Vacuums and factories

We humans may be simpler than we would like to think. People do not love self-identifying as simple. We like to think we are complicated. Our brain basks in the glory of complexifying things and that also applies to our own identities. But I believe that it turns out a lot of our operations come down to pretty basic incentives. At our core, we tend to either like or dislike our interaction THINGS. What determines what we like or dislike ~basically comes down to our perception and understanding of safety. We may all have relatively different definitions of such a term: “safety,” but our application tends to be similarly broad. In most all conversations and engagements with the outside world, we tend to put up a filter of asking ourselves: “does said engagement increase or decrease my understanding of my current safety?” I write more about the dog brain here—but if we model life using that simpler framing, again we are just trying to be safe, then we may be able to go a step further and start to better understand what sort of interactions are net helpful to us versus the ones that seem to harm us (and perhaps even more importantly understand what is driving our perceptions and experience with those interactions).

So the framing and mood for this essay is in the context of thinking about us engaging with STUFF. Let’s use the word STUFF in place of PERSONS, PLACES, AND THINGS. The external world. The world is full of “STUFF.” You interact with STUFF all the time.

Let’s also think about the term LIFE as the product of YOU interacting with STUFF. YOU in this context really means YOUR soul. The inner STUFF inside of you. Your soul is wrapped in a whole bunch of layers but at the core of your body, at the melding of brain and heart, is your soul. And LIFE is really the experience that you are going through as you interact with all this STUFF. These are made up definitions that hopefully help us frame the below exploration.

As you accumulate life experiences and time passes, you tend to interact with more and more STUFF, and in turn learn more and more about yourself. Interacting with the outside world can honestly be like holding up a mirror to your soul. Your soul may be invisible to your own sight, but as you engage with external STUFF, you begin to understand more clearly exactly what does (and certainly does not) make you tick.

The range of STUFF you experience is inevitably quite diverse in a diverse multitude of ways. That was a confusing sentence but pay attention to it: you interact with a wide set of things, and that same set of things are also inherently going to be extremely diverse in every which way. Pick a flavor/shape/size/form factor—you will likely run into a piece of STUFF that embodies the dimension in some capacity. Life is 13-D.

You experience good things and bad stuff that take the form factor of various persons, places, and things. You define something as good or bad stuff based on your experience with it. As we defined above, most of the time whether consciously or not your experience with the “STUFF” really just boils down to whether or not the interaction makes you feel safer or less safe. This again is not so obvious – sometimes for example doing something really scary, you will be attracted to because it helps you build up a safer identity as someone who can handle doing scary things. This is one of many many examples you can enumerate in your head to better digest the dog brain.

So the collection of these interactions, almost in a pavlov esque way, make up your life. It is a feedback loop of sorts. You start to interact more with things that make you feel safer and less with things that make you feel unsafe. There are certainly exceptions to this. As you are reading this, you may already be thinking about what some people called: “toxic relationships.” We will get to that more formally in a minute but yes it is true that even our silly dog brain gets confused. We know certain places people and things — stuff — makes us worse, yet we still run to them.

But before we get there, I want to address my main idea in this realm. And this is the notion of modeling the world as full of factories and vacuums. Let’s define factories as STUFF that gives you energy and vacuums as STUFF that takes your energy away.

Factories and vacuums. Simple enough. They belong in the overall collection of STUFF. All STUFF contains an energy current. This parallels the STUFF containing an electric current. When you walk up to a new piece of STUFF, you. can generally catch a vibe relatively quickly. You can generally get an understanding of if said STUFF is there to FACTORY YOU or VACUUM YOU, and then you can make a decision.

An example of a ~thing that is a net vacuum, at least to me, is my smart phone (still silly every time I call it phone because the phone part is such a small part of the device/tool). In terms of net impact, I would posit that the smart phone is a device (one that I am hooked to and literally carry around everywhere like it is some sort of baby) that is an energy drainer. I mean as it gets tired, I get tired. It is ego-centric. It notifies me whenever it wants to. It does not feel like I am in charge when I have a smart phone—feels like it is bossing me around. Vacuum!

