What luck we have. Not only were we born on the most marvelous planet in the observable universe—not to mention the only habitable one out of gazillions—but the one we inherited has seven distinct, magnificent continents.
Picking just one experience from each that best personifies the greater landmass is an impossible job, not to mention totally unfair. But life isn’t fair. Nor is this column. If you need someplace to start when attempting to bag all seven continents, make it one of these iconic and universally well-rated encounters. Continue reading…
Many of us spend the majority of our time indoors, breathing stale air, working under artificial light, and staring into glowing screens. While none of these things are toxic, at least in moderation, they can have a monotonous, if not negative, effect on both our performance and overall health, research shows.
What’s the antidote? More outdoors. Namely, spending more time walking in the woods, hiking in mountains, being near bodies of water, and simply just spending time in nature, under the sun, and breathing fresh air. Here’s the science behind the latest findings. Continue reading…
Even if you think you’re honest person, your integrity will forever be challenged, usually when you least expect it.
I recently learned this lesson after a client tried to overpay me by $20,000 on two separate occasions. The first time they simply wired the money into my account without realizing I was already paid. “Either they sent duplicate payment or liked my work so much they gave me a huge bonus,” I thought to myself. I knew it was the former, but sat on the blunder for a few days before notifying the client.
The reason: The devil on my left shoulder made a convincing argument. “Blake,” he said, “maybe you didn’t invoice them the first time?” Nope, I checked my records. I’ve been paid in full. “Okay,” he went on, “but they’re a billion dollar company. They won’t even notice the misplaced $10,000.”
“I doubt it,” the angel on my right shoulder replied. “Imagine if someone got fired for this. Besides, you didn’t earn this money. It doesn’t matter if you omit or commit theft—stealing is wrong. You’re better than this.” Continue reading…
While I’m far from being a “diamond” level frequent flyer—ya know, the ones who travel well over 100,000 miles per year—I’ve learned a thing or two about deftly navigating the airport as a frequent travel columnist.
The first is that the big metal tubes that jet us around the world in hours (as opposed to months that it used to take) are downright awesome—the first world-wide web and easily one of the greatest modern inventions of our time. The sooner you appreciate this, the less miserable you’ll be while traveling.
The second is that a little pre-planning, shortcutting, and forward-thinking can greatly improve our enjoyment of the mostly friendly but sometimes hostile skies. To make the most of your next domestic or international flight, consider doing all of the below: Continue reading…
“The reality is that calling a business a ‘tech company’ is a ploy to make it sound exciting to potential consumers and investors, not a method of assigning greater meaning,” aruges David Yanofsky for Quartz. “The moniker says nothing about what type of company it actually is, only that it is a business that uses at least one technology to provide its product or service.”
He goes on, “The era of tech companies is over. To stay competitive in today’s marketplaces, every company, by the current standard, could be called a tech company, which of course, is another way of saying that none of them should be.”
For the first five years as a self-employed writer, I passionately and excitedly burned the midnight oil, thinking the act would get me ahead. While it certainly helped to cut my teeth and quicken my understanding of the craft, in hindsight I spent much of that time with my head down, spinning my wheels in the mud, and failing to see bigger ideas and opportunities.
That is until my “Montana Moment,” a life-changing and completely off-the-grid vacation in Big Sky Country that upended and improved my relationship to work in more ways than one. Since that fateful week, I’ve enjoyed record personal, professional, and social growth. But only because I radically changed my underlying approach and motivations for work.
Why do some people like to travel more than others? Are nomads born or raised?
Furthermore, why do I keep an ever-growing list of places to visit that I can never seem to get a handle on, despite having visited hundreds of amazing places on six different continents?
In an effort to find answers to some of those questions, researchers recently identified the so-called “wanderlust gene” (DRD4-7R, to be exact), which is present in about 20 percent of humans. This gene is said to cause a strong desire, if not impulse, to wander, travel and explore the world.
As a working journalist and travel columnist, I was recently tested for this gene by Curio Hotels. After vigorously swabbing the inside of my cheeks, I seal-locked my specimen in a plastic bag, overnighted the sample to a lab on the East Coast and awaited the results. Continue reading…
In recent years, a new ideology has emerged. It is this: work-life balance is impossible; therefore, humanity must embrace work-life blending instead.
I tried work-life blending for six years before we ever called it that. I’m here to tell you it stinks and is largely a pipe dream—nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life.
Now let me tell you how I really feel.
The phrase work-life balance entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme, the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization, and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and, with it, the temptation to work ’round the clock on the Hedonic Treadmill (i.e., the misguided belief that the more money one makes, the happier they’ll be). Continue reading…
(For Entrepreneur)—In the 15 years I’ve worked for myself, the last decade has been much more profitable than the first few years. Though several factors contributed to my successful turnaround, one in particular has led to more confidence, inspiration and awareness than any other: adventure travel.
I’ve met plenty of frequent business travelers who want nothing more than to stay home once they get there. They certainly don’t want to leave their creature comforts for something as seemingly trivial and meaningless as scaling mountains, walking quietly in nature or surfing Australia for several days. I get it. But I promise that adventure travel can do wonders for our business lives. That’s especially true if we consider travel an educational experience more than anything else.
Solely for the fun or challenge of it, I’ve visited nearly half of America’s national parks, stepped on five of the seven continents, explored dozens of foreign countries and met hundreds of people who are smarter than me. Doing so taught me several lessons that I’ve put to good use after safely returning home. They are as follows: Continue reading…
Last summer, I was invited to play a game I had never heard of: “Pickleball,” a regional sport that resembles tennis on smaller courts but is played with paddles (like table tennis) and a specialized wiffle ball that travels much slower than either tennis or ping pong balls. This makes the game easier to pick up and ultimately compete against more advanced players, something neither tennis or ping pong are good at.
