Dread

March 6, 2010 — 5 Comments

What’s so weird about dreading things that might happen is that you have usually already figured out what you’re going to do if it does. In which case, your role in the whole situation is kind of over.

Why the anxiety? Do you doubt your ability to stick with your own plan? Ok, so focus on that. Do you think the universe registers your fears and then takes them under consideration? No, obviously not. So you want to feel miserable for fun then?

Ideas

March 1, 2010 — 8 Comments

About 3 years ago, I was pretty early in signing someone off YouTube. At the time, the kid I represented had one of the top 20 channels and I thought we’d be able to turn it into something. I remember putting together this whole plan for where I thought it could go. Unfortunately, after a big rush of excitement, it limped to a close on both end – the agency kept stalling investing resources in some 16 year old kid and the kid himself eventually had a melt down. I left the whole thing feeling like my balls had been cut off.

Cut to many many months later, and the company pulls in someone else from online. His manager put together a strategy for his career and they asked me to look at it. Shockingly, it was a familiar sight. Two years had passed and someone is feeling out ideas I’d been begging them to try back then. I wanted to get angry. After all, what kind of fucking bullshit business is it where you’re getting pitched your own pitches and asked if you think they’ll work?

Then I realized that the real awful thing was the notion that I apparently only liked my ideas when I thought I was going to get credit for them. And my instincts were more inclined to let everyone know I’d been there first than to relish an opportunity to put them into action.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned about ideas. It’s your job to have them. It’s your fate that they’ll sometimes be ignored or unappreciated. It’s beneath you to throw a tantrum when this is exactly what happens. Finally, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s enough to simply not mind getting credit. If you really want to get something done, go around looking for people for the credit to go to and work your execution backwards from there.

Self-Indulgent

February 14, 2010 — 8 Comments

Schopenhauer once said that the ability to “always see the general in the particular is the very foundation of genius.” Sure. And being a pompous fool too.

The running temptation on the internet is to take a minor observation and turn it some grand theory (Thankfully it’s not as common, but still shamefully alluring to name this theory after yourself. I wince every time I see a “Hugh’s Law” or one of the “Jarvis Laws of Media“). See a poorly run restaurant? – pontificate about the power of customer service. Hear an old media company fucked up? – let’s rant about how awesome blogs are.

Of course these articles always suck. The only people who can stomach them are the ones who have nothing to do with the industry in question – or they’d be struck by the overwhelming amateurism and cluelessness that drown out any value.

It’d be well and good if this stayed and died on the internet, but it doesn’t. People are being raised in this culture, consuming it on a daily basis, and letting it work alchemy on their soul. It’ll turn you into a laughingstock and a do-nothing long before it brings out your genius.

Work it like this, I think: cut yourself off the next time something makes you think “wow, that would make a good blog post.” It won’t. The fact that it feels like it would means it’s probably trite, obvious and self-congratulatory. Give it a some intense study before you expound the value of a new business model. Stop and consider how likely it is that new information will change the nature of the situation and you’ll find you probably don’t need to weigh in just yet.

It’s ok. You’re not missing out on anything. Focus on the vision you’ve planned for yourself. Leave the chatter to the people who enjoy peddling thoughts to empty rooms and avoid the tactic hell that is responding to every particular that pops up in front of you.

Distraction

February 7, 2010 — 16 Comments

As George Washington left office he famously admonished the country to avoid entangling alliances abroad, particularly those of a military nature. Whether or not people took it truly listened, the message stuck. Even today, you can hardly have a discussion about foreign policy without someone bringing it up. It’s especially loved by politicians – Democrats and Republicans equally – who like to throw it in each others faces when the opportunity arises. And of course, they’re well aware of the irony in doing so because in the same speech Washington emphatically warned against the formation of political parties which had at that point not yet taken hold.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when we strip observations from their context or pick and choose what we want to believe. We’re often left basing important decisions on ideas that are not even wrong.

That’s all I can think about when I hear people talk about the paleolithic diets and hunter-gatherer exercise.

