A totally fictional — but simultaneously true! — portrayal of one Irish elk’s experience with uncertainty, mimicry, envy, and burnout in an alternative Silicon Valley

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Antlerz’ updated marketing collateral. Illustration: author

“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and who turns to others in order to make up his mind.”

— René Girard

Jim graduated from a small liberal arts college in the midwest with a degree in economics. And — surprise! — he has no idea what he wants to do. Following friends, he moves to Chicago and gets a studio.

One day, Jim goes to a coffee shop. He runs into an old family friend, Max. The two of them grew up…

Fueled by uncertainty and envy, burnout is a condition that is both uniquely human and profoundly misunderstood

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Photo: Jon Feingersh Photography Inc/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Approximately 11,000 years ago, the Irish elk roamed the land we now call Siberia. I like to think of their story as a parable for understanding the burnout epidemic.

The male elk, or bulls, who were born with a mutation that gave them slightly larger antlers than the rest would win fights with other bulls over mates and could more easily fend off predators. Eventually, these bulls developed a selective advantage and were more likely to pass along their genetic material to the larger population. And so with each generation, the species’ antlers grew.

But then the problems began.


A runaway competition for social status that can’t be won puts us all in a killer race to the bottom

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Credit: Isaac Jenks/Unsplash

In his book, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good, economist Robert H. Frank makes the bold assertion that in 100 years, economists will cite Charles Darwin — not Adam Smith — as the father of the discipline.

Frank writes:

Darwin was one of the first to perceive the underlying problem with markets clearly. One of his central insights was that natural selection favors traits and behaviors primarily according to their effect on individual organisms, not larger groups.

The endlessly condescending sharing of their recent campaign against meth abuse is exactly the point.

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There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’

— Excerpt from This is Water, David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech given to Kenyon College’s graduating class of 2005

Branding — in business and in nature — isn’t going away

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Photo by Vittorio Zamboni

To use the analogy of the needle in the haystack, more data does increase the number of needles, but it also increases the volume of hay, as well as the frequency of false needles — things we will believe are significant when really they aren’t. The risk of spurious correlations, ephemeral correlations, confounding variables, or confirmation bias can lead to more dumb decisions than insightful ones, with the data giving us a confidence in these decisions that is simply not warranted.

Excerpt from Alchemy, by Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather

Kraft-Heinz’s Evolv is using the algorithmic analysis pioneered by tech companies to help us plan our meals

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Photo: Joel Sharpe/Getty Images

“Food is the single most important habit that we have as human beings. What we’re doing is bigger than tech, it’s bigger than food, it’s bigger than I think any of the things that I’ve worked in my career. We’re fundamentally changing how people think about the single most important habit of their lives.”

– Mani Gopalakrishnan, VP of Digital Innovation for Kraft-Heinz

The love affair began in the 2000s, when companies like Seamless burst onto the scene. Then came Blue Apron, which knew that the value of food wasn’t merely in the…

Antitrust regulators should block natural monopolies from acquiring their biggest threats: new potential monopolies

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Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/Getty Images

“All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”

— Excerpt from Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

Most ideas about how to address the issues for which they’re being blamed — rampant online abuse, the mishandling of user data, radicalization of both individuals and groups along the political spectrum, and the erosion of democracy — have focused on reintroducing them to competition…

What happens when tech gives us more leisure time? We work.

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Illustration: Jutta Kuss/Getty Images


noun 1. The acceleration of acceleration

—excerpt from The Age of Earthquakes by Shannon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist

There’s a famous thought experiment in economics known as the “prisoner’s dilemma.” In it, two men have been caught committing a crime. Each of them is placed in a separate interrogation room and effectively has two options: confess or lie. There are three possible outcomes (the payoffs of which are illustrated in the payoff matrix below):

This Christmas, let’s agree to stop glorifying great gift-giving

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Photo: mastermilmar/iStock/Getty Images Plus

“Wait, Dale got Hulk Hands?”

— Brennan Huff, Step Brothers

Why are we so intent on guessing what people want when we could just give them cash and the ability to choose for themselves? The answer is twofold:

  1. Successful companies — namely, Apple — create products that thrill us precisely because we didn’t know we…

The internet is designed to harbor isolated, extremist ideologies. What happens when they meet?

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Internet subcultures are not unlike Darwin’s finches. Photo: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Almost 200 years ago, in 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his now famous journey aboard the S.S. Beagle. This was the journey on which he visited the Galapágos Islands and formalized his theory of evolution via natural selection. (The idea of natural selection was actually hypothesized earlier by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.)

Everything about the fauna on the islands, Darwin noticed, was simultaneously familiar and exotic. Animals typically diminutive in mainland environments were much larger on islands, and animals typically massive in mainland environments, much smaller. …

Zander Nethercutt

mistaking correlation for causation since '94; IYI, probably | 🧓Chicago, IL | ✍️. @ zandercutt.com | GET IN TOUCH: zander [at] zandercutt [dot] com

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