Nadia Eghbal

I often scribble half-baked ideas, reactions to things I’ve read, or something useful I’ve heard. Sometimes they turn into longer blog posts or projects, but most of them sit in my notes app, unused.

I’ve decided to start publishing some of these as a faster way to get ideas out there. They’re updated monthly below. Topics loosely cover governance, how people organize, research culture, ethics, online interactions, and all other sorts of randomness.

When quoting a private conversation, I’ve defaulted to anonymity for obvious reasons, but if you see something you said that you’d like attributed to you, just let me know and I’ll add your name.

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(Please note: you are crawling my brain. These are rough notes, which means ideas are experimental and conviction level is highly variable!)

2020 Notes

Browse by year: 2020 - 2019 - 2018


(from a convo) Online communities that are tied to a physical identity (ex. Nextdoor, alumni communities) function differently bc it’s harder to defect and leave. But they’re also not necessarily “high-context” communities in the sense of, say, a small town or meetup group. They’re sort in this in-between limbo space, where drama can even be much worse bc you intuitively assume shared values based on physical identity, but actually at a certain scale there isn’t that level of context at all

Kind of like the “jury duty” effect? You would expect that 12 randomly-selected San Francisco residents would be somewhat familiar to you in terms of identity/values, but actually they’re shockingly different from what one might’ve guessed. I actually can’t fully grasp why this is the case for these online/offline hybrid communities, but it makes sense somehow


(from a convo) “Idea laundering” as a concept (like money laundering, but for ideas you don’t want to share under your own name). Could happen via anonymity, pseudonymity (alts), or (most interesting to me) funneling your ideas through other ppl


I think there’s a diff between “content moderation” and setting expectations for civil interactions. Like a platform finding ways to encourage ppl to be civil to each other isn’t censorship, to me (done well, they should barely notice you’re even doing it). And I think that DOES, or at least can, fall in the purview of what a platform should be tasked with doing, bc it’s basically what any gov’t does as well (creates and enforces laws that foster a safe, civil society). That seems v different to me from removing ideas that a platform thinks are harmful - but if we focus on doing more of the expectation-setting stuff well, I wonder if that would help reduce the majority of what is actually concerning to ppl about “harmful” ideas (inciting violence, harassment, etc)

Maybe that’s a little naive? But it’s similar for open source communities, too, where being an effective leader doesn’t always mean letting ppl say whatever they want, even if you’re very pro-free speech. I think the best leaders learn there is an art to creating the right environment for that to actually happen (“no assholes” rule, etc), where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves, and it doesn’t come about by staying out of it entirely

I guess I’m just still intrigued by this counterintuitive idea of platforms leaning into their editorial positions, and how that could be a good thing, depending how it’s executed. Bc we know on the other hand that being totally absent is a recipe for disaster, even if it’s with good intentions (to not moderate anything), you end up with total anarchy. So a platform has to have some involvement, but the gray area is “what does it mean to lean into your editorial position.” Feels like encouraging civil interactions, regardless of the content involved, might be a good place to start


Regarding the q of “why don’t friend communes work?” – there’s something to the idea of like…you appreciate your friends most when you’re able to flit about in a broader social environment and know you come back to each other of your own free will. Your friends are your copilots helping you make sense of the rest of the world

Whereas in a friend commune, you’re basically locked into the same proverbial room with the same ppl, no ability to explore elsewhere, and it makes you kinda crazy in the end. You need that porousness of a “natural” social environment to appreciate them, vs. cutting them out at the roots and planting them somewhere unnatural (this kinda goes with the “weak ties” thing, see note 2020-05-22)


Thinking about the ways in which gov’t vs. philanthropy vs. corporations participate differently as institutional actors, and how I’ve been forced to think about that wrt open source (which has been fun to consider!). Ex. it makes sense for a philanthropic org to start a grant program for funding research or “field-building” activities; they might also fund projects, but will eventually run into the q of “how does this project reach self-sustainability and/or where do we find later-stage funders for their work” (the latter being not dissimilar to VC). Corporations have a more direct relationship to OSS projects and are more likely to engage in ongoing financial transactions. And gov’t could go the philanthropic route (e.g. grant programs), but really the role of gov’t is to help incentivize new behaviors at a systemic level that no other institutional actor could do otherwise (e.g. introduce a tax credit). Whereas I think of philanthropy as being more of a kickstarter / seed round / injection of funding for ideas / something else I don’t really know how to articulate here

I’ve found thinking through these diff roles and their benefits/limitations helps clarify why grant funding is a tempting option, but often not that helpful long-term unless it’s done strategically (vs. “we have loads of $$ let’s just give it to ppl” - but then what?), as well as how each institutional actor is uniquely suited for diff types of contributions


Interesting to think about the “drudgerous”, middle-class kind of content creator. Like it’s both super-personalized and this intensely personal accomplishment to build a following around your work, yet at the same time there’s something incredibly interchangeable about the experience, which zoomed out is actually kinda banal. So like in some ways it’s not that different from any other paper-pushing job (and only more rarely do creators try to legacy-build beyond themselves), but it also does afford more day-to-day freedom that I think most ppl would find preferable to a true paper-pushing job. Not that different from startup founders either, I guess


