March 12, 2007

TED2007, Days 3 and 4

I haven't spoken about the sessions at TED, and I'm worried that newcomers may think that TED is just a circle-jerk of stars and hangers-on drinking themselves into oblivion. In fact, the majority of TED is the three, five, and eighteen minute talks given by people from all walks of life.

Imagine what university would be like for the smartest, busiest people in the world. You'd invite the brightest minds in every field, and add in some of the keenest voices for change and revolution, and then mix in some of the best entertainers to remind us that the goal, after all, is the pursuit of happiness.

These talks have literally changed my life. That's a cliché, I apologize and will try to expound: they have changed the way I live every day. They changed the way I think about the world. They have changed where I spend my money. They have changed how I interact with people.

Primarily, as a writer, I'm a satirist -- but if I were to write about the talks, basically what I'd be saying is, "Wow, this one was good. Wow, this one too. Wow, also this one." That's pretty boring, and there are a lot of people out there who actually can write about the content without it being boring, so I'm leaving it to them.

I'm also leaving it to you: for the first time, this past year TED has started making every talk they can available online. I urge, nay beg, you to download a couple to your iPod or computer and watch them. I've tried watching them on a TV and it kind of doesn't work, but as soon as I had a bunch on my iPod I found them incredibly engrossing. On the flight down I watched five talks from the year before I first went to TED (2004), and I was literally gasping and laughing right there in my seat, with everyone around me thinking I was a crazy person.

If you would like a safe starting point (and let me emphasize I'm not saying these are the best talks, they are just the ones I really enjoyed most recently) check out Malcom Gladwell talking about spaghetti sauce; this is one of those mythical talks where he manages to weave a compelling story that is actually teaching an incredibly important lesson, and then check out Steven Levitt, the whitest gangsta in America, with his talk "Is Thug Life a Happy Life?" about the real economics of actually being in a crack-slinging gang; if nothing else, you will learn the important business concepts of "we be all fucked" and "weak and shit" (I kid you not).

Look, I'll be honest, some of these talks are extremely technical, and some are kind of hokey, and some are downright boring. Whenever you try something new, you fail some of the time; it's the definition of learning, and TED is a conference trying to teach itself how to change the world. Don't let the bad ones discourage you, just skip to another -- there's no test. If everyone in the world watched just one of these talks to the end, I think we'd have a much, much better chance at making it to 2100. For realz.


I had a complete blast at the "TEDGrand Party" on the final night (at TED everything starts "TED...", Lest We Forget). I know I keep mentioning Matt Groening, and probably a lot of you are thinking, "Geez, give it up, we know, you got to talk to him, that's great, you're special, now shut up." But, seriously, I basically adopted him as my new father (note to real dad: sorry about that, I'll always remember you fondly, it's me, not you), so when I mention him it's no longer to show off, it's because I basically followed him around like a baby duckling (is there any other kind?) and so most of my stories involve him in one way or another, whether it's introducing me to fascinating people, gently correcting me when I say something really offensive, or regurgitating partially-digested fish down my throat when I was hungry. Also, occasionally exclaiming, "Seriously, Wil, I'm dropping a deuce here, can I get some privacy?"

I talked with Jeff Bezos and Matt and David Pogue (separately) a bit about blogging vs. journalism and the right to report my life vs. invading the private lives of public figures, and I'm trying really hard to edit my stories so that nobody is embarrassed by them. I mean, I think pretty much everything I say reflects well on the people involved, but if you're famous or you're a famous person's PR person, and I've told a story that you would rather not have associated with you (or your client), please write me and I'll delete it. And if you're reading this, I apologize, but there are stories and details that are missing.


That said, I totally boned Cameron Diaz at the... no, no, sorry, that's a lie. I never got closer than five feet from her. In all this meeting of celebrities and famous people, I think I've learned some interesting rules, which I will pass on to you for absolutely free.

The problem with meeting celebrities is that a few bad apples spoil it for everyone -- it only takes one or two guys (out of a crowd of several hundred) to go up to a famous gal and start monopolizing her time and/or saying inappropriate things, and then that celebrity just naturally becomes gun-shy of meeting any new people.

The other thing celebrities deal with is feeling alone in a crowd -- lots of people will never approach celebrities but are curious about them, so wherever the celebrity goes there will be a ring of ten to twenty people standing twenty feet away from her, who are not looking directly at her but are just kind of glancing and then looking away and then smiling at each other. Subtle! The problem is, when you have a forty-foot-diameter ring of people around you at all times, you kind of figure out what they're getting at, even if they don't stare directly at you (imagine Saturn going "Oh, are those rings orbiting me?"). So, you feel like the center attraction at the zoo ("Wait, wait, I think I just saw her sneeze! Oh, look! She's wiping her little nose!"), and simultaneously feel incredibly alone. (I'm projecting my feelings onto the people I saw, here, but I think I'm right.)

