idea: curators or internet librarians

there are some people i trust for recommendations on the internet. since search results are prioritized by how much a person pays, i often trust specific, credible folks on twitter to recommend books, movies, and media for me to consume. joi ito, as i have mentioned in a couple other posts, provides this service: he interviews folks who do things that i am interested in, and because he is the director of the mit media lab, i trust him.

further, my friend lito is a software engineer and an artist. as a result, he is doing a lot of research that overlaps with mine. if i have a concept or idea that i need to figure out, lito is the first person i ask. now, on the internet, credible experts like lito and joi ito become de facto curators. their twitter accounts, and any other content they produce, is informed by stuff that i would like to investigate anyway.

an example: let’s imagine that you are really into gardening. there may be a particular gardener on the internet that you really like and trust. thus, you will click on any link they share, or read any book they recommend, simply because they are doing the kind of work that you find meaningful. what i’m trying to get at is that this kind of curation is happening now, and it possibly works better than googling by yourself. these people serve as internet librarians, curators that know what they’re looking for that can help you navigate a dizzying sea of information.

suggestion: read some joi ito

i am really into joi ito’s book “whiplash”. i mention it to all of my friends, and reference it in a ton of my blog posts. this likely indicates that i should read more books (don’t worry, i’m on it), but there is something about “whiplash” that really excites me: it’s about how to prepare your brain for a world of accelerating change.

if we can expect technology to change our world at an exponential rate, this kind of thinking is essential. we can’t rely on systems to remain the same when computers get exponentially faster and cheaper every two years. so, what does that mean for human beings? joi ito explores this in his book, and with his conversations with colleagues, which he shares online as a free podcast! these conversations serve as further springboards for reading and investigation, and i cannot recommend this content enough.

“prototyping” is a fancy word for testing

i know i fall into this trap: i think a lot about an idea and don’t do anything about it. if you have the time, the best thing you can do with an idea is put it to use. for example, i wanted to see what it was like to sell products on a retail platform called gumroad. i thought about it for months, until finally this past week i tried it out and learned 10x more than i would have from just reading about the site.

startup-lingo and innovators call the testing your ideas “prototyping”. you build a simple, shitty version of the think you’d like to try and see if it works. making a paper boat is prototyping for building a bigger, more complicated boat. the question with prototypes is often “will this work?”. and, more often than not, we discover that we have a lot more questions than when we initially started.

if you are interested in new and emerging technologies, prototyping is indispensable. theory must be paired with practice. all the things you learn in school should ideally be applied in the real world to see how they work. true learning, in my opinion, is hands on in this sense. if you build a small prototype of your business, your product, or artistic idea, you are positioned to continue to learn one thousand times more than the folks who just sit around and muse.

what is information for?

there is too much information out there, far too much than we need on a day to day basis. i used to want to be the smartest person alive, but i realized that this didn’t make sense. even if i knew everything, would i use that information to get through my day? maybe, maybe not. more likely not.

joi ito presents the idea of pulling informational resources as you need them rather than stocking up and saving them. this makes sense – i don’t need to memorize the directions to a new restaurant, i can pull up that information on my phone. i don’t have to remember all my friends’ phone numbers, i get them as i need them.

i like to think of information, especially the information in books, in the same way i think about food: i eat enough of it to get me from one place to another. not only does this minimize the amount of reading and research i have to do, it also narrows its scope in a good way: “what do i need to learn today to get me to the next step of my grand plan?” Each informational “meal” provides us with cognitive energy to figure out the problems in front of us, and eventually we just have it all stored in our bones through repeated use and practice.

a little bit of soul

there are some large companies that are able to communicate “soul” really well. in a time when large, seemingly heartless organizations are taking control, brands that bring a human touch to their operations stand out. the first one that comes to mind is trader joe’s – i recently spoke with employees that love what they do. one of the reasons is that trader joe’s manages to make grocery shopping a fun experience.

aoc, too, brings an authenticity to politics that resonates with people. further, on twitter, whenever big companies tweet like they’re people (see netflix), it brings a lot of joy to their customer. tech companies tend to lean on profitability and scale, and are often in conflict with soul. however, google with its bright colors and twirly hats brings some fun and whimsy to the brand. why is this important? it makes the company feel a little bit less like the monolith it is.

if you run a company, it’s important to recognize that soul is really really hard to maintain. chasing profits scares it away. and sadly, curating soul means that we scare away sustainable business practices sometimes. i invite you to find a way to balance soul with your business so that it pays you while also preserving your humanity. because your humanity is invaluable.

my mission is to define the future of work

we all know 9-5 does not make sense, and my question is where we are headed next. what’s wild about companies like lyft is that it operates on its own schedule. artists, filmmakers, web developers, and more have the opportunity to work on their own schedules and don’t have to be tied down to a specific place or schedule. not only is this exciting, but it also is collectively powerful since it gives our workforce considerable agility.

as i interview young people who make a living online, it becomes clear to me that there are common challenges: time management, motivation, marketing, health care, etc. while an employer usually took care of some of the more managerial tasks for us, we now are burdened to make these structures for ourselves. my job, at least for the time being, is to help my peers figure out how to be their own boss.

finding your professors

we are very lucky that we have the opportunity to follow very smart people on twitter. we can follow journalists, entrepreneurs, artists, experts, amateurs, you name it. sometimes it feels like i am creating my own curriculum when i am curating my twitter and instagram feeds.

this leads me to my ongoing obsession with joi ito, the current director of the mit media lab who shares his conversations with smart friends via his podcast “joi ito’s conversations”. listening to these conversations makes me feel like i am strolling through the mit campus and having lunch with people doing cutting edge work. it is invaluable.

previously, i would have to get accepted to mit to have this kind of experience, so even have a glimpse of what was considered cutting edge. but these podcasts bring me so close to the frontier in a way that the new york times never could. primary sources, though they are sometimes difficult to fully understand, contain some of the realest information that is “crunchy”, or contain substance that usable.

since joi ito’s thoughts are so ready available, i latch onto them with dear life because it is the one place on the internet where i feel i am getting honest and relevant information. further, each of the people he talks to opens up another door for me to figure out what is possible, and what the smartest people in the room are working on.

who are your professors and mentors, and what gifts are they sharing for free online?