A girl can’t live alone, Mary, without she goes queer in the head, or comes to evil. It’s either one or the other. Have you forgotten poor Sue, who walked the churchyard at midnight with the full moon, and called upon the lover she had never had? And there was one maid, before you were born, left an orphan at sixteen. She ran away to Falmouth and went with the sailors.
I’m in the south of France, on a post-MIP creative retreat with a hand-picked group of technology entrepreneurs, television commissioners, network producers, actors, entertainment professionals and, later this week, a media-minded MP. We’re discussing TV formats, trends in media and ideas for new media business models in a villa nestled in the beautiful, mountainous French countryside above Tourrettes-sur-Loup.
And it occurs to me how dramatically the technology industry would be transformed, were founders to shake off the limitations of self-regard and spend their downtime with great minds from other worlds. The number of thrilling new business ideas discussed casually over Bordeaux and pâté is remarkable. It’s a testament to the organiser, my friend Robert Loch, that such catalysis is going on.
Then again, the space for this sort of thing is still wide open, because the entertainment industries are crying out for innovation and expertise from technology. The posers in the TechCrunch beauty parade haven’t the faintest idea how to interface with such enormous and lucrative industries and markets, so consumed are they by photo-sharing, by social networking and by congratulating themselves at shoddy conferences and laughably amateurish awards ceremonies.
Not least among the many reasons for start-up failure, it seems to me, is this utter lack of imagination, ambition and, yeah, sex appeal. We can do better. A little modesty is called for: rather than the frankly desperate cult of “disruption” and its systemic disdain for the content industries (and just about everyone else), entrepreneurs would do well to take a moment and try learning from those they arrogantly suppose their platforms and APIs are set to displace.
The future is more complex – and collaborative – than you think.
As friends will know already, Berlin is rapidly becoming my home from home. Part of the reason is the extraordinary friends I have made there, particularly in hy! founders Hans Raffauf and Aydo Schosswald.
I’m thrilled that Hans & Aydo have this week given me an excuse to spend even more time in the city I love by asking me to come on board as Editorial Director of their terrific invitation-only event series.
I’ll be helping to put the programme together for an event I already know and love. Axel Springer-backed hy! is by far and away the most credible and inspiring gathering of entrepreneurs and creatives in Europe. I look forward to contributing to its ongoing success.
I’m moving to Berlin full-time, with immediate effect. I’ll still be writing regularly for the usual complement of European & US newspapers, magazines and websites – but a bit less often.
We have to talk. This thing you’ve been doing, it has to stop. When I ask you for a recommendation for an app, or a restaurant, or a new brand of toothpaste, I do not need to know that the CEO is a personal friend of yours. We all have impressive-sounding address books because this industry is the size of a postage stamp. So cut it out.
Seriously. It’s like a sickness. (Before I go on, let me just get one thing out of the way: it’s an illness I have periodic and obnoxious bouts of too. This post is partly an attempt to shame myself out of bad habits.)
It impresses no one. It adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence and it just makes me think the speakers are cocks who locate way too much self-esteem in utterly fucking unimportant things. And that makes me sad, because I know they’re not cocks. That’s why they’re my friends.
Is there any industry as pathologically addicted to name-dropping as the start-up world? I only ask because this particular epidemic seems to be spiralling way out of control. You see, I was talking about this last night to two dear friends of mine who are chief executives of two of the most successful British internet start-ups. I won’t name names but you’ve probably heard of them.
There are always outliers and eccentrics: blow-hards who swank and bullshit their way through, fibbing and flirting to get what they want. Like Julie Meyer. She’s kind of a big deal. (I can introduce you, if you want.) But seriously: when did “Oh, and she’s a really good friend of mine” become as necessary to the end of a sentence as a full stop?
I don’t need to know who people know - if they even actually really do – at every possible opportunity. When I ask how they are, I don’t need to know the name of the hotel they’ve just checked out of, as if that’s somehow relevant, or which class they flew home in. (Don’t even get me started on airport lounge bragging.) I don’t need to know that they were speaking at a conference; that they were there is all the information I need. Even that is often unnecessary.
At it’s simplest, this behaviour is a class giveaway. These are working class-nerds on the make – or, in some cases, achingly nouveau wide-boys desperate to show off because they’re so insecure about their newly acquired social standing. Beta males to a man and hating every minute of it. We get it, you had no friends at school. My friend Anthony, who used to be Mark Cuban’s PA, and I were laughing about this with Tim Ferriss at a dinner in San Francisco in 2010. Ferriss picked up the check.
