Where Does It Go?

Truly great technology is not about technology. The engineering, in many ways, is the least important piece of it.

"What does it do?" matters less than "Where does it go?" Where does it go in my life? Where does it grow into? What does it enable me to achieve that I wouldn't be able to achieve without it?

If it doesn't fit in my life, if it doesn't enable me to be a better version of myself, then it's not great technology. It might as well not exist.

Truly great technology is not about technology. It's about human beings.

It's amazing how often we forget that.

Three Thoughts on NXT Live

From last night, courtesy of YouTube.

  1. My fiancee and I joined five thousand of our closest friends last night at NXT Live in San Jose. It was the first wrestling show either of us had ever seen. I've been a fan since I was twelve, while she grudgingly accompanied me after I promised that she'd get the chance to see Tyler Breeze, who she finds hilarious. Wrestlemania is in San Jose this weekend, so crowd was filled with fans who had traveled from all over the world and decided to spend three hours on a Friday night watching a series of full-contact passion plays. The fans were wildly enthusiastic but also pleasant and controlled - everyone was there first and foremost to have a good time and support the up-and-coming wrestlers they've been watching for the last several months and/or years. While WWE programming tends to be more soap-opera-like and vignette-based these days, NXT is about as close to an old-school wrestling show as one can get at the moment, and the talent level among the performers is sky-high. In short, it was an ideal introduction to live wrestling in that the crowd was great, the venue was intimate, and the product was exactly what one would hope it would be.
  2. There were two things that came across in the live experience that video simply doesn't capture.
    • The first is how much of the wrestlers' performances are reactive rather than pre-planned. Establishing and channeling the relationship with the crowd is essential to building a match, and being able to adapt on the fly to particular changes in mood is critical to performing effectively. Baron Corbin, a relatively young and still-inexperienced wrestling, showed a bit of positive growth last night when, upon being matched up against fellow fan-favorite Rhyno, he began to subtly tweak his mannerisms, move set, and contact points with the audience. The crowd was solidly behind Rhyno from the moment he entered the ring, despite Corbin being the up-and-coming babyface, and rather than fight that, Corbin went with the flow and played the heel without actually turning heel. Seeing the transition is one thing, but feeling it live is another.
    • The second is how structured a show or card is and why that structure matters. After leading off with a hot match between Hideo Itami and Breeze, the crowd was then treated to a relatively boring showdown between relative nobodies Bull Dempsey and Jason Jordan, which was then followed up by a tag-team match featuring San Jose's own Bayley (for whom the crowd went crazy). The Dempsey/Jordan match was slow, boring, and generally uninteresting, but it was also absolutely essential, because the energy-level in the building was so high for Itami/Breeze that the audience needed a chance to calm down before Bayley hit the stage. To try to sustain that early energy for three hours would have been impossible, so we were treated to the occasional rest match to prime us for the next big pop.
  3. There was a familiar feeling I had through the event that I couldn't place until we had left. The energy in the air was something I had felt before, but not at any sporting event or concert. I had felt at it PAX East in 2010 and 2011, and it's that pure positivity that comes from gathering a collection of committed fans in one place to celebrate something they love. It was like attending the midnight screening of a Marvel movie or standing in line at the Apple Store on a launch day, and I was just amazed at how positive the whole thing was. It's a beautiful sort of community that arises from shared passions and experiences that not everyone else will understand or want to understand. Wrestling may be pantomime, but the love that fans have for it and the community they've built is real, as real as any more conventional fan community. This was our first wrestling show, but it won't be our last.

Three Thoughts on "Becoming Steve Jobs"

  1. A good biography shouldn't be a step-by-step walkthrough of a life. Even a simple life is too complex to be reduced to a record of what happened in it. A good biography should provide a view into the character of its subject by showing how that character manifests itself in ways big and small. Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli succeeded for me where Walter Isaacson's more famous book failed because I walked away from it with a better understanding of who Steve Jobs was, not as a business leader or visionary technologist, but as a human being.
  2. It strikes me that a good measure of how someone has lived his life is not so much the number of voices speaking for or against him, but the passion with which they speak. Those who hate Jobs admit seem to hate him halfheartedly, but those who loved him did so truly and deeply. John Lasseter tells the story of saying goodbye to Jobs at the end of the latter's life. What resonated with me wasn't the sadness of the farewell, but the gratitude that Lasseter felt for the man who had been his boss, his mentor, and his friend. His last words to Jobs were: "Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for me." In the end, can any of us ask for a better farewell from someone we love? And can any of us ask for more than someone to whom we can say it?
  3. Becoming Steve Jobs devotes an entire chapter to Jobs' famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford, where Jobs said: "You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." Nothing in the book hit me as hard as those words. I have an unusual personal and professional background and a range of interests far more eclectic than is typical in a person my age. I have spent a good deal of time wondering what I might have accomplished to date if only I could have winnowed away some of those interests and focused on one or two things - specialized, as they say. But I've never been able to bring myself to do that, because I can't quite believe that I'll lead a better life as a narrower person. It is deeply encouraging to have someone tell me to trust that all of those interests, all of those dots, will connect in my future, even if that someone said it ten years ago and has been dead for almost four. It is encouraging to hear someone say that all of it matters.

Three Questions About Wrestling

  1. In a world where one of our primary obsessions is finding narrative consistency in seemingly random events - be they sports, politics, or life - why do we look down on a genre that begins with the presumption that those threads do exist and are important? There is at least as much terrible in the world of wrestling as there is good, but that's a detail of execution. Most objections to the genre are rooted in the conceptual conceit that a story that feels "honest" is more important than a "real" outcome. But in how many other walks of life are we willing to accept that conceit?
  2. Why is wrestling considered a "low-brow" genre? Again, bad wrestling is and will always be bad, but good wrestling is a genuine thrill that engages on multiple levels. To dismiss the horror genre as "trashy" just because a lot of horror films are really bad would be to deny that a masterpiece like Psycho has genuine artistic merit. So why are we so eager to dismiss wrestling as some sort of illegitimate form of entertainment simply because some of it is hard to watch? Is there no room for nuance in our opinions of different forms of entertainment?
  3. As an industry, why did professional wrestling experience tremendous consolidation despite not necessarily being a business that benefited obviously from economies of scale and scope? The twenty-year wave of consolidation that began when Vince McMahon took over his father's company was the product of an aggressive business strategy that successfully leveraged emerging media, not an industry tendency towards natural monopoly. But McMahon began from a position of weakness, not strength, and his success hinged on a number of risky bets that ultimately swung in his favor. It's a fascinating business case, and one that should get a bit more attention in studies than it does - because, of course, wrestling is too "low-brow" to be considered a serious business. More to follow.