Industry as an Intrinsic End

Alan Jacobs foreswears the Internet of analytics:

Twitter and Tumblr […] have something important in common, which they share with most social media sites: they invite you to measure people’s response to you. For many people this probably means nothing, but for me it has always had an effect. Over the years I developed a sense of how many RTs a tweet was likely to earn, how many reblogs or likes a Tumblr post would receive – and I couldn’t help checking to see if my guesses were right. I never really cared anything about numbers of followers, and for a long time I think I covertly prided myself on that; but eventually I came to understand that I wanted my followers, however many there happened to be, to notice what I was saying and to acknowledge my wit or wisdom in the currency of RTs and faves. And over time I believe that desire shaped what I said, what I thought – what I noticed. I think it dulled my brain. I think it distracted me from the pursuit of more difficult, challenging ideas that don’t readily fit into the molds of social media.

His decision:

I won’t be writing less, nor will I be producing fewer words online, I suspect. But they’ll come in larger chunks, and I’ll either be getting paid for it or working out less coherent and fully-formed thoughts right here on my own turf, where Google Analytics isn’t installed, where comments are not enabled, and where, therefore, I don’t have the first idea how many people are reading this or whether they like it.

In the same space of time, I read this piece from before Christmas by Arthur C. Brooks, in which he advises against excessive “attachment” to the rewards of our labors. He’s talking about assigning too much emotional and existential value to money and material goods, but presume the inference is to something like “pageviews” instead of money, to get where this is going:

Our daily lives often consist of a dogged pursuit of practicality and usefulness at all costs. This is a sure path toward the attachment we need to avoid. … Countless studies show that doing things for their own sake — as opposed to things that are merely a means to achieve something else — makes for mindfulness and joy.

So if not for the eyeballs, if not for the attention, why bother? That’s my usual question. Brooks says:

This manifestly does not mean we should abandon productive impulses. On the contrary, it means we need to treat our industry as an intrinsic end. This is the point made famously in the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, where work is sanctified as inherently valuable, not as a path to a payoff.

So my best bet in order to mitigate my chronic and recurring ennui over blogging and podcasting and other creative endeavors would be to stop trying to find out whether anyone’s paying attention. Ignore Google Analytics, ignore my favs and RTs on Twitter, disregard shares and likes on Facebook, etc. Just do the work because I want to.

I frankly don’t know if I’m capable. But I should think about it.

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