At times it can seem as though the technology industry is one big happy family. Except, as we all know, it isn’t.
The problem with all this constant public back-slapping, self-congratulation and obsequiousness is two-fold: first, that you forget the almost preternatural power of a subtle, private endorsement from someone with serious clout. Like that time the president of a huge American foundation who’s on the board of like seven multinational corporations, and who is now a friend and fan, put in a good word for me with some conference I wanted to speak at.
Or that time I was at a dinner with Steve Ballmer opposite. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I know Larry Ellison does because his office got in touch to invite me to lunch in Redwood City. I don’t think I ever got back to them because I was invited to a private island for a meditation retreat with the cast of a US TV show. That was a fun summer.
Second, when everyone’s being nice to each other and praising everyone else, no one is really saying anything, are they? It’s a bit like politics, where the rows are all basically bollocks because the whole Establishment is run by a tiny elite who all went to the same schools and who don’t really disagree on anything. I’ll bring this up when I have dinner again with the leader of the UK’s third largest political party. He’s a hoot!
If it’s not a pat on the back or a bit of self-aggrandisement, no one wants to know. You see, the tech industry has inherited oppressive thought police culture without the style or substance even of politics. (That’s a good line, actually; I might mention it the next time I’m in the House of Commons. I dated an MP, you know.) Nor does it have the effete charm of the fashionista who air-kisses and daaaaaahlinks! her way through a cocktail party. Nor, even, of the movie industry, where at least mutual compliments are passable because everyone’s so damned good looking.
This reminds me of the time I was couch-surfing in Beverly Hills in 2008 and at a pool party just off Mulholland I was talking to a really cute guy for about an hour outside by the pool and we nearly made out and it suddenly dawned on me that it was Tobey Maguire. At least I think it was Maguire; it could have been Gyllenhaal. Whoever it was, he offered me coke. I was shocked, and said no.
The tragic irony of all this saccharine sucking-up is of course that the characters at the top of the air-kissing tree are such grim, sociopathic bastards. Except the ones who are my friends, of course, who are really just very misunderstood. I just wish people would be honest, like Aaron Levie from Box. I met him in 2010. He gave me his business card.
I wouldn’t have brought all this up but I thought a touch of comic verisimilitude might help me make my point.
I mean, to drop such things gratuitously would be appallingly gauche.
I’ve written a long piece for Slashdot’s original content channel on Google’s new wearable computers. You can read the whole thing here.
Consumer hardware may not yet have the power to capture and process olfactory search terms, but it is more than capable of augmenting sight. Thus we have been gifted Google’s latest, most horrendous idea: a wearable, Internet-enabled computer it has christened “Glass,” but whose inelegant aesthetic is better represented by the product’s goofy unofficial moniker, “Google Goggles.”
It’s an audacious product for a company no one trusts to behave responsibly with our data: a pair of glasses that can monitor and record the world around you. But they do so much more than that. Let’s not beat about the bush here: these specs are a thing of wonder. They can email, take pictures, record video, provide walking or driving directions, conduct searches, translate signs… the possibilities are endless.
But if Glass becomes as ubiquitous as the iPhone, are we truly to believe that Google will not attempt to abuse that remarkable power?
Given that we know how comprehensively and utterly Michael Gove has won the education debate, there’s no harm in celebrating our terrific Education Secretary’s other chief virtue: his ability to drive the Left absolutely potty.
It’s well-established that Mr Gove strikes fear and terror into the hearts of the loony Left wherever he goes. The sound of his name alone is enough to prompt metropolitan liberals to spit out their organic muesli.
Behold, therefore, the Gove-O-Meter: a measure of the apoplexy various sound people and organisations induce in nutters and nitwits. For benchmarking purposes, here are a few familiar names, with their Gove-O-Meter rankings given as marks out of ten.
Now do pay attention; there will be a written test on Friday.
Boris Johnson – 4/10
David Cameron – 5/10
Douglas Murray – 6/10
Peter Hitchens – 7/10
David Starkey – 7/10
The Taxpayers’ Alliance – 8/10
Iain Duncan Smith – 8/10
Guido Fawkes – 8.5/10
Melanie Phillips – 9/10
George Osborne – 9/10
James Delingpole – 9/10
Rod Liddle – 9.5/10
Mr Gove – 10/10
Lady Thatcher – 10/10
Feel free to contribute here or on Twitter, with #GoveOMeter
Not only the best sex scene in all of cinema, but:
Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed.
