I've noticed that it's sometimes difficult to push something out the door. Call it launch anxiety, writer's block, creativity slump, whatever. Curiously, it's also a lot easier to publish something when nobody is watching.
This blog, for example. For all intents and purposes, few people actually read it. It doesn't go viral on Hacker News, it doesn't offer some utility, and it's not some shining beacon of persona that thousands flock to. It's strange that so often I would hope that all of the above would be true and yet, I'm proud of my blog. These posts that don't go anywhere.
When I started my Twitch channel, I was also proud of it. In fact, I'm envious of being a new streamer. I remember the excitement of starting something new, the thrill of the unknown, and the joy of exploring and learning. As my channel grew though, so did my expectations. I wanted to see continued growth and wanted to figure out how to make it happen. The truth is, I have some ideas, but I still think by far the largest factor is just streaming more. In other words, I don't really know what makes big streamers interesting.
In 2004, WIRED posted an article about the long tail of entertainment and how the vast majority of content is not the top hits. It seems like most of us are actually alone, with a little stretching of the definition of the word. This disparity is true across all types of platforms:
How can we overcome that gap? Ali Abdaal has a great video about what makes people successful and the book: The Unfair Advantage. A crucial point is adopting a growth mindset: a mindset in which we're always learning from feedback.
But in environments where we're alone, how can we get feedback? MrBeast surely has millions of pieces of feedback he can act on. More than he knows what to do with, probably. But for the rest of us, how are we find any type of traction and learn, as the growth mindset proposes, when we're receiving scraps of feedback compared to the top?
After all, how am I supposed to know if my writing is good and growing if there's nobody to tell me? What's the point of streaming to zero viewers?
And just like that, creating becomes a lot more existential. It's not about the art anymore, it's about whether it's sustainable. Suddenly, because I'm governed by the almighty cycles of feedback, I'm not as isolated anymore and consequentially, I'm not as free.
Maybe when we adopt a growth mindset, when we focus solely on growing and getting feedback, we actually give up freedom. This isn't to say we should adopt a fixed mindset, but rather that I think there's a lot of solace in building in isolation without expectation. It's still important to be pleasant to others and see opportunities, I'm not advocating for becoming a hermit, but feedback isn't the holy grail it's chalked up to be: effective scales of feedback are only really accessible to the top.
"Next and final stop San Jose Diridon Station. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and thanks for riding the Caltrain, alllll twelve of you."
-- Real Caltrain announcement I heard back in 2014. Still makes me laugh.
I think the answer is that there's no point. There's no point in publishing to zero readers, there's no point in streaming to zero viewers, and there's no point in creating to zero listeners. But there is a point in creating for the sake of creating. There is a point in creating for the sake of freedom. Does that mean it's not possible to grow? No, but maybe focusing on growth is a luxury that only the top can afford.
I think this is why I'm so proud of my blog. It's a place where I can be free to write whatever I want, without the pressure of an audience. Actually, is that even true? Maybe I'm just proud of this blog because I assume nobody reads it but I really have no idea. There aren't analytics on here. Is success the price of freedom?
PS: When writing this post, GitHub Copilot had my back. It is oddly comforting to me to know that a robot is listening.