Olds/Schwartz’s “The Lonely American”: Book Review, Notes + Analysis

Poor Ash’s Almanack > Book Reviews > Effective Thinking > psychology

Overall Rating: ★★★★ (4/7) (acceptable for its category)

Per-Hour Learning Potential / Utility: ★★★★ (4/7)

Readability: ★★★★★ (5/7)

Challenge Level: 1/5 (None) | ~190 pages ex-notes

Blurb/Description: A husband-wife psychiatrist team identify the local vs. global optimization problem leading more and more Americans to feel disconnected and lonely.

Summary: I’ve struggled with loneliness a lot over the course of my life, in various situations and for various reasons.   Local vs. global optimization is also one of my favorite mental models because it’s a powerful and underaddressed mechanism underlying a lot of human behavior.  So, naturally, I was very excited to read The Lonely American because the topic was personally resonant and their methodology seemed sound.

The book lived up to its billing for a while, and the first half does contain some interesting, thought-provoking research, statistics, and commentary.  However, a little bit like Carol Dweck’s Mindset (Mndst review), I think the topic is phenomenally important but the book doesn’t really do it justice: in the second half, Olds/Schwartz get lost in opinion about how families should run and don’t really present a lot of concrete, helpful, realistic solutions.

Highlights: The authors cite a lot of interesting research, including several books I hadn’t heard of that seemed interesting enough to be worth ordering.  Of course, I think their local vs. global optimizationparadigm is spot on: they present a compelling case for why making decisions that seem to make us happier / better-off in the short run can actually lead to negative consequences.

They also manage to touch on a wide variety of mental models in the span of the 115 pages of the book you should actually read, and I think they do a good job of balancing anecdotal/relatable storytelling by sharing stories from friends and clients, while also citing plenty of larger-scale research detailing important facets of human behavior and biology.

Lowlights: There are three primary flaws in this book (I’ll forgive them their supposedly-not-but-really-actually “diatribe against American individualism” since that’s an opinion they’re entitled to even if I don’t agree).  

First, chapters 7 – 10 wander off into, well, somewhere; I found those chapters to be profoundly weak and see no reason to reread them; a lot of the matter here is opinion rather than empirical on how families should operate and isn’t useful or insightful in my view.  The second flaw is their tendency to be a “ man with a hammer” – in several cases that I point out in the notes, other psychological dynamics besides social connection are clearly at play, and they don’t really acknowledge these.

The third flaw is the most notable: despite identifying a real and tangible problem and correctly identifying some of its root causes, they don’t offer much in the way of helpful advice in terms of fixing it: the solution basically boils down to “join a church choir.”  A lot of times it’s not quite that easy; I know plenty of people who do plenty to get themselves “involved” and yet still find themselves not finding a group to stick to… the book would have been better served with less opinion on parenting and nostalgia for previous eras, and more concrete solutions that their patients suffering from loneliness did well with.

Mental Model / ART Thinking Points: local vs. global optimizationutilityn-order impactsschema,bottleneckssalience / vividness heuristic, culture / status quo biasfundamental attribution error, in-group / out-group behavior, trait adaptivitybusyness vs. productivityagencysocial connection,cognitive behavioral therapymulticausalityzero-sum games,

You should buy a copy of The Lonely American if: you want to read a quick, thought-provoking 100 pages on a real-life local vs. global optimization problem with meaningful consequences.

Reading Tips: Stop reading at page 115 (i.e., skip chapters 7 – 10).  Although there are fragments of useful material here and there in those chapters, they’re very weak on the whole and your time is better spent reading more useful material by other authors on similar topics.

Pairs Well With:  This research on the impact of social media on well-being.

Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown (DG review + notes) – another great book on social disconnection and its power.

The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor (THA review + notes) – a book with some more practical tips on how to restore a sense of social connection (among other things).

