fun, as I’m curious what social networks people are using these days. I’m limited to providing five options for you to choose from, so feel free to say in the comments if you’re spending most of your time elsewhere. (Also, check out this post if you’re unsure about the subtle differences between social networks, chat apps, and forums.)
Situation report: I’m composing this on my laptop while charging my car. My town almost got flooded (again) on Friday, and while my wife and I were on a bit of a ‘disaster walk’ I noticed some new EV chargers. Turns out they’re current free, which is pretty awesome.
At the time of writing this week’s Weeknote remains within my brain rather than on the internet. However, you might be interested in posts I published on my personal blog about preparing for my MSc and discovering some family history.
💥 Best of Thought Shrapnel
You’ll be unsurprised to hear that I published… yep, 16 posts on Thought Shrapnel this week. Of those, here are three which are most deserving of your eyeballs.
Back on my now-defunct literaci.es blog I had a post about notification literacy. My point was that instead of starting from the default position of having all notifications turned on, you might want to start from a default of having them all turned off.
On my Android phone running GrapheneOS, I use the Before Launcher. This not only has a minimalist homescreen, but has a configurable filter for ‘trivial notifications’. It allows me not to have to go ‘monk mode‘ to be able to get things done.
And so to this blog post, which seems to see going outside your house for a walk without your phone as some kind of revolutionary act. I think the author considers this an act of willpower. You will never win a war against a system which is designed to destroy your attention through sheer willpower. You have to modify the system instead.
I’ve been experimenting with ways to be more disconnected from technology for a long time, from disabling notifications to using a dumbphone. However, a challenging exercise still hard to do is to go for a walk without my phone.
It’s just a device, you might say. Oh no, it’s much more than that. It’s a chain you carry 24/7 connected to the rest of the world, and anyone can pull from the other side. People you care about, sure, but also a random algorithm that thinks you might be hungry, sending you a food delivery offer so you don’t cook today.
I write by hand every day, but not much. While I used to keep a diary in which I’d write several pages, I now keep one that encourages a tweet-sized reflection on the past 24 hours. Other than that, it’s mostly touch-typing on my laptop or desktop computer.
Next month, I’ll start studying for my MSc and the university have already shipped me the books that form a core part of my study. I’ll be underlining and taking notes on them, which is interesting because I usually highlight things on my ereader.
This article in The Economist is primarily about note-taking and the use of handwriting. I think it’s probably beyond doubt that for deeper learning and recall this is more effective. But perhaps for the work I do, which is more synthesis of multiple sources, I find digital more practical.
A line of research shows the benefits of an “innovation” that predates computers: handwriting. Studies have found that writing on paper can improve everything from recalling a random series of words to imparting a better conceptual grasp of complicated ideas.
For learning material by rote, from the shapes of letters to the quirks of English spelling, the benefits of using a pen or pencil lie in how the motor and sensory memory of putting words on paper reinforces that material. The arrangement of squiggles on a page feeds into visual memory: people might remember a word they wrote down in French class as being at the bottom-left on a page, par exemple.
One of the best-demonstrated advantages of writing by hand seems to be in superior note-taking. In a study from 2014 by Pam Mueller and Danny Oppenheimer, students typing wrote down almost twice as many words and more passages verbatim from lectures, suggesting they were not understanding so much as rapidly copying the material.
Many studies have confirmed handwriting’s benefits, and policymakers have taken note. Though America’s “Common Core” curriculum from 2010 does not require handwriting instruction past first grade (roughly age six), about half the states since then have mandated more teaching of it, thanks to campaigning by researchers and handwriting supporters. In Sweden there is a push for more handwriting and printed books and fewer devices. England’s national curriculum already prescribes teaching the rudiments of cursive by age seven.
Doing your job well does not entail attending more meetings
There’s a lot of swearing in this blog post, but then that’s what makes it both amusing and bang on the money. As ever, there’s a difference between ‘agile’ as in “working with agility” and ‘Agile’ which seems to mean a series of expensive workshops and a semi-dysfunctional organisation.
Just as I captured Jay’s observation that a reward is not more email, so doing your job well does not entail attending more meetings.
Which absolute fucking maniac in this room decided that the most sensible thing to do in a culture where everyone has way too many meetings was schedule recurring meetings every day? Don’t look away. Do you have no idea how terrible the average person is at running a meeting? Do you? How hard is it to just let people know what they should do and then let them do it. Do you really think that, if you hired someone incompetent enough that this isn’t an option, that they will ever be able to handle something as complicated as software engineering?
No one else finds this meeting useful. Let me repeat that again. No one else finds this meeting useful. We’re either going to do the work or we aren’t going to do the work, and in either case, I am going to pile-drive you from the top rope if you keep scheduling these.
If your backlog is getting bigger, then work is going into it faster than it is going out. Why is that happening? Fuck if I know, but it is probably totally unrelated to not doing Agile well enough.
High Output Management was the most highly-recommended management book I could find that wasn’t an outright textbook. Do you know what it says at the beginning? Probably not, because the kind of person that I am forced to choke out over their love of Agile typically can’t read anything that isn’t on LinkedIn. It says work must go out faster than it goes in, and all of these meetings obviously don’t do either of those things.
The three best managers I’ve ever worked for, with the most productive teams (at large organizations, so don’t even start on the excuses about scale) just let the team work and were there if I needed advice or a discussion, and they afforded me the quiet dignity of not hiring clowns to work alongside me.
✍️ The rest of Thought Shrapnel
📚 Currently reading
The Running Grave by Robert Galbraith
I’ve pretty much given up on The Mushroom at the End of the World, brilliant though it is. At the moment, I’m finding it difficult to fit in regular non-fiction reading over and above my reading for work, Thought Shrapnel, and my MSc. Oh, and moving house (so sorry if anything happens to next week’s edition!)
Until next week!
Thought Shrapnel Weekly is published by Dr. Doug Belshaw. You can connect with him by replying to this email, or via LinkedIn or the Fediverse. He’s available to hire to untangle your organisational spaghetti through WAO or Dynamic Skillset.
Many thanks to Bryan Mathers of Visual Thinkery for the Thought Shrapnel logo.
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