Philosophy of High Contrast

By David Doswell via the Interintellect

(This article first appeared on David’s website.)

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A still from Todd Haynes’s “I’m Not There”

“I am on my fourth Twitter account, if I recall correctly. This means I have deleted my Twitter account more than three times, if you were looking for another reason to delete this tab and log back into Twitter.

My relationship with Twitter in particular has been strained for reasons I will weave into this essay. No reason to bore or inspire you with my former inadequacies as literary set up. I will simply explain how and why my ideas on the topic work. You may then intelligently contrast and compare my results with my former inadequacies.

I would like to talk about impact.

Presently, I am interested in how someone might consciously improve themselves and their station in life. I am interested in how someone might become a person of what I call High Contrast. Most of my friends, mentees, and even family members are removed from such mechanics yet daily struggle with a Low Contrast reality. They work harder than they have to work. They are separated from people who may be able to help them. Despite a genetic ability to shine, they flicker in the world like rows of loosely-screwed lightbulbs. They are noticed and hurriedly ignored. I observed this phenomenon personally with my experience on Twitter.

The oldest saying goes, “Facebook is for people you know, but don’t want to hear from. Twitter is for people you don’t know, but do want to hear from.” A Low Contrast reality might assume this means scrolling the minutiae of celebrity tweets. But this is misleading. The saying, which is more charitable to Twitter, refers to the many valuable relationships one can build over time with High Contrast people. As a twit with more tweets about things people I followed already read, or knew, I was a low-voltage medium.

What was I doing wrong? I retweeted the “right people.” I took down the “wrong takes.” I was the clever guy in your mentions who thought it more valuable to make you think than to laugh. What gives?

The goal is never to become a Twitter personality. The goal is never to get more press. The goal is never to have the right endorsement from the right person in your career.

Your goal is High Contrast.

Ironically this means spending less time tweeting. The first step to becoming a person of High Contrast is to become Highly Calibrated. This means, firstly, being uniquely qualified to communicate some idea or profession that I cannot. Highly Calibrated people can express what they do in noticeably simple but powerful language. There’s an efficiency to it. They sound educated. There is something remarkable about becoming something close to expert by way of experiment. Practitioners know what they don’t know, but they know what they know.

Secondly, this means executing on your ideas. A stand-up comedian with years of sets under their belt may know little, if anything, of psychoanalytic theory. Yet they are astute at knowing how human psychology works. They understand shame, virtue, pride, and dissonance. They are adept at delivering our true natures to ourselves and understand why some jokes work and why others do not. They are experts. This is an important note: a lack of experience should be the reason why you try stand-up comedy, cooking, or aerospace engineering. You will learn more on the job than you will researching the job. However, both are necessary to becoming Highly Calibrated.

The child of theory and practice is the genius, not the parents. You have to study. Your genius, your baby, when it is truly yours, is unique. That makes it temporarily interesting by definition. Demonstrate some piece of proficiency over time and you will accelerate the current in your bulb. Your Contrast, however, doesn’t change. Not yet.

Becoming Highly Calibrated requires vision, focus, determination, patience, and the ability to allocate time properly. That’s it.

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David Doswell

The first few months to a year will sting. You will be consumed by your vision (you’ll live in the present but you’ll prefer the future). You will have radical focus (you’ll enjoy your family and friends but you’ll prefer your work). You will be especially determined (you’ll take well-deserved breaks but you’ll be antsy to come back to work fresh). You will learn patience (you’ll miss the beach and the movies but you’ll have longer time preferences than your family and friends). You will find the time to do the work. No follow up to that. How these take form will be different for everyone. But you should expect to encounter these realities the more you improve.

You have likely, thus far, optimized for comfort. And why not? You have responsibilities. No reason to pile on. You have your job and your family, or a strong group of friends. You work. You are awesome at happy hour. You come home. You eat. You sleep. That will change. The second step to becoming a person of High Contrast is to become Highly Networked.

An annoying little secret is how becoming Highly Networked is a consequence of becoming Highly Calibrated. As you grow and share your growth, and work, and seek the mentorship of individuals who can help you, you make connections. But these are one-offs. Don’t expect these people to rubber stamp you. Treat them like friends and fulcrums on which you level up. The rest sort of happens. You naturally become someone a person of High Contrast recognizes for their uniqueness. This makes you someone they refer to their High Network when your uniqueness is required.

However, at this point you are still of Low Contrast. But your electric current is flowing and your value is increasing. While outsider-insiders are barking up trees and peddling favors for reputation handouts, trolling powerful people on Twitter, attending Conference of the Month, hashtagging, High Network people do no such thing. In fact, you will notice how much better you’re treated by the people you once admired. At first this will register as fake, disgusting, unfair, because it’s so counterintuitive. Your intellectual heroes behave as if under a spell. They turn their face to you and show you their teeth. They listen when you talk. They ask you questions. They introduce you to people they want to impress at parties and use you to add a spit-shine to their status. This means they respect you. They are fashionably nice to you because you are Highly Calibrated.

Notice how they are interested in your work, not so much in you. Initially. This is a feature, not a bug. The best of who we are is distinctly communicated in our most Highly Calibrated work.

Questions about what you enjoy, who you kiss or what you smoke, are pedestrian and come with the conversation. They’re relevant so far as they explain your decisions. But short of being High Contrast because of these, the answers tend to bore as they generalize across the mean. Expect more interest to be in what you’ve been doing. Your professional network functions like an economy. High Network people do not use recruiters in job searches. They do not research Avvo to measure the quality of an attorney. They do not get recommendations for restaurants from Yelp or investment deal flow from a Facebook group. They are referred the requisite, in-Network, High Contrast professional. Another feature, not a bug.

There is a coterie of qualified people in the world who come highly recommended for most things you could ever want. This is why networks tend to stagnate and become rigid. They accrue value over time through repeated interactions that lead to success, which builds trust.

The value of a network is how trusted it is by its participants.

To continue increasing your current, attending smaller events is preferred to larger ones. Large events tend to aggregate around your peers of the highest Contrast. They’re optimized to singularly focus on them and will drown you out. Your objective is to make meaningful connections and accrue contacts, not simply be seen. Unless you are specifically there by request (in which case you are increasing your Contrast), stay home and keep working. Another way to communicate High Calibration is volunteering.

Any chance you have to do something for free in exchange for time in a High Network should be considered. Helping organize an event is underrated. Speaking at events for something you have recently become uniquely qualified to discuss is also a net positive. But beware: oversaturation makes you look unnatural and is bad for Contrast. The most important means by which one may communicate High Calibration is writing. Specifically blogging. Writing scales. Any person with an internet connection in a free society can find you. Your blog communicates what you’ve been doing but more importantly how you think about it.

A blog is a business card, the résumé behind the résumé, and an archive for your personal library of ideas. It is how we’ll remember you.

But you’ll notice people beginning to aggregate around you over time. You’ll notice opportunities diffuse and alleviate the pain of you having to look for them.

This is the Dao of Contrast.”

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