Humans are messy, computers write formulas.
Why we need to be okay with messiness of the world around us.
howdy there 👋
I’m so glad you’ve followed along in the past months as I’ve worked out this newsletter and figured out what it is, and what it isn’t. And I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride. I’m building a few more things onto this space, so keep your eyes peeled — newsletter subscribers get it first. ✨ Until then, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being part of this little online community ❤️
My conflicted feelings on tech, social platforms, and the dichotomy between being a “thought leader” and actually informing.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting. I’m wrapping up my Masters in journalism, and have published articles as a journalist. I’ve conducted research, written articles, explored this industry, but only to walk away from it confused. Tech appealed to me, tech fascinated me, and became a way I made a living, but simultaneously frustrated because at times, it felt like platforms were naturally incentivized to perpetuate the dumpster fire that social platforms can be.
And today, chatting to someone I looked up to, as someone who had made a living at the intersection of journalism and technology, a former journalist working at a tech platform, I realized that our frustrations were often one and the same.
The things that gain reach, and widen our audience on social media, are naturally at odds with actually informing. Click baiting headlines, twitter thought bro general statements, and easily shareable content wins out over informing the public and in-depth conversations.
This natural dichotomy between building a following, establishing oneself as a “thought leader” and actually informing your audience is one that has been written about many times over again. In Jenny O’Dell’s book - How To Do Nothing, she claims this in the prologue.
I am not anti-technology. … I am opposed to the way that corporate platforms buy and sell our attention, as well as to designs and uses our technology that enshrine a narrow definition of productivity and ignore the local, the carnal and the poetic.
… It is furthermore the cult of individuality and personal branding that grow out of such platforms and affect the way we think about our offline selves and the palces where we actually live.
Jenny O’Dell, “How To Do Nothing”
O’Dell also touches on the idea of the cult of individuality and personal branding online, and honestly, it’s something I wish I learned about more at a younger age. Your perfect Instagram is what gets many followers, but lacks depth. When I was in undergrad, much in the time of total domination of Instagram, and the wild wild west days of social media before we started critically thinking about what these platforms were doing to us, we were encouraged to have perfect profiles and tweet nearly robotic tweets about our projects, and dare not post something that could be too political or too out there… whatever the hell that means. Now, I think we’re starting to see how that was very much not human.
When I taught as an adjunct professor, there was much discussion among the faculty of how much students should be publishing content online. There was some fear that because they were still learning, they were still learning how to create content, that they’d ruin their online footprint.
I firmly disagree with this way of thinking. Most people are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. Post your work, share what your interests are, and to quote one of my graduate professors “people want to know your obsessions, what problems can you not stop thinking about, share those!”
Unfortunately, its all of these forces at work that make it quite, well, hard to know what’s “good.” Do I share my content? or not? Does it matter if I get 10000 likes? Do I write a novel, or create a youtube broadcast?
At times, we’re rewarding the concept of gaming the system, and leveraging the algorithm, rather than just creating good things — but isn’t that what tech taught us to do?
My takeaway: Be human, share your thoughts, tell me what’s on your mind, show me a work in progress, explain your thought process, share your interests, talk to people — these things will create authentic human connection much deeper than any tech platform could.
Humans are messy, computers write formulas. You can’t formulate human connection. Take the time, and use social platforms as a tool to facilitate the human part, thinking less about the impact of the algorithm.
Galaxy models and centering individuals… are these healthy relationships?
AKA how the first few people can dictate a company’s culture.
Most commonly of tech, we hear of the celebrity founder, the one who builds their company around them, and becomes so intrinsically tied to the organization that they founded that it’s hard to separate them — for better or worse. Steve Jobs, Kanye West, Steph Korey, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Hendricks, you get the idea.
I was reminded about this reading Ana Andjelic’s newsletter last week, where she covered the Galaxy of Kanye and the concept of founders becoming the iconic figure of the company, for better or for worse, and this made me thing — are these the type of healthy relationships we want to be building?