There is something really charming about the cross-pollination effect that you see in highly verticalized / siloed creator communities (ex. streamers, YouTube creators, cam girls). Like you’d expect it to be hyper-competitive - your content is highly substitutable, the size/engagement of your audience directly feeds into your reputation and ability to make $$ - but it’s weirdly the opposite, people cross-promote all the time and it’s seen as a really good thing

I guess I just find it interesting bc ppl like to armchair-theorize in a Malthusian way about “what happens when ppl subscribe to too many things at once, there has to be an upper bound here,” yet creators’ behavior doesn’t bear that out at all. If they were worried about that, they’d be much more tight-fisted about their audience, but intuitively I think they get that their total supply is basically infinite, even if some ppl rotate through. The fact that creators themselves don’t seem to be concerned about it suggests it’s prob not really an issue


(from a convo) “the crafted self”


I think leaning into the idea that philanthropy is fundamentally not a democratic endeavor actually makes it more interesting, w/ potential for more impact. There’s a strange dance we do around the power dynamics, maybe bc it makes us uncomfortable, that IMO kind of muddles the point of it all. At its best, I think creativitiy and innovation, rather than wealth redistribution, should be the point of philanthropy. (I think!) More of an “empire building” than a socialist theory of change


Would cottagecore or junglecore (aka jungalow aesthetic) win in a fight


Thinking about how so many things from this time will be recorded bc live online events are much easier to record, so ppl do it without thinking / for the sake of it. Wonder if having so many of our activities recorded from this era, that otherwise wouldn’t have been, will have any long-term effects (good or bad)


TFW you tapback-react at the same time as the other person you’re texting with <3

Something about the synchronicity feels v intimate in a way that is hard to replicate in digital spaces


(from a convo) Building a social network is different from e.g. building hardware. It’s more like medicine than civil engineering. You’ve got this living, breathing thing that you’re tending to and watching it react to various things, so you can’t perfectly plan every next step. But we can have consistent values that we apply to how we think about those next steps


Quarantine surrogacy/homesteading phases:


I think when we say “institution building” what we often mean is ritual building. When we say we want to build an org, we mean that we want to build a ritual


Spatial software parameters (braindump):


It seems intuitively acceptable to suggest that GPT-3 could replace menial programming tasks, but with writing we seem less comfortable with saying that some writing is more menial than others. There’s still sort of an assumption that you just hire some low-paying writer to do that work, whereas a programmer would think about how to automate it away entirely

Which is is to say: I wonder how much more potential we could unlock in the writing world by accepting that this is a thing? Like it seems like it could be net bad to “allow in” the idea that some writing can be automated, but I wonder if it could be long-term net good, in the same way that it’s been net good for programmers to automate more menial tasks


It’s strange that what we refer to as meme culture actually only speaks on the level of lowest common denominator. Feels like the equivalent of clickbait for the greater field of memetics. What would memes 2.0 look like - maybe more like propaganda? Although even with propaganda, is it ever possible to mimetically transmit values that are slightly more nuanced than outrage or laughter or sadness or even love? Can we inject more sophisticated viruses into the substrate?


Half-life of diff online content over time - ex. tweets decay quickly; newsletters less so; podcasts and essays seem to appreciate in value over time. And why is that true for each (probably has to do with discoverability over time - tweets are less discoverable unless they get saved somewhere, whereas you can stumble upon old essays or podcasts more easily)

There’s probably a physical good analogy for each of these (ex. cars depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot)


I sort of get the critique about “it’d be a shame if only companies can afford to have publishing arms” (re: Stanford almost losing its publishing press) but why is it so different from academic press? There’s an argument to be made that really successful co’s are post-scarcity and therefore actually the best entities to incubate the arts/culture/literature etc. And frankly the “profit maximizing” critique should apply to academia anyway bc everyone is always trying to protect a budget, nonprofit vs not


Babies and plants as indoor natural clocks to help you keep time during the pandemic


Attention economy -> reputation economy (in which the locus of scarce attention shifts from consumer to producer)


We chide that feeling of transience among urban dwellers (that we would just pick up and leave for a better city, given the opportunity), but I wonder to what extent growing up in faceless suburbs teaches that feeling of transience. If you grew up never feeling attached to the place you were, does that make it harder for you to feel attached to a place as an adult?

Kinda like e.g. growing up with poor parenting models, or coming out of a military tour etc, which make it harder to readjust

And if so what is the experience of an entire generation raised that way doing to us


Feels like there is something to the concept of “grit” that is not dissimilar to the failed promises of 90s liberal democracy. Like understanding grit, in a weird way, requires us to sorta believe that every person is “optimizable”, instead of recognizing the unique mysterious forces within them which are immutable? (Is that true? Maybe I’m overreaching)


What comes after the fortune cookie event horizon?