As I mention above, this is a net vacuum. The tool—and this is called tool theory I believe?—could be used in a different context and setting to great prosperity. But it is not, at least not by me, and thus I am suffering carrying around a vacuum in my pocket everywhere.

Now let’s think about a factory. For this one, I am thinking about a friend. We can call him Bob (that is not his name). But I am thinking about every interaction I have with Bob. And I am thinking about the positive energy he gives off. We could be talking about any topic. Literally anything. And Bob brings in an infectious spirit of enthusiasm and excitement. That is him being a factory. A factory of life really.

The interesting thing about both factories and vacuums is that they produce viral agents. In other words, spending time around a vacuum will turn you more into a vacuum and thus contaminate you to the degree that you could go around contaminating other people. The same is true with factories. Factories can give life to people and they can turn around and boost others’ lives. So the impact of paying it forward or of being a drainer to someone actually compounds in every direction.

You can start to use the framework of of factories and vacuums and apply it to an audit of literally everything in your life.

Take your best friend. Are they are factory or vacuum? Why?

Take your manager.

Take eating Chipotle.

Take watching sports.

Take walking down the street in New York City.

Take going on a hike in nature.

My answers would be: “factory, don’t have one, vacuum, factory in person (vacuum on tv), factory, factory.” For all of these things, you can think about how you feel following the interaction. This is actually not a particularly complicated exercise. While it is 100% subjective in nature, my guess is that it is far closer to objectivity than you would think. At least for human beings conducting the exercise. Like I think most people (nourished people) in general feel worse after eating Chipotle. And I also think that most people, agnostic to industry or background, would feel more energized after talking to my best friend or going on a hike with them in nature. Weird how that works. Where this thing is supposed to be definitionally subjective yet we are finding what appears to be closer to an objective trend. Not sure the name for that other than a more formal Observation into understanding how the world really works.

Some percentage of your experience with STUFF is shaped by what you are bringing to the table (in other words, if you are looking for extremely bad news everywhere, you will probably find it). And a reminder that in every situation you can take responsibility and control how you choose to respond.

But you also do not necessarily need to surrender all the time—you can make decisions to surround yourself with factories over vacuums. You could run away from the vacuums and try to build a life where you do not have to engage with them really in any capacity. And that may be a good approach. I would propose, before running, trying to be more explicit in understanding the WHY behind vacuums and their relationship with you. Why are you attracting a vacuum in the first place? What led to this situation? What makes it so bad? Why are you losing energy from what this thing is saying?

Is it someone talking “shit” to you? What are they saying? If we do not really really believe in getting triggered, then why again is the vacuum having such an impact? Is the mood that gray and dark? Why do you need external stimulation to begin with? You could imagine this list going on and on. I do not think it is productive to necessarily force yourself to live in and around vacuums all of the time. Certainly not productive.

So we do have the option to run away from them and not engage with them.

We all have that option. Truly. Yet, we find ourselves in this toxic situation. A situation that we actively know is bad. Like we know eating Chipotle will make ourselves feel worse. We know that using our phone is bad for us. We know that talking about a particular person is bad for us. We know that sitting inside all day is bad for us. We know these things to be true of ourselves. And yet…and yet we have no solution.

But this is a lie. There is a solution. It requires some leap of faith but the majority of the distance is just in our heads. We fear lack of safety. But the place we would be headed to is objectively based on everything we know safer. Void of vacuums. Void of stuff sucking all the energy out of us.

We could just move to Montana. That’s it. We could get a dumb phone. Move ourselves and maybe a few friends and family to Montana. Or pick another middle of nowhere place. But if we had a cabin and nature and there were animals and life and rolling hills and grass and trees and vibes. We know we would be happier. We know we would.

The first day would be hard. Maybe? I mean the first day would honestly feel pretty cool. Like the context switching would overwhelm any fear. But what is there really to fear? Like what is our fear of missing out really on? What are we missing? The loud cars? The advertisements at every street corner? The needing to live in a small place and sit inside all day?

