How To See the Invisible

Many generations ago, long before Blackberries and Starbucks, there was a time when we could only interact with other people while they were still alive.

Things now are not so simple.

First, writing was invented; then television, and now the web.

The whole environment has changed, but our brains have not. We are still made for jungles and savannahs but we interact more with iPhones and computer screens than anything else. Surely, this has had an impact.

A long time ago, the only things we interacted with that we couldn’t see were ghosts and gods. Now, we interact with more invisible people than we ever have. What happens as a result of this is indescribably complex and will likely take generations to truly understand. Marshall McLuhan figured a bit of it out, but media keeps changing, so it’ll take much more than that.

But there’s something else. This is the first generation when most of us have interacted so much with our own media. We used to think of Dan Rather as exemplifying trust. We believed in his story, had faith in his myth. But now it’s ourselves we’re seeing on a screen. What happens then?

I know that when I interact with a blogger or a celebrity of any kind, I am interacting with a blurry, half-constructed version of a person, with only what I’ve read or seen to base the interactions on. I engage with the construct instead of the person, and only later discover who the real person is. I know people do this with me too– I can see it by the emails I receive.

My question is this: are we starting to believe our own myths? Is producing, and watching our own media leading us to believe the images we create? I don’t know the answer, but I do have a feeling about it.

Comments on blogs lead us to interact with people who believe in our myth.

We get calls from media talking to us as though we are experts instead of people.

This was rare before. Now it happens to more of us than ever.

What happens now? I don’t know, but I believe that what we need more than ever is to see through our own bullshit, as well as everyone else’s.

School will not teach us this. Our government will not tell us either. It is up to us.

We need to build a resource that will show us what our own lies really are.





31 responses to “How To See the Invisible”

  1. Fabricio Peruzzo Avatar

    Great text! We had a great sync this morning as I started to write exactly about that before reading your text. I am writing in Portuguese, but as soon it’s done, I will translate to english and post a link here.

    The side I am writing about is that people read everything on the internet, but forgets that the other side may not be the expert they think, may be only a teen expressing some ideas not yet verified by himself, but expressed nevertheless. People read without filters to remember WHO is writing what they are reading.

    Thanks for this post. It’s nice to be in sync with the image I made of you 🙂

  2. The Literary Analyst Avatar

    Interesting. We are surrounded by constructs of ourselves and others. The question is, are constructs of ourselves functional to our online survival? Maybe…Maybe not. It depends on how much you value authenticity and how much your audience values authenticity. We can become whoever we want to be on the net. Creating a being that is more a caricature of who we really are. Often we have many people fooled but it’s a tragedy when we have also fooled ourselves. Excellent thought provoking post.

  3. Jon Fulk Avatar

    I think this is pretty true. It’s so easy to construct a false reality through this intermediary. I will say, however, that I have been able to meet a handful of bloggers in real life and I have found that they are pretty much what I expected. Although, there is still more under the surface to be discovered, I’m sure. And this is true in all relationships – virtual or not.

  4. DancinPete Avatar

    I think the opposite effect can also take hold. As you realize that just because someone has a camera and an opinion doesn’t mean that they’re the fount of all knowledge. This can lead you to begin to doubt the official dogma that’s been broadcast into your life from a limited number of sources all these years (such as Dan Rather). You can begin to realize that there is no Truth, only opinion.

  5. Kyle Reed Avatar

    I have noticed the same thing, especially in the small niche I deal in not only blogging but also business stuff. I have had the privilege to become real life friends with these people in my niche. The ones that are “celebrities” and I have seen every time that this person is different then what they portray online. In fact, people would not like the real person over the online person.

    Here is where my thinking is. I have never once tried to create a character. I act the same in person and online. I think a lot of people say this and we know this to either be true of them or not. But I know that I have done this from how others have responded to me upon meeting me a couple of times as well as I have no desire to create something that I am not. i believe that we truly are living in a time where the people who can deliver in person (deliver in a way that they cannot hide behind a screen but actually interact with people face to face) are the ones that will go far beyond this momentary social media blimp on the map.

    A lot of people are cashing in their chips on social media to “win” the moment but very few are looking to last a lifetime. I am more interested in the long term rather then the short term. With that being said, I want to develop more personal, face to face relationships over a created myth of myself online.

    And julien, I have to believe that you are a pretty cool guy offline. At least I hope you are as edgy and yet wise offline as you are online.

    1. Julien Avatar

      Negative, I am a doormat.

      1. Kyle Reed Avatar

        oh good, then I can walk all over you 🙂

    2. Don McAllister Avatar

      I couldn’t agree more with you Kyle. I’m more interested in the long term, and developing more face to face relationships.