The Goal” by Eli Goldratt (Goal review + notes) – perhaps an odd pairing, but this is the landmark book on  local vs. global optimization in my opinion…

Reread Value: 1/5 (None)

More Detailed Notes + Analysis (SPOILERS BELOW):

IMPORTANT: the below commentary DOES NOT SUBSTITUTE for READING THE BOOK.  Full stop. This commentary is NOT a comprehensive summary of the lessons of the book, or intended to be comprehensive.  It was primarily created for my own personal reference.

Much of the below will be utterly incomprehensible if you have not read the book, or if you do not have the book on hand to reference.  Even if it was comprehensive, you would be depriving yourself of the vast majority of the learning opportunity by only reading the “Cliff Notes.”  Do so at your own peril.

I provide these notes and analysis for five use cases.  First, they may help you decide which books you should put on your shelf, based on a quick review of some of the ideas discussed.  

Second, as I discuss in the memory mental model, time-delayed re-encoding strengthens memory, and notes can also serve as a “cue” to enhance recall.  However, taking notes is a time consuming process that many busy students and professionals opt out of, so hopefully these notes can serve as a starting point to which you can append your own thoughts, marginalia, insights, etc.

Third, perhaps most importantly of all, I contextualize authors’ points with points from other books that either serve to strengthen, or weaken, the arguments made.  I also point out how specific examples tie in to specific mental models, which you are encouraged to read, thereby enriching your understanding and accelerating your learning.  Combining two and three, I recommend that you read these notes while the book’s still fresh in your mind – after a few days, perhaps.

Fourth, they will hopefully serve as a “discovery mechanism” for further related reading.

Fifth and finally, they will hopefully serve as an index for you to return to at a future point in time, to identify sections of the book worth rereading to help you better address current challenges and opportunities in your life – or to reinterpret and reimagine elements of the book in a light you didn’t see previously because you weren’t familiar with all the other models or books discussed in the third use case.

Pages 2 – 3: The premise of the book is that, essentially, loneliness is an unintended n-order impactof making local vs. global optimization decisions – that is to say, people take small steps toward isolating themselves that seem to make sense and generate utility, but then find themselves “left out” to negative consequences.

What are those negative consequences?  Olds/Schwartz note, on  social connection, that:

“there is now a clear consensus among medical researchers that social connection has powerful effects on health.  Socially connected people live longer, respond better to stress, [and] have more robust immune systems

[…] these medical benefits derive directly from the social connection itself, not just from lifestyle improvements, such as better diet, more exercise, and better medical care, that might go along with it.”

The authors frequently cite the famous “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, which I have not read.

Pages 4 – 7: The authors previously wrote a book called “Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life.”  I searched for it on Amazon and discovered that Brene Brown apparently has a new book out on a directionally similar topic.  It’s on my shelf now… Olds/Schwartz also wrote a book called “Marriage in Motion” about lasting marriages.

Anyway, Olds/Schwartz, practicing psychiatrists, noted that loneliness was an underlying cause of many of their patients’ struggles, but there’s such a taboo around loneliness that these patients were uncomfortable admitting (even to their therapists!) that loneliness was a problem for them.  It’s far more socially palatable to attribute problems to other sources.

Olds/Schwartz attempt to mix neurobiology, evolutionary biology, psychology, and sociology to explore this issue.  They do a good job in the first half.

Page 9: Olds/Schwartz sort of try to pretend they’re not attacking American individualism… but at points, it sure seems like they are.  They posit that Emerson’s “self-reliance” is the positive end of the pole of being alone; the negative end is being a “loser” who feels “lonely and left out.”

Pages 10 – 11: Again on social connection, Olds/Schwartz note that among children, the:

 “most likely moment […] of tears or rage […] is when a child feels left out.”  

They also cite solitary confinement and social shunning as examples of punishment.

In contrast, they note that our culture:

“currently views isolating behaviors as marks of high status.”  

They make a (very brief, cursory, and extremely poorly thought out) argument against working from home; they seem like the sort of terrible bosses who would love open offices…

They attribute loneliness to a push-pull dynamic, the push being the overscheduled nature of modern life, and the pull being the American romanticization of the lone wolf.  

