A case for optimism

Lately I've been reading a lot about the "Roaring Twenties," a period of time when Western society and culture blossomed following what had been the scariest thing to ever happen to humans up until that point: World War I.

Some of the highlights of the 1920s:

  • Jazz became a thing
  • Aviation became a thing
  • Art Deco became a thing
  • People were partying...all the time 
  • Women were given the right to vote 
  • The Harlem Renaissance happened
  • Western economies were booming and people of all stripes got wealthier
  • New technology (the tv, the radio) dramatically changed the way people interacted with each other

"Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology." Probably such a stark contrast to the utter lack of agency most people felt witnessing WWI.  

I think it's fair to say that lots of Millennials have grown up with a pessimistic mindset. And why not? For fuck's sake, we witnessed a bunch of lunatics fly metal rockets into the world's tallest buildings live on television. If that wasn't enough, we graduated into the 2008 financial meltdown, witnessed an adult baby be elected as President of the United States, and to top it all off have been conveniently scapegoated by Boomers as the "problem with society" while that generation continues to squeeze the life out of anything they get their hands on. 

What were the post-WWI kids like leading up to the Roaring Twenties? Here are some choice quotes, pulled from the Internet:

  • "The Lost Generation was composed of young people who came out of World War I disillusioned and cynical about the world." 
  • "Lost" in this context also means "disoriented, wandering, directionless"—a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war's survivors in the early post-war years."
  • "This accusation referred to the lack of purpose or drive resulting from the horrific disillusionment felt by those who grew up and lived through the war, and were then in their twenties and thirties."

Telling Hemingway the story, Gertrude Stein added, "That is what you are. That's what you all are... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation." Rude! Especially given that Stein was about 25 years older than Hemingway and her generation was in power leading up to...you know....the biggest fucking world war in human history! 

Sound familiar?

So here's my point: maybe all this current chaos in the world is a necessary evil leading to something truly great. We've had some technological innovations (the Internet, social media, to a lesser extent cryptocurrency) that are completely de-constructing many of our cherished beliefs and institutions in real time, which is probably a very psychologically traumatic thing to see unfold as a generation. 

And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we'll turn today's carnage into a tomorrow's decade of skyrocketing prosperity, radical equality, and create new forms of art and expression along the way, led by technological innovations that have changed the way we interact with each other.

So I'll be putting off any big life events (marriage, having kids, etc) until at least next year. When I'm washed up, I want to say I was doing big things in the Twenties.

Inconvenient truths day

  • Irrational exuberance beats realistic pessimism 
  • Complete honesty only comes with anonymity OR fuck you money (and never with at-will employment)
  • Much of what we believe is heavily influenced by conmen (and idiots) with massive advertising budgets 
  • Art and engineering are the purest professions
  • Social media just moved what is usually whispered amongst friends in a bar to a global stage 
  • Martyrdom is what separates man from animal
  • Everything you’ve ever said or done online will probably be leaked some day
  • In the long run, that might not be a bad thing
  • In the short run, that leaves 2 options: be 100% real on/offline and accept the consequences or only write things that you wouldn’t mind the world reading someday 
  • Information produces the same chemicals in our brain as cigarettes and alcohol
  • Who cares if the Emperor had any clothes?
  • Boomers fucked up
  • Gen X got shafted 
  • Millennials will exceed everyone’s expectations  
  • We don’t need to wear sunscreen
  • Hedonism is for losers
  • Blogs rule
  • Given a choice, better to live like you’ll never die than to live like it’s your last day
  • This probably won’t age as well as I hope it does 

Blocked and reported

If you're a standard, garden-variety millennial (so, born sometime between 1981 - 1995), you've likely been raised on platforms that favor mostly pro-social "interactions":

* Like (Most "pro-social")
* Follow
* Fav
* Comment
* Retweet
* Share
* Post (Least "pro-social")

In the real world -- aka, interacting with human beings outside of a computer screen -- there are forms of "anti"-social (or maybe the right word is "adversarial") behavior that can be used to express disdain for someone or something, from 1:1 disagreements (you're my friend and I tell you I'm disappointed in you) to 1:many disagreements (tarring and feathering someone publicly because he/she couldn't pay his/her debt).

We're now in an era where it's even rude to "unfollow" or even "mute" someone on social media. There are entire cottage industries of apps that track this. 

I think the Internet will go down as one of the top 5 things we've created as humans. One has to wonder, though, that if during the commodification of the Internet in the last 20 years, and the emphasis on collaborative, pro-social UI interactions on major platforms, we've somehow lost a way to express disagreement with each other online in a way that doesn't feel weirdly passive-aggressive. And the lack of a hard "dislike" button has given rise to cancel culture, which as mob-driven as it is still might be a better alternative to the horrible shit we did through history to people we didn't like.

Who knows. Until then, I'll just block you.

Competition is for losers

"The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary." 

For the first time in about ~10 years, I am "unemployed." For someone who has grinded it out at a couple of BigTechCorps, it is a totally bizarre feeling. Factor in high school and an ultra-competitive college, and I've been on a treadmill for 18 years. That's ~50% of my waking hours having to be at some particular place at a particular time doing particular tasks with particular people I don't particularly care for (not all of them, obviously).

Unemployed Kev was born on Thursday, September 12th, 2019. I woke up at 10, checked my calendar (empty), and walked downstairs to the bodega to get coffee. I stood on the street corner for about 5 minutes and watched people fumble around on the sidewalks. Doing laundry might be nice way to start the day, I thought. I laughed for no reason.

I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, and left when I was 18. Once you leave one cult, you start to be pretty good at detecting others. 

Human beings are wired to compete. It's a part of what makes us so fucked up as a species: we are mimetic creatures. Human see, human want. At some point in human history, this was probably a super valuable skill. But now, in an age of excess and increasing globalization, it might be hurting us. We go to the same colleges everyone else does, read the same websites, compete for the same lateral promotions, and regurgitate the same pre-packaged media narratives that are forced down our throats by the Political-Advertisement complex. Advertising works, and has enabled companies like Google and Facebook to effectively hoard up billions of dollars of cash and just sit on it. As our obsession with information technology grows, we are stagnating in other areas -- like biotech, transportation, green energy etc -- while we fight over who deserves to be Cancelled next.

"We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters."

I think the future will belong to people who are good at limiting their access to noise, including those who opt-out of mindless, wage-labor corporate bullshit, and compete on things that matter. I'd argue that fighting tooth-and-nail for your peer-approved ~7% annual raise at BigTechCorp after 12-18 months of mindless self-promotion is not something that matters. It teaches you how to play a game that will be irrelevant in the future.

Competing to learn a new language, skill, produce a new piece of art, work on something that will extend lives, cure diseases -- these things matter. Until we invent a vaccine for advertising, the industry will continue to gobble up all too many exceptionally talented people who need to make money, like anyone else. And that's because advertising works.

Anywho, I'm looking forward to waking up late, working on 1-2 projects, and .... not competing on things that don't matter. And fighting hard for the things that do.