Admittedly, it may sound boring and look peculiar. But over the last four months of playing, I’ve become an enthusiastic participant, devoted fan, and happily retired tennis player who now plays pickleball upwards of twice a week. I’m not the only one. Continue reading…
Can you tell me more about your paternity leave? Paid, not paid? How much time did you end up taking with each child, and how did you make sure work responsibilities were covered?
I work for myself so it was basically unpaid. With the first two children I only took off the day of the birth. With the later three, I took a full week each time and am glad I did. I worked a little overtime before hand to make sure I had everything in order and then turned on an autoresponder during my absence. 99% of the coworkers are more than understanding, I found, and the 1% who aren’t you probably shouldn’t be working with anyways. Continue reading…
Wild elephants walking a road in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park (Khunkay/Wikimedia)
(ENTREPRENEUR)—Is it easier for extroverts to travel than it is for introverts? Can travel be learned? If so, what does it take to overcome the fear, anxiety, and logistical challenges often associated with long-distance travel?
In search of answers, I asked several seasoned tourists and travel converts for their stories and advice. This is what I found.
First, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. People that travel as children are far more likely to travel as a adults. “Thanks to my parents, I started traveling when I was young,” says Avery Blank, an avid international traveler and strategy consultant from Philadelphia. “That made it relatively easy for me now to adapt to new cultures, surroundings, ways of doing things.”
Obviously if you were raised by homebodies, you’re at an immediate disadvantage. But so are risk-averse individuals who are particularly scared of the unknown, of which there are substantial amounts of when traveling to a new place with new customs and sometimes new languages.
“Much of the anxiety arising from travel revolves around being infantilized,” says Sheridan Becker, an American art director living in Belgium. “For example, not knowing how to do anything in a foreign language, asking for a bathroom, what to do if you lose your wallet, where your next meal will come from (and will you be able to stomach it), or how to handle medical emergencies.”
These are all disorienting questions, the fear of which keeps many people away. So extroverts don’t necessarily have an easier time traveling than less outgoing individuals. Rather, it’s more about how you were raised coupled with a willingness to try unexpected things that determine your propensity for travel.
The good news is wanderlust can be learned. Here are six ways to do just that. Continue reading…
I made a boo-boo at work yesterday. The client I was working with was very understanding, forgiving, and even accepted some of the blame. But I felt pretty rotten about the oversight.
Now, I’m not a perfectionist because done is better than perfect. But I couldn’t shake my disappointment of letting them down. So much so that I continued to worry about my mistake into the night.
Then I awoke to the above new sign on display in our kitchen today, which was ironically crafted by my eight year old daughter. It immediately cheered me up. Partly because I learned some things from my mistake and instituted two immediate changes that will make me a better writer. But also because the sign reminded me that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes.
Showing up really is half the battle. As my friend David says, “You gotta play some sour notes in order to make your sound sweeter.” I’m grateful of those simple truths that make moving on, closure, and even improvement possible.
Controlling a human body is an awesome experience.
Unlike other animals, we talk and live long after we stop reproducing. We wear dapper clothing, are remarkably brave and dexterous (which allows us to do amazing things like this), and we can even make fire. Like Remy says, “Humans don’t just survive—they discover, they create!”
In addition to the things we create, numerous sensations define our experience. Turning a pillow to the cold side, for instance. Quickly taking shelter to avoid pelting rain or peeling protective plastic off new electronics.
But there are deeper, if not more universal, feelings than those. Excluding the obvious (i.e. sex), here are five physical sensations every human should experience, many of which are facilitated by travel. Continue reading…
My answer: As I’ve said before, Emojis and animated gifs are not only appropriate in business emails, they often improve the response of work-related emails when used sparingly. I wouldn’t use them more than 25% of the time. But they’re downright endearing because business correspondence is often stuffy and staid. So the occasional visual surprise keeps things interesting and reminds the recipient that they’re dealing with a personable human being. I highly recommend them.
“Southwest seems to be the most disorderly airline I’ve ever flown,” says Blake Snow, a travel columnist and author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected After Disconnecting. “The service, attendants, and even the branding are fun. But the boarding process is a mess. You can find similar fares with other airlines and without the hassle of Southwest’s Black Friday-like boarding process.”
The process he’s referring to is Southwest’s policy of open seating, wherein you’re assigned a boarding group A, B, or C, and then a number within that group. You board in order, and choose the first available seat you like. Many refer to this as a “cattle call,” although anyone who’s seen Group 9 crowd around an American Airlines gate during pre-boarding knows it’s more a matter of herding cattle versus letting them run free.
Thanks, Matt, for including me in the story. And thanks Bryan for sharing the link with me.
I was interviewed recently on how parents can spend more quality time with their children. This is what I said:
“I used to think I needed to have these elaborately planned and profound experiences with each of my children,” says Blake Snow, a time expert, father of five, and author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. “But the truth is I was overthinking the issue of quality time.
“Now I just remove all distractions, especially my phone, and spend time with one of my kids while riding bikes, playing Uno, teaching them chess, walking the dog, or even taking them on an errand to the grocery store or post office. The trick is showing your child that you deem them worthy of your time. Admittedly you’re probably busy—we all are. Which is why our undivided attention means the world to our children.”
APRIL 2018 (Costco Connection)—Smart people don’t make better decisions because they’re necessarily more intelligent. They make smarter decisions, research shows, because they habitually do the following: Continue reading…
I was interviewed by Motley Fool recently (and syndicated to MSN) about one of the quietest (if not greatest) side hustle’s of my career: producing slide decks on the side to the tune of $30,000 over fifteen years.
