A mediocre Ribbonfarm starter guide

Some friends have recently asked me how to get into Ribbonfarm (a blog about culture, internet sociology, and perception). The site’s contributors like to “make the familiar strange”, as the old anthropologists’ saying goes. There’s no real beginning or ending, it’s an infinite middle. This is my own personal starter guide.

Ribbonfarm is sort of a Rorschach test — you can read a lot of things into it because there’s so much there. This list of articles is by no means comprehensive or all-encompassing. I haven’t read everything they’ve published and don’t plan to. I think of this as a little poem. Each article is a line, each cluster a stanza. A collection of what I’ve learned reading the blog over the last year.

Big histories of the present

Most news media is hyper focused on the events of today or this week. It’s rare that we get to zoom out and place 2019 in a deep historical context. These posts are a fun attempt at doing that. They’re not meant to be super rigorous historical research, just broad narrative frameworks that you can lean on if you find them useful.

A big little idea called legibility

The return of the barbarian

Unflattening Hobbes

The age of early divinity

Think entangled, act spooky

The quality of life

The weird state of the state


Corporations and cultural evolution

If you study enough history, it becomes clear that business is war by other means. Our culture has been completely reshaped by corporations over the last ~500 years. Ribbonfarm takes a close look at this history and tries to peer behind the myths about how corporations actually operate today.

A brief history of the corporation: 1600 to 2100

The capitalist’s zombie

Business as magic

Product-driven versus customer-driven

Markets are eating the world


The online culture “war” is real, not allegorical

Many people still think of memetic warfare as a metaphor. The reality is that we’re in the middle of an ongoing information war in which “state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality.” Ribbonfarm makes the argument that there’s no such thing as opting out. The only way out is through understanding what’s actually going on.

Weaponized sacredness

Limits of epistemic hygiene

A quick (battle) field guide to the new culture wars

The digital maginot line


Experimenting with your sense of self

What happens when you lose the plot of your own life? What happens when you go off-script? What happens when you find yourself in uncharted territory? These articles explore what this feels like on the inside.

On being an illegible person

A life with a view

Crash-only thinking

Pretending to care, pretending to agree

The epic struggle between good and neutral

Speak weirdness to truth

The essence of peopling


An alternative to MBA-style “personal growth” and self-management

Most self-help is based on a philosophy of “personal growth” that’s downstream from 20th-century business management theory. We’ve learned to treat the self the way managers treat their employees. These articles challenge that framework and paint a vague picture of a different way to think about self-evolution. “‘Personal growth’ often encourages the rejection of a more intense self because it does not conform to a preconceived plan for growth.” Ribbonfarm talks a lot about “life intensification”: living in such a way that you might run into versions of yourself that you didn’t know were possible.

Productivity for precious snowflakes

The calculus of grit

How to fall off the wagon

Thingness and thereness

Been there, done that

Make your own rules

The key to act two


How work and freedom fit together (or don’t)

Most career advice is pretty prescriptive and de-contextualized. These articles think more broadly about what it means to have a “career” in the information age and the perils of following scripts created by other people.

You are not an artisan

On freedomspotting

Don’t surround yourself with smarter people

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor

The adjacency fallacy

How to make history


Mediocrity and memetic evolution

Optimization, competitiveness, survival of the fittest — these have become the buzzwords of Western society. Ribbonfarm’s mediocrity thread explores how “good enough” is oftentimes a better approach. Over-optimizing for today’s game means irrelevance when the next game rolls around (in evolution and in life).

The premium mediocre life of Maya Millennial

Survival of the mediocre mediocre

Dodo thoughts

Rediscovering literacy


A history of reality perception

Venkat once tweeted “normalcy is the majority sect of magical thinking.” This series of articles explores how that majority sect has evolved and how it might change in the future. Two big themes here are memory and time perception. Ribbonfarm takes a close look at how the invention of time zones and the spread of personal timekeeping devices fundamentally changed the way we make sense of our lives.

Welcome to future nauseous

Ritual and the consciousness monoculture

Feeling the future

After temporality

Immortality in the ocean of infinite memories

On seeing like a cat

The cactus and the weasel

On the design of escaped realities