Every year when I go home for Thanksgiving I’m reminded of how different my world is from that of the typical American. And I’m not talking about the difference between living in New York City and the suburbs of Southern California (where my family is from). No, it’s much bigger than that. It’s the difference between what I think about on a day-to-day basis and what the rest of my family tends to think about. It’s like we are living in different universes.
While Twitter joked all weekend about how the Thanksgiving conversation would be dominated by cryptocurrency, NFTs, and the Metaverse, not a single person brought up any these topics. There was no mention of web3. There was no mention of DAOs. Honestly, there was basically no talk of finance at all. In fact, the only mention of the stock market came from my 87 year-old great uncle who reminds me annually of all the stocks he could have bought as a younger man but didn’t.
Yet here I was ready to explain to my family why I spent nearly $200 NOT buying a copy of the U.S. Constitution. But I never had to because it never came up. No one in my family was talking about it.
So what were they talking about?
They were talking about rising gas prices (not those gas prices) and the smash and grab robberies happening in San Francisco. They were talking about what was happening in their lives. They were laughing about old memories. They were planning future trips that they wanted to take. But they weren’t discussing money. Not at all.
Yet whenever I glanced at Instagram or Twitter I came face to face with my reality. Even on Thanksgiving day people were out hawking money advice. No days off, right?
The contrast between the information I was consuming and the information they were consuming could not have been more clear in that moment. And it had a profound effect on me. An effect bigger than in prior years. Maybe I only noticed it because I hadn’t seen my family all together in two years (thanks COVID). Or maybe it was because I’ve been so focused lately on growing my Instagram account.
Whatever it was, it made me realize how biased my worldview is. It made me realize how much my career had influenced my thinking. I recently wrote about how both crypto and U.S. stocks might be in slight bubbles, yet here I was living in an even bigger one. I don’t say this to belittle myself, but as a reminder of how hard it can be to have a truly objective point of view.
For example, I recently argued that the Metaverse would fail because I couldn’t see why people would spend all of their time there. The real world just seemed too appealing and too Lindy. But then I read an interview between Niccolo Soldo and Marc Andreessen where Andreessen argues that my misunderstanding of the Metaverse is due to what he calls “reality privilege.” Andreessen states:
A small percent of people live in a real-world environment that is rich, even overflowing, with glorious substance, beautiful settings, plentiful stimulation, and many fascinating people to talk to, and to work with, and to date. These are also *all* of the people who get to ask probing questions like yours. Everyone else, the vast majority of humanity, lacks Reality Privilege—their online world is, or will be, immeasurably richer and more fulfilling than most of the physical and social environment around them in the quote-unquote real world.
The Reality Privileged, of course, call this conclusion dystopian, and demand that we prioritize improvements in reality over improvements in virtuality. To which I say: reality has had 5,000 years to get good, and is clearly still woefully lacking for most people; I don’t think we should wait another 5,000 years to see if it eventually closes the gap. We should build — and we are building — online worlds that make life and work and love wonderful for everyone, no matter what level of reality deprivation they find themselves in.
From this perspective it’s obvious that I shouldn’t have been so skeptical of the Metaverse. But my day-to-day existence wouldn’t allow me to. I had to move beyond my worldview to see things clearly. It reminds me of the opening lines to This is Water, the famous commencement speech given by the late David Foster Wallace:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
The intro always puts a smile on my face while revealing a deeper truth—you are the young fish and so am I.
But you don’t feel that way do you? You probably spend most of your time thinking you have an objective grasp of reality. You weigh the issues. You approach things rationally. I feel the same way.
But every once in a while I get a reminder that things aren’t always as they seem. That, maybe, I don’t know as much as I think I do. This isn’t a lack of confidence but a dose of humility.
Because we all live in bubbles. Some of these bubbles are made of money. Some are made of power. Some of pride. Some of hate. Some of lust. Some of loss. The question isn’t whether you are in a bubble, but how often do you get out of it? How often do you escape your bubble to see the world in a different light?
Because failing to escape can lead to a rude awakening. You can chase money or power or beauty or some other idea that eventually leads you astray. You can win that game, but lose yourself in the process. Victorious in battle, but defeated in war. Because there is more to life than what is in your bubble. You just have to escape it once in a while to find out.
Thank you for reading!
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This is post 270. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data