Category Archives: Advice

Infographic: 12 Visual Principles For Everyday Design

Design is essential and affects so much of our work. But design is also expensive. And the tech world, social media, the web, and business are full of designs we do ourselves. Profile pages, presentations, for example. Turning to designers is a luxury that takes time and money. And I care about quality too, so this infographic on visual design principles for everybody caught my eye.

I got it from Payman Taei, founder of online design tool Visme. I was attracted to Visme some time ago and I’m still on the email list. But, to be honest, I haven’t used it. I’m passing this on because it seems really well done and useful. And, for the record, it comes along with a useful blog post that explains these principles with more examples. (And no, this is not a paid insertion or paid post; I just like this content. There are no paid posts on this blog.)

Created using Visme. An easy-to-use Infographic Maker.

Take Real Steps to Fight Sexism in Tech

Harassment in the workplace. Sexism. Genderism. Bigotry and prejudice. Brogramming. Not just everywhere, but also in high tech, which – you’d think – should have been advanced past that backwardness.

Silicon Valley too. Blue city, blue industry, in a blue state. If you’ve been off the grid for a while, read this from the New York Times, Or google “Dave McClure Apology”, “Chris Sacca apology”, or “Justin Calder harassment” and you’ll see. Or just go straight to google brogramming. And these are just the most recent tip of the iceberg.

I don’t want to just wring my hands and write how bad it is (although I can’t resist some of that, but I’m putting it at the end, below) … I have compiled some lists of what, concretely, you can do about it.

Steps to fight sexism in tech. Seriously. Now.

Minda Zetlin published a three-point list in this article in Inc:

  1. VCs must publish the percentage of their funds they invest in women- and non-white-led startups.
  2. Hire more female VCs.
  3. Create an organization where women can make anonymous complaints.

Stephanie Manning of Leher Hippeau Ventures published a five-point plan (excerpts):

  1. Talk about it. Blog about it, Tweet about it, or reach out to your team about it. Acknowledge that this is unacceptable behavior and communicate to your team that this isn’t how you do business. Don’t think this isn’t my fund, this isn’t my co-investor, this isn’t my problem. It’s a problem for all of us.
  2. Don’t be creepy. Just don’t. Don’t put yourself in a position where actions or words could be misinterpreted. If you think “could this be crossing the line?” go out of your way to make sure you’re on the right side of the line and then take 5 steps back.
  3. STSD. Shut that sh*t down. If you are a male leader or any male within your organization and hear or see inappropriate things coming from your colleagues, shut it down. Right then and there. You can choose to do it in front of everyone or pull that person aside, but do it in real time. Make sure to follow up with the female who received the inappropriate comment to let her know that behavior will not be tolerated, you’ve confronted the individual, and you’d like to know if anything else comes up.
  4. Diversify. Look at your team, maybe you have all male leaders/partners/executives but where are the women? If they are already on your team, include them in important meetings and decision making. Studies show diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones so it’s mutually beneficial to bring more women to the table.
  5. Educate yourself. Don’t use the few women on your team as the go-to “token females” to answer all your questions about gender diversity. Seek out feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Reach out to friends at companies that tackle diversity and inclusion exceptionally well.

Human rights of women entrepreneurs

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, published a manifesto titled The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs that concluded with a pledge that all of us should take. He has his own list of three points (excerpts):

  1. VCs should understand that they have the same moral position to the entrepreneurs they interact with that a manager has to an employee, or a college professor to a student. If you are interested in pursuing a business relationship of some kind, you forfeit the prospect of pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship.
  2. If anyone sees a venture capitalist behaving differently from this standard, they should disclose this information to their colleagues as appropriate – just as one would if one saw a manager interacting inappropriately with an employee, or a college professor with a student.
  3. Any VC who agrees that this is a serious issue that deserves zero tolerance – and I certainly hope most do think this way – should stop doing business with VCs who engage in this behavior. LPs should stop investing. Entrepreneurs of all genders should stop considering those VCs.

