Complete 2017 Roundup

This entry is part 11 of 17 in the series Annual Roundups

It’s been a disorienting pivot year of mayhem and chaos here at ribbonfarm. I am going to pretend it was entirely by design. I decided at the beginning of the year that since I was personally feeling rather annoyed and upset by all the disturbances in the Force, I ought to spread the cognitive pain around. If I can’t enjoy a pleasant, harmonious life of the mind, why the hell should you? We practice grievance-driven blogging around here. “With malice towards one and all” as my old writing idol Khushwant Singh used to put it.

And since we observed (“celebrated” seems like a stretch) our 10th anniversary this year, it was high time anyway to blow things up and put the pieces back together in a new way. Mission 50% accomplished. We’ll get to the “put together again” next year.

Main symptom of the blowing-up: After years of cautious growth in number of contributors, we had a whopping jump: 32 contributors bringing in 62 posts (not counting administrative ones), with traffic holding miraculously roughly steady. By comparison, in 2016, we only had 13 contributors for 57 posts. Much of the increase was due to the spectacular output (in terms of both quality and quantity) from the longform writing course Sarah and I taught twice in the last 12 months. That course may or may not have benefitted participants, but it sure helped stir things up for us.

One effect of this step-function increase in the number of contributors is that I have effectively lost the editorial plot. In a good way though. To create a new order, you first have to create chaos.

Read on for a tour of the debris and a big list of the 62 posts.

In previous years, I’ve occasionally drawn pretty good maps of the idea space we explore around here, but this year, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ll give myself some credit though, for managing to ensure that the Eternal Spirit of Refactoring remained part of the core editorial sensibility, lending a smidgen of harmony to the thematic and methodological chaos (the technical term for this, Sarah Perry tells me, is “post-rationality”).

Whatever else there was or wasn’t, there were definitely More Refactorings for the Refactoring God. Refactorings that ranged in potency from mild headaches to vision-blurring whacks on the head.

Whether you snacked or feasted on our buffet of offerings this year, I suspect we managed to refactor your perceptions at least a couple of times as promised by the Sacred Tagline. Given the natural media environment we were competing with, that was no mean achievement. When every other day a headline messes with your head, it’s kinda non-trivial to make stuff up that can compete.

I mean, this was a year where The New York Times had a not-kidding-you UFO headline story just last week. And that wasn’t even the craziest week.

We refactorers have definitely had our work cut out for us. I’m still trying to fit that UFO thing into a 2×2 here. I think Trump, bitcoin, and climate change somehow fit in the other quadrants. I’ll let you know.

Still, disoriented as I am with all the shell shock from blowing things up, in a year when the world at large also seemed to blow itself up intellectually, let me try and give you a few clues about what the hell happened around here in 2017.

Our new contributors brought a bewildering variety of themes and styles to the party. To pick a few at that particularly leaped out at me, the contributions you’ll find below from Chenoe Hart (Internet as microscope), Nolan Gray (uhh… something about surreal airports that’s really about Facebook), Chris Reid (Dionysian video games), Renee DiResta (twitter bots), Graham Warnken (cannibalism!), and Hal Morris (monkey neurons, plate tectonics) represent kinds of writing and thinking you probably haven’t encountered on ribbonfarm before this year. If you joined the party for the first time this year, my sympathies; while we are usually a mess around here, we are not usually this much of an unholy mess.

On the other hand, some of the contributions struck me as more classic ribbonfarm than anything I myself have written in years. The posts by Jim Stone, Malcolm Ocean, and Michael Dariano had me going “damn, I almost had that same idea for a post. Could I have executed it better?”

Yes, we conduct our game here in a spirit of Unapologetic Petty Competition (see Sarah’s post The Power of Pettiness for a justification of why this is a good thing). Totally zero-sum. An idea you refactor first is one I don’t get to. You can get scooped in ideaspace, overtaken on a bunnytrail, run into a 10-meme pileup on the refactoring superhighway, and have arguments about whose definition of “curiosity” is better.

