2021 Ribbonfarm Extended Universe Annual Roundup

This entry is part 15 of 15 in the series Annual Roundups

There is no getting around it: I basically took the year off from this blog, not just in the sense that I wrote much less here than usual (29 posts), but in the sense that all the posts were short ones with self-consciously modest ambitions. In fact, most posts were actively anti-ambitious, since I carefully avoided writing anything with viral potential. The blog basically went underground. For the first time ever, and by design, there was not even a single post that could be called a hit, let alone a viral one.

A big reason was: I had nothing to say in 2021 in blog mode.

And a big reason for that was that the medium of blogging itself is not sure what it wants to say anymore. We are in a liminal passage with blogging, where the medium has no message.

So it’s not just me. It feels like the entire blogosphere (what’s left of it) took the year off to figure out a new identity — if one is even possible — in a world overrun by email newsletters, Twitter threads, weird notebook-gardens on static sites or public notebook apps, and the latest challenger: NFT-fied essays.

All those new media seem to have clear ideas of what they are, or what they want to be when they grow up. But this aging medium doesn’t. And while I have a presence in all those younger media, they don’t yet feel substantial enough to serve as main acts, the way blogging has for so long.

Perhaps there is no main-act medium in the future. Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of a glorious new polycentric media landscape, where the blogosphere will be eaten not by any one successor, but by a collection of media within which blogs will merely be a sort of First Uncle to the rest. The medium through which you say embarrassing things at Thanksgiving, with all the other media cringing. Maybe, just as every unix shell command turned into a unicorn tech company, every kind of once-blog-like content will now be its own medium. Listicles became Twitter, photoblogs became Instagram, and so on.

The entire blogosphere is going through perhaps its most significant existential crisis since the invention of blogging 22 years ago. And I’ve been at this for 15 of those years — this is the 15th annual roundup! Ironically, every couple of years through that period, there has been a round of discussion on “the death of blogging,” but now that it seems to be actually happening, there isn’t an active conversation around it.

If this is the end, it’s a whimper rather than a bang.

One sign it is real is — this is the second roundup I’ve felt compelled to title “extended universe” because my publishing presence is now simply too scattered for the blog alone to represent it.

But I rather hope not. I think there’s a chance it’s going to be a Doctor Who style regeneration instead, and if so, I’m here for it. If blogs must die, so be it. If there’s a fighting chance of a regeneration, the fight will be worthwhile.

On to the roundup, with embarrassing-uncle commentary on the brave new world.

The Blog

The personal highlight of the year was four stories, or proto-stories. Two text, two in comic-strip form. I think 2021 was the year I finally started getting a handle on what fiction actually is, and how to construct it.

Writing these made me acutely conscious of how blogs as currently understood are not an ideal medium for fiction. Fiction can be serialized, but does not naturally lend itself to a reverse-chronological mostly linear medium that favors backlinking to the past in real time. The right kind of web medium for storytelling is probably a static website with some sort of stylized in-world use of hyperlinks (for example, links to fictional encyclopedia entries), and a non-real in-world sense of time.

There seems to be experimentation going on. Wattpad is slowly gaining mainstream popularity, and Kindle has a new fiction serialization thing called Vella, but nobody has quite made fiction work in an online-native way, outside of the fan-fiction margins. But after 30 years of the web, we finally seem to be on the cusp of figuring it out.

In support of my ongoing learning of fiction writing, I quite enjoyed writing up notes from my continuing deep-dive into the theory of storytelling, via a new blogchain called Narrativium. Writing this blogchain was at least as entertaining as writing the practice stories.

In a way the core of my blogging this year was the extremely self-indulgent and probably unreadable Captain’s Log blogchain, where I’ve been trying to put the “log” back into blog. I guess I’m trying to explore the original sense of a “web log” that accompanied the birth of the medium at the turn of the century.

The mediocratopia blogchain is threatening to cohere into a book, or at least a monograph. There is something perversely enjoyable about writing this one, since a lot of ribbonfarm readers are excellence-oriented types who are dismayed by my loud evangelism of mediocrity.

I had one part each in the Elderblog Sutra blogchain (which is in limbo as we all try to figure out whether blogs have a future or are headed for the graveyard of publishing history), and the Domestic Cozy blogchain (which I’m done with, even though the trend it calls out is snowballing and transforming in the zeitgeist).

