The Wisdom of Internet Elders

We used to gather round the fire and listen to stories from our elders who would regale us with their triumphs, defeats, and lessons learned.

Elders were responsible for guiding the tribe and influencing the zeitgeist.

But at some point, our elders became the elderly. Now, many of us see older people as a liability. We no longer revere the elderly.

And as we’ve lost respect for them, we’ve lost connection with their wisdom.

But we still have a deeply engrained need to learn from others and gather around fires, so where can we turn in a world that no longer reveres the old or spends every night gathered as a tribe?

By substituting physical fires with virtual ones.

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Who Are Our Internet Elders?

Internet elders are people we look to for sage advice. They may not be old, or even older than us, but we see them as a source of wisdom in specific domains.

Wisdom is more than raw intelligence and cunning tactics. Any seasoned professional is well-versed in their domain, but without wisdom to guide their actions, many can become unscrupulous or chase prestige and power over pursuing fulfillment and building a legacy of purpose.

Wisdom echoes a deeper truth, a universal understanding of something meaningful—the stuff of a life well-lived. It’s born out of experience—of trial and error, of introspection and iteration. Integrity and benevolence are key components of wisdom.

If you want to be successful, do what successful people do. So if you define success as a life well-lived, look to the people who are a prime example of it.

We gather round our computer screens to watch the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting to learn from the Sage of Omaha—not because Buffett is older than us, but because we deem him wiser than most in the realm of investing.

Here are some Internet Elders I turn to for wisdom:

James Clear for creating habits. Psychology is ultimately the study of behavior. After 15 years of studying psychology, I’ve never come across anyone who understands habits as deeply, and who communicates their knowledge as succinctly, as him.

Casey Neistat on how to be a better cinematographer and storyteller. If you look up the definition of “vlog,” you’ll find a picture of Casey Neistat. The way he approaches something as simple as recovering a crashed drone is masterful—you can’t help but glue your eyes to your screen when he uploads a new video. Even though I don’t plan to vlog, when I move to YouTube I’ll be studying him closely to design videos people can’t get enough of.

Gary Vaynerchuk for content distribution. From doing wine reviews in the early days of YouTube to building a media empire, “Gary Vee” has incredible insights into how to build an audience by maximizing every piece of content and focusing on “documenting” instead of “creating” content. I use his approach to taking long-form content (like this article) and breaking it into micro-content for different social media platforms. It’s a great strategy to maximize the mileage you get out of everything you create.

Tom Bilyeu on developing a growth mindset to succeed in business and life and be legendary. I’ve followed him since he started Impact Theory. He has an intense personality and infection energy. From an apathetic uninspiring guy to co-founding a billion-dollar company and now an icon in the realms of business and thought leadership, he is a paragon of the transformative power of cultivating the right mindset.

Dwayne Johnson for grit, sacrifice, and hard work. When playing football didn’t work out, he moved into professional wrestling. When people doubted his ability to evolve beyond professional wrestling to become a movie star, he put his nose down and grinded until he made it a reality. Today, he’s a platinum-selling singer, rapper, producer, and A-list actor. He also owns an entire professional football league, tequila brand, energy drink brand, and has a major clothing line. On top of being a father, husband, and maintaining a physique at the age of almost 50 that would rival Schwarzenegger’s in his prime. All because he works his ass off for everything.

Jocko Willink for discipline and focus. He’s a retired Navy SEAL, author of several best-selling books, host of the top-rated Jocko Podcast, TEDx speaker, and co-owner of multiple highly successful companies related to supplements, clothing, and leadership development. Few real-life people embody their principles better than him. I’ve already written about how Jocko’s philosophy has improved my life and will improve yours, too.

David Perell on telling captivating stories and writing online. I came across David on Twitter last year where he’s carved a name for himself as the “Writing Guy.” He has an amazing ability to break down the fundamentals of great writing in a way that’s simple to understand. I took his Write of Passage course to become a better storyteller. Over the five weeks, he revolutionized how I approach writing. This article came from a prompt from Write of Passage.

Mark Cuban for business and investing advice. I’ve been watching Shark Tank since Cuban came on. I grew up poor in rural Appalachia, so entrepreneurship was never something I thought was possible for “people like me.” People like Cuban showed me it’s possible. So anytime he talks about his approach to business or how he evaluates investment opportunities, I take notes.

Internet Elders are those we turn to for guidance and wisdom on specific topics. We trust them. We value their perspective. We endeavor to emulate their example and apply it to our own lives to succeed in a way we wouldn’t be able to on our own and make the most of the time we have left.

Elders aren’t infallible and shouldn’t be blindly followed. They’re just further along than us in certain ways. Their insights and experiences can guide us, helping us avoid dangers they had to overcome, so we can go further faster by combining their wisdom with our ambition to accomplish the incredible.

Just because someone is famous doesn’t mean they’re wise.

So before you start to follow someone and take them at their word—what most people call Influencers—ask yourself if they deserve to be called an elder. If not, it means you don’t think they have wisdom to share.

Conversely, are you trying to become an influencer, or striving to earn the mantle of an elder?

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How Can We Become Internet Elders for Our Tribe?

It’s easy to chase Influencer-fame—to reach celebrity status and bathe in likes and attention. Too many people chase power and influence because they believe they’re entitled to them—not because they want to use that influence to help others.

Most, but not all, Influencers put out superficial content. They’re all sizzle and no substance. Inherently narcissistic, their ultimate goal is to turn the world into their mirror—so they can spend their time waxing poetic at their reflection. Like Narcissus, they’ll eventually drown in their superficial existence.

Wisdom is inherently altruistic and benevolent.

None of the people I listed as an example of an Internet Elder walks around talking about how wise they are or telling everyone they meet to hang on their every word.

That’s part of what makes them Internet Elders.

They seek wisdom. They explore nuances. They eternally strive to learn more, understanding they’ll never know everything. They respect the power and responsibility they’ve been given.

Like Prometheus sharing fire—the knowledge of the gods—with humanity, Internet Elders delve into nuance to bring us insights from the depths of experience and introspection.

Strive to be wise and you’ll attract a tribe of wisdom-seekers. Seek to be a celebrity and you’ll attract superficial sycophants.

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Wrapping Up

Even as we inevitably transition from living fully in the physical world into the Metaverse, we will remain human (at least, for a while). And while we remain human, we’ll continue to carry human needs. One of the most fundamental human needs is to connect with and learn from others.

Unlike our ancestors, we can sit at the feet of anyone with wisdom—not just the elders of the tribe we were born into. We get to create our tribe and curate our elders.

Our fires may evolve from physical to virtual, but we will still gather round them to sit at the feet of those we revere—our Internet Elders.

So tell me:

Whose fires will you sit around, listening with rapt attention?

And how can you build your own fire to share your knowledge and attract a tribe of wisdom-seekers?