Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

It’s Not About Money

Better a debtor than pay with a coin that does not bear our image!
– Friedrich Nietzsche

3236020116_9af37066a0_mI’ve never been motivated by money.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have been motivated by money to the extent that having money, or a relatively constant source of it, was necessitated by the need for food, shelter, and a modicum of creature comforts.

More precisely put, I’ve never been motivated to undertake a particular course of action or engage in a particular pursuit because it could potentially or even reasonably result in the acquisition and/or accumulation of wealth. I’ve just never cared that much about having money or having the more luxurious and extravagant things the enjoyment of which money so famously facilitates.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always viewed money as kind of hassle, albeit the kind of hassle that you have to deal with because, eventually, you run into other, bigger hassles that require money for their ultimate or timely alleviation. Put another way, money is the “ur-hassle” (which may be the source of money’s status as the root of all evil).

The strange thing about money, of course, is that it isn’t really anything. It has the kind of being that the philosophers and theologians refer to as “contingent.” Money, which in this era of floating exchange rates and electronic funds transfer has even lost its traditionally material substance and standard, depends on a host of non-financial entities to retain the appearance of value and fungibility. In the absence of these entities – rule of law, a functioning state, an implicit social contract, etc. –  money is quite literally not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Now, you will frequently hear folks say, “Money is the only way we have of measuring value.” While I tend to bridle at the simple equation of money and value, I get the point. If someone is willing to give you money for a good or service, you know it is worth something, as opposed to nothing. If, on the other hand, they would take it if it were free but pass it by if they had to pay, we can safely say that whatever value they may ascribe to it is so capricious as to be negligible.

Closer to the truth is something a CEO I once knew used to say, “For businesses, money is like oxygen: oxygen isn’t the point of life, but without oxygen, no life.” This fits my own notion that the most basic goal of any business is to stay in business. Money can help you achieve that goal, which is why people frequently confuse it with the goal, but it is not the goal.

This sentiment was reiterated by the Joker in The Dark Knight when he said, as he set a towering stack of bills alight, “It’s not about money; it’s about sending a message.” This spoke to me because I’ve always valued the currency of language, thought, and sentiment above all else and have thus been drawn to prize the achievements, or at least the efforts, of writers and musicians, thinkers and teachers, firebrands and demagogues.

To my cost.

Image Courtesy of jondresner.

Heidegger, Hölderlin, and Ronell – or – What Sticks in the Craw

2470380695_fd41f38779_mFunny what sticks in the craw.

I was doing a search for this pamphlet, Theory of Poverty, Poverty of Theory, a strange, Situationist tract that I bought in Berkeley long ago, when I came across the abstract for Avital Ronell’s essay, “On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Hölderlin’s ‘Andenken’.”

This essay, which I have not read, “[C]onsiders the tendency among young theorists to forget or repress poetry. As symptom, the aberrant dissociation of poetry from theory reflects an increasing technicization, not to say impoverishment, of critical language.”

I won’t go into why I believe Dr. Ronell finds the dissociation of poetry from theory aberrant, or why she paraleptically equates technicization with impoverishment (especially when one could just as easily see in the study of literary theory the root-cause of its student’s quite literal impoverishment).

Instead, I will focus, briefly, on the last line of the abstract, which reads, “I zero in on the figure of ‘dark-skinned women’ in the poem ‘Andenken’ to show how philosophy is tripped up by the permanent insurrection that poetry conducts.”

First of all, as you can see in my ad hoc translation of Hölderlin below, the women are “brown” [braun], not dark-skinned. The poem “takes place” in southern France, after all, where the grape-ripening sun also tans the limbs of those laboring in the fields twixt the Garonne and the Dordogne.

Secondly, I’m disturbed by the anthropomorphic dissociation of philosophy and poetry. Philosophy and poetry don’t conduct anything and suggesting they do removes them from the historical and material contexts in which they are conducted.

Finally, and along the same lines, I take issue with the figurative use of the term “insurrection” when speaking of Heidegger’s appropriation of Hölderlin, especially given the poet’s known Jacobin sympathies. Specifically, when insurrection becomes solely metaphorical, it is not the poetical that is repressed, but the political. Read the rest of this entry »

Internet Marketing and The Numbers Game

This is a post I wrote for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog. Read it here, or read it there.

3570992970_f2a81936cf_mI met a consultant who was helping a company build out and reinvigorate one of the sites they used for lead generation. Among his goals was this: Add 1000 new pages of content  to the site within a year.

To get to a thousand pages in one year you need around 80 posts a month, so he picked 5 appropriate topic categories, hired 5 writers, and charged each with producing 4 posts a week (reportedly at a cost of $50 a post).

5 x 4 = 20; 20 x 4 = 80; 80 x 12 = 1000(ish). Boo-yah!

He then designated a site manager whose job it was, in part, to ensure that the writers were meeting their weekly/monthly quota and that each post was optimized for search.