“After learning that one of my friends was paid very well to produce a PowerPoint presentation, I wondered if I could do something similar on the side,” Snow said. “Determined to find out, I launched a professional looking website for a few hundred dollars — then waited.”
It took 18 months for someone to finally order, but then the orders just kept coming. “Every one or two years, someone new — and a few repeat customers — would order another presentation,” Snow said.
Over 15 years, he was able to earn around $30,000 from producing presentations. In his words: “Not bad for the few hundred dollars I spent on website design and hosting.”
That’s the reason it’s difficult for many individuals to leave the internet—even for as little as a few hours in the evening, over a weekend, or on vacation. In short, the internet makes us feel like kings.
“Bring me this,” I demand, and it does. “More!” I say. It complies. “Still more!” It does not disappoint. “Let me watch, this, that, and the other.” Each time, I ask, it delivers, because it’s endless. When I run out of requests, I move to new subjects and interests.
In the event the internet is unable to supply what we ask of it—say, a physical experience, creation, or sensation—it will simulate that experience as often as we like from all possible angles: videos, photos, secondhand observations and reviews by those who have actually experienced what we’re after.
As you can see, the internet offers power, or at least the illusion of it. That’s the real reason the internet is so addicting. For the first time in human history, everyday people can convincingly simulate the experience of kings and exercise dominion over their own fantasized corner of reality. Continue reading…
As a leading psychologist, Shawn Achor has spent two decades studying happiness. His bona fides include award-winning researcher and teacher at Harvard, best-selling author on positivity, and popular TED lecturer.
So when he speaks you should listen. For instance, Achor asserts our circumstances — including age, race, gender, social status, and wealth — only account for 10% of our happiness. The rest is determined by our genetic baseline for happiness (i.e. optimist vs pessimist) and our individual intentions, including the way we spend our time and the things we ponder.
Obviously, happiness means different things to different people. But there are plenty of standardized things we can do to boost our chances of finding it. Somethings such as knowing oneself, learning how to forgive, and balancing the personal, professional, and social demands on our time can be life-long pursuits.
But other happiness-building attributes are quite easy, Achor argues. In order from least difficult to most difficult, they are as follows: Continue reading…
“For all of the other languages, the researchers discovered, the more data-dense the average syllable was, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second — and thus the slower the speech. English, with a high information density of .91, was spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, was the spoken slowpoke at 5.18 syllables per second. Spanish, with a low-density .63, ripped along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82. The true speed demon of the group, however, was Japanese, which edged past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49. Despite those differences, at the end of, say, a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information.” via TIME
I was interviewed recently by The Atlantic about traveling with children, as an enthusiast of both endeavors. This is what I said:
Should parents forgo enrolling their children in summer school in favor of travel?
“While classwork is important, I haven’t encountered any evidence suggesting it’s more educational than actual travel,” says Blake Snow, a father of five, avid traveler, and author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. “In fact, the opposite is true; travel is a wonderful mechanism for educating kids both big and small.” (NOTE: My politically incorrect answer would be an enthusiastic, “Hell yes, you should, and maybe don’t ever send them to summer school unless they’re really behind!)
Do you worry about your children’s safety while traveling?
“I do, but not to the point of preventing us from visiting places that the State Department deems safe,” says Snow. “We’ve even gone to places with special advisories, such as Mexico and South Africa, so long as the alerts are no worse than ‘be extra careful.’ The world really is a lot safer than our irrational fears make it out to be, but I do believe in taking precautions and trusting what the State Departments says when it comes to keeping American safe while abroad.” Continue reading…
“Log Off is chock full of delicious nuggets of behavioral wisdom. Concise and engaging, Snow lays bare a decade worth of personal experience, research, and experimentation. This personal journey is tied to, and sometimes driven by, recognized scientific study, and does not sugar coat any of the author’s personal struggles or failings. This honesty and frank vulnerability creates a narrative that is both relatable and inspiring, and I highly recommend this read to any connected individual seeking more meaning and focus in their life.”
Thank you, Bryce. I can tell by your writing that your read a lot, so it means a lot that you liked my book as well as you stated. High five!
In an effort to promote my new book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, I’m giving away 25 Kindle and 25 audiobook copies on a first come, first serve basis. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for download instructions. All I ask in return is that you review the book on Amazon.com, which helps spread the word. Thank you.
My wife and I watched the critically-acclaimed The Post recently at our local theater.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the movie is about how The Washington Post, namely its brave publisher Katharine Graham, decided to publish the controversial Pentagon Papers in 1961.
Although the movie kept me engaged with strong acting, tight tension, and fun twists, I deem it good but not great. Here’s why: Continue reading…
I’m a firm believer that following your passion usually results in higher income. This is because doing what you love usually results in better work. And in a free market, the price goes up for better work.
This isn’t always the case. If you love liberal arts or cleaning buildings, you must understand that the market doesn’t value those things very much, so you won’t make much money. Not that you shouldn’t pursue those careers. You totally should if they make your day. But you must also temper your lifestyle expectations, especially if you’re not the entrepreneurial type.
That said, I’m also a believer in beating the system. So if you still don’t know what you want to do in life, why pay for four years of college when you can pay for two instead, still get a marketable job, and make a good wage until you finally transition to something you could do the rest of your life?
For that, a high-paying two-year associate degree might be a good fit, according to estimated salaries compiled by money.com, Reddit, and Google. They are as follows: Continue reading…
Having researched the subject and experimented with connectivity strategies over the last decade, I can tell you first-hand that the answer won’t come easy. But it can be found.
