Definitely not missing the bird

Next week Tuesday (27 November) will mark the 1-month point since I decided to completely ditch Twitter from my daily routine. On Tuesday itself I’m likely to be very busy, but I wanted to take a moment to write some feedback on this experiment.

I can confidently say I don’t miss it one bit. The trade-off just wasn’t worth it: For every connection that was worthwhile, there were at least 20x more knee-jerk reactions and vapid hot takes, and 100x the volume of neurotic, click-bait psychic garbage swirling around a monetized trash compactor explicitly designed to make people feel angry. It felt like mental chemotherapy except it was also giving me cancer.

Twitter had basically become an abusive relationship. For the slim chance that something nice might happen, I was hanging on through torrents of garbage that made me jealous, depressed, despondent (specially the South African political feeds!), and ultimately self-destructive.

Granted, there are much better ways to use Twitter, and there are definite upsides to staying informed. Keeping abreast of major news stories is the easiest form of social currency there is, and it’s a great way to stay updated on interesting projects and useful tools. I was using it badly – as an actual social network.


Even the rage engagement is not real rage. It’s a faux rage. No one writes a snarky reply to @realdonaldtrump because they’re really engaging with The Donald. No, they’re posting to their mirror engagement crew, who they know is also in a rage engagement with @realdonaldtrump. It’s not even virtue signaling. It’s pure entertainment. It’s a simulation where they can “engage” with the President of the United States in the company of their supportive mirror engagement crew. Plus dopamine!

Ben Hunt, A Game Of You

Many months ago an old friend of mine asked me about my daily Twitter habit. He also has a Twitter account, but does maybe one post a month related to projects he works on. I explained that Twitter was becoming the national conversation platform – it was the place that journalists, newsmakers, political parties and influencers converged, and being part of that was probably a smarter move.

It turns out I was wrong, for the reasons so neatly encapsulated in A Game Of You. While there was real engagement (and real connections formed), so much more of the engagement on social media is effectively a simulation: Yes, you’re technically “engaging” with the accounts of notable people and organizations, but in reality your voice isn’t actually heard – and every post is just increasing the risk of damage.

It’s also increasingly performative. The US dealt with this years ago, and South Africa is just catching up to it now. Smart, unethical people have realized that the more outrageous shit you post, the further it circulates, the more it boosts your profile, and the greater opportunities it opens up for you. Yes, it comes at the cost of poisoning the well for everyone, but that’s a small price to pay for quasi-celebrity status.

Then there’s the short-term thinking effect, which has probably been the biggest learning for me over the last month. Twitter (or any fast-paced information environment) doesn’t so much inform you as constantly trick you into thinking you’re learning – but really its just reinforcing the stuff you already believe.

Since quitting I haven’t technically had more time to think, but I’ve been able to think through ideas that take a lot longer. Among them, I’ve been developing a sort of mini-philosophy for how I see the world (more a statement of principles and arguments at this point), and it was only after reasoning through lots of examples I came up with better explanations for things. Hot-take shitposting in humanity’s garbage compactor would have been of little help there.

(Core to that is measuring rules and behavior on a voluntary-coercive axis and balancing it for the maximum liberty of the individual, but that’s better suited for another post.)

P.S.

Then there’s The Noscript Show! Every week, I co-host an hour-long livestream on which we just decompress and unpack the stuff going on in the world. On every successive episode we’ve improved on our production quality, while sticking to the principle that we script absolutely nothing on the show – and it’s a lot of fun to do.

God punishes people like you

Do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always gotten.

That maxim has been part of my thinking for as long as I can remember. So has the simple, one-word slogan “Evolve” – applied to as many aspects of my life as I could manage.

It’s a mode of thought that’s brought me quite far. Every so often, I re-evaluate everything I’m doing, to see if there’s anything I could be doing differently. It made me a very engaged employee (for as long as there were new opportunities), it pushed me over the edge into quitting my first (and longest!) job, and it keeps nudging me into trying different things.

When I quit my job, one of my medium-term plans was to get myself set up for mobility. Partially because I fear South Africa has already sunk past the point of no return, partially because I like the idea of travelling around the world slowly, working and experiencing different ways of life.

I know – both from experience and from empirical research – that it’s precisely that sort of perspective-broadening experience-deepening travel that has a major, positive impact on your sense of self. And ultimately that’s where I’d like to end up, having graduated from an office desk/home desk/bed lifestyle, to one where I’m not afraid to dive into new experiences.