(from a friend) “Post-degenerate”


I feel like ranting about how Big Furniture is oppressively forcing an entire generation into boring midcentury aesthetic and how this destroys our collective creative output, but I don’t have the energy


Maybe an interesting topic to explore: tired of nerd culture (similarly to what Terry writes in genyeet about being tired of TikTok?)


Figma is that sort of “flat space” we need on our laptops, like a tablet, that allows us to think and organize our ideas laterally


It’s funny to consider why mainstream ppl feel comfortable talking about onlyfans vs other adult entertainment products in the past

One theory is that we’re all just more comfortable discussing this stuff in public now

Another might be that onlyfans is by definition more sanitized than, say, pornhub or myfreecams, bc everything hyperexplicit that would make ppl blush to share is hidden behind a paywall. Similarly to why suicidegirls became cool and talkworthy in its day. Was more like high-end pinup or whatever

I wonder if there’s a similar learning for paywalled content more broadly? Like if the most polarizing and objectionable content is safely hiddden behind a paywall, within the confines of a higher-context community, then it’s easier for the general public to talk about / evangelize the concept of the thing itself (need for free discourse, etc)?


Petitions as a sort of 0.1 version of retweeting and sharing


Clojure is the Space Mountain of open source


How to virtually simulate a “fidget experience” / walking outside together? Ex. ppl listen to talks better when they have something to fidget with, and similarly going on a walk together gives two ppl something else to passively look at, which makes the conversation richer

Ex. video chat where instead of looking at each other, you’re both looking at a YouTube video on mute while talking (kinda like being in one of those hipstery bars with a movie projected on one wall)

(from a friend) shared browser experience where we can all click around and use the same thing. Ex. presenting in Figma shared doc is better than presenting in Google Slides on video screenshare, bc everyone can explore the Figma presentation on their own while listening


There should be a name for the phenomenon that’s like:

Basically a paradox/tragedy where the very definition of your identity collectively precludes any one individual from being able to make progress or otherwise do things that would benefit your group


Maybe 2020 is the year that solipsism died. Maybe that’s what’s so painful about this year. That for so long, it felt like we were increasingly mastering our environment, able to control every aspect of it, finely tune and dial up and down whichever things we did or didn’t like. Technology and solipsism go hand-in-hand

But this year, it’s all about ceding control back to the collective. You HAVE to take part in this global narrative, whether you like it or not. You don’t get to fully dictate your personal life anymore. By comparison, it feels so…crude! One of the great tragedies of major political disasters is that every part of your personal life comes to a screeching halt, whether you like it or not. You have to do what everyone else wants, and creative freedom has to take the backseat. The bright spot, I guess, is that after the war is over, all these new ideas blossom and you sow the broken fields with green shoots again


Killing a civilization - death by crisis asphyxiation


Increasingly convinced that targeted advertising (and maybe the entire advertising industry as a whole?) is widely disliked mostly bc they didn’t have better PR. The narrative could’ve just as easily have been “this is a better experience for you” if it’d been actively marketed that way

I wonder how the ad industry thinks about this, like did they grossly underestimate the need to have propagandists currying favor in the public eye bc they figured they could indefinitely operate more privately?


(from a convo) Something I hadn’t really thought about before: the high salary you get in SF isn’t really just about living costs, it’s the premium that companies pay you to stay in SF and go to an office all the time. The pay diff is like an inconvenience tax we levy on our employers


Quarantine friends: the pod of ppl you may not have typically chosen to spend all your time with, but got looped in one way or another, and now you kinda have to stick w/ them bc social mobility is limited (like living in a small town again!)


Game theory for corporate marketing? There are only so many ways to message a given topic, but you also can’t not say it for fear of looking insensitive. Any one company can’t defect, but cooperation typically leads to suboptimal outcome (for the individual company and the group), bc the fact of everybody cooperating collectively dilutes the message


What if Roam becomes the brand for your public notes, like Substack for newsletters etc – like “publishing your Roam” instead of an unbranded page of your public notes


Would be fun to do a Games of Nonchalance-type series of video chatrooms that are like a puzzle or a museum…you enter a room and the other participants aren’t actual people, but inanimate objects or clues or some experience you can interact with in some way? Ex. if you say a certain word it activates something on their end w/ e.g. an Alexa/Google Home, and then it responds with the next clue


Something that needs solving for in isolation is maintaining weak ties and acquaintanceships. Right now my social world has shrunk to my closest friends, which was great for awhile, but I do find myself missing the serendipity of new social ties. How do you meet new ppl right now, and how do you catch up with existing acquaintances?

