[FKPXLS] VOL.53 / A hedge against an early death

What if the true cost wasn't only the cash burn, not even just the time and the attention of the most brilliant minds, but the dehumanization of worlds that never made it into our periphery.


Marina del Ray, 5AM | 08.01.2020

Can’t believe it’s already August. I am sitting on the balcony in Los Angeles, listening to drip bounce_7_24_18 by Toro y Moi that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this.

What we share is Fakepixels, a space for honest inquiry, bold ideas, and creative optimism. Here, we are not afraid to uncover the invisible forces that reframe the realities we once knew.

We were in the same elevator. I was carrying a suitcase, a dysfunctional lunch bag, and the coffee in my right hand was about to brim over and stain an otherwise perfectly sunny day. She was holding a bucket of cleaning supplies, and the Klorex bottles were in a precarious position. We nodded and acknowledged each other's efforts. I could see her smile under the mask. 

We walked out of the elevator at the same time, and through the long and winding hallway, we were heading the same direction. We kept our six-feet distance until I arrived at the door, which was also her destination. I understood then that she was sent here to clean my room. 

I was early to check in at my Airbnb in Marina del Rey. I wanted a quiet place, away from the city, with an oceanic view to reflect on my next venture. She put down the cleaning bucket, took out her phone from her pocket, and started typing. The mask couldn't hide the apologizing smile on her face. 

Nice to meet you, can I go check if everything looks good? 

Please wait outside. Thank you for your patience. 

The message showed up on a Google Translate app, and I was distracted by the original language that I couldn't discern. It was up to this point, our realities had converged intimately and would soon diverge again. When she closed the door, what was inside the door and what was left outside formed a vast chasm that I couldn't cross.

Less than twenty-four hours ago, I was sitting at an outdoor bar in lower Manhattan with a friend, who told me that despite minor inconveniences like not being able to bench at a gym, he's been mostly enjoying the benefit of not having to go to the office. And less than forty-eight hours ago, I was on a call with a new grad, who could no longer sit comfortably with a prospective career in investment banking and wanted to do something more "impactful," but didn't know where to start looking. 

These conversations spin vehemently around these chambers of ours, like a bag of old laundry in a washer. If we precociously press pause, we'd be caught in an abrupt silence and be forced to look at the mess in its rawest form. To fill such uncomfortable silence, we put on our noise-canceling Airpods Pro. With a tap, the rumbling of the protestors, the hopeless mumbling of the homeless, the chatter of the anxious moms are gone in an instant, like magic. Left in the appropriately filtered unworldly world of ours, we sometimes encounter hidden paths that lead to worlds larger than what we know, and we can choose to take the path or avert our gaze. 

Schools don't show you the world. They just show you a bunch of careers.

Michelle Obama commented on her latest podcast with Barack. She was talking about her decision to leave a corporate law job to pursue community work. Her voice tingled my eardrums through my AirPods. 

It was a selfish choice because I was happier. The 47th fancy law firm made her feel more lonely and isolated than ever from the community. Yet being in the dirt of helping people made her feel alive. 

I never look back. 

She stayed true to what makes her feel the most alive, seeing the world as it is and deeply engaging with it. She said it was an act of selfishness because that was a choice that made her happier, but how much courage does it take to acknowledge the very thing that makes us feel human and alive? 

It's not new that the tech industry has been criticized for being far removed from the liveliness of the many worlds. Price was paid for innovation for the mere sake of novelty, but the upside seems to always justify the cost. But what if the true cost wasn't only the cash burn, not even just the time and the attention of the most brilliant minds, but the minimization, and oftentimes, dehumanization of worlds never made it into our periphery. There are justifications for such disengagement. The first principle thinking, the verticalization of horizontal disruption, the narrative violation rose to prominence as a shared secret in a cushy lounge that we wear proudly on our sleeves. 

A potential danger of getting exposure to the scale beyond our reach as young, driven people is that anything less than that feels like suboptimal rational thinking. When "impact" has been abstracted away from our day-to-day operations, when"meaning" has been outsourced to the institutions, how much of the world is left to be truly experienced when the hardest answers have been figured out? As savvy decision-makers, the opportunity cost of teaching at a local school would be too high when we can make a mark on two billion users. But what if the opportunity cost is an illusion? What if hedging our potential to comfort isn't a hedge against early death, but is indeed an early death? As Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance:

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim.