Modern cities are literally full of vacuums. Think about it!! What is stopping us from leaving the vacuums? MY GUESS is that the main driver that is stopping people from jumping ship (and perhaps one day they/I will) is the inertia. The embarrassment. The leap of faith we would need to take to throw everything out and admit that the modern experiment of life was wrong. The thing we invested in and grew up believing in. Wrong. The application of god like AI. Wrong. JR Smith shooting on the wrong basket in the NBA finals and Lebron waiting in the corner to yell at him—that type of wrong. These are the fears driving us to stay. Of holding out hope and thinking—oh things will change and just get better if we keep doing what we are doing. There’s a word for this: insanity. Things will not just get better. Time does not heal all things. I do not buy that.

So then why stay? I am genuinely trying to think of what I will miss—perhaps it is this dream of happenstance and luck that is keeping us here. We believe the density of stuff will just lead to interesting life things. I think this is an interesting dream to have, and I do not completely disagree with the notion. But I would not say it impacts me positively on a day to day basis. But the answer, the core answer that I wish I would just own, is that it is about the people.

I would say the places I get the most energy from, the factories I engage with most commonly, are really PEOPLE and BOOKS. Books I can luckily bring with me anywhere, but people are not as flexible. And the energy/factory juice you get from people in person versus on some video chatting software is not really comparable for me. I far prefer to be sitting with someone. Even more, I prefer to not have arranged a meeting but to have just run into someone or to have spontaneously planned an adventure with someone. That is the benefit of density. The cost—today, which I hope is a relic of history—is that density comes with the vacuums that are occupying the city.

And the vacuums are not just the drab buildings. It is also the drab people who live in those buildings. I hope those people are not gone forever, with permanent damage to their necks. I do not think they will be; I think we could save them. But it will not be on accident.

It is hopeful to believe that in the future everyone can be a factory. This is a belief in abundance. Not just in all resources but particularly in energy. In the idea that we can all be having great days.

The interesting thing is that one way to start this is from the bottoms up. With one factory.

Because you look around at society and what you will find is that there are actually fewer factories than there are vacuums today. I am not sure if it has always been this way. I imagine it could be.

But I would expect and/or hope that I don’t know all this GDP growth was paralleled by all this positive energy growth. But I do not think that to be true. I think our souls have been sucked out of us and internally we are weak. We are weak and we know that the fire is dwindling. And things are accelerating. The sheep are being herded faster and faster. And directed to worship the modern gods that live inside of our tiny casinos that we carry around like babies in our pockets and give them free real estate in our head where they do not have to pay rent.

You would think by now we would have built more energy factories. This has not happened. I find them increasingly rare. Go talk to a stranger. Go to an event in San Francisco or New York. You can just see the people. Actors. Most all of them are politicians, devoid of energy.

Energy is really a know it when you see it type of thing. Like I would hope you could think of that person in your life who just brings the energy. They do not need performance enhancements. They can just go. They can slice through an idea. They bring the diversity of thought. They bring the volume.

That is perhaps a piece of this. Prolificness has been discouraged in many ways. Many factories make their bread and butter in pure prolificness. Judged in a silo, they may not seem to be contributing that much energy. But that is not their gameplan. Their gameplan is volume. Lots of shots up.

Writing the above, and as you can probably tell, this is the type of person I aspire to be in some ways. Someone who is a factory of ideas and energy. Someone who puts a lot of shots up and is able to bring people up. You end up creating a magnet; a well; a force for good.

But in order to build the factory, you actually have to start internally I believe. You have to believe that being alone and with yourself is actually something that gives you energy. If you start with dependency, with needing external stimulation to have your own energy running, well then you will be caught in a loop of sorts.

Independence, and free thinking, is the path to building your own foundation so that your factory can stand strong and tall. Investing in confidence and understanding yourself is how you can set yourself up for success.

I would like to surround myself with more factories. I think over the past few years I put myself in a position where I was surrounded with vacuums in certain ways. My infrastructure and environment sucked energy out of me. As a result, I became less prolific. I became less happy. I honestly spiraled. I am responsible for this; and the step I am excited to take is to more seriously audit my life such that I am building energy rather than losing it. I believe this is the key for me to creating work and things I am truly proud of.