All the new social software stuff feels like it addresses keeping in touch with super close friends or coworkers, but how do we discover and maintain weak ties, which are actually just as important to a thriving healthy social life? That’s what feels so surreal to me right now, I think - my social network has been lopped off at the edges, clean block-y cuts all around, vs a typical/healthy social graph has fuzzier, wispy edges. My social graph is surviving, but it feels sort of artificial right now bc this isn’t the way ppl typically organize their relationships


Finally understanding that Hollywood and Silicon Valley both fiercely care about protecting freedom of speech, just in diff ways. They might get at each others’ throats for differing politics, but the underlying sentiment is the same. Ppl are attracted to these industries bc they’re weird and eccentric and creative, and that makes its participants keenly aware of the responsibility of having a platform and protecting that access for everyone


Is there sort of like an anti-innovation “death drive” that hits companies once they effectively become public utilities? Like after a certain point it’s kinda weird when Twitter launches some massive new feature, you kinda just want them to keep the lights on and not get too much in your way. If they inject too much personal conviction into the product it feels wrong somehow. At the same time we all complain about how these services are becoming stagnant

So like…I don’t even really know what’s the right way to do it? Like what even should be feeding into their ongoing drive to innovate? Should the ratio shift to skew more towards user feedback vs. leading by personal conviction, because you’re now this public utility/gov’t with responsibilities to “the people”? Or does it / should it not shift at all, and I’m just overthinking it?


A world in which OnlyFans becomes a replacement for porn is actually pretty mindboggling to consider, the trajectory mirrors exactly what happened to all other forms of content. Ppl used to have to pay for explicit content when it was locked into physical form (books/videos/DVDs), then the internet made everything free and the price went to zero (display ads on adult sites that are free to access)

Now I bet some ppl are more than happy to pay for adult content every month, but as subscriptions. On the one end there’s like, PornHub’s premium subscription (much like paying for Netflix), but the more interesting transition is this idea of paying a handful of creators directly via OnlyFans. You can pay to follow the ppl you like and it’s more about having an intimate relationship with the person (in a parasocial way, of course, but like - seeing THIS particular girl over any other girl is more interesting to you and therefore worth paying for)

I just distinctly remember when nobody thought ppl were ever gonna pay for adult content again after the internet made it all free and easily accessible, and yet, here we are. Reputation-based economies introducing a natural scarcity which make subscriptions a viable thing again


The American dream is dissent, not a car or house or any material object - the ability to let yourself be dissatisfied with your circumstances (or anything else you observe in your environment) and try to do something about it. Which has this perverse effect of making it seem like we’re often falling short of our expectations as a country, but it’s actually that ability to voice discontent (with ourselves, and with others) that IS the American dream


Writing books as a business model for independent research

From a financial perspective it’s a shitty model, sure, but it provides a trajectory - each project is self-contained, culminates in a finished project, etc


What would spreadsheets reimagined as a messaging app look like? Not repurposing existing spreadsheet software for messaging, but a messenger app that’s spreadsheet-like

Like the same way Discord is messaging reimagined as audio-first, this would be messaging that’s…tactile-first?

Basically like a consumer version of spreadsheets. Not consumer in the way that Airtable is consumer, but like a straight-up social app


COVID is first major shared narrative we’ve had since the advent of social media, right? The last one being 9/11? (I guess you could also argue 2016 election? But somehow that feels different to me) I guess I’d assumed (as did a lot of other ppl) that we were trending away from shared -> fragmented narratives, so it feels worth considering 1) why we thought that and 2) why a shared narrative did manage to “succeed” in a very fragmented world today

Obvious reason being its immediate impact on everyone’s daily lives which makes it hard to ignore - is there anything we can learn from the structure of the problem, re: “conditions that make a shared narrative possible today” that we could apply to future shared narratives?

(Also worth considering: how do we experience shared narratives today? If previously it was gathering around a TV or radio, how does the narrative get passed around now? It’s weird bc I feel like most of it has been “sensed” rather than told to me - like we’re intuitively going through these diff phases of development together. If anything, reading about others’ experiences on social media doesn’t “inform” but rather startles me, bc it makes me feel seen in a weird way that’s somewhat disconcerting)


“Our home isn’t a place to have people over anymore”, it’s where we spend all our time, so we need to reorganize the house accordingly. –> Made me think again about considering the interior of buildings as mini-cities, and how we’re kinda doing that with our homes now. Instead of the city sprawling outside around us, we’ve turned the city inwards. Ex. Dining room is now the office, kitchen is the restaurant, downstairs is going to the gym, bedroom is “going home” to sleep


I kinda want to see someone make the argument that terrible healthcare isn’t a bug, but a feature of the United States. Like essentially steelman why bad healthcare is quintessentially American, instead of framing it as a crisis. Is that weird? I don’t mean to minimize the issue, I just feel like if nothing has changed in 100 years, maybe it’s worth reexamining why bad healthcare makes the US what it is - not from a “good” perspective necessarily, but maybe from an optimistic or at least neutral one?


