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The struggle to compete

Self reflection and reconsidering consumption of information

I came across a post on indiehackers in which the author asks:

Why is everyone around better than me?

Why indeed?

I also asked myself this question many times in the last two decades. Why are they better? Like most people, I thought about it only for a moment and quickly came to the most obvious conclusion.

These people of course:

… the list goes on.

Lets look at how exactly this completely biased and compartmentalized image forms itself.

Bias and attention

The easy and agreeable way for everyone to see the world is from ones own unchallenged viewpoint and understanding. There is a lot to learn about psychology in biases. Your inner monologue changes based on what you talk to yourself about and what you practice.

For tech nerds and web experts like me it might look something like this: First thing in the morning, we check socials on mobile for messages, then check emails and slack on the computer, open a browser to catch up on link lists and resources posted on the media we checked. Check sidebar, producthunt, reddit, indiehackers. In a span of 10 minutes, we probably saw and read 2-3 stories about something that was mildly impressive or noteworthy. It’s still morning, amazement will have to wait until lunch.

During the day we read more articles and skim headlines of what is new and relevant in our circles. What most don’t consciously realize is that we are being fed marketing. We internalize this marketing, whether we want to or not.

That article headline on buzzfeed? Bought by some entity with the interest to get you to click. They even bluntly tell the world about it.

Buzzfeed ad
Buzzfeed ad

That hot post on reddit with 12.000 upvotes and 7.000 comments? Posted by advertisers and upvoted and commented on by bots. The producthunt thing on the featured list? Influenced by engagement outside of the product, basically marketing to influencers for placement on the featured list.

The online space is filled with lies and exaggerations to reach a goal, make money or push an agenda (that makes money for someone). Internalizing these headlines and messages makes you feel inadequate, if you let it. The only way out it seems, is to compete more, to also lie and exaggerate.

The bane of algorithms

The big portals like yahoo news, msn or other “homepages of the internet” all have one thing in common: You don’t get an objective set of content, but an automatically curated set of what makes you stay and look at advertising. Of course all of social media does it, since that is their business model. You can’t serve billions of people “for free” without making serious money. That has to come from somewhere.
From you looking at advertising, to be frank.

Since you probably would object to having a skewed set of information presented to you, the platforms do it in a precise and calculated way. First they analyze what they know about you via cookies, account activity and other identificators. They then match what according to their algorithms and analysis makes you stick around longer. They measure your activity, save that (forever) and base it to serve fresh and “relevant” content to you next time you come by.

The only way out is not to go to them. Make the news come to you. RSS is made exactly for that!

So why is everyone better?

You already know it: They are not.

You have been a victim of confirmation bias, of algorithmic selection and a resulting negative perception of yourself. The only difference between you and some quality you admire is love, practice and expression.

Alexandr Hrustevich is objectively better at playing an entire orchestra on the Bayan than you. He started in 1989 when he was six years old and never quit. And yet you don’t pity yourself and think “why oh why is he better than me?”, since you (probably) lack any point of comparison with yourself.

What it is you seek

Now what if it is your goal to be the next Alexandr? Let’s entertain that notion for a bit. You practice and perform, become an absolute master bayanist, do everything exactly like your idol does, and finally, after 32 years of playing, people say

Wow, you play exactly like Hrustevich!

Congratulations, you have become an impersonator, a clone, a performer without your own voice, but the voice of another.

I expect Alexandr doesn’t know (or care) how to write a performant web application, how to sew his own clothes, how to create custom smart home automatization or how to steer a sailing yacht. He didn’t think about how to make money by playing music. Applying his passion and practice made money come to him. He is not “better” then you, he just committed himself to one thing entirely.

In 13 years of applied practice, discipline and passion you can grow from this to that. Of course there is luck involved, but luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Luck favors the prepared. What will your world look like in 13 years? What will your voice be like? What will you say?

FOMO, keeping up, and death

The constant urge to compare yourself to others is caused by the fear of missing out and the resulting anxiety. Being able to check anything anywhere means that doing so is suddenly mandatory somehow. You don’t want to miss out, do you? You don’t want to be unable to compete, are you? You want to keep up, right? It seems one is obliged to speed up and go faster and faster, until you can go no more. We come back to that at the end.

Why compete and keep up for what?

I vividly remember when Netflix and other streaming services started with episodic shows like Lost or Breaking Bad. Suddenly everyone at the office was like

Have you seen what happened to that character? And that other show? So crazy! What, you didn’t? Oh.

Awkward pause, end of conversation. Like nothing else worthy of discussion was happening in their days and lives. Maybe they had no hobbies besides TV, I don’t know. I found it interesting to see how quickly their anxiety set in once the reliability of the story in their short-term memory was gone. I don’t watch TV, Movies or Shows, so I can’t hold a conversation about them. I have felt lonely because of that in the past, but never compromised my stance on watching TV. I rather fill my time with my hobbies then to update my pop culture knowledge to appeal to others in shallow conversation.

Don’t you read the news?

I like to avoid it. Not because I believe in “fake news” (which certaintly do exist) being pushed everywhere, but because of the modern news business model: With the decline of newspapers that you had to buy for money, the tabloid model of generating outrage to push sales has taken over the news world. Bad news have always sold better, but you had a newspaper full of other news as well. Local newspapers also often had “good” news on something positive like the upcoming public festival or positive regional developments, that you would catch even with bad or sensational news in the same paper. In todays world of isolated and expenseless articles, these messages are not clicked as much and do not generate income for the news organization.

Hence, top-lists, terror, fear and clickbait headlines are the norm, even with independent content creators on various platforms.

I am glad to miss out, to be free from that kind of FOMO.

How I keep up, without depression or burnout

I start every day with netvibes, where I have set up dashboards for general websites that I am interested in, like, and 99% invisible. The next tab in netvibes is photography, where I have many sources that post about all kinds of topics. In there is the picture story section of The Atlantic Journal. This is where I get the most news from about what is happening, they regularly post positive stories and pictures of every day life around the world. Next tab is web development, in which many news sites and personal blogs of people give me the gist of what is happening in this sphere.

After Netvibes I check some singular webistes, like and Colossal. After these come Newsletters and Slack updates. All this seems like a lot of effort, for me it is fun and relaxing.

What was that earlier about death?

As you can see, keeping up, competing with the world and staying sane through all is just dependent your approach. We all want to be informed and not suffer from ignorance. But to get back to the beginning, why do it at all? Why do we feel this need to expend all this effort?

Things are moving faster and faster, because we are afraid to die.

Whoever lives twice as fast can realize twice as many worldly possibilities, and thus as it were, live two lives in the span of one. Whoever becomes infinitely fast no longer needs to fear death, the annihilator of options. Acceleration becomes a secular substitude for eternity.

Hartmut Rosa