I first started blogging in college because a friend of mine pointed out that I needed to own my digital identity. I had written something about designer jeans in the lesser school newspaper and another student was dunking on me in her personal blog.
Unless I acted swiftly, Google results would be tainted forever he assured me. So I started blogging. Not because I necessarily felt like I was meant to be a writer but because I didn’t want this other girl to scoop my life story. I didn’t want to get “Bad Art Friended” by letting someone else tell my story.
I’m pretty grateful to both my friend James and the “mean girl” Phoebe for launching my social media habits. Every big break I’ve ever had has come from the connections I made on the Internet. If I hadn’t been petty enough to want to own my own digital identity I might have missed out.
Rather like the “Bad Art Friend” piece where one writer uses details from another’s life for her art, whoever is able to own the narrative is the default winner. It’s not terribly fair but it could have been someone else telling my story had I not chosen to write. If the victors write history then there is an incentive to be the one whose narrative wins. And the only way to win in our social media saturated works is to be sure you’ve got the scoop on your own life.
I used to travel a lot. It seems like another life, but before the pandemic airports were my most important liminal space. Even as a child this was true as my father loved taking us on trips. That emotional weight meant the airport have always had significance to me. This persistent exposure to airports lead to me to developing certain affinities and aversions in my routines around travel. But the one that I liked the most was buying something at the newsstand.
There was a period as a teenager where I thought carrying both the The Economist and Rolling Stone (neither of which I read anymore) was just the height of intellectual signaling. And no place was more crucial to signal than inside an airport. I could meet someone in passing that would change my life and they needed to see immediately that I was both smart and cultured. Yes it’s embarrassing now.
But this signaling was part of a wider ritual I felt was important to ground myself. Even if I felt the unsteadiness of traveling, I could bring routine and ritual into it. I knew no matter how much I anxiety or uncertainty I felt around a given trip I could always treat myself to buying something to read from the airport newsstand.
Generally I would pick up some kind of periodical. I’d leave myself time to browse the newsstands for at least ten minutes so I could adequately cover all the weird genres. Because I grew up in a small town and not a proper city, the only newsstand I ever encountered was at the airport. There was simply no place that held as many magazines covering as many topics.
And while I had the Internet very early in my life, the actual transition away from physical publishing wasn’t as far along. It’s not that I loved magazines so much as it was the only place I could find writing that wasn’t a novel was in newsstand. Now of course I read blogs, email newsletters, forums, Subreddits and my beloved Twitter. But the memories I have of finding new worlds came from newsstands. And while I may have literally been going someplace new, it was never quite as horizon broadening as picking out what I was going to read.
Today is Star Trek day. The original series debuted 55 years ago. I was searching for a photo of myself as a child wearing a captain’s uniform to commemorate it and instead stumbled upon a file containing my old WordPress blog. So rather than find an adorable picture of me in a red jumpsuit I found this picture from September 10th 2007 waiting for the Marc Jacob’s fashion show.
I used to be a fashion blogger you see. I have a few dubious CV distinctions, one of which is being the first person to live blog fashion week (at least according to Women’s Wear Daily). In the late aughts just before the Great Recession, it was a hell of a time to work in fashion and I wanted in. Being utterly unqualified I did what any kid would do and started a new media company. It went pretty well, we turned it into an ad tech company, sold it, and survived “RIP good times” but before all of that I partied professionally. A lot of business in fashion used to get done over drinks in fancy hotel lobbies while we all clutched our Blackberries.
This particular photo represents a time when Condé Nast still mattered. I was at the Mercer Hotel with my friend Lauren Goldstein Crowe (also apparently economic writer Felix Solomon). My friend Lauren was the newly installed fashion columnist for the new glossy magazine about money called Portfolio Magazine. We were killing time in the then trendy Soho hotel before the always reliably two hours late Marc Jacob’s show.
I don’t actually remember if I legitimately had an invitation or if I snuck in with Lauren that season. Back in 2007, if you can believe it, social media was considered very uncouth and no one has begun writing “bloggers are taking over the front row” thought pieces yet. Could have gone either way.
Portfolio was the last hurrah of the print behemoths, a glossy magazine dedicated to the culture of finance, so naturally I was appreciative that I could tag along with my much better financed friend. Condé Nast reported spent 100m on the magazine and I appreciate that some small portion of that went to drinks before the fashion of the season. Lauren is an especially erudite editor, of the sort who writes deeply studied long form work, so the fact that Condé Nast was paying to send her to fashion week was pretty decadent. She wasn’t a mid tier market editor who needed to see the clothes. She covers culture so the entire milieu was her domain. The gossip before the shows absolutely counted.
