“That’s the trouble with 14-year-old boys — from the point of view of the social order. They haven’t yet learned the more sophisticated forms of dishonesty. It can take years of slogging to learn how to feign respect for hollow authority.”—Jonathan Lebed: Stock Manipulator, SEC Nemesis — And 15 in the NYT in 2001. It’s a classic Michael Lewis narrative longform piece, and full of little anti-authoritarian gems like this one. Darn youths!
In my entire week with the Dalai Lama, every conceivable question had been asked—except this one. People had been afraid to ask the one—the really big—question. There was a brief, stunned silence at the table.
The Dalai Lama answered immediately. “The meaning of life is happiness.” He raised his finger, leaning forward, focusing on her as if she were the only person in the world. “Hard question is not, ‘What is meaning of life?’ That is easy question to answer! No, hard question is what make happiness. Money? Big house? Accomplishment? Friends? Or …” He paused. “Compassion and good heart? This is question all human beings must try to answer: What make true happiness?” He gave this last question a peculiar emphasis and then fell silent, gazing at her with a smile.
“We didn’t need adults. Moreover, we didn’t want them. Having parents watch would only have brought a new and not very useful pressure. Bad enough to make an error in a game among one’s friends; to have one’s mother and father witness it could only make it worse. Even more embarrassing would have been to have had one’s father get into an argument with an umpire or yell at kids on the other team.”—
I skateboarded a lot when I was younger, and maybe part of that was because I’d known my dad to get kicked out of my brother’s hockey games for arguing with the ref. Mostly, though, I think I enjoyed it because it was one of the only activities where us kids could do things without adult supervision. We were competitive with one another. We would hunt down spots and improvise constantly. We had fun, without anyone to tell us how ‘fun’ should look.
I remember skating down a street one day and seeing a girl from my class lean out of the window of her parent’s minivan, wave and say hello, before it sped off towards her softball practice. I felt a little sorry for her.
The prevailing societal brainwashing dictates that sexuality and sex “reduce” women, whereas men are merely innocent actors on the receiving end. By extension, our virginity or abstinence has a bearing on who we are as people — as good people or bad people, as nice women or bad women.
Women’s ability to be moral actors is wholly dependent on their sexuality. It is, honestly, insane.
“Back in the 1930s there was a Polish Marxist economist, Michel Kalecki, who argued that recessions were functional for the ruling class and for capitalism because they created excess supply of labor, forced workers to work harder to keep their jobs, and so produced a rise in the rate of relative surplus-value.
For thirty years, ever since I got into this business, I have been mocking Michel Kalecki … I don’t think that I can mock Michel Kalecki any more, ever again.”—[Productivity grows 9% in this quarter.](http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/11/zomfg-wtf-95-third-quarter-productivity-growth-number.html)
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”—William Hutchinson Murray, though the quote is often misattributed to Goethe.
“Instead, we are drawn to online social environments precisely because they allow us to play with notions of identity, commitment and meaning, without risking the irrevocable consequences that ground real identities and relationships.”—Hubert Dreyfus’ take on online anonymity: without risk, there is freedom to experiment.
The college premium skyrocketed over the last three decades. B.A.s now out-earn high school grads by 70-80%.* College graduation, in contrast, barely rose. In econospeak, the supply of college graduates looks bizarrely price-inelastic.
Over the last two months, I’ve read virtually everything ever written on this puzzle. All of the compelling stories converge on a single factor I’ve emphasized for years: The return to trying to get a degree is far lower than the return to successfully getting a degree. Why? Because marginal students routinely fail to graduate.
“I once believed that the informal system was nefarious, that if we just followed rules (which rules?) everyone (who?) would be happy (how?). But now as I’m older, as I’m a parent—you need rules, you need limits and boundaries, you need to preserve rights and keep people safe. And you also need people who can move the rules around.”—Mostly Summer Rolls, by Paul Ford.
If you think about it, every success story you read; every entrepreneur that says “You’ve just got to focus on what you want, ignore all the naysayers… you focus and you believe and you keep chasing that goal, and that’s how I got successful.”
That is also a perfect recipe for failure. It’s exactly how you fail, isn’t it? But the difference is, the people that failed aren’t writing those biographies.
“Their fears, I would argue, are not so much economic as aesthetic. If Loblaws does drive out the market’s small food vendors (a fear that may be overblown—though we’ll get to that later), it is not access to decent food or decent prices that will be lost. It will be that most elusive and desirable of post-millennial consumer products: the perception of “authenticity.” Kensington is not the only part of the city where the authenticity question has arisen—it’s being discussed in every neighbourhood where the gentrification-preservation kabuki is playing out, like Leslieville, Parkdale, and The Junction. Kensington is only the most extreme example.”—Why we need to stop worrying and let Kensington Market change, by Edward Keenan in The Grid.
