A Brief Orientation to the Convivial Society
The only order of business in this installment is to welcome all of you who have joined the Convivial Society in last week. I owe the influx of new readers to the good will of Ezra Klein, who ventured an episode of his podcast on an obscure independent writer, yours truly, and his eccentric perspectives on technology. So, many thanks to Ezra and a warm welcome to all of you receiving this newsletter for the first time.
In what follows, I’m going to offer a bit of an orientation for the benefit of the new crowd, so, if you’re already at home around here, feel free to check out at this point. You can expect the next installment of the newsletter early this coming week, so stay tuned.
Okay, so for those of you who are still reading, here’s a quick overview of what you’ve signed up for. The newsletter comes out mainly in two formats. An extended format with an essay and assorted links accompanied by varying degrees commentary (e.g.), or installments that contain only an essay (e.g.). Occasionally, I experiment with some other formats: open discussion threads, mini-essays, or interviews. I aim to send out some combination of these formats three to four times a month. Please know that I am wary of polluting your inbox, and I prefer to send out fewer better considered installments anyway. With most installments, I also provide an audio version of the main essay for those of you who prefer to listen. (You can find the audio version as a “podcast” on Apple or Spotify).
Regarding the content, you can peruse the archive, if you so desire, to get a feel for what I tend to write about and how. Most of you have come here based on my conversation with Ezra about a series of questions I drafted to help us think more deeply about the meaning of our tools. Those will give you a good sense of some of the interests that inform my thinking: the centrality of the body, how technologies mediate experience, and how they frame and challenge our moral projects. Most of us, I believe, have some understanding of what a just society and the good life entail; I think it’s critically important to understand how technology relates to both. And, for what it’s worth, I think the more perspectives we bring to bear on the role of technology in our lives, the better. So in my own thinking I tend to draw rather indiscriminately from a variety of sources and disciplines and traditions.
The interrogative approach also tells you something about my method. I see my writing chiefly as a way of thinking in public about the meaning and significance of technology, although it will be clear, of course, that I do have a perspective on human flourishing that informs my work.1 Insofar as that perspective is evident, I intend it to come across as an invitation to consider a way of being rather than as a prescription of behavior.
I’ll say, too, that I understand much of my work as a project of recovery, a recovery, that is, of older voices on the question of technology. I do not prize originality. There’s a great deal of wisdom and insight to be had by attending to the work of older writers such as Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Simone Weil, Lewis Mumford, Hannah Arendt, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong. I could name others, but you get the idea. My aim is not to mimic their work, but to think with it about the present, to bring their voices profitably into the contemporary conversation about technology.2
Finally, I’ll say a word about the fact that there is an option to pay for this newsletter. You’ve likely heard a great deal about paid newsletters lately, and perhaps especially this particular platform. So here is how I think about this for the Convivial Society. I launched this newsletter almost two years ago on a patronage model. All of the writing is public. I’ve chosen not to put any of the work behind a paywall. But, that said, this newsletter is not merely a hobby, it is also an important part of how I make a living. So, what I ask is this: if you find the work valuable and if you have the means to support it, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.3 (In the past week, many of you did so right off the bat. Thank you!) The idea is to uphold two principles simultaneously: no one should be excluded because they cannot pay and writers should be fairly compensated for their work. I believe the patronage model is the best way to honor both of those principles. (Should you have any qualms about supporting the work through this platform, I have created another option through Gumroad.) And, of course, please share the newsletter with others as you see fit.
So, all of this said … welcome. I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you find the writing helpful and enjoyable. If at any point you find that it is neither, just click “unsubscribe” and don’t think twice about it. If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com.
For example, I agree with Wendell Berry when he writes, “I am moreover a Luddite, in what I take to be the true and appropriate sense. I am not ‘against technology’ so much as I am for community. When the choice is between the health of a community and technological innovation, I choose the health of the community I would unhesitatingly destroy a machine before I would allow the machine to destroy my community. I believe that the community—in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures—is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.”
One of my favorite descriptions of my work came from Robin Sloan who mapped my place in what he calls the republic of newsletters: “L.M. Sacasas lives on the back side of the hill in a very old house where a conclave of esoteric scholars occasionally gathers: historians, philosophers, philologists, at least one private detective. They come to the island on the ferry, traveling in twos and threes, whispering to each other in a dead language.”