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by Guest Contributor Alex Brown
When I get burned out, one of my not-so-good coping mechanisms is to binge not on actual things, but on the discussion of things by thing-enthusiasts. It’s like a way to supplant my periodic lack of passion by inhaling the bizarre passions of others. In this spirit, I’ve returned to the very special boys of the internet, the boys on the forums with their own languages for their very special passions. My favorite of these passions are the ones that are all about hyper-optimization and the sort of self-improvement that ends up making one’s life a living hell, but because one has spent so much time constructing said hell, one has to insist—no no, actually, this is good, this is what I wanted.
The Uberman Sleep Schedule is a productivity hack wherein, instead of sleeping at night, like an inefficient moron, you take six, evenly spaced, 20-minute naps throughout the day. This supposedly trains your brain to get right to the business of real sleep, rather than all of the dawdling most brains do at night between REM cycles. Once your brain has learned this skill, congratulations! You now only spend two hours a day sleeping. You have unlocked a 40% increase in efficiency. You now have time to be the genius you always knew you were.
The Ubermen agree that the first month is the hardest. This is the time where you have to force yourself not to sleep at night, force yourself to get out of bed after 20 minutes; you spend the first week essentially getting no sleep at all, and you spend the month disoriented, exhausted, cranky, and sort of generally mentally handicapped.
Once you overcome this hurdle, and your brain begins slipping into REM sleep the second you close your eyes–congratulations, you’ve arrived. You have become the Uberman. Ubermen report all sorts of, uh, interesting benefits, most memorably, an “increased verbal fluidity.” One Uberman explained that while he used to have to think his thoughts before he wrote them, now his hands just typed his thoughts, there was no translation needed. That sounds a lot like a stroke.
Another obvious downside of being an Uberman is that you literally can’t do any activity that lasts longer than four hours. The Ubermen stress the importance of strict adherence to The Schedule, and they have to take an exactly 20 minute nap exactly every four hours. This results in a lot of “success pictures” like this:
I remember in high school reading the 20,000-word journal of somebody “successfully” implementing an Uberman sleep schedule. At one point he describes having to leave social engagements to find a quiet place to nap for 22 minutes exactly. I remember the vivid image he painted of a grown man leaving his wife and friends after lunch to climb into the backseat of a parked Camry, musty and full of sun, where he kept his emergency blanket and pillow, and I remember finding this Very Fucking Sad. I remember him describing it as “Liberating.”
In the interest of full disclosure: I read so much of these forums in high school because I really wanted to do the Uberman sleep schedule. I told my parents, and they sagely said, “No.”
A lot of the people end up quitting “The Program" after a year because they end up being pretty bored and lonely. It turns out they didn't have as much to do as they thought, and they spend most of the night hours alone and posting on Uberman sleep schedule forums.
My other favorite special boys on the internet are those who use a lot of steroids recreationally. Most of them aren’t athletes or weightlifters or even bodybuilders, just fellas who wanna get big. And who among us isn’t sort of a fella who wants to get big?
The side effects sound pretty much terrible. They sweat constantly (“I am a furnace at night”), get awful acne, can’t sleep, their balls shrink, their hair falls out, and their nipples swell. They mostly complain about the nipples. They don’t really mind the other ones; some of the side effects are even nice, apparently.
A frequent topic of discussion is the cognitive effects of the steroids. It turns out that many of them can cause neurodegeneration. The special fellas have a conundrum on their (large, capable, sweaty) hands.
The other issue that the boys like to fight about is whether the drugs are making them infertile. All the science seems to say so, but they aren’t so sure.
The general conclusion seems to be:
I have learned a million little facts from these guys about pumping your body with hormones. There’s a steroid that lets you run forever but gave every lab mouse a whole lot of cancer. It makes the treadmill fun, though.
Professional cyclists all take another hormone that makes their blood thick as syrup, absolutely loaded with oxygen. It moves so slow that they have to set alarms to wake up in the middle of the night, when their heart would normally be pumping this stupid fat blood the slowest, and get on a stationary bike to increase their heart rate so they don’t die. The men on the forums don’t like to take this one, because it’s kind of pointless; it makes you skinny.
I now get targeted advertisements on Instagram for steroid clinics in Central Florida, and I get to imagine what it would be like to get excited for these, to evaluate their product—besides, who among us would not like to
I couldn’t find anybody who was trying to do both steroids and an Uberman sleep schedule, but I imagine he would be an ogre inside and out.
I marvel at these men and their dedication to a sort of self-improvement that is pretty much the opposite of self-improvement. What forbidden knowledge do they have? It’s unclear; maybe none. Maybe they are just weirdos, but I think we have a whole culture that revolves around increasing personal efficiency, maximizing the hours of the day; these guys just decided to walk the walk.
I had a coworker who would wake up at 6am, immediately listen to a podcast at triple speed, meditate, and then write god-awful blogs about dropshipping. Another coworker would only watch movies at double speed (this one is so, so dumb). There are so many life hacks out there, and they all add up to almost nothing. These guys just managed to add them up to less than nothing.
So maybe the most striking aspect of their lives is that they are pretty much ordinary, sure—they’re obscene and extreme, but their obsessions are normal, the expected result of our culture magnified by the internet. If you take it to the extreme, like these guys do, the object of these obsessions become the act of obsession itself. You develop a purpose without a point. The original goals (have more hours in the day; become a Slightly Larger Fella) are forgotten in the golden hum of community, and you, who was recently a perfectly nice guy who liked working out, find yourself saying words like “a lot of doctors are legit retarded” while uploading pictures of your puffy nipples for the other boys to inspect.
If you live in New York, you’re constantly optimizing your walk for shortest distance, for shortest time spent waiting at stoplights. I’ve recently achieved Walk Optimization Nirvana and am now arriving at my destination earlier than I leave. This, in essence, makes me a time traveler, and I bring a message from the future: shit sucks here!
Here’s the real test for Akshat and the Ubermen, and for you, I guess, dear reader: how early do you get to the airport? If you’re anything like Friend of the Substack Justice Tention, you have decided to optimize your life around getting to the airport as close as possible to your departure time while still making the flight. This is so fucked. The rule of flying is: you need to spend at least 2 hours minimum at the gate after you’ve gone through security. Just to amble around the terminal and loiter in a Hudson News before you spend $5 on Dentyne White. It’s fun.