Archives For March 2008

Open Q&A

March 31, 2008 — 25 Comments

I never thought I’d be in a position to do this but I think it is the only way. I’ve been getting a lot of emails asking really open ended questions that I don’t have time to answer individually. I also know that I’ve been vague in describing what I am doing and why I left school. I can’t answer everything obviously but I’ll do my best to clear up as much as possible.

You guys can email me or post in the comments and then I will respond later in the week with a big post. Hopefully I can turn it into a FAQ or a bio section to save time. I am totally happy to answer specific or personal questions but when they are things like “What are you doing?” it leads me to believe that I skipped an explanation somewhere.

Also, to the person that sent an Amazon Giftcard to my email address. Thank you. I never expected things like that to start happening.

The Art of Acquiescence

March 27, 2008 — 6 Comments

At 30, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, was deep in melancholy. In 1888, he and his country were at a crossroads.

Freud lived down the street, slowly coming to terms with the unexplored frontier of the subconscious. Things like democracy and freedom and capitalism were no longer simple ‘ideals’ that could be ignored. Even as they admired the glittering palace on the monarchy, everyone could feel the Crown losing its grip. The Austrians had what they call the ‘nervous sickness of modernity’. They knew that change was coming but they didn’t know when.

His father, a Hapsburg King no less, was having none of it. Rudolf, whose liberal ideas were soon validated, was forced to sit and wait. He wasn’t playing the system so much as waiting for a chance for the system to let him play. A Prince, no matter how old or smart, is still considered a child – at least while the king is still alive.

“My youth is over,” he wrote. “Nobody believes in me and I can’t take hold.”

His father assigned him the important job of sitting through long society dinners and waiting. Waiting as the empire crumbled, and protests exploded across the country. He took to writing anonymous columns in the national paper but was powerless to act on the ideas he wrote about. And then he lost that last bit of relief too, in favor of a busy opera schedule.

Rudulf took his mistress to a empty palace in the woods. They signed a suicide pact. He shot her, waited two hours, and then turned the gun on himself.

***

Rudolf’s problem – aside from what was probably a chemical imbalance – was that he tied his own happiness to what other people ‘let him do.’ Anyone know can see where the world is going but is relatively powerless to do anything about it knows exactly what he was going through. It is crushing and depressing and humiliating. Waiting is awful, because it’s not just waiting – it’s wasting.

But dispersed throughout the year before Rudolf’s death were times of great happiness. Mary Vetsera, his mistress and he had fallen deeply in love. Through conduits, he’d found exciting ways to subvert the empire and he was certain that change was coming. And then he let someone take it all away.

I know for me, I have the same cycle. Big huge runs where the success (and now, a little money) starts to roll in. When it naturally dries up, I’ll convince myself that I must have it or something better, back. It is not a pleasant crash. When you let external factors validate your happiness, you lose the sovereignty of self.

The balance has to come from the inside. Otherwise, you end up being the guy whose murder-suicide causes the First World War. And all the stuff you supposedly cared about and believed in gets put off for half a century.

[1] A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton

Cannibals and Kings

March 24, 2008 — 2 Comments

In Cannibals and Kings, Marvin Harris talks about differences between expansive and collapsing cultures. He said that it’s not too hard for a king to convince his people that massive parities in wealth are a good thing but that it is nearly impossible – in fact no culture has ever managed – to be convinced that being killed and eaten is of mutual benefit. That’s why Europe took over the world, and the Aztecs never got any further than temples. Working someone else’s land is one thing, he quipped and committing suicide is quite another.

It’s funny because that’s exactly where Hollywood is right now. For a while, I think, it made sense to pay your dues and learn the system instead of a trade. You start as an assistant, get shit on, get taught nothing and finally replace the person above you who knew nothing. The business is office politics, not making movies. The cultural conditions made that possible, in the same way they encouraged serfdom, imperialism, cannibalism or centuries of stagnation.

But people my age face a very strange fork – there is a decent chance that buying in is agreeing to be eaten. Holding back is risky too, how many people would pass up a shot at a 300% annual bonus?

I heard a pretty major film producer this morning begging the support staff to do his work for him. Go to the clubs, he said. Gossip. Chase the hot writer and keep track of what everyone else is buzzing about. Then hand it off to me so I can take credit. Nothing about finding something they loved. Nothing about doing something new or participating. Nothing even incrementally different than what he’d done twenty years ago.**

At this point, people my age would be safer betting on social security. Superempowerment is very real and very scary. When you base your business on arbitrage and the inefficiency goes away, intensification only makes the problem worse. That means being a little better that the producer I talked about earlier (who is actually awesome, did one of my favorite movies, and I have tons of respect for) is not a strategy – it’s immolation.

Think about it this way, yesterday a fresh wave of interns showed up for their first day of work at Bear Stearns. We like to laugh at the quaint servants who buried themselves alive in the tombs of their Pharaoh’s. Well? Do you want to be that person?

I don’t. I certainly don’t know the solution but I can’t imagine their better first step than state of mind.

** Then there are people like TheExecutive, who don’t whore themselves out and do better than fine. They never wedded themselves to a system, so the landscape today didn’t come as a surprise. They help people. Give people time to grow. They actually give people credit (literally, credits.)

Repeating in My Head

March 24, 2008 — 5 Comments

And yet I find

And yet I find

Repeating in my head

If I can’t be my own

I’d feel better dead

The Blurring Line in Production – Why That Matters

March 21, 2008 — 8 Comments

From a business plan I am writing for one of the Agency’s clients:

Wikipedia, in the last 7 years, has racked up nearly 2.3 million English-written entries. There are over 300,000 entries each in German, Spanish, Italian and French and a 100,000 in Finnish, Romanian and Turkish. When you include sub-pages, user profiles, templates, tutorials and discussions the number rockets to nearly a 100 million aggregate pages. And the average article is essentially indistinguishable in terms of accuracy when compared to any for-profit publication. This seems overwhelming, if not impossible to replicate when you imagine that they were written by amateurs sitting in their living rooms. What this ignores is that as its base Wikipedia rests on the bedrock of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, which fell into the public domain and was absorbed into the site. Also incorporated is the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, W.W. Rouse Ball’s Short Account of the History of Mathematics and Chamber’s Cyclopedia, among many others. Wikipedia was seeded by professionals.

Communities cannot be willed into existence. Communities need more of a reason to form than superior technology. Almost every massively successful community can be traced back, not to the owner, the technology or the genre, but to a group of incredibly passionate users at the core of it.

Businesses almost always have that. They sit dormant in cubicles or overwhelmed with soul-crushing office politics. And the only reason they fail in the transition to the web is that they cannot unleash those assets. Remember, corporations are incapable of love but individuals are full it. Top down businesses continually stagnate on the internet because no one is willing (or allowed) to get down and dirty and do the work.

So what if someone took the pro’s and had them start at the bottom just like everyone else? What if you had the ‘best in the world‘ as your 1911 Britannica? That’s what I’m trying to figure out now – I was at YouTube on Monday and with a band that’s sold over 50 million records on Tuesday – and I think what we’re on to is game changing.