What if getting close to the things that you pour your souls into would bring you closer to where you want to be? What if people remember you not by the impact you so eagerly desire, but by the souls you have touched?

Like calling someone else's API to build a company, or relying on Google to answer all the homework questions, or trusting invisible hands to align everyone's incentives efficiently, we can go a long way without having to answer the hardest questions. And one day, when stuff breaks, we are poorly equipped for the uncomfortable encounter with the messy fundamentals that have shaped our own realities all along. The confrontation with these fundamentals is not only a sobering awakening from our teenage naïveté but a debt we pay for being absent for way too long. 

The room is ready. You can come in now. Thank you for your patience.

The Google Translate app was the first thing she showed me when she opened the door. I wanted to ask about her name, and the language she speaks, but she was in a rush to head to her next thing. She's got no time to waste, yet I chose to linger at the doorstep for a moment longer, until her footsteps completely faded, until I was sure that our paths won’t completely diverge.

Aerial View number 15, 2017, Shirley Wegner, 24 x 20 in

What is something (a new friendship, a movement, a new-earned skill, an event) that makes you feel the most alive since quarantine begins? With all that’s happening around us, are there changes that you want to see in yourself, and in the world with you in it?

I would like to hear from you.


Tupperware Club: dreams and Cadillacs

The 1950s are often referred to as the “golden age” of mass advertising. But unlike Camel or Coca-Cola, Tupperware didn’t become a household staple through print ads and billboards. Instead, the kitchenware made its name by gathering circles of friends in a living room. Brownie Wise, Tupperware’s VP of marketing, designed a system based on social connections, one that proved far more effective for the company than any established forms of marketing. The monumental rise of Tupperware deployed a strategy familiar to today’s social media-fueled companies—networking, sponsored content, and influencer endorsements.  The Glossier playbook is a tribute to this history.

Tupperware’s initial launch on department store shelves languished until Wise, a recently divorced mother, and former newspaper columnist, began selling impressive numbers of the containers door-to-door in her suburban Florida neighborhood. Her business was called Patio Parties. Through Patio Parties, Wise recruited friends to peddle various products from direct-sales companies, including brushes, brooms, and Poly-T, and then took a slice of the profits. One woman sold 56 Wonder Bowls in a single week. 

Irrepressibly charismatic, Wise believed that the best way to sell was through socializing; her method was entirely grassroots, based on a tradition of door-to-door salesmanship rather than corporate notions of marketing. At her parties, Wise would not only show women how to sell but also suggest what they could cook to fill these Wonder Bowls and other domestic and personal advice. As Alison J. Clarke wrote in her book Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America:

Wise didn’t invent the party home model, but she refined and feminized it. She focused on the positive idea of gossip and getting together. At one of her parties, sales were made secondary (or at least were seen to be).

These activities took advantage of women’s intimate relationships with one another. Wise’s games required women to physically touch and swap personal secrets, and it’s no surprise that when inhibitions are broken and people bond, they are far more likely to make purchases. Clark emphasized:

Her plan didn’t follow a pyramid scheme. Wise created a network that ran a lot like a sorority; women would attend a party so their friend could get free gifts, and top-dealers would encourage other women to grow their network rather than compete with one another. It was charisma, ritual, gossip and sociality that made Tupperware successful: It’s what motivated people.

The story was first inspired by my friend Amanda, who is an incredible leader and is building something exciting in the space.

Zadie Smith | Steven Barclay Agency

Last week, I shared the graduation speech that Bezos delivered at Princeton. Many resonated as many of us were struggle to understand our paths forward in a time of uncertainty. The wonderful Nikhil recommended Zadie Smith’s graduation speech at the New School.

She made clever references to the 90s when the pursuit of individualism was at its heights, the goal was to be “one of a kind”:

We fear that the work of many hands will obscure the beloved outline of our individual selves. But perhaps this self you’ve been treasuring for so long is itself the work of many hands. Speaking personally, I owe so much to the hard work of my parents, the education and health care systems in my country, to the love and care of my friends.

There’s nothing wrong to focus on self-development, but she dug deeper and asked:

If university made me special did that mean I was worth more than my father, more than his father before him?

Did it mean that I should expect more from life than them? Did I deserve more? 

What does it really mean to be one of ‘the few’?

Are the fruits of our education a sort of gift, to be circulated generously through the world, or are we to think of ourselves as pure commodity, on sale to the highest bidder?