And so, through a set of happy coincidences, I landed a few customers that are based in the Cape Town CBD. Every few weeks I plan on spending a few days over there. In-person meetings really are the best kind (as much a fan as I am of telecommuting), and every trip gives me the chance to spread my wings a little more, acclimatizing to a lifestyle that may define the next few years of my life.

The most recent trip was my longest by far – 1.5 weeks, 3 different Airbnbs, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that these sharing economy systems exist. I can’t imagine finding trustworthy, low-cost accommodation in a foreign city 10 years ago. Today it’s just another app.

This most recent trip is memorable for another reason, captured in the title. While standing outside the entrance for my final Airbnb room, waiting to hear back about how to actually get into the place, a local beggar came up to me.

I generally don’t like beggars. I’m a generous person by default, and happily share what I can with people that genuinely mean well.

It’s the entitled beggars I can’t stand, and Cape Town has among the most shameless beggars around – exemplified by the beggar that came up to me that afternoon.

My usual response over the years has been a half-hearted fakeout – usually something about not having cash on me (near-universally true). This time around though, looking at the situation for what must have been the hundredth time, I had one of those “eh, fuck it” moments.

So when I told him no, and he asked me why, I looked him dead in the eyes and told him it was because I didn’t want to.

If you ever want to see someone go from fake-pleading to outraged in less than a second, step directly on their sense of entitlement with your own intransigence. It works wonders.

He actually looked taken aback for a moment, then got angry, waved a finger in my face and went “You know what, God punishes people like you.” and walked off.

I thought about that one for a while, and concluded that since I’ve dealt with a decent amount of punishment already, there’s not that much worse I can go through – and besides, if He does show up to punish me, there are a bunch of questions I’d love to ask. 

And then I checked into a very stuffy 1-bedroom apartment for two days.

The real winner was the following night, when a young woman and child pulled up next to me at a kiosk and started begging. There, I’ve found the most effective response is “Are you really teaching this child to beg?”, at which point they usually realize the manipulation isn’t going to work, cut their losses, and run.

Those two incidents were, in their own way, perfectly timed. That night I spoke to the manager of a local restaurant, who bemoaned the fact that the drunk, loud vagrants around Cape Town routinely scare away tourists, hurting his business.

I heard the same from an old friend of mine, when I relayed to him the anxiety I felt sitting in Greenmarket Square. I didn’t recognize the city around me, and I had lived in it for years. Somewhere, somehow, some important things have broken and are not being repaired.

In my case, these things just motivate me to keep pushing for the next milestone. By this time next year, I hope to be travelling, and continuing to set myself up for a new life somewhere else.

Ideally somewhere God doesn’t punish people like me.

Change is coming

It’s nearly six months to the day since I announced my departure from full-time employment, and while I didn’t quite plan for this, it’s a serendipitous turn of events all the same.

I should lead with the headline: Yes, I just unfollowed everyone on Twitter. If my following you was important, I’m sorry for the disappointment but I need to do this for my mental well-being. My mentions and DMs are open and I’d be happy to chat.

Now on to the main event:

When I resigned in April, what I was really beginning was a journey of self discovery. Over the last few months there have been many, many changes for me – most of them good! In my April post I mentioned that:

In future, I might write more openly about the life I came from, the demons I’ve wrestled with over the years, and the moments of breakthrough that have set me free.

And here we are right now, in the future, and I’m holding up my end of the bargain with past-Wogan. This is going to mean a few changes for me.

The way I blog is changing. For about ten years, there was a lot of stuff I was frankly terrified to say. Some poor decisions early in my career (and a tenuous situation at work) meant I self-censored a lot of the things I would otherwise have posted. What little I did write here was filtered, sanitised, and effectively produced with a formal tone and at arms length. Most of my posts could be copied straight into a corporate email and nobody would raise an eyebrow.

I’m not upset about any of that – if anything, I’m grateful. There’s a lot of dumb shit I absolutely could have said, that would have gotten me in far more trouble. With observation came experience, and this time around I’m a lot more sure of where things stand.

Most of the trouble comes from my interest in politics. Actually it’s my interest in most things related to the construction and maintenance of civilised life – from languages, to infrastructure, to the cultural climate within which we relate to eachother. Figuring all these things out (and trying to explain them) is my absolute favourite past-time.

Since resigning, I’ve taken to Twitter a lot more than usual. I found it to be a very stimulating platform, with a massive feed of new information coming in every single day. And I’ve responded to that, tweeting and engaging on a near-24/7 basis.

