Building a personal brand and the tendency to oblivion (2021)

I’ve been struggling with the Internet recently. I’m always swinging between delete everything, go dark and spend more time in the garden versus go hard on all the platforms: twitter, linkedin, substack, and now apparently clubhouse. My wife says I have a tendency to oblivion. This desire to go dark must be pretty deep rooted. When I was 18 to be contrarian I had a gap year to travel around South East Asia. I had an old Nokia for staying in contact with people at home. I threw it into the Indian Ocean (I think there is an old Bloc Party song that mentions something similar?) I have no idea exactly why. And to be honest, the fact I went travelling on my own when I was 18 is probably part of the same drive. The Beach and Into The Wild are like two of my favourite books (and films). The protagonists literally leave everything behind looking for a simpler life. I’ve never had therapy but if I did, this is where I would start.

I deleted everything late last year. Got rid of my twitter and linkedin accounts. I have mad followers too, I was a bit of a thought leader over on Linkedin. I had deleted Facebook and Instagram years ago obviously. I used [saymine](, the app that sends account deletion requests. I’m over here trying to own my data. So boom, I deleted crunchbase, angellist, bebo, myspace, etc. WhatsApp finally went earlier this year. I’m using greyscale on my old iPhone, no notifications, no social apps, no email, just telegram, signal and Monzo. So here I was in the world Cal Newport and Tristan Harris built. Christopher McCandeless would be proud. And yet.

And yet, a month or so ago one sunny Tuesday I set up a new Linkedin account. A new twitter account. I finally sorted a website - using Super for Notion. I think I’m back on Angellist and Crunchbase too. I am pretty sure all of this will make me materially less happy. I end up logging on to these sites way more than I should. 9 am comes, straight on Brave and then it’s ‘l’ and autofill LinkedIn. I mean wft. I don’t even want a job. And I can guarantee there will be zero of interest in that feed. Actually, false. Something something, gave a homeless man a tenner. Something something, the homeless man was his new boss, and then they got married or something. It’s absolute dross. Maybe someday some sale rep or recruiter will check out my profile and offer me the opportunity of a lifetime.

Then I figure I should say some snarky comments on Twitter, or talk about second order consequences and long-term implications of X,Y, and Z to show I’m clever. Have you ever really thought about the second-order consequences of everybody owning their own data? Thread below. Hopefully one day someone important follows me and likes my stuff. Like imagine if me and Ben Thompson go at it about EU competition law or something. Then Ben Evans pipes up and says something harsh. That would be wild and probably worth hundreds of hours toiling the fields right? For now though, I find myself going through the day noting down stuff I think about to tweet at some point. Which means ever single time I do that I take myself out of the moment. I’m in the garden literally looking at the ducks thinking about competitive niches and seeing how that relates to NFTs. I have something very clever to say about this soon.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and I’ve now got Superhuman back on my phone. Slack is now on there too. I haven’t gone back to WhatsApp, so small graces. And now I’m in another ludic loop clicking on all the apps in front of the TV watching Superstore. Because what happens if I miss a message? I mean I’ve turned off notifications, so I have to manually check every app. The whole thing is a shitshow if I’m honest. I think I am doing it because I feel this pull to create a personal brand. At the root, it’s probably ego and a deep rooted need for people to think I’m clever. There is probably something in here about success in the knowledge economy means building an audience. Generate your own demand, aggregation theory, creator economy, etc. Even more in my case, as it seems like the way to get access to good investments is to say smart things on twitter, do a podcast and have a substack (Yes this is published on Substack, don’t @ me). But these things don’t have an end point. It’s not like you can log off at 5 and then go spend time with your family. To really succeed you have to sacrifice. Really hustle for the shares and follows. You have to put in the work. You can start playing FIFA on YouTube and then just 10 years later you’ve got a song out with Craig David.

So here I am. Putting out content on Linkedin. I can’t find the middle ground. Maybe there is no middle ground. Maybe the superstar economy in knowledge work means I can’t just opt out. If I want to pay the mortgage I have to do the online work. For me personally, spending time online and specifically my phone actually diminishes my quality of life. And to be clear, this is just me, I appreciate lots of people find community online and have to be online because of their work. But I don’t have a community online. I didn’t grow up gaming. I didn’t grow up on online forums discussing niche interests like Dungeons and Dragons or Litecoin. Sure I used MSN messenger and I was all A/S/L in the late 90s, but that was the 90s. The 90s were a different time. We had the world at our feet.

I’m probably overthinking it as usual. I’m sure there are loads of people who find a balance. I know for sure kids are logging on to Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft and being sociable. And so that’s the direction of travel. I’m part of the generation born offline and online is something I do, not something I am. I just want to do my work and log-off. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.