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Becoming an active participant is a blue ocean
We need to rouse more people from a passive, doom-scrolling, nihilistic existence
“You can either experience the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The choice is yours.” —Unknown
Winning organizations in every industry are filled with caring, vocal, active people (also, they have more fun doing what they do). To them, it isn’t even really ‘work’ in the sense that it flows naturally and feels more like creative freedom. It’s play. Some people have realized they can elect to enjoy and find meaning in whatever they work on, or whatever they define is important, not simply what they want to do. A subtle but important distinction.
I sense these types are misunderstood by much of the world. This is unfortunate, and altogether sad. We are at such an important turning point in society, and, while this definitely annoys the doomers, things are indeed changing for the better due to those who haven’t succumbed to common pitfalls of modernity. More people can join this tribe, we just have to flip them from being passive to active.
Think about this from Clay Shirky:
If you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.
And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.
Wikipedia formed the basis of training things like modern AI. Imagine what else we’re missing out on with the crowd’s collective creativity, powered by AI and other tools. The world is shifting, and where before intellectuals used to be isolated and work on projects in a vacuum, new social tools are allowing them to work together on deep projects that benefit everyone. Imagine, a group of complete strangers working together to create something incredible, inspiring and useful – all for free, and all due (mostly) to intrinsic motivation and desire to help the world. That’s already happening, and we don’t talk about it enough. The media would prefer to give us a different kind of narrative.
Are you a part of an ambitious project like Wikipedia? Or, global conversations about what you do professionally or are interested in personally? If not, you should be – the tools exist to interact with the best minds in our world, learn from them, and get better results and get energy for whatever you are doing. As Socrates notes, smart people learn from everything and everyone, average people from their experiences, stupid people already have all the answers.
Sorry if you’re a big TV watcher, but if you watch even more than a tiny amount, it is a waste of life and you’re painting yourself into a creative corner. I don’t mean to offend, but really think about it: you are given a fleeting amount of time to physically exist on this planet and do something to change things for the better (yourself and the world, which are the same things) and then you’re gone. You’ll be sleeping for infinite time, why not be awake and active, at least for a bit? Pure upside.
By spending your life being purely a passive consumer you make the ultimate sacrifice – you could be writing, making art, or interacting with friends, family, other professionals in your industry, or contributing to global projects that do indeed change the world. And it’s become apparent the change is real, no smoke being blown here. So, and think carefully on this: would you rather look back at a life spent passively absorbing nonsense, or one spent building projects that help all future humans. The choice is obvious. One you clearly won’t regret as you age or reflecting on life in your final moments. It’s a bad deal and likely the cause of much anxiety/depression and unrest.
Thinking the world is ending because of something like climate change is not an excuse. It’s actually not ending, and while changes are real humans will assuredly persist (permabears have been calling this the end of the world for decades, and continue to be wrong - it’s a brain virus). Even if you were being as selfish as possible, the personal reward and meaning provided is more than sufficient to contribute.
The notion of ‘participation inequality’ we researched over a decade ago is still true today. So, just by showing up you get to be in the top percent of one of the most important hierarchies. I don’t know about you, but personally think that’s pretty cool.
I feel like most of you here don’t waste your life passively, so this post wasn’t really for you. You’re already active in the world and your life. Forward this to a friend who isn’t.
Here’s what too many in society do, just a basic outline of a typical day:
Get up in the morning
Work, checking a box on what they need to do
Watch TV or mindlessly scroll Instagram
It is an altogether forgettable existence - for yourself and for the world. And, those people probably produce mediocre output and lead skippable lives. Maybe okay for some types of work and some types of people, but increasingly less so. I just wonder: why do so many desire this? I think it used to be easier to sink into such a routine, but in a connected world the excuses are going away.
Regardless, there is no other way for truly aware people to live other than taking an active role in life. You kind of don’t have a choice when you get there. And look, even the small things any of us do all compound in ways we don’t appreciate or ever see. Hopefully if you’re still just a passive consumer, you’ll at least consider joining the active ladder. There is no such thing as too much content, too many podcasts or too many participants, that’s not how the internet works. There are really only passive and active individuals.
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