The victory of the marketing worldview

The training of students to conceptualize themselves in terms of “intersectionality” of identity represents the victory of the marketing worldview over all other philosophical competitors. Those who are truly of our times have internalized their demographics and have no desire to be anything but demographics.

And consider this: kids today understand their own personalities in terms of “personal brand”. This is the reverse of how all older generations made sense of brand. For them, personality was the immediate reality, and brands made sense only as the personalities of organizations. Now kids find more reality in Apple and Starbucks than in each other, which is hardly surprising because the best marketers in the business are branding these companies, where the self-branding efforts of young people are amateurish. They’re still trying to get a grip on their category (that is, their intersectionality) and haven’t figured out their differentiation, yet, much less their unique brand attributes and their look, feel, voice or tone.*

And for kids, most of what is called “social interactions” take place on social media, which is really more of an interpersonal marketing platform than a medium for individuals to know other individual. What takes place outside of social media serves primarily as social media PR material. Again: this is how marketing pros think.

So, given all this, is it surprising at all that the entrepreneur is the new rock star? The kids don’t want to be in bands. They want to be in startups. And this is more true for kids of the left than anyone else.

Marketing won. Socialism lost.

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*Note: For the kids tying to find themselves, I recommend Marty Neumeier’s Zag or maybe Blue Ocean Strategy. By now most companies have figured out they can’t differentiate on the standard corporate cliches like “quality”, “reliability”, “our people” or “innovation”, but the kids haven’t learned the same principle, which is partly why their branding is so inferior to that of the Fortune 500s. They haven’t yet gotten it through their heads that they can’t differentiate on the analogous personal branding cliches. Exotic sexualities and gender definitions are the “we are innovative” of youth self-branding. When everyone’s differentiating the same way, nobody is differentiated. Cutting and other destructive habits don’t differentiate, anymore, either. In fact, weakness positioning is played out. I expect the current victim bubble to collapse soon. My recommendation is to do the opposite from the herd. Look into strength positioning strategies. Not many people are doing that right now. It’s harder, and harder is perennially unpopular.

 

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Conceptual zombies

Zombies are ghosts in reverse. A ghost is a soul without a body. A zombie is a body without a soul.

Both are products of the question: “Where did this person’s personhood go?”

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Conceptual zombies are real. I’ve seen them and talked with them. To themselves, even, they are instances of a category. When they open their mouths they speak on behalf of the category they are. “As a…” When they address you, they address the category you are. They demand that you respond as addressed.

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Evaporated

Around 1994 I had a horrifying dream about a melancholy girl who lived in a tiny apartment above a Ducati showroom. In my dream, she decided to annihilate herself by feeding herself into a transparent tube (like the pneumatic tubes used in bank drive-throughs) which ran from the corner of her room, down the building and into the city’s underside. She just evaporated into vagueness and seeped away.

I never could drive past the real-life Ducati showroom without experiencing loss. Whenever the dream comes true, the sadness is ready.

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It’s the experience, stupid

People think software is becoming more frustrating because the world has become more complex.

This is false. Software is worse because development has been drastically accelerated. The shortened cycles leave little or no time for best design practices that ensure that real people experience the updates as useful and usable. The QA testing often suffers, too and software is released with major bugs. And this is all by design. But don’t take my word for it. The following passage comes from page 4 of the Bible of this development approach, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries:

I’m a cofounder and chief technology officer of this company, which is called IMVU. At this point in our careers, my cofounders and I are determined to make new mistakes. We do everything wrong: instead of spending years perfecting our technology, we build a minimum viable product, an early product that is terrible, full of bugs and crash-your-computer-yes-really stability problems. Then we ship it to customers way before it’s ready. And we charge money for it. After securing initial customers, we change the product constantly — much too fast by traditional standards — shipping new versions of our product dozens of times every single day. We really did have customers in those early days — true visionary early adopters — and we often talked to them and asked for their feedback. But we emphatically did not do what they said. We viewed their input as only one source of information about our product and overall vision. In fact, we were much more likely to run experiments on our customers than we were to cater to their whims.

Traditional business thinking says that this approach shouldn’t work but it does and you don’t have to take my word for it. As you’ll see throughout this book, the approach we pioneered at IMVU has become the basis for a new movement of entrepreneurs around the world. It builds on many previous management and product development ideas, including lean manufacturing, design thinking, customer development, and agile development. It represents a new approach to creating continuous innovation. It’s called the Lean Startup.

