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Who Needs Authenticity? 🔥 Content Hell

Alan Wanders
Alan Wanders
Hi everyone,
I’ve been a bit ill this week so this email is going to be different. Brain fog meant it took me twice as long to get through client work and I ran out of time to do this properly.
So instead, here’s something I wrote a few years ago about the authenticity problem you might have encountered working in your tech job. In hindsight I must have been going through my Will Self phase - sorry about all the words.
Anyway, I still quite like the piece, and 2016 me makes a fair point.
It is liberating in a way to describe what you do however the heck you want. But don’t jump into tech vocab too soon when easier, better words exist. And usually, but not always, they do.
After all, new words fade quickly, and technology already has an impermanence problem.

What do you do for work?
Butchers are ruddy chaps that wear aprons, enjoy bawdy small talk and were once most associated with murderers in Victorian London. Their profession is the namesake of roads, families and despotic military leaders.
Digital marketers are youngish, assured folk that wear Zara and sport statement eyewear. Their profession is about thirty years old and has very little to do with land registry, their parents or illegitimate governments.
Technology has freed up a thousand walks of life, most of which are pretty difficult to explain.
Digital marketers were just an entry-level example. What about Hadoop developers, DevOps architects or legacy programmers? Are these people expected to avoid eye contact at parties? (Yes.)
Without the existential heritage that butchers enjoy - and fewer social skills - it makes sense that tech workers can’t explain what they do to your man-on-the-street-that-isn’t-Old-Street.
Mike Butcher and butcher, Mike
Mike Butcher and butcher, Mike
OK, but what do you actually do?
In 1850s America, when farmers caught wind of the gold lining Sacramento, they downed tools, headed to California and called themselves prospectors.
Self-definition doesn’t come quite as easy to middle class suburban twenty-somethings moving to London with a ramshackle Linkedin profile, a soft-skills degree and an uncertain sense of ability. But that’s not their fault, it’s systemic to tech.
Tech appears inauthentic because the magnitude of the internet’s overhaul of services and production does not have a predecessor.
People jump in and out of jobs like taxis, partly because the job they’re in now isn’t going to exist any more. Web designers, move aside, software does that now. Software designers, move aside, artificial intelligence does that now. And so on.
With torrents of people rushing to become experts in fields that have only existed for dog-years, it’s easy to see how these splintered groups have quickly developed dense bubbles of jargon.
Sure, but what does your boss do?
Although confining meaning to small groups doesn’t transmit the democratic vibe industry folk want to communicate, somehow attempts to make personalities in tech appear more authentic do the opposite.
Mark Zuckerberg’s man-of-the-people grey t-shirt makes him seem like an awkwardly recurring extra from an underfunded sitcom, and man-shaped logistics nexus Jeff Bezos sometimes forgets to blink.
Maybe Kim Dotcom most honestly represents tech’s flamboyant, deeply nerdy evolution when made billions with Megaupload, ditched the surname ‘Schmitz’, bought 18 luxury cars, beat the rest of the world at Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, became a superstar MC and went to prison for a bit. (All of this is true somehow.)
Unbreakable Kim Schmitz
Unbreakable Kim Schmitz
Explain what you do again...?
Everybody’s changing, as Keane forgettably sang, and if you’ve got a job in tech, chances are you’ve gone through a second adolescence where it felt like every working day you fumbled through without being pulled to one side was divine providence.
It’s difficult to explain what you do if you’re not exactly sure yourself.
While encouraging software developers to become butchers or doormen would be hilariously twee, I’d instead suggest that tech folk use non-tech vocabulary whenever they can, talk in terms of what’s happening now, and explain their business in terms of where money comes in, rather than where it goes out.
Google’s parent company Alphabet is known for haemorrhaging money on self-driving cars and other ‘moonshots’, even though 80% of the company’s revenue comes from Google’s traditional search and ad platforms.
At the moment it’s just a really big ad platform, you could say.
👉 Over to you
Thanks for reading! Now you’re done there are two ways you can help. Either would be amazing.
  1. Forward it on to someone who you think would like it
  2. Reply and let me know what you thought of it
Thanks, and see you in two weeks!
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Alan Wanders
Alan Wanders

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