If hard pressed to describe a way I learn best, I would say it's with my nose down. I don’t really have a method, and I’m often unable to pinpoint the source of my passion. There’s no rhythm, at least that I can discern. It’s entirely accidental. It’s the labyrinth that tells me where I will find my Ariadne. The thread, if it comes at all, comes afterwards.
Mainly, I just follow my intensity. When I lose the harmony, and I can’t hear the beat, that’s usually when I know I’m on to something special. I’m off the path, and awkwardly stumbling towards I know not what. It’s about the exploration, not the outcome, about coming to terms with the lack of equilibrium. Ironically, balance is always trickier when you’re searching for the center.
While I typically lose myself in tracking down an obscure footnote, or find myself inspired by a spontaneous connection, I discover just as much pleasure from carefully listening to the insights of a friend, especially as they describe an almost autocatalytic moment. Maybe it’s just their filter that I’ve come to trust.
The curious thing about sparks, however, is that you don’t know if or when they’ll turn into fires. Nor, how easily you will be able to control them. If they happen at all, sometimes we’re unprepared, or maybe even lack the courage, to see where they’ll lead. It’s the paradox of education: you don’t know in advance what will set your heart ablaze.
Rarely do I attend conferences. Normally, I find the value of learning in an entirely different set of circumstances. Yet, I can’t help but return to a few lessons that Ev Williams shared in a recent presentation in Omaha. Not only was he like a hero who had returned from a conquered land, he was generously willing to share his crown. There’s a tremendous amount of insight still to be learned from these requited moments.
My three main takeaways, and they may solely be my interpretation, or quite possibly my invention, were:
1. Make it easier.
2. Start simply.
3. Create barriers.
While the first two points need no real explanation, the “create barriers” bullet needs to be unpacked. As we open, and then shift the contents around, it’s always more difficult to make sense of things. Putting the pieces in place has a different sort of allure than sifting through that which remains un-distilled. That is, I believe, part of the power of his radical discernment. We’re unsure what should be discarded or saved, but we still hope we’ll find it just the same.
When the internet was raw and unfamiliar, it was the Wild West. The outlaws were as important as the sheriffs. Who really mattered, though, were the ones adventurous enough to become citizens - those brave enough to learn and weather the elements. These individuals were intoxicated by the uncharted land and empowered to stake their claim.
After all the struggle and uncertainty, the heroics, chivalry and experimentations, they’d finally found a way to make sense of the chaos. For many, it was the first time that their attitude, or the lens by which they embraced the world, fundamentally changed. Suddenly, anything was possible. Anything.
Now, however, it feels as if the internet has reached a critical juncture, one that no longer adopts the same positive outlook. Anything, it could be said, has become too much. Of course, we all know the optimism is still there, latent since inception, but it feels more mature, having assumed a new set of responsibilities, and a different stance by which to present itself. Maybe the internet is just responding to itself, the way we respond to our desires.
While it might be called the problem of discovery, we’re not sure that search will be able to solve this new riddle. Our problem feels more complicated, more perennial, more ephemeral than any answer an algorithm can detect. The internet might require a new type of filter by which to be embraced. Hence the need for the erection of a system of barriers by which to overcome obstacles. Lest we forget, those barriers serve as a sort of eddy, intended to direct, rather than stop, the flow of possibilities.
It’s the curious thing about possibility. It can exhaust itself by too much possibility. Which is to say, the lack of quality may have pushed our tolerance for consumption further than it’s ever been before. Yet, we often fail to incorporate the key lessons, or those unknown whirlpools of intensity, that could take us even further.
Whereas the internet was once a storehouse for our distrust of the world, a place where we hoped our voice could be heard, it’s slowly becoming the place by which we place our trust, to free our voice from the singularity of our lives. The irony of the internet is that it has become too accustomed to identity, and yet, that’s what it sometimes needs.
I probably should have posted this on Medium.