A few passages in Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat that struck a chord with me.
One had no right to play about with people’s lives. One should not interfere with their emotions. A word, a look, a smile, a frown, did something to another human being, waking response or aversion, and a web was woven which had no beginning and no end, spreading outward and inward too, merging, entangling, so that the struggle of one depended upon the struggle of the other.
‘You said something a little while ago about taking stock of oneself,’ I said. ‘Perhaps that’s just what I’ve been doing, over a period of time, and it came to a head that evening in Le Mans. The self I knew had failed. The only way to escape responsibility for failure was to become someone else. Let another personality take charge.’
‘The other Jean de Gué,’ she said, ‘the one who’s been hidden for so long beneath the surface gaiety and charm, I’ve often wondered if he existed. If he’s going to emerge, he’d better do so now. Time’s getting on.’
I’m reading a lot at the moment. I’ll post extracts from time to time that I’ve found helpful or enlightening. In the meantime, though, here’s something that simply made me giggle, from David Brooks’s The Social Animal. (I have always said that white middle class males are the real persecuted minority.)
Popular, good-looking and athletic children are the subjects of relentless abuse. While still young and impressionable, they are force-fed a diet of ugly duckling fables to which they cannot possibly relate. They are compelled to endure endless Disney movies that tell them that true beauty lies inside. In high school, the most interesting teachers favor the brainy students who are rendered ambitious by social resentments and who have time on Saturday nights to sit at home and develop adult-pleasing interests in Miles Davis or Lou Reed. After graduation the popular and good-looking have few role models save for local weathermen and game-show hosts, while the nerds can emulate any number of modern moguls, from Bill Gates to Sergey Brin. For as it is written, the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the Earth.
On a related and slightly more serious note, Bobo culture, together with the outrageous behaviour of technology companies, are the reason, I think, that the “geek” is becoming the most hated subculture on the planet – among ordinary people, that is.
Don’t be fooled by the tech press: geeks and tech entrepreneurs aren’t, and won’t ever be, cool. They have many virtues, but coolness isn’t one of them.
I wondered whether it would feel like grief. Whether I could Kübler-Ross it, sketch out the stages, predict when the process would come to an end. But it’s quite a different feeling to the enormity of helplessness and loss I felt when my grandmother died last year. There are feelings a bit like grief that surface from time to time. But this is the first time in my life I have failed at something I wanted so desperately to make a success. And I have failed spectacularly.
Things hadn’t been going right for a while, and people had noticed. My shoulders were slumped, my head was drooping. Something in me knew this was coming. I was already sensing that I might not really be cut out for a permanently combative life: The Kernel’s journalism was always more robust than its editor. I worried it was doing something ugly to me on the inside.
The Nutshell, our gossipy newsletter, in particular, brought out the bits of my personality I have grown to like the least.
Perhaps that’s why, though I think it’s something others feel too when it all goes tits-up, I am flooded with relief. Relief tempered by immense regret, yes, but relief at freedom from bondage. It’s odd, actually, sitting at home with nothing to do. I’d forgotten what the place looked like. Nowhere to go. Nothing to be late for or prepare notes for or worry about or write emails about. Jesus: I’m unemployed!
The sight of a diary wiped clean is temporarily liberating. I get a flicker of titillation from the fact that after eighteen months of twelve-hour days and months of travelling when I’d be in my own bed at home perhaps ten days in three months, the rest spent in hotels and on friends’ couches, that I could, right now, if I wanted to, fire up Netflix and just watch TV all day and eat ice cream. I imagine a lot of recent failures get quite fat.
The longer you hide, of course, the greater your apprehension at going outside again. That tricky first public appearance. You know people are talking, and you probably have some idea what they’re saying, but what you can’t bear is the uncertainty about what they will say to you. Will it be awkward? Pitying? Will they laugh? Should you laugh, too? Is this a funeral?
There’s a sense of open space. You’re not yet ready to see it as opportunity; instead, it feels oppressive, shaming. Why am I not in the office? Guilt and shame are unproductive and friends will tell you not to indulge them. They will be kind and say you shouldn’t be feeling them: that you deserve the opposite. You were brave, you tried something bold, you put it all on the line, ignore the haters. You’ll get a lot of that and although it comes from a place of love it is all terrible advice.
