Oscillation and metamodernism

David Laing

Hey everyone,

This week I’ve been reflecting on the idea of oscillation as a strategy for resolving tension between conflicting ideals.

Some context. I recently noticed some internal tension as a result of a tough project I’m wrestling with at work. On the one hand, I value perseverance. I want to be the type of person who doesn’t give up easily, who commits fully when faced with a challenge. On the other hand, I value humility. I want to be the type of person who knows when to ask for help, when to make backup plans, and when to stop sinking costs into a lost cause.

How to strike the right balance between the ideals of perseverance and humility? It seems to help to not try to balance them at every moment, but instead to oscillate between them. For a day or two, I’ll go deep into the problem and try to make as much progress as I can. Then I’ll come to the surface and share my learnings with others, so they can help me decide on the best next steps.

I seem to like dichotomies. It strikes me now that more often than not, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds as long as you’re willing to not get them at the same time. Oscillation may be the antidote to a wide range of limiting beliefs:

  • I can’t be kind and honest.

  • I can’t be hopeful and realistic.

  • I can’t be enthusiastic and critical.

  • I can’t be a specialist and a generalist.

  • I can’t be compassionate and detached.

  • I can’t be informed and blissfully ignorant.

Do you have any conflicting ideals of your own that you oscillate between? I’d be curious to hear about them—hit reply if you want to chat.


After Postmodernism: Eleven Metamodern Methods in the Arts

25 minutes | Greg Dember | 2018

Related to the idea of oscillation, the term “metamodernism” struck me right in the center of my aesthetic bullseye this week, and I’m still sorting out what exactly it means. Basically, think of postmodernism as detached, savvy, and cynical, like how the humor in Family Guy is all about making as many references as possible and mocking them all. Metamodernism is a reaction against that. It embraces sincerity and earnestness, even as it is self-aware about its occasional sappiness. (Think The Office or Parks and Rec.)

This article outlines eleven characteristics of metamodernism, and provides examples of each. Thanks to Leah Parr for sharing this article and for introducing me to the concept.

>>> Read itl

Epic Marriage Proposal Videos

7 minutes | Greg Dember | 2013

By the same author as the article above, this one analyzes an epic marriage proposal video as an example of “metamodern maximalism”. I normally cringe at public marriage proposals, but this one is pretty special because it’s so homegrown and intimate. You can tell that the people in this video aren’t dancing for internet glory, but simply to express their love for the couple’s relationship. Watch the video first, then read the article for some interesting commentary.

>>> Read it

David Foster Wallace - The Problem with Irony

10 minutes | Will Schoder | 2016

Okay, a final link about metamodernism… I saw this video in 2016, and I still think about it all the time. It fleshed out the conceptual framework in my mind to which I can now attach the label “metamodernism.”

>>> Watch it

The YouTube Revolution in Knowledge Transfer

5 minutes | Samo Burja | 2019

Video, as a medium, allows for the transfer of tacit knowledge—knowledge that can’t be easily conveyed by words alone. You can’t really learn carpentry from a textbook, but you can learn it from a YouTube tutorial. Now that billions of people have cameras, screens, and internet access at any time of day, YouTube is releasing a massive amount of tacit knowledge that has historically been locked up in the minds of experts and any apprentices who were lucky enough to learn from them in person. How did a Norwegian javelin thrower qualify for the 2012 Olympics without ever having a coach? He learned from YouTube.

>>> Read it

Interlocutor as a Service

10 minutes | Pamela J. Hobart | 2020

Pamela Hobart describes herself as a “philosophical life coach”—someone who helps intellectuals to “clarify their thinking and values, so they can make decisions and commitments without cognitive dissonance.” I was fascinated to learn that she delivers her services primarily by email. Imagine that—someone you can write to, whose job it is to take your ideas seriously and help you spot faulty assumptions, all from the comfort of your email inbox. If you want a peak into the workings of an inventive service-based business, this is an interesting read.

>>> Read it


Hope you all have a restful weekend,


P.S. Last weekend I saw Theo Katzman perform in Vancouver. Gosh, did it ever warm my heart. If you’re looking for some great music, check out his new album. Here’s a picture of me, second from the left, grinning like a fool. In the middle is Joe Dart, arguably the funkiest bass player alive. Next to Joe is Theo himself. Bookending us are my friends Lucas and Alexi.

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