I did write a few “regular” posts too, but I think I’m finally done with this style of writing — by which I mean refactor-y/insight-porny. I personally got tired of this style a few years ago, but in 2021, I think the world at large got tired of it too.

I had a post that was really commentary on a slide deck that I didn’t have enough interest to turn into the online course which it really ought to be.

I had one meta-post, Jumping into Web3 signposting future directions.

There was very little guest blogging this year. Returning guest Brian Skinner had a couple of posts in a new experimental series.

Increasingly, I think the Golden Era of guest blogging is now over.

The concept makes no sense in a world where everybody has a newsletter and the foundations are shifting so much. So these might end up being the last ever guest posts on ribbonfarm. Aside from all the changes in the media environment, I think I’ve personally run out of the energy to run a multi-author publication for now, so whatever the future of ribbonfarm, it might revert to being a solo act again.

The Newsletter

At the beginning of 2021 I had two Substack newsletters, Art of Gig and Breaking Smart. I shut down the former and rebranded the other one as Ribbonfarm Studio.

So now I can just refer to it as “the newsletter” since it’s now a child brand of this blog. And like any terrifying child, it threatened to devour its parent this year, and I am not yet sure how I feel about that.

I had 45 issues in the newsletter in 2021, about 3/4 paywalled. Here’s a sampling of the non-paywalled issues.

You can find the full archives here. You can sign up for the free issues right now, but because the newsletter is on hiatus at the moment, you won’t be able to sign up for a paid subscription until February. So paywalled posts are only for existing paying subscribers till then.

Note that the emails you sign up for on this blog (at the bottom of every post) are not the Substack newsletter — that’s an automated Mailchimp mailer that simply pulls updates from the RSS feed of this blog. That’s a bit of residual jankiness that annoys me, but I don’t really know what to do about it.

Substack-style newslettering drives you towards lower-risk, higher-polish styles reminiscent of professional old media. It is clear from the evolutionary tendencies of the platforms that they are out to kill traditional blogging, not complement it (including recoding the term “blog” to mean “web version of newsletters”).

While I’ve been writing newsletters for a long time (going back to my old 2009-11 Be Slightly Evil newsletter), in 2020-21, newslettering went from being the side dish to the main course for online media. Vast numbers of big-name journalists and writers jumped onboard Substack. Twitter fought back against being showroomed by Substack by putting up its own competing platform, Revue. Ghost became the indie-darling alt thing.

My newsletter content this year took on a distinctly new character. It no longer feels the way newsletter writing used to, back when the medium was merely an ancillary distribution channel for blogging, and defined by marketing-oriented platforms like Mailchimp. The newsletter as Master is a very different medium than the newsletter as Servant. And I’m beginning to suspect it’s one of those “good servant, bad master” things.

In theory, the newsletter is a home for my serialized big projects (book, themed essay collections). In practice maintaining steady momentum on those projects has proved pretty hard in newsletter format, though I did get several book chapters done this year.

Newslettering seems to draw a very native-to-the-medium “newsletterish” writing out of me that, to be honest, I’m not entirely happy with.

It is content that reads like op-eds/commentary, and responds to the discourse in received terms rather than setting the terms of it. Newsletters naturally “pull” reactions out of you as a writer, rather than provoking you into “push” mode where you try to incept memes into the discourse. The easiest kind of newsletter to write is one that’s reactions to things in the news. It’s great for industry analyst type content for example.

I’ve been thinking of the difference between the two competing long-form media as follows. It probably says more about me and my age (turned 47 in 2021) that the comparison makes newsletters look like the bad guy:

  1. Blogs are ontic media; newsletters are epistemic media
  2. Blogs encourage you to invent concepts and coin terms; newsletters encourage you to use existing concepts and terms to lay out persuasive arguments
  3. Blogs are portals; newsletters are flags. Blogs encourage you to build seductive worlds to draw people into. Newsletters mark out territory in existing shared worlds.
  4. Blogs encourage true essays in the original sense of the term — explorations; newsletters encourage explainers, sermons, speeches
  5. Blogs are promiscuously and publicly social; newsletters are clannish and tribal
  6. Blogs are stocks; newsletters are flows
  7. Blogs invite internal and external hyperlinking; newsletters fight both
  8. Blogs are relational; newsletters are transactional

A big part of all this is explained, of course, by the fact that you can make good money newslettering. Blog posts are a food crop, newsletters are a cash crop.