And finally, an earlier list, 5 Ways For Men in Tech to Support Workforce Equality While Barely Trying, published in 2015 by Megan Berry, head of Product at OctaneAI and previously RebelMouse (also one of my four daughters). Megan wasn’t in the specific context of venture capital and investors, but was very much immersed in the day-to-day of high tech. She had her own 5-point list (again, excerpts)

  1. I’ll get it”. It’s all too common for the woman in the room to be asked to get coffee or water or pick up lunch. It’s usually done casually, even unintentionally, but all too often. Here’s a thank you to the guys who interrupt the ask to the only woman in the woman and say “I’ll get it.”
  2. Actually, you’re the pretty face.” True story. I was once leaving the office to give a talk, accompanied by a male co-worker. As we were getting ready to go, he made a joke about how I was the “pretty face.” A coworker told him, “Actually, you’re the one we’re sending to be the pretty face. She’s giving the talk.” Whenever you can turn a sexist joke back on the joketeller, women everywhere will thank you.
  3. Come grab a drink with us!” It’s easy for the only woman in a group to feel unsure if she’s welcome at the happy hour, the casual beers in the office or similar situations. These casual environments are important for anyone’s career. You gain mentorship, bond with your coworkers and get the insider knowledge to advance in the company. Don’t assume she feels welcome, welcome her.
  4. What do you think we should do?” Women are more hesitant to speak up in meetings than men. This is a generalization and not a rule (just ask my coworkers, I’m sure they’ll assure you I have no issue speaking up), but if you find yourself in a meeting with only one woman in the room, it can’t hurt to make sure she feels comfortable speaking up. It’s so easy to do and, hey, maybe she’ll have the best idea in the room.
  5. It’s so easy a dad could use it” The examples we use in everyday language and business are surprisingly powerful. If you talk about it being so easy a “mom could use it” I encourage you to push your creativity a step forward to think beyond the simplest of stereotypes.

OMG it’s 2017!

Jeez! This sh*t was obsolete years ago. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and even then, already, my mom taught me better than this. And, God knows, there was a whole lot of bias back then. (Mad Men was realistic for my generation. But it’s been 50 some years since Betty Friedan first published The Feminine Mystique. And 35 years since my sister encountered sexism in her career in Silicon Valley high tech. And 20 since one of my daughters first encountered it.

For those of us old white guys, it’s way too easy to forget, or ignore, that this is going on. I was shocked when my sister encountered it in a 1980s tech company that eventually went public. Shocked and saddened, when I discovered, via my daughters (I have four daughters, all in tech) first encountered it was they merged into the work world beginning in the late 1990s. Dismayed when my youngest got it in a San Francisco SOMA startup in 2012.

For the record, I haven’t been ignoring it. I’ve been fighting it. It’s been a thing in this blog for 10 years. I may be older white male, but I do know right from wrong.

Sexism in tech is a cancer. Stop it.

Did You Get Screwed in Business

This is a true story. I was there. The details are possibly not exact, and the quotes are paraphrased, but the essentials are true.  A startup founder was pitching to 22 local investors. The group had asked him to pitch because we liked his summary materials. He was local to us and had an interesting product. But he got screwed. I got screwed

This is what happened

  • Two minutes into the pitch, he said he had been screwed by a partner in a previous venture.
  • Ten minutes into the pitch, he said that he had been screwed by attorneys in a previous business deal.
  • Fifteen minutes into the pitch, he said he’d been screwed by an employee he had to fire.

Normally, after every pitch, after the founder has left and we’re alone, the group takes time to discuss what we saw and heard. In this case, the room was quiet for a few seconds. Then one of us said:

“One thing we know for sure … if we invest in that guy, he’ll be blaming us for it later.”

Everybody laughed.

He didn’t get the investment from us. Do you know why not?

