Per My Last E-mail #26
Welcome!, Debate, Branch & ROOM, Social Media Hive Switch, Loneliness, New PhD, and Sleep
Hi Friends 👋,
Happy Monday! Wow, we have a lot of new people here this week - thank you for subscribing!
Here’s a little overview of how Per My Last E-mail works:
Early each week, I send out an e-mail that highlights the things I’ve been reading, listening to, watching, building, and writing about with a focus on community, real estate, strategy, and happiness. Each e-mail generally highlights a Product of the Week, some recommended Links and Listens, and What I’m Reading.
Occasionally, if a topic really excites me, I’ll write a little bit more about it up front, like I did on Loops in #23 or Baader-Meinhof in #22.
And since I’m working on building a community of smart, interesting people around learning-focused clubs, I’ll be highlighting some clubs and events we’re starting up together and that I’d love for you to join. They’ll be fun, and they’ll make you smarter.
To that end, Debate Club #2 is happening this Wednesday night at 6:30 in Soho. What’s Debate Club? I wrote about Debate Club #1 here.
For #2, we have a great group lined up, and we have a couple of spots open. If you’ve never debated, don’t worry - almost no one in the group has. We’ll have free food and drinks, great people, and good, nerdy fun.
Reply to this e-mail to find out more, sign up, and get involved.
🙏🏻 And finally, an ask: if you enjoy what you’re reading, please share it:
Now on to the good stuff…
This week, we have two (2!) P.O.T.W.
Most of you work in an office, and I’d imagine most of you know 1) what a pain it is to furnish it, 2) how hard it is to find a quiet place to take a call or do heads-down work.
I think it’s cheating to bring you products that I’ve known and loved for a long time, but we’re making this up as we go anyway, and last week, two companies run by two great entrepreneurs had big weeks, so it’s a good time to show them off.
Branch announced a re-brand and a $2.4 million Series A to make buying office furniture easy, affordable, and even kind of fun. (You can even ride the standing desks.) Browsing and ordering online is easy, they’ll help you design your space and install the furniture for you, and as someone who has seen a lot of office furniture, I can attest to the fact that you won’t find furniture this high-quality for the price anywhere else. Plus, the rebrand is 👌🏻.
ROOM CEO Brian Chen gave an excellent interview on This Week in Startups last week. In a world in which profitability has just recently become cool, Brian talked about growing ROOM to $30 million in sales on just $2 million raised in two years. He also talked about pain points we’re all familiar with - paying for expensive office buildouts, that person who blocks off a large conference room to take a personal call, and how hard it can be to find quiet space to focus in an open office.
And if you’re dying to read Per My Last E-mail as soon as it hits your inbox but don’t want the whole office to see, ducking in a ROOM for a few minutes is the answer.
Once we got ROOMs for the Breather office, I spent hours each day in them, and both our employees and our customers loved them as I talked about here.
If you’re setting up an office, or just want your current one to work better, I can’t recommend Branch and ROOM highly enough.
Links & Listens
🐝 Status Update & Internet Crowds and Personal Space & The Dark Psychology of Social Networks by Eugene Wei x Alex Danco x Jonathan Haidt & Tobias Rose-Stockwell
Last week, three of my favorite writers (and nice to meet you, Tobias Rose-Stockwell) all wrote about social media’s impact on us, and our impact on each other on social media.
I read Wei’s post first. Wei wrote about the idea that for the first time, the majority of people are putting their thoughts out for public consumption. We’re essentially IPO’ing, and just like when a company IPO’s, that comes with positives and negatives. On the negative side, when we say something that our fellow humans don’t like, we can get “canceled.”
Danco’s post takes over there. He writes about two anthropological clichés about the internet: 1) it brings out the status-seeking narcissist in us, and 2) it brings out the angry mob in us, and focuses mainly on the second. Essentially, we spend so much time and energy as individuals building our own status and defending our personal space that when someone says something stupid online, it feels great to discharge our burdens as individuals, transform into a crowd, and dunk on someone together.
Danco didn’t cite Haidt, but this is a concept straight out of The Righteous Mind: The Hive Switch.
“The hive switch is a group-related adaptation that . . . cannot be explained by selection at the individual level . . . [It] is an adaptation for making groups more cohesive.”
There were evolutionary advantages to having the ability to both look out for numero uno and then quickly cohere as a group. In peacetime, you wanted to be the alpha in the group in order to increase your odds of surviving and reproducing, but in wartime, the group needed to quickly come together and behave as one against outside threats in order for the entire tribe to survive and thrive. Similarly, on social media, 90% of the time, you want to stand out, gain followers and likes, and make a name for yourself in order for your work to spread, but it’s programmed into our DNA to enjoy coming together as a cohesive unit against an enemy 10% of the time. Cancel culture is in our genes. Obviously, I was curious to learn what Haidt himself thought about this.
