Tonight is the first night of the World Series. It’s in Cleveland.
I visited Cleveland back in 2013, as part of a road trip to Minnesota. One of my fondest memories from that trip was a conversation I had with John Adams, the guy who sits high atop the left field bleachers and bangs a drum. You can usually hear it on the broadcasts. He’s been a staple of Indians games since 1973.
John’s an incredibly nice guy, and we talked about a lot of things. At one point I asked him what his favorite memory of this park was. He’s never seen the Indians win a World Series – in fact, they haven’t won since 1948, the year after baseball integrated. But they did reach two of them in the 1990’s.
He said: My favorite memory was right before the first pitch of the 1995 World Series. The energy of the crowd was amazing. The Indians hadn’t reached the World Series in over 40 years. I banged the drum, and everyone went wild. It was the only show in town.
It was the only show in town.*
Tonight Cleveland returns to the World Series.
*Ironically enough, it’s not the only show in town tonight. The Cavaliers open up their season right across the street at Quicken Loans Arena. They’re raising their own championship banner.
I have a few guiding principles in my life that serve as the foundation for how I:
Become a decent human
On Creating stuff. I’ve said this before, and it’s the unofficial motto of this blog. Dare to be pointless. The stuff you do, and the stuff you create, doesn’t need to have a point. All that matters is that you enjoy it and find it interesting. Hopefully others do too.
On making decisions. Be pragmatic. Ask questions. Listen to your gut.
On being a decent human. There’s a lot that goes into being a decent human. Helping others, being kind, listening. I try to do all of that, but here is my guiding principle: maintain optimism as a default setting.
There is nothing that turns me off more than negativity. It is my least favorite quality. And it does seem like it’s getting worse, that more and more people are turning to pessimism and cynicism in how they look at the world.
Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that negativity and outrage will somehow lead to positive change, either in our own lives, or in the world at large. But that usually doesn’t work. At least not in my experience.
I don’t think it helps that we have continuous and unrelenting cycles of manufactured negativity – the news, social media, higher expectations, Donald Trump, whatever. I think it is harder now to be a positive person. It takes more work.
But negativity doesn’t feel good. It’s just easy.
Optimism is my default setting because I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. There are also a tremendous amount of things to be optimistic about.
That’s not to discount the problems we have – climate change, nuclear weapons, cancer, and about 681,357 other things. But it turns out that humans are very good at solving problems. So far, we’ve done a pretty good job at avoiding the apocalypse, and I imagine that will continue for some time to come.
Now, of course, there are times when I’m negative. This whole optimism as a default setting thing is a work in progress. As a result of being human, I have times where I’m down, where I’m cynical, where I question people’s intentions and wonder if things are getting worse.
But I try to maintain optimism. I remind myself of it every day. It’s why I talk to really interesting people and travel and try to imagine others complexly and with empathy. I think back to that word sonder, the idea that everyone has a story and is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. That helps.
Below is an interview I did with Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist (as it turns out, there is a Craig, and he’s very real).
Before we start, here are 5 things you should know about Craig:
1. Craig is 63 years old, lives in San Francisco, and happily describes himself as a full-blown nerd. In college, he studied computer science, then worked for IBM, GM, Bank of America, and Charles Schwab until the late 1990s when he started craigslist. At the time, he just wanted to post about social events in San Francisco. Then it expanded to other classified categories. Now it’s one of the ten most-visited English language web platforms on the planet.
2. Craig no longer runs the company, but he remains active as a customer service representative. He responds to emails personally and deals with spammers. Seriously! He also operates Craigconnects, which publicizes charitable organizations. He also tweets a lot – you can follow him here.
3. Craigslist’s main source of revenue is paid job ads in select American cities. They don’t run ads the way most other sites do, so they don’t make much money (or as much as you would expect from a top 10 website). CEO Jim Buckmaster told Wall Street analysts that craigslist has little interest in maximizing profit, and instead prefers to help users find cars, apartments, jobs and dates.
4. Craig is, uh, a socially awkward guy. I guess we’re all awkward in our own special ways, but Craig has written and talked about it publicly. In 2009, he wrote: Whenever I hear the symptoms associated with Asperger’s, they feel uncomfortably familiar. In my case, let’s say my capacity for social behavior is a bit limited, and it’s a good thing my work is mostly in front of a screen.
