George Carlin on the Danger of Visible Progress
Our obsession with measuring progress is hurting our writing (and our lives).
Maybe the worst invention in the world’s history is the “like” button on Facebook. Or do you prefer: hearts on Instagram, claps on Medium, or favorites on Twitter?
These seemingly innocent inventions designed to validate one’s work whether it be a selfie, article, or recipe for Vegan Soup. A collective inter-webs high five to say:
you’re good enough, smart enough, and gosh dang it, people like you.
Now I may see the like button as a spawn of hell. But let’s not forget the power of change it can bring into the world. A click of a button can determine who’s on the right side of history. A simple retweet will show the world how much we love humanity or not.
Did they like that post? Why not? They must be a narrow-minded homophobe that hates puppies. How can Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or choose your political or religious affiliation, be so unenlightened?
All because of the like button.
But can we engage the dark side of the incessant clicking and liking and retweeting? Can we consider those on the receiving end of the likes, or no likes?
People like you and me.
Those brave souls that put out their blog post, article, book, or recipes for Vegan Marshmallow Pies hoping someone will validate our existence.
Will they like me? Do they think I’m pretty? Why is it crickets in here? The algorithm must’ve changed, and no one is seeing my posts.
When our best work’s done for the validation of others, we have problems. Spending absorbent amounts of money to snap a selfie on the top of a mountain hoping to get a heart on Instagram… we’re not doing it right.
When the work we engage, and the relationships we nurture, and the difference were trying to make is only for the approval and validation of total strangers… I’ll say it again: Houston we have a problem.
And besides, have you read reviews on Amazon, or comments on YouTube?
YouTube… Nice video, too bad you’re fat. Hey thanks for the video, I hope you die. What?
Amazon… My book wasn’t shipped on time, 1 star. They ripped the packaging, 1 star.
Yelp… the food was salty.
I’m not sure that’s the point of reviews and comments. The dark side of incessant validation of likes and hearts goes deeper still.
It’s The American Way.
The American Way is built on progress, power, money, and efficiency. We only do things if it can be measured, monetized, or counted. If a building is old, we tear it down. If a kid can’t concentrate in class, we medicate them.
Our kid’s take tests and the state determines if they’re intelligent based on a subjective number. High school students take SAT’s or ACT’s determining if they are college-worthy.
I took my SAT’s hungover after prom and it wasn’t pretty. I managed a 3.3 in college. What do these numbers prove?
The comedian George Carlin once said that America is obsessed with visible progress:
“It’s the American view that everything has to keep climbing: productivity, profits, even comedy… No time to grow up. No time to learn from your mistakes.” (from Keep Going, by Austin Kleon)
Our obsession with visible progress has crept into our art, work, and relationships. How many words did I write today? Did I complete my To-Do List? Did I spend enough quality time with the kid’s? Everything has a spreadsheet and a number to prove its value.
We obsess over website metrics, book sales, and eyeballs on our articles. Churches view attendance and dollars as the only metric of a healthy community. Everything has to climb or it doesn’t count.
By the way, I’m preaching to choir. I told my mother-in-law who knits these amazing scarves she should sell them. Open an Etsy store and make a fortune. She said no, I felt stupid.
Why can’t my mother-in-law just make the scarves for her enjoyment? For the joy of our kids when they open the box and see a new hat for winter? Why can’t we do anything for the sake of the process? Have we lost the sheer joy of creating, writing, making, and enjoying relationships, because we must measure everything?
What is the invisible ladder we feel we have to climb?
Our hobbies don’t have to be a side hustle. They can be simply for the joy of doing them and the healing it brings to our souls.
Carlin was on to something long before the like button. He saw something we all need to consider: can we write, create, work, and leave the results up to God? Does our validation have to come through Google analytics and claps on Medium?
I’m not immune to any of this and my obsession with measuring things is off the charts. But I want to change. I want to write and be alive and create from the true self.
I think when we allow climbing, measuring, and analyzing into our creative and work space… we miss the joy of being alive and making something beautiful. When we worry about the reaction of others before we write for ourselves we can’t write free.
That’s what I’m thinking about right now.
Before you go, please leave a clap or two, my self worth depends on it.
Ryan J. Pelton is a teacher and genre-nomad author with over seventeen fiction and nonfiction titles to date. He also hosts a popular writing and publishing podcast, The Prolific Writer. Ryan reads, writes, naps, and nurses a Diet Coke addiction, with his wife and four children in Kansas City, Missouri. Buy a book and send his kid’s to college.