Though themes were a bit all over the place, there was a definite sense of active response to the zeitgeist. At least half the posts, either directly or indirectly, were attempts to process some aspect of the snowballing weirdness of the world we seem to have arrived in. This is good. I’m not a believer in retreating from disorienting and disturbing new realities, at least not when it comes to writing. The way to deal with a mess is to step right into it and make a bigger mess. Even if it makes you uncomfortable and the output is not pretty.

To add to the chaos, I also deliberately roped in several long-time friends of ribbonfarm to serve on an editorial board of editors-at-large, charged with Procuring Interesting New Writing. It was a long overdue and much needed step. Already, Carlos Bueno, Renee DiResta, Kevin Simler (who has a new book out, The Elephant in the Brain, that you should read), Joe Kelly, and Taylor Pearson have helped break me out of tired editorial perspectives. All of them also contributed great posts this year, and you might want to read those to get a sense of what kind of editorial eye they’re bringing onboard. If you plan to send in pitches for posts next year, that would be an especially helpful exercise. I’ll say more about what we’re looking for in January.

It was definitely an unsatisfying year of output for me personally, both in terms of quantity (only 13 posts) and quality. None of my posts this year was particularly good technically. They were mostly stodgy, turgid, incomplete, and unsatisfying to write (with the exception of the Mongolian Earthship one that was kinda fun to do). Many of them though, represented necessary groundwork effort on themes I needed to work through for myself, in public.

Though a bad year overall, I still managed to claim the record for most popular post (The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial) and set a new single-post traffic record in the process (reclaiming it from Artem Litvinovich, the Russian hacker who stole it from me in 2016 with Artem vs. Predator). I have to say though, TPMLoMM is not a personal favorite post. It did do bizarrely well in the memosphere though, even getting picked up across the pond by The Times and The Guardian in the UK, and causing a satisfying amount of discussion in unexpected places like Kenyan Twitter. The Iron Meme Chef’s still got it, even though The Gervais Principle is vanishing into the mists of forgettable history along with the Boomer generation it is a scathing indictment of.

Sarah Perry though, served as a stabilizing flywheel where I wobbled, backstopping quality and setting the generally higher insight-porn standard we aspire to. Her opening post of the year, Tendrils of Mess in our Brains, is my favorite thing she’s ever written. Her two posts on temporality (After Temporality, and Feeling the Future) helped me personally work through some thought bottlenecks.

And finally, while our focus was on first-time contributors this year, I should mention the solid posts from continuing contributors: Sonya Mann, Adam Elkus, David Manheim, and Tiago Forte, all familiar names to long-time readers. I try to keep an eye on all past contributors and call dibs on anything interesting I see them thinking out loud about online.

In other news, with co-conspirator Jordan Peacock, who is now the ebooks editor, I managed to put out 5 new ebooks. One, Crash Early, Crash Oftenis a themed and sequenced collection I’m particularly proud of. It represents the most enjoyable and personally satisfying bunnytrail of thinking I explored in the past few years. The others constitute the 4-volume Rust Age collection  from the first five years (2007-12) meant to help the historically inclined dig back into our origin story. Jordan is working on an ebook collection based on Sarah’s posts now.

Getting these ebooks out was about more than just creating convenient packages for those disinclined to navigate this jungle. It was a bit of catharsis for me, a way to mark the transition from a personal blog to a sort of exploratory cyberpaleo ideaspace explorer band blog. What Carlos eloquently labeled Y Tribenator. I now find I can think much more clearly about what we’re doing here, as distinct from what I personally am doing. There’s a bit of post-partum depression at letting go of course, but I am beginning to understand what is so interesting and satisfying about pushing (and occasionally mildly torturing) others to explore the most interesting thought trails they are capable of going down.

So, explosions and mayhem aside, this has been a year of endings and beginnings, cleansings and renewals, messes and cross-contaminations, discomforts and awkwardnesses. A good way to do a tenth year in business as a poorly regulated shady slum economy of entirely untrustworthy insight porn that no careful thinkers should ever read.

It’s unclear what ended and what began, but we sure made the right kind of fertile mess in the transitioning. The fact that I only have the vaguest idea where to herd the party next year is, I think, a good sign. Anybody who claims they’re oriented and knows where they are going in ideaspace in 2017 is lying.

