One Big Waste

May 19, 2009 — 30 Comments

I don’t get “liberal arts 2.0” or Zen Habits or productivity blogs or the rest of these self-improvement sites.

It’s completely detached from reality. Look at these awesome subway maps. Or check out some study about how the brain thinks about difference kinds of cereal. Scientists have discovered a secret way to reduce traffic congestion.

Excuse me if I don’t cum in my pants. In fact, my eyes glaze over. It’s all so pointless.

Am I really supposed to believe that they do anything with this information? I don’t even think they really read it. Does the headline make me seem smart? Are the words “psychology” “rationality” “DNA” “happiness” or “The New Yorker” anywhere in the article? Well then goddamn, I better summarize it and tell other people.

Who gets smarter from this? Where is the discussion? Where is the reality?

Ok, so now my email inbox is 20% more efficient. I’ve examined a sweet tagcloud of words from all the items in Google Reader. I’m firmly convinced that I need to believe in myself. I memorized a list of cognitive biases. Now the fuck what?

We’re not dandies. You don’t get anything for fine-tuning your body and mind like it’s a car modification kit. The question to ask is: What are you working towards? And I think you’d see that you could spend every second of every day reading that crap and it wouldn’t get you anything closer to being there. Unless, of course, your goal is to be one of those writers yourself and pass the buck of actually deriving value from the work to some other hypothetical reader.

At the Core of It

May 14, 2009 — 16 Comments

You probably didn’t know that most of the “experts” quoted in news stories are connected to the reporter through a PR firm which they pay thousands of dollars to every month. The PR firms subscribe to services where reporters basically troll for perfectly tailored quotes in exchange for a few generous superlatives after the person’s name. It’s where a lot of book blurbs come from, or the part in someone’s bio where it says “James has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and the Washington Post.”

You probably forget that someone with even mediocre credit could lease a Jaguar for $349 dollars a month and a couple hundred down at signing.

You probably never stopped to consider that the average Digg user looks like this.

Remember: Women in porn take Xanax between scenes to numb the pain. Celebrities rent the cars the day before the taping of an episode of Cribs. A commentator barely skims the material he’s debating on television and thousands of people write and yell and simmer over remarks he pulled out of his ass. Or somebody has five-figures of credit card debt and a soul-crushing job, but people hear his big title or where he went to college and they feel jealous, inadequate and awful.

Think about the things people are sincerely outraged over – how regularly, if you truly examined the root of the issue, would you see that it was only shadows? Shadows of half-truths, lies, exaggerations, flippant responses or rationalizations.

You want to be respected, be in the papers, have a nice car, have an avalanche of traffic, wonder why your life isn’t like a porno or a tv show. Well, the funny thing is that “reality” seems to require the suspension of disbelief as much as fiction does.

I’m just saying that when you really look at it – and I mean really look at it, as in the facts and figures and averages – the things we think are important are comical. Intellectually, it’s time you admit to yourself that it’s all a big fucking farce. Only after you’ve done that you can start to understand that spiritually.

When Richard Feynman was a boy, his dad would take him on nature walks through the woods near his home. His father would point out a bird and say “there’s a Spencer’s Warbler” and explain to him how at that very second it was eating the lice that ate the proteins off its feathers because everything is a source of food for something else.

It turns out that only half of what he told him was true. The important half. The part about why the bird acted the way that it did, what it was doing, or what it meant. The name was mostly just jibberish.

To Richard Feynman, this was an important theme for the rest of his life. When he taught in Brazil, he realized that although the students often studied physics, they rarely understood it. To him, this was like reading Socrates in Greek but missing the philosophy. What people forget, he felt, was that the words themselves are relatively worthless. Their meaning is what has value.

I saw that Fred Wilson gave a speech a few weeks ago on what he called “earned media.” It’s very likely that this will be one of the next big internet phrases. And as usual, people will miss the operative word: earn. They’ll miss that the concept is both bigger and smaller than the sum of its parts. That “earned media” communicates both a literal definition (hard work) as well as an idea (genuine vs paid media). They’ll be too busy “using” the word to really understand it. I’m sure only few of them will stop to think about how strange it is that the concept is also known as “free media.”

What made Feynman so special, at least to me, was that he only cared about what things meant. His father taught him that there was an enormous difference in knowing about a bird and knowing what other people call birds. One is harder to test, it doesn’t fit as well into textbooks, and like earned media takes time to accumulate.

Deciding to live that way is difficult but admirable decision. People who are self-taught know how embarrassing it is to try to use a word you’ve seen but never actually heard before – how quickly someone will jump in to correct you. But which side of the table do you want to be on? The side doing the correcting or the doing? Correct in detail or in principle?

I’ve never really written about my girlfriend here. It’s strange because she is such a big part of my life.

Our relationship isn’t always the best which is unfortunate because she is a very sweet girl. It’s my fault mostly. I am a 21 one year old guy and I work all the time. My position forces me to make some really shitty decisions, ones with no real winner and enough of them added a bit of an edge to an otherwise wonderful relationship.

I don’t always agree with the things that upset her. There are times when I think she’s totally wrong. But looking back there are quite a few decisions I made that I am not proud of. Priorities and internal logic that were embarrassing at best and disturbing at worst.

I guess you need to think when you’re making a choice: is this an something I respect or is the logic just tenuous enough to settle your conscience?

There is a good line in Meditations where he says something like never do anything that you will worry about remaining ‘behind closed doors’. I think the same goes for how you treat the important people in your life. And when I look back on things, there’s a lot I could never justify to a third party. I regret that and it’s something I’d like to put an end to doing.


And so ends the chapter of my life where I constantly scour the internet for funny dog pictures and carry a camera to catch Hanno failing a site-record 5 times.

If you haven’t seen it, now aggregates all the fails from I Has Hotdog and Failblog onto one site. Ben Huh, the CEO offered me a certificate commemorating the sale as a joke but I of course made him give me one. The site couldn’t be in a better or smarter hands.