Of course, the business of media couldn’t support that sort of thing forever with changing advertising models and Condé Nast didn’t really keep up with the times. It’s a real loss. People like me ended up winning and it’s been perhaps a net loss for some things that were valuable cultural artifacts.
I spent no more than a couple grand getting our rinky dink operation up and running. We still managed to publish faster than anyone else. I had several meltdowns in service of that effort. In hindsight it was probably a waste but it felt so very new and urgent to be publishing things at the very second a look went down the runway. Now fashion week is an exercise in instant publishing and live-streaming everything from a million perspectives. But the actual studied writers don’t get expense accounts and drivers and corporate Blackberries anymore. If they are lucky maybe they have a blog with a subscription. Lauren knew it even then. She and I slowly occupied the same basic space in the ecosystem. She was just 15 years ahead of seeing it.
Anytime a new conflagration breaks out in the culture war I worry. What if this is the time I finally get information poisoning? I’ll surf the discourse and try to wrap my head around the issue. If it’s just a minor flare up, an outbreak of zeitgeist, my rational antibodies react swiftly and I bounce back from any emotional reactivity without getting sick. But when it’s full blown infection of the entire body politic I am not so lucky. I will succumb just like the rest of the country.
To fight off cultural contagion it will take several days of inflammation. I’ll be hot, bothered and have muddled thinking. It will take all of my energy and focus to see through what is the immune response and what is the infection. And then only then can I begin to consider treatment to get back to an emotional baseline.
Yes I am absolutely torturing a metaphor here but I’ve dealt with several cultural infections over the last year and it’s been a mess. My natural immunity to poor information environment isn’t total. Raging partisans spewing talking points can infect anyone. I’m sick of being infected just because I read the news. No one can be expected to quarantine their entire lives from current events but it sure feels like the isolated forever crowd is winning when someone tells me “just don’t pay attention.”
I encourage you not to be a culture bore. A culture bore is someone who spreads culture war contamination. Sure you might not realize you are infected. But you can take sensible precautions and it makes the informational commons better for everyone
Don’t spread a malicious informational meme unless you are willing to let others get infected. Which you might be. You might be a partisan. I don’t know. That is your right. But then you’ve got to ask yourself if I am sharing some tidbit of bullshit am I doing so because I think it’s beneficial? Or am I an unwitting carrier of some viral nonsense?
Sure I get it. It sucks to consider that your meme hygiene might be bad! I’ve been there. I picked content up from some dive account that only retweets resistance grifters and regretted it later. I’ve liked some kooky tweet from an account who turns out to believe the January 6th insurrection was patriotic. We’ve all done it. But for the sake of everyone else enjoying the information commons and being decent citizens together try not to do it deliberately.
Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana today on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Watching disasters in other cities has the sad side effect of making me go through my emergency gear. After living through Hurricane Sandy in New York I felt it a civic obligation to be prepared for emergencies. Ready yourself so you can help others is my philosophy of prepping.
I spent the morning doing a complete overhaul of my go-bags pharmaceutical set up. It has been a while since I had rotated out some medications and I wanted to add in more drugs for situations where it might be some times before we could reach a hospital or medic. Worst case scenarios crossed my mind.
Disasters often get portrayed as these dramatic events but more often it’s just neighbors helping each other through a bad time. That means I stock a trauma kit along with shit like anti-diarrhea drugs and cortisone. More likely to be itchy and have an upset stomach than a trauma bleed so prepare for the basics first.
But I’ve had the basics down for a while. I’ve been prepping now for several years with increasing seriousness. So sometime this year I decided to prepare for worse. I thought it wise to have a stash of prescriptions for situations where doctors aren’t coming, maybe at all, including antibiotics, steroids, antihistamines, NSAIDs, caffeine, and an array of drugs that are, well, controlled substances and I swear I have legitimate prescriptions for all of them and am monitored by several physicians who work in coordination. But you know, the good stuff.
I say that as if it is remotely recreational to break a leg and require an opioids or be suffering from shock. If someone is having a panic attack because their world is coming down around them I think fuck it this is why it’s good to have an Ativan. No judgements.
Disaster hits a little different when you have a chronic disease. You have to think about scenarios where you are actually in the most vulnerable groups. That those worst case scenarios you see on TV could actually happen to you. Shit hitting the fan would actually mean your life if you didn’t prepare. And so I’ve scrapped together a small pharmacy over the past few years. I’ve rationed doses and asked for extra refills. I’ve squirreled away a dose here and there between insurance coverage and extra days. It’s actually quite hard to be able to have as many additional drugs as the CDC recommendation for an emergency. No seriously they suggest 7-10 days of extra medication. Can you imagine most Americans affording that? It’s a fucking slow moving American tragedy we are told how to survive but hobbled in being able to enact any of what the Fed suggest. It’s no wonder Americans don’t trust the government for anything.