The first and arguably most challenging step is to lead by example. So instead of “Do as I say, not as I do,” show your kids what life can be like without the constant interruption and distraction that smartphones, digital work, social media have introduced into our lives. Demonstrate what a heads-up (as opposed to head-down) life can look like. Portion-control your own technology first.
You can do this by turning off all audible and visual alerts on your devices, then communicating with bosses, loved ones, and those closest to you that you’re distancing yourself from your phone. Not entirely—but that they’ll need to call you the old fashioned way if they need to get an immediate response from you. (Otherwise it will have to wait several hours, overnight, over the weekend, or even until you get back from vacation.) Continue reading…
Encourage positivity instead of feelings. Time doesn’t necessarily heal all things, especially death. Research indicates asking how grievers feel improves welfare better than well-intentioned but frustrating calls to “chin up.”
Insert your own story instead of acknowledging theirs. “When you’re faced with tragedy,” writer Tim Lawrence notes, “the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words: I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you.” Never volunteer your own experience, even if you think it’s the same. If they want to hear it, they’ll ask.
Give unsolicited advice. Instead of offering advice, simply say, “I wish I knew the right thing to say. I’m so sorry you’re going through this — but you will not go through it alone.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Don’t say this. Although often sincere, this phrase puts the burden on grievers. Instead of offering anything, author Bruce Feiler recommends, “just do something.” Invite them over for a holiday dinner. Make a playlist of songs that aren’t about joy or snow. Drop off a home-cooked meal. You don’t have to be best friends to help someone. Just do something without asking.
Thanks in part to the help of a hired publicist, I’ve enjoyed being interviewed by radio shows, journalists, and book reviewers over the last few weeks. Here’s one in particular (set to publish later this month—will share link later) that I thought blog readers would enjoy:
Why is online addiction a growing problem?
While online addictions certainly existed in the desktop and laptop computing days, they didn’t go mainstream until the smartphone era about a decade ago. To compound the issue, the more information and entertainment that gets digitized, the easier it is to get lost in the bottomless search for distractions.
How does too much time online negatively affect our happiness and our relationships?
The last decade of research shows that excessive internetting, smartphoning, and social media make us miserable. There are two reasons for this. First, online abuse stifles our individual and collectively creativity and productivity. Secondly, it keeps us from bonding and connecting with others in more meaningful ways. That is to say that social media is mostly the illusion of relationships. True relationships develop largely offline, though facetime, human touch, body language, and shared presence and experiences. While social media can sometimes facilitate that, it mostly isolates us. In fact, in-person meetings have dwindled in the social media era, as opposed to being boosted by it. This all matters because all of us want to contribute and all of us our social creatures.
What are some successful strategies for limiting time online?
The first if not biggest step is turning off all beeps, buzzes, and visual alerts on our default phone settings (save for voice calls from very important people such as spouses and our boss). That way we can choose to use our phones when we want to rather than having our day interrupted by them every other second. As radical as it sounds, I’ve done this for the last nine years and my professional, personal, and social lives have dramatically improved as a result. True story!
What about work-related time online? How can that be balanced?
Set the expectation with bosses, coworkers, and clients that you’re revising your online use for greater productivity and fulfillment. This starts by ceasing to answer emails on nights, weekends, and vacations. Obviously emergencies happen. In that case, tell those you work to please call you. But remember, in most cases, legitimate emergencies are rare. Either way, 99% of people are understanding because they want the same thing in their own lives. If you happen to have a boss in the 1%, it’s probably time to start looking for a new job.
Are there benefits of online time? If so, how can we keep those benefits without going overboard?
Certainly! I wouldn’t be where I am today without the internet. It truly is a wonderful thing, the greatest human invention since Penicillin. I say as much in both the opening and closing chapters of my book. That said, the internet isn’t going anywhere. The sooner we all realize this, the easier it becomes to take more regular and healthy breaks from it (i.e. on nights, weekends, and vacation) without getting sucked into and distracted from the overwhelming amount of noise taking place online. It’s all about using the internet, our smartphones, and social media with purpose as opposed to the default and unhealthy “all the time.”
Having first seen the movie, I read Nick Hornby’s About a Boy over the holidays and am glad I did. Here’s what stood out:
Writing a book with one interesting character is hard enough. Here, Hornby somehow managed to write a book with several endearing characters, all of which kept me interested until the final period.
Although I enjoyed the movie’s ending, the original book ending and additional character development is much better. I’m convinced Hornby could double as a behavioral psychologist—he understands and articulates human nature so well.
The prose. For example, “The conversation in the arcade at least had the virtue of creating a mutuality between them: they had both confessed to something they wanted, and those somethings were, when all was said and done, not entirely dissimilar, even though the someones connected with the somethings evidently were.” And, “Ellie spent her whole time wanting life to be shit, and then making life shit by making life difficult for herself.” (i.e. getting in trouble for refusing to wear her school uniform, shouting at people, fighting just to fight.)
The universal truth that all of us need back up, whether young or old, girl or boy. “Two or three isn’t enough,” says Marcus. “You need loads more backup in case someone decides to top themselves.”
Pay no mind to what some old people, many talking heads, and all fear-mongerers say. The world is NOT getting worse. It’s getting better, even under controversial and sometimes divisive heads of state.
Blake Snow at Lake Bennett, Canada taken by Lindsey Snow
Big thanks to Randy Shore from the Vancouver Sun for his interest and recent write up of my new book.
The Internet and its insidious agent of attention-seeking — the smartphone — are by their very nature addictive, conspiring with our natural curiosity and brain chemistry to keep us rapt to the machine, according to Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting.
