"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
August 13, 2010

Success

While reading Ralph Waldo Emerson this morning, the following lines made me pause, “I hate this shallow Americanism which hopes to get rich by credit, to get knowledge by raps on midnight tables, to learn the economy of the mind by phrenology, or skill without study, or mastery without apprenticeship, or the sale of goods […]

While reading Ralph Waldo Emerson this morning, the following lines made me pause,

“I hate this shallow Americanism which hopes to get rich by credit, to get knowledge by raps on midnight tables, to learn the economy of the mind by phrenology, or skill without study, or mastery without apprenticeship, or the sale of goods through pretending that they sell, or power through making believe you are powerful, or through a packed jury or caucus, bribery and “repeating” votes, or wealth by fraud. They think they have got it, but they have got something else, – a crime which calls for another crime, and another devil behind that; these are steps to suicide, infamy, and the harming of mankind. We countenance each other in this life of show, puffing, advertisement, and manufacture of public opinion; and excellence is lost sight of in the hunger for sudden performance and praise.”

Emerson’s thoughts, although directed at a much earlier form of capitalist culture, made me think about social media and blogging. Leaving aside the comment about “Americanism” and the antiquated obsessions like phrenology, there’s something in this critique that hits home for our “3.0” culture.

Not that long ago I was talking to a social media consultant who was, quite frankly, struggling financially. To be honest, I have a lot of sympathy for creative types who struggle – it is an inevitable consequence of pushing your boat out from shore and trying to do something other than the 9-5 grind. But, this person was convinced they couldn’t be honest about their plight. They had to “look” successful, to give the impression they had a lot of work and clients, to manufacture their brand/image in order to lure more business.

Or, to put it another way, they had to lie.

You can probably guess that I don’t agree with that at all. In fact, I think it is a tragic way to live. There’s a long distance between trying to present our “best side” as it were and lying.

Moreover, I believe that much of the success of blogs came from their honesty. Blogs gave a voice to many who would otherwise not have been heard and their honest assessment, of universities, churches, industries and governments has been transformative. In fact, for young people today thinking about careers and vocations, the ability to garner the truth about working in, say, the music industry, or the church, or advertising is extraordinary. Moreover, the way blogs have helped us se the truth of dining or travel experiences, or what it might really be like to live in another city is radically unlike the situation we faced even fifteen years ago.

But, the currency for all this is honesty and I’m not always sure that is something the consultants and gurus in the social media world really understand.

Responses
Toni 12 years ago

There’s another word too, that you didn’t mention: vulnerability.

When we’re honest, not hiding behind a hard, polished shield then we’re vulnerable. To appear successful is to appear that you don’t need someone’s business, and that you share something special with others who are also successful. Many people respond to vulnerability well, certainly not all (some will see it as an opportunity to gain the upper hand) but many appreciate seeing reality instead of spin in a business where individuals deal with each other.

Having just written that, I wonder if I’m talking rubbish – so much of the ‘creative’ industry appears to be about spin, impression without substance, selling the imaginary and being talked up that I wonder if honesty might be impossible? Could Damien Hurst have been successful if he’d just admitted “Sorry, but I just ran out of ideas. Here’s a pickled sheep – what do you think?”. The line between truth and lies is very blurred indeed in some parts of the arts – most of the art seems to be in lying about the value of the ‘art’.

    Fernando Gros 12 years ago

    Toni – Well put. Vulnerability is something that made blogs compelling and it isn’t really part of the “pro-blog” mentality.

    There’s lots of spin in he creative industry, but some of the most compelling bloggers are very vulnerable. Hazel Dooney, for example, as blogged through her health issues and bankruptcy, for example.

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