Selling Difficulty

Selling difficulty imbues in us a pervasive taunt of underachievement. We are told that reviewing subject matter, obtaining new qualities, and learning new material through practice is thunderously difficult. To these statements, we concede. We may take a back seat to our own desires prompted by a curious mind in the face of articles we have scoured, all of which tell us that we are ill-equipped and fundamentally in need of guidance through the process of acquiring a new skill or new knowledge.

In truth, we may opt for guidance, but the requirement is not there. Least of all do we need to seek guidance from an advisor who places his knowledge as difficult to obtain. Learning is not about difficulty, but rather about process. It can involve difficulty, of course, but the main focus should not be on this state. Rather, attention needs to rest elsewhere. Selling difficulty takes on a similar role in the world that we live in as depression does. We want to keep a certain mystique and aura about it. We don’t want to list specifics, but rather tip toe around general concepts. We sell depression as we do difficulty.

For depression, many of us tend towards avoidance. The reason for this? There is a gap in understanding that while depression may be “difficult” to understand, we are required to speak of it nonetheless to bring forth clear narrative. Avoidance is key to the understand of common day “difficulty”, however, much of the difficulty we current proclaim is not correlative to that which we are attaching that term to. Some say that web development is difficult or learning a new language is difficult. Oftentimes, the very people proclaiming the difficulty serve to gain from it.

Mountain photo by George Hiles

A salesman says that learning French is difficult, thereby raising the value of his skill. He offers people the definitive guide of learning to speak French. An author says that starting your own business is difficult. In such, he sell not only the solution to the problem, but the problem itself. Selling difficult is much more than making a statement about the capacity and obstacles for learning that humans supposedly hold. It is an imposition of difficulty branding.

Difficulty branding lives in an economy of stigmatization. We have bred this stigmatization by rejecting to speak openly about topics like learning, independence, depression, and other morsels of the true human narrative. In this type of economy, particular people prey on the outside-ness of others. You’ll see that perpetually keeping a front of separation helps individuals claim status. If what they do (and sell) is difficult, then it is worthwhile for me to pay them for their insider-ness. However, in a world of relational de-stigmatization, we have less of a clear distinction between insider and outsider.

Selling difficult is a breeding ground for advantageous reckoning with the politics of knowing and not knowing.

Knowing is status and salable. Not knowing is just that. It is the state of also not knowing whether or not the proclaimed difficulty is overblown, dramatized, or even applicable to the buyer. Then difficulty is enigma. A contemporary salesman will focus his attention to the obstacles and barriers to entry, even if he simultaneously denounces those barriers. He does this because his proclaimed livelihood depends on the sale of difficult.

To say something is not difficult insinuates that the product or service is not needed (or so the salesman thinks), which would terrify him. His profit relies on continuing the facade that his service or product is absolutely required in the face of all of the difficulty he has himself proposed. His insight becomes valueless if potential buyers weigh their level of fear against the threat of difficulty and determine that their stamina and willingness to learn stands above the false threshold. Selling difficulty serves only the seller in the context of transmitting insider information. There is no difficulty in this world but that which we attribute. We get caught in the lines of those in constant seller-mode, who turn their utmost efforts onto laying down and reinforcing the idea that things are difficult. There is no difficulty in this world but that which we seek to gain from.

Terminal Basics

Let’s get into terminal basics. I’m still in my first week at the UC Davis Extension coding bootcamp and I’m excited to share some of the fundamentals that I am currently learning. I’ll jump into them below, but note that I have a Mac so some commands and the interface will look different for Windows (and other) users.

If you’re a beginner, you are probably wondering what Terminal is used for. You will use terminal to easily navigate and access directories and files on your computer. On top of that, you will use terminal to pull and push code to git, but we won’t get into that in this article. I will run through some basic Terminal commands in the following examples that will show you: what directory you are in, how to list files in a given directory, how to move between directories, how to make a new directory, and how to make new files.

A directory is a folder that stores a list of files and other directories. An example of a directory is Desktop, which houses all of the directories (folders) and files that you have on your Desktop.

Terminal Basics: Finding Where You Are

Open up Terminal on your Mac. If you cannot find it on your computer, press command and space at the same time. This will open spotlight. Type in terminal and hit enter. The following is how Terminal will look when you first open it.

how terminal looks when you first open it

To locate where you currently are on your computer, type in pwd and hit enter. pwd stands for print working directory. You will see in the example below that I am in the directory /Users/falondarville.

terminal command pwd

Next, I type the command ls to list all of the files and other directories that I have in my /Users/falondarville directory.

command ls in terminal

From there, I can change directory but typing the command cd followed by the name of the directory that I want to move to. For example, cd Development 

Here, I can use the command ls again to see what’s in my Development directory. But let’s say I want to go back to the previous directory, or the one before that. I will use the command cd .. to do so.

Use cd .. to go back one directory.

Use cd ../.. to go back two directories. In the following example, I have used the command cd ../.. to go back two directories. You will see that now my location is Users. If I had gone back one step instead of two, I would be at /Users/falondarville

command to go back a step

Exercise: Print a list of the items inside your current directory. What do you see and why? Change your directory so that you are back to your own user profile. The directory that I want to go to is /Users/falondarville from Users. After you’ve done this, let’s move on to create our own directories and files through Terminal.

By the way, use clear to empty your Terminal. Don’t be afraid to play around with moving between directories. It’s how you will get comfortable with this tool.