I am, in this regard, REALLY glad I'm not that famous.

Now it would be incredibly pompous of me to tell you what all celebrities want... I mean, even more pompous than I actually am. But, here's what I think is best, based on my interactions with my (self-described) "fans" and based on my interactions with real celebrities.

- Don't come up to the famous person only to say, "I love you" unless you're going to disappear immediately after that. There's really nothing worse than having somebody walk up to you and say, "OMG YOU ARE SO GREAT" and then just sit there, staring at you, waiting for you to do something great. Simultaneously, you feel like (a) how boring this must be for the fan, and (b) that the fan is expecting you to put on a little show just for them, and you kind of resent them for that -- as Jon Stewart said, "I'm not your trained monkey."

- DO look directly at them when you see them naturally, but don't stare or keep glancing at them every minute or so. If you meet their eyes, smile! That's really nice. Everyone likes being smiled at. Give them a mini-head-nod if you like, or throw in a wink if you're feeling naughty. They'll get the message: "Hi, I recognize you, and I like your work, thank you." All without you saying anything or interrupting them. (I've never had someone pass me in the hall at WWDC and smile at me and thought, "DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU TO HELL! STOP WITH YOUR INFERNAL SMILING!" But I admit I'm weird.)

- Don't interrupt celebrities who are clearly with a group of people who are all close to them, and they're just trying to have a conversation with their friends / family / business associates without being interrupted.

- If you have a specific thing you'd like to discuss with the celebrity, it's OK if they are in a general group (like, standing around at a party, chatting) to come up and politely stand close enough to talk to them and SMILE at the group while you listen to whatever is currently being said. Obviously, if it turns out this is some business discussion or they are talking about personal shit, bail. When you get a chance to talk, you can be all, "Hi, Mr. Ford -- I heard you don't like to be a judged by your charisma instead of your acting, and I was wondering..." This gives them a topic, so they're not expected just to perform for you. If they answer your question and don't engage you more after that, smile and listen to the general conversation for a while, then nod at everyone in the group and wander off.

- Most importantly, BE INTERESTING ON YOUR OWN. The best interactions I've had with celebrities is when I've been with a group of my peeps and we've been telling jokes and stories and we're all having a great old time. Then the celebrity thinks, "Wow, I want to join in with them!" instead of the other way around, and you don't have the extreme power imbalance of the other situations. We already know the celebrity is interesting, the question is, are you? Do you have something cool to say? If not, work on this before you, like, talk to anyone, celebrity or not.


Having written those rules out, I now realize they are exactly my approach for hitting on women, which, while admittedly far from perfect, have been FAR more successful than my previous rules, which were "Go directly up to the woman and say, 'Oh my god you are so hot I'd give anything to feel your soft warm flesh against mine,'" and then just stare at her, agape, waiting for her response.


Tesla Motors was showing off their electric car this year in the Simulcast Lounge, which I also call the "Loser Lounge" although it's luck of the draw who gets the main theatre passes and who gets the simulcast passes (and if there's room in the main theatre, we losers can get in there as well, so we're not always stuck).

It's pretty gorgeous. I talked to Tesla CEO Martin Eberhard and was amazed that he knew every bolt of the car inside and out. Every single part had a story. "This is straight from the Lotus -- this is all-new. There's carbon in there but we're changing it. That back glass is moving out, this will be another color, these lights are actually the second-to-last prototypes, etc, etc, etc. Seriously, this man has a complete blueprint of this whole car in his head. I dare you to ask the CEO of any other car company some technical question about one of his cars.

Mike Matas was with me and started asking questions about how cars are designed, because Mike wants to know how everything works. The CEO started talking about all the crazy B.S. involved in getting a car to market -- like, for instance, when they changed the paint color of the logo on the airbag in the center of the steering wheel from the "Lotus" insignia to the "Tesla" insignia, he had the exact figures on how much it cost him to get the government to re-certify the entire airbag system. (The factory was all, "Hey, if you want, we can just give 'em to you saying "Lotus" for no extra money. Oh, hey, THANKS! That'll be great!)

I asked one of the people on the board how I might actually purchase a car. "Oh, it's easy, just go to our website, there's an on-line form." Yes, but, how do I send you the money? "Oh, there's just a space for your credit card."

Wait, let's review this. Most people have put up $100,000 to reserve a car. $100,000. On a single credit card.

"Uh, listen, I think I do pretty OK, but, uh, this is embarrassing, but I don't actually have a personal credit card with a $100,000 limit." (Or $50,000, or $40,000, or 30, or 20...) Turns out you can also send them a wire transfer if you want to do it the loser way.

On the final day I told Eberhard that he'd sold at least one unit, as I'd decided to finally put down my deposit, based on what I'd seen and the projected date of getting a service center in Seattle, and he smiled, and reached into his pocket and gave me a tiny Tesla pin. I guess you expect a joke here, but, seriously, I love that fucking pin.


