Every year, I learn about new things that make me think that our world is headed in the wrong way. Take private jets.
There are now companies that offer “affordable” private jets. I saw a news item about this recently on tv. You can split the cost of a private jet with 30 or so other people who want to go to a party destination like Ibiza in Europe. Or Las Vegas in the US.
When the reporter showed the inside of the jet, it was just like any other commercial airline jet, but smaller. In fact, the whole experience was exactly the same as going on a “regular” flight.
You go to an airport, wait in line to check-in, board the plane with a bunch of strangers, and you fly to your destination. But the difference is that you can say to your friends, “I’m flying private.” What a load of shit.
The impact of entertainment on real life
In 1985, Neil Postman, who was a media critic, wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman argued that the media de-emphasizes the quality of information and over-emphasizes our desire to be entertained.
Remember, that book was written over 35 years ago in an age without the internet and social media. The trend he saw back then, is 100 times worse today. In fact, the world of media has influenced culture more than anything else.
We’re no longer driven by values, morals, loyalty, or family, we’re driven by what the media emphasizes. What’s the overarching theme of all media?
Celebrating the rich and famous. Our culture cares about winning, and that’s the only thing that matters.
That’s why you see companies that offer affordable private jets. But that’s not the craziest thing I’ve seen. You can actually go to a place that offers fake private jets so you can take pictures and pretend you were on one. And that’s been going on since at least 2017.
I can’t think of a more poignant example that’s telling of our times. We’d rather have a real picture in a lavish private jet over a real experience that’s normal.
This is the impact of entertainment on real life. People assume that what they see in movies, tv shows, and social media is real. And they try to mimic it.
We copy the behavior of our examples
When my parents got a 12-week-old British short-hair kitten we named Archibald, we were all surprised by how Archie instantly knew he should go to his toilet for doing a number one and two.
Kittens learn that from observing their mother. As far as I know, cats can’t communicate the way we do, so they learn by copying each other’s behavior.
In fact, this is what most mammals do. One of my mother’s favorite stories about my childhood is the first time I learned the word “shit.” I played outside with some older kids and heard them say “shit” every time something bad happened.
So I went home, bumped my knee on the table, and said, “SHIT!” Kids are more susceptible to copying behavior because the critical part of their brain isn’t developed yet. They have no reference point of what normal vocabulary or behavior is.
”Why am I not rich and famous?”
I’m born in 1987, and I copied what I saw: My parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends, teachers, and beyond my physical circle, the movies I watched and music I listened to.
While there were a lot more media in my childhood than my parents, my primary influences were still physical.
Someone born after the millennium is often influenced by what happens on their smartphone. They copy the behavior of celebrities and social media stars.
Ask 100 ten-year-olds what they want to do, and I’d guess 99 of them will say something that’s related to becoming rich or famous: A musician, YouTuber, actor, NBA player, Elon Musk, and so forth.
When the same kids grow up and live normal lives without millions of dollars, they wonder, “Why am I not rich & famous yet?”
This is a delusional feeling that many people have, not only people born after 2000. In fact, it’s what many of my writing peers strive for. They want to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. And when they write a few articles that no one cares about, they get discouraged and quit.
Mistaking fantasy for reality
I think it’s cheap to criticize our western culture too much and say that everything is bad. And that western society is doomed. I also don’t agree with many media critics that came after Neil Postman who say everything about the internet and media is bad.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with emphasizing entertainment. And I love to watch a good movie or tv show. It only becomes a problem when we mistake fantasy for reality.
99% of what you see on TV is fake. “Reality” shows about people’s lives are fake. Vlogs on YouTube are fake. Posts on social media are fake.
When I say fake, I don’t mean it’s all a lie. I mean that it’s not a depiction of reality. A snapshot of someone’s life on Instagram tells you nothing about that person’s actual life. That’s how we should treat all those things: As pure entertainment, not as inspiration for life.
Outcomes are not created equally
Look, I’m not a media or political critic whose sole aim is to bash our civilization. I think we’re doing pretty decent. But we can do better!
We just need to let go of the delusional expectations we sometimes have. In fact, every outcome we expect is delusional from a philosophical perspective.
Let’s say you have two people, Person A and Person B. They are both value investors who follow the strategy laid out by Benjamin Graham in the 1930s.
Person A was born in 1930. Person B was born seventy years later, in 2000. They both start applying the Graham investing strategy at a very early age, let’s say when they were 15 years.
Person A becomes Warren Buffett, once the richest man on earth, who experienced one of the biggest booms in value stocks when he was young. Person B loses half of their money because value stocks are out of favor in the 2010s. And picking winning value stocks is almost impossible.
Same strategy, same actions, different times, different outcomes. Becoming rich and famous is mostly a matter of luck.
Once we let go of outcomes, we can look inward and focus on the things that truly matter: To become a good person with values, who has character, and is good at what they do.
That’s the biggest reward in life. And it’s 100% in your own hands.