Terminal Basics: Making Directories and Files

To make a new directory, go to the location where you want to create it. For example, I want to make a new directory on my Desktop. I have cleared my Terminal and changed directory to Desktop in the following screenshot.

To make a new directory in Terminal, I use the command mkdir and add the name of my new directory. In the following, I have made a new directory called example using the command mkdir example

Now the folder called example has appeared on my desktop! Locate the new directory you created on your own computer.

I now want to make some new files inside of my example folder. So I change directory to example and then use the command touch to name and create my new files. In the image below, I have created two new files on the same command line. Make sure that when you create files, you include the extension (ex. .html or .css).

The exact command that I used to create the two files is: touch example.html example.css

You can create as many files as you would like in one command line. Try create another file after creating the first two. I used the command line: touch secondexample.html

And now if you want to check the content of your example directory, just use the command ls again. This should show you the three files that you created.

That wraps up my overview of Terminal basics for the time being. Nailing these commands is going to make you a lot more comfortable using this tool. From there, pushing to GitHub and adding an SSH key is not going to seem so intimidating!

If you’re feeling frustrated as a beginner learning code, I wrote a little on the subject in a previous blog post.

The Social Money Tether

The social money tether is my concept for anything that ties you to something, while simultaneously repelling you from the core of it. A tether doesn’t entirely immobilize, but allows restricted movement. And here I am not talking about the amount of money that goes into a project, but the money and social status expected as a return for a service done. As we’ve seen, the amount of social exposure gained from one’s creative work can be converted into monetary gain. A service can be anything from providing information on the internet through blogs and downloadable books, to entertaining through comedy on YouTube or at a local coffee shop. There are no bounds to the imaginings of potential earnings. Nor are there limits to an individual’s valuation of his own time.

Brenda Ueland says the following in her book If You Want to Write:

One great inhibition and obstacle to me was the thought: will it make money? But you find that if you are thinking of that all the time, either you don’t make the money because the work is so empty, dry, calculated and without life in it. Or you do make money and you are ashamed of your work.

A social money tether is an envisioned return on investment. It values resources like time and effort, and converts them into mental valuations of monetary and social returns. In this, it restricts the movements of creativity because its concern lies with attaining compensation for effort. The work itself takes on a new formulation, ridden with uncomfortable inhibitors. One of these inhibitors may well be the want to please as many people as possible. In this, the work of the project and passion of the individual suffers at the hand of popular opinion, which will tend to reject what it deems abnormal and non-conforming.

In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson speaks about Feedback Loops. He provides the example (taken from a news story by journalist Thomas Goetz) of “Your Speed” signs. These were placed “in the school zones of Garden Grove, California.” According to Goetz, the signs provided redundant information that the motorist could readily obtain from glancing at his speedometer. “Your Speed” signs “defied decades of law-enforcement dogma, which held that most people obey speed limits only if they face come clear negative consequence for exceeding them.” The signs successfully got people to slow down. As Ronson explains, “You get instant real-time feedback…You change your behavior as a result of the feedback…You get instant feedback for that decision, too.”

Photo of Mountains by Stephen Leonardi

The real-time communicative process of this Feedback Loop resonates with ideas of determining and enforcing normalcy parameters, as well as understanding monetary and social gain as following the “right” course. In instances like “Your Speed” sign, Feedback Loops provide useful and beneficial indicators for behavior. However, Loops can also be put into a different context. In this alternative context, say that you receive attention for a piece of your creative work that you are not very proud of. Yet, following the signals of the Loop, you continue to produce work similar to the original work that obtained that response. Media and attention can be leveraged for monetary gain, which you drive through your newly acquired audience.

This Feedback Loop is now a social money tether. Individuals working on their personal creative projects can get stuck in their own loop. They may start to put more importance and value on parts of the projects that prove to be more lucrative, at the expense of other personally-valuable parts. While this is not always to the detriment of the individual creator, the work may in fact suffer if his success is solely determined by his monetary and socially-sanctioned take away.

The idea of the social money tether is not a hidden or disguised one. The reason why it is worth thinking about more in depth, especially for those who don’t have lucrative hobbies, is that it should serve to excuse the time you think you are wasting on your passions. Not all of your activities need to be tied to economic or social gain. Ueland includes a portion of a letter she wrote to someone in her book If You Want to Write:

It is our nasty twentieth century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc. unless one has an audience or gets cash for it?…Yes, we are all thoroughly materialistic about such things. ‘What’s the use?’ we say, of doing anything unless you make money or get applause?…One cannot strive to write a cheap, popular story without learning more about cheapness.

The idea that materialism inhibits our pursuits, as you see in the except above, is not a brand-new one. We have been weighed down with wanting to qualify our time and resources by seeing a fruitful byproduct emerge from all of the creative expressions we put out to the world. This expectation (or deep desire) of return on investment now extends to social media. Jon Ronson shares an email message from his friend Adam Curtis in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which points to the idea of this return.

Twitter passes lots of information around. But it tends to be the kind of information that people know that others in their particular network will like. So what you get is a kind of mutual grooming. One person sends on information that they know others will respond to in accepted ways.

This type of behavior points back to the idea of modification of the creative product in anticipation of social return on time invested. The social money tether shows its unpleasant side, paying all too clear heed to normalization and the reward of particular behaviors, beliefs, and actions (even at the expense of others, as Jon Ronson talks in depth about in his book).

How do we alter our communications and creative products to accommodate for imagined responses from other people?

What type of monetary and social influences change the way that we present ourselves and our creative work?

How tethered are we to return on investment for our hobbies and other unpaid work we do out of passion?