Down with The Triumvirate! Petitioning for Clarity on what Medium Wants to Be
Henry Wismayer

The need to succeed is as American as apple pie

It’s hardwired into our DNA. Blame Benjamin Franklin, the father of the original life-hack. Franklin’s lifelong quest for self-improvement ingrained itself in the American character. (Yes, I’m a believer in Lamarckian evolutionary theory.)

Franklin’s disciples multiplied like bacteria. Dale Carnegie added refinements to Franklin’s formulas. We went from a nation of sinners to a nation of grinners. Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was the first of a flood of self-help books. These books are chock-full of platitudes, fortune-cookie homilies and regurgitated TED talk pablum. They share a common theme: You need to change who you are to succeed.

Carnegie’s spiritual descendants are today’s life-hackers. Just do these three (or 17 or 35) things to change who you are, and you’ll let the genie escape from the bottle.

I wonder if life-hackers are the reason why we must deal with so many inauthentic people in our lives.

The self-improvement phenomenon found its fictional apotheosis in The Great Gatsby. Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous character embodies the American dream turned nightmare. Jay Gatsby was the ultimate striver. Boy, did that guy succeed.

These days the gurus are everywhere, selling vapid formulas. And they’re all over Medium with advice: Visit these 23 websites and you’ll gain a magic aura. Do these eight things by 8:00am and eight good things will happen, I promise. Repeat this mantra twice a day and release the giant within. Do these 19 other things and you’ll be so productive, your brain will melt and slide down into your shoes.

This stuff is digital snake oil. Harmless, to be sure, since there’s nothing to ingest. But you wonder how much longer it will be before you see headlines promising your hair back in 90 days.

Maybe the folks at Medium can separate its community into two camps. Peddlers and strivers on one side. Readers and writers on the other. I know what side I’d choose to be on. Just sayin’.

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