Erin McKean

Erin McKean is the founder of the newly-not-for-profit Wordnik.com, the world's biggest online dictionary. Before founding Wordnik, she was the editor-in-chief of American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press, and before Javascript, she dabbled in HyperCard, Perl, and Omnimark (if you have ever written anything in Omnimark, she will buy you a drink). She's the author of the Weird and Wonderful Words books, the best-selling novel The Secret Lives of Dresses, and (most recently) The Hundred Dresses, a field guide to dresses. She blogs at dressaday.com. When you meet her, please tell her your favorite word.

Published Thoughts

Five Arguments I Won't Be Having in 2016

Like those rock stars that announce one final tour after which they will stop playing all their old hits, I'm making a list of arguments I won't be having in 2016. If you want to get your last points in with me on these, better do so fast!

  1. "Pockets in women's clothing make me look fat!" If you are willing to trade your own convenience to comply with the questionable aesthetic judgments of people who are unable or unwilling to differentiate between the contents of your pockets and your actual body shape (neither of which, by the way, are any of their business) in order to make you feel bad, we are never going to agree on this topic. (However, if you want to talk with me about how we might best overthrow the Handbag-Industrial Complex and mandate minimum levels of functional pockets in all women's clothing, I'm all ears.)

  2. "You should be using [INSERT TECHNOLOGY X] here!" If you're not one of my technical advisors (and believe me, you know if you are), I'm not going to have this argument with you. I love hearing about new technology and will happily listen to you talk about what you're using, what you love and hate about it, what you didn't expect but found out the hard way about it, and so on! But if that techsposition starts veering into a hard sell, combined with a side of "all the cool kids are using it!" then I will change the topic to anything else, even sports (which should give you an idea of how much I don't want to have this argument). I choose technology based firstly on the availability of reliable libraries and clear tutorials, and then by how cheaply I can run it. Boring? I don't care. Go try to persuade the folks on HackerNews, they will argue with you all day!

  3. "Here are all the things that are wrong with the new Star Wars movie!" I haven't even seen the movie yet and I know I won't be participating in this argument in 2016. As long as the new movie has Princess Leia, charming robots, and space explosions in full-on technicolor glory, I don't care about anything else. Pass the popcorn! (Besides, JJ Abrams gave me a mechanical pencil once, and with that ensured my uncritical movie ticket purchases for life.)

  4. "Women just don't like technology!" Anyone stupid enough to make this argument exudes clouds of endumbening particulate matter that will contaminate everyone and everything in a ten-foot radius. Even short-term exposure can cause rage flashes, disbelieving stares, and nervous "did he just say that?" laughter. Vacate the area immediately and alert passersby to the danger. If you encounter this argument online, close any open tabs and/or block and mute the infected individual.

  5. "Donald Trump: Performance Art, Fascist, or Performing Fascist?" When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

And one meta-argument: I also won't be arguing about whether or not I should be arguing about these things. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I highly encourage you to make a list of things you won't be arguing about in 2016, too!

Tips for Learning What You Don't Know You Don't Know

Learning something new, especially a new skill, is one of the best perks of being alive. And we live in the golden age of learning stuff: coding, cooking, sewing, Minecraft hacks, flaming chainsaw juggling: if you want to do it, there's a zettillion blog posts, tutorials, MOOCs, downloadable PDFs, and Tweetstorms out there to help you do it -- not to mention countless YouTube videos ranging from the charmingly amateur to the terrifyingly professional.

If you want to learn something, anything, there's an expert out there just dying to teach you how ... and by and large, learning this way is very effective.

But every expert suffers from what's called the "expert blind spot": experts tend to forget that what they think is obvious is not necessarily obvious to a beginner. And nothing is more frustrating to a beginner than a giant "oh, that's obvious!" gap in the learning chain.

But if the experts can't see these gaps, what can help you get over them? Here are a few things that have worked for me.

  • Walk around and get lost

Trying to learn something new, especially something in an unfamiliar domain, is like moving to a new city. It can take weeks or months before you can connect all the different 'neighborhoods' in your head. The best way to explore a city is to leave your map in your pocket and walk around until you get lost and then un-lost again; semi-aimless wandering is also the best way to explore a new topic.

Every domain has its own overlapping "neighborhoods" online. You might start with some Pinterest tutorial, which leads you to a blog, which leads you to a forum, which leads you to a video (which is usually where you hit a stop, because ugh video comments). Click on whatever looks interesting, but set a time limit.

