I Accept Your Challenge.
Jon Westenberg 🌈

(Unsplash // Matthew Wiebe)

I Accept Your Surrender

But I make no apology for calling you out.

OK, Jon Westenberg, I admit that headline was just an attempt to elicit a collective gasp from people who’ve been following this conversation (I’m not above a bit of click-baitery myself). You haven’t issued a surrender, of course, nor should you.

On reflection, it was a bit unsporting to single you out as a poster-child for the life-hack brigade in my ‘Open Letter to Jon Westenberg and Other Self-Help Blowhards’. Your work was almost impossible to ignore in February, and I guess that, by responding to the censure and satire your prodigious output engendered, you stepped into my crosshairs.

“Finally,” I thought, “a lifehacker who is human! Who bleeds!” So instead of penning an open letter to all of Medium’s lifehackers, I addressed it directly to you.

Truth is, I don’t disdain your writing per se. You write with great clarity and, often, a confessional vulnerability that is affecting and authentic. And I appreciate the maturity of your response to my criticism. Sure, drop the listicles and the numeric headlines and the ‘How to’ headlines. And good luck with the new publication. I, for one, will be looking on with interest.


…none of this should be read as a retraction of my original assertion: that formulaic lifehack articles are popular for rubbish reasons, and those reasons mark them out as the very antithesis of sparkling and insightful writing.

People have been harping on about this for months now — I embarked on a mini-crusade on the issue myself back in November. Yet still the self-help stranglehold on Medium tightens.

Fun as it they may be to satirize, I don’t particularly blame the self-help writers, who are perfectly entitled to post whatever they wish. The responsibility for addressing the subjective imbalance on Medium lies squarely with Medium itself.

Medium knows this, and is probably desperate to find a remedy. Perhaps the new Collections thing, with its prospect of careful curation, marks a first step in the right direction.

Many of us certainly hope so.

Because just look at this…

Look at it, Jon, Jon’s fans, everyone. Because this post by Yann Girard — yet another re-hash (Medium’s millionth) of the hackneyed practice-makes-perfect trope — could have been written with the specific aim of mocking everyone who ‘resonates’ (™ Benjamin P. Hardy) with my side of this conversation.

At the time of writing it’s the most popular post in all of Medium-land.

This…what? This thing? For it is barely a thing at all, so empty is it of substance or insight or wisdom. I think this might be the most vacuous piece of writing to appear anywhere, ever.

By the end, Yann is reminding us how to count integers. He even puts in a paragraph break between the lines, just in case we’re struggling to keep up with what he’s saying.

First you go from 0 to 1.
And then from 1 to 2.
Until maybe one day you’ll end up at 100…

And 1,200 people have recommended it. I despair.

At this point, those who took issue with my earlier disparagement of Jon will be clamoring for an ‘un-recommend’ button. However, I’d like to think that Yann, should he read this, would feel more caught out than affronted [he has since responded to this article here]. Because Yann knows full-well what he is doing: serving up trite, off-the-peg ‘inspiration’ for an audience too busy — and too overwhelmed by the 21st century media fusillade— to engage with anything more intellectually demanding.

This is not a ‘Thought Pill’. It’s a fucking Placebo.

That this should be the most successful piece of writing on Medium right now says a lot about the human condition, and about our impatience, our modern obsession with self, and how the internet has decimated our attention spans.

All of which is interesting, and not exactly offensive. But it is undeniably tragic to recognize that even the greatest writers the world has ever seen — even Tolstoy, Austen, Shakespeare, Twain— were they to be resurrected, handed a keyboard, and presented with Medium’s clean white page, even they would almost certainly fail to put a dent in the lifehacker hegemony.

A new literary titan might be serializing the next great American novel, or exposing the next Watergate, here on Medium, and none of us would ever know.

Keep up the good work, Jon, and roll with the punches.


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