(2017-08-18) Rao Premium Mediocre Life Of Maya Millennial
Venkatesh Rao: The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial. In a world where actual Income Mobility is both difficult and strongly dependent on luck, but there is a widely performed (but not widely believed) false narrative of pure Meritocracy, it pays to signal apparent control over your destiny, while actually playing by the speculation rules of a casino economy. (signalling)
Premium mediocrity is the idea of the towel in Hitchhiker’s Guide (H2G2). A show put on to serve as an attractor of a certain kind of social serendipity, such as being picked for one of the scarce non-technical, non-skilled jobs in the tech economy because you’ve been tweeting and exercising right, in the right kind of hoodie or yoga pants
the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.”
For the average premium mediocre type, it pays to appear to be striving, but not to actually strive (until you have engineered an actual opening at least). To dress up near-pure gambling as near-pure Horatio-Alger-heroism. That’s towel-based personal branding
Shockingly, the strategy works more often than you might think. I’m constantly wondering, how did THAT guy/gal land THAT gig? What do I have to LARP to get that?
premium mediocrity is not a consumption aesthetic, but a financial hack powering a deliberately crafted illusion that is being strategically crafted for a purpose.
Because the New Economy isn’t there yet. And building it is hard work. And signs that the plans aren’t working as smoothly as you think makes it even harder. The work needs cheerleading. Premium mediocre cheerleading suitable for Instagramming.
Rejoice fellow-premium-mediocre locusts, our plan worked. The Randian strivers will continue putting in their 100-hour weeks figuring out obscure crypotography and machine learning problems and 3d printed tiny houses so our premium-mediocre free-riding gets just a little bit more sustainable every year.
Like all escaped realities, the theater of premium mediocrity that serves as an MVP of post-industrial modernity in our Swedish-styled neourban cores is not actually sustainable in its present form, but it could become sustainable. It is something like a complex stack of individual and collective cultural debt — in the sense of technical debt in software — embodied by what are essentially the wireframes of the new economy and the stick-figures navigating them, rather than a fully functional UI.This is fine. This is good. This is how agile software development of the new economy should work.
Like any option, the naked call option that is the premium mediocre life has an expiry date. LARPing a non-role in a meritocracy-by-consensus has a burn-rate to it. At some point you have to drop the pretense, yield your place in the lottery to newer players, and retreat to a cheaper small town and a life of below-the-API subsistence.
Humans come alive the moment somebody believes in them enough to invest in them. Ghosts that materialize within premium mediocre shells, conjured up by magical spells known as “non-sucky job offers”.
But if you don’t want to take your chances in the lottery-locust economy of naked call options that is premium mediocrity, you can try to be a Real Person™ in one of two ways: being a Hipster or a Lifestyle designer.
you have to situate premium mediocrity, which is a mainstream ethos, relative to its two marginal subcultural neighbors within the same economic stratum: the hipster class to the left, and the lifestyle-designing Tim Ferriss class to the right.
your friendly neighborhood artisan barista Molly Millennial actually cares enough about taste to log serious hours cultivating it. Molly Millennial’s condition is sincerely aestheticized precarity.
And at the other end of the spectrum you have the hustler, Max Millennial, arbitraging living costs and, with a bit of geo-financial judo, attempting a Boydian flanking maneuver around the collapsing Middle-class script.
Four-hour workweek my ass. The Bali-based lifestyle designer people are the second hardest working people I know. Second only to hipsters avariciously collecting and hoarding TasteCoins.
Molly and Max are fundamentally local-optimizing life-hackers, trading the mainstream casino economy for more predictable marginal ones with some substance. Both appreciate excellence and detest mediocrity. One optimizes for taste and aesthetics, the other for effectiveness and financial leverage.
But here’s the fundamental problem with Molly and Max: there is ultimately no guaranteed sustainability on the margins either
Both work hard at acquiring real skills. Max Millennial can actually market on the Internet and make memes happen. Molly Millennial can actually guide you to better coffee than Starbucks offers.
Max and Molly sacrifice the small chance of big mainstream wins for a more realistic shot at finding actual meaning or financial sustainability, but never both at once. That is the tragedy of excellence on the margins; what Bruce Sterling evocatively labeled favela chic.
