Stab a Book, the Book Won't Die

November 8, 2019    books reading

Via Craig’s excellent essay - Stab a Book, the Book Won’t Die:


  • We buy a book, we know what we’re getting. There is no other “business model” at play. No other information being (necessarily, relatively) sold. This clarity of contract is especially lucid in physical form. The book has edges. The transaction has edges. The transaction completes. Given time, we complete the book. It has an ending. Contracts are clear. Usually, there’s no tracking.

  • The immutability of printed books is their superpower. Remember this, because it’s from this immutability that books derive their dead-simple “contract.”

Attention Monsters: Things that Eat Attention

  • The main adversary of books and book publishing is: Anything that eats attention.

  • A simple heuristic for determining if something is an attention monster: “Free” apps built around advertising models tend to become attention monsters.1 Especially if they’ve taken on a lot of venture capital, a tendency even further exacerbated if they’re a public company.2

  • Instagram is a great example. The more you scroll, the more money they make. Consider the “agreement” into which you’ve entered with the application the next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling. What’s keeping you there? Why are the algorithms showing you what they’e showing? What benefits are you accruing? What do you feel the need to post what you’re posting? For what are are you trading your time and mental energy?

  • over time, attention monster methods of consuming user attention become more aggressive the larger the user base becomes. A once simple contract (“connect with your friends online,” “post photos with cool filters,” et cetera) into which we may have entered with a free app begins to change by small degrees when that app or publication is pushed to increase profitability

  • Publications are another example. Most legacy or incumbent news organizations like The New York Times fall into this bucket.

  • In contrast, publications like The Information or Stratechery or The New Consumer — recently founded publications — are entirely subscriber based, and thereby shed themselves of attention gorging.

  • Netflix is another example, which stated “Sleep is our competitor”. Their internal doctrine might be like - Netflix must become a downtime habit humans cannot live without. The service must become a teat, an irreplaceable and inexhaustible binge conveyance.

Contracts and habits

  • Here are two big takeaways that are relevant to our contracts, attention monsters, and books discussion:

    1. True behavior change is identity change.
    2. “Motion” is the act of researching; “action” is getting your reps in. Never mistake the two.
  • Carrying a Kindle and blocking most media on my phone are two core pieces to my system of maintaining, believing in, and strengthening my identity as a “reader

Reading and Attention

  • A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end.

  • The critical insight is that deep reading is an active exhaustion, the result of burned calories, not the passive exhaustion of an underused body and mind.

” and maintaining what I consider “healthy” contracts with apps and media.