Finally, to help drive traffic, he was having links to each post placed on relevant (and reasonably trafficked) Facebook and Yahoo! group pages as well as sites like Digg, del.icio.us, reddit, and so on.

With regard to the actual content of the pages he told me, half-jokingly, “As long as the posts are optimized, I don’t care what’s in them.”

That really caught me up.

While I’ve been blogging for a long-time, both personally and professionally, I had never thought about this activity in such black-and-white, bluntly numeric terms. Being old-fashioned (I’m a digital immigrant, not a digital native, alas), I fear I have too frequently agonized over the quality, novelty, and readability of my posts and almost willfully refused to play the numbers game. Naturally, having the above approach laid out for me, I felt somewhat the fool.

After the bruises to my tender ego had faded (somewhat), I had to admit that, given the nature of the business in question, this “by-the-numbers” method made sense.

Here’s the thing. The company’s success was built on relentless and ubiquitous television ad campaigns in which the main message was essentially, “Call 1-800-…. to see if you qualify for $$$.” The reason this has worked is almost purely statistical. The people they are looking for constitute a tiny fraction of the population (for argument’s sake, let’s say .1%, though the actual number is far smaller). Assuming that these folks are fairly evenly distributed but otherwise difficult to locate, odds are that if you expose one million people to your message, then you will reach 1000 of them (at least statistically).

You can essentially do the same thing online (or can you?) by churning out pages of optimized content and aggressively cultivating off-page links. The beauty is that via judicious selection of the sites where your links appear, you can more effectively target your efforts and, ideally, shift your odds from 1 in 1000, say, to 1 in 100, for example, and at a cost far below that of broadcast media.

Does this mean that the quality of content, it’s relevance to the needs and interests of prospective consumers, it’s “intrinsic value” in other words, doesn’t matter? Yes and no.

If your message is simple (“Do you have problem X? If so, call this number to get $$$”) and customer acquisition is mainly a question of getting that message in front of as many people as possible, then what’s actually on the page, content-wise, might not matter as long as it has gotten them to the aforementioned page in the first place.

If, on the other hand, content is what you are selling (rather than whatever it is your content has led the viewer to see), then then this content does matter and should probably be “good” in the sense of, “informative, instructive, useful, entertaining, etc.”

Now, I do believe that given the importance of link-building to this strategy quality will determine whether or not your posts get Dugg by other Diggers or picked up by a site that has tons of traffic or actively shared by interested humans. This will also especially be the case if you are competing for links on a particular site.

Nevertheless, if you can propagate links cheaply or for free, and you just need to attract clicking eye-balls, then that is all your content needs to be good at.

Image Courtesy of Search Engine People Blog.

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Doing What You Want to Do

969487159_0537403a06_mThere’s a book called The Myth of Freedom by Chogyam Trungpa. It’s message is fairly straightforward: Everyone thinks of “freedom” in terms of “doing what you want to do.” What this formulation represses is the fact that we cannot free ourselves from wanting. At the core of our concept of freedom dwells an intractable kernel of compulsion. (In line with his Buddhist inclinations, Trungpa Rinpoche offers meditation as the diamond-hard hammer fit to crack this nut.)

When I was younger, I idolized people who were “doing what they wanted to do,” and perpetually lamented my own failure to join their ranks (somehow imagining that, in spite of the fact that I was doing many things, I was never quite doing what I wanted to do). I didn’t feel free.

Laugh if you want, but for a while Jerry Garcia represented this ideal of freedom – “doing what you want to do” –  in part because he seemed to be living the life I thought I wanted to live. But then I read something he said on the subject and it caught me up.

In his view, doing what you want to do is easy. First, do what you want to do. Then, don’t do what you don’t want to do. [Note: I’ve not been able to locate the source for this last bit. Will keep looking – Matt.]

While the stoned simplicity of this credo has its appeal, it rings false to me. “Don’t do what you don’t want to do” doesn’t sound like freedom so much as an avoidance of accountability and a refusal of responsibility. I understand that it can feel pretty free to be on the road playing gigs and taking drugs, but how free are you if you leave behind a trail of unfilled obligations, broken relationships and quasi-fatherless children? Are you “running free” or just “running away”?

Separating the moments of free action in our lives from those of mindless determinism is, on the one hand, a step towards maturity and self-awareness, and, on the other, utterly fruitless (as pointed out by Immanuel Kant). The important question isn’t, “Am I doing what I want to do?” The important question is, “Am I dealing with my shit?”

Image Courtesy of Damien.

PodCamp 4 Boston: My “Me Too” Thoughts and Reflections

1. Step Up

The presenter didn’t materialize at the first session I attended, “How do you measure the impact of social media?” I stepped up and ran the session. Most of the people stayed. (Thanks everybody!) Together we created a schema, based on some theory and a bunch of real-world examples, which I sketched out on the whiteboard. People actually took pictures of it at session’s end! I couldn’t have done it if people weren’t primed to participate and more focused on the topic than the facilitator.