5. And perhaps because of that, he gives famously short answers. Readanyinterview, and you’ll see that his responses are rarely more than a sentence or two. This one is no different.
And with that – Craig Newmark, welcome to the blog.
Craig, you’ve said before that you built craigslist “with no vision whatsoever.” You never had a business plan, never had a grand vision for the company, and yet it has turned into one of the most significant and widely-used sites on the web. How did this happen?
– I listened to the community continuously
– I added functionality that people wanted and needed
– Kept it simple, resisting the urge to fix what wasn’t broken
– Remained true to community vision, minimally monetized, didn’t sell out
– Turned over management to Jim, when I realized I suck as a manager
Jim continues on this tradition, since 2000.
What was the biggest challenge about starting craigslist? And what is craigslist’s biggest challenge today?
No real challenge, since it didn’t occur to me that I was starting anything other than a hobby.
You’re famously modest – or as you say it, realistic. You’ve described craigslist as a community service. You don’t advertise on the site – you’ve never ‘sold out’, so you don’t generate the type of money that other top websites do. It’s such a unique and admirable approach – other than Wikipedia, I can’t think of another top website that operates like that. You don’t focus on growth, so much as you focus on keeping a good thing going. Where did this approach come from, and why is it so important to you?
Fundamentally, this arose from values drummed into me in Sunday School:
– Treat people like you want to be treated
– Know when enough is enough
Also including a sense of commitment.
Where do you get your news? And given that there are so many media sources, how do you find ‘the good stuff’?
Many sources, maybe thirty RSS feeds, similar number of podcasts. Also, regularly read Washington Post, NY Times, etc., and listen to public radio.
I was perusing your Twitter (you tweet a lot), and it’s clear that you are very passionate about politics. There is so much about this election that makes me want to crawl into a hole, but the main issue I have is that there seems to be a complete disregard for facts. I’m talking about Trump, specifically. Anyway, part of me views this election with complete and utter shock at who we’ve become as a people. But part of me also wants to believe that the majority of us are good and reasonable and intelligent and in the end things will be fine. What do you think?
I think there are far more honest people of good will than people whose way of looking at things is “truthiness.”
You’ve written openly about how you can identify with Asperger’s. Whenever I hear the symptoms associated with Asperger’s, they feel uncomfortably familiar. You’ve also said that your capacity for social behavior is a bit limited. How do you feel about this today? Is it something you think about?
As an old-school nerd, I have little instinct for social norms or convention.
Nowadays, I can simulate social skills, maybe as long as ninety minutes at a time.
You’ve done a number of public appearances – interviews on TV, podcasts, a TED talk. Do you enjoy talking about yourself and your company? Do you hate it? Is it nerve-wracking? Exciting? Scary? Awesome? Unnatural? Diarrhea-inducing? All the above?
I like talking about the stuff I believe in, because that helps promote the people who are effective in such areas, and because I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Fun to do, particularly if I feel I’m being funny. (Note to self: I’m not as funny as I think I am.)
Four favorite bands of all time? Leonard Cohen
Do you watch sports? I’m a nerd, no sports
Who do you look up to? Jimmy Wales, Linus Torvalds
What is the wallpaper on your phone? Dark gray
Explain your life’s mission in 12 words? “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
And finally, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but some people like to brag about how little sleep they get. I find this abhorrent. Sleep is good, and I like to get a lot of it. In a few sentences, please describe your thoughts on sleep.
I don’t sleep as soundly as I should. Might need to ask Arianna.
Last weekend, I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) in Central Park. Here’s what it feels like to run 13 miles:
Mile 1: Let’s take it nice and slow. Ah, this feels good. What a lovely morning.
Mile 2: Almost 10% done. Deep breaths. This is good. This is fine.
Mile 3: OK, we are at the top of Central Park. Oh, a water stop! *glug glug glug*
Ahhh here come the endorphins. Sweet, sweet endorphins.
You know, I was never good at running. I’m still not. I don’t know why I do this. Running makes me hurt all over, it’s made me dry heave, it’s given me severe dehydration, it’s provided too many blisters and shin splints and cramps and nipple bleeds and random, unexplainable owwwwies.
