Ola! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Facilitator" edition, as we examine the role of a few prominent mediums in shaping our lives and relationships.

This week's topics include the interrelationship between social media platforms and status-seeking, podcasting as niche companionship, and the importance of hard work for producing success. Enjoy!

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"Every day for the rest of your life, you’ll have to choose. Do you want to fit in, or do you want to embark on the lonely pursuit of greatness?" ~ Ray Allen
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Remains of the Day: Status as a Service (StaaS) by Eugene Wei  - Eugene's write-up on social media and status-seeking is incredibly long and dense, and also well worth the read if you are looking for an in-depth anthropological analysis of their interrelationship. The proof of work cryptocurrency analogy resonated strongly, helping to explain why platforms that offer both high utility and low quality variance fail as vehicles for conferring social status (i.e., because there is no scarcity of high quality). Eugene also highlights the ubiquity of status games, in particular that social media is just one flavor out of many, so his insights carry over to other realms like work hierarchies.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Social media platforms often directly serve our human desire for status by leveraging proof of work and scarcity dynamics.

Answering The Drucker Question: Write out all of the social media platforms that you are a part of. What does each one add to your life? Why do you invest your time and energy into each? How does each help you reach your goals? Be honest with yourself, and you may discover opportunities to change your interactions.

Complement with Making Sense Podcast #152 - The Trouble with Facebook by Sam Harris to learn more about the data security and abuse issues related to social media.

My highlights:
  • Let's begin with two principles: 1) People are status-seeking monkeys; 2) People seek out the most efficient path to maximizing social capital... Social capital is, in many ways, a leading indicator of financial capital, and so its nature bears greater scrutiny. Not only is it good investment or business practice, but analyzing social capital dynamics can help to explain all sorts of online behavior that would otherwise seem irrational.
  • Value is tied to scarcity, and scarcity on social networks derives from proof of work. Status isn't worth much if there's no skill and effort required to mine it. It's not that a social network that makes it easy for lots of users to perform well can't be a useful one, but competition for relative status still motivates humans. Recall our first tenet: humans are status-seeking monkeys. Status is a relative ladder. By definition, if everyone can achieve a certain type of status, it’s no status at all, it’s a participation trophy... Facebook launched with one of the most famous proof of work hurdles in the world: you had to be a student at Harvard. By requiring a email address, Facebook drafted off of one of the most elite cultural filters in the world. 
  • Stories of teens A/B testing Instagram posts, yanking those which don't earn enough likes in the first hour, are almost beyond satire; a show like Black Mirror often just resorts to episodes that show things that have already happened in reality. The key component of the 10,000 hour rule of expertise is the idea of deliberate practice, the type that provides immediate feedback. Social media may not be literally real-time in its feedback, but it's close enough, and the scope of reach is magnitudes of order beyond that of any social performance arena in history. We have a generation now that has been trained through hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of social media reps on what engages people on which platforms.
  • As humans, we intuitively understand that some galling percentage of our happiness with our own status is relative. What matters is less our absolute status than how are we doing compared to those around us. By taking the scope of our status competitions virtual, we scaled them up in a way that we weren't entirely prepared for. Is it any surprise that seeing other people signaling so hard about how wonderful their lives are decreases our happiness?
  • Some people find status games distasteful. Despite this, everyone I know is engaged in multiple status games. Some people sneer at people hashtag spamming on Instagram, but then retweet praise on Twitter. Others roll their eyes at photo albums of expensive meals on Facebook but then submit research papers to prestigious journals in the hopes of being published. Parents show off photos of their children performances at recitals, people preen in the mirror while assessing their outfits, employees flex on their peers in meetings, entrepreneurs complain about 30 under 30 lists while wishing to be on them, reporters check the Techmeme leaderboards; life is nothing if not a nested series of status contests. Have I met a few people in my life who are seemingly above all status games? Yes, but they are so few as to be something akin to miracles, and damn them for making the rest of us feel lousy over our vanity.

ARTICLE - Vulture: How Podcasts Learned to Speak by Adam Sternbergh - Adam's work offers a detailed look into the history of podcasting, as well as their psychological appeal. Adam's framing of the psychological appeal of podcasts, the opportunity for human connection and companionship on niche subjects, really hit home for me. My podcast consumption peaked around 2013, when I was working in private equity. At that time, being in a new city with few social ties (Boston), and working very hard for a firm with a stoic and formal culture, I felt both lonely and that I could not fully be myself. Listening to podcasts felt like a solution for both of those issues, and provided plenty of comfort in the moment. This experience is a driving motivation for a lot of my content creation today - the desire to help others realize that whatever they are going through (personal, professional, or otherwise), they are not alone, and can learn from others who have already been through it. This experience also helped me decide to move back home to NYC, where I can engage directly with people on niche subjects of interest, building real, reciprocal human connection along the way.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Podcasting offers a sense of companionship that is neatly packaged in a recurring audio format.