In his first book, recognized journalist Blake Snow offers humorous, well-researched, and insightful advice on how to break free and enjoy renewed life offline
Provo, UT (December 19, 2017) – Do you or someone you know need a little help unplugging this holiday or new year? If so, Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting by Blake Snow (ISBN 978-1973543749, 2017) may have the answer and is available now at the world’s largest bookstore in paperback edition for $10.99 and Kindle edition for $8.99.
The self-help memoir and well-researched book is the first for Snow, a prolific writer for such publications as Wired, USA Today, CNN, and Wall Street Journal among others. The book produces convincing evidence and a path forward for people hoping to reclaim their offline lives without the constant distraction and “fear of missing out” caused by the internet, social media, and smartphones.
“With Facebook recently admitting as much, it’s official,” says Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting. “Excessive use of smartphones, the internet, and social media makes us miserable. Although I wrote this life-changing book for myself, I feel strongly that the ideas and encouragement contained therein can help others find greater fulfillment, peace of mind, and better relationships after responsibly logging off.”
In this quick but potent read, Snow recounts his own journey from being a workaholic internet addict, his awakening (aka “Montana Moment”), and the steps he has since taken to increase his facetime with actual people, do more offline with less online, double his productivity in half the time, and tunefully blend his analog and digital lives with no regrets. Continue reading…
I just published my first (albeit short) book on paperback and Kindle. It took me over eight years to publish it, but I’m very proud of the result.
As you can see, the book underwent a title change, but the contents remain the same—a self-help memoir on how to overcome excessive “internetting,” smartphoning, and social media. If that subject interests you, I hope you’ll consider taking one or all of the following actions: Continue reading…
Music is easy now. Except when I’m forced to download songs ahead of time before venturing Off The Grid, I can instantly play any track, genre, album or compilation of recorded music with a spoken command.
Whatever I ask—even amorphous requests for “dinner music” or “relaxing classical”—this inanimate robot gets things right 90% of the time. And when I don’t feel like talking, I can play what I want with a few taps of my finger on the portable jukebox I carry in my pocket. We’ve come a long way.
But while I’m grateful for the limitless amount of audible convenience we now enjoy, I often wonder about the price we paid to get here. Continue reading…
When it comes to listening to music, I’m a skip-mastering control freak. I’m willing to let some records play, especially the greats. But if a band starts to bore me, I skip and/or eventually abandon their carefully curated playlist (aka “album”) with haste.
Recently, however, I discovered a band that I have never skipped—not once. They may be the coolest band you’ve never heard of. Only four of their six albums are commercially available, and I think they’re downright groovy, if not borderline inaccessible.
Hailing from french-speaking Quebec, the band is called Timber Timbre (pronounced “tamber”). The singer sings in english, rocks a “skullet,” and the entire acts sounds a little like Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, Magnet, a mellow Killers, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, slow songs, The Doors, crooning songs, Late Night Tales, creepy songs, and Portishead. I only learned of them after visiting their home province earlier this month and am glad I did.
To spread the good word, I hope you’ll consider and enjoy their albums and soulful live performances as much as I have. These are my favorite songs:
The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future by Leslie Jamison profiles the last big thing that never was, namely Second Life, which went from millions of users at its peak a decade ago to a stagnated 600,000 a month today. These were my favorite excerpts from the remarkable long-form report:
[Second Life] crystallizes the simultaneous siren call and shame of wanting an alternate life. It raises questions about where unfettered fantasy leads, as well as about how we navigate the boundary between the virtual and the real.
My aversion to Second Life—as well as my embrace of flaw and imperfection in the physical world—testified to my own good fortune as much as anything. When I move through the real world, I am buffered by my (relative) youth, my (relative) health, and my (relative) freedom. Who am I to begrudge those who have found in the reaches of Second Life what they couldn’t find offline?
It’s like a digital Norman Rockwell painting, an ideal of upper-middle-class American domesticity—an utterly unremarkable fantasy.
Last year, Alicia and Al adopted two more children, but found it problematic that the new kids wanted “so much, so fast.” Rather than wanting to weave in and out of role-play, they constantly did things that demanded attention, like losing their shoes, jumping off the roof, climbing trees they couldn’t get down from, and starting projects they couldn’t finish. Basically, they behaved more like actual kids than like adults pretending to be kids.
In fairness, obscure Second Life users are no different than staged selfies or “real life” divisions such as watching a baseball game, daydreaming, or escaping into the bottomless ether of our smartphones, Jamison argues. But many committed Second Life holdouts seemingly live a perplexing (if not delusional) double life.
What luck we have. Not only were we born on the most marvelous planet in the observable universe—not to mention the only habitable one out of gazillions—but the one we did inherit has seven distinct, magnificent continents.
Picking just one experience from each that best personifies the greater landmass is an impossible job, not to mention totally unfair. But life isn’t fair. Nor is this column. If you need someplace to start when attempting to bag all seven continents, make it one of these iconic and universally well-rated encounters. Continue reading…
My wife and I believe the world is inherently good and we want to indoctrinate our children to think the same. Not by ignoring society’s seedy underbelly. But with measurable evidence such as this that overwhelmingly proves the world is getting better and better.
To that end, my wife shared the following quote with our children and I over breakfast recently: “Feed your faith and your fear will starve.” In other words, people who are afraid are usually consumed by doubt.
But in my experience, we can replace that fear and doubt with hope and love by doing the following: Continue reading…
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you like money. What does money have to do with offline balance, though?
In my research, everything. Next to fame and sex—which by no coincidence are often facilitated by money—the latter is arguably the most sought after thing in life, particularly (but not exclusively) for male species.