If something looks too obscure or technical, don't hit the back button: browse through it. Skim through to the end. You'll be surprised how much of what you thought you didn't understand will come back to you later in an "aha!" moment. Read things that are "over your head"! If you're just starting to sew, skim an article on couture techniques. If you're just starting to code, read something focused on 'scaling' or 'optimization'— but remember, you're not trying to do or even understand any of those "advanced topics" just yet; you're just trying to get an idea of where the boundaries of the possible lie.

It can also be helpful to see what basic concepts look like in as many contexts as possible. Search a recipe site for the name of a technique: what kinds of recipes use it? Look up terms on Safari Books and Stack Overflow: are they used just in one language or discipline, or across the board? Do a Twitter search: is everyone who mentions something in the same place, the same age, or referencing the same link?

Only bookmark the pages and information you come across if you are completely comfortable with never looking at them again. You don't want to be mentally dragging around a bag full of "Oh I should really come back and read this carefully" obligation-links, they will only slow you down!

  • Try to fail

Some tutorials (especially coding tutorials) like to begin things in media res. Great for a sense of dramatic action, bad for getting to "Step 1" without tears. It can be really discouraging to fire up a fresh terminal window only to be confronted by error message after error message because there were obligatory steps 0.1.0 through 0.9.9 that you didn't even know about.

If you go into a tutorial with the mindset of "I'm gonna get this done before lunch" you will be very unhappy. If you start instead with the goal of breaking stuff, you will get immediate gratification.

Don't agonize over which tutorial you want to start with—just try to build or make something related to the biggest thing you want to learn. If you want to learn to make great cakes and you're starting from zero knowledge, what flavor of cake you make doesn't really matter.

When you have "make mistakes" as your stated goal, you won't rush through the broken parts: the broken parts ARE the parts.

  • Ask dumb questions. Ask REALLY dumb questions.

And when you find a broken part, dig into it. Double down, don't just skip the step and hope that things will turn out okay. Every time you run into an error, write it down and look it up. Your batter looks weird? Take a picture and tweet it out and ask for help! Error message? Google it. Your stitches are all bunchy on the underside the fabric? Call your sewing machine repair place and describe it over the phone. Your hair is turning orange? Go ask a question in the forum!

Remember, you can ask the search engine of your choice all your dumb questions. It will never get tired or exasperated. It will never roll its eyes at you. It has infinite patience. You can (and should!) ask the same question over and over again with slightly different wording until you get an answer that makes sense. And because the ratio of beginners to experts is so much in your favor, even typing the most naive questions into a search engine is likely to get you an answer back.

One of the best dumb questions you can ask is "what's the difference between X and Y"? It doesn't actually matter if this question makes sense. When you ask this kind of question you will usually get one of these answers:

  • A. They are the same, they are just different names
  • B. They are different in Z respect
  • C. These two things are apples and oranges, here let me explain at great length why

If possible, try to ask questions that will generate a "C" response, because they will usually state more of what the answerer believes to be "obvious" than the other two answers.

(If the question is presumed to be a semi-riddle, such as "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" then people will ALSO fall all over themselves trying to come up with an answer.)

  • Pay the most attention to what you're told to ignore

There are a couple of phrases that should serve as red flags for any learner. One is "shorthand format", the other is "omitted for clarity". (And the most famous one, although used mostly in a joking way now, is "The proof is left as an exercise for the reader.") If you're watching a video, what parts don't have voiceover, or are hidden in a cut? Anytime you encounter a member of the handwavy evasion family, you should stop short and make sure you understand exactly what is being left out before moving on.

  • Meta up

Every time you discover a lacuna in a tutorial you will slot it into the category of "things people tend to leave out or gloss over." You'll remember to scan recipes to figure out if the eggs need to be at room temperature or the butter chilled; you'll double-check the list of dependencies that have to be installed before you can start the tutorial; you'll figure out which parts of the video you're going to have to play at quarter-speed. Eventually you'll be able to generalize figuring out gaps—a whole new skill!

Even better, deliberately paying attention to these kinds of omissions should help you get better at teaching others the things that you are an expert in. Instead of thinking "oh, this is obvious" it's always better to flat out say "This may be obvious, but ..." (Demonstration of this is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Strategic Procrastination

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

Those words (by Robert Benchley) are basically my mantra. I'm a chronic procrastinator, and for years I bought into the lifehackery promise that procrastination was something I could beat, something I could overcome, something that, given the right tools, I could eradicate from my life.