Jun 2018: Your Tweets earned 47.5K impressions over this 30 day period
Oct 2018: Your Tweets earned 487.4K impressions over this 27 day period

I love doing this – the debates, the arguments (constrained as they are by the 280-character limit, threading, and like-baiting), and meeting like-minded people this way. Unfortunately I can’t keep doing it at the same pace, though – I have new responsibilities.

In April I quit my job to pursue a new set of opportunities. Over the last 6 months, it’s panned out better than I had expected. I’ve been able to accumulate something of a runway, enabling me to do what I really want to do: Carve out large blocks of time to do in-depth SaaS builds on products I think I can sell.

That requires relentless focus, though. While it was easy to spend hours a day on Twitter in the beginning, it’s becoming a distraction now that I’m fully engaged in work. I don’t want to lose any of the momentum I’ve built, so I’m trying something new.

I enjoy thinking about complex things, then discussing my ideas with people who have interesting things of their own to say. It’s hard to do that on Twitter though, thanks to the sheer firehose of data:

After spending an ~hour with @WotanZA having an actual conversation (diverse as it was), and the next hour sitting on a quiet balcony and just processing everything, I felt like I was in a much better mental state. Then I checked Twitter and it all went to shit.

I currently follow many great accounts, and I get a massive amount of new info every day from all sorts of places: left- and right-wing news media, cryptocurrencies, financial services, gaming, mergers, tech industry news, psychological studies, the list goes on.

It’s an addiction I can’t really afford to feed anymore, though. I’ve consciously observed how I use Twitter over the last month, and I’ve noted several things:

  • Opening the app to check for new content has become routine, and I’ve often found myself in the aimless-fridge loop: Opening the same door over and over again even though there’s nothing new.
  • I typically scan the entire timeline every morning, consuming every single tweet
  • I post knee-jerk reactions to a lot of stuff, and more detailed threads when I’ve had the time to think about it
  • I get into arguments quite a lot, which is hard to fit into the platform’s limitations and doesn’t give me a good place to fully express my argument. Most importantly:
  • Every time I open Twitter, even just for a 10-second check, disrupts minutes worth of productivity.

In effect, I lose hours of daylight productivity (which is when my feed is the most active), and have to make up for it in the evenings. It’s led to a disrupted sleep schedule and failures to make and stick to my plans. I’m also pretty sure it’s contributing to weight gain and hypertension, but the disruptions to the first two mean I have no disciplined regime for monitoring the rest.

So for my own health, discipline and mental well-being, I’m trying something new. I’m going to unfollow every single account on Twitter.

This means that the only things I get from the app are things that people send to me directly and deliberately: @-mentions, tweet replies and DMs, which I will happily respond to. As a messenger app, Twitter would be as manageable as WhatsApp, which takes up very little of my time every day.

I’ll still use Twitter to share stuff, but they’ll either be long-form threads or links to posts like this one. I decided months ago that I need to get into the habit of producing more long-form content anyway (part of another long-term goal), and this is a good way to do it.

This does mean that I’ll be quitting a very strong addiction cold-turkey. FOMO is real, and I think I may have developed a dependency on the constant stimulation, so it’s probably not going to go well at first.

After the jitters though, I hope I can direct my writing energies into something more productive: Longer, more detailed posts made on this blog, shared for discussion on Twitter. I think this is the environment that will let me do my best work, while providing quality content to the people that follow me (which is something I take very seriously).

It should also result in more consistent, “on-brand” stuff. Using Twitter like a personal account means I end up shitposting a lot, and long-term that’s not really adding much value for me. Other than being entertaining, of course.

This blog will get a lot less formal, a lot more conversational, and will probably focus on politics and the culture wars as much as technology. I doubt I’ll ever write detailed technical articles here again, but I’ll leave the full history intact – they’re my best-performing posts right now.

I generally leave comments open on my posts, but if you want to get in touch directly and have a private conversation, my details are on the Contact page. Let’s do this!

Oh boy, where to begin.

On the 5th of May, 2008, I started my first day at work.

I doubt I’ll ever forget it: To beat the traffic, I carpooled with an intern from a nearby law firm, arriving in Cape Town at around 6am. I had to wander around the darkness of Kloof Street for a while, trying to keep busy (and warm) until someone showed up to let me in.

It was a surreal morning for me. The preceding family drama is complicated, but the summary of it was that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life at that point. I ended up on a bus from Pretoria to Cape Town the week before Christmas 2007, and lived with my father for a few (very strained) months before I got any semblance of an act together.

