The Long Game 88: Cooking & Air Quality, Expectations, Quitter's Day & Walking, Defaults
🛸 Where Is My Flying Car, Notion Health Tracker, Minimalism, the Problem with Lithium-Ion Batteries, 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:
In this episode, we explore:
Cooking and air quality
Quitter’s day and walking
The power of defaults
Where Is My Flying Car?
The problem with lithium-ion batteries
Let’s dive in!
💨 Cooking and Air Quality,
As you might have noticed, I’ve been interested in air quality monitoring lately. I came across this thread about cooking and indoor air quality, and the findings are worth sharing:
Here's a chart showing the average level of NO2 throughout December. The dotted line is the daily average. The top line is the peak concentration. Our daily average hovered around 2x the WHO guidelines.
NO2 is especially bad for children. The first meta-analysis on this topic was published in 1992. It found that for every 16ppb increase in NO2 levels — comparable to the increase resulting from exposure to a gas stove — the odds of respiratory illness in children go up by 20%.
In 2013 another meta-analysis on the topic came out. This time the authors concluded, “Children living in a home with gas cooking have a 42% increased risk of having current asthma.”
And think about that for a second. We've known that gas stoves cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses for 30 years. Yet, in that same period millions of homes have been built with gas hookups.
Here’s a second thread responding to common questions.
I haven’t yet found the right device for my place, but I’m now aware of the importance of monitoring air quality as it can easily be a silent killer.
Other noteworthy health news:
An important paper was just published in Science showing that Epstein-Barr virus (EPV, Mono) causes most is not all multiple sclerosis
🚶 Quitter’s Day and Walking
Today is quitter’s day, a term coined by Strava to describe the day on which people who have made fitness resolutions are most likely to give them up.
As it’s getting hard to stick to your resolutions, it can help to lower the bar to make sure the consistency stays high. That’s why walking is so good. It’s still physical activity, but the barrier to do it is very low.
From Fitt Insider:
As the pandemic closed gyms and locked us indoors, a daily walk offered a reprieve — and the habit is sticking.
Walkers logged over 668M miles on Strava last year, a growth of about 2x YoY.
A trend on TikTok, the #hotgirlwalk hashtag has notched over 51M views on the platform.
Walking app Go Jauntly saw its membership rise by 80% since the beginning of the pandemic.
Take a stroll. Walking stimulates circulation, increases serotonin, and boosts creativity, improving a host of physical and mental health factors. Walking just 30 minutes every day is connected to a 19% drop in coronary heart disease risk, while a daily one-hour walk lowers the risk of major depression by 26%.
And every minute counts — if adults added a mere 15 minutes of walking a day, analysts estimate that the global economy could grow by a whopping $100B a year.
And from Kierkegaard:
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.
🧠 Better Thinking
🛣 Expectations Matter
One of the best ways to fail at something is to expect it will be very easy and be completely devastated and unmotivated after realizing it will actually be very hard.
The reason I called this newsletter The Long Game is because around two years ago, I understood that there is no quick and easy way to get anywhere meaningful. Anything worthy requires a long time, usually way longer than you’d think. Getting super fit, building a company, you name it. It won’t take one or two years. You need to be thinking in decades.
At first, it might be perceived as bad news, but after internalizing this fact and accepting it, you actually become much stronger because you’re ready for the type of effort and intensity it will take.
The “just don’t stop” is the most important part. You need to be reading it “even if it gets very hard, just don’t stop.” If you think you’re going for a 10km run and it gets hard at 8km, you might add the last 2km. But if you’re going for a 100km one, there’s no way you’ll cross the finish line if you initially expected a 10km.
Bottom line: expect and prepare for the 100km (or more!)
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🥇 The Power of Defaults
Julian Lehr came back with another must-read about network effects and the power of defaults. It’s long and dense but really good.
Here’s the introduction:
The world’s most successful companies all exhibit some form of structural competitive advantage: A defensibility mechanism that protects their margins and profits from competitors over long periods of time. Business strategy books like to refer to these competitive advantages as “economic moats”.
One of the most cited types of moats is the concept of network effects. Network effects occur when the value of a product or service is subject to the number of users. A positive network effect means that a product or service becomes more valuable to its users as more people use it.
Network effects are extremely hyped and have become a bit of a meme in recent years among tech entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers. The five largest companies by market cap in the US all seem to be built on some sort of network effect and some even go so far as to claim that 70% of tech value creation since 1994 is predicated on network effects.
While network effects can indeed be very powerful, they are also one of the most misunderstood – and in many cases overrated – concepts in business strategy. Not all network effects are created equal and the most successful ones are just a means to an end.
This essay isn’t about network effects per se. It’s about the end state that they can enable: Defaults. In the next few chapters I’ll teach you how to think in layers, explain why defensibility is really about real estate, and tell you what Salesforce and Jesus have in common (got your attention now, don’t I?).
Let’s get started.
The conclusion about beliefs as network effect is compelling:
I understand that the idea of social network effects is even more intangible and immeasurable than the already vague concept of “traditional” network effects – but it still surprises me how many people refuse to see beliefs as what they are. Not only do I think that beliefs are network effects, I think they are probably the most important and most defensible of them all. Perhaps this intersubjective reality just hasn’t reached its critical mass yet.
To pair with: The Cold Start Problem
📚 What I Read
🛸 Where Is My Flying Car?
I finally picked up this book that I had wanted to read for a while. I’m halfway through, and it’s an excellent explanation as to why most of the futuristic things we were expecting decades ago didn’t materialize. To be more specific, all the things that would require a lot of energy didn’t materialize. In the low energy realm, we got even more than we expected.
