The following interview is with David McRaney, creator of the WordPress.com blog You Are Not So Smart, and author of the recently published You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself.
DAVID: You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self delusion. One topic at a time, it explores how silly and irrational we all are through the lens of fascinating psychological studies. It started out as a blog just pointing out interesting things around that theme, but once I started gaining fans and saw my hits growing, I made the effort to write longer, more in-depth pieces about cognitive biases and other fun things. The book is an expanded version of the blog, similar in format.
2. What encouraged you to create a blog that celebrates self delusion? How has your life changed as a result of learning so much about psychology and irrational thinking?
DAVID: I tried a lot of different blog ideas before You Are Not So Smart. My first real attempt at keeping a blog about interesting things in psychology and neuroscience began around 2003. I gave up on that a few years later and tried a blog about feature writing. It wasn’t until I saw a video demonstration of inattentional blindness that blew my mind and prompted me to launch You Are Not So Smart in late 2009.
The result of writing about self-delusion all the time? It’s been great. My wife and I are always saying things like, “Hold on, that’s just the anchoring effect,” or “I think you are confabulating right now.” We’ve found that the articles can be a vehicle for self improvement, but always when you least expect it. Also, I don’t argue online anymore because I’ve learned through the research how futile and fruitless it is. It’s a wonderful thing to delete from your life.
DAVID: I got into a heated online argument with two friends over which was better, the PS3 or the Xbox 360. The argument went on for days, and I think we all crossed the line, insulting each other and getting legitimately angry – and we’re friends in real life! I thought it would make a great blog post, so I researched why I was so brand loyal and silly.
That became my post on brand loyalty and fanboyism, which I published that post at about the same time an iPhone prototype was stolen. With the buzz around fanboyism at an all-time high, someone at Gizmodo saw my post and asked if they could republish it with links back. I agreed, and all of a sudden my hits went through the roof. I kept writing and posting and soon emails arrived from the publishing world asking if I was interested in turning the blog into a book. I said hell yes.
4. Why did you choose WordPress.com, and what do you like most about it?
DAVID: I’ve tried every other service out there, but WordPress.com is the most robust. I wanted something clean and elegant and easy, but with enough features to allow for scaling up my blog if it ever caught on with a larger audience. It was the right move.
This is an amazing and revolutionary time for writers. The barriers to entry are so low, and the platforms like WordPress.com so well-made, anyone with a voice can start shouting and be heard. Instead of writing a book and hoping a publisher won’t throw it into the slush pile, writers can start a blog and build a fan base. They can prove to publishers there is a market for their work and their voice.
A generation ago, a writer like me would never be discovered, never get a shot at the big time. Blogging platforms like WordPress.com are changing the lives of all manner of artists and activists. I think that’s fantastic.