The Professional Sharer

I'm changing the way I run my email list. Some of you won't like it. If that's you, I've made the unsubscribe button as obvious as possible.

Now, the change:

Facebook and YouTube and things like them are, what we call in the business, 'platforms'. People stand on the platform and share things with their audience. Most of this is memes and baby photos and inside jokes for friends and family.

If someones shares enough things that people like and enough people join the audience, that can turn into a career: the professional sharer.

But I've been on The Internet long enough to see a trend. As platforms grow more popular: professional sharers cannot trust the platforms upon which they stand, audiences cannot trust the platform to show what they asked to see.

This isn't to say that platforms are bad, or that people shouldn't use them. The keyword above is trust. A lion tamer is better off with a lion -- the lion draws a crowd and the tamer dazzles them with his skills. But the tamer would be a fool to trust the lion -- to expect the lion to act in his best interests. The truth is the lion and the tamer have incentives that are mostly aligned at the moment, but as the lion grows that may change.

When platforms like Facebook get big enough, they start to use 'bots: little digital machines that watch what you, as the audience member, does. Bots watch you, what you look at, what you click on and what you don't. The bots then make changes to the platform, hiding some things that people have shared, promoting others.

The bots optimize the platform -- usually toward making more money.

There's nothing wrong with money. Running a platform that millions, or literally billions of people use isn't cheap. But when the bots show up is usually the moment the divide between the goals of the professional creators, the audience, and the platform goes from a crack to a schism.

This is frustrating for the professional sharers and the audience that wants to see what they have shared.

On YouTube the 'subscribe' button, which used to guarantee you'd see new videos from the creators you like most, is now mostly a suggestion to the platform of what you might like to see. 'SubscribedToChannelX = TRUE' is now a data point for the bots in their optimizing. Maybe you'll see what you asked for. Maybe you won't.

Professional sharers, like myself, can only exist with an audience. Platforms help bring that audience, and sharers help grow the platform. But growing a platform faster only hastens the day when the bots arrive and the platform can no longer be trusted to deliver what the audience asks to see.

So what to do?

I'm surprised to find myself, well into the second decade of the 21st century, doubling down on a technology invented before I was born: email.

Through a lucky accident, no company owns email. It's like language: used by all, controlled by none.

Also lucky is email has, to a first-world approximation, 100% population coverage. An email address is as required as a physical address to exist in the modern world.

Email is also stable. A simple way to estimate how long something will stay around is to ask: "How long has it been around?" Email has been with us for decades, so it's reasonable to guess it will last for decades more.

If you are, or want to be, a professional creator email is your platform.

All this is to say that my email list -- originally created to send the most occasional of messages -- is going to get a lot busier. There is no other tool I can rely upon to show the people who want to see the things that I have made, the things that I have made.

If getting my videos and articles and other projects in your inbox doesn't interest you, I've made the unsubscribing as easy and as obvious as I can.

But if you want to be sure to never miss out on anything I share, you can go ahead and sign up below.

Faceless Voices

For the last decade of his life, my grandfather lived in a world of faceless voices.

His vision lost, he listened to the audiobooks and radio dramas my father brought him: westerns and space operas and stories that, as a child, I would never have spontaneously picked up. But the drive to my grandfather's was long and the tapes already with us, so my father put them on and created for me a childhood filled with the spoken word.

The habit formed, in high school and college I borrowed audiobooks from the library in their large, clunky plastic cases of CDs. At the start of my adult life I had a digital music player in my pocket filled with audiobooks and then-new podcasts.

My flatmate at the time had never met anyone who so constantly listened to 'radio'. Years later she has acclimated (mostly) to the sight of her husband, always around the home with one earbud in, listening to others.

My audio world is largely one of faceless voices. Though unlike my grandfather this is by choice, rather than forced by a failure of biology. What the owners of many of the voices I listen to look like I don't know, and I don't want to know.

The spoken word combines the expansive possibility of writing with the exactingness of visual media. An audiobook narrator can give the text a depth the words alone could never convey. An author reading his work can shift his tone or emphasis to draw attention to particular words far, far more than italics ever could.

The right voice with the right story expands the inner eye to its widest.

But this inner eye is a delicate thing -- a palace of glass seen brightly, if ethereally. Discovering the face of a voice is not an addition, but a subtraction. The face becomes the voice in the way an actor becomes the character they play from a book.

This feeling can be so strong that I suspect the brain treats voices from unknown faces differently than faced voices. That under the scrutiny of an fMRI we could see that while listening to an unfaced voice the visual cortex is still -- allowing the inner eye to see, but a voice with a known face stirs the visual cortex disrupting the imagination.

No longer is there a shifting palace of glass in the mind -- the real vision, too clear, too precise replaces it. An inert, opaque blueprint. The inner eye, forevermore, blind in that direction.