The dark forest of the Internet

Parkinson’s law — the idea that work expands to fill the time available for its completion — means that if you give yourself two weeks to complete a task, then the work will find a way to complete itself within two weeks, even if taking some extra metrics out of the calculation (emotional labour, stress, hardware issues etc.) it will only take a week.

Hofstadter’s law, on the other hand, posits the idea that everything always takes longer than expected, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law. In other words, if you estimate some work to take two weeks, you need to add some buffer time because some extra metrics (emotional labour, stress, hardware issues etc.) might find itself into the picture.

I believe the best way to estimate the delivery date of your work is to find a balance between Parkinson’s (nothing to do with the disease) law and Hofstadter’s law, because as much as we could plan, something is bound to happen in between and sometimes we can’t follow the plan too rigidly.

Some (incidental) good news (I guess): my phone fails to connect automatically to home wifi these days, which means that I am indeliberately offline most of the time because I was put off of the extra steps I needed to take to connect to the Internet. I am kind of enjoying it, and have been spending more time reading (more!) and actually working. It reminds me of articles like this with steps for you to take in order to check your phone less. Turn off notifications? Check. Move social media apps somewhere further into the folders and replace with reading apps? Check. Don’t check the phone in bed? Trying not to.

I am also fascinated by the call to action of early tech (those who signed up to Twitter before 2008, although this is purely observational) Twitter circle to blog more within your own domains — instead of on platforms like Medium, and bring back RSS. I have been subscribing to tons of great newsletters these days — which reminds me I might need to list them down if you’d like — which, is like RSS in some ways. With the rise of services such as Mailchimp (although old news and started as for commercial), Revue, Tinyletter, Substack, and many others, a lot of people have been getting back into longform writing, reminiscent of the blogging days where we first started.

But this is also what our Internet is becoming: a dark forest, the condition where netizens are retreating from the public square of the internet, resulting in many private & isolated worlds that don’t communicate with each other, a la the dark forest condition in Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy, which I am quite OK with right now.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).

These are all spaces where depressurised conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

The dark forests grow because they provide psychological and reputational cover. They allow us to be ourselves because we know who else is there. Compared to the free market communication style of the mass channels — with their high risks, high rewards, and limited moderation — dark forest spaces are more Scandinavian in their values and the social and emotional security they provide. They cap the downsides of looking bad and the upsides of our best jokes by virtue of a contained audience.

Related: I might often say I love lists but this might be too meta — “This is a list of articles that are lists of list articles on the English Wikipedia. In other words, each of the articles linked here is an index to multiple lists on a topic. Some of the linked articles are themselves lists of lists of lists. This article is also a list of lists.”

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