High status in normal life = what you wear outside, high status in quarantine = how you live inside


I’d rather be a memos-driven company culture than a numbers-driven culture. Are these two things at odds? Do they develop in different ways? It’s not that numbers vs. no numbers have to be at odds w/ each other, but I do think that prioritizing one over the other leads to subtle cultural differences


Male “guru” Twitter is just as competitive as female “e-girl” Twitter. In both cases they’re trying to grow an empire/cult that’s centered around them, and they are constantly fighting against the innate substitutability of what they have to offer (which breeds competition). On the other hand, the existence of other similar guru/e-girl accounts helps to validate their brand “market”


Thinking about how content platforms have this model that’s free for everybody, but they make money off a smaller subset of “winners” (i.e. top creators) – and how that could compare to e.g. monetizing communities with membership fees or big events like conferences

I think what I find interesting about it is the idea of monetizing a small portion of your membership instead of trying to make money off of everyone (that two-sided marketplace model we’ve seen with paid subscriptions, too), which shifts the focus from scale to quality


I think the value of publishing a book is sort of like creating an information “checkpoint”. Like a save point in a game that we can all collectively go back to, or like checking in your work on git

We’re all trying to figure out the world together, even if a lot of knowledge exists in blog posts and tweets and our collective conscious, we still need these checkpoints. In my case I felt like our last “checkpoint” for open source was like the late 1990s/early 2000s, we need to save what we’ve learned under a newer checkpoint so we can continue forward


“Builder communities” that are oriented around an activity? (making open source software, playing Minecraft, choreographing dance routines, etc)

Getting to know ppl by doing something alongside them is often better than milling around and talking. This was true of offline communities already, but can we now use that as a design principle for online communities as well?


Aesop products are like that strange feeling of Starbucks-type familiarity you get when you step into any third-wave coffee shop around the world, but for other ppl’s homes


One of my fav things about this moment is just seeing everyone embrace the lack of polish right now. How many businesses are using Squarespace to rally? We used to find that kinda undesirable, but in the current quarantine aesthetic it’s almost charming


(from convo) Digital nomads are the modern equivalent of deadheads in the 70s


A new hire bringing in their favorite tools for the job is like a new spouse moving into your house with their favorite stuff. “Nesting” at their new employer


Feels like camgirling was the hot thing of 2010s and now onlyfans is the hot thing of 2020s, which mirrors this broader shift from hyper public to hyper contexualized online social interactions (thesis being that camming got saturated the way Twitter Instagram etc did, but continues to form a “public space” for discovery)


There’s a class of things that’s like “streaming for X” or “open source/GitHub for Y”, where ppl assume it works in one industry so it’ll transfer to another, without taking into account the particular cultural context (gaming, developers, etc) that allows those things to be true. Some parts are transferable of course, but without understanding the underlying context it’s hard for outsiders to know which parts are/aren’t


Roam is to bloggers what superhuman is to VCs - cultish product, but also b/c it creates this sort of ingroup unifying effect / externalizable status symbol where none quite existed before (ok, not quite true for VCs re: Superhuman, but maybe for “generally busy ppl who live in their inbox all day”. “Bloggers” is likewise a somewhat imprecise term for what I mean as generally curious and creative writer/researcher types)

Even if you don’t use it, it serves as this symbol to outsiders that “we’re a thing bc we have special tools that you wouldn’t understand the value of.” In both instances, it’s not immediately obvious to an outsider that these groups might have specialized tooling/needs. (“Don’t you just write stuff?” “Don’t you just have meetings w people?”) Having something for that group to show off to others, and to be able to say “See? We’re a thing!” is what makes it so culturally memorable

It seems like many of these products rarely make it beyond cult stage, bc their brand is based on being something other ppl don’t get, and to expand beyond that they have to cannibalize their own brand. But maybe that’s okay, too (for me, anyway, a 3rd party observer) - it’s just fun to see these cults emerge regardless. They’re basically communities w/ a thin layer of company/product wrapped around them


Zoom as example of proprietary community - literally cannot handle distributed interactions so it falls to one person to lead. Instead of fighting against this (trying to recreate distributed interactions where one cannot exist) maybe we should just lean into it


I think I find information suicide (is there a better term for this that’s not so depressing? identity switching?) interesting for the same reasons that other people find longevity interesting. I’m not that viscerallly interested in the prospect of living forever, or even for a very long time, but I am fascinated by the idea of my physical body being a vessel, separate from my brain/consciousness, that I can choose to wipe clean. Why shouldn’t I be able to start a new game under the same body?

There’s some parallel to longevity here bc the answer to both q’s is “biology dictates our social norms”…and in both cases it’s about challenging whether that biologically-driven life trajectory is something we have to cater to after all

Like if longevity is pitched as a failure of the imagination to think beyond our physical bodies and beyond death, I feel like there is also a failure of imagination to think about how else our physical bodies can be creatively repurposed during our current 80-year time span or whatever. If we have alts in our online world, why can’t we have alts in the physical world? (Or maybe alts isn’t quite the right comparison, bc plenty of people do have real-life alts that exist alongside their main identities, whereas I’m thinking more like wiping your current game entirely). I’m just sort of more surprised that ppl don’t play with this more? Or maybe they do and I’m just not aware of them?