This is what reminded me

This morning I saw this question in Quora, the world’s best question and answer site.

Every time I’ve gone into business, I’ve gotten screwed badly, either by partners or by customers. How do I avoid this the next time around?”

I’m answering here first.

Service for Equity Formula

Say you are a service provider – consultant, designer, coder – and somebody offers you startup equity in exchange for professional service. I pondered this question after seeing it on Quora. I turned back to decades as a consultant, and decades dealing with startups, to come up with this sure-proof service for equity formula. Try it. You’ll be glad you did.

Background: My actual experience with service for equity

I dealt with this problem a lot during my consulting decades. I was based in Silicon Valley from late 1970s through early 1990s, doing business plans, business planning, and market research for high-tech companies (Apple Computer more than any other) and startups. No big established company ever offered me equity – meaning a portion of ownership – for my services. Several startups did.

I was gullible and optimistic. I worked for several startups, as a consultant, for small pieces of ownership. I learned the hard way that startup equity is an extreme long shot, million-to-one odds at best.  It got so bad that I promised my wife that I would never consult again for equity.

But then something happened to trip me up. One of my service for equity clients took off. It became a big success. And I had equity. So I made a lot of money with it. Oops, There went the assumptions.

Specifics: My service for equity formula

First: you decide what you’d charge without the equity offering. Call that the fair value.

Second: figure out the minimum that you’d charge in order to not hate yourself, your client, and the job if the equity works out to be worth nothing. Call that the absolute minimum.

Third: Subtract the absolute minimum from the fair value. Call that the difference

The kicker: consider whether or not you like this client, like working with him or her, will learn from the job, and experience you can gain. Rank that as a number between 1 and 10, in which 1 is a very positive job and relationship, with a lot to learn, and the pleasure of working with somebody you want to work with; and a 10 is that total idiot client you can’t stand working with, you don’t respect, you don’t learn from, and is likely to hassle you for more work for less money. A 1 is somebody with whom you’d work for free if you didn’t need the money. A 10 is a loser who makes your life miserable. Call that number the “life is too short” ranking.

Here is my recommendation, in numbers, with formulas based on these variables:

service for equity formula
And here’s another rendition, this time one with more difference between fair value and absolute minimum:


The adjustment for value of equity

But wait, what? You’re noticing, I hope, that I’m entirely ignoring the alleged value of the equity involved. What a dufus! This whole thing is about the trade of service for equity. Right?

No. This is the real world. The odds on a startup getting from this point to having its equity actually worth money are about one in a million. Make your decision based on the life is too short ranking, not the value. Startup equity is so unlikely to ever generate real value that you can’t survive in a professional service doing your work for equity. Believe me.

Still, if you insist that this is a great startup, here’s how to adjust for the equity that is driving you crazy. Do this adjustment for that great startup that you love. It has a great team, great market, real potential. You really want a piece of it:

  • Do the ones you’ve ranked 5 or less on the life is too short scale for the absolute minimum.
  • Do those you’ve ranked 6 or 7 on the life is too short scale for the fair value.
  • Do those you’ve ranked more than 7 on the life is too short scale for exactly what the formula says. Why? That makes no sense, you say? You do it that way because in those cases, you’re wrong. They are far less likely to succeed than you think. People who rank that high on the life is too short scale end up messing up their opportunities, and failing.

But how do you charge 2 or 3 times market value?

Of course you won’t be able to charge what my formula suggests for the clients in the 7–10 range in the life is too short ranking. That’s okay. You don’t want those clients. They kill your productivity for the other clients you do want. So you price so high that if – heaven forbid – they do say yes, at least your pricing has made it worth it.

For the record, this post started as my answer to this question on Quora: My client wants me to work partially on equity, how do I calculate my costs?

What About Business Schools and Creativity?

Stanford Prof. James March

I’m generally an advocate of education over ignorance, but there is the issue of business schools and creativity.

