Don’t Read Links on the Internet

Don’t read this blog. Think about it? Why should you read this blog? There are a functionally-infinite number of other things you could read and you’ve clicked this specific link on the internet. For what reason? An antagonizing title? Someone texted it to you? If you’re going to read something, anything, you have a choice, you know. You could read something recent, less recent, old, or you could read something really, really old. But I assume you want to read something good, something worth reading, at least. If you’re anything like me you read at the very least to be entertained, or distracted, perhaps, from other things you could or should do or be reading. But it’s also nice to read and learn something. It’s great to feel something too. Sometimes reading can do all of these things: entertain, educate, inspire. Sometimes you can read something and it will completely transform your life. This change can be acute. More often it is subtle and sustained over time. But this sort of transformation is always meaningful.

When I read something really good, it changes the way I look at the world. It improves my perception. It helps me understand something fundamental on a deeper level. It makes me a better person. Nonfiction can do this. Fiction can do this. Short poems and articles can do this. Eighteen-hundred-page novels and long-form journalism can do this. It doesn’t always happen, but something worth reading is really worth reading. Some books are so good, that if you read them, really read them, they will change you forever.

But here’s the thing, if you’re anything like me, you’ve read a bunch of stuff that hasn’t, as far as you know, induced any big change in yourself, or been that useful in any way, or you just don’t remember. I don’t know if I’m worse for reading this stuff, but if I don’t remember it, I’m inclined to believe that I would have been better off reading something else. Or doing something else. There’s lot’s of information I’ve consumed that strikes me as totally useless, a waste of time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not beating myself up about this throwaway reading. I just recently had the thought I’d be better off with less of it. Wouldn’t it be nice to only read stuff that was useful, illuminating— stuff that made you a better, kinder, more learned person? Even if you’re just reading for entertainment, wouldn’t it be nicer to read stuff that was really, really entertaining, rather than just distracting?

When I think about all the stuff that wasn’t particularly worth reading in my life, it’s mostly links on the internet. Of course, some links on the internet have changed my life for the better. Maybe 1/1000 links I’ve clicked have been reading experiences that substantially effected my world outlook. I’m grateful for those. But 90% of my throwaway reading has been links on the internet. At least. The rest of it consists of a handful of dumb self-help, (bad) spirituality, and management books that I obstinately powered through. I don’t feel so bad about those books, because they’re, well books, and not stupid links on the internet.

But what if I could eliminate those 999/1000 internet links from my life and just have the 1/1000 and then spend the rest of my reading budget on truly great books? What would it take to only read really awesome links on the internet? To really figure this out, I’d have to track everything I read and take notes on what was really awesome and what wasn’t.

I actually tried this for a few days and realized none of the links on the internet were really awesome. Some were good, but no really awesome ones from the hundreds I recorded over a few days. The good ones were all from the same blog that I really like, aside from a New York Times editorial that someone I trust texted me. So I got discouraged. Maybe it would just be easier to assume most links on the internet aren’t worth reading. Maybe I’ll just read good books instead. But what about good books? Will I have to go through 99 books to find 1 good one?

Again, the best way to find out is to keep track, which my Kindle already does for me! I looked back at my past 5 years of reading and discovered that, lo and behold, all of the books I read were worth reading. As in, none of them struck me as a total waste of time. Even the worst books were better than links on the internet. As many as a third of them were transformative in a minor way. One in five majorly changed my perspective on things. This is a way better rate than links on the internet.

I could break this down mathematically, but its not worth it. Really, just give your most conservative estimate for words read in articles on the internet and most generous estimate for what share of those words have been memorable or substantially meaningful to you. Even if you come out with a 20% rate, I bet it doesn’t compare to your experience reading books. For some reason, books are way better. If you give me some time, I bet I can remember the title and gist of 80%+ of the books I’ve ever read. I can tell you what they meant to me. When it comes to articles on the internet, I doubt I can even name 1% of the topics, titles, personal meanings, etc.

This is all predicated on the belief that reading only matters when you remember it. I’m aware of ways in which peripheral knowledge I’ve accumulated on the internet has popped back up as useful. As in, information that was in my consciousness but I couldn’t actively recall, place the origin of, etc. w/o the appropriate trigger. It happens, but I don’t remember when it did last. Doesn’t seem all that important.

