Editor's Letter — February 2021:
"Behind the Performance"
Recently, I’ve felt increasingly uncomfortable entering come-one-come-all “open” spaces where the idea of uncertain outcomes and interactions (but ostensibly promoted as dynamic and spontaneous) is built into the experience.
On the one hand, I’m worried; I’m worried why I think this way: is this resigning myself to forgo the chance for serendipitous “life-changing” moments in favor of a world of full structure and regimentation? It could very well be down to the after-effects of COVID, where once engaging human interactions have gradually reconstituted, only into something foreign and incomprehensible.
Given that this is a monthly letter, these thoughts have had a decent amount of time to marinate and come to some sort of half-satisfying conclusion: the upsurge in popularity for the Platforms of the Week (including but not limited to the obvious Clubhouse) hinge upon a layer of performative interest thickened by a desire to be part “the big conversations defining our world.”
It’s not that I shut myself out to any new such conversations, but rather that I see these tailor-made interactions as a crapshoot where there’s no shared context besides two individuals loosely unified by very (perhaps overly) generalized shared interest like NFTs, investing, and racial identity to start with. At their best, these conversations will, without additional focus to narrow things down, meander until they reveal some insights we can work with.
At their worst, they resemble so many discussions on social media between strangers that inevitably devolve into a battle of snark and social signaling. Obviously, the latter creates an obstacle to moving past the rhetoric and establishing a net positive opportunity for the participants and beyond.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a textbook pragmatist to a fault: most things are trash until proven otherwise, and my immediate sentiment is there’s something wrong before something is right. I know this challenged way of thinking leaves an already aging creative like me very few moments of excitement and joy (this monthly letter being one of them) and I do recognize the need for at least some signaling.
A bio line of our qualifications and passions should suffice to make ourselves easily parsed in a saturated space, but I wonder if these online and physical spaces are set up to force us into constantly leveraging social status to signal and amplify our abilities.
I know we’re all overrun with countless things on our plate, from simply subsisting to trying to figure how to navigate a very uncertain future. But as we juggle these very real needs while committing some limited bandwidth to solve for “tomorrow,” I still hope we can come back from the place of signal-based bullshit and humble brags and use our newfound tools to tackle the issues and challenges immediately in front of us straight away — because somewhere amidst they show, they were left off on the side.
If we start layering the paint and the sponsorship posters on whatever it is we’re building before we’ve even laid enough bricks, much less considered its design, well, the result is a conversation starter, but not much more than that.