I disagree somewhat with Adina. I think that traffic is similar to attention. Attention is not the same as power or money, but it is sought after in the same way and in some ways is something that money can't buy and is actually more valuable and difficult to gain. Having said that, it's not about the traffic. Just like it's not about money, or attention. Money, attention and traffic do not, at the end of the day, make you happy. It is associated with privilege and power. I've met many people who have privilege and power (and money and attention and traffic) who are not happy. One of the problems with happiness through score cards is that it's like playing a video game. It's quite an empty happiness that is similar to the empty happiness of fulfilling a craving or an obsession. Most (not all) of the extremely wealthy people I know are obsessed with money and think about it all the time. If you're smart and you are obsessed with money, you can usually become wealthy. Most of the happy people I know are not obsessed with money. Most of them think about money just enough so that they don't have to worry about money. But money's nice to have, just like power is nice to have. But more than enough is often too much. Once you have too much money, power or attention you become obsessed and the fear of losing it alone can make you unhappy. Money, power and attention are addictive and dangerous.

I don't talk about these things very often because speaking from a position of privilege, it's not very convincing, but most of my power, attention, money and other "assets" are a result of my obsessions. These obsessions drive me to focus in excess. I am now exploring my obsessions. I wonder what this is going to do to me. Obsession is a demon which can help you gain many things, but has many corrosive side effects and in the end often leads you away from happiness. I wonder what I would be like without my obsessions?

18 Comments

I have been reading your output for about a year (I like it) and paradoxically tend to avoid commenting on your blog precisely because it has such high traffic ... don't want to intrude on your party ... but anyway that's not the point.

If you truly believe that "if you're smart and you are obsessed with money, you can usually become wealthy," then you must have led a very sheltered life indeed. I have met many extremely smart people who are obsessed with money because they don't have any, and yet many of these people will never improve their situation because of where they live, the colour of their skin, social circumstances (e.g. war, poverty or just lack of mobility), etc.

Adina is right: money and power are not like traffic and attention. Money and power can obtain guns, which can be used to obtain more money and power (e.g. the US economy since the 1930's) - attention can't. Money and power can make people do what you want - traffic might be able to do this, but you know what they say: "When money talks bullshit walks."

The whole power laws inequality / injustice of weblogs debate is laughable. When people get sad over the shape of abtract stats they need a reality shot.

No flame intended, or taken I hope - just my 2c :-)

No offense taken. I expected comments like this. Yes. My perspective is a fairly middle class perspective. It is much easier to become wealthy if you start in a privileged position, but I know many people who started out in no-so-privileged positions who became wealthy and it was usually due to an obession with money. Obsessing with money because you don't have money and obessing with money because you love it are subtly different. Many smart people are poor and they are obsessed with the fact that they don't have money. However, they don't go into typical money making jobs like real-estate, banking, trading and other jobs that typically get you closer to the money. It's clear that the people who work close to the cookie jar get more cookies.

Having said that, I agree with you that your personal situation and surroundings can make your ability to become wealthy difficult.

Money can buy guns, but "you can't buy my love". Bullshit may walk, but passion won't. Napoleon once said that he would rather write the nations songs than write its laws. It is the culture that moves the hearts and minds of a nation, not guns. Again, I am generalizing again, but I think that time and time again, we have seen information and attention impact the world in ways that direct force or money can't.

The focus of our society shifting from agriculture and the scalability of carbohydrates to industry and the scalability of manufacturing and distribution to the information age and the scalability of the creation and distribution of information and attention. Agricultural revolutions were about the building of civilization, laws and the nation-state, the industrial revolution was about money and finance and the information age is about attention and communication. Power shifted from the kings to the businessmen and now to those with the ability to gain attention. I think that attention is where the power is in the information age.

Having said that, I think my point is that those in power have not necessarily been happy and I'd rather be happy than powerful.

I followed the links and they gave me the impression that it is about how there's only type of blog.

Blogs aren't also necessarily about people's pets and eating habits, or other one way communications - only.
But can also be a way to share knowledge or do "P2P" research. In those situations, I would say that the more the trafic the less negative it is. Increasingly higher input and chance of finding the better solution.
In the same way, chances of the author having selffish attention seeking motivations or just interested in communicating with others in order to achieve a goal is so equal, that I would say such discussion are futile. And probably just damaging.

