Too many topics, not enough time

Like many writers, I have a long list of ideas that I never got around to writing about. I’m not very consistent about writing them down, but still the list gets longer and longer, until I start deleting old ideas that no longer make any sense to me. Some of them I missed the moment to write them, or they required more research than I had energy to put into it. Some of them were just bad and non-starters.

Here is a short list of ideas that I made after deleting the ones that I’m obviously never going to write about. If any of these interests you, let me know, your comment might cause it to happen!

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Blog effort justification

I hope bloggers don’t feel attacked by this…

As a blogger who is often in a position to plug articles from other blogs, I know that bloggers are like to promote the essays that they feel most proud of. And the essays they feel most proud of, are often the longest ones, the ones that they put the most effort into. However, I rarely believe these are the best essays they produce. Indeed, sometimes they are the worst.

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Two corners of the internet

Transcript: The thing to understand about the plastic crazy straw design world is that there are two main camps: The professonals--designing for established brands--and the hobbyists. The hobbyist mailing lists are full of drama, with friction between the regulars and a splinter group focused on loops... Caption: Human subcultures are nested fractally. There's no bottom.

Source: XKCD

I like to talk about what it’s like to blog, and I’ve contrasted it with other platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter. However, it should be emphasized that Tumblr and Twitter are really not that far off from blogging; I complain about them because they sit in my own personal uncanny valley of social media. We risk overgeneralizing if we only look at blogs and blog-adjacent platforms. Even XKCD’s observation about fractal subcultures seems a bit biased towards blogging, and I’m not sure it’s really accurate as a generalization.

So the purpose of this post is to explore two other forms of internet interaction, which to me seem exotic. Each of these forms of interaction is used by a member of my immediate family, and I’ve been watching how they engage with it.

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Reblogging, the root of evil

A straw on the camel’s back

“Cancel culture” is a bad and incoherent concept, run into the ground by conservatives who use it to attack any sort of cultural criticism from the left, while excusing any analogous criticism from the right. At the same time, I do see people on the left also use “cancel culture” as a way to discuss legitimately worrying problems, such as Twitter pileons. Such leftists do not necessarily accept the “cancel culture” framing uncritically, but you can’t not talk about it. You can’t talk about Twitter pileons without talking about cancel culture, because it’s burrowed into all our brains, and we’ll recognize it even if you don’t say it. And I don’t know what to do about that.

I have wondered if it might help if we just rename the problem. We’ve changed the name before; we used to call it callout culture, and now we call it cancel culture for some reason.  Although, that didn’t seem to help things at all.

Another approach is to shatter the “cancel culture” framework to pieces, and talk about the pieces individually. So, in the spirit of being the change I want to see, I will discuss just one piece: the reblog. Not really the root of evil–the title is hyperbole–but nonetheless an important structural element of the social media platforms that have it the worst.

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Blogging and ambition

When I started blogging in 2007, I had ambitions of being popular blogger with a certain amount of authority. Those ambitions burnt out within a year or two, as I realized I did not actually want to be a famous blogger, and would rather satisfy my own preferences in blogging. Why did I have such ambitions, and why did they burn out? More broadly, how do other creators experience ambition, and are there differences from my own experience?

Okay, so 2007. Towards the end of the Bush administration, when Bush reached peak disapproval. New atheism was just getting rolling, and blogs held a particularly important place in the conversation, much like lefttube or twitter hold an important place today. I was an undergrad, and had been reading blogs myself, starting with Phil Plait, Hemant Mehta, PZ Myers, and branching off into many smaller ones.

My ambition was to become as well-known as the big names, or perhaps at least one of the smaller ones. It’s hard to remember why I had this mentality, especially since I now see it as irrational. I suppose I had a lot of opinions to share, and believed my opinions were the Good Ones that would transform how we thought about stuff and resolve all the issues that bloggers argued about. I have always been very modest, and though nobody throughout my education would ever let me forget that I am “smart”, I have never felt that my opinions are super valuable just because they are my opinions. Nonetheless, in my experience reading blogs, there were countless places where I thought bloggers and other readers were missing something important, and I felt I could supply that something if only people would hear me.

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Creators and their brands

Back in 2018, I invented the idea of content granularity, which is a measure of how large each chunk of content is when a creator produces a stream of content. I observed that creators usually try to be consistent in their granularity, and discussed the “coarse-graining death spiral” where creators feel the need to put more and more effort into each chunk until it is unsustainable.

Today I’d like to talk about other ways that creators enforce consistency in their content streams. For example, a creator may produce content focusing on a particular topic. Or perhaps they have a gimmick, which may be applied to one or multiple topics. Or maybe the one thing that is most persistent about their content, is their personality (either genuine or performed). Whatever it is that provides consistency, I will refer to as the creator’s brand.

As I write about this, I am totally thinking about that satirical music video by Brian David Gilbert, advising creators on establishing a brand.

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On randos

In the distant pre-pandemic past, I used to take public transit. Public transit is a fascinating place where you meet people from many different walks of life. Just kidding, nobody talks to each other. This possibly varies from culture to culture, but in my experience people mostly want to mind their own business on public transit.

When strangers do talk to me, that’s alright with me, but my expectations start super low. The most common kind of comment I get, is basically homophobia. Another kind of comment is people saying that my husband and I are a cute couple–innocent enough but vaguely objectifying. Then there are the comments that I just don’t understand. I have auditory processing issues, and it can take a while to acclimate myself to someone’s voice before understanding them. But it’s hard to explain that to a stranger, and it’s not like I wanted to talk to them in the first place.

There’s a similar interaction that happens online: getting comments from randos. By “rando” I’m referring to people that for whatever reason, come across my internet writing–often via internet search. Typically they only read one article, months or years after its publication, and probably not even the whole thing. Comments from randos can be better than comments from strangers on a bus, but they usually are not. Randos systematically produce the worst comments I get.

Basically every blogger has the same experience, so I’m just explaining this for the benefit of people who don’t blog or haven’t blogged enough to attract randos.

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