Of course, she wasn’t going to offer an answer, but instead, she simply wanted to offer another perspective of seeing oneself not as a detached island, but part of an archipelago:

I want to speak in favour of recognising our place within ‘the many’. Not only as a slogan, much less as a personal sacrifice, but rather as a potential source of joy in your life.

[…]

It’s not even a question of ethics or self sacrifice or moral high ground, it’s actually totally selfish.  Being with people, doing for people, it’s going to bring you joy. Unexpectedly, it just feels better.

It feels good to give your unique and prestigious selves a slip every now and then and confess your membership in this unwieldy collective called the human race.

The extraordinary human feat that we dream of requires an unimaginable level of self-awareness, self-improvement, and even self-reinvention for most of us to participate — to such degree that we forget that the self, without the contextualization of the collective, becomes an empty promise that looked nothing like that initial dream.

She ended the speech beautifully:

We are far more frequently each other's shelter and correction, the antidote to solipsism, and so many windows on this world.

You can read the full speech here.

Crowds atop the Berlin Wall on the morning after it fell, Nov. 10, 1989.
Crowds atop the Berlin Wall on the morning after it fell, Nov. 10, 1989 | Mark Power

Mark Power’s pictures capture the Berlin Wall noisy with crowds on the day of its fall. Through his lens, the wall becomes theatrical and performative, silently making its judgment — dividing, demarking, containing.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall. East German border guards watch over crowds gathered on top of the Berlin Wall. The day after the opening of the border, November 10th 1989 | Mark Power

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, the gates to the West were opened to all. What awaited East German on the other side: free money.

There was only so much the 16 million citizens of the communist German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.) could buy in a sealed-off country of scarcity and austerity. Western consumer goods like chocolate, coffee, and laundry detergents could only be obtained on the black market and at state-run “Intershops,” which only accepted hard currency like dollars or deutsche marks.

As a boy growing up in East Germany, Paul Keup’s fondest memories are when his grandparents who lived in West German sent him money from the other side of the border. Young Keup pored obsessively over the paper notes, filled with mysterious images of unknown cities and historical figures. He reflects:

Names from behind the Iron Curtain, an invisible world.

The currency’s worth to him was far more than simply financial.

The rupture of the Berlin Wall caused demand for deutsche marks surged. It was a commercial revolution and a moment of mass transactional transference from socialism into the commercial world. Considered a gift by some and a loss of innocence by others, it helped set the tone for full and swift reunification by October 1990.

This shutter is a story about challenging the border and about the role of money as a safe haven. In the last week, Bitcoin is up 18%, Ethereum is up over 30%, gold is up 10% as capital looks for safe havens. One of crypto’s primary use cases is a store of value and Bitcoin is particularly suited for that. Argentina, on the verge of default, has placed a cap on foreign currencies citizens can purchase. Meanwhile, the black-market exchange rate of the Argentinian peso is down roughly 40% for the year to date. With little other safe haven options for assets, demand for bitcoin has surged. The trading volume attained 5.3x the value from a year earlier as measured in pesos.

💫 Intimations: latest essays by Zadie Smith — my forever writer-crush hit it again, surely major Zadie vibes this week

One of the radical political possibilities of our new, revelatory expanse of “free” time—as many have noted—is that it might create a collective demand to reassess and reconfigure, as a society, how we protect the rights of those whose work exists only in the present moment, without security or protection against unknown futures, the most obvious unknown future being “sick leave.”) The rest of us have been suddenly confronted with the perennial problem of artists: time, and what to do in it.

💫 Hidden Valley Road: the story of a family besieged by mental illness — heart-wrenching and had to put down multiple times to breathe

The National Institute of Mental Health spends only $4.3 million on fetal prevention research, all of it for studies in mice, from its yearly $1.4 billion budget. Yet half of young school shooters have symptoms of developing schizophrenia.

💫 The Infinite Machine — fun expedition into the chronicles of blockchain with the brilliant Camila

I felt like Alice following the White Rabbit into a world of impossible dreams: banking without banks, breeding digital cats, self-organizing companies with no CEOs, and talk of flying to the moon.


Fakepixels is a space for courageous thoughts. We believe in the power of deep thinking, nuanced dialogue, and creative courage.

We are a community of curious thinkers and impact-driven builders who believe the future will come fast, and we can make it better. If you are interested in contributing or being a part of it, I would love to have you join the club.

I’m taking my time to get to know each of you, and I do this on nights and weekends. Appreciate your patience in advance. Until then, why don’t you bring a friend?

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