(and a couple things about you, me, and a metaphorical horse)
Yes. Long. Again. Deal. Thanks.
I’ve got to be one of the most voracious users of Marco Arment's Instapaper site/bookmarklet/iPhone app/world-changer. Given that I’m pals with Marco and follow what he has to say in a few different places, I’m not at all surprised to learn his official reasoning for building Instapaper.
But, I do want to share it with you here, because it’s a pitch-perfect summary of a frustration I share — as well as a polemical, long-overdue shot over the bow of the “S.S. Web Bullshit.”
From a personal perspective, I appreciate great writing, but I’ve become frustrated with the quick-consumption nature of many devoted blog readers. Authors are encouraged to cater to drive-by visitors hurrying through their feed readers by producing lightweight content for quick skimming.
There’s no time to sit and read anything when you’re going through 500 feed items while responding to email, chatting, and watching bad YouTube videos.
As a result, popular blogs are now full of useless “list posts” with no substance or value.
Well-written content is out there, and we do have opportunities every day to read it — just not when we’re in information-skimming, speed-overload mode.
Listen: I’ve come to love all you goofy bastards like I actually know you (which I mostly do not), but, to be dead honest, I didn’t start using Tumblr for “the community.” Not by a long shot.
I came to Tumblr because I wanted to revive a beloved and long-mothballed blog. And that choice became, as they say, a non-brainer once I saw the Tumblr bookmarklet. It’s one of the smartest and most friction-free bits of computer functionality it’s ever been my pleasure to use. Punto.
Now widely aped to varying success, Tumblr’s contextual bookmarklet has changed the way I use the web. It’s partly why I now recommend Tumblr to anyone who doesn’t want the burden of a “real blog,” but who’s also interested in giving the internet something more substantial than a one-hundred-character complaint about their meal and the person who served it — people who have that itch to share lovely bits of the world that come over their transom throughout the day without stopping the other things they’re working on.
Context, right? Exactly.
And, do you care to hazard a guess at the other bookmarklet that’s changed the game for me? Surprise, surprise. Instapaper.
I no longer cringe with guilt when I come across a 1000+ word anything that I know I want to read — but which I also know I have no time to read right now. So, I hit a button, and I forget about it. Now — especially combined with Marco and Nostrich's not-missable Give Me Something to Read — I have no excuse not to lose myself in longer pieces of non-fiction whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Are you getting this? I hit one button, and magical and interesting things just…happen.
All of this happens with zero intervention from me. Which means substantial, challenging prose that used to get skipped in the rush of the day now becomes available anyplace it suits me. In the line at the ATM. On a plane. Wherever.
And, that all happened because I clicked one button. If that’s not blowing your mind right now, go read all that again. Because that shit is sick.
The minute I met Marco, I could see the crazy fire in his eyes. Marco’s intense. And, like a lot of developers I’ve known, Marco feels things strongly, says things strongly, and he strikes me as a guy who really believes that some things are right and other things empirically are not. He’s got a big voice and a lot of clear thinking to back it up.
So, am I here to kiss Marco’s ass? I am not. I’ve already kissed Marco’s talented aft quarters innumerable times offline, in emails, and in the delightfully warm Mutual Admiration Society meetings which, I’m proud to say, convene whenever we happen to be in the same room.
No, Marco already knows all too well how I feel about his work and why I think it’s important; I want you guys to know. And why.
I mention all this because of a phrase I find myself saying more and more often these days — a phrase that, to my chagrin, seems to baffle or annoy most of the people who, in my estimation, desperately need to hear it more than pretty much anything:
This shit matters.
Marco’s not just scratching an itch and he’s absolutely not just scooting a bunch of code fragments between text files. He’s making things that he believes will really help people. And they do.
I’m still mulling over the longer term consequences of a post-RSS, post-API culture that destroys any reasonable barrier to putting all the data that matters to you any place you want any time it suits you. I’m not prepared to make a grand statement about What That Means yet, although I think it’s warranted at some point.
No, I just want to say: yes, shit does matter.
Your job. Your obsessions. The ways that the things driving your ambitions, attention, and decisions manifest themselves in the artifacts you share with a world full of strangers. It really, really does all matter.
So, yes. Thanks, Marco, for the fire in your eyes and your unnecessarily dedicated obsession to making the things you think people need.
But, seriously, guys. Think about it. There are so many horrible anti-patterns out there right now trying to pass themselves off as “career advice” — pushing you to ape the success of others by “doing what they did” rather than learning to think how they thought or see how they saw. All this half-assed ambition to chase someone else’s dream or obsess over the non-existent shortcut to someone else’s “good luck.”
Canards, lies, snake oil, sour grapes, and fundamentally bullshit excuses. Every last one.
We all need to figure out what the fuck it is that we can do to make this gig better for everybody. Yes, starting with ourselves and the ones closest to us. But, I’m more convinced than ever that the path to feeling whole and happy means bucking up, dropping the “poor me” act, and stopping everything you need to until you figure out the next thing you can do that would make you feel alive and useful — driven by something other than the need to rationalize why you aren’t where you want to be.
Doesn’t have to be a cool computer program or a rocket to the moon. But, it’s worth remembering that we all have at least a little potential to do something bigger and more useful than pissing ourselves about what we don’t have or what we can’t do.
Frankly, it’s one reason I had to drop the whole productivity pr0n racket. It was really (seriously, surprisingly) lucrative for me, but it also required me to repeatedly devise new ways to make people see their hangups as external “problems” that could be solved with charts, lists, graph paper, and a personal dedication to overthinking everything while seated. Rather than being what they almost always really are: simple errors of cognition, thinking, or decision-making.
I started out about an hour ago just wanting to say, Yay, Marco.
But, here I am at the ass end of yet another overlong, TL;DR article about I’m-not-even-sure-what. I didn’t really intend to write a pep talk — let alone a jeremiad — but, here we are.
It’s just that it’s mind-boggling to me how many people I encounter every day who are struggling to subsist on a diet of bad advice about fake solutions to nonexistent problems. And, then they rend garments, gnash teeth, and impotently curse the clouds for God’s having abandoned them to wander the land in sackcloth — an inextricably sad tomato.
I guess I just look at someone like Marco and see a guy who figured out, at least for now, how to hook his wagon to a horse that was running in a direction that seemed interesting. And, now, somehow, he’s a man who types things that turn into stuff that makes my and your world a little better.
Given the choice, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t immediately dump every bit of bullshit you can tolerate dropping in order to locate your nearest horse. Might be just outside. Right now. Maybe?
Only you and the horse know.