I was nervous as hell. At the time, I didn’t actually think I’d land the job. Luckily I had some experience building websites, and between a meager portfolio and an old friend’s insistence on listing at CareerJunction, a recruiter found me.

I failed my first interview. It still amuses me to know that the person who decided not to hire me back then still works at the company, and we’d ended up working together on a few things over the years. Sometimes I wonder if she regrets not having hired me, but I suspect I wouldn’t have lasted in her team anyway.

Luckily, I passed the second interview – between the recruiter and the HR director, they thought I might have some potential. In the end, I landed in the Paid Search team.

While my dress code (on the whole) has been very informal over the last 10 years, I dressed for the occasion on my first day. And it was while wandering around Kloof Street that the outsole on my right shoe became partially unstuck, making an embarrassing noise every time I walked.

Nervous, overdressed, surrounded by people I didn’t know in a city I’d never lived in, praying that my shoe didn’t completely come apart before I could get home. That was my introduction to the company that would carry me through the next ten years.

I get a weird look when I tell people my first job’s lasted this long. It doesn’t feel that way with all the roles I’ve held since 2008. I’ve done pretty much everything there is to do in digital marketing – search, email, display, analytics, consulting, architecture, compliance, project management, team leadership, training, and staying on top of the never-ending waves of technological and social progress.

Right now it feels more like I’m graduating from one of the most arduous post-secondary education experiences imaginable. I’ve had hundreds of hours of theory and thousands of hours of practice. If Gladwell’s Outliers is to be believed, I’ve sunk the requisite 10’000 hours required to achieve mastery in digital marketing. And then some.

And I’ve traveled. My god, have I traveled.

DbYkZptVQAIgrkH.jpg
Every airport I’ve flushed a toilet in.

I’ve been as far east as Phoenix, Arizona (connecting flight on a return trip from Salt Lake City), and as far west as Melbourne (my first on-site development/consulting gig). It’s been a privilege to see so many different parts of the world, and the exhaustion of business travel has thoroughly disabused my notions of the glamorous lifestyle I once thought it was.

The world has changed. 2008 was a different time: Facebook was only 4 years old, Twitter was a toy that gained some media traction during Barack Obama’s campaign. The iPhone 1 had been released just last year.

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The top story that week – food riots in Somalia. Today, there’s food riots in South Africa.

And I’ve changed. In future, I might write more openly about the life I came from, the demons I’ve wrestled with over the years, and the moments of breakthrough that have set me free. For now, it’s enough to acknowledge that 2018 Wogan is a far cry from 2008 Wogan, and I’m grateful for every bit of progress in between.

Today’s my last day. It’s a mixed feeling – strange, to think that I’m moving on after so many years; a relief, knowing I’ve reached the end of this road; anticipation of what the future might bring, and the confidence that comes with real-world experience.

At last, it’s time to move on. I don’t know for sure what the next ten years are going to look like, but I’m eager to find out!

Mid-year Resolutions

It really does feel like January was just the other day – hard to believe we’re already halfway through 2017. It must be some sort of bad joke.

The passage of time hit me properly today when a conversation about cryptocurrencies came up. I remembered that just a few weeks ago, I had dumped a bunch of money into a local exchange and bought some, and I had abandoned that exchange after an issue over support.

(A few weeks ago == January. It’s been five months, but we’re not mentioning that.)

I logged in to find out my R800 investment had somehow turned into R4700, thanks to the exploding value of Litecoin. I could have had an even bigger return had I logged in just a few weeks prior, but I was happy enough with the 500% growth over 5 months.

That experience brought me back to January, for which I still had the unresolved support case sitting in my inbox, along with a pile of notes and plans and ideas. I had sketched out a few things I wanted to achieve in 2017, and it feels like I’ve just now come up for air and half the year is gone.

Among the many things I’ve wanted to do, is actually get a book published. It’s why I started Write500 in the first place, and it’s why I’ve tried to build a daily writing habit. I’ve done okay in some weeks, badly in others, but still not enough to actually get a first draft done.

It reminds me (rather annoyingly) of a conversation I had back in 2007. Back then, at the ripe old age of 18, I had already decided I was going to write and publish something, and declared I’d have it done by November of that year. So naturally, someone went and marked that up on a calendar.

November 2007 came and went, no novel.

And now it’s ten years later.

