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.

If we are going to write about ourselves...

"Issue": 057

We are as gods and might as well get good at it…

— Stewart Brand

I haven’t left my apartment in a few days, and I suppose I’m getting decently antsy considering how close I’m writing this since my last post.

Scrolling around the internet, flipping back and forth between Twitter and TikTok to keep my thumbs and eyes busy despite my mind needing rest… I can’t help but open and scroll through writings within our “community”. And I also can’t help but be disappointed.

My friend Nikita has such a great phrase for whenever I’m feeling this way: over production of elites. There is both too much of everything and not enough of what I need some how…

I’m not sure we’ve fully taken into account what the global village has done to our ego. It’s not enough to recognize that we will continually be connected and intersect in each other’s production. McLuhan laid this part out well.

The global village is a world in which, you don’t necessarily have harmony, you’ll have extreme concern with everybody else’s business. And much involvement with everybody else’s life.

— Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan talks about the electric man returning to the nature of the tribal man. Seeking resonance of the crowd, and the self becoming less of the classical term we previously thought of ourselves through the lens of our individual uniqueness.

Instead we can articulate the crowds that we weave in and out of. From tech twitter to cottage core tiktok… it’s the “X as a personality”. We wear our memes now, like clothing, an extension of our skin.

It’s in the reconfiguration that our systems of measurement haven’t caught up to the reality of our global village, and I think it’s produced an interesting layer of distortion.

The one I’ve been focused on for the last couple of days, turning over in my head. Is the nature of how we write about ourselves. “We” being the online tech twitter crowd.

In classic tech fashion, our nature of commercializing our hobbies and in turn finding community and personality through the meme of it… it feels as though we produce an extraordinary amount of public writing about ourselves and actions.

Most of what we tend to write is the categorization of our daily actions from individual participation of how to be the best PM you can be — to derivative HBR style analysis of strategies. Of course a healthy dose of forecasting and post-event reflective thought makes its way throughout the media mix as well. All of this writing creates a healthy size substack class within the ecosystem. Production in search of community.

It seems to me, however, what we’ve lost is our appetite of critique. And when we get it from the outside, and the mix of quality that can come from those not intimately tied to the complex processes of building technologies… we seem not too pleased with that either.

So if we are going to write about ourselves constantly… can we please get better at it.

I think there’s a lot of reasons that internally, we are not the best at live critique about the technologies we are actively creating and living with. But the primary culprit is simply: fear.

We are part of an industry that moves incredibly fast, which means the players that may be important tomorrow are equally shifting. And so we run into the polite-isms of “you never know who you might be working with/for.”

This is equally reflective of the breakdown of tribal man —> the identifiable profile. Production tied to the self, when not received well, often returns with critique not of the piece but of the producer. Perhaps this is the root of our collective fear of holding an opinion out for consumption.

My only answer to this is that — there is no progress without narrative. Our lack of self-critique shows in the baselessness of so many products. There’s just no there, there.

Every object we interact with daily, has the ability to enhance our lives. To make it useful, delightful, comforting. With the noise of the world, I truly believe that products have the ability to help ground us. Forge stronger connection. And at times, when we really do it right… elevate us.

That’s all that I want to do. I believe that’s what many of us would like to do.

Make things people love using daily.

But without active critique. Without being able to elbow our peers in a better direction… we are producing on sinking sand.

I often wonder, if more tech beefs would be beneficial. Clear articulations of what things should look like, and a willingness to fight over the future. We’ve probably lost this tolerance as well.

I don’t know… I think we can be so much more.

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.

Slidingggg Interfacessss

"Issue": 056

Yesterday I had this tweet that I was decently proud of the quality of thought.

Then, what came over me was this visualization of the classroom as an analogous interface. How we could think of the framing of a blackboard/whiteboard as screen. The teacher moving within the screen to create a sense of legibility for the students.

The students as keys, raising their hand or double clicking in order to address the teacher in frame. Have it change directions, work it back.

Sherry Turkle states in “Life On Screen” that we take things at interface truth.

I think about this constantly as so much of our interactions and information distribution is mediated by the screen, audio flows in our ears, and we look to push into new form factors.

Since I was a kid, I had issues with authority and respect. My parents spanked a good amount out of me, at least as it pertained to how I addressed them. Parents are a sort of interface as well… the ability to interact with historical and genetic code past. How it flows through everything always and forever. Who’s really ever scolding you…. in a way it’s your future self.

