Matt Neary

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All the world’s a stage

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Anxiety is the writer’s block of life. When you’re really anxious you don’t feel equipped to be your life’s author. You go to do something, anything, and you’re filled with uncertainty. Even small decisions feel significant, and one choice feels filled with implications about what choices will follow. It’s like you’re trying to start an essay and you can’t pick a first sentence—you imagine where it would lead and keep coming to dead ends.

This is because life is a story that we write—it’s natural that we get stuck sometimes. However, we don’t have to write the story alone: every shared experience, every sort of common ground, is a way of writing our stories together.

If you zoom out beyond the individual, to the level of society, you see the same thing. At the societal level it’s history and culture that are being written. In times of crisis a society can feel unable to continue the...

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Here’s to the crazy ones

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Apple’s most iconic ad featured a cast of famous misfits, rebels, and dreamers. I think Michel Foucault would’ve been a worthy addition. The campaign linked the company to a certain philosophy of the world—and this worldview, with its particular understanding of social change, has a lot in common with the work of Michel Foucault and the other founders of critical theory. A later interview with Steve Jobs, in which Steve says the following, makes the connection clear:

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can...

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Instafamous

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Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” He was onto something. The nature of fame has changed a lot since then, because the nature of the media has changed. Warhol was working in an age of mass media—as is so well captured in his art. We now live in the age of democratized media and democratized media have democratized fame. The users of these democratized media, like Instagram, live partly in a virtual copy of the world. As in the work of Warhol, fame generates icons, and these icons take on a life of their own. In Dead Celebrities, Living Icons, cultural critic John David Ebert suggests that this is the very transformation Warhol anticipated:

Indeed, looking back over the various biographies of the celebrities we have covered in this book, it becomes clear that they represent the pioneers, as it were, of the current mass exodus into hyperreality...

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Why Race into Space?

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In the twentieth century space exploration reached its zenith during the Cold War. At this point, space exploration was revealed to be about two things above all. First, space was made the arena for a new sort of competition between nations. While America and Soviet Russia were engaged in a cold war, space exploration became the scale by which to measure the effectiveness of the two countries and, in fact, by which to measure the effectiveness of their respective paradigms of governance. America set out to prove that a free society will ultimately outperform a centrally-planned communist regime. This was not obvious.

Additionally, space was rightly perceived as a realm with great power for war and peace. The conquest of space as satellites were pushed into orbit around the planet was the source of great anxiety. Those countries that could do this first would gain the higher ground...

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Idea Filters

Nowadays everything seems replaceable. Discussion of the successors to credit cards and gas-powered cars is common in a way that discussion of those to paper currency and oil lamps never was. The status quo is so quickly shifting that any everyday annoyance is seen as a gap to be quickly filled, an opportunity waiting for any company that will seize it.

Of course, however, not everyone who notices such an annoyance will jump to form a company around it. Most people never really pursue these ideas; they acknowledge them and patiently await their solution by someone else. Those who do attempt a solution will only do so up to a certain cost. It’s human nature to be at least somewhat risk averse. Your valuation of cost, however, is not strictly a function of missed opportunities or necessary resources; this blow can often be softened when a project is compatible with your identity and...

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