The problem is we are really bad at predicting what will make us happy and no matter what we have we always want 20% more. I'll get Zack Lynch to comment on the neuroscience of this.

Traffic has a direct correlation to attention, subscription even more so, as attention is time consumption. Not just in reading, but interrupts and how the right post stays with you with lasting consumption.

Attention, Money and Power all create options for those that with it. They are means, motivation is much more complex than such metrics, not ends.

Joi: I agree with your sentiments about music, culture, love, passion, etc entirely, and don't think anybody should be criticised just because they have a "middle class perspective".

But....

You say: "Many smart people are poor and they are obsessed with the fact that they don't have money. However, they don't go into typical money making jobs like real-estate, banking, trading and other jobs that typically get you closer to the money."

-- ah .. so *that's* why poverty exists ;-) ... if only it were that simple! 99%+ of the world's population would not be allowed through the door for an interview, even if they knew where to go to get one. That's called the reality of power, and that's why blog debates about inequality of traffic are *so* naive.

I love your values and passion, but the real world is the real world and it ain't like the blogspace you/we live in. The information economy is an overlay on top of a very stable and long-lasting meatspace system where guns, money and power rule. If it threatens the underlying system then old-skool powerplay will intervene. That is not to say that we can't *try* to build a better/happier world (even just for ourselves), and in that I am with you.

Which is why I suppose #10 in the ten commandments is about coveting one's neighbor's spouse, house, or oxen/BMW. And why Buddhism recommends non-desiring as the path to happiness. These things are really difficult for humans, which is why the traditions have to make such a point of them.

Also an interesting contrast -- the JudeoChristian version tells you not to covet somebody else's stuff; it doesn't talk about desire that's not fueled by envy. The Buddhist version is about desire in general. This is getting pretty far off-topic, and there are probably lifetimes of scholarly traditions on the topic.

Boy oh boy, interesting conversation.

Do you think the essays I've written about Alpha Males are about sex or power? TRY BOTH.

Do you think writing about sex is a calculated effort on my part to get attention, so hopefully readers will read my other stuff too? UH HUH, YES.

Do you think a person who writes in a piece in a newspaper, a book or a blog has more power and influence than a guy with a gun? DEPENDS ON THE DAY.

Power and influence are different. I think influence (via writing) is to be sought after, if you want to improve the world and that type of influence can allow for happiness. Power is another story.

I want to hear other Alpha Male and Alpha Female Bloggers on this subject, like Lessig, Winer, Reynolds, Youish, Barlow, Hourihan, Raymond, Searls, Weinberger, Locke, Lawley, Jarvis, Postrell et al on this subject. Don't be shy guys.

Well, I'm not one of Alpha bloggers in the list above, but here's my two cents:

From my perspective, the obsession with money is an obsession with power, which is the fear-based desire to control as much as possible.

It's the times where I find myself in some ego-assaulting conflict that a part of me wishes I had so much money that I could buy my way out of the conflict, or even worse, *make* the other party bend to my will, to their humiliation.

Eveybody experiences this desire.

It arises, I think, out of a fear to deal with the reality of conflict, an elevated view of who we think we are, and the need to control that which can't really be controlled except via the use of force (economic or military), and in a way that harms the other party.

Unfortunately, the more obsessed we are with controlling everything, the more brittle we become, and we will eventually break against whatever is harder than us.

That's why those who have money tend to be less happy and more distrusting of others.

"Napoleon once said that he would rather write the nations songs than write its laws. It is the culture that moves the hearts and minds of a nation, not guns... have seen information and attention impact the world in ways that direct force or money can't."

Joi, bang on. So what happens when the song writers are funded by the people in power? The people who figured out that they can transform the attention of 300 million people into revenue (via consumer culture) and buy more guns?

So so appropriate the quote of Napoleon! Empire builder! He knew it too! Just like the Republicans know it now!

I've gotta disagree with Lee here, especially in regards to this comment:

"99%+ of the world's population would not be allowed through the door for an interview, even if they knew where to go to get one."

I speak from experience - if you want it bad enough, you can and will get it. I agree with Joi, that if you're smart enough, and obsessed enough with making money, you will make money. I'm not talking about a "strong desire" or "overwhelming urge" to make money, I'm talking full on obsession, sacrificing health, family, education, enjoyment, and all other things in pursuit of making money.

