March 06, 2014

Episode 30: Numbers; Performance and Practice; The Kessler Run In Over 12 Billion

Today's a short one - mainly because my wife and baby have come home from a week away and work has blown up. 

1.0 Numbers

There are a few numbers that have jumped out at me lately. 

Benedict Evans remarked yesterday that a little over four billion square feet of screens would be sold in 2014. To put that in context, that's about five Manhattans worth of screens. This might sound like a trite thought, but on the one hand: bloody hell, that's not very much screen. I was busy looking things up like the surface area of the Earth (a lot more than four billion square feet), the surface area of the Moon (similarly, a lot more), and even Australia. So: four billion. Not that big. 

Even less than four billion is one billion: the amount of dollars distributed by Kickstarter, which crowdfunding system has been going from strength to strength. In comparison, Apple's iTunes App Store has distributed around fifteen billion dollars to date. All of this serves to show how digital distribution has created new ways for money to move around. Again, that might sound trite, but (and again, this being a reckon) this is a new economic ecosystem that's allowing quite a bit of point-to-point financial transactions (the barriers to entry for being an App Store developer are certainly lower than they've ever been in comparison to the previous requirements for 'receiving money for creating, selling and distributing software'). The ramifications of this - again, because of the kind of raving that you get from the Kessler contingent of the Californian Ideology (see below) - bear untangling. 

2.0 Performance and Practice

Thanks, I think, to some very nice tweets yesterday, the subscriber numbers for this newsletter broke through 500 yesterday. Which has led to a period of reflection on why, exactly, I'm writing this newsletter in the first place, and what I'm getting out of it. I'm not flaming out or anything, just checking in after thirty episodes with some thought.

I've spent probably the last twenty years of my life dealing with clinical depression, at times pretty serious and at other times just the regular fog that never lifts and leaves you listless and generally ineffectual with a side of self-loathing. 

One thing about the newsletter writing is that I'm back to writing for myself. It feels like I've worked through five plus years of writer's block of increasingly feeling unable to express myself on the internet (other than in the short form of Twitter, for example) for a number of reasons. They include things like: well, *everyone* has an opinion, or a reckon, about something, and there's nothing particularly unique about mine. In fact, there's more than enough. In which case, I'd better be saying something damn insightful or useful for it to be worth writing down and distributing. And also: wow - there's so many smart people out there! There's a crushing responsibility, at least personally, to live up to there. 

So what's interesting about the newsletter model is that I'm not necessarily putting this out there in such a public way as a blog. The people who're receiving this - you people - have chosen to. And you can choose to stop receiving it. This newsletter then doesn't have to fight for attention (or at least, feel like it's having to fight for attention) amongst the rest of the internet. It's almost opted out, by expressly being opt-in. 

At the same time, I'm also the kind of person who has the sort of self-esteem deficit where just knowing that there are people out there who're interested in what I have to say (and are pretty receptive or positive in response to that) is a big influx of positive external validation. 

What I'm saying is: it took me a while, but I figured out that I *enjoy* writing. There's an intrinsic Csikszentmihalyi-style flow and good feeling that I get out of it. But at the same time, the pressure of having an audience - and one who has chosen to pay attention to what splurges out from my head, is a persistent reminder to do a thing every day that I do enjoy doing. 

The practice of the thing: writing every day, organizing my thoughts (such as they are, and I realize they're ramble-y) I can't emphasize enough. For someone who's working out that he enjoys thinking about things and breaking them down, one of the valid outputs of that thinking is *writing*. Having the self-awareness to look at the validation as just a factor, or merely a prompt, instead of the only reason for doing something, has been incredibly powerful for me. 

3.0 Doing The Kessler Run In Over 12 Billion 

Yesterday's episode continued what's now becoming a multi-episode rant against the Californian Ideology and included oblique references to an Andy Kessler. For those who are new to the program (I feel like I'm writing "Previously, on Dan Hon's Newsletter" and the appropriately Majel Barret-voiced "and now, the continuation"), here's the brief recap:

Episodes 28 and 29[1,2] covered me being introduced to Andy Cameron and Richard Barbrook's rant and manifesto against the utopianism of new/hypermedia Silicon Valley and California that had begun emerging and its recent eruption and evolution through the likes of Tom Perkins (he of the 1% being preyed upon like some sort of Kristallnacht) and, ultimately, Andy Kessler, an ex Wall Street VC guy with a sociopathic and Jeffersonian every-self-made-man-for-himself attitude to the universe in general, and that the only way (or best method through which) we can improve our lot as a species is by being greedy.

One particular failing of the Californian Ideology that I continue to pick up on is this myth of the self-made man. It's one thing for followers of the Randian philosophy, but the thing about Rand (and here I really *am* reckoning) that's so insulting to me is the idea that the singular person is able to change the world. Well shit: the world's complicated and interconnected in ways that Ayn Rand was never exposed to. Have you seen how hard it is to even make a toaster on your own anymore? That's why this forging-your-own-path business is bullshit: because it needlessly limits the types of problems and challenges we can overcome to only ones that we can overcome on our own, through sheer force of will. Here's where I tie things, inevitably, to yet another GDS comparison: the unit of delivery is the team. Kessler's like and their go-get them attitude are so *individualistic*. Berners-Lee could only build the web upon the work of people who built ARPAnet. Apple could only build OS X and then iOS and then the App Store which distributed billions of dollars to developers through the contributions of open source and projects like FreeBSD. The idea that you can stand up - and should - stand up just seems so backward looking when what we're showing with the network is the *multiplicative* factor that humans bring to the productivity equation. 

We are better, together. People like Kessler feel like they want to keep us apart, at each other's throats.

[1] http://tinyletter.com/danhon/letters/episode-twenty-eight-only-connect-they-stole-our-revolution-policy-as-code-dance-central

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And with that, I end Wednesday at 8pm, with about as much anger in my system as I can bear, because really.

For all of you new people who've subscribed - this is the kind of stuff that I write. It changes pretty much every day. I hope you've enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Dan