Friday, May 12, 2017

Navigating Modern Life | Lefsetz Letter

You will always feel left out, left behind, out of it.

Everybody is cool in their own way. The old concept of coolness was based on scarcity. In a limited universe we look inward, in an unlimited one we look outward.

Posting is not belonging, just a facsimile thereof.

Everybody is a star. When there is no mystery, when everybody’s warts are revealed, there’s a great leveling of the playing field, the old icons fade and the proletariat is empowered. Right now all the talk is about personal branding, becoming a mini-empire, but not everybody is deserving of mass notice. The future is amplifying your identity based upon your work. Think local, not global. Especially in a world where those perceived to be global are not, they’re just the beneficiaries of massive publicity campaigns, how many people actually go see that movie, how many people actually listen to that album. You have such power and surprising impact as long as you stop shooting for the stars and focus on a goal you can see. This is the opposite of the seventies ethos, developed by the band the Police, who toured the world in an effort to achieve domination. No one has domination anymore, own the piece you’ve got.

Say no, not yes. In the information economy there’s too much, information that is. So you’ve got to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Read the headlines but not the articles unless they’re in a publication that filters for quality. Writing is a skill. “The New Yorker” is always readable, the links sent from other publications and blogs…are not. A concept is not a story. Most of what is written is ignored and you can ignore it too. You can never keep up and there is no catching up. Find your trusted sources and depend upon them.

You’re on your own, baby. There’s no tech help and no one will curate your Twitter feed, you have to decide who to follow. Which is why so many have abandoned Twitter, it’s easier to post photos on Instagram. Not that you have to be addicted to Twitter, but if you’re an information junkie it’s the best way to keep up to date. But you must forage the internet to find out who’s worth following.

Everybody wants your money. It used to be clear who was selling and who was not, and most everybody was not, but now they are. They want you to buy their wares on Etsy, spend your valuable time online looking at their stuff and promoting it. We’ve been overrun by salespeople, to our detriment.

It’s not news, it’s HYPE! So much of what fills the pages of newspapers and websites is glorified press releases, stories on subjects that are supposed to make you want to buy. Ignore the stories on the actors and musicians and all the rest of the purveyors. If you hear the movie’s good, go. If you hear the record’s good, listen to it. And then if you want to go deeper you can Google them and find a cornucopia of information. It’s all about time management, yours.

Tech serves us, not vice versa. We’ve been enraptured by tech for two decades, but the tide has turned, we’re not wowed by new websites and don’t need new devices and know that most of what is announced will fail. You don’t have to be first on your block anymore, with either hardware or software, you must see the Silicon Valley creations as tools, no more. Once they were the essence of cutting edge cool, but now you are.

Create in a vacuum. Read the Richard Russell piece in “The New Yorker”:

Richard Russell’s XL Recordings Empire

Although disappointing, it illustrates you must create and consume without distraction, without worrying about what others think, but only yourself. Artists dig down deep into themselves, but once Napster eviscerated sales they got so into interacting with their audience that they lost touch with the art. If the art is good enough, the fan base follows.

You’re climbing the hill every day. If you’re not confronted with something you do not understand, if you’re not flummoxed, trying to figure something out, you’re doing it wrong. It could be a political situation, it could be how to extract more power out of your mobile device. Life is about stimulation and we’ve never lived in a more stimulating era. Life is also about learning, and functionality. Oldsters have all the devices but don’t know how to use them, which is why youngsters run circles around them. You have to know how to change a light bulb, and the settings on your computer, you personally are responsible for making things work. If you depend upon others, tech help, employees, you’re losing touch. You never want to sacrifice your everyman status, because you have to reinvent yourself every day.

Ignore conventional wisdom. E-mail is dead, but it survives. Slack is superior, but you don’t work in a corporation. Do what feels right to you, no one knows your world better than yourself. Sure, poll your friends, take advice, but make your own decisions.

Define your own success. Much harder to say than do in a world that is hell-bent on making you feel inadequate. Revel in your personality and accomplishments.

Don’t be defensive. Everybody gets it wrong. Credit Silicon Valley for expounding this ethos. You fail, you pivot… When someone criticizes you for contradicting yourself laugh in their face, have principles, sure, but situations change and knowledge is gained and if you’re not willing to re-examine your positions and statements you will be left behind.

There is no center. No one has the answer, no one knows what’s going on, despite them telling you so. This is incredibly frustrating, but it’s the world we live in.


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