My morbid brain often thinks about the idea of “if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, where would my work sit,” which aside from being a dark thing to think about, is something that for many startups and businesses, especially those who are building platforms that other businesses are built off of, it’s a dangerous game to play.
As Andjelic writes:
“The Galaxy model doesn’t revolve around the heritage, craftsmanship, or the exceptional product quality (like e.g. Hèrmes). Instead, invents weaves a mythical story and emphasizes image, merchandising, and the atmosphere of the environments where this story can be lived through brand experience and products.”
The harder part of this is it makes it harder not just for early employees, but for pretty much anyone outside of the founder to play an active role in the company culture. It’s not a culture of heritage, craftsmanship, or quality as Andjelic writes, its a culture around one human. Their flaws, their victories, their shortcomings, and their bias. And if we’ve learned anything from the last few years of media, its that we’re all flawed humans on this planet.
Building an additive culture: scaling beyond a founder of one.
For many, both in journalism and tech, there will come a time where you’ll be forced to scale beyond the founder of one. Actually, scratch that, you should scale beyond a one person operation.
However, this is something that is far easier said than done. We’re human, we can be stuck in our ways, lines of thinking, and even thought methods. There are founders and the notorious Founder’s Syndrome complete with lack of delegation that one would expect.
The important thing to keep in mind while you’re transitioning, is the role of active listening, especially when it comes to your early team members.
In my opinion, the most important part of workplace culture, is creating a culture that is open for space to learn, grow, and most importantly - filled with critical thinking and questioning. The inner journalist inside of me loves what you can learn through a well-crafted question.
Now that we’ve all been remote for a few months now. 🥴 There are companies that are building remote-first, that have never known an in-person presence. This has unique hurdles for creating a company culture. There’s countless articles about “culture fit” and if its biased or not (IMHO, not a good “culture fit” can be a code word for something else).
There’s a good article from the Harvard Business Review on how to hire from Patty McCord, who ran hiring at Netflix. In it she chats of multiple circumstances and situations of what she faced and how she built a positive culture. Throughout the article, I was impressed on how she looked at ways that an individual could be additive to a companies culture. This skill not only requires you to thoroughly know whos on your team, but also, how your team reacts to change, and new ideas. And if your team isn’t one that can have conversations with questions, are you operating in the most healthy team environment at all?
Journalists as rockstars: how Substack could change the game -journalists as rockstars. Alex publishing on Substack & doing a syndication deal w/ Medium is like a journalist writing for WaPo & doing a network deal w/ MSNBC except Alex is his own business. this is the new creator model. platforms, publishers & networks are talent cos.
Noah Chestnut @noahchestnutMedium is now syndicating individual issues from Substack tl;dr: Medium's tech vertical (OneZero) is the exclusive "syndication partner" of @Kantrowitz's reporting (via his Substack Big Technology) https://t.co/yq7PpRGy74 Is Medium spending $$$ to syndicate this reporting?
Bari Weiss resigned from the New York Times: this was big media news but other outlets are covering it better: read the resignation letter, what the NYT said, and here’s a tweet that captured my thoughts well.
A quick ask: I’m trying something new
Hey friends! 👋 I’ve got an idea & a draft of what to add more to provide value to this space and looking for a few people to give me feedback. If you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, reply to this email or slide in my twitter DM’s. I’d love to have your help.
Until next time, I’ll catch you on the internet my dudes. 👋
Erin for Tech is a weeklyish newsletter about trends in tech and media and this very online world she hangs out in more than she probably should. She is wrapping up her graduate studies in media innovation with a focus on entrepreneurship in media - taking a peek at one-person newsrooms, and will be sharing more tidbits about that here soon. Erin works at the intersection of product and community, thinking a lot about how these areas are a lot closer than we may all realize. Oh! And she just got married, so its soon to be Master Mrs. Erin Staples to you.