If you want the most newsletter-hostile comparison, newsletters are like tobacco farms. Blogs are like a large kitchen garden, where you might share the surplus with neighbors or sell it at the farmer’s market, but the main point is supplying your own kitchen.

I don’t think this is a fair mental model of newsletters. I wouldn’t be writing one if I really thought of it this way. But just playing devil’s advocate, because something about newslettering is starting to make me very uncomfortable. Writing the way I want on newsletters feels like I’m fighting the medium, rather than flowing with it.

The financial factor makes a big difference — newsletter income was my second biggest source of income in 2021, second only to my biggest consulting gig. In 2020, it made a real difference, early in the pandemic, to be able to secure a reliable income stream (which, as it turned out, I didn’t need because my consulting work was not really affected). I can see an obvious roadmap to driving the newsletter towards really big income, but I can see equally obviously I don’t have the temperament for it.

I am not yet sure if I like the difference. It may be that newsletters are a necessary part of the ecosystem and an online writer’s portfolio, but not necessarily an enriching part in a personal psychological sense. More power to all who are able to play and win in the Creator Economy hustle, but it’s not for me.

I’ll probably do some more surgery in 2022, attempting to establish a less fraught relationship with the newsletter medium.

eBooks

For the first time in many years, I didn’t publish any eBooks. I was supposed to make a 3-volume collection out of my retired Art of Gig newsletter, and initially I was enthusiastic about that project, but sometime over the summer, I found I was suddenly no longer inspired by the eBook format. At least for material derived from blogs or newsletter. Like blogs, they too seem headed for an existential crisis.

So I have to rethink ebooks too.

Besides the cued-up Art of Gig material, there’s at least a couple of volumes worth of material from the 2014-20 period of ribbonfarm that I’ve been procrastinating on putting together.

For a while I was thinking I ought to invest a lot more and make Quality Volumes™ available in both digital and print formats. Level up to “real” books in other words. But then the investment of time and effort necessary for high-end publishing scared me off.

Plus, truth be told, I’ve always felt that 90% of my writing is simply not worth the additional investment (detailed editing, thorough rewrites, tree-killing) that goes into real books. Which is why I’ve remained content with lightly edited ebooks consciously branded as “Ribbonfarm Roughs.” I don’t want to turn into one of those people I myself roll my eyes at — turning mostly worthless fluff into gorgeously produced “books” that pass largely unread from printer to bookshelves to recycled pulp.

But all this fancy new Web3 tech is making me reconsider whether eBooks are the right format for whatever archival and memorializing my kind of writing does merit.

Maybe the right format for the future is markdown tarballs floating around in IPFS, unlocked by NFTs. I don’t know. Maybe one day, ribbonfarm will disappear from Web2, and only exist as a search term that returns a list of content hashes on Web3. Stuff you wouldn’t find unless you knew enough to look for it.

Something about that vision appeals to me. Very footsteps-in-sand approach to archival and legacy concerns.

Twitter

Truth be told, my primarily medium for the last few years has not been a long-form one at all, but Twitter. I retired the @breaking_smart and @artofgig accounts this year, so it’s down to @vgr for my personal tweeting, and @ribbonfarm for long form promotion. This year, my main account crossed 50k followers.

I have an evolving index of my threads, though the indexing is neither very chronological, nor very complete. In 2021, I nearly doubled the number of indexed threads. You can catch up starting at item 45 in my thread-of-threads index. Many of the newly indexed threads are, in fact, from 2021, but many others are older threads that resurfaced on my radar, allowing me to capture them. You’d think there would be an easy way to search and filter tweet archives to find all good threads and tweets, but there isn’t. The only thing you can do is download archives and run custom scripts. This is really a job for machine learning.

There was a time when I had vague ambitions of someday really processing my twitter (137k tweets as of today) into a digested and organized form, but I’ve come to realize that’s a stupid ambition. While you can do some limited organizing like my thread-of-threads above (a common pattern these days), Twitter is fundamentally too much of a crazily inter-linked hivemind medium to lend itself to authoritarian high-modernist legibilization.

Threads don’t even scratch the surface. There are also one-off aphorisms, prompts, polls, Famous Conversations, and so on. Twitter is not just lots of fragmented quantity, it is also extreme variety. It’s a rainforest with thousands of species of social-textual content.

