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The Focused Rise of Wesley So

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So Good They Can’t Ignore Him

Yesterday, Tyler Cowen published a blog post about the 23-year old chess grandmaster Wesley So. It begins: “[So] should be starring in a Malcolm Gladwell column”

As Cowen notes, just a few years ago So was seen as an up-and-coming player who lacked the strategic polish needed for elite play. Cowen was surprised to learn recently that So had risen to number nine in the world rankings. Since then, So won four top tournaments in a row including a win over world champion Magnus Carlsen.

“Arguably he is the second best player in the world,” Cowen writes, “and the one most likely to dethrone Carlsen.”

There are many explanations for So’s rise. But there’s one contributing factor, in particular, I want to emphasize. Here’s So in a recent interview:

“When I decided to try for a professional career…I thought about what I needed — more time to study and less stress. Both came immediately when I turned away from the internet.” [emphasis mine]

Not only does So restrict his internet use to email and chess game analysis, he also eschews other forms of distraction:

“There is only one cell phone in this family, and it belongs to my sister Abbey who is very capable of dealing with any unpleasantness that tries to enter through it. I have had no social media…for almost two years and I am alive, healthy and happy.”

I’m sure Wesley So has never heard the term digital minimalism, but his rise highlights an important principle of this philosophy: when evaluating new technologies there’s a difference between asking “what value can this bring me?”, and “what is its effect on the things I find most valuable in my life?”

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