Taken from David Foster Wallace commencement address given to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story [“thing”] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning….
I don’t have much advice to give, but if I have any, it’s that little recipe.
Truly great ideas are rare. Jokers like us will probably never have one. That’s OK. We have mediocre ones all the time and they work just fine. I once had an idea to start a blog about CSS. I sucked at writing. I sucked at designing. The vibe at the time was that everything important about CSS had already been written. Nobody told me.
I didn’t just have the idea, I did it. That’s the showing up part. Hands on the keyboard, go. I barely knew what I was doing. I stumbled through even following simple walkthroughs on how to install the software. Executing your ideas is never overly comfortable.
Then never stop. Don’t get distracted by some other idea and prance away to that tomorrow. Keep doing it until you’ve done everything you set out to do and everyone and their mom knows it. I didn’t stop blogging when barely anyone read it for years. I didn’t stop when people told me I was dumb or wrong. I didn’t stop when redesigns were met with vitriol. I didn’t stop when faced with mountainous challenges like inexplicable server failure, legal trouble, and theft of the site itself.
Oh, plus, try not to be a dick. I’m convinced that helps.
This thought was written by Chris Coyier and first published on Saturday, 18 May 2013.
“Build a good name”, rock poet Patti Smith advises the young. “Life is like a roller coaster, it is going to have beautiful moments but it is going to be real fucked up, too”, she says.
The American singer, poet and photographer Patti Smith (b. 1946) is a living punk rock legend. In this video she gives advice to the young:
“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work. Protect your work and if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency. Life is like a roller coaster ride, it is never going to be perfect. It is going to have perfect moments and rough spots, but it’s all worth it”, Patti Smith says.
Interview by Christian Lund, the Louisiana Literature festival August 24, 2012, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
This piece from Wired magazine had caught my attention a short while back. It is about this genre of writing that essentially claims that everything you have understood or believed to be true about a topic, has in fact, been wrong. And these “experts” often promise to reveal the secrets to this hidden “truth” — which you can know only by, well, reading more of their stuff. Very often it attempts to tap into the latest scientific findings or social research which is (supposedly) shedding dramatically new light on the topic in question.
Here’s the beginning of the piece to give you a taste:
Clive Thompson on the Hidden Truth of Counterintuition
Wander into the pop science section of any bookstore and you’ll be told—over and over again—a disturbing fact: Everything you know is wrong. About everything. Seriously, everything!
You’re familiar, no doubt, with this genre of book. It has metastasized in recent years, with a seemingly unending series of tomes claiming to upend everything we believe about talent (Talent Is Overrated), decisionmaking (The Upside of Irrationality), motivation (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us), personality (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement), and dozens of other subjects.
And not only are you completely wrong about something that seems totally obvious, but the real truth is some theosophical “secret” long “hidden” from you. It’ll take a renegade outsider—like, say, a “rogue economist”—to pierce these veils of ignorance.
The sheer durability of this trope is kind of bewildering. Can it really be true that there’s some gnarled mystery behind every facet of life?
Or is it possible that Everything You Know About Everything You Know Being Wrong is wrong?
It goes on to mention what journalist David Schenk years ago called data smog—with data smog being described as “living with an ever expanding surplus of research and factoids, which can paradoxically making you increasingly unmoored from what you actually believe”.
The particular reason why this resonated with me was that I had originally come across it while I was writing some longer original essays to appear on this blog. And as I was reviewing some of my notes on various aspects of design, there was a common theme throughout of my concern for how much we listen to (or—to say the least—are continuously confronted by) “experts”, “gurus”, etc.…
Of course, I’ll need adequate time and space to express myself appropriately (so please stay tuned). But for now, I’ll allow the brilliant George Carlin to take us all to school on this issue ….