You either dive in and experience the hivebrain live, or you are limited to sampling indexed threads, which is a bit like visiting animals in a zoo instead of in their native habitat. At best you can use the (excellent) advanced search feature to go on the equivalent of safaris.

But if you want only one highlight from my Twitter year, I got obsessed in the last few months with the Bouba-Kiki effect. If you search for tweets by me mentioning bouba kiki, you’ll get a good sense of my headspace in the last few months.

Bouba-kiki is what the kids are calling a vibe, and vibes are disrupting memes on Twitter, but I’m still old fashioned enough that my thinking is anchored by memes. So here’s a bouba-kiki meme I tweeted yesterday.

Twitter is now important enough that young and ambitious online media types try to craft and execute “twitter strategies,” and many younger writers are making it their primary medium. An excellent example is Trung Phan, a twitter-native guy whose medium is threads.

But I guess I’m still stuck in the era when it was pure shitposting. I still have no “twitter strategy.” It’s kinda nice to have an online space you can go to with no plans, and just hang out doing whatever.

It feels like Important Changes are afoot at Twitter though, with Jack Dorsey being replaced by Parag Agrawal (an alumnus of my own alma mater, IIT Bombay). Indian-born second-generation tech CEOs are apparently a thing now.

The Revue newsletter product, the clubhouse-killing Spaces product, the Twitter Blue subscription product, and the ability to tip people — all this points to serious forthcoming changes in the Twitter experience, so this section in next year’s update might read very differently.

Audiovisual Fishbowl Media

I gave up on a whole class of media I have come to think of as audiovisual fishbowl media.

I gave up on podcasting in 2021. After two seasons of Scorpio Season with Lisa Neigut, the occasional embedded podcast in my newsletter, and a bunch of guest appearances on other people’s podcasts over the years, I finally decided it’s not my medium. I neither enjoy it enough, nor am I good enough at it, to justify continuing investment. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been basically saying no to almost all podcast invites.

I also don’t like salons, Zoom-as-content, YouTube, or the Clubhouse type medium that Twitter took over.

For that matter, I don’t really like the meatspace versions anymore either — meetups, conferences, panels, and such. I can do traditional prepared talks with Q&A, but that’s it.

Basically, you could say that in the last few years I discovered there is no “reality TV” side to me unless you count Twitter (which I don’t because it’s not synchronous). I like to think my thoughts before I share them.

I think audiovisual media and IRL group meetings are now really just for work and family for me. Even close friends rarely make it into my Zoom circle.

I feel bad about constantly refusing invites to these things, since they seem to have been so important for so many people through the pandemic, but they just don’t work for me.

Basically the only kind of unscripted social time I enjoy anymore is private 1:1 in-person hangs. Preferably outdoors in a physically active form like a walk or hike. And I did a few of those this year.

Ribbonfarm School

The Ribbonfarm School on Teachable limped along with zero attention and no new content, making just enough money to pay for itself.

I’ve almost concluded this medium isn’t for me either. So unless I’m struck by a really bright idea that energizes me enough, I’ll probably be looking for a way to gracefully retire this thing in 2022.

CozyWeb

Cozyweb is my term for everything that’s asynchronous and social but not public. To the extent the Cozyweb is something of a brand-hostile space, it’s not really part of the Ribbonfarm Extended Universe, but I’m adding some notes on it here just for convenience and completeness.

In the 15 years I’ve been blogging, the cozyweb has gradually overtaken the public web in importance. One reason email newsletters have boomed, I think, is that they effectively thread the needle between the two zones, though at the cost of worse internal linking than either. They’re not quite cozyweb, but not quite public web either.

Cozyweb proper used to be link aggregator discussion forums when I started out in 2007. Slashdot, Hacker News, Metafilter, Reddit. Today, most of those feel old and tired, with the exception of Reddit which has turned into more of a content source in its own right than an aggregator.

Today, the Cozyweb is slacks, Discords, and small-group DM chats on messengers.

There is a ribbonfarm slack that at one point had ambitions of being a salon for ribbonfarm contributors, but has since devolved into a shitposting treehouse for just a handful of friends, and I have no intentions of doing anything more with it.

On the Discord front, the Yak Collective has become an increasingly important part of my life, and will likely take up even more of my attention in 2022.

Messaging apps are of course the unnamed and unmapped 90% of the CozyWeb, but in 2021 I grew increasingly tired of both 1:1 message threads and small group ones, and largely dropped out of most of them, and stopped responding or participating much in the ones I stayed in.

