Social Climber

"Issue": 058

Just say it out loud, just to see how it feels.

— Kanye West

Often times, I’ll use my twitter in this way. Probing something incredibly concise and binary, just to see if it leads me in an interesting direction. Earlier today I sent a probe that led me through a few turn-overs in my mind — I type this while also visualizing my hand literally rotating an invisible cube representing the thought… but that’s a whole separate thread.

What I want to do is move around this three tweet thread, in a non-linear manner. And expand on each of them separately, hopefully finding a few new thoughts we can turn over together.

Paid social is something I believe the entire ecosystem has been wrestling with. Many see it as a natural progression: we spend so much time here producing, we should be compensated for that. It’s too much of a lob-sided outcome, where few influencers win along side the platform itself.

The responsibility for compensation trends back towards the network compensating those around them. Whether it’s tipping streamers or paid Discord servers. We are seeing the monetization around social interaction moving at an incredibly rapid pace, in contrast to the “free and always will be” nature of social platforms’ beginnings.


Back in October, while in Maine with some incredible friends. Elena was discussing the myth of American productivity, openly questioning as a function of observing the pandemic, if America needs the amount of workers it has… or if it simply needs consumers. All of us being well aware that there’s a lot of nuance in this probe.

While I subscribe to this question, and potentially to this belief functionally. I do also recognize it is simply human nature, or at least our cultural nature, to feel satisfaction from production. We want to feel valued, and useful.

With the amount of time we collectively spend online, it’s not surprising we might seek opportunities to feel validated through monetary compensation in these spaces. But to me this feels like a somewhat dark path when brought out to scale beyond the designated content creator / influencer class.

Boiling it down: in the recognition that one’s traditionally professional identity is not valued to a certain extent they predicted, they’ve turned to all parts of their identity to extract financial value. Praying that some form of social production may bring them a more satisfying dollar…

We’ve always wanted work to feel like play. “When you love what you do…” blah blah blah. But the compression of work and social is not the same as play. When you have to convert a social call to a dollar amount, what are we actively measuring?

The delineation of space and purpose gives us necessary context for cohesion. How it all fits together. The more we blur those lines, the less it makes sense. We begin to see too much of one thing in the other… muddying intentions and expectations.

It comes back to the socially quantified self… and interface as a point defining the value of one’s social interaction.

Everything is a social network, everything is interface.

You’re born into a network, a family tree stretching in both directions of time. Histories of interactions, conflicts, romances, production.

This feeds into your schooling, walking around the college green a little stoned as you get paranoid from the gargoyle looking at you from the corner of Alumni Hall. College, another interface of time compression. The history of those before you affording validity to you in the present and future endeavors.

And then we are kicked out of the nest of higher education, we go out and join — well whatever we want to call the destruction of youth — the workforce I suppose. Our contribution to the organization is quantified through salaries. This is our first taste of paid social.

We unlock networks as we move. Like colleges, they represent new senses of validity and access. Ex- Uber, Goldman, IDEO, Carpenters Unions, regional real estate association… and products like Slack have made this networked understanding of organizations broadly understood.

When dropping a voice note to Elena about some of these thoughts, before putting them down on Substack, she expanded: how work — especially entertainment, advertising, finance, tech is like a social network — people funding/promoting work of people who they know, not necessarily meritocratic.

The tension of work/industry being the same as a social network is interesting to think about how our grievances within these organizations have shifted as we’ve had more access to social technologies and the reflections it affords us.

Twitter and LinkedIn in particular allow these professional networks to move in front of the public eye. And in the literary commentary culture of both interfaces, we lament through constant production within these networks the reflections that we see.

We are all social climbers. The quantified self tied to social-professional identity. Compressing self, leveraging a bit of e-girl behavior on top of designer profession, or an edge-lord trigger boi that’s also a principal at a venture fund.

We blur the lines. We blur the nature of appropriate interaction. And constantly obscure the expectations across identities.

My concern is not an explicit critique of what Li Jin would describe as the need for a creator’s middle class. Although I do believe that some of my beliefs would make for an interesting conversation clash with her. Instead, it is circling what happens when we make monetization an expansive possibility within the platforms we interact in.

Product design is inherently culture design. The quote tweet feature promotes a commentary structure within the network. Compared to a simple retweet which is an act of cosigned elevation and agreement.

And so I ask, what are we sacrificing in this potential design and subsequent cultural acceleration? From my tweet above, I probe that perhaps we lose a sense of hospitality. A coming to the table, without a notion of transaction value.

The design begin to force a question — not of “do I enjoy this interaction” but “do I want my money back?”

Here is the right word. Hospitality was a condition consequent on a good society in politics, politaea, and by now might be the starting point of politaea, of politics. But this is difficult because hospitality requires a threshold over which I can lead you and TV, internet, newspaper, the idea of communication, abolished the walls and therefore also the friendship, the possibility of leading somebody over the door. Hospitality requires a table around which you can sit and if people get tired they can sleep. You have to belong to a subculture to say, we have a few mattresses here. It's still considered highly improper to conceive of this as the ideal moments in a day or a year. Hospitality is deeply threatened by the idea of personality, of scholastic status. I do think that if I had to choose one word to which hope can be tied it is hospitality. A practice of hospitality recovering threshold, table, patience, listening, and from there generating seedbeds for virtue and friendship on the one hand. On the other hand radiating out for possible community, for rebirth of community.

— Ivan Illich (interview)

thank you LM Sacacas for the discovery :)

The line that should stick to out to everyone in the quote above is right here, “Hospitality is deeply threatened by the idea of personality, of scholastic status.”

The compression of each social interaction holding the potential for compensation is a culmination of status games reaching commerce built around the cultural production of identity itself. Mediated by interface we create tiers of potential closeness, instead of space of mutual recognition. It’s a relationship advancing based on one’s inclination to pay through each gate…

Modern software technology as an industry-culture, has a certain obsession around this rugged market extraction tied to status. We see it deeply in the crypto space and tokenizing one’s self. We see it in alt-education with ISA driven schools like Lambda or however one might classify On Deck. Both leading to a very pre-defined outcome for the individual. At the core, they all elect to focus on the value of programming (both provided by the institution or the individual self-tokenizing)… and then I have to reiterate the medium is the message — and look to understand the culture their design is inclined to produce.

This compression we’ve been meditating on, does not exist within an isolated iteration circle of product progression. It’s representative of deciphering the emergent needs of a culture, that exists within a rapidly changing economic system. In my first tweet I linked above I mentioned, “I’d much rather have proper UBI than people selling selfies or paying to enter a conversation room... Viewing every action as a potential for “work” doesn’t sit right...”

Perhaps this is the cross-roads we find ourselves at now. It’s not a distant potential future — Congress has debated national stimulus checks throughout 2020.

We’ve been living in an ad-sponsored free platform social economy for the past decade+. The creator economy has grown in step with the proliferation of these platforms, and we’ve seen the distribution of audience an individual — now indistinguishable in the eyes of interface to media institutions — can hold.

But we have to consciously ask: What do we want for ourselves… what does the technium want of us…

My fear is that the structure of the individual as profile based around quantified status games, has eroded our ability to recognize the intrinsic value of interaction — and in this loss we enable a path towards commodified consumption and transaction around what was previously everyday interaction.

Or in other words… what makes us human.


I don’t do edits really, so excuse typos and things that don’t make sense.

Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.

Much love.

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