Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is a senior consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a visiting scholar in the history of science programs at Stanford and Berkeley, and the author of The Distraction Addiction. Before participating in a panel on the future of public space, he talked about structured procrastination, the irresistibility of Ritz crackers, and his Netflix addiction in the Zócalo green room.
Where would we find you at 9 p.m. on a typical Friday?
Probably sitting on my couch beside my wife and the dogs, reading stuff. Or maybe playing Mario Kart.
What’s the last board game you played?
This will sound very nerdy: Settlers of Catan.
How do you procrastinate?
These days, I just stare off into space usually. Writers have a million different ways to procrastinate. My favorite way to procrastinate doing something is to do something else. There’s a great phrase: structured procrastination. You don’t do it by doing this other thing. Or I take the dogs for a walk. Or occasionally fold laundry.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
The first one that comes to mind is—I lived in Brazil when I was a kid—a beach that had this wonderful coral reef that had grown up on the ruins of an old Dutch dock, and I used to go snorkeling there. That’s probably my favorite childhood memory. The first time I saw Star Wars, too. I was completely blown away.
What superpower would you most like to have?
After almost 50 years, I’m still figuring out the powers that I’ve got. I think I would just hurt myself if I had a superpower.
What are you keeping in your closet that you should have thrown out already?
There is a British army sweater that I bought at a flea market in Cambridge about 30 years ago, and I probably haven’t worn it in 29, but I just can’t get rid of the damn thing. The idea of wearing it is really cool—this British commando thing—but, eh, I can’t pull it off.
What food are you most likely to binge eat?
Ritz crackers. Full stop. No question. Their flaky, buttery goodness is irresistible. It should be something more luxurious or richer, but Ritz crackers just do that. The one thing I don’t have in the closet or anywhere else is Ritz crackers.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
Not to sound like I’m sucking up, but I’m kind of amazed, sitting here in a place like this. I had my book come out last year, and the fact that I go to really interesting places and talk to really interesting people about it is forever going to be mystifying to me. … That, and I turn 50 next week—and my mental age doesn’t seem to have changed since I was about 30 or so. I don’t know what it is. Your sense of yourself changes rapidly when you’re a kid and when you’re in college, and I expected to feel different than I did when I was 30. But I don’t, despite kids and a house and a Labrador and all the other trappings of respectability and responsibility. I’m kind of waiting for that shoe to drop, too.
When did you last get a traffic ticket, and why?
1991. This was when I was on my bicycle, and I ran through a stop sign and got pulled over by a police officer also on a bicycle.
What are you most addicted to?