On learning and being present

Raw link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmzeWs4uJ1g

[ Below is the text of the presentation. Note that in the video I sometimes explain statements which are not found in the text. ]

Table of Contents

  1. About parrhesia and dialectic
  2. Sincerity and presence
  3. Our attention is finite
  4. The commodification of our attention span
  5. Knowledge starts with presence
  6. Quality over quantity

Hello everyone! My name is Protesilaos, also known as “Prot”. Today I will talk to you about a broad theme that covers how we experience the world and, by extension, the manner in which we accumulate knowledge. As always, the text of this presentation is available on my website: https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-06-25-knowledge-presence.

There are two main parts to this video. In the first one, I cover the general themes of sincerity and presence. These are prerequisites to a favourable disposition towards knowledge and learning. In the second part, I tackle the more specialised topic of taking notes. I explain what I consider the difference between a task and a note and discuss what constitutes a high- or low- quality entry to our knowledge base.

This video comes a few days after a detailed demonstration I did on a programming-related subject: I developed a note-taking package for Emacs that is focused on simplicity and portability. I do write a lot. I do publish frequently as well—just check my website. I thus want to share my views as a writer, thinker, and coder.

The core message for you at this introductory stage is that there is no “killer app”, no “life hack”, no effortless way to improve yourself. You have to earn it, by starting with your mindset. The choice of technology comes second, together with the technicalities of the method you choose to implement. Don’t get distracted by lofty promises of a “second brain” that magically does the work for you. Valuable notes are the product of your rigour and discipline. Focus on the one brain you have. Whatever extensions to it will follow from there.

About parrhesia and dialectic

There is only one English word you may not be familiar with and needs to be explained at the outset: parrhesia (παρρησία). It is borrowed from Greek.

Parrhesia literally means “all that is being said” or “all that is put into words”. In practical usage, parrhesia refers to the disposition of speaking in earnest, of telling things as they are. No tricks, no gimmicks.

We can see the connection between “saying everything that can be said” and being honest. With parrhesia, honesty acquires a meaning where telling the truth is a sign of standing up to the authority of conventions. To have parrhesia is to prioritise the pursuit of truthfulness over any given arrangement that may grant power, social status, popularity, and so on.

In terms of our selfhood, which I covered in the previous entry to this series, parrhesia is what we need to recognise who we are in the moment; who we are as that subjective narrative of self that draws linkages between different contexts and evolving states of affairs.

[ On selfhood: https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-05-31-selfhood/ ]

We best understand our self amidst the totality of the world with parrhesia. Whenever we hold back on “what is being said”, whenever we deem some words ineffable or consider certain aspects of our selfhood off limits, we necessarily distort or foreshadow our perception of self.

What does honesty about one’s selfhood have to do with the broad theme of accumulating knowledge? How does it relate to the particular topic of learning by writing notes?

It is relevant because it determines how you, the subject who seeks knowledge, interprets the phenomena. If you cannot be honest with yourself, if you cannot discern the truth in that which is most intimate, what makes you believe you can reliably find any other truth?

Parrhesia is a matter of disposition: how we conduct ourselves. When we make a habit out of speaking the truth, we necessarily acknowledge the need to seek the truth, remain open to it, and be ready to revise our views in the face of compelling evidence and/or cogent counter-arguments to those of our own. In other words, we do not stand for our truth but the truth, even if it runs contrary to our beliefs, which we must promptly and blithely revise. This means that we are not attached to the narrative of our selfhood we have hitherto developed. We admit to our variability, to the potential of change or evolution.

Parrhesia is the other side of inquisitiveness and dubitativeness. We cannot be genuinely inquisitive if we are afraid to elucidate the truth. We may not be dubitative if we only ever provide assent to that which is expedient or which happens to find currency in our milieu. Sometimes our comfort zone is nothing but the prison we have rationalised as cosy.

Parrhesia, then, involves a special brand of courage: that which has the capacity to challenge the cult of personality we develop about our own self. When we are honest, we know how to contain our cockiness, escape from our egoism, remain grounded, and see our self as yet another node in this distributed network of universal life that is the Cosmos.

Parrhesia is not about recklessness. One must recognise the specifics of the case to know where the virtuous balance is which, ipso facto, is a matter of understanding how things stand. Furthermore, parrhesia is not a dogma of truthfulness, a holy war of sorts, where we take it upon ourselves to demonstrate to others how they are wrong. No!

