Or, why the internet feels so utterly fucked
From here on out, I'm gonna be referring to "The Pattern" quite a bit in my writing. I first started fleshing this idea out in the manifesto. But I realize that burying a complex, ambiguous concept in a 5,000 word essay is not ideal for building a shared understanding of the world lol. So I figured I'd create this shorter, dedicated post so that we can have a shared language that connects us and prepares us for the long journey ahead. Cool?
To say it as directly as I can, The Pattern is the force that causes us to sideline our aliveness and individuality, and spend our lives chasing control, certainty, conformity, comfort, and short-term validation. It's the force that turns us away from our innate gifts and potential, and towards mechanistic mediocrity. A life dictated by The Pattern is one where we end up on our deathbeds overcome by regret, because we always sensed the possibility for a life of vitality and connection lurking beneath the surface, but never had the courage to follow it.
But that's just how The Pattern manifests in our individual lives. It's also something that plays out at scale, slowly infecting the entirety of our cultural ecosystem. If you've ever wondered why vast swaths of the internet, our media, and our culture at large feel increasingly homogenous and uninspiring and dead, The Pattern is at the heart of the matter.
When you go on twitter, and you scroll through thread after thread rehashing the same banal points from the same ten books, that's The Pattern.
When you go on YouTube, and every video starts by telling you to "smash that like button and hit subscribe," that's The Pattern.
When every song Spotify recommends feels like a copy of a copy of some other hit song from a decade ago, that's The Pattern.
When you search for something on google, and all of the top results fucking suck and don't answer your question in the slightest, that's The Pattern.
When you go to the theater, and every movie is the eighteenth superhero sequel, or you scroll through Netflix and everything feels like Content by Committee, that is The Pattern again.
And most importantly, when you, as a creative, feel like you have no choice but to conform to the soulless best practices of the creator and marketing industries, even though they feel deeply inauthentic to you, that is The Pattern.
The Pattern is everywhere, my friends. It is omnipresent, and once you see it in one corner of the internet, or our media landscape, you will see it everywhere, including in yourself. It's a bit of an info hazard tbh. There is no going back once you've seen it.
Where does The Pattern come from?
Truth is, The Pattern is not just one thing. It's a complex emergent phenomenon, driven by the interplay of our economic and psychological and relational systems. Here are a few of the big ingredients, which I've excerpted from the manifesto.
An environment of irresistible short-term incentives that blind us to long term possibility. As humans, we're evolutionarily wired to prioritize short-term gain. Hunter gatherers had no use for five-year plans, and those instincts are still within us. Combine that with our current economic system, ad-driven business models, and algorithmic social media platforms, all of which visibly reward cynical short-term games, and you've got the perfect recipe to get lots of people prioritizing what's easy, quick, and shallow. There's so much opportunity waiting for the people who do deep, meaningful work, and who play long games. But our wiring and our current environment make it very difficult to see those possibilities, and trust them.
Mimetic desire and rivalry. This is yet another thing that's baked into human nature. Put simply, we want what we perceive others to want. We look around, find the people who appear to be successful and high status, then start playing the same games as them. Often, this happens intuitively, or even subconsciously. If you’ve ever wondered why so much of the creator economy looks like a pyramid scheme—with course creators who teach other creators how to sell courses to creators who eventually sell their own courses on course creation to other unsuspecting creators—these processes of mimetic desire and rivalry are at the heart of the matter.
Our innate psychological needs around safety, certainty, and control. Creative work and entrepreneurship are, by nature, uncertain. They're also intimately tied to our identity and sense of self-worth, so the danger we perceive isn’t just financial, but existential. Beyond that, safety is a core need for all of us. We crave certainty, and love feeling like we're in control. So when crafty marketers offer those feelings to us on a silver platter, most of us, myself included, jump at the opportunity. It eases the tension building up in our head, and makes us feel like we've found a cheat code. But in reality, all we've really found is a fast track back into the arms of The Pattern.
Put simply, The Pattern is partly about the systems we live in, partly about our innate drive to fit in, compete, and seek status, and partly about wanting to feel secure in increasingly complex, chaotic world.
So yeah, that's what The Pattern is. The entire Ungated project is about how we can start subverting The Pattern within ourselves, in our work, in our communities, culture, and world. Buckle up, friends.
Rob's Daily Invitation
My newest project, The Forest, will contain literally everything I know about breaking The Pattern, all in one cool "choose your own adventure" format. Join me?