The pandemic has solidified this sad truth for me. So I’ve learned new skills. I worry that it’s hard to rely on community when most communities are struggling already. It’s an impossible ask. And so we are forced into another circle of individualism and personal responsibility because really what other option can you imagine having. Because next time it won’t be some other persons disaster on the TV. Next time it might be yours.
I consider it crucial to keep a balance of crazies in my timeline lest I accidentally get pilled by one group simply by mere exposure bias.
That’s a good argument for following as diverse a group as possible. A full timeline is one with a thousand biases blooming. This is good for keeping an open mind but it is also a protective technique known as flooding the zone. It is much harder to determine where one’s sensibilities lay if they consider counsel from all.
The downside is that we call people out for following “wrong think” in some corners. The only way to inoculate against that risk is heavily telegraphing that you follow all kinds. Impossible to show purity so to protect from any charges you muddy the waters.
I’ve noticed that progressive tech & red pillers are especially gnarly about policing for thought purity. It is relatively easy to fight back against, but then you have to be committed to seeing ALL zeitgeist which is exhausting.
I had to stop consumption for 48 hours last week. Floating above the discourse generally stokes my creativity. I live on the energy of the zeitgeist. But a few issues (vaccines & Kabul) are so upsetting that I just had to stop and recenter.
I think I have what might be labeled natural immunity to discourse. It doesn’t usually hurt my emotional state. For me, discourse functions more as a barometer of positions I follow to indicate long term movements.
Very rarely does it overcome my long term stakes. When it does it’s usually because I have information poisoning. It doesn’t happen too often. And I can shake it fast. But it’s not easy to cultivate for most people. I think it might be innate. That natural immunity I mentioned. Some people just have a higher tolerance for information toxicity and flow rates. Best to find out what yours is and to sense in others their informational environment as well. It’s edge.
I’m motivated by media. If I’m in a bad headspace I can take time to read a book or watch a tv and shake myself out of it with a few hours. I’m a voracious consumer of all forms of narrative, it’s how I synthesize.
You’d have to be a professional to keep track of more stories than I do just by sheer numbers alone. Maybe journalists, authors or publicists read more than me, but even then I’d bet real money I’m still top decile. I never lose a “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” news quiz.
I’m working though some emotions on risk, punishment, hurt, and fear this week. So I’ve been watching a favorite show on all those emotions: Billions. It’s a show about a hedge fund manager feuding with the US Attorney for the Southern District. It’s a terrific portrayal of finance culture and elite consumption. But it’s real strength is it’s portrayal of therapy. Emotional capacity is the key to coming out ahead in Billions.
While I don’t want to give any spoilers, the second season gives us a character named Taylor who is a prodigy. Not only are they intellectually brilliant but they understand who they are. I’m rewatching the show so I’m noticing details I didn’t process the first go around. Taylor says they have had 927 hours of therapy.
The impression I had on the show was that Taylor was in their twenties as they frame the introduction of the character around an internship and graduate school. I wish I had started on therapy in my twenties. Imagine having over three years of intensive emotional work before you’ve started your career. Honestly I’m envious. When I was in my early twenties I didn’t understand jack shit about my emotions.
Maybe by the time I get 927 hours of therapy I’ll recognize my own traumas and motivations as well as Taylor. I’m getting up there in hours and I am admittedly sinking a lot more into understanding what motivates me now than I ever did when younger. It’s not exactly linear progress. Feelings aren’t facts. That makes it a lot harder to lock down what will or won’t work for you. But I’d rather be finding out who I am now. Some people never do. But still I wish I’d had the good sense to invest 927 hours into therapy when I was Taylor’s age.
If you cannot win by playing by the rules, then change the rules. If you are nice Iowa farmboy named James you will probably get away with it. Or a cartoon character named Calvin with a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. There is no cheating in Calvinball because the rules are constantly changing.
But who gets to be honest and what rules will be broken if the wrong person says the true thing is quite telling. I have a medical procedure that is going to take a lot out of me this week so I’ve been resting at home in preparation. This has meant I’ve watched a lot of television. I’ve been binge watching Downton Abby the period drama about Edwardian Aristocrats coping with changing social standards as modernity bears down on them. It’s a drama about “manners” which please lots of agonizing over who and what is right and proper. The class structures are so codified they are literally written down. No seriously they kept books about peerages! Check out Burke’s. Fucking wild.