We must understand that values are ideals. They are analytical constructs which exist in a perfect world. In our actuality though, we must exercise practical reason, “common sense” as we say. The truth is an ideal as well. As with all ideals, it has no instantiation that is equivalent to its absolute form. What we have in practice are approximations of the ideal, which is the case for everything. I cannot offer you harmony, for example, but only instances of it such as a melody or a shape. Even if I put together all melodies and shapes I am still giving you instances of harmony, not the ideal of it.

Parrhesia thus requires that we acknowledge the actuality of our subjectivity; the truth that what we learn is a function of factors whose interplay contributes to states of affairs. We do not deal in absolutes. Our methods are imperfect and our judgement fallible. To speak in earnest, then, requires that we recognise our limits. The most practical way to do so is to be dialectical.

Dialectic, in its original meaning, is about discourse, dialogue, what happens “through words”: an exchange of views. Because of parrhesia, because of its concomitant inquisitiveness and dubitativeness, engaging in dialectic means that we admit to the possibility of changing our thesis (position) either to an opposite one, an anti-thesis, or a new view that might blend the two, a syn-thesis, or simply a new thesis that supersedes all previous ones.

In summary, we have four connatural qualities of character which underpin this truth-seeking view of the world and disposition thereof.

  • parrhesia is sincerity in elucidation;
  • to be dubitative is to doubt, which manifests through the recognition that the truth remains elusive;
  • to be inquisitive is the attitude of questioning and seeking the truth;
  • dialectic is encapsulated in the spirit of openness and selflessness with which we carry out the above.

When we have these, or at least work towards making them part of our everyday life, we start perceiving things differently. For example, someone at some point in the distant past insulted you. By being honest, you understand that the insult is inconsequential and that your past self does not necessarily determine your current self. Matters such as pride are ephemeral and situational. You then realise that by letting go, by no longer attaching value to something that has none and which is not pertinent, you free yourself from its grip.

Ideas can create robust constraints. When we are in the mindset of pursuing the truth, we are neither attached to—nor bound by—any given arrangement of concepts. There is a lightness to it, as we always emancipate ourselves from falsehood; falsehood which may appear as obsession for something unattainable, the pettiness of “winning the argument” for the sake of winning, and all those desires to play a role in order to accommodate social expectations, often to our detriment.

[ Expectations, rules, and role-playing: https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-05-03-expectations-rules-roles/ ]

Sincerity and presence

I already alluded to this notion of “letting go”, of not being attached to an idea, some project of ours, or particular view of our selfhood. When non-attachment becomes the norm in our life, we necessarily live in the moment. The present enjoys our undivided attention. Our sense of self is no longer contingent on any of those concepts we would otherwise cling to.

Let me be concrete here. If I were to prepare this presentation with the ultimate goal of amassing Internet points, such as likes, comments, subscribers, I would be creating an idol of myself—an avatar—who lives and dies in the domain where this video acquires those points or not. If then, I do not have the sincerity to understand that I am not the idol of myself, which I created by mistakenly attributing value to certain constructs, my immediate experiences will revolve around this distorted reality. I will become a victim of my own desires or, rather, my desires will take on a life of their own and exert control over me, alienating me from what I do and rendering me heteronomous (I described “heteronomy” in the previous presentations—it is the “rule by another”, the opposite of autonomy). I will continue to be physically “here”, but my thoughts will be in that imaginary world where the avatar operates in.

By recognising the truth, I understand that Internet points do not change me. With this recording I already say everything I want to communicate. What happens afterwards is outside my control, as it is, for instance, subject to the vicissitudes of some algorithm. I thus am not attached to this project, I do not draw up a corresponding idol and do not get trapped in that mini-game of accumulating of Internet points.

Consider this scenario which you can all relate to either through personal experience or via your acquaintances. You brew a coffee or prepare some tea, walk to the balcony to have your drink, and post on your social media page something like the following:

Enjoying the moment! 🫖☕🤗 #motivation #happiness

Instead of actually savouring the moment, you keep your computer device within reach and constantly check for updates. You are not “there”. Your mind travels to where your avatar is. It wonders in that domain where you acquire validation through how others react to your post about your experience. You are not simply enjoying the moment as you claim.

As you obsess over your status update, you do not open yourself up to the possibility of experiencing the world that unfolds before you. Did you observe the patterns in the clouds? Are there any birds around? How does the breeze feel right now? Do you even pay attention to the drink you purport to enjoy? Maybe you think you have seen it all. “Everyday is the same”, you say. But what if you believe in this sort of constancy exactly because you have a warped perception of things, which is governed by the idol of you and your idolisations in general?