For purposes of this newsletter, however, I won’t preach to you on the ill-guided focus of money or bottomless cup that is greed. Instead, I’ll let smarter people do it for me: Continue reading…
I just published my first story for Frommers, the storied travel guide magazine that changed the way Americans traveled in 1957 after Arthur Frommer published his seminal Europe on 5 Dollars a Day.
My story isn’t that big nor will it make nearly as many waves, but I’m still proud of it and the friends that made it possible by joining me recently on a weekend backpacking trip into the High Uinta Wilderness, which I deem “the best western wilderness you’ve never heard of.”
Eight years ago, I began an endeavor that I thought would take up to 12 months to complete: writing my first book. In reality, it took nearly eight full years.
In any case, I’m happy to report that I finished the 12 chapter non-fiction and short self-help book not 20 minutes ago. I’m proud of what I wrote and can’t wait to share it with the world soon after vetting it with editors, agents, and publishers.
Fun fact: it took my seven years to write the first 40% of the book and just a month to write the remaining 60%—because writer’s block.
As a teaser, I’ve included the opening chapter here. Hope you enjoy it and share this post with any you feel my be interested in what I have to say. Continue reading…
Like so many other peasants — and royalty for that matter — I owe much of my good fortune to luck and timing. And nothing has been more beneficial to my career than getting into blogging before it became blasé.
PROVO, Ut. — Want to get ahead in this world? Work lots of extra hours — even nights and weekends — experts say, and it will all be worth your while.
“It’s easy to forget what’s most important in life,” says Bill Loney, a certified life coach who hasn’t quite made it in life yet. “Family, friends, and social activities that can often inspire and enrich the life of an individual… these are all distractions in getting more work done,” he adds.
Emma Royds, who hasn’t stopped looking at her smartphone every five minutes for three straight years, councils that most people actually die wishing they had spent more time — not less — working. “People never regret working too much,” she says. “My neighbor opted to do adventurous, social, and fitness-related activities with family and friends in his spare time.
“Now 80, he told me recently he really wishes he would have spent more time on TPS cover sheets, obsessively trying to turn his company into the next big thing, and reading email during every waking hour of his life. It’s kind of sad, really.” Continue reading…
The first was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, recommended by my sister Sara. Not to be mistaken for the horrific name, popular movie, and Halloween theme it inspired, the book is actually about what it’s like to be human. Masterfully written by Shelley when she was only 20 (!), Frankenstein made my heartbreak and made me ponder humanity more than another other book recently (save for this, this, and this).
Due to a few slow pages and an ending that abruptly stops (like most classical literature), I award it four stars out of five.
The second I read in less than 48 hours. It’s called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell. About the making of The Room (aka “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”), this book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and cheer on numerous occasions. I admire Sestero for his candor, for seeing the good in the world, for sharing his story, and for shining the spotlight on the conflicted, inspiring, and likable man named Tommy Wiseau. “What a story, Mark!”
For its hilarity and heart, I award it four stars out of five and anxiously await the movie adaptation starring James Franco.
An edited version of this story first appeared on April 5, 2016 in The Atlantic
Not long ago, I stumbled on a list of the best sci-fi novels according to the Internet (i.e. the highly entertaining computer geeks on Reddit). As someone who reads for pleasure as much as job security, I decided to finish as many of these and others that I could handle.
After completing over a dozen—not to mention many more in film adaptations—the following occurred to me: every single one of these acclaimed, futuristic stories—at least the many I was exposed to—completely missed the existence and impact of the Internet. Everything from published media and daily communication, to realizing sight unseen romance and access to global markets.
“A lot of science fiction was primarily focused on moving people and things around in exciting ways,” says technology commentator Clive Thompson. “These forward-thinkers were using flashy visuals to hook their readers, while understandably overlooking non-sexy things such as inaudible conversations.”
Which is largely what the Internet facilitates. Like electricity, it’s really just an everyday utility now. And utility talk is not plot. It’s boring. Continue reading…
I recently watched 180 Degrees South. It’s an enjoyable documentary by surfer, climber, and conservationist Chris Malloy, in which he follows the adventurous footsteps of his two mentors—Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and North Face founder Doug Tompkins.
Last month, Paste Magazine unexpectedly and suddenly shuttered their travel section and (along with it) my weekly column. After 126 consecutive and wonderful stories, the news was devastating.
More than just money (which admittedly wasn’t much), the perk-filled gig served as a weekly source of education, inspiration, and a renewed understanding of writing for mainstream audiences again. Furthermore, it took me and sometimes even my friends and family to five different continents, dozens of countries, countless destinations, and introduced me to hundreds of interesting people.
Although I’ve yet to find a replacement, I have some promising leads for the unpublished and upcoming articles in the pipe. And I’m determined and confident that I’ll be able to find a new suitor for my column, which was read by over 900,000 monthly individuals, according to a November 2016 estimate by the nation’s fourth largest tourism board (i.e. Visit Orlando).
Until then, here are the stories I am most proud of—the best of my travel column so far: Continue reading…
Earlier this year, I skimmed The Minimalist Mindset by Danny Dover. In my case, Dover was preaching to the choir. But I did enjoy two important points:
Every living human being shares the same two overarching limitations, time and money. You can trade time for money (we call this a job) and you can trade money for time (we call this convenience). Harmonizing these two resources leads to maximum enjoyment of life.
When prioritizing our time and expenses, we must consider their significance as much as their importance and actual cost. In other words, ask yourself “How long will this matter?” For better fulfillment, we must prioritize our commitments and expenses from most significant to least. Similar to what Rory Vaden linearily argues in Procrastinate on Purpose, “Spend your time on things today that give you more time and a better life tomorrow.”