Put aside the dubious science for a second. That Greek hoplites on campaign, for instance, subsisted almost entirely on grain and rarely ate meat – god forbid, we’d ever be cursed with their fitness. (For fun put a picture of a Greco-Roman statue and an African tribesman side by side) It’s an idea with a kernel of truth, stripped from its context and wrapped in contradictions. The real question is why?

What a relatively superficial problem to find with our modern lives. It’s a shame too when there is so much in evolutionary psychology that can be used to make us better people. It can help us understand roots of things like jealousy, ambition, and fear. We can think about these deeply natural drives and how they’ve come to fail us in the world we currently live, not to selectively embrace and emulate the conditions that created them. And what’s the goal here anyway? To not waste your time like the people who try to eat a balance diet and regularly exercise? Those idiots.

What the internet makes easier – and our culture encourages – is organization without sacrifice and beliefs that don’t require much conviction. Oppose a foreign war: quote Washington but cling to your political party. Creating a new diet: use evolution, forget the naturalistic fallacy. It’s the illusion of profundity without any of the risk. And I know it’s cute to think of ‘cavemen in New York City’ but it seems more like an undermining contradiction than irony to me.

The problem is that these ideas ultimately consume so much of our time and energy for muddled results at best. They are lifestyles at the expense of life. Like there is something shameful about waking up as a regular person and dealing with the issues that we all have in front of us: pride, anger, lethargy, accumulation… Do you waste your time playing videogames? Do you have to drink to be comfortable around other people? Do you find yourself consumed by petty office politics and gossip? So much is ignored at the cost of hunting raw meats and bone marrow and so little is gained in return. (For that plug anything)

To me these theories mark the very real temptation to stay busy at the expense of real work. It’s the trap of subbing meaningless discipline in for the kind that forces us to change and improve. All the upside of feeling accomplishment but without any of the risk that you might become a better person for the process.

The Imaginary Audience

January 27, 2010 — 31 Comments

The psychologist David Elkind published an interesting study in the mid 1970′s. Adolescents, he found, believe in an “imaginary audience.” Consider a 13 year old so embarrassed that they miss a week of class, positive that the entire school is thinking and murmuring about some tiny incident. Or a teenage girl who spends three hours in front of mirror each morning, like she’s about to go on stage. They do this because they’re convinced that their every move is being received with rapt attention by the rest of the world.

As strange as this behavior is, it’s all very normal. In fact, it’s an integral part of the development of self-consciousness. The child is becoming aware of their own powerful feelings about themselves and the newness of it often makes it difficult to discern where their thoughts end and other people’s begin. If all goes well, they grow into and realize that, hey, maybe everyone isn’t watching as closely as I thought.

But some psychologists have begun to notice that some people don’t come to this realization. They carry this delusion forward and never shake off the imaginary audience. Emotions that are supposed to peak in 8th grade, stays with them and becomes an enormous part of their identity and ultimately, their narcissism.

There are a lot of parallels between this and how people behave on the internet. Liveblogging. Lifecasting. Oversharing. Alter-egos. Fameballs.

I saw a Facebook post the other day where a guy posted a link to a Haitian charity, which after being criticized by a friend, he responded that he’d be willing to “issue a retraction.” I got the sense that I was the only witness to something very strange. Who was this intended for? What body would be overseeing this formal procedure? Why would he say that?

Schopenhauer had a name for this empty talk, he called it “fencing in the mirror.” It’s more common than you think. Consider all the times you’ve seen some blogger apologize for not posting recently – profusely addressing some concern that likely was never expressed. Or the Twitter updates to 38 followers, half of which are bots or uncaring companies. More realistically, maybe you’ve read too much into looks from a table of girls at a restaurant (a type I evolutionary error). Maybe you like like to roll down the windows in your car, turn up the stereo and know that everyone is just so impressed by your classic taste.

Have you ever seen a person on YouTube who makes elaborate, time consuming videos day after day to a few views a piece? This person who gets objective reports on the audience for their work – as close to zero as numbers get – continues, in their own mind, to capture its attention.

You can either live your life pandering to this empty room or you can be honest with yourself and admit how few people out there are actually watching. How there is really only one, maybe two people in your life that you need to impress. You look like a fool when you act any differently.

Think about it like this, how rare is it that a real public pulpit does someone any good? What on earth would you think that a fake one would be anything but worse?