Why did you post that status update? Will you lose your friends if you don’t? Are they that fickle? Will a 100 likes make the drink taste any better? What if you get no likes at all? Does it ruin your day? Why make your experience of the moment contingent on the performance of an avatar? Why confer that much power to a notion; power which will be used against you, such as when you get sad that no-one liked your post?

We often hear people lament how they are a failure in life because they could not realise their dreams or live up to a certain standard. Are they right? Did they truly fail as human beings? Or did their avatars not fulfil their purpose within the confines of whatever mini-game? Instead of belittling ourselves, why not consider the possibility that the dreams and aspirations we have are, at times, falsehoods. Why beat ourselves into submission when there is a good chance we simply lacked perspective? Maybe we were misguided and had the wrong goals.

When we are in the mindset of seeking the truth, we develop the skill of observing our behaviour in such moments instead of jumping to early conclusions. We assess our condition and, with parrhesia, with courage and plain-spoken-ness, ask the difficult but necessary questions:

  • Why am I seeking social validation for a private affair?
  • Is not my appreciation of the moment sufficient?
  • Would I want my enjoyment to be ruled by popular vote?
  • Do I have a personality or am I merely doing what others want?
  • Is my selfhood limited to the performance of an idol of mine?
  • Why hurt myself by assuming that my ideas were correct in advance?
  • Who is this all-knowing judge, anyway, who brands me as a failure?

There is so much that can be said about the trappings of our imagination and how we tend to consider them truthful without further consideration. We escape from the moment, we lose ourselves, we cede control to some avatar, and eventually feel helpless when things go awry.

By practising parrhesia, we find the courage to stand up and take the initiative. We do not allow our self to be reduced to an idol, to a figment of a convention or role-playing game. We are more than that.

Think again about this otherwise innocuous act of posting a status update about your drink. You might think now, “Why would philosophy even bother with such details? Is not philosophy about abstract magnitudes and academic discussions?”

Philosophy is ultimately realised through quotidian life. We do philosophy. We don’t merely preach it or study it. As such, we can draw a general point from a particular phenomenon as we couch it in terms of its wider context.

To continue with the example here, by tackling this seemingly trivial issue with the help of philosophy, we learn that we can enjoy the moment without the performative aspect of tokenising the minutia of our life. By “tokenising” I mean that we convert our experience to something that has transactional value in a certain domain, which we then trade in a market in exchange for popularity and validation.

We have to take a step back and assume agency. Let the moment have our undivided attention. There is no longer an idol or avatar that yearns for those tokens of short-term stimulus. The idol has no power over us. It cannot affect us. There are no troubling thoughts about what our peers might think of our experience in the here and now. None of that bothers and burdens us. None of it. The moment just is: we recognise it as such.

We practice being present in those seemingly “small things” because it is easier to start with them than with more complex phenomena. We can track our progress and notice how a more deliberate disposition is achievable. We practice in small increments, one step at a time, until we learn to remain present consistently, no matter the specifics.

Our attention is finite

Why do we need to focus, anyway? What is the reason for being present? Why not allow ourselves the apparent freedom to wonder away and pursue everything that comes our way?

Quite simply, our time is finite. We only have a few hours each day during which we are productive and can stay active on a given task. In the grand scheme of things, we have but a few years to live. Our humanity makes it impossible to experience what the world has to offer in its totality. We must learn to pick and choose among the innumerable stimuli that affect us and trigger us into action.

Everything out there has an effect on us. The colours, the figures, the sounds, the ideas we have about them or because of them. Everything. By being in the world, we necessarily are contextualised. Who we are and what we do is framed, informed, influenced, conditioned, or otherwise determined by all those magnitudes, large or small, that apply to us. We cannot understand our presence in a vacuum, in some notional state of nothingness where we exist as a decontextualised mind, or conscience, or soul. To be, is to be part of the Cosmos.

Action and reaction, the very idea of a feedback loop, implies language. Something happens, which we can describe as the transmission of a message, and something else occurs in response to it, which may be the reply to this message. In its most basic form, this universal language is binary. As we know from computers, binary language builds gestalt forms of incredible complexity and detail. Do not underestimate how the seemingly trivial mechanism of cause and effect leads to elaborate structures.