      1. Kyle Reed Avatar

        I am very glad that we get these opportunities. It allows for a chance to be patient. I have seen this play out in blogging as well. I started a while back around the same time a lot of friends did. Almost all quit, I stayed with it and have seen some moderate success because of the patience.

        1. Joris8pinter Avatar

          That’s probably because you are such a modest guy :p

  6. Arjun Basu Avatar

    Yes. The answer is yes. This is happening individually and on an industry-wide basis – especially those industries that rely solely on the internet to engage with the world. It’s not a matter of believing hype as much as it is of constructs: there’s only so much we can assimilate at once and so internet identities become identities. Then what?

  7. Lindsay | The Daily Awe Avatar

    “We get calls from media talking to us as though we are experts instead of people.”

    Ummm…if people aren’t experts then who/what is? I know what you’re getting at…but if someone’s blog becomes popular and they are deemed an expert by the masses, then don’t they (usually) deserve it?

    1. Lindsay | The Daily Awe Avatar

      What makes someone an expert, anyway? Knowing a lot about a subject? Practicing what they preach?

  8. Don King Avatar
    Don King

    Excellent posting, you’ve just opened a new perspective in my thinking towards online interactions.

  9. Tomas Avatar

    I would parallel your post with an overview of “Thanks”. Your pen (the insights that were above any discussion) created the wondrous picture…
    Relating identity questions, when I interact with a blogger -while writing to you, I address not some audience but myself. In other words, there are no place for any doubt then. And that’s not a mystery (not a fairy tale) because the same Spirit indwells in us all and She enable us to recognize ourselves in others.
    You rightly mentioned at the beginning that only changes that has happened impacted just our environment but not the spiritual realm of humanity. So though we never seen each other, yet we are brothers and sisters in spirit. And I welcome you into the hug on art by Tomas

  10. Karma Avatar

    @Julien Smith : “We need to build a resource that will show us what our own lies really are.”

    Speak for yourself Julien.
    There are bloggers out there who really *are* experts and don’t need to be outed.

  11. Jackie Shelley (@jackinessity) Avatar

    But dead people are some of my favorite people :p I was a literature major. I used to spend a lot of time with dead writers. Then I started getting into social media and hanging out with you living, breathing, kicking, screaming, mostly less-invisible sorts of writers. I much prefer you, actually.

    I beg to differ, anyway… @joshuamillburn & @ryan_nicodemus of are EXACTLY as they appear. Well, except funnier. And smarter. And better looking. (Had to put that in there, sorry, sorry…)

    I’ve met a lot of social-media stars, bloggers, and about a gazillion plain-vanilla met-via-twitter friends this year, in San Francisco, SxSw, Toronto, and at World Domination Summit. (Not to mention your very own special buddy, @chrisbrogan @ IMS in SF.) They mostly have been just as extraordinary as I would expect, but naturally, much more nuanced than their online selves. But I haven’t had any real shocks. Yes, they’re human. Mostly human. Then again, I have a pretty wide tolerance for people and their quirkinesses.

    But I get the sense you’re digging for something more, and I feel that you’re not the only one on this track. I love the work of Marshall McLuhan, also, (…but *is* the medium the message ? 😉 and you’ve made me wonder who is following up on his work, now. I also just read something this morning by @jnswanson, called “I pushed the button” and it also made me think about how often I hop online to do research, instead of turning to the printed page.

    Also Jonathan Fields this month had a piece about “Why you need circuit breakers,” and I note that that also has a lot to do with pausing, shutting down the chatter, and making sure there’s room for the calm spaces that feed us.

    So I don’t know what it means, but there’s a lot of contemporaneousness going on, something in the air, about all this media and what it’s doing to us, how it’s changing us. I think there’s maybe also that general anxiety of summer ending and Fall beginning, and all the chaos of schools starting and holidays coming. It makes sense to me.

    Hope I get to meet you someday, & see to what extent you match the myth. Curious.

    1. Joshua Millburn Avatar


      You’re too kind. Thanks though.


  12. Linda Sand Avatar

    What comes from my keyboard I have had the chance to edit. What comes from my mouth is raw. Plus I only use my keyboard when I feel like communicating, whereas if you call me on my phone you get whatever I feel like at that moment. In those terms, yes, you may get someone different here than you may get face to face. But, all of it is still me.

