He's checking in

A weekly(?) check-in email

He's checking in

Time for a low-pressure check-in newsletter. How are you doing? Good? Don't worry, I'll have found a way to make you feel bad by the end of this.

Yeet Your Phone: The Yeetening

In phone-yeeting news, I am done with Instagram, and probably social media in general for the foreseeable. It was prompted by the experience of writing my review for Arnold Schwarzenegger's Be Useful. I generally grab the Kindle editions of self-help books because highlighting and switching to the audiobook version is easy, and it means the damn things don't clog up my bookcase. I'd twice picked up my phone to open the Kindle app because I had to search for quotes and chapter headings, and each time – without meaning to – I ended up on Instagram. The second time it happened, it was as I picked up the phone while saying out loud "OK, gotta focus," and as I did so my thumb, entirely of its own volition, flicked over to the Instagram app and opened it.

I deleted it a minute later. I'm sorry, friends who occasionally send or receive memes from me, but this is the sort of behaviour that in previous centuries would have resulted in an exorcism. A friend sent me a similar yarn:

That was the moment I quit Facebook. I walked up to a traffic light and then I was on Facebook and I went "WTF was that." Then I put it in my pocket. Said "I won't do that again." Crossed the street, walked about 4 m and I was on Facebook.

Then I took a "2 week break" and never logged in again.

If I can figure out a social media strategy that has a purpose – actually engaging people in things I make or care about, like this newsletter – I'll look to get back on it. Until then, fuck it. I'm out. The more I think about it, the more most social media feels like a scam. Even on the Twitter alternative I'm occasionally active on, Bluesky, I find I don't get any engagement unless I'm kvetching about some kind of shared bête noire, like the catastrophic state of New Zealand politics. On that note, remember how I begged Kiwi politicians to f̶r̶e̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶e̶e̶d̶ permit the pseudoephedrine? It's finally happening, in a striking case of the below:

Heartbreaking: The Worst Person You Know Just Made A Great Point
Because All Content Deserves To Go Viral.

The problem with much of social media is that anything that isn't sufficiently strident doesn't get picked up, and sometimes – like today – I just want to talk like I would amongst friends. I'll readily admit that social media has its uses, like in activism, but selfishly I care about how useful social media is for me, my time, and my mental health, and on those measures it's about as helpful as a daily lobotomy.

a screenshot of a Facebook post that reads "oh god why, I have a twitter account now. whyyyy"
This was a mistake, and so was Facebook

Caveat. Yes, I think it's important that people know and care about important things that go on locally or in the world, like the genocide in Palestine, but I also think there are good ways to protest such things that aren't necessarily social-media based. Here is a really good example. Indeed, we might need to work out ways of spreading awareness for important things that deliberately circumvent social media: Meta – not content with merely twisting the many knives it carefully placed in the rapidly expiring body of news media – is actively shadow-banning users and hiding posts that talk about Palestine. It's another vote in favour of email newsletters. They're a slower, more deliberate form of content, my stuff goes out to people who actively asked for it, and there are fewer algorithmic filters in the way.

I was planning to cold-turkey social media for a month for an upcoming edition of this newsletter anyway, but I'm doing it earlier than I'd planned to. Initial results in this experiment are good: instead of the traditional 3.5 hours of scrolling on Saturday, I cleaned most of the house. This has been a long-winded way of saying that, before I switched it off, Louise sent me a self-improvement-tangential funny she found on Instagram (screenshotted from Tumblr) and I thought you'd like it.

A screenshot of a Tumblr post that reads "yesterdaysprint: Does the average man get enough sleep? What is enough sleep? What is the average man? What is "does"? The San Francisco Examiner, California, February 25, 1935 flaneuriste: Sometimes I think humankind hasn't changed at all. drcrowdpleaser: WHAT IS "DOES"

I had to know if that snippet was real, so I took out and immediately cancelled a "free" trial subscription to the newspapers.com archive to find out. I'm very happy to report that it is indeed real – and that Robert Benchley, grandfather to the guy who wrote Jaws, was writing some kind of analogue to The Cynic's Guide To Self-Improvement as far back as 1935.