You need to ride those feelings out; to see them through. It’s what’s left of you after the reckoning that you take with you to your next endeavour. Newsflash: you are right to feel guilty and ashamed. I, particularly, have just cause to feel both. In a series of emails to one former employee I wrote things of which I am not proud. She did not deserve them, and I will have to live with them. And there are others who have suffered financially through my incompetence. But more on that another time.
More than anything else, it’s the disorientation and fury with yourself at how easy it is to temporarily forget something so enormous that dogs you in the post-venture void. For months after Nana Petra died I would pick up the phone and start searching for her number. I knew she’d want to know that Mariah Carey was going to be a judge on on American Idol. Sometimes you get as far as being angry that no one is picking up.
You jump out of bed and shower, forgetting for a moment there’s no one to be clean for. You go to write, forgetting for a moment there’s nowhere to publish it any more. You start planning an event that will never happen. A thousand little deaths a day. So it’s easier to stare listlessly at the wall for a few hours instead.
The emails aren’t coming any more. People aren’t calling. Invitations are drying up. The silence takes hold of you.
When your brain starts to wind down after months or even years of feverish activity, there are moments of ecstatic calm that feel almost religious. You are free. But there are also dark moments that creep up on you. You feel useless, pathetic, a joke. You find yourself wondering idly whether any of the kitchen knives would do the trick. How much paracetamol you have in the house. That sort of thing. You start to lose your grip on common sense.
Anchor yourself to those you love. Chances are they’ll have offered already, but, if they haven’t, impose. That’s what friends are there for. Doubtless they won’t know what to say or do, but they can tell you when you’re being a fucking idiot.
Remember that you are good enough, and that acting out of sincerity, aspiration, compassion and love are the best anyone can expect of you. Identify the failings in your business, when you can bear to do the autopsy. (It may be some months.) Chances are it went wrong when ego and pride took over. When the grieving is over and the wrongs righted, you will rise again, strength redoubled, faith restored.
So take the time to heal. I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do for the next few months, or how I’ll pay my bills, but I’m OK with that. There is no shame in downtime. You need it to retreat, regroup and recharge. But don’t slide off the map for ever, or completely: keep doing some work on the side, of some kind, so returning to the real world isn’t a total shock.
Some of us are born broken. We need to impose our will on others; to fix flaws, to refashion the world around us. These efforts usually fail, but, when they succeed, great art is made and great companies are built. I have no idea what I will do with the rest of my life, though I do know I never want to work for anyone else for any prolonged period of time and that I’m not happy unless I’m creating something.
One of my dreams is, at least for now, dead. But I wouldn’t trade the volatility and excitement of this life for the tedium of job security, my own office and and a good pension plan. I’d rather die. In fact, I couldn’t: it’s part of me, this irrepressible urge to build and aspire. It will always get me into trouble but it’s what keeps me away from the cutlery drawer, and it’s what will grow inside me until it bursts out as my next project. We do what we do, ill-equipped as we are, because we have no choice.
“My whole concern is to first get rid of all the polemical, negative stuff in me; I want to sing assiduously the whole scale of my hostile feelings, up and down, really outrageously, so that ‘the vault resounds’. Later – five years later – I shall chuck all the polemics and think of a good work. But now my heart is downright congested with aversion and oppression; so I must expectorate, decently or indecently, but once and for all.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, letter dated 19 March 1874
This quotation, in Brian Magee’s book Wagner and Philosophy, spoke to me tonight after an email from a friend who is both perceptive and wise. It’s a journey I think I too have been on, but one that has now come to an end.
In business, I’m guilty of incompetence and over-optimism. Not great crimes, all things considered. But in my attitude, personal life and so often in my writing, I owe it to myself to be a better man than I have been.
For too long I have hurt others because I too was hurting; lived for public pride in that way people with brittle self-esteem so often do. I know a lot of bitter and lonely old men who chose ego over love. I don’t want to become one of them.
You claimed on Twitter that some funding [for The Kernel] came from a legacy in your grandmother’s will. I understand that she died in March 2012. Are you saying that the probate was completed and a payment made by September? My experience of probate suggests that six months is an impossibly brief period for processing.