From Apes to Cyborgs

Why 2023 is my “year of public” — and it should be yours too.

“It’s just a fad” — Paul Carleton, about Facebook. Circa 2009.

I was late to Facebook.

I didn’t “get” it.

My friends were already here, in real life, so why would I need to “friend” them on this new website?

If we wanted to communicate — we’d just call or text.

But this all changed when I caught a bug… the travel bug.

Halfway around the world, after late nights and new Swedish friends — we wanted to stay in touch, but couldn’t text internationally. So I reluctantly signed up for TheFacebook.

Messenger was useful for texting in the cloud, but I certainly didn’t post to Facebook.

I was tagged at events, parties, and friends’ BBQs. I’m sure there’s quite the repository of photos of me in the depths of Zuckerberg's servers.

I had a great life, I enjoy the people I spend time with — I just didn’t understand the need to post photos on social media. So I didn’t.

Years passed of seeing other people’s breakfasts, posed holiday snaps, and life highlights. But I still didn’t feel the need to post. Most of my close friends more or less knew what I was up to, and if not, I’d simply update them the next time we were in person.

Social media seemed to have little utility for me.

After delving into the world of entrepreneurship, before I knew it, I was spending most of my time behind a computer. A knowledge worker, like a lot of us.

"We’re already cyborgs."

"You have a digital version of yourself, a partial version of yourself online in the form of your emails, your social media, and all the things that you do.”

—Elon Musk, 2016

Like it or not, we exist in two forms — our digital selves, and our physical selves.

Not only are we apes with ancient brains existing in this modern world, already struggling to deal with our situation, but now we all have two versions of ourselves to manage.

You need some form of a digital self to participate in society. Even your grandparents have a digital self, an email address, or an entry in a bank or government database somewhere. It’s hard to get away with totally neglecting our digital selves.

Our physical and digital selves are intertwined, with strengths and weaknesses, but with defining characteristics of each:

  • Our physical selves are high-fidelity — it doesn’t get any more real than in-person. Skydiving in person is not the same as skydiving digitally (for now).

  • Our digital selves can scale — we can be in many places at once. One video or piece of writing is a piece of us that can be broadcast to millions.

The internet has connected 5 billion of us and gives us superpowers that only 50 years ago, presidents would dream of. We had radios and televisions in the past, but the internet takes one-to-many communication to a whole new level.

We see it all around us. Presidents and world leaders tweet to their citizens. Celebrities chat with their fans. Entrepreneurship flourishes because of this direct distribution. Personal brands and influencers “build in public” and continually grow their audiences.

We’re in the era of the individual, we’re easily able to scale our digital selves.

I’ve been scaling online businesses for years. But I’ve never intentionally worked on my digital self. Online, I didn’t really exist at all.

It took years of reading others’ insightful thoughts and lessons about life and startups before I realized what they were doing — putting themselves online, documenting their lives, and building their digital selves.

In the age of the internet, if you want to maximize inbound opportunities, you must externalize yourself.

I think about it like this, “if we were to meet IRL, what would we have a chinwag about?”

What kind of subjects and interests would we have in common?

What are the types of stories I’d end up telling about myself, my life, beliefs, hopes, and dreams?

Systematically write those down. I call this, “externalizing yourself”.

Using my time in the highest leverage is one of my greatest concerns. What can’t be outsourced or delegated? Externalizing yourself is one of those things.

Google can’t help you here. ChatGPT doesn’t know about your personal stories. Nobody knows what you’re thinking except you — unless you externalize it.

Those who have an established personal brand experience true time leverage. People already know who they are when they interact.

Externalizing yourself not only increases your surface area for opportunities but crucially, acts as a filter. When people already know who you are and what you’re about, they’ll know whether they want to engage with you — whether for business, friendship, or anything else.

You’re having your very first conversation with people, every day, at scale.

That’s what I didn’t get. Externalizing yourself allows you to gain leverage over our most important asset, time. (It saves the other party time too!)

In the early stages of life, generally, you’re looking for opportunity, in outbound mode. Later on, there’s too much inbound, and filtering the opportunities becomes the problem. Externalizing yourself helps solve both of these things. It’s worthwhile no matter what stage you’re at in your journey.

My whole life I’ve been reluctant to share online, but I now realize it’s time invested in building my digital self. I’m writing this from my quiet office, meanwhile, my digital self is out there making connections, meeting new people, and having first conversations every single day.

What’s your digital self doing for you?