Our teachers, an interface into greater sources of information. Instructed us day-in-day-out. They’re also a daily extension of the state. Executing programming.

Junior year of high school, our AP US History teacher gave us the book “Lies My Teacher Told Me”. The interface in that moment broke. He unraveled the myth, and handed the codes in our lap. The book has plenty of faults of its own. But at least, those that were the historical distributors of truth and thought, up to that moment, said it wasn’t all as clean as we served it to you.

Over the weekend, I was musing with friends about how we believe everything that we hear. If I get into a little spat with my girlfriend. We might say something we both know isn’t true, but it hurts and internalizes all the same.

Then we have to do the extra cognitive work to undo that careless mistake of an argument. In order to remove the brain worm, we have to perform full surgery.

This presents a wild conundrum for platforms like Clubhouse. Where anyone can get on stage and say some craziness in the middle of a wide ranging conversation. How do you “moderate” that. The brain worm has been spoken. Manifesting across an audience, reaching new conversations… a virus. SNOWCRASH!

It’s also why I think fact checking is too much of a rearview mirror exercise. If I’ve consumed a tweet without the tag, and then I come back and see the tag. I don’t think that effects as much as we’d like it to. Sure, we are catching something midflow… but half the crowd is already sick.

To bring this back to Zoom school being more representative of school interface than we’d like.

Not only do we take things at interface truth, but I’d add that interface is less distorting than we think it is. The interfaces that stay, tend to simply reflect. Maybe it’s because, by making machine we must then interact machine like with it (feel like this is a James P. Carse worm that I’ve fully internalized now).

What happens when two people are behaving machine like… what becomes our goals?

Well, it’s to see ourselves a bit clearer. Interface is reflection, it’s our own ability and control, whenever we don’t like what we are seeing… perhaps we have to change the interface. Change the extension of us we are interacting within, in this heightened sense space.

We aren’t happy with Zoom school, probably because we aren’t happy with how school school is operating…

I would assume, it’s time to change both. And we can thank Zoom for showing us.

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.

Directed Ratio, Compressed Heavens

"Issue": 055

Our gaze and attention, is our worship and understanding.

I’ve been obsessed with this statue at The Met, of a woman fixated on her crucifix. What she was trying to reach. What do we all strive to reach daily. From her heart, she directs her gaze. The promise of the cross is not silent, but a directed force that pulls her body towards it. Slouching towards Bethlehem, and ascendent. Everlasting life. Reconnected to the initial act of creation. Reunited with followers before and after us.

In meditating on this pose, I think of our daily orientation. We’ve replaced the crucifix, with a much louder constant and profane response. Profane not in its objective morality, but in its attention to succumb to our first touch and direction. This too links us with the others. From within, I direct a cool interface. Promises of interaction with others of this faith. Sending my prayers in new forms, but still to the cloud. It all cycles back, and my body vibrates. A shake from above. Telling me it is time to reassume my pose. New reverence.

Every product, advertisement, writing… is essentially a promise. Between the creator and consumer. There’s the default state of living, and then the augmented state of use. The promises we reach for, represent the futures we would like to find ourselves in. The “I do” is also the promise that we’ll watch our grandchildren run around in the yard sooner than we think.

This image from Humane (my not secret, stealth obsession) has me thinking about what happens when we compress the heavens? When our orientation is not of an eternal ratio, but beaming forth from our gaze and returning the same way. Is this not the promise of Heaven… from our limited human-ness, “the best human experience ever”.

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.

Engines All Around

"Issue": 054

Spread out on the front lawn. The sun is spreading across the back of my neck, warming my entire back. This is in stark contrast to my fingers sliding between blades of grass. I push them deeper and deeper. Noticing how lush the layers of growth are. Incredibly different than lying out in Prospect Park, where perhaps it takes a single wiggle to reach the soil, which is hard and dead. No, this takes effort. I see the roots of previous blades before I can feel the cool soil. I look back up to see my friends, caressed by this green bed that extends to the stone wall up the hill. I rejoin the conversation while my mind tumbles over how we could render the feeling of the lawn I was experiencing in Maine. If my avatar would move different on this landscape, if I could feel that difference in my controls.

Two years ago, I was completely ignorant to what building a world really meant. I didn’t know Unity or Unreal Engine even existed. But working with game developers, technical artists, and the entire scene… has exploded my understanding of not only software/product development, but my lived world.