That said, I don’t endorse Dover’s recommendation to auto respond to all incoming emails with “I’m booked solid with previous commitments.” That’s a dick move. Just say, “No, thank you.” But I do like his recommendation to ask for a timed agenda before agreeing to a meeting and keeping meetings to a single day or slots per week (i.e. late afternoons only).
I did it again. I came oh-so-close to finishing a really long and critically-acclaimed literary classic before quitting it after three quarters completion.
I first did this 10 years ago with the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a book by the masterful Alexander Dumas that features some of the most beautiful, if not poetic, prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
I did it again this spring with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—an even more powerful book—which is widely regarded as the greatest novel ever written. So why did I abandon it after 640 pages out of 864 total? Continue reading…
There are a lot of productivity myths. For instance, early birds are more productive, structure kills creativity, adding resources increases output, and more. Although well intentioned, these are all wrong.
So what works? What productivity hypotheses have been tested and proven by science? After sifting through dozens of top search results, reports, and studies, this is what I found. The most convincing, substantiated, and established productivity strategies: Continue reading…
Most of it relates to typos. Some of it relates to disagreement or additional viewpoints. On occasion, I even get fan mail—how lovely.
As for typo-related mail, most of that is really nice. “Hey, Blake. Enjoyed your story on [insert popular story here]. Noticed a typo, however, and thought I’d share.”
Some of it gives me the benefit of the doubt. “Hi, Blake. Perhaps your spellcheck mistakenly changed ‘espoused’ to ‘expelled’?”
“No, kind reader,” I’ll reply. “My bad diction stuck again. Thanks for keeping me honest.”
Still, some of the mail I receive is unforgiving. As if my mistakes should disbar me from contributing to mainstream media. As if I should master English before using it to articulate a point, tell a story, answer a question, or inspire change. Continue reading…
For one reason or another—both personally and professionally—these companies can do almost no wrong in my eyes:
Dell. I built my first computer as a freshman in high school. Overclocked it, modified it, loved it. Later on, I built several more for family members. And then made-to-order Dell took over the world by the late ’90s. I enthusiastically appreciated their customization, affordability, and no-nonsense style. A decade later, Dell officials hired me as a contract writer for three consecutive years. That engagement largely paid for the downpayment on my first and only house. Although they’ve changed significantly since the ’90s and I now compute on a Macintosh, I still admire them. Continue reading…
While on vacation this summer, my family stayed at a Hampton Inn in Gallup, New Mexico.
At breakfast the following day, my five year old daughter couldn’t stop gawking at an under-clothed woman seated at the table next to us. “Why is that lady showing her belly?” she loudly inquired. A little embarrassed, Lindsey and I told her to stop starring and eat her breakfast.
Admittedly, I think everyone in the room was a little uncomfortable and probably judgmental. But for the most part, everyone carried on and we had an enjoyable breakfast.
As we were finishing up, the lady approached our table. Looking at Lindsey and I with a gentle smile, she said, “You have a beautiful family.” She then turned and offered the same smile to each of our four children. It was the nicest compliment and gesture anyone has paid to me all summer, if not all year.
So thank you lady from the Hampton Inn in Gallup, New Mexico. Thank you for your unexpected example of kindness, friendship, and reminding my family never to judge a book by its cover.
It’s been a superb year for new music so far. Along with a strong finish of releases last year, these are the albums worth writing home about—and ones I hope you’ll consider in your search for new, inspiring songs from new or rejuvenated blood.
Gone Now by Bleachers
Behold: this is art. From front to back, singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff (aka Bleachers) channels brilliant beats, catchy choruses, and melodic instrumentation in classic stereo. If this masterpiece doesn’t finish as album of the year, I’ll be delightfully surprised. Continue reading…
Ten years ago, Disney released a Pixar film that had a profound impact on the course of my professional life.
At the time I was a full-time video game critic for several online magazines. I had a knack for raking mediocre games and news over the coals. I gained a reputation for publishing smart but scathing copy. Back then, I felt it was my job, if not duty, to critique everything I touched as if the orbit of the Earth depended on it. Continue reading…
After a decade of self employment, I’ve been told “no” several thousand times. I have records. For the same period, I’ve been told “yes” a few dozen times. Fewer than a hundred. I have records of that, too.
As you can tell, I–like most humans, salesmen, and business owners–experience rejection more than acceptance. Unlike many people, however, I don’t let that discourage me as a proprietor. But I almost did once.
How can we stop such trends toward dishonesty (in this case, broader acceptance of illegal downloading)? The problem is that if someone has acquired 97% of their music illegally, why would they legally buy the next 1%? Would they do it in order to be 4% legal? It turns out that we view ourselves categorically as either good or bad, and moving from being 3% legal to being 4% legal is not a very compelling motivation.
This is where confession and amnesty can come into play. What we find in our experiments is that once we start thinking of ourselves as polluted, there is not much incentive to behave well, and the trip down the slippery slope is likely. This is the bad news. The good news is that in such cases, confession, where we articulate what we have done wrong, is an incredibly effective mechanism for resetting our moral compass.
Humans are more distracted now than ever before, at least since we’ve started keeping records. Over the last decade, the average attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2014, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. The kicker: our eight second attention spans are one second shorter than a goldfish’s. No joke.
Who or what’s to blame for such abhorrent focus? “External stimulation,” says the Library of Medicine. That’s code for mobile internet, apps that vie for our attention, push email, social media alerts, work from anywhere, persistent connectivity, and our enthusiastic adoption of “the internet of things.” In other words, the only person we can blame is ourselves.