Pages 14 – 17: They bring up a term – “the cult of busyness” – invented by Barbara Ehrenreich – and discuss the usual phenomena: people using busyness as “a badge of toughness, success, and importance,” (product vs. packaging) which they attribute to our pioneer days when you needed to work to survive.

This is a nice example of the  culture  status quo bias phenomenon of good ideas getting “stuck” past the point where they’re adaptive (even if circumstances change).  See, for example, Sunstein/Thaler in Nudge (Ndge review + notes) on the persistence of ideas across generations

They cite Little House on the Prairie, among others; I’d throw The Yearling into the mix.  See also busyness vs. productivity and Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” (DpWk review + notes) which discusses this issue thoughtfully.

They present fairly standard statistics on the fact that we’re working more hours, taking less vacation, etc.

They bring up the idea of the local vs. global optimization challenge by discussing a couple they were friends with who bought a weekend home out in the country to get away from their social obligations… then realized that those social obligations:

“kept them connected to people they cared about.”

Page 18: Here, they bring up the fundamental (but overlooked) idea that relationships are in some senses tradeoffs – you don’t always get to have everything your way, but there might be more utility in having the relationship and not getting things exactly your way.

(I’ve terminated relationships with people who fail to understand this concept, including a very close friend who – shockingly – alleged that he viewed it as a moral failure to ever do anything he didn’t want to do to help a friend.)

Olds/Schwartz call it a “great American myth” that people believe they “can engineer lives without trade-offs” – a reasonable assertion on most people failing to understand  opportunity costs, I think.  A good reminder to start with the Stephen Covey principle of “Begin With The End In Mind” to make sure you don’t end up somewhere you don’t want to go – see “ The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  ( 7H review + notes.)

Paraphrasing, they basically assert that Americans take the “Batman has no limits” approach to life.  (“On that day, Master Wayne, even I won’t want to [say I told you so]… probably.”)

Olds/Schwartz cite the example of overscheduled children whose parents:

“were teaching them to fill their lives with activities but not that some kinds of busyness mattered more than others.”  

Utility x  product vs. packaging =  busyness vs. productivity.  Megan McArdle touches on this in “ The Up Side of Down ( UpD review + notes) with a cute bit about someone (seriously) asking what a two-year-old’s aspirations were; her sensible father:

“Right now we’re working on not eating used gum off the street.”  

Peter Thiel makes similar points in Zero to One (Z21 review + notes), discussing the pointlessness of much of the arms race in education all the way from middle school through college:

“for the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation.  Why are we doing this to ourselves?”  

Pages 21 – 24: The n-order impact of the cultural elevation of busyness to a virtue is that we view dropping by as an imposition rather than an act of friendly neighborliness (for what it’s worth, I’m basically picturing Andy Griffith’s Mayberry as Olds/Schwartz’s ideal America, and I have to admit I have those hankerings too sometimes.)

They cite the example of one of their patients, and bring up a schema bottleneck problem related to salience / vividness, noting that:

“it is always easy to feel that we are calling others more than they are calling us because the effort of calling is so much more noticeable than the pleasure of receiving a call.”

This is a really interesting phenomenon that I’ve encountered in a lot of contexts.  Dr. Judith Beck touches on the mental health angle in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT review + notes), examining how depressed/anxious people can easily misinterpret how others perceive them.

Similarly, Tavris/Aronson’s “ Mistakes were Made (but not by me) ( MwM review + notes) explores examples including spouses overestimating their share of the housework: it is of course easier to notice what we do than what other people do.

If we spend thirty minutes picking up the living room when we’d rather be doing anything else, that is a very  salient negative… if our spouse or roommate spends two hours picking up the rest of the house when we’re out with our friends having fun, we probably don’t notice whatsoever.

Page 29: Olds/Schwartz make the point (as one of my mentors does) that our fascination with busyness is a direct result of Calvinism.  I’m not actually sure how this works because Calvinism’s only logical conclusion is nihilism – if we have no agency and everything is predestined, then why even bother – but somehow Calvinism manages to bridge that self-contradictory gap (not its worst transgression against logic, to be sure.)

