Comparing Someone’s ‘On-Stage’ to Your Own ‘Backstage’

Patrick Rothfuss is not just a writer of fiction that I’m having trouble wading through, but he’s also a thoughtful person with a podcast that I really like. In one of his many discussions about creative work with Max Timken, he brings up the common problem of comparing someone else’s onstage work to our backstage. In other words, someones genius, refined work vs. our in-progress dumpster fire.

The presumption being that the perfect work represents the output of a perfect process. That the work being presented is so much more refined than the working drafts, frustrations and utter psychological mess waiting for us back at our workspace. Our own work is already a failure.

Social media brought this terrible feeling to everyday people, and boy does it scale! Here is where we present idealized selves to the world. We build the illusion of extraordinary, action packed, fulfilled, creative lives. We know it’s a lie, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. From experience, seeing this at 10pm, on hour-four of a colicky baby screaming in your ear, can be a tad discouraging (this is me being vulnerable).

What we don’t take into account is everything going on behind the scenes of that person’s life. To paraphrase Frank Beamer, nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems.

Yes, there are people who are more talented and capable. But that doesn’t mean they just rolled out of bed and produced genius. Everyone has to work through the mess to get somewhere great.

Which, by the way, is also why the idea of creative agencies having a “proprietary process” is always complete nonsense, no matter what their new business deck says. Creative work is rarely clean, orderly, or easily replicated.

Fake news is spam, except that we like it.

Fred Wilson on fake news: 

So when I hear of some new bad thing like fake news, I immediately think of spam. And I think of the things that have been done to manage and mitigate spam. There is a roadmap for mitigating and managing this sort of thing. It seems like we need to replicate it around fake news. And we should.

Impressive how fast the problem of fake news descended on us. Maybe it’s been simmering, slowly increasing in temperature, but we didn’t notice because we were the frogs in the pot.

Well now it’s boiling.

Interesting to think of this as a tech problem in the same way email spam was attacked as a tech problem.

Another take is that the problem isn’t the distribution of fake news. It’s that we like it too much. We are lazy monkeys, with lazy monkey brains, and we are drawn to exciting, bias-confirming, ideas.

We get the same dopamine hit whether the news is accurate or 100% tapdancing-horseshit.

Email spam was a problem because we didn’t like it. News spam is a problem because we like it too much.

Which way is up, and can “up” be trusted?

This year’s Thanksgiving will be a special one, as we can be thankful in real time for every moment that we are not strangling or being strangled by those we care about most.

The problem isn’t just the political divide, or moral divide, or healthcare divide. It’s that our post-fact media wonderland has left us without the ability to agree on the fundamental conceit of the argument. There’s no bedrock for either side to push against. We’re up to our knees in arbitrary opinion-goop that sucks us further in when we try to touch bottom.

As real journalism disappears, belief systems have become houses of cards. Nonsense citing nonsense all the way down to wriggling foundations of emotional jello. It’s been well-documented that the political fringes have been serving up and subsisting on what is essentially erotic-fiction for political extremists. We know that Fox News and MSNBC have differentiated themselves and built their brands according to partisan viewpoints. There isn’t a news organization out there that is credible enough to bring to an argument.

There is no debate in the true sense of the word. Just two sides making angry noises at each other. For all of our technology and sophistication, we’re still what we were: a bunch of monkeys throwing excrement at each other.

Now we’re all living in our own bubbles of perspective. Nuance has been relegated to academics. The inconvenience of having to deal with people that think differently has been mercifully limited to election years. Oh, and national holidays.

How does anyone move forward from this?

I suppose it’s the same way we move forward from everything: by having extreme anxiety while time does its work.

The right answer seems to be something about “getting to work.”

But that’s hard to do without knowing which way is up, or if “up” can be trusted at all.

The less noble, but more realistic answer, at least as we head into Thanksgiving, is to try to keep the raw emotion of right now from breaking the relationships of the long-term.

Fake News, Social Media, and Avoiding End Times

Buzzfeed News ran a piece a few weeks ago(?)(can we start using dates again on the internet?) making the case that the best way to grow a Facebook page is by making up inflammatory nonsense.

Buzzfeed News tells us what we already know:

The best way to attract and grow an audience for political content on the world’s biggest social network is to eschew factual reporting and instead play to partisan biases using false or misleading information that simply tells people what they want to hear.

I know, I know. Shocking.

But to see the evidence they put forth brings it into perspective. Technology companies are going to have to figure out how to solve for their coexistance with really important real world events.

This is going to be hairy business.

Facebook isn’t a media company. Facebook proper is an advertising company. They sell ads that are run against content. They don’t actually make content.

So how much of an editorial role should they play? Is it their business to edit for content or truth? Frankly, given the power they have over what almost everyone sees on a daily basis, getting into the fact checking game could lead down a scary road of its own.

But something has to give.