What’s a working professional to do then? You have three options, according to popular thinking: fall off the grid, stick with default technology settings for substandard productivity, or my personal favorite, set usage boundaries to upgrade concentration, contributions, and welfare levels.
For those interested in options one or two, this article won’t be any help. But for for those interested in the latter, there’s quite a lot you can do to stay focused in a 24/7 world. After extensive online research, here is the most celebrated and pragmatic advice for doing just that: Continue reading…
While working onsite with a client last week, I met an Englishman that shared my love of music. At some point we diverged into a discussion on the merits of Daft Punk — his favorite band — and where their latest album went wrong. We both agreed that Random Access Memories was better produced than it was written; Discovery was “bloody brilliant;” and their soundtrack to Tron: Legacy was their second best work to date.
As I was about to leave, my new friend excitedly announced, “I have something to show you!” He left the room, then returned with a custom, LED-lit Thomas Bangalter mask. “May I?” said I, giddy at the prospect. “Of course,” he replied. I put it on, struck a pose, then took several snapshots for posterity’s sake before bidding him farewell.
What’s funny is this Englishman had just traveled 6,000 miles from his office in Munich for weeklong meetings with “corporate” in Los Angeles. While most people scramble for chargers and underwear the night before travel, I laughed at the thought of this kindly bloke deciding to bring his shiny keepsake along for the journey. “Ah, yes! Mustn’t forget my smashing mask.”
I’m planning an upcoming story on some of the best desktop upgrades you can make but had to break to excitedly endorse these: The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers. They are THX certified and they sound magnificent.
If you’re a music lover, I think $150 is a small price to pay. These speakers have awakened my ears and made old music sound new again and new music sound even brighter, tighter, heavier, and clearer without the muddiness associated with most desktop speakers.
My family and I encountered the pictured sign recently while biking our river trail. Immediately the older children collectively remarked, “That’s sad.” My wife and I agreed. So we went home, grabbed some spray paint, and returned to censure the offending message and alert the authorities to replace the defaced sign.
By the looks of the handwriting, the up-to-no-gooders were probably teenagers and likely less-educated. Young minds exploring anti-social behavior rather than full-blown racists. Nevertheless, the words still stung. But I was proud of my children’s response. Not anger. Not over-reaction. Just concern and an immediate quest to right the wrong. Continue reading…
“For many of you who don’t have it all figured out it’s okay, that’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keeping throwing darts at the dart board, don’t listen to the critics, and you will figure it out.”—Will Ferrell
The following was updated and adopted from a hired-speech I gave to a group of 50 portfolio CEOs and senior partners in June 2015 at the headquarters of NEA, the world’s largest venture capital firm.
Since 2005, I’ve written for half of the top 20 U.S. media publications and dozens of Fortune 100 companies as a featured contributor, branded storyteller, and retained content advisor. In that time, this is what I know for sure: marketing is the way you let people know you exist. Content marketing is the ongoing explanation for why they should care.
As a discipline, content marketing (or brand journalism, executive editorial, and thought leadership) is important, because it allows companies to persuade highly-informed buyers in an increasingly noisy world. Not only is it the fastest growing marketing strategy in recent years, it’s also the most effective for supplying search demand, engaging target audiences, enabling messaging, and satisfying the buyer’s need to read and inform themselves before making a purchase.
Best-selling author Marshall Karp used to work in advertising. But then he realized he didn’t like what he was doing because the original architect was a lousy planner.
“This rut that you’re stuck in, this life that you’re trapped in, who planned it?” he writes on Quora. “Not you. Most of us form our life’s plans shortly after high school. I was pushing 40 and still living the dream of some teenage kid.”
So he decided to switch careers and become a screenwriter and author. “My Act Two was conceived, written, produced, and directed by an adult. And I’m grateful for the insight that convinced him to take on the job.”
My wife and I were discussing gender equality over lunch today. On a scale of 1–10 (one being female dominate and 10 being male dominate), we both agreed that America today is probably around a 6.5/10 in favor of men.
That might vary a half point in either direction depending on what part of the country you live in. But overall I think that’s a fair assessment.
What will it take to get to an equal five? Two big things: equal pay for the same job and greater access to leadership roles. I’d also add being able to walk alone a night without fear of being assaulted, but my wife said that’s a tricky one. After all, how much of that perceived inequality is unfounded fear versus actual threat?
Either way, I’d say things are looking up for my daughters, wife, sisters, and mother and hope to be at or around a five within 10–20 years. What do you think?
Before I write another word, let the record show that I admire, appreciate, and even covet Tesla cars. Their instant torque, modern styling, simple engines, and overall innovation are a thing of beauty.
But there’s a fundamental problem with electric vehicles today: they’re all powered by dirty energy and heavily subsidized by government incentives, argues Berkeley physicist Richard Muller. “There is little to no environmental benefit, since in most of the world the electricity is derived from coal,” he writes. In fact, “an electric car in China produces more CO2 than does a gasoline car.”
Even in states such as California, where only 25% of their energy is renewable, we’re still along ways from sustainably clean cars. Obviously, we’ve made progress and don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. But Muller brings up a good point: Is 100 mpg gas mileage from combustable engines (which we’re approaching) more environmentally friendly than a 250 mpg coal-based electric vehicle?
For the time being, Muller argues no. “Prices of batteries have come down, but not nearly enough to negate the high cost of owning such a car.”
All of that could change, of course, with breakthrough gains in battery storage or clean energy. But for now, we’re still in the “Kickstarter” phase of electric vehicles. Exciting but not fail-proof.
Since the turn of the century, Platon has made a name for himself (a single one at that!) for his telling portraits of celebrities, especially politicians. As a fan of his work, these are my favorites: Continue reading…