The big problem is the cliches and extraneous words. This world of business, these job creators, have specialized to the point where they have developed their own language. This is normal, but the problem is that their language is as tepid and lifeless and dumb as any language that ever existed. It personally bugs me that most of these ideas are for apps, for tiny little pretend squares less than an inch on any side that sit on jittery screens in people’s pockets. And as a critic, it bugs me that these apps are presented in charisma-free pitches, dumbed-down versions of the evangelical corporate slide show that Steve Jobs popularized starting in 2001 when he unveiled the iPod. Everybody knows the routine so well by now that you can practically ignore the whole thing.
You can do anything you want with an idea. It can be as big as you want. It doesn’t have to solve a minor problem that nobody ever really realized was a problem. It doesn’t have to fit into something the size of a button crammed into a “folder” the size of a button on a screen the size of a playing card. But everywhere I look, I see tiny little ideas, ideas that are almost petty in their inconsequentiality. And I come back to those cliches, and I think the real problem is in how little thought goes into the language these people use. When the language you employ to communicate your ideas is small and boring, your ideas are going to be small and boring. And when all your ideas are small and boring, your future gets dimmer and dimmer and more claustrophobic until it’s finally just a pinpoint of light on a dark screen, in danger of going out at any time.
Constant’s critique is rather scattered and amorphous, ironic given that he criticizes poor use of language and attendantly mediocre ideas at Startup Riot. His command of words is superb in the span of a given sentence, but he fails to convey a coherent message overall.
He gets at something important though. I don’t think he’s wrong to connect mediocre language and tame ideas.
Language is a powerful arbiter of ideas, and maybe it’s true that we can’t expect people who only speak from a narrow lexicon, a sort of “Silicon Valley pidgin”, to be the stewards of ideas, big ideas, that require a robust lexicon to conceptualize and convey.
Sucede que me canso de ser hombre.
Sucede que entro en las sastrerías y en los cines
marchito, impenetrable, como un cisne de fieltro
Navegando en un agua de origen y ceniza.
El olor de las peluquerías me hace llorar a gritos.
Sólo quiero un descanso de piedras o de lana,
sólo quiero no ver establecimientos ni jardines,
ni mercaderías, ni anteojos, ni ascensores.
Sucede que me canso de mis pies y mis uñas
y mi pelo y mi sombra.
Sucede que me canso de ser hombre.
Sin embargo sería delicioso
asustar a un notario con un lirio cortado
o dar muerte a una monja con un golpe de oreja.
ir por las calles con un cuchillo verde
y dando gritos hasta morir de frío
Neruda, Walking Around
A good friend of mine is having a tough time finding authenticity and meaning in her new job. She tells me she feels like this poem. The first three stanzas (above) resonate particularly with me. They seem to capture well the feeling of suffocating staleness that I have visited often this year.
“Meh”, we say, but the utterance fails at conveying the weariness of living in our own skins, muted as we are by an oppressive humidity of quotidian process and minutiae. We are starving to unsettle things:
Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.
I fell down a couple months ago. Fell pretty hard. You know, hard like avoiding daylight and the gaze of strangers, hard like goading an oncoming train between guffaws of maniacal laughter. Oh the disillusionment!
Recovery has meant ridding myself of the precious and painful delusion that at 22, the game has somehow been played. Precious, because it was vested with the idea that I was capable of anything I put my mind to. Painful, because it under-anticipated the universe’s witty reply to the certitude of my plans.
"The definition of success—To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded."
— Emerson (courtesy of my friend Emily)
"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
I wish I could find that librarian, Mrs. Kelly, to thank her, to let her know how she saved my life during a really rough spell by introducing me to Emerson (the quote above), and how many times it’s given me comfort since then.
“I couldn’t get anybody convinced that we should have 300 million pigs tagged for Heparin in 2005.” - Patrick Soon-Shiong
Heparin is a blood thinner critical for common surgeries and kidney dialysis and is extracted from pigs. Soon-Shiong made hundreds of millions of dollars by being one of few who had the insight/forethought to tag Heparin producing pigs in China to distinguish those kept hygienically from those at risk for contamination; when 55+ patients died (it’s unfortunate that he was proven right by such a sad occurence) as a result of contaminated Heprin, his pigs were the only ones certified clean by the FDA. This is my new metaphor for those break-through or uncommon insights that will lead to my “big break”, my “tattooed pig”.
Soon-Shiong is a class act: now he is dedicating his billions to working on large-scale healthcare infrastructure development, years ahead of the curve.
(Thanks to my good friend Abi Dairo, an emerging leader in the healthcare policy space, for turning me on to this character)
"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…"
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
"Well, brother, I’ll tell you. I’m a legatee of not just Martin Luther King, Jr., but also Cliff and Irene West, but also John Coltrane and Anton Chekhov, which means I’m never optimistic. The evidence always looks under-determined, but I am full of hope. Never give up on any human being, no matter what color and so forth, because I believe they have potential. In that sense, it’s a kind of, you know, blues-inflicted hope rather than a cheap American optimism that motivates me, my brother."
— Cornel West, Tavis Smiley Show