So Matt knows how cool I think it is to "roll", as it were, and he gets a certain kick out of frontin' like he "rolls heavy" when, actually, he's pretty happy just hanging out with folks and drinking beer.

At the TEDGrand TEDParty, Daryl Hannah walked in and asked Matt if he could maybe keep an eye on her and make sure she didn't get cornered by anyone, kind of like Lloyd Dobbler. Daryl has a reputation for being a pretty smart cookie, and I think this helped prove it -- she didn't want to hold herself above everyone at the party and not talk to anyone, so she just bought some insurance against the inevitable 1% bad-apple-factor. She had a certain signal she'd give Matt if she needed him to come along and gently pull her away from someone who was being obnoxious -- and, NO, before you ask, she didn't use that signal on me. Well, as far as I know. Now that I think about it, she may have had a SEPARATE signal for Matt in case she got cornered by someone who knew the first signal. Look, this thing goes a lot deeper than any of us thought, ok?


Now, I'm TEDAvoiding Matt at the TEDGrand TEDParty, because he's rolling with Daryl and her leggy friend, and, frankly, I knew if I went up to that group it'd just seem as if I were trying to get an introduction to Daryl, even though really it'd be because I needed a refill of mashed mackerel.

My friend Greg and I are roaming around, and we decide to grab drinks at one of the many TEDBars that have set up in the hangar. (Oddly, the party was sponsored by Grey Goose, again, so I would have thought they'd throw the party at, like, a pond, not a hangar.) So we're in line, and Matt and Darryl and Legs are all being chatted up by a big group right by the bar.

Suddenly Matt sees me, and, much like the other night, he kind of cocks an eyebrow and does the come-here finger motion -- the expression on his face is basically the "Oh, you are in trouble young man" kind of thing, which was really funny in context but for the life of me I can't explain why. So I creep over, and Matt extends his hand way out, like we were meeting for the first time at the conference (and UNLIKE we'd just spoken an hour or so ago), and he yells, "Wil Shipley! How the heck are you!" And I'm all, "Matt! Great to see you!"

Matt says, in a total theatre voice, "WIL! I want YOU to meet MY FRIEND, [Legs]!" (I'm not using her name not because of my rampant sexism, but because it seems like a privacy invasion. Again, I'm walking a fine line here.) And I'm all, in my best leading-up-to-the-punchline-voice, "So Nice To Meet You, Legs!" And then Matt lets out, "And, this is my friend, DARRYL HANNAH!" and he looks so extremely pleased with himself, that, honestly, the point of this story is just how pleased Matt was to be able to pull that off, and not that I got to meet Darryl Hannah for thirty seconds (although she is extremely engaging and extremely tall).

So I said to Darryl, "Oh, are you standing by the bar because you want a drink with a splash of lemon in it?" and she honestly says, "GrrrrrrrrrRRrrrr..." And I'm all, "Look, I'm sorry, I've had 15 seconds here to think of a joke... I can do better." I pull back and look her up and down. "Ok, uh, I like what you've done with your hair... did you get those red highlights by using henna?"

She literally grabbed my badge and choked me with the badge-strings -- shaking it for emphasis. Look, if you come up with better jokes when you meet Darryl Hannah, you can mock me, but until then...

Greg and I wandered off, and did other party things. I'd like to note that I spend the vast majority of my time NOT around stars, but the star stories seem less invasive -- in the sense that pretty much everyone was watching the stars when these stories happened, so they are already "on the record." I could sit here and repeat what Greg and I talked about for a couple hours the night before at the bar, as we exchanged stories on how messed-up we are (ADD vs. OCD) and our other deep thoughts on life, but those were private conversations, and, also, mostly consisted of us grunting and saying, "Bitches!" anyways, and how interesting is that?


I've known Jeff Bezos since the first TED, where we demoed Delicious Library for him. Mike was doing it, and he was really impressed with how quickly Jeff takes in information. He'd show a feature and Jeff would nod, and then quickly say, "What else?" Not rudely, you understand, but just indicating that he now understood the entirety of what was explained to him and all of its implications, and he required more data. It was like, "So you scan in the book with the camera..." nod-what-else "And then you can loan this way..." nod-what-else "And it gets the recommendations..." nod-what-else... and so on. At the end Mike wanted to start making stuff up just because his whole demo was over in like 20 seconds -- "Uh, sorry, uh, I guess that's all it does?"


So Jeff's sharp as hell, but he's also just really, really funny. I mean, he's the center of every party. This year he brought his blood family, and it turns out they are ALL a complete riot (well, I didn't meet his mom; maybe she stands around with her hands on her hips frowning at her men disapprovingly while they bring down the house). At the end of the party his family had a very large entourage of people all standing around and making jokes with them.