So if you’re willing to accept this premise, (i.e. stuff worth reading is stuff that is easy to remember), which I pretty much am, it seems that reading books, and pretty much only books is the way to go. But what if we could further optimize reading so that instead of 1 in 5 books being super-duper awesome, it was 4 in 5? What do the super-duper awesome books in my reading history have in common? Turns out they were mostly, 60% plus, classics. 30% were really highly reviewed books that have been out for at least ten years. 10% were harder to place, but generally well reviewed books.

Yeah it turns out those old books that are on the best ever lists? They’re the best ever. The Lindy Effect (past lifespan ≈ future lifespan) is, well, real. Nassim Taleb summarizes it like this:

So all-in-all, what I’m saying here, is that if you’re going to read, why not just read a classic? Well, sometimes we might not be in the mood or have the attention span for fine literature. That’s fine too. Maybe read some nonfiction in that case— nonfiction that’s been around for a while and proved its staying power. Or perhaps you’re craving something even lighter, or recent. That’s fine, too. But make sure it’s a book. A recent book is almost guaranteed to do you better than a link on the internet.

If you really want to read a link from the internet, I suggest you go to your favorite content aggregator or platform, (mine is Hacker News) and look at the “top” links of say the past year or so. Those are bound to be much better than the top link from the day, or something someone texted you. Otherwise, I think you’re better off not reading links on the internet, unless they belong to sources you really, really trust and are consistently really really good. I like Scot Alexander’s blogs, Slate Star Codex and Astral Codex Ten. He’s earned my trust over years. But generally I don’t have too many other sources for links on the internet that regularly generate gold.

Sometimes I read the Atlantic, it comes out every month, or quarter, or something, and I read the paper magazine, or digital articles that have been around for a while. I like those, they tend to be pretty okay. Better than random links on the internet.

Otherwise I just read books, and I think you should, too. They’re better. Don’t read blogs like mine unless they consistently deliver you quality knowledge, insight, and entertainment. Just read great books instead, or even okay, recent books. A decent, recent book is a better bet than most links on the internet. Links on the internet are generally not that great, guys.

Reading Log February 2021

Experimenting with keeping an active reading log in an effort to be more mindful about my general media consumption. Not committed to a specific format, but want to note interplay of ideas between texts.

For March, I hope to include salient articles podcasts, movies, other media as well. That will require a bit more intentional documentation. Trying to figure out what of my consumption is actually valuable, lindy. Also in March, I hope to do at least one summary and review of a notable text.

Read/Finished

  • [The tail end of] The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb
  • Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb
  • The Bed of the Procrustes, Nassim Taleb
  • Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb
  • Notes From the Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

Started this month with a few days at a quasi-silent retreat at a Benedictine Monastery, where I ripped thru the remainder of the Incerto (Nassim Taleb’s five volume philosophical essay on uncertainty). I read the Incerto kind of backwards (4,3,2,1,5) which I do not regret at all, as the whole thing is a Mandelbrotian Fractal of its own. While I’d feel confident explaining the fundamental values and mental models of the Incerto off-the-dome, I will probably be revisiting these books for months and years to come. Recognizing Extremistan + the role of randomness is an ontological shock of sorts.

Pursuant to a newfound sense of classicism (cemented by Taleb) and Taleb’s Levantine cultural fawning, I picked up a copy of The Prophet which, for God knows what reason, was left out of my high school and college curriculum. (This is an act of criminal neglect). I’m embarrassed and kinda pissed I didn’t read it earlier.

Wanted to supplement all the nonfiction with something light and I actually found Notes From the Underground (Kindle Unlimited Translation) to be quite digestible. And fun. Can’t say I read too heavily into the existential implications and I’m okay with that because literature ought to be implicit. I’m contented, unashamed to say I found it highly entertaining, if nothing else.

