The reasons I started this newsletter were simple. The most fundamental among them is that I want to give myself a reason to write. To build the discipline to write 1000 to 1500 words every two weeks (many will scoff at how few words this is, but for me it’s a challenge). Writing for the newsletter gives me a way to think about things that attract my attention or curiosity, be it reflecting about changes in myself as I went through years of therapy, the process of moving to a new country, or living and working during an unprecedented global pandemic while entering into a new relationship and professional life. The newsletter gives me a framework to examine and document these changes.
The same goes for other things I am interested in: philosophy. politics, art and design, travel, languages, etc. I like that the Random Embassy Papers isn’t limited to one topic. It’s not just about design, or just about how to be more efficient at work, or anything curated topic whatsoever. Instead I use it to take something I am interested in, and learn more about it through the process of writing about it. I can put things in perspective and attempt to figure them out, or at least assemble them into some kind of framework of ideas or memories. It’s a bonus if someone else on my newsletter list gets something out of it. Don’t take this the wrong way - I do have the reader in mind when I’m writing, but I do this by trying to be as honest with myself as possible and hoping that same respect and attitude transfers to you.
My subscribers are friends, family, present and former clients, former students, people I’ve met at conferences and people I’ve met on the bus and in passing in cafes and shows or events around the world. I am interested in cultivating something long-term with this group, and to figure out a way to provide true value to myself and to this audience through this newsletter. I don’t want to make something viral or that can reach a million people. That is why I think it’s important to write for myself. Imagine if you were in a conversation with someone who only reflected back to you what you already thought or already knew. It would be a waste of your time and you would learn nothing. And you would also never push back against your friends ideas or thoughts, and neither of you would ever have the opportunity to be transformed by the conversation.
This relationship and feedback loop is also something I have missed since the Megawords project ended(?). Besides what I enjoyed about doing the layout and design of the magazine and collaborating with my partner on the project Dan, was the second and third order benefits. Through the act of publishing and distributing a magazine we created a community. We manifested ideas and the energy of a certain place and time, and broke through many conceptions about what a print magazine could be, and how wide ranging its subject matter and means of distribution could be. I met people in many different fields through the magazine, and just by calling myself a publisher I had an excuse to talk to them. The magazine also worked as a way to make connections, and gain exposure. It led to a number of unforeseen and interesting projects and collaborations.
“Would you store your brain in a startup company’s vat? If you store your writing on a 3rd party site like blogger, livejournal or even on your own site, but in the complex format used by blog/wiki software de jour you will lose it forever as soon as hypersonic wings of internet labor flows direct people’s energies elsewhere. For most information published on the internet, perhaps that is not a moment too soon, but how can the muse of originality soar when immolating transience brushes every feather?" –Julian Assange
I’ve mentioned it before, but I left social media about 3 years ago. One of the reasons was that I wanted to have control over my content. This control means a few things - one I didn’t want my data and images to be sucked into the giant algorithm of Instagram and Facebook. Two, I wanted to have control over it, over the actual files, the same way I would want to secure physical possession of my notebook or sketchbook. If the files from my website are only only on the cloud, then what happens if the cloud should disappear? This may sound impossible, but Gwern puts it into context better than I can here.
Who is to say the technology of the future will be able to read your website built in php or angular or whatever language you might use today? If you needed to watch a video stored on a VHS or Betamax, or even worse Laserdisc, how many web searches would you have to make before you could find an easy way to access the content stored in these archaic formats. It’s almost like trying to read Sanskrit. You simply haven’t got the right decoder ring. To address this ownership of content and format sustainability problem, I mirror everythign that I send out using Mailchimp on a site that I built from scratch using HUGO and that I independently host. It was fun relearning a bit of HTML and a the basics of a markdown. If you aren’t reading this already on the site, you can visit it here.
Another problem I’ve always had is too many projects, too many overlapping interests, generally too many things going on at once. Not that this is in and of itself a problem, but the issue is it becomes very hard to make these connections clear to others. It all resonates in my own head and I can see how A affects B, or X affects Y, but the off-hand reference seems spurious or strange to people. My solution was then to just create a website or project for each of these ideas, but this led to sprawl, and was also a hassle to properly manage and maintain.
There is a lot of chatter online about Digital Gardening, and I don’t think that’s exactly what I’m doing with the newsletter, but I like the basic premise.
“The Garden is the web as topology. The web as space. It’s the integrative web, the iterative web, the web as an arrangement and rearrangement of things to one another(…)Things in the Garden don’t collapse to a single set of relations or canonical sequence, and that’s part of what we mean when we say “the web as topology” or the “web as space”. Every walk through the garden creates new paths, new meanings, and when we add things to the garden we add them in a way that allows many future, unpredicted relationships."–Mike Caulfield
I think what I’ve started here isn’t as complex as all this (yet), but through the Random Embassy paper I can cultivate ideas, give them room to grow, and make connections clearer. I’m starting off slowly. It doesn’t need to be a huge project. And I can make the space mine, I don’t need to fit it into some preconceived notion of what a blog about one specific topic should be, or into a rarefied instagram feed. I also like the fact that it flies in the face of the generally accepted idea that people’s attention spans are short. It’s quite the opposite - I might not reach 100,000 people, but I reach a few hundred that actually read it and often respond to what I have to say.
I’m only scratching the surface of what’s in store for us in the world of media and communication. Publishing in all of its manifestations has an immense impact on us as individuals and a society. In the span of time since I was a teenager, I’ve witnessed a complete revolution in the way we spread ideas, who’s in charge of spreading the ideas, how we decide who we can trust, and what that all means for how we think about ourselves and how we exist in the world. Each year new ways of interacting with people that we’ve never met via our technology become faster, cheaper and easier to use. We’re witnessing now the early maturation of virtual reality, popular discussions about the Metaverse, and early adoption of crypto currency by nation states. I don’t think any predictions are safe to make, besides the one that whatever the media landscape looks like in just a decade, it will be vastly different than the one we live in today. The medium has become the message beyond whatever Marshall Mcluhan might have dreamed, and our minds are being transformed in ways that I don’t think we will understand for decades to come. It’s frightening and exciting all at once.