Outside the Algorithm
I was recently namedropped by Justin Murphy, someone who has had great success capturing and holding intellectual attention across many years. Interestingly enough though his notice of my work is due to a very different motivation then growthmaxxing, engagement and eyeballs. Around a year ago when trying to decide how to conduct my intellectual work moving forward I had an important decision to make. Either, follow the algorithms or follow my philosophical mission. Following the algorithms dictated I be as public, accessible and scheduled as possible to attract the normal kind of attention that comes to these heuristics of publishing content online. Perhaps I publish an article at least once a week and conducting my research in public, ensure I have at least 3 twitter threads a week with appropriate call-to-action links while getting myself on as many YouTube channels and podcasts as possible. Maybe I even start making short videos for Tiktok and Instagram.
I instead decided to keep my circle of attention small and high-quality, conducting the work which eventually became The Iconoclast in semi-privacy with tempered input from this close circle. I believe this resulted in a more honest output of a considered and higher quality in contrast to a mishmash of Substacks and half-baked tweets which where eventually cobbled together into some ‘product’. The book ended up being no cry for attention, but instead something which in a biographical philosophical sense allowed me to truly investigate personal questions without an idea of where I would end up. The book is a truly personal, impactful and scholarly sound work of philosophy. I am growing increasingly skeptical that it is possible to produce such a work within the paradigm of the algorithms.
Each season only 2% of Elephant Seals manage to mate and I suspect 2% of Twitter accounts hold follower counts of 1K+. This is the brutality of the Pareto distribution and you leave yourself unguarded from its uncaring violence if you are aiming to please the mysterious and arbitrary oracles of the algorithms.
The truth is, for specialist intellectual work these ephemeral paradigms are a distraction. Genuine intellectual work will always be the produce and purview of an exclusive and elite group. The nature of this group has historically been extra-institutional and self-organizing, however the institutions often have coincidental ties to such movements.
‘Popcorn’ intellectualism is our enemy. Whether it is the latest Jordan Peterson book or a tweet of culture war non-statement. These intellectual forms are ripe for soon and quick replacement by even the most droolingly simple of AI. These forms appeal to a large and broad audience, with low value (many of these people buy books to place unused on a shelf for decoration), have a small per-capita impact and a diffused generic cultural impact. Compare this to the apparent social media ‘hermit’: An intimate audience of a high-value group, a massive per-capita impact and a specialized and directed impact on the elites of the future (who actually decide things).
True intellectual insight affirms itself without immediately quantifiable results, commodified algo-pleasing content produces forgettable intellectual popcorn.
Elite, decentralized, non-public and intimate irl friendships are the future of intellectual collaboration. Private, contemplative, non-captured solitude is the future of human intellectual workspace.
Of course, it must also be stated that intellectual work is pointless if no one ever reads it. I can only address this from a personal perspective, The Iconoclast is already doing far better than Missing Axioms, my audience continues to grow, my network of high quality contacts is growing closer. The real challenge as an independent thinker and creator is not to maximize the capture of attention in the ways Silicon Valley dictates. But, is instead to maintain the quality and integrity of the group that matters.
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I've been having similar thoughts recently. How to get your stuff read, make some helpful connections, do some promotional work without it being reduced to competition in the attention economy. It's a hard task
In my personal experience, it is ridiculous (especially considering how much one pays) how similar developing and writing a thesis in a university is to following the algorithms. People who really listen and comment for the sake of real interest is invaluable, it’s also usually free. 👏great post, and congrats on the book.