This week I've been reading one of the best books about writing for "The Internet" I've come across in a while: Doing Content Right by Steph Smith.
Steph has a very successful personal blog and currently works for The Hustle at their premium publication Trends. She put together a very actionable and in-depth guide about creating, writing, and scaling successful blogs and newsletters. The price is $30 for a few days, then it will increase to $50 after October 15th.
I've reached out to her, and she was kind enough to provide a discount code for my readers. You can grab a copy right here and use the code "gian20" to get 20% off (I'll get a small commission from it, which will help me keep this newsletter going).
This week we'll talk about avoiding bullshit, and specifically
- How to practice nuanced thinking,
- How to be perfectly unhappy,
- Why the creative industry suffers from a bullshit industrial complex,
- Creative work from Adrenaline Gold, Facebook and TikTok, a short story by Naval Ravikant, and one of the best music videos of all time.
🧠 Brain Food
As I've written before, one of the biggest dangers that I see in the social media discourse is the loss of nuance. We like to be "sure" of our opinions, but in an increasingly complex reality it can be dangerous to think we know enough of a subject. Our opinions should be flexible, not dogmatic. I really enjoyed this article by Anne-Laure Le Cunff about practicing nuanced thinking.
4 minute read | Anne-Laure Le Cunff
The more invested we are in our point of view as being right—morally or intellectually or practically superior—the more difficult it is to listen to another’s point of view. The more invested we are in viewing the other person as wrong—silly or ridiculous or stupid or bad—the more difficult it is to compromise, change, and find a way out or a way through.
Polarized thinkers classify ideas into extreme categories: “good” vs “bad”, “always” vs “never”, “everything” vs “nothing.” This leads to a gap between actual reality and their perception of reality, which can result in further radicalization.
Anne-Laure suggests 3 ways to practice nuanced thinking:
- Pay attention to automatic responses. Whenever you find yourself jumping to conclusions because an answer seems obvious, take a few seconds to ask yourself whether your conclusion truly captures the nuances of the topic, or if it’s an automatic thought. It’s especially important to manage our automatic responses when discussing topics where we may have deeply ingrained beliefs because of our personal experience.
- Beware of false dichotomies. We often create artificial divisions between two ideas and we represent them as being opposed or completely different. For instance, “art versus science” or “taxes versus private property” or when Darth Vader told Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars III: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” Consider additional options that may not contradict the existing two options, or consider whether these two options are truly incompatible, or whether they lie on a spectrum instead.
- Avoid over generalizing. In statistics, overgeneralization may involve basing broad conclusions regarding the results of a survey from a small sample group which doesn’t sufficiently represent an entire population. Evidence from a single event rarely translates to all events. Try to consider the context within which you are evaluating an idea. Instead of relying on past experience only, examine the current evidence. Make sure your sample size is large enough to draw a conclusion, and consider phrasing your statements in a more nuanced way (“I’m fairly confident that…” or “I think that in some cases…”).
Our culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of happiness. Some people see this, too, in a polarized way: happy or unhappy, joyful or miserable, whole or broken. This great little comic from The Oatmeal explains why this, too, is bullshit.
7 minute read | The Oatmeal
When I disparage the idea of happiness, the counter-argument is always the same: "Oh I know, it's all about the journey!"
But that's not it either.
The conversation about "the journey" is always coupled with the idea that the journey is a joyous one, rich with smiles and fun and laughter.
Also, journeys require endpoints, otherwise you're not Frodo, you're just a homeless guy wandering around with stolen jewelry.
I'll admit that the biggest fear I have when writing for you, stranger of the Internet, is to talk like I'm an expert of things I'm not. I've seen first-hand how the creative industry is becoming an echo chamber of recycled advice and broetry from self-claimed experts. This is damaging, especially for the young people entering it.
I find writing to be a constant struggle between impostor syndrome and the belief you have something to say. The day I won't feel the former is the day I'll start to get worried.
