Just Walk Away

5 11 2009

I’m really not one of those “techie” types, so it was mostly out of passing curiosity that I clicked on a featured link at WordPress titled Joel Spolsky, Snake-Oil Salesman.

If memory serves, Joel Spolsky is the author of a web site called Joel on Software. Hence my disinterest. Just the same, someone went through one of his recent posts with a fine-toothed comb and came to the following conclusion:

Well, perhaps it’s time I should exercise some time management techniques that I should have used years ago — and simply stop reading Joel.

As if often the case, the comments section is full of me-tooism, denouncing Joel Spolsky and dismissing his missives as, in so many words, superfluous and unnecessary.

I have no opinion about Joel Spolsky, his supporters, or his detractors.

What I will note is that it wasn’t all that long ago on the geological scale of things that people like Robert Scoble, Seth Godin, and Hugh MacLeod had their own gravitational pull and eventually, all roads led to their (and others) web sites, books, conference appearances, and mere utterances.

This is the first time that I have devoted enough calories to those names to even commit them to print in years.

I don’t envy them. I don’t harbor strong personal feelings about them. I just don’t find them relevant to my day-to-day affairs.

So I walked away. Without fanfare.

And though I certainly would like my personal circumstances to be “better”, put mildly, at no time have I found myself regretting the decision to direct my attention elsewhere.

On the subject of attention, I suppose these mechanics are still in play in today’s internet, but empathetically I felt sorry for people like Robert Scoble as people weren’t necessarily interested in him personally, or anything he had to say, but how they could leverage his popularity for their own ends. I don’t recall directly receiving the benefits of “getting Scobled”, but even indirectly a link in the comments section was worth dozens of web visitors.

My contention, as I examined these mechanics and addressed the folks that lamented that insufficient web traffic (in their view) was being received via the “attention economy” by noting that “traffic” is just that. People walking down Michigan Avenue are only walking, until they enter a store. Even then, walking through a store does not automatically equate to sales. Indeed, “attention” is sought from prospective customers, and one hopes that gaining that attention will in fact translate into commerce, but it’s not guaranteed.

People who insist that the mere act of attracting attention is by its nature lucrative are indeed, as alleged at top, in the snake oil business.

When I read lamentations that “not enough” web traffic was being received, I asked, what was the expected outcome? What if the next day 1,000 unique visitors clicked through to one page of your web site? What then? How would this be perceived as a benefit?

Upon examination, one web site owner believed that by the very act of writing something deep, truthful, and profound online must result in a global awareness of that screed, up to and including wholesale changes to existing public and private records, if not policy. This attitude is similar to a former friend from long ago who believed that all he had to do was enter a crowded building and by his very presence would attract single women, of which he would have his pick. He was often very bitter as he left such places alone.

(Note: Good heavens, that web site owner is still going at it, with the exact same complaints about lacking global recognition and dismissing what traffic is currently received as insignificant. I felt blood rush to my face in anger as I clicked away, never to return.)

One day, when I felt as though I could be part of the solution to this person’s ailments, I asked directly if this person sought to be a “thought leader”. This was answered in the affirmative. And that marked my decision to break company.

As the article linked at top points up, “thought leaders” are doing somebody’s thinking, and if they’re doing yours in a professional (or even personal) capacity, who are you thinking for?

As I opted to think for myself and put aside the warnings and assertions of the Thought Leaders, I pondered what it was that the Thought Leaders craved more than anything. The answer, I believe, is devotion. Devoted followers that will attend their lectures. Devoted followers that will buy their books. Devoted followers that will parrot their ideology. Devoted followers that will ultimately provide a means for living a comfortable lifestyle without much regard for those that made that lifestyle possible.

That disregard, upon discovery, was distasteful to me and I walked away, without fanfare.

Without regrets.

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