I've found the greatness of simplicity in my battle with the internet. I'm a college student studying Data Science, and I've lived the last several years as a daily internet user. It's so easy to sacrifice hours of time and attention to articles or Youtube videos that are "interesting" or "entertaining", but did not help me live a life of simple quality and directed purpose. This clicked for me (hehe) when I realized that there existed more internet content that I would love than hours in my life to consume it. Therefore, I couldn't quest after greater and greater knowledge. I could only reduce.

Now I've set up a system of browser extensions that block most distracting sites and make focus and simplicity much easier. I often miss the internet culture that I've left behind, but then I remind myself that I'm on the path to something more fulfilling.

Interestingly enough, many of my university peers have also taken up this quest. It didn't take any convincing from me. They realized the beauty of simplicity by independently reflecting on their own actions.

I think one reason for this desire is the memories of an internet-free childhood. I didn't get a smartphone until I was 16, so I remember the deliciousness of thoughts and actions that weren't directed by algorithm. I only hope that the younger generation (i.e. iPad babies) had enough of real-life childhood to eventually yearn for something other than the internet as well.

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Magnificent. Thank you for posting. In the background of this essay, unstated and implicit, stands a tall figure: the notion that what most matters about our lives is the kind of person we become, what was once called our "character." The wonderful sentence about "public opinion [being] a conscience owned by a syndicate" tips a hat to the idea.

It's interesting and unfortunate that this sensibility - that our character is a worthy object of concern and attention - seems odd to the modern ear. But really the idea stands outside of time and talks to every generation. "Simplicity" - with its quaint or archaic overtones - still awakens the conscience. I will be watching myself a bit more closely today.

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Aristotle put it best: "happiness is a life lived in the cultivation of personal virtue."

I'm actually mildly optimistic that the young could find their way back to sanity based on Aristotle's teaching. Hedonism is empty in the end. He who dies with the most toys (or having the most sex or becoming the biggest glutton)... still dies.

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Oct 27, 2023·edited Oct 27, 2023

It's incredible how true these words become as one leaves his 20s, enters his 30s, and approaches his 40s. I have been thinking about these things, especially the joy of moderation, so often lately! But this says it so much better than I could, especially the fight that goes on with oneself as we try to judge or experience and mature. It's exactly what I was in need of hearing. Also, it reminds me of some of the works by Napoleon Hill. Thank you.

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“Let your mind wander in simplicity, blend your spirit with the vastness, follow along with things the way they are, and make no room for personal views—then the world will be governed.” Chuang Tzu

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Love this.

Today I reflected on my long career in Information technology and the subject of change. I started my Information Technology career in 1980 when computers were room-sized machines connected to washing machine-sized disk drives. For the next three decades I would have technical changed forced upon me every day.

My exposure to all this constant technical change provided me a fantastic learning environment to understand the human side of change. And all of this has led me to a theory that explains why we all feel like the world is coming apart at the seams.

The human animal both seeks change in always wanting something more, but is also generally change-averse in defense of what it already has. I dealt with this my entire career, and am still dealing with it even in the two companies I am the top boss of. Getting people to change is damn hard... especially when it looks to them like the change will not get them more.

People need time to ingest change and make it their new normal. There are nuances of impacts that are impossible to completely inventory, and thus there is this period with initial change where it is like the sediment in a pond gets stirred up and needs to settle again. If another change is pushed before the previous settles, then change anxiety happens.

I think what we are seeing today is too-rapid of change. People don't have enough time to incorporate it all, and the sediment is constantly stirred up. It is change anxiety to the max... and it feels like chaos is happening all around us. Some of this is just technical change, but much of it is cultural, social, language, political, etc. change that is enabled by the technical change. Change is frankly being shoved down our throats for the benefit of a few and the expense of many.

I certainly don't want to go back to washing machine-sized hard drives with 5MB storage capacity... but my work life at these companies was epic and I count many of my coworkers as very good friends today (those of us that are still kicking). Frankly, it was a bit like The Office. Working from home was pushed on us, and now employees will not have that that opportunity to forge similar long-term friendships with coworkers that they don't spend enough face time with. These employees are demonstrating greater diagnosis of loneliness and anxiety even though they demand a work-from-home arrangement.

Because of my history of having to adopt constant change, I never thought I would be one to advocate slowing down the pursuit of "progress". "Progressive" is a negative word for me now as I see it as a reckless pursuit of change that leaves a trail of human conflict in its wake.

I think we should just slow the eff down... and get back to a feeling of normal before the next big change is attempted.

I think this essay on simplicity can also be looked at through the "too much change" prism. Simplicity is often just another label for familiarity.

But, please... keep increasing the storage capacity of my thumb drives!

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My first great influence was Henry David Thoreau’s on Walden Pond. Same thing and I think l was very lucky.

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Complexity is the hallmark of technical competence ... simplicity of genius.

