Permission to Learn New Things

July 28, 2008 — 4 Comments

“One day, I met with a researcher in a coffee shop. Language was a problem but he spoke more English than I did Japanese. I had just been to the bookstore and was lugging a stack of books on highly advanced computer-science topics. It was all Greek to me but I figured something might rub off. Suddenly the guy asks me “Who gives you permission to read those books?”

I was stunned. Bowled over. Did his puzzlement reflect some sort of cultural difference? I didn’t think so. It struck me that this fellow was just being more honest and direct than an American might be. He was articulating what many people in today’s world seem to assume: that official authorization is required to learn new things. I thought about this deeply and I’m thinking about it still.

Who gives us permission to explore our world? The question implies that the world in fact belongs to someone else. Who gives us permission to communicate what we’ve experienced, what we believe, what we’ve discovered of that for ourselves? Right then and there, in that chance encounter in some random Tokyo coffee shop, I gave myself blanket permission: to be curious, to learn, to speak, to write.” The Cluetrain Manifesto, Christopher Locke


July 24, 2008 — 13 Comments

Seneca had this thing where once a month he would practice poverty. He’d scale down his diet, sleep on the floor and stay away from business. Like a solider who performs maneuvers in times of peace, he said, you should practice misfortune in times of fortune. The idea being that fear is mostly bred from unfamiliarity and unfamiliarity is easily fixed.

Think about your reaction to getting fired right now, unexpectedly. It’s one of those nervous, churning feelings that pump through your system. Back up 10 minutes and you witness something horrifying and quit on the spot out of principle. How different are those feelings? But it’s the essentially the same result: you not working there anymore.

Let’s not kidd ourselves, there is more to good and bad than just perception. It’s not honest to pretend like you have total control over your emotions. We scientifically do not. You do, however, have the ability to create perspective. Almost nothing takes away your ability to inject that into the situation. So use it.

If you’re someone who is inside their head a lot like me, it’s really easy to forget that everything almost always ends up okay. It’s depressing and an anxious way to live. It sucks. If you can realize – try and picture – that the very worse thing that could possibly happen is _____ and be fine with it, then the pressure disappears.

The Fear is something that you opt-in to. Seneca’s lesson is just one way to opt out.

How Not to Think About New Media

July 23, 2008 — 4 Comments

Here are two examples of exactly how NOT to think about new media:

Violet Blue files restraining order on Wikipedia Vandal Goes out Business (with a staff of 15 people)

If you take Tyler Cowen’s parking ticket parable totally of context, it makes sense here. He said that government diplomats (when they had blanket immunity) from countries with illegitimate governments received exponentially more parking violations than their colleagues from democracies and republics. The thinking is that if you got your position from somebody who killed their predecessor, you don’t really have all that much respect for “the rules.”

All this is pretty typical for how people think (and fail) online: They don’t legitimize “context creators” enough to bother learning how they work. Stuck in a distribution paradigm, they assume the burden of discovery is on the customer. Lastly, they can’t keep overhead low enough to compete with people who do it for fun. Why? Because their whole careers have been about exploiting distribution monopolies and exclusive access to the press.

That’s exactly how NOT to think about new media. Regardless of how you go where you are (or how you plan on getting there), the people that made “the rules” now have an enormous amount of influence. And you don’t have any leverage over them. Wikipedia is the number 1 place for finding information about bands, above Myspace and their own homepages. You better fucking learn the rules.

BlueCollar didn’t do it. “What could be so hard about making a website?” So they hired 15 people, filled it with the stuff not good enough for TV and figured people would like it. To their credit, that’s a working strategy in the rest of the entertainment industry. When distribution is a limited, 90% of success to getting distributed. But it’s like they didn’t even both to realize that NO OTHER site has that kind of payroll. It’s actually even more embarrassing for Violent Blue. She doesn’t have a generation of tradition to hide behind.

It’s way easier to figure out the rules and their loopholes than to get mad and act like your above them. That’s what Seth was saying, the web doesn’t care.

The wrong way to think about new media is “how can I get it to do what I want?” The right way, just like Alinsky was saying, is to think “How can I work within the system to accomplish what I want to accomplish?”

That gives you one crucial task: Figure out how the system works.

What I’m Reading

July 21, 2008 — 7 Comments

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats by Grandmaster Flash (not everybody famous deserves a memoir)

Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath (nice counter to Klein. adbusters having a shoe is the most hypocritical thing I have ever heard)

Winning at Retail: Developing a Sustained Model for Retail Success by Willard N. Ander (basically a book about being “the best in the world“)

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian by Robin Lane Fox (really long but really good. solidifies a lot of what I read in primary texts but didn’t understand)

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston (the Steve Wozniak one and the one from the guy that started Gmail are the best)

A Short of History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (still above my level but I like it)

When Humans Extend Rights to Nonhumans (NYT) is really creepy and almost a word for word recreation of a scenario I remember Richard Dawkins writing about in one of his books.

This is me and I also agree with all the tips here.

You’d Think…

July 17, 2008 — 34 Comments

You’d think that if by the time you were 21, you’d worked for four New York Times’ bestselling authors, helped sign one of the biggest bands in the world with the digital strategy you laid out, a major player in Hollywood had asked you to leave school to work for him, made enough money to totally support yourself, talked daily with the CEO of a publicly traded company and if sometimes if you decided to really push your luck, you could call up the greatest strategist since Machiavelli for advice, that maybe your parents would have done more than just “come to terms” with the person that you are.

You think maybe you wouldn’t be so angry. That you wouldn’t have to be so quick to turn on people before they turned on you. You’d think that veering slightly from the routine (10-2am daily, 20 miles a week minimum, 2.5 books) might be a source of anything other than anxiety. You’d hope to hell that the high of fitting in double days would last more than a few weeks.

Me: I think I know why I’m so depressed today.

Gf: Why?

Me: Nobody validated me.

Gf: That’s not very good reason to be depressed is it?

I doubt you’d ever say that. And mean it. And know exactly when you’re due for a crash…the day after something good happens. You wouldn’t ever think you find yourself at the top of the stairs to your girlfriend’s apartment and wonder why you did any of it at all.

But here you are.

It will never be enough. May I never be complete. You never fill that hole. Not this way. So if more is not the answer, where does that leave you?

“You’ve wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere.

Then where is it to be found?

Through first principles. Those to do with good and evil. That nothing is good except what leads to fairness, and self-control and courage and free will. And nothing bad except what does the opposite.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius