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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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Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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Overcome Your Fear of Embarrassment by Imagining People Reacting to Your Fart
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Everyone gets embarrassed occasionally, but not everyone reacts in the same way. Some people have a deep-rooted fear of embarrassment, and seek to avoid it as much as possible. You can't go your whole life without ever embarrassing yourself, though, unless you remove yourself from human company entirely. So if you are prone to feeling embarrassed and self-conscious, you have to learn to deal with it effectively. A new study spotted by Big Think suggests that a relatively easy trick can help minimize embarrassment. You just have to get outside of yourself.

The research, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA and published in Motivation and Emotion, looked at the problem through a business-school lens—in other words, for people who are really worried about public embarrassment, that fear might affect what they buy. They might hesitate to buy something because they don't want to ask questions about it or don't want to be seen buying it, or they might buy even more of it to avoid embarrassment in the future (say, if it's Beano).

The research was aimed at people who are high in what psychologists call "public self-consciousness." These individuals are ultra-aware of how they appear to others, and are often very concerned with how people see them, so they try to avoid potential embarrassment as much as possible. They “tend to perceive themselves to be in the social ‘spotlight' and focus too much on the situation,” the study's authors write.

In three different tests, the researchers introduced embarrassing situations to UCLA students. First, they had students read a Beano ad involving a yoga student who lets out an accidental fart ("guaranteed to linger forever," as the copywriter put it), then answer questions about how much they identified with the farter in the situation and how they felt. They found that participants who were high in public self-consciousness tended to imagine themselves as the farter in the situation while reading the ad, rather than seeing themselves as an observer, and felt more embarrassed reading it than other participants.

In a subsequent test, the researchers asked students to read an ad about a study in which volunteers would be asked personal questions about sensitive issues like genital herpes. They then answered questions about how likely they would be to volunteer, how they would expect to feel during that type of interview, and how they expected the study administrators would react to them during that interview. They found that self-conscious people were more likely to say they would volunteer if they were asked first about how the people administrating the study would likely react to volunteers, forcing them to consider the outsider's perspective before they were asked if they would take part.

In the third test, the researchers recruited students to again consider embarrassing farts. Two ads for gas-prevention products each showed the same image of four people sitting on a couch together, with one guy sitting alone on one end and three women sitting on the other end. One ad read, "Rip. Accidentally passing gas in front of a crush is one of the most embarrassing experiences. Guaranteed to linger forever." Another added an extra twist: "Others will know what it's like. Put yourself in their shoes … would you giggle? Would you be horrified? Would you stare?"

Participants who read the first ad were more likely to say they would buy the gas-preventing product to keep them from experiencing the embarrassment of a public fart. If they read the second ad, they reported less interest in buying it.

In any social situation, it's probably a good idea to imagine that you are not the center of everyone's attention. For people who are prone to self-consciousness, that kind of thought pattern can be even more helpful than for most. While it's easy to default to thinking of yourself as the star of the movie of your life, it might be better to imagine what it's like to be part of the audience—one that's really, really rooting for you, farts and all.

[h/t Big Think]

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