As humans, we have mechanisms for processing and filtering this cosmic language. A lot of what happens to us never even registers in our conscience, such as how exposure to sunlight helps our body synthesise a certain vitamin. It has a profound effect on our organism, yet we do not actively engage in its making through our purposeful actions.

Other mechanisms of ours involve conscious participation. This is the part of the universal language we do interpret. It is where we can implement changes and work towards improving ourselves. Consider, for example, the case where you are sitting somewhere and after a few seconds you pull out your smartphone to check for status updates. There is no pressing reason to do it. You already checked your phone a few minutes ago. Why do you have this seemingly irresistible urge to take your focus away from your surroundings and shift it towards that mini computer of yours? Can you spend five minutes without that gadget? Look around you. Is the decor good enough? What are your thoughts about its prevailing colours and patterns? Would you change them? How?

The point is to admit that your attention span is finite. If you constantly get drawn away from the moment by your avatars, you will not have enough time for activities that can enrich your life. A meaningful conversation. An evening of reading. A hike in the nearby mountains. These can be fulfilling only when you partake in them wholeheartedly. Imagine forgetting what you just read. Not nice, is it?

If you do not become considerate about how you use your time in those aspects you do control, you can never gather the energy to stay focused on what you want to do in the moment. There will always be some distraction denying you of anything profound. You shall then remain confined to superficialities and be left with that feeling of emptiness.

To be clear, we cannot avoid all distractions simply by using our brain. It is not enough, at least not without intense training. There are many types of stimuli which take the form of an addiction: we can’t just unthink them and move on. Addiction requires therapy, which always depends on the specifics of the case. In general though, when we find that something has a physical pull on us, we must try to disempower it by not giving in.

As a first step, we can escape from those impulses by removing ourselves from their reach. Is your smartphone the source of your distractions? Shut it off and seal it away for an hour. Give it to a person you trust and ask them to leave the premises with it. Do not take it with you everywhere you go. Try to impose a schedule in your daily life where you disconnect from the Web, literally and figuratively. Do whatever it takes to put a distance between yourself and the source of your distractions. Once you learn to live without them physically, you will gradually practice how to control yourself mentally.

Parrhesia here means that we do not deny the fact that stimuli have an effect on us. Remember that we are always subject to the cosmic language. Lying or pretending does not solve the problem. Parrhesia is to admit the potency of those magnitudes and seek ways to deny them the space they need to grow inside of us. Do not assign value to them. Refrain from becoming invested in them.

Just as we are not attached to our own narrative of self and the aspirations associated with our projects, we must practice not to be governed by those dependencies either.

The commodification of our attention span

Notice that many offerings we are exposed to are free of cost. The so-called “social media” do not charge us any money for using them. They just trigger us into engaging with their platform multiple times per day under the pretext of checking the news or learning what our friends are up to.

Similarly, many of the video games we have on our computers follow a free-to-play model and expect us to achieve progress through endless hours of grinding out repetitive tasks in pursuit of some “achievement”.

Even technical websites, such as GitHub, are now introducing a gimmick of showing off tokenistic accomplishments. If they push on with that initiative, they will be incentivising us to put up a performance of gaming the system instead of focusing on the substance; a performance like that status update we make about our morning drink.

In a generic economy, all those businesses would be competing for our money, at least as a point of entry. But if they do not want to be paid for their goods and services at the outset, what could they possibly be competing for? Our attention, of course. Our attention is valuable because it is finite.

Businesses are commodifying our attention span. They want to keep us active on their platform for as long as possible. The time we spend with them is time not spent on other activities. This becomes, in itself, an exclusive domain. The dominion over our attention span, the oligopoly built on top of it, can then be monetised in various ways. As such, products are designed to be addictive, especially when they have no upfront monetary cost though not only.

It is not just digital goods that do this. Consumables, such as processed food are no different. You must have heard practically every doctor warn against the harms of junk food. Yet consumption of it remains prevalent. Why? Because it is addictive. All those intense flavours, all the additives, are part of a concerted effort to extract value from this finite resource of ours: our attention. They want us to keep coming back.

Have you ever spent the morning thinking about the meal you will have later in the day? After you consume your lunch, do you still keep it in your mind, such as by raving about how tasty it was? How would you describe this phenomenon? Is it not a means by which you lose presence? Instead of focusing on the present, you obsess about some dish in your immediate past or future.

Again, we notice how little things such as the intensity of the food’s flavour can inhibit our focus on the here and now. It is all those small things we need to account for and we must train to not give into them if we want to consistently remain present.

