10 min read

The Age of Context Realized

I remember reading this book when it came out, despite being literally homeless at the time and asking Robert Scoble to email me a PDF copy
The Age of Context Realized

I remember reading this book when it came out, despite being literally homeless at the time and asking Robert Scoble to email me a PDF copy - something I only was able to do because of the fact that due to familiarity and consistent engagement within the nascent and soon-to-be-scrapped Google Plus platform... I managed to establish rapport and relationship with many people far beyond my station because I had nothing better to do than charge my phone wherever I could and post on the platform.

Scobleizer comes through in the clutch for the hobo! 

Well... to be fair, I think it wasn't just the fact that I centered my entire life around engaging with the only people I had even the most tenuous connection and capacity for social interaction with; the non-sequitur juxtaposition of my insights, analysis, understanding, and ability to competently discuss 'techbro' shit when contrasted against the radical transparency and brutal candor in which I described the excruciating detail of the tragic daily struggles from a life on the streets - they all would have thought of me as a peer from over a year of collegial interactions before I became unhoused.  

I had forgotten even that had occurred, until I accidentally had a very casual, accidental, and awful series of interactions with Shel Israel - the co-author of this book from nearly a decade ago, when he posted this very simple question on Facebook while I was on vacation for the holiday break just vibing yesterday:

Of course, the inevitable "over 30" response

I made a like six minute video because it was the middle of the holiday break, and I was hanging out with my wife and son - I didn't want to go upstairs and spend an hour basically for the sake of arguing on the internet.... but more importantly, as part of my own growth and development - I'm trying to find a way to bring consensus to conversations and be able to debate instead of argue, and create mutual benefit through the exchange of ideas instead of what Brené Brown describes as "I'm right, you're wrong, shut up" culture. Here is my failed attempt at creating discourse, failed because I'm confident Shel never even watched it due to subsequent replies on the thread:

I didn't get any reacts on my video, nor do I have any way of knowing if it was viewed at all, but I dove in with an attached example of one of my favorite TikTok creators: Brian Dainton, a long-time developer who has amazing content re: working on a team, engineering management, and career progression:

There was some other content afterwards on the thread with the one guy Brett Tabke backing me up, but a bunch of other folks being dismissive of "oh I prefer to read whitepapers instead of curated content because I am an academic" and the like... basically just a bunch of pooh-pooh/Appeal to Questionable Authority fallacies... And while this felt really invalidating, dismissive, and impolite to me... I understand that we all (scientists and top-tier educated businesspersons) fall prey to the idiosyncratic rater effect where no matter how intelligent we are, oftentimes directly as a consequence of how intelligent we are, that it is incredibly difficult to determine the skillset/knowledge/capabilities of another person especially without historic context of existing interactions. Here's a pretty cool HBR article about this phenomenon.

So, knowing that I don't particularly care about this person's opinion about me in a prima facie sense, but desperately realizing that many of the things I lack regarding typical social skills and the ability to build consensus, I figured I would take the time to write up something that might be seen as compelling - with excerpts of the book Shel wrote with my friend, Robert:

Hey Shel,

I just wanted to clue you into some context because I don't feel like our previous interactions on this thread landed as I intended; I am at a particular crossroads in life - a point where it is time for me to learn how to become greater than the sum of my past experiences and performance with regards not to my expertise in my field - but because I finally am at a place in life at almost exactly half of your age where I am able to spend time not in the primary means of economic production, the pursuit of excellence within my field and niche, or in the struggle to find not just money/success/accomplishment/validation - but to truly find a place of inclusion, belonging, and collaborative and collective sensemaking.  For the first time, I am able to truly create without the constraints of  part of that - quite literally - is the primarily textual/long-form writing medium allowed by Facebook as a platform.

I took your dismissive tact towards my ideas in a hurtful fashion initially, and then when it became obvious you hadn't watched the video I created - I doubled down to try and show you the kinds of content on TikTok that are valuable. When you were continuing to be dismissive, I posted this in a way to play into the "I'm right, you're wrong, shut up" narrative that is why the world is where it is today, and I apologize - and endeavor to do better:

Many allistic (non-autistic) people are fond of saying that autistic people have no space for empathy, and tend to fail in traditional social interactions. You said that you preferred walls of text to videos for interaction, so I figured I would oblige you as my time allowed. I think this comment also was interesting:

This reminds me of the phenomenon that people get into a space of white-hot rage when they experience minor discourtesy in traffic, because they are in their car just going about their day when some yahoo is rude or dangerous. The roads are owned by the government and traversed by everyone, but we get particularly upset when someone comes into our lane and cuts us off out of traffic.

I was responding to this coming up in my newsfeed lol, and while I might only be some dude on Facebook with 1600 friends and you have 4500 - I was trying to solicitously help you with an answer to your question regarding how to find more relevance on the internet. I posit and contend that the reason Facebook sucks so badly at bringing people together, is allowing long-form text and primarily having this be the main way folks interact. I used to follow your Forbes submissions, but forgive me, "The Age of Context" is the only one of your books I ever had read. I know this is a super hot take - but I believe many of the phenomenon you described in "The Age of Context" have arrived and are here today... but instead of it being brands/retailers/service providers - the content that people want much more is the human connection you describe in your book as having gone the way of the buffalo.

