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I love a good trend. And since I’m relatively present online, I tend to witness a lot of them.
The most recent one has been a slew of people jumping into the AL/ML space. I’ll be honest - prior to all of this I hated (read: detested) when people dropped the words AL/ML or AR/VR into everyday conversation. It felt very much like consultants leading a meeting at a tech company where everything was about “circling back” or “iterating and innovating.” Gross.
But alas, I find myself now interested in the space. I want to say that it’s because of genuine interest in the potential of the tech behind the hype but I’d be lying to myself if I don’t acknowledge the fact that hype is a significant part of my interest.
So that begs the question: Are hype cycles bad?
Eh, in the scope of things it’s probably not that big of a deal. You get a bunch of nerds online who find something cool and then research the heck out of it and then want to incorporate it into every single aspect of whatever they are building.
At the greatest extreme it leads to the Geeks vs MOPs vs sociopaths problem. There comes a group that sees a trend as a way to make a bunch of money and then the trend becomes a way for them to exploit other people for a quick buck. We’ve seen hype cycles from pyramid scheme/MLM companies all the way to crypto (which you could argue is its very own MLM). Taking advantage of people is bad and one of the reasons why when a trend gets to this extreme we tend to see lots of division between people on how good it is for society (funnily enough, if you trace the money you can usually see who is for a trend and who is against it).
But what about hype cycles at a personal level. There are loads of people on the internet who are what I call serial beginners. These are the people who have broad interests and want to dive into the next big thing. They see the hype sure but they also see the potential and more importantly they see what it looks like to be an expert in the field because the experts are making the cool stuff (side note: I’m definitely guilty at being a serial beginner in more than one domain).
There is nothing wrong in being a serial beginner - it’s exciting and exhilarating and you genuinely want to learn about this new thing that everyone is talking about. And let’s not forget about the dopamine hit from said new thing. You’re not necessarily in it for the money, though that never hurts if you make something people think is cool, and more than that you get to meet some cool people along the way who are also interested in the same thing. Life’s short, why not have some fun?
The issue with being a serial beginner is that you never go deep into the topic. Going deep is hard and going deep takes time and effort. It’s also usually not fun. This is why lots of people who are learning to code are really great at Codeacademy but not so great at staring at a blank screen and building a project from scratch. Once you get past the initial hype, the road to learning about a topic is a long one.
So how do you fix this problem? Surely you don’t want to be in a state where you’re learning about something that is boring and doesn’t inspire you after the initial hype. And how do you make yourself not chase the next big thing? As with most things in life, it’s about slowing down.
Let’s take an example (maybe a personal one from my life lol). The big hyped thing right now all over Twitter is AI/ML. All anyone can talk about is GPT-3 this and Stable Diffusion that. Cool, sounds fun and I’m into it because the tech actually looks awesome (heck, I’m writing this in Lex which is a writing tool powered by AI).
Now let’s say you want to get deeper into the space. You’ve seen the applications of what this tech can do so how do you actually go about getting involved with it? Finding your own niche or vertical is one answer. I’m a resident physician so AI/ML in medicine is a natural connection and maybe more specifically since I’m interested in critical care I should learn about what this tech can do in the ICU environment. That seems pretty niche and will probably take me down several rabbit holes to explore and find a place where I may even be able to get involved.
I’m also interested in creative work, so thinking about creative tools and how AI/ML can influence that is another area that seems interesting. If I’m thinking about writing as a creative process, this would likely lead me to read and learn about LLMs (still don’t know what the heck these are yet) and how the tech works to impact creative work.
The big takeaway: get away from Twitter and go to other sources.
These can be blogs, articles that others in the space have written, YouTube channels and videos dedicated to specific topics, textbooks (online or written), or research papers about the space. The idea is that getting away from Twitter and the quick dopamine bursts you get from every tweet is how to go deep. And if you can’t get away from Twitter at least subset it and create a dedicated list of people to follow who are trying to get deep (this has been my solution because I have no self-control and tend to doom scroll at 3 AM at the hospital when I’m working an overnight shift).
Next, set your expectations practically. You’re not trying to learn everything and you’re definitely not trying to go quickly. You can’t become good at something by going fast. It’s easier to follow this when you’re in a structured environment or path say medical school to residency to fellowship to attending (your life is carved out for you). It’s much harder to have this discipline in creative areas because no one is telling you what to do and you have to find that discipline on your own.
It’s also okay to not have the same discipline in your creative work. Creative work is about jumping from thing to thing at times but it’s important to come back and work to go deep on something that you truly care about. Once you pass the hype and then get over the suck of realizing that thing you like is actually pretty complicated and requires work, you find the enlightenment of actually becoming good at the thing. I’m slowly getting there with medicine (residency still has a lot of suck but the medicine is coming to me faster and easier day by day), and I’m hoping to get there more in creative work.
So go out there and find the hyped up thing and get involved in it. Go deep and go slow. Find communities of people who are ahead of you in level and even people who are at the same stage as you. Learn from them and push them as well. You’re in it for the long haul.
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