The ClickBait Headline Jar

It started on Facebook:

Facebook Post: The ClickBait Swear Jar

And then I decided to expand the thought

Because I think it’s true. I think we might save civilization if we could band together and say no to click bait-y headlines.

It comes from a lot of reading — reading things that don’t have click bait-y titles. Brain science stuff like Thinking, Fast and Slow, and The Art of Thinking Clearly, and The Organized Mind, and Blink. Combined with productivity stuff that talks about how we focus (like Getting Things Done, and What’s Best Next, and many others)

The conclusion I’m coming to is that by constantly feeding ourselves dumb things with intriguing headlines, we’re creating neural pathways and reinforcing them — and they point to “I like to read dumb things.”

And listen, at my core, I like to read dumb things. But it’s not good for civilization. We need to reach for better, right?

You can tell a lot about people by what they celebrate, what is “famous.” Our cultural celebration of stupidity doesn’t look good on us. What does it say about us that one of the biggest stories of the last week is a basketball player agreeing to a deal and then reneging, and the “hilarious” fall out on twitter? Or that among the presidential candidates for 2016, the ones currently getting the most attention are often political caricatures rather than decent human beings? What does it mean that we’re more interested in celebrity gossip than producing something great?

I know the “save civilization” thing might play a little heavy. Maybe it’s doing exactly what those headlines do.

Or maybe not. Maybe civilization that becomes obsessed with stupidity eventually becomes stupider. If that’s the case — and I very strongly suspect it might be — then it’s no joke.

So, go read something significant. Like What is Code or Understanding the Greek Debt Crisis. Whatever you do, please, if the headline is trying to drag you into reading something dumb, please avoid it. Or else, put some money in the jar.

It’s not the pinnacle, it’s the baseline

How many bad books do you look at in a week? I’m aware that my number is skewed high because of my profession, but my guess is that if you’re active on Facebook and Twitter, you probably see at least one bad book a week. If you’re lucky, you see a good one, too.

There’s no lack of bad books out there. I think I’ve started to figure out one of the problems:

With the gold rush we experienced where everyone was trying to publish a book an get rich quickly, we’ve gotten confused. We’ve decided that a well-written, well-edited, beautifully designed and printed (or formatted for eReader screens) book is the pinnacle. It’s the ultimate, something you can aspire to one day accomplish.

But it’s not. It’s the baseline. It’s the bare minimum for readers to be interested. There are books that seem an exception to that, but they’re exceptions — you cannot expect to recreate an exception. You have to figure out what the market usually wants, not what worked that one time.

The market wants good books. All the time. That means spending either time or money (or, more likely, both) on ensuring that your book is good. And that only gets you to the starting line. Then, you’ve got to market, publicize, and sell. If you manage to capture some magic, your book connects with your audience. But the good book is the baseline, not the pinnacle. If we could get this straight, we’d have fewer confused authors.

Gots to Get Paid

Guess what? Making Money Is Hard

Chalk this up as a post about something that was a big deal on the internet three weeks ago. There’s been a lot of hoopla over in the video game community about Valve setting up a system for paid mods in a game called Skyrim. [Tycho from Penny Arcade] ( “Ethically Sourced”) chimed in and made an interesting comment:

As someone who pays their rent with ostensibly “creative” work, I know a lot of people who supplement their income with creative endeavor, and so hearing that mod creators were being paid twenty-five percent of the purchase price for this content wasn’t as shocking to me as it must have been for others. That’s every day for many creators: in truth, most would be paid a single sum as many as three months after they made the work, and would not be remunerated for subsequent sales at all. I’m not saying that’s awesome, or anything. People have this very strange thing they do where you will make a statement of fact, and then they will imagine that you are advocating for that fact, when you are actually making an observation. But, knowing the state of play may help reveal some of the decision making. Sometimes, when you’re trying to make a new version of something, the bugs get ported too.

And I thought, yeah, I know that’s right. Then, I went and read [the surrender/announcement from Valve.] ( “Valve Surrenders”) And I read some of the comments. This one, from user “Funky Munky,” really blew me away:

Why exactly did Valve think they were entitled to 30% of the profits? All they (Valve) did was create the infrastructure. 30% is just extortion. That’s like paying the government for every kilometre I drive instead of paying registration. Rediculous greed.

We have a tendency to see numbers and make gut-level calls about whether or not they are “fair” without understanding the context. I think that’s what the Penny Arcade post sublty points out. I don’t have a lot of context for the video game industry, but I do for the book industry.

Amazon, for instance, takes 55% of the retail price of a print book as its “share.” Fairly across the board. “All they did was create the infrastructure!” one could argue. One wouldn’t even be wrong — but it doesn’t matter. The infrastructure is worth whatever they say it’s worth. You can choose to use it or not, but if you choose to use it, it’s worth 55%.

Big, New York publishers pay, typically, 6% royalties on paperback books — and a lot of the branded series are done as work for hire — a flat fee, no royalties. So, buy one copy or ten, the author got paid what they got paid, and the publisher is either making bank or still trying to figure out where they went wrong.

It’s hard to make money

It really is. In the video game example we’re discussing, Valve “only built the infrastructure,” but no one complaining has any clue what that cost. The accounting system alone, to take payments, divvy them up properly, pay all the parties involved, and remit proper tax paperwork, is going to eat at Valve’s “extortion” level profits. Then you have server costs, customer service costs, development cost that’s being amortized over these sales.

At it’s core, this is what I wish we would decide as a community:

It’s worth paying people for really great work.

I see it locally. I see it in my own life. I certainly see it on the internet. We all think we deserve access to great stuff for free. We’re spoiled. We wouldn’t dare walk into a craftsman’s workshop and say, “Hey, that beautiful piece of metalwork? The one that you made because it’s your passion? I’ll take that for free.” But we do it to people who create electronic products all the time. We’re like Bob and Doug McKenzie, trying to get our beer for free.

The best use of your money is paying for good things. Electricity, water, food, art, movies…all of those are good things. So are great game experiences, great reading experiences, great music. Pay for the stuff you love. Chances are, if you do, you’ll get more of it. That seems pretty simple. But understand that there’s lots of people involved in the sale. And everyone needs to get paid. If you understand that, then you understand that it’s hard to make money.

A Whole New World

Can I start a new world?

My son asks me this question about his mine craft life all the time. I know, I know, what kind of parenting-fascists must we be if we demand to be in control of the worlds he creates in minecraft?

I want him to be able to do hard things. I love new stuff. I love learning about something new, I love the ease that comes with reading all the research and help documents and stuff.

Know what I’m not good at? I’m not good at sustaining the effort past that initial “fun, learning new stuff” stage.

As a result, I’m a self-made jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

Minecraft is pretty similar, truly. When you create a new world, there’s the fun of Ooh, where did I start? Bonus chest! Build a house. Find some resources. Build the basics. But you know what’s hard? Sustaining the effort to build huge things. Sustaining the effort and not giving up. Bringing order where there isn’t any.

Of course, the correct response is, “Minecraft is a world exploration game, let him explore.” I hear you. I hear you. I just don’t want him to only be good at the beginning of things. I want him to be a finisher.

I’m still trying to learn that, and I’m thirty-two.

My name is Andrew, I’m thirty-two, and I’m a recovering serial-starter.