One man’s screen time is another man’s profit. Mental models and tools of a digital samurai.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing I have. Sunday comes around. Apple displays your weekly screen time. And you ask, “Wait, what the f*ck? How did I spend so much time on my iPhone? What was I thinking?”
And, you probably know at some level, you weren’t thinking. And that was the entire point.
But someone else was thinking. The iPhone is an incredibly thoughtful device - the life work of Steve Jobs, one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. The tweets you saw, and articles you scrolled - the order you beheld them in. 100s, even 1000s of people getting paid 7 figures or more annually figured that out.
How are all those homes in Palo Alto worth $10m+? It’s because some guys who knew algorithms and code really well have figured out exactly how to make you spend 3+ hours a day on your phone and keep your attention
The content creators, of course - play their role. But mostly, they are “hits”. It’s rare that a content creator continuously captures the zeitgeist in a sustainable way. And if they do - it means they’ve created a brand.
Brands are powerful because they’re not people and can therefore infiltrate your mind more easily than an influencer. It’s not to say that people can’t become brands. That’s a whole other topic - Trumps, and Kardashians - are indeed a thing. But that brand is part of “The Trump Organization” or “The Kardashian Company”.
Today we won’t be talking about how to turn yourself into a brand, but a higher order economic and philosophical concept. I call it Memecraft. The art of maximizing your free will in the distraction economy.
Defining a Meme
A meme is simply something that people share with one another on the internet, and occupies a disproportionate amount of space as a result.
Let’s talk about ways you can identify a meme:
- It has a high Clickthrough Rate. On the X/ Twitter app you see the number of impressions something has on the far right hand side. If a large number of people like something relative to the number of times it’s seen - then it has a high “Clickthrough”. People popped it open
- It has a high share rate. The number of shares relative to the number of likes. Now this could generate a “Quote Ratio” so this is not always good by itself but combined with the CTR this is good
- It is an idea / has a POSITIVE signaling action - usually a public action that others can see. It could be buying Gamestop stock. It could be promoting Bitcoin to your friends. It could be wearing a mask. It could be wearing an Oura ring or a biotracking device. Keeping a flag in your yard. Talking about ways GPT4 can enhance your workflow.
- A meme amplifies a user’s virality when he/she takes the suggested positive signaling action. For example, if someone has 1k followers and they have a twitter thread with 30k retweets - they’ve gone more viral than their own personal following would allow
- Adherents to a meme will downvote, mute or block someone who slows the meme’s virality
- Note - a sustainable meme rarely has a negative signaling action, such as dunking on the original Tweet. Or overthrowing a government. An idea or person can only go to zero, so the “zero lower bound” makes negative memes relatively useless except in the case of violence (mobs) targeted at a very large existing meme. This explicitly get handled by digital platforms. You get kicked off for inciting negative memes. You could argue that the Capitol Hill Riot was an inflection point for the Trump meme, for this reason. Beware of negative memes
- The throttling of negative memes is key to understanding why this entire thing works. If you try to tear someone down actively you aren’t allowed to go viral at length without getting clipped for inciting violence, or causing financial harm (a legal liability) which isn’t protected speech
Here are some examples of powerful memes:
- The war on Ukraine
- The Covid 19 virus
- Climate change
- Sci-fi dystopianism
- Political parties (especially in authoritarian countries)
- Donald Trump. AOC. Tucker Carlson. Elon Musk. The Kardashians. Steve Jobs. Jesus Christ.
Understanding How Memes Work
Memes take over your brain like a virus and remove your free will.
They demand that you put effort into promoting them instead of following your own self interest, or defining your own objectives.
They reward you financially for doing so, and also provide you with clout or social signaling. Loyal adherents and promoters of memes can often make a living doing that full time.
They are punished when they forsake their meme.
Memes are not conscious. They are like viruses. They have no real purpose other than spreading themselves.
The more energy that you give to a meme, whether positive or negative, the more energy a meme will take from you.
Memes are no joke. They are real world, dangerous abstractions.
If you attack Bitcoin, the Bitcoin army will rise up and dunk on you. If you attack Covid19’s scientific basis, you might be denied travel or political enfranchisement. In many countries, attacking dominant memes can even get you killed.
Memes operate because they are good at getting you “tilted” - i.e. provoking some sort of emotional response.
Thus - the only real way to interact with memes without losing your free will is to be completely emotionally indifferent to them. To laugh at them, privately. Not to their face. Or even privately in a condescending group chat (as that can be shared with the meme’s adherents).
How to Immunize Yourself from Memes
But that’s easier said than done. Memes are pre-contrived, and well thought out attacks on the mind that you can’t just resist and laugh at. They’ll get you when your willpower is down. And if you pour negative energy into them, they draw you in as well.
Thankfully there’s a way out.
You can apply the basic principles of social media and advertising within your own mind to prevent “The Feed” from taking it over.
