Choose active media, set yourself up to succeed by building systems to cultivate positive habits, but most importantly: Take a second to think about the contracts you’ve entered into as you go about your day. Are those contracts you’re happy with? Did you realize you had entered into them?
It’s an essay about “contracts” — and I don’t mean the formal things we sign upon joining a company or getting a divorce, but the more implicit contracts we enter into with a piece of media, software, or an application. Contracts can become proxies for thinking about “media accounting:” What we gain or lose by engaging with different media and mediums. Consider this missive a little bit of Media Accounting 101.
It is about the agreements we make that we may not always be aware that we are making. This is another interesting examination about being.
Central to this discussion is attention and in particular James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.
Each time you load Instagram it’s entirely different. A place with no concept of time or continuity. It’s like being stuck at the bottom of a well with oil slicked walls. There is no end. No edge. No rhyme or reason to the order. Just keep scrambling up the stone walls like a squirrel. Try as you might, you’re forever down in the wet darkness of that infinitude of sweet, sweet content.
Bad is being stuck in a “tiny loop” of the mind and body — a senseless series of actions that span minutes, hours, days, consume years, and add up to nothing or almost nothing, and that benefit (ideally: tranquility, growth, curiosity) no one but the company (in reality: engagement, ad views) who owns the container in which the loop takes place.
I find the tiny loop problem to be terrifying. Tiny loops tend to be perfectly designed to satisfy the id’s raw impulses. That raw id is great fuel for creativity. The concern I have coming back and feeling the loops again for the first time in a long time is: if you’re not careful, tweets and their ilk can burn all your fuel with nothing to show.
I think we’ll look back with shock on many “fundamentals” of the internet as it exists today. I’m still amazed that any private organization would allow unfiltered public commenting. I remained totally unconvinced of its benefits. Twitter, in this sense, is just insanity — an endless stream of public comment posturing and signaling and, largely, screaming. Dumb dumb. Basic ’net folly 101.
I believe there is a place for public comments, but the amount of energy required to nurture a positive community is beyond the means or desires of most institutions. And so most comment sections simply don’t provide a healthy place for conversation.
Repetition builds templates. Templates can be recalled and deployed later, once the asceticism is complete.
Buttondown is the best way to start and run your newsletter
Email: The oldest networked publishing platform
Visionaries thought technology would change books. Instead, it’s changed everything about publishing a book.
We were looking for the Future Book in the wrong place. It’s not the form, necessarily, that needed to evolve—I think we can agree that, in an age of infinite distraction, one of the strongest assets of a “book” as a book is its singular, sustained, distraction-free, blissfully immutable voice. Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. Perhaps the form and interactivity of what we consider a “standard book” will change in the future, as screens become as cheap and durable as paper. But the books made today, held in our hands, digital or print, are Future Books, unfuturistic and inert may they seem.
To publish a digital book today, you still need the words, but you can skip many of the other steps. From a Pages or Microsoft Word document you can export an .epub file—the open standard for digital books. Open an Amazon and iBooks account, upload the file, and suddenly you’re accessing 92 percent of the digital book market.
Social media, however, is not predictable. Algorithms and product functionality have all the stability of rolling magma as companies refine how they engage, and extract value from, users. This means an investment in social media can go belly up in a few years. Take author Teju Cole, for example. His use of Twitter was both delicate and brilliant. He amassed a quarter of a million followers before unceremoniously dropping the service in 2014, perhaps feeling the growing invective so characteristic of the platform today. He then consolidated his promotional social media activity around Facebook. Today, he says, “My main experience of Facebook is that I have no idea who sees what. I allegedly have 29,000 people following the page. I doubt that more than a few hundred of them are ever shown what I post.” Of course, Facebook gently suggests that page owners can reach their full audience by paying for promotion. Considering the shift in demographics of Facebook usage, who knows if his audience is even checking their timelines, and would see the posts if he paid.By contrast, there’s something almost ahistorical about email, existing outside the normal flow of technological progress. It works and has worked, reliably, for decades. There’s no central email authority. Most bookish people use it. Today I’m convinced you could skip a website, Facebook page, or Twitter account, and launch a publishing company on email alone.
It turns out smartphones aren’t the best digital book reading devices (too many seductions, real-time travesties, notifications just behind the words), but they make excellent audiobook players, stowed away in pockets while commuting. Top-tier podcasts like Serial, S-Town, and Homecoming have normalized listening to audio or (nonfiction) booklike productions on smartphones.
Our Future Book is composed of email, tweets, YouTube videos, mailing lists, crowdfunding campaigns, PDF to .mobi converters, Amazon warehouses, and a surge of hyper-affordable offset printers in places like Hong Kong.