On Friday night, after an almost 2-year absence, I returned to Lincoln Center in NYC to see the New York City Ballet. I was so fearful I wouldn't make it through the performance without weeping that I debated whether or not to wear eye makeup and I primed my nervous system the week before by repeatedly listening to Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C—which would open the program.

Serenade, is the first ballet, George Balanchine, Founder of City Ballet, choreographed in America. It was before Lincoln Center stood and before the school of American Ballet would produce near technically perfect artists. The story goes, that the rehearsals were outside where dancers had to shield themselves from the sun. Hence the reason why when the curtain raises, you are confronted with the now-iconic image of 17 dancers with their right arms raised and hands flexed as if they are blocking the sun. Reader, I did not cry, but my husband told me after that he had to fight back his own tears at the sight.

It was an electrifying experience. Gia Kourlas, a dance critic for the NY Times, wrote a reflective review about the relevance of Serenade almost a century after its debut. Part of Balanchine's brilliance, she noted was his ability to bring real-life into his art; to incorporate what was happening in front of him. "What does Serenade have to say in 2021? Make the most of what you have. Notice the world around you."


When people ask me what it's like to be off of social media, I find myself unable to contain my enthusiasm to speak to what a life-changing year it has been. As the year progressed, I have spent a lot of time thinking about why I feel so good being off of social media both from a personal and professional experience. The personal seems obvious at this point and is well detailed in the recent Wall Street Journal's release of the Facebook Files, an investigative series and evidence of the harms of social media just out last week. But it is the professional experience that I couldn't articulate until I read Kourlas' words: Make the most of what you have. Notice the world around you.

Being off of social has allowed me to indulge those two things to a depth I hadn't experienced in over a decade. My attention no longer fractured, my psyche no longer filled with others' experiences of life, I was able to truly make the most of what I had and tapped a creative tsunami and I have noticed the world around me with a vibrancy that had been dulled in 2D.

And that experience was affirmed recently in a conversation between Jaron Lanier (10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now) and Lex Fridman (AI Researcher at MIT). Jaron is known as the founding father of Virtual Reality and is now a fierce advocate of rethinking the role of technology in our life. During their conversation, Lex asks Jaron if he sees humanity moving towards a future where we spend all of our lives in VR to which Lanier declares, "I have always found the very most valuable moment in virtual reality to be the moment when you take off the headset and your senses are refreshed and you perceive physicality a fresh as if you were a newborn baby but with a little more experience so you can really notice just how incredibly strange and delicate and peculiar and impossible the real world is." To which Lex responds, "So the magic is, and perhaps forever will be, in the physical world."


There is no question that we are in the most rapidly changing era of humanity and that the hyper novelty of social is impacting our cognitive abilities in ways we have never seen preivously. And my dismissal of social media often makes people mistakenly categorize me as a Luddite. But I probably consume more media than most people (more on that in the coming weeks) and I'm deeply excited about the possibility to harness future technologies for positive social, educational, and economic change. 

But what I have found in the last year is that it takes a sobering stance to be able to navigate all of the changes that are being introduced to us. I have found that the key to my success and contentment without social is my ability to think critically and creatively about what arises as a result of being forced to make the most of what I have without a social media following and by noticing the world around me as a result of not defaulting to an algorithm to create my world view. 

For the past year, my perspective has always been if you love social, use it. I continue to teach people how to create content that aligns with their culture and how to analyze their data. I'm always clear that I'm not here to push my vision on them, but to help facilitate their own. But over the past few months, I've tried to stretch entrepreneurs to think about what else they can be doing instead of social because I love the creative solutions that arise when we are forced to take the most common choice off the table and imagine a world of possibilities without it. 

And what has been most disturbing to me as I work with entrepreneurs is that in many, I have noticed their capacities to think critically and creatively diminish as they fall victim to the myth that if you want to stay relevant in the 21st century you need to adapt your business to the tools of the time. What I find so odd about this is that I now think anyone using social is actually behind the times. It's no longer 2012. Social isn't novel anymore, add strategies that birthed the successful digitally native brands of that era can no longer be replicated. Yet still, most entrepreneurs are stuck. 

This loss of both creative and critical thinking comes as no surprise as Neil Postman warned us over 4 decades ago in the forward of his 1984 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death: 

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another—slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.



I was recently asked to review insta content for a company to provide feedback. And all I could think about when I saw it was: wow, this feels so antiquated. It's so weird that people continue to think that seeking likes is a modern form of marketing. Don't they know there's a whole new world out there beyond the feed?

History has shown that we never go backward. As the WSJ said in the FB Files, even if you don't use Facebook, you are living in its world now. How much do you really notice the world around you? And most importantly, how are you making the most out of what you have while you're in it? 


Our next book club will meet on November 9th at 7pmEST. We will be reading The Conversation by Robert Livingston. This is a free event, please email me to register. 


You can watch a classic performance of Serenade here. And catch the new documentary, In Balanchine's Classroom, now playing in theatres. A true portrait of artistic discipline. Finally, fun fact, one of the original cast members of Serenade was a woman named Holly Howard.

A second piece that was performed on Friday was Jerome Robbins Glass Pieces which is mesmerizing.

Tristan Harris takes on the Facebook Files with Daniel Schmactenberger of the Consilience Project (which I highly recommend). Daniel brings up a beautiful solution to social media: richer possibilities of offline engagement. #makethemostofwhatyouhave #noticetheworldaroundyou

Elise Loehnen is back with a podcast, Pulling the Thread. This conversation with Loretta Ross was such a refreshing perspective on present-day social justice activism. Their giggles filled me with joy.

This HBR article from Khalil Greene, Yale's first Black student body president is fun and thought-provoking to read in tandem with my own thoughts on social.

In my last newsletter, I mentioned Bob Doto's essay on being anti-capitalist and shared it with a broken link. You can find it here!


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