Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing


Cool Tools Show 192: Rob Walker

Our guest this week is Rob Walker. Rob is the Human Resource Columnist for Lifehacker.com, and a longtime contributor to the New York Times and many other publications. He’s on the faculty of Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts, and his new book from Knopf is The Art of Noticing, 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration and Discover Joy in the Everyday. You can find him on Twitter and Medium at @notrobwalker. Sign up for his newsletter where he shares news, tips and inspiration for building your attention muscles.

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Show notes:

Bienfang Notesketch Pad with Horizontal Lines
This is a notebook that I’ve used for a long time. I know that people have such strong opinions about notebooks. But what I like about it this is on each page, the bottom half is ruled and the top half is blank. I like that to be able to either write things, or sketch things, or whatever. And that’s what drew me to these notebooks in the beginning. I get the 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 size — the small size. I’ve been using them I realize now, since college. The other thing I like about these notebooks, is that they’re not too precious. They’re actually cheap. I went through a Moleskine phase, but I never felt like I had anything worth saying to it, to ruin this beautiful object. This is spiral bound, but it’s not too precious. It’s not this object that you feel like you’re spoiling every time you write down some dumb observations.

Switchmate for Toggle Light Switches
We happen to have these front lights that are on a standard toggle switch and I was always forgetting to turn them on at night or turn them off in the morning. I’d leave them on until noon or something, because I would just forget. And I didn’t want to go through the whole rigmarole of rigging up, getting an electrician. I didn’t want a problem and I randomly discovered this thing and I thought that looks perfect. It’s a little box that has magnets in it that you can put over a standard toggle switch and there’s a mechanism inside that literally, physically just flips the switch up or down. Clunk, clunk. So it’s a dumb smart home product, you hook it up to an app and put it on a timer. You don’t need to worry about the wiring.

Decibel X Noise Meter
Decibel X is an app tells you what the decibel reading is. And that’s it. That’s the whole story. I get such pleasure out of it and it’s kind of like junior high school dork pleasure of just like, I wonder what the decibel level is in here. There’s one tab that you can poke on that’ll say like analogous to a quiet room or a noisy street for whatever. I have no point to this, but I find that it’s one of the apps that I check the most frequent. I bet I open it as much as I open Instagram. For no good reason. I’ve never crosschecked it, but its answers seem intuitively right in the sense of it’s loud in here now, so it’s in the red zone. The red zone is considered harmful and that’s like 90 to 100. A subway is 100. A jet engine is 140, 150.

In Our Time Podcast
I’m a huge fan of this podcast. I’ve been listening to it for some years now. The host is Melvyn Bragg. The premise is that every week he gets in three academics to talk briskly for an hour through one topic, which can be anything from Frankenstein to Ulysses Grant. It’s sort of like those Great Courses, except it’s all just boiled down to one hour, and it’s just lightning fast. It’s quite impressive.

Also mentioned:

The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday is my new book. It’s designed as a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed. Prompts such as:

Look Slowly. Discover the Big Within the Small. Sketch a Room You Just Left. Follow the Quiet. Review the Everyday. Hunt the Infrathin. Get There the Hard Way. Eat Somewhere Dubious. Trespass. Make a Field Guide. Talk To a Stranger. Listen to an Elder. Be Alone in Public. Make a Personal Map. Interview An Object. Care for Something.

Imagine a cross between Ways Of Seeing and Marie Kondo!


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