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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.