This week’s newsletter from’s was just filled with one mind bomb after another. After falling down many a pleasurable rabbit hole, I kept returning to ’s essay on De-Atomization is the secret to Happiness that Chris linked.
“We can only improve what we measure” is a useful insight to increase efficiency and productivity. But of course the single pursuit of improving a measure often leads to the neglect of that which cannot be measured easily, such as friendship and joy.
Eliason gives a nice example I easily relate to
Let’s take biking as an example. First, biking was something you did outside, often with friends. There was scenery, socialization, exploration, sunlight, and exercise. Then the exercise element was captured in stationary bikes, placed in a gym or a spin class, and most of the richness was removed. You still got the exercise, and some socialization from being in the gym or class, but there was no scenery, no exploration, no time in the outdoors. Then we got Peloton. No socialization. No scenery. No exploration. No sunlight. Exercise, sure, and Emma is cute, but that’s it. The richness of biking is gone.
Atomization in our lives is not a new lament. But the past few years have been discombobulating. I did not predict so many things that have come to pass, and these surprises seem to be occurring more frequently. Could this be attributed to atomization too?
Atoms are the universal building blocks. They are the OG lego bricks that allow us to build different things. Am I experiencing this feeling of alienation because we are in the process of reconfiguring… everything?
Another Chris tweet connected the dots for me. From Tom Morgan’s Idea of the Year, came this tantalizing idea:
In his fascinating recent book The Romance of Reality, Bobby Azarian talks about how the ultimate goal of any living thing is to get increasingly more statistically correlated with the flow of its environment. The bacterium that consistently swims away from food won’t last very long. Our aim is therefore to become as efficient as possible when it comes to both minimizing uncertainty and exploring our surroundings. “Knowing exactly the right thing to do at exactly the right time” describes how effectively we perform this balance.
Our environment is changing. And it’s not just our physical environment (eg. climate) but also the environment residing more in our heads (eg. online, zoom, and soon the metaverse?). As our environment changes, we need to reconfigure individually and collectively to become “increasingly more statistically correlated with the flow of our environment”.
So, the answer as Eliason suggests is de-atomization or integration. But we can’t integrate back to the long lost olden days because that environment is long gone too. Instead, we need to reconfigure to best adapt to the new environment.
I’m still figuring out what this entails. But I am seeing signs of hope everywhere. Look at's Dynamite Starfish. Leslie has combined her passion in climbing, her expertise in graphics design and marketing with an upbeat entrepreneurial courage to produce a unique business. She has de-atomized or figured out a retail combination that I’m not sure even has a name yet!
One huge challenge in our changing environment is that we (humans) are the main cause of the changing environment. This means that as we change/de-atomize/reconfigure, the environment changes yet again… in ever faster cycles.
Again, I’m not sure how we navigate this. But I think the lessons taught in Small Bets are helpful: First, ensure survival. Then, reconfigure your life so that you can use your guts and expertise to make low effort small bets to earn a living. Iterate and learn what works and discover what you like. Build in enough slack, so that you can double down on the winning bets. I am grateful for Danny Vassallo for verbalizing what I have been attempting for over the past decade.
In case you are just as delighted as me to be traipsing into more rabbit holes, you may enjoy this thread on Relevance Realization by Tom Morgan.
Thanks for sharing abt Tom Morgan’s relevance realisation
I need the terms to describe a few isolated weirdly expansive experiences I had this year
Chao I love how you give names to phenomena like this! I definitely noticed atomization in the rock climbing gyms in Los Angeles county. We used to have only a few gyms that were admittedly quite dingy but had tightly knit communities that climbed together and became friends in the parking lot. Then the BIG gyms rolled in and there was all this space to spread out. People would plug into their earphones instead of talk to the person climbing next to them. We were all climbing alone, together. Then came folks getting offended when anyone would give them climbing advice (aka beta). THEN, in an effort to bring people back together again, affinity groups started popping up but they are very singular in who they cater to. If you can be a part of these groups, you can enjoy community again. But only with other people who qualify to be in that group. So I wonder: what about everyone else? Are they just destined to be atoms that never reconfigure?