As everyone competes for our attention, marketers need to find ways to make their products stand out. For productivity solutions, this typically involves promises along the lines of making us a “10x” of whatever it is we are. Or they peddle something that appeals to our inability to focus over prolonged sessions, such as a shortcut to efficiency, a conduit to wisdom, and so on.

An app on its own cannot rescue us from all the distractions. We need to approach matters with sincerity, with a spirit of openness, and start doing what is necessary, mentally and physically, to gain or regain control.

Knowledge starts with presence

Now we move to the note-taking part of this presentation. While I cover the case of written notes, what I am about to say applies to mental notes as well, mutatis mutandis.

Let me start with a distinction I make between tasks or reminders and notes.

  • The former are actionable items that target an activity, such as a TODO entry to record this presentation. Tasks or reminders can be used as part of a workflow for building a knowledge base. For example, when we are reading a book, we might want to record a reminder that something important is referenced in page 10.

  • By contrast, notes are the constituents of our knowledge base. Each of them encapsulates what we have learnt about the given topic. They contain valuable information that tells us something which can stand on its own about a phenomenon or state of affairs.

Both tasks and notes are at their best when they are precise and sufficient. Precision means that they are communicated without ambiguity and have clear start and end points. For instance a reminder to “read the Emacs manual” is imprecise and not very helpful. Should we read it from the beginning until the final page in one go? Are we looking for something specific or is this supposed to be a pastime activity? What is the ultimate objective of this task? A better reminder is to read a given chapter in the manual in order to learn about a specific piece of functionality.

Same principle for notes. We want them to be self-contained.

Continuing with this theme… Here is the anatomy of a bad note:

Today I watched Prot's presentation.  Good stuff!

https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-06-25-knowledge-presence

This is the kind of information that has no profundity. It states a fact, records the superficialities of an impression, and provides a link for further reading. If we take this note on its own, we cannot extract knowledge from it. We do not know what the allusion to “good stuff” entails. What caught our attention exactly? Is there something specific we gathered from the presentation? Did it change our mind about something we were already doing? If so, how? Did we have any disagreements and which were they precisely?

The idea is to apply what we learnt about parrhesia and presence. We do not want to reduce note-taking to something akin to that frivolous status update on social media I mentioned before. This is not a popularity contest, not a performance to regale our social group. We want to focus our attention on the activity of explaining, in our own terms and as best we can, what the subject matter is.

A good note focuses on the elucidation of one point. If there are any asides or tangential remarks, they can be turned into their own entries. Why? Because the practice of focusing on one discrete thing helps us stay in the flow of parrhesia and presence. We can always combine different threads once we get better at staying focused. The key is to start small and build from there.

An easy way to test if a note can stand on its own is to either record it on a piece of paper or imagine it is printed on one. We want to have the most low-tech version of our material. No links, no previews, none of the fancy stuff that technology enables. Once we get that, we can better assess the usefulness of what is written.

  • If our note does not say much on its own, it is not good enough.
  • If our note includes too many links without sufficiently describing them or explaining what the connection is, we are putting ourselves in the process of having to hunt down the snippet of knowledge we wanted to record. Not optimal.
  • If our note requires special software to be accessed, we might lose it in the long-term which again detracts from its value.

The general idea is that we want to take notes carefully. Capturing our thoughts is one part, but it is not enough. We ought to read and re-read what we have. The goal is to try to anticipate if our future self will find the record helpful. We do not want to burden our future self with incomplete thoughts and fragmentary information. When we retrieve our note we should not have to go down a rabbit hole of clicking through links in order to eventually discern the thread running through our entries. That might cause frustration and lead to distractions.

We can do better by focusing on the here and now. The key is to take as much time as necessary to substantiate one thought as best we can in that moment. If we have doubts or if there are any lacunae in our knowledge, we must admit them then and there. The note is not supposed to be perfect—this is not about some performance for the public eye. It just needs to be an honest representation of our current ability.

Another way to anticipate a bad note is to assess its potential worth. We get better at this as we gain experience.

Suppose I stumble across a website with tips and tricks about scuba diving in the ocean. I am not a diver, I live in a mountainous area, and may never find an application for this kind of information. If I am not selective with what I want to focus on, I will create a bookmark.

Later, I will find another site which provides insight on hunting techniques. I am not a hunter and will likely never be one. Again, if I do not impose any kind of restraint, I will store yet another bookmark.

