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Spending Your Days in Gulliver's World
The landscape of attention has a warped scale
When Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver reaches Lilliput, he discovers a land of people with all the passion, ambition, and drive that humans possess — but 1/12th our size.
When he lands on the island of Brobdingnag, however, he finds the scale reversed. The native Brobdingnagians are 12 times as large.
This is a decent metaphor for the attention economy of the Internet, where most of us spend much of the day.
Except, however, the range of scales is far more extreme.
Take Elon Musk. As of this writing, he has 142 million followers on Twitter.
I have over 51,000, making him 2,784 times as large.
Almost exactly the same ratio as a blue whale’s size to you.
While the range of human being’s masses and abilities in the physical world is constrained by gravity, online, it is practically limitless.
Those who have mapped the Internet — such as Hungarian-American network physicist Albert Laszlo Barabasi — have described its structure of as essentially “scale free.”
When it comes to how many connections a website or person may have, there is no meaningful average. “Everything is possible,” he says.
This is because growth happens not equally, but preferentially.
We don’t connect randomly; we connect to what we know.
We are biased toward those who are already well-connected.
It means that online, we are not all the same proportion.
Some of us are unimaginably huge.
Most of us, almost invisibly small.
The way to bridge the gap is by connecting to the giants—the Brobdingnagians—whose size we can leverage. The closer you get, the bigger and brighter you become.
Worth a Watch
In addition to mapping the Internet, Barabasi has also done fascinating research on the emergence of artists. By analyzing the careers of thousands of painters and sculptors, he’s found a simple way to predict future (market) success:
Observe how well-connected an artist is to a certain set of highly influential galleries, especially in the early career.
While we wish the world may work differently — that more artists would come in from the fringes—it’s empowering to understand how careers are made and broken.
Once you know, you can use it.
Until the next time,
PS - Thank you to all of you who checked out and purchased the mini-course I released. I’m grateful and gratified by the interest. And thanks again to all who have become paid subscribers.
I do this for the joy of connecting with you—and the support is deeply appreciated.