There are times when I think about quitting. Not this race, no, I’ll finish this race, even if it kills me. Otherwise, I won’t get the big, shiny medal. And I love big, shiny medals!
But I’ve thought about quitting running altogether. Sometimes I hate running, especially when it’s cold out and my fingers start to numb and my knees start to scream. There are easier ways to stay in shape. Running is INCREDIBLY HARD and A VERY LONG PROCESS and SOMETIMES VERY PAINFUL. But, shoot, that’s part of the fun. You should do things that aren’t easy. That’s where the good stuff is. It’s incredibly rewarding. The soreness is a reminder that I’m doing something with my life. Even if it hurts. Even if no one notices.
And I guess that’s what keeps me from quitting. Why would you quit something you love?
So I run. I’m not trying to beat anyone. I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other, challenge myself, and do my best to remain present. Through the pain, I find serenity.
I’ve never meditated, but when you’ve run for an hour, you start to meditate. By this point your body has sufficiently drugged itself with natural opiates, and things start to feel pretty good. You sort of forget about the world and turn inward. You go on autopilot. Sometimes you pee yourself a little. I don’t know, some weird stuff happens.
It is 2016, and we are constantly tethered to the world. Our phones are always on us, we can be reached at any time, and we all just sort of accept that now. But when I run, I block out everything. I tie my shoes, leave my worries behind, turn on some music, and … just … go.
OH THANK THE LORD, THERE’S A WATER STOP.
Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
I wonder if I could reach that mile marker before the song ends.
I remember when I finished my first race in high school. It was only three miles, but up to that point I had never run more than a mile or two. It was a cold, rainy day, and I ran through puddles and slush and mud that went over my ankles. I remember seeing the finish line and getting a burst of energy. I put my hands up, crossed the finish line, and high-fived my teammates. It was euphoric.
And that’s what running can do. It can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. All these years later, I still feel the same way when I see the finish line. It’s the great northern light, beckoning me home.
Sometimes I don’t finish. Well, one time. I ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and for four hours I felt like anything was possible. And then I was a half mile away from the finish line when bombs went off. Three people died and dozens were wounded. The race ended with me frantically texting my parents, finding my friends, and walking to safety. I’ve written before that it was the best and worst day of my life.
Every time I run, I think about that day.
Matthew Inman wrote the greatest thing on running that I’ve ever read. He came to this conclusion: running is not about vanity. If I wanted to look good I’d get a gym membership and stand in front of a mirror doing bicep curls. I’d go tanning and drink protein shakes and participate in all the other synchronized stupidity that has come to embody bad gym culture.
Running is not about building strength. It’s about finding strength.
It’s a process. Sometimes my thoughts turn negative when I run. My subconscious wakes up and starts asking questions. HEY REMEMBER THAT AWKWARD THING YOU DID ONCE? HEY LET’S THINK ABOUT ALL OF OUR LIFE’S REGRETS. HEY, WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING AS FAST AS THAT OTHER GUY? OR THAT GUY? OR THAT GUY??
But then I run a bit longer, and those thoughts fade away, and the music gets louder, and I start to feel good. I got this. Life’s just a bit better here, in the calm serenity of a long run. Everything’s gonna be OK.
Mile 13.1: OH MY GOD IT’S THE FINISH LINE, PRAISE JESUS!!!
In my never-ending quest to find out how the human brain works, today I would like to talk about recency bias.
Recency bias is the tendency to weigh the latest information more heavily than older data. Sort of like this:
In the world of the stock market, investors often think the market will always look the way it does today, which results in an endless number of unwise decisions.
It’s not surprising why recency bias dominates our decision making. It forms the basis of our habits, which help us in our day-to-day lives. Recent events and trends are easier to remember than events in the distant past or unknown events that will occur in the future.
But, of course, recency bias means we tend to ignore the lessons of history.
This is a problem for people who work in ‘big data’. 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last few years – and that statement has been true pretty much every year for the last 30 years. Every two years, the amount of data in the world has increased by about 10 times. And so recency bias is sort of ‘built in’ to the system – there is too much recent stuff and not as much of the older stuff.
Anyway, we can’t really overcome recency bias – like all cognitive biases, it’s part of being human. But it is important to be aware of it. So the next time your crazy uncle tells you that global warming can’t be real because it’s been cold for 4 days, you can point him to this post.