Reread

  • Atomic Habits, James Clear
  • [Selections from] Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Smile at Fear, Chogyam Trungpa

Atomic Habits is one of those pop psychology books that is either right on the money or maybe just pure candy, and I can’t tell. The first time I read it in 2018, I remember feeling super inspired. This time around I was again impressed with the actionab-ility (ew) of all the tips in it, though I can’t say I’ll be actively applying the methodology at scale. Biggest takeaway is Lewin’s Formula; behavior is a function of the person and his or her environment. Another really good reason to clean your room.

Smile at Fear is part of my chronic Buddhist and New Age consumption. Practical meditation advice, especially for dealing with chronic ambient fear or (c)PTSD.

Started

  • Swan’s Way, Marcel Proust
  • The Iliad, Homer
  • The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist

Not sure if I’m going to make it thru Swan’s Way. Picked up a $1.99 Kindle Edition of In Search of Lost Time hoping to be swept away. Despite some moments of badass prose, I’m feeling sluggish. Not sure if it’s the translation, my lack of cultural knowledge w/r/t the 19th century French leisure class, or my attention span. Probably all three. Homer hasn’t been particularly engrossing either but I’m inclined to white knuckle it as a primer for a future reading. Brothers Karamazov, Infinite Jest, and The Magic Mountain, to name a few, each required a handful of false starts before the “breakthrough experience.”

Listened to Iain McGilchrist on Making Sense with Sam Harris and I decided to give Master another shot. Been taking a break from the dense science/psychology readings lately but I’m optimistic this one will grab me.

Starting in March

  • Beyond Order, Jordan Peterson
  • Homesick For Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Death in Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh
  • [Reread] Models, Mark Manson (lol)

While I fundamentally disagree with the framing of Peterson’s life philosophy, I will watch/read/consume just about anything he puts out. Stoked for the new release and the return of secular? humanist prophet.

Amazon recently brought to my attention a newish Moshfegh Novel, which oughta grease the skids, get the right brain purring, before I resume Proust and Homer again.

As for Models, a psychiatrist of all people recommended it as “good for your 20’s.” I was totally into seddit (r/seduction) and the Models philosophy back in high school. Frankly it did me a lotta good. I’m sure it will be fun a second time around.

Cannes

I went to Cannes some years after you made me promise to bring you along and there I had so much disdain for myself and the setting sun. Now I know the semiscore wake and forgotten burial would not scorch for I too am a sun. And perhaps I will go to Cannes once more and I will bring you only as tinder for the still-burn embers that 1) you could not steal and 2) blinded us both.

Do not carelessly denigrate creative output.

Here from my motorized reclining couch I can see that everything is beautiful, all the companies and their products. I am recognizing the degree to which my cynicism towards popular culture is only making me miserable. True discernment is acknowledging the emptiness of the superficial without condemning it as “sin.” There is a time and place for fast food, but if you don’t permit yourself to taste you will know neither it’s pleasure nor it’s true downside.

I reflect on all the cheese whiz I consumed on the road to “elite” acculturation. Lev Grossman, Tao Lin, Dan Brown… these have as much a valid place in the canon as Dostoyevsky… there are many paths up the mountain.

TL;DR: Yes there is bad art, but it’s absolutely necessary.

in ct

Suddenly find myself in doing mode. Feels like it’s been years. Yesterday shot ~2hrs of interviews, DIT’d, even prepped and disassembled the rig. None of it was a war. A year, even 3 months ago, the thought of any filmmaking industriousness was frightening to me. This is capital-p Progress. Still scared, just more brave.

going to bed

How lovely, I’m going to bed at 9:20 pm, giving me about an hour to read and wind down before taking Xyrem. Two friends and lots of potions in the house, yet I’m choosing to KTFO. A year ago, this sort of conscientiousness would’ve seemed statistically implausible. Today it’s easy. My message to other Narcoleptics: you get better at this shit, and this shit really does get easier.

f*ck blogging platforms pt. 2

At this point I’m seriously bewildered as to how things ended up like this. Over the past week, I’ve put half-a-dozen or so hours into refurbishing my web presence. Prosaically that means: updating dead links, broken css on my homepage, refining basic theme and format on this blog, similar steps on old tumblr, and building a basic WP for a new project.

