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Geeks & Arrteests

2004-08-23 17:48:23.249558+00 by Dan Lyke 8 comments

I forget what the book was that spawned my current level of bullshit detection, but at some point I was reading something that clearly wasn't targeted to me or my belief system, something praised as "revolutionary", and I realized that most media, especially that praised as "breakthrough", is a re-packaging and re-affirmation of the belief system of the audience, with no real ability to create new modes of thinking or new perspectives. All "self-help" books fall into this, and quite a few of the current non-fiction craze. I've been far enough out of the mainstream for long enough that normally these things aren't hard to spot; I'm instantly aware that this or that piece is succeeding based on reinforcing the prejudices of its audience, because its audience isn't me.

I'm struggling through Paul Graham's Hackers & Painters right now, I'm only a few chapters in, but I'm having this wonderful cognitive dissonance where I recognize that he's writing to his demographic, pushing ineffective patterns because it's what his readership wants to hear...

...and he's writing to me.

So I'm torn. On the one hand I'm enjoying the fact that for once there's a book of views that provides support for many of the things I've believed and that speaks to my experience, on the other hand I'm three chapters in and saying "well, that'd be nice if it were true, but here are a whole bunch of counter-examples", and I'm wondering if it's worth finishing. If there's a payoff in here that ties together the dissonance, then I'm happy to keep going, but if he's just going to stroke my ego then fuck that, I want to go read something that will give me some understanding of the rest of the world.

[ related topics: Books Dan's Life Invention and Design Sociology ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-23 19:03:47.02573+00 by: mvandewettering [edit history]

I'm working through Hackers and Painters as well, and have read quite a bit of Graham's other works as well, and am left with much the same feelings as you. Much of his work seems to be an attempt to justify the degree of economic success that he has enjoyed by taking aspects of his personality and pretending that they somehow represent some kind of golden template of human endeavor. There are certainly truths in what he says, but they are closely intermingled with statements which only serve to reinforce his ego and promote his own personal biases.

I still think he is thought provoking, but I think that there are certainly many rational arguments against the views he attempts to promote. It is not surprising that many hackers clap wildly at what he has to say, but I think it behooves individuals to use a bit more critical thought when it comes to their own biases and conclusions.

#Comment Ok, well now made: 2004-08-23 22:31:44.689565+00 by: baylink

maybe *I'm* just not discerning enough, but I was reading through a lot of his stuff on his website, and it was resonating for me. My bullshit detector may not be turned up as high as yours.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-24 04:16:24.361981+00 by: dws

Graham's book hasn't made it near the top of my reading queue yet, but there are two interviews with him, one of which is about the book, available at IT Conversations.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-24 13:57:38.616678+00 by: Shawn

I read some excerpts awhile back and what he was saying seemed to work for me, but then a) I didn't see it as some kind of holy attainment, and b) for me the drive to develop really is an artistic drive. It also kick-started some thoughts on tinker-type programmers vs. builder-types, which I plan to put down in writing one of these days.

(dws, you appear to have forgotten the url for you link (at least, I think it's empty hrefs that default to the current url).)

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-24 18:47:23.966611+00 by: Dan Lyke

The things that got me so far:

  1. Although I certainly thought so at the time, I no longer equate "nerd" with "smart". Thinking back on the standardized test scores of the group I hung out with in high school, some of us were in the top few percent, but there was a wide range.
  2. Looking at where the nerds ended up, while we may have had a better handle on understanding aspects of the physical world, but we, for the most part, missed the broader picture. Understanding the social and political spectrum, even when it's done unconsciously, is not only smart, it has a greater impact on manipulating the world around you than the ability to understand physics or the logic of computer programming.

And so looking at how this applies to my work and world now, I see that the hackers are largely working for other people. We need those people who understand the world. In fact, although we get paid reasonably well because it's hard to find us, there's an oversupply; there are more people with good ideas and great problem solving skills wandering around than there are people with the social and political smarts to nurture those ideas into real products.

So I'm not really interested in someone telling me how great my skillset is unless they're also waving large wads of cash in front of me, or are offering to tell me how I can leverage that great skillset and constant desire to be solving problems into something bigger.

Frankly I'd rather be reading things on how I can cultivate the more complex side of that knowledge; how, out of all of the good and potentially commercially successful ideas I have, to find the one that's got the most societal need so that I can focus on something that will give me leverage in the social world, not just leverage in the physical one.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-24 20:01:22.260659+00 by: meuon

"people with the social and political smarts to nurture those ideas into real products." - Is this where I come in? - BTW: My UNFINISHED E-Com/Hosting system is gaining about a customer every other day, just via word of mouth. The Latest Victim. Now I just need a good graphics person that can work with bits and pieces of the templates to make it look pretty.

I just ordered the book, should be an interesting read.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-25 14:20:13.895501+00 by: Shawn

I recognize your point, Dan. Yes, we do need those people who understand the social and political dynamics. What I've learned about myself, however, is that it ain't gonna be me. I've tried, but I find I have little aptitude and no interest in growing in that direction. Rather than attempting to cultivate those skills in myself, my solution has been to try to establish relationships with others who do have them.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-08-25 15:40:50.881918+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Another Victim - Maybe the world needs another e-com website system.. When his DNS transfers it'll be Area-51.com

Dan, a way of personal fulfillment: Using your technical skills to help other people's dreams and businesses. And for monetary rewards.. well getting paid for it is a good thing. Building up recurring hosting revenue over time is still a good plan.