Unfortunately, none of the fancy lists, schedules, notebooks, time-trackers, prioritization aids, pomodoros, or other tools I've tried have done anything but provide temporary respite from my procrastinatory habits.

Chastened by my experiences, now I treat my procrastination as a chronic condition to be managed, rather than a disease to be cured (but feel free to email me your magic cure; I'm happy to try it).

The trick to managing your procrastination is to always have a completely unrelated useful and high-value task to turn to. (I know, obvious, right?) But so often when you're procrastinating, you think "Oh, if I can't make progress on INSERT NAME OF BIG ANXIETY-PRODUCING PROJECT HERE, I might as well binge-watch this ten-year-old television show/read all of Twitter/look for second-grade classmates on Facebook/research a disease I think this historical figure had ..." (You get the idea.)

Unfortunately, the same bad cognitive habits that lead to procrastination also blind us to those high-value procrastinatory tasks. So the goal is to have an easily-accessible never-ending list of no-deadline side projects to act as pressure-overflow outlets for procrastinatory behaviors.

A blog is the perfect procrastination outlet, but other great procrastinatory projects include:

  • a parody Twitter account
  • a writing project (e.g., a novel, a tutorial)
  • a personal website (you can ALWAYS update your personal website)
  • a code library (but not one you need for work)
  • contributing to open source, especially documentation
  • any project that requires you to collect and curate a vast number of images

And so on. Obviously, you don't want to have these side projects take over your life—they should just act as anxiety-absorbers for your procrastinatory tendencies.

The perfect strategic procrastination outlet should be a quick distraction from the thing that is driving you to procrastinate, should have tasks that can be fit into half an hour or so (the ideal length of a procrastination session), and should be something that you want to accomplish anyhow, and that makes you feel good when it's done.

If you're not in a creative mood (or perhaps that's what makes you anxious!) other great, quick strategic procrastinations include:

  • writing a paper postcard to a friend you haven't talked to in a while (paper is ideal because it's asynchronous and you won't get sucked into an all-afternoon Facebook exchange, plus, everyone likes to get mail!)
  • sending a note to your congressperson or other official about a cause you believe in
  • putting a favorite song on high volume and tidying your immediate surroundings for the length of that song
  • any physical-therapy type exercises (wrist stretches, etc.) that don't require a change of clothes or equipment

Strategic procrastination doesn't require you to be a superhuman task-focused machine. It helps remove the catastrophic thinking that leads to "What the Hell Syndrome." (i.e., "I'm not working on the BIG THING, so what the hell ... let me do something pointless where I'll feel even worse afterwards!")

Practicing strategic procrastination does require that you to be able to identify and choose tasks that advance you towards SOME long-term goal. You also need to be able to limit yourself to working on those tasks for half an hour or so at a time—enough to make perceptible progress and let off some procrastinatory steam. You don't want to embark upon the half-hour of tidying that leads to the full afternoon of rearranging your office, or the quick update to your personal site that turns into a full redesign. And you can't use those tasks as an excuse for a further "break" (that is, you can't say "yay me, I updated my personal site, so now I can read Twitter for an hour")!

The best thing about strategic procrastination is that, judo-like, it uses your bad habits as a lever to make good things happen. If it weren't for strategic procrastination, I never would have published a novel, or written an npm module, or set up the Vintage Pattern Wiki, or launched (just this past weekend, while suffering from a summer cold and procrastinating about writing THIS VERY ESSAY) the Semicolon Appreciation Society site.

But I still haven't finished watching The Gilmore Girls.

Thank You So Much For Your Email!

I've been answering customer service emails since they were customer service letters —I started in my first office job, because it was the responsibility of the newest hire, and have continued ever since then because I think it's one of the most important parts of any product-focused job.

It's easy to answer the emails that praise your product, have interesting feature suggestions, or that ask simple technical or "how do I?" questions. But how do you maintain your composure in the face of email from upset, irate, or unreasonable customers? And how do you convert them from mad to glad?

Here are five tips you might find helpful if you, too, answer any red-flagged email directed to 'help@', 'support@', 'feedback@', or 'team@'.