A business professor’s wisdom

The best class I took at the Stanford Business School during my MBA years (1979-81) was taught by Professor James March, co-author of the book An Introduction to Models in the Social Science. It was about the same subject. He was funny. He was contrarian. He was brilliant. He had a mathematical model of a cocktail party that predicted how many people would be passed out at the end of the party, based on inputs including how many couples, how many singles, and, particularly important, how many more male singles than female singles. That may be too gender-specific for today’s world, but it was applicable 30 years ago.

I liked and respected Prof. March so much that in the middle 1980s I tried to get him to join me in what would have been a venture to create a game that teaches business. Prof. March didn’t join me and I didn’t create the new venture. I continued with my business plan consulting instead.

I’ve never forgotten the conversation we had over lunch that day. I can’t remember the exact words, of course, but Prof. March reminded me that there is an underlying conflict between education and creativity. He was an educator, but he was also a contrarian and a thinker, so he enjoyed flanking our standard assumptions.

Schools teach conformity

“Schools teach conformity,” he said. “Education is about reinforcing the supposed right way of doing something, meaning the way we’ve always done it, the way the establishment expects us to do it.” Schools taught that the world is flat until a renegade proved otherwise.

“New ideas come from people that haven’t been indoctrinated,” he said. This was of course before the phrase “think outside the box” came along, but he would have referenced that if we’d been later in time. Schooling is about learning how to think inside the box. If you believe this line of reasoning.

Here again, I run into paradox. I believe in education but I also believe what Prof. March suggests. Is the answer that you have to know the fundamentals before you transcend them?

Put Your MBA into Your Work, Not Your Title

I’m shocked to note that it’s been seven years since I posted Note to MBAs: Drop the Comma MBA, please! The point was exactly what the title implies, that people with MBA degrees ought not to use that degree as a title like CPAs and MDs do.  That one sparked some surprisingly (to me) animated comments.  I’m even more convinced of that seven years later. MBA business card

The key point:

I just got another email from somebody whose email signature is “So-and-so, MBA.” Which reminds me of the business cards, and letters, and promotional material I see where people brandish those three letters after their name.

I don’t think that “MBA” thing behind your name works out for you.

It’s not a matter of licensing and regulation, like MD or CPA. It’s just a master’s degree. In this country alone, accredited institutions grant several hundred thousand masters degrees every year. That’s not including the fake degrees.

So that MBA you earned? Put it on your resume, put it on your blog’s “About” page, and put it in the management team section of your business plan when seeking loans or investment. Use it to know what you’re talking about. But leave it off your name.

I tried, in that post, to clarify that I was against brandishing the degree as a title, not against getting the degree, or against those of us who have that degree. I wasn’t criticizing MBAs in general, just the practice of putting the three letters behind the name. (Although, I do cast some doubt on some facets of the MBA degree in other posts here, while I also recommend it for some people and in some circumstances. If you’re curious, check out the series of posts here.

Lots of comments

John Wren, Denver-based startups expert, added my favorite of the several dozen comments, with this one:

I put MBA after my name as a warning. 🙂

Others approached the idea with a whole lot less sense of humor and/or perspective. One comment starts with “What a LOAD OF RUBBISH!” Another blames MBAs in general for the 2008 financial meltdown. Several people defend the practice, while others join me and John Wren in making a bit of fun about it. Several people are offended as if I were attacking their education. I wasn’t.

Put it into your work, not your title

I think that the right way to show off an MBA degree is by using it to improve your work product. Show people that you have an MBA by using the skills, background, and techniques you learned to build better businesses, deal better with people, and make better decisions.

What do you think?

(Image: my thanks to Cam Development, business card software for windows.  I used one of their samples to create the business card example shown here.)