The interesting thing about it, from a culture / status quo bias standpoint, is that it’s become part of the American psyche, with the “ grit” nonsense (see agency) being the latest iteration thereof, even though in many situations it’s no longer an adaptive trait.

Page 31: Olds/Schwartz briefly discuss social proof here, noting that it’s “impressive” how much being part of a congregation can shape people’s behavior.  They also note the American pastime of forming associations to tackle problems – see, for example, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (review + notes).

Pages 33 – 34: They reference Emerson’s Self-Reliance in an unfavorable light pretty frequently; they try to hand-wave away their “diatribe against American individualism” and claim that’s not what they’re doing but, you know, yes, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

I happen to be pretty gosh-darn attached to American individualism, but in the interests of avoiding confirmation bias by not building an echo chamber, I’m perfectly willing to hear their argument on its merits and be a filter, not a sponge.  (This only goes so far; their later chapters wander off the deep end and fall prey to a variety of easily-identifiable cognitive biases.)

Pages 38 – 39: They cite American individualism as an example of culture / status quo bias, noting that it was necessary because to move to America (or from settled America to the frontier), you naturally had to be a “tie breaker” – today, of course, we don’t have to be tie breakers, but the ideology remains.

Meanwhile, they provide a fascinating (albeit brief) discussion of how Asians and Americans interpret and finish the statement “I love my mother, but…” very differently.

It’s a great example of schema and culture, but I think Olds/Schwartz make the classic psychologist man-with-a-hammer mistake of overly focusing on one factor and ignoring others: as an Asian-American, I’d point to the idea of filial duty, among other things, as being contributing factors.

(Oh, and, I definitely answer that question American style.)

Page 42: They quote David Brooks on social connection, and I think this is insightful:

“When Americans face something that’s psychologically traumatic, they invent an autonomous Lone Ranger fantasy hero who can deal with it.”  

Again, though, I think Olds/Schwartz make this too “American” a problem – I’ve seen this in other cultures as well…

Pages 43 – 44: They make an interesting schema / framing argument here, noting that we can all feel like insiders or outsiders if we focus on certain things, but we can make “standing alone” a group activity by including loner heroes in the group.  They claim that this is one of the reasons we don’t try to integrate ourselves back into communities when we find ourselves alone

They also (briefly) discuss the biology of attachment – oxytocin, etc.

Page 45: This is one of those pages that’s so laughably wrong that you wonder how anyone could actually seriously believe this.  Olds/Schwartz claim that we “train” children to enjoy having their own belongings, their particular preferences in food…”

I’m sorry.  That really strains the bounds of credibility.  That is what Munger would call “asinine.”  So first of all there’s the Munger story about the shingle; see also Covey on the impacts of forcing vs. not forcing your kids to share… second of all there’s the well-documented phenomenon of parents trying, to no avail, to get kids to eat their broccoli.  I mean seriously c’mon.  This is not a reasonable assertion by Olds/Schwartz.

Covey also goes into kids and sharing in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (7H review + notes).

Page 46: On wearing something “embarrassing”: see also page 61 of Sunstein/Thaler’s Nudge (Ndge review + notes) where they discuss the “spotlight effect” and how fewer people notice what you’re wearing than you think they do…

Page 47: Olds/Schwartz briefly note that the “dark side” of community can be “complacency, cowardice, and complicity.”  See Tetlock’s Superforecasting (SF review + notes), specifically pages 196 – 200, for some discussion of how groups can function well or not (via the Bay of Pigs disaster).  Socratic questioning turns out to be a key here.

Pages 57 – 58: Olds/Schwartz note that “states of broken attachment” (i.e. breakups, deaths of a loved one, etc) cause the usual stress-induced negative health effects… they also offer us a choice to reconnect or not.  

