Cocktail party theory of lifeApril 23rd, 2010 by ftobia
I want to revisit the “what is the meaning of life?” question with an economics bent: If life is an optimization problem, then what should we be optimizing? Put another way, if life is a constrained maximization problem, then asking “what is the meaning of life?” is akin to choosing and studying one’s objective function. In this case you could also choose your life’s purpose by selecting the right function and thus optimizing the right thing.
So then, what should we be optimizing? Perhaps we should try to be as interesting and personable and awesome as possible. There’s two things going on in there: 1) be awesome and interesting and doing cool things, and 2) be able to share what you’re doing with other people so they can be all “whoah that is awesome and interesting and you are doing cool things”. I think awesomeness is a very important quantity to be maximized, and the second point alludes to the fact that awesomeness is inherently subjective, and when awesomeness falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it it doesn’t make a sound.
I propose a novel theory, the Cocktail Party Theory of Life, to crystallize the above sentiments. You should live your life in order to optimize interaction at a cocktail parties. All your time outside of cocktail parties should be spent on interesting activities you can later share with people. Your work, or the projects you’re working on, should turn into good stories (“Let me tell you about the cool stuff I’ve been doing lately…”). Of course, most of what goes on at cocktail parties is social, so you should be comfortable navigating the social scene. You should be a good story teller. You should be personable and likable. You should know how to engage in conversation with another human being, and generate positive social interaction. And you should be genuinely interested in the people around you, because they’re what makes for a really good time at a cocktail party.
You have to be successful to even be invited to the cocktail party. You need to know your surroundings and what the people around you think are interesting. You have to be good at switching contexts: no one wants to hear about all the technical work you’ve done with NASA at a sports bar. If you don’t like going to cocktail parties alone, you should have a partner you can rely on to navigate the social scene with you. And, of course, you should enjoy a few drinks, though not to excess, unless you’re into that sort of thing. It’s your life, after all.