You can build any future you want in this world, but it seems many metaverse builders just want to create a digital version of the garbage parts of adult life that grind us down. –Charlie Warzel in Galaxy Brain
Charlie makes the point that many people are interested in a new internet (Web3, metaverse) because of the way the current iteration has worn us down during the pandemic. Everything happens through a screen, nothing is physically real. And the gatekeepers (yep, they’re still there!) of the metaverse just want to make it into a shitty version of real life. (Side note: ownership—like mortgages for digital real estate—is painted as an ideal so that companies can make money. We consumers need to own pixels like we need a hole in the head.)
I think Charlie still misses the point, though. As usual, comedians have more insight, like Aziz Ansari in his new Netflix special. (I don’t have a great way to pull a quote, but just give it a watch. It’s half an hour.)
To put my own spin on it, it’s the massively online-ness of our lives that’s the problem. It’s the fact that we use the same mechanism we use for work to try to find relief from the work grind. It’s the constant contact with those who are not physically with us. It’s refusing to be alone with ourselves, to recapture our own minds.
Every tweet, like, post, share is another knife in our wellbeing. We don’t need slightly different ways of being online. We need to go outside and leave our phones behind. And not so we can post about how we went offline.
Don’t come at me with that nonsense about how going offline is a privilege. Using a $1,000 device to constantly peep the lives of celebs and laugh at weird dances is privilege. Heck, we make laws and use satellites and weather balloons to connect underprivileged parts of the world to that rubbish. It’s not privileged to walk, talk to a real human, or make something with your hands*. That’s just real life. Or should be.
\Obviously, physical disabilities can affect this. I’m referring only to economic privilege.*
I’ve started reading the excellent How to Get On With Your Colleagues by The School of Life. Unlike many self-help books that take a premise and write 25 unnecessary chapters that add little to what was already on the cover, this book steps through common interpersonal challenges and addresses them on a psychological level.
One of those challenges, defensiveness, is common among perfectionists, and I tend to exhibit this myself. Now I understand why.
Being defensive does not spring from arrogance or pride. It is the adult relic of a childhood fear of what could happen if a mistake were to be admitted, projected into situations where risks no longer apply.
In my case, it’s not just my childhood fear of reprisal, but my bad experiences in early jobs with bad managers that treated me like a child (clock watching, email snooping, scapegoating, etc.). I learned to overwork so that no one could ever find fault with me, and to vigorously defend my choices. Only more recently have I learned to chill out a bit, to accept that no one’s out to get me (I hope! This time! Seems unlikely?) and that feedback from others makes my work all that much better.
Just before I started reading this book, I wrote a piece on my blog in a similar vein. Criticism is vital to growth. And as adults who (mostly) deal with other adults, our worlds will not end if something we’ve done is pointed out to be imperfect.
On a related note, Sarah Schulman’s book Conflict Is Not Abuse is now on my list.
From intimate relationships to global politics, Sarah Schulman observes a continuum: that inflated accusations of harm are used to avoid accountability. Illuminating the difference between Conflict and Abuse, Schulman directly addresses our contemporary culture of scapegoating. This deep, brave, and bold work reveals how punishment replaces personal and collective self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning.
I tend to roll my eyes at most rags-to-riches posts on LinkedIn. Many of them have the same feel as you-know-who’s “pulled myself up by my bootstraps with nothing but a million dollar loan from my parents.” Let’s see if I’ve got the gist: with a Harvard MBA, CEO friends, and the same last name as a Hollywood celebrity, you too can be a middle manager at a boring fintech company—just like me!
But the post I screenshat above is similar to my own experience. With no family money, a bad education, and dim prospects*, I taught myself to design and to code. I offered my services pro bono to some local clients I wanted to work with. Some accepted. I created a portfolio of those and other completely fictional projects. I continued to learn. I landed an entry level web design job. It ended poorly. I learned about office politics. I took a slightly better job. It ended poorly. I learned about paranoid managers. I learned more. I took on freelance clients, though it wasn’t enough to get by. I cranked up the learning.
Finally, I landed two big clients in the same week. They both required full time hours, so I worked 80 hours a week for 6 months. One of the clients’ freelance budget ran out. The other hired me on full time. I worked there for 8 years. I kept learning, more than ever.
I don’t believe that material possessions or the size of bank accounts are an acceptable measure of human success. But whereas before I wondered if I’d be able to feed my family, now I don’t (and I have a nice car).
When you decide it’s time to try like your life depends on it, a lot can change in a short time. Take the mental effort it takes to solve the daily Wordle, apply it to learning something you could see yourself doing professionally—first for seconds at a time, then minutes, then hours, then days. You’ll have a marketable skill. Repeat. You’ll have another skill. If you figure out in the middle of learning that skill that it’s not really something you’d like to continue long term, drop it and start learning another one. Kill all doubt about your ability to learn that skill. If you can get through this paragraph, you can learn that skill.
Now I’m starting to sound like a self-help book. Don’t worry, I won’t try to sell you my system of success.
*I acknowledge that I am a straight white male with average mental health and no physical disabilities and therefore had some advantage. But the relative point about effort remains.