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The Tinkered Mind
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October 2nd, 2020
This episode is dedicated to Scott Galloway who is a Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern, host of the Prof G show and Cohost of Pivot.
When the internet gifted the world the power of online anonymity, the first to take advantage were malicious actors. Hackers and trolls, bullies and all other sorts seized upon the opportunity of this identity shield with the aim of conducting nefarious activity that has ranged from simple name calling and heckling to some of the most despicable activity we humans seem capable of. It’s without wonder that the reputation of anonymous profiles as even a mere concept evokes unsettling negativity. Certainly very few tether online anonymity with anything positive.
This is, however, changing. Anonymity was the stuff of legend before the internet. All our fabled superheroes of the last century were imagined complete with secret identities. Anonymity allowed those characters to do two things: on the one hand they could do all the flashy hero stuff, and on the other, they could instantly retreat to the calm status of being just another face in the crowd. There are of course those who have sought to be just this sort of vigilante, but with all the flashy action relegated to the acrobatics that a talented programmer can perform through the internet.
Beyond such extreme activities, a new sort of common anonymity is arising. Increasingly, there are accounts online that are clearly operating with the intent to be some kind of positive influence. Tinkered Thinking is certainly an example that humbly tries to figure out this role. But the decision to remain anonymous has yielded a great deal of unexpected good.
As the online presence of Tinkered Thinking has grown, it’s become a bit of a brand. As one early reader and listener noted in regards to the style and aesthetics Tinkered Thinking: you nailed the branding.
In the context of anonymity, the question of what a brand is begins to carry some interesting nuances. For example, when we think of ‘brands’, we generally think of corporations. An excellent brand, like say Apple might deliver delightful products that integrate usefully into our lives while all the while projecting something like a good aura. Then on the other hand we have the insidious corporation, one that is purposely faceless and that seems hellbent on undermining people for profit and the greed of shareholders. The aura of the later is remarkably similar to that of those anonymous profiles online with ill aims.
Much is also said about the ‘personal brand’, one that is at the core of one’s career and advertised with LinkedIn profiles, Twitter profiles and Youtube Channels. The aim here is nearly always virtuous: pumping up the good juju of a personal brand is likely to pay off. In the age of cancel culture, however, many people with self-built personal brands are discovering the weaknesses of putting a face to the name and having that name be your own. If, however, we take the ‘personal’ out of ‘personal brand’, what exactly does that begin to look like?
Though Tinkered Thinking started and mainly remains a curiosity project, the exercise of what it is as a brand has a remarkable impact. One example is the way Tinkered Thinking maintains a presence on Twitter. Twitter gets a ton of heart for the amount of verbal garbage that people pour into it, and rightfully so. In the context of an anonymous brand, however, the way I personally find myself interacting with Twitter is far different. Many times I’m tempted like all the rest to make a comment that doesn’t really add to the conversation, and may in most instances take away from the conversation. But the brand of Tinkered Thinking provides a powerful psychological filter. Like a kid who has been cast as the captain of a ship while playing with others, the thought of what to do and what not to do in this role comes to the forefront. While others often suffer the understandable mistake of being too personal with a personal brand, Tinkered Thinking isn’t a person: it is an idea, one that anyone can explore and try to integrate. Much of the inane human drama that propagates online simply isn’t inline with this idea, and most people don’t behave in perfect accordance with their values and principles. We as humans are understandably fallible. But a symbol can have a sort of incorruptibility that transcends what we grant our fellow man, despite how corrupt some of the organizations might be that hide behind brands with excellent PR.
We think of these brands as masks to conceal, but such masks can also have an effect on the actor wearing that mask. Our assumption likely defaults to some kind of malicious effect because this is what we’ve mostly seen with anonymity, but more and more the effort of individuals to craft a brand as a symbol to stand for an idea or a set of ideas and principles, the more the effect of that symbol can backtrack in virtuous ways.