Every now and then I discover a new interesting blog, and then find myself for the next few days (or months…) on a deep dive to reach its very bottom. Rather than read an article or two and bookmark the rest for later like every sane human would do, I keep following cross-links and archive pages to the point of exhaustion. Since I discovered Pocket I am at least able to close all browser tabs before I read all of it. I’m not quite sure how I survived until Pocket came to being.
Deep dives like this are quite demanding on my time, but also on my mental capacities. Recently I tend to read things that are long, densely packed with information, and cross-referencing many other articles. A single piece like this would give me a lot to think about already.
But absorbing a few dozen of them in the course of just a few days is like a tornado passing through my mental landscape. I can see how the opinions that I held were naive and simplistic, but don’t quite have the words yet to explain why and how. I can spend an entire day absorbing crucial information on things I find important without being able to form a single coherent sentence about what I’ve just learned. My fiancé finds it mostly amusing, but to me it is a struggle.
If it’s hard for me to explain to Artur what I just read, writing about it becomes even harder. It makes me question my ability to ever express any idea worth talking about, while I don’t feel like settling for anything less than that. After a few failed attempts I might not see any point in writing anything ever again. This is ridiculous, given I’ve just swallowed a condensed pill of someone’s several years of work, and then expect myself to fully absorb it within a day or week. It’s like I’d spend an entire week watching football championships, then feel surprised on Monday I still can’t quite play like they do. Still, expressing complex things clearly is the skill I’m most invested in, and it’s painful to watch myself struggle while trying to do this.
Thanks to Pocket neatly piling all the articles I found, last year was my peak of getting lost in this kind of rabbit holes. I swallowed the entirety of several massive blogs (LessWrong, Meaningness, Ribbonfarm, Kapil Gupta, Putanumonit, Slate Star Codex, and more), only to find out my fiancé who never read any of those is better able to express the ideas I found there than I do. I don’t regret having read any of those, as even the points I didn’t agree with forced me to deepen my understanding of where and why I don’t agree. Unfortunately, reading so much in such a short time almost killed my ability to write. By the time I absorbed some mental model as my own and was able to use it productively, it has already been replaced by something else.
Why am I writing about this now? I just found myself in another deep dive of this kind, exploring the depts of Samzdat. I started carelessly with one more review of a book I already knew I would read, and it took me on a long winding journey around different challenges of modernity.
Now what I read there, like how modern institutions allow for scaling like never before at the cost of people’s agency, productivity, and sense of meaning, or how mass movements are doomed to perpetuate the frustration of people who joined them, are topics I deeply care about. They were presented from fresh, well-researched, and fascinating points of view. Yet somehow it all makes me feel like I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute to the discussion. Any response I could come up with would seem banal to the author, and writing about anything less fascinating doesn’t interest me anymore.
What do I make out of it? For sure I know I need to be careful with blog rabbit holes if I want to continue writing. Oddly enough, I don’t have the same problem with books, partly because I don’t usually read them all in one go, but also because I’m not trying to exist in the same space. There’s little chance a book author would ever come to discuss the things I wrote about his work, while a blogger… Well, I wish they did, but they’d have to see some value in it first.
For now, it will need to suffice that I myself see some value in my own writing. Which gets increasingly harder the more first-class blogs I get to read.