The Customer in Context - Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. -Cheers theme
Retail changed a lot last century. It started with shops on Main Street, where merchants recognized many customers as neighbors and treated them that way. It culminated with the birth of internet commerce, where retailers could scale and improve efficiency without any human contact at all.
Along the way, something got lost, something that is hard to recover in these modern times where you can be a global merchant from your home office.
Sam Lessin is nostalgic for those earlier, more personal times. It might be because [...] he runs Facebook Timeline [and] he says "Something got lost along the way, something personal that mattered."
He thinks the very technology that has so dramatically reduced close personal service may now be used to restore it. He believes Facebook Timeline might be part of the solution despite his awareness that the platform's ongoing tweaks and changes annoy many users.
The way he sees it, Timeline is a work in progress. It will eventually allow Facebook to recapture some sense of those folksier days through the social network, where it, advertisers, and users can all get to understand each other online and enhance the other participants' experience.
It's a challenge not just for Facebook, but for any online company trying to personalize retailing in a face-to-screen world. The convenience of today's transaction-based retailing is obvious, but if you are among those of us who wish we could be known by more than a data trail of our purchase and payment histories, Lessin and others have a long way to go before most people will feel trusting and comfortable, not to mention warm and fuzzy.
[...]Ultimately, we want a lot more. We want online sites to know how to treat us in the same way Sam, the bartender in the old TV sitcom Cheers, treated his customers. When his regulars walked through the door, Sam poured them their usual drink without asking what they wanted. As he handed them the drink, he asked questions that showed he understood what was going on in their personal and work lives.

This idyllic feeling you describe is what I find when I get on TikTok, because instead of it being pitches for products/brands, "sponsored content," or the like - it is full of people I have told the platform over many hours and interactions/replies/"stitches" to their content that I find relevant... and it is very different from the typical idea of 'celebrity' - in fact, I have a negative net worth and a typical individual contributor tech salary, and I have more money than most of the people I find to be most relevant. The platform literally is amplifying voices that in the traditional power structures and hierarchies were not heard, and as they continue to invest in their Creator's Fund - this is going to become a real method of earning a living for some people... without the many years it takes to become a published researcher, an expert in a trade, or becoming a good writer.

A great example, is this dude who works at McDonalds who typically has people saying terrible and mean things to him, implying that he is a bad person, an idiot, a failure, the like... and what makes him far more relevant to me than Leon Skum (I literally block any account sharing content with him re: entrepreneurship the like) is that he has determined what he wants in life, does his best every day to be the best "worker among workers" possible, and responds to all of the hate he gets with positivity and aplomb. That, to me, is enviable and the sort of character traits I would like to possess, so he is far more relevant to me than a typical "celebrity."


##stitch with @patulafamilymcdonalds

♬ original sound - George
Trust is the New Currency
We believe the most trustworthy companies will thrive in the Age of Context, and those found to be short on candor will end up short on customers. Transparency and trustworthiness will be the differentiating factors by which customers will make an increasing number of choices.
Most of the products we have examined in this book have one or more competitors already; the remainder soon will. Competitors will leapfrog each other's capabilities - whenever one product offers a desirable new feature, the others will soon offer a similar or slightly better one.
[...]The key point is that despite the volatile nature of the market, many products will become commodities earlier in their development cycles than was the case with previous technologies [...] [i]f features aren't the deciding factor, how will we choose? We think that most people will select the products made by the companies they trust the most.

In the attention/influencer economy... the products we are choosing are the people we empathize with the most, or find the most joy/inspiration/resonance with. That might look completely different for me than it does for you... but I believe that the reason TikTok surpassed Google recently for site-traffic is that this is a sociological change, not just an industry paradigm shift. If the amount of TikTok subscribers/engagement/revenue per user continues to increase... there may become a point where the value of this content exceeds that of tangible products. YouTube has about $20bn of annual revenue if that seems so unrealistic... and well, I'm pretty sure nobody would have thought Justin.TV would turn into Twitch - but here we are, and there we be!

I accidentally had a five year behavioral health career after I got clean/became employable... and I was exposed to a man who is widely regarded as one of the most influential researchers in child development/attachment theory space. His name is Kent Hoffman, and he said that the most important lesson that he ever learned in his PhD program took him about forty seconds to learn:

"Every person you will ever meet has infinite worth."

So hey, Shel, maybe I haven't convinced you of the value of TikTok as a platform regardless of their bonafides of having more views/traffic than Google and YouTube, but I really don't care about that as much as hopefully having exposed you to the idea that Kent Hoffman posits - after a forty year career with the most "service resistant" and traumatized/disenfranchised members of our societies through the lens of multiple nations.

Everyone has infinite worth, and your belief that I am not relevant to you in 2022 as a wealthy, privileged, white, intellectual person with a 20y technology career due to cognitive bias/black swan fallacy when mainstream media literally announced TikTok has more traffic than Google about two hours after our thread began... well, this is shocking contrast to Robert who found me to be relevant when in 2013 I was an annoying homeless drug addict while he was moving and shaking with the hottest VC and given a front-row seat to the most exciting things going on in the valley.

I never have been as critically acclaimed as you, and probably never will be... but I find that the most important phenomenon to ensure we are challenging our biases is to allow for collaborative and collective sensemaking, and ensuring that we don't dismiss other perspectives out of hand simply because they do not match our strongly held beliefs. This is why, no offense, if you were creating TikTok content - I probably would find more benefit in @georgefrommcdonalds - because these are the voices that should be amplified... ones like you and I have had far too much time with the megaphone.