Answering The Drucker Question: Write down some niche subjects that are of great interest to you. How do you currently scratch your itch  with these subjects? Are there enriching opportunities to engage with these subjects in other ways?

My highlights:
  • Perhaps it’s tricky to pinpoint the exact arrival of podcasts because they’ve spent a decade in a state of perpetual arrival. In any case: They’re here. What’s more, these humble chunks of audio have emerged as the most significant and exciting cultural innovation of the new century. In an age when we were promised jet packs, or at least augmented-reality goggles, it turns out what we’ve really been craving is the companionship of human voices nestled in our ears.
  • As a medium, podcasts have thrived because they intrinsically deliver one thing the internet and all its attendant gizmos haven’t proved to be very good at: intimacy... [P]odcasts [are]: cheap, niche, idiosyncratic, weird, and highly personal. In their myriad varieties, podcasts have emerged as an audio analogue to the spirit of the early internet, Internet 1.0, the version that promised to provide a platform for every manner of obsession, no matter how specialized or obscure. But podcasts have an additional appeal — they take that obsession and whisper about it in your ear in the real voice of an actual human.
  • No one listens to a podcast and comes away feeling agitated and slightly guilty, the way you feel after an hour on Facebook. If the internet is increasingly like a seedy business district you visit reluctantly then regret, podcasts are an invitation you extend to another human being to hijack your consciousness.
  • it any wonder that the notion of a soothing voice in our ear for an hour has proved to be so popular? Technology makes podcasts possible, but the experience of consuming podcasts is an oasis from our indentured interaction with screens and passwords and keyboards. Podcasts appeal to the twin modern manias for constant enrichment and constant escape. Despite their low-tech origins, we should never have been surprised at podcasts’ modern allure. They’re instant company with interesting people.

- The Players' Tribune: Letter to My Younger Self by Ray Allen - Re-reading Ray's work every month or so usually brings tears to my eyes. His story reminds me of the importance and joy of simply doing the hard work, and the optics of success, all that goes into a championship that is never seen or appreciated. The opportunity we have, as individuals and groups, to be able to take those small, boring, unique steps on our journey in pursuit of our goals (even failing often), is incredibly fortunate.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Our path to success is unique, unsexy, and rife with failure, yet proudly and dutifully walking that path, not just reaching the end, contributes meaningfully to a life well lived.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify specific habits that you believe contribute to your success, and re-visit why you do them, and also what they cost you. Does this re-evaluation provide more conviction for your habits? Does it shed light on opportunities for re-shaping your habits?

Complement with The Acceleration of Addictiveness by Paul Graham and Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are by John Kaag (TD Digest Summary).

My highlights:
  •’re going to have one of the most memorable moments of your life. You’re going to wake up at 5:30 a.m. and go to the weight room to get your workout in, and then you’ll come back to the dorm and shower before class. You’ll put on a shirt and tie, throw your backpack over your shoulder and walk across campus to your first class of the day... You’re sore, but your clothes are on point. You got your work in. You’re prepared. You have a purpose. I don’t know what it is about this moment in particular, but as you’re walking, you’ll think, Wow. I’m a college student. No matter what happens at the end of this tunnel, I’m going to make my family proud. When you get to your public-speaking class and sit down, this girl will turn to you and say, “Hey, why are you so dressed up?” You’ll say, “Because I can.”
  • Sometimes you’ll be afraid. Sometimes you’ll think you’re out of your league. But you’ll keep showing up every day, putting in the work. You’ll put up more than 26,000 shots in your career. Almost six out of 10 won’t even go in. I told you this game was a sonofabitch. Don’t worry, though. A successful man is built of 1,000 failures. Or in your case, 14,000 misses.
  • In every locker room you’ll ever be in, everybody will say all the right things. Everybody says they’re willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to win a title. But this game isn’t a movie. It’s not about being the man in the fourth quarter. It’s not about talk. It’s getting in your work every single day, when nobody is watching. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade. The men who you are going to win championships with are all going to be very different people. What makes them champions is the boring old habits that nobody sees. They compete to see who can be the first to get to the gym and the last to leave. Your peers who think this is a cliché, or who think this doesn’t apply to them because they have God-given talent, will play their whole careers without winning an NBA title.
  • But if I’m being real with you, what you’ll realize after you win the first title is that the thrill is fleeting. The vindication is fleeting. If you only chase that high, you’re going to end up very depressed. The championships are almost secondary to the feeling you’ll get from waking up every morning and putting in the work... I really mean it from the bottom of my heart: Life is about the journey, not the destination. And that journey will change you as a person.
  • But in order to achieve your dreams, you will become a different kind of person. You’ll become a bit obsessive about your routine. This will come at a heavy cost to some of your friends and family... Who am I supposed to be? Tomorrow when you get off that school bus in South Carolina, you’ll have to choose. Every day for the rest of your life, you’ll have to choose. Do you want to fit in, or do you want to embark on the lonely pursuit of greatness?
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