Dream topic spectrum has narrowed to just a few things bc I have no other stimulation going on I guess? Now when I go to bed it feels like that’s when the real adventure begins - going to sleep is like embarking upon an odyssey

Reminds me of music festivals, where daytime you’re basically just killing time, recovering from the night before, everything is very slow paced, some ppl pretty much sleep through the day. And then nighttime is where things gets crazy, lights and costumes come out. Similarly my dreams right now are the real adventure, daytime is just passing the time in a quiet beige state


I find it sort of bothersome that there’s no way to opt out of my email inbox. I have an email address, and I use it for lots of things, mostly as a form of verification/identity (signing up for services, etc). But I don’t really want people to use it to reach me anymore

And like, yes, I can adapt to the volume, and become more ok with not responding to things, we all do this, etc…but the fact that I can’t just blanket opt-out of this communication arrangement if I want to feels kinda crazy to me. There’s no way to just…not receive messages from people anymore, and yet it also feels sort of rude if I don’t reply to them. (Esp when they’re not cold emails, but from acquaintances or friends)

I want to be able to just “turn off” my email inbox and use it pretty much solely as a clearinghouse - for managing services that are tied to my email account, and for any other “read-only” email that I can enjoy but am not expected to respond to (like newsletters from friends). Ppl often talk about how great email is bc it’s a protocol you can build on top of, but this is the flipside of it that I really don’t like


Hey Arnold as maximalism (leaning into the urban landscape and integrating it into the storytelling, vs. most kid’s shows which use suburbia as a minimalist background, to foreground its characters)


Ok here is maybe a theory re: the q about Medium vs Twitter design thing. Twitter is like a public space, but Medium is like visiting someone’s home - a semi-private space you’re invited into

When you’re out and about and using the same platform with multiple ppl, collapsed into one feed, it’s ok if it all looks the same. But when it’s YOUR home, it needs to reflect your personality

(Okay, but then why is this still not necessarily true for Etsy and Ebay? Is there something about displaying physical wares that feels more personal, like it’s more about what you’re selling vs. the software it’s housed in, so it doesn’t really matter? Also maybe b/c all e-commerce software is fairly homogenized, vs. blogs and personal websites, where you have more options?)


Feels like in order to be able to understand the homogenizing vs. highly customizable UI question, need to better understand on an abstract level: when do constraints feel creatively smothering, vs. when does submitting to them feel like a liberating form of expression


Thinking about how 2018 was (for me) all about exploring extreme freedom, and 2019 was all about discovering constraints, and now 2020 feels like the ultimate constraint: external circumstances dictate how I think, what I wear, what I do, what I eat, how often I go out, etc. We are all being extremely dommed by our environment


Just realized what’s really cool about Stardew Valley is they manage to evoke a lot of emotion and attachment to the villagers despite the characters saying very little, but they do it by leaning into stereotypes. They let you fill in the blanks with stuff you already know about ppl and the world, and they do a lot of heavy lifting with symbols, hobbies, and mannerisms of speaking

Like it’s incredible how much you feel like you “know” these characters, but it’s actually bc you know people LIKE them in real life, and then project that experience onto the characters. I guess I find it surprising or clever b/c the naive take on “how to create a super immersive world” would be filling it in with lots of details, like Skyrim or RDR2, to achieve that level of emotion, but you don’t actually have to. In this case, fewer but really on-the-mark details are better bc it lets the player’s brain endlessly fill in the rest


(from a convo) “For awhile it was nothing, so nobody minded the lack of design, but once it looks like starts to look like something, it suddenly looks the same”


Weird when I love a book it makes my brains sparkle with ideas, whereas when I love a movie it just makes me cry or feel elated or whatever primal emotion, but it’s rarely generative for me


If Substack is the longform equivalent for Twitter feeds, might be the longform equivalent for Twitter replies w/ mutuals


Fun to see new “SKUs”/vehicles for interesting ppl to collaborate together…you could even think of them like stages of economic development, Rostow-style, but for tech industry

(from a friend) “Tech only recently discovered culture” <- this isn’t meant as a dig on tech, maybe just imprecise vocabulary (what the heck even is “culture” in this context), but I keep thinking about it. Like of course tech has always had its own “culture”, but there is something different about the past few years where it feels like tech is taking interest in “liberal arts” or whatever you want to call it, and slowly figuring out its identity there. And with that comes a widenening of SKUs for collaboration

Originally the only SKU in recent tech history was startups (maybe prior to that: gov’t-funded research labs? writing software together?). Like if you have a great idea, start a company. That was it. Then it was starting a VC fund and/or angel investing together. Next vehicles I’m looking forward to: starting a think tank / research firm together, starting a media publication / some sort of loudspeaker together

Anyways, regardless of the exact specifics, I like thinking about all these different vehicles that will fall in and out of fashion over time. Sometimes you come across a group of interesting ppl that would clearly form a dream team for something, but it’s like…what’s the right vehicle for their output? So much potential energy that doesn’t always have the right outlet


Something I’m starting to notice is “regional” online slang, but not based on where you’re from, more like “who’s your tribe” online

Ex. there are v diff types of ppl who say rekt, roasted, and shook, or SMH vs “you hate to see it”. It’s not generational or geography-based, I think it’s just tribal?

