I came across this opinion piece about the role of social media in the demise and subsequent rebirth of blogging, a topic not unfamiliar to readers of my blog. It credits Twitter for providing a platform that allows for interactions similar to those that distinguished early blogging communities. And at least in a superficial way, that’s not wrong, I guess. But there is a wide gulf between the impulses that drive social media and the “why” of blogging. And the author completely overlooks the latter in his eagerness to report that, after many bloggers were wiped out, some elements of the activity formerly known as blogging survived. (Fact check: classical blogging continues to flourish in all corners of the Internet.)

As I have noted a time or two, blogging and the behaviors it inspired were the genesis of many contemporary activities on the Internet. Yet, despite this, we still seem unable to fully appreciate what was at the heart of blogging — that thing that makes so many of us nostalgic for its heyday, even as we tweet until our thumbs ache. And this brings me to my long-standing quibble with the media establishment: why can’t they recognize significant changes until it is too late?

Marc Weidenbaum, a music enthusiast and founder of Disquiet.com, expertly captures the distinction between blogs and social. “Social media expects feedback (not just comments, but likes and follows),” he writes. “Blogs are you getting your ideas down; feedback is a byproduct, not a goal.” In other words, one is a performance for an audience, while the other is highly personal, though others may end up finding it interesting. Weidenbaum also admirably points out the difference between blogs and all the suddenly ubiquitous newsletters. “And newsletters = broadcasting,” he says. “Blogging is different.” 

Bingo. By the way, for this exact reason, I recently decided to rethink the whole notion of my newsletter. I realized that it is just a way to get my words, as I wrote when I announced some recent changes, “from my computer to your inbox in order to spare you the trouble of coming to my website.”

The main reason media stalwarts couldn’t understand blogging is that they couldn’t see beyond their all-too-familiar containers and distribution mechanisms. They were too entrapped in their dogmas. The author of the opinion piece that kicked off this post offers up a telling account of his own transition from blogger to an employee at a legacy media company. 

“A key lesson I learned from my new colleagues was that we couldn’t cater to our regular readers the way many classic blogs did,” he writes. “Our salaries were supported by advertising. To make the whole project financially viable, we needed a lot of readers. Practically speaking, that meant bringing in a lot of new readers.” In other words, the company couldn’t conceive of any game other than the one it was already playing

This problem persists. Rethinking news requires a complete reconsideration of media, what it means, how it gets consumed, and how it gets distributed to those who want it. Even now, the media establishment is so stuck in text that they can’t fully see the extent to which we are transitioning to a world of primarily visual media. 

For the future of media — including blogging —  look to YouTube, Snap, TikTok, and Instagram. By the way, the content on these platforms is often created and engaged with in a spirit much more analogous to that of traditional blogs than anything you’re likely to see on Twitter. A whole generation has grown up with cameras — and front-facing cameras at that. Smartphones make it so much easier to create daily logs (What else are “stories” on Snap and Instagram?). The behaviors on these platforms will define the media consumption of the future. They are already reshaping the present.

Let’s take music journalism as an example. You are unlikely to stumble upon any new music through a traditional music magazine or even on many traditional music blogs. Instead, people are finding new musical acts on TikTok. “Mainstream music journalism is largely uninterested in promoting discovery, focusing instead on blanket coverage of superstars and seemingly endless traffic-grabbing lists — which may buoy an existing reader base, but often fails to capture newer, younger music fans,” reported (ironically) Rolling Stone. “Enter the upstart music blogs of TikTok.” 

TikTok’s rise as a taste maker for music (and culture) is just the evolution of (news) media away from the written word model. Magazines, radio and late-night television shows helped with music discovery before the social era. Blogs came next, by their human curation. Individuals as taste makers and cultural deejays was a trend that became stronger with YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And TikTok is the newest evolution for a generation that lives at the network speed. 

And a generation growing up on the beat of the network wants their news in TikTok-style packaging. The future of media and news is a combination of visual, virtual, augmented, and metaverse realities. It is not a matter of if, but when. I am not saying that the traditional media formats won’t have a role — but they will have to compete with a different reality. 

Back when media companies were making a mess of the blogging world, they were hamstrung by their failure to understand and appreciate the “why” of the activity they were seeking to replicate. As they slowly key into the world of visual media — and inevitably attempt to stuff it into their preexisting boxes — let’s hope they don’t make all the same mistakes again. 