  1. Be thankful. The person writing to you, no matter how indignant their tone, incoherent their points, or incessant in their demands, is offering you a fantastic opportunity: to understand pain points for your user. They didn't have to send you anything —they could have sent an angry Tweet, used up their weekly quota of exclamation points on Facebook, or just slagged you off to all their IRL friends. By letting you know there's a problem, they're doing you a favor. Before you reply to ANY of their points, thank them for taking the time to email you. (I like to offer to send stickers or even a t-shirt as a thank you for finding bugs!)

  2. I'm not much for scripture, but there's a line from Proverbs that I'm pretty sure was intended for people answering customer service email: "A soft answer turns away wrath." (Proverbs 15:1, if you're curious.) Most people know enough NOT to reply angrily to an angry email (although you'd be surprised ...) but it's almost as bad to evade criticism with mealymouthed "I'm sorry if you were upset"-type responses. Be soft, not squirmy. Take the blame. Take the blame in THE FIRST PERSON. User can't find a link? "I'm sorry our link was hard to find." There's an error on your site? "You're right, we're wrong!"

    Do not underestimate how powerful actually writing the direct words "You are right, and we are wrong" can be when sent to someone who is much more accustomed to hearing evasions. (Then thank them again.)

  3. Be up-front about what you can and can't do. It's okay to say "You're right, that's a bug, and an annoying one. Unfortunately, we won't be able to get that fixed until (insert date here)." If you don't have a date, let them know when you might have one. "We're looking at fixes for the next quarter, if you like I can email you again when I have a firmer date." If at all possible, keep a list of people to follow up with when a bug is fixed. "Just wanted to let you know that we fixed that bug you reported ..."

    If something relies on a third-party service, don't just throw them under the bus ("that's a problem with X, sorry"). Instead, offer to reach out to that third party and discover when they might be updating, and send that information back to the customer.

  4. Solve the problem. This doesn't mean you have to fix everything! This means solve the user‘s problem. For instance, the Wordnik Word of the Day sends out deliberately obscure and unusual words—because we have so many more words than other dictionaries, we like to display the curiosities in our collection. (We like to say that our words of the day are for decorative purposes only!) Sometimes users write to us and complain that they can't use our words in their everyday lives ... and that's true! So we point them to other word-of-the-day email lists that take a more pragmatic approach, so we can solve their problem without changing the essential nature of our product. (And they often remain subscribers to our "ornamental" words after subscribing to the other lists.)

    Take the attitude that there is no such thing as "Not Our Problem". Many word game apps embed the Wordnik site in their games for dictionary lookup ... meaning that we are frequently emailed about problems of gameplay or in-app purchase problems, because our support email address is easier to find than the developer's! We regularly hunt down developers and forward those emails. (Those developers should be using our API anyway ...)

  5. Say no. It can be painful to say no to a potential customer, but if what is being requested is outside the bounds of what your product can or should do, you owe it to both yourself and the customer not to engage in a long email back-and-forth about something that will never happen. (To use another example from the Wordnik Word of the Day list: one reader complained that our etymologies don't go into enough depth, and often compress the path a word took into English into fewer steps. So we explained why we use simple etymologies, and why we won't be changing our process to use more elaborate ones.)

And a bonus tip: don't be afraid of using adverbs and exclamation points! (Or even emoticons and emoji.) We often "misinterpret positive e-mail messages as more neutral, and neutral ones as more negative, than the sender intended". So what sounds over-the-top to you will almost certainly just read as pleasantly enthusiastic to your recipient.

Disagree with these points? Send me an email. I'll be sure to reply!

Why Women Cry, Or, Wenches With Wrenches

​May 1 (otherwise known as International Workers' Day) seems like a good day to enthuse about one of my favorite books, by one of my long-time favorite writers.

The book is Why Women Cry, or, Wenches With Wrenches, and you can read it at HathiTrust. The author, Elizabeth Hawes, was a fashion designer and labor organizer (how often do those occupations go together?) who also wrote the fabulous Fashion is Spinach (the name is an allusion to this famous New Yorker cartoon). The Wikipedia article on Hawes is well worth reading.

Reading Wenches today (let's call it that, as opportunities to use the word 'wench' are so rare nowadays) is a disconcerting experience. Published in 1943, Wenches is ostensibly about how American women can best handle running the "American Home" -- with special attention paid to war workers, based on Hawes's own experience working in a war plant.

