Title
#thinking-together
Nick Smith

Nick Smith

04/18/2020, 3:16 AM
I've spent the last few days considering starting a blog, but I'm encountering a moral dilemma. I think humanity already overshares too often. I think we put a lot of half-baked thoughts in the public space, and the world consequently suffers from "information overload" where we can't figure out what to pay attention to / what is valuable. It happens in news media, social media, blog posts, and this Slack. In this Slack, the main instigator of discourse seems to be the posting of links (65% of posts in the last 3 weeks). How much time are we wasting on distracting tidbits of public information? So when I'm drafting ideas for a blog, I'm encountering this worry that my half-baked thoughts will just be further distractions. Notice that Bret Victor, who many of us here appreciate, doesn't have a blog. He doesn't share ideas until he's sure he has a valuable, coherent message, and sometimes he spends years preparing his next message. Perhaps this is the best way to communicate. Of course, many of us want to share ideas so that we can, in effect, "work together" on the future of programming. I think collaboration is valuable, but perhaps public communication is not the best way to do this. In a private setting, discourse is informal, and half-baked ideas can be happily lost to history. When people work together privately, they can filter through ideas rapidly, and only publish information when they have a battle-tested, coherent message. Unfortunately, private collaboration is still most effective in person, because humanity doesn't yet have the technology to digitize the experience that physical workplaces provide. Perhaps an in-person communication style is nevertheless one we should aspire to, to prevent the dissemination of half-baked ideas. I don't know how best to achieve this, but #two-minute-week seems compatible, at least. It's also unfortunate that our societal structure isn't conducive to the formation of altruistic "working groups", which would be the ideal collaborative environment, but that's a whole separate discussion which we've touched on before. Thoughts?
Dan Cook

Dan Cook

04/18/2020, 3:36 AM
I also think the two minute week idea is a great step in that direction
Kartik Agaram

Kartik Agaram

04/18/2020, 3:46 AM
It is indeed a dilemma. There's a tension between seeking serendipity and adding noise. The good news, as I see it: it's not a very important dilemma. We don't have to optimize it just right. It's enough to satisfice. If people don't complain, you aren't oversharing, and so you shouldn't worry about oversharing. The effects of noise are cumulative. Each new piece adds a little bit of downside. But the potential upside is very great if you find a Lennon to your McCartney. So it's better to err on the side of oversharing, IMO. Sharing is naturally regulating: if you don't get much response you'll naturally slow down. At least if you don't start watching artificial metrics like analytics or reshares or whatever. I just focus on what makes the good conversations happen, where I end up with some extra clarity inside my head.
Tim Lipp

Tim Lipp

04/18/2020, 3:48 AM
I think it's a matter of scale. Our brains are for the most part evolved for communities of 150 people. We should share often with those closest to us. Do we really need to have 1,500 people sharing with all of us at the same time to evolve? Probably not. There might be some incredibly insightful ones for whom a half-baked idea is a gold mine for everyone else, but I suspect that many of those often spent time alone with their thoughts beforehand (eg. Look how long Nassim Nicholas taleb procrastinated before publishing). Interestingly enough, the reality of the human brain aligns much better with elder-led learning of many indigenous groups. Too bad we worked so systematically at destroying many of those societies. Gladly, all is not lost and they are resilient...... Those are my half-baked ideas at least.
Kartik Agaram

Kartik Agaram

04/18/2020, 4:00 AM
The way I see it, serendipity = finding someone new to import into one's 150. The large ocean of writings we call the internet provides the fodder for such promotions, freeing us from the tyranny of geography. Strong net positive, IMO. I just wish we hadn't invented web apps to mess with the writing and throw up pop-ups and whatnot.
crabl

crabl

04/18/2020, 4:18 AM
i normally take solace in the fact that nobody reads my blog so i can post whatever i want there šŸ™‚ but in all seriousness, maybe don't treat it like a blog then? i think there's value in writing about your experiences + synthesizing information, and there are ways to do that without keeping a "journal". some good examples in this twitter thread that's been making the rounds lately: https://twitter.com/Mappletons/status/1250532315459194880
i

