The Long Game 67: Vital, Smartphones & Wellbeing, Seeing the Future, Remote Work

🌐 The Metaverse, Climate Change, Time Dilation, Afghanistan, Parasocial Relationships, Reveri, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:

📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are currently looking for:

  • Senior Backend Engineer

  • Junior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)

  • Senior Designer

  • Growth Associate

Find all our openings here.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Vital update

  • Smartphones & wellbeing

  • Seeing the future

  • Remote work

  • The Metaverse

  • Climate change

Let’s dive in!


🥑 Health

🧬 Vital — Social Health Optimization

As you might know by now, I’m the co-founder of Vital. We are working on making it easy for people to optimize their health and maintain great health for the long term.

We have been working hard with fantastic designers over the last few months to develop an innovative product that currently doesn’t exist on the market and takes an original approach to solve the problem.

We believe in the power of social and challenges on top of health tracking to help people stick to their good habits for more than just a few weeks. Plus, we find that data-only products are boring after a while.

That’s why I used many time the metaphor ‘Strava for Health’ to describe our approach. If you want a sneak peek of our solution and help us improve while we’re still in private beta, please respond to this email or DM me on Twitter. We want to get as much feedback as possible to create a category-defining product with our users from day 1.


🌱 Wellness

📱 Smartphones, Teenagers and Wellbeing

Jonathan Haidt recently came out with a great article on smartphones and teenagers’ wellbeing.

The piece explores how things have changed since 2012 and the introduction of new growth tactics (Like button, Retweet, etc.):

By 2012, as the world now knows, the major platforms had created an outrage machine that made life online far uglier, faster, more polarized and more likely to incite performative shaming. In addition, as Instagram grew in popularity over the next decade, it had particularly strong effects on girls and young women, inviting them to “compare and despair” as they scrolled through posts from friends and strangers showing faces, bodies and lives that had been edited and re-edited until many were closer to perfection than to reality.

Not everyone agrees that smartphones and social media are responsible for more loneliness and worst mental health in teens. The most common pushback is that it doesn’t appear in other countries, while most teens on earth are now using smartphones.

To address the pushback, Haidt and colleagues published a new paper exploring loneliness in teens:

So what does the PISA survey show? In a paper we just published in The Journal of Adolescence, we report that in 36 out of 37 countries, loneliness at school has increased since 2012. We grouped the 37 countries into four geographic and cultural regions, and we found the same pattern in all regions: Teenage loneliness was relatively stable between 2000 and 2012, with fewer than 18 percent reporting high levels of loneliness. But in the six years after 2012, rates increased dramatically. They roughly doubled in Europe, Latin America and the English-speaking countries, and rose by about 50 percent in the East Asian countries.

On a personal level, I tend to agree with the point made by Haidt. It’s been only 10 years of massive smartphone usage, and it has the power to change radically (in good and bad) many aspects of society. Most of us have a smartphone usage problem, which is why I’m also bullish on tech companies addressing this like Kenneth with Opal.


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🧠 Better Thinking

👁 Seeing the Future

I really like the idea that the future is already there; it’s just not evenly distributed. We already talked about precognition in the newsletter:

"Most people are slow to notice and accept change. If you can just be faster than most people at seeing what’s going on, updating your model of the world, and reacting accordingly, it’s almost as good as seeing the future."

Similar to this idea, Chris Dixon wrote this article in 2013, and it passed the test of time. He explains that “what the smartest people do on the weekend is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years.”

Business people vote with their dollars, and are mostly trying to create near-term financial returns. Engineers vote with their time, and are mostly trying to invent interesting new things. Hobbies are what the smartest people spend their time on when they aren’t constrained by near-term financial goals.

Today, the tech hobbies with momentum include: math-based currencies like Bitcoin, new software development tools like NoSQL databases, the internet of things, 3D printing, touch-free human/computer interfaces, and “artisanal” hardware like the kind you find on Kickstarter.

It’s a good bet these present-day hobbies will seed future industries. What the smartest people do on the weekends is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years.


⚡️ Startup Stuff

💻 Why Managers Fear a Remote-Work Future

I found this article on remote so good that I had to share it in the newsletter. Personally and at Vital, we’re very bullish on remote work, and we’re building a remote-first company.

However, a lot of people are still resisting the switch to remote work. In some particular cases, it makes sense, but I believe that for most knowledge work, a switch to remote-first will happen in the next two years (accelerated with this pandemic that isn’t showing any sign of calming down.)

The reason working from home is so nightmarish for many managers and executives is that a great deal of modern business has been built on the substrate of in-person work. As a society, we tend to consider management a title rather than a skill, something to promote people to, as well as a way in which you can abstract yourself from the work product. When you remove the physical office space—the place where people are yelled at in private offices or singled out in meetings—it becomes a lot harder to spook people as a type of management. In fact, your position at a company becomes more difficult to justify if all you do is delegate and nag people.