Wenches is disconcerting, in part, because the arguments it sets forth are the ones we are still having today. In short: how can women have rich, full lives? Hawes begins with a kind of taxonomy of the women she has met. She talks about the problems of Forgotten Women, aka housewives ("Anything which appears to be an effort to make their work lighter is merely an attempt to sell one more housekeeping device on the installment plan") and describes the phenomenon we now call "Rich Housewives of X", who have "but one object in view--and that is to have more clothes and more jewelry and more houses and cars and servants than anyone else. If having more husbands than anyone else is going to make them able to have more of the other things, they do that too."

She also describes Ladies, and their cousins the Gentlewomen ("If you have all the attributes of a Lady, but no money, you are known as a Gentlewoman.") Hawes argues with the Feminists (capital-F) of her time, believing their drive to make men and women legislatively equal would be better spent extending the special privileges women enjoyed (such as the right to sit down in a factory when not on the clock!) to men. Hawes worried that, instead of bettering working conditions for everyone, paper equality would only encourage the bosses to continue insisting on suboptimal working conditions for both men and women.

Hawes herself is what she calls a "She-Wolf": a successful businesswoman, "a large number" of which "manage to have their work, get married, have homes, have children, and not quite collapse under the strain." Men married to She-Wolves "are as capable of taking care of the baby from the day it gets home" and "can usually cook" -- although they "prefer child care."

But the largest part of Wenches is dedicated to the "Womenworkers". "They are never thanked publicly ... They just do--the laundry, the typing, the welding, the serving, the teaching, the nursing." And they do it without paid help. And when they are discussed, it's mostly their looks that matter, whether or not they should. ("I doubt seriously if business was impeded by the fact that Margie wore a satin dress while taking dictation from her boss in 1925.")

The list of problems Hawes sets out as occupying the Womanworker's time is depressingly familiar: "Can my husband and I afford my giving up my job to have a baby? If I am sick, who will take care of the kids? If prices go up, how can I get back to work ... Shall I clean the house today--or can I put it off?"

As a wartime book, a large part of Wenches is occupied with the question of women defense workers. How could women be encouraged to work for the war effort? Hawes had a commonsense solution to the problem of not enough women working for defense (essentially, "It's the lack of child care, stupid") but without plant experience, no one took her seriously. So she went and got a job at a plant making aircraft engines.

In training and working at the plant Hawes suffered the usual slate of familiar indignities: instructors who refused to teach women; instructors who claimed women would become sexually undesireable if they wore slacks, and women being the last to be hired out of the training class. At the plant, women weren't taught to maintain or repair their own machines, standing idle while workmen were called. Men were forbidden to swear in front of the new women workers and seemed terrified to give feedback on their work, lest they cry. And when the solution used in the grinding machines caused rashes in several women, nothing was done about it until a man got the rash, too.

As Hawes predicted, childcare concerns drove the majority of the women war workers' decisions. Every one of the women in her training class asked for third shift, so they could work while their children slept, and sleep while their children were in school. Hawes estimated she herself got less than six hours of sleep a day. When a fellow worker's mother -- who was taking taking care of her child -- got sick, the child care agency the plant recommended told her that the only option they could offer was putting her child in a foster home!

But Hawes also loved the machines in the plant, comparing them to "helpless little dogs" which needed to be coddled and patted, and which, more importantly, gave many women their first opportunity to do creative work.

Of course some things have changed in the past sixty years -- nobody has uttered the phrase "Gee! I wish I dared wear slacks!" in at least the past fifty -- but so much of Wenches could have been written last week.

In addition to advocating for comprehensive child care for working families, Hawes supports labor unions, more research into women's health, living wages for domestic workers, and making contraceptives widely available, op-eds proposing any of which you probably read in a newspaper at any point in the last five years. (One thing Hawes supported that has actually come to pass? Hot school lunches.)

So why do I love this book? Doesn't it make me depressed that we're still arguing over the same issues? Part of the joy of Wenches is Hawes' snappy style ("it's delightful to talk about making a Better World -- like wandering around in a fairy tale. Nobody expects you really to be specific about anything") but part of it is like traveling to an alternate timeline, where nobody went through the Red Scare and where 'socialist' was still a word you could use without putting "but I'm not a" in front of it. Reading Hawes, who only wants to see women able to do the work she knows they can do, who only wants children to be well-fed, well-educated, and well-taken-care of, and who assumes that any group of well-organized women can pull off anything they choose to do, is inspiring. There's no partisanship, there's no name-calling, and there's the outright assumption that men can, should, and will be interested in working for the same things -- good schools, convenient child care, and better working conditions for everyone.