“Good people are especially prone to bad ideas, son. Before you know it—bang—you’re inside a horribly decorated start-up, Razor scootering from one cubicle to another. And there’s no turning back. All your jokes become meme-based. Some dreadlocked hacktavist named Rumble will start crashing on your couch. Finally, you’ll change your Twitter bio to simply read, “maker.” Which is when I will disown you.”—Son, It’s Time We Talk About Where Start-Ups Come From, in McSweeney’s. I don’t think there’s a publication around that is as qualified to make fun of startups. Eggers and his crew have seen San Fran be transformed as the tech industry has grown.
“On Facebook, life begins at conception. “We’re expecting!”, your parents post. You don’t have fingers but you’re already accruing likes. A shared sonogram means hundreds have seen you before you’ve even opened your eyes. You have a Facebook presence despite lacking a physical one.”—
Constine tries his darndest at writing fiction here, but his subject matter’s not really the most believable. If your parents got Facebook before you did, exactly what desire would you have to join them?
My parents played Mahjong on our old Windows 3.1, and I thought it was insanely boring and complicated. But I played it because it was the only game we had for a long while. That’s different than playing a game because it speaks to you, because it engages you.
“As to the mouse, it is part and parcel of the Mac revolution, and it will probably be the reason you either sign up for or turn your back on this machine. To a large extent, the Macintosh works with what has been termed a ”finder environment.””—From the January 24th, 1984 review in the NYT of the original Macintosh. It’s great to read his description of how to use a mouse and a visual UI. Also worth noting: this is exactly how iPhone touchscreen vs. hardware keyboard was spun by reviewers. Different, not necessarily better. But history seems to have chosen a winner.
“if even well-received, well-reviewed new products can’t actually move inventory in a world where people can’t afford new stuff, then innovation will be channeled elsewhere, stymied, or hidden.”—How Inequality Kills Innovation, by Matthew Yglesias. An important question to answer for anybody who wants to make and sell hardware.
“You have to choose between two readings of the sudden shift: either entrepreneurs have been such praiseworthy souls all along, and we’ve only just recognized their value, or the new entrepreneurs aren’t entrepreneurs at all, but wantapreneur-laborers being humored by a victorious investor class.”—
Entrepreneurs are the New Labor: Part II. Very worth reading all three parts of this. In short: since the knowledge that entrepreneurs once had has been commodified, and since that makes hustlers pretty well interchangeable, there is nothing that entrepreneurs have to negotiate with. Investors hold all the cards and set all the goalposts, and so we are essentially just interchangeable bits of labour-producing humans.
It’s an extreme view but if you’re smart and have been in startups for a while you probably have had similar thoughts.
“As shown in the graphs above, since founder salary grows by experience level. This is another reason for low average salaries overall.”—What determines founder salary levels? Another little piece of the founders-as-labor market dynamic that’s emerging.
“You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.”—The Creativity Crisis. goddamnit why can’t this be the norm? Why can’t creativity be OK? Why can’t kids get the chance to build things at school? Why do we force curricula on them? Why?
“The crucial thing about a postcard from afar, after all, is the fact of it, not some anecdote about haggling over souvenirs in a bazaar. By studiously ignoring the convention that postcards should contain news, he ensures they actually get sent. The difference between a detailed message and “Best wishes” is far smaller than between a postcard and no postcard at all.”—
From a column titled This column will change your life. This is what gets me so stoked about Snapchat. It’s at it’s best when it’s personalized, private, and makes you wish you saw more of the person who sent it. It’s the postcard of our generation, and a soothing balm on whatever sort of rash that happens if you only interact via facebook posts.
Though the linked piece ends up talking about the ways to make a more powerful connection between two people, that’s something you can’t really use technology to mediate. The real innovation in social interactions of the last decade has been that we can now more easily maintain the middle ground of friends-but-not-super-pals, which is valuable case those relationships find a reason to flourish in the future. And because man, I can never get enough dog photos, and if you have a huge network of acquaintances, you’ll just get more cool dogs in your life, usually via facebook, which really does have its uses.
It sounds cool, and I hope they have success in making it into a compelling experience, but the main reason there’s a filter bubble is because we have a series of cognitive biases that privilege our views over unknown or opposing views. That’s not going anywhere, no matter how much you confront it.
That is the challenge to experience designers: what is your job for? Playing to of our most fundamental tendencies or trying to keep us away from those same tendencies? One is a Sisyphean struggle; the other like resisting the call of the sirens. But likely, each can be used for good. To borrow Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor for the human mind, it’s like riding an elephant. We have to know how the elephant works, and then we trick him into going where we want, because we can’t simply demand that it do anything. It’s too powerful for that. Better to acknowledge and work within the cognitive frameworks almost all of us (for it is also important to think of how non-neurotypical people experience the very same world) than to simply push, valiantly, until your energy is gone and you have changed nothing.
I like Medium, but Tumblr's better for stuff like this
Stuff where I have a thought and want to write about it, but not really at length. Like where I want to make exactly one point and then not talk again about it for quite a while. Like this. I have made my one point. Peace.
Edit: Also, y’know what’s really great about Tumblr? There is nowhere else that has the same combination of high and low art, intellectualism and bad jokes, lofty ideas and porn. It’s a masterpiece of a community.
because even though it’s really difficult (especially if you decide to learn something silly like Objective-C), there are many benefits to the person who wants to build a startup.