Has that existed online before? There was definitely nerd-only slang like l33t or pwned, and then there’s general early internet slang like rofl and afk, and then I felt like there was like briefly early gen Z vs millennial slang, but now it feels like there are lots of diff “languages” coexisting online across generations and geographies


(theory from a friend) People vote in national but not local politics bc they know they have more agency over local stuff, whereas national stuff they feel more powerless about, so this is the only thing they can do to affect it

There’s some parallel here to me between how people undervalue local politics, and the idea that “we treat the people closest to us worse than anyone else”. Like somehow having this greater level of intimacy actually makes people take it more for granted


Thinking about my email inbox like an airport or some sort of transit hub for all my other communications

Nothing wants to stay in there for long, the content is sort of nervously transient. it’s a place for ppl to get “processed” in transit to/from something else. There’s bureaucratic stuff in there (credit card notifications, insurance, etc). There are email notifications from other apps you use, which nudge you to get a move on and go back to those apps. Actual letters from friends feel like these sort of beautiful paper missives swirling in a dust cloud of desolation. You’re standing in the middle of a desert, but occasionally you reach your hand up and grab this letter and open it, and in it is some nice thoughtful longform note from someone you like and care about. You fold it back up and release it back into the wind. (Of course you don’t respond, even though you wish you had, and feel vaguely guilty that you didn’t, because you’re trapped out here in the desert wasteland of email. Their letter stays fondly on your mind for the next few weeks, before fading into the dust like everything else)


One possible answer to the eternal q of “Why does media attract such left-leaning ppl?” is that for most ppl, there’s no money in media (as an individual journalist, writer etc - not the industry overall). Right-leaning ppl go off and get high-paying jobs doing other stuff bc of their values, whereas left-leaning people are less likely to do so bc it conflicts with their values. So, crazy posit is that “liberal media bias” is bc working in media (and academia, while we’re at it) isn’t a sufficiently lucrative job, so it only attracts a certain type of person who’s willing to work in those conditions. But making media a financially attractive prospect would balance out POVs represented


Trying out this thought for size…if you’re providing a service for people to start their own businesses, then they need customization options. Medium pages can all look the same bc they’re (mostly) free, or GitHub repos or whatever, vs. Shopify or WordPress which let you customize everything. (Counterpoints: Etsy, Ebay, others? Ok so maybe the difference isn’t about charging money vs. not…)

Why does it feel like big-name blogs are always built on custom websites, but then everyone is fine building their own personal brands on Twitter/Instagram/etc?

In other words: why does building a personal brand on Medium feel icky, but building a personal brand on Twitter does not, even though both are equally homogenizing? Where’s the dividing line between customization vs. platform brand? It feels like there is actually a right answer to this but I’m not quite sure how to think about it yet


Maybe proprietary/centralized communities are like the bullseye on a target? There’s a central figure that everyone coalesces around, but “darts”/followers are sort of randomly scattered all around it. Bullseye (centralized/proprietary), honeycomb (hierarchical/cultish), and scatterplot (fully distributed)


What’s the half life of non-monarchic dynasties? (i.e. does all multigenerational wealth eventually dwindle down due to successors cannibalizing themselves?) And if they do have a half-life, why do people care so much about redistribution of wealth? If eventually their potential energy gets consumed by the ecosystem and makes room for someone new

I mean it’s also possible we haven’t even had enough generations of self-made wealth to understand how this works. We’re just seeing the tail end of Rockefeller Carnegie etc era now. To me it seems likely that all impossibly wealthy dynasties will die out over time, so it makes me feel less angsty about the ones that are being built today. And even, I think, makes the case for why they’re especially interesting / good for the general public, when I look at it from a lifecycle perspective (their job IS to be big and impactful for the relatively short duration that they’ll exist)


People who complain about JavaScript are like people who complain about venture capital (?)

In that, both of these systems have flaws and are easy to criticize, but they’re also wildly popular and just like…reflective of what IS happening, vs. what ought to be. They attract criticism bc they’re popular and flawed, but in the end, they’re just gonna keep existing. I think I have a hard time working up my emotions about either for this reason (perhaps in the past, but not anymore)


Looking at each other’s calendars to find the best meeting time as a form of distributed admin work. We sort of all have this unspoken agreement to do a small portion of the collective work required

Hiring a 3rd party (aka admin) to schedule is the equivalent of a “market-based solution” (in Ostrom’s terms) vs. two or more people figuring it out amongst themselves


Underrated: suburbs as breeding ground for creativity. There’s nothing else to do, so you turn to your computer/phone, switching off between your virtual world and the cozy comfortable cul-de-sacs, shooting the shit with your friends and letting your mind wander

I like living in the city as an adult (though even now, I find myself feeling less attached to it than I used to be), but I actually think I would’ve picked the suburbs again (or even more rural) in terms of where to to grow up as a kid


Something I don’t really get: with some hedonistic experiences, eventually after doing them repeatedly for awhile, they start to lose their novelty/appeal. But other hedonistic inputs don’t have that quality. Why not?