There are really four attributes here. I like visualizing a magical knight in armor to correctly contextualize each of the elements
- The Helmet of Truth - knowing what you want, exactly
- The Gauntlet of Balance - keeping away emotional tilt, and maintaining self dialogue
- The Blade of Souls - an economic engine to exploit and profit from memes
- The Island Fortress - a literal physical sanctuary that keeps you separate from the meme economy. I argue Puerto Rico is best.
The Helmet of Truth.
You need a visual, sensory end-state of your own. Much as an advertiser would define some sort of hypothetical world after you take their drug, or use their product - you need your own ideal life. An ideal world you can see in your mind’s eye is like a helmet that prevents memes from taking over your North Star.
Now what does an advertiser do when they’re trying to convince you of the validity of an image?
Do they show it to you just once and hope that it sticks?
No. They repeat it over and over again.
Similarly - “wearing” your Helmet means at least on a daily basis seeing your visual, sensory end state and defining it as well as you possibly can.
The Gauntlet of Balance.
On your left hand - you need a Gauntlet that helps you deflect attacks - swatting away memes, as well as providing you an alternative to the meme-flow (i.e. your “feed” on social media).
The gauntlet consists of Internal dialogue. The status quo: your social media feed is a cesspool of memes and harmful imagery. What are the two things provided by your social media feed? Tilt. And Dialogue. Your social media feed gets you tilted, and upset or happy about certain topics. Emotional manipulation is key to getting you wrapped up in memes. But you stick around because your friends are there.
A working gauntlet therefore does two things: first, it identifies when you’re off balance and you can swing it to balance yourself, or swat away the memes that have caught you off balance to begin with.
Second - the gauntlet summons a small demon, angel, fairy or whatever abstraction you find useful. Rather than listening to the chatter of the feed, you need to learn to talk to yourself. The gauntlet summons this abstraction, and you engage with it in conversation - hopefully about things that actually serve you.
The helmet is a long term, stable vision whereas the Gauntlet is tactical. Much as your social media feed is constantly shifting, and trying to get you off balance in various ways. So must your gauntlet swat away memes at different angles. Much as your group chats provide you endless dialogue that pulls you back into “the current thing”, so the demon summoned by your gauntlet must bring you back to your vision.
The Problem: Money
Now if you have a gauntlet and a helm, you have a lot of defense but you have no offense capability. You can avoid being pulled into memes, for a bit, perhaps. But how are you supposed to make money?
Ultimately - memes become powerful because they generate clicks, and clicks increasingly converge on monetary value. If you promote Bitcoin, or advertise climate science, or whatever - you get money.
So day to day, you can escape memes by swatting them away with your gauntlet. And you can resist the pull of advertisers by having a clear vision of your future in your helm. But if you run out of Gold, you will inevitably have to serve a memetic force.
Whether that means signing up to promote a brand, working for a corporation, enlisting in the military. The list goes on.
There’s one way out of this - and those are “crafts”. You don’t need a blade if you know a craft such as woodworking, plumbing, welding and so forth. Some sort of tactical consulting. You have an interchangeable daily necessity you can deliver.
However in practice, even if you know a craft, if you want to make a serious amount of funds - enough to physically escape the forces of the meme-world, you’d need to create a corporation. Corporations have a mind of their own which will co-opt your free will, even if they’re working on seemingly objective things like generating scientific advancement.
If you’re male and you think I’m wrong, think about it for a second. You might have all kinds of ideas about your “dignity” and what you’re willing to do and for who. But they change when your girlfriend, your wife, your kids are involved. Because of money.
Money is power, and memes generate money. If you don’t have your own money, you end up serving memes, whether you like it or not.
The Blade of Souls
The Blade of Souls is, perhaps, a controversial idea, but I’d argue it’s a necessary one.
To truly become free you need a daily, tactical process to make money from memes. Note: plural. Memes. Not just one meme.
This is the big hack. If you make money from trading Bitcoin and exploiting the fever dreams of anarcho capitalists. And then turn around making money trading climate stocks. It’s very hard to do so without seeing things for how they are. The memes become instruments of profit rather than altars of worship.
To profit on memes, of course, means measuring and interacting with vast numbers of people online and through digital channels. And the way you do this, I have termed “The Blade of Souls”. This is your method of making money in a digital mimetic economy.
That could be trading. That could be running advertising arbitrage. That could be consulting political candidates on their messaging. That could be designing art or marketing campaigns for different well capitalized meme-lords, on a contract basis. It could be writing a newsletter covering different memes. It could be being a freelance journalist. The possibilities are endless.
Let me summarize how to make money on memes. The essence of making money on a meme is to identify it correctly and either speculate on it in financial markets or do business with its adherents, who tend to be economically irrational (two sides of the same coin).
- A person, article, quote, image or online asset (including a stock) that is blessed by a meme will be promoted more easily than one which is not
- A meme will always have a chosen influencer or acolyte. The power of this influencer is determined by the number of clicks the meme gets
- The power of a meme is likewised influenced by the persuasiveness of its acolyte. Its acolyte is able to promote likeminded influencers who gain followings
- At any given time there will be many conflicting meme but only 1-2 can be the Current Thing
- The Current Thing is likely to cause both asset bubbles, successful venture financings, and product launches. It accelerates things so quickly that people scramble to catch up, creating economic opportunity
- Memes are characterized by booms and busts.