How to Raise Successful Kids Without Overparenting

My video this week is somewhat like a compliment to my post yesterday, 5 tips on raising children as entrepreneurs. This is a TED talk from last November, Julie Lythcott-Haims: How to raise successful kids — without over-parenting. Here’s how TED summarizes:

With passion and wry humor, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford makes the case for parents to stop defining their children’s success via grades and test scores. Instead, she says, they should focus on providing the oldest idea of all: unconditional love.

She’s very concerned in this talk with the other side of the coin – not neglectful, uncaring parenting, but parenting that focuses on visible trappings of kid success:

But at the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lot of harm going on there as well, where parents feel a kid can’t be successful unless the parent is protecting and preventing at every turn and hovering over every happening, and micromanaging every moment, and steering their kid towards some small subset of colleges and careers.

And this:

What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose … What I’m saying is, our kids need us to be a little less obsessed with grades and scores and a whole lot more interested in childhood providing a foundation for their success built on things like love and chores.

She has a lot to say about defining kids and childhood beyond the kind of achievements that lead to admission to the best college. She has a good argument for including chores in childhood. And a serious plea for unconditional love instead of conditional success.

All of which makes me pleased with my post yesterday, about raising kids to be entrepreneurs. I suggested in that post that you don’t push too hard, live your own life instead of theirs, and let them study what they want, not what you want. Among other things.

5 Tips for Raising Children as Entrepreneurs

Megan_with_boots_1989_ish-croppedI’m an entrepreneur, founder of Palo Alto Software. My wife and I are parents of five grown-up children, all involved with startups (Curious? check out Palo Alto Software, Rebelmouse, and HavePresence.) Does this just “happen” by osmosis, or did my wife and I do something specific to raising children as entrepreneurs? Was it a good idea? And would I recommend other people do the same thing?

First, I should admit, we really didn’t plan it that way. I fell into entrepreneurship not because I believed in it in principle, but rather because I wanted to do what interested me and earn enough money to support the family. That became a software business in the heart of the Silicon Valley during the first PC boom; I was an entrepreneur with a Stanford MBA degree. And we never thought about raising entrepreneurs, just healthy, well-educated, happy, productive people.

So what happened? Have I learned anything about this that might help you? I’ve talked to my wife about it, as a reality check. And here’s what we think we’ve discovered, five pieces of advice for you as a parent:

1. Let them study what they want, not what you want

My wife and I believe in education. Period. Note we don’t say “business education”; I know just as many entrepreneurs with liberal arts degrees as those with business or technical degrees. So don’t push your kids into courses that promise to be the “hot fields” where opportunity exists — unless they’re already interested in one of those fields. Even then, by the time they’re out of school, the business landscape will shift several times, and what’s “hot” now will almost certainly have cooled down by tomorrow. Let them immerse themselves in learning they enjoy, subjects that already hold their interest, and they’ll find the way to learn what they need to succeed.

Of course, this approach to school pertains to higher education, not Mrs. Johnson’s fourth-grade reading class (basics are still basics)! Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the idea that kids be encouraged to just slide through school simply because a selected few of the richest entrepreneurs out there were dropouts. A handful of true giants in business lack a lot of “conventional” education, true — but for every one of them, there are a few hundred thousand others who’ve stayed the course and have the degree. Life, not to mention work, is just simpler with an education.

We practiced what I’m preaching here. We encouraged our kids to study whatever they wanted to study; but we also encouraged them to get all the way to the degree, and to study hard. All of them have college degrees now, two of them have grad degrees, and none of them studied business or entrepreneurship. Liberal arts was fine with us (not surprising, I suppose, since I’m a liberal arts first guy who started a software company).

2. Reject gender stereotypes

If your daughter loves tech, math, and science, let her study as much of it as she can handle. If your son loves art, music, or philosophy, don’t wonder if his brain just isn’t “sharp enough” for the nitty-gritty of “real life.” Stereotyping in either direction is unacceptable; don’t do it, and don’t accept it from others.

