On Monday I go in for Jaw Surgery. If I die, I want my tombstone to read, “Died doing what he loves.”
I’ve never seen a footnote on a tombstone. Nor ellipses. I’m updating the medium. The joke makes it more palatable.
I joke because I’m afraid. I’m afraid because it’s frightening. I’ve never been closer to death than I will be on Monday.
I’ve always mused on death. I wrote my first auto-obituary at 13. The same way some people use the largesse of space to decrease their anxiety; I use death to accept depression. When I wake up late enough that I feel grumpy, the phrase “death and taxes” echoes in my mind. It reminds me of two crucial elements – timeliness and humor. One makes today matter and the other makes life worth living.
I’m spending tomorrow and Sunday advising a local high school youth group, and Saturday with my dad. If I die, let it be known I went out doing what I loved.
 Self improvement.
The more that art affects lives, the better it is. (Assuming it affects lives in a positive way).
This can be broken down into two dimensions:
- How many people it affects.
- How much it affects them.
You could define “expected impact” as (Total number of people) x (Average amount of impact).
A few methods for creating art with a high expected impact:
- Create a valuable message
- Make the message easily digestible (more memetic).
- Create a message that lasts a long time
- Widen the audience it appeals to (target more demographics).
- Focus your art on the influencers (powerful/social people, good promoters).
(Creating art that impacts other artists would fall into this category)
- Make your art have less of a negative impact (be harmful to fewer people/less sizably harmful to those it harms).
- People often make the art they would want because:
- It’s relatively easy to do it well (easier than doing market research on an audience)
- Their own taste is an approximate proxy for “people who are like them”.
- If someone had every trait in the world, they’d make the most popular art because it’d be the most relatable (which increases digestibility of messages)
- Good art should add value to people’s lives. Value is important to note as distinct from perceived value (which is what money measures).
- Children produce great value for a few people. Cat videos produce little value for many people.
- Historically, creating evergreen content has been a stronger strategy than creating one-time impact, as that includes future generations in potential audience.
- Assuming its impact is good, the art you choose to do should be the one with the greatest expected impact. That is often similar to what you want to do most*, but not always.**
- I’m starting my career doing what I want to do most because I currently have the strongest ego (as you get older, your drive decreases) and may end up more on the intellectually-driven side later. (Editor’s note: a conversation earlier today redefined the word “ego” for me. I have more musing to do on this topic.
- Another approach is changing what you’re passionate about.
- Famous philosopher/author Nick Bostrom wrote a book that convinced many, many people to worry about AI as an existential risk. This prompted many people to start researching friendly AI, which may save the species and therefore have a HUGE impact on the world. (the hugest from here on out, perchance, because it’s necessary for all other future positive impacts.)
- This would suggest that a solid course of action for me—if there are any existential threats to humans—is to use art to fight them. (If it’s a thing that I could impact significantly. It’s not the only choice—my talents may be better used elsewhere—but it’s certainly a reasonable choice.)
*: You’ll want to do the thing that matters the most to you, and it mattering a lot to you is a good prediction that it’ll also matter to others. It mattering to others is a good predictor of how much it affects them.
**: That math has two spots of “good predictor”, so it’ll be exponentially removed from truth.