I admit that the kinds of videos I watch on YouTube and the kinds of books I read tend to gravitate towards a certain kind of self-help genre, where some productivity or business person is giving me a set of systems and protocols to follow to help me “hack” my way to a more fulfilling work and life. These kinds of content are usually well-made but suffer from a shallowness of insight. It’s not that the authors are deliberately trying to dupe me (at least I hope not!) but the unfortunate reality is that the incentive structures that lead to engagement online and sale of products means that in order to publish, you need to publish fast and loose.
Books that get published are usually a small essay that gets padded out with animated bibliography research or a year-long experiment where the author tests out the ideas in the short-term and reports back on what they experienced and learned about themselves. There might be small kernels of originality and insight in there, but the rest of the book is a repackaging and restatement of the research and writing of others. It is without irony that I wager that the same 20% of landmark examples appear at least once in 80% of the books out there.
YouTube videos run into some similar issues. Often, I find that the videos are short think pieces and experiments that people run as a blog series or retrospective. The editing is fast and smooth, and the experiments are reported on based on impressions from the first week, month, and sometimes quarter.
In both of these mediums, we see a presentation of the short-term result with little follow-up on the long term impacts. On small occasions, a writer might follow-up on some of the ideas in a second book that is a direct result of the first, but by and large we don’t have insight into the impact the changes had over the long-term.
This bias towards short term content make sense. Authors and content developers need to create products quickly in order to ensure a viable revenue stream, and once you write about your niche and experience, life moves too slowly for you to be able to keep up with that pace. As a result, they would start to publish on things that are more nebulous and propped up by the work of others (hence, animated bibliography).
The best books with the deepest wisdom are often, as Taleb notes, ones that have been around for more than 50 years. I’d add to that that books published as the culmination of one’s life work also fall into that category.
This is not to say that content coming out of the short-term process is worthless. In my opinion, my life and satisfaction has improved in quality over the last 3 years of intentionally reading these books. The problem is that after a while, very little surprises you and you start to see the same examples getting recycled.