If you truly want it, you make the opportunities come to you, rather than waiting for them to be given. You rely on nothing, save for your own drive and abilities. Can't get an interview? Screw 'em, do it yourself, and be in a position to interview them when the time comes. Feel conspired against? Find a way around the roadblock. Don't give up, keep hammering, even at your peril. It sounds all dramatic and motivational speaker like, but there's truth in the phrase "sweat works miracles".

I really do despise hearing comments that suggest that people can't make it in this world. There are too many examples that suggest otherwise - and I'm not talking from a purely American perspective where opportunity is ripe. I've met enough people in my life who come from the most dire of circumstances who have worked hard, and made no excuses about their gender, where they were born, the color of their skin, their disabilities, or the odds stacked against them. A trait shared almost universally among these people is that they spend no time thinking about how their circumstances should dictate what they can do, they produce their own circumstances.

I am starting to regret this...but....

Michael: maybe 99% was an exaggeration, but seriously - please try to think this through from an international perspective. I am with you if you are talking about the USA/UK/Europe/Japan etc (although even they have their poverty too), but *not* if you are talking about the world as a whole. All I am trying to do is to put our super-mobile, super-connected go-get'em culture into a realistic perspective. A majority of the world do not have a phone, let alone access to an interview on Main Street, USA (Hell, in sub-Saharan Africa, over 10% of children don't even reach 12 months of age). Lack of mobility and opportunity is the norm and no amount of American dream cr*p is going to change that situation for most people.

I have no objection to people debating whether differentials in blog traffic is an injustice (it's just silly), but *purlease* don't tell me that the 20% of the world who consume 80% of its resources (i.e. us) are in such a position because we try harder and "create their own cirsumstances."

For the record, I run a business, make good money thank you, have "made my own circumstances" as far as I am able and I personally try to operate according to some of the principles you mention. The only reason I have abused Joi's hospitality here (sorry to be a doomsayer, Joi) is to make two very simple points:

1. This is injustice: http://ottawa.cbc.ca/features/2003/nov4.html. This is not: http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html.

2. Despite what you or I may personally think of human motivation, money and coercive power are still just marginally ahead of attention and web site traffic in the desirability stakes for most people in the world today, though we hope this may change one day.

I agree that my discussion here completely ignores the social layer at which poverty exists. I think that "dealing with" poverty is another dicussion which I'll try to set up in another item in the context of some of the stuff I'm going to work on with Ethan Zuckerman in Africa.

I guess my point is that if you look at many first-generation wealthy people, many (again, not all...) were obsessed with money and power beyond any normally healthy level. I couldn't google it up, but I heard the JP Morgan personally went to the docks and beat up workers who were trying to organize. Obsessioning about money to the point where you think more about making more money than you do about your life is what I mean about obsessing. It's when your bank balance is more important than your family. It's about when you're willing to break moral and ethical boundaries in order to gain power and money.

Ross. I agree happiness is difficult to understand, but my Tai Ji teacher once said an interesting thing to me, and I've blogged this before. He said, "you're all so interested in being efficient. You're all going to die. Why are you here? The most efficient thing for you to do would be to die right now." If you don't have the time to enjoy life, the friends and family to enjoy it with and the clear mind and spirit where you are comfortable with yourself, free from your demons and fears, it's quite unlikely you will be happy. Obsession does not lead to happiness, it leads to more obsession.

That's one thing I'm learning from my "not drinking" discussions. Addicts always want more than enough. Non-addicts never want more than enough.

I'm skirting the edges of the original topic, but I wanted to make a clarification.

Lee said:

"I am with you if you are talking about the USA/UK/Europe/Japan etc (although even they have their poverty too), but *not* if you are talking about the world as a whole."

In my comment above, the people who I mentioned that made thier own circumstances were all originally from other countries who came to America or the UK for whatever reason. One spent 8 years in a Cambodian refugee camp with his brother, having been seperated from his family long before. He was a teenager when he escaped and managed to get to the United States where he essentially prospered.

I'm sure coming to the US helped greatly in this young man's outcome, but knowing him, he would have prospered regardless of where he was planted (and indeed, one of the reasons he was able to escape was because of relationships he had made while in the camp, and opportunities he'd created to make it possible).

Incidentally, he returned to his home country of Thailand to help improve the quality of life in the village he was born.

I've known people who have escaped famine, disease, and poverty stricken African countries to prosper - some go back to improve things, some never look back. The point is, these people maintained extraordinary focus in accomplishing a goal, and were able to do it.

