What happened to us?
A decade ago, we had this manifesto, how we were the creative ones who could bend and melt reality, with our mind alone. That we could take any unsolvable problem, and build a thousand creative solutions.
Now we’re the pawns in the game of building the best distraction machine. Some new mobile social photo location web cloud stack Rube Goldberg peons.
We’ve been given control, and this is the best we can come up with? Social video, sharing photos for events, finding the people around you?
I’ve been working with computers for fifteen years now. In that time I’ve see some amazing things happen, the most revolutionary of which was the smartphone.
In fact, I quit my job to pursue and develop an idea. I was so wrapped up in the concept and its execution, and all the little pieces of technology that I could stack together that I forgot to ask a fundamental question:
Does it have heart?
When I was younger, that was the most important of questions I’d ask myself before doing anything. Does this path have heart, does it lead to me growing and becoming a better person? Will “failure” still turn me into a fuller human being? Is this something I’d be okay with as my legacy on my death bed?
And I had to pause. Because if I’m honest with myself, building distracting software systems isn’t my life purpose. I don’t want that to be my dent in the world, some imaginary systems that reside in computers in warehouses to hypnotize a crowd of people with buttons and switches that stimulate their need for escape.
When I started computing, it was an opportunity to build a universe inside of the machine, to explore and build whatever was possible. We were hackers.
But now the smart phone is the consumption device, and we’re seeing it consume our attention and our focus. The mobile applications are always there, waiting, when we’ve got 10 seconds of space to fill with some sort of cognitive distraction. We’re really just building a better escape hatch, mindless television 2.0.
I don’t want to build things to distract humans. I want to build things which engage humans, which push them further.
When my sister turned 17, she got a DVD player installed in her car. It sat right above the stereo, and for safety it only turned on when the parking break was engaged. So my sister drove around in her new car with the parking break slightly engaged all the time.
Now that level of distraction is available everywhere, at any time. And it’s not like the distraction that was television, where you’d have to give hour long blocks away at a time. Instead, there’s 40 times to check your phone for 30 seconds throughout the day, and a complete loss of centeredness.
And us software developers are to blame. A million layers of the stack that are just held together by stressed out developers who can’t sleep because they’re waiting for 3 AM panic phone calls. We’re waiting for the big buyout and the big hit before we get out. We’ll take the pain and the stress now, and become giants later.
If we’re honest, it’s mostly the pursuit of money that drives this, and behind that the secret fear that we’re not good enough.
If you’re born in the United States, there’s an unspoken rule that drives everything. If you’re male, you’re not a complete human being until you’ve made enough money to tell everyone to fuck off. You can’t get a beautiful partner unless you’ve got a fast car and a big house. It sounds ridiculous stated overtly, but there are millions of people quietly buying into this concept every day.
You can see it in our mating patterns, going out to bars and seeing the rich old men buying the young girls all the drinks. All the pretty girls seem to be with the men who’ve got the money and the visual trappings of success.
And so we have young kids who believe that dialogue, who agree with the idea that they’re not worth it until after they’ve built some sort of smart machine out of software that captures capital and eyeballs. That only then they’ll be worth it, only then they’ll be entitled to enjoy life, and only then will women be hopelessly attracted to them.
But it’s a trap. Real women aren’t idiots, they’re not things you can buy with achievements and bank account digits. They’re just people who are worried about a lot of things, including the possibility of not being good enough, just like you.
So just build if you feel like building. But don’t build because you think you’re going to gain something later on, if you’re clever enough about the process. Because there’s really nothing real to gain. And because luck mostly determines “success”.
I know right now it seems like a flashy car and a big house are incredible things that will change your life, but there is this funny thing about human beings: we can get used to and bored with anything. Soon enough you’ll just be used to and bored with the great big success you imagined as you were with your life you ran from before.
Every day for the rest of your life, you’ll wake up and ask yourself, “What should I do today?” And there will always be people who want to give you some hints, there will always be just a little bit more information you should digest before starting your grand plans, there will always be another excuse for why you can’t enjoy things “just yet”. There’s always more work to be done, and there’s always something more you can feel guilty about.
Just be honest with yourself and admit that you’re good enough already. You don’t need to learn fifteen new programming languages while mastering the four you use already, holding down a job and doing your startup on the side. You don’t need to sit in the chair for fifteen hour days thinking about how to glue the world’s brains together.
Just be yourself, be honest with what you believe and who you are. Recognize that you are a hacker, and you have infinite possibility at your feet.
Do something more.