Static Sites and Notebooks

Static sites have been on my radar for a while, but I’m yet to do anything serious with the medium.

I do still have Breaking Smart running as effectively a static site, though on WordPress. Something about that medium-content mismatch annoys me, and I’d like to cast that content into a static site. With the rebranding of the old Breaking Smart newsletter into Ribbonfarm Studio, and the abandonment of further seasons of Breaking Smart, it is basically just an archive for a single essay collection that’s also an ebook, and I don’t feel like maintaining it. If I can find the time for the cleanup project, I might move it to a proper static site.

I’ve been using Roam Research for two years now, and it’s another weird zone, somewhere between entirely private notebooks and potentially cozyweb or public content. A Roam account allows up to 3 online “graphs” and I have two — a private ribbonfarm graph where I increasingly develop my backend notes, and a public one which I’ve donated to the Yak Collective.

I had plans to develop the third unused one as a public content project, but Roam has had enough development issues that it doesn’t feel ready to serve as a publishing medium yet. I briefly explored hooking it up as a backend to a static site frontend, to develop a more ambitious fiction project, but it quickly became clear that the technology is not there yet, and that the pain of messing with the tech would swamp any actual writing.

I still want to do new static-site type projects, but it will probably just be a plain static site. Likely Jekyll. Maybe Gatsby. With Web3 characteristics.

Web3 and Beyond

As I wrote in Jumping into Web3, I am… jumping into Web3.

I’ve done a few NFTs, am working on some Web3-native writing projects with collaborators, and exploring various new technologies, such as the unlock protocol (which, among other things, offers a plugin that can Web3ify WordPress with NFT-based access control, which may or may not be a workable pattern).

I referenced a bon mot earlier: every unix shell command becomes a tech company. As a friend remarked, Web3 is that phenomenon leveled up: it is the unix chown command turned into a whole new layer of the web itself.

Web3 is a very divisive topic, if you’ve experienced it in even a small way, there can be no doubt something revolutionary is brewing there that will up-end all of web publishing. Whether you will like what the revolution brings is an open question.

Whether blogs as a publishing technology can successfully migrate to a Web3 architectural medium is also an open question.

Web3 does have its own native long form already — the NFTified essay, with mirror.xyz as the main current locus of action. The NFTfied essay is a natural outgrowth of a certain kind of laboriously wrought (in some cases overwrought) and produced (often overproduced) essay that became popular in the last few years.

These tend to “drop” like music singles by major artists. Publication as a notable micro-media event rather than routinely scheduled media flow. Very unbloggy.

I’ve been uncomfortable with this mode of essaying since I first spotted it. Most of my writing is improvised in a single session the day it is published, and it is barely wrought or produced at all. Much of it is also too lightweight to “drop” at all in Earth’s media gravity field. At best it can sort of float down like a feather.

So, not exactly likely to turn into a native medium for me. I don’t think I can ever produce such a high-stakes essay.

But that said, it’s early days yet. There is a lot of richness to Web3 technology, and it’s going to support more than one mode of publishing.

This medium will have more than one message, and there will be room for more mediocre shitpost types like me. How will that work? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to fuck around and find out as they say. That seems to be the general outlook for 2022.

So that’s it for the roundup. Happy New Year!

Series Navigation<< 2020 Ribbonfarm Extended Universe Annual Roundup

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About Venkatesh Rao

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

Comments

  1. This review has some burnout vibes. Even the brief enthusiasm for the “text renaissance” seems long gone. Sure you are stepping into NFT territory but it reads a bit like following a pragmatic programmer advice in order to keep up with the latest trends and fads, which is also part of your business.

    I did write a few “regular” posts too, but I think I’m finally done with this style of writing — by which I mean refactor-y/insight-porny. I personally got tired of this style a few years ago, but in 2021, I think the world at large got tired of it too.

    Sure, it’s never to late to drop the more fun aspects of postmodern writing for more conventional modes. Old Ribbonfarm was already late to the party but it could reboot a genre with its own distinctive style and iconic elements like the 2×2 – something you now own artistically. In the late 0s the genre was already overwrought with philosophically sounding jargon inherited from dead white men from the old continent. Maybe it fared better if it had never seen the university from the inside and vice versa but this cannot be changed. When you invited a guest author in 2020 who wrote old style pomo – she even used the term “accursed share” – it was like a meeting of the generations though she was probably somewhat younger than you, while sounding like a radical Parisian intellectual of ’68.

