It's Getting Better All the Time

I receive the most criticism when I post about positive things happening in the world. I find that fascinating.

It could be because a lot of people rely on negative outlooks to fuel their jobs, hobbies, or identities.

Steven Pinker experienced this himself on a grand scale when he published Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress one year ago. He has since been called every name in the book, even though his work is based on science and math, and should be considered a rather sober account of the progress of humanity.

Yesterday he published a long article examining the strange reaction to book.

“The question of whether progress has occurred is matter not of “optimism” but of what Hans Rosling calls “factfulness”: calibrating our understanding of the world to empirical reality. If measures of well-being, such as health, prosperity, knowledge, and safety, have increased over time, that would be progress. In fact, they have.

Since progress does not mean that the world is perfect, only that it is better, acknowledging progress does not mean being indifferent to the very real suffering of people today, nor to the very real threats that humanity continues to face.”

It’s a long, thoughtful look at why you publish about progress at your own peril, and why you should do it anyway.

Craig Mod on What Makes a Good Newsletter

Craig Mod, prognosticator of publishing, recently tweeted about newsletters:

“There's a tendency to over-design newsletters as of late. I think this misses the point, the *power* of a newsletter is from its intimacy. You can design intimacy out of an experience by scrubbing voice, grit.

The best newsletters feel like nice letters from smart friends.

My favorites newsletter either:

1) have a super strong voice, and therefore I don't care how long they are, will joyfully follow them to the end of the world

2) are mega concise, and serve to highlight just a handful (3? 4?) of gems”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about under-designing a newsletter. Tobias van Schneider has also talked about this with his super-successful newsletter about design (which he refuses to call a “newsletter”):

“To be honest, I sometimes think it’s a bit too nice. I like to keep it simple; I want it to look less like a newsletter and more like a personal email.”

Tinyletter makes this kind of personal style easy, but if you’re looking to do this with a more fully-featured service, good luck. It can often be harder to make a newsletter look under-designed than over-designed.

Thanks, Hamish!

Hamish Gill wrote a wonderful review of A Lesser Photographer at 35mmc:

“I suppose you could call it tips, or maybe advice, but that feels like an injustice to it. It’s more sage than those words sum up – it feels more wise, less contrived, less derivative and much less prescriptive than most of what you’ll otherwise read about photography.”

Those are kind words coming from such an influential voice in the analog photography community. If you haven’t been to his site yet, check it out. If you’re a reader of his, please subscribe to this site to keep up with the latest. Thanks for visiting!

I Finally Made a "Now" Page

I don’t know why I waited so long to make a “now” page (Derek Sivers). I read them all the time. If you’re new to the concept, here’s the inventor Derek Sivers:

“It’s a nice reminder for myself, when I’m feeling unfocused. A public declaration of priorities.

(If I’m doing something that’s not on my list, is it something I want to add, or something I want to stop?)

It helps me say no, too. When I decline invitations, I point them to that page to let them know it’s not personal.”

After reading yet another now page update from Patrick Rhone, I figured it was time to finally put up my own. So, here it is. I’ve set a reminder to update it regularly. Hold me to it!

Consistency

This is one of the sentences I say regularly that drives people crazy:

“Consistency is great, but we don’t want to be consistently wrong.”

Consistency really is great when it reinforces good habits in your readers (weekly newsletters, daily posts, etc.).

It’s terrible when it’s used as a crutch to keep making the same mistakes over and over, because trying something new and different (or “weird”) is scary. It’s akin to saying, “That’s how we’ve always done it,” which is the last wheezing breath of a dying business.

The Value of a “Good Old Newsletter”

From Kai Brach, Publisher of Offscreen magazine and the Dense Discovery newsletter:

“Funny enough though, the good old email newsletter is currently experiencing a bit of a comeback. Perhaps as a reaction to the bottomless, anxiety-inducing social feeds, the email sits patiently in your inbox until you deem it worthy of your attention. Not able to read it now? No problem, come back to it later, it's right there where you left it.

That's why I've always loved email as a medium. Sure, I spend a lot of time reading and writing them – which arguably is not the most creatively productive time of my day – but it's still the one digital medium that abides by my rules (or filters). No sudden change in algorithm; no YOU-NEED-THIS product plugs; no strangers chiming in with rude comments. I decide what and when to read. Perhaps best of all: I can have constructive, civilised conversations with other people. Imagine that?!”

Amen. And it’s a really good time to subscribe to mine.

The Mechanization of Knowledge

“Improvements in communication make for increased difficulties of understanding.” — Harold Innis

This quote messed with my head for a while, yet it accurately describes the point we're at with some forms of online publishing. Breaking the barriers and killing off the gatekeepers was supposed to be freeing. But what if it wasn't compatible with our brains?

Also, this quote is from 1950.