I walked by Jeff and he was with his brother, which violated my rule of approach (eg, with family, probably having a private conversation) but he saw me and stuck his hand way out: "Wil Shipley!" Unlike Matt, he wasn't frontin'; we actually hadn't said hi this year, since he'd been at private parties with Clinton and shit on previous nights.

So I said hello and he introduced me to his brother, who, it turns out, runs one of the most amazing charities in New York -- but I didn't know this at the time, so I just saw a guy who looked almost exactly like Jeremy Piven; he was even wearing a baseball cap. I said, "Hey, are you as funny as your brother?" and Jeff interrupted, "FUNNIER!" I doubted that, but it turned out to be true.

Since the brother is taller and more rugged-looking, I leaned over and said to him, "So you got the humor AND the looks in the family?..." and he interrupted, "...AND JEFF GOT THE ENTIRE REST OF THE UNIVERSE!" It was sweet because it wasn't jealousy that made him say it -- it was more like wanting to tease his brother, who I think still thinks of himself as a high-school geek, about just how much power he has now. Again, I'm projecting, here -- I wasn't inside their heads at the time, so who knows.

Then the elder Bezos wanders over -- he is a sharply handsome man who pretty much defines "distinguished." He's in great shape and very clean-cut, although he was also rocking kind of a cowboy aesthetic. The brother says, "Oh, this is my dad!" and I look over and exclaim, possibly a bit-too-loudly, "Hey, are you ALSO FUNNY?"

And the dad just looks at me with his steely eyes, his face not moving. He squints the tiniest bit, like Clint Eastwood in a Segio Leone movie.

"Ooor... are you not... funny?"


"Ooor... maybe... you don't like questions about humor?"

Finally he speaks. Softly, but still everyone could hear him clearly over the din of the party around us. "Four of the last five men I've killed asked me that question."


As you can imagine, he and I got on like a house afire.


There was a really nice tequila being served at the bar behind us, and senior Bezos started telling us about how when he was young, tequila was considered a really crap liquor, that you drank if nothing else was available to get you drunk, and now they were charging fortune for all these fancy ones. I hiked up my pants a bit and went into my grumpy-old-man act ("You know, when I was a boy, we didn't have these fancy-schmancy TEQUILAS!").

Brother Bezos said, "But Dad, this is free! It's an open bar! It costs nothing!"

The dad is the funniest because he's the best at being deadpan: "What? Are you kidding? I've been paying all night! In fact, that guy still has my credit card!"

"Oh man," I said, "he's probably buying a Tesla right now."


I asked the bartender (the one who may or may not have a really nice credit card), who I correctly guessed spoke Spanish, if he could help us with the traditional toast for tequila, which goes, like, "Arriba... avajo... al centro... something else" (not correct spelling). He led us through it, and the tequila was really good. I shot mine, and later begged the bartender for the final drops as he closed down the bar, which might have been a mistake, as afterwards Brother Bezos told a joke that had me gasping for air so much that I lost my balance and fell down in a crumple. The wait staff all looked at me and smiled hugely, and yelled over, "No mas tequila!"

I believe becoming silly from tequila is something that cuts across all artificial racial and class boundaries.


When I first encountered the Bezos clan I half-bragged/half-joked that I could introduce them to Matt Groening if they wanted, and Jeff was all yawn I met him last night. I'm like, well, uh, I might be able to produce Darryl Hannah with some work. Ok, they said, but I looked around and couldn't find her.

A half hour later or so Jeff was all, "Wil, dude, where's Darryl? I thought you were bringing her over." I demurred that she didn't seem to be around. Jeff was all, sure, whatever, I bet you can't get her over here. I was all, you're on, five minutes, it's 9:53 PM, let's go.

I ran around the room asking everyone "Have you seen Darryl Hannah?" which is a funny question to ask about a six-foot blonde movie star in a crowd of geeks. It's like, "Hey, did you see T-Rex here at the party? No? How about that volcano in the middle of the room? See that?"

So I ran up to where Darryl was, wearing my leather-soled shoes. This is relevant because there's a particular comedy move you can do in leather shoes that's been lost with sneakers -- the early stop. You stop dead a couple feet short of your target, and then slide up to them, ending up all up in their bidness.

I breathlessly apologized to the guy(s) who were currently flirting with Darryl, then was all, "Hey! Hey! Jeff Bezos just bet me that I couldn't get you to come say hi to him."

"Oh yah?" Darryl said, skeptically. "How much?"

"Uh, well... I mean, it's a gentleman's bet."

Darry: "WHAT? You tell Mr. Bezos I am NOT going over there unless there's money on the line."

So I run back to my group and SLIIIIIide up to them, breathlessly (remember we're in a damn hangar), and spout, "Darryl -pant- says she won't -pant- do it for no money."

Bezos: "Ok, fine, I'll bet you a dollar."