With that, I’ll leave you to browse the year’s output. Whether you first encountered ribbonfarm through my writings or Sarah’s, or through the work of one of our less frequent long-time contributors, I strongly recommend you indulge in a bit of pot-luck here, and pick a post or two from unfamiliar new names attached. If you’re one of those one-author readers of ribbonfarm, I promise you, you’re missing out.

  1. Tendrils of Mess in our Brains (1/5/2017) by Sarah Perry
  2. Rolling Your Own Culture and (Not) Finding Community (1/10/2017) by Timothy Roy
  3. Cannon Balls, Plate Tectonics, and Invisible Elephants (1/12/2017) by Hal Morris
  4. How to Dress for the Game of Life (1/17/2017) by Pamela Hobart
  5. The Antiheroine Unveiled (1/19/2017) by Sonya Mann
  6. Lies, Caffeinated Lies, and Operating Systems (1/24/2017) by Tim Herd
  7. Games, Videogames, and the Dionysian Society (1/26/2017) by Chris Reid
  8. The Throughput of Learning (1/31/2017) by Tiago Forte
  9. After Temporality (2/2/2017) by Sarah Perry
  10. Shift Register Code Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber (2/7/2017) by Nolan Gray
  11. One Sacred Trick for Moral Regeneration (2/9/2017) by Harry Potash
  12. Caring and Reality (2/14/2017) by Kyle Eschenroeder
  13. Unbuilding the Wall (2/16/2017) by Toby Shorin
  14. Prescientific Organizational Theory (2/21/2017) by David Manheim
  15. The Strategy of No Strategy (2/23/2017) by Adam Elkus
  16. A Brief History of Existential Terror (2/28/2017) by Taylor Pearson
  17. The Limits of Epistemic Hygiene (3/2/2017) by Sarah Perry
  18. Sulking Through a Subprime Presidency (3/7/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  19. “Another Green World” (3/9/2017) by Graham Johnson
  20. Sanity on the Weird Timeline (3/14/2017) by Sonya Mann
  21. The Winter King of the Internet (3/21/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  22. Bourbon Crossing (3/23/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  23. Nobody Expects The Mongolian Earthship (3/30/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  24. Cloud Viruses in the Invisible Republic (4/4/2017) by Carlos Bueno
  25. Zorba, Spock, or Voldemort? (4/11/2017) by Matthew Sweet
  26. Idiots Scaring Themselves in the Dark (4/13/2017) by Sarah Perry
  27. Entrepreneurship is Metaphysical Labor (4/18/2017) by Joseph Kelly
  28. Fluid Rigor (5/4/2017) by Sarah Perry
  29. A Priest, a Guru, and a Nerd-King Walk Into a Conference Room… (5/9/2017)by Carlos Bueno
  30. Arguing About How the World Should Burn (5/16/2017) by Sonya Mann
  31. There are bots. Look around. (5/23/2017) by Renee DiResta
  32. Blockchains Never Forget (5/25/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  33. Y Tribenator (5/30/2017) by Carlos Bueno
  34. Why Books Are Fake (6/1/2017) by Sarah Perry
  35. Thingness and Thereness (6/6/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  36. How I Hired Your Mother (6/15/2017) by Carlos Bueno
  37. Been There, Done That (6/27/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  38. The Power of Pettiness (7/6/2017) by Sarah Perry
  39. Memory Transplants and Climate Risks (7/11/2017) by Lisa Munoz
  40. From Monkey Neurons to the Meta-Brain (7/18/2017) by Hal Morris
  41. The Ominouslier Roar of the Bitcoin Wave (7/20/2017) by Editor
  42. I Can’t Be Your Hero, I’m Too Busy Being Super (7/25/2017) by Jim Stone
  43. On Being Nosey (7/26/2017) by Michael Dariano
  44. Body Pleasure (8/3/2017) by Sarah Perry
  45. The Crisis of the Lonely Atoms (8/8/2017) by Alex Hagen
  46. Questions Are Not Just For Asking (8/10/2017) by Malcolm Ocean
  47. The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial (8/17/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  48. Winning Is for Losers (8/29/2017) by Jacob Falkovich
  49. The Rust Age: A Four-Volume Collection (8/31/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  50. The World As If (9/7/2017) by Sarah Perry
  51. How to Make History (9/14/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  52. Common Sense Eats Common Talk (9/26/2017) by Stefano Zorzi
  53. The Internet of Electron Microscopes (9/28/2017) by Chenoe Hart
  54. “It’s Only Cannibalism if We’re Equals” (10/2/2017) by Graham Warnken
  55. Rectangle Vision (10/5/2017) by Sarah Perry
  56. The Blockchain Man (10/10/2017) by Taylor Pearson
  57. CEOs Don’t Steer (11/9/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  58. Folk Concepts (11/16/2017) by Sarah Perry
  59. The Leaning Tower of Morality (11/28/2017) by Kevin Simler
  60. Prolegomena to Any Dark-Age Psychohistory (11/30/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
  61. Feeling the Future (12/7/2014) by Sarah Perry
  62. A Glitch in the Theocratic Matrix  (12/14/2017) by Venkatesh Rao
Series Navigation<< Complete 2016 RoundupComplete 2018 Roundup >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. 2017 is when I first discovered this site, due to somebody recommending I give a look at The Gervais Principle.

