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Notes on Environment

Notes on Environment

Technology + environment

  • From a behavioral perspective, technology = environment.
  • The best kind of code does not require effort from its consumer to bring enormous benefits. It becomes a useful part of the environment.
  • Technology (environment) outpaces culture (intersubjective beliefs) because small groups of outliers (companies) move faster. A scalable technological invention then changes the environment for many, creating a bottom-up behavior change wave.
  • How easy it is to take technical marvels for granted. Technology recedes into the background, becoming a part of the environment. Until it fails.
  • Unfortunately, our digital environment can be too addictive. It prevents us from changing our physical surroundings and making them better. It's simpler to scroll than it is to properly tidy up, and create a good home atmosphere. Yet, if you do it, it's worth it.
  • Our digital environment is set up for easy pleasure seeking by default. It presents us with choices, many of which are utterly irrelevant to our own personal hopes and dreams. We must go against this.

Environment + feedback loops

  • You make a change in code, run it and get a concrete error/success signal (loss/win), if you win you move on the the next boss fight (bug/feature). Many coding environments have superfast feedback loops (like games). Fast feedback loop environments inspire rapid development.
  • The better you are at engineering clear feedback into your life (esp. in areas with no inherent feedback) the more your life will be like a game. The more your life is a like a game, the less you're tempted to escape into artificial environments like Twitter or video games.
  • There's a global attention competition between high-feedback and low-feedback environments. Unfortunately, work is often low feedback. Isolation from any kind of addictive high-feedback environment (through boredom) is crucially important, so that we can build our own high-feedback environment that makes our lives better, not worse.

Environment = a creative constraint

  • Each environment limits certain actions and enables others. Change of environment can be a creative catalyst. On a walk outside? Can't code or write easily. Think high-level. On a bus? Jot down notes on your phone, create outlines. At your desk? Write or code.
  • Environment can push your limits. What I like about going for a run or a bike ride is that on the way back, you don't have the choice to quit. If you do, you're stuck in the middle of nowhere. You need to get back. At the gym, you can just stop any time. This "environment design" can push you more than you would.

Environment = story

  • Your environment is telling you a story. It can be a story about creating beauty and order, or it can be a story about being at the mercy of one's circumstances, barely staying afloat.
  • A clean room and a clean desk make me happy. It's not necessary to tidy before work, however, the environment around you tells you a story. A tidy, organized, personal environment tells you a story about a better version of yourself.
  • Sameness = stagnation - I'm convinced being in the same physical environment, day after day, is not good for us. If our surroundings don't change, they're telling us: "You're stuck, nothing is changing" Change things up. Change your browser theme. Change your desktop setup. Change your wallpaper.
  • If your environment doesn't change for a while you forget it can change to help you become better. Change your surroundings often.
  • Change your surroundings often to not forget that you can change them. Don't let yourself merely survive in dreary squalor. Make your daily environment useful and beautiful. Invest in good furniture and tools. A good environment repay you 100x, making you feel better every day.

Environment + identity

  • Change your environment until the right choice is the easy (or only) choice.

  • Shape your environment to shape yourself. - Look beyond the screen to shape your behavior. Change your real-world surroundings instead of just installing an app for something. Shape your environment to shape your behavior.

  • Invest energy into setting up your environment to help you. - While changing your physical environment can take hours or days, what we so often overlook is that it can bring benefits for decades (like buying weights to get fit). The setup cost is well worth it in the long run.

  • Lay the infrastructure. - Sure, getting equipment takes money and designing your work environment well take time, but once in place, you accrue benefits forever. Pay the setup cost early, get benefits sooner. Lay the infrastructure and then move faster than other, with greater ease.

  • If you'll spend years in a certain place, would it not make sense to take a week or two to make it the best possible environment?

  • Peter Thiel made the observation that our physical surroundings have changed very little in recent history, in comparison to our digital "surroundings." I think this neglect of our immediate environment can be seen even in our daily life. We rarely change physical surroundings.

More on environment design here.