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


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)