On re-discovering our messy humanity and revivifying the internet
One of my current projects, outside of Ungated, is revamping Foster Collective’s media and marketing strategies from the ground up. Our goal is to build a media organization that's "human as fuck" as we say internally. We kicked off this new era two months ago with our self-renewing digital magazine strategy, and now we're in the process of reimagining our weekly newsletter so that every issue is unmistakably human.
Given the rise of generative AI, I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase—unmistakably human. What does that mean in a world where machines will be able to replace many of the economic and cultural functions that have always relied on human labor? I suspect this question is going to be the biggest frontier we explore together as creatives, and as a species, in the years ahead. Shit’s about to get weird and existentially confusing for us. And we’ll probably have to unlearn a good deal of our global ideology of industrialized modernity.
I don’t know about you, but I forgot how to be human for quite a long time. I have glimpses of it in childhood memories, but it was certainly absent through my twenties. That's what The Pattern does. It turns us into machines. Boring, predictable machines that follow the Best Practices and act in logical, legible ways. It's why so much of our cultural and business landscape already feels banal and soulless, even before AI came along. Our environment has been slowly instilling us with the values of machines, and incentivizing us to act accordingly. As Ian Leslie so brilliantly puts it in this piece, we’re now in this strange liminal era where machines are getting better at mimicking humans at the same time that humans are perfecting their mimicry of machines.
My journey these last few years has been one of rediscovering my own humanity, and my own felt sense of Aliveness. I’ve still got a ways to go, especially in terms of getting back into my body after a decade of living entirely in my head. But for now, I’m getting better at noticing when my actions or my output feel mechanistic and dull. I’m noticing when I’m bored by my own thoughts and behavior, and bored by the things I write. More important than just noticing, though, I’m getting better at trying random shit that makes me feel alive again. I’m learning to subvert my own expectations of myself, and have a bit of unexpected fun.
This is why on Sunday, I challenged myself to write a newsletter while I had potatoes roasting in the oven, and then narrated the journey of those potatoes cooking in real time. Then afterwards, I joked on twitter about potato-based productivity and Non-Coercive Potato-Based Marketing (patent pending). What a ridiculous and totally human thing to do! I’m not sure that an AI would ever think to do this without first being prompted. It’s too nonsensical and illogical and silly. It all came from some deeper, more child-like impulse within me, which I’m learning to trust and play with.
And therein lies the magic I’m after, and what I suspect it means to be Unmistakably Human in an age of machines. How can we live in such a way that we feel fully alive? How can we live organically and intuitively in flagrant, joyful disregard of the mechanistic standards of the world around us? And how can we infuse our creative work with the essence of that aliveness?
I don't have all the answers, nor do I think these are questions we'll answer through logical, control-based ways of thinking. But for now, I'll leave you with my favorite paragraph from that Ian Leslie essay.
How can we avoid becoming structures, abstract entities with all the messiness of humanity scooped out? By taking seriously that which we cannot measure, and that which piques our interest but does not fit our models; by not being too confident in the models we have; by learning to appreciate ambiguity, intuition and mystery; by making room, now and again, for superstition and mad ideas. Above all, by refusing, in whatever game we’re playing, to make thoughtless and predictable moves just because they’re the moves we’ve been taught or conditioned to believe are the correct ones. We should strive to be difficult to model.
Rob’s Daily Invitation
As I’m building out The Forest, I’m realizing that it’s not really about marketing or business. It’s about coming alive and becoming fully yourself, in a world that’s always telling you to do the opposite. If there’s one key ingredient in this game of 1,000 true fans, that’s it. Having the courage to be fully yourself, and fully human, in a mechanistic world. Care to join me in The Forest?