Turns out that he wrote about the virality of negativity on social media this week, too! Haidt and Rose-Stockwell take a different tact, though, writing about the individual’s ability to start a fire by producing inflammatory content and letting it spread. Ideas that would have historically been contained to local communities can now spread across the globe in minutes. Their main reference to mob behavior is that we’re more likely to join an outrage mob when we can’t see the person we’re ganging up on’s face, and when we’re used to taking sides with our likes and retweets many times per day.
The Hive Switch is the concept that ties together Wei, Danco, and Haidt’s work, and if any of you are reading this, I would love to read or watch a discussion on how the Hive Switch manifests online.
🎧👨🏽⚕️ The Loneliness Epidemic Vivek Murthy on the Ezra Klein Show
Vivek Murthy was the US Surgeon General from 2014-2017. In office, he was expecting to be confronted with the traditional diseases like heart disease and diabetes, but the most common pathology he encountered was loneliness. As I shared last week, loneliness is deadlier than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and Murthy has made it his mission to end the loneliness epidemic in America.
I was scribbling notes throughout the entire conversation, but one section jumped out and grabbed me (starting around minute 55), when Murthy talked about the concept of the Third Bowl.
Traditionally, there has been a trade-off between individuality and collectivism - either you can celebrate individuality at the expense of the strength of communal bonds (First Bowl - shallow and wide) or you can be a part of a tightly-knit community with little tolerance for individuality (Second Bowl - deep and narrow). Murthy is optimistic that we can create a Third Bowl - one that celebrates individuality while forming strong communal bonds. He believes that we need to make structural changes in order to get to the Third Bowl.
Think about the trade-off between efficiency and community. In The World in Equilibrium, I wrote about the fact that the internet is making us more efficient and theoretically freeing up time. In this podcast, Murthy talks about the fact that that efficiency comes with a cost - when we order groceries online, for example, we miss out on the opportunity to run into people at the grocery store. Both Murthy and I agree that this efficiency can be a great thing if we use the extra time we unlock to connect with each other instead of moving the goal post and trying to do more work.
By introducing the concept of the Third Bowl, Murthy put words to what I’m working to build - structures for using our time to create community that celebrates individual strengths and provides a sense of meaning beyond the workplace.
(Further Reading: Tara Parker-Pop at The New York Times wrote a piece on The Power of Positive People. TL;DR: Form IRL groups of positive people with whom you can have meaningful conversation.)
🎓 Reimagining the PhD by Nadia Eghbal
I strongly believe that education is going to be remixed and that for a large group of people, the job to be done by advanced degrees will increasingly be met by novel solutions that are currently unfamiliar to us. The MBA, with its high cost and declining applications, seems particularly ripe, but I had thought that PhDs were going to take longer to evolve.
Eghdal’s journey makes me rethink that assumption. She essentially built her own PhD program through a combination of work experience, writing, and community-building, and instead of a dissertation, the output will be a book that will cement her place as an expert in her field in a different but equally valid way than having Dr. in front of her name. Maybe anything outside of an MD or JD is fair game for new models.
😴 Matthew Walker's "Why We Sleep" Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors by Alexey Guzey
This is a tough one for me to write about since I’ve been a pretty vocal “Why We Sleep” stan. I’ve written about the book, tweeted about the impact it’s had on me, and you can ask Puja how many times I’ve cited the importance of getting eight hours over the past year like it was a brilliant new revelation. I loved that book.
And, of course, it might be mostly bullshit. Guzey examines just the first ten pages, or 4% of the book, and finds five “egregious scientific and factual errors.” For example, he finds fault with Walker’s claims that shorter sleep implies a shorter lifespan. In fact, he cites a Scientific Reports meta-analysis that showed that sleeping just under seven hours has the lowest relative risk, and that sleeping eight hours is just as deadly as sleeping five hours.
I’m not sure what to do with this yet. I feel better when I sleep eight hours than when I sleep five, but that may be in my head. I’m also not sure if I should trust Guzey more than Walker, and need to dig a little deeper.
But I love when I find things that contradict something that I believe or have written about. It’s a reminder to add a dash of skepticism to my natural optimism, and understanding both sides of an argument beats taking a stance and digging in.
This newsletter originally came about as an assignment for the Write of Passage course I started taking in April, hoping to become a better writer and force myself to hit publish. As I’ve written about here before, I’ve loved writing more recently, and it’s been incredibly useful as I start my new company. So when David Perell announced that he would be running a Fellowship, enabling 8-10 people to write a world-class essay, I jumped at the opportunity to become a stronger writer, go deeper, and learn from a talented peer group.
Somehow, I was one of the eight selected. I’m pumped to explore the intersection of a couple of topics that fascinate me - differentiation and community. I definitely have a little imposter syndrome going on, but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can pull it off.
The Fellowship starts in January and the essay will be out in March. In the interim, I’ll be working through ideas, in public, here and on the blog. As always, your feedback is valued and helpful as I work through it.
Thanks for reading,