Run back, slide, interrupt the guys hitting on Darryl again, who are starting to hate me.

Me: "He says he'll go to a dollar!"

Darryl: "WHAT?! That's an insult. I am not going over there unless it's at least $10."

Run, slide, pant.

Me: "$10 minimum."

Bezos: "Look, I'm willing to go $5."


Me: "He'll go up to $5."

Darryl looks at me like I was a production assistant and I'd just brought her decaf when she'd asked for regular. Remember, besides being an incredibly leggy blonde bombshell, she's also an actress, so when she looks at you like you're a worm, you actually start actively craving the taste of dirt. Remember that character she played in Kill Bill? I want you to imagine some guy just said he'd give her $5 if she'd meet his friend, and how that character would look at him.

She spoke to me in a complete uninflected tone of voice, as if she was worried that if she indicated any emotion should would just completely lose it. All she said was, "I am positive that I said $10."


Me: "Dude, she's insisting on $10."

Bezos: "Ok, but she has to sign the $10... and I get to keep it."

Me: "What kind of bet is that?"

Bezos: "Take it or leave it."


Darryl: "Fine!" She steps over the guys around her as if they were toadstools and heads over. (Note to guys around her: sorry you're the butt of my jokes, please don't hate me.)

When she finally confronts Bezos, she bellows at him: "$10! That's what I'm worth to you!?"

Bezos came over and hugged her, and we all laughed our asses off, and then everyone agreed to pose for pictures together. I was on Darryl's left, and Father Bezos was on the right. Jeff was all, "Hey, I want to be in the picture," and his dad was just quietly, "Well, tough, because I'm here." Dad was like: look, you may be a billionaire to everyone else, but you're still my boy: I wiped your butt when you were a baby, and I'm hogging all the Darryl Hannah love if I want to.

Jeff ended up crouching down in front of Darryl, and she put her fingers behind his head giving him rabbit ears. Jeff's father did the same, and then so did I, so in the picture Jeff has a virtual halo of rabbit ears. Sadly, I was too drunk to remember who took this picture, but I hope whoever has it will send me a copy, because I know that at this point nobody believes this story, least of all me.

A few minutes later Jeff showed his brother the $10 with Darryl's signature on it, "How cool is this?"

"Hey," I said, "Isn't that mine?"

"Nope. A bet's a bet," and he tucked it in his pocket. True dat.


Ten minutes later, Jeff was was all, "Hey, Wil, I'll bet you a dollar you can't get Cameron Diaz over here," and off I went. Sadly Cameron was not In Da House.

As I rejoined the group everyone was staring at me. "What happened?"

"She's just not here!"

Jeff did his imitation of a stern executive: "Look, I didn't ask for excuses! I asked for Cameron -snort-." The funny thing about Jeff is when he tells a joke he usually can't get more than halfway into the sentence before he's already laughing at it himself. I guess that's the curse of a fast mind.


The last day of TED, Saturday, is a half-day, followed by a beach party. When I woke up I took inventory of myself and found my legs covered in giant purple and yellow mystery bruises. Apparently this might be a sign of drinking too much, but actually the one on my right leg I'm pretty sure is from my motorcycle scar from a couple years back getting torn open again internally from all the walking and standing and running around fetching movie stars for billionaires.

Hey, kids! "Bleedy," the still-painful knee scar, sez: Don't pop wheelies on your motorcycles! When you're 35! Without protective equipment!


As we were running upstairs to disassemble one of his robot sculptures before the final party, Greg and I ran into Tracy Chapman as she was leaving, surrounded by a group of admirers. She had composed a song for TED (a TEDSong!) and I felt bad that I hadn't gotten her anything.

"Hey, *I* have a fast car, so, you know... if you still need it... No?" I also complimented her performance, so I wouldn't seem entirely strange.

I was carrying the robot's arms to Greg's truck when we passed Tracy and company again outside; I said, "Hey, everyone, let's have a big hand for Tracy Chapman!" and then waved the Terminator-like hands around. Sight gags -- is there any lower form of humor? I think they're even below puns, judging from the fact that sight gag comedians (Gallagher, Carrot Top, me) are pretty much universally loathed.


At the party, after I'd said goodbye to Mari Chocolady and her husband NY Mac Guy, I went and said bye to Matt. He was with a little gang, and I said I was taking off, and we said bye, then he said something funny about me, and we all started talking, then I felt stupid because I'd already said goodbye but you don't want to just wander off when you're leaving for good, so I said goodbye again, which got us to all talking again, and the cycle repeated a few times.

There were four or five instances during TED this year that I'd seen Matt do something quite extraordinary, which was to detect when a situation was possibly going to lead to a conflict, and then gently say or do something so that instead everyone ended up happy, without anyone actually knowing what had just happened. This is something I really want to learn from him; this level of sensitivity to the people around me.

He did this trick one final time, on me.