2. Overnight Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight

During the impromptu session on the future of work organized by Tamsen McMahon and Mike Langford, Chris Brogan said something like, “My overnight success has taken about ten years.”

3. There’s Always Something Else Going On

The nature of a multi-tracked conference is that you are always missing another session. Since the organizers encouraged folks to vote with their feet if a particular session wasn’t what they’d envisioned (which people readily did), and since Twitter allowed people to share their experience in real-time(ish), it was easier not to miss things. In any case, since you couldn’t be everywhere, it’s cool that the media at the center of the conference allow people to document and share their particular experiences. Here are just two examples of that from Beth Dunn and Dave Wieneke.

4. If You Are Talking about Monetizing Something, You’re Not Sure How to Make Money with It

This idea came from Rich Sands over lunch on Sunday. The formula he was using (which he got from South Park) was:

Collecting Underwear + ? = $$$

The key to making money is figuring out what’s behind the question mark. If you say you are going to make money by monetizing something, you are basically saying, “I’m gonna make money by making money,” just as people used to say, “Morphine induces sleep thanks to a sleep-inducing property.” [Note: There is at least one way to monetize money, it was called “the green goods swindle.”]

5. Peoples, Peoples, Peoples

On Sunday morning during Amber Naslund’s session, someone said, “You have to learn to manage the data because it’s all data. You’re data!” The technology we are immersed in relies on our ability to translate objects and experiences into complex informational models which can then be recreated and explored in the everywhere/nowhere of digital space. I understand that the power of this technology can obscure the fact that it is “a way of seeing things” and not “the way things are.” Every time that I’m able to interact with people I’ve first met on the interwebs or continue interactions begun in meatspace in cyberspace, I’m reminded that these interactions represent the (use, not exchange) value of the technology for me.

New Podcast Episode: Let It All Hang Out. Or Don’t.

807903622_77f3e49efa_mI’ve posted the 3rd installment of Matthew T. Grant’s Smallish Circle Podcast. Although the original concept of this thing was to feature my amazing friends and amazing stories from their amazing lives, this episode actually focuses on the trouble I’ve had convincing the aforementioned friends to “appear” on the podcast.

I understand that I’m more extroverted than others and generally more willing to share the embarrassing and even dodgy aspects of my life and character in public or semi-public forums. At the same time, I recognize this willingness as a psychological tick, a residual trace of the adolescent need to express oneself in hopes of being accepted for “who you are.”

While I appreciate it when people are open about themselves, I do not view openness as a moral imperative. I think it’s fine, even commendable, to be discrete and save one’s private revelations for one’s more intimate relations. At the same time, I really need juicy material for this podcast or it’s gonna go nowhere at the speed of light.

If you’d like to hear me talking about this and much more more, the latest episode of the p’cast can be found right here. If you would like to catch future episodes of Matthew T. Grant’s Smallish Circle, subscribe via iTunes.

Errata: This episode begins with me explaining the idea behind #onewordwednesday. As it should quickly become clear, I’m actually talking about the idea behind the Smallish Circle Podcast itself.

Image Courtesy of thefuturistics.

A Brief History of #onewordwednesday

obeyonewordwednesday

About three months ago, I wanted to see if I could launch a trending hashtag and the hashtag I hit on was #onewordwednesday. My first tweet containing that hashtag read, “meme #onewordwednesday.”

I quickly discovered that I was not the first person to use this expression. That honor goes @markdudlik, who was about a month ahead of me. By the way, he’s a scientist. Of awesome.

The basic rule for #onewordwednesday is: Post at least one tweet containing a single word of your choosing along with the hashtag, #onewordwednesday. I guess I could have gotten more complicated by insisting that all your tweets for the duration of #onewordwednesday be one word in length, or that you should only tweet one word for the entire day, but I wanted to keep it simple, for good or ill.

So far, about 38 individuals have contributed to the #onewordwednesday effort with @cristinagordet, @motoole1, and @rsheffield deserving special recognition for their unflagging and enthusiastic support of this quixotic endeavor. I would also like to point out that #onewordwednesday would have been strangled in the cradle had @devinusmaximus not reached out and inspired me to keep hope alive in the early days of our movement. Devin, you are the wind beneath my wings.

The future is unwritten, as the Clash used to say, and I do not know whither #onewordwednesday is bound. I like that a kind of game is developing in which people retweet a #onewordwednesday word and add a related word. That sort of thing can only go so far given Twitter’s character limit, but it emerged spontaneously, which I find promising. Who knows what the day after tomorrow might bring?

The other idea I had was to choose a word, like “focus,” and see how many people we can get to tweet, “Focus #onewordwednesday.” In addition, we could retweet any random tweet containing the word “focus,” adding the hallowed hashtag as well. Are you game? Let’s do this.