Linking Out Loud #23

Dear friends,

To those of you who recently joined, welcome! This is the first newsletter issue that I’m sending to over 100 people, and I thought I should mark this spot with a few reflections on my experience writing in this medium.

I started blogging in the summer of 2011, as part of an essay-a-week challenge with some friends in my undergraduate program. The organizer of the challenge came up with 16 essay prompts, one for each week of the summer. The prompts were things like, “what is one book everyone should read?”, “when in your life were you most afraid?”, and “what is something you wish you were smart enough to understand?” Someone made an RSS feed of all the participants’ blogs, and we had our own little community of a dozen writers and a dozen more readers. It was my first taste of writing online, and I loved it.

But eventually the essay-a-week challenge petered out. I tried to keep blogging, but without the built-in community of readers it wasn’t the same. My blog had no traffic. I was reluctant to share my writing on social media, partly because my friends seemed uninterested in the topics I was writing about, and partly because I didn’t want to bother people. I became less and less motivated to write.

But there was still a spark, and the newsletter medium nurtured that spark into a steady little flame. There are many reasons why writing Linking Out Loud has been such a positive experience for me:

  1. Permission to interrupt. You have a million things competing for your attention. But by subscribing to my newsletter, you have told me explicitly that you want to hear from me every week. It’s liberating to know that I don’t need to worry that I’m annoying you. You can always unsubscribe.

  2. Skin in the game. The fact that you are expecting to hear from me every week gives me an incentive to stick to a publishing schedule, to write as clearly as I can, and to share high-quality ideas. It’s so much more exciting to write here than in a blog that nobody reads, since both my successes and my failures will be noticed.

  3. Scaffolding for a network of good habits. Finding, reading, and paraphrasing 3-5 insightful articles every week doesn’t happen by accident. Since I started writing Linking Out Loud, I’ve become much more deliberate in my information consumption, and much more effective in my personal knowledge management. In fact, I’ve become more productive in general as a result of having a weekly deliverable that has built-in reflection on how I’m spending my time.

  4. Open-sourcing of the self. Linking Out Loud isn’t about any particular topic. If anything, it’s about me—what I’m learning, what I’m thinking about, what I’m aspiring to achieve. This gives me opportunities to create social commitment mechanisms and feedback loops into many areas of my life. If you read my trajectories for 2020, you know that I’m learning the piano, that I’m trying out the slip-box method of notetaking, and that I want to spend more time with friends. The fact that you know these things is quite motivating!

  5. The validation of growth. Isn’t life better when you’ve got a graph or two going up and to the right?

Most of the people whose writing we read regularly have readerships in the tens of thousands, so my humble 108 may not seem like much. But I think it’s more than enough to appreciate the scale and power of the internet. Here is what 100 people looks like:

To me that seems like a heck of a lot of people whose days might be affected by something I share here.

***

I would be thrilled if any of this inspires you to start a newsletter of your own. Let me know if you do! You can be up and running with Substack in minutes. Check out How to start an email newsletter for more inspiration.


Links

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

8 minutes | Yancey Strickler | 2019

The reason forests are quiet at night is not that they are empty. It’s that all the creatures have learned that silence means safety. What if the internet, for all its apparent cacophony, is becoming more and more like a dark forest?

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.

This article is a fresh take on filter bubbles. If you enjoy it, see also the author’s follow-up post on re-learning how to be yourself online, which pairs well with my own piece, If you’re good, you need to talk more.

>>> Read it

The economics of unused gift cards

10 minutes | Zachary Crockett | 2020

The average holiday shopper spends over 55% of their budget on gift cards. Over the past decade, this amounted to more than a trillion dollars spent. But not all of that money was exchanged for goods, since many of us forget to actually use our gift cards. It’s no wonder, therefore, that gift cards are so loved by retailers. Free revenue!

If you’re a regular gift card giver, you may want to consider giving cash instead.

>>> Read it

Work on these (other) things

6 minutes | Simon Sarris | 2020

The future needs a facelift. Building on Tyler Cowen’s “Work on these things”, Simon Sarris suggests four things to work on to create a better future. I think all his suggestions wrap up into one: help others to envision a future that is, above all, beautiful. Shift the aesthetics of future to be less like the picture on the left, and more like the one on the right:

>>> Read it

Spacial Interfaces

15 minutes | John Palmer | 2019

Wired Magazine used to call itself a “letter from the future.” This article isn’t from Wired, but it fits that description. Most of the software we currently use has 2D interfaces, but it is becoming increasingly easy to design “spatial” interfaces, which are sometimes but not always 3D. Consider the challenge of figuring out who is currently meeting with whom at your company. You need to click through dozens of calendars, one by one. What if instead you could view a floor plan of the office, with icons representing the people in each office?

This essay discusses examples of spatial interfaces that might soon appear in video conferencing, messaging, web browsing, and conferences.

>>> Read it


Tweets


Have a great week!

David


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