Maya Millennial’s choices as being fundamentally the correct ones — she chooses to fake both for a while in the hope of acquiring both for good later.
Oddly enough, Maya, she of the consciously worn mask and obviously premium mediocre theatrical life, is the most real person in this particular glass menagerie. Molly and Max Millennial, so sure of their own authenticity, are in fact the robots with Real People Personalities
This story, I think, has a happy ending. The stone soup that is the new economy does create increasing serendipity. Just not as fast, and as painlessly, as the villagefolk — and here I mean techies — earnestly believe.
Like all essays by Venkat, this one is optimized for getting you to think about it. Venkat achieves it by precisely crafting his writing to be 60% true, 30% wrong and 10% nonsensical. But the true 60% of Premium Mediocre is deeply and importantly true, and also really fun to read.
I like froyo, Game of Thrones, artisan pizza, and France. However, I don’t need to pretend that any of those things are markers of great taste. I actually get sincere, intrinsic pleasure from consuming them
Enjoying things sincerely is actually a lot cheaper than consuming the premium mediocre. My favorite wine is Apothic Red
What’s behind this difference? Premium Mediocre is a fake-it-til-you-make-it class, and as such there are two things at the heart of it: Signaling and uncertainty. Signaling, because you have to fake it to have a shot at making it. Uncertainty, because you’re not sure if you will.
Venkat probably missed this because he’s Gen-X and married, you signal your premium mediocrity so that premium mediocre people will date you.
I enjoyed a lot of premium mediocre dates with premium mediocre Maya Millenials, but ultimately they didn’t make the top of the spreadsheet. To understand why I ended up with someone just outside the PM, we need to meet two more characters
When my fiancee and I read this part, we had the exact same thought: Max should date Molly!
this option is severely underutilized by hipster guys. 37% of Goldman Sachs employees are women, and they all really like good coffee.
Real middle class is about security, steady growth, and minimizing tail risk. Premium mediocre is about gambling. The smartest thing for a premium mediocre millennial to gamble on is their skills and personality. The stupidest thing to gamble on is cryptocurrency.
I don’t doubt that cryptocurrencies have and will make many people rich. I just think that none of those people are premium mediocre
To make money gambling you need an edge or a big bankroll, usually both. The premium mediocre class, by definition, has neither
The way to be rich is slowly: hard work, index funds, increasing your consumption by a small amount each year to avoid the hedonic ratchet. Most people who try to get rich quickly have one thing in common: they’re not rich. (Get Rich Slowly)
it’s bullshit. Molly can dedicate her life to a craft she’s passionate about and still, by virtue of being an educated urban American, live better than 90% of the planet, just without the sushi and trips to France of the top 10%. Max can make money and find meaning in relationships, or in travel, or in writing a blog
Trying to get both money and meaning from the same place is an unnecessary constraint on life. The only reason people think that this constraint is essential is that 99% of memoirs are written by the 1% of people who got rich and famous by #FollowingTheirPassion.
Venkat argues that at the heart of premium mediocrity is a deep and essential kindness. I agree more with the commenter who argued that what really drives it is a “deep and essential FOMO”.
Fear of missing out on success, fame, meaning, sushi, and all the premiums without which you may end up (gasp!) just mediocre.
Places like New York and San Francisco run on FOMO, and that’s why I love them. It makes them exciting, energizing, full of opportunity. I want to spend time around people who chase the premium rather than settling into the mediocre.
But the FOMO life has serious downsides. The FOMO life is hot takes instead of nuance, because being late is worse than being wrong
I have my own issues with the piece, though I also thinks there's great bits. Buuuuttt....
- I agree with Jacob it smells heavily of FOMO and "Middle-Class Fancy" and Middle-Mind.
- I'm not sure I buy the parent-reassurance model, as (a) this crowd tends to over-share with their parents, so the parents know about the crappy apartment with multiple roommates and the over-hanging student loans, etc. So I don't think telling them about your avocado toast is very "reassuring".
- Likewise, the Signalling-up bit seems less about re-assuring the Captains of the New Economy so much as to signal Positivity - nobody wants to a hire a Bummer/Loser.
- this triggered my framing of the BullshitStylist.
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