Olds/Schwartz don’t go deep into the neuroscience/biology here, but I’d point to some of Laurence Gonzales’s commentary in Deep Survival (DpSv review + notes), particularly the bits about getting lost and the terror not being seen again… specifically page 164.

Page 60: Olds/Schwartz here discuss the importance of helping patients realize that the effects of feeling lonely aren’t “pathetic and sick” but rather “human.”  They note that social stigma makes people feel like being left out is “fundamentally trivial, whiny, and babyish.” As adults, “we’re supposed to be beyond that” – but we’re not.  I think Brene Brown does a pretty good job with this in several of her books. 

See “I Thought It Was Just Me” (ITWJM review) and ‘ Daring Greatly ( DG review + notes).

Pages 63 – 64: Another parallel here between The Lonely American and Deep Survival: Olds/Schwartz note our unusual helplessness at birth and our lack of physical resources; they also note that the “small group” is the “basic survival strategy” (which likely creates a lot of in-group / out-group behavior).

Gonzales talks about this on pages 177 – 182 of Deep Survival, concluding with a Norman-esque discussion about how culture and cognition are our strengths.

Page 67: Olds/Schwartz go into in-group / out-group behavior here a little bit; they note the presence of fundamental attribution error in processing group activities, and the tendencies of groups to:

 “make more favorable assumptions about people in their own group than they do about people outside of the group.”  

Critical/negative-thinking brain activity is also literally suppressed… this is a model I’m aware of but need to study more.

See also Page 17 of Tavris/Aronson’s “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) (MwM review + notes) where T/A discuss commitment bias as it relates to group behavior;

also pages 58 – 59 of Nudge(Ndge review + noets) on groups and culture persistence through generations.

Pages 68 – 69: Olds/Schwartz go deeper into the neuroscience here, painting love out to be essentially a biochemical addiction – Helen Fisher talks about this as well and I find it to be a helpful analogy.  They note that drug addiction works through many of the same pathways as social attachment.

Oxytocin and vasopressin are involved in social bonding.  Olds/Schwartz cite some similar negative research on stress to what you can find elsewhere; the unique angle here is that measured by markers of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) responsible for managing stress:

“the disruption of social relationships is physiologically stressful to mammals, but […] depends on how much the animal cares.”  

Pages 71 – 73: Here again is what I view as man-with-a-hammer tendency.  Olds/Schwartz discuss a laboratory experiment in which college students are put together in groups for 15 minutes then randomly assigned to be accepted or rejected by the group… then, one group is told that they’ll be alone for life and won’t have successful/lasting relationships (aww).

The experimenters (Twenge and Baumeister) found that “social exclusion” (in airquotes for reasons you’ll see in a sec) leads to more aggressive behavior, self-defeating behavior such as being “more likely to choose risky long shots [… or] procrastinate […] when given the opportunity to prepare for a test.”

 There was a decline in effort on cognitive tests and a state of mind that “avoids meaningful thought […] and is characterized by lethargy.”  And quitting sooner on challenging tasks.

… does this sound familiar to you, dear reader?  If you’ve heard at all about the growth mindset or learned helplessness, it damn well should.  What we’re seeing here is a lollapalooza of mental models: yes sure fine some of the response may be due to “social exclusion,” but clearly more here is going on than college students suddenly deciding all is hopeless because some randos who they spent 15 minutes with decided not to include them in the group going forward.

I think what’s far more impactful is the researcher telling them that they’ll be alone for their life, which is a clear framing of the fixed mindset – it is a pretty well-replicated phenomenon that exposing people to stimuli that disconvinces them of their agency, i.e. their belief that their behavior matters, leads to learned helplessness.

To quote Martin Seligman’s classic paper on the topic:

in dramatic contrast to a naive dog, a typical dog which has experienced uncontrollable shocks before avoidance training soon stops running and howling and sits or lies, quietly whining, until shock terminates.

The dog does not cross the barrier and escape from shock. Rather, it seems to give up and passively accepts the shock.

On succeeding trials, the dog continues to fail to make escape movements and takes as much shock as the experimenter chooses to give.