I don't know what Hawes, who died in 1971 (at the Hotel Chelsea in New York!), would think of us still fighting the same battles today. I do believe that if she could, she'd pick up her wrench, though, and help us work!

Lately, when contemplating the things I ought to do but dont want to do, my thoughts turn to a little old lady. She has white hair and glasses, and her big, old-fashioned (non-Apple WATCH) watch ticks very loudly. I think about her for a minute, and imagine her being disappointed in me. And then I sigh and I floss, or take my vitamins, or do another round of hip-flexor stretches, or whatever else was on my list that I was tempted — just for a moment — to shirk.

The little old lady isnt my mom, or my grandma, or a teacher, or anyone real at all. Shes my future self, and Im trying to be kinder to her.

I never really thought about my future self as a concrete person until last fall, and then I saw Hank Green give a rousing talk at XOXO — go watch the whole thing, it’s hanktastic. In it he said two things that gave me pause. “You have no obligation to your former self.” (Just because your eight-year-old self wanted to be an oceanographer, Hank said, you don't have to follow through.) Why don't you have an obligation to your former self, according to Hank? “He is dumber than you and also doesnt exist!”

In fact, Hank sounded a little pissed off at his former self. (He sounded like he maybe wanted to go punch that guy. Note: please do not give Hank Green a time machine.) And then I thought: "I dont want my future self to be that pissed off at me." (Because having a time machine is actually on my wish list.)

If I cant be smarter than my future self, the only option is to be less dumb, or, failing that, kinder. (Kindness is a great stupidity offset. If you cant help being dumb, at least dont be mean.) And although I dont have any obligation to my past self, I think I do have one to my future self.

After all, the one thing I do know for sure about my future self is that shell be older than me, and, entropy being what it is, will have a harder time doing the things I now take for granted. Given that I know her life will be harder than mine, and that probably some part of that will be my fault, wouldnt it be kind to do what I can now?

So I leave her little notes (especially comments that will let her know where I left off in a project, or why a test is failing in the code, or a calendar reminder that says, “hey, when you go to the Oakland White Elephant sale next year, dont forget to take an antihistamine because of all the dust”). I clean up after projects so that she doesnt have to look for the good ruler or the seam ripper. I throw in that extra load of laundry tonight so that she has a better Saturday. I Evernote everything boring or complicated, even if I think I will certainly never, ever forget that eight-step process to mail-merge Adobe Illustrator files with XML.

This may seem a bit strange. I mean, people do floss and take their vitamins and pay into retirement funds every day, without conjuring up some hypothetical person who will benefit. But in the same way that even a drawing of a pair of eyes keeps people honest, thinking about a specific person — me! — whose future life will be better if I get up and do my dozen pushups in the morning instead of sleeping five more minutes makes me far more likely to actually get up and do them. Personifying what was previously an abstract duty just works better for me.

And in addition to doing things for my future self, Im also trying to be kind by not doing things for my future self. That is, I'm trying not to do things that will unduly obligate my future self. For instance, I used to have a terrible habit of buying things in bulk and then deciding I didn't like them any more (e.g., buying the Costco-size jar of peperoncini and then having a 98%-full Costco-size jar of peperoncini in my refrigerator for a year). Theres a great TED talk by Dan Gilbert where he discusses research that shows that we vastly underestimate how we much will change over time — we tend to think that the person we are now is the person we will always be, and that's not the case. So I try not to lock my future self into my current preferences. I'll let her make her own choices, thank you, and not be constrained by whatever dumbass thing Ive decided is awesome this week. (Especially since the endowment effect shows we value things that we own more highly than things we don't, which makes whatever you get now harder for your future self to get rid of.)

Im sure it would be easy to go overboard with this idea — anything can be taken to extremes — but so far I havent seen any worrying signs, such as encasing the furniture in plastic covers or Scrooge McDuck-style hoarding of gold coins. And not all the benefits are stored up only for some far-off future: getting more exercise and being more organized have had pretty immediate payoffs for my current self.

If by some chance I do manage to acquire a time machine someday, I am hoping any meeting with my future self turns out more like a Dr. Who reunion show and less like Looper. (A few inside jokes and some eyerolling, but no heroic sacrifices or shootouts.) In the meantime, I’ll keep flossing.

* For some reason I think this idea of ‘futurekindness’ needs a better name, something hefty and German, so that people will take it seriously. Does Zukunftliebenswürdigkeit work?