Entering the Stream with a Paddle

Venkatesh Rao has been writing for some time against what he calls Waldenponding, a righteous disconnect from the stream of tech-enabled media and info. Everyone seems to agree that we’re too keyed in to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, the news, or screens generally. And there’s truth to it.

It is easy to get hooked on the dopamine hit of every like or retweet, or the mind-candy of life by scroll. It’s easy to be so tuned in to the content of gurus and pundits and pop culture that you don’t actually produce anything.

To combat this, some people unplug and go down their productivity hole. This can be great. But it can be dangerous. I’ve talked to some people working on products and companies who are so deep in their weeds, and so disconnected from the stream of commerce and culture, that they have no idea how uninteresting their thing is to their would-be customers.

The old startup advice, “Get out of the office and connect with customers” today means mostly jumping in the relevant social streams. Don’t get stuck Waldenponding. Once you emerge from the basement with your creation, you may find the problem you went down there to solve is no longer relevant to the world. Oops.

So you need to stay in the stream.

But you can’t let the stream do all the work. You can’t just float wherever it goes. You need it’s feedback, connection to the broader world and its needs, but you can easily get stuck in a swirling eddie of do-nothingism if you don’t have a paddle and a point of view. You’ve got to be going somewhere specific. Then the currents can provide meaningful info and guidance.

Don’t unplug. But don’t float.