    Being I an out-and-out sociopath (of the time who watches at associated human life as at a game he can no longer take part in, now that he has seen it, as opposed to a game he can reap big wins at now that he has seen it), I took very deep relief in discovering my thoughts and observations were somebody else’s also.

    My second liked post in the whole blog is Learn to fly by missing the ground.
    It is a topos in Eastern philosophy (Taoism, Buddhism) that on the path to spiritual freedom you will have to leap into the void, at a juncture or another, supported only by your faith.

    My favourite excerpt from the entire blog is:

    “Here is how you disturb the universe to make meaning. It isn’t pretty, and there’s a reason most who are able to do it on a grand scale are above forty.
    Winning before making. This is survival.
    Making before beauty. This is perpetuation.
    Beauty before virtue. This is leadership.
    Virtue before truth. This is realism.
    To win you may need to do destructive, ugly, vicious, and false things.
    Then, to create, you may need to do ugly, vicious, and false things.
    To make your creations endure, so they don’t go away when you stop  believing in them, you may need to do beautiful, vicious, and false things.
    Then, you may need to do beautiful, virtuous, and false things to create happiness.
    And finally, you may choose to seek truth. This is an optional, meaningless, and essentially solitary activity. Something the immortal and free may choose to do, to entertain themselves in the amusement park that is the part of eternity that does not go away when you stop believing in it.”

    Whenever I find myself cursing my life for too long on end, I think of that passage… and retrieve my smile.
    I don’t have to complain about loneness, it would be inconsistent behaviour :)

  2. Aptenodytes says

    Venkat, could you please create a commenting feature for the article “Memory Transplants and Climate Risks”?

  3. I first encountered Ribbonfarm, not as a Sociopath, but as a Clueless autistic minor tripping over the corpses of hedgehog ideologues. Yet I have felt an urge to action (“inspired” seems too much of a stretch) by posts like “Learning to fly by missing the ground” and have learned an important lesson which has catapulted me outside of my Clueless sandbox:

    The world is dangerous both inside and outside oneself. If you ignore the rhizome of illegible variables within you, you will die and deform within. If you ignore the world outside, you will find yourself outcompeted in thd Darwinian game of life and disappointed. And you alone can face reality. Theres a place for community, but the heights of reality are not thar place.

    I have had fun on Ribbonfarm just managing to break the serendipity barrier to briefly discuss with Venkat about the possibility of the timeline-altering app developer make the narrator get eaten by wolves, and I have witnessec Sarah Perry and Venkat engafe in a profound dialectic about romanticizing the past. So thats the way it goes.

  4. I discovered Ribbonfarm this year via TPMLOMM, and have been thoroughly enjoying working backwards and forwards through what appears to be a sprawling catalogue of work. The Rust Age post was a great resource to guide my explorations. Keep going, looking forward to 2018!