Or, as Shawn Achor puts it in The Happiness Advantage (THA review + notes):

“Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our own fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance

[…] interestingly, psychologists have found that these kinds of gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have

[…] the most successful people, in work and life, are those who have what psychologists call an ‘internal locus of control,’ the belief that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes.  People with an external locus, on the other hand, are more likely to see daily events as dictated by external forces. It’s easy to see why the former is more adaptive

[…] after all, if we believe nothing we do matters, we fall prey to the insidious grip of learned helplessness.”

And then on top of that, the part about the risky long shots is likely attributable less to the specifics of social exclusion, but more to the idea of loss aversion, as discussed extensively by Thaler in Misbehaving (M review + notes).

None of this is to say that social exclusion doesn’t or can’t cause some of the symptoms described… sure, I’m willing to work with that.

But like overly narrow interpretations of the Milgram experiment, the experiment here is tapping into a lot of different psychological avenues, and as such the results should be interpreted as multicausal.

Also, on 72, there’s a really brief reference to cognitive therapy that (unfortunately!) isn’t fleshed out – see Beck’s wonderful “Cognitive Behavior Therapy” (CBT review + notes) for more here, and the  cognitive behavioral therapy model.

Pages 74 – 76: Some nice discussion of in-group / out-group behavior here, which is, Olds/Schwartz note, “breathtaking easy to create” across geographies and situations (even via something as trivial as the number of dots on a screen; this example came up in another book I read recently… I forget which.)  

Olds/Schwartz discuss an experiment sort of similar to some of those discussed by Thaler, except participants got to choose between maximizing the in-group payoff and the difference between the in-group and out-group payoff.  Most subjects chose the third… and this is why socialism doesn’t work. 

This kind of us-versus-them behavior is apparently observable in preschoolers.

Page 77!: Important note here that goes along with schema / Carnegie / Covey / etc – Olds/Schwartz note that it’s not so much the act of being left out, but rather feeling left out, that causes all these problems.

Think back to earlier, when they noted that the stress response is different for termination of cared-about relationships than other ones: if a neighbor down the street you vaguely knew and watched football games with once in a while moves away, you won’t be torn up about it… if they have a BBQ and don’t invite you, you won’t care.

On the other hand, if one of your best friends seems more focused on their phone than on interacting with you, then you’re probably going to care a lot.

Page 79: The authors note some statistics on the increasing prevalence of single-person households, which have risen from less than 10% in 1940 to 25% as of 2000 to 40 – 50% today in “progressive” areas like Manhattan and Connecticut.

Page 81: Going back to the earlier bit about the schema bottleneck problem of calling people, O/S cite a therapist – Lois Ames – who advises single women make 3x the calls and invitations they receive.

O/S point out that you have to have some degree of social skill to make interactions happen when you live alone, whereas when you live with other people, there are far more serendipitous opportunities for interaction.

Anyone who’s ever had roommates or lived in a dorm gets this.  It’s an example of  activation energy, discussed in more depth by Shawn Achor in The Happiness Advantage (THA review + notes) or Sunstein/Thaler in “ Nudge (Ndge review + notes).  The basic lesson is that we’re lazy and the more effort it takes to do something, the less likely we’ll do it: that’s one of the reasons why we’re more likely to hang out with people on our floor rather than people in the next building over…

Pages 82 – 83: Here’s something true that nobody really taught me growing up and I didn’t realize until it was too late (mostly because I’m wired pretty differently from most guys): men tend not to make as many friends as women as they age; reductionistically, guy friendships are based on shared group activities, whereas women are better at talk-y sort of friendships.  So loneliness is harder on men living alone than women living alone.

Pages 86 – 88: Olds/Schwartz do that infuriating Carol Dweck thing where they bounce between things that seem to be true/insightful/empirical and… not so much.  

Here, they note a phenomenon that I believe is actually real and not just cranky old-people “get off my lawn” type stuff: sociologists believe most people are now tilting more toward “friendships of convenience” vs. “friendships of commitment” due to rising narcissism levels and an inability (or unwillingness) to work through challenges with others.  

