Tuesday, January 5, 2021

How I Screwed Up (and the utter serendipity of my sole success)

Here's my life arc explained in a single short paragraph (a feat of framing! It's taken many many years to back up the camera far enough to capture this wide a shot):
Jazz was passé in the 80s and 90s. Blogs were passé in the 00s. Smartphone apps were passé in the 10s. Web sites, however, were sexy and appealing in 1997. And that's why Chowhound was my only undertaking that sparked any wide interest.

"But, wait!" you object. "Chowhound was really good! It wasn't successful simply because web sites happened to be fashionable!"

Well, being good certainly didn't hurt us. But plenty of operations from that era prospered without being the least bit heartfelt, thoughtful, or cleverly innovative.

"But, wait!" you object. "The form - the media - doesn't matter! It's all about the content! To say you've built a smartphone app or write a blog tells people nothing about how useful and compelling your's is!"

Sure! Hey, that reminds me to invite you to swing by my exceptionally creative MySpace page! I know, I know...MySpace sucks. But - really! - I've done something extremely cool there! Come see! Hey, why aren't you clicking? Don't you wanna see it? Didn't you just say the form isn't the thing? Ok, well, then, would you maybe consider buying my brilliant 8-track tapes? Hello? Still there?

Mark my words. If you ever find yourself expecting to pitch something on the basis of "...but my version's better!", you are on the wrong track. First: quality barely counts at all. People can scarcely recognize quality, much less appreciate it. Second: masses are moved only by category, not iteration. If you're inexorably pulled to devote yourself to quality and iteration, fine, but don't expect more than a tiny handful to care, if that. I'm not being cynical, I'm being realistic.

If you devote yourself to doing quality (and not just posing at it), know that you have chosen the path of a spiritual renunciate. You are working to please God (or whatever transcendent higher construct you'd care to frame, from dead ancestors to a nondescript all-embracing Everythingness). There is no foothold in society for you. Genuinely good work that becomes popular does so despite its quality, not because of it.

Your best hope for society to take the least notice is to latch onto a hot, flashy, fashionable sector/form/realm and ride the greater wave. You might, incidentally, make it awesome, for your private sanity and satisfaction; for the proverbial "shits-and-giggles" (fortuitously, that's the best mind frame for producing quality, anyway: deep commitment fused with lightly bemused expectations).

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