Ex. college-style partying eventually starts to lose its appeal for most people, but eating sugar is still just as enjoyable, on a visceral level, as when you’re 6 years old. (Specific examples might vary between people, but you get what I mean)

Is e.g. eating sugar just a purer form of wireheading? Like the stuff that eventually gets old is bc the novelty of it actually derives from its narrative, which starts to feel familiar and therefore less interesting (new relationship energy, college partying, etc), whereas other experiences are pure clean hedonistic input

Like for me it feels like eating bone marrow, oysters, sashimi, beef tartare, caviar, etc never gets old, bc the thing that gives me joy about it is directly inputted into my brain, with nothing else interfering w/ it


Is there a word for when a symbol is more representative than reality? Ex. a laughing emoji better translates the sense of me laughing than a video of me laughing

(Maybe this is just another version of uncanny valley, but not really about inducing disgust or revulsion, it’s just that the middle ground just isn’t as good of a representation)


Starting to feel like ppl need personal SLAs that detail the messaging apps they do/don’t “support” (iMessage, email, whatsapp, etc). Ex. I might have a Telegram or LinkedIn account but I won’t respond to your messages on there, too much inbound to support every channel

Part of what is/isn’t supported also depends on who’s messaging, what they message about, and overall volume to that channel. Ex. I support Signal only bc hardly anyone messages me there (and the few who do are close friends), but I’d be less responsive to ppl I don’t know on there, vs. it’s more acceptable to cold email or cold DM on Twitter. And I support iMessage only bc I only use it with friends, don’t use it for work etc, but I wouldn’t respond to a random person on iMessage

I’ve gotten significantly worse at supporting Twitter DM since I tried funneling more ppl over there vs. email. It’s still better than email I think, bc the messages are shorter, but the tradeoff is higher volume which makes it harder to respond quickly vs. before

Whereas my disinclination to use e.g. WhatsApp is mostly product-related (no reactions, and the notification badge disappears when you open it, so I forget to go back and check it). But enough ppl that I know use it that I feel like I can’t fully “deprecate” it


“Tech platforms are basically government” now, not bc of their widespread reach and influence, but bc they’ve become this sort of dreary bureaucracy thing where we sigh and wish they did better, but know they won’t

Infrastructure is dominance with a whimper


Friend flings are fun (aka the equivalent of a romantic fling, but with friendships)


Wonder if anyone will eventually build discovery tools / recommendation systems for group chats or if they’ll always remain undiscoverable (i.e. that’s kinda the point, you need a trusted friend/invite)

The long arc of technology seems to bend towards legibility so wondering how that’ll play out wrt group chats


Content itself bifurcating in the same way that content creators themselves are bifurcating (monopolistic platform + long tail)? It’s skewing both more longform and more granular, but nothing in-between


Wonder if I could map out my primary friends and relationships as a musical score


Reading chronic city and thinking about degenerate lifestyles. If neo-degenerates are the crypto Lambo fly girls in to your summer house in Malibu kind of degens, then Perkus Tooth is the classical version, the spiritual predecessor to neo-degens, in which he sheds social norms in dogged pursuit of the truth (whatever that means)

In that sense, classical degens have more in common with monks, although monks took an ascetic interpretation. Monks are about restriction as a means of reducing distractions (neo-monks are, of course, the IFers and soylenters and dopamine fasters), degen approach is about living a purposely unfiltered life so as not to miss any truthiness that might come your way. Classical degens avoid discarding any important clues that might aid in the pursuit of truth, which manifests as excessiveness. (Degens as the maximalist counterpart to monks?)

I don’t even really know if I’d classify neo-degens as truth-seeking (ditto neo-monks - they’re both commodified versions of the original) but in both cases it seems like there’s this extreme allergic response to default status games, which manifests in either ascetic or maximalist behavior


Anti-pattern recognition

“the true essence of madness is seeing everything around you as a meaningful symbol” - toby

Chronic city, pattern recognition are both (in diff ways) about learning to avoid the tendency to find symbols where there are none

“Being basic as a virtue” is sort of a stop-gap prevention mechanism from inadvertently descending into madness. Forces you to resist temptation to pattern match. And more broadly: if you’re truly dedicated to truth-seeking, switching up your identity and blowing up your life every so often keeps you on the run from the eye of sauron. Fool the pattern-matchers, render yourself unrecognizable from dark forces

Another version of this is the Trouble Coffee founder who got tattoos and wore the same clothes everywhere because she was afraid of forgetting herself. “The more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.” (Cayce being afraid of logos and branded clothing in Pattern Recognition is relevant here too)

There’s some common theme here that I like…something about how you can create these external markers to do something that you don’t fully trust yourself to do. And also, how external markers can form a protective shell to mask our true identities, allow us to safely disappear


Time lapse video of house parties over the years from age 4 to 90


Reading books is like reading tarot (searching for meaning in symbols)