7 minute read | 99U
If someone cares more about what their industry peers think of them than the problems they are solving, they’re a bullshitter. If the idea of being “known” is barometer of their success above user (or reader) success stories, they’re a bullshitter. They are the internet’s equivalent of a reality TV star, taking advantage of the attention economy by catering to our worst instincts in lieu of substance.
Philosopher Harry Frankfurt defines “bullshitters” as those giving advice for the sake of giving advice, without any regard as to how it is actually implemented.
“It’s not important to [the bullshitter] what the world really is like. What is important is how he’d like to represent himself.”
The bullshit industrial complex is a pyramid of groups that goes something like this:
- Group 1: People actually shipping ideas, launching businesses, doing creative work, taking risks and sharing first-hand learnings.
- Group 2: People writing about group 1 in clear, concise, accessible language.
[And here rests the line of bullshit demarcation…]
- Group 3: People aggregating the learnings of group 2, passing it off as first-hand wisdom.
- Group 4: People aggregating the learnings of group 3, believing they are as worthy of praise as the people in group 1.
- Groups 5+: And downward….
In the short term, this is creating a class of (often young) creatives deluded into thinking they are doing something meaningful by sharing “advice.” Long term, it’s robbing us of a creative talent.
This is not to say that all those who write books or speak at conferences are all bullshitters:
What I’m referring to are those that believe being “industry famous” in the creative world is success in of itself. Especially those that start out with that goal in mind. This is where the Complex can poison talent.
What draws the line is external vs internal motivation:
If you’re fueled primarily by external validation, the best way to get it is by surrounding yourself with people like you and writing as an “expert” for that group. Voila, here come a thundering stampede of people ready to tell you to follow your passion. And when you make choices based on what others will think about you, you lose yourself along the way, and the world loses another creative mind that would otherwise share something original.
🏅 Stuff I recommend
Do you enjoy this newsletter? Buying from the links below would be a great way to support it. You won't pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission. You will find products I personally use and sometimes projects from other readers. Want to post your project here? Write me at email@example.com
✍ Doing Content Right by Steph Smith is a very actionable and in-depth guide about creating, writing, and scaling successful blogs and newsletters. The price is $30 for a few days, then it will increase to $50 after October 15th. Steph has a very successful personal blog and currently works for The Hustle at their premium publication Trends. Use the code "gian20" to get 20% off.
💻 Everyone Can Build A Twitter Audience is a video masterclass from ex-Amazon employee Daniel Vassallo. I personally took it and it's the best resource I've found on the subject.
📩 Mailbrew is an app I discovered recently and it's quickly become an essential. It's basically a supercharged RSS reader: you can create personal email digests from a variety of sources like Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, and more. It also comes with an inbox address, so you can send all your newsletter there to have them in one place. It's saving me a ton of time and helps me stay updated without constantly checking my feed. You can try it for free for two weeks.
🖼 Freshstock is an asset library with the most diverse collection of premium, curated stock vectors and templates created by world-class artists. I love how it was created with diversity in mind, it's one of the most original stock library I've found. For a limited time you can score a lifetime deal on Appsumo which gives you unlimited downloads per month and full access to its library of curated stock vector and graphic templates.
🎁 Box Of Random
I've been following Marco Prestini since he was making videos with a Canon 7D, and I'm so glad he got to be become such a successful director. Check out his new stunning campaign shot remotely during the lockdown.
Throwback to one of the greatest videos of all time.
An excerpt from The Box, a short story from Naval Ravikant:
“Here and now,” says the voice.
It speaks with an assumed familiarity, as if it were the voice in my head, embodied.
The voice emanates from the box itself.
I am in the box, a simple dark cube, tall enough to stand inside, if I were standing.
I can’t see my face or my hands. There is nothing to look at and no one to see.
“Where am I?” I ask.
“Here and now,” repeats the box.
VICTORIA ‘Xibalba’, by Salomon Ligthelm:
Fun film casts prospective voters as heroes in this Facebook ad by Droga5 (via Clio):
TikTok made a TV commercial from the Ocean Spray-Fleetwood Mac crossover video that became a viral hit (via The Drum):
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