Ivan Reese

04/18/2020, 5:23 AM
A variation on what @crabl suggests, which works well for me and a few other folks I follow: Write blog posts, publish them to your site, but don't make any inbound links to them. They're secret. Continue working on them as your thinking evolves. Never stop. Occasionally, you'll find yourself in a conversation where one of these posts would make a relevant contribution. Share the link with just those people. They'll only see that one post. You get all the benefits of clarifying your thinking through writing, and contributing to conversations, without creating noise pollution.
Kartik Agaram

Kartik Agaram

04/18/2020, 5:41 AM
My website at http://akkartik.name is the tip of the iceberg for my notes. Anytime I tag a new note with 'publish' it gets a URL on my site without putting it on the frontpage. Most of these notes are poorly formatted, but I often react to conversations by using my site search for things I've written in the past. Every once in a while I'll clean one up to share it more deliberately. (Though that hasn't happened very often. Mostly I just rephrase for the new context, because what I had before is never quite right for this new conversation.) Still good as an exo-brain, though. Bumping back to the original topic, 99% of the time the goal is just to write more, because it clarifies one's thinking. If a blog helps you do that, do a blog. Otherwise try something else. Thinking about 'information overload' and 'polluting the commons' is counter-productive in that situation. Focus first on being the best 'you' you can be. The world has recovered from meteor impacts, and the universe has regular supernovas. They can deal with a few blog posts.
Nick Smith

Nick Smith

04/18/2020, 6:05 AM
I'll respond to everyone at once: ā€¢ We definitely can overshare without causing complaint. There are a lot of blog posts out there, and I'm sure most readers will just close the page if they find a post uninsightful or misinformed; they won't send an email to the author. I strongly disagree with the proposal to do whatever I feel is best for myself without concern for others. That's a very egocentric worldview. Wasting people's time is a real and pervasive problem. ā€¢ I agree it is sensible to share more with those you are closest to. That's a good replacement for social media posts. I already excel at this because I don't post any social media content whatsoever šŸ˜›! Unfortunately it doesn't work well for niche technical topics, since your family and housemates probably aren't interested in the future of programming, and even software engineering colleagues may not be. Unfortunately, I don't have many people to talk to IRL about my research interests. ā€¢ Yes, maybe what I really want is not a blog, but an externalisation of my beliefs and ideas that I can share with people when appropriate. I've been liking the way Andy Matuschak does this. Roam Research seems to be the new hotness for linked notes, though I'd rather not build my knowledge base on a proprietary platform.
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S.M Mukarram Nainar

04/18/2020, 9:51 AM
I think gwern's philosophy is quite applicable here: https://www.gwern.net/About Unfortunately as far as I can tell, there aren't software packages that enable this workflow or similar ootb, though I suppose a wiki more or less does it.
shalabh

shalabh

04/20/2020, 6:25 AM
Funny I didn't think much about noise pollution when I started my blog but am thinking about it now after reading this thread. The main reasons for me were to1) add another voice to ideas that I think are good 2) think through, clarify and organize some my thoughts - required when publishing (I find this also helps me 'move beyond' the specific idea to other ideas) 3) find folks interested in similar stuff and get comments, conversation and further evolution of the ideas Specially wrt 3, I've been very happy with the comments threads that have built up on some pages. I dont think one needs fully formed coherent ideas to publish. A post could be a vague idea, a proposition, a perspective etc. I would personally recommend a blog, 'digital garden' or collection of unorganized notes. This is not noise, I think, but just an space folks who so desire may visit, absorb, reflect and optionally comment. People are good at filtering. Just now I found https://twitter.com/szymon_k/status/1251887893938929665 and really like browsing this kind of collection, and looking at the various connections the author has made.
Konrad Hinsen

Konrad Hinsen

04/22/2020, 8:03 AM
A blog is what you want to make of it. You can write frequent short posts, or rare long and thoughtful ones. So blogs don't imply oversharing.