Surf Report, January 2022: Hustle Culture, Walled Gardens, and Toymaking

Until very recently, It’s been quite a while since I’ve published any videos. There are myriad reasons as to why, but suffice to say that 2021 has been a difficult year–as I’m sure it has been for many. For me, I was fortunate enough to have received a promotion in my day job which–while more interesting and fulfilling than my previous position–has required much more attention and energy than I’ve been able to spare. So, I have less free time than previously and, assuming I have free time, less energy to dedicate to production work. As a result, much of my production work has had to take a back seat. It’s not a big deal in the long run, it’s been quite good to me, and it’s actually been nice to take a break.

For various reasons, I’ve been in what I would consider “survival mode” for many years which had really started to wear on me, manifesting in a decline of the quality of the videos that I was putting out. Burnout is a very real thing, and one must absolutely take care of one’s mental health. You must take care of yourself because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else!

So, I’ve taken a new position at the day job, and that ended up causing me to take a bit of a sabbatical from production work. During this time, I’ve also had a chance to reconfigure my workflows and reevaluate my relationship with media creation and social media in particular–this “Big C” Content mill. I’ve come to a place where eI won’t want to be a part of the mill; I don’t want to work with my nose to the grindstone constantly. I’ve really come to enjoy being able to bounce around on different projects and being able to play around and explore things that aren’t necessarily “on brand” (a term that I really hate using).

Since the marketing-forward “hustle culture” has permeated most corners of the “professional internet”, there has been a push for ordinary people to market themselves–a “salesification” of the Internet that I believe has caused a lot more problems than it’s fixed. At this point, we’ve come to a bit of a boilover point where The Internet (as most people understand social media to be)–whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. I’ve become rather fed up with the whole idea of branding oneself and hustle culture. It stopped being fun.

Unfortunately, many people do not consider fun an important item on their daily agenda. For me, that was always a high priority in whatever I was doing.” –Gen. Chuck Yeager, USAF

So I took the last year to figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, and I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I don’t feel like I have to hustle. Don’t get me wrong: I worked very hard to get to this position, and the cards did happen to line up the right way for me. But being in the position where I don’t feel that I need to hustle to survive anymore has certainly helped with the burnout issue. As such, I want to refocus myself on doing a little bit at a time as long as I’m enjoying it–taking my time to do things the way I want them done as well as taking a step back every now and again to document the processes before moving forward. This past year, I literally cleared some 300 projects from my list for various reasons–either because I had lost interest or the companies that I wanted to investigate simply don’t exist anymore (my list has been around for that long now)–and it has been a most liberating experience. Being free to clear projects has helped to reduce my mental liabilities and focus my attention to things that bring me joy–an emotional Konmari, so to speak. I highly recommend clearing out your own project lists periodically, you’ll find it a refreshing experience!

As part of my reevaluation of my Content production, I’ve decided to do more things specifically on my own website. I’m tired of the old blog that I was running, and I’ve been progressively redesigning and rebuilding the structure of my website–despite the fact that no one blogs anymore. I’ve resolved to play around more without regard for search engine optimization or other “best marketing practices”. I want to experiment more and make interesting things without caring what some closed-source algorithm says I should be doing. I want to make things because I enjoy them and because they amuse me. I just want to play.

If you subscribe to my YouTube channel, you may have seen some of this. I published a video some weeks ago called “A Meditation on Failure”. It was just a concept that I had bubbling around in my head that I wanted to play with: a kind of vaporwave-inspired project that celebrated failure as a part of the human condition and how it can be turned into something new. It consists of video clips of various failures–mostly experimental flying machines from the early 20th century–over a vaporwave soundtrack interspersed with chopped-and-screwed inspirational quotes; it’s all very experimental and out of the ordinary for my channel. Consequently, I did receive a lot of messages asking if I was okay (I was/am). I understand why (I hadn’t posted in a year, then to post something somber could be rather disconcerting), but it was quite liberating to just put that out there. I’m going to start playing more with form on various platforms and using my website as the focal point.

I’m in the process of redesigning my entire website, removing the focus from the blog and only using the existing WordPress installation as a way to easily manage documents. I’ve been putting in a lot of effort on the front end, focusing on novel ways to present information while resharpening a lot of rusty old tools that I haven’t used in a long time. It’s been quite fun just playing and relearning how the code works. The biggest thing is that I want to bring back that non-uniform look that was so prevalent in the early days of the World Wide Web. I want to embrace a more punk rock feel that rejects many of the boring, modern conventions that have evolved since the advent of Web 2.0–something more akin to what would be seen under a Geocities or Angelfire domain, but with some niceties like responsive formatting and HTML 5.

Ultimately, I’d love to see more people making their own websites. I am so tired of Facebook and the walled-garden approach of its ilk. I was very online in the 1990s when everything seemed to exist behind America Online’s walled garden and the World Wide Web was something most people thought only existed as a link on the AOL home page. AOL was The Internet for many people in the same way Facebook seems to be today, but people quickly discovered the wealth of sites dotting the Web and left the safe harbor for more interesting waters. I believe that we are due for another web renaissance, but I don’t want this so-called Web3. To me, Web3 looks like a scam at worst or a solution in search of a problem at best–like most current blockchain technologies. I want to see a return to the “bottom-up”, individually-created websites on a truly decentralized World Wide Web. Once upon a time, this might have been an impossible prospect that required dedicated T1 lines on second computers (at a time when many households didn’t have one computer). Today–in many parts of the world–one could easily spin up a LAMP stack on a Raspberry Pi connected to an always-on broadband connection while a dedicated domain name can be maintained for a year on less than what most Americans spend on coffee in a week!

Ultimately, I just want to make toys. I want to have fun and I want to make goofy little things while having fun, but most importantly I want to own what I do. I don’t want my efforts to become the property of Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey or Sundar Pichai or anyone else. I want what I make to live on my own digital homestead, and I don’t particularly care if I gain mass attention or not. I want the people who visit my little slice of the Grid to enjoy the craft, not demand my attention. I’m just playing around and it’s quite a lot of fun and very liberating, and I just want to see more people enjoy that level of freedom and expression. As the saying goes: Make cool shit and put it on the Internet. There’s no point in sitting around doing nothing, mindlessly doomscrolling through social feeds designed to maximize “engagement” though outrage cultivation. Take a few minutes to chill, relax, then go out there, do something cool, and let me know about it.

Until next time, remember: It’s okay, it’s just a prototype. Rally-ho, y’all!

11 comments

  1. That is exactly, (step by step), what happened to me.
    HC -> burnout-> reevaluate

    Thoroughly agree with everything you said.

    During that time I also revamped my website, but I moved away from WP to Hugo. Never looked back – no more patching, security updates

  2. HC is the element that destroys the fun out of this gig, IMO.

    Having to worry about “thumbnails” ahead of content is just plain wrong.

    Having to hustle support with a mantra that can change at any moment by a company that doesn’t care.

    It goes on…

  3. I looked at moving to something like Hugo when I first started thinking about these changes, but I really like what I have with WP now (after quite a bit of front-end work)

    It’s still definitely “under construction”, but I’m enjoying pretending that it’s a GeoCities page

  4. That tweet the other day about the best YouTubers coming up with title/thumbnail BEFORE the video was the absolute last straw.

    I’m not playing algorithm games anymore. I’m going to push toward mixed media and other things that I enjoy.

    No more marketing “hacks”!

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