We live in an industrialized society where we’re each encouraged to chose a career and stick with it.
When you run a business (and I’ve created many) you quickly discover that everything works more efficiently if everyone has a unique job that they're trained to do, and do well, over and over.
Like a factory assembly line: if everyone has one task then things get done at the lowest cost, with the smallest amount of wasted time and effort. The first guy places grease on the bolt. The woman next time him puts the nut on it. The man standing next to her tightens it. And so on, over and over until you’ve got a Porsche 911. Or an iPhone. Or a website.
All very efficient, and most modern businesses are built along these lines: you’ve got your accountants, your customer service people, your designers, janitors and CEOs. Everyone’s trained to do their one thing perfectly, and the system rewards us (with more pay, prestige, and an office with a window) the more we specialize. Brain surgeons make more than GP's, who make more than nurses.
When we were children, each of us was asked a question by someone older than us, that we respected and loved:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We heard the question for the first time, and we felt a shock. Aren’t I something already? Do I need to change to become whole?
But over time, with repetition and reinforcement, we begin to ask this same question of ourselves. And after a few years we got used to asking it — until one day we were grown up, and discovered with no small amount of panic that we didn't have a clear answer. We didn't know what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.
And because we’d asked that question for so long, we thought that it was us, and not the question, that’s the problem.
Now — at this point, it’s important to stop and admit there are some people on this earth that just happen to have been born to specialize. If I could play guitar like Joe Strummer did — or sing like @guster or @durham — I’d do that for a living, no doubt. I have an accountant that was born to count, and I love him, and if I were him, I’d do that, too.
But I can’t, and I don’t.
So my own life has followed a much more twisted path.
I’ve been a filmmaker, photographer, toymaker, bicycle designer, author, and entrepreneur (many times) — and at points of my life, a totally directionless, broke, and unemployed loser.
I’ve built big companies, and I’ve had others fail spectacularly. I’ve directed films, and I’ve written children’s books. A dozen of my designs are in the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve lived in San Francisco, New York, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Montana, Prague, Vermont — and other places too. Right now I own a bicycle company. And I co-founded and run a social network called Ello.
What some of us are waking up to is that we weren’t born to be just one thing. We’re too interested in life for that.
In my case (anyway) I’m far too superficial to stick to any one thing, and I mean superficial in a good way (mostly). I’m too interested in a lot of stuff to do just one thing, and over time, I’ve found a way to make my life an adventure, one where I get to do lots of different stuff. This suits me. It's fun.
After all, life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it.
Lately, press people keep asking me how I manage to do so much different stuff, and I usually answer that I was lucky because I’m just too stupid to do one thing well.
All of this brings me back to Ello, and some of what motivates those of us who created it.
See: there are a lot of other social networks out there that support themselves by selling ads or (worse) gather user data and selling that to data brokers. All well and good, and maybe you don’t give a shit about that. To be honest, most of the time I don’t either.
But those giant computers that collect all that data about you and me? Here’s how they work:
They run programs that try to create a digital profile of each of one us. Of every person on earth. And they’ve got a hundred categories about what each of us like, and mix and match them until they create a virtual “you” and “me” that are living virtual lives on a computer somewhere in the cloud.
Then they use that data to try to manipulate us into being those things that they think we are. They do this through ads, through boosted posts, by hiding things from us, and showing us other things that may not really serve us in the end.
But the good news is that for more and more of us, this system doesn’t really work. We’re opting out, and in any case, we don’t fit in a hundred categories — we wouldn’t fit in a thousand.
A famous Zen master once said, “Two people can’t even share a fart”.
What he meant was just that I can’t completely know you and your experience, and you can never really know mine. We can sit in the same room, with a table and a teacup between us, and I can describe that teacup to you: but only from my angle, from my perspective. You have your own eyes and history that defines your experience, and I can’t ever really know that.
This is why the Buddha said that we’re all always alone. There is always only me in my universe, and only you living in yours. The Buddha also said that we’re all one, too — because I can’t exist as separate from you, without you existing as well to be separate from me.
Both things, simultaneously.
This is also why the computer approximations that ad salesmen create for each of us will always fail, in the end — but only if we want them to.
Most of us don’t fit in those checkboxes — and more and more people are waking up to the fact that not fitting in isn’t a problem.
We’re too excited and interested in life to sit down and shut up. We don’t know what we want to be when we grow up. The moment we let go of defining who we should be, we get to spend our lives discovering (instead) who we are.
A computer can’t map our experience of a sunset, a good conversation, or a love affair, using checkboxes and statistics.
You are not a product.
Have a wonderful 2015.
/ for @jea @joy @lucian @todd @damon @sether @marksolon @mk @cacheflowe @zefr @anna @gv @jayzes @gregfoley @henrycorra @mjager @jeremyville @huckgee @chad @jack @markgelband @alegria @gerryfive @lee @dcdoran @cairncross ... and everyone else with the courage to use and support Ello, with love.