We were talking about Matt's early work, and although I'm a huge fan of it in general, I'm not wild about Akbar and Jeff. Matt said, "Well, that's OK." And I agreed, because I appreciate it when people take risks with humor, and if you don't tell some jokes that aren't funny, occasionally, then you're not trying very hard to tell jokes that are funny. Humor is, by definition, edgy and new, and anything that pushes the edge forward sometimes falls off it.

So, I started teasing Matt. I think it came off like I was the young upstart and I was kind of trying to challenge him, although really I meant it completely ironically, because I didn't believe anything I said -- the most difficult kind of humor to pull off is to repeat bad things other people have said about someone that you do not yourself believe, and say them in such a tone that it's clear that you are making fun of the people who say them, not the person you're actually insulting.

"Well, Matt's not edgy any more! He doesn't take risks! No longer challenges authority! Not willing to fail!" and so on.

And Matt just looks at me and smiles and says, "Wil, you're great."

Which made me feel horrible, because that would be the perfect response if I were feeling insecure and were trying to puff myself up by putting him down. But I was really just trying to tell him I thought he was all these things. I wanted to say, you know, I still love your show. I think you still push the boundaries with every episode. I am amazed at the subversive ideas you manage to propagate on the most politically conservative network on television, and grateful that we have your voice in our new culture of hate and fear.

I should have just said this, rather than hiding my compliments behind irony.


The problem Matt faces is one every content-producer faces -- everyone faces -- whether we create software or television shows or a little vanity blog. It's that, as soon as our work comes into contact with the audience, it starts to change. We change. Because the audience reacts to us, and we can't help but react to them.

First off, every audience eventually rebels against what they love. Anything that was once cool HAS to then become uncool. I honestly liked the first several seasons of Friends, but it's hard to admit that now, because the whole show is considered so white-bread. Let me tell you, children, once Friends was edgy and fun.

Second, audiences tend to romanticize older works. If you're old enough, do you remember how funny SNL was in the 70s? Well, that's because you had ALL OF THE 70s to select from. You can remember just the Bad News Buzzing Bees sketch with Walter Matthau, and Samurai Barber, and forget Nose Wrestling and the billion other clunkers. Go ahead and re-watch the Simpsons shorts from the Tracy Ullman show, and tell me they are funnier than the show today.

Third, if you create anything that is really successful, by definition it becomes part of our culture, and then by definition it's no longer edgy. There was a time before David Letterman where, if, say, a talk show host said to a guest, "So, you're bigger than Jesus," it would be a HUGE scandal, because we hadn't invented post-irony, which is where you say something that's a quote of something else because you sort of mean it but you are also making fun of the people who actually might feel that way at the same time that you're saying it. Now, David Letterman's style is no longer that risky -- everyone I know uses this form of humor every day, saying the exact opposite of what they mean. Some days I don't say a single true statement. "Wow, you're a surprisingly unattractive girl!" "I sure wouldn't want another drink!"

Fourth, as the audience for something broadens, the audience starts to include people who basically don't like the thing in question, they're just there because it seems like the thing to do. So they complain about the very content they are consuming, basically asking the creator to be what he is not, ignoring that creation is a very personal act, and you can't change the very person.

This is a long-winded way of saying, this will be my last post with comments enabled. Not because I don't value other people's opinions, but because I need a place to write whatever I feel, and I created this blog to solve that need. But recently I find myself wondering, with every post, whether I'll please my "audience." And I find myself being dulled by this. There are lots of strange things I want to post, but I hear the voices in my head that chastise me for speaking about the possible end of the human race, and I think, "Boy, they REALLY aren't going to want to hear my ideas for a new water purifier."

So, if you liked this blog because it has a forum for discussions, well, I thank you for being with me, and wish you well on your journey. If you wanted me to talk on just one topic, I invite you to use the categories I've set up (I'll try to set up feeds for each one, too, but I haven't fully figured out the NEW yet).


After several cycles of talking to the group and saying goodbye to Matt and then all of us talking some more, I finally felt like an idiot during one of the "conversation" parts of the cycle, and wandered off over the sand to my hotel.

After I got thirty feet, Matt looked up and noticed I was gone, and turned and yelled "Hey, Wil... Goodbye!"

Thanks Matt. I'm wjs at, if you want to write. Either way, I'll see you next year.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Ben said...

If you're going to disable comments, I'd best get the words in while I still can.

Your writing is very enjoyable. The humour is just my sort of thing, the code damned handy. You also explained a little bit of app design when I mailed. Thanks, and keep it up.

March 12, 2007 4:20 PM

Anonymous Jeff Atwood said...

Comments are disabled after this post? Now *I* feel guilty. Thanks.

Your call, and your blog, of course.

March 12, 2007 4:28 PM

Blogger Mike said...

Wil, just wanted to say thank you for some awesome blog posts over the last year a bit that I've been reading. Seeing as you're removing comments I figured now would be a good time to write this!

