Be Your Own Algorithm

Your heartfelt posts and whimsical prose may only be seen by 10% of your actual audience. It’s not your fault, it’s just the way the system is rigged.

If Twitter shut down tomorrow, could you re-connect with the people you interact with everyday? That friend in another country that posts great photos from coffee shops? Or that friend two states away that’s always recommending great music?

Get an email. Get a phone number. No, you can’t keep in touch with everyone. That’s a full statement. You can’t keep in touch with everyone. Just as you can’t really be friends with 542 people on Twitter.

Then when you have phone numbers and email addresses you can speak directly. No one else is butting into your conversations. There are no ads. Your conversations are not being mined, a profile is not being built, your interactions are not being mapped by AI.

Yes, it’s a bit jarring at first. Your interactions with friends, no longer appearing next to explosive news reports, and tragic school shootings, but you’ll adjust. And you’ll get work done. And you’ll still have strong connections with friends.

It can happen, without a social media algorithm coming into play because you’re the one choosing, intentionally seeking who you want to reach. You are the algorithm.

 

Attracting Good People

If I ever needed to see these words, arranged in this specific order, it’s been right now.

“I guarantee you that the second you stop pretending that everything is fucking hunky-dory and start building the life you want instead of waiting around for someone to save you, you’re going to start attracting people everywhere you go.”

This quote from Ask Polly, the aptly titled ‘I’m Pretending I’m Happy Single, But I’m Not!’

I mean this from the strategic standpoint of hindsight, in which I’ve lived many years waiting to be saved. It was only after some wise words from a friend that I looked at things differently, and managed to walk a different sort of life.

Currently I believe I am attracting good people everywhere I go. Not in the romantic sense and no, my heart does not ache over my singledom, but I needed these words in some sort of odd, time-travel completion sequence array.

These are words that I see today as a mindset, a reality that I envisioned a few years ago for myself. Content, able to exhale and be at peace with who I am today, without any sort of external validation.

Just Get Started

One of my favorite podcasts is Friendshipping! In their latest episode (listen here on Overcast) they talk about starting creative projects, and wowzers, it’s gold.

I started Skull Toaster back in 2011, on Twitter. Here we are seven years later and Twitter is a bit different these days. So now I’m starting my second Skull Toaster podcast. It’s like an audiobooks version of the Skull Toaster metal trivia I post on Twitter, but without each question being surrounded by nazis and news of school shootings.

Depressing I know, but that’s Twitter these days.

The first Skull Toaster audio program was the Metal Minute podcast. We did 115 episodes, but I decided to end it. Is it a failure? Nah. I learned from the process; the week in and week out of recording, promoting, and publishing a quirky, regularly published podcast. But it wasn’t growing, so we brought it to a close.

So now in 2018 I’m starting a new podcast. I’m on episode #3 and I have no idea if it’ll be a success. I’ve been talking about doing a podcast like this for years (I remember a coffee shop conversation with a Dan Diemer about this, back in 2015 or so), and I could have waited to start it better, or buy a better microphone, or whatever… but nope. It’s out. Episode #10 is gonna be better than episode #1. At least I hope so.

This doesn’t even have to be about podcasts. They can be about your newsletter. Your first tour. A new painting. But you just have to make it, then keep making it.

Tiny Experts of Millions of Things

How many articles do you read in a day? The occasioanl click or two per hour, and maybe you don’t finish the whole piece, but just enough to get the point. Let’s say you do that a dozen times a day. Easy, right? And let’s say you maybe spend about two minutes each time per article. That’s quick.

But thats already 24 minutes of your day.

What about when you add video into the mix? We easily watch three videos per day, and maybe maybe 2 minutes each? I mean, on average. Cool?

That’s 6 minutes of video per day, and I bet that’s on the low end.

Can we agree that we spend at least 30 minutes per day reading / viewing / skimming things? And that these are mostly micro bursts of taking things in? I’m not talking that 15 minute documentary where you learn something, or the 1000 word article that leaves you in tears. Nope. Just the sort of “content marketing” and “re-written news” that we practicaly trip over and consume every day.

If we figure 30 minutes per day, that’s 3.5 hours a week. Which is 14 hours per month. Almost a full day of awake time in a typical day.

And at 14 hours per month, that’s 168 hours per year, or 7 days of reading and watching.

Seven full days per year we’re staring at our phones, scrolling, squinting, skipping ads / clicking Reader mode, thumbing. Chances are you’re reading this on your mobile device right now.

I KNOW it’s just a minute here, a minute there. Don’t be such a kill joy, Seth! But dammit, this ain’t natural. Multi-tasking is a myth, but multi-consuming can’t be real either.

Have you tried listening to a podcast while scrolling through Twitter, then clicking a story, and trying to read it. How – HOW – do we even think this is normal?

I understand when a friend I’m having lunch with has to reply to work email (GIG ECONOMY, YAY), but please don’t interuppt our catching up with your catching up with your Instagram feed.

I clicked Twitter just now, and was able to take in all this:

That’s just tonight. That’s the last 15 minutes, maybe. But it’s happening around the clock. There are important stories to read, articles that are informative, music being released in different time zones, funny videos being uploads (how many hours of content are posted every morning from the late night shows), it goes on, and on, and on, and on…

And right now I’m adding to it. But I’m hoping to be like some messenger from The Matrix or something, typing on your screen in the middle of the night. “Knock, knock, Neo…”

You don’t even need to delete social media and throw your computer down a well. You just need to do your online work and get the hell away. Your best ideas will come when you’re out on a walk or having a conversation with a friend, not scrolling endlessly through some design inspiration site.

I don’t mean that the internet is bad, but the continual flood of infomration that we keep ramming into our brain can’t be healthy.