It all seems a bit ludicrous as an American but I’ve got to imagine social institutions I consider completely normal will look utterly baffling in a hundred years too. And much of the way those social mores change is when someone decides that playing by the rules is a no-win scenario. Sometimes the game is so codified that no one but people who have been trained and advantaged their entire life can be winners. When that happens the only way anyone else can win is to change the rules.
Or as Spock might have said to Kirk. “You cheated.” But is it cheating when it’s a no win-scenario? If by changing the parameters the game you open up entirely new possibilities maybe it’s a good thing. Sure, Star Trek does an excellent job of showing us the emotional and moral limits of never having to face failure and it’s consequences. But what if without rejecting the premise of the Kobayashi Maru you could have never known success or change?
I think shitposting might be a bit of social Calvinball or some social media variant of the the Star Fleet ethics test. People with some power use it to great effect. But a lot of people with some talent and an eye towards improving their social position leverage shitposting. They change the rules of what can be said. They make a game of truth telling and shift the rules of the game. This isn’t a finished theory by any means but as I’m determined to slowly think my way through a grand unified theory of shitposting you can expect a lot of notes and works in progress on the topic here.
I’ve written about how terribly I’ve felt physically for the past 6 straight days. The last positive day of writing I had was 8 days ago. People have noticed the emotional tone of this struggle.
Generally speaking a day or two of being down doesn’t get noticed on social media, but a continuous streak of being “off” tends to get noticed by your community. Your mutuals know who you are even from afar. Your mutuals see your struggles. Your mutuals may know more about you than you imagine. And I’ve found your mutuals may genuinely care about you.
I’ve never felt less alone than I have the past year under quarantine. Maybe it’s because the network of mutuals that shares their personality and life has spent more time on the give and take of commenting, posting, responding and messaging across social media. When we are forced to contend with our own inner emotional lives we can extend more empathy to others.
So while others may have seen politicization, partisanship and other externalized anger on social media, I’ve found mostly grace and kindness. People who I have never met in the flesh have shared their knowledge, their vulnerability and their network with me. When I have opened myself up I have been met with with compassion and understanding.
If you share a period of struggle and your desire to get out from under it you may not be far from help. The kindness of your community is within reach. Even, perhaps especially, your social media community. If you are hurting share that burden. I have and it is much lighter.
1500 years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the Universe. 500 years ago everybody knew the Earth was flat and 15 minutes ago you knew people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow
I don’t really know shit. I know enough to know I don’t know shit. My mother had a favorite bumper sticker “ask your teenager while they still know everything” which at the time as a teen I found a bit insulting and now as an adult think was quite astute. The more I know the less I know for sure.
Because I’ve slowly come to realize that knowing can be a crap shoot I keep odd company. Arguably bad company. I follow some truly outrageous people on Twitter. I follow hard right partisans and tankie left wing socialists. I follow folks with deep convictions on the irredeemable evils of technology and the most ebullient techno-optimists. It’s hard to talk me into not keeping an eye on all view points. Sure I think some folks are dead wrong but how do I know I’m not one of them?
Not knowing things for certain as saved my life. Medicine has a tendency to interpret data as absolute. Biometric markers and test results can for some doctors have as much authority as a papal decree. Anyone who has been told “well your test results are normal” while still feeling like absolute shit will know how frustrating this can be. Plenty of data points look absolutely normal before a system cascades into failure.
We don’t know as much as we need to believe we know. Our craving for certainty as humans is a significant weakness. The venture capitalist who insists that some metric will determine a crucial outcome is a favorite trope of mine. As if favorable CAC/LTV ratio functions as a warding spell or an attractive margin structure offers protection against a changing consumer preferences. Knowledge isn’t magic. Superstition can just as easily apply to P&Ls as poltergeists.
I find it best to remind myself to take a neutral when approaching entrepreneurs. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe everything I’ve ever known was particular to my circumstances, bias, education quirks or just plain randomness. Maybe one small insight will shift the grounds underneath me and reveal entirely new frameworks for interpreting reality. The unknown unknowns have a habit of springing themselves when you least expect.
It’s often tempting to throw opposing viewpoints into buckets that are easy to dismiss. Venture investors are notorious for this. We dismiss folks for any error we spot. We deride their data. We applaud ourselves for spotting cracks in their plans. Resist this tendency. We must always retain the neutrality of perspective that allows us to change our mental models. What we know to be true might be a lie. We may lack a key piece of context that would unlock a cascade of understanding that changes our entire perspective.
This is why the adage “strong beliefs weakly held” can be so key to success. Changing our minds is a strength. It’s hard to admit to ourselves we’ve gotten something wrong especially if we sunk a lot of time, money and reputation into it. But would you rather be right or successful? Feeling superior can be a delight but not if it gets in the way of what we want in life.