This post inspired by my running into an old coworker who asked: “You’re still coding? I thought you said it was a bad idea and that you should hire a CTO?”
First benefit: I am the factors of production. I don’t know my Marx very well, but that’s gotta count for something: for the first time in human history, we can be the thing that generates the returns that capitalism is built on. No factories required.
Also, I can now build whatever I want that involves a computer. It might take forever because knowing how to code doesn’t equate to knowing how to solve a problem using code, but now I know what’s possible, and I know about what projects I can tackle in a reasonable amount of time. This sorta translates into knowing what other people can tackle and how quickly they can do it - it will at least give you more empathy for what they’re facing.
Second benefit: people like building things with other people who build things. You can, of course, get someone to build things for you by giving them equity and money and whatever else, but that’s an employee, not really a co-founder. A co-founder jumps on when she’s excited about working with you on cool shit.
Third benefit: you can spend most of your disposable income on things like Arduinos and Bluetooth shields and then turn your dining table into a giant glowing red blob that gets brighter as you approach.
In school, unless you’re in the late stages of a research-based grad degree, you probably write/program/learn for a deadline, and then forget it all. How many essays have you written, and how many of them have you revisited? Did you continue to work on your final project after you got the grade? The same sort of thing happens at hackathons - few people check back in on their project after the Sunday night presentations are up.
This is actually pretty common startup advice: break things and move fast. Don’t revisit them until you have to. It helps drive an agenda forward: by doing things constantly, you’re constantly asking yourself what you should do next, and that’s way cooler and funner and more purposeful than not doing things. Like this parable that’s going around Hacker News.
You’d think that’s how you build big things. But it isn’t. It gets harder and harder to get really good just by doing stuff aimlessly. You have to deliberately practice your trade in order to get incredibly good at it, and deliberate practice is nowhere near as simple as just doing the next thing that pops into your mind, because chances are it’s something you’ve already done.
Really, this is just a corollary of the Pareto principle: you can hack your way to 80% proficiency pretty quick, but getting that remaining chunk of knowledge will take 80% of your time. For some things, that’s ok, but if your job is really to change the world, you will probably need to do something novel.
A passing familiarity with many things can be gotten with an undergrad degree, but expertise requires exertion. And most of the time, that exertion isn’t in executing. It’s in finding the opportunity to learn what’s next. You are now foraging for a rare and beautiful apple on a tree where no more low-hanging fruit can be found. Sure, it will test you to do something that has never been done before - but by the time you find such an opportunity, you’ve done the hardest thing: finding such an opportunity in the first place.
You can follow this move-fast-move-slow approach with yet more things than just startups. For instance: Art. Writing. Oh god I will never write the same way again. To begin, I now write out the least shitty version of what I think is a good story or article, and I do it as quickly as possible. Sure, I won’t start until I have some decent idea about what I should be accomplishing, but once I have it, I’ll just take the quickest path there. I’ll see some of the costs and the opportunities along the way, and in the next draft, I’ll write in the ones I want to follow.
As hinted above, the hard part is in taking that bunch of promising or even well-executed ideas and turning them into something masterful. It takes really great artists a long time to do this (Jonathan Franzen, who I really like, spent 10 years writing The Corrections), and there’s really no shortcut. Making beautiful things takes time.
The classic startup advice encourages you to not waste time optimizing the luck you’ve already had, but to instead put most of your energy in finding better, more plentiful sources of goodness. Do that with everything, but know that climbing a mountain gets harder towards the summit. Make sure you’re on a hike that you care about getting to the top of, and the unbelievable energy it takes to complete the remaining 20% won’t seem so painful.
“Philosophical progress doesn’t come from approaching closer to the final answers to the eternal questions of life, the universe, and everything. It comes from profound engagement with the contemporary world to figure out what life, the universe, and everything all means now.”—
And that’s also why philosophy’s so damn valuable outside of an academic context. Learn to do it in this way - in a world-appreciating, not world-effacing way - and you can kick butts in pretty well any discipline you aim at.
Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos meet the Segway prototype
Steve Jobs:I think it sucks!
Steve Jobs:It just does.
Tim Adams:In what sense? Give me a clue.
Steve Jobs:Its shape is not innovative, it's not elegant, it doesn't feel anthropomorphic. You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional. There are design firms out there that could come up with things we've never thought of, things that would make you shit in your pants.
Tim Adams:Well, let's keep going, because we don't have much time today to-
John Doerr:We do have time. We want to get Steve's and Jeff's ideas.
Tim Adams:The problem at this point is lead time in our schedule –
Steve Jobs:Screw the lead times. You don't have a great product yet! I know burn rates are important, but you'll only get one shot at this, and if you blow it, it's over.
“‘The best designers are passionate about design, yet dispassionate about their own designs.’ The managers tell us they look for folks who get very excited and curious about creating great designs, but can easily walk away from their own ideas and work when it makes sense to do so. […] Design is a team sport and the managers say the individuals who can do this are better team members.”—Jared Spool on Passionate About Design; Dispassionate About Your Design (via pascallaliberte)