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The Late Movies: Merlin Mann's Greatest Hits

If you don't know Merlin Mann, you're in for a treat. In the most recent edition of his Bulk Bag Newsletter, Merlin ran down five of his favorite talks, all available in handy online video format. I have rearranged the videos in chronological order (Merlin put them in order of awesomeness), so you can get a better sense of Merlin's public progression from "tips and tricks guy" through "realizing the entire internet has somehow become a tips and tricks guy" to his current position of "heart-on-his-sleeve brilliant rambler."

Merlin is a polarizing figure in nerd circles -- people tend to love him or hate him, and I think a lot of people (probably on both sides) misunderstand him. He's best known for his Inbox Zero talk (which is widely misunderstood to be about having zero emails in your inbox), and the majority of his deep thinking is about the problems of creative work, though many who follow him are not themselves in creative careers. Merlin has a tendency to ramble and riff -- which you may find charming or infuriating, depending on whether you get the jokes and like the guy. One of his most compelling (and/or confusing) traits is an increasing tendency to make meaning out of meaningless words and jokes (like "blue-sky solutioneering"), occupying an existentially and linguistically awkward space in which it's up to the listener to determine what, if anything, a given statement means -- some jokes are jokes, some jokes are sincere statements. It's an exercise for the reader to discern the difference. I think this is great; your mileage may vary. Watching the videos below, you can see this clear progression: he starts with a fully prepared, "professional" talk that's light on digressions, but as time passes he wings it more and more, showing more emotion as he goes.

I think Merlin is the single most interesting Internet Person I've run across. He is incredibly vulnerable, and he shares that vulnerability in a way that demonstrates fortitude. He's also a terrific singer and guitarist, but you wouldn't know it. Check out these videos, and beware the sporadic f-bombs.

Inbox Zero, 2007

Creating a distinction between "checking your email" and "processing your email." In retrospect, this talk is Merlin at his most practical and systematic -- he's talking about managing a particular technology (email) with a particular system (Inbox Zero). If your inbox doesn't represent a pain point for you, this talk probably won't matter much for you. But if, like me, you get hundreds of emails a day and live in an indetermine "world of pain" when surveying that influx of crap, this is a way to deal with it.

Worst Website Ever - 'FlockdUp,' 2008

In this talk from SxSW 2008, Merlin shares his "worst website ever" concept: FlockedUp™. It is a beautiful six-minute riff of meaninglessness, using the terminology of bizdev BS. For example: "FlockdUp™ is really uniquely positioned at this juncture to suck all of the oxygen out of this vertical. [A full two minutes of corpdork pseudowords continue.]" Featuring FlockBux™: "Like Money, but Monetized.©"

Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now), 2009

Slightly NSFW (for language) at the beginning, somewhat rambling, and super-honest. On internet-based lists: "Little nacho chips of information that are really addicting." In general, this is a discussion about self-help, "life hacks," what real help is, why "knowledge work" is hard and encourages a particular form of help/hack-consumption, and (wait for it) old butchers.

Time & Attention, 2010

I'll let Merlin explain:

One afternoon in New Jersey, I was anxious, and screwed, and under a lot of pressure.

First, the gig started really late because of three different grave technical problems. But, I had to get up there and Do My Thing. Unfortunately, my slides wouldn’t work, the mood in the room fell somewhere between total death and roiling hostility, and, so, I had to wing it. For 90 minutes. Lotta winging here.

This is basically where Merlin talks about the underlying issues (time and attention) that were the underlayment for most or all of his previous work.

Scared Sh*tless, 2011

At Webstock last year, Merlin gave a highly emotional talk about being scared. Note that this came shortly before the apparent collapse of an Inbox Zero book deal that had been occupying him more than full-time for years. (While discussing Springsteen's Born to Run saga: "Why is this meaningful to me? Ask me in a few weeks." Ahem.) Also, that mic is really not fitting in his ear properly. I just want to warn you again, this is really emotional and might make you cry if you watch for long enough.

More Mann

Check out the excellent podcast Back to Work.

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3 Easy Ways to Curb Your Smartphone Addiction
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In the modern era, it feels virtually impossible to live without a smartphone. How would your friend tell you she's running late to meet you for lunch? How many life updates would you miss if you're off Instagram? How on earth do you find anything without Google Maps? Few of us are able to resist the siren call of cell phones and social media, and as a result, researchers say that smartphone addition is on the rise, causing greater levels of anxiety and depression, especially among young adults.

Even if you don't feel like your phone is making you depressed, you probably feel like you stare at it at least a little longer than you should each day. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 46 percent of smartphone owners say they couldn't live without their device. But there are ways to detach from your precious phone without having to totally disconnect. Here are three tips to help you back off your smartphone usage, no withdrawal pains necessary.

1. TURN OFF VIBRATIONS.

Let's face it: You probably look at your phone regularly, whether you know someone is trying to reach you or not. You know, just in case. A 2015 Gallup poll found that half of all smartphone owners look at their device hourly. Checking your smartphone is essentially a compulsion for many people, one that researchers say plays on the brain's dopamine circuitry to leave us always wanting more. To short-circuit that process, take away those intrusive notifications that derail your attention even when you're not looking at your phone. Trust us, you will rarely miss an important text message by waiting a few minutes to answer it, and you'll probably get rid of those pesky phantom vibrations in the process. Does it really matter if you find out now or in an hour that you have three likes on your latest Instagram post? We didn't think so.

2. DITCH THAT BATTERY PERCENTAGE NUMBER.

Checking your phone all the time doesn't just make you stress over whether or not someone is texting you back. The more time you spend on your smartphone, the quicker your battery dies, and the more time you spend stressing out over whether or not you'll have enough battery left to keep using your phone for the rest of the day. But knowing whether your phone is at 63 percent battery or 57 percent battery probably won't help. It's hard to judge exactly how long a phone will last even when you can see the percentage, and the constant downward tick of the numbers is only going to make you obsess more. So just disable the setting, hiding the battery percentage display altogether. You'll still be able to get a rough idea of how much charge your phone has left from the icon, there just won’t be a specific number attached to it. Because when it comes to actually using your smartphone, the difference between 54 percent and 53 percent battery is essentially meaningless, anyway. You might as well just ignore it.

3. MAKE IT GRAYSCALE.

This one is a recommendation from Tristan Harris, a former "Design Ethicist" at Google. He is a specialist on just how our phones hijack our attention, and how those random notifications keep us coming back to our home screens again and again and again. To break the pattern, he suggests making your phone’s shiny graphics look a little less interesting. Make them grayscale instead of color. Suddenly, your vibrant, colorful phone will look a little more drab. You'll be able to text and make phone calls and use Google Maps, sure, but scrolling through Facebook won't feel quite as rewarding.

This one seems a little extreme when you first try it, but it's pretty easy to switch back and forth between color and grayscale when you enable the setting. For an iPhone, go to the General tab in your settings, then Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. When you turn on color filters, you should be able to select grayscale as an option, turning your phone drab. To switch back to color occasionally, go back to the Accessibility menu in your settings, then select Accessibility Shortcuts all the way at the bottom. Enable Color Filters in that menu, and you'll be able to switch back and forth just by triple-clicking the home button.

If you have an Android, the process is a little more complicated, and you may have to enable a developer mode to unlock it. (More instructions here.)

Once your phone is robbed of color, you'll be surprised at how much less powerful the rush of opening up your home screen is. It's like taking a sip of decaf coffee.

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science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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