This is not a small volume of work but it shouldn’t be a substantial amount, either. The easiest part of the process has been using the cPanel HTML editor to clean up the two static pages of my personal site. Fix a few hrefs, add a div here and there.. took no more than hour to clean up 18+ months of neglect and mold. I could’ve SSH’d and used a local environment like Atom to do the edits, but fuck that, do things that don’t scale, etc… I want to move away from cPanel, perhaps to transfer to Digital Ocean Droplet running Apache (GoDaddy cPanel is $10-15/month). Then I can go back to best practices with SSH or whatever.

Next comes editing my Tumblr… Turns out I’m locked out of my Authy 2FA, well the app still runs and gives me codes for a handful of sites, but my master pass straight up does not work. Can’t be bothered to find a work around for this. I’m somewhat content to leave things to fate, but it shouldn’t be impossible, in fact it should be relatively straightforward for authy and tumblr alike to verify my real identity and grant access. All my Authy related accounts are associated with a real person… And so is my tumblr. Alas, I digress, I will let the yard grow out on this front.

Next comes building a new WP for latest venture. We score a deal on a $30/yr WP from our nameserver and I transfer an Elementor Pro license from another forgotten project. Simple enough. All we have to do is churn out a few blog posts and copy and paste some content from our old static page for the home, right? There should be easy formatting for a blogs page and individual posts, right? Nope.

Elementor, which is essentially squarespace for WP, has custom themes, which need to be tweaked with wordpress custom themes. If you finally get them to play nice, you might start editing the elementor themes, which is about squarespace level intuitive, which is to say not-at-fucking-all. After two half days we’ve got a passable post format and a site header. I’m letting my partner take the lead on building the blog page, finish the header, and home. He’s very competent and has already designed a whole range of mockup styles in XD. Yet somehow Elementor takes about as long as understrap / bootstrap when moving from prototype to MVP…

Okay, now for editing this blog. All I want to do is remove and consolidate some bells and whistles w/r/t to sharing, reblogging, etc underneath posts. Click around, google for 30 minutes, no obvious solution. I’m content to leave this to fate as well. Instead I’ve elected to write this post-mortem and send out a prayer. Should I just go back to medium? Start a new Tumblr? Substack? Why is this so hard? I’ve spent well over 100 hrs of life building and maintaining these various WPs, static sites, and tumblr. It’s becoming more apparent to me that I should invest the next 100 hrs into becoming a full stack web dev and spinning out my own thing or just revert to a platform like medium or substack. Are there easy tools to spin a blog out of a droplet? I’m seriously confused. The lion’s share of the internet runs on wordpress? Everything is held together by duct tape, I swear.

urges

The less I appeal to the urge to appear in any way intelligible, the easier it becomes to write. I am thinking on the page now, of all the things I could or should not say. Of the topics and prompts and reasons for writing. But in actuality I am doing some real writing on the page here, and that makes all the difference.

Again, I ask myself, how is this any different than a journal. It’s public, right? So one ostensibly ought to make more sense, but other than that this is just another place to organize thoughts. And often the first step to organization is making a mess. so here’s a mess.

The urge to make sense is a caring, organic, and nonarbitrary urge. It’s just that it’s not ever meant to be a foremost concern. It’s an urge about something. It’s a peripheral, a supplementary aspiration. Something is made clear. Clarity in and of itself ought to be considered elsewhere, in the spiritual canon.

I suppose in this case I am making sense of making sense, which is not quite as metatextual as it sounds. It’s different than clarity of clarity. Rather it’s clarity of clarity-ness, clearness. Don’t overthink it. got it?

f*ck blogging platforms

Most blogging platforms are pretty good and yet pretty shitty. They all make it easy to post a blog to a custom or private domain fairly instantaneously. They all have some infrastructure for generating momentum and community. They all have functional stylistic tools for making your stuff look sexy. Alas none of them do the real trick. None of them make you a better writer. And I wouldn’t expect that, necessarily. Though it doesn’t seem a totally unreasonable proposition that a great tool could make you better at its target task. But further… none of these GD platforms make writing easier.

They make publishing, formatting, sharing, circulating, styling, uploading easier. But what about writing?

Why not a blogging platform with thoughtful prompts? With curated reference and how-to material for blogging? With bonafide bloggers as customer support?

Seems like a reasonable ask. Or it’s just me.