Then there will be a third website which discusses the most effective techniques employed by basketball players. I am not playing basketball and likely never will, so again I have no use for this. Without much thought, I will impulsively add a third bookmark to the list.

Before realising it, I will have accumulated all this garbage which pretends to be valuable knowledge. I cannot do anything with it. For me, all these trivia are useless. If I am in the habit of creating records that have a high noise to signal ratio, I am doing myself a disservice. Instead of setting up a knowledge base I can rely on, I am creating yet another major distraction.

The old adage of quality over quantity applies here as well. With parrhesia, we impose order to our chaotic propensities as we pick and choose those items that are likely to give us the most value.

We must never forget that our attention is finite.

The other way to avoid a bad note is to be aware of the motivation behind it. Does the creation of the new record come from a position of control or is it a selfish reaction to something?

Suppose we are taking notes about an insightful video we are watching. We pause every couple of minutes to write down what we think. Sometimes this is helpful, though it can also work to our detriment, as we lack context. We have not heard the whole presentation yet and cannot be sure if there is some more nuance to it or if an initial concept is expanded upon further into the video. As such, those in-the-moment notes may simply be capturing our prior thoughts, not what we learnt from the source material.

With parrhesia, we take a step back and tell ourselves: “Am I being honest here? Do I really need to rush to early conclusions? Who am I trying to impress, anyway?” By doing this, by maintaining our presence and focus on the moment, we keep the right mindset of not allowing premature notions to masquerade as high-quality notes. Instead, we can use tasks or reminders which we will revisit after watching the whole video.

We thus allow ourselves the possibility to remain open to new ideas. This is not about openness for its own sake, as I already explained the importance of being selective. This is where the dialectical side of our disposition comes to the fore. We engage with the source material with the understanding that we are interested in approximating the truth. We thus give it a fair chance in a spirit of selflessness. Remember that we do not stand for our truth but only for the truth. If we have to let go of our thesis, so be it: the review emancipates us from a falsehood.

Quality over quantity

The broad theme of this presentation is to conduct ourselves in a manner that is purposeful and considerate. We want to retain focus in order to perform at the best of our abilities. We wish to be honest to omit or avoid the superficialities that have no longer-term value in our life.

Our goal is to be present, otherwise we misuse the finite resource we have at our disposal, which is our attention span and, by extension, our time.

Rather than let ourselves be held hostage by our own idolisations or avatarisations, we diligently approach matters with a critical eye. The intent is to put an end to any tendencies of showing off, of calling for needless attention, of doing something for the sake of the performance in the confines of a social mini-game.

I am of the opinion that we are successfully building up our knowledge base when we can describe its individual items in our own words. When we put in the effort, when we spend quality time substantiating our thoughts, we practice the skills of knowledge retention.

By contrast, whenever we introduce too much automation and too much reliance on technological pampers, we risk becoming lazy and complacent, because we no longer put in the requisite work. If, for instance, our notes consist of an excerpt and a link to the original source, we encounter the problems I already mentioned: the notes do not help our future self extract valuable insights from them.

Knowledge has to be accessible, both conceptually and technologically. Bad notes are inaccessible at the level of their content. Yet there is a strong case to be made that even good notes can become bad ones when the underlying medium is not conducive to longer-term storage. If we can only access our notes via a specialised app or an online service, the chances of data loss are quite high. Our knowledge base thus lacks resilience. It is not portable and our future self may not be able to benefit from it.

Too many features often burden us with “mental dependencies”, with cognitive load, especially if we are not well trained in parrhesia and in maintaining presence. Instead of letting us focus on the task of writing, featurism seeks our attention. Perhaps to add some markup that is not really necessary, or to make certain syntactic constructs look a bit prettier, or even to use that technologically impressive but ultimately useless gimmick that would surely impress our peers.

Just as we ought to be selective with the information we gather, we must to be mindful of the tools we use. Too much convenience may come with the hidden cost of occupying our attention span. We do not wish that.

In conclusion, we start by taking care of the one brain we have. We want to develop the disposition of openness, dubitativeness, and inquisitiveness. This disposition is a prerequisite to knowledge and learning. We also need to improve our focus, to always be present. We do that by removing distractions, curing our addictions, and being honest about our choices, actions, and goals. The technology we choose must be consistent with those qualities. We want it to be an extension of who we are, not an arrangement that holds us hostage to the interests of some business or, generally, that forces us to deviate from our path.