Too long for alt text: A screenshot of a newspaper article that begins "Does the average man get enough sleep? What is enough sleep? What is the average man? What is 'does'?"

Benchley, it turns out, was very famous in his time. He was a writer and actor, with a fascinating, star-studded career. Here's a telling extract from his lengthy Wikipedia page:

MGM invited Benchley to write and perform in a short production inspired by a Mellon Institute study on sleep commissioned by the Simmons Mattress Company. The resulting movie, How to Sleep, was filmed in two days, and it featured Benchley as both the narrator and sleeper—the latter a role Benchley claimed was "not much of a strain, as [he] was in bed most of the time." ... The only group not pleased was the Mellon Institute, which did not approve of the studio mocking their study.

That short film went on to win an Oscar. I'd like to hold out hope that my career trajectory might turn out similarly, but something tells me that not living in a small town in the middle of rural New Zealand might be a prerequisite for that kind of success. Which is probably for the best.

Up Lifting Tunes

Hey alright, it’s Kip Casper for Klon radio – L.A.’s infinite repeat! How we feeling out there? How’s your drive time commute? I need a saga. What’s the saga? It's Songs for the Deaf. You can't even hear it!

For me, Songs for the Deaf is one of those albums. I can still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard No One Knows for the first time. When I say "exactly" I am not exaggerating. I was driving my mum's Ford Telstar, a lumbering shitbox that could only be started if you parked it on a convenient hill or had someone handy to push (again: not exaggerating) and the song came on the radio when I was precisely here: 123 Discovery Drive, Helensvale, Gold Coast, Queensland.

Screenshot 2024-03-18 at 8.36.44 AM.png

This was a while back. A long while back. I am an enjoyer of those horrible memes in which someone points out how old something is now and then does a comparison to how old something else was when the original something appeared. Like this one, which got me real good:

A screenshot of a Bluesky post that reads: "did you know that OK Computer is as old right now as Let It Be was when OK computer was released"

Since I'm indulging my enjoyment of QOTSA, let's do one for Songs for the Deaf. It came out in 2002.

DID YOU KNOW that Songs for the Deaf is as old right now as the video game Pac-Man was when Songs for the Deaf was released.

Pac-Man came out in 1980. Feel old yet? Good. Go to the gym and play this. As far as I can tell, the entire album is about how rad it is to take heroin, but it's also pretty good to bench-press to.

Making myself feel bad with album release dates made me think of doing the same to Robert Benchley's sleep article in the San Francisco Examiner. It was written in 1935, which – I am unhappy to report – is closer in time to the first moon landings (34 years) than we are today (55 years and counting.) Oh, and the obscure Simpsons reference in the featured image at the top of the newsletter is from an episode that first aired in 1997, the same year as OK Computer's release, so the Let It Be rule applies there too. That's right: we are the same distance now from The Simpsons being culturally relevant as The Simpsons were from the height of the Beatles' cultural relevance.

I think that's enough.

Share & Enjoy

I really like the comments and feedback people left on the previous newsletter. For some reason there's now a great primer on libertarianism and a thought-provoking musing on systemic implications of the butterfly effect in the comment section, as well as this lovely sentiment from reader JP:

I think that if I had read this article alone, versus the entire self-help genre I had in my teens and twenty I would have avoided my entire poor mental health experience. That is to say, you summed up in one single piece (and tbh a number of your pieces) exactly what's been so damaging about the self help genre. It's really brilliant. It was the best balm I could ever read to keep my head above water this week/month/year/life time. Thank you

On that note, and conscious that I spent a bunch of this newsletter demotivating everyone with memetic reminders of the inevitability of age and loss, I'm keen to put together a playlist of songs people like to lift to, or that gets them going in the morning, or that are in some vague way motivational, ironically or otherwise. Please, sling some links in the comments.

Current self-improvement reading: Four Thousand Weeks, Be More Pirate. Sadly, they are two different books.

Currently working on: An article about how I made my bed for an entire year, which I'm sure everyone can't wait to read.