If you read the book, it becomes abundantly clear that Ries thinks very much in terms of engineered things: software, organizations, innovations. And what he wants to do with those things is to improve them as rapidly as possible, through trial and error. This makes sense, given his background.

What Ries fails to consider, though, is the experience real people are having while advancing his project of continuous innovation. He is not thinking about what it is like for a real person to try to do something important with his latest “terrible, full of bugs and crash-your-computer” release. And he is certainly not thinking about what it is like to live in a world where most software is developed this this way, and consequently is in a stage of disrepair and renovation all the time. The “fail fast” trials of innovators translate directly into our own failures to get stuff done with reasonable effort because our tools never work like we expect.

And imagine: this is thought of as progress in the industry. In the 90s and early 2000s the software industry was progressing in a different direction. More and more people were talking about designing experiences. What was meant by experience is that when we design, our ultimate product is not the object we are engineering but the subjective experiences people when they use it. But somewhere along the way, experience became a cool euphemism for “thing” with no reference whatsoever to real people or the experiences they have. People now work on their “experiences” and it doesn’t cross their mind to wonder how you will experience what they’re doing.

So, the next time you go to open some software and cannot figure out how to use it anymore, or when software updates and it crashes on you, or feel a pit in your stomach when you see a dozen app updates — just know that the owner and investors in charge of this software probably read this book and thought it sounded like a pretty great idea.

One day when we will look back at this time in our history, maybe our minds will boggle that the folly of this approach wasn’t obvious to everyone. But for now, we’re just bobbing in this boiling broth, singing “ribbit”, and blaming technological progress and ourselves for what is in fact an industry-wide brain fart.

Luckily, I got out of UX (user experience) just before it was taken over by Lean Startup, and designers were demoted to front-end prettifiers and design researchers were pushed to the margins of the process, if not out of it altogether. I have no professional skin in this game. But as a user, I do still have quite a bit at stake. I would love to spread my enlightened frustration as far as possible.

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Othering Otherers

There is no perfect harmony of rights, where everyone can live freely without fear or discomfort.

Once we gain a significant degree of physical safety and comfort, we experience psychological danger and pain from the words and ideas of other people. And once we are free from the fear and pain of their words, we will become distressed by their concealed thoughts. And once we feel safe from concealed thoughts, we will become sensitive to the dangers of unconscious thoughts. There is no limit to our demands because there is no limit to the subtlety of our sensitivity to the reality of Otherness. Otherness is inherently painful.

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It is hard to speak of Otherness from the first-person perspective (“How am I failing to recognize and respect the Other who is unlike myself?”) Instead we say it from a second-person perspective (“How are you othering, and failing to respect the Other who is unlike yourself?”). The Other in question is either Oneself or some Other who plays a persecuted role in the moral drama of one’s own understanding, which is another way of saying Oneself. Or we say it from a third-person perspective (“How do Those People other the Other…?”), and need I say more?

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Dimensions of thought

Breadth of thought pertains to the topical range of information one considers in one’s thinking.

Thoroughness of thought pertains to the completeness of information one considers within the range of one’s thoughts.

Thoroughness is often confused with depth of thought, but depth pertains not to the information considered, but to the available range of conceptualizations of whatever information is considered. How many levels of meaning can be derived from the available information?

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For some time I have been uncomfortable with the phenomenological metaphor of “horizon”. The term suggests “breadth” of vision, when what is meant is more connected with breadth. Surely we can find a better metaphor, maybe even a non-ocular one.

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Naive moralism

A naive moralist cannot discern the difference between his own moral views and justice, which adjudicates precisely between conflicting moral views, assuming the ultimate validity of none. Justice does not “privilege” any moralism over any other, but this view requires a capacity to put one’s own morality in pluralistic perspective, which is much harder than it sounds.

Naive moralism is not incompatible with hyper-awareness of naive realism — in fact, they might even belong together. A person who scoffs at self-evident facts, who knows the canon of cognitive biases by heart, is entirely capable of wholehearted belief in self-evident moral principles, for instance, fairness.

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Most talk of “privileging” privileges its own knowledge of what privilege is, how it works, who is and is not privileged, and what ought to be done to whom to redistribute unfairness and to establish justice. And it does so with privilege’s oldest trick:unconsciously privileging the assumptions and arguments it uses to demonstrate the objective truth of its claims.

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