June 7, 2021. San Francisco


A few weeks ago, I wandered and wondered among the redwoods, hoping that their magnificence and their silence would allow me space to think about some things that have been on my mind. One of these has been my newsletter — specifically, its ambiguous nature and what I should do about it. 

I have struggled with completing my writing on a preset schedule, shoehorning it into a preset format, and delivering it via email at a regular time. I have never been very good at thinking and writing with too many guardrails. Sometimes, words happen. Ideas form. And dots connect. And I start writing. But sometimes they don’t, and I don’t care to force it. 

I have often lamented that the “why” of blogging got overtaken by the “what” and the “how,” with the tools and format becoming the primary focus. Ironically I made the same mistake with my newsletter. I don’t work for a publication, so I don’t have a deadline. I no longer have anything to sell. In short, I write, because I am. My walk among the trees reminded me that writing is how I process my thoughts about the past and the future in the current moment. 

A newsletter is just a way to get some of that writing from those moments when the dots connect from my computer to your inbox in order to spare you the trouble of coming to my website, subscribe to my RSS feed, or checking out my Twitter account. And that is all it needs to be. 

So, starting today, when you subscribe to my newsletter, that’s all you are signing up for —and rather than trying to dress it up, I hope you will find that it is enough. (You are still welcome to visit my blog or subscribe to the RSS, but you don’t have to.) Obviously, I won’t share everything I write. Out of respect for your time and attention, here’s what you can expect:

  • What lands in your inbox will typically be focused on technology and the science behind it. By marrying technology and humanism, I will try to offer my understanding of our present and future. 
  • You’ll never know exactly what’s coming. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “If life were predictable, it would cease to be life and be without flavor.” 
  • I will try to keep things short. If I write a long essay or publish an extended interview, I won’t email you the whole thing. I will send a synopsis, and if it grabs your interest, you can always check out the rest on my blog. Or better yet, read it in in Pocket, Instapaper, or any reader of your choice.
  • You are invited and encouraged to respond. If you are taking the time to read and mull over my thoughts, I am happy to do the same for you.

I don’t have anything to sell — my reward for writing and sharing is your time and attention. If I find that you have not read the last dozen emails sent to your inbox, I will assume you are not keen on what I have to say. You will automatically be unsubscribed. I am not interested in building the biggest community — only one that is thoughtful and engaged. 

If all this makes sense to you, then there is nothing you need to do right now. You will keep receiving my writings as you currently do. But if this does not sound like the newsletter experience you signed up for, then I’ll understand if you click that “unsubscribe” button. We can think of it as the digital equivalent of a farewell hug.

Either way, I highly recommend a walkout in the woods. For clear thinking, I find there’s nothing better.

May 31, 2021, San Francisco.

You may have read the news that the University of Nevada, Reno, will give every member of its incoming freshman class an iPad Air (along with a keyboard and a pencil.) In and of itself, this development isn’t all that newsworthy, but it does hark back to something I have been thinking about for a long time: the coming — and necessary — paradigm shift in how we compute. 

Apple was once a much-beloved part of the US education system. Lately, Google’s Chromebooks have been taking over. They are cheaper, which may appeal to cash-strapped school districts. (By the way, kudos to Sarah & Ev Williams for giving $10 million to help the San Francisco school system.)

Now, suppose we can forget the politics of Google versus Apple. Personally, I don’t care either way. Chromebooks (like their Apple or Microsoft counterparts) are simply an extension of the old paradigm of computing — one that is heavily reliant on a keyboard, a mouse, and a semi-tethered setup. Sure, Chromebooks live on and benefit from the cloud, but they still pretty much rely on traditional computing. Whether it is Google Docs or Google Slides, nothing about them is remarkably novel. 

Essentially, the kids in school are getting trained on the classic model of computing. Meanwhile, at home, many of the same kids are growing up with touch devices — iPads, iPhones, and Androids. They are also growing up talking to (mostly) Alexa, (maybe) Siri, or (sometimes) Google Assistant. Every time I interact with my goddaughters — both are below five-years old — my jaw drops. They know FaceTime, iMessage, and other apps inside out, including stickers and other fun features. They are well versed in making a video call and having a chat.