I do have one small request though, if you do carry on with Pimp My Code can you re-anble comments for that? A lot of the stuff there is genuinely useful for other developers who like to see any minor corrections or expansions people have made to your code.

Again, thank you for this wonderful blog.

March 12, 2007 4:28 PM

Anonymous Dmitry Chestnykh said...

Thank you, Wil! I'm hungry for your new posts!

(If only you heard how LOUD I laugh when reading your posts about TED :)

March 12, 2007 4:53 PM

Blogger Aaron Tait said...

Your post have been great, so do whatever it takes to keep them coming. However, I agree with mike. Comments would be really useful for Pimp My Code and other high technical posts.

March 12, 2007 4:58 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

I'll keep comments on for technical posts, but moderate out anything that isn't a technical response.

If I forget, just send me e-mail.

March 12, 2007 4:59 PM

Blogger _WTH__ma77yg said...

I liked hearing the cocoa/carbon debates but, meh, whatever.

Loved this post, and looking forward to the water purifier one!

March 12, 2007 5:04 PM

Anonymous sharon said...

Since the comments are being disabled, I would like to take this last opportunity to tell you that your writing is really outstanding and I enjoy your blog way, way too much.

I don't comment that often anyway, but I subscribe to your blog and look forward to your posts.

These TED posts have been really touching and ridiculously funny! Thanks for putting in the effort to publish this blog.

March 12, 2007 6:20 PM

Blogger Chris said...

I agree with keeping the comment posts for pimp-my-code.

By the way, where's Mike? Does he still work at Apple?

March 12, 2007 7:37 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Mike's still at Apple, yes. I just introduced him to one of the prettiest women in the whole world, even, so hopefully he's doing some good with that.

It's not like this is your last chance to talk to me -- you can always write me directly. My e-mail is, like, posted in this message.

March 12, 2007 8:03 PM

Blogger Jose said...

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now and really enjoyed them all. To be perfectly honest, I have never bothered reading the comments on the non technical posts, so I really won't miss them. As long as it good for you, go for it.
One thing, If you don't have comments you wont get important feed back like this:

Arriba, Abajo, al centro y pa'dentro (some poeple say "adentro", I go for "pa'dentro" which is short for "para adentro") Either way, you are basically saying, "up, down, center, and inside". But hey, "no mas tequila" for you.

March 12, 2007 9:36 PM

Anonymous Aldo said...

Admittedly, I never much understood the need to have comments on everything these days. For some things it makes sense, but I generally don't find comments that helpful (hi, Slashdot!). It certainly is for technical matters, and as a fan of your coding segments, I'm glad you'll keep them around for that.

But hey, write about whatever you want, amigo. I, for one, am glad when you touch on politics or the environment in particular. Hearing developers go on and on about code can be useful, but sometimes you just want to try to change the world and not just the which I owe you a big thanks for the TED mentions, as your initial references turned me on to the video podcasts and the event, which I adore.

So to anyone who reads Wil's comments -- if you haven't followed TED, please do so. It's great stuff (though I was actually really fond of Majora Carter's speech in particular). See ya at WWDC!

March 12, 2007 10:06 PM

Blogger Andre said...

Will, I wanna say thanks for the blog, its at the top of my list. It'll be kinda sad comments are off, but I understand...

I had dinner with you and a few others (Mike Lee, Jonathan Mah, Alberto - He brought some Australian wine - etc.) during last years' wwdc. It was really awesome, your hella funny. I think your really making a difference, at least to me, its awesome to have been able to meet you.

Good Luck with everything Wil. Look forward to WWDC07.

Best Wishes.

March 12, 2007 11:06 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, I guess my first comment will be my last. :)

The last time I saw you (not that we've ever spoken and not that I've seen you've often, in fact only once before that at MacWorld) was at WWDC and you were on your way somewhere quick and had a look on your face like, "talk to me and I'll reduce you to shredded compost".

Well, you're screwed now. I'm not passing by you next time without making some sort of attempt, feeble though it may be, to break through that and say, "Hello dammit!" :)

You're awesome Wil. Thanks for having the guts to share all this stuff with us. You're code comments are occasionally, actually probably by default always, obnoxious, but also always insightful and informative. And without fail, fun. Thanks so much for giving that knowledge and goodness away so freely. And your anecdotes , stories, etc... well, not to get all teary eyed, but thanks man. They're pretty great.

So if this is the last time comments are available here, I want to take this one opportunity to say, "thanks". I appreciate whatever your view is on whatever you choose to write about. Otherwise what's the point.

And, if there's any truth to the you that you portray in your blog and what can be said about a man by the software he develops, you're a pretty awesome guy and it would be my privledge to have to think of joke to make you laugh in 15 seconds and/or buy you a drink come next WWDC. Take care!