I agree that opportunity abounds in many countries, but I don't agree that opportunity doesn't exist in other countries. Knowing myself, I'm not sure if I'd have the resolve to make opportunities for myself in some of the worst countries and circumstances, but the point is that others do.

"I think that traffic is similar to attention. Attention is not the same as power or money, but it is sought after in the same way and in some ways is something that money can't buy and is actually more valuable and difficult to gain. Having said that, it's not about the traffic. Just like it's not about money, or attention. Money, attention and traffic do not, at the end of the day, make you happy."

Joi - Indeed, humans are very poor at forecasting the happiness that an event or product will bring them. See my post on forecasting happiness:

http://www.corante.com/brainwaves/archives/000238.html

The field of affective, forecasting sheds some light on the issues. Two important insights have come out of this research. First, is that decisions made in one emotional state are vastly different than the same person would make in a different state. This "empathy gap", the difference between how we behave in "hot'' states (those of anxiety, courage, fear, drug craving, sexual excitation and the like) and ''cold'' states of rational calm, drives significantly different decisions. Indeed, these kinds of states have the ability to change us so profoundly that we're more different from ourselves in different states than we are from another person in the same state. Our empathy gap in thought and behavior shows that we cannot seem to predict how we will behave in a hot state when we are in a cold state.

The second insight is that individuals almost always over estimate the happiness that an event, like a purchase, will bring. For example, we might believe a new BMW will make life much better, it will likely be less exciting than anticipated and it will not excite us for as long as we thought. This difference is known as our impact bias. That is, individuals have a tendency to make an error, our bias, about the intensity and duration, the impact, about how much our current decisions will ultimately make us feel.

If we had tools to help us better understand and control our impact bias and empathy gap, human behaviors would change dramatically. I explore this in "Finance with Feelings."

http://www.corante.com/brainwaves/archives/000545.html

Lastly, addiction is a major personal and social problem. But this is because we are "Stuck with 4,000 year old tools" like alcohol and tobacco.

Check out this post on the political-economic roadblocks that are keeping us from developing non-addictive recreational sustances:

http://www.corante.com/brainwaves/archives/000326.html

Cheers,
Zack

Traffic is merely an opportunity for attention-getting. "Location, location, location." If what you are offering is worthwhile, you get attention. If money and power are what you want, you can get those with attention. The more you get of them, the more you can reinvest in self-promotion. Cycle.

"Happiness" has nothing to do with these though. If you handle the comers with integrity and respect, what you get in return is respect/love. That is much more condusive to "happiness".

Great discussion everybody!

This is where I think the blog social software and creative commons can have a transformative effect on the way we integrate and relate to each other. Joi, I think you get this and are on the optimistic side of the potential. This potential ultimate goes beyond the fixation on money as the goal and looks to an interconnected happiness. Money is not bad or good, it simply is. Having more of some-thing is absolutely relative to how we internally measure it and relate it to the world around us. Truely creative entrapenuers are going beyond the money motive. Money is good to help the flow but when it is worshipped outside oneself creativity becomes limited, boxing us into a paradigm that can never be transcended. Truely new creativity (thinking and being different) evolves us out of the "box" and brings depth to our experience. Then we may eventually see there really is no difference and we can open ourselves to a new abundance.

Yes, I'm optimistic and I don't feel I have any other choice otherwise I may as well be "efficient" as Joi's teacher says. :)

I was reading a book called "Who Am I?" recently and one thought popped into my head. The book separates “feel-good-happiness” (e.g. sense based: eating, drinking, etc.) vs. “value-based” happiness (e.g. trying to make the world a better place to live).

Feel-good-happiness needs to be continually re-supplied, and is short-lived compared to value-based happiness. Value-based happiness can be quite long-lasting long after the event that triggered it is over. Different people have different needs for both forms and in varying amounts over time, based on their “profile”, individual life circumstances and success at finding their right inner balance.

Traffic/attention might result in a form of feel-good-happiness for some, but what one does with it would seem to be a potential avenue for achieving value-based happiness? And in differing amounts for different people.

"The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." Benjamin Franklin

:-)

"Money, power and attention are addictive and dangerous."

I totally agree with everything that you have said, there should also be a balance of everything and we should learn to be contented with what we have. We need some obsessions, privilege, money, power, attention, etc to survive but we should not forget the little things that makes us happy that's the real happiness.

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