We chat with The Guardian columnist and pop/science writer Oliver Burkeman about what he’s been up to as of late.
Where are you writing this from?
A chair near the window of the co-working space in Brooklyn where I rent a desk, looking out over an abandoned lot that hopefully won’t be redeveloped into a hotel anytime soon.
Your work revolves around unique insights, as does our magazine. Is there a current issue or insight on which you are working that particularly intrigues you, and if so can you elaborate on it for our audience?
I’m really intrigued by the psychology of news, and how our impressions of the world are formed by the news we encounter. For example: there’s been a huge amount of immensely depressing racist police brutality here in the US captured on smartphones. It’s easy to conclude that things are terrible and getting worse. Yet it’s probably the case that we are instead seeing many things that previously went unseen by most people. Indeed, the public anger in response to them is a good sign, because it shows that our tolerance for such things is falling. But in this situation, how do journalists report responsibly; and as a news consumer, how do you stay “angry enough” at bad things, without sinking into paralysing despair? Many popular psychologists recommend not watching the news at all, but I’ve always been bothered by that solution – I want to know what’s happening.
What book are you working on right now and what are the themes, if you are allowed to tell?
I’m working on a book that I’m thinking of as philosophy meets time management: how to best think about time, and productivity, and busyness, in light of the fact that we’re all going to die, and rather soon?
Oliver Burkeman’s most recent work The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking is out now.