While I’m sure ‘Jared Kushner’s many, many scandals, explained‘ is a well done article, does our survival rely upon that information? Will it give us information that we can use to debate the Trump supporters in our life?

Great.

What about the 20 other Trump topics that were brought up today? Can we read those 25 articles, three explainer videos, four wrap-up hot takes from the late-night hosts, and listen to the four daily political podcasts and get their take on everything?

Then we do it again tomorrow? Nay, do it again this evening? When some other bat-shit crazy thing hits the fan?

Breaking up our attention for these hundreds and thousands of tiny interruptions over the course of weeks and months and years might make us tiny experts at a million things, but I believe it’s keeping us from deeper thinking and  bigger conversations with important people already in our life.

 

Forever a Student

My 42nd birthday is approaching quickly. That’s 4+ decades of behaviors, instincts, ways of dealing with things that come up. For some things it takes four decades, for other things you learn real quick. For me, wisdom is one of those long journeys of understanding.

Wisdom doesn’t show up one day in the mail, easily openable and ready to use. Wisdom often comes to us through the things that interfere with our comfort – be it an untamed, untethered idea, the person who drives us bananas, or a sunset begging us to stop our productive rush, rush and just watch it.

Another way I like to approach it is in the moment I’m about to dismiss someone or something, I instead think: So you are my teacher today. What am I being asked to learn from you?

From ‘THE WISDOM OF THE THINGS WE DISMISS‘ by Caitie Whelan

My four year old MacBook Air was acting up recently. I got that spinning beachball while I was in the middle of some important work (so important I can’t remember what it was). I caught myself wanting to launch into the response that I’ve seemingly been programmed with since I was a young boy, even before we had personal computers.

A feeling of hopelessness, “why me?” This computer problem, in this split second, was bullshit. The worst thing ever. Not fair.

That happened in a second, and in the next second I flipped the script. I made myself laugh. I celebrated like I just scored my dream job, or a unexpected check showed up in the mail. I raised my arms, smiled, dug deep and laughed in the face of my “world ending” computer problems.

Yeah, weeks later my laptop is fine, the work got done, and no one died.

That day the spinning beach ball wasn’t my enemy, ruthlessly mocking me. It was my teacher, and I was the student.

Valuable to Whom?

Erin Bartram’s post, ‘The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind‘ hit me square between my vision orbs.

“But your work is so valuable,” people say.  “It would be a shame not to find a way to publish it.”

Valuable to whom? To whom would the value of my labor accrue? And not to be too petty, but if it were so valuable, then why wouldn’t anyone pay me a stable living wage to do it?”

If it’s so valuable (or, “if I’m so smart”) then why can’t I pay rent with the knowledge/ wisdom/experience? If I had a week’s salary every time I asked this question after failing to land yet another job, well, I’d be pretty well off.

For each automated rejection email in my inbox, or every time I don’t even get an interview, or I’m told “oh, we’re not hiring for that position anymore” (after being told the company wants to fly me to their office for a few days), well… I just double down on my personal projects (like Skull Toaster) and go for a run.

Reclaiming My Time From Twitter

At some point, I pulled out my phone and checked Twitter whenever there was a down moment. Standing in line, in a waiting room, while shopping, during dinner, on and on.

NOTE: Yes, post title a nod to Representative Maxine Waters

Then the need for checking social media was several times an hour, no matter what. It wasn’t just about boredom, it was about “keeping up.” Keep up with the news, with conversations from an hour ago, keeping up with… everything!

But what happens when you stop? As Seth Clifford wrote in 2016 (which seems like a decade ago):

“Simply put, I took the time I was spending on mindlessly scrolling through floods of information that was unrelated to most of what I wanted to know about and applied it elsewhere. I’ve been reading a ton, chewing through books. Life’s been pretty busy, and I’ve been working a lot. And getting back to things like making the time to play guitar even just for a few minutes a day to relax and stay sharp, which I’d really been neglecting.”

Imagine the combined hours in a week we spend on social media, and if we used that time to read an actual book? Or practice an instrument? Or call a friend?

That’s not to say that social media is evil. It’s not black and white, on or off. Learning about a social injustice is great, but then following that injustice until 3 am, watching every clip, reading every post, and arguing with “people” with five followers is not a good use of time.

Reading books, calling representatives, donating to a cause – those are good things.

Again, it’s not either / or, but a healthy mix of both.

Already Doing the Work

No one hired Fred Armisen or Carrie Brownstein to do ‘Portlandia,’ but the momentum of what they were doing led to eight seasons. Watch this video: http://new.livestream.com/92Y/Portlandia

Fred and Carrie became friends in 2003 and started doing a video series called ‘Thunder Ant’ in 2005. Yes, they had some connections between the two of them, but ‘Portlandia’ didn’t air on TV until 2011.

(Also of note: neither had those connections from just sitting on their asses.)

Fred and Carrie didn’t wait for someone to pick them to make a funny show. They picked themselves.

Fred and Carrie did this for four years before the idea was even brought to IFC. By that time they had an audience, they had characters; they were already doing the work.

Already doing the work.

As Frank Chimero is quoted in this blog post (in 2011):”Daft Punk got to record the Tron soundtrack because they’d already recorded the Tron soundtrack.” How true is that?

My friend Tom Mullen started Washed Up Emo in 2007, writing about his love for bands like Jimmy Eat World, Cap’n Jazz, Mineral and more. In 2011 he started a podcast (over 100 episodes since). And a DJ night. And he wrote a book called ‘Anthology of Emo‘ and it’s amazing.

What work are you doing, without a creative director, a producer, a boss, or a client?

What projects have you started? What are you teaching yourself on your own? What audience are you already leading by just doing what you do every day?