It’s my fault, really, for not putting writing and writing-related activities higher on my list of priorities. I figure if you’ve passively thought about doing something for more than ten years, it’s probably something you actually have to do, right?

So the first thing I’m going to try doing differently, is writing here a lot more, not averaging a month between posts. I’ve always tried to have a topic, theme, structure, and something useful to say before saying it – and that’s led to me more or less saying nothing, since the bar to actually blogging is set so high.

The other thing I’m going to do is actually try pulling away from tech a lot more. I decided ages ago that I needed to spend a lot more time on creative work, and yet somehow the majority of the content posted so far this year is tech-related.

I guess old habits are really hard to break!

So for this 2017 Mid Year’s Resolution, I’m going to try writing more frequently, and less about technology. That seems like a good enough place to start.

2016 in review

2016 was a hell of a year.

I’m actually not sure where to start writing about it. So much happened, and so much has changed – not just for the world as a whole, but also in my small piece of it. It might be better to start at the end: the things I’m taking away from 2016.

First – I’m either braver, or stupider, than I thought. In May I flew abroad (alone) to attend a convention. In a hotel with thousands of people I knew basically nobody, and spent a week there all the same. It was at times incredibly stressful, but also an incredibly magical experience. It’s not often I take insane leaps like that, but in this case I think it was worth it.

I’ll probably not do that again for a few years. The expense was staggering, for one! I can, however, tick that off my bucket list, and maybe in 2017 constrain myself to the more local conventions of that type.

Second – I built something. In 2015 I switched departments at Acceleration, and headed up the creation of a practice area to do Business Intelligence implementations on Domo. Definitely the best 15 months-or-so of my career so far. A major uphill challenge on all fronts – creating processes, creating a team, travelling and training, and maintaining high customer service levels.

Quite a few midnight calls and early-morning-panic-hack sessions there, let me tell you!

It was challenging, but also by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done to date, career-wise. At the end of Q1 2016 the reins were officially handed over to a dedicated administrator for managing the day-to-day stuff – so I can honestly say that I’ve finished a major, year-plus project.

It wasn’t the best year though – there were some pretty big downsides. The clock struck midnight on my birthday with me sitting in an office tower in Melbourne, which I think officially marked the end of me doing outsourced development work. It just wasn’t worth the time anymore. Over the following months I wound things down and transferred my largest customer to a dev agency in Stellenbosch.

Turns out, it’s possible to push too hard, in too many directions at once, and it took a full-bore emotional breakdown to realize that. That led to several months of therapy to help me realign my priorities – a process that’s still not complete yet.

Overall, having come out of it more or less intact, I think 2016 was far more of a challenge year than a coasting year. It’ll likely take the rest of this year to process everything that happened in 2016.

So what of 2017? Going into the new year, there’s a few moving parts already. Acceleration joined the Wunderman group in September 2016, and we’ve yet to feel the full impact of that. In terms of my career in digital marketing, I’ve got a lot less clarity on where it’s going to go this year – but I do have a cautious optimism it’ll end up in a better place.

Then, personally, I’m only taking up two side projects this year. I mean, I’m telling myself that now, knowing that I’ll probably change my mind in about two weeks, but still – what are resolutions there for, if not to be ignored?

The first is to write every day. My long-term plan there is to be able to produce short stories, longer stories, and eventually novels – without suffering under my inner critic’s constant berating. I’ve built (and will maintain/extend/upgrade) a tool to help me do that: write500.net.

The second: Get into mobile app development. In some ways, I feel like I’ve left this for too long – I’m still, to this day, not capable of building even a basic Android or iOS app using the native tools. And mobile has already proven it’s going to eat the future, so part of me feels that we’re in the get-onboard-or-get-left-behind phase this year.

Luckily, the cross-platform technologies have really come a long way over the last few years, and between PhoneGap, Ionic and the underlying Cordova, I should be able to develop some basic competencies this year. The first thing I’m aiming to build there is a companion app for Write500.

So bring on 2017!

Another year, another domain

Though this time I’m pretty happy to have landed wogan.blog. I mean, it’s not as if I have any shortage of domain names, but it’s great having one so perfectly suited to a blog I almost never update!

My initial plan for this domain was to point it to thegrid.ai and use their platform to run a site, but after a few hours trying to get Molly (that’s her name, apparently) to spit out a design that wasn’t garbage, I gave up and defaulted back to WordPress.

I’ve now got three versions of a personal blog floating around. I’ll have to corral them all at some point, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the new-domain smell.