Now it's my turn to feel embarassed. :)

March 12, 2007 11:41 PM

Anonymous Steve Ivy said...


Just wanted to say thank you for the amazing writing. It's witty, it's clever, and you have a good feel for how long to touch on a topic before moving on.

And, you make me smile every time. You're a rockstar. Hope your future bloggings give you what you're looking for - I'll be reading.



March 13, 2007 7:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Love it very very much.

March 13, 2007 9:28 AM

Blogger Sean said...

I also hope you will enable comments for future TED articles.

March 13, 2007 11:39 AM

Blogger Karl said...

Cool and mostly dead funny posts, Wil. I particularly liked this one:

Natasha: "Congratulations on your win!"
Me: "Nice dress! So pretty! Where dress come from?"
Natasha: "Oh, an assistant and I just ran out to Saks today to get it." [Note to four women in audience: question answered!] "Anyways, we're all very excited about Delicious Library..."
Me: "Dress soft! Girl pretty!"
Natasha: "Yes... uh, so, it's great to have strategic partners like Delicious Monster on our platform..."
Me: "Dress for dancing. Pretty girl go dancing with me?"
Natasha: "Um, I have to go over... there... now."

March 13, 2007 1:04 PM

Anonymous clee said...

Hey Wil - what about comments for your "Pimp my Code" entries? Or are those all done?

March 13, 2007 2:54 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Clee: They seem like a good idea, but sometimes people don't read all the other comments before they post theirs, and then we all feel silly.

March 13, 2007 3:14 PM

Blogger Joachim said...

Thank you. For writing. This excellent blog. Please. Continue. This awesomeness.

March 13, 2007 3:44 PM

Blogger Ryan said...

Congrats on the Tesla purchase. Color me green with envy! (Though, with any luck, by the time I can afford a new car, Tesla will make one I can afford.)

Oh, and I wouldn't worry too much about establishing separate RSS feeds. We your readers are perfectly capable of filtering your low volume of posts (that is NOT a criticism! I actually like the infrequency of your posts because it generally means they're higher in quality) manually.

For example, I would love to hear your thoughts on water purification, but would just as soon skip reading about your political views. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write about them, just that I need to not read things I don't want to read (what I concept, eh?).

March 13, 2007 4:53 PM

Blogger Maya said...

wil shipley! I don't know if you remember me but I came to ted to pick up my mom... and she immediately found me some vodka? listen, if that iphone guy thought I was cute you let me know. also, you were my favorite person there! (okay I loved matt but you were even friendlier.) I'm reading your blog from the beginning.


March 13, 2007 11:25 PM

Anonymous Håkan Eriksson said...

There's been two things lately that has made me laugh out loud, sitting at my desk in a standard office space; the Eddie Izzard albums a friend had put up at our iTunes network, and some posts in this blog (e.g. the one Enhanced By Microsoft). In order not to appear as a total nutcase, I have chosen to do without Eddie, not because he's bad, but I felt I could live without it (at least during office hours). For this blog though, I have adopted another strategy; if it gets too hilarious I force myself to read it in pieces. That way I can get the wisdom and humour while still appearing sane. Pretty clever, huh?

I came for the programming advice (from Google I suppose), but I stayed for the humour and, well, humanity, and everything else you do so well, Wil!
Keep at it.

March 14, 2007 3:01 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...


Yes, I remember you, you were the prettiest girl at TED, and also, your mom was hovering around to make sure some dirty old man (eg, me) didn't try to claim you for his own.

Also, if I were REALLY your favorite guy there you wouldn't be asking about the iPhone guy, but that's OK because I'm pretty used to losing girls to Mike -- he is a lot cuter than me.

I feel the universe owes me a karmic debt for introducting you to him, but I have to warn you that he is far subtler with the ladies than I am. He would never, ever admit to me that he thinks you are interesting or cute. Hell, I didn't know he was interested in his previous girlfriend until he'd, like, quit our company and moved to California.
Even then he didn't admit it for months.

If you'd like to write him his e-mail is michael_m at the tradition host of "" -- good luck! Try sending a photo of you wearing that green dress -- that's what would work for me.

March 14, 2007 4:33 AM

Blogger marco said...

Ciao Wil,

Thank you for showing me how to express insecurity, not hide it. You are important to me.



March 14, 2007 12:03 PM

Blogger Alex Kadis said...

Wil, I've always loved your blog posts, but this series about TED takes the cake, by far. I reeeeeaaaaaalllly want to go to TED now... sadly it seems not really oriented for college students to go unless they've done something really cool. hmmm.. I have some work to do!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the great posts before you close down comments.

March 14, 2007 2:37 PM

Blogger Adam T. said...

Wil, thanks for writing whatever's on your mind, whether it be code, funny stuff, or more weighty topics. It truly is a gift to the community, and I'm glad you do whatever you do.

March 16, 2007 12:38 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home