- These busts can be so powerful that they can cause economic depressions
- This is why The Current Thing is almost always monitored by the government /regulators. For example - Sam Altman’s congressional testimony would make AI the current thing
- Memes that go on for a long time without completely bursting get embedded in search ranks. For example Bitcoin will always be on the top of the cryptocurrency search on Google. They can also get embedded in AI models - for example, ChatGPT will always bring up Bitcoin when talking about Crypto (hence the concept of a meme being ‘lindy’)
- If it’s not a meme it will be very hard to make money advertising it, trading it, or interacting with people in the industry - especially as a novice
- To truly take advantage of all of this likely requires creating programmatic systems to always know and quantify the strength of various memes
- MEMES ARE DANGEROUS AND CAN TAKE OVER YOUR BRAIN IF YOU LET THEM
The key fact worth repeating is as follows: the blade of souls only works if it profits from multiple memes, spread by many cohorts of people - ideally memes that are in conflict with one another - rather than serving any one. This will, of course, be upsetting to the adherents of the various memes who believe in the powers of their “One True God”(s) - so your craft must be excellent and worth engaging with.
Your advertising must deliver. Your trading must consistently profit. Your advice must resonate. Your clients must beat their adversaries.
The Blade of Souls is tactical in nature. Your job is to sharpen it by defining it, and learn how to swing it as well as possible. It is powered by the delusions of others. And you can only swing it without maiming yourself if you have your Helm and Gauntlet in place.
The Blade of Souls - secondarily, should use artificial intelligence. The sheer amount of textual input generated by the meme economy, in all different languages, is too high to analyze or condense into useful conclusions. Furthermore, no matter how strong your gauntlet is - you’re never going to completely immunize yourself from memes.
If you read enough news to fully understand financial markets - for example - you’re inevitably going to succumb to the power of a meme.
A blade is separate from the knight’s body but moves in the arc of intention. Maintaining this separation is more possible through technology - so technology should be used.
The Island Fortress
In practice - following Memecraft lands you squarely in 3 worlds.
- The United States - because it’s the producer of the meme economy. What % of memes do you see originate in Latin America? China? What % of digital advertising dollars go to US companies? Basic common sense, Hollywood, Big Tech, the global reserve currency - it all points to the USA as the source of most useful memecraft. At least at the present moment.
- The Internet. Information systems of people communicating with one another are necessary for this entire system to function, gain control over minds and actions.
- Investing. This is more controversial - perhaps, but ultimately investment determines outcomes for the most part. A good engineer doesn’t join a startup with a “good idea” he joins one where he gets 3% of a $50m company and a $300k salary. And most investors - especially venture capitalists, are extremely sensitive to memes. While it is possible to make money with people who are adherents of memes, oftentimes they will require your loyalty to do so. Which can be dangerous to fake.
Internet native types think they can escape to Dubai, or Singapore. Really? Name one company from Dubai or Singapore with a top 100 app in the IOS App store. Name one good movie or album or hit show produced by actors from Dubai, or Singapore. They don’t exist.
The reason for this is because places that clamp down on free speech and the use of hallucinogens end up very “safe” but simply cannot produce the volume of culture.
The problem - of course - is that if you live in the US you end up proximate to the most powerful meme creators in the world. And inevitably fall under their mental and economic sway.
The US government is one of the most powerful meme-makers of all. It is perhaps the greatest all-time producer of propaganda, psy-op campaigns and weird military schemes to study consciousness.
The reason why the US gets away with global taxation of its citizens is because its military and intelligence organizations are so powerful, that nobody can really resist them.
So you need access to the US markets to practice memecraft. But if you live there you fall under someone’s spell.
The solution is pretty simple.
Move to Puerto Rico. You completely divorce yourself from the day to day physical power of the USA. You learn Spanish which massively increases your reach as an individual (there are far more Spanish speakers globally than English speakers. Bad Bunny has 2x the Spotify streams as Taylor Swift). You aren’t subject to US taxes provided you follow the rules and add to the local community. You’re surrounded by experts in investing and advertising.
Periodically manifest in different places globally to understand and study their memes. But don’t spend too much time in any place outside your Island Retreat. In this manner you will have a strong home base to practice meme-craft, both financially and mentally.
Everyone Else’s Screen Time
So I’ll end with a set of questions
Instead of limiting your own screen time - what if you could profit from everybody else’s inability to limit theirs?
What type of life would you build for yourself?
And if you endlessly interact with people to extract your profits, what will it take for you to keep your own sanity and individuality?
For me, memecraft is an answer to these questions.
Rather than rejecting the digital world, or setting your phone to grayscale, it attempts to answer how to use the digital world for maximizing free will.