3. Don’t push

Resist the temptation to program your kids to enter any specific occupation, and especially don’t pressure them with expectations of following in your footsteps. If you invest the time and energy to encourage your kids in terms of being educated, don’t nullify all that effort by trying to shoehorn them into your own picture of what they should grow up to be. They’re supposed to do what they want, remember? Not what you want. Or are we still in the 19th century — when it didn’t work that well, either?

Doubt this? Try this trivia question: name a major movie in which a central character was supposed to go into his or her parents’ business but didn’t. Answer: tons, because this is more than a cliché: it’s an archetype. Kids have been doing this for thousands of years: witness Abraham trashing his dad’s store in the Bible! Come to think about it…Jesus didn’t end up a carpenter, either. In The Godfather, Don Corleone wanted Michael to be a senator, not the next don. And for a more recent example, take Hiro in Heroes.

Sure, it’s okay to hope they’ll want to get involved. It’s okay to dream. It’s okay to make some tentative plans to hand things off when the time comes. Maybe they will love what you do and want to do it, too. But freedom to choose is essential. Working in the business has to be their choice, not yours.

4. Trash the rose-colored glasses

I understand the strong thread in our culture of protecting kids, no matter what their age, from feeling anything but happy, positive, and enthusiastic about themselves all the time. It wants to eliminate the notion of “competition,” of winners or losers, or of failing. You’ll hear it in platitudes like “you’re all winners here!” And I coached kids’ soccer, so I went through the exercise of getting trophies for all and coming up with an award for every kid. And we were helicopter parents too, especially with our younger ones, hopping on a plane to console a daughter with a twisted knee.

Is that bad? I’m not sure.

So we didn’t harp on the cruel hard world. But every kid knows from a very early age who really won the race, no matter how many ribbons the grownups hand out — but that doesn’t mean kids need to learn to constantly hedge their bets, either. We didn’t coddle our kids or lead them to believe any false promises. Lemons happen, but lemonade isn’t always realistic, and they learned that. And some of the best ideas entrepreneurs ever get come from trying one thing, and then another, and then a third, until one “clicks” and they take off.

In our case, I’m not saying we were wise, or smart; maybe just lucky; and maybe even chronically broke, during all those years we were struggling with Palo Alto Software before it finally took off. Even if we might have wanted to wrap cocoons around our kids and buffer them from disappointment, trying, and struggle, it’s hard to actually do that when you’re bootstrapping a startup. All of our kids had to do their own homework and buckle down on occasion to do the hard things that came up.

5. Live your life, not theirs

Be an accidental, unintentional, role model. Let them see you enjoy your work when you do; and don’t pretend when you don’t. Show them where the money comes from, how your business works, how you grow it and adapt it. Let them participate in some of the details. Let them see you (and your spouse, if your spouse is so inclined) working the business goals, having realistic expectations, and dealing with setbacks. Let them see you as you are with what you do — and know it’s not the end of the world when things go wrong. From this, they’ll absorb something better than false “self-esteem”: they’ll know that it’s okay to try new things, it’s okay to experiment, and it’s okay if they don’t hit ultimate “pay dirt” the first time. They’ll still survive, and so will their parents!

People don’t always find their best place right away. Sometimes it takes one or two (or a dozen) false starts on the way to hitting one’s stride and finding the perfect fit. So don’t push your kids into corners. Let them work where they want, with whom they want, on what they want; let them learn by doing, and even learn by failing.

Entrepreneurism isn’t all there is to life, but it’s a great way to work…and live. Bottom line? In the best of all possible worlds, you’ll end up with well-educated, hardworking people who know where your business came from, and why, and have a good understanding of that when they figure out where they want their lives to go. And they’ll have what they need to go there.

(image: copyright Timothy J. Berry, 1989. Not for reproduction. This is our youngest, Megan Berry, now VP Product at Rebelmouse. Filling her dad’s shoes.)