Reference my former friend (an unabashedly hardcore narcissist) who viewed it as a moral failure to ever do anything he didn’t want to do to help a friend – I honestly just about fell out of my chair and didn’t know how to continue the conversation when he told me that.

In the immortal words of Paul the hatted llama,

“that isn’t friendship, Carl.  That’s sick.”

Also, Csikszentmihalyi sighting here!  O/S briefly outline the concept of flow and the counterintuitive (but true) phenomenon of us being less happy than we think we are when we have nothing to do or are vegging out.

Page 90: O/S note that a lot of what therapists do: i.e. providing support and helping people talk through issues – used to be done by friends.

Page 95: Neat little idea here about slotting out weekends to band together and do home-improvement projects at a small group’s houses rotationally, rather than alone.  I likey.

Page 97: Nice open-ended question here about n-order impacts: does technology like the automobile, telephone, and internet bring us closer together or farther apart?  Yes, we can now connect with friends from all across the globe… but do we ever see the people who we live next door to?

Pages 98 – 99: Brief discussion of the internet here that isn’t fantastic, but they do note, insightfully, that people are phenomenally good at deceiving themselves about how their time actually gets spent.  They also note that kids (get off my lawn!) multitask a lot…

Page 103: Here’s some really interesting stuff about one of the downsides to technology: i.e. that it doesn’t incorporate a lot of the subtleties of in-person or richer communication.  O/S touch on flaming and the fact that we multitask on phone calls, IMs, etc when we wouldn’t in person. (Or at least we wouldn’t used to… anyone who ever meets me, please note:

Page 107: Interesting description of Facebook as “intense but superficial.”  I think there’s been a lot more good research done since the publication of this book; see for example this.

Pages 110 -111: here’s an interesting explanation of the dating-app problem: in “real life,” people are thrown together somewhat unpredictably/serendipitously, and while they do get to select who they hang out with, it’s somewhat constrained by the circumstances.

Now, people don’t marry their high school sweethearts anymore because there’s a much bigger world out there… which is good in a lot of senses, but can lead to us focusing too much on the opportunity costs of the relationship in front of us for what might be out there.

Pages 117 – 118: It’s not just you: married couples tend to “cocoon” – I would imagine this goes for serious boyfriends/girlfriends as well…

O/S view this as another local vs. global optimization problem: nothing wrong with wanting to spend lots of time with your spouse, but letting your other relationships fray can cause you to lose sources of support that can keep the marriage together.

Interesting bit from history professor Stephanie Coontz’s book Marriage, A History (on my shelf) where she notes that the current view of marriage would historically have been viewed as “dangerously antisocial, even pathologically self-absorbed.”  (She extends this logic to “nuclear-family ties” as well, by which I assume she means kids.)

Page 127: n-order impacts in marriage… expectations have risen and keep rising.

Page 136: some more research here on social support; they note that isolation has an increase in mortality and that loneliness alters the expression of immune response genes.

Pages 138 – 139: here, O/S cite Barry Schwartz’s book ‘The Paradox of Choice (which was disappointing – see PoC review) about how choice is dose-dependent: starting from zero, more choices are good; at some point along the curve, more choices are bad, because then we worry about making the wrong one.

They also talk about “feature creep” pushing manufacturers to make more complex products with more features – see also Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things (review + notes) and Youngme Moon’s “Different” (review + notes) for more on this topic.

Page 145: kids only spend 30 minutes of unstructured time outdoors each week, apparently; unsurprisingly, nature time reduces ADD and increases self-discipline and emotional well-being.

Page 155: So, after all that, what’s a solution?  The “join a church choir strategy” as O/S put it.  I was hoping there would be more that wasn’t so obvious.

Pages 176 – 177: a nice summary of the local vs. global optimization argument

First Read: spring 2018

Last Read: spring 2018

Number of Times Read: 1

Planning to Read Again?: no


Review Date: spring 2018

Notes Date: spring 2018