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Essentially Less summary

Dirk von Gehlen

Minifesto for a Conscious Approach to Attention

4.6 (346 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

'Essentially Less' by Dirk von Gehlen is a thought-provoking exploration of the modern obsession with productivity and why doing less might actually lead to better outcomes. This book challenges our assumptions about what it really means to be productive.

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    Essentially Less
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    There are alternatives to the quantity-value principle

    An old amphitheater on the outskirts of a populous city: this is where German author Michael Ende’s fantasy novel Momo is set. It’s the story of a little girl fighting against the Grey Gentlemen, who, in the name of the Time Savings Bank, collect everyone’s most valuable resource – their time. They promise to keep it safe in an interest-bearing account. But in truth, they deprive people of their time.

    Momo is a beautiful literary metaphor for how modern society handles time, its plot nothing short of a fervent plea: Be mindful of your attention! And that’s true when it comes to content, too: lengthy and time-consuming content is still deemed a sign of achievement and intelligence. The value of a book still appears to be measured by its thickness. Squeezing more pages between its covers still seems to increase its authority and retail price. But we’ve reached a turning point. The quantity-value principle has come to an end.

    With his book The Economy of Attention in 1998, the architect and philosopher Georg Franck was one of the first to specifically address the implications of monetizing time and attention. But long before that, American economist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon declared: “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

    It’s worth repeating these words drafted back in 1971: “Information consumes the attention of its recipients.” They support the idea that the quantity-value principle will soon be outdated. In the future, value will be defined by whatever helps us save our scarce attention.

    More is not necessarily better. There seems to be a satiation effect, meaning a certain point where we’ve consumed sufficient information. Passing that point by consuming more content doesn’t improve things. It may even make them worse.

    Consider the Pareto principle, which says that for many outcomes, 20 percent of the potential effort is enough to achieve 80 percent of the desired effect. In any case, we can be almost absolutely certain that contemporary content production will mainly be about one thing: essentially less!

    We have to bear in mind that time is relative. It stretches and shrinks not through external influence but according to how we observe its passing. Or to quote the time researcher Jonas Geisler: “How we perceive time depends on whether we are on this or that side of the toilet door.”

    In the novel Momo, the same idea is illustrated through the work ethics of Momo’s friend Beppo Roadsweeper. Beppo’s job is to clean the roads with a broom. Sometimes these roads can be very long. But he tells Momo that, however long the road ahead of him may be, to only focus on the very next sweep of his broom. And then on the one after that. This makes it easier to remain concentrated despite the sheer amount of work to be done. The opposite effect can be described with the help of Parkinson’s law, which isn’t a scientific principle but an ironic take on the omnipresent expansion of bureaucracy. It says that work always ends up consuming whatever time we choose to give it.

    Here’s the thing: content and attention are measured by different standards. Content is measured in two dimensions: length and breadth. But attention is mostly measured in depth. Sometimes, these measures correspond – but not always. Deep content can be long and broad but it doesn’t have to be. Other times, people go to great lengths to explain something without ever digging deep. The essential part is to get to the heart of matters. I think it’s high time we valued shorter content – because it’s essential. Essentially less.

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    What is Essentially Less about?

    Essentially Less (2023) isn’t a Blink based on a book, it is the book. In a time when our attention is becoming a crucial and contested resource, it makes a case for the importance of focusing on what’s essential. It’s a joint production by journalist Dirk von Gehlen and Blinkist’s editors.

    Essentially Less Review

    Essentially Less by Dirk von Gehlen (2021) is a thought-provoking book that challenges our obsession with excess and encourages a minimalist approach to life. Here's why this book is a must-read:

    • Overflowing with eye-opening insights, it prompts readers to question their consumption habits and offers practical tips for simplifying their lives.
    • Balancing research with personal experiences, the book explores the positive impact of embracing minimalism on mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.
    • With its engaging storytelling and relatable examples, this book breaks down the concepts of minimalism, elevating it from a mundane topic to an intriguing exploration of a more intentional way of living.

    Who should read Essentially Less?

    • Anyone who believes that less is more
    • Fans of short culture
    • Those interested in the future of reading and writing

    About the Author

    Dirk von Gehlen is a journalist who leads the think tank of the German media outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung. He’s explored many facets of internet culture in many German books. This Blink is a translation of the German Blink Wesentlich weniger.

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    Essentially Less FAQs 

    What is the main message of Essentially Less?

    The main message of Essentially Less is to simplify our lives and focus on what truly matters.

    How long does it take to read Essentially Less?

    The reading time for Essentially Less varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Essentially Less a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Essentially Less is a worthwhile read, offering valuable insights on simplifying our lives and finding greater fulfillment.

    Who is the author of Essentially Less?

    The author of Essentially Less is Dirk von Gehlen.

    What to read after Essentially Less?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Essentially Less, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
    • Don't Believe Everything You Think by Joseph Nguyen
    • Plays Well with Others by Eric Barker
    • Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
    • Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz
    • The News by Alain De Botton
    • No Bad Parts by Richard C. Schwartz
    • Die with Zero by Bill Perkins
    • Discipline Is Destiny by Ryan Holiday
    • One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer