The Creator’s Culture

March 18th, 2009

She walked on. She stopped at the window of a bookstore. The window displayed a pyramid of slabs in brownish-purple jackets, inscribed: The Vulture is Molting. “The novel of our century,” said a placard. “The penetrating study of a businessman’s greed. A fearless revelation of man’s depravity.”

She walked past a movie theater. Its light wiped out half a block, leaving only a huge photograph and some letters suspended in blazing mid-air. The photograph was of a smiling young woman; looking at her face, one felt the weariness of having seen it for years, even while seeing it for the first time. The letter said: “… in a momentous drama giving the answer to the great problem: Should a woman tell?”

What had she hoped to find?–she thought, walking on. These were the things men lived by, the forms of their spirit, of their culture, of their enjoyment. She had seen nothing else anywhere, not for many years.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

Although it may be superficial to define yourself by the clothes you wear and the music you listen to, the fact is that these things are indicative of the person you are.

Music, clothing, films, books — these are all elements of culture. They each, to varying degrees, represent what the individual values. For example, if they love TV shows like Desperate Housewives, that might say that quality and meaning are not things they value.

This does not mean, of course, that people should be judged solely by what music they listen to and what they like to read. Humans are much too complex to be reduced to such simplistic analysis. But what it does mean is that culture can be used as signs of what certain individuals value.

Unfortunately, American popular culture is, on the whole, absolute junk. This is a large field, but there is a certain trend I have noticed that I would like to focus on: the celebration of the lazy.

Idolizing the Lazy

Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton are famous for… being attractive daughters of other famous people. Whether it is real or not, they have created personalities for themselves in which they do as little as they possibly can, and revel in their comfortable and lavish lifestyles. Glory here comes from how much they can consume and how much time they can waste on meaningless things, not on what and how much they can produce.

People follow them and the minutia of their lives, reading about their new car, what they are wearing, and even their false life problems.

I am not sure what has caused this, but I see it all over the place. It appears that as a society, we celebrate consumption — buying, watching, eating, wearing — but not production.

Consumption, even on the Internet, is passive. There is no thinking involved, no positive creation happening. There is no value created, only used.

That scares me. I know I lapse into this; it is much easier, and more immediately gratifying, to watch an episode of The Office than write something. But this shuts down our minds.

It scares me, because producing something takes work and thought. Writing a story requires a person to find some insight that they did not see before, and to write something which illustrates this insight to the reader.

Creating things requires an active mind, one that is constantly looking, evaluating, thinking. It is through this that we discover new things about the world, and push ourselves forward, step by step.

Idolizing the lazy is to idolize the unthinking.

Creator’s Culture

I am attracted to the Mac and web developer community.1 Something about it is incredibly exciting — and until today, I was not sure precisely what it is.

This morning, I read that passage from Atlas Shrugged, and it clicked. The reason I love this community is this: hard work, passion, and creation are valued more than anything else.

Think about it. Like all good communities, the Mac community has a mythology which exemplifies what members believe in. This community’s mythology is simple: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer in a garage, and through a genuine belief in the power of computers, and by working their asses off, they defined a new industry.

This mythology still guides the community. The heroes of the Mac community are mostly independent developers who, either on their own or with a small team, wrote great software and became really successful. And they did it through hard work.

Brent Simmons. Daniel Jalkut. Cabel Sasser. Wil Shipley.

There are a few characteristics they all have in common.

The first is they really believe in what they are doing. They are not developing Mac (and iPhone) applications because there is a fortune to be made — they are developing their applications because they believe they are really, really good. “Passionate” does not really capture it; this is their life’s work.

The second is hard work. Developing an application, and running a business on top of it, is incredibly difficult. But by working their asses off, even when sometimes it is tempting to give up, they have each created something great.

Brent Simmons gave this advice:

There are distractions every day and night. It’s worse if you live in a city like San Francisco: there are opportunities to hang out with your tribe every minute of every day. It’s easy to talk big about your big app.

But you have to actually build it. You have to work every day. You have to sit in the chair and stay seated. And sleep and come back to the chair. You need to wear out that chair and then buy a new one and then wear out that one.

The third is creation. In this community, production is valued. Members celebrate other individual’s hard work, congratulating them when they release their new products. And this is not some half-hearted congratulations; people mention it to others, review it on their weblog — they use their time to promote other people’s work because they believe in it, and they believe hard work by passionate people deserves to be discussed. In some cases, they do this with competing products.

That is incredible. Hard work, creativity, passion, production — that is what is rewarded and celebrated.

This community is something special, a bit of a haven of productive culture in a storm of laziness. This aspect of the community, I think, should be celebrated.

  1. I mean, generally, the creative professional community, which tends to center around the Mac and web development. It is difficult to explain precisely what its bounds are, but I think you all know what I mean by it. []