    Not sure what the world at large needs or gets tired of. Maybe some Millenials or GenZs will fill the niche left by authors such as Baudrillard, Zizek or you, who are dead, old or … tired.

    A Happy New Year from Munich!

    • Damn. That’s harsh/just as clueless as the comments I like to make. “drop the more fun aspects of postmodern writing for more conventional modes”? I think a reason he has a hard time keeping guest writers/ a ribbonfarm scene is because nobody really gets it — it’s defensive-aggressively anticonventional. “Late to the party” is an explicitly irrelevant idea in the world where it is easier to discover something for yourself than to research it. I’ve been hedgehoggy/speculative enough about the meaning of writing ribbonfarm-esquely to pick up on that foxy tenet, at least.

      There is an odd tension, maybe a bit frenetic sometimes, between writing for one’s own pleasure/edification and writing in public. Backing off from vitamin-pill virality and doubling down on INTP writing-as-thinking doesn’t have to be a response to external writer politicking, it can be an internal values adjustment. Insisting on applying an external frame feels a bit hostile to the enterprise. Planting flags when the poor guy is explicitly trying to build portals.

      Portals are really cool. They’re way harder than flags though, because you actually have to use your imagination to synthesize some singularities instead of just emotionally reacting to something you saw someone else do. As a person with vanishingly little imagination, I respect the idea, even if the execution is fraught and lonely. At least he likes being alone. I am undecided about the meaning of aloneliness if you only care about yourself but you still talk all the time.

      As far as I can tell, the hit rate of people actually reading ribbonfarm stuff and understanding it well enough to internalize key aspects is just as low as for my writing, which is much worse than the writing published here. It’s frustrating to realize that text is basically an addictive commodity, “content,” much moreso than it is something that develops nuance in hearts and minds. Maybe for a really healthy person, it’s 50% fun, 50% insight. But the way a lot of people use content, it’s 99% just something to distract you from having to think your own thoughts, hence the term insight porn. So, in such a narrative climate, how do you write something that isn’t just porn?

      Baudrillard and Zizek aestheticize critique; they make it fashionable. Stylish. That’s also pretty porny. You become a philosopher, spend your time writing stuff that only people with certain genetic anomalies are able to parse. Zizek’s sniff and so on makes his memefame; Simulacra and Simulation’s cameo in The Matrix makes Baudrillard’s. Philosophy, when it manages to touch the public, is a form of spectator sport. Film and fiction are more directly accessible; is fiction — based enough on reality to be interesting, while also being impossible enough to be interesting — an end in itself? The reverie, the para-experience? Or is the resistance against the impossible that someone lied to by stories brings, through the fourth wall and backstage, something desirable — not always tragic?

      Some people are happy to make money asking silly questions like that, because people will pay them for the mental field trip/the aspirational cred, as it may be. Or because the government will pay them out of inertia.

      I don’t know if I am asking because I get something out of it, or because I’m traumatically compelled to re-live the experience of asking silly questions instead of doing something useful or interesting to the world.

      Anyway:

      I’m increasingly skeptical of claims that The Karate Kid didn’t ruin the modern world, and for that matter that The Labors of Hercules didn’t ruin the classical world. To the extent that it is easier to stay relatively still and think about doing things than it is to do things, story is a degenerate, dilute form of life. I don’t understand how it can substitute for life. Actually, I understand it extremely well, and I hate it. Sticky quicksand.

      TLP’s porn book finally came out this Christmas. I’m only a quarter of the way in. At some point in the course of reading it I plan to form an opinion on whether I’ve benefited from precocious consumption of Alone’s gonzo blogger cynicism, or whether it hypnotized me into becoming everything he critiqued. All along, have I mostly just been entertained by a man aesthetically yelling at himself? It wouldn’t be the last time.

      People have insisted to me for much of my life that I do in fact have what it takes to become one of these aesthetic old yellers. I understand that there is an appeal to the form. People really do enjoy it. I enjoy it. But, the “type” is a dumpy old guy who’s functionally sick in the head and has some kind of psychosexual dysfunction fueling their elaborate, effortful attempts to reach the other, or create a higher agentic self that liberates from the need to reach the other.

      Nihilism, narcissism, probably alcohol.

