The Paradox of Self-Improvement and Lists as the New Search

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Sep 05, 2023

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The Paradox of Self-Improvement and Lists as the New Search

In the new book, The Art of Self Improvement, author Anna Katharina Schaffner challenges the traditional notion of self-improvement. She argues that instead of exerting effort and determination, true self-improvement comes from yielding, accepting, and giving up resistance. This idea is in line with the Taoist philosophy that emphasizes the importance of suppleness and flexibility. According to Lao-tzu, a man is supple and weak when alive but hard and stiff when dead. This concept is further reinforced by the psychologist Viktor Frankl, who believes that self-transcendence, or letting go of our preoccupation with ourselves, is the key to self-actualization.

Schaffner suggests that we must find meaning outside of our own psyche in order to truly improve ourselves. By dedicating ourselves to an external cause or the people we love, we can achieve self-actualization as a side-effect of self-transcendence. This idea challenges the conventional wisdom that self-improvement is all about focusing on ourselves and striving for personal success. Instead, Schaffner reminds us that on a cosmic timescale, our individual actions are insignificant. It is essential to do something with our lives, but it is equally important to recognize our place in the grand scheme of things.

In a separate perspective, technology analyst Benedict Evans discusses the trend of lists replacing traditional search methods. He observes that in various industries, companies are using curated lists instead of searchable databases. This approach can be seen in the attempts to unbundle platforms like Craigslist and Yelp. While modern UX design focuses on providing a seamless user experience, the strategy for many online fashion and luxury goods offerings is constraint and curation. By presenting a curated list of products, these companies simplify the shopping experience for their customers.

However, Evans points out that all curation grows until it requires search, and all search grows until it requires curation. This statement can be seen as an aphorism, highlighting the cyclical nature of the relationship between curation and search. When a curated list becomes too extensive to browse, it eventually necessitates the implementation of search functionality. On the other hand, as search results become overwhelming, curation becomes necessary to filter and present the most relevant information.

These two perspectives on self-improvement and the role of lists in the digital age may seem unrelated at first. However, they both emphasize the importance of finding balance and recognizing our place in the larger context. Just as self-improvement requires self-transcendence, the success of curated lists depends on the integration of search functionality.

In conclusion, true self-improvement comes from yielding, accepting, and giving up resistance. By dedicating ourselves to external causes or the people we love, we can achieve self-actualization. Similarly, in the digital age, curated lists are gaining popularity as a way to simplify the user experience. However, it is essential to find a balance between curation and search in order to effectively navigate the vast amount of information available to us. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to take away:

  • 1. Practice self-transcendence: Instead of focusing solely on personal success, dedicate yourself to something larger than yourself. By letting go of our preoccupation with ourselves, we can achieve true self-actualization.
  • 2. Embrace curated lists: When faced with overwhelming choices, curated lists can simplify the decision-making process. Look for trusted sources or platforms that provide curated recommendations in your areas of interest.
  • 3. Find the right balance between curation and search: Recognize that both curation and search have their merits. As information grows, it is important to strike a balance between curated lists and search functionality to effectively navigate the digital landscape.

By incorporating these principles into our lives, we can embark on a journey of self-improvement and make the most of the opportunities presented by curated lists in the digital age. Remember, true self-improvement and effective information consumption require a holistic approach that considers both personal growth and the larger context.

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