The Convivial Society in 2020

Happy new year, to all of you. Two days in, I trust all is going well so far.

So, what better time than the start of a new decade to re-think what you’re doing and venture out in some new, hopefully better direction?

I began writing about technology ten years ago, in 2009, and I did so mostly on a blog I called The Frailest Thing. In 2018, I began writing this newsletter somewhat sporadically, and then, in this last year, a bit more regularly. As the year waned, I thought about my writing—what I enjoyed about it, how it served my larger aims, what might be useful to others in it, what forms might best fit my situation.

Here’s what I concluded.

First, it was time to let the blog go.

Second, I wanted to invest myself in this newsletter and its audience, particularly by figuring out how to make this more of a “society” in practice.

Third, I wanted this newsletter to be part of my work, both in the sense that I worked at it and also in the sense that it became part of how supported my family.

That last part gave me pause, and I sweated how best to do that. I was helped in part by reading Tim Carmody’s piece from late 2017 about “unlocking the commons.”

“Unlocking the commons,” according to Carmody, means that “Fans support the person and the work. But it’s not a transaction, a fee for service. It’s a contribution that benefits everyone.” And, he adds,

“As a consumer, your first thought is to your own benefit. As a patron, it’s to the good of your beneficiary. Likewise, as an artisan supported by patronage, you tend to think more about what’s best for your patrons and audience than you do yourself.”

I was helped, too, by Robin Sloan’s counsel to have some idea of how long you want a project like a newsletter to last when you launch it. Think of it as a season on TV, Sloan wrote. They can be long or short, they can end and be followed by another or not.

So putting all of this together, here’s the plan.

I’m thinking of this coming year as a season of The Convivial Society (although, because I’m bookish, I’m calling it a volume). During 2020, I am committing to writing the newsletter twice-monthly, I’ll publish on the second and fourth Friday of the month. (Except for this month, in which I’ll publish on the third and fifth Friday.) This will be the heart of the project and it will remain freely available to all who have signed up and anyone who does in the future. I did not want to put this work behind a paywall. In this regard, nothing much will change. When the year is up, I’ll re-evaluate.

You have an option, though, to become a paying subscriber. Substack sets $5/month as a minimum. But I’ve set a year-long subscription at $45, which comes out to $3 and change a month. While I will be publishing some occasional posts to this group, the chief benefit will be the ability to join a society of readers thinking together about the challenge of contemporary technology. Subscribers are able to join discussions in connection with each installment and participate in stand-alone discussion threads.

You may be (understandably) wary of participating in online discussions, but what you, dear readers, may not know about yourselves is that you are a wonderfully eclectic and genuinely thoughtful group. I don’t know all of you, of course. But I do know that, probably owing to my own eccentric approach to things, you all have made your way here from a variety of settings and backgrounds. You include academics, journalists, policy wonks and public servants, artists, writers, engineers, computer scientists, programmers, and more. And, given the self-selecting nature of the audience of a newsletter that’s been around for a couple of years, you all tend to have one thing in common: you care about how technology is shaping contemporary life and you’re determined to think more deeply and responsibly about the challenges we are facing.

I can’t think of a better group to convene in order to take up the challenge of contemporary technology.

So, bottom line: Welcome to The Convivial Society, Volume 1. It will run through 2020, a year that is already off to a great start:

Do nothing more and you’ll get two installments a month throughout the year. They are what you’ve come to expect: an essay from me and an assortment of resources to help us both better understand our existing technological milieu and imagine a better way forward. Please feel free to continue reading along in this way.

Subscribe and you’ll be supporting work I trust you find valuable, work you think should exist, and you’ll be joining a group of readers who will spend the year thinking together about how to better order our relationship to technology.

I’m genuinely enthusiastic about the possibilities.