When we are all in the same physical space, we are oftentimes evaluated not on our execution of our role but on our diplomacy—by which I mean our ability to kiss up to the right people rather than actually being a decent person. I have known so many people within my industry (and in others) who have built careers on “playing nice” rather than on producing something. I have seen examples within companies I’ve worked with of people who have clearly stuck around because they’re well liked versus productive, and many, many people have responded to my newsletters on the topic of remote work with similar stories. I've also known truly terrible managers who have built empires, gaining VP and C-level positions, by stealing other people’s work and presenting it as their own, something that, according to research, is the No. 1 way to destroy employee trust.

For more on remote work, read this article debating whether the future is at the office or remote.

Finally, I find the remote/hybrid approach of Loom interesting (described by Loom CTO below). I’ll be following whether it works for them:


📚 What I Read

🤖 Tesla AI

An interesting piece to understand Tesla Dojo:

Tesla hosted their AI Day and revealed the innerworkings of their software and hardware infrastructure. Part of this reveal was the previously teased Dojo AI training chip. Tesla claims their D1 Dojo chip has a GPU level compute, CPU level flexibility, with networking switch IO. A few weeks ago, we speculated on the packaging of this system being a TSMC Integrated Fan Out System on Wafer (InFO_SoW). We explained the benefits of this type of packaging alongside the cooling and power consumption involved with this huge scale up training chip. Additionally, we estimated that this package would outperform Nvidia systems in performance. All of this seemed to be valid speculation based on the reveal. Today we will dive more into the semiconductor specifics of the reveal.

To pair with Lex’s video.

🇦🇫 Lessons From Afghanistan

Scholar’s Stage calls for understanding what went wrong in Afghanistan:

very citizen with any heart for public affairs should be absorbed with these questions: How did we give so much yet get so little? Where could things have changed? What were the key choices that led us to waste so much? By what process were these decisions made? What other choices could have been made? Why did decision makers not see them? Why has no one been held accountable for our failure?

To that end I announce a new series of essays that I will be posting on this website.

For more on the Afghanistan fiasco, follow Bruno Maçães on Twitter.

Plus, Taleb’s take:

👥 The Blurred Lines of Parasocial Relationships

A trend I’m very interested in is how human relationships change with the new technology we have. Especially the rise of parasocial relationships that are defined as a “seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer.”

The people capable of cultivating these relationships with an audience, described as “personae,” have specific skills and attributes that allow parasocial relationships to bloom with many people at once. “[The persona’s] appearance is a regular and dependable event,” and “devotees ‘live with him’ and share the small episodes of his public life – and to some extent even of his private life.” The result of these prolonged parasocial interactions is a bond between a fan and the object of their unreciprocated affection:

“In time, the devotee – the ‘fan’ – comes to believe that he ‘knows’ the persona more intimately and profoundly than others do; that he ‘understands’ his character and appreciates his values and motives.”


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

This week in podcasts:


🍭 Brain Food

🌐 The Metaverse

Everyone is talking about the metaverse these days (here, here, and here). However, very few people are talking about the origin of the term that Neal Stephenson coined in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash.

Niantic CEO John Hanke wrote an excellent piece I think people should read. He explains the importance of being aware of the dystopian vs. utopian side of the metaverse:

A lot of people these days seem very interested in bringing this near-future vision of a virtual world to life, including some of the biggest names in technology and gaming. But in fact these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong.

As a society, we can hope that the world doesn’t devolve into the kind of place that drives sci-fi heroes to escape into a virtual one — or we can work to make sure that doesn’t happen. At Niantic, we choose the latter. We believe we can use technology to lean into the ‘reality’ of augmented reality — encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us. This is what we humans are born to do, the result of two million years of human evolution, and as a result those are the things that make us the happiest. Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better — not to replace them.

For more on the metaverse, here’s Facebook’s first attempt at bridging the gap between the physical and the digital:

Finally, it’s good to keep this in mind: Facebook’s biggest contribution in the future might be around the metaverse. They already bought many VR companies, and Mark Zuckerberg seems to be obsessed with this idea.


🎥 What I’m Watching

⏳ The Science of Extreme Time Dilation in Interstellar

If you can’t stop thinking about the time dilation scenes of Interstellar, you’ll love this explanatory video.

🇷🇺 Why Climate Change Will Make Russia a Superpower Again

This isn’t discussed a lot, but if most countries will suffer tremendously from climate change, countries like Russia and Canada will actually benefit greatly from it. It will render a lot of frozen land usable for agriculture and open up the Arctic shipping routes.


🔧 The Tool of the Week

💤 Digital Hypnosis

Part of my job is to stay updated on the latest things happening in the tech world, but even more specifically in the health, wellness, and fitness space. As a big fan of Andrew Huberman, I heard him talk multiple times about hypnosis and even recommend Reveri, a mobile app that does digital hypnosis.

According to their website, hypnosis helps you experience immediate relief from stress, pain, sleeping problems, and more.


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.

— Erich Fromm


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. Podcast reviews are also gratefully received. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.

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Feel free to email me or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions.

Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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