I took the photo above while I was laying out on that same lawn. Having finished my water, I looked at the way light was coming through my glass. Holding it up towards the sun, I held my phone camera up through several different angles. Simply admiring the complexity of the image.

When you realize that it *waves hands all around*, is an engine. You build a new appreciation for creation and perception.

In “Understanding Media: the extensions of man”, Marshall McLuhan dedicates a very brief essay towards games.

Games are popular art, collective, social reactions to the main drive or action of any culture. Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man and the body politic, as technologies are extensions of the animal organism. Both games and technologies are counter-irritants or ways of adjusting to the stress of the specialized actions that occur in any social group. As extensions of the popular response to the workday stress, games become faithful models of a culture. They incorporate both the action and the reaction of the whole populations in a single dynamic image.

Reading this, a visualization of a release valve came to mind. Allowing the flow of built up pressure to cascade over itself. Bubbling and crashing into a new arena.

To pull one more quote from McLuhan… (this is what I’ve become). This one is from “Reflections on Religion”, which I’m enjoying annotating next to the previous annotations from AZL.

De-Romanization is a fact ever since the telegraph. Any speed-up of communication de-centralizes. Slow forms of communication centralize: information is localized and the decision-making takes place at the centre. All this is reversed by electric speed when information becomes available at the same moment everywhere. Decisions can be made at the periphery the same as at the centre.

I wanted to hold these side by side because in the margins of the quote above I wrote, “there is no center of the ocean, you’re just in water”.

Once you’ve extended beyond the body, outward into the arena of play. There is no center there. You’ve broken the membrane. You realize that the trail was not the park.

A couple of months ago, I was watching a stranger go through the public beta onboarding. The onboarding map was constructed as a triangle with platforms to accomplish tasks.

After the account creation, text pops up that tells you to go to the right to select an avatar. And despite this, I watched this person turn left. Lose their sense of place, and then turn to me and ask “what’s supposed to happen next”.

For anyone that has designed anything, this is when you crack a molar from clenching your jaw so hard.

We gave too much world too soon. They thought they were in the park already, but they had only started the path. Little did they know, they had fallen off the bridge.

In a previous issue, I mulled over the idea of interfaces of perfect response. This same attraction that I believe makes computing and good design so compelling, is the very thing that cannot exist within play.

Perfect response renders play lifeless, and dull. It is that which you don’t expect to enter the arena that evokes emotion. It is here you remember that you are “in it” and that there are many others factors that can impress upon you at any moment.

To use the machine for control is to be controlled by the machine. To operate a machine one must operate like a machine. Using a machine to do what we cannot do, we find we must do what the machine does.

— Finite & Infinite Games, James P. Carse

Or a super tight way of saying it — code is law.

But what happens, when code is supposed to be play. Not pull down to refresh, tap tap tap to sew seeds of future interaction within the Twitter garden. But instead to spatially understand form and presence and manipulation.

Law is dissociative. I see myself rendered in my profile, confined by the set code that instructs my conduct. Measured information, and knowing is the aesthetic. The path.

What working with my team has shown me… Play is proper extension. It is breaking through the membrane. I cannot consume myself, I can only act as part of the world. Play is the possibility and the aesthetic. The park.

This is equally the goal beyond constructed product, but seeing life as the potential that it is: infinite interactive play.

This brings me back to meditating on the joy that is working with the Eternal team. In order to produce an environment of infinite play, work must hold that similar spirit.

What you discover is that work is kind of like an undeveloped park. And you’re not exactly sure how the path is supposed to look, where to lay the bricks, to maximize how much of the park we can see.

If you start laying brick too soon, you never see the park for what it could be. If you start laying them too late, well… in our reality… the park could close before the path makes it around that first interesting bend of trees.

I saw a tweet that said something to the effect “a good game only needs two buttons.” I thought this was incredibly powerful in thinking through the two repeated actions we take daily that allows a wide array of interactions that are both satisfying and tension building.

I think it applies to work and design as well. What are the two buttons that we return too, when we think of laying down a brick. The nugget of law that allows the park to function. These buttons can be a value, a mantra, the core thesis. You have to know what you’re actually laying the bricks down with…

I believe if you have that at the center of how you play, the park will show you where to lay the path.

Taking a short break from the zine exploration. 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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