  13. holly Avatar

    So, as I type this response on my iPhone, I shake my fist in the air and mutter…”how true, yes, indeed, fuck yeah!!” I’m fixin’ to write a big ole reply here…get ready. So I only read a few bloggers and don’t know any of them online or naught. However, I know you speak truth, I see this crazy business in myself. I work from home and often times can have no actual human interaction for days. My beloved menagarie of Apple products are also my connection to said invisible. I google, read blogs, use social media, and generally contribute to hermitdom and myth perusing. I also see whilst using social media my “friends” (self included), posting snippets of their ideal selves, witty status updates, pictures which make them look hot (or minimally pretty good), and displays of their cool stuff. Waiting for likes or better yet, comments aka validation! Imagine what a hot mess we would be perceived as, if we didn’t untag those horrific drunken pics or posted all the shittyness. Honesty…it would blow people’s minds. Status update: Just had a one night stand, no condom! Status update: Totally freaked out on my kids, threw a hairbrush and started bawling, they are driving me mad. Status update: Yay. I’m getting a divorce, or audited by the IRS, or don’t have enough money to pay the water bill. We can’t handle the truth! Ahhhh….guilty as charged. I appreciate the wake up call. Much love and awesomeness. Rock on…

  14. Elaine Spitz Avatar

    You said, “I don’t know, but I believe that what we need more than ever is to see through our own bullshit, as well as everyone else’s.” Agreed. Like virus software on a PC, our bullshit filters require ever-increasing capabilities. The takeaway for me is that we each need to examine our own actions in the true light of day.

  15. Jeffrey Sass Avatar

    Julien, the resource you desire is children. Yours, or other folks’, it doesn’t matter. Kids see through the bullshit and will ground you every time… If you let them. 😉

  16. Rohan Jayasekera Avatar

    This morning Facebook asked me whether I know so-and-so, since we have so many mutual “friends”. This got me thinking about how that person is someone I don’t really want to know, because it’s someone I regard as an attention whore who doesn’t, that I know of, have other attributes that I do want to connect with. But online marketers do have a lot of time for someone like that because s/he is an “influencer”. Once again, some of us are trying to have real connections with people while marketers are trying to substitute brand/product connections. And Dan Rather was one of those.

  17. Peter Paluska Avatar

    This is indeed BIG.

  18. Cindi Avatar

    Your post revisits some interesting questions: how do we make sure that we are being our authentic selves? At the risk of offending, I would like to say that this is not a new question. People have been wearing masks when dealing with themselves and others since the beginning of time. It is important to remember that the need to ask the question is even greater now that our circle of influence is potentially larger.

  19. John McLachlan Avatar

    Oh for gawd’s sake, this is nothing new. 🙂 Humans have been deceiving themselves since time began. I see your point though—that there are more ways to deceive ourselves now—but it seems like it’s really just self-awareness more than anything that helps us identify our lies.

    When I was a professional musician, I often had photo sessions for promo or album cover images and I was very aware of how “manufactured” it was. But, it was acceptable. Hopefully, the images portrayed me in an “authentic” way but I now sometimes it didn’t and that was bullshit shining. I see it now in young artist photos who are simply trying to project a manufactured image.

    Closer to home, I had a photo shoot done last year so I’d have images to use on my website and in other materials. In retrospect, they are phony. I’m trying to look natural, blah, blah. Julien, your photo on your twitter profile is the same. You’re trying to look human and natural, but the fact is, it’s probably a shot in a series and you’re trying to look a certain way. Those are the lies we tell ourselves.

    Your question was about having resources to call us on our lies. The answer for me is, good friends who know us well and most importantly, ourselves. If you can’t detect them in yourself, what difference will it make. If someone else tells you you’re lying to yourself, you won’t believe it.

  20. RBeezy Avatar

    I think what the internet and social media have done is to democratize the creation of myths.

    In the past we had to depend on our media sources to craft the myth of a powerful (and not debilitated) FDR, a virtuous (and not lecherous) JFK, amongst other well known figures. We believed what we were told because we had no choice and no access to other truths.

    The myth has also been an important tool in building a rep. It’s the ultimate game of broken telephone that cements one’s status the further you get away from the epicenter of the truth.

    Nowadays we all have a chance to craft our own myths. The “15 minutes of fame” is now the trending topic or meme. And if we can hitch ourselves to the celebrity orbit of an Ashton or a Gaga (OMG, she loves my YouTube vid!) then we have succeeded in altering our lives if only for a short while.

    The bullshit will continue to grow exponentially because we now have the perfect channels with which to shape ourselves and the way others perceive us.

    I do however look forward to the inevitable naked truth movement.

  21. Zeph! Avatar

    We already have a resource to show us our own lies. It’s embarrassment.

    1. Joris8pinter Avatar

      I think, with all respect, you’re missing the point here Zeph.
      Mr McLachlan has imo hit nearer the nails head.
      It’s no new concept, but people wear different masks (personas) in different situations.
      Who is to say which is ‘real’? They are all valid, just be aware of the fact that you (and everyone around you) is bull-sh!tting their way through social situations.

  22. dang tin Avatar

    This is happening individually and on an industry-wide basis – especially those industries that rely solely on the internet to engage with the world.

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