What I find even more interesting are the sociological reasons blocking progress. For example, people calling for fewer humans, less energy consumption, and less impact instead of calling for more technological progress to do more with fewer resources.
“I discovered, to my amazement, that all through history there had been resistance— and bitter, exaggerated, last-ditch resistance— to every significant technological change that had taken place on earth. Usually the resistance came from those groups who stood to lose influence, status, money as a result of the change. Although they never advanced this as their reason for resisting it. It was always the good of humanity that rested upon their hearts. —Isaac Asimov”
However, recently we have some reasons to think we’re back on track with technological progress:
We’re starting to realize that progress is as dependent on science as it is on media. After decades of Black Mirror-style coverage, people like Nathan Cheng, Isabelle, Eleanor Sheekey, Cleo Abram are much needed.
We’ll talk more about this book next week as I think it covers a very important topic.
💼 Why LinkedIn Is So Cringe
I hate LinkedIn so much! This may be why:
As a professional social network, LinkedIn has the cringe built in. The platform also prompts cringey engagement activity like:
Please <click button> to endorse <person> for being good at <skill>
It is <person> one year workversary please <congratulate>
This is not how normal people interact! I’ve literally never uttered the words “workvesary” out of my mouth (and have no idea what it sounds like).
🌍 What a World
Some thought-provoking ideas:
Gallup has been asking Americans for more than four decades, “Are you satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. right now?”
The average percent of Americans answering “no” since 1969 is 63%.
What’s interesting is that Gallup asks a follow-up question: “Are you satisfied with the way things are going in your own life right now?”
There, the average “no” response is just 15.8%.
People tend to be optimistic about themselves but pessimistic about others. Social media probably supercharges that. Benedict Evans says, “The more the Internet exposes people to new points of view, the angrier people get that different views exist.”
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
Nationalism Debate: Yaron Brook and Yoram Hazony
This was a great debate and that’s becoming so rare in today’s media environment.
Paul Conti, M.D.: How to heal from trauma and break the cycle of shame
Paul Conti explains very well what is wrong with the current mental health system and why it’s so essential to treat trauma the right way.
🍭 Brain Food
⚫ On Minimalism
It’s fair to say minimalism exploded in the last five years. It’s was hard to avoid this trend (Minimalism Documentary on Netflix, and a lot of YouTubers, including Matt D’Avella and more.) At first, this way of life is very appealing, but it’s not clear it benefits everyone.
This thoughtful piece makes a case for buying more things and less experiences:
There’s a phrase going around that you should “buy experiences, not things.” People, it’s claimed, think that having a lot of stuff is what’s going to make them happy. But they’re mistaken. A Lamborghini may be fun to drive for the first days or weeks, but pretty soon it fades into the background of your life. The drive to accumulate stuff is an evolutionary relic that no longer fits our modern situation. Better to embrace minimalism and focus on immaterial things like experiences, whose memories you can treasure forever.
While I appreciate the Stoic-style appraisal of what really brings happiness, economically, this analysis seems precisely backward. It amounts to saying that in an age of industrialization and globalism, when material goods are cheaper than ever, we should avoid partaking of this abundance. Instead, we should consume services afflicted by Baumol’s cost disease, taking long vacations and getting expensive haircuts which are just as hard to produce as ever.
Put that way, the focus on minimalism sounds like a new form of conspicuous consumption. Now that even the poor can afford material goods, let’s denigrate goods while highlighting the remaining luxuries that only the affluent can enjoy and show off to their friends.
Maybe the initial appeal of minimalism is because so much of our money is spent on things we don’t really enjoy:
Nobody seems to have a complete program to escape the experience economy rat race, but if there is a solution, it may very well involve making good use of the material abundance we now have. If you have a space for entertaining and are intentional about building up a web of friendships, you can be independent from the social pull of expensive cities. Build that network to the point of introducing people to jobs, and you can take the edge off, a little, of the pressure for credentialism. If you have a functional kitchen and a home gym (or tennis rackets or cross-country skis), you might reduce your dependence on healthcare.
So I would, if anything, reverse the maxim: “Buy things, not experiences!” Sure, the Lambo might still be a waste of money, but thoughtfully chosen material goods can enable new activities can enrich your life, extend your capabilities, and deepen your understanding of the world. And if ever more affordable material goods can build up a measure of independence from the ever more expensive services that actually consume people’s income, that would be a trade to be proud of.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🔋 The Problem with Lithium-Ion Batteries
This is a great video to understand the challenges in the transition to electric vehicles. As always, we face complicated tradeoffs.
Pair with: The Electric Vehicle Charging Problem
🇯🇵 Why Tokyo Is Insanely Well Designed
The size of Tokyo is hard to grasp. 38 million people are living in the Greater Tokyo Area, and all of that with perfect organization and transport system. A real example for a lot of other cities.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
📊 Notion Health Tracker Template
So many people find value in tracking their health and habits in the same place every day. At some point it will all be possible on Vital, but in the meantime, we came up with a template to do so on Notion!
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
“I have a young friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, but he never seems to be able to complete his work. According to him, his job keeps him too busy, and he can never find enough time to write novels, and that's why he can't complete work and enter it for writing awards. But is that the real reason? No! It's actually that he wants to leave the possibility of "I can do it if I try" open, by not committing to anything. He doesn't want to expose his work to criticism, and he certainly doesn't want to face the reality that he might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using another excuses like "I'm not young anymore" or "I've got a family to think about now.”
― Ichiro Kishimi, The Courage to Be Disliked
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