And it is not just my goddaughters. I see kids who are handling kid-centric content on their touch devices with fantastic dexterity. Their engagement with interactive apps is higher than with static books, and they have more opportunities for visual learning. Swiping left or right for accessing or navigating through information is already part of their mental model of interacting with the digital world. I remember hanging out with some kids in Ladakh, and they were entirely at ease with their Android phones, typing, swiping, and taking selfies. 

The point of my soliloquy is this: we have a generation that is growing up with modern computing interfaces. Instead of creating new tools for education, we are still pushing the “classic” models onto them. Why? If computing has to become modern, then we have to use modern models for everything — from play to teaching and learning. 

Giving iPads or other tablets to kids will not achieve this goal on its own. It will require a complete systematic overhaul of the proverbial educational food chain. This must start with teachers, who need to become adept in teaching with new technology, not just the old paradigms. App developers, app store operators, and parents also need to internalize the idea of moving beyond the traditional interfaces for computer-based learning to more modern methods. That is how the paradigm will change. 

PS: I, for one, would love to see Apple introduce a program where, whenever I buy a new iPad (or any Apple device), I can give an iPad kit to a student. Sort of like what Toms did for footwear and Warby Parker did for eyeglasses.


What we are actually listening to is human limitation and the audacity to transcend it. Artificial Intelligence, for all its unlimited potential, simply doesn’t have this capacity. How could it? And this is the essence of transcendence. If we have limitless potential then what is there to transcend? And therefore what is the purpose of the imagination at all. Music has the ability to touch the celestial sphere with the tips of its fingers and the awe and wonder we feel is in the desperate temerity of the reach, not just the outcome. Where is the transcendent splendour in unlimited potential? 

Nick Cave, in response to a question from a fan in in The Red Hand Files, his newsletter.

A few days back, I watched with wonder and awe as a copter flew on the Red Planet. Witnessing Ingenuity take off from the Mars Perseverance Rover and send images all the way back to us humans filled me with an immense sense of joy and tremendous gratitude for technology and science. These are feelings we all could and should enjoy more regularly, and maybe we would if it weren’t increasingly difficult to recognize and appreciate our own reality.

So much of human progress takes place in increments, and the most meaningful strides rarely get much attention. In roughly the same length of time that we have gone from flying gliders to flying solar-powered copters on Mars, the average human life span has doubled — and we have hardly noticed as it was happening. 

“The story of our extra life span almost never appears on the front page of our actual daily newspapers, because the drama and heroism that have given us those additional years are far more evident in hindsight than they are in the moment,” writes Steven Johnson, in an excellent piece in The New York Times Magazine. (It is an excerpt from his 13th book, “Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer,” which will also be a four-part television series on PBS and BBC. I’m looking forward to both, the series and the book.) 

Yet, even as our progress accelerates, appreciating it becomes increasingly difficult. We live in a world increasingly informed by memes, stories, and fables. Misinformation and distrust of science are the order of the day. For their own selfish and short-term needs, our leaders willfully sow doubt in what has served us so well — science and its offshoot, technology. For example, the technology behind the vaccines created to fight the dreaded coronavirus has been nearly three decades in the making. And now it could help find solutions for many other diseases. And yet, in the media, this incredible achievement is as much a flashpoint of controversy as a source of celebration.

Sadly, the present doesn’t have the patience for progress — it is looking for a punch in the face. The world and its mouthpiece, the media is optimized around eliciting a reaction, because that is how attention can be converted into dollars. We live in a dense smog of information pollution, exacerbated by Facebook and other social media platforms, the engines of misinformation. The networks that connected us have turned communication into chaos.  

“We are no longer living at human speed, but instead, are living in a world moving and beating at the speed of the network,” I wrote in an earlier piece. “As a result, our biological makeup is being put to test. How long can we live with unending dopamine hits?”

In the post-Internet society, as I’ve previously written, time and attention are all fractionalized. We live in a world of 60-second TikToks. It has reduced our ability to appreciate the long arc of time and how it rewards us. Two hundred years ago, we were lucky if we could find a horse to ride — and now we are flying copters on the Red Planet. Imagine where we could be in another 100 years, especially if we don’t stand in our own way or allow ourselves to be distracted by nonsense. You have to believe that tomorrow can and will be better than today.

In the meantime, I recommend watching this short helicopter flight and marveling at all that made it happen — and all that is to come.

May 23, 2021. San Francisco