      If I’m stuck on the hunt for something to romanticize because I want a short identity postcode that makes peopling easier, why romanticize that?

      Sure, plenty of people are into it. But I’m too narcissistic to care about plenty of people. I’m too narcissistic to care about anything, except apparently the idea of eventually caring about anything.

      TLP’s advice is to simply fake it for everyone else’s benefit, instead of faking it for your own benefit. That turned out to be a philosophical yak shave, of no practical use for minimizing the harm I cause people around me. Misunderstanding the prompt so horrifically is perhaps related to why I find the paperclip maximizer argument compelling enough to pleasantly entertain, as one entertains a rebellious conspiracy in the heat of betrayal by the establishment. The earnest incomprehension of the hypothetical algorithm is so relatable, so anthropomorphizable (for some values of anthro).

      • I take back what I said about genetic anomalies. Anomalies makes it sound rare, but I have no idea if the rare part is more social or genetic, so specifying genetic just makes me sound racist to dangerclowns who care about — of all things to care about — “race”. Which is a problem I run into a lot when I write, and makes me sad that people see genetics and think racial aesthetics/glorifying random historical periods instead of transhumanism. Why would you not arbitrarily pile on random stuff to see what happens, like in every other domain of technological exploration, except hypocrisy. I don’t want to write anything that tries to convince people of my opinion, because when they respond with angry summaries of their opinions I don’t have empathy for all the times I did that and then changed my mind. Insight leaks out of me like a colander. “When a kid doesn’t feel people will seriously consider their position, they’ll go find someone else who will. That person will have weed.” How right you were, TLP. How right you were. I am in the process of quitting for everyone’s sake. Sad that it’s come to this.

      • Yannik Schneider says

        How can I find some of your writings?

  2. @Kamren, if you found my response to the roundup too harsh, maybe I should give a little praise instead.

    Venkat is the most original writer of my regeneration. I say that as a connaisseur, not as someone who seeks agreement, arguments, applications or a meaning in life. He bypassed the decaying intellectual culture of the west with its overwrought abstractions, drawing his tropes mostly from business, technology, the web and popular culture. In the past, intellectuals were trying to mine, criticize and advance big theories or ideologies ( another word for a single big idea attempting to explain everything ) while the last few generations attempted to blow them up. Curiously they failed grossly and all their “deconstructions of the tradition” cohered into new speech taboos, into a grotesque, shifting mass of social justice world salad and new prisons of the mind, unseen in my own life time. This wasn’t originally intended, but is just bad externalities. On the opposite end, Venkat is the author of many little, grand theories with a twist, which are also Zeitgeist comments. It might be true that the world doesn’t need them and want them, but who knows what it needs and wants anyway?

    Venkat now wants to write fiction, but his latest fiction reads just like writing more essays, complete with self-interpretation. Just more theories with fictional characters and background worlds. Theories however are end products of a culture, not their beginnings. Sometimes they are middles but being ends are their destination. If a theory is correct, this was it, nothing more needs to be said. It can only be reshaped for didactic reasons. The empirical world becomes more data, more confirmation, more case studies, more values filling variable slots. Some are useful and predictive but often times that is an illusion [1]. So there is very little real sex anyway against which insight porn has to be contrasted. Long live the replication crisis.

    When the theory is done the world goes on but the mind is exhausted and at the end. This was to be avoided, as the mind shall play the infinite game of theory building, against their own determination.

    [1] https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2020/05/science-without-validation-in-a-world-without-meaning/

  3. Dave Foster says

    Venkat,

    You’ve put an amazing amount of energy and intelligence into these 15 years of writing. Prodigious. Shitposting often, perhaps, but well considered. Unique. I concur w Kay – you’ve been the most original writer. That said, nothing need go on overly long.

    Enjoyed it. Looking fwd to next things.

    Best for 2022, etc.

  4. Damn you guys take me so much more seriously than I take myself I have to do a double take to see if you’re reacting to my stuff or something else 🤣

    Yes, some mix of burnout, boredom, and middle age

    The fiction has problems primarily because I’m new to it, but I don’t mind doing some weird blend of solipsistic theorizing and quasi-fiction. The goal is to tap into some source of fun generativity rather than produce good fiction per se

    • I had a conversation a while ago about Monty Python. She said. she couldn’t laugh, and didn’t find it funny. I replied: ‘That’s because it’s about eternal truths’. At least this made her laugh and the situation was safe.