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New to the community - have been reading N S Lyons for a while.... This was the article that finally converted me! 😀

What writing! In 1905! So relevant even today. Goes to show distractions will change form over the generations - what will never change is one’s ‘sole proprietorship of one’s conscience’!!

What a beautiful way to start my Saturday. Thank you N S Lyons.

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Leave it to a rhetorician to write about simplicity :)

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Some more thoughts.

Business guru Peter Drucker had advocated that all large corporations hire a Chief Destruction Officer that would report to the CEO. The basis for this absurd idea was related to the principle of bureaucratic bloat... the tendency for people in power, once they achieve it, to shift to defense and build complexity around them to make them seem more indispensable. The complexity is like barnacles on a ship... slowing it down over time... making it less efficient. Either the ship would need to be taken out of the water periodically to clean (re-engineered) or there would be an officer responsible for constant cleaning to maintain efficiency.

Think about mastery. After devoting your 10,000 hours to something and mastering that something, you then leverage your skills to a position of success and social hierarchy. As a master you can handle some added complexity.... and it serves to further define you as a master while also making it more difficult for competition from upstarts. You have a natural conflict of interest accepting any return to simplicity.

My customers for new systems would say it had to be simple and cheap. I would tell them that systems that are simple tend to cost the most to develop. Complexity, is often just the result of laziness and poor effort in design.

I think that is the a bit of a problem with this advocacy for simplicity is that many will take it as remaining cheap and lazy. We see that in youth today that are seeming to rebel against the stress of complex modern life by taking a no-work or low-work attitude. That is the exact wrong perspective IMO. The advocacy should be to work harder and smarter to achieve more simple and elegant systems that make overall life more simple. But that also requires getting good at getting rid of tasks, actions and behaviors that only support complexity.

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That was exquisite. Thank you.

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I quite literally discovered the value of the virtues discussed herein in my own life within the last year, through the long and winding roundabout of Camus and Absurdism, but still!

Thank you for sharing this. It is much appreciated.

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Thank you!

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The points brought up in this essay provide potent support for the argument that "unpiloted autonomous vehicles" will never play a significant role on public highways. To bring up only one objection, fully autonomous vehicle traffic is the equivalent of centralized Command Economy. It's inherently fragile. When a centralized interactive system breaks down, it REALLY breaks down. The digital hardheads will most likely have to learn that lesson the hard way, but it should be apparent to even the most obdurate of them before long, while the project is still in a relatively preliminary stage.

It's one thing when centralized systems failure happens to the TV screen in your living room. The negative consequences are potentially much more profound when the crafters of the ephemeral realm of the digital screen- which hasn't gained a bit of real-world solidity since the era of Pong- confuse the screen's flickering image and precisely instructed modeling capacity with the abilities required to adapt to dynamic systems, microshifts of time and terrain (both human and physical), and the gravity-bound impacts of material realm processes.

In the real world, stuff falls over. Sometimes it breaks, or gets broken. Phenomena don't play by the book all of the time; they deviate often enough to require a very particular and immediate form of focused awareness in order to reliably anticipate Trouble, prevent it, or ameliorate it. That's what road conditions can be like: just plain generic, undifferentiated Trouble, out of nowhere, no guide book to handle it. But notwithstanding that ever-present possibility of the ingress of unpredictability--and the occasional requirement for crafting a response on the spot--some aspects of the material realm of human experience consist of undeviating constraints that can be counted on. They take the form of laws that enforce themselves. Serious impacts hurt and damage. Sometimes they maim and kill. For all of strength of evidence for modelable "game theory" aspects of human behavior, the human being game itself has no resets. Human beings have an intuitive sense of that fact, and it has a wonderful way of concentrating focus. Whereas machines just do what they're told.

More mundanely: to consider the professional small-vehicle human transportation game, someone has to load and unload the luggage for the passengers. Or are the savants of Silicon Valley planning to invent robots to ride inside the UAVs, to take care of those tasks? And how will they be with attentively using umbrellas, or lugging a drunk to their doorway? Especially if the drunk in question has forgotten their own address...and that reminds me of other occasional concerns, like how to keep the vehicle clean, and, uh, sanitary, over the course of an evening. Every evening.

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Former federal employee here.. it used to be that occasionally one party or another would seek to simplify and coordinate government programs. For example, Al Gore had such a program. Now any streamlining if done by Republicans would be treated as “against government employees” and the D’s don’t seem to care much. I wish we had a Good Governance party that would focus for two terms on streamlining, simplifying and coordinating existing programs. Congress folk and Admins like to start new programs and take credit.. but no one seems to look at whether they actually work as designed nor if they could be combined or simplified. So much so that it falls on individuals and communities of varying capacity to negotiate the jungle of options and requirements for programs that are designed to help them... sigh. Well that’s my riff on simplicity.

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