(Ed note: does this seem familiar? I published it first on LinkedIn, then on Medium. I apologize for repetition. It came up in conversation and I wanted to bring it into the fold here, on this, my main blog.)

 

The Natural Intersection of Entrepreneurship and Meaning

Thanks for Why should you build your business around happiness? over at typeform.com for the fascinating image featured here, about the intersection of entrepreneurship and meaning. It comes from an interview with Laurence McCahill of The Happy Startup School.

Venn Diagram Entrepreneurship and Meaning

Normal people care about meaning

This matches my belief that making meaning or changing the world or having a reason why matters to people. And it matters to startups. And investors too. I can’t offer any sort of rigorous data to prove it. But my experience tells me that normal humans care about right and wrong, not doing harm, and spending their time on something that makes the world around them better. Do you agree?

The post I took this from cites research showing

“Workers with a Purpose-Orientation are the most valuable and highest potential segment of the workforce regardless of industry or role. On every measure, Purpose-Oriented Workers have better outcomes than their peers.”That means:

  • 20% longer expected tenure

  • 50% more likely to be in leadership positions

  • 47% more likely to be promoters of their employers

  • 64% higher levels of fulfillment in their work

That strikes me as completely credible. And it matches my experience. I posted along those lines on this blog with Build a Mission, among others.

Startups Make Meaning

I’ve seen this factor come up often in startup pitches to angel investors. Investors naturally give more weight to a proposed startup that does something the world needs doing. Founders are more credible, and more likable, when they grow the business from roots in entrepreneurship and meaning.

 

I see this same idea recurring in a lot of different places. One that comes to mind immediately is Guy Kawasaki’s use of “Make Meaning” as a driver of business ideas in his book The Art of The Start.

I also like to remind entrepreneurs – just as this image does – that success is not simply a matter of doing what you love and following your passion. It is also doing what other people need, want, and will pay for.

 

Do You Suffer from Distraction Sickness

Does this seem familiar to you: Distraction Sickness

I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours.

Andrew Sullivan

That’s from Andrew Sullivan: My Distraction Sickness — and Yours, in New York Magazine this week. I recognized the author’s name immediately because I’ve seen Sullivan on talk shows often. On TV he comes off as thoughtful and articulate, and he’s frequently introduced as a gay republican and prolific blogger. Here’s the first paragraph of his Wikipedia biography:

Andrew Michael Sullivan (born 10 August 1963) is an English author, editor, and blogger. Sullivan is a conservative political commentator, a former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books. He was a pioneer of the political blog, starting his in 2000. He eventually moved his blog to various publishing platforms, including Time, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and finally an independent subscription-based format. He announced his retirement from blogging in 2015.

The independent blog mentioned is The Dish, where the last post is dated June of 2015.

But that’s just background information. What’s notable about his background, in this context, is the sudden change, the lack of Andrew Sullivan writing and talking on TV in the last year. I read this piece and discovered why. And decided that what he’s calling distraction sickness might be an epidemic.

Distraction sickness

Sullivan describes a process that seemed alarmingly familiar to me – and, I bet, to you too:

Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating.

Is that not you? Ok. Nobody you know? C’mon, tell the truth.

He continued:

I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living.

Is this you?

I’m not attempting to duplicate Sullivan’s whole article here. I highly recommend you read it yourself and think about it. But here’s one more piece of it I want to add:

Our oldest human skills atrophy. GPS, for example, is a godsend for finding our way around places we don’t know. But, as Nicholas Carr has noted, it has led to our not even seeing, let alone remembering, the details of our environment, to our not developing the accumulated memories that give us a sense of place and control over what we once called ordinary life. The writer Matthew Crawford has examined how automation and online living have sharply eroded the number of people physically making things, using their own hands and eyes and bodies to craft, say, a wooden chair or a piece of clothing or, in one of Crawford’s more engrossing case studies, a pipe organ.

It certainly made me think about my level of the disease. For a split second. Before diving back into blogging.