1 January 2020

Introducing my newsletter

As a new project in 2020, I will be publishing a weekly email newsletter called Camp of the Children, broadly concerned with technology, theology, and ethics, with a smattering (or more) of science fiction. I feel like I owe an explanation, an apologia, just because it might seem either presumptuous or stupid to start a newsletter when you’re a nobody like me. So, these are the reasons why I’m starting a newsletter. And if you’re still with me after reading all this, you can subscribe here.

First, I’m interested in experimenting with the medium of newsletters:

  1. They hearken to an older, slower pace of sharing. On a related point, they allow a more thoughtful process of collecting, reflecting, and writing.
  2. They are more reliable, as subscribers can be sure that they will receive updates (as long as they don’t go into the Spam” folder) without worrying about algorithmic overlords botching up the sharing (see below on the inadequacies of social media).
  3. They are quasi-private — the emails only go out to the subscribers on the list and, depending on the service, archives might not even be publicly accessible.
  4. They feel more personal, since the subscriber must have actively decided to receive these emails and because each new issue goes straight to the inbox, it feels like each issue was written for the subscribers in mind. By contrast, a blog post is immediately made public and obtaining the post by syndication (e.g. by RSS or JSON feed) is like gleaning something that is already available.

Second, I’d like to start creating more artefacts on a regular basis. I first came across this usage of the word artefacts” in Nadia Eghbal’s post on re-imagining the PhD:

I tried to embrace learning in public” as much as I could. In addition to writing blog posts and tweeting, I created a bunch of other artifacts, like conference talks (developer conferences are a thing, which was new for me!), interviews, a podcast series, and lists published as GitHub repositories. I tried to use content formats that were appropriate to my target audience (software developers). Finally, I published a 143-page report called Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure, which capped off this first phase of research.

Bearing in mind the caveat that I have a full-time job and all this extra-curricular reading is just that, extra-curricular, and I am far from being a researcher like Nadia, I have the urge to try the same thing — why not learn in public, make mistakes, say silly things, and get others along for the ride? If anything, the need to fulfil the quota should force me to actively seek out new ideas and think about them. While that isn’t a long-term strategy, sometimes habit is more important than inspiration.

Third, I’m inspired by Robin Sloan’s idea of a Republic of Newsletters. There’s something wonderful about a band of people, more or less connected, who simply curate beautiful gardens for the enjoyment and edification of themselves and others. Alan Jacobs puts it this way:

Facebook is the Sauron of the online world, Twitter the Saruman. Let’s rather live in Tom Bombadil’s world, where we can be eccentric, peculiar perhaps, without ambition, content to tend our little corner of Middle Earth with charity and grace. […W]hether what I’m doing ultimately matters or not, I’m finding it helpful to work away in this little highland garden, above the turmoil of the social-media sea, finding small beautiful things and caring for them and sharing them with a few friends.

But there is the sense, I think, still that one has to be somebody” before you can try anything like this. I love that the people in Robin’s Republic are so talented and wonderful, but that can also be seen as a barrier to entry. Perhaps it would be better to practice the Republic as well, rather than just visit it occasionally. This leads into my fourth and final point.

Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to encourage others to do the same. This is the motive that drives the others, because this is a community effort. This is me saying to others, Look, if I can do it, so can you, because I’m not special.” I am thinking primarily of people I know in so-called real” life. I’d like to encourage them to take the leap, to put out some content that allows them to share what they’ve been interested in, what they’ve been thinking about. My sincere hope is simply that one day, we might all have our gardens and backyards, capturing in these newsletters what first captivates us, so that we might offer hospitality to all readers. And as we gather together to consider questions big and small, perhaps we will all come out of this better.

So, there, four reasons, weaving in and among themselves, for why I am starting a newsletter in 2020. If your interest is piqued, please subscribe here.

I’ll probably write a bit more soon about